How Clio Ancient Art Deals with Illicit Traffickers and Uninformed Travelers

Years ago, when I first made the transition from merely collecting Mediterranean and related antiquities, to becoming a dealer in antiquities with a world wide clientele, I would never have imagined that I would so often be solicited by so many strange and misguided people. By e-mail, phone and post, I regularly receive messages from persons attempting to sell looted antiquities in violation of national and international laws, as well as those trying to sell fake, forged and fabricated “antiquities” to turn a quick profit.

In part because the illicit trafficking in looted antiquities is a serious concern, and in part because many of these solicitations are entertaining, I have decided to post here some examples of actual solicitations received by Clio Ancient Art. These have come mainly by e-mail, usually accompanied by digital images.

There are three general categories of messages:

1. Persons residing in antiquities-rich countries who have found or looted antiquities and are attempting to sell them to dealers in the US, UK or Europe, in violation of both their own national laws and international conventions governing the transfer of cultural property.

2. Persons who have created and are attempting to sell fake antiquities, either obvious copies of real ancient objects or composite fakes made from bits and pieces of real antiquities. Plenty of examples of both may be found on ebay.

3. Tourists or armed services personnel from the US who have acquired fake “antiquities” from local dealers or have found genuine ancient objects and unwittingly violated national laws by removing those objects from their source countries and bringing them to the US. This broad category also includes US citizens who have inherited genuine, replica or deliberately faked objects from family members who acquired them in good faith in antiquities source countries.

Below are just a few samples, as promised, of actual messages soliciting purchase of their objects, authentication, dating or assistance with selling their objects. Of course, all names have been removed, except in one case where an e-mail address has been left in, should anyone reading this blog also be solicited by these criminals. Part or all of the original message is in bold italics, while my response is in plain text.:

I have a beautiful stone axe head that I found on a hill above Athens, Greek. I checked the Greek and Cypriot museums and the one I have is better than theirs. It is apparently about 6,000 yrs. Old. I am wondering if there is a market for something like this  and if so how do I get an expert to manage the sale of it?

MY RESPONSE: I’m afraid the best advice I can offer is that you turn this object over to the nearest Greek Consulate or the Greek embassy. Having taken this object out of the country (Greece) is a violation of Greek laws that have been in place for many decades governing antiquities and the transfer of cultural property. You may not legally sell this object.

Dear sirs ,

Peace be upon you …,

We are an Egyptian Family from upper Egypt , while digging to build a new built we have found a 3 ancient Egyptian ( pharos ) Statues in their Coffin .

We knew that you are interested to buy the ancient Egyptian ( pharos ) statues to expand your collections , so we offer to sell these 3 statues to you .

I think that you should know that these matters are always very urgent as it is illegal to some extent .

Any way I am sure that you may not trust my e-mail , but also we are ready to prove to you by any means that we are right and telling the truth .

I am also respect all your rights to be sure that these 3 pieces are original & I will respect any procedure you may want to do to be sure from this matter , but again please put in your consideration that these matters are always very urgent , so we need your reply as fast as you can .

I want to tell you that their lengths are between 1.9 – 2.4 meters , they are big beautiful and very respectful statues , they are made from wood covered by a layer from gold .

Please , put in consideration that in case you accept to buy these 3 statues or any one of them , we can only give them to you in Egypt and you will bear their travelling to their final distention .

I also want to say that we have some videos for these statues , we can send them to you before we prepare the whole matter .

Again and again , please put in your consideration that these matter are always very urgent , top secret & trustful as it is illegal to some extent .

Hope you have understood the matter and trusted us , and please we need your reply so urgent either you accept or not .

Again please send us your reply either you accept or not .

And finally , Please accept our great respect .

Egyptian Family

MY RESPONSE: I must point out that if you found the items in question on Egyptian soil, you are illegally in possession of them. Egyptian law is very clear that antiquities and cultural artifacts found on Egyptian soil are the property of the State. Removing them from Egypt, or even possessing them, however innocently, is a violation of Egyptian law and a serious offense.

These are photos of the Greek bull I was given on Crete. I am sure it is Minoan or Mycenaen.


Thanks for sending the excellent photos of your bull. I can tell you with absolute certainty 
that this piece is not ancient. The casting technique is quite unlike anything that would have 
been used in Crete in either the Mycenaean or Classical periods. The piece is not bronze but 
slag metal that has been artificially patinated to resemble bronze. The overall style is something 
of a hybrid between Mycenaean bulls seen in Cretan art and later images of the early Classical period.

This may be something of a disappointment but really you should be relieved. If this piece had 
proven to be a genuine antiquity, you would have been obliged to hand it over to the Greek 
government at your nearest Greek Consulate or Embassy, in order to comply with international 
conventions governing the transfer of cultural property to which both the U.S. and Greece are parties. 
In addition, the transfer of antiquities illicitly excavated in the modern era from Greek soil to a 
foreign party is quite illegal in Greece. This is in contrast with the Greek antiquities available 
from a reputable antiquities dealer, which have long ownership histories predating modern laws 
governing ownership of such items. 
(I should point out here that the American couple who sent the images were indignant at my response, 
certain that I was wrong because the person who gave them this "antiquity" was a friend.)

My name is XXXX XXXX and I have found an ancient coin and only recently discovered what it was after several years. I uncovered what it was while brushing it off during a snow storm and some extra time at the house. I found it in southern Iraq in 2003 while fighting there. I un-earthed it in the sand and thought it was just a peice of weird metal. Being perplexed and in a hurry I shoved it in my back pocket and I have had it ever since. I have taken it to several coin specialist shops and to a collector of ancient coins all to no avail. I would be pleased if you could help me figure out what it is. It is in great condition and has the face of a ancient conquerer or commander. On the reverse is writing in some ancient language i haven’t been able to find it even on the internet but of course i am no expert. i have included some photos of the coin and think maybe it was from alexander the great time frame as no coin online resembles it quite like the alexander coins, but it has no direct match. Please contact me via email at or by cell at XXX-XXX-XXXX if you happen to have any information on the origin or story behind this coin.

MY RESPONSE: Please be aware that  by leaving Iraq with this coin you have committed a crime. I understand that you did so unwittingly, but this is considered looting of another nation’s cultural heritage. A single coin (which is late Medieval Islamic and has very limited value) may not seem much but the principles involved remain the same. You should immediately contact the U.S. State Department and / or the Iraq Embassy and arrange to hand over this item. In good conscience, I will be obliged to contact both the U.S. State Department and the Iraq Embassy if you do not do so yourself.

Unlike most people, who either do not respond at all, are sure that I’m wrong about their treasures, or reply with obscenities, this person agreed to return the coin via the State Department.

It should be pointed out that when dealing with overseas contacts attempting to sell genuine, looted antiquities, I always inform them that that their contact information, including e-mail, and images of the objects in question, will be passed on to US Customs and to the embassy of the country from which the solicitation came, usually Egypt but sometimes Turkey, Syria or elsewhere in the Middle East, and occasionally Eastern Europe. Whether or not any governmental body has taken meaningful action on the basis of the information provided by me is unknown.

I hope in a future post to share with readers some of the bizarre, comical or sometimes convincing fakes, forgeries and reproductions that have come across our real or virtual desk.

2 thoughts on “How Clio Ancient Art Deals with Illicit Traffickers and Uninformed Travelers

  1. Thanks for sharing, very interesting. It is good to see how an ethical dealer responds. But it raises the bigger question why antiquities dealers as a group do not adopt a policy of passing such messages on to the police and/or foreign authorities.

    1. Larry:
      Thanks for reading and for your message. In fact, among the several small trade associations of reputable antiquities dealers, there have been many instances in which they have filed reports with Interpol and the Art Loss Register when questionable items were offered to them. In a few cases, this has led to the repatriation of antiquities to their source countries and the prosecution of those involved.

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