Monday 8 March 2010

Tourist Trinkets in Cyprus Relic Bust?

Antiquity collectors were in stitches over a BBC report "Cyprus smuggling ring broken up" at the end of January. Let us remind ourselves the gist of the story:
Police in Cyprus have broken up a smuggling ring that was trying to sell stolen antiquities worth more than 11m euros (£9.6m), officials say. Artefacts for sale include urns, silver coins and figurines, some of which are thought to be 4,000 years old. Police are investigating whether an international network was involved. Ten people have been detained and five others are being sought in what analysts say could be the largest such ring ever discovered in the country. While many of the objects found came from Cyprus, others were thought to have been made elsewhere, antiquities officials said.
The article was accompanied by two photos, one a big box full of intact pottery vessels probably ripped from graves.

The other photo was what caused the hilarity. The bright shiny mummy case with the removable pointy-head alien figure is clearly a tourist trinket. It has a little "AP" on it which suggests the BBC got it from Associated Press, who would have got it... where? Is this a photo supplied by the Cypriot authorities? Was it a stock photo of an "antiquity" popped in as a space-filler? Or do the ACCG have a sympathiser in the Associated Press who put it in to discredit the Cypriot government at their bidding ? (Oops, I feel a little conspiracy theory of my own coming on....).

On the other hand, what actually is so improbable in the people who are accused of supplying looted Cypriot antiquities to the international market also being involved in the trade in fake artefacts? Bulgarian dugup relic suppliers and dealers freely mix the two. The suppliers of the antiquities market do not have to be experts - just law-breakers out to make a quick buck to plough into other dubious "business ventures" and eager to get their hands on any old saleable collectable item. The items allegedly prepared for export by these suppliers need not all have been intended to be offered to the same dealer.

I suppose that raises the question for collectors, do they know who the man their dealer bought his items from bought them from and what else he trades in?

Anyway to come back to the Cyprus bust, I suppose to find out what artefacts were involved we must wait for those responsible to be hauled over the coals, together with all (I repeat all) of those that have been attempting to import illegally exported items of Cypriot origin into foreign countries.

Photos: BBC/AP


Paul Barford said...

Or (to take the conspiracy theorising further) was this item included in the photoshoot deliberately in an attempt to cast doubt on the authenticity of decontextualised material of purported Cypriot origin on the market, making buyers less willing to purchase items without documented origins and provenances.

Flooding the market with fakes would be one way to bring the no-questions-asked market to its knees.

Petros Mavros said...

Dear Paul, as a Cypriot who lives next to the archeological areas in Pafos I feel insulted when I hear news of this type. The fact that Cypriots, and I mean starting from the state of Cyprus, have never really appreciated the cultural value of our findings and this gives the alibi to the smugglers. If we were closer to our tradition and were able to put our heritage in a "show case" the smugglers would have thought about it twice.

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