Sunday, 12 July 2009

"Fake" says Stanish and sellers vanish

Professor of Anthropology, the Director of the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA Charles Stanish, first wrote about how eBay has altered the transporting and selling of illegal artifacts in the last part of the 2008 issue of the newsletter Backdirt: Annual Review, Why I love eBay pp 82-5. In April 2009, the UCLA Newsroom ran a story based on the latter. The article was then rerun by the May/June 2009 issue of Archaeology magazine. Since then, the story has become very widely reported, it has been picked up by numerous media outlets, including the Nature blog, and Scientific American. A Google search found many dozens of examples of different online versions of this story. I covered it here. I also posted a link to the AncientArtifacts Forum. Oddly enough – since fighting fake items, especially sold through the world’s best known internet sales portal is one of the leitmotifs of the group’s activity - nobody wanted to discuss it. Silence.

This problem has been around since the beginning of eBay, the number of fake ancient (and not only) coins for example on sale there is staggering. Ebay has been going through the motions of providing customer protection, but one gets the impression that they have been more interested in hanging on to the revenue-producing sellers than looking after the customers who buy things there. Many of the people buying portable antiquities clearly have not the foggiest what they are looking at. People in the know who contacted bidders and told them they were People reporting sellers to Ebay for selling fakes were ignored. bidding on fakes were routinely warned by eBay and suspended. Now, in a bout of paranoid absurdity, even the bidders’ pseudonyms is hidden to prevent this happening. Among hard-core collectors of portable antiquities, eBay (they call it contemptuously "fleabay") has very little credibility.

Since Professor Stanish’s story became big news, there have however been further quite unexpected developments. Ebay has actually been booting the most notorious fake sellers off their portal. One of the first to go was a dealer with shops in Byblos and Dubai selling a load of the most excrable stone (?) sort-of-classical sculptures all of them given “provenances” as having been dug up in the Syria-Lebanon area. They have now announced that they are withdrawing from eBay, in other words, in eBay slang, they have been NARUed.Another one to go is the eBay seller “The-Oddest-Thing”, discussed here a couple of times.

What seems to have happened (see the archives of the Yahoo AncientArtifacts discussion list was an antiquities dealer from Erie Colorado managed to get hold of the email addresses to two top executives in eBay (John Donahoe - President/CEO and Lorrie Norrington, Head of North America) and alerted them to the problem. The executives seem to have instructed their staff to take these problems seriously (presumably the Stanish articles were generating bad publicity) and several people have been reporting fake antiquity sellers from the group’s black list. Within a few days, 26 had gone of a list of 251 individuals sent to eBay. A week later, the accounts of the following sellers are reported to have been suspended or closed:

919nba1981, activ555, ancientantiques, ancientmix, annaatana37, Byblosantiques, camilia.123, , egyptianbrilliant, egyptiancivilization, egyptianhistory, egyptianseller, egyptiantrust, egyptianworld, exceedbay, friendship_curio, g..f..w, green_id_monster, kiroseez, lazaropolett, lost_civ, loveuegypt, perfect.antiques, pharaonichistory, pharaooooh*2007, tianboyiyuan, vergina**, w-daboor, and fakes removed from the listings of: solmon123 and knights*castle (Roman*1).
The whistleblower now reports:
My latest attack is trying to get the mysterious "prohibited items group" to establish a carte blanche policy of not allowing anyone in Egypt, China, Peru, Lebanon, Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, Syria, Mexico, from even offering anything "ancient" on eBay. If authentic, it's against most laws of cultural patrimony, and if fake, it's fraud. By definition, eBay should not allow either. Hopefully we will hear back on this front soon.
The dealer does not seem to accept that items from these countries are legal if accompanied by an export licence or other such paperwork. The new policies established on as well as Austria and Switzerland take this into account. It should not be too difficult to apply this to sellers in the US too. Could it be that the US dealer is simply interested in cutting down the competition? Let us see eBay establishing a rule that only items which can be documented as being sold in accordance with ALL "cultural patrimony" laws should be sold through their portal.

Meanwhile, if this continues, eBay seems headed towards going from (according to Charles Stanish) a phenomenon undermining the antiquities trade through diluting it with fakes, to one fuelled by looted artefacts, though I wonder if their top executives are at all worried about that? Maybe we should start emailing them too.

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