Thursday, 30 October 2014

Antiquitist Special Pleading

Sam Hardy (‘Virtually none of them have a provenance that says where they were dug up or when’ referring back to one of my posts from yesterday makes a cogent point worth stressing and discussing:
antiquities collectors and dealers cannot deliberately obscure the origins of almost all of their antiquities, then complain that it is very difficult for them to know if the antiquities on the market are legal, then complain that they are unfairly disadvantaged by regulations that are designed to ensure that the antiquities on the market are legal.
They create their own disadvantage by consistently filling their stockrooms with material for which they have failed to verify a proper provenance and collecting history, in order to establish that the material they trade in is of wholly licit provenance. If responsible dealers only handled material for which they can establish licit origins, and then demonstrate to discerning customers, they would not be faced with the problem of offloading potentially dodgy stuff to buyers when they cannot. Instead they attempt to foster the myth that this is in some mysterious way always impossible (though, as we can all see, some dealers do manage it - and they cannot all be making it up). It is time to clean up the antiquities market and its dodgy arguments.

New Cultural Heritage Laws in Switzerland

It does not seem all that long ago that they revised these laws, now they are being rewritten:
Bern, 29.10.2014 - Der Bundesrat hat an seiner heutigen Sitzung beschlossen, das totalrevidierte Kulturgüterschutzgesetz auf den 1. Januar 2015 in Kraft zu setzen. Auf den gleichen Zeitpunkt tritt die Totalrevision der Kulturgüterschutzverordnung in Kraft, die der Bundesrat heute genehmigt hat. Mit der Totalrevision des Kulturgüterschutzgesetzes (KGSG) werden die rechtlichen Grundlagen auf die aktuellen Herausforderungen ausgerichtet. 
(source: Neues Kulturgüterschutzgesetz tritt am 1. Januar 2015 in Kraft). The details were not given, but let's hope they are bad news for cultural property racketeering. More disturbingly however it talks in a rather object-centred fashion of Switzerland becoming some sort of an international 'safe haven' for conflict and displaced antiquities. It is believed that this is what they already have in the depths of the Geneva Free Port.

More Careless Syrian Coin Listings in America

At an MOU hearing in Washington not long ago, Wayne Sayles clearly told the CPAC that he was not a dealer - as he had retired at the end of 2011 ( PACHI Wednesday, 21 March 2012, 'Sayles Suspends Sales'). This was after apparently discovering the previous year that he might be on some kind of HSI "watch list" ('Is ACCG Director on a watch list?', PACHI Saturday, 20 March 2010). Then he came back, without Mr Lavenderand started a new website. Until recently it was interesting to note that we did not find him on the V-Coins portal. Until now that is. Sayles is back, not only as a dealer, but as a V-coins seller:
Dear Friend in Numismatics: (yuk!) We are very pleased to rejoin the VCoins family of dealers as we celebrate our 50th year in professional numismatics. It's been a wonderful experience and our association with VCoins goes back many years—virtually to its beginning. We are presently building this new store to include offerings from our independent WGS web site and from our vast stock of ancient coins and related materials presently not offered online. 
The stock shown currently includes Artukid coins (from the present Turkey/Syria border area), a Byzantine coin struck in Homs (now a bombed out town) and other items from Syria, and quite a few from regions in and around modern Turkey (see 'ADCAEA Officer: "Boycott Turkish Antiquities"). Very few of them (and of those on the main WGS site) have much of a collecting history to speak of up front.Why is it that anyone putting up artefacts traceable to the war-torn regions of the Middle East precisely right now would not be going the extra mile to show that anyone who looks that they are of wholly licit provenance? Do coin dealers like Mr Sayles simply not care about the image they are projecting of their trade?

Please note, showing my readers what a dealer is doing is in no way an "endorsement" of the site, the portal, its proprietors or anything else to do with the opacities of the trade in dugup antiquities or the verbal chicanery of those involved in and supporting it (Cf 'Wayne Sayles: "Archaeologist Barford endorses WGS Store". Ummm, is that what I say?' Sunday, 25 November 2012  and also see: 'Intellectual landscapes and Honesty in the Coin Trade' Saturday, 1 December 2012).

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

US Brigadier General Urges Proper Antiquities Market Transparency

 "The antiquities market has always been difficult
to regulate, even in peaceful times, but with no effective 
law enforcement presence on the ground to discourage looting, 
this activity is sure to continue to rob the world of some
 of its richest cultural history—while funding one of the
 world’s most abhorrent terrorist organizations".

Now the US military is joining the academics in condemning the use of antiquities sales to finance armed aggression in the Near East: Brig. Gen. Russell D. Howard U.S. Army (retired), Jonathan Prohov and Marc Elliott,* 'How ISIS Funds Terror Through Black Market Antiquities Trade',  US Naval Institute News October 27, 2014

The authors write that ISIS has gone far beyond traditional sources of financing, such as private donors and money laundering, which has made U.S. and coalition efforts to target illicit financing activities less effective. ISIS enjoys a diverse income stream  and that "illicit trafficking of all kinds" in "humans, weapons, and commodities, such as oil" are more reliable and profitable than foreign donor money, and make ISIS financially self-sufficient. ISIS is trafficking in art and antiquities to finance its operations is potentially capable of raising tens of millions of dollars of revenue. While exact data figures concerning this clandestine market are difficult to come by the authors stress that antiquities trafficking is now thought to be the group’s second largest source of revenue, after oil. The profits from antiquities sales may however become increasingly critical for ISIS because of actions by the U.S.-led coalition to target ISIS-controlled oil fields and refineries, and a crackdown on external sales.

The article goes on to detail how the looting is organized (local sources: "looting is now the second-most common occupation in areas under ISIS rule"). The khums tax is mentioned. As is the seizure of memory sticks before the collapse of Mosul and the 'al-Nabuk / $36 million revenue' case gets mentioned again. See my earlier comments expressing caution on such statements and Hardy recently on the 36 million.
These looting and trafficking operations are nothing new. Organized crime in Iraq has been profiting from the exploitation of antiquities since the early 1990s, and following the 2003 US invasion, extremist groups worked with looters to develop what became a massive illegal industry. Many of the earlier looters and trafficking networks are once again flourishing, some of which had direct ties to al Qaeda in Iraq—the group from which ISIS evolved. [...] Anecdotal evidence also indicates that ISIS is leveraging well-established organized crime networks to traffic artifacts to countries such as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, where the items are exchanged for cash and weapons before being sold to international buyers. In Lebanon, ISIS takes requests for specific types of antiquities that are then looted and delivered
The 'cultural cleansing' of newly-occupied areas is another sinister but effective strategy for extremists
These demolitions occur only after a systematic looting of the goods found inside, which allows ISIS and others both to profit from selling the valuable artifacts and to advance their brand through the media coverage of these cultural atrocities.
There is a little bit of the military mentality here, unquestioning acceptance of what they've been told. I think however the respect that there seems to be in the US for men in uniform is a useful tool in getting the message across to the wider public. It is time do do something about the no-questions-asked antiquities market as this is not the first, nor will it be the last, time profits have been raised through it for  socially-damaging activities through illicit antiquities sales.

Russell D. Howard is the Senior Fellow at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. Jonathan Prohov and Marc Elliott are graduate research assistants at the Monterey Terrorism Research and Education Program (MonTREP) at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. Their research on the nexus between trafficking and terrorism is sponsored by the Bradley Foundation.

Giza men arrested after digging up ancient temple under house

This is quite an intriguing story:
Seven residents of a Giza district have been arrested after they illegally excavated the area beneath their home and found the remains of an ancient Egyptian temple. The huge limestone blocks, engraved with hieroglyphic texts, date from the reign of the New Kingdom's King Tuthmose III, and were found in the Hod Zeleikha area of Al-Badrasheen district. [...] The find was made two weeks ago, [...] A unit from the tourism and antiquities police heard of the illegal excavation work and arrested the seven men – two of whom are Palestinian [...] The police also found diving costumes, oxygen cylinders and diving masks with the detainees.
It seems some of the recovered remains came from "nine metres below ground water levels". So this is not exactly the work of desperately poor subsistence diggers, but organized looting profiting from the ability to turned ancient sculpted stone into cash no questions asked on the antiquities market. Presumably some form of shoring must have been used to stop immediate collapse of the house - also of course the removal of tonnes of earth from under a single building would have tended to attract the attention of the neighbours....

Nevine El-Aref, 'Giza men arrested after digging up ancient temple under house, Al Ahram Wednesday 29 Oct 2014.


Russian Journalism and Syrian Artefacts Truth

I tweeted Maria Finoshina (, fresh from reporting separatists in eastern Ukraine and now in Syria, about those two rough fakes of Syracuse dekas that were shown prominently in her video report of antiquities allegedly been sold in Lebanon after having been dug-up near Damascus. I think I'd be right saying that dekas of Syracuse did not normally circulate in ancient Syria, and copper alloy ones even less so, and those made for the modern coin collecting market quadrupally-so. The question of what they are doing in the video therefore is a perfectly justifiable one. I sent it yesterday, but... not only did it not get answered, it disappeared. I guess I was dreaming about sending it... Well not to be daunted, I've sent it again. Here's a copy:
  6 min. 6 minut temu
The 2 large coins in video are FAKE Sicilian issues; is whole report staged? Why R they here?
Nice touch that linking to the world-famous transatlantic numismatic-coin-scholar-mega-expert Wayne Sayles' blog to uphold the identification. Let's see if this one gets a reply, or gets disappeared too.

Metal Detectorist Arrested Near Tarquinia for Looting

A man, 47, was arrested in Tarquinia for possession of stolen goods of archaeological interest. The man was stopped at a road check, and in his car were found a metal detector, a tool used for digging and 2 Roman coins. The man would not reveal where the coins had come from and his house was searched, in the course of which a further 7 Roman coins "and numerous fragments of bronze of great archaeological interest" were found and the man was arrested. "The archaeological findings, of an approximate value of €5,000, together with the metal detector and the tools for digging, have been subject to seizure".

Meanwhile in England today, thousands of artefact hunters, after a day's emptying archaeological sites into their pockets, will be packing up soon as dusk falls and heading for home with a good deal more than just two Roman grots in their cars safe in the knowledge that the worst that will happen to any of them is they will not get a big enough pat on the head from some archaeo-bloggers for what they are doing. Poor waifs.

'' Tuscia Times 28 ottobre 2014

 Vignette: digging holes even in grassland

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