Rabat – During a visit to Chefchaouen in Northwest Morocco, an Irish tourist bargained his way into buying a holiday souvenir for €52. He later discovered that it was a historic antique from the Ice Age, worth more than €33,000.
The Irish Times recounted today the story of the Irishman, under anonymity, who visited Chefchaouen in 2006.
In an antique shop that sold mostly “Islamic and Roman items, a high, carved figurine “that looked Chinese” caught his eyes.
The antique originally cost €70. However, the Irishman was able to bargain with the shop’s owner and hammered out a deal at €52.
Once back in Ireland, he began trying to identify the origin of the item. He thought that “the figurine was wood painted with lacquer and represented the Chinese Emperor Yongle,” wrote the Irish Times, adding that “he had a hunch that it might date from the 15th-century and said that his constant speculation had his wife driven mad.”
His wife convinced him to get the piece professionally seen to assert its origin. They visited a specialist company in Oxford, England and paid over €550 for a radiocarbon dating test, a test used by scientists to determine the history and age of the item.
The results of the test found that the piece was not actually carved from wood but rather from the horn of a 25,000-year-old “wooly rhino” an extinct species of rhinoceros that was common throughout Europe and northern Asia during the Pleistocene epoch period.
In 2011, the oldest known wooly rhinoceros fossil aging back to a 3.6-million years was discovered in the cold Tibetan Plateau, suggesting that it existed there during a period the climate of the earth began to warm.
The Irish Times wrote that “the most plausible theory for the carving is that fossil came to light in 15th-century China and a craftsman used the horn to make the carving. In imperial China, jade and rhino horn were commonly carved to create decorative objects of great beauty and high value.”
The Irishman, a self-employed carpenter, learned from Mealy’s – Auctioneers & Agents of Fine Art & Antiques, one of Ireland’s leading Fine Art Auctioneers & Valuers that the antique is worth up to €33,776. He decided to auction it off on March 6.