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Extraordinary and Rare Bronze Statue discovered in Gaza – but where?

February 2, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-02-02 at 6.42.19 PMThanks to Looting Matters for this fascinating story.  Bloomberg’s Vernon Silver reports in The Apollo of Gaza about the discovery last year of an ancient male nude bronze statue purportedly in waters off the shore of the Gaza Strip.  The nearly six-foot-tall, 1,000-pound antiquity is a rare surviving large scale figure, of Roman or Greek origin and perhaps 2,000-years-old.  It’s also incredibly valuable to archaeologists, art historians, among others:

Research by  Thomas Bauzou [a professor of ancient history at France’s Université d’Orléans who does archaeological research in Gaza] concluded … the statue dated from between the 5th century B.C. and 2nd century A.D. “The Apollo of Gaza is exceptional because it is the only classical Greek bronze life-size statue found in the whole Middle East.”

And, theoretically, it’s worth a good deal of money:

“A bronze of this size is one of a kind,” says Giacomo Medici, a dealer whose 2004 conviction in Rome for acting as a hub of the global antiquities trade led to the repatriation of works from the world’s biggest museums and richest collectors, including the Getty and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. If the Apollo could be sold, such a statue would bring “20, 30, 40 million euros, maybe more, 100 million for the highest quality,” Medici says, speaking by phone from house arrest at his villa north of the Italian capital. “You could make it a centerpiece of a museum or private collection.”

Screen Shot 2014-02-02 at 7.07.00 PMBecause of numerous regulations, potential buyers in the US and Europe are prohibited from purchasing the statue, even if it could be exported from Gaza. Silver’s article provides some valuable insights on that dimension.

But the most intriguing question is where was the statue found.  Jouda Ghorab, as 26-year-old fisherman claims to have discovered the object in 12- to 15-foot-deep waters off the coast in mid-August, 2013.  However, at least one expert is unconvinced:

“It does not come from the sea. It’s obvious,” Bauzou says. The giveaway, they say, is the lack of any sea encrustation or damage from hundreds of years underwater. Instead, they suspect the bronze came from a clandestine excavation somewhere on land. “This story has been fabricated to hide the real place where the statue was found so they can continue digging.”

So what is the future for this amazing discovery:

Officially, that determination will be made by Hamas. “Our investigations are still going on,” says Muhammad Ismael Khillah, assistant undersecretary at the Gaza Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities … [who] hopes to strike a deal outside of Gaza to restore and display the bronze. Along with the Louvre, whose contacts have been “indirect,” a U.S. museum has gotten in touch, he says. (Of course, any Hamas deal with an American institution risks running afoul of sanctions if not done with permission from the U.S. government.)

One arrangement Khillah floats is lending out the Apollo to a foreign museum for money. “We are keeping the door open to cooperation with any government,” he says. He also doesn’t rule out a public exhibition at home in Gaza, making accommodations for its nudity, of course. “We will have to cover it in certain places,” he says. In the meantime, almost nobody can set eyes on the bronze, which is being held at a secret location. Khillah will reveal only a few details: The Apollo is in a Hamas Interior Ministry office, somewhere in Gaza, being kept away from sources of humidity, he says. It is propped up in a corner.

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