Phuket's ancient bead saga continues
PHUKET: An exhibition of ancient beads is now on display at Thalang National Museum, in a thinly veiled bid to prove the national treasures remain under the care of the Regional Department of Fine Arts.
Tuesday 20 September 2011, 03:30PM
But the most valuable beads, and the source of some contention, are notably absent from the exhibition, which began yesterday (September 19) and will run until the end of the month.
The issue of the ancient beads came into the spotlight in late July after Suta Prateepnathalang, Vice-Chairman of the Phuket Happiness Development Association, went on national television to announce his fears that the beads had been lost to illegal traders.
He noted that thousands of decorative prehistoric beads – some worth as much as B1 million and thought to be between 2,000 and 4,000 years old – had disappeared after their discovery in Phang Nga and Ranong as long as eight years ago.
Thai law states that all archeological artifacts found beneath the ground must be handed to the Department of Fine Arts and kept in national museums.
Archeologist Boonyarit Chinesuwan, who is undertaking research on the beads, insisted that the full collection remained in the care of the Regional Department of Fine Arts office, but could not be displayed while research was taking place.
Neither men provided definitive evidence to support their claims, and the current exhibition is unlikely to completely satisfy Mr Suta, with the largest, most valuable beads not available for public viewing. Mr Boonyarit said those were still undergoing research and would be displayed in due course.
“I agree that many [Thai national artifacts] are in the hands of private owners,” he said. “Trading archeological artifacts is a chronic problem [in Thailand].”
Archeological artifacts can be resold endlessly because of their high value, Mr Boonyarit further explained, before adding “It’s impossible to keep an eye on every historical piece found in Thailand.”
However, Mr Suta questioned why the Fine Arts office doesn’t use laws to retrieve artifacts back from private owners, as simply possessing them is also a crime.
“There are some cases where we found villagers who possessed beads they had dug out themselves. But because there were no victims in these cases, we didn’t arrest them,” said Mr Boonyarit.
He said he welcomed a full inquiry into Mr Suta’s complaint, insisting that “The beads have not disappeared.”