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UCLA archaelogy expert exposes 'ancient' fakes on EBay

May 28, 2009 |  3:38 pm

CharlesStanish Charles "Chip" Stanish, director of UCLA's Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, studies the economic life of ancient Peruvian civilizations, but for fun he likes to browse that thoroughly modern marketplace, EBay.

Like most archaelogy experts, Stanish deplores the antiquities trade. It goes back, he says, to his first trip to Peru in 1982, when he came upon a promising site -- what looked to be an intact thousand-year-old home -- only to find it had been looted, trampled and rendered useless as a window on how its inhabitants had lived. A few years later, he says, a diplomat from a Central American nation offered him $50,000 if he'd help illegally spirit an ancient find out of the country.

When EBay came along in 1995, Stanish and his colleagues were alarmed that electronic commerce would cause a boom market for looted objects, meaning more artifacts lost to private collections and more archaeological sites ruined. What he didn't foresee was potential looters instead becoming craftspeople, creating fake antiquities and selling them cheaply, or sometimes expensively, over EBay.

In a recent article for Archaeology magazine, titled "Forging Ahead or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love eBay," Stanish reports that the online auctioneer's ancient artifacts aisles have become a flea market of near-total fakery.

In this story in Calendar, we go browsing online with the professor who now laughs at the buying and selling he once feared.

--Mike Boehm

Photo: Charles Stanish has a laugh while browsing for antiquities on EBay. Credit: Christina House / For The Times.