the Apollo of Gaza: less innocent origins, equally problematic destinations

Focusing on the information about the Apollo of Gaza itself (rather than the politics of its possession and planned sale), there are now three questions. Is the statue genuine? Is – or, now it’s been cancelled, was – the eBay auction advert genuine? And what the fuck is going on? [For updates on what the fuck is going on, look at the problems with the fishermen’s stories and the Palestinian authorities’ stories, or check the Apollo post stream.]

It appears that someone may have looted the Apollo of Gaza from an archaeological site (on land); that Hamas are still poised to raise funds by selling the statue (which they seized from its “finder”); and that there was a separate, opportunistic, advance deposit scam that exploited the intrigue to offer the statue.

thn87’s eBay “auction” of the Apollo of Gaza

As tsipouroktonos noticed on the 10th of October, while the finder (fisherman Mounir) had been arrested and “his” bronze figure had been confiscated by the Gaza Strip’s government (Hamas), ‘they’re selling a Greek statue on eBay?!? [πουλάνε ελληνικό άγαλμα στο eBay!?!]’

Up for auction is a 1500-1600[year-old] Greek Statue

The statue was found on the Mediterranean Sea beach in Gaza, Palestine / Israel….

We don’t know much about the historical background of this statue.(1)

Too true! The finder’s claim is that he found the statue in the sea itself (not on the beach). This immediately suggests that the “advertiser” is not connected to either the finder or Hamas.

giannis1981 commented, it’s ‘probably a hoax… but, eh, kids, this figure asks for 360,000 euros and he’s laid the statue out… on a blanket with the Smurfs [on it] [Μαλλον μουφα… αλλα ρε παιδια ο τυπος ζηταει 360.000 ευρω και… εχει βαλει το αγαλμα ξαπλα σε σεντονακι με τα στρουμφακια]’!?

Unfortunately, as funny as that is, the inconceivably wide gap between the poverty of antiquities finders (and diggers) and the wealth of the art market is all too tangible. 70% of Gazans are food-insecure; 95% of Gazan fishermen are ‘in need of humanitarian assistance‘; 90%+ of Gazan water is ‘unsafe’ to drink; and there are ‘zero stock[s]’ of perhaps more than 27% of ‘essential medicines‘. Yet the $500,000 starting price is equally suspicious because it is too low (since the statue’s market value is apparently at least $20m). Still, this particular advert is bullshit.

Fake artefact?

Survey archaeologist Vladimir Stissi queried, ‘do we know the statue is not a fake?’

The state of preservation is not what one expects of a statue just out of the sea, the place it is supposed to have been found (in shallow water near the coast in an area where one would not expect 4th century Greek scu[l]pture in the first place) seems strange, and the statue is stylistically odd and inconsistent. I would not be surprised if the whole thing turns out to be a scam. In any case, some research on the actual statue is needed.


The right hand seems very clumsy and stylistically odd -though perhaps the image distortion is a factor there, and I am also amazed by the copper red colour of parts of the surface, I would expect a more yellow/gold alloy.

Similarly, underwater archaeologist Peter Campbell (@peterbcampbell) observed that ‘its corrosion is not consistent w[ith] shipwreck or subsidence [sunken] site formation processes’. He considered that it ‘must have become exposed from anoxic sediment & recovered before sealife could grow’.

In comparison, he presented the Croatian Athlete (Croatian apoxyomenos / Hrvatski Apoksiomen, which really ‘was found accidentally in 1996 on the seabed‘), ‘right after discover[y] and initial cleaning’. ‘No marine growth on Gaza statue. Kind of looks like Ephesus Athlete, found on land. But absolutely not from Hellenistic period.’

Croatian athlete (@peterbcampbell, 15th October 2013)

Croatian athlete (@peterbcampbell, 15th October 2013)

The Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities has declared the statue to be a historic artefact, which is state property and which is illegal to export without a licence (via Sally Idwedar (@sallyidwedar)). So, it is a genuine ancient statue, but it is not a Hellenistic-style statue, and its location and condition do not fit with a wrecked ship or sunken site…

Hoax advert? Scam offer…

The advert notes that the advertiser offers ‘[l]ocal pick-up only’ and specifies that they ‘[w]ill arrange for local pickup only (no shipping)’, and that ‘[t]he item is currently in Gaza, Palestine. Inspection/shipping/pickup arrangements have to be made.’ Generously, pay on pick-up is accepted. Yet the advertiser is in Canada… and requires a ‘10% deposit’…

I used the term “hoax” myself, but I don’t think it’s either a joke or an attempt to embarrass or otherwise influence its victims. I think it’s a scam, an attempt to trick someone into paying the 10% deposit on the bid price (which has a starting price of $500,000). It looks like a classic Western Unionstyle advance deposit scam. (Despite the too-good-to-be-true offer and the impressively quick advertisement, it’s too lazy to be a Nigerian-style “419” masterpiece.)

The photos are intriguing. Oddly, some of them are not displayed within the English/Italian-language newspaper articles (and I haven’t seen them elsewhere either), so they give the impression that the advertiser really does have access to the artefact (or its handlers in Hamas). But the photos still have their addresses. And the original reporter, Repubblica journalist Fabio Scuto (@scutof), has confirmed that, ‘[y]es, [the auction] is certainly a scam. The photos are copied from’

What the fuck is going on?

When I asked if the corrosion could or would also be consistent with corrosion underground, Peter relayed that ‘expert Carol Mattusch says [the] patina could be legit[imate]’. I asked, because I think that explains a lot of the peculiarities of this case.

The statue appears to be Archaic(ish) in style. Perhaps it should be described as “lovingly ripped off” and defined as an “archaistic pastiche” (or “ancient forgery“), which was faked in the Hellenistic period [or indeed, as Peter’s commented below, the Roman period] but in the Archaic style, by a Roman artist or for a Roman client. It does resemble the ‘Archaeistic Apollo‘(2) or, as Peter observed, the Piombino Apollo.

Stissi commented that the head has ‘some unusual features‘ and that ‘it also seems that the head and the body were made separately (there appears to be a straight seam where they are attached). This may help explaining the difference in stylistic date between body and head.’ As philosopher Babette Babich noted, ‘the heads [of the Croatian athlete and the Ephesus athlete were] cast separately, consistent with a cast from life’. So that would complement the other (albeit circumstantial) evidence.

The confusion, then, may (further) hint at the looting of an archaeological site (on land). Someone who had access to a site – a local, a worker, a worker’s friend, etc. – may have known that the site or the layer was Hellenistic, but not that the statue was (Hellenistic-faked) Archaic-style. So, when they dug up the sculpture, they advertised it as a Hellenistic statue.

Additional damage

The possessors of the statue may not have “only” cut off one finger (the little finger of the right hand [in order to prove to potential buyers that they had the sculpture]). They may also have cut off the thumb, index finger and middle finger of the left hand, though the shadows inside the joints of the left hand’s lost fingers suggest that they may have (been) broken off.

1500 Year Old Greek Statue Found in Mediterranean Sea (thn87, eBay).

1500 Year Old Greek Statue Found in Mediterranean Sea (thn87, eBay).

Obviously, there is a lot still to learn, but it looks like the statue is still: in the hands of Hamas; a potential source of funding for them; and a potential bone of contention between Hamas and Fatah (who control the West Bank government with the antiquities department)…



(1st) screen capture of part of thn87's eBay advert for the Gaza Apollo

(1st) screen capture of part of thn87’s eBay advert for the Gaza Apollo

(2nd) screen capture of thn87's alleged advert for Gaza Apollo

(2nd) screen capture of thn87’s alleged advert for Gaza Apollo

(3rd) screen capture of thn87's alleged advert for Gaza Apollo

(3rd) screen capture of thn87’s alleged advert for Gaza Apollo

(4th) screen capture of thn87's alleged advert for Gaza Apollo

(4th) screen capture of thn87’s alleged advert for Gaza Apollo

2: the Archaistic Apollo was found in Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus’s residence, which archaeologists nicknamed the Villa of the Papyri.


17 Responses to “the Apollo of Gaza: less innocent origins, equally problematic destinations”

  1. Excellent work Sam. Two notes: The Republica article states that the fisherman thought the statue might be gold and cut a finger off to check, so that explains the fresh looking cut on the pinky. Second, archaic-style tray bearer statues became popular during the Roman period (like the one in Villa of the Papyri), so this could well be a Roman period piece. Here is an excellent overview of bronzes by Carol Mattusch: (who by the way thinks it is tray bearer, but did not mention a period in our correspondence)


    • I couldn’t’ve done it without your and Vladimir’s observations on corrosion, etc.

      Mounir cut one finger off to show it to buyers/dealers (rather than lug the whole thing around), but Vladimir was concerned that ‘not one but several fingers ha[d] been cut/sawn off‘, that’s why I mentioned them.

      Ta for the tip on the tray-bearer too. I hope we get some solid information soon, but I fear it may disappear instead. Maybe they’ll sacrifice this sale in order to maintain (im)plausible deniability of the other stuff that’s going missing…?


  2. How much did they want for the Smurfs blanket? It’s classic. Or did you have to buy the statue to get it?


  3. If you goolged the name of the eBay seller, it would reveal his name and identity. His Facebook username is the same too, thn87 !!


  4. Probably, very naive! check this:
    I guess the match is hardly a coincidence…



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