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Thursday, December 12, 2013

JOM BACA - Ancient Treasures for Sale on Modern eBay

BY DESIREE TRESA GASPER AND ZAZALI MUSA

Rare find: Animal-shaped currency from a private collection of an antique shop in Johor.

KOTA TINGGI: It’s not just Kedah that’s crying foul over the loss of valuable historic sites. Artefacts and treasures from Johor are also being sold at lucrative prices in a thriving black market trade – and much of the treasure comes from the state’s old administrative capital of Johor Lama.

To make things worse, The Star’s checks on eBay and other sites revealed a startling truth. Historical artefacts from Perak and Malacca are also on sale.

The treasures, which run into millions of ringgit, include gold, silver and tin coins, animal-shaped currencies, celadon, terracotta and blue and white Chinese ceramics and weapons.

The trade, which has been going on secretly for the past 40 years, has been attracting private antique collectors and antique shop owners from both Malaysia and foreign countries, including from Singapore.

A gold coin, resembling the current-day 10 sen, dating from the old Johor Sultanate can fetch between RM2,000 and RM10,000 in the black market.

Most of these treasures and artefacts are found by villagers and fishermen along Sungai Johor, sources said.


The artefacts should be surrendered to Yayasan Warisan Johor (YWJ), which is in charge of running museums in Johor, but many prefer to sell the items to private antique collectors or shop owners.

The items found are either sold online or even antique shops around the state.

“It all boils down to money, they (treasure hunters) know the value of the pieces and they want quick money,’’ a source said, adding that it took about a year for YWJ to decide on the quantum that should be paid to the finders.

The largest district in Johor, Kota Tinggi, is often called “the historical district” because it was the seat of the old Johor Sultanate.

Felda settler Suhaimi Abd Aziz, 64, from Kampung Johor Lama said the area was rich with all sorts of treasures which were often stumbled upon by villagers.

“Many people just keep them as family heirloom,” he said.

He said news of the area being a hotbed of treasures has brought many outsiders, including diving teams, to the area to try their luck.

Another source close to the Malaysian Museum Department said it was a fact that many of the state treasures were being sold in the black market.

“Contractors tasked with handling projects in Johor often accidentally dig up artefacts but instead of surrendering them to the authorities, they prefer to sell them off for a profit.

“Some of these items can fetch millions of ringgit depending on their rarity and condition but there is definitely a thriving market here,” he said.

YWJ director Muhammad Fuad Radzuan said it was illegal for those who found the items to sell Johor artefacts to private collectors and antique shops.

“We are aware that many of the artefacts discovered in Kota Tinggi are sold to private collectors in the black market due to good demand for the pieces,” he said.

Muhammad Fuad said they should surrender the items to YWJ to be preserved as state heritage as the artefacts were proof of the existence of the kingdom of Johor along Sungai Johor, which is said to have been in existence since the 1520s.

He said those who wanted to do excavation work to find state artefacts have to go through YWJ and the latter would refer to the National Museum for permission under the National Heritage Act 2007.

Youth, Sports, Cultural and Heritage chairman Datuk Zulkurnain Kamisan said Johor was in the midst of gazetting Sungai Johor and Kampung Johor Lama as historical sites to ensure that the historical items were not lost in the black market.

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