London university accused of accepting smuggled sculpture

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via The Nation, 14 June 2018: A developing story about the donation of a Lopburi-style sculpture to the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, that was accepted without documentation of provenance. The details were first released by Dr Angela Chiu, an independent scholar, on her website.

The Culture and Foreign ministries are following up an accusation made by London University’s prominent School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), that it accepted as a gift a 13th-century sculpture possibly smuggled from Thailand.

Source: London university accused of accepting smuggled sculpture – The Nation

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Sunken treasure cheer turns sour


14 May 2006 (The Electric New Paper) – Legal battle between a German treasure-hunter and his German agent, both based in Singapore. Tilman Walterfang recovered a huge cache of Chinese Tang Dynasty artefacts dating 1,200 years in from “the waters between Malaysian and Borneo” (apparently off an Indonesian island). The artefacts have been sold to Singapore’s Sentosa Corp. The legal battle aside, the sale of sunken “treasure” is indicative of the extremely low legislative and academic support of archaeology in the region.

Sunken treasure turns sour

Mr Walterfang went in search of the treasure off the Indonesian island of Belitung between Borneo and Sumatra when he first heard of the ancient treasure from fishermen.

What he discovered on the seabed was tens of thousands of Chinese Tang dynasty artefacts dating back about 1,200 years.

It was enough for Mr Walterfang to quit his job in Germany .

In Indonesia, he and his partner, Mr Matthias Draeger, spent millions of dollars to salvage the treasure.

Seven years after their astounding discovery, they sold the treasure to Singapore’s Sentosa Leisure Group for what is understood to be about US$32 million ($50m) last year.

Related Books:

Shipwrecks and Sunken Treasure in Southeast Asia by T. Wells

Must Looted Relics be Ignored?

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2 May 2006 (New York Times) – Not SEA Archaeology, but a broad issue that bears some highlighting. In this part of the world, little has been set up in the protection of artefacts from looting. Most SEA countries don’t even have sufficient legislation to deal with archaeological finds.

Must Looted Relics be Ignored?

Inscribed on Sumerian clay tablets more than 4,000 years ago, the Code of Ur-Nammu may be the earliest known recorded set of laws in the world: dozens of rules written in cuneiform about commerce and taxes, family law and inheritance.

But many scholars won’t go near the one largely intact version of the code, and the top American journal of cuneiform research won’t publish articles about it. The reason? The tablet was bought by a private Norwegian collector on the open market and does not come from a documented, scientific excavation. According to the ethics policies of the leading associations for antiquities scholars, that means it is off limits.As scholars grapple with the reality that a growing number of important works — like the Ur-Nammu tablet and the recently unveiled Gospel of Judas — lack a clear provenance, those ethics policies are the focus of heated debate.

On one side are archaeologists and other experts who say that most objects without a clear record of ownership or site of origin were looted, and that the publication of such material aggrandizes collectors and encourages the illicit trade. On the other side are those who argue that ignoring such works may be even more damaging to scholarship than the destruction caused by looting.