Connecticut: FBI Investigate Stolen Tang Chinese Heads

Paul BarfordCommentary, Update2 Comments

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The FBI is investigating, but mystery surrounds two Chinese Tang dynasty sandstone heads of Lohan “valued at $800,000 each” which were recently stolen from a US private collection:

The two Louhan sculptures, which are approximately 1,000-years-old, were stolen from an undisclosed location in Westport, Connecticut. The sandstone works of art are two of only a handful known to exist and both date to China’s Tang Dynasty. The sculptures are 15 inches high and 15 inches long and weigh between 55 and 70 pounds each. Westport is a coastal town of about 25,000 residents and one of the wealthiest locations in the US. Police are not disclosing when the sculptures were taken or the exact location of the private collection.

The story has attracted no little attention in the newspapers, even reaching the daily main in the UK. Most of the attraction seems to be that items like this which, from the photos at least, are singularly unattractive to look at are worth such a lot on the “ancient art” market. But it seems to me one rather important question is not being addressed in the media.

Chinese-head1.jpgChinese-head2.jpg

It seems to me quite unlikely that these heads were dug up in Connecticut by local pot-hunters. The question therefore arises where they had been discovered and how – and when – they reached a US private collection. Why are there just the heads of what were clearly at one time complete figures? What happened to the rest? Did the art collector throw them away, or the dealer who sold them to him? Or the person that removed them from wherever they were to be found in China (and where was that?) so they could end up in some rich guy’s collection?

The released photos admittedly do not really show the items to their best advantage. What they do show are two heads with grey matter smeared all over them which certainly has the appearance in the photos of soil. It looks like these was still soil adhering to these sculptures when they were photographed. If that is what it is, it seems rather unlikely that they are still in that state if they had passed through some distinguished pre-1930s collection. Are not the FBI looking for some items which in fact are relatively freshly dug-up ?

I assume that before the FBI start looking for where these items are now, they looked into where they should be; after all if they find them they surely cannot give them back to a person who cannot document that they are indeed their legal possessor – like showing they had been legally exported from China. So, how did these items enter the USA, and when?

Photo: Have you seen these missing heads (AP, via Daily Mail)?

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Paul Barford is a British archaeologist living and working in Warsaw Poland. Since the early 1990s a primary interest has been research on artefact hunting and collecting and the market in portable antiquities in the international context.

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2 Comments on “Connecticut: FBI Investigate Stolen Tang Chinese Heads”

  1. Helen

    Hi,

    I am looking to obtain copyright permission to reproduce these images in an artists book. Do you know who took the photographs/where they came from?

    Thanks for your help,

    Helen

    1. safe-admin

      Hello:
      The 2 photographs are attributed to AP (see indicated on the photos in the lower left hand corners) so please contact AP.
      SAFE/Saving Antiquities for Everyone

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