The dubious piece of Maltese heritage auctioned online on Sunday has been purchased by an anonymous buyer from Malta for €2,500 – fetching close to three times its €950 reserve price and well above the auction website’s ‘expert estimate’ of between €880 and €1,200.
The artefact in question is a 21-centimetre-high Neolithic figurine that was, according to the auctioneers, taken from the Ġgantija temple complex in Gozo.
Its authenticity has been debated since The Shift reported the auction on Friday.
Experts consulted by The Shift have noted the difficulty of determining its authenticity from online photographs, but most have stressed that if it is a genuine article, it should be returned to Malta’s national collection where it belongs.
At any rate, even though bids were received from across Europe – mainly from Malta, Germany, Belgium, the UK and Italy – it was a Maltese buyer who entered the bidding fray rather late in the day who had the largest appetite for the supposed piece of Maltese patrimony and will be bringing it back home or a personal collection.
Two Maltese bidders were fighting it out in the auction’s final hours, raising bids from €1,500 to €2,500.
The winning bidder may or may not be Heritage Malta itself, which should ostensibly be looking into recovering such an artefact with a national value far beyond its price tag if it is the real deal.
The national heritage agency has, however, not replied to any of The Shift’s questions about the figurine, its authenticity or whether it was looking to bring the piece of national patrimony back home. As such, it is impossible to determine in whose hands the figurine ended up.
Heritage Malta CEO Noel Zammit was asked whether the agency was aware of the sale of the object and whether any of its curators could attest to the object’s authenticity.
The Shift also asked whether Heritage Malta would take any steps, irrespective of whether the object was genuine or forged.
No replies from Heritage Malta were forthcoming last week.
Archaeologists contacted by The Shift have noted that if the object is a fake, it is a good one. If it is the real deal, they say it is most likely from the Xagħra Stone Circle going by type.
There are, however, many outstanding issues. First of all, they note the provenance details are more than sketchy and have stressed the irresponsibility of it being put up for auction.
The Catawiki online auction website described the object as: “An anthropomorphic stone sculpture” that was “found in the Ġgantija temple complex in Malta.”
The auction website explained, “These sculptures are considered shamanic icons, they are quite coarse with a parallelepiped body and whose face just sketched out shows the nose and the location of the eyes as well as a kind of headdress.”
Apart from these details, little is known about its provenance or authenticity. The object was sold by Musee Servaire, a small museum based in Condat, France, specialising in collecting and selling fossils.
This is incomprehensible. So one can go to Ggantija Temples pick up an article and sell it online, and nobody bothers!!!!
Purchasing of stolen goods is a crime, no?
If this is a genuine Ggantija heritage statuette, both Heritage and the Police should issue arrest warrants on unknowns and an international arrest warrant for the company in France that put it for Auction, and the Auctioneers who auctioned it.
Let us hope that the Maltese who bought is either on behalf of Heritage or to donate it to Heritage.
It should not be possible to auction something like this. If it is the real deal it is stolen goods. The auctioneer should have reported it to the police and the seller arrested. This is only going to encourage more theft from our heritage sites.
Maybe Anton was bidding or maybe selling?