Saturday, January 12, 2013

Anuradhapura style Sandakada Pahana "found" in UK

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A carved granite step (Sandakada Pahana - aka a moon stone) from a Hindu temple "featuring a cow and other animals" and similar to those found in the ancient city of Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka has been "found" in the garden of a Devon bungalow in the UK. Now the "finders" think it is the right thing for them to do is to flog it off at Bonhams, the reasons for the sale are not given. So this piece of thousand-year old translocated Srilankan heritage will be sold on the London antiquities market in Bonhams "Indian and Islamic" sale in London on April 23. This object is neither Indian nor Islamic, the temple step is a feature unique to Sinhalese architecture in Sri Lanka. It is being toted as a "magnificent work of art" rather than a ripped-out piece of an integral work of architecture.  The three-quarters of a ton stone measure eight feet by four feet and is six inches thick, and is one of only six examples known to date from this period, making this discovery the seventh. It is estimated to attract bids in excess of £30,000.

Although the object was "found" in the UK by a member of the public in their garden and is more than 300 years old, it does not feature in Britain's Portable Antiquities database which legitimates "finding" portable antiquities in England and (for the moment) Wales. Sam Tuke of Bonhams in Exeter says of the discovery:
"I met the client when she was collecting an item from our office. She mentioned in passing that she had a large slab of carved granite that had come from her mother's house in Sussex and that she had known and loved it since she was four years old. She loved running her fingers around the animals carved into the stone." "When I saw the photographs and she explained the full story, I knew that it could be of great historical interest and importance. The house in Sussex had been bought from a tea planter in the 1950s and the stone had been moved six times. Her brother had seen similar stones in Sri Lanka while on holiday. She explained that she could not bear to leave the stone behind after her father died and the house was sold. "It has been known affectionately in the family as 'The Pebble' and is currently lying outside the front of their bungalow at the end of a concrete path." 
Note the lack of names. The actual circumstances under which the item left Sri lanka are important, according to the Bonhams provenance, the item first "surfaces" at a date referred to as "in the 1950s" (the owner surely can provide a better date for the purchase of a house whose deeds they had on their father's death) so the export must have taken place before that (rather imprecise date). But when? The importance of this is that before the "in the 1950s" there are two local acts of legislation which have a bearing on the potential legal status of this item:
Sri Lanka  1940  The Antiquities Ordinance, N. 9 of 1940
Sri Lanka1955Antiquities Act N.2
So, how thoroughly have Bonhams actually checked that rather sketchy collecting history beyond the (unverified/ verified?) anecdote about seller as a four year old girl? Note how carefully it is stressed that after the father's death the object was allegedly "moved six times". Did the item leave Sri lanka when Anuradhapura was in a British colony, a Dominion (1948-72), or (despite the alleged collecting history) was independent?


Here is a link to an amateur video of one of the other six that no tea-planter dug up for himself and carted off to England to later dump unwanted in a Sussex garden.

Here's the picture of the carted-off one in a Bonhams press release.  I think we'd all like to see Sri Lanka try and get this ripped-off piece of a Srilankan monument back, and not being flogged off to some wealthy private collector gd-knows-where.
 
 Art Daily, 'Anuradhapura style Sandakada Pahana found in UK', Sunday Observer (Sri Lanka)  13 January 2013

Photo: Trapit archaeology blog

Hat-tip to MSN

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