Thursday 18 August 2011

Soil Encrusted Lohan Heads "Stolen" by by whom, and where from?

Mystery surrounds the whereabouts of two sandstone heads of Lohan:
The FBI have joined a hunt for two ugly Chinese head sculptures - valued at $800,000 each which were stolen from a private collection. The two Louhan sculptures, which are approximately 1,000-years-old, were stolen from an undisclosed location in Westport, Connecticut. The sandstone works of art are two of only a handful known to exist and both date to China's Tang Dynasty. The sculptures are 15 inches high and 15 inches long and weigh between 55 and 70 pounds each. Westport is a coastal town of about 25,000 residents and one of the wealthiest locations in the US. Police are not disclosing when the sculptures were taken or the exact location of the private collection.
The Tang dynasty was 618 to 907 AD, so a little before Chinese settlement in America. The place of the Lohan in Theravada Buddhism is described here .

This story has received a lot of attention in the press, mostly because of the ugliness of the heads and their valuation and alleged scarcity (can't see it myself, there were 20 lohan, perhaps they mean scarcity on the US market now US has an MOU with China which includes such things).

The identity of the person from whom they were taken is for some reason being kept a mystery, is this so the Chinese don't know who has their stuff? There is however the additional question of where they came from. Now wherever else they came from, these things are unlikely to have been dug up in Westport Conn. by local pot-hunters. The released photos do not really show the items to their best advantage. What they do show are two heads covered in (to use the proper archaeological technical term) grey crap. To judge by the photos, these heads actually have soil on them. Now why would that be if the objects passed through some distinguished nineteenth century collection? The one on the left here seems to have a relatively fresh break at the neck, this has not been knocking around in a scree slope of rubble for any time.

I assume that before the FBI start looking for where these items are now, they looked into where they should be, after all if they find them they surely cannot give them back to a person who cannot document that they are indeed their legal possessor. Would US authorities release this information if the Chinese (as I think they should) asked for it? So, how did these items enter the USA, and when? Why are there just the heads of what were clearly at one time complete figures? What happened to the rest? Did the art collector throw them away, or the dealer who sold them to him? What can having just the heads tell anyone about "Chinese art of the Tang period" or anything? These are just geegaws, trophies. Symbols of personal (purchasing) power and status for their "owner". Questions should be being asked.

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