Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Chinese challengers to Sothebys and Christies

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In the past five years, there has been a massive expansion in the market for Chinese art as China's millionaires and billionaires begin to invest in art and rediscover the heritage of their homeland. As a result in the space of little more than a decade, from very modest beginnings, Chinese auction houses have come to rank among the biggest in the world. In this period rivals have emerged in China that present a major challenge to long-established art auctioneers such as Christie's and Sotheby's (which until now together had almost dominated the sale of fine art, jewellery and antiques across the globe), such is the extent of the manner in which the tastes of China's newly affluent art collectors are transforming the global art world.
According to French auction body Conseil des Ventes, half of the world's top 20, and five of the top 10 houses are now Chinese. Six years ago, Beijing Poly, China's biggest auction house and now the world's third largest, did not exist. China Guardian, the world's fourth largest, has only been operating since 1993. China Guardian took $606m (£386m; 450m euros) at its autumn auctions in Beijing in November, more than the $412m Sotheby's took at its Hong Kong auctions in October. Christie's took $367m at its November Hong Kong auctions. Beijing Poly's parent company, part of a sprawling conglomerate said to have links to China's military, is also rumoured to be preparing for a stockmarket flotation. If successful, it would make it the world's second-largest publicly traded art industry company after Sotheby's.
Katie Hunt, 'The Chinese challengers to Sothebys and Christies', BBC News - Jan 31, 2012

So, I wonder what the Chinese market is for dug up "minor antiquities" looted from southeastern European Roman sites, or Late Roman Bronze coins? Will the Chinese market overtake the voracity of the US and western European market for such 'play the archaeologists/connoisseur' geegaws? Will the latter become a backwater in a few decades time? Will Chinese buyers ask the right questions of their suppliers and cut out the dodgy dealings?

Vignette: Reawakening the tradition of the Sung elite? Shen Kuo.

Germany Returns Looted Afghan Sculpture

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This week, Germany returned an ancient pre-Islamic sculpture looted during Afghanistan's civil war. The 30 cm high limestone relief shows eight figures, and dates from the second century AD,. The figures are all facing left, and are believed to represent people regarding Buddha on his throne in the ancient kingdom of Gandhara (which extended across part of Afghanistan and Pakistan). The object was housed in
Afghanistan's National Museum before it was stolen. It was flown to Kabul earlier this week. The report says that "Afghanistan's embassy in Berlin has been investigating who owned the sculpture since it appeared in Munich a year ago" (surely that should be BEFORE it surfaced).
As warlords battled for control of Kabul in the early 1990s following the Soviet exit, fighters pillaged around 70 percent of the museum's antiquities, or around 70,000 pieces, selling the choicest artifacts on the black market.[...] Afghanistan's looted treasures have appeared across Europe, the United States and Japan. Kabul might see twenty ivories currently held in the British Museum return sometime this year, [Omara Khan] Massoudi [the director of Afghanistan's National Museum] said. An agreement with UNESCO [...] and global police Interpol to recover stolen [items] is proving successful: he said over 8,000 artifacts have returned since 2007, including a fifth century wooden Buddha. Tens of thousands are still missing however.
Sadly the looting is still going on even after the US-led invasion:
endemic corruption, poverty and insecurity after thirty years of conflict mean even new discoveries do not reach cultural authorities. Ancient Jewish scrolls, which Massoudi confirmed were recently smuggled out, are currently being kept by private dealers in London. Most of those that have been recovered and are in Afghanistan are under lock and key until larger spaces are built with the top-notch security systems museums in the West have. Ten million dollars have been committed, half from the United States, for a new museum with such features and climate control, to be built next door to the old one over the next three to four years.
Photo: Reuters (Omar Sobhani)

Amie Ferris-Rotman, 'Germany returns two millennia old Afghan sculpture', Reuters - Jan 31, 2012

Monday, 30 January 2012

18th January: The ACCG Gives an Account of Itself

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Twelve days after the fiasco at the State Department, the ACCG attempts to give an account of itself (P. Tompa: 'CPAC Meeting on Renewal of MOU with Cyprus' 30/1/12). Quite interesting, compared with the scope of the designated list, is the list of the individuals (representing nevertheless organizations) who "spoke against the MOU". All coineys: Peter Tompa (IAPN/PNG); Wayne Sayles (ACCG); and Eloise Ullman (Industry Council For Tangible Assets ICTA), The National Trade Association for the Rare Coin / Precious Metals / Tangible Assets Industry.
Peter Tompa spoke for IAPN and PNG, two trade associations that represent the small business of the numismatic trade.
As we saw, he claims a conspiracy against the coineys, revelations from a former CPAC chairman and a disregard of the CPAC of ACCG "scholarship" intended to show that import restrictionss on coins without documentation of lawful export are unjustified.
Wayne Sayles indicated that the ACCG represents the interests of the approximately 50,000 serious ancient coin collectors in the United States. The ACCG is interested in fair and equitable application of US law. The CPIA was meant to protect significant artifacts, not everything under the sun. In response to a question from [Patty Gerstenblith ], Wayne Sayles indicated that it is unrealistic to ask the small businesses of the numismatic trade to provide provenance information for every coin they import.
I see they are still sticking with their "50 000" estimate, that represents a massive erosion of the archaeological record of the rest of the world if these guys are all buying dugup antiquities without ensuring legitimate origins each and every time. Of course CPAC Chair Patty Gerstenblith will know that the CCPIA says nothing whatsoever about establishing provenance as a criterion for legal import into the USA, just the accompaniment of an export licence or the declarations envisaged by that law.
Eloise Ullman indicated that most ICTA members have under 5 employees. She also noted that President Obama recently recognized that it is important not to overburden small businesses with paperwork when his administration signed onto an effort to end a burdensome requirement that coin dealers prepare 1099 forms for every purchase over $600.
Here is the ICTA website. What an odd little organization. "1099 forms" are documentation for tax purposes.

Coiney Academic Rigour: Adding it up at the CPAC

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There is a telling comment in Peter Tompa's account of the 18th Jan meeting with the CPAC. The Ancient coin Collectors' Guild had sent them a 'public comment' intending to demonstrate that Cypriot coins would not all be "first discovered" in the territory of Cyprus. They provided a list of hoards to show that such coins were sometimes buried in antiquity outside Cyprus. There was not much academic rigour in their presentation of the 'evidence' to support (rather than in the spirit of academic enquiry examine) their case, as they omitted the hoards found ON Cyprus. In his presentation at the public CPAC meeting, Prof. Nathan Elkins pointed out the sleight-of-hand. Look how Tompa justifies it to the slack-jawed masses:
If you add together a list prepared by Wayne Sayles of coins found outside of Cyprus and a list Elkins compiled of coins from Cypriot contexts, that shows that Cypriot coinage is much more prevalent in Cyprus than outside of Cyprus.
Why, in order to arrive at a conclusion about "where" certain things happened in the past would one have to "add" fresh information to what the coiney dealers had already supplied to the CPAC - except if the coiney dealers (this so-called "Ancient Coin Collectors Guild" run by people calling themselves "professional numismatists") had supplied the public enquiry with one-sided, FALSE and MISLEADING information? What other explanation is there?

Germany Returns More(?) Stolen Artefacts to Iraq

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Today in a ceremony at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Germany turned over to Iraqi officials45 relics stolen from Iraq's museums and archeological sites in the mayhem that followed the U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein in 2003. There was a gold jar (surely not the Münzhandlung Hirsch Nachfolger one again?) a bronze axe head, clay tablets bearing cuneiform script, a metal amulet and other artifacts "seized by German police at public auctions".
"We are heading in coming months to retrieve Iraqi artifacts from Britain, from the United States of America, and Canada ... we will follow Iraq's antiquities wherever they are," said Abbas al-Quraishi, head of Iraq's artifact retrieval department.
Aseel Kami, 'Sumerian gold jar, other relics returned to Iraq' Reuters Jan 30, 2012
This actually looks like a rehash of a story from last year.

Looters, Black Archaeology, Collectors and the archaeological record in Bulgaria

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According to Katerina Ivanova writing in today's "Standart" ('Crisis Inspires Investing in Stolen Antiques'), a side effect of the current economic crisis, the instability of the financial markets and the fluctuations of gold prices, is that "many affluent people prefer investing in antiques of great collectable value". This is currently leading, she says, to thousands of antique coins, statuettes and vessels being illegally exported from Bulgaria to undiscerning collectors (she uses the word "connoisseurs") in Western Europe.
This tendency has been confirmed by the growing number of cases of customs officers who discover illegal antique coins, medieval rings, statuettes, pottery etc on passengers. Cases have been reported when coins are found in parcels for countries like the USA and Switzerland. The flow of illegal antiques in Europe is mostly directed to Italy, Germany and France. The smuggling of culture items is performed by both Bulgarians and foreigners, according to information of the Customs Agency. Smugglers often contact black archeologists from Bulgaria, buy the illegally unearthed objects and sell them at much higher prices to collectors abroad.
The term "black archaeologists" used as a euphemism for looters seems about as appropriate as the term "professional numismatists" for coin shop owners.

I wonder whether the lobbyist for those so-called professional numismatists will be writing to Ms Ivanova to tell her that the "answer" is to "regulate metal detectors"?

Sunday, 29 January 2012

January 18th CPAC Meeting on the Cyprus MOU extension

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Nathan Elkins gives an interesting account of part of the proceedings at the public meeting with the CPAC. On the day of the meeting somebody coming out of the State Department building had earlier talked of the coineys getting their "butts kicked", now we have a few more details. In fact at least three proper numismatists were at that meeting and all three supported the continuance of restrictions on the import into the US of antiquities including coins from Cyprus without documentation of lawful export. Good for them. As Prof. Elkins says: "these MOUs are a vehicle to protect the cultural patrimony and archaeological resources of these nations from looting, trafficking, and smuggling". Elkins himself had apparently previously sent a lengthy written statement and also was one of those who spoke at the meeting. He said that the cultural patrimony and archaeological resources of Cyprus are still in jeopardy through pillage and that the Republic of Cyprus is taking proactive measures within its own borders to combat plunder. He cited a January 2010 raid by police in Cyprus, when reportedly 11 million euro ($15.5 million) in looted antiquities (including coins) were confiscated. More interesting was that Prof. Elkins decided to question the arguments advanced by the coineys to prompt special treatment of the artefacts they collect and trade. The "coins were meant to circulate" argument attracted his attention.

He pointed out that:
"coin circulation is actually a much more complex issue than is often presented to the committee by those opposed to the protection of coins. Some coins circulated more or less than others. [...] some Greek coinages and the locally produced Roman provincial coinage circulated regionally or locally. Such locally produced and circulating coins are already protected in the current MOU with Cyprus. One tradesman, who had submitted a letter in opposition to the inclusion of coins in the designated list, provided a list of hoards from outside of Cyprus that included Cypriot coins. In the letter it is claimed that the list provides "uncontestable (sic) evidence that these coins circulated in antiquity and since." Yes, coins circulated. But the letter in question did not examine the evidence in a critical way. After all, the hoard evidence from Cyprus itself was wholly omitted.
This is typical of the intellectual bankruptcy of the arguments of those coiney shopkeepers who insist on referring to themselves as "professional numismatists". Elkins pointed out that the evidence published in the numismatic literature (I guess those "professional numismatics" might not have access to a professionally run academic library) are considerably more common in Cypriot hoards in comparison with the foreign hoards listed by the shopkeeper.
In aggregate, coins of Cypriot type comprised 45% of the total of all hoards found in Cyprus. On the other hand, coins of Cypriot type, in aggregate, composed 9% of the foreign hoards mentioned in the other letter.
The same goes for the evidence for the circulation of Roman provincial coinage in Cyprus which demonstrably "circulated abundantly on the island and less frequently outside of it".

So far there has been no direct reaction from the coiney milieu to Elkins' remarks on ancient coin circulation patterns. Neither has there been any substantial blow-by-blow account from the coineys detailing their defence of the hobby and its hankering for collecting fresh coins without documentation of lawful export. Perhaps it is not surprising - the dealers' lobby can't be too transparent about what others are saying, collectors might draw conclusions.

UPDATE 30.01.12
As if in response to the above comments Peter Tompa has now, twelve days after the event, produced a rather pedestrian account of the events of 18th Jan from the coiney point of view.

STOP Restarts: About Time Too!

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A British Heritage organization is taking up the call which shirking British archaeologists shrank away from nearly two decades ago. They have started up "A NEW “Stop Taking Our Past” campaign – this time with universal support!". The “Stop Taking Our Past” (STOP) heritage Campaign of the 1970s failed to align British laws with those in the rest of the world which curb unstructured artefact hunting.
Hence anyone in England and Wales can still legally dig up and keep almost anything and tell no-one – and thousands do. It’s hard to see the status quo changing soon as it’s supported on three massive pillars: inertia, reluctance to admit Britain’s mistake and defence of vested interests. The first two have weakened in recent years but the third grows ever more blatant.

Despite the pat-on-the-head PAS approach, "the damage that prompted the original STOP campaign continues unabated. Most finds still go unreported and our past is still being taken". Nobody can therefore deny that for as long as Britain chooses not to regulate the activity a NEW “Stop Taking Our Past” campaign is needed. HA argues that no archaeologist could fail to support it if this time it calls not for an end to detecting but an end to non-reporting.

We will see if their optimism is justified. I'd suggest they email a link to the campaign announcement to the fifty or so PAS employees and the Bloomsbury head office and ask the Scheme whether or not it will promote the campaign.


Thursday, 26 January 2012

Focus on Metal Detecting: "Where Would the BM be Without the input of the metal detectorist"?

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John Winter considers as artefact hunting's "Finest Hour" the moment when then-UK Minister of Culture David Lammy referred to "metal detectorists" as: The unsung heroes of the UK’s heritage. That was on Wednesday 17th January, and PAS officials assured us afterwards that he had departed from the press release produced by the British Museum Press Office to come out with that statement. The Times later on that year used the headline: "Metal Detectives are a National Treasure!". Winter considers that:
There are those who lambasted these reports as a gross distortion of the truth and continue to write about detectorists in an abusive and disparaging manner. Unfortunately they don’t have the same level of government and influential media support! ;-) Shame.
This taunting artefact hunter apparently considers that such government and media support is the English metal detectorists' "right" and it can be permanently maintained without the artefact hunting community doing anything much to deserve it. This allegedly is because:
if it wasn’t for the efforts and contributions of detectorists, then the Portable Antiquities scheme just wouldn’t exist in its present form. It is as true then as it is now. Nothing has changed. The largest hoard of Anglo Saxon gold ever found, discovered in the summer of 2009 by a metal-detectorist, would still be languishing in the ground. All those ‘experts’ at the BM would have little to do. Over the last few years, several spectacular hoards have been discovered in quick succession by metal detectorists, thus keeping FLO’s gainfully employed and justifying the existence of the PAS.

Well, of course if it was not for the metal detectorists and their anti-establishment views of the 1980s and 1990s as well as the rise of the market of the type of things they find which completely destroyed the social practice of responsible members of the UK public DONATING objects they found to public collections, there would have been no need for a PAS in the first place. We could have carried on with people collaborating with local museums as had been developing over the past seven decades or so. It was artefact hunting that put paid to this manner of public interaction with archaeology.

The artefact hunters' "efforts and contributions" (sic) are however vastly less than the amount of information they are removing from the ground and not "contributing" to archaeological knowledge. Their "efforts" are primarily directed to finding collectables for their own personal entertainment and profit and the talismanic appearance of some "data" in the PAS database when they go along to club meetings and rallies is just a side effect of this process.

The whole idea of setting up the PAS was to instil "best practice" among this particular group of "finders". This is what thirteen million quid have gone towards. Thirteen million quid of public money has NOT been spent (one hopes) on collaboration with irresponsible artefact hunters and collectors. I think most of us had assumed that this would - due to PAS outreach - have become quite clear among Britain's artefact hunters by now. Yet Mr Winter has some problems understanding that this is the case:

I must state here the phrase metal detectorists when uttered by PAS officials, written in documents and parroted by government ministers is often prefaced by that word responsible which after a time becomes rather irksome. The inference is that any detectorist who doesn’t record with the voluntary scheme which is PAS or records with the finders’ own independent database (UKDFD) is somehow irresponsible. I don’t see it that way!
Well, the unfortunate thing is that the rest of us do.

Labour MP David Lammy laughing at one of his own jokes

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Princeton Statement: the Numbers

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David Gill reports that Princeton has at last released a statement about the return last month of some objects from its collections to Italy ('Princeton University Art Museum, Italy reach new antiquities agreement' The Trustees of Princeton University). Gill notes that the statement issued on behalf of this new Jersey university on behalf of the Trustees of teh Art Museum is lacking somewhat in details, but what struck me was the wy the number of objects acquired/relinquished was portrayed:

Under the agreement, six works were returned to the Republic of Italy in December 2011 [...] a black-glazed askos; a pair of fhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifemale statuettes; four fragments of a red-figure calyx krater; fragments of an architectural relief; a pithos in white-on-red style; and a group of fragmentary architectural revetments

Meanwhile, what is more revealing about the sort of things the 'art museum' has been buying for its "research and teaching" and gives a better idea of the scale of the return:
tra cui un askos a forma di astragalo, due statuette di donna, di cui una che suona un tamburello e l’altra la lira, un pithos a figure rosse e bianche, raffigurante animali, e 166 frammenti (quattro di un cratere a figure rosse, cinque di rilievi architettonici, un gruppo di 157 elementi architettonici con figure di tori);
Now, I can understand a need to have some hand-specimens of red figure pot fragments so the student can see the difference between it and modern flower-pot so they don't make idiots of themselves when they go out in the world with a Classics degree from Princeton, but 157 knocked-off bits of building facade?

Vignette: the facade of the Princeton University Art museum

Lewis Defence Lawyers Urge Dismissal of Case Against Client in US v. Khouli et al.

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Rick St Hilaire has an interesting text about the court case ensuing from the New York antiquities bust ('Lewis Defense Lawyers File Motion to Dismiss in US v. Khouli et al.'). An indictment is not a finding of guilt and a criminal defendant is presumed innocent unless the prosecution can prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law. Basically Lewis' lawyers are arguing that collectors have no obligation to ensure that "freshly surfaced" artefacts they are purchasing are not illegally obtained. Let us see if that is a position upheld by a New York court of law, but even so, is that not really precisely what collectors buying precisely this category of material should, in fact, be doing? Also let us note that the lawyers say that Lewis as part of his "due diligence" before purchase was informed by the dealer that the objects came from a 1960s collection in Israel - so one might ask whether to offset the accusations that he was collecting smuggled items he has provided his lawyers with Israeli export permits for those antiquities he believes were exported from Israel.
Moreover, defense counsel contends that prosecutors cannot prove that the items in questions were stolen. They highlight that there has been no assertion by Egypt that the items are in fact stolen. And if the prosecution argues that the incomplete provenance of the artifacts should have informed Lewis that the objects may have been stolen, defense lawyers cite journal articles to show that lack of provenance is common in the antiquities market and does not demonstrate that a cultural object is in fact stolen.
Well, motoring magazines rarely say where the model they are illustrating was bought, that does not mean that the BMW in Cletus Thugwit's garage for which he has absolutely no paperwork is not stolen.

Lewis’ lawyers conclude that the lack of evidence cannot sustain a conviction, warranting a dismissal of the government's criminal case. It is worth noting that the "no provenance does not mean illegal" argument is the same one used by the coineys - but despite that Salem Alshdaifat (Holyland Numismatics) and Morris Khouli were suspended from the ACCG before they'd even set foot in a courtroom.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

More Antiquities Looted from Italy Leave the Hands of US Collectors and Dealers

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There seem to be huge quantities of looted Classical antiquities in US hands. A January 20 press announcement by Italian authorities summarises recent results in the fight with unlawfully exported items in US hands. This time we learn of the return of more than 200 antiquities of various sizes from US museums, companies, collectors and dealers — all the product of illegal excavation or theft. The Chasing Aphrodite blog has a lengthy article on it.

The article discusses some of the returned objects. The two biggest items were statues relinquished by the health insurance provider Humana, which had stood apparently for over 20 years in the lobby of its Louisville headquarters. They illustrate very well the problem of stolen and looted artefacts being offered to uncritical buyers on the no-questions-asked market. The company had in good faith "acquired the statues in 1984 from a New York Gallery". It turns out on investigation that one of them, a first century marble statue, had been illegally excavated in Lazio, Italy and apparently had passed through the hands of the convicted antiquities trafficker Giacomo Medici. The other, a second century sculpture of Fortuna, had been stolen in October 1986 from an opera house in Rome.

The New York Metropolitan Museum of Art’s former antiquities curator Dietrich von Bothner was known to have a large private collection of antiquities. Some of the vase fragments in his possession reportedly match vases already returned by American museums. The next batch of items returned recently was a group of forty pieces which the Met had obtained as "the property of a deceased private collector" which it is being reported had been a small part of this collection. What happened to the rest?

Of potentially greater significance was the third batch. This was reportedly of 170 objects and fragments returned by the Princeton University Art Museum. According to the Chasing Aphrodite blog these included:
an askos-shaped talus; two statues of women, including one playing a tambourine and the other a lyre; a white pithos with red figures representing animals; and 166 fragments from vases and architectural elements. The returns appear to be related to the investigation of Edoardo Almagià, the Princeton alum and antiquities dealer who, along with Princeton antiquities curator Michael Padgett, are targets of an investigation by Italian authorities.
As the Chasing Aphrodite bloggers explain, the release states that these objects:
“were identified in previous surveys conducted by the [Carabinieri] of the possessions of an Italian-American citizen, resident of New York, who has been the subject of the seizure of numerous archaeological finds, in New York and Rome, and copious documentation with photographic material pertaining to sales and loans made ​​by him.” These seized documents have allowed investigators to trace looted antiquities to prestigious American museums like the Met and Princeton, the release says, adding that the Carabinieri “have thus established, irrefutably, the origin of the objects from illicit excavations made ​​in Italy.”

The authors go on to remark that works that have passed through Almagia's hands have according to researchers also been traced to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Dallas Museum of Art, the San Antonio Museum of Art, the Toledo Museum of Art, the Tampa Museum of Art and the Indiana University Art Museum.

In addition, New York antiquities dealer Jerome Eisenberg (he of Royal-Athena Gallery) has reportedly returned to Italy a bronze statue being sold for $22,500 known as the Venus of St. John Perareto, which he had bought from an unnamed dealer in Freiburg, Germany in 1982. This on further investigation turns out to have been stolen from a museum in Rimini in 1962.

As the authors note, in the hands of Italian authorities are now a series of archives of individuals involved in the antiquities trade. The Almagia Archive joins the "trove of documents, photographs and objects that Italian investigators have seized from antiquities dealers Robin Symes, Robert Hecht, Gianfranco Becchina and Giacomo Medici". They raise the question of what to do with this vast amount of information about certain sectors of the antiquities trade.

Hat-Tip: David Gill

Vignette: The Pantheon and Pheonix, the badge of the Cultural Property Protection Carabinieri, Photo: Culture cop (nice uniform now I look at it, what's the hat-badge?)


PR Newswire: Renewal of Import Restrictions on Cypriot Coins Being Considered

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The ACCG has issued this press release about the recent CPAC hearing about the potential renewal of the Cypriot MOU: Renewal of Import Restrictions on Cypriot Coins Being Considered

Gentle Reader, did you know that "such drastic measures as import restrictions can actually lessen the number of finds reported"? Apparently "evidence was presented on how ..." at the recent CPAC meeting. Somehow, I do not think that was what the coiney lobbyist was wanting to prove. Bangor's Raimund Karl said something quite different. In reality, England's PAS is nothing whatsoever to do with either the export process of import restriction. Also is preservation from looting anything to do with "the number of finds reported"? Chalk and Cheese.

Anyway, at the CPAC the academic numismatists gave the dealers lobby a run for their money, in the words of one person leaving the State Department that day, they (metaphorically) "kicked the dealers' butt". No wonder no summary has appeared on Cultural Property Observer or Wayne Sayles' blog.

The Youlus (Save-a-Torah) Fraud Case

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The court case against Washington-based (Save a Torah) Rabbi Menachem Youlus has several times been postponed, the latest was due to expire 17th January. As yet, there is no news about what is happening.

Collectors' Solidarity

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Following the theft of ancient dugup silver coins from a British museum, PC Fingle, a coin collecting police officer in charge of the case might have said last night: "All I want is a sensible resolution to the whole situation. Please feel free to contact me. I am your friend not your enemy, I enjoy this hobby and do not want to see it needlessly tarnished!".

Coin Robbery in St Albans Museum

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It is now being reported that over the weekend of 7th January there had been a break-in at the St Albans Museum in Hatfield Road. The thieves got away with finds from excavations in St Albans Abbey and the 1969 Abbey Orchard excavations by the St Albans and Hertfordshire Architectural and Archaeological Society prior to the construction of Abbey Primary School.
The finds taken were a sixth or seventh century silver hand pin, and, from the same case a group of 30 Anglo-Saxon coins "with an insurance value of £12000". They were part of the Abbey Orchard hoard which had been buried towards the end of the ninth century and contained 29 pence and one half-pence coins. The latter is a coin of Alfred the Great of the Londonia monogram reverse type. The council says the pence coins are all of the Lunette type (so-called because the moneyer's name appears on and between the two half moon shaped ornaments on the reverse). Another source however gives the information that there had been "46 coins in the collection and four of those were stolen in 1977".


"The council has closed the upstairs gallery athttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif the museum while police investigate the thefts. The council has also commissioned a security review of its museums".

Manisha Mistry, 'Saxon coins and silver pin worth £12,000 taken', St Albans Review, Tuesday 24th January 2012.


UPDATE 7.02.12:
The coins are illustrated in Syllogue of Coins of the British Isles, vol 42 (South-Eastern Museums) p. 13 under numbers 650-655, 657, 659, 661, 663, 665-672, 674-678, 733, 753 and 758. The previously stolen four coins are 657, 675, 738 and 750. The illustrations are reproduced in the Abbey Orchard hoard photos folder on the Yahoo hammered Coins collectors' discussion list. Nice to see some coin collectors taking a responsible line over stolen artefacts.
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Monday, 23 January 2012

Focus on Metal Detecting: "Deutschland hat das gleiche Problem wie in Großbritannien"

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Germany has the same problem as in the UK apparently, with TV companies rather uncritically glorifying artefact hunters running around hoiking things out of the ground with metal detectors. Here is a video of a "documentary" film by the TV company ZDF: "Auf der Jagd nach verlorenen Schätzen", broadcast on 17th January. Here is ZDF animiert Raubgräber'
"Es gibt noch viele Schätze in Deutschland, die darauf warten, gefunden zu werden". Mit keinem Wort wird erwähnt, dass damit das gemeinsame historische Erbe privater Neugier, Vergnügen - oder schlimmer noch - Gier geopfert wird. Fundumstände und -kontexte werden zerrissen und die Objekte sind allenfalls noch als schöne Andenken zu bewerten, aber nicht mehr als eine Quelle, aus der wir über die Menschen der Vergangenheit, ihre Sorgen und Nöte lernen können. Ein Raubgrabungsloch zerstört den Kontext der Funde. Nur ganz nebenbei wird zur Schatzsuche erwähnt, dass das "eigentlich" verboten sei.
As he points out, metal detector dealers no doubt are happy about it.

Hat-tip to Paul Zoetbrood for bringing this to my attention.
Vignette: © ZDF / André Götzmann

The Appropriate Authorities Have Been Informed

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Answering my comment that the list of missing items has not been updated, apologist for the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, Nicole Hanson says of the recovery on or before 9th January of the Bastet figure stolen from the museum on or about 28th January that "I have been told that the appropriate authorities have been informed". Have they? I have just stumbled across the official webpage of the Egyptian Ministry of Finance Egyptian Customs Authority. They have a list of the stolen items they are looking out for at the borders. All 54 of them. There's the Bastet which turned up two weeks ago, the bed, the wooden vase (the two items that were NOT stolen). Well, that seems to be one "authority" that has not got the foggiest idea what has and has not turned up. If Egyptian Customs do not know what they are looking for, how can they find it? At the top of the list is the harpooning figure. The one Zahi Hawass' employee found "in Shubra Station".

So if Egyptian Customs are not the "appropriate authorities" here, who are?

Alabama, A Lootier State?

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Sen. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster), has introduced a bill to amend the Alabama Cultural Resources Act; at the moment the underwater archaeological resources of the state are tendered much the same protection as those on land, in Ward's version, the law would allow treasure hunters to search state waters and keep what they find.

Ward said he found the wording of the current law ambiguous. He said he would be open to amendments that would be more protective of valuable historic sites. He doesn't want to lose valuable archeological sites, either. "That is not my intention at all," he said. At the same time, Ward said, it should be clearer what is permitted. Ward said he'd like to get suggestions from academics and Historic Commission representatives. "I'm glad to sit down and work with them," Ward said. "I don't want to give the divers carte blanche. I want to make the law better."
The current wording on permits for searching for artefacts underwater in Alabama is "ambiguous"? That's a laugh, what is ambiguous about it? What part of 'You need a permit to search for artefacts, whether or not they are associated with shipwrecks' does Senator Ward not understand? How does changing it to 'You do not need a permit to search for artefacts, unless they are associated with shipwrecks' help protect - for example the sort of battlefield finds which it seems Steve Philips (apparently one of the initiators of the amendment of the bill) is after? Or anything else that may have been deposited in the water in ancient or historic times?

If anything is AMBIGUOUS in what Sen. Ward suggests, it is "associated with/not associated with" shipwrecks. So how far upstream and downstream from a wreck site is and is not "
associated" - how will the permit system be applied if it is the finders say-so that they were "not near a wreck" that determines whether an activity is legal or not? I see no "clarification" of that point at all in Senator Ward's uninformed and cynical manipulation of the current wording. The CRUCIAL definition of "associated with" is wholly missing from this ill-conceived hatchet job.

It seems to me that this guy (see the 'Alabama can use the internet too' video) really is not the slightest bit interested in preserving Alabama's archaeological heritage. It seems to me that he is just counting on the support of "100 000 divers" in the state in return for handing them a large chunk of the archaeological heritage to take away and do what they want with. In fact he is so uninterested that when he decided to support this Treasure Hunters' bill, it never even crossed his mind for a second to consult it with archaeologists and people who know BEFORE proposing it. Now the media have picked it up, he declares "he'd like to get suggestions from academics and Historic Commission representatives" and "sit down and work with them". Now is a bit late, now he has declared himself. He's surely sensible enough to realise that one cannot try to "work with somebody" whose face you have just spat in.

Meanwhile (while he declares his willingness to listen), "A State Senator" (wonder who that could be) contacted Steve Philips by email "this week" (i.e., "this week" of 21st January):
Steve, another barrage of emails have gone out around the state today to legislators about our bill. I have had four committee members contact me and ask that we not even bring our bill up for a vote in committee because of such strong opposition they are hearing. We really need to get some people contacting their legislators to support this or I am afraid it will be soundly defeated in a committee vote.
"OUR" bill, "WE" really need? Senator+artefact hunters? What do "we need"? What this unnamed Senator thinks he "needs" is for artefact hunters, history grabbers and collectors to show "their legislators" that they are all behind the "state heritage up for grabs" amendment to the law? This is going to help Senator Cam Ward sit down with the "academics and Historic Commission representatives" is it? In what way?

When is the USA going to develop a national heritage agency (as required by article 10 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention) to look after the compilation of heritage policy and legislation on a country-wide scale rather than leaving it up to minor politicians sorting out local squabbles between artefact hunters and academics, seeing which side can shout the other down and secure them the most short-term political gains?

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Egypt: More Details on the January "Bastet" Sting

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I am grateful to Nicole Hanson for pointing out an article by Mahmoud Abdel-Radi on Youm 7, Monday, January 9, 2012 (but not as far as I can see reported anywhere else) which gives an account of the capture of five men and the retrieval of one of the objects stolen from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. This text is in Arabic. It says (as far as I can make it out) that police together with officials from the Ministry of the Interior arrested several known criminals who were in possession of "rare pieces stolen from the Egyptian Museum" during the "events of the revolution". One defendant "Imad T. M" was offering one of the "pieces" for sale, in the form of a statue of Bastet. A team of detectives was formed to arrest the accused and his partners, by pretending to be interested buyers and set up a sting. The accused was arrested along with four other men.

The article gives brief details of the five men, giving their names and initials. They are all aged between 31 and 35. Four of the men came from Ausin (a small town 12 km to the NW of Cairo) , and the newspaper is careful to report that two of them had previously been charged with "misdemeanours" (one in 1996, and the other several times, the latest in 2008).

One man arrested, Hossam, was a resident of Abnub, Assiut Governorate, 312 km to the south (and again reportedly had been convicted in 2010 down south). Interestingly, one of the Ausin men "Ashraf M. M" (31 years) is the son of
"prisoner, "Mr M.M." sentenced to 15 years in issue No. 360 east of Cairo military crimes for the year 2011, for possession of 5 pieces archaeological amount stolen from the Egyptian Museum".
The "five" objects to which this refers are presumably those retrieved from the 27/3/11 (Khan el Khalili) bust, and it is notable that these were was of five objects from Room 19 and no other. The only figure of Bastet on the list of missing items (JE 36598) also came from Room 19 on the first floor of the Museum. It would seem that "MM" was one of the gang that trashed and then robbed this part of the Museum. It would be VERY interesting to know what his place of work was. It is interesting to speculate that it was his capture that led to the recovery (May 2nd) of two other statues from room 19, which as will be recalled were found with two other statues from somewhere else (where was, I believe, never revealed). It looks therefore as if MM sold part of his haul to those who were somehow involved in the illegal antiquities trade, or perhaps he himself had been.

In that case, people in the trade should keep an eye out especially for the remaining three items from that room, which may already have been successfully sold, or may come on the market soon: JE 9080 Statue of Onuris, TR 10.11.21.3 bronze false beard, TR 10.11.21.8 bronze false beard.

Vignettes: Top, the best photo the Egyptian Museum could apparently come up with for the "figure of Bastet dedicated by Padiamun" JE 36598 (from the published missing objects list) and below a fuzzy photo of the five defendants from the article in Youm 7.

"Alabama Needs Our Help"

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Steve, Forrest and Spencer Phillips (Southern Skin Diver Supply of Birmingham, Alabama) ask US metal detectorists to support an amendment they have proposed to Alabama's archaeological resource protection legislation ("Please Support SB-81. Save our lost history..." - "Save" it that is by taking it away and adding it to a private collection). Militant anti-preservationist Dick Stout of Texas reckons its a good idea to help out, "these folks need our help and they need it fast. It will involve emailing quite a few state reps, but you can easily do that by copying your letter, and simply pasting it when contacting them. Let's get on it...".

The background to this effort is that Steven Phillips is reportedly the only person to ever have been arrested under the Alabama Cultural Resources Act:
At trial, Phillips was found not guilty of felony theft of a cultural resource but was convicted of misdemeanor third-degree theft. The charge stemmed from Phillips' 2003 expedition in the Alabama River near Selma in search of Civil War relics, which ended with his arrest and the confiscation of a Civil War era rifle he'd found.
So, it looks like (Selma here for example) we have another case of somebody looking for collectables on a battlefield/site of conflict. And the metal detectorists of the US rallying behind such people asserting their "rights" (no mention of responsibilities) to plunder such sites of collectables such as rifles.

Steve, Forrest and Spence write that the new bill, SB-81, they have introduced in the Alabama Senate "will make the current law easier to understand". They have deleted three words from the definition of Cultural Resources. What in fact they intend doing is to remove any artefacts not part of a shipwreck from any form of protection in public-owned waterways. Note that in the new wording, Treasure trove which is not associated with a shipwreck is NOT protected from Treasure hunters working outside the permit system, hoiking it out and flogging it off would be legal under the amended law (Section 41-9-292 of the Code of Alabama 1975). The navigable waterways contain however much more than shipwrecks, artefacts lost, dropped, discarded, deposited for ritual purposes in antiquity or historical times. They may be traces of activities in the past using the rivers, they may be elements of sites on the river banks now submerged, there may be artefacts embedded in anthropogenic layers containing well-preserved organic materials which will be disturbed if divers start excavating for collectable items. they may be artefacts lying in situ from when they were dropped in the past during a documented event, such as an historic battle (like the battle of Selma for example). The proposed amendments to the bill aim to render the disturbance of these artefacts and their context legal and the artefacts themselves up for grabs by metal detectorists and unregulated divers. Permits would only be needed for removing collectables from (known) historic shipwrecks. (In any case what precisely does "associated with a shipwreck" mean in legal terms? Not defined in the proposed amendment)

Here are the amendments proposed to SB-81 (file 'aucrap')

Like Bangor's Raimund Karl discussed at the beginning of the month, and the other supporters of the PAS, Mr Philips thinks preservation is all about "finding things":
Divers should find isolated items and save as much of our lost history as possible, and we need them to not be afraid to tell what they find because they fear harassment. Significant finds will be made in the future and we all want to learn from these finds. Other states have friendly dive laws that encourage divers to search and share what they have found, and we don't want Alabama divers to feel they must keep their finds secret.
The finds-seeking divers are incensed that "some of the professional archaeologists and their cronies" have been "emailing and calling the Senators and Representatives asking them to kill our bill". The same tired old arguments are used to justify this: "These items are rusting and eroding away and need saving", "We are the public and the public waters are ours individually as much as theirs", "Items that are found are often placed in museums", "All reference books identifying relics and artifacts have been written by authors using collectors", "We don’t want grants or contracts as the professionals try to get for anything they do". Note how they shift from being "divers who find things" ("finders" in PAS-speak) to "collectors" between the beginning of the page and its middle.

As Thomas Spencer reports:
Teresa Paglione, president of the Alabama Archaeological Society, said without legal protections, artifacts from the Civil War, the settlement of the state, the age of European exploration and thousands of years of Native American history could be extracted, kept privately or sold, and lost to history. Those artifacts in state waters belong to all the people of the state, Paglione said. "(The changes to the law) would allow divers like Mr. Phillips to conduct little more than scavenger hunts for relics -- like a game of finders-keepers, except individuals get to keep what belongs to the state of Alabama and its citizenry," she said.

It seems gold-prospectors with metal detectors are about as bright as those who use them to hunt coins etc: "This affects gold prospecting as well" declares a poster on the Gold Prospectors Association of America Forum. He seems not to have actually read the proposed amendment and its definition of "artifact" as the subject of the legislation. So, no, no it does NOT. I expect gold prospectors will be writing in ignorant droves nevertheless, not having read the document either and thinking it through.

Note the name of the archaeology-insensitive proposer of the Alabama collectors' rights bill: Senator Cam Ward (R) [pictured above from his website]. He has apparently been told that there are "100 000" find-hungry divers in Alabama and obviously counting on their vote if he can get this archaeology wrecking bill through - hang the cost to the heritage.

Perhaps the resolution here is not to redefine archaeological artefacts to a much narrower field to allow their legal and unregulated harvesting for collection and sale by artefact hunters and collectors, but - as I pointed out in the case Raimund Karl was discussing - to make it easier - and broaden the scope of those eligible - for those whose real intent is to increase our knowledge of sites to obtain the requisite permits.

Sources:
Thomas Spencer, 'New Alabama law could mean finders-keepers for historic artifacts found underwater', The Birmingham News , January 16, 2012.

Public Lands and Waters, Southern Skin Divers Supply: Blog of the South's oldest dive store, 1/21/2012.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Another Object Back in the Cairo Museum?

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Dr Zahi Hawass has recently published a new blog post (A Good Italian Family, and an Update on What I have been Doing Lately) to assure those who are interested that he is doing well and still writing:
My book on antiquities and the 2011 Revolution is almost finished. I have just finished chapter 13, and I still need to write two more chapters. These two chapters will be the most important ones in the book. I will publish this book first in English, and then in Arabic.
I hope I will be able to get hold of a copy of that, it will be interesting to see what will be said about the events in Cairo Museum on 28th Jan 2011, whether the story will be substantially different from what he said earlier. My own personal examination of the traces left in the Museum indicate an entirely different scenario.

Quite astounding is the reference almost en passant:
I also met not long ago with 14 members of the press from Germany and Korea. I talked to them about what happened at the Egyptian Museum, Cairo during the Revolution, and how the young people protected the Museum with their bodies [yawn - PMB]. Although one piece that was stolen, an 18.5 cm statuette of the cat-goddess Bastet, has been returned to the Museum recently, we are still missing around 28 objects. Most of them are bronze statuettes dated to the Late Period (about 500 B.C.).
What the....? The Bastet figure is still on the last version (28th March 2011) of the list of missing objects (though with a different measurement), if the Museum have found that too (returned, seized or simply found in a dark corner of the storeroom?), then why are they not telling anyone they can stop looking for it? Have these people ANY intention of at last updating that "missing objects" list (like with the two that turned up in August) and making it public? If not, is there a specific reason why they are not bothering? Totally incomprehensible behaviour from the museum professionals in Cairo.

Also quite interesting that this seems these days to be such non-news (when surely the Egyptian museum prfessionals should be keeping continuing the search for the missing items at the forefront of public attention) that the reporters he spoke to seem not to have made any use of this news-scoop (unless I missed something).

As for what is still missing, as we come up to the first anniversary of the thefts, perhaps it is time to attempt a recap. I make it that 24 items of those initially reported stolen are back (or were never removed from the Museum in the first place). The ('sting') recovery of 17/3/11 retrieved 7 objects from room 19 and 5 from room 6. The recovery of 27/3/11 (Khan el Khalili) was of five objects from Room 19 and no other. The next four (the bag in the station 12 April 2011) were from three areas of the Museum, gallery 40, 13 and 43 at the other end. The most recent recovery (May 2nd) was of two statues from room 19, which were found with two other statues from somewhere else (where was never revealed). Then it turned out embarrassingly that at least two were never missing (Youm 7: 'Two archeological pieces of Egyptian Museum found', Aug 2, 2011).

Despite these successes in retrieving these items, there are still a number of items missing. It is not at all true that "most of them are bronze statuettes dated to the Late Period (about 500 B.C.)".

TWO items from Tutankhamun tomb (P 40 and P 30 it says, but they were in the same case): JE 60716.1 the shrouded Tutankhamun from the Menkaret figure, JE 60713 Tutankhamun in Red Crown striding with staff and flail. [there has been talk that another Tutankhamun fan was taken from the case containing the fans and walking sticks in Room 13, but is not on any list - fan stock 62006 - see here].

NINE wooden shabtis of Yuya and Thuya, all missing from P 43 vit 13 or thereabouts. JE 68983 etc, JE 68984 etc, JE 68987 etc, JE 68989, JE 68992 etc, JE 68993 etc, JE 68994 etc, JE 68995 etc, JE 68998 etc, (JE 68984 was previously reported as recovered in the Shubra Metro Station "find" but that was a mistake).

A group of SEVEN Amarna figures from R8 centre Vit K on the ground floor: JE 44867 - Nefertiti offering bearer, JE 44873 - Amarna princess, JE 44874 - Amarna princess, JE 52976 - Seated man, JE 53250 - Steatite Bes, JE 59291 seated scribe and Thoth/baboon, JE 65040 - head of Amarna princess (The only object from the ground floor gallery retrieved to date was the Akhenaton statue found in mysterious circumstances "in the garbage" near Tahrir Square 16th February 2011).

A group of SIX (actually 15) small objects from P48 Vit 2 and two other cases in this room: JE 27326, limestone statue of woman, JE 39590 limestone shabti Tuna el-Gebel,JE55175 lapis lazuli beads Ahmose Merytamun TT358, JE 94481, ten faience amulets from Thebes (should be treated as ten items), JE 29357 - Greco-Roman Apis bull, JE 30204 Striding figure of Nakht, Meir.

FOUR (THREE?) items from P 19: JE 36598, Bastet (the one that is now back?), JE 9080 Statue of Onuris, TR 10.11.21.3 bronze false beard, TR 10.11.21.8 bronze false beard.

ONE item from P6 centre vit A JE 47906 gold and faience beads, Saqqara dyn 18.

I make it that 28 are missing plus the Bastet which is said to be back in the Museum. They fall into several distinct groups, mostly figurines and jewellery. More importantly, the objects which have been coming back in dribs and drabs were taken from several distinct areas of the museum (and that includes the unconfirmed return of the Bastet figure), and those that are still missing come from several distinct areas of the collection. I do not think this pattern is accidental.

So, this returned Bastet figure, where was it found, when, in what circumstances and who was arrested? Has anyone heard any more about this?

hat-tip to Kate Phizackerley for first spotting the original post

Artefact Hunter Digs Out Hidden "Roman prostitute's pendant"

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On of the problems with the current status of artefact hunting in the UK is that these people hoik out archaeological finds willy nilly, and in many cases are in no position to identify what they have found as anything of any significance, and many such items do not get shown to the archaeological authorities, and either get tucked away and forgotten, or are simply discarded. A recent news article highlights this tendency. A man the press insists on calling an "amateur archaeologist" bought a metal detector about twenty years ago. He lived at the time in the village of Pylle, Somerset, "which is close to the Roman road known as Fosse Way and a former ancient settlement".
He spent two days scouring his garden in Pylle. Among several things he dug up was what seemed to be a risqué and raunchy Roman remnant. The pendant-style piece of jewellery clearly shows a man and woman engaged in an intimate sex act. Mr Dix thought it was a bit strange but pretty special and tucked it away in a box for safe keeping.
He only realised the pendant could be special (sic) after a similar brothel token appeared in the press earlier this month.

Mr Dix’s raunchy Roman jewellery shows a man and woman engaged in a sex act. He said: ‘I believe the piece I found is slightly different to the one in London - I think it was what the prostitutes would have worn round their necks and people would recognise what service they were willing to provide.’ Mr Dix, who now lives in Shepton Mallet, added: ‘I am eager to hear what the experts say.’

It perhaps comes as a surprise to this Roman-find-hunting-and-finding-member-of-the-British-public that there has long ben a thirteen million quid Portable Antiquities Scheme set up to do precisely that, it is a shame he did not consult it earlier. How many other metal detectorists have dug up stuff that they tucked away (or threw away) without bothering to show it to anyone?

It is worth noting that the actual name "Portable Antiquities Scheme" appears in neither of the two articles cited here.

Metro Reporter, 'Amateur archaeologist unearths 'Roman prostitute's pendant'...', Metro 20th January, 2012.

Shepton Mallet Journal, 'Roman remnant reveals risqué routines of our ancient invaders', January 19, 2012.

Vignette: Shepton Mallet Journal

Metal Detecting Battlefields: Some "Stout Defence" Required?

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I wrote the other day about a US metal detectorist plundering a Revolutionary War battlefield and for my efforts earned a few ad hominem non-replies from the would-be-justifiers of artefact hunting over in the US. They hold that "the good that metal detetorists do" outweighs any problems. Two recent articles about metal-detector wielding collectors of militaria therefore caught my eye. More good guys, no doubt, who are victims of the loose conspiracy of "a few radical and/or politically motivated archaeologists and historians" in US academe who use the media to criticise the hobby. No doubt Dick Stout in Texas and the Task Force for Artefact Hunters Rights will be conducting a letter writing campaign to counter the "slur" of the hobby represented these recent articles.

The first one by this article concerning another US collector of militaria (Michael Buettner, 'Petersburg man pleads guilty to damaging battlefield The Progress-Index, December 8, 2011). It seems that a metal detectorist from Petersburg, near Richmond Virginia has pleaded guilty to federal charges of unlawfully taking Civil War relics from the Petersburg National Battlefield.
In U.S. District Court in Richmond, John Jeffrey Santo pleaded guilty on Tuesday to two counts of damaging archaeological resources, each of which carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, and one count of depredation of government property, with a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. Santo originally was charged with three counts of damaging archaeological resources and one count each of depredation of government property, theft of government property and unlawful possession of a firearm. He will remain in federal custody while awaiting sentencing at a date to be determined. According to court documents, Santo was accused of illegally excavating Civil War artifacts at the Petersburg park on several occasions between September 2007 and December 2010. On Feb. 10, 2011, federal officials including park rangers searched Santo's home in the 1800 block of Oakland Street in Petersburg. There, according to a court filing, they found "in excess of 9,000 war relics and artifacts including bullets, buckles and assorted ordnance."
About the same time, as reported on WAPT-TV, an Alabama man pleaded guilty to similar charges of digging for relics at Vicksburg [Mississippi]:
An Alabama man has been given three years’ probation and been told to stay out of national military parks after an unauthorized dig at the Vicksburg National Military Park.The Vicksburg Post reported that Ernest Taylor of Foley, Ala., pleaded guilty last month in federal court to altering or defacing an archaeological resource, a felony. He was sentenced on Nov. 28. Court documents show Taylor, his wife and son were arrested Sept. 3, 2010 using a metal detector and digging holes at the park for Civil War relics.
The "To the Sound of the Guns: Civil War Artillery, Battlefields and Historical Markers" blog discusses these two cases:
Those are lands set aside for protection – be that national, state, or local park; land held by a conservation/preservation organization (such as Civil War Trust); or even just under a conservation easement. And that protection extends to the artifacts in the ground, in my opinion.
The blog's author calls this "The Extreme Side of Relic Hunting", I'd call this kind of artefact hunting on protected sites theft.

As I said, alongside all the militant talk of "metal detectorists' rights", let us see attention paid to metal detectorists' responsibilities.

Vignette: TFMDRF logo.

Friday, 20 January 2012

PAS and the "Shafting" of the Archaeologists

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Unable to answer the question about his views on disturbing battlefield archaeology by metal detecting, and the difference between artefact hunting and artefact hunting, US artefact hunter Dick Stout has decided to rely on his "bosom buddy from across the pond" (John Howland) to answer for him: "Note there will be nothing further to post on this subject. I hate wasting time, pissing in the wind, and talking with idiots". Well, I hope those following the debate about artefact hunting with metal detectors in the US note that Howland's ad personam "answer" does not really do much to address the concerns I raised either.

A little below that text Stout's protégé Howland also committed this text to print:
The word coming from inside academia’s US ivory towers according to one well-placed source is that a minority of radical and/or politically motivated archaeologists and historians have formed themselves into a loose confederation [ha! A Conspiracy! PMB] to monitor ALL aspects of the US media to search out features, programmes, and articles that portray the metal detecting/treasure hunting hobby in a favourable light. [...] Once a favourable piece is found, it’s a case of all hands to the bullshit pump in a concerted ‘highbrow’ hand-wringing propaganda effort with more than a little disinformation thrown in for good measure.
(Very John Hooker, no?) He reckons this is proof that what he calls "the war to outlaw the hobby" "is all but lost".
All of the foregoing is a mirror image of what occurred in the UK over thirty years ago. We in the UK shafted them royally, and now US hobbyists can do the same. You have the individuals well capable of destroying the archaeological propaganda machine and with guys of the calibre of Harold Lowenfels (Task Force for Metal Detecting Rights) and dare I say it, (yes, I will) Dick Stout. I see a great future for the US treasure hobby; collecting; and the buying and selling of legally found antiquities.
That's what it's all about, the legalisation of the buying and selling of dug up bits of history?
Howland reckons the US is currently
 "not far from a US-wide antiquities arrangement modelled on the UK’s brilliantly successful Portable Antiquities Scheme where thousands of artefacts are reported and recorded every week as more and more people flock into our hobby". 
He remarks:
Odd isn’t it, how the radicals are fighting to resist its implementation. Why?
Well, count me out. For wanting to protect the archaeological record from plunder as a mere source of collectables I have oft times been called a "radical" by those who know no better. As can be seen in repeated posts here I am all for discussions aiming to lead to an introduction of a Portable Antiquities Scheme in the USA, but no pale shadow of the UK one, a fully blown, singing-and-dancing PAS every bit as effective at getting as many public-found artefacts recorded a year as in the UK.

So Mr Stout might, instead of moaning about what public parks are closed to artefact digging, or reminiscing about the "good old days" when he had hair, consider concentrating on looking forward and on getting folk behind this idea. Instead of dodging discussion he could be justifying a budget expenditure of, at a conservative estimate, some 60 million dollars a year to set one up and run it. He and his fellows should join forces with another US-based "collectors' rights" organization, the Ancient Coin Collectors' Guild ("Preserving our freedom to collect") which has long advocated the setting up of PAS-clones in other countries, and obviously would be interested in one being set up in the States as a priority in this programme of cultural property leadership.

So the setting up of the PAS in the UK is according to UK detectorist Howland an expression of British archaeology getting - as he put it - "shafted"? Well, thank you Roger Bland! Howland is not the first to point out that instead of the expected instilling of conservation-aware "best practice" across the board as was the original intent of this dotty social experiment, all the PAS is achieving is encouraging more and more people to go out and buy metal detectors and come "flocking to the hobby of artefact hunting, and see nothing wrong with hoiking out anything that takes a collector's fancy - with all that means for the preservation of what is left of the archaeological record.

Buttock - Purveyor Arrested

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This was one of the more bizarre "heritage" cases of 2011, but it is good to see that it was not just shrugged off. I explained the legal background in an earlier post, and it seems that I was not alone in thinking that what was happening was not right. Yesterday British police arrested somebody in Derbyshire alleging they were involved in the illegal removal of a fragment of a bronze statue of Saddam Hussein from Iraq. The suspect was not named but stated to be "66-year-old man", the press are suggesting that "the arrested man is connected to Derby-based war art relic company Trebletap".
He was held on suspicion of breaching the 2003 Iraq Sanctions Order, which bans the exportation of "illegally removed Iraqi cultural property," including items of archaeological, historical, cultural, or religious importance.
The arrested man has been released on bail pending further inquiries. The piece of the statue, and most newspaper articles do not fail to mention that it was from the "buttock" (some add "bronzed") of the person depicted, was about 0.6, tall and was removed from the statue by "a former soldier from Britain's elite SAS regiment, Nigel "Spud" Ely, 52, after he witnessed US Marines drag the statue down following the fall of the Iraqi leader". Ely had managed to extract the fragment from Iraq and imported it into Britain "and put it up for auction last year, although it failed to reach its reserve price of £250,000 ($390,000)".
Ely expressed shock at today's arrest, which is thought to be connected to a company trying to find a buyer for the souvenir, saying, "This is like having a chunk of the Berlin Wall - it's part of history but it's not cultural property." He said that US Marines gave it to him at a time when Baghdad was under US control, adding, "How can it be classed as cultural property when it was put up by the biggest tyrant since Attila the Hun?"
The "two wrongs make a right" claim, as we have ample opportunity to see, is a standard one of the cultural property takers worldwide. (I also think such rhetoric does poor justice to both Saddam and Attila, but that is by the by.) Certainly the US forces had no authority to "give" Mr Ely that object (and when it was taken, Baghdad was not yet formally "under US control"), Mr Ely did not have authorisation to export the item, and thus as illegally appropriated property, it presumably cannot legally be brought into or owned in the UK.

Guardian, 'Man arrested over importation of Saddam Hussein statue's buttock', Thursday 19 January 2012.

AFP, 'Man held over 'stolen' bronzed Saddam buttock', Herald Sun, January 20, 2012.

UPDATE 20.1.2012
Chuck Jones of ISAW - NYU has published the following information on the Iraq Crisis website:
Trebletap Ltd. is the organization founded by Nigel ’Spud’ Ely [to sell] the Saddam Hussein statue's buttock. [Their website] includes his "comment on the Iraqi demand for the return of Saddam's comment on the Iraqi demand for the return of Saddam's bum"

That text is a huge eye-opener into the mentality of the sort of person that joined George Bush's Smash-Baghdad escapade of 2003. Do also have a look at what "trebletap" means; these people are walking among us. Some of them even think they are "artists". The "War relics art" company are refusing to surrender the stolen piece:
As far as Trebletap is concerned, the arse is designated for sale [...] The time, effort and cost that have gone into Trebletap will not be used to pay the pension for The Minister of Culture and Tin Cans in Iraq. As a safeguard, Trebletap have hidden the piece[...]
and of course hoping to cash in on the publicity the dispute over their fragment of bronze slab is generating. The seller claims
as a result of what Spud has done, the value of this piece of scrap has escalated out of all control and depending on who you talk to, it is now worth between £250,000 and £1,000,000. However, this value results from the story, from Spud himself and from the positioning that turned a piece of scrap metal into a piece of Art. Indeed, it is the very first in the new concept now known as War Relic Art and by definition it automatically assumed an enormous increase in value.
The guy is seemingly a megalomaniac, of course it is by no means the first occasion when war trophies have been turned into "art". The value is only the price a buyer will pay, the object failed to reach its reserve price earlier, now it turns out that by international law it cannot be possessed legally, he will not be finding a buyer soon.

Or he could try finding a cultural property lawyer of the calibre of Bailey and Ehernberg PLC's Peter Tompa. He sees no legal impediment to owning this piece ('Chasing Saddam's Butt). Apparently this lawyer considers that the fragment of statue is legally owned because it was "given to him by US Marines following the fall of Baghdad". Well, as far as I can see, Baghdad has not "fallen" and has an Iraqi government who say they did not "give" the statue to Mr Ely. He also questions whether such an item can be cultural property
The veteran has it right: Describing the furore surrounding the buttock as farcical, Ely questioned how a piece of metal from a statue put up by a dictator could be classified as national cultural property.[...] "American Marines gave it to me and at that time Baghdad was under American control," he added. "There wasn't even an Iraqi government and I have since turned it into a piece of war relic art. "This is like having a chunk of the Berlin Wall – it's part of history but it's not cultural property."
So, maybe Mr Ely can provide a document issued by the Americans in control on the date he took the fragment, confirming transfer of ownership. I wonder what Mr Tompa would consider as an adequate definition of cultural property to cover such cases. Are the rail spikes from Auschwitz (to take a recent case) cultural property, or up free for grabs to anyone who fancies taking a couple as souvenirs? Bloodstained fragments of the World Trade Centre recovered from the landfill and sold on eBay? That smuggled aeroplane.

I think we should hear from the commanding officer of the body of troops responsible for the area in question and which "gave" permission for an onlooker to remove this items from the country. Most of us in the civilised world agree to abide by the principles embodied in the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. At the time of the looting in Baghdad of course the US had not got around to ratifying this convention, they only managed to do that in March 2009.

In order to further boost publicity, I see "Spud" Ely now has on his website a poll "Vote on whether we should send Saddam's bum back to Iraq". We see that 85.4% of the visitors to the firm's website (70 voters) oppose the option "send it back" but support the option "keep it" (to sell). I wonder how many of them are British servicemen or ex-servicemen with their own stash of "liberated" property from the Iraq - or other - escapade which they hope one day to cash in on?

Frankly, whether it's called "cultural property" or not, theft is theft, whether or not you're an ex-soldier and whether or not some American soldier in a foreign country says you can have it. Suggest two wrongs make a right if you like, but theft is theft. Whether Peter Tompa recognises it or not, theft is theft. Call a bit of shrapnel on a stick "art" if you like, but theft is theft.

UPDATE 13.03.12:
The Antiques Trade Gazette now has a piece on this for those who still do not get it ('Whitehall issues sanctions warning following Saddam ‘statue’ sale', 05 March 2012):
The government has issued a warning to the art and antiques industry over the sale of war trophies after a piece of a Saddam Hussein statue appeared at auction. Those in breach could face up to seven years in jail. Statutory Instrument 2003 No.1519 UNITED NATIONS The Iraq (United Nations Sanctions) Order 2003 restricts the trade in such cultural goods because UN sanctions are still in force "as a continuation of efforts contributing to the maintenance of security and stability in Iraq", says the ministry of culture.

"Please note it is your responsibility to ensure that your activities do not breach these sanctions," it advises the industry through the British Art Market Federation. "If you wish to deal in Iraqi cultural property you are advised to look at the UKTI, BIS and HM Treasury websites. If there is any uncertainty you are advised to seek independent legal advice to ensure you do not breach sanctions. It is a criminal offence to breach these sanctions and carries a penalty of up to seven years imprisonment and/or a fine." [...] Auctioneers and dealers are also regulated by the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003, which makes it an offence for any person to dishonestly deal in a cultural object that is tainted (within the meaning of the 2003 Act), knowing or believing that the object is tainted. The offence set out in the Act complements the UK's obligations under the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, which the UK ratified in 2002.
The Iraqi Embassy in London had complained when the piece of Saddam Hussein statue was consigned by Jim Thorpe (director of Trebletap) to Hanson's auctioneers of Etwall, Derbyshire. The incident has raised the question as to who actually owns the piece.
His business partner, Nigel Ely, a former SAS soldier [...] is said to have been issued with a notice under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, telling him not to alter or dispose of the item until the investigation is completed. In the meantime, Mr Thorpe faced arrest and questioning under suspicion of having breached the UN sanctions.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Coin Weekly Misinforms

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Coin Weekly has a news item (19 Jan 2012) on "Seizure and Detention at the New York International" about the Weiss case. The magazine quotes a CNG press release dated January 19 (sixteen days after the event took place):
"On January 3, 2012 the New York County District Attorney’s Office seized two coins from a joint Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. (“CNG”) and Nomos AG auction that was to be conducted the next day. Dr. Peter Weiss, the Chairman of Nomos AG, was detained at the time for questioning. CNG is fully cooperating with the New York County District Attorney’s Office and is not a target in this investigation. CNG and its attorneys are conducting an internal review of CNG’s consignment policies and procedures in light of this event".
Yes, really? The article then notes, citing as its source the "Chasing Aphrodite" blog which includes a (leaked?) deposition:
Peter Weiss is accused of criminal possession of stolen property with a value in excess of $ 50,000 in the second degree with intent to benefit a person than an owner of the property and to impede recovery by an owner thereof. The affair got under way – according to the deponent – due to information of the Italian Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale. John Freck said that a “confidential informant” had recorded a conversation, in which Peter Weiss said about the tetradrachm of Catane: “there’s no paperwork, I know this is a fresh coin, this was dug up a few years ago ... This was dug up two years ago. I know where this came from.” The deponent claimed that Peter Weiss himself had informed him that he purchased the coin in 2010 for $ 250,000 in order to sell it for approximately $ 350,000.
This is old stuff, but I wanted to juxtapose what he had said with what he says next which illustrates part of the problem with coineys. Having said that, the writer of the article falls flat on his face by solemnly warning his readers:
The verdict will concern not only the defendant, but also all who collect ancient coins in the U.S., because this lawsuit will put forward a convincing case for all those, who want to include coins in all international agreements on cultural property known as MOU (Memorandum of Understanding). Here coins are concerned, which average collectors will never be able to afford. But as soon as a collector has to prove that his coins are legally in the U.S., all those collectors will be in trouble who collected cheap coins, which never were sold in auctions.
What on earth is this moron on about? The charges he cites above that unfortunate surmise have no connection with the MOU already signed with Italy. The paperwork concerning the manner how and when this coin left Italy (or wherever) are not mentioned in the deposition quoted above, they are apparently not part of the charges (we simply have no information about the export paperwork, only the assurance of Nomos that the coins "left Europe legally", I presume that in this context can only mean in the eyes of US law too). So, on what basis does this writer intend to contradict that? These people seem fixated by the issue of the CCPIA and do not recognise that there are other laws in existence in the US with which the collector is increasingly being called to comply. Here the journalist (the article is unsigned) is simply unaware of this, or - more likely - is intent on keeping his readership in the dark, as a greater awareness of these issues is not going to be good for business. Indeed, wider awareness of the issues currently emerging could have a catastrophic effect on the no-questions-asked business. That is why groups run by dealers such as the ACCG are keeping collectors in the dark, an action that it seems certain coiney trade publications are also tacitly engaged.

the problem for the collector/owner of lot 1009 in the "Cabinet W" sale is however set out by Mark Fox in another coiney trade magazine, Numismaster:
Italian law, namely the Code of the Cultural and Landscape Heritage, has vested absolute and true ownership of all antiquities found in Italy after 1909 in the Italian government. According to informant, who examined the coin after it was seized, the government of Italy is the true owner of the tetradrachm under catalogue number 1009, and the Italian government never gave defendant or anyone permission, consent, or authority to remove said coin from the ground or to remove it from Italy”.
It is on these grounds that lot 1009 is liable to treatment by US authorities as stolen property, just like if somebody nicks my car from the garage and sells in in New Jersey. The same applies to any other coin of origin in a country with this type of state-vesting legislation and for which there is lacking paperwork giving the original owner "permission, consent, or authority to remove said coin from the ground or to remove it from Italy". Collectors who have well-documented coins of legitimate origins and can show the paperwork which they took care to obtain from a responsible dealer handling such material have no such problems. Those who have not should be watching this case with much more attention than all this loose talk about what might or might not be in a future MOU.
The complaint states that “the defendant knew that coin 1009 was ‘freshly dug’ and that, therefore, it had to be the property of the Italian government.” The fact that the Katane tetradrachm was most likely discovered and already in the U.S. before the current Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Italy and the US went into effect (Jan. 19, 2011), unfortunately doesn’t mean such coins are free to stay in U.S. collections. Under the McClain doctrine, as confirmed by the Schultz decision and upheld by three U.S. District Courts of Appeal, any object that is covered by a source country national patrimony law (such as the 1909/1939 Italian laws) and can be proven to have been imported into the U.S. without an export certificate is considered stolen property under U.S. law, and anyone who knowingly trades in such objects is subject to prosecution.
caveat collector.
 
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