Don't Buy Ancient Artifacts You See Online—Most Are Looted or Fake

ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images
ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images

While browsing eBay for vintage finds, steer clear of anything that looks like it once graced an ancient tomb, temple, or palace. As The Wall Street Journalreports, up to 80 percent of antiquities on the online market are likely either looted or forgeries.

The illicit trade of antiquities is nothing new, and unscrupulous dealers and smugglers have plied their wares on the internet for years. But recently, there's been an uptick in fake or stolen artifacts sold on the web. Neil Brodie, a senior research fellow in endangered archaeology at the University of Oxford, estimates that at least 100,000 antiquities are listed for sale online on any given day. Collectively, they’re worth more than $10 million, according to the Journal.

This boom could be chalked up to a variety of factors, including the growth of social media and e-commerce platforms and the large-scale plundering of sites in Syria and Iraq. Groups like ISIS sell these stolen antiquities to collectors, and use the proceeds to fund terrorism and criminal activity.

Thanks to social media, it’s easier than ever to sell illegal goods directly to potential customers. But in addition to potentially funding terrorist activity, there’s a good chance that collectors' objects of desire are either illegal or fake, as an estimated 80 percent of the so-called antiquities have sketchy provenances, Brodie said.

Tech giants like Amazon, Facebook, and eBay all forbid the sale of stolen objects, and they also remove suspect ads, content, listings, and even users. But overall, regulation is lax, although heightened scrutiny by international organizations and officials might prompt these companies to take extra security measures.

eBay—which sells five collectibles per second, according to Artnet News—is reportedly trying to thwart trafficking by providing customs officials with the identities and contact info of suspicious sellers. Experts have also suggested that the e-commerce company adopt other anti-trafficking measures, like posting prominent warnings about stolen or fake goods on the site. Meanwhile, undercover agents have taken to monitoring apps and websites in search of potential criminals.

For now, if you're a collector, you can help by ignoring those ads for "uncleaned" ancient coins that look like they’ve just been dug up. Both your wallet and conscience will thank you.

[h/t The Wall Street Journal]

Keep Your Cat Busy With a Board Game That Doubles as a Scratch Pad

Cheerble
Cheerble

No matter how much you love playing with your cat, waving a feather toy in front of its face can get monotonous after a while (for the both of you). To shake up playtime, the Cheerble three-in-one board game looks to provide your feline housemate with hours of hands-free entertainment.

Cheerble's board game, which is currently raising money on Kickstarter, is designed to keep even the most restless cats stimulated. The first component of the game is the electronic Cheerble ball, which rolls on its own when your cat touches it with their paw or nose—no remote control required. And on days when your cat is especially energetic, you can adjust the ball's settings to roll and bounce in a way that matches their stamina.

Cheerable cat toy on Kickstarter.
Cheerble

The Cheerble balls are meant to pair with the Cheerble game board, which consists of a box that has plenty of room for balls to roll around. The board is also covered on one side with a platform that has holes big enough for your cat to fit their paws through, so they can hunt the balls like a game of Whack-a-Mole. And if your cat ever loses interest in chasing the ball, the board also includes a built-in scratch pad and fluffy wand toy to slap around. A simplified version of the board game includes the scratch pad without the wand or hole maze, so you can tailor your purchase for your cat's interests.

Cheerble cat board game.
Cheerble

Since launching its campaign on Kickstarter on April 23, Cheerble has raised over $128,000, already blowing past its initial goal of $6416. You can back the Kickstarter today to claim a Cheerble product, with $32 getting you a ball and $58 getting you the board game. You can make your pledge here, with shipping estimated for July 2020.

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

Explore Two of Pompeii’s Excavated Homes in This Virtual Tour

A photo of the Pompeii ruins from November 2019.
A photo of the Pompeii ruins from November 2019.
Ivan Romano/Getty Images

It’s been nearly 2000 years since the eruption of Mount Vesuvius decimated Pompeii in 79 C.E., and archaeologists are still uncovering secrets about life in the ancient Roman city. As Smithsonian reports, they’ve recently excavated two homes in Regio V, a 54-acre area just north of the Pompeii Archaeological Park—and you can see the findings for yourself in a virtual tour published by the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities.

The 7.5-minute video comprises drone footage of the houses and surrounding ruins, along with commentary by park director Massimo Osanna that explains what exactly you’re looking at and what types of people once lived there. Osanna’s commentary is in Italian, but you can read the English translation here.

The homes, both modest private residences that probably housed middle-class families, border the Vicolo dei Balconi, or “Alley of the Balconies.” The first is fittingly named “House With the Garden” because excavators discovered that one of its larger rooms was, in fact, a garden. Excavators pinpointed the outlines of flowerbeds and even made casts of plant roots, which paleobotanists will use to try to identify what grew there. In addition to the garden and vibrant paintings that feature classic ancient deities like Venus, Adonis, and Hercules, “House With the Garden” also preserved the remains of its occupants: 11 victims, mostly women and children, who likely took shelter within the home while the men searched for a means of escape.

Across the street is “House of Orion,” named for two mosaics that depict the story of Orion, a huntsman in Greek mythology whom the gods transformed into the constellation that bears his name today.

“The owner of the house must have been greatly attracted to this myth, considering it features in two different rooms in which two different scenes of the myth are depicted,” Osanna says. “It is a small house which has proved to be an extraordinary treasure chest of art."

To see what Pompeian houses would’ve looked like before Mount Vesuvius had its fiery fit, check out this 3D reconstruction.

[h/t Smithsonian]