Wednesday September 21, 2011
Ancient treasure found – and sold
By R.S.N. MURALI
MALACCA: Agents of scrap metal dealers have been selling old Portuguese coins, bullets and religious amulets that were unearthed during a recent landslip along the banks of the Malacca River to antique brokers from Singapore.
The artefacts, the most valuable of which found so far was a cannon ball that fetched RM500, were discovered after an ancient jetty at Stadhuys collapsed in May.
The artefacts are believed to be about 500 years old.
A scrap metal agent, Rafi, 38, said the find also comprised Chinese porcelain pieces and religious paraphernalia from the Malacca Sultanate as well as those from the Portuguese, Dutch and British colonial periods.
National heritage: These priceless coins have been unearthed by agents of scrap metal dealers from the Malacca River and sold to brokers from Singapore.
“Also unearthed were bullets and cannons. For the past few days, I have joined six others in combing the river sediment for treasure.
“We have hit the jackpot! There are piles of these artefacts for our picking,” he said, adding that he made about RM1,000 a day by selling the items. Apparently, the brokers are from Singapore.
At the peak of the Malacca Sultanate and when the port was colonised by the Portuguese and Dutch, the river would have seen trading vessels from various countries, some of which could have capsized with their treasures.
Rafi said he was only armed with a ladle and hoe for his search, adding that although the relevant authorities “were aware of the find, nobody had stopped them from digging”.
“I know we should not sell these items but the offer is too tempting,” he said.
“We found mostly items from the Portuguese era. Despite being 500 years old, the coins are well-preserved with their carvings still visible. We have also discovered coins used by the Dutch East India Company.”
Expressing his regret that no effort was made to preserve these historical items, Portuguese-Eurasian Association president Michael Singho said it was ready to buy the artefacts and conserve them at their settlement in Ujong Pasir here.
“I will embark on a fund-raising drive to obtain the items back,” he said.
State Tourism, Culture and Heritage Committee deputy chairman Chua Kheng Hwa said he would bring up the discovery to Chief Minister Datuk Mohd Ali Rustam.
“The items are supposed to be handed over to the museum authority but these people are only interested in making a fast buck.”