Sunday, 17 June 2018

Controversy over Thai Buddha in London's SOAS

There is a 13th-century broken off Buddha torso of Thai origin standing in front of the Brunei Gallery in London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).  On its website, the SOAS describes the statue as “a delightful 13th-century Lopburi Buddha torso of Thai origin”. The manner in which it got there is under discussion (Phatarawadee Phataranawik, Thai Buddha statue not smuggled: SOAS', The Nation June 16, 2018)
The SOAS has denied claims the prestigious institution possesses a 13th-century sculpture likely smuggled from Thailand “We strongly reject any suggestion that SOAS University of London has handled this donation improperly. The allegations made in the blog post by this student are without foundation,” SOAS spokesperson Vesna Siljanovska told The Nation by email. Siljanovska was referring to allegations made by SOAS scholar Angela Chiu, who had accused her school of accepting the one-metre-tall Buddha statue that stands at the entrance to its Brunei Gallery. It was gifted to the SOAS by American alumni Mary and Paul Slawson who reportedly bought it minus documents attesting to its provenance some 30 years ago.
Paul Slawson
(thus around 1988, Paul Slawson here, on the list of benefactors here). SOAS has denied any wrongdoing in accepting the sculpture. In doing so they bring out the art trade's hoary old ALR excuse:
Siljanovska added due diligence was carried out by SOAS in accordance with SOAS’s Collections Management Policy and Due Diligence Procedure for the acceptance of Philanthropic Gifts [...] Siljanovska said: “[...] before accepting the gift, checks were carried out by our experienced Galleries and Exhibitions Manager and included placing the details of the object on the Art Loss Register” [...] John Hollingworth, head of Galleries and Exhibitions at the SOAS [says]. “[...] his team had checked with the International Council of Museums and found that the artefact is not on the ICOM [International Council of Museums] Red Lists of lost or vulnerable artworks.”
That rather misinterprets the nature and function of ICOMOS Red Lists (as I am sure the academics at SOAS know - or jolly well should know). Their student does:
However, Chiu commented that checking the ICOM Red List was not sufficient to identify provenance. There are no Thai objects on the Red List. “ICOM does not say that checking its Red List is a substitute for documented provenance.”
But in any case, there is no ICOMOS Red List for Thailand (!).

See also:  SOAS Watch 'SOAS Accepts Gift of Potentially-Looted Southeast Asian Sculpture, Begins Offering Antiquities Laundering Service' 08/06/2018
On 12 March, Mr. Slawson sent Mr. Hollingworth a letter which states that the sculpture was purchased in 1985 at the “Ormond Gallery on Portobello Road,” the staff of which was “not aware of the exact origin” of the sculpture. (p. 1) [...] On 12 March, one working day after his meeting with the Slawsons, Mr. Hollingworth informed SOAS Development staff about the donation so that they could begin the process of due diligence and documentation. (p. 23) Thirteen minutes later, Mr. Hollingworth emailed the Slawsons that he was in touch with art moving companies about the transport of the sculpture; by the end of the day, he had scheduled it for 3 days’ hence. (pp. 8, 9, 36) Thus, even as the due diligence process had hardly begun, Mr. Hollingworth was already proceeding to take possession of the sculpture.
UPDATE 17th June 2018
More startling details here: SOAS Watch 'SOAS Administration’s Misunderstanding of Museum Standards ' 16/06/2018
Thailand is a notoriously looted country. This heightens concerns about the antiquity in question having no documented provenance. Also, stone Buddhist sculpture of the Lopburi era (13thcentury) of this size is rare. This is an artefact that should have been treated with great cautiousness and sensitivity.

Thai Artefacts Gone Missing

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Its good that Eggs are not Sold like Antiquities

Just think what would happen if something as common and cheap as eggs were sold in the no-questions-asked way antiquities dealers handle their goods: 'More than four million eggs recalled in Poland'. There would be no way of telling where any of the eggs in any of the shops had come from.  But of course, in the case of antiquities, that is the very idea...

Illegal trade in antiquities: a scourge that has gone on for too long

Owning a piece of antiquity [i]s seen as demonstrating wealth, a love of ancient culture and, ultimately, one’s own distinction: having things that nobody else could have. At least this is what the looters th[ink]. We should now all know the most apt way to describe this dubious form of collection – and it’s a word that has historical resonance: vandalism. [...] the antiquities trade is still going strong – not only depriving countries of their heritage, but, which is worse, depriving the world of the information that could be extracted with appropriate systematic excavation and reducing the artefacts into mere art pieces [...] Meanwhile, there is evidence that revenue from the sale of stolen antiquities looted in Syria and Iraq has been used to fund Islamic State and other terrorist groups – so one illegal activity has been connected to many others. Fighting the trade How are we to stop this trade, which is a scourge of historical knowledge, local pride and international sovereignty[?] The illicit trade in antiquities – and almost all trade of antiquities is illegal in some sense, as it almost always breaks the law of the source countries – is considered to be a common crime.
(source: Evangelos Kyriakidis, 'The Illegal trade in antiquities: a scourge that has gone on for millennia too long', The Conversation June 15, 2018)

Collectors' Corner: Alien Bronze Age Mongolian/Babylonian Jade on EBay

EBay seller ancart (location: 'ANCIENT and AUTHENTIC**GUARANTEED!, United States ) has a lot of 'antiquities' for sale, and has 5576 positive feedback points from satisfied collectors. That is a bit odd, looking at what they sell. As they say:
Artifacts and Treasures from around the World. We offer ancient artifacts from a number of cultures such as Assyrian, Egyptian, Greek, Judean, Persian, Phoenician,and Roman along with African and Tribal artifacts and weapons. We wholesale to the public. All pieces guaranteed authentic and come with a Certificate of Authenticity (unless otherwise stated) which is our guarantee of your satisfaction
There is the usual stock assurance of legitimacy (but note how here they probably intended to delete one version before publishing). Also the old 'archaeological institute' claim:
We have just had the great pleasure of acquiring a large collection of artifacts and we off[er] this unique treasure to you! We have bought from various auctions and collections from around the world and now we offer these rare items to you. NOTE TO EBAY: This item is NOT NATIVE AMERICAN and has been in a collection for over 75 years We are members of an Archaeological Institute We are members of an Archaeological Institute and studied in Israel and the US. So CHECK OUT OUR OTHER ITEMS. [...] Buy ancient artifacts from Egypt, Rome, Judea, Greece and other Tribal artifacts and weapons from around the world. All our items were collected prior to 1970 and come from private collections. All are acquired legally. Buyer pays shipping AND handling as noted in the ad unless otherwise stated, and international rates will vary and be determined at the close of the auction. We cannot insure outside of the US. Any insurance claim will be initiated and completed by the buyer. [...] COA: This fantastic artifact comes with a Certificate of Authenticity (unless otherwise stated) which is our guarantee GUARANTEE: Our items are guaranteed, and with us, you can buy with confidence. Collecting is a great hobby, and we want your experience to be a joyful one. Our buyers can count on a 100% money back guarantee. We pride ourselves in selling the best product available.
An example of their wares is this object sold together with a surfeit of exclamation marks: WOW! STONE AMULET! ALIEN? ANGEL? GOD? DEMON? 5000 YEARS OLD! (401547691752) sold for US $36.00 [ 11 bids ].
A GREAT ONE! [...]  WE OFFER THIS EXQUISITE TREASURE TO YOU! [...] Looks to be Asian.... I have also heard Babylonian. It appears to be made of jade or some other hard stone. I have seen similar on TV Ancient Aliens show! I have done some research and similar to those found in Inner Mongolia...mysterious ancient culture with a history connected to ancient alien theories DATING: Early Bronze Age, 3000-2000 BC! This one measures about 2 1/2" tall and 1" wide BEAUTIFUL WOW! This artifact would be a wonderful center piece to any collection. DON'T MISS IT!! 
The Mongolian Bronze Age in fact extends from  ca. 2500–1500 BCE.  All the 'Holy Land' objects (3) on sale at the moment are dated to the 'time of Moses' , the 'Indus valley' (3)  bowls from Pakistan are not ascribed to any culture, there are a few generic 'Egtptian beads' amnd a 'coptic cross' a US side-notched spear point (not assigned any country or culture of origin), and this 'alien' thing. What kind of collectors are buying these objects and what do they do with them? Where will they end up and in what form? 

PAS Database: how many lies?

"there’s an unknown but probably
 very large degree of error in PAS based PhDs"

This week, Heritage Action ask about the reliability of the second-hand 'data' supplied to FLOs which make up the PAS database. Despite this question being raised many times before, no attempt is still being made by the PAS for verifying the reported findspot of the finds they record (such as by demanding to see a finds release protocol signed by the landowner for any reported item to show the legitimacy of the finder handling the find in the first place  - and thus the legality of their own use of these data). Why not? Is the farmer aware of what he has let leave his property?

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

PAS a copout replacing real public engagement?

Token brown skinned people in imaginary
group of British detectorists
Is reconciling society and museums really just a matter of encouraging members of the public to buy a metal detector and create their own collections as the British Museum seems to think? Or is there a lot more to this question to debate (British Museum too) asks Erin L. Thompson ('Museums Should Consider Why They’ve Become Targets of Attack and Protest', Hyperallergic 11th June 2018). Most UK metal detectorists are white, aren't they?

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