The “Apollo” of Gaza ~ Part I: Fishy Tales and Timelines

As it appears the pressgasm on this one seems to be in a refractory period, it seems like a good time to bring together all the disparate threads which make up the rather strange (and fluid) story of the so-called Apollo of Gaza. From a rogueclassicist point of view (and that of many others) there is plenty to be suspicious about with this one. This was originally going to be one long post, but it became clear that this would probably be best treated in two parts. In this first part, I’m attempting to make some sense of the finder’s ever-changing story and will try to establish some sort of timeline which might make a bit more clear some of the problems associated with provenance and possession.

We should begin by establishing a context of sorts. As most folks who read rogueclassicism are aware, I also put out a weekly newsletter called Explorator, which is full of links relating to matters archaeological from around the world. Most, but not all, of those which pertain to the Classical world usually get mentioned here at some point, but many do not. Something which is noteworthy, however, is that the find of this “Apollo” purportedly off the coast of Gaza came after a long period when we really hadn’t heard much of anything regarding archaeology in Gaza. Up until the the beginning of 2013, there generally was just a single news item (if that) pertaining to Gaza in any given year. Then ‘suddenly’ (by comparison) we started hearing more from Gaza, especially as regards preservation of antiquities found there. An item in January [Gaza’s archaeological treasures at risk from war and neglect (BBC ~ January 2013)] followed by one in February [Pillaging of Gaza Antiquities an Archaeological Tragedy (Al Monitor ~ February 2013): started to give archaeology in Gaza more attention (the pillaging was reported off and on in several minor outlets throughout this period as well). Just as summer commenced we read more specific concerns: Palestinians struggle to save remains of ancient Christian monastery (Raw Story ~ June 2013 (there was quite a bit of coverage of this one)] and then half way through August, it seems, the press definitely was covering concerns about Gaza and her sites [Archaeologists race to save Gaza’s ancient ruins (Phys.Org].

Was it because of everything going on in Syria at the time? Perhaps, but possibly more important, it is in this environment of “concern” when this so-called “Apollo of Gaza” was found. As such, with all that press attention swirling around Gaza, it seems rather strange that the initial discovery of the “Apollo” received so little attention. Indeed, as far as I’ve been able to discern, the only attention paid to it initially (and a couple months after its purported discovery) was in a report in La Repubblica by Fabio Scuto (L’Apollo ritrovato che divide Gaza). The report was made in English on October 10, and La Repubblica also seems to have a Google Translatesque translation which is a bit confusing at points (The Apollo found that divides Gaza). The first couple of paragraphs of the English version seem okay:

It’s a full moon night in mid-September, Mounir puts in the water his small fisherman’s boat in the beach in front of Deir al Balah, the town in the middle of the Gaza strip. But that night in his seine, a fishing net a couple of hundred meters long, something gets caught just a few meters form the shore. What surfaces, illuminated by the moon, is the arm of a wounderful life-size Apollo, which shines to the point of seeming gold. Helped by his children Mounir somehow frees the statue from the sand that has protected it for twenty-five centuries, loads it on his rowing boat and hides it in his house, lost in the termite mound of dirt roads and buildings where the city and the refugee camp intertwine in the same urban tragedy. The Apollo is shown to a relative, but no one is able to tell if it is gold as the fisherman hopes. It could be seventy or eighty pounds of gold which, in the desperate reality of Gaza, multiply its value. But no one can go around the Strip with a statue of the Hellenistic period in the trunk. The statue which is (was) in perfect conditions, has finger roughly cut off, so to be shown to some connoisseur to have an esteem of its purity and quality. The dreams of Mounir come crashing quickly, the finger shown “around” turns bronze, the statue has only (and a big one too) archaeological value as that of many other artifacts which crop up here and there in the Strip.

Skipping a paragraph, we then get a somewhat weirdly broken up pair of paragraphs:

But Mounir with that metal finger shown around Gaza has attracted the attentions of Hamas’ spies, always well introduced in every environment. Within a few hours the fisherman is arrested and the statue, which could date back to the fourth century B. C., is seized. It would be a great achievement  for Hamas to show the world this wonder of Greek art  –  comparable to the Riace Bronzes  –  but  for those who have it in their hands it soon becomes clear that the Apollo must remain a secret. Islam forbids the reproduction of the human figure in art and accepts only floral and decorative painting. Moreover the Apollo in accordance to the style of the era is naked and it would be impossible for the zealous fundamentalists to show it in public. The statue must disappear, suggests someone, better to sell it –  like so many other antiquities .

The “black market” and put the money into the damaged coffers of Hamas, which is no longer able to pay salaries to his men after the blocking of the smuggling tunnels with Egypt. The story of the Apollo of Gaza starts likes this and in a few days it reaches another dimension made of large hotels, sick collectors, ambitious businessmen and antiquity hunters. As a well know International “mediator” is working to find a buyer for the Apollo rough estimates speak of 20-40 million dollars, and in the race there would already be a major American museum. Hamdan Taha, the Deputy Minister of Culture and Antiquities of the PNA in his office in Ramallah, opens his arms and looks carefully at the photos of “La Repubblica”. “The Strip is a paradise for archeologists”, he says gravely, “but it is also for the Palestinian grave robbers, more than a fortune was made possible thanks to the sale on the black market for stolen artifacts abroad.” He twists the photo of the Apollo in his hands: “You see, if it gets out of the Strip we cannot have it anymore, because  Palestine is not yet a state and we have not yet been allowed in the Interpol: even if we discovered in which hands it will go we could never really get it back”. The only way to save Gaza’s Apollo is to tell its story, to let its images circulate, so that nobody can say, “I didn’t know where it came from”.

I’ll include the equivalent (three paragraph) bit of the Italian:

La statua deve scomparire, suggerisce qualcuno, meglio venderlo – come moltissime altre antichità – sul mercato nero e mettere i soldi nelle casse disastrate di Hamas, che non è più in grado di pagare gli stipendi ai suoi uomini dopo il blocco dei tunnel del contrabbando con l’Egitto.

La storia dell’Apollo di Gaza entra così, qualche giorno fa, in un’altra dimensione. Fatta di grandi alberghi, collezionisti malati, ambiziosi uomini d’affari, cacciatori di antichità. Perché un noto “mediatore” internazionale è al lavoro per trovare un compratore per Apollo. Stime approssimative parlano di 20-40 milioni di dollari e in corsa ci sarebbe già un importante museo americano.

Spalanca le braccia e guarda con attenzione le foto di Repubblica Hamdan Taha, il viceministro per la Cultura e le Antichità dell’Autorità nazionale palestinese, nel suo ufficio di Ramallah. “La Striscia è un eldorado per gli archeologi”, commenta serio, “ma anche per i tombaroli palestinesi, più di una fortuna è stata possibile grazie alla vendita sul mercato nero di reperti trafugati poi all’estero”. La rigira, la foto di Apollo fra le mani: “Vede, se esce dalla Striscia non la prendiamo più, perché la Palestina non è ancora uno Stato e non siamo ammessi nell’Interpol: anche se scoprissimo nelle mani di chi andrà non potremmo mai riaverla indietro”. L’unica strada per salvare l’Apollo di Gaza è quella di raccontare la sua storia, far circolare le sue immagini, perché nessuno possa dire: “Non sapevo da dove venisse”.

Via:

Folks who are fluent in Italian will want to read the Italian version, as it seems a bit more clear. In any event, this is the beginning of the saga and, it seems, there are a number of details we must note:

  • The statue was found by a fisherman named Mounir
  • He was fishing by moonlight and his net was caught on the statue a few metres from shore
  • His children help bring it up and he hides it in his house
  • It’s already identified as an Apollo
  • It was shown to a relative, who thought it might have 70 or 80 pounds of gold
  • A finger was cut off and shown to a ‘connoisseur’, who says it is made of bronze
  • Because of the finger, “spies” from Hamas come and seize the statue.
  • Those spies, however, do a rethink and figure there’s something ‘antiIslamic’ about the statue and so suggest putting the statue on the black market, with the money to go to Hamas to help make up for monetary losses caused by Egypt’s blocking of contraband tunnels.
  • We hear vague stories of collectors etc. Trying to get in on the act with estimates of very large figures of money involved; we hear too of a “major American museum”
  • It is clear there is concern amongst Palestinian officials in this initial report to establish a provenance

Quite the story, to be sure and possibly believable at first blush. Indeed, just a month before this, Ha’aretz was reporting that Egypt had destroyed some 152 tunnels between Gaza and Egypt which were being used for nefarious purposes (Egyptian army destroyed 152 smuggling tunnels to Gaza since July). A month later, it was clear that such destruction was an ongoing operation (Egypt destroys smuggling tunnels on Gaza border(Times of Israel)). So the Hamas motives seem not unrealistic.

But the initial story did cause many to go hmmmm and Sam Hardy (at the conflict antiquities blog) was probably the first to voice some of them and put them up on the web in the wake of La Repubblica’s coverage:

At this point, the story  wandered into the realm of “what the heck”? As Hardy noted a few days later, an “Apollo” — which was clearly the one mentioned in the La Repubblica coverage — had shown up on eBay:

The eBay listing is important for a couple of reasons. If we believe the apparent timeline from the La Repubblica piece, this is would be happening at a time when “Mounir” had already lost possession of the statue to Hamas’ “spies” who were supposedly shopping it around to collectors and museums — indeed, the news item seems unaware of the eBay listing, still less of who might be behind it. Hardy did try to contact the seller (e.g. an appeal for information from the alleged seller of the Gaza Apollo on eBay) but and did find some info, which ultimately was a dead end (Who ran the eBay auction of the Gaza Apollo?). While the “ended” eBay auction page was still available as of February 23: 1500 Year Old Greek Statue Found in Mediterranean Sea, the Bid history page reveals it was originally a 10 day auction; so if it ended on the 15th, it began on the 5th at the earliest. Then again, if it was taken down because it was really “no longer available” in the sense that someone was told to take it down, any of the days between the 5th and 15th could be taken as dates when the auction was ‘live’. We should also note that the eBay listing does not designate it as an Apollo, which is curious, and possibly significant.

But after all that — perhaps because of all that — there was no press attention given to this find again until a few weeks ago, and then there was a veritable explosion of coverage, with plenty of photos and, perhaps significantly, some potentially significant changes to the story. Opening the floodgates (I believe) was a lengthy item (five pages on the internet!)  in Bloomberg BusinessWeek, which included an artist’s conception of the moment of the discovery and opened thusly:

Wearing shorts and a mask, and armed with a net, Jouda Ghurab climbed down a portion of Gaza Strip beach made steep by years of pounding waves, and dove into the Mediterranean. By his telling, it was Aug. 16 of last year, a Friday just after Ramadan. Ghurab, a fisherman, is 26, and has a wife and two sons.

… Okay, so our fisherman’s name has changed … no biggie; maybe Mounir is a nickname. Skipping a bit, though, we get a rather more dramatic tale than the one we originally read, and with several significant changes:

That day in August, as Ghurab recalls it, he noticed the currents were behaving unusually and had exposed some rocks. “The rocks looked strange,” he recalls. “The underwater waves had dug the sand and moved it out.” He paddled toward the rocks, capturing six bream with his net. As he swam to the surface, he glanced behind him and saw a dark figure, about 4 to 5 meters down. It looked like a burned body.
He dove down to take a look and found a statue of a man, lying on its back. Its legs, facing south, were covered with sand. Ghurab wanted to dig it out, and quickly; it was noon and he didn’t want to miss Friday prayers at the mosque. He also had valuable fish to bring ashore. Having no way to mark his underwater find, he took a visual reading of his location, swam the 100 meters to shore, and dumped his net. At that point, he says, “I stopped thinking about the fish.”
Ghurab swam back to find the statue. But the sea is big. After an hour diving again and again, he located it as he began to tire. Ghurab used his hands to shovel away the sand that covered the statue’s lower half and tried to use his own buoyancy to lift it, but it was too heavy. Again he had to abandon his find.
Back on shore, where midday prayers were over, he found six men to help, including his younger brother, whom he sent to get a friend’s rowboat and some rope. They returned with a length of plastic clothesline and set out again for the statue. This time it took two hours to locate.
Ghurab dove down with the rope and tied it to the statue’s neck. Using the boat, they managed to right the statue. They tied another line around its base and tried to lift it so they could tow it to shore. Instead, they nearly sank the boat. Finally, Ghurab and another diver were able to turn the statue, sliding it head over foot, and foot over head, spinning it along the sea bottom until it reached the beach. They finished around 4:30 p.m., almost five hours after Ghurab had discovered the prize. It took six of them to lift the bronze onto a donkey cart. They took it to a nearby cluster of buildings Ghurab shares with other family members. […]

  • ibid

… And now he no longer was fishing at night (nay, it was Noon) , and no longer was this something that was caught in his net but something his keen eye picked out because of currents or rocks or something. It wasn’t sufficient to get his two sons to help him … it took six people (including his younger brother) to dig it out and then take it on a donkey cart to some nearby buildings. Note too how they took it to shore, using the time-honoured ‘cartwheel method’.

Skipping a digression on the Croatian Athlete (which we’ll mention again later) and the Getty Apollo (whose find story seems a little too close to the original of this one), we read the opinion of a disreputable antiquities dealer:

“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.”

I can’t help but wonder whether Medici is also the source of the figures in the ‘original’ version of the story …

Again we skip over some items (mostly about the political problems Hamas would have selling the “Apollo” with questionable provenance and their being branded a terrorist group, as well as problems Islamic folks would have with nude statuary … pretty much covered in the original story) and get this:

Once the statue arrived at Ghurab’s family compound, the affair quickly spun out of his control. “I thought it was gold,” he says, an impression heightened by a patch of yellow on its right leg. He got in touch with a cousin who’s a jeweler. Within a few hours, at least one other jeweler showed up. By some accounts of what happened next, someone severed one of the statue’s fingers in an attempt to identify the metal and to find a buyer. Ghurab says three fingers were already broken when he found the statue, and his brother accidentally broke the left thumb. He doesn’t know of any intentional damage.

  • ibid

So now we have another relative involved (a jeweller) as well as another, and the fisherman doesn’t claim to have done anything, finger-wise. It was someone else. Whatever the case, more family members became involved:

The crowd at the house grew as other family members also arrived, including some belonging to Hamas’s militant wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades, Ghurab says. The brigades, which are known for their suicide bombings in Israel, are composed of a network of secret cells. They operate with some autonomy from the Hamas political movement, which runs Gaza. The Apollo wouldn’t even spend the night at the house. The cousins from the brigades arrived with a small truck, outfitted with a mattress in the back. They heaved the bronze in and drove off. In the day’s chaos, Ghurab says he didn’t even think of taking a photograph of his find. He’d even missed his chance to sell the six fish, which his wife grilled and served to the family instead. Now he just hoped his cousins could sell the statue and give him a cut.

… So now our “Hamas spies” are also family members. They knew who to take the statue to, apparently:

If the fisherman’s militant cousins had to sell the bronze locally, there was one obvious buyer: Jawdat Khoudary, an antiquities collector who makes his money in construction and is consumed with documenting and preserving Gaza’s ancient cultural heritage. Khoudary, 53, owns a hotel on the beach in northern Gaza City called Al-Mathaf, or the Museum, for the lobby gallery that displays part of his private collection. In 2012 he published a 203-page color catalog of his treasures, Gaza From Sand and Sea, with entries for each object written by academics from universities in Europe and the Middle East. It’s optimistically subtitled “Vol. 1,” in part because dealers and scavengers arrive at Al-Mathaf to offer Khoudary a steady supply of new finds, none of which is the fruit of a documented, scientific dig.
So it was no surprise in September when a contact of Khoudary’s, acting as an intermediary for the fisherman’s cousins, arrived with a mobile-phone video. “I was shocked,” he says. “I’ve never seen a statue as big as this in Gaza, beautiful and complete.” He immediately assumed it was Greek or Roman, and archaeologists who have seen photographs agree.
Khoudary says that as he watched the video of the Apollo, he decided there was no way he could privately own such an important piece of Gaza’s history. “It’s not a collectible like a coin,” he says. “Any thought of selling it is madness.” Instead, he had to save it. In an effort to keep the bronze off the international black market, he alerted officials from the Hamas government.

I’m going to skip something that we’ll return to in a bit, just to stick with this sort of academic side, where we find that Khoudary was (commendably?) concerned for the condition of the statue:

At the same time, Khoudary decided that keeping the statue off the black market was only half the challenge. To help conserve it, he activated an informal network of art lovers to assist Gaza authorities, including curators and a Roman Catholic friar. “My biggest worry is it needs immediate restoration,” Khoudary says, especially since the bronze has gone through the shock of encountering 21st century air for the first time. “There’s a chemical reaction, and we have to stop it.”

We then get a section with a couple of important dates that raise more questions:

Bauzou at the Université d’Orléans was one of the experts Khoudary called. The French archaeologist corresponded with the Gaza Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, using photographs to assess the bronze. “This statue is a major discovery,” he wrote in a Sept. 23 letter in which he expressed alarm over the work’s conservation. “I do not like the light green spots visible on the pictures … it is an emergency!” He said specialists in metal preservation and restoration needed to be called in at once to decide how to proceed. The transition from the dark color seen by the fisherman to the new green hue might be a sign of a type of corrosion akin to a grave dermatological condition. The reason the Getty’s bronze has its own room in Malibu with cool temperatures and low humidity is to prevent such irreversible damage. “Without these conditions, the metal would rapidly deteriorate and succumb to what conservators call ‘bronze disease,’ ” says Julie Jaskol, a spokeswoman for the Getty, whose specialists declined to comment on the Gaza bronze.
Bauzou concluded from his research that 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,” he wrote in another report, dated Oct. 4.

… So between find and the antiquities dealer seeing photos (at most; no evidence that he saw the actual statue yet) is around 39 days or so. A week later, the antiquities dealer writes another report … it’s probably at this point it starts being called an Apollo. But where was this statue in the time between? With the fisherman? With Hamas? The bit we skipped above comes into play:

The Hamas government police, a force separate from the Al-Qassam Brigades, then dispatched men to find the statue. It was a little more than a month after the original discovery when three police jeeps pulled up to the house in Beit Lahia where the bronze was being held, Ghurab says. Both the police and the militants were armed, leading to an intra-Hamas standoff. An elder cousin of Ghurab’s defused the scene by demanding the police come back with higher ranking officials. Officers did arrive and negotiations began. The cousins’ position on the statue was, “It is owned by our family and we are going to sell it outside Gaza,” Ghurab says. Alternately, if they surrendered it as state property, they wanted a reward. Ghurab says he doesn’t know what agreement was reached, but the talks culminated with the Apollo departing with the Hamas police.

Skipping a bit further, we read of more academics getting involved, specifically the Louvre:

The Louvre expressed interest in restoring the Apollo and publishing a description and analysis of it, says Jean-Baptiste Humbert, the French Dominican cleric and archaeologist with whom Khoudary has been in touch about the bronze. Humbert, head of the archaeology department at the École Biblique et Archéologique Française in Jerusalem, says he made contacts “with the top” officials at the Louvre regarding the bronze. Asked for comment, the French government museum didn’t deny that account. In a statement, the museum said it has developed ties with specialists in the Middle East over two centuries. “In this context, the Louvre is induced to be in contact or interact with different institutional and scientific partners in the region,” the statement said. The Louvre said it hasn’t officially engaged with the Gaza bronze, and that any attempt to do so would be in conjunction with the French foreign ministry. The reason the museum is being so cautious, Humbert says, is because of the statue’s sketchy provenance. “The Louvre does not want to be officially involved in that affair, as long the statue’s origin is not clear,” he says.

Skipping a bit more, we get an incredibly interesting ‘in passing’ remark:

The pictures even briefly showed up in a listing for the statue on EBay: starting bid, $500,000. Shipping was listed as “Free Local Pickup” in Gaza—which was either optimistic, a joke, or a scam to get someone to pay a deposit.

We’ll return to the Bloomsberg piece shortly, but it is clear the story has changed substantially since October:

  • Mounir is now Jouda Ghurab (there are other variations in the name as well, but they can probably be attributed to transliteration issues from Arabic to English)
  • The statue was found during daylight, not at night and wasn’t caught in his net
  • He needed six relatives to help lift it out, not just his two kids
  • They ‘cartwheeled’ it to shore
  • He didn’t cut off the finger; someone else did
  • Cousins who happened to work for Hamas took the statue away within a day of its discovery
  • The statue appears to have been examined only via photograph and/or video by folks who might have knowledge of such things
  • The timeline we have been given appears to take the tale just up to the point where the statue appears on eBay

Without casting aspersions on the author of the Bloomsberg piece, it strikes me a this point that this story (and or the sources of it) is designed to give the piece a rather more clear and definite provenance than the initial report in La Repubblica. The ‘find’ is made more believable, the motives of Hamas don’t seem to be so shady, there are definite scholars involved, and the eBay thing is quickly explained away.

Even so, in subsequent pieces, it is clear that the story keeps changing, check out these excerpts:

Ghrab says he cut off one of the fingers to take to a metals expert, thinking it might have been made of gold. Unbeknownst to him, one of his brothers severed another finger, later melted down by a jeweler.
Family members belonging to a Hamas militia soon took charge of the statue, and at some stage, the Apollo appeared on eBay, with the seller telling the buyer to come and collect the item from Gaza.

Ghorab admits to breaking off one of the figure’s fingers, thinking that it might be made of gold. “I’m asking the government for a reward of 10 percent of (the statue’s) value,” he said, hoping to be officially recognised as the finder. But experts who had heard rumours of such as discovery for months contend that Ghorab’s version is pure fiction.

… And last, but not least, this puzzling excerpt from CNN (dated February 15th):

But in a Gaza gold store, a man who displayed video of the statue told CNN that he has custody of it and that it is in safe hands, but — if someone wants to buy it — that would be possible.
Government officials promise that the statue will not be sold and that they will start restoration and display it after an investigation into its discovery is completed.

… which brings us to the most recent coverage — February 20 in BBC Magazine — which throws yet another spanner in the works. We get another version of the story, but let’s focus on this bit:

Ghurab considered trying to smuggle the statue into Egypt to sell it, but the smugglers’ tunnels – dug to circumvent restrictions put in place by Israel and Egypt after the Islamist movement Hamas came to power in Gaza – have been out of action since they were closed by the Egyptian army last summer.

Neighbours started asking questions, so Ghurab asked a relative – a commander in Hamas’s military wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades – to help him hide it.

“The people who took the statue said they would send me a handsome reward after they sell it, but we have not got anything yet,” he says.

The BBC piece includes a link to an interview on the show The Fifth Floor (which is available for another month or so online; there’s also a podcast. The online version is here and begins at the 14:00 minute mark). This interview is extremely interesting from a timeline point of view (and passing mention that the original plan was to cut the statue up and sell the pieces) because it clearly states that this relative of Ghurab — the one in Hamas’ military wing — is the one who took the statue, had photos taken of it and had it put on eBay. After that, Hamas seems to have taken possession of it and is still in possession of it.

Just to further add some interesting detail to our timeline, we should note that some of the news coverage includes photos which are attributed to the news agency, the Palestinian Tourism folks, and/or both. E.g., the Ma’an coverage (Gaza seeks global help to unravel Apollo statue mystery) includes this photo:

A picture taken in Gaza on Sept. 19, 2013 shows a 2,500-year-old bronze statue of the Greek god Apollo discovered by Palestinian fishermen in August (Gaza's Ministry of Tourism/AFP)

A picture taken in Gaza on Sept. 19, 2013 shows a 2,500-year-old bronze
statue of the Greek god Apollo discovered by Palestinian fishermen
in August (Gaza’s Ministry of Tourism/AFP)

From Hurriyet (Rare bronze statue of Greek god Apollo found in Gaza):

A bronze statue of the Greek God Apollo is pictured in Gaza in this September 19, 2013 picture provided by Gaza's Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. REUTERS Photo

A bronze statue of the Greek God Apollo is pictured in Gaza in this September 19, 2013 picture provided by Gaza’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. REUTERS Photo

The Daily Star has the same photo as above with the caption : A bronze statue of the Greek God Apollo, as photographed in Gaza, September 19, 2013. (Reuters/Gaza’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities) (Mysterious Greek deity detained in Gaza)

Your Middle East has a little slide show, which includes this:

A 2,500-year-old bronze statue of the Greek god Apollo, discovered by a Palestinian fisherman last August, pictured on September 19, 2013 © – – Gaza’s Ministry of Tourism/AFP/File

So it appears that on September 19th, there was some major photoshoot of the statue under the auspices of the Gaza Ministry of Tourism. If we want to make inferences from the photo from Hurriyet, it was almost a press conference (there is some guy in the photo clearly taking notes or something). Also worth noting is that in these photos, the left eye already appears to have been gouged out (that will be brought up in our second installment). It might be speculated that all the photos which have so far appeared on this ultimately stem from this September 19th photoshoot.

Now we can try to impose a speculative timeline on all this:

August 26, 2013

Ghurab is out fishing around noon, finds the statue, and spends four or five hours getting it to some ‘compound’ associated with his family. Over the course of the next few hours, he cuts off one of the fingers (and maybe his brother does too), has it taken to a relative jeweller who declares the statue bronze. Before the night is through, a cousin in Hamas comes with a truck and hauls the statue off on a mattress (no doubt with a stylish smurf sheet).

September 19, 2013

Seems to be a major photo session and judging from at least one of the photos (above) is possibly set up to look like a press conference. The photos appear to have been officially taken by the Gaza Ministry of Tourism, but perhaps others were taken as well.

There comes a few weeks when the photos and videos are shown to various scholars and other people who might have an interest in the statue, among them Jawdat Khoudary and his ‘network’.

September 23, 2013

Bauzou of the Universite d’Orleans writes the Gaza Ministry of Tourism and antiquities to express his concerns.

October 4, 2013

Bauzou writes another report expressing concern about the condition. Some time during this general period the Louvre was also likely consulted.

Between October 5 and 15

Ghurab’s cousin and/or his associates put the statue up on eBay for half a million dollars. It doesn’t get any bids.

October 10

First press coverage in La Repubblica; appears unaware of the eBay auction so it likely has not been put up yet.

October 15

The auction “ends” and the statue hasn’t been seen since. Apparently it’s at some undisclosed location known to Hamas officials.

January 30, 2014

The statue returns to the news in a big way and continues to be a topic for 2 – 3 weeks.

It’s actually a somewhat believable sequence of events, except for the story of its discovery, which has changed at least three times and has had all sorts of details added and taken away from it, all clearly designed to make it more believable. In other words, if we do not allow ourselves to be distracted by the events after August 26, it is clear that alarm bells should still be going off because the story of the discovery and recovery does not make any sense at all. The attempts to have the statue authenticated and put on the market in some way do seem to be ‘natural’, although it is still unclear who (even in the sense of groups within Hamas) is doing what. There seems to be a group that is in it for the cash and another group who are hesitating for reasons unknown.

In our next installment (which should appear by the weekend, barring unforeseen busyness), we’ll look at the statue itself and how its condition casts further doubts both on Ghurab’s find story and potential matters of authenticity.

UPDATE (the next day): The “Apollo” of Gaza ~ Part Ia: Fishy Tales and Timelines << some Arabic coverage.

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