One of my earlier blog posts in June last year highlighted the growing trade in Dynastic period antiquities from China, and the various means by which they go from ground to gallery, fuelled by pop-culture and public misconception of the archaeological process. In that vein, a recent example of another smuggling attempt is worth mentioning here. According to an article in the Paramus Post (a daily newspaper out of Paramus, New Jersey), Customs and Homeland Security officers and investigators have seized five large-scale artifacts, including two sandstone Buddhas, two terracotta horse/rider sculptures, and a Bodhisattva head sculpture, roughly dating from the Northern Qi, Northern Wei and Song Dynasties (see example photo above left).
A final location(s) for the pieces is not mentioned; perhaps the relevant receipts/import-export forms were missing. Again according to the article, these artifacts could have fetched $250,000 together on the open market, but this is only an estimate. It is fortunate that this shipment was stopped at customs, but not surprising given the size of the artifacts involved. Unfortunately, for every large piece of sculpture or statuary that is recovered and repatriated, an untold quantity of smaller artifacts will reach their final private or gallery destinations, and China still has numerous difficulties stemming internal looting, controlling forgery and illicit auction houses, and conducting construction work with appropriate attention to at-risk archaeological/heritage sites, as this 2005 article suggests. Still, all involved in the above-mentioned apprehension should be given our heartiest congratulations. Constant vigilance!