Friday, 15 February 2019

Surely Some Mistake, Antiquities Trade Figure Named

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York bought a Ptolemaic gilt cartonnage coffin from the 1st century B.C. that was inscribed for Nedjemankh, a high-ranking priest of the ram-headed god Heryshef of Heracleopolis Magna. It went on exhibition in July last year. But this week the Met agreed to return the object to Egypt, after investigators determined it had been recently plundered from that country (Colin Moynihan, 'Met Museum to Return Prize Artifact Because It Was Stolen', New York Times Feb. 15, 2019).

 Museum officials said that they bought the object from an art dealer in Paris in 2017 and were fooled by a phony provenance that made it seem as if the coffin had been legitimately exported decades ago. But prosecutors with the Manhattan district attorney’s office presented the museum with evidence that suggested it had been looted from Egypt in 2011. This was the latest of several incidents that have raised questions about the thoroughness of the museum’s vetting procedures when acquiring antiquities [...] Museum officials said that the district attorney’s investigation showed that the Met had received a false ownership history, fraudulent statements and fake documentation, including a forged 1971 Egyptian export license for the coffin. The Met paid 3.5 million euros (about $3.95 million) for the coffin in July 2017, said Kenneth Weine, a spokesman for the museum. He added that it had been purchased from an art dealer in Paris named Christophe Kunicki and that the Met planned to consider “all means” for the recovery of the money it had paid. A website featuring the name Christophe Kunicki, a Paris address and the title “Mediterranean Antiquities” says that Mr. Kunicki specializes in “Greek, Roman, Egyptian and Near East antiquities.” There was no response to an email message requesting comment sent to an address listed on the site.
How awkward, there was a lot of publicity associated with this new acquisition and a whole exhibition was put on to celebrate it. The exhibition 'Nedjemankh and His Gilded Coffin' was supposed to continue to April 21, 2019 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Quite a lot of the web-related material on it seems to have disappeared from the Internet.

Dorothy Lobel King notes
As I’m sure researched, the guy is meant to be less a dealer, more a chap who provides expertise to some big auctions ...
which makes the naming of the guy in the article, contrary to normal practice, rather problematic. It is a shame that the man named as seller was not contacted before the article went to press. 

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

The 'Curse of Sekhemka' Strikes Again?

Andy Brockman notes 'sometimes it is hard not to believe in the #CurseofSekhemka. Four pump fire at Northampton Museum which is undergoing renovations, which Northampton Borough Council says, are paid for by the controversial sale of #Sekhemka. Council Leader states artifacts had been removed'. For the Curse itself, see here - and the possible consequences of ignoring it here.

I put this down to coincidence, but readers may remember the post I wrote on the 'Curse of Ka Nefer Nefer' (note the date), the writing and publication of which coincided with freak weather conditions at St Louis (the region of the airport to be precise) in which lives were lost - so when I found out about it, I did not publicise it at the time). Though not superstitious, I am not going to be doing any more 'ancient Egyptian curse' stunts on this blog.

But the point raised - about the deliberate appropriation and use for decoration and entertainment of loose objects taken from mortuary deposits is a moral and ethical issue that needs confronting by archaeologists and collectors.
I think we tend to forget that, in the case of Ancient Egypt, many of the eagerly collected trophies (portable antiquities) which find themselves in foreign hands had for their original users deep religious significance, not to mention were intimately connected in their minds with their future fate. Sekhemka's 'shadow' (stature in his likeness) was (is) the house for his ka-soul. Only the maintenance of offering to this statue according to the prescribed rite (hardly likely to have been continuing in Castle Ashby or Northampton) prevented the akh-soul (a combination of the ba and ka) from experiencing a second death. By removing him from his tomb, looters killed Sekhemka, who, in the eyes of his culture, now wanders the earth as a homeless living dead. Perhaps some of my less culturally-sensitive readers are scoffing at such notions, but in what way does this tomb-statue differ from a Hopi mask, Native American kachinas, sacred artefacts, African fetishes, Jewish Torah scrolls, Australian tjuringa stones or the sacred objects of any other culture (including our own)?

Once upon a time some artefact collectors, wanting to create a good impression, wrote a "Code of Ethics"  (most of which they pinched from me) which said they'd not touch such items. Let us see tomorrow afternoon how "ethical" collectors will be faced with a trophy item as unprecedented as Sekhemka's soul. How many millions is a dead man's soul worth?

Google+ Notes to Commenters

Google+ is being phased out, but from what I gather, this affects this blog mainly in the area of comments:
If you’ve used Google+ for comments on your own or other sites, this feature will be removed from Blogger by 4 February and from other sites by 7 March. All your Google+ comments on all sites will be deleted starting on 2 April 2019. Learn more
I think there have been quite a few of these. If anyone has comments up here and said anything that you want to remain part of this resource, you can repost them but PLEASE mark them as such and attach the original date and time of publication to the text, as the new comment will appear out of sequence.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Doubts About ISIL Organized Antiquities Trade

Re:United Nations Security Council Resolution 1267 etc
Interesting details in latest UN 1267 Monitoring Team report querying that ‘ISIL ever generated significant funds from human slavery or sexual violence’ or fully exploited ‘the funding potential of looting and trading in antiquities and cultural goods’.  

I cannot find the full reference online at the moment (1267 refers to Afghanistan).

Saturday, 9 February 2019

Prof. Archaeodeath and the Skeleton in the Closet of British Portable Antiquities 'Policy'

Anglo-Saxon treasure including jewellery, scissors
after being first discovered by a history teacher in 1962

Prof. Howard M. R. Williams ( Researcher and teacher in early medieval archaeology, contemporary archaeology, mortuary archaeology, the archaeology of memory and the history of archaeology. MA Archaeology of Death and Memory) Prof. Archaeodeath ‏ @howardmrw has a lengthy blog post on the Welbeck Hill Flog-off Fiasco hosted by Hanson's auctions ('Selling dead bodies and mortuary artefacts in the UK today: Welbeck Hill'):
Taylor was not a trained archaeologist and clearly was unable to publish his finds in a coherent and professional manner. Upon Taylor’s death, the collection has been inherited by his family. Two years subsequently, it is being sold off by auction, rather than donated to a museum, by Taylor’s widow and four children.
These are two of my concerns about private collecting in a nutshell. The first is that many artefact hunters we meet online are barely literate, totally incapable of framing their thoughts (such as they are in many cases) in words. I am often criticised as non-'pc' for emphasising that incontrovertible fact. Yet, note who is involved in the barford-bashing, the very same people that want us to believe that artefact hunters are "citizen archaeologists' who are "rescuing (sic) the archaeological record (sic)". You cannot rescue a record by demolishing it into component fragments and not making a record of what you've done. That is simply destruction and knowledge theft.

The second point is that

Prof. Archaeodeath, the Hard Liners versus Archaeo-Jobsworths

I get a mention in the blog post of Howard Williams / Prof. Archaeodeath about the Muriel Taylor Sale of her late husband's artefact collection ('Selling dead bodies and mortuary artefacts in the UK today: Welbeck Hill'): 
Paul Barford’s blog unsurprisingly regards it as a ‘disgrace’ that money is being made from the sale of artefacts and human remains. He poses a succinct series of questions unanswered by this scenario as it has accrued over six decades to this depressing situation [...] While not everyone takes the hard-line of Barford regarding these situations
He seems to regard it as obvious that not every archaeologist (for example) would take the same line. in reply, I have one more question: 'why not?'

MDAs and the Ethics of Portable Antiquities Collecting

There is an interesting thought in the blog post by Prof. Howard M. R. Williams [Prof. Archaeodeath] on the Welbeck Hill Flog-off Fiasco hosted by Hanson's auctions ('Selling dead bodies and mortuary artefacts in the UK today: Welbeck Hill'):
 while human remains are the most emotive and particularly contentious sale items that prompted the ire of archaeologists, the integrity of collections of mortuary-derived artefacts are equally deserving of our attention. Indeed, I would suggest that the sale of mortuary-derived artefacts without human remains should be considered no less controversial and unethical. I’m looking forward to a forthcoming paper by Adam Daubney reflecting on the ethics of the sale of artefacts unquestionably from mortuary contexts, since splitting bones from artefacts doesn’t make the latter any more ethical as sale items!
Indeed, sounds interesting, especially as coming from an FLO (FLOs generally keep out of discussions of the ethics of antiquities collecting - which is a shame as the perspective on it will necessarily be of a specific character). I am not sure about the idea that Prof. Archaeodeath seems to be pondering about not splitting grave goods from human remains, so if a collector collects the grave goods, he would have to curate the body too - for example in collector's wife's bedroom wardrobe.

This while thread of thought raises an important issue about the 'portable antiquities' that are deemed collectable as 'ancient art'. Many of them come from graves. So ancient Egypt we think of shabtis, 'mummy beads' (not all from mummies), amulets (ditto), Fayum portraits, the front part of mummy cases ripped off and 'portableised' as "mummy masks", cartonnage frafments, including mummy masks, canopic jars and their lids, heart scarabs, tomb models etc. In South American archaeology we have all those West Mexican figurines made as accompaniment in the grave Colima, Jalisco, Nayarit. The textiles from mummy bundles, gold ornaments such as those from Sipan. In Asia, Han and Tang tomb figures. In Europe, complete red figure vases from Etruscan tombs, complete fragile Roman glass vessels and lamps from graves. Roman and Greek grave stelea. The list goes on. In fact, a very large proportion of the portable antiquities collectables on the market today come from graves. There's two reasons for that, firstly graves contain buried objects of - quite often high quality and complete, but also graves tend to occur in groups (family, community, group) - so if you find one and dig around there will often be more - and are often still marked on the surface or figure in local folklore. So if you want to find old objects to sell to some graspy middleman, these are good places to look for them. Metal detectorists find the 'partifacts' in open fields that feed the lower end of the market, tomb-robbers' finds tend to go more to the upper end of the market.

Perhaps it is worth taking a good look at the ethics of the portable antiquities trade as a whole with regard to mortuary-derived artefacts (MDAs).        ,
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