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Demi Lovato’s Ancient Egyptian Artifacts Draw Suspicion: “I Thought It Was a Joke”

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spacer.pngPer The Hollywood Report.

Another day another Demi drama.


It’s hard to explain the hypnotic allure of unboxing videos. But in a clip Demi Lovato posted on Instagram Stories over the weekend, the appeal was clear: The items unpacked were Egyptian antiquities and cuneiform tablets dating back millennia. Supposedly.

“OK, I’m so excited, some really incredible things came in the mail today,” they narrated. “These are ancient Egyptian artifacts.” Lovato’s camera swept across an array that included ankhs and glazed shabtis — mummiform figurines that elites in pharaonic Egypt would place in their tombs to serve them in the afterlife — as well as clay tablets of the kind used in ancient Mesopotamia.

“Some of these pieces are literally thousands of years old,” Lovato continued. “Like, what? My mind is literally blowing right now, and I’m so excited.”

Lovato also showed off documents that the online dealer they bought the items from, Museum Surplus, had sent along with the shipment. “These are my certificates of authenticity.”

But expert observers were unconvinced. “All of Heritage/Art Crime Twitter is coming out for this,” tweeted Peter Campbell, archaeologist and lecturer in cultural heritage under threat at Cranfield University in England.

Aside from their somewhat amateurish design, with a squiggly blue trim you might find in a clipart library, the papers included no details on how the artifacts were sourced, raising the possibility that they were fakes or — more problematically — had been looted.

“When I first saw the certificates, I thought it was a joke because they contain none of the critical information like ownership history, export permits or find spot,” Campbell tells The Hollywood Reporter, acknowledging that the video might not have shown all the documentation.

Erin Thompson, professor of art crime at John Jay College in New York, smelled a rat as well. “There’s no indication of provenance of where Museum Surplus got these before offering them for sale,” Thompson says. “There’s no way that these would be accepted by a museum. There’s no way that any sophisticated collector who wanted to make sure that they had value and could resell the things would accept or buy those either, because you don’t want to buy a problem. You don’t want to buy something that Egypt could confiscate or that you can’t sell because other people are worried about it.”

Neither Lovato nor Museum Surplus responded to a request for comment.

While international law largely forbids the trade of cultural artifacts trafficked after 1970 — the date of the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property — there is a thriving black market for such items.

“International markets have seen an influx of looted artifacts from Iraq and Syria following the US invasion and Daesh — artifacts like cuneiform tables,” Campbell tweeted on Monday. “Following the Arab Spring, widespread looting in Egypt led to an influx of Egyptian artifacts onto the market.”

On Tuesday, the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo released a major report on the seizure of cuneiform tablets from Norwegian collector Martin Schoyen, as requested by Iraqi authorities.

Lovato is not the only celebrity to be recently embroiled in antiquities-related controversy. Last year, a stolen Roman-era marble bust that had been smuggled out of Italy and shipped to Kim Kardashian was confiscated by U.S. law enforcement before it could reach her. (The sculpture had been selected and purchased for Kardashian by a Belgian art dealer, as reported by The Guardian; Kardashian was not accused of wrongdoing.)

Thompson, who is at work on a book about art forgeries for Norton, believes it’s possible several of Lovato’s new acquisitions are fakes. “The Egyptian figures are of types that have been forged for centuries,” Thompson says. “Visitors to Egypt have thought these were cool since the early 19th century. So there’ve been thousands and thousands of them made for tourists as souvenirs, or as forgeries.”

There is no law against owning a fake shabti, but for Thompson, it’s as important to raise awareness about the prevalence of forged artifacts as it is to call attention to the black market for authentic antiquities: “People, unfortunately, seem to not care that much about buying looted antiquities, because there’s a lot of justifications, right? ‘Well, I’m saving this piece of heritage for the world, I can take better care of it, blah, blah.’ But nobody likes being fooled by a fake. So that’s why my public messaging focuses more on forgeries.”

Thompson recognizes that “holding a piece of the past is really freakin’ cool” to some people. But she urges collectors to do their due diligence.

“People are asking, ‘Where did my chocolate come from? Where did my shrimp come from?’ So if you can ask those sorts of sustainability and ethical-labor-practices questions about avocados, you can ask them about antiquities.”

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