Archaeologist-lawyer Tess Davis saw an advert for an Ancient Sarcophagus with Hieroglyphics from Egypt on Facebook. As she said, ‘shame!’ But it’s difficult to know where to begin. Obviously, neither Facebook nor eBay vets adverts for suspect products (which are, presumably, automatically selected by computer algorithms), and eBay doesn’t vet the material that is sold directly through it either.
Their immediate defence is that the sellers are responsible for the things that they sell (or mis-sell to evade vetting); there is too much material for them to vet; and they are proactive when they are notified of a problem. As archaeologist Paul Barford lamented of the online trade in metal-detected antiquities from Britain, ‘this has been going on day-after-day, week after week, almost since the beginning’ of eBay in 1995.
[Update (8th September 2014): Highlighting wildlife conservationists’ continuing struggle to suppress the illicit ivory trade, Tess Davis has commented that eBay ‘have admirably pulled 200+ antiquities at Egypt’s request’ (and the one from [the] ad has itself disappeared). But operating on such a case by case basis is not a sustainable model for companies or countries.’ I meant to say, the fact that there is too much for eBay to vet (economically) shows just how much there is. Would Sotheby’s partner eBay ban the sale/auction of antiquities?]
As Indian antiquities blogger Vijay Kumar showed, finding suspect antiquities from India on eBay is not difficult; he judged that ‘most’ of the Indian antiquities in those particular search results were in the Early Indian Art Collection in the U.S. gallery of Edgar L. Owen (about whom Paul Barford has blogged before).
Certain items listed on this site may be subject to various export/import laws and other laws of the United States and other countries. It is the buyer’s responsibility to obtain any relevant export or import licenses or other permits to ensure legal purchase and transport of any item. No sale will be deemed to have taken place unless all such necessary documents have been obtained. All items not the property of Edgar L. Owen, Ltd. are offered solely by the owner who is solely responsible for listing and selling the item in compliance with all applicable laws. No item on this site is offered for sale to a location or party where such a sale would constitute a violation of law. All offers void where prohibited.
Since the gallery doesn’t approve any sale unless there is a watertight paper trail, I am simply confused by its business model.
Import licences are necessarily a different matter, but buyers can only inherit export licences from sellers or acquire export licences with the assistance of sellers, and the gallery will not approve any sale unless any necessary export licence has been obtained, so why doesn’t the gallery simply make export licences the sellers’ responsibility?
The export of ancient Indian antiquities has been licensed through the Antiquities (Export Control) Act (or its successors) since 1947.(1) Did none of the sellers decide to facilitate their sales by acquiring an export licence? Were all of the antiquities exported before 1947? None of the antiquities’ adverts advertised either ownership documentation from before 1947 or an export licence since then.
Even when the export licences themselves are not a concern, international buyers are still responsible for acquiring import licences. If the antiquities were exported before 1947, why doesn’t the gallery facilitate its own sales by saying so and advertising documentation?
Depending on your perspective on the situation, Egypt is suffering a catastrophic, eBay-mediated explosion in the trade in conflict antiquities or blood antiquities (where grave human rights violations are committed in their extraction, transfer and/or consumption). Either way, it’s not good – and it hasn’t been good for a long time. For example, papyri are being smuggled out of Egypt into Turkey, then sold onto the global market through eBay. The origins of some of the material that is owned by the Green Collection, which has been exhibited by the Museum of the Bible, is suspect to say the least.
One of the worrying outliers in Kumar’s search results was an ‘[i]ncredibly rare gorgeous Viking stone cross pendant.ca 8-10 century AD’, which has been on sale since the 23rd of September 2013. Its seller, Oleg Axes and Other Antiques, appears to be based in Belaya Tcerkov, Kiev (the Russian-language name of Bila Tserkva town, Kyiv oblast). ‘Found in Ukraine in modern time[s], from [a] private collection’ and ‘guaranteed original'[.]
, there is no guarantee that it was found accidentally (and the chance that it was found accidentally is ‘extremely small‘).
[Update (8th September 2014): Paul Barford’s commented that the ‘Ukrainian cross is fake, it’s been cut by modern stone-cutting tools. The stone is nice though. Some of his other stuff looks rather inauthenttic (there are currently many fake and misdescribed antiquities coming out of both UKR and RUS), but lots there looks like the real (looted) McCoy.’ I guess that’s one way to guarantee an object’s originality.]
Likewise, you can get Byzantine coins from Chersonesos (via Riga, Latvia), Sarmatian arrowheads (via Jersey City, U.S.A.), a ‘very rare’ Russian-language prayer book/psalm book from 1846, ‘with hymns and psalms dedicated for the Emperor Tsar Nicolai Pavlovich I, his wife Empress Alexandra Feodorovna and their family’ (via Cyprus)…