Concern over ancient artefacts for sale online

Website offers more than 50 historic items, but some historians would prefer to have rare and valuable pieces preserved in museums.
This rare Islamic bronze lamp from Afghanistan is on sale on the site for Dh45,000.00.
This rare Islamic bronze lamp from Afghanistan is on sale on the site for Dh45,000.00.
DUBAI // A rare bronze oil lamp, an ancient dagger and a 12th-century glass bead pendant are among dozens of ancient Islamic artefacts dating back hundreds of years that are being sold through a shopping website.

The owners of the e-commerce website Souq.com say Ramadan has brought increased interest for such items.

"They are usually bought by a mix of individuals who have their own private collections, companies that want an unusual item for a gallery or people looking for a unique gift," a spokeswoman said. "We tend to find that during Ramadan these items sell very well."

There are more than 50 such items available on the website, put on the market by sellers in the UAE and abroad.

The buyers also tend to be from the UAE, other Arab countries and India.

The dagger costs Dh35,000, the 12th-century, near-eastern glass bead pendant is on sale at Dh19,000, and a silver stamp ring is listed at Dh5,000.

The rare bronze oil lamp is from Afghanistan around AD800 to 1200, and is selling for Dh45,000. An Afghan copper alloy ewer made between 1100 and 1200 is available for Dh36,000.

Islamic Art refers to artefacts produced from the 7th century onwards by people living within territory ruled or inhabited by culturally Islamic populations.

Some historians said steps should be taken to ensure that the artefacts are properly preserved.

Aisha Deemas, curator at the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilisation, said items of historic value should be maintained in a way that lets the public see them while allowing research to be done on them.

"These artefacts are part of a larger history we all share, and it is important that such objects stay together, that they are preserved, researched and displayed when possible for the public to learn from and enjoy," she said.

Before any artefact is added to the museum's collection, it must undergo a strict process in which it is viewed and acknowledged by a qualified committee.

"Museums collect in different ways. Most museums are established to display an already existing collection and add to it through purchase, gifts or donations. This museum is no different," said Ms Deemas. "There are people who like to collect antique objects, however, I personally feel that authentic artefacts should be preserved properly whether in a museum or a private collection.

"Selling historic artefacts on a website does not necessarily ensure that the buyer will look after the object, and it does not ensure either that the source you are buying from is a reliable one."

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Community Development in Abu Dhabi said people thinking about buying an artefact should make sure they receive a certificate confirming details of the price and the object.

"It is legal to buy and sell these artefacts, provided the buyer gets a certificate with the price and information about the item," she said.

People who have not been provided with a certificate are advised to contact the National Council of Tourism and Antiquities.

Souq.com reassured customers that it protects their purchases. The website checks to make sure the correct paperwork has been provided for the artefacts.

The customer is given three days to confirm the item as genuine once the purchase has been made. No money is transferred to the seller's account until the buyer is satisfied, said the company.

Sellers who break the rules can face action from Souq.com, including suspension from the website.

The Souq.com spokeswoman said the website had also cracked down on sellers who posted photos of items that did not match the items being sold, and that it took very seriously attempts to mislead buyers on the products and goods available for sale.

The website also has other rules that are sensitive to the culture and laws of the UAE, the spokeswoman said.

"We have a strict policy in which we do not allow religious items, including books and artefacts of any description or any other such item which is likely to affect the religious sentiments of a person," she said.

nhanif@thenational.ae

Published: August 8, 2011 04:00 AM

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