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West Australian-found Buddha is a Ming Dynasty treasure: Antiques Roadshow

The young Buddha was taken out during ceremonies to celebrate Buddha’s birthday, with purified water or tea poured over his shoulders.

Young said that as a Ming dynasty piece without such a story, it would likely have a presale estimate of £3000-£5000 ($AUD5000-$9000), but given its historical importance – what remains unclear is whether it has links to a 15th century Chinese treasure hunt, or if it was left on the beach more recently – it could be worth a lot more.

He wouldn’t be surprised, he said, if the hammer fell on £10,000 ($18,000) or £50,000 ($90,000).

“We collectors are all history hunters. And I see people getting kind of bragged about this,” he said.

“Even if it raised £100,000 ($175,000) I wouldn’t be too surprised. Because there’s only one of them with that story. I mean, I’m actually honored to have been as close to this as I have.. .it’s history making and for you to have gone on that incredible journey with him, you know you’re here today.

Leon Deschamps and Shayne Thompson, who run the aquatic film company FINN Films, explored a public road with a metal detector in 2018 when they discovered the Buddha, which weighs more than a kilogram despite its small size, and which is now their property under the relevant legislation. When their metal detectors indicated something large and close to the surface, they set up cameras and GPS markers to record their discovery.

The pair say they’ve spent more than $50,000 on lab research and traveling to interview scientists and academics in their efforts to trace its origins, and the same amount again in man-hours, since the find was also reported exclusively by this masthead. This is how they arrived at their set auction reserve price.

Following the find, they engaged in discussions with all possible stakeholders, including police, local and state government, the WA Maritime Museum, the Ambassador to China and the Museum of Chinese Australian History, antiquaries, art historians, various Chinese associations, archaeologists and local Indigenous elders.

Retired WA Museum fellow and respected corrosion expert Dr. Testing the effect of the dirt on the corrosion present on the Buddha, Ian McLeod publicly stated that it was buried in the exact location of its roadside discovery and could not have been “planted”.

“It is not possible, even with the most advanced chemical methods, to develop a complex patina as found on the Shark Bay bronze object,” he wrote.

“It can be reasonably estimated that the object has been in that environment for decades, that is, it was not planted at the site, in an attempt to lure metal detector operators to the site.
believe they have found an ancient object.”

He publicly stated that he believed it had been buried for over 100 years.

The finders said their research had shown that the berm was in a geologically turbulent area close to coastal sand dunes that were subject to strong winds and tides and that the Buddha could therefore have been buried and exposed several times, making it possible that the figurine lay on the location for a long time. for his final burial.

The most exciting possible explanation for the object’s presence in WA is that it came on the Ming treasure voyage in 1421, when the Chinese emperor sent the great explorer Zheng He to circumnavigate the globe.

Leon Deschamps with Lee Young from the Antiques Roadshow.Credit:FINN Movies

This could mean that the Chinese visited the region almost 200 years before Dutchman Dirk Hartog landed in 1616.

A less potentially geopolitically sensitive explanation is that it arrived in the 150 or so years since the 1870s, when the Chinese first came to the northwest coast.

The finders, Leon Deschamps and Shayne Thompson, say the site is under surveillance and has not been disturbed since their discovery.

They hope it may hold the Buddha’s missing index fingers, which Dr. McLeod’s report says were glued into it and may have been made of ivory. He advised further work on the site.

They hope governments will work with the Chinese community and local indigenous trustees to co-fund an archaeological dig; that the Buddha will find a culturally appropriate home; and that museum-quality replicas can be made to tell the story in Australia.

“This story is nothing but positive and tells the history of the journeys of incredibly brave sailors along ancient trade routes,” they said in a statement.

They added that it should not be considered a European colonial style object used to claim landed property, as Buddhists did not believe in the possession of wealth.

“This has been greatly reinforced in all our dealings with Chinese academics,” they said.

“In the past four years, it has cost us a lot of personal capital and time to properly research and protect the Buddha. The Buddha is currently located offshore in an expensive, highly secured private commercial site. We want it to find a home with a culturally appropriate owner who will hopefully put the Buddha on public display in Australia or China.


“Had we not continued our self-funded research, this discovery would never have been confirmed as a priceless antiquity and an incredible and proud part of the shared regional history of Australia and China.

“Depending on the final hammer price, we hope to use a portion of the proceeds, once we recoup our costs, to help fund initiatives to help protect our local cultural heritage sites, Indigenous as well as Asian and European.

“It is also our dream to continue to support the new local Malgana seaguard initiative on their journey to protect cultural sites in our home, and potentially be involved in providing replicas, our research catalogs and funding for future museum exhibits and any future archaeological excavations.”

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