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Monday, 15 September 2014 13:17

Mining Endangers Australia’s Rock Art

Documenting ancient rock art for a living isn’t for everyone. The hours are long. The office is a dusty, rust red landscape that is regularly baked in 40C heat. The work material is often surreal, seemingly indecipherable.

But for the traditional owners of land near the remote town of Laura, a four-hour drive north-west of Cairns, the job is essential – and urgent.

The Quinkan galleries are among the largest collection of rock art in the world, stretching over 230,000 hectares of sandstone. Dating back at least 30,000 years, the galleries take their name from the Quinkan spirits – comprising helpful protectors and mischief makers – of local lore.

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Cambodia on Tuesday officially welcomed the return of three ancient statues looted from the kingdom more than 40 years ago, including one retrieved after a long legal battle in the United States.

Authorities say the 10th-century sandstone artworks were stolen in the 1970s as the country was gripped by civil war, from the Koh Ker temple site near the famed Angkor Wat complex.

The statues, part of a nine-strong ensemble, depict warriors "Duryodhana" and "Bhima" locked in combat -- as well as a bystander called "Balarama".

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Yet another ancient statue looted in the 1970s from a single remote temple in the jungles of Cambodia has turned up in the United States, this time at Christie’s, which is voluntarily paying to return it to its homeland.

Christie’s sold the statue, a 10th-century sandstone depiction of a mythological figure known as Pandava, to an anonymous collector in 2009, but bought it back earlier this year after officials determined that the sculpture had been looted.

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Wednesday, 15 January 2014 18:21

Officials Return Looted Artifacts to India

Federal officials have returned three stolen antiquities estimated to be worth around $1.5 million to the Indian Consulate in New York. The United States Department of Homeland Security Investigations has been working with India to recover dozens of stolen artifacts in recent years.

All three of the works date from the 11th or 12th century and include a sandstone sculpture that had been stolen from an Indian temple in 2009. The 350-pound work, which depicts the deities Vishnu and Lakshmi, had been listed as one of the Interpol’s top 10 stolen artworks. The other recovered artifacts include a 400-pound figurative sculpture and a black sandstone sculpture depicting the male deity Bodhisattva.

A ceremony was held on Tuesday, January 14 at the Consulate.

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British art collector, Douglas A.J. Latchford, has spent decades building his reputation as one of the foremost experts in Khmer antiquities. Latchford, a resident of Thailand, was knighted in 2008 by the Cambodian government for admirably returning 14th-century Khmer artifacts.

In sharp contrast to his previous accolades, Latchford is currently the subject of a civil complaint files by the U.S. attorney’s office. Federal lawyers state that Latchford, referred to in proceedings as “the Collector,” bought a 10th century Khmer warrior statue known as the Duryodhana in the 1970s knowing that it had been looted from a temple during the Cambodian civil war.

While Latchford denies ever having owned the work, court papers claim that he purchased the statue from a Thai dealer who acquired the work from an organized looting network. Allegedly, Latchford then helped get the piece into Britain by concealing what was actually being shipped. Upon its arrival to the U.K., the auction house Spink & Son sold the statue to a Belgian collector in 1975. The collector’s widow is the Duryodhana’s current owner.

The widow approached Sotheby’s New York in 2010, hoping to sell the 500-pound sandstone statue. However, the sale was put on hold because of objections from the Cambodian government. While lawyers are hoping to return the work to Cambodia, the auction house still plans on selling the treasure, stating that there is no evidence to prove that the statue was looted or that it is the property of the Cambodian government.

Latchford has been collecting Cambodian antiquities for over 55 years and has donated many works to well-known institutions, including the National Museum in Phnom Penh and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A judge is expected to rule on the Duryodhana case within the next few months.

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