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 clip-art 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 findspot,” 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 the 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.”
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