Tuesday 4 May 2010

Yahoo's Dubious Artefact Trade Behind Closed Doors

While I was absent in Egypt, somebody sent me the details of a person going by the pseudonym Cherry Kiss who describes herself as a 25 year old woman currently living in Cairo and who “seriously despises the government”. She had sent a number of messages to the collectors and dealers of archaeological artefacts gathered on Yahoo’s Ancient Artefacts group run by English ebay dealer and would-be politician Tim Haines. This has a closed archive so non-members cannot see is happening there; it seems they have a lot to hide.

The exchanges between Ms Kiss and group members are just a taster of the kind of thing that goes on behind closed doors in no-questions-asked antiquity collecting circles. The kind of thing they do not want to be discussed outside the group (or even, it would seem, inside it). The home page of the yahoo Ancient Artifacts group says "Dealers and individuals are welcome to post details of their own items for sale here, as well as links to eBay and other sales". The list is in fact routinely used by its members to buy and sell no-questions-asked antiquities offered precisely through the medium of this secretive antiquity dealing group. Although there is a code of ethics prominently displayed on the open-access home page, what is visible inside the members-only area shows quite a different reality.

True to this, the first message from Ms Kiss (7th November) read:
I'm interested in meeting some serious Egyptian artifact collectors to share some interesting discoveries I recently made. Please contact me if you are interested.

Ms Kiss claims to have local knowledge of where antiquities have been found or may be found and is apparently offering her services to artefact collectors as a local contact. Now for a list comprising some 2404 members all "committed to responsible antiquities collecting" (which is what it says on the box), there was a notable lack of concern about such an explicitly formulated first message to the group. Indeed some members asked her instead to elaborate on what she had to offer.

After assuring members that this was not a scam, and asked to supply more details of what she has to offer collectors gathered on the Yahoo group, Ms Kiss volunteered the following information (10th November):
“there are millions of artifacts still burried under the grounds of this land, most of them found in big rural areas where people live, clueless that under their shattered, poor houses lay artifacts worth millions. […] There are millions of artifacts that are still undiscovered, burried underground, surrounding the clueless people in cairo. […] the only way to get to them is through an egyptian who knows what lies beneath their house and ground. Finding the artifacts is one thing. Smuggling them out of the country is a completely different issue that requires professionals who have done this before. Let me also emphasize that about 99.5% of all Egyptians are either clueless about this topic, or they don't know exactly where these artifacts are located. I hope i have made my point clear. ;)
I would say that clear enough that if this exchange was taking place on an open forum, some interest would be expressed in the activities of Ms Kiss (probably not her real name of course) by the authorities, if nobody else, and what was happening on the Yahoo list. But it is not, it is happening only where members can see, and where those who might look askance at such activities can be excluded. Apparently however, the membership of Ancient Artifacts includes not only "many of the best antiquities dealers on the net", but also [many?] "Phd's (sic), university professors and museum curators" (sic).

So how many of the university professors and museum curators on the Yahoo Ancient Artifacts list told Ms Kiss what she could do with her offer to show them the way to get illegally excavated artefacts out of Egypt? Log on and see. Log on and see if Ms Kiss with her tempting offers is still a member of this group "committed to"... what was that again?... oh, yes ... "responsible antiquities collecting".

Vignette: Cherry Kiss probably chose the name behind which she atempted to hide her identity when looking at this Estee Lauder cosmetics range.


Robyn said...

Hi Paul,
Ah yes, the lovely Cherry kiss! What a piece of work she was! Since you don't have access to the archives anymore, here are links to her threads for your readers. (although as you said, they will have to register to read them)




Take care,

Paul Barford said...

Thanks Robyn,
as I recall when I looked at the archives, you were about the only group member who was critical of her "offer of help". I wonder how many list members contacted her offlist?

I was thinking, now the group has no hold over me, of doing a series of posts about those "best dealers on the internet" in the Yahoo group.I thought I'd set out some of what I learnt there about how the "no- questions -asked -masquerading -as -responsible -trade" actually looks in practice.

(It is quite instructive to compare them with some of the dealers who are NOT on the Yahoo group.)

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