Tuesday 28 November 2023

Sunak and the "British" Parthenon Fragments

Gillian Keegan Secretary of State for Education, member of Parliament for Chichester in response to a diplomatic hiccup over the continued presence of Athens' ripped-off (literally) Parthenon Marbles in a post-imperial Bloomsbury tourist attraction gave a press interview. She, presumably deliberately, called them the "Elgin" Marbles (but misprouncing the name as /ˈɛldʒɪn/ instead of the correct /ˈɛlɡɪn/) after the bloke who sold them to the Museum - Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin and 11th Earl of Kincardine (1766–1841). Having established their "Britishness", she says that they are "Actually protected under law, and under that law, they have to stay in the British Museum". This has prompted commentators to refer to a "Sunak's Law" (after the current PM). It's worth reflecting that it is not "Sunak's Law" but the British Museum Act 1963 was enacted as long ago as the end of Harold Macmillan's premiership (July 1963) and revised the British Museum Act 1902 (2 Edw. 7. c. 12) of 22 July 1902. So time for a change.

Thursday 23 November 2023

Looter Alert at Walney

Bad news from another corner of Britain (Alec Whitaker 'Round House Hub and Cafe to host new metal detecting club in Walney' The Mail 23.11.23),
Metal detector enthusiasts of all levels of ability have been invited to attend a newly formed club this weekend. The first meeting is being held at the Round House Hub and Café on Walney Island on Sunday (November 26) from 11am to noon. People will be educated on the importance of obtaining permission from the landowner before using a metal detector on beaches, footpaths, or council-owned land. A plan will then be put in place for metal-detecting sessions in the future. Seasoned detectorist Graeme Rushton, who has been a successful metal detector for over 40 years, will be in attendance. The session is free of charge and will gauge people's interest.
What's this then? "People will be educated on the importance of obtaining permission from the landowner before using a metal detector on beaches, footpaths, or council-owned land ". Is that all anybody taking a spade to a site producing archaeological and historical finds needs to be "educated" about? 

Is not Walney Island covered in SSSIs and NNRs? Even somewhere like that, it is symptomatic that there's be enough selfish would-be heritage diggers to form a club. 

"Seasoned detectorist Graeme Rushton, who has been a successful metal detector (sic) for over 40 years, will be in attendance". No doubt to offer advice on what's the best machine to buy. 

Shame on you Round House Hub and Cafe for hosting such a meeting! The archaeological and historical record in the ground is a priceless and finite resource. It is one that is also intensely threatened by being dug up non-archaeologically, by self-centred acquisitive individuals simply to get collectable items for personal entertainment and profit. Unsystematically pulling random individual artefacts blindly out of the archaeological context (that is destroyed by people digging little holes all over it) is irreversible damage. It's like those people that cut up antiquarian books just to get the pictures to frame, or those who make collections of bird eggs taken from nests on the marshes. You understand nature conservation I assume, what about conservation of the historical environment, is that a concept difficult to grasp? Will you be inviting the Portable Antiquities Scheme or any other heritage professionals to talk about the ethical side of the practice and responsible and irresponsible use of the historical environment? I hope so.

Tuesday 21 November 2023

Putting Moscow's Cultural Destruction in Ukraine into Context

Russia has bombed and destroyed another hospital in Ukraine. The number of damaged and destroyed health care facilities in Ukraine is approaching 2,000. Russia is committing grave war crimes in Ukraine to achieve its genocidal goal of exterminating the Ukrainian nation and people.

Sunday 19 November 2023

Pre-Empting What (While promoting the ALR)?

Blue Shield Initiative Working Group on Countering Trafficking Webinar: Pre-emptive Measures to Protect Movable Cultural Heritage and Enable Later Repatriation Efforts :

Join us for an insightful free online event on Tue Nov 28 2023 at 14:00 GMT, focusing on the pre-emptive actions to take to protect movable cultural heritage in the event of conflict and natural disaster and to enable later repatriation efforts.
In the first half we will look at recent cases of conflict and disaster and assess the effectiveness of preparatory measures taken, the use of Cultural Heritage At Risk Database (CHARD) to enable public and private agencies and individuals to be one step ahead by searching the art market proactively for registered 'at risk' objects, and the legal strategies countries should take in advance of armed conflict or natural disaster to facilitate the recovery of movable objects.
Hmmm. First of all, who is to take these "pre-emptive actions"? It seems to me what these folk are proposing is that the foreign communities in the source countries suffering the trauma of conflict and natural disaster should be burdened with (a) settng up the measures these folk choose for them and (b) actually implement them while that conflict and natural disaster is going on. 

The pre-emptive way to protect NOT just the "movable cultural heritage" but the sites and assemblages they are taken from is to work to make the collection of such items (especially without a full suite of legitimating paperwork) completely socially unacceptable

The whole point is the actual issue is not that American fixation with "repatriation", it is protecting the cultural resource as a whole, not the ownership of loose objects of "ancient art".  The focus on "repatriation" shows that te focus here is entirely on the "soft power" aspects of antiquities preservation, rather than the damage done by getting the artefacts on the market in the first place.  

Note: the Cultural Heritage At Risk Database (CHARD) is just another initiative of the Art Loss Register and it is to be used by enable "public and private agencies and individuals" to search for ... well, not really clear here:
proactively register objects in situ at museums, warehouses and archaeological sites, to ensure that if such items are stolen they can be identified if offered for sale. A particular focus for the project has been museums, sites and depositories in Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, and India – to name a few – but there is no restriction on where such objects can be located, provided that they are at risk [...] These registrations are carried out on a pro bono basis and are thus free of charge to whoever provides the necessary data. In addition, they will be kept confidential and secure on the ALR’s database so that only the ALR can access them. No dealer or auction house has direct access to the database.
So more of a gotcha than a deterrant [but actually is iot not the case that dealers can get ALR certificates on the basis of these data, is that different from a CHARD certificate?]. So when can we see the eight million objects in the British Museum's storerooms added pro bono for starters? That have demonstrably been under risk and items have already been found on the market.

Interesting business model: "you give us your data for free, we'll put it on our database making it look even more reliable and complete, and then we'll charge all those folk for access to your data...".
Now tell us again, how that's going to work here (the photo used to advertise the webinar): 

What we need is not a "pre-emptive" way to get some of those lose unprovenanced and basically archaeologically useless artefacts to an Iraqi storeroom to gasther dust and create a cataloguing and administrative nightmare for the locals, but a pre-emptive way to stop incentivising digging all those holes in an ancient site.  

Ukrainian Gold, British "Geography", No excuses.

How do you feel about buying from an ignorant seller? St James’s Ancient Art London

"Near East (Western Asiatic): A set of five Scythian gold sheet appliques from the Crimea, specifically the Dnieper region [...] Provenance: Ex. Mayfair gallery, London. [...] 
These delicate appliques come from the Crimea region in modern Ukraine, the region surrounding the river Dnieper".
[poor spelling too, "adorne" in the wikipedia-like narrativisation]

Where do you start with this? This is just so much ignorant bollocks, do they teach geography in London comprehensive schools these days? Neither Crimea (not 'the') nor Ukraine are anywhere near "Western Asia" Where's the Dnipro, morons? [Dnieper is an anglicised version of the Russian form, but the Soviet Union is OVER]. But at least they got right that Crimea is a region of UKRAINE. But then why is their website showing them selling the Ukrainians' stuff with too-vague collection history nine years after the Russian invastion? Better explanation please?

New York Gallery Mosaics Sent to Lebanon, but there's a Catch [Updated]

Dalya Alberge, 'US accused of sending fake Roman mosaics back to Lebanon. Guardian 19/11/2023.

Authorities in New York have been accused by leading academics in France and Britain of repatriating fake Roman artefacts to Lebanon. Eight out of nine mosaic panels that the US authorities recently returned to the Middle Eastern country are not what they seem, according to claims made by Djamila Fellague of the University of Grenoble. She claims to have uncovered proof that forgers had copied designs from original mosaics in archaeological sites or museums in Sicily, Tunisia, Algeria and Turkey. “Eight of the nine ‘returned’ mosaic panels were fakes that [are] relatively easy to detect because the models used are famous mosaics,” says Fellague.
Oh how embarrassing if they were not aware of that. The nine mosaics were sent to Lebanon on 7 September were part of a lot of 22 that  reportedly had been seized in July 2021 from Georges Lotfi a Lebanese antiquities trafficker. It now seems however that there was no scientific justification to prove that the mosaics were Roman, looted and plundered precisely in Lebanon.
Before being seized by the US authorities in 2021, one of the mosaic panels was offered for sale in 2018 in a New York gallery, with an estimate of less than $20,000.

Fellague suspects that a forgers’ mosaic workshop was located somewhere in the Middle East, probably in the 1970s and 1980s, judging from other pieces that have surfaced on the art market.

A DA spokesman denied the accusations. “In order for these antiquities to be repatriated a court had to evaluate our evidence, which included expert analysis about their authenticity and significant details about how they were illegally trafficked. The court found based on the evidence – which these individuals do not have – that the pieces are authentic.”
This expertizse would not happen to be from a New York Gallery would it?

Is that expert willing to come forward? [UPDATE Jason Felch notes the DA says: “We also recognize C. Brian Rose, Amr Al-Azm and Isber Sabrine for their expertise and assistance throughout these complex investigations.”"]

hat tip Dave Coward.  

Friday 17 November 2023

Stolen Sacral Art Found in British Shed

Two 8th-century yogini sculptures stolen from a temple in Banda district, in Uttar Pradesh, India, were handed over to Indian authorities in London. The statues, depicting Yogini Chamunda and Yogini Gomukhi, were found in a garden shed in England. The Lokhari temple, where the statues were stolen from in the 1970s and 1980s, originally housed 20 yogini statues, all now gone (Naomi Canton, 'Two ancient yoginis found in English shed handed over to Jaishankar in London' Times of India Nov 17, 2023) India's External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar on receiving these items stressed that Noting that “antiquities of various kinds” had left India illegally, and that “It is important to ensure that cultural exchanges are legal, transparent and rules-based, and where there have been deviations, whenever these are corrected, I think this is something of great importance as a message that this is a practice which is not acceptable in this day and age”.

Yoginis are powerful female deities who are considered masters of the yogic arts, with 64 such divine figures worshipped as a group of goddesses at yogini temples. The Lokhari temple, believed to have been built in the 10th century, originally contained 20 yogini statues, depicted as beautiful women with animal heads. The yoginis had been kept in the temple without a roof, door or lock, because of the belief that the deities commune with the heavens at night. In the 1970s and early 1980s, the temple was targeted by a group of looters, who operated out of Rajasthan and Mumbai and smuggled goods into Europe via Switzerland. An unknown number of statues were stolen, with others having been broken. The remaining unharmed statues were then removed and hidden by the villagers.
There are no details given on the all-important information how they got from the looters to a British shed four or five decades later.

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