An archaeologist's tracking of the (primarily) Southern Hemisphere illicit antiquities trade.
Friday, April 1, 2011
On to Bangkok?
In the same vein as the numerous recent examples of Hindu statues and idols I've posted about (e.g. here), two recent news articles suggest that a waive of Buddhist statue thefts have been occurring throughout Thailand (here and here). Apparently, dogs and alarm bells guarding many of these temples were not sufficient to prevent the thefts, which feed into a wide-spread network of illegal smuggling and sale. Fortunately, however, authorities have been on the ball, moving quickly to apprehend the perpetrators of the most recent reported theft (the Luang Phor Chiang Saen Buddha image, stolen from Wat Makok Simaram, Muang district). Their efforts netted two suspects and recovered 50 previously unaccounted for stolen items. Furthermore, the thieves confessed to eight other robberies since 2009, all targeting Buddha statues and temple paraphernalia. What is unfortunate is that the article reports that 36 registered statues have been stolen between 1996 and 2011, but only three have been retrieved. 531 unregistered statues (from smaller temples or rural villages?) have also been stolen, with only five recovered. Although in the case of the Chiang Saen statue, its final recipient and destination were within Thailand, it is unknown and unmentioned how many other stolen statues have found their way onto the international market. Although the villagers tried everything "metaphysical" within their power to ensure the statue's return, from 'merit-making' at the temple, to "cursing the robbers," in the end, the swift action of police came through. Let's hope this most recent arrest heralds increased vigilance and resources devoted to guarding these temples at all hours and recovering as much of what's already been stolen as possible.
Currently a post-doctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute and National Museum of Natural History. Research interests include Southeast Asian archaeology, bioarchaeology, human osteology, quantifying the antiquities trade, and the use of educational games as teaching tools.