Thursday, 31 March 2011

Armed men dig for archeological artefacts on site in Fayoum

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In a repetition of what we saw in 2003 in Iraq, groups of men, armed with automatic weapons, have descended on the Garza archeological site in Fayoum, forcing those guarding the sites to leave the area so that they could dig and search for saleable artefacts. The watchmen are armed only with 9mm pistols which are no match for the automatic weapons used by the armed groups. The number of watchmen posted and their inadequate weapons made it difficult to protect such archeological sites. There are ten guards who work in shifts to protect the 600 acre site. The armed groups had exploited the security vacuum created by current political instability and attacked the area several times, digging for artefacts all night long and leaving behind dozens of deep holes.

Mohamed Farghaly, 'Armed men dig for artifacts at archeological site in Fayoum', almasryalyoum, 29/03/2011)

Urice and Adler Redraft

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Cultural Property Observer triumphantly trumpets: Urice and Adler Update on US Government Lawlessness in Cultural Property Field . I discussed the earlier version of this text here a while back. "Government lawlessness" seems to be the new Black Hat Guys catchword (where "Cosmopolitanism" and "cultural property internationalism" were last year). I must admit to feeling when discussing the earlier draft of this text that Urice and Adler were firmly in the camp of the antiquitist no-questions-askers. This time round I note something Tompa cannot bring himself to mention ("observe") and the CPRI seminar would obviously never have stooped to consider; the authors mention the need to reform the CCPIA to make it work to protect the cultural heritage, instead of calling for the abandonment of the concept. The CCPIA of the early 1980s is vastly out of date as a means to deal with the changed form of the ("minor") antiquities market that has occurred since it was passed and the scope of the threat to the global archaeological heritage from looting worldwide, and the current scale of the US market for such items ("no questions asked"). The other legislation of the US discussed by Urice and Adler similarly pathetically inadequate. Let us see the US reform them in a way which actually does help protect the global cultural heritage (not just archaeological) from the illegal exploitation caused by the unbridled avarice of some dealers and collectors. After all what would responsible collectors and dealers have to fear from increased transparency and more effective measures to keep illicitly-obtained material off one of the largest markets for antiquities in the modern world?

UPDATE 15th July 2011:
It is worth noting that among the changes between the first and second draft, the intended recipient of the Miami sarcophagus is renamed from Joseph A. Lewis III to Joseph A. Lewis II. Carelessness.

How DIFFICULT is this?

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Looking into Chicago Ron and the artefact plundering trips he runs twice a year near Colchester for his hardcore group and came across this: Englands Treasure Laws, 101 Blog 1.avi. Pretty incredible how many mistakes you can fit into a simple explanation of (I would have thought) a pretty simple piece of legislation. It's not rocket science, but might as well be for artefact collectors if this is anything to go by. Frankly I cannot be bothered to go through it and point out the errors, that is one of the things the PAS could be doing and I've done enough explaining to dimwit collectors over there who can't be bothered to read the text for themselves (with comprehension turned on).

Chicago Ron is doing a blog, including posts on "deep target hunting with Minelab machines" and announces he's got himself a site-wrecker GPX 5000 from Minelabs. "There's a lot of great stuff out there for us to still find, you've just got to go a bit deeper for it, that's all". Deeper that is below the "hammered" ploughsoil, deeper that is into archaeological deposits below the ploughsoil, before its all carted off back to Chicago. "I'm off on my way to England in the next few days, and hopefully I'll have some good stuff (sic) for you guys to see". I suppose it is a bit much to expect that the PAS could react to this kind of material being put out on the web, announcing to all and sundry that the British archaeological heritage is out there up for grabs to all those who pay Mr Ron the asking price to join his hardcore groupies and listen to his distorted version of British legislation and export licencing procedure.

Perhaps only Memnon knows, and he's not telling

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The night I left Luxor there was quite a brutal robbery in the Kom el-Hettan storerooms of the team excavating the Temple of Amenhotep III. Two freshly excavated sculptures were stolen, suggesting the thieves had received a tip-off that they were there. A few days later the sculptures were back in the storeroom, and the thieves caught. The newspapers said that: "The statues were found hidden inside the home of Ahmed El Zot, the head of an armed gang, who is infamous for his dishonesty. Three other members of the gang are also in custody". The men shortly afterwards got fifteen years for the offence. I was struck by that phrase that a guy who was known (?) to be the head of an organized criminal gang involved in antiquity offences "is infamous for his dishonesty". In what? Cheating on his wife? Not telling the shopkeeper he has given too much change? Did this previous infamy for "dishonesty" in some way involve antiquities and who had "known" about it? Is there more to this story than meets the eye? Or should we not listen to gossip?

My Letter to Senator Gillibrand

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New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand prides herself on transparent dealings with lobby groups, that's nice. So I am posting here my letter to her about her apparent patronage of the recent CPRI anti-CCPIA conference here, and I am hoping she will allow me to post here too any answer she may give. Maybe some readers would like to add their voice to mine, especially those from New-York-Based SAFE. Let us see how she justifies her apparent support for those in and around the US antiquities trade who we would be forgiven for believing are hell-bent on undermining what semblance of international cultural heritage protection the US has to offer, rather than strengthening it.

Dear Senator Gillibrand,
you have been named in connection with the organization of a conference in Washington under the title: „The Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CCPIA): Is it working?”.

Given the tone and content of that meeting (summarized here http://www.cprinst.org/Home/issues), may I ask therefore whether you yourself actively support the International Cultural Property Protection program of the US government (http://exchanges.state.gov/heritage/culprop.html)?

Would you like to see a strengthening or weakening of the ability of the US to set a moral lead by helping stamp out the international trade in illicitly acquired cultural property and related criminal activity?

As you are no doubt aware, the CCPIA serves to regulate the import into the United States of certain designated groups of cultural property which is threatened by illegal activity from specific states. This is done by temporarily restricting items newly coming onto the US market from those states to those which have been legally exported. In this manner, responsible collectors purchasing items on that market can be assured that they are not running the risk of purchasing illicitly acquired material, with all that this may entail. I am sure you will have the same difficulty as me in seeing why any discriminating, responsible and ethical US collector would object to that.

There is however a group of US dealers in and collectors of antiquities and coins – together with their lawyers - who are actively challenging the US Government’s application of these measures. The motives of this group for wanting to challenge measures intended to keep illicitly-obtained material off the US markets can only be guessed. I can only hope that you were unaware that there were people associated with members of this milieu among the organizers of the conference you are named in connection with.

Senator Gillibrand, do you yourself, or those in your immediate environment, collect antiquities, or have any other connection to the global antiquities market and their other advocacy groups?

In the interests of transparency, may I post a copy of your office’s reply here: http://paul-barford.blogspot.com/2011/03/my-letter-to-senator-gillibrand.html?

Thank you for giving your time to reading this
Paul Barford

Thank you


I've just posted a brief note on this on the SAFE blog. Perhaps someone there might invite her and other politicians to in some way show some support for SAFE and its aims?

I note that in the list of topics in the Senator's contact form to choose from, there was no mention of culture or cultural property theft, suggesting this was not a matter about which Senator Gillbrand was expecting to get correspondence from citizens.

*PS because Americans can only imagine that the rest of the world's postal service works like theirs and nobody at all would want to ask a US Senator anything from outside the country, you can't send anything from outside without giving a Zip Code. It blocks you if you put a real postcode of another type. I therefore appended a random Washington DC one to my address. I do not expect she'll be writing back anyway, the letter is longer than it should be.

It's (shrug) legal innit?

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I came back from Egypt to find 1000 or so unread emails in the inbox in my deliberately stationary office computer. One of them was the link I want to discuss here, this one from a British archaeologist (and why can't he discuss it himself?). Its about a month out of date as a news item, but still worth highlighting. It is about a new shop opened by a father and son team speaking about their treasure hunting (and now treasure-selling) passion. Sadly you do not seem to be able to embed the video, readers will have to make do with clicking here. The BBC-blurb to the video says:
A new shop full of unearthed hidden treasure is opening in the East Sussex town of Eastbourne. The artefacts, some of which are thousands of years old, can be legally offered for sale under treasure trove rules.
Here's an edited transcript of part of the script...

Cultured voice over [Robin Gibson](dramatic mood music):"They are hundreds, even thousands of years old and they are here because they were dug up by Treasure seekers",
Estuary English bloke in a suit: "[...] some roman keys, we find hammered silver coins, there's a Celtic toggle",
Cultured Voice over: "Coins, rings, daggers, you'd think this was a museum, but in a few days' time anyone will be able to come in here and buy them".
Estuary English bloke in a tie (notably avoiding eye contact): "One or two pieces are for display, um, but, yeah basically, you know, legally you can buy all of these items (shrugs) and, you know, its basically a pleasure to see these people's faces as they open their wallets..."
[...] [more stuff, like son filmed against the backdrop of a case full of gold artefacts, ending with]
Cultured Voice Over: "It's likely to be a talking point - the shop where, if you can afford it, you really can buy buried treasures".

This gratuitous plug for a newly-opened business does not state the shop's name, but we learn that the owner's name is Simon Wicks, and he has "spent his whole life digging for artefacts and curios underground". We learn more from the Eastbourne Herald - the shop is called Britanicus and its in Terminus Road, Eastbourne. He also sells (what else could he sell?) metal detectors. There's a nice bit of calling-a-spade-a-spade in the newspaper article: "Simon Wicks has been legally plundering historical sites for the past 40 years [...]" Thank you Eastbourne Herald for getting it right and using a word (the P-word) few British archaeologists would dare mouth with regard their "partners with metal detectors". If the British archaeological community is not going to do conscientious public outreach about artefact hunting, its good to see some journalists who are not swallowing the PAS-fluffy bunny "partnership" pap. (Some "metal detectorists" did not appreciate the collocation, but do not seem really to explore the issue of the sale of these items very deeply.)

Coming back to the BBC (which does not use the P-word). How many times do people have to be told what the law is CALLED? IT IS NOT THE "TREASURE TROVE LAW" ANY MORE. Millions of pounds worth of PAS outreach and not even the BBC can get it right.

What about this statement "yeah basically, you know, legally you can buy all of these items"? Well, that is indeed so if (Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003) they are not tainted . Let's assume that all the potential treasure items of English and Welsh origin have been reported to the Coroner and released, let us assume that none came from Scotland or northern Ireland where different rules apply. But what about that plate brooch at 1:35? That's not a British find is it? Crimea? Danubian Plain? Southern Europe? (I've seen some very good fakes of these recently, from the Ukraine, is this one of them? We'd have to see the back to resolve that one, I'm a bit puzzled by what we can see of the pin mechanism). Not to mention the copper alloy Roman cavalry helmet mask, if real.

How many of those copper alloy artefacts were bought direct from local metal detectorists able to show the purchaser a valid landowners' agreement, and how many come from job lots of metal detected stuff from unknown foreign sites? Those arrowheads fleetingly shown at the beginning of the film are not typically British types, very similar ones do occur in the Balkans and across eastern Europe and central Asia. If those finds were dug up on the continent and came into the UK without the relevant paperwork (including export licences) they would fall under the definition of tainted artefacts in the terms of the 2003 Act (and before anyone suggests, "well those items might not be for sale", first look properly at article 3 of the 2003 Act). Britain has in fact some very strict laws about even handling this type of material - but of course it is all a hopeless sham, because that law has never actually been enforced (I stand to be corrected, but I believe it is still the case that - despite the tonnes of items on the UK market of dodgy provenance - that act has never once resulted in a successful prosecution). You will note as an indication of its irrelevance to the treatment of portable antiquities in the UK that there appears not to be even a link to its text on the Portable Antiquities Scheme website (not even here, though it is mentioned in passing right at the bottom).

But is "it's (shrug) legal innit" actually a justification for this? Legal, maybe, what about the ethical and moral issues? Is this the way to treat the archaeological record, as a source of collectables a resource to be eroded away for entertainment and profit? Now what Britain does with its archaeological heritage is up to the Brits to decide (which they can't do when the knottier issues are eternally skated over in the interests of maintaining an erosive "partnership"). It is however quite clear that, like the US antiquities trade, it is not just local sites which are being trashed to keep up the supply of goods in these markets. To those who follow such things, it is obvious that British artefact dealers, both the bigger auction houses but especially the dealers in so-called "minor antiquities" (a classification I do not accept) are not being supplied from the "legal plundering" of the archaeological record in their own country alone. The whole trade is all-too-obviously bolstered by dugup goods imported from other countries, in most cases where the exploitation of the archaeological record in this manner (to the detriment of the whole of society) is illegal. These artefacts are tainted because they were obtained by illegal activity, an activity which their incorporation (no-questions-asked) into the foreign market facilitates and encourages. In the case of the bigger dealers, its things like Greek pots and Egyptian sculptures, much of it from tomb-robbing. In the case of the "minor" (sic) dealers, the damage done by their source of supply is (though they will vehemently deny it) the wholesale destructive metal-detecting (sometimes accompanied by the use of heavy earth-moving plant) of archaeological sites to produce job lots of "partifacts" and coins which after sorting find their own niches in the market. Mr Wicks too has a pile of "uncleaned ancient" coins on display in his shop.

Has the local FLO visited Mr Wicks' shop? I think we'd all be interested to hear what she said to him about it as part of the PAS archaeological outreach to the public on portable antiquity matters. For Sussex that's Stephanie Smith, the Sussex Archaeological Society in Lewes, just down the road.

[Concerning one reaction to the news of the reputed find by Simon Wicks of Anne Boleyn's jewellery see here].

Illustrations: screen grabs from BBC video

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

April Fool from CPRI

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It seems to me that the Santa Fe-based "Cultural Property Research Institute" (an antiquity dealers' advocacy group masquerading as an inefficient "research institute") has got its dates wrong. A text they have released (State Department in Contravention of the Law?) can only be seen as an April Fool joke accidentally published two days early. Still, I suppose that's better than all those promised pieces of "research" which are months overdue.

Among the gems of deadpan humour contained in this obviously satirical text, the reader will spot the following:

- "has disregarded the criteria established by the law that created it", the enquiring reader will ask what might they be, and in what way do they benefit the world's cultural heritage?

- "the Act was intended not just to save objects, but to save context and heritage". Where does it say that? Where? It actually says nothing of the kind in the CCPIA (which in general it has to be admitted is a badly-written text, but that is no excuse for the CPRI making things up).

- "limitations placed by the Act on the ability of the US Government to enter into agreements with other countries to impose import restrictions", eh? This is in an act intended to IMPLEMENT the 1970 UNESCO Convention on what? Oh yes, "on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property", so why did the US government issue an "implementing" act limiting its own ability to actually "implement" the actual measures of the Convention? Why would the US government fail to enter into an agreement with another country who requests it to actually implement the measures implicit in becoming a state party to the Convention? That's just plain daft, but then all of this US pretence to be implementing the Convention is plain double daft. Let the US just end the farce and withdraw from the Convention they have for nearly three decades obviously had no intention of fully honouring. Let the existing Wild West ethos of much of the US antiquity market show itself for what it is.

- "a
provision requiring U.S. restrictions to be part of a "concerted international response" had been violated" eh? So where actually is this mythical "provision"? Where? How can you "violate" a provision that is not there?

- "in a manner that discriminated against Americans and that moved the trade abroad". Like keeping Chinese artefacts from being illegally exported FROM China? Isn't that what the 1970 Convention "on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property" supposed to do? What did the Americans think it was supposed to do when they became a state party? And how funny, an American law which affects Americans in America and not foreigners living outside America.

"Seminar summary at http://www.cprinst.org/Home/issues. Full transcript available soon". Can they manage it by April 1st?

The comedy is continued by that master of black humour, D.C. lawyer Peter Tompa, who asks "A related question is whether the State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs is listening or whether Assistant Secretary Anne Stock and her staff remain tone deaf as ever". Listen to what? The inventive rantings of the lunatic fringe of the US no-questions-asked market in dugup antiquities? That is a real joke.

What on earth is New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand thinking of aligning herself with these people with their all-too-transparent antisocial aims? Maybe readers in the States might like to write to her office and ask her http://gillibrand.senate.gov/contact/.

Vignette: Hilary and lookalike Kirsten (left) show their appreciation of the 2011 CPIA April Fool joke at the expense of the skeletal US
International Cultural Property Protection program, such as it is.

Egypt may have a "new" Minister of Antiquities

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After all the uncertainty and false reports, it is difficult to know how much weight to give this. I really hope this is true. Al-Ahram is reporting:
Zahi Hawass‎, chief of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, announced that he had been re-‎appointed as Minster of Antiquities following a meeting with Prime Minister Essam Sharaf ‎on Wednesday. ‎
(Margaret Maitland reports it is also announced by the Egyptian Cabinet on Twitter)

If true, best of luck to him in his new role. Let us assume that the PM gave him assurances about support from other state institutions, such as the police to help provide protection from sites and to help eject those who have taken advantage of the breakdown in law and order following January 25th to illegally encroach on them. The lack of a person filling this post for so long has hampered many attempts to re-establish some order in this area, let us hope that (if true) this appointment will remove the uncertainties which have been exploited by the unscrupulous and led to so much damage being done to sites, collections and monuments in Egypt.

Despite my own criticism of certain elements of what Hawass' has said in past weeks, I think this is a good resolution. Egypt needs a forceful person in charge in these troubled times of social and economic (?) change. One other reason why I am glad is to spite all those unreasonable hate-driven Facebook egyptologists and others who (after they thought he'd vanished from the scene) obviously regarded "saving and restoring the Egyptian Museum" or whatever as about unfairly attacking the guy personally and calling him names. They underestimated him. Now let us see all those who have been busily viciously and unfairly attacking him pledging their willingness to work with him to protect the archaeological heritage.

UPDATE: A few hours after this was posted it seems to be official, Zahi Hawass is again the new Minister of Antiquities.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

St Hilaire on Current US Antiquities Smuggling Policy

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Rick Hilaire (Changing Course: Enhancing Homeland Security's Policy of Seizure and Repatriation with Investigation and Prosecution, culturalheritagelawyer.blogspot, March 12th 2011) adds his voice to those of us who believe that US authorities are not doing enough to confront the problem of illegal antiquities trafficking across US borders. At present, Us border authorities - upon coming across illegal activity involving cultural goods being smuggled across the border - in most cases merely seize the individual objects concerned and return them (most often with much fanfare) to their country of origin. That only serves to repatriate the object, as if that was all that mattered, rather than the fact that illegal activity was involved. Because there is minimal consequence to the perpetrators or accomplices, confiscation of the odd dozen detected smuggled objects or so (and of course it is pretty clear that annually very many artefacts make it across without being detected) does little to deter antiquities trafficking. Only by building legal cases that lead to arrests, prosecutions and convictions can would-be criminals and those in the States who collaborate with them in this activity be deterred.
In order to successfully tackle crimes against cultural heritage, federal officials must pursue a strategy of investigation and prosecution. The current policy of seizure and return does not go far enough [...]. [Currently] smuggled cultural objects are not treated as criminal case evidence. That is to be expected when the primary mission of DHS is to seize and return, not to investigate and prosecute.[...] Combating crimes against cultural heritage requires authorities to investigate and prosecute trafficking rings. Effective law enforcement is characterized by thoughtful investigation, careful handling of physical evidence, and assembly of evidence for review and use by prosecutors. While seizing and repatriating illegally smuggled artifacts serves some purpose to curb antiquities trafficking, federal officials cannot be credited with performing a thorough job if this remains the sole accomplishment.
The problem, St Hilaire indicates, is not the lack of qualified staff (which dealers often accuse the US ICE of); "Immigrations and Customs Enforcement investigators and Customs and Border Protection agents are skilled law enforcement officers who are capable of combating antiquities trafficking effectively", the problem, lies with US policy makers who are failing to "directly engage illegal antiquities networks by adopting a policy of investigation and prosecution that enhances the existing policy of seizure and repatriation".


Hands off the Cunies: US Ruling in Legal Battle Over Iranian Antiquities

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This is more fully covered with legalese in Derek Fincham's blog (where I picked up the story), so I will just signal the next development in the unusual case involving Iranian antiquities in the US:
Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History and the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute won a victory on Tuesday in their efforts to maintain possession of thousands of ancient Iranian artifacts. In a ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed a lower court's order that might have handed the artifacts over to several American victims of a 1997 terrorist bombing in Jerusalem.


(David Glenn, 'U. of Chicago and Museums Win Key Ruling in Legal Battle Over Iranian Antiquities', The Chronicle of Higher Education March 29, 2011)

Portable Antiquities Scheme to endorse TV treasure hunting programme after all?

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I've just had a mail from a journalist (I cant work out from what he writes whether he's on the preservationist side or that of the looter) who wants to chat to me tomorrow about a new TV programme , called "Britain’s Secret Treasures". This is suspiciously like the name of a proposed programme about which somebody leaked me a document a while ago. A key feature of the project was the collaboration of the Portable Antiquities Scheme in its portrayal of the romance of treasure hunting for collectable and saleable bits of Britain's underground archaeological heritage for entertainment and profit. Surely the PAS had "torn up the proposal and binned it", hadn't they? That's reportedly what they were telling archaeologists back home. All very confusing. I had a go at searching the internet for some sort of information. Being in Egypt at the time I missed what I regard to be a significant comment (British Museum to endorse TV treasure hunting programme?) by RESCUE at the end of February:
RESCUE have written to the Dr Roger Bland of the Portable Antiquities Scheme to express our alarm at the well-substantiated rumours that are circulating regarding the participation of the British Museum in the production of a television series for ITV entitled ‘Britain’s Secret Treasures’ which will take as its focus the activities of artefact hunters and metal detector users. RESCUE has grave concerns that the apparent endorsement of this destructive activity by a body such as the British Museum will do nothing to lessen its impact on our buried archaeological heritage and will in all probability encourage more people to purchase a metal detector and set out to recover ‘buried treasure’ leading to the an increased level of damage to archaeological sites, scheduled and unscheduled, known and unknown.

There is ample evidence of the damage done to archaeological sites by artefact hunters operating both with and without the consent of landowners and there is also good evidence that sites under excavation are being targeted by such individuals in their quest for saleable objects. Even when the object is not a ‘fast buck’ obtained through the agency of on-line auction sites or the less than reputable end of the antiquities trade, the accumulation of private collections of objects ripped from their archaeological context is of little or no value in archaeological terms. We are, frankly, astonished, that the British Museum is prepared to lend its considerable weight to the furtherance of activities of archaic concept and damaging to the practice of modern archaeology. We urge the British Museum to break off negotiations with the television production company involved and to issue a strong condemnation of the practice of artefact hunting at the earliest opportunity.
This is unusually strong language from this organization who, a few numbers back when I wrote a text on metal detecting for Rescue News (issue 99 if I recall correctly), accompanied it by by a somewhat wishy-washy "we are all friends now" official RESCUE statement on "metal detecting", and fluffy bunny articles like Jude Plouviez writing that ploughing damages more sites than artefact hunting (which does not make artefact hunting a sustainable way to conserve archaeological sites, does it?).

I wonder whether the head of the PAS replied to the letter and what he said in justification if these rumours are true? Who is holding their breath waiting for the BM to produce "a strong condemnation of the practice of artefact hunting"? (Well, don't - the wait could damage your health, under present management one may confidently predict that they never will).

In any case are not Britain's secret Treasures the ones that are not reported by artefact hunters? Now I'd like to see a programme focussing exclusively on that.

And thank you RESCUE, please keep up the pressure on all who wantonly damage the archaeological record.

UPDATE 30 March 2011:
Enquiries this morning at RESCUE head office indicate that no reply whatsoever was received from the PAS in response to the archaeological trust's expression of concern discussed above. As I pointed out in my original post about this, it seems that British archaeology's self-appointed "largest public outreach programme" is going about doing this "public outreach" without reference to what other sectors of the British archaeological community think, let alone keeping them informed or - heaven forbid - consulting with them. This is particularly disturbing when it concerns such a controversial issue as Treasure hunting, and the shaping of public opinion on what archaeology is about. Had the PAS in reality "torn up the proposal and binned it", most of us would be forgiven for thinking that they would have no problems in informing RESCUE of that fact straight away, instead of ignoring the request for information about it received last month. RESCUE, the trust for British Archaeology, like the rest of us obviously has to content itself with the sound of the cooing of the local pigeons as the only voice on portable antiquity matters to emerge from Bloomsbury in response to a specific query addressed by a group representing British archaeologists to "British archaeology's largest public outreach scheme". Why should that be?

Capable of Learning from "the Polaroids"?

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David Gill posts a question on his 'Looting Matters' blog about the polaroid images which have been seized in Geneva and Basel and which reveal that various items were in the hands of certain now-infamous Swiss-based middlemen. He points out that museums may well have 'learnt the lesson', but asks whether private collectors and dealers catering for the private collectors' market may still be pressing on with commerce in objects which may be suspected (or known) to have passed through these hands.
A number of sales are forthcoming. What will emerge?
I have a feeling that it will emerge that antiquity collectors are slow learners and we might be hearing on LM about a few more private collectors with objects to sell anonymously hoping nobody is going to catch them out. It's not a question who has access to which polaroids, it is about who has bought what without enquiring too deeply about where it actually came from, and who is about to buy stuff with the same lack of diligence and care.

Hooray for That

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I see that the British Archaeological Federation ( BAJR Fed) Forum has finally dropped its section for "metal detectorists". A step in the right direction Dave. Now start calling them "artefact hunters" and admit that is what they do. That is just a step away from admitting that collecting decontextualised artefacts is not really "archaeology for all" at all, is it?

Monday, 28 March 2011

Looters Strip Latin America of Cultural Heritage

In the Past Horizons Magazine there is an interesting coverage of a recent report ("Saving our Vanishing Heritage") by the Global Heritage Fund in San Francisco. This alarms that a looting epidemic in Latin American countries, notably Peru and Guatemala is rapidly leading to the destruction of the region’s archaeological heritage. It identified nearly 200 “at risk” sites in developing nations, with South and Central America prominent.

Mirador, the cradle of Mayan civilisation in Guatemala, was being devastated, it said. “The entire Peten region has been sacked in the past 20 years and every year hundreds of archaeological sites are being destroyed by organised looting crews seeking Maya antiquities for sale on the international market.”

Northern Peru, home to the Moche civilisation which flourished from AD100-800, had been reduced to a “lunar landscape” by looter trenches across hundreds of miles. “An estimated 100,000 tombs – over half the country’s known sites – have been looted,” the report said.

The sight breaks the heart of archaeologists and historians piecing together the story of a society which built canals and monumental pyramid-type structures, called huacas, and made intricate ceramics and jewellery.[...] In the absence of written records, archaeology must shed light on what happened. In villages such as Galindo that is becoming all but impossible. Crude tunnels and caves make Moche ruins resemble rabbit warrens. Deep gashes cut into walls expose the brickwork below. Millennia-old adobe bricks are torn from the ground and scattered as though in a builder’s yard.

Most huaqueros are farmers supplementing meagre incomes. Montes de Oca, one of three police officers tasked with environmental protection in a region of a million people, said he was overwhelmed. “I’ve been doing this for 28 years. There are three of us and one truck. It’s insufficient but we do everything possible.”

Ten miles away Huaca del Sol, one of the largest pyramids in pre-Columbus America, is an eroded, plundered shell. Here the culprits were not impoverished farmers but Spanish colonial authorities who authorised companies to mine for treasure, said Ricardo Gamarra, director of a 20-year-old conservation project. “They diverted the river to wash away two-thirds of the huaca and reveal its insides,” he said. “They mined through the walls and caused it to collapse in various places. It’s impossible to guess how much was taken because we don’t know how much was there.”

Donations from businesses and foundations have helped Gamarra’s team protect what is left, drawing 120,000 visitors each year, but of 250 other sites in the region just five have been protected. “In the mountains it’s the same. It is full with archaeological sites, almost all of them have been destroyed,” said Gamarra.

What the article does not say explicitly is that - commercial treasure-hunting exploits excepted - the day-to-day looting is going on to find collectables for the international market (see Roger Atwood's classic book Stealing History: Tomb Raiders, Smugglers, and the Looting of the Ancient World, 2004 ). This is how locals are able to use digging up potsherds, bones, textiles and bits of carved stone to "supplement income". It is the no-questions-asked antiquities market that is driving this illegal digging and smuggling. Look in any internet shop selling so-called "Pre-Columbian art" (ie dug up archaeological artefacts) and see just how many of them offer any documentation to prove the items were taken out of the source country in accordance with their laws, or were exported prior to international agreements coming into force. It will be observed that very few of them do so, and yet collectors continue to patronise them.

This makes the criticism of dealers and collectors that "source countries do not do enough to guard the sites". How to guard hundreds of sites scattered in the jungles of Guatamala, or in the mountain valleys of Peru? Who pays for it and to what benefit? Certainly not the collectors who advocate that doing this is what dozens of developing countries should be spending vast sums of money on - when all that is needed to put a stop to the market in dodgy antiquities is for collectors to walk away from potentially dodgy deals. It costs them nothing. The only people who lose out are the dealers in dodgy artefacts.

There have been suggestions (like those from Jeff Morgan, executive director of the Global Heritage Fund reported in the article), to funnel tourists away from major tourist attractions to lesser known sites "which could then earn revenue to protect their heritage". Morgan says

“one of the biggest problems is the disconnect between local communities and management of the sites. We think locals should get at least 30% of revenues.” Only then, said Morgan, would cultural treasures from the Moche and other civilisations be saved.
Nice words, nice sentiments. How does it work in practice? How do you actually "funnel" the average foreign tourist on a two-week whistlestop tour of a region away from major sites with the tourist infrastructure in place to scattered minor sites where there is not? To make it pay you would have to be catering for the mass tourist market, not the odd backpacker. To do that, you need to invest heavily in the infrastructure, roads, hotels, car parks, toilets, litter bins, maintenance of vegetation and then marketing. As we see in Egypt currently simply having the sites and infrastructure there is not enough, people have to actually turn up. How secure is the tourist market in any given country in the long-term, twenty, thirty years? Are millions of people going to be packing onto fuel-guzzling and fume-producing jet aircraft in the future to spend a few days in foreign climes to the same degree as many of us do with gay abandon today? Is investment in developing more and more tourist destinations sustainable in the long term, is it indeed always going to be the high-return investment that it has been up till now? I am minded of the mountain regions of southern Poland which during the past decade has seen huge investment in tourism, farmland being turned into car parks and ski-slopes. At the beginning all was well, people continued building bigger and better guest rooms onto their farmhouses, hotels, shops for the tourists. Tourists who are now preferring a few hours extra in the car to go to Austria or Italy. We see the same economic crisis in Egypt as huge numbers of people whose income relies on tourism in one way or another are suddenly facing weeks or months with virtually no income at all. These locals have been benefitting from the revenues the local monuments bring in, but to what extent is there actually a "connection" between these people and the "management of sites"? I think the question is more complex than the manner in which this is presented.

It seems to me that the "archaeology promotes tourism" argument is too simplistic. Not all that we do and call archaeology has any impact on tourism at all, in fact I would say most of what we do and call archaeology has none. Excepting a few percent, tourists have limited amounts of time (and that time is costing them money) and want to see something worth seeing. These days that means something that makes a good photograph, nobody looks these days, just snaps. So Stonehenge, Carnac, Karnak, Angkor Wat, Tower of London, are on their list. Palaeolithic kill sites and a Roman kiln site under a ploughed field, or an Early Bronze Age settlement (lovely storage pits) about to vanish under an office product supplier's warehouse are not on their list of 'must see' and I think we may reasonably predict never will be.

What archaeology actually does for tourists is produce unearthed ruins with a romantic story or appearance (Troy, Knossos, Karnak - not forgetting the recent unearthing of its Sphinx avenue, Silchester/Wroxeter etc) which can be 'visited'. We imagine that the public listen with bated breath as the archaeological 'expert' reveals the story ("how it was [here] in the past"), but in fact if we talk to that public at those sites, they do not. The average tourist could not care less whether the excavation of the ruins was done by you or me over a period of a decade to remove a few tens of superimposed pebble floors and worn areas, or whether it was Thomas Wright and his merry men in the 1850s . Or whether the gold hoard shining in its display case was found in archaeological context, or hoiked out of the ground by Bazza Boggins the Brummy plumber with his metal detector. What difference does it make, as long as its in a case to show the kids before you buy them an ice cream and a Roman-soldier-pencil-and-eraser and plastic dinosaur in the museum giftshop? I doubt whether very few would even look at the excavation report produced as an expensive monograph even if it was on the shelves of the giftshop, let alone fork out the money to buy it. They might buy the popular version written by the archaeologist if there is one. An equal (?) number are more likely to go for the one written by a local enthusiast who claims that Vortigern was buried here, and that at night you can see lights dancing on the hilltop which legend has it was haunted and has an unusually high frequency of UFO sightings, or somesuch "information".

To what extent does tourism, even so-called "cultural tourism", actually "need" archaeology, proper archaeology? In what way is archaeology superior for the needs of this tourism (its actual state today, not what we'd like it to be) to mere artefact hunting ("Treasure" hunting)? Given that "partnership" with artefact hunters is in Britain, for example (to take a bad example), is all-too-publicly promoted as "archaeological outreach", and artefact collecting is presented as a means of the public "doing archaeology" ("engaging with archaeology/their past" - not the same thing at all), then this question becomes one of fundamental importance. Public perceptions (and not just in Britain) of what archaeology is are altering because of the mode of outreach adopted through the PAS. The results of the sustained effort of decades of archaeologists trying to get over the idea why archaeology is important and relevant have been shattered by the stream of press releases of how this or that treasure-hunter has made an important discovery and made a lot of money out of it at the same time, and achieved more than the experts who can only congratulate him and be thankful he showed it to them. Not a mention is made anywhere of how the archaeological record is being eroded by this activity when so many of these finds are being made and removed without any kind of archaeological involvement or followup. It depicts archaeology as an uncontrolled artefact hunt and uncontrolled story-telling about individual and on the whole contextless items. This gives totally the wrong idea of what archaeology is (supposed to be) about. But then, I suspect that in Britain, many archaeologists who support the PAS have lost sight of that too. I ask them, how they would see the future of their discipline and its relationship with its public developing over the next few decades? What actually does British archaeology - in the form it exists today - actually have to offer anyone apart from archaeologists and a portion of the population (part of the one that actually reads books with big words in them)?

Two Captured Egyptian Museum Looters to go on Trial

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Al-Masry Al-Youm is reporting that
The Tourism and Antiquities Police referred two suspects accused of stealing artifacts from the Egyptian Museum for military trial, according to an Interior Ministry statement released Monday.[...] The first suspect is a mechanic and the second unemployed. The statement said an undercover officer impersonated a dealer and agreed to give the suspects LE1 million for the antiquities.
The 1 million Egyptian pounds is still a high figure but more realistic than the sum being reported earlier. It would seem from the article that the two are from the group of three people arrested for trying to 'fence' the stolen objects (so what happened to the third guy arrested?). Also this leaves unknown the fate of the thief reportedly apprehended on the museum premises on the night of the robbery (28th Jan or the morning of 29th Jan). Very few details have emerged about who he was (some reports seem to suggest he was "from Fayoum") and how he was arrested (and what he had on him at the time). I trust he is being well-looked-after while being questioned. Let is also be remembered that Zahi Hawass several times assured us that he had talked to the thieves (in the plural in both English and Arabic) in military custody but there is no clarity about how and when he did this, or whether it happened at all.

It seems from the statement the two men are accused of stealing the items and not merely handling stolen goods. I hope the military trial will be open and that it will reveal more of the background of these sorry events.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

"Jako by egyptská bohyně pořádku Maat zemi opustila"

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I do not speak a word of Czech, but it is similar enough to Polish to get the gist of the article "Bohyně pořádku opustila Egypt, píše archeolog Bárta z expedice", 14th March 2011:
"Archeolog a šéf české koncese pro výzkum v Egyptě Miroslav Bárta odjel do porevolučního Egypta hned, jak to bezpečnostní situace dovolila. Na vlastní oči se přesvědčil, že rabování neunikly ani lokality, kde Češi dlouhodobě pracují. Jako by egyptská bohyně pořádku Maat zemi opustila"
"Like the Egyptian goddess of order Maat had left the earth" Some of the photographs of what has been happening at Abusir speak for themselves.

Five more objects are back to the Egyptian Museum

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The Luxor Times is reporting that five more objects are back to the Egyptian Museum
The objects are 4 bronze statues of four gods and goddess including Bastet, Apis, Neith and Osiris besides the Bronze Top of a Sceptre in the Shape of the Goddess Hat-Mehit Wearing a Fish Headdress (Lates Nilotica). They are all in good condition except Apis statue which is broken into pieces but can be restored and put back on display.
This is a bit odd, because the sceptre with the goddess wearing a fish was in the previous list of recovered items (page 3 of 12). Several other versions of the story say the broken figurine was a "ram". Fortunately the corresponding Al-Ahram story has a photograph.

This clearly shows that the object retrieved is the other sceptre in the updated list of missing items ("Inscribed Bronze Sceptre of Ankhusiri", Dynasty 30, page 38/42 from vitrine K in room 19). Also from vitrine K was the Osiris (note the difference in state between the Al-Ahram photo and that of the Cairo Museum 'missing' list, page 3/42). The otherf three objects were also from Room 19, Centre E, vitrine Z, the bastet figure (page 1/42 of the 'missing' list), the neith figure (page 9/42 of the 'missing' list) and the Apis bull (page 40/42 of the list).

This brings the number of items known to be still missing from the Egyptian Museum collection to 37. Dr Tarek El Awady, the Egyptian Museum director is quoted as saying: “the fruitful co-operation between the Armed Forces and the Police to retrieve the stolen objects give us hope that the stolen objects are still in the country and all authorities will do their best to bring it back to where it belongs” and he promised a special exhibition when the last missing object is retrieved showing the story of looting and how the objects came back. I'd like them to show the rope which it is claimed they used to get in and a demonstration of how they passed through the window panes of the skylight without dislodging the dirt up there.

Before we rejoice too much about this, it should be noted that all these items came from the same place as the previously-recovered twelve items. All this probably means is that the guys in custody are revealing where they stashed some of the other items they took, or perhaps led the police to another member of the same looting gang who broke into the cases in Room 19 and then Room 6. This does not necessarily get us anywhere near the identification and apprehension of the people who were active in the other two parts of the Museum (the other end of the second floor and the Amarna gallery). These objects are probably going to be much harder to retrieve than these seventeen. But let us not give up hope, I believe the Egyptian authorities "have ways" of getting information from their prisoners which may yet prove to be effective...
Hat-tip to Christine Fößmeier for drawing attention to the Al-Ahram article


[Egyptian Museum: I know you are reading this. Can the next version of the objects missing' list - you ARE going to make one, aren't you? - actually have a TITLE (did they not teach you that at university?) and DATE incorporated in the document and have the pages properly numbered please? Alternatively, give the missing objects serial numbers please]

UPDATE: 28th March.
Here's a version of this story from Zahi Hawass' blog:
These five pieces were found yesterday with three of the criminals who broke into the museum. They took the five objects to Khan el-Khalili in order to sell them. A man at the bazaar told the criminals that he would pay 1500LE for the pieces. The looters said that the pieces were from the museum and worth much more than that price. After this, the man informed the police who apprehended the criminals.
So they have another three looters in custody (making at least seven)? Anyone who knows what the Khan el-Khalili market looks like will wonder how informing the police and the arrest of these men looked in practice. Was this really how it was, or were these objects retrieved as a result of information received from the men already in custody? All very puzzling.

UPDATE 31.03.2011
It seems I owe Dr Hawass an apology. The list of newly-recovered items has been published, and right at the bottom of the form is the information "The object was confiscated by the army and police from a dealer on 27/03/2011, while he was trying to sell it". It looks like the story of the police looking for this guy in the urban warren of the Khan el-Khalili after a tip-off (which I admit I doubted) might be true after all, if so it would suggest that a member or members of the original gang who had looted the cases in Room 19 on the first floor of the Museum were still at large after the 'sting' ten days earlier and had decided to get rid of the stolen goods. How many other people have already done so without the purchaser alarming the police? So have the Egyptian police really got now another three looters in their hands? (Making seven in total?). If I am right in suggesting these people were just a splinter of the original group, how many people were in there on that night?

Another innovation in the latest list is that the Museum is now adding the information where the recovered item physically is in the Museum ("It was moved to R4 (the conservation lab) on 28/03/2011"). Good for them.

Sadly the corresponding updated list of items still missing still has no title or date of revision, or page/object numbers incorporated. Its just a loose sheaf of pages. Since this is the third version (and who knows how many more mutations this list will undergo before the year is out?) it is now getting very difficult to refer to them (which Osiris on which page of which version of the list are we talking about?).
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No Pockets Needed

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Bloomsbury Pete, the national representative of Avian Concern for Cultural Heritage, the most vocal portable antiquities issues advocate in Bloomsbury has an ally. No its not the blokes sitting drinking tea and counting their website 'hits' and speaking to TV executives when they are not fondling coins from treasure-hunted hoards in the BM over the way, but a group of conservationists, Heritage Action. Do take a moment to read their take on current forms of British "archaeological outreach" and its partnership with artefact hunting. ("For true amateur archaeologists there are NO POCKETS NEEDED! All else is bluster, and if someone turns up at your farm gate covered in pockets and pouches they’re not amateur archaeologists. Simple").


It seems to me that there is a huge danger in both archaeology and its public (and policy makers) increasingly equating the discipline with a search for displayable and shiny metal objects, and little else.

So that's a flock of WC1 pigeons, a bunch of conservationists, a few scattered archaebloggers, but when are British archaeologists going to get their finger out and get on with discussing these portable antiquity issues properly and in their wider context? (That means you too PAS, it is what you are being paid to do.)

Saturday, 26 March 2011

A Question for St Louis

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The good people of St Louis have in their city a museum which has a mummy mask from a Ramesside burial at Sakkara, excavated in 1952. The Museum trustees insist the object came onto the market soon after excavation by entirely legitimate means. The Egyptian authorities however say this is not true and allege it came onto the market after a theft from a museum storeroom in the 1980s. So are the citizens of St Louis harbouring a stolen artwork?

There is a question that St Louis Art Museum has not yet answered, and I would like the people of St Louis to ask the Museum's trustees for an answer.At some stage in its collecting history the object has been tampered with and this has led to the concealment of a vital piece of information about its origins and associations.
When the mask was originally found, there was a hieratic inscription in black ink near the thumb on the left hand reading from right to left "Neferu". ie. The name of the owner. This is visible in old pictures of the mask but was apparently rubbed off when the object was sold onto the antiquities market. It is not visible in modern pictures (from K. M. Johnston's wiki page on the Ka Nefer Nefer burial).
Indeed it is not. The inscription could be transcribed into something that looked like this:
It reads "The Osiris, Neferu".

The erasure of this inscription raises an important question, when and by whom was this done and why?

Let us note that the assurance by the dealer who sold it to SLAM that the object was licitly obtained relies on a chain of ownership, each owner being assured that the object was legitimately on the market and passing that assurance on to the next owner.

Secondly most collectors would value an object with an inscription linking it to a particular person (and in this case, since it is published, a particular findspot) over an anonymous, generic, object. Quite apart from any ethical issues, removing the inscription reduces the value of the mask as a collectable, removes a part of the "story" it can tell.

These are two good reasons why a collector who believed the object was legitimately obtained would not remove the inscription naming the person it represents.

There is however a very good reason for removing the inscription. If the object was stolen and somebody was intending to sell it, it would have been rather awkward if the potential buyer did a search for the name in a resource like Porter-Moss and found the Goneim Sakkara "Neferu" mask in the literature and started asking questions. Removing the name makes it more difficult for the average buyer to make the connection (SLAM obviously did not). It reduces the risk that the object will be immediately identified as of illicit origins.

Removing the name makes sense ONLY if the person selling this object knows it has been illicitly-obtained.

So now we have a plausible reason "why", we may ask when and by whom was this done?
- By the dealer in an unnamed Brussels gallery where, according to the Phoenix-SLAM version of the collecting history, it was seen by a Swiss man (Charly Mathez) in the 1950s?

- In the collection of one "Kaloterna" (Kaliterna?) family, according to the Phoenix-SLAM version of the collecting history, until the early 1960s.

- In the early 1960s, according to the Phoenix-SLAM version of the collecting history, when it was bought by a Swiss collector named "Zuzi Jelinek"?

- Four decades later, when it came into the possession of the dealers Phoenix Ancient Art in 1997?

- When the St Louis Art Museum bought it in 1998?
Let the Trustees of St Louis Art Museum answer the question, how would the fact that any of these people would have altered the object in this manner square with their story that the object was checked out by SLAM staff and they found no evidence that the object was not of licit provenance? Is not the erasure of this inscription evidence in itself that somewhere along the line one of the sellers was trying to hide something? Doing proper due diligence before purchase surely would entail finding out what that was, and if that was impossible, walking away from the deal. What is the preferred explanation of the Trustees of St Louis Art Museum for the removal of the inscription, and will we or the people of St Louis ever hear it? Maybe somebody there can ask them outright.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Old Coin Collection Found - under a Road

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One news item, just out, for the Coineys. They are so keen to point out that their hobby ('avocation') of collecting dugup ancient coins and artefacts has its roots in Renaissance and Enlightenment antiquarianism. They therefore want to want to establish a position of prestige with regard to archaeology which they see as a younger (daughter) discipline, but also to point out that dugup ancient coins on the market today "could have been" on the market for centuries and not recently looted items. This of course does not take into account three factors, the growth in numbers of collectors in the days when the population of the western world as a whole was much less than today, the growth in popularity of the hobby, and that artefacts have been dropping out of the 'pool' of those available on the market by mechanisms such as donation to public institutions and destruction or loss.

A recent find by archaeologists from West of Scotland Archaeology Service (WoSAS) draws attention to the later mechanism. Five ancient coins were found in archaeological supervision of landscaping works conducted in Port Glasgow, Scotland in redeposited topsoil mixed with hardcore from the adjacent road surface. They were found along a grassed verge during the removal of turf and seem to have been brought to the site with material that was imported onto the site during road construction. We are not told, but I wonder whether these coins were not found during a metal detector survey of this deposit?

A point of interest is a deposit adhering to one side of each of the coins which appears to be glue or resin. This suggests to the excavator that they may have been mounted at some time, which in turn could suggest that they may represent part of a former private antiquity collection. "Two of the coins appear to be very similar, and while one has a resin deposit on the obverse, on the other the resin is on the reverse, suggesting that the intention may have been to display them side-by-side, which would support the interpretation that they form part of a collection". Three of the coins are "ancient Greek" in type, but the other two are Late Roman in type. The coins have a suspicious look to them however, they are of types that should have been struck in silver (and the corrosion products in the photo do not really look like corroded base silver should look). One of the Macedonian ones has what seems to be a casting flash on the edge while the third "Greek" coin has very flat relief undifferentiated from the background and a soapy look typical of the cast fake. It seems that the collector who acquired these items on the antiquities market at some time (we are not told at what date the soil layer was dumped) did not have a very discerning eye.

The excavators suggest it was part of the scattered collection of an "antiquary", but I think the possibility that they formed part of some teaching material used in a local school cannot be ruled out.

What we can (Maybe) Learn from the Cairo Museum Recovered Items

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There is now a list of the items recovered by the Cairo 'sting' which led to the arrest of three men with items to sell from the looting of the Egyptian Museum. Interestingly, and unlike the previous lists, we are told from which cases the items were taken, and this reveals an interesting pattern.

They come from just two areas of the Museum, the upper (first) floor Room 19, N2, vitrines H, cases 2 and 3 (seven of the objects), and Room 6 on the same floor (at the top of the stairs) Central row vitrine A, and side vitrine C (five objects). I have indicated these two areas with the green arrows on the floor plan.

If we look at the distribution of the cases apparently broken into on the first floor (others are on the ground floor) on that night (red squares on the plan - this is a provisional version based on the evidence I examined in my own poking round) we can see there are two groups. There is a smaller scatter to the north, this is clearly where Mr Ahmed Attia Mahmod and his merry men were operating, and it seems from what we now know that they were more concerned with ripping stuff off than doing the "senseless damage" that I think the whole group of men had orders to create.

Is it possible that the fourth man who was caught - on the night - at the foot of the northwest staircase was in this group too? (That would explain how the police were able to arrest Ahmed Attia Mahmod as I really do not believe the "posting pictures by mobile phone" story).

At the other end of the museum is a scatter of broken cases which were the result (I deduce) of a different process entirely, and probably done by other men in the group.

To reiterate, I do not believe these men came in through any skylight in Room 37. The patterns of breakage and scattering of the objects indicates they probably came onto the second floor via the southeast staircase (take a moment to think about that) and I think they headed straight for the Tutankhamun gallery, Room 40 and the statues which they broke (and then later nicked parts of). If we look at the plan of the trail of destruction, it seems at least likely that the marauders split into at least two groups, one group probably hurried north, raiding Room 19, 13 and 6 on the way, perhaps with the aim of making a quick get away (think about that a moment too). Were these the people who raided the Amarna gallery on the floor below in the middle of the north side? To judge from the objects still not recovered which probably originated in this part of the Museum, there were probably more thieves active here than the three that have just been caught (unless the three have the rest hidden away as security, for a possible plea bargain).

The other group spent a bit more time smashing cases wantonly and moving objects and furniture (I now know what the foreign piece of furniture is in the Al Jazeera shots, it is a wooden waste paper bin from the corridor outside several doors down) from room to room. Fewer objects were stolen in this area, the major ones being the Yuya and Thuya shabtis and heart scarab (and it was probably here that somebody decided to cart off the bits of the Tutankhamun statues that had been brought here from the other side of the museum before being smashed). Possibly this was the same person or group of people that took a handfull of disparate objects from the case under the dome (with the "faience hedgehog").

The updated list of missing items too contains for the first time the information about the original location of the remaining missing objects. It too is interesting, only one item from Room six is now missing (a collar, 16th item on the list). The three Tutankhamun sculptures are listed as missing (but surely it is a mistake that one of them is assigned in the list to a vitrine 43 in Room 30, surely this is the case in room 40), and a fan and trumpet from the empty case in Room 13 (was that all it had held? Surely not). Now we know that the wooden model of a vase and a terracotta bed were what was taken from the case in Room 32 (rather odd items to take I would have thought). We now know what a disparate group of objects had been in the case in Room 48 (under the dome, the one with the "faience hedgehog" six groups of items including one of ten amulets). Despite the seizures, there are still a number of objects (11 in fact) missing from the same cases in Room 19. More of a surprise, instead of the four items missing from the Amarna case downstairs, the final tally is 6 (Nefertiti, princess statue, seated man, bes sculpture, scribe and Thoth, quartzite princess head).

And here are the photos I promised. Don't listen to anyone who tells you that the windows above the case with the blood-stained sticks in Room 37 have been smashed and then replaced, they are as dirty as any windows can be and quite clearly have not been replaced in the last few weeks, even though it is not as clear from these photos as I would have liked.



(With standards of cleanliness like that, no wonder they do not want tourists taking photographs, eh? What is under some of the cases is not a pleasant sight either).

Salima Ikram was adamant (pers comm in a chance meeting in Luxor) that she saw a smashed window above the relevant case, but she was mistaken. There is a missing pane on the other side of the room (odd isn't it that if they replaced one pane of glass in this skylight after the break-in, having got a glazier up there, they did not replace the other one a few metres away too). Certainly I really cannot envisage the possibility of the thieves swinging in Tarzan-like from the pane that is missing to smash into the case that was broken on the other side of the room. There really is no trace whatsoever that a window was broken in (or opened) above the case shown as the point of entry. I think the "they came in through the roof on invisible ropes" story was a convenient way to explain away an inconvenient fact or two about this "break-in"...

Photos: Plan of first floor of Cairo Museum (adapted from that in the Ancient Egypt Online blog - note: smashed boat and Asyut soldiers are all in the same room, 37): Photos of the indisputably intact skylights of Room 37 taken 19th March 2011 (Author).

Santa Fe Cultural Policy Research Institute Seminars and Projects

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The list of proposed Santa Fe Cultural Policy Research Institute Seminars and Projects on its homepage makes interesting reading. When it opened two years ago, it promised it would do four things. The first it sort-of achieved (though the actual sources of the information it utilised have never been revealed): Research Study #1: Project on Unprovenanced Ancient Objects in Private US Hands ("Determining the number of artistically and academically significant, privately-owned objects in the United States that are currently excluded from acquisition by US museums") published in November 10, 2009.

It seems the other three proposed research programmes were never brought beyond the planning stage:
2) Developing different models for a registry that can be applied to privately-owned objects.("A draft report will be published on the CPRI website by the end of 2009")

3) Exploring ways to harmonize US laws and regulations that apply to transfer and ownership of antiquities. ("CPRI will gather, cite, and republish these materials on the CPRI website and provide summaries and analyses useful to museums, educational institutions and the general public" - no date cited: where are these?).

4) Exploring the effect of source country policies on damage to archaeological sites and objects.("This will be an ongoing research project with milestones and publication outcomes to be determined before the end of 2009" - no such definitions appear to have been created).

Vignette: Santa Fe has of course its own local cultural heritage issues, will the CPRI be addressing them too?

Chinese Collectors of Chinoiserie? How Terrible?

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In the Kirsten Gillibrand Seminar on the CCPIA organized by the CPRI the "problem" of China was raised. As we know due to a MOU between the USA and China, the import of certain types of dugup antiquities from China is restricted to those that can be documented as having been legally exported from there. But what is this? Shock horror:
As a result, the market in such materials has just been shifted elsewhere. China is a ridiculous case. We have closed our markets to ancient Chinese art when the biggest market for such material is in China itself. State has failed to administer the statute fairly. >[...] A[rthur] H[oughton] also asks how effective the CPIA can be if 90% of the archaeological material sold is done so in a source country like China.
In a country "like" China? Somehow I think our transatlantic friends have lost sight of what the "C" in CCPIA stands for. To remind them it is called the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Cultural Property. So the fact that cultural property, dugup or otherwise (and 90% of it or not) is staying in China unless legally exported is what the Convention is aiming to achieve, isn't it? Why does that indicate that "State has failed to administer the statute fairly"? It certainly is fair to the Chinese people and Chinese collectors if it true that the antiquities are not now leaking out of the country in an uncontrolled and illegal manner to the world's largest no-questions-asked antiquities market in the USA and this is due to US dealers responsibly adhering to import restrictions which support that.

Vignette: Does the CPRI want to see Chinese artefacts kept away from Chinese collectors?

Does the panel Think....?

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In the discussion of the 2010 Kirsten Gillibrand Anti-Convention-on-Cultural-Property-Implementation-Act Seminar held the other day about whether the Act is "working" or not, there is a lot of talk about something the panellists called the “concerted international response requirement”. This might lead some readers to believe that this is a requirement of the Act.

The wording of course nowhere appears in it, a United States law cannot of course dictate what other sovereign nations should or should not do on their own territory. What the CCPIA says is that the President may decide that if putting import controls on illegally exported items from source countries, "if applied in concert with similar restrictions implemented, or to be implemented within a reasonable period of time, by those nations (whether or not State Parties) individually having a significant import trade in such material, would be of substantial benefit" in deterring the illicit trade in the artefacts concerned (duh), he may do that. He may do that because to do so "is consistent with the general interest of the international community in the interchange of cultural property among nations for scientific, cultural, and educational purposes".

Note the Act nowhere says that if the United States, arguably currently the world's greatest and greediest importer of all types of dugup cultural property, would be the only nation applying "similar restrictions", these restrictions cannot be agreed upon.

In any case other nations do apply similar restrictions, Nobody in the UK can legally buy illegally obtained artefacts from other countries, like Japan and a whole host of other countries. Their legislation implementing the 1970 UNESCO Convention has a blanket ban on such tainted artefacts - not a selective one (agreed individually by the CPAC) as in the USA. It is the USA which is lagging behind the rest of the civilised world here, not the other way around. The USA is not implementing the Convention at all, it is flouting its accession to it. Shame on you all.

Note that the Cultural Policy Research Institute was discussing how the US with its outdated and ineffective 1983 act should be sliding further out of her obligations to protect the world's cultural heritage under the Convention. There seems not to have been a single word spoken about how US cultural policy can help stop the looting and illicit exports, which of course is pretty typical of the milieu. It is a shame the antiquity dealers' friend Mrs Gillibrand could not see her way to facilitating a seminar on that topic in the Russell Senate Office Building .

Photo: Kirsten (left) and Hilary enjoying a good laugh, perhaps about the American Cultural Policy Research Institute's amateurish attempts to mislead the voters.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Another Coiney Blog Hides Away

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I have mentioned a persistent tendency for the websites, blogs and forums of artefact hunters and collectors to be closed for reading to all but registered viewers and discussion goes on there using pseudonyms rather than real names. Rather like kiddie porn consumers, the users of such forums obviously feel they have something to hide from the rest of us.

Recently joined these ranks is gun-toting ("I-shoot-to-kill") pastor Scott Head (pseud. "S. Capitus") whose blog on ancient coin collecting was discussed by me here a while ago. Now when we click on the link http://scotvscapitis.blogspot.com/ we are informed "Permission Denied: This blog is open to invited readers only [...] you might want to contact the blog author and request an invitation". On the other hand you might not. Unless of course you are curious about what kind of things are discussed which the Pastor feels not everybody should see. Like discussions (or lack thereof) of where those coins actually come from.

Sarah Marei "Tales from the Egyptian revolution"

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Sarah Marei is an antiquities inspector based at Giza in Egypt who has contributed comments to some of my posts here. Today a text was published on the online version of the Art Newspaper (24th March 2011) which should give antiquity dealers and collectors some pause for thought, so reproduce it below.

Scrambling in the glaring sun we lifted heavy wooden boxes laden with antiquities to safer locations at the site where hopefully they would be easier to protect at night. The director had his sleeves rolled up and, covered in dust, was booming spontaneous orders. The entire, hurried operation was guided by the levelheaded and reasonable decisions of the high-ranking officials responsible for the site now acting as patriotic Egyptians struggling to protect their history.
Giza, home to the Great Pyramids, had two storage facilities broken into in the wave of attacks on antiquities overtaking Egypt during the revolution. As the news broke I rushed to the site (where I am based as an antiquities inspector) to offer my help. I was not alone: many other inspectors and other employees had left the safety of their homes with the same thoughts.

Egypt is riddled with archaeological sites and many remained virtually unscathed due to the inspectors and residents of the surrounding towns and villages endangering their lives to protect sites, storage locations and museums, as was the case at Beni Suef and Fayum.

Under normal circumstances the tourist police are responsible for guarding Egypt’s rich ancient history, from monasteries to temples, synagogues to mosques. But the police presence vanished in the revolution and has yet to return to the sites. The individual initiatives on the part of site inspectors and the townspeople from the remote areas is often the only current protection afforded to some of the world’s most unique and magnificent monuments.

We continue to work everyday on the makeshift salvage operation in Giza. Volunteers regularly turn up and, as we work, stories are exchanged about the looting where gangs of armed men attacked and shot the guards and plundered the site.

The work we are conducting is not only physically draining but also emotionally exhausting. My anger is initially directed at the looters and my thoughts keep returning to the same question: why are these criminals, who are Egyptians, looting their own history and their nation’s pride in order to sell it? Only if they stand to gain substantially would they go as far, feeding a market that is standing ready and prepared to amply reward them for their troubles; the better the object, the bigger the reward.

No indication of the market for antiquities is clearer than in the selection of the sites targeted by the looters in the past few months in Egypt. The overwhelming majority is Pharaonic, followed by Islamic, with Coptic and Jewish so far remaining untouched. We are struggling to protect our sites, facing armed men while we have nothing but sticks, because of a demand from personal collections (both inside and outside Egypt) and from rival institutions seeking a competitive edge. We are paying the price for a greedy, insatiable and unregulated market.
I was quite struck by the comment: "No indication of the market for antiquities is clearer than in the selection of the sites targeted by the looters in the past few months in Egypt". Readers will be well aware that collectors and dealers claim they are spreading some 'cosmopolitan' values by collecting other people's dugup heritage, they call their borrowed ideology "cultural property internationalism", but is is not, is it? If their collecting activity ignores several whole areas of Egyptian cultural history (and those affecting modern identities as much as the Pharaonic), how can they claim, even tongue-in-cheek, to be spreading any form of inter-cultural understanding ?
 
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