A severely weathered Khmer sand-stone head carving that appeared this week on online auction website eBay had an asking price of $15,500, even though it has been fractured into six pieces and is quite possibly fake, experts said.
Determining if the piece was an original would be impossible without being able to touch it, experts said, and even then it would be difficult.
“Part of the face has been rebuilt [with mortar],” Bertrand Porte, Khmer sculpture expert and conservationist with Ecole Francaise d’Extreme Orient, said during an interview Tuesday while viewing images on the website.
“You’d be crazy to buy that; it is very corroded,” he said.
The seller, The Unique Things Store located in Australia, claims the piece is an 11th-century Shiva in the Baphuon style, and that it comes with a certificate of authenticity. The seller did not respond to an e-mail sent Tuesday morning.
The sandstone head was one item in a batch of around 15 Khmer antiquities listed on eBay in just the last few days. The site is teeming with such items listed as “genuine,” “original” and “one of a kind.”
A Restoration and Conservation Workshop archaeologist at the National Museum of Cambodia Chea Socheat said one of the items listed as a “Khmer antique Buddha headed bust statue BE 12th” actually matched the Bakheng style from the 10th century and represents a Brahma or a Shiva, not Buddha.
“I think this is a copy,” he said during an interview Wednesday while viewing images of the antique, adding that the eight-faced bronze item is not true to Khmer mythology.
“If it is supposed to represent Brahma, there would be four faces and if it was a dancing Shiva there would be five faces,” Chea Socheat said. “It is Khmer art, but the makers didn’t know the mythology of Khmer art,” he said.
The other item he believed to be a copy was a sandstone head claim-
ed to be from the 13th century that has discernible chisel marks on it, something that would not appear if it were genuine.
Added to the flood of genuine Khmer antiquities offered online, fakes merely muddy an already out-of-hand illegal trade.
Government officials said that any sales of cultural artifacts are illegal because of a 1970 Unesco convention and a 1995 Unidroit convention that Cambodia ratified in 2003.
“I am not aware of bidding on websites to buy Cambodian statues, but if they are real statues it is illegal,” Ministry of Culture and Fine Art’s Deputy Director General of the Cultural Heritage Department Prak Sunnara said by phone Wednesday.
Fake statues, he added, that are passed off as genuine make the larger problem of illegal sales more difficult to sort out.
With the illegal nature of sales of antiquities and a flood of fake cultural artifacts, it makes for a dangerous market for the consumer.
Yet online sales continue to flourish largely because they cannot be properly policed.
“It is a growing problem that will continue to get worse,” Son Sou-
bert, Heritage Watch board member and member of the Con-
stitutional Council, said by phone Wednesday.