Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Crowbars out, Looting Pays

The carved granite temple step (Sandakada pahana) step is a feature unique to Sinhalese architecture in Sri Lanka. This 1,000 year old pre-Hindu stone step is similar to those found in the ancient city of Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka, and is one of only seven examples known to date from this period, the other six being in situ. The massively heavy – three-quarters of a tonne stone measure eight ft by four foot and is six inches thick, but nevertheless was carted off by a colonial looter to England:
There was a battle between buyers in the room and on the telephone for this remarkable find which finally sold for £553,250 against a pre-sale estimate of £20,000 to £30,000. There were no fewer than eight telephone bidders and three in the saleroom [...] The Devon based owners, Mike and Bronwyn Hickmott, commented after the sale: "We are overwhelmed with the price achieved. It goes beyond all our expectations." Mrs Hickmott added: "I'd like to say a special thank you to Sam Tuke of Bonhams Exeter office. We had been turned away by other international auction houses as well as television antiques shows. Everyone pooh-poohed our belief that the stone was special. It was only Sam's determination to research the stone that has led to this happy result. We are thrilled."
Of course the idea that this knocked-off piece of an architectural monument from the other side of the world should be in neither a Devon garden or a London showroom presumably never occurred to the thrilled sellers (it said "property of a lady" in the catalogue). I expect the price obtained means that a few more bits of Anuradhapura will now be "surfacing" on the market with nice-sounding provenances before long. "Bonhams said it was unable to disclose who the new owner of the artefact was" what's the betting that it is NOT the people of Sri Lanka?

Bonhams Press Release: 'Rare Buddhist Andradhapura period (377 BC-1017 AD) Indian (sic) Carved Stone Temple Step Discovered in Devon Garden Sells for £553,250', 23 Apr 2013. BBC News, 'Devon garden Sri Lankan artefact sells for £550,000', 24 April 2013.

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