Friday, 23 January 2015

Hermes revisited

In my previous post about a fake head of Hermes prematurely announced by Turkish authorities, I mentioned that there were many other cases involving obvious fakes which should have been detected before going public. Paul Barford has drawn attention to a similar scenario in Thailand. Among thousands of "looted" artefacts seized from disgraced former Central Investigation Bureau chief Pongpat Chayapan, the Thai Fine Arts Department has identified sixteen that appear to be of Cambodian origin and has announced that five of them will be returned to Cambodia ("Pongpat 'treasures' fake, P'Penh says", Bangkok Post, 23 Jan 2015).

Sadly, Cambodia is unimpressed: "Cambodian experts who reviewed pictures of the artefacts, some of which Thailand dated back to the early 15th-century Kulen era, said the statues are obvious fakes ..." ("Statues are ‘treasures'", Phnom Penh Post, 23 Jan 2015). "'I don’t know why they think the statues might be real,' said Kong Vireak, director of the National Museum."

As with the Turkish case and many others too numerous to list here, a worryingly large number of seizures of "looted antiquities" seem to be more in the nature of posturing and feelgood exercises than genuine victories in the fight against looting. Ultimately, such negative publicity only serves to undermine the credibility of nations seeking to protect the heritage. The protection and conservation of the archaeological record deserves to be a serious undertaking, not merely a political game.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Hermes - who is being mugged?

While Turkish police have proudly announced the seizure of a "large number of historical artifacts, including the head of a 2,000-year-old Hermes statue" on 13 January ("Head of god Hermes seized in Anatolia", Hurriyet Daily News, 16 Jan 2015), Dorothy King has noted that the head is in fact an obvious fake ("Introducing the Master of the Miami Vice Hermes", 17 Jan 2015).

Since one of Hermes's attributes is a purse full of gold, I thought at first that the image on the Turkish website (top left) showed him being mugged. But apparently not. It seems those being made to look like a mug are the Turkish police - prematurely announcing a raid of an "historical artifact" without first checking their facts; "Cumhuriyet University academics" - who apparently fell for it too; and of course an alleged buyer - who is said to have paid $1 million for it three years ago and who then attempted to smuggle it abroad.

Certainly, anyone buying this unprovenanced rubbish thinking it is genuine deserves to be fooled (and worse): a) for having no common sense, b) for encouraging looting and c) for engaging in smuggling. But the authorities in cases like this (there have been several involving unsuspected fakes) also need to check their facts a bit better before going public and making themselves just look silly.

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