Friday, 19 February 2016

Syrian Antiquities Openly on Sale From the Garages and Attics of Middle England

"Ancient Tell Halaf pottery
idol fragments dating
between 6100-5400 bc"
E-Baywatch (1): 19th February 2016 another important post on Neil Brodie's Market of Mass Destruction blog which the collectors and archaeologists alike will ignore. Here he looks at Halaf terracotta figurines. They appear on ICOM’s Emergency Red List of Syrian Cultural Objects at Risk
Between 27 November 2015 and 17 February 2016, seven sellers between them sold 60 figurines for the total sum of £6099. The highest priced figurine sold for £720, the lowest for £12. The average price was £102. Six of the sellers were based in the UK, all in England. One seller, selling only one figurine, was based in the USA.  The breakdown for the English sellers was: Seller 1 sold 29 figurines, with minimal description and no indication of provenance. Seller 2 sold 11 figurines, with minimal description and no indication of provenance. Seller 3 sold five figurines, described as ‘Indus Valley’ [...]. Seller 4 sold one figurine, with minimal description and no indication of provenance. Seller 5 sold six figurines, with minimal description and no indication of provenance. Seller 6 sold two figurines, with minimal description and no indication of provenance. Seller 7 sold five figurines, described as ‘British found’ (!). 
There are nine of them on sale at the moment. Have a look:
1)  'Rare ancient Tel Halaf terracotta fertility idol C. 6100-5400BC'
sold by  mikes-artefacts (635) alongside a sorry assortment of decontextualised bric-a-brac. Then there are:
These three, of different fabrics and surfaces, are being offered for sale by ancient-artefacts-uk (4910) Didcot who also has pages ripped out of Islamic codices and ME coins. The owner's name is hidden from view: "ancient-artefacts-uk has been an eBay member since 22 May, 2006" . Note the offer of battered fragments looking like they've come straight out of the ground. One of them still has earth on it.
5) Super Indus Valley 5500-6000 BC Tel Halaf Terracotta Fertility Idol. (A829C)
6) Ancient Terracotta 6000 BC Tel Halaf Culture Decorated Fertility Idol. (A829G)
7) Ancient Painted Tel Halaf Culture Terracotta Woman Fertility Idol. (A829G)
) Large Tel Halaf Indus Valley 6000~5500 BC Terracotta Fertility Idle.[sic]  (A829)
) Usable [sic] Ancient Tel Halaf Culture 6000 BC Household Fertility Idol. (A829H) 9
These are being offered by "meridian-coins-sussex-uk (2084) based near Chichester, W Sussex.  Again the dealer's name is not given and customers do not know who they are dealing with. He says "
From a UK reliable supplier. *Please note that we support the Eastern trade embargo unconditionally. All of these items are sourced from responsible traders and reliable sources.
Interesting phrasing. This seems to be Brodie's seller three. Three of the four seem to be of similar fabric and manufacture, the other has an interesting surface effect - and has been rather oddly cleaned. Is that crust carbonate or chlorides or both?

Brodie notes that
As long ago as 2005, the on-line collectors’ community was aware of large numbers of Halaf figurines being sold on eBay, and believed that many if not most of them were fake. So well before 2011, eBay was awash with material that might have originated in ancient or modern Syria. The figurines being sold on eBay last December and in January and February might have been in circulation for years, or passed out of Syria a few months earlier. Who is to know? That is the gray market we talk about. But it is a very dark gray one. Fake or genuine, at least one law will have been broken on a figurine’s journey to eBay, even if it was only the ‘Eastern trade embargo’. [...] The figurines are being sold openly with knowing or unknowing impunity. There is no need here to postulate sinister hi-tech networks shifting material around the world on the Darknet. The suburban reality is one of open sale on eBay from the garages and attics of middle England. What else do these eBay sales tell us? Well, for a start, the figurines are selling, and selling well. Customers quite clearly are either unaware of or unconcerned about their origins. Funding Daesh? Who knows or cares? 
As Brodie observes, "the Halaf figurines are on an ICOM Red List, are widely believed to include forgeries among their number, and the sellers do not include any evidence of provenance or legal sale". Yet nothing is done. UK's jobsworth archaeologists continue to sip coffee and look at the sports page. Collectors continue buying.

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