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JUNE 2005

Babylonian Demon Bowl. The eBay seller, located in New Mexico, offers "protection against this object being obtained illegally through illicit antiquities channels."

UPDATE (June 17, 2005): This demon bowl was won by John Piscopo, a well-known American collector of ancient swords. Piscopo informed us that he immediately contacted the FBI to investigate the eBay transaction and to arrange for the return of the demon bowl to Iraq.

UPDATE (June 27, 2005):

In a message dated 6/27/2005 3:41:59 P.M. Central Standard Time, service@paypal.com writes:

Dear John Piscopo,

Axis Mundi (mail@axis-mundi.com) has refunded your payment.

Note from Seller:
Dear John,

Many thanks for your purchase. Unfortunately the bowl was dropped and broken in the process of packing for shipment. We are therefor refunding your payment.

Your understanding is appreciated.

Bouchra Belghali

UPDATE (June 27, 2005):

Dear Bourchra,

Sorry to hear about the accident. Please pack up the shards and send them to me. I have experts that can restore the bowl. Just tell me how much of a discount you are willing to give me because it is broken.

Best regards, John Piscopo

UPDATE (June 28, 2005):

In a message dated 6/28/2005 6:26:12 P.M. Central Standard Time, mail@axis-mundi.com writes::

Dear John,

Thanks for your message. We provided a refund because we don't see any reason to send you the pieces of the bowl.

Bouchra Belghali
Axis Mundi

UPDATE (June 28, 2005):

Dear Bouchra,

I want the pieces of the bowl.

Best regards, John Piscopo

Internet Sales of Artifacts Take Root

While Iraq still waits for its own Internet country code, offers of Iraqi artifacts on the Net are picking up.

In addition to online auction sites such as eBay, sellers can now turn to Internet service providers anywhere in the world to hide their identities while selling antiquities.

For example, BaghdadMarketplace.com uses Abacus America, a California corporation, to conceal ownership identity. For $8.95 per year with Abacus, BaghdadMarketplace.com can maintain an anonymous domain and pay as little as $5.95 per month to run its online store, which offers Iraqi antiquities.

Demon Bowl at BaghdadMarketplace.com (Google cache)

On page 5 of its site, BaghdadMarketplace.com explains its operations.

"A word about our antiquities," they write, "Our company has established relationships with Iraqi merchants whose families have been in the antiquities business for generations. During the period when Saddam Hussein was in power, no items of antiquity were allowed to be sold on the open market. During this period, these merchants continued to travel the deserts of Iraq buying and bargaining with the rural Bedouins, herders and farmers. Information about age and provenance for these items comes from the merchants themselves, in addition to research conducted by us."

Any provenance which includes an admission such as this would be simply unacceptable in the United States, per Executive Order 13550, recently renewed by President Bush. However, the BaghdadMarketplace.com statement reflects the people-to-people appeal of online marketing. Buyers can feel that their purchases are putting food on the table for Iraqi families. It will be interesting to see if BaghdadMarketplace.com can maintain its public exposure beyond the domain name's expiration date in August.

The advantage of sites such as eBay is that sellers can bob in and out of the marketplace, exposing themselves for only a few days at a time. Also, their auctions can be "private listed," so that all bidders' User IDs are kept private.

Sellers can further cloak themselves by creating multiple User IDs. Each identity can declare itself from a different country and systematically build up positive feedbacks from buyers in French, German or other languages.

Sellers also have an opportunity to contact any of their bidders, and make arrangements to post a new object at a designated time so that a buyer can immediately purchase it using the "Buy It Now" feature.

This "Buy It Now" cylinder seal was quickly sold from Malta for $499
by a seller who is under investigation by Interpol and has disappeared.
See stories below by Maltese investigative reporter, Karl Schembri.

Unwary buyers are ripe for a fleecing on eBay. Every day that we have checked, we have spotted on eBay fake signed Picassos, fake signed Warhols, fake Louis Vuitton handbags, products recalled by the Consumer Product Safety Commission or the Food Safety and Inspection Service. Items that have been stolen are harder to discern, but eBay has often been used as part of an illicit value chain by thieving employees, student perpetrators, and high-tech theft rings.

Buying Iraqi artifacts on eBay requires extreme caution. Buyers can be prosecuted along with the sellers if the item was illegally brought into the United States. Vague statements by sellers that the object was purchased from an unnamed dealer or collector, or was simply acquired in "the London market" or "in the Middle East" are signals that buyers should stay away, or be prepared to face the consequences.

The Iraq Cultural Property Monitor is a program funded by this site to monitor worldwide the sale of Iraqi artifacts.

Below are cylinder seals, cuneiform tablets, foundation cones and other objects that are being offered for auction this moment on eBay. There is no easy way to determine if any of these objects are stolen or fake. But because thieves stole thousands of such objects from the Iraq Museum and continue to strip mine Iraq's archaeological sites for more, we encourage the collection of tips and public leads for the FBI and other international law enforcement agencies.

It is our position that the failure or refusal of a seller to provide documents proving legitimate chain-of-ownership of Iraqi cultural property or other items of archaeological, historical, cultural, rare scientific, and religious importance creates a reasonable suspicion that they were illegally removed from the Iraq National Museum, the National Library, or other locations in Iraq since August 6, 1990. Hence, by Executive Order 13550 issued by President George W. Bush, the trade in or transfer of ownership or possession of such cultural goods is prohibited.


Iraq Cultural Property Monitor
Items offered for auction on eBay

U.S. Buyer Beware: Verify Legitimacy of True Artifacts Before Purchase

"Objects and documents taken from museums and sites are the property of the Iraqi nation under Iraqi and international law. They are therefore stolen property, whether found in Iraq or other nations. Anyone knowingly possessing or dealing in such objects is committing a crime. Such individuals may be prosecuted under Iraqi law and under the United States National Stolen Property Act. The Iraqi people, as well as members of the Coalition forces and others, are warned not to handle these artifacts. In particular, Americans are asked not to purchase or otherwise trade in such objects as they belong to the nation of Iraq and are stolen property."

Secretary Colin L. Powell, April 14, 2003
Before bidding, prospective buyers of Mesopotamian artifacts listed on eBay are urged to carefully read and compare the sellers' statements and determine that an artifact is both authentic and legitimate. Auction records reveal the eBay IDs of all members attempting to buy a particular object. Sellers should readily provide information on when and how or from whom an artifact was acquired. Illegal activity can be reported directly to the FBI. Click here to open the FBI's report form in a separate secure window. (Note: This list, which is automatically generated each time it is requested, may sometimes include items that are replicas of artifacts, or inspired by Mesopotamian culture, or were found in countries other than Iraq.)

Cuneiform objects

Cylinder seals

Babylonian objects

Sumerian objects

Akkadian objects

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