Saturday, 3 January 2009

Australian antiquities dealer held

Antiquities dealer Frank Bottaro was recently arrested at Cairo airport bound for Thailand reportedly with a suitcase full of 5.5 kg of animal mummies and religious figurines “wrapped as gifts” (Looting matters Australian Antiquities Dealer Arrested In Egypt). There is a photo of the gentleman here (Selma Milovanovic Egypt could jail Australian dealer for 15 years widely syndicated, for example, Sydney Morning Herald December 26, 2008).

We also learn from several of these reports that Mr Bottaro has been running a shop B.C. Galleries, dealing in "Ancient Art and Antiquities Tribal Art and Ethnographica" since 1976. (Aaron Langmaid 'Accused mummy smuggler Frank Bottaro an antiquities dealer' Herald Sun December 26 2008).

The dealer's webpage is worth a visit. The homepage says: “Welcome to our online commercial gallery dedicated to the art and artifacts of all cultures and regions. This website is one of the largest of its kind on the Internet”. Hmm. It does seem quite substantial, even if the web design leaves something to be desired. There are 367 ancient Egyptian objects (mostly very small, pocket size one might say). Skimming through this category produces only a few which have any kind of indication of provenance and legal export. Two are labelled as “Christie's London, October 4” (year?), though its not clear if that is a parallel or provenance, three items (head knocked off Old Kingdom statues) “Ex German Collection, collected during World War II, Giza plateau.” A shabti labeled “Ex Gordon Stevens Collection”. Not very impressive. The Mesopotamian section does not fare much better, including as Neil Brodie noted an avoidance of using the term “Iraq” as an indication where and otherwise unprovenienced object comes from. While on the website, don’t neglect to visit the “bargain lots” (21 pages) – where most of the metal detected finds from Europe are. How many trashed sites do they represent to merely provide an antipodean dealer's cut-price pieces of the past?

Every item sold through the Antiquities (Ancient Art) categories on this website is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity. These pieces are guaranteed to be genuine, unconditionally and without time limit. The certificate of authenticity indicates the culture, age, material, function, condition and dimensions of the piece and includes a photograph of the item.
I cannot however see a single word there about export licences.

Selma Milovanovic cites a revealing interview with the accused man apparently from "The Age" in 2002, making him out to be an Indiana Jones clone.
He had sold his lucrative taxidermy business - which had supported his passion for archaeology - in 1993 and went to Egypt to hunt ancient artefacts. […] He said he had more than 70 scouts - people who sourced antiques and art - around Middle East, China and New Zealand. "Most dealers specialise in selected civilisations," he said. "We are interested in any cultures across the ages." He told stories of running for his life in tribal lands while searching for prized ancient art. He spoke of his early treasure-hunting days, when he apparently made friends with many desert tribes likely to be surrounded by buried artefacts where they were living. He also told of having cheated death several times when unfriendly locals heard about his activities. Over 10 years he built his business enough to become a successful exporter. "About 70 per cent of my pieces go overseas," he said in 2002. "I've gone from struggling to make ends meet to being a rich man - which is more fun."
No doubt. It would be interesting to know whether those "unfriendly locals" were angered by the Ossie treasure hunter carting off their heritage or annoyed at the competition. This is one to watch.

See also: John Elder Treasure hunting adventurer out of luck, The Age December 28, 2008


1 comment:

Damien Huffer said...

Well, they seem to be carrying on "business-as-usual," even with his arrest! Watch them, we shall.

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