Thursday, 31 May 2012

Mormon First Edition Stolen to Protect it?

The bookstore "Rare and Out of Print Books and Art", run by 88 year-old Mormon Helen Schlie near the Mesa Arizona Mormon Temple, was famous for the first-edition copy of the Book of Mormon which it contained. This book, valued at $100,000, was one of just 5,000 printed in 1830 after Joseph Smith claimed to have translated its text from some gold plates he had found. Schlie had bought it in the late 1960s from a man so desperate for money that he was willing to sell a family heirloom. Mormons would come to just touch the precious volume and have their photos taken with it ("I tell people they are sharing their DNA with Joseph Smith himself," says Schlie). Gary Hyde, one of her customers and a winter resident of Mesa, says that holding the book at Schlie's store was a very personal and powerful religious experience for many people. "Just to have it in their hands brings a little bit of inspiration to them," Hyde said. "This is one of the original Books of Mormon, and they feel the spirit".
In 2005, Schlie became somewhat of a controversial figure among members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when she announced plans to sell pages from the book for $2,500 to $4,000 apiece. She estimated she has sold 40 of the book's 588 pages, each mounted in a wooden frame. Some critics consider divvying up the book as sacrilegious or disrespectful of its history. But Schlie [and...]  Hyde [...] said the LDS Church gave its blessing to the project, viewing it as a way of strengthening people's faith. Hyde said his page is an effective teaching tool in his missionary work, which is appropriate because his page contains a passage about the importance of missionary work. [...] "I use it in various testimonies. I put the page to good work," Hyde said. 
Sometime over the Memorial Day weekend this year, the book was stolen.  One is left to wonder whether the heavily mutilated volume was stolen for the reduced monetary worth it represented in that state, or whether it was taken by somebody wanting to save it from further indignities at the hands of the page-slicing owner. We have seen that "breaking the law to save the artefact" arguments are quite popular in the United States of America. If the latter was the reason, I'd like to hear some of the collectors who apply these arguments to a no-questions-asked trade in dugup archaeological artefacts give their opinions on the propriety of taking the book from Ms Schlie. Of the book's theft, Schlie said, "I'm hoping someone will bring it back, let it finish its mission" (the remaining pages would be worth upwards of $1,370,000 sliced up).

 Jim Walsh, 'First-edition Book of Mormon stolen in Mesa', The Republic | May 31, 2012

UPDATE 15th June 2012:
'Police arrest man suspected of stealing Book of Mormon' June 14, 2012 \
Authorities have arrested the man suspected of stealing a first edition copy of the Book of Mormon from a Mesa bookstore. Jay Michael Linford, 48, was arrested Tuesday in Herndon, Virginia for theft and trafficking in stolen property. Linford is currently being held at a detention facility in Fairfax, Virginia awaiting extradition. 
Sadly the man is accused of having already sold at least two more pages ripped out of the book to a dealer in the Dallas-Fort Worth for $7,500. The dealer did not enquire too closely into where the pages had come from - until he heard about the book theft after the purchase, when he contacted the police.

Welsh cave art site Vandalised

An ancient cave in Wales is set to receive greater protection from heritage body Cadw after vandals destroyed part of the  Palaeolithic cave art it contains in what has been described as a 'mindless attack'. "The site's importance means its exact location is a closely guarded secret, but protection work is set to commence to preserve what is left".
Archeologist Karl-James Langford called for better protection of such sites. He said: "No effort has been made to present the work to the public, or even to protect it. Here in Wales, we make very little effort to protect much of our past, when there is a large amount of money available to protect it elsewhere in Great Britain. On a visit only last week with one of my students, we examined the cave, and found various amounts of rubbish in it, and the Palaeolithic cave art discovered two-and-a-half years ago of a reindeer has been smeared over with mud." 
'Stronger protection to Welsh cave art site after vandalism', Wales Online 25 May 2012

What do You Think About St Louis Art Museum' Stance Over Ka Nefer Nefer Mask?

Should the St. Louis Art Museum return the disputed Ka-Nefer-Nefer funeral mask to Egypt? Vote here:

Current status before the coineys flood in:


Who do the British Museum Think They Are Fooling?

I've just posted up  (as an update to another post) the link to the British Museum's Dan Pett grinning away as he discusses the "barriers"  to Portable Antiquities Scheme doing whatever it is they think they are doing. Readers may remember that as an archaeologist I was disgusted by the message the slide show contained. But it's mysteriously not in the video. What is in the video is this: 
"The biggest problem for me is the internet troll, they sit under bridges [inaudible/ + comment from audience]. We used to have a forum... wasn't very big... 600 members ... 17000 comments, [..]a[..]'s got a huge impact on staff time moderating the stuff"
It seems to me listening to it several times that there is good reason to think that the presentation has had a piece removed at the indistinct sound at 878s. What do you think? This is precisely the bit that corresponds to the statement on the slide that this forum (ie part of the PAS "archaeological outreach") was "derailed by aggressive ARCHAEOLOGICAL postings from several members". BM's Pett mentions one other point on the slide before digressing to "Nepal", but this presentation omits the bit where he says anything about the "trolls" of the presentation's title, unless it is that "trolls sit under bridges". Is that the railway bridge on the branch line to "Liaisonville"?

If this presentation really has been censored, that is twistiness. It would mean that once again certain topics are being avoided by the PAS. Instead of admitting and discussing further what was said at a public meeting by a member of the PAS staff about PAS "outreach", the supporters of the PAS would be trying to pretend that these words had never been uttered.  

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Italian police impound 18,000 illegally excavated artifacts

Today, Italian police announced that they had reported five people to the public prosecutor's office for illegal excavations, theft of cultural items belonging to the state and receiving stolen goods. During their investigations they found and impounded some 18,000 ancient artefacts ("artworks": Roman sarcophagi and stelae) found in suspects homes which had been dug up in illegal excavations at archaeological sites near Rome. There were notebooks there too which was used by the police investigators to locate the sites in the Aniene River valley where the illegal excavations occurred.
 Police have also sealed off three illegal dig sites previously unknown to archaeologists, they said in a statement: a necropolis dating from the Roman empire, a Roman villa and a sanctuary used by the Aequi people, who lived in an area northeast of Rome in the fourth and fifth centuries BC. [...] Police opened the investigation after discovering an illegal dig site near the Via Tiburtina, an ancient Roman road, where officers found a marble sarcophagus that had been dug up and left. 
One wonders how many ancient dugup coins destined for foreign markets were among the 18000.

Source: AFP, 'Italian police impound 18,000 illegally excavated artifacts', 30th May 2012.

The SLAM and its Ethics

Malcolm Gay ('For the St. Louis Art Museum, a Legal Victory Raises Ethical Questions', the Atlantic, May 30 2012) says the story of the Ka Nefer Nefer mask in certain respects "follows a familiar script", but this story "went decidedly off-script" when last year the US government supported the Egyptian government's claim to the object and attempted to use the courts to seize the artefact and return it to Egypt.
But where some museums might have simply handed over the goods, St. Louis went on the attack, filing its own a pre-emptive lawsuit that claimed the statute of limitations had expired -- an aggressive challenge from an institution that has repeatedly defied calls to release its grip on this pricey piece of loot. "This is very unusual," Patty Gerstenblith, who directs the Center for Art, Museum and Cultural Heritage Law at DePaul University, told me not long after the museum filed its suit. "This is the first time I've seen a public institution like a museum deciding to expend its funds to proactively sue the government."
Gay discusses the Pheonix Art collecting history and the holes in it (but after all: "this is a market whose emphasis on the hard-to-find means that plunder is often whitewashed, making it all but indistinguishable from the legitimate market").

With its reliance on a 50-year-old eyewitness account and a lengthy sojourn in a "private" Swiss collection, the Ka-Nefer-Nefer's provenance is viewed by some as a case study for the sort of the cooked-up histories that flooded the antiquities market during much of the 20th Century. "It was kind of a joke," Thomas Hoving, the late director of The Met, said when I first showed him the museum's story. Characterizing the ethos of the age, he added, "Everybody went nudge-nudge, wink-wink. You know: 'Oh, yeah, right, "the anonymous Swiss collector." That's good.'"
 Gay insists that "the bad old days when American museums could ignore with impunity the ownership claims of other countries may be drawing to a close" and raises the suggestion that the mask was acquired, if not illegally (by US law) the same cannot be said about the propriety of the purchase.
to persevere in this litigious and outmoded view of antiquities collecting throws the St. Louis museum out of step not only with its fellow institutions [...]  Given the dueling narratives now in the public realm, the Ka-Nefer-Nefer's provenance has never been more uncertain. The question, then, is whether the Saint Louis Art Museum will simply bury its treasure, or finally embrace the sort of equitable resolution that is fast becoming its industry standard.
It seems that Gay has more faith in St Louis not being moral midgets than some of us.

Malcolm Gay was of course the author of the excellently-researched article a decade ago: “Out of EgyptRiverfront Times 15th Feb 2002 . 

Vignette: Integrity

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Illegal Removal of Artefacts From Sardis

The complexities of the claims by Turkey for the return of artefacts in foreign museums is well-illustrated in a recent article by John Leonard ('The looting of Sardis', Athens News 24 May 2012) which discusses the removal of artefacts from ancient Sardis, in western Asia Minor by American excavators in 1921-1922. The action was:
 encouraged by prominent American archaeological and business-world figures as well as a particularly brazen group (the Executive Committee of the Society for the Excavation of Sardis, or ECSES) determined to enrich one of the world’s most important museums, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (or Met) in New York. To top it off, the actions of the smugglers were publicly announced and advocated in the pages of the New York Times. [...] Moreover, some of the historical riches from Sardis were carried off to New York in September 1922 aboard a US navy ship, in direct disregard of well-known Ottoman Turkish antiquities laws, in effect since 1884. 
The decision to export the Sardis material was "effected, however, in the weeks following the Ottoman Turkish invasion of Smyrna; perhaps even during the period of 13-22 September 1922, when the port city was burning and in a state of tragic, wartime confusion". So no doubt the "safeguarding the artefacts" argument might be employed. There is however a difference between safeguarding and taking.

This export of cultural property was not an isolated event and "symptomatic of a larger trend in which rapacious European and American individuals and institutions sought to take advantage of the late 19th- and early 20th-century decline of the Ottoman Empire to enrich private collections and national museums". I summarise Leonard's admirable presentation of the background to this in another post. Archaeologist Fikret Yegul, discussed these events in a 2010 article, and:
notes the clear statement of intentions made in January 1922 by Lloyd Warren, secretary of the ECSES, who pushed for the fruits of future Sardis excavations to be brought home to America. Yegul observes: “The sheer mendacity of this candidness may be jarring to our modern sensibilities, but for the business and museum crowd that the secretary was addressing, it was very much the culturally responsible and patriotic thing to do.” The question that seems to lie at the heart of the looting of Anatolian archaeological sites in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, according to Yegul, is whether the moribund Ottoman Empire had any right to the rich cultural heritage that lay within its boundaries. “To cast the followers of Mohammed,” Yegul writes, “in the role of caretakers of classical culture - a culture all European nation states claimed as their own, with similar noises coming from across the [Atlantic] - was an anathema.” Indeed, the Ottomans’ “exotic” eastern empire “was seen as an illegitimate and barbaric power, especially as concerned dominion over the Greco-Roman heritage of Western Anatolia and Christian Jerusalem”. 
One might note that nothing much seems to have altered, American collectors and dealers still today voice such opinions in justification of their own no-questions-asked dealings with dugup artefacts from other people's territories.

Excavations by foreign missions in the region were brought to a halt by the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, but when it ended, the digging gradually resumed, as did illegal exportation. According to Leonard, finds were taken to American museums from the Harvard University excavations at Colophon and Sardis in 1922. From the latter site the removed artefacts were enough to fill 56 crates ("enough to fill three railroad cars").
Upon learning of the clandestine shipment, the cultural authorities of the newly established Republic of Turkey immediately stopped the Americans’ excavation permit for Sardis and for all other Anatolian sites. A diplomatic resolution was finally reached after 53 of the original crates - including the 30 gold coins and 122 silver coins - were shipped back to Turkey in 1924, where they were inspected and divided up. Ultimately, 12 crates containing various artefacts and four gold coins arrived back in New York by the end of August 1925 - a “gift” from Turkey.
Thus ended "an era when Anatolian antiquities were regularly used by both Turks and foreigners as currency with which one could purchase fame, professional success and political favour". The antiquities authorities of the new Turkish state struggled to compensate for centuries of Ottoman neglect of the region’s cultural heritage, between 1923 and 1926 they built seven new archaeological museums. 

Vignette: The Gymnasium of Sardis, wikipedia.

Looters in Aswan, Luxor, Esna, Saqqara and Just up the Road from Giza

The Egypt Independent is reporting on some police investigations of looting in Upper Egypt based on a tip-off. Three sites are mentioned. Luxor, Esna (two incidents) and Aswan.  Tourism and antiquities police seized 17 artefacts of the Roman era and arrested those with them in their possession.
"The relics include pots, parts of a painting, a censer and pieces of stoneware.  Excavators had dug a 10-meter deep hole in the ground to retrieve them".
Last week Police recovered 35 pharaonic artefacts which had been buried in sand close to the Horemhab funerary complex in the Saqqara Necropolis apparently for later recovery by the thieves. They seem to have included several "statuettes" (shabtis?) of green faience.
According to police, the objects were stolen from neighbouring archaeological sites during the uprising. The thieves, police speculate, had been planning to smuggle the objects out of the country at a later date. 
Nevine El-Aref , 'Police recover pharaonic artefacts stolen in wake of revolution', Al-Ahram 22 May 2012.

Meanwhile it seems that damage has been done to the site at Abu Rawash (Abu Roash) near Giza (. The French Mission building there has been badly damaged (including having its gate torn off). It seems a village has been erected over part of the archaeological site, and six villas on the high ground. Excavations for sewer pipes going on. Even though the land was owned by the SCA, it has been sold off to people as building land by certain 'entreprenuers'. Looting of artefacts is going on using hired labour and earthmoving equipment. Thugs are threatening people who protest, and the looters are posting guards on perimeters to keep intruders away. The area has now become very dangerous. What however is not clear is where exactly this is and what its actual extent is with regard the ancient remains. 

Looting at 

Dialogue on Export Licences

Washington's most infamous antiquitist lobboblogger expressed concern about a firm that was buying up Chinese antiques in America and shipping them off to the newly-expanding Chinese market, thus shifting the focus of trade in these things to the Far East. In that context, I asked (on May 28, 2012 2:25 PM):
Would "Cultural Property Observer" (defending the rights of US collectors) not consider that it would be a good thing if the USA had an export licensing system so that material which is leaving the States for countries which offer a better price for such collectables is in some way regulated? Otherwise at this rate the US market will be pretty quickly depleted of such items. Why does the US not protect its own collectors by an export licensing system? 
 Cultural Property Observer (May 29, 2012 6:16 AM) observed:
The last thing we need is more bureaucracy. In any event, why should foreign buyers be discriminated against because of the foolish actions of the US State Department? 
 Paul Barford May 29, 2012 7:47 AM said...
and had to explain it to him in simple words:
I was talking about ensuring not too much cultural property leaves the US market. This would surely protect the interests of US citizens from foreign competition, would it not? 
Cultural Property Observer thought a while and then (May 29, 2012 10:30 AM) declared:
It would, but supporting it would also make me some sort of retentavist (sic) or cultural nationalist, and I'm not.
So having some kind of restrictions on the export of rare examples of Chinese porcelain, snuff bottles, rhino horn cups or scroll paintings, is an example of US cultural [property?] nationalism? In Tompa's mind clearly retention of cultural property is in some way always evil whatever country attempts it. If all dealers over there think the same, one more reason to kick the Americans out of the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

From the perspective of what happened in post-War eastern Europe (when due to the economic situation, vast numbers of antiques ended up in the west before 1989) such perspectives seem rather short sighted. But then of course the difference is between Europe which has a rich cultural property heritage going back millennia which people want to collect and participate in, and the USA which has very little to speak of of its own (but willingly helps itself to other people's).

Collectables from America for China

I sent a comment to a post on Peter Tompa's blog ("We Buy Chinese Antiques"), but he is taking some time to post it and reply. Perhaps the lobboblogger is waiting for his paymasters to rouse themselves so he can ask them what they want him to write...

The American dugup dealers' lobbyist seems worried about the prospect of an organization called "Oriental Heritage" purchasing antiques (not quite the same thing as dugups of course) in the United States and send them to the new markets in China. He says the activities of this firm "underscore the utter foolishness of the State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Cultural Heritage Center’s effort to secure US import restrictions on [illegally exported] Chinese cultural goods" because they "appear to have in fact done little more than help redirect the trade in Chinese art back to China itself". How terrible, slanty-eyed yellow people buying slanty-eyed-yellow-people-heritage bought from under the noses of US collectors. Obviously Lobboblogger Mr T. thinks the Americans should get uncontested first choice of the lot.

 Of course a Tompa blog would not be a Tompa blog without the hint of an anti-American (anti-collector, its the same to him) conspiracy. The firm has a "prominent advertisement in the Washington Post", which informs readers that the firm is “backed up by major investment groups in China” and “has access to tens of millions of dollars of funds instantly”. He sees this as a back-door means by which the Chinese are trying to get their cultural property off the US market and "repatriated".

So who is this institution for which Tompa makes such far-reaching and alarmist claims? Although coineys stress their "research" abilities, it seems this is more of a myth than a reality. I recommend that before Peter Tompa gets himself and others hot under the collar about Oriental Heritage, Inc., he looks at a site called "Fictitious Business Name Statement": File No. 2012-011510 which gives the registered address of this "corporation" (a warehouse on an industrial estate San Diego, CA., 92127) and the name of the person registering it. Hua Zhang is the Principal (and President) of Oriental Heritage, Inc, which has ONE employee. The website is hosted at IP, along with a whole load of other odd businesses, including a Peruvian travel agency and 'Call male Strippers'. My guess is a firm which claims it can instantly get tens of millions of dollars of funds but is actually run from a white tin shed is probably not all that Lobboblogger Tompa represents it as. By the way they also trade Rhino horn and Ivory carvings.

I see no reasons why Eastern Asian antiquities in the US market (there are rather a lot of them)  should NOT be snapped up by the East Asian market. On the other hand, I asked Lobboblogger Tompa, fighting for US "collectors' rights" whether he thinks that in order to protect the interests of US collectors, the US should not impose an export licensing system to keep the best cultural property (of various types) within the US market, and not see it all siphoned off to outside markets of countries with expanding economies at a time when the US economic growth is not looking so great.  That's the question he has yet to answer. What will he write on behalf of his paymasters, the antiquity dealers opposed on principle to export controls on goods like antiquities? 

Does Peter Tompa utilising Oriental Heritage Inc as a bogeyman when stitching together two entirely different matters  evidence the "foolishness' of the State Department, or somebody else's? 

Monday, 28 May 2012

Egypt: Morsi or Shafik ?

The Egyptian presidential race is headed for a runoff vote June 16-17, and has come down to Mohamed Morsi and Ahmed Shafik .” Shafik (a senior official of the Mubarak regime) received 5.5 million of the country’s 23 million votes, about 200,000 votes behind first-place finisher Morsi, who leads the Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. In all, 23 million of Egypt's 50 million eligible voters, or 46%, cast ballots in the first round of the election. While Egypt’s voters overwhelmingly chose the revolution over the old regime, their failure to unite on a single platform directly benefited the two winning candidates. Shafik has received strong support from Egypt's Coptic community (Christians) who see him as a bulwark against Islamism, and many of the rural clans that previously backed Mubarak’s ruling party.

In January, two Islamist parties  won about 70% of the seats in the lower house of parliament in the first elections for an elected governing body in the post-Mubarak era ( the Freedom and Justice Party with 235 seats and the conservative Al Nour party with 121 seats). The rest of the assembly's 498 seats were divided among other parties.

 Shafik had been the last prime minister of President Hosni Mubarak (31 January 2011 – 3 March 2011), and had presided over a cabinet in which Zahi Hawass was Minister of Antiquities.

 So will the election of one or the other produce political stability and affect the treatment of Egypt's antiquities and ancient sites? Time will tell.

 Kyle Almond, 'Runoff dilemma in Egypt?', CNN May 28th, 2012

Independent:  'Leading article: Egypt's elections leave its divisions unresolved', 29 May 2012.

'Demonstrators angry at Egypt runoff candidates plan more protests', CNN Wire Staff May 29, 2012.

Do They Know Queen-Mother Idia?

"Ya what?"
are probably the three most common answers you'd get from people exiting the British Museum to the simple question posed by Kwame Opoku's most recent article on the topic of the Benin loot kept there ('Do They Know Queen-Mother Idia?' May 27th 2012).
A recent visit to the British Museum confirmed what we have observed in previous years: many Western visitors to the museum have no specific interest in any particular Benin object, even if they visit the Sainsbury Gallery and look at the Benin Bronzes. They are mostly unaware of the looted Queen-Mother-Idia(“Iyoba”) ivory mask. Have the hundred years of [...] retention of this mask had any effect on the knowledge and interest of the average Western visitor to the museum? It seems hardly any European visitor is even aware that the mask represents an important personality in Benin history. Most Western visitors are certainly unaware of her important and decisive role and influence in stabilizing the Kingdom of Benin during the civil war at the end of the 15th Century, a crucial period in Benin history. 
He goes on:
Contrary to the propaganda of the Declaration on the Importance and Value of Universal Museums, Benin culture has not become part of European heritage and culture even though Benin artefacts have been [...] detained in Western museums for more than hundred years. [...]  Queen-Mother Idia clearly plays no role in the culture, imagination and thinking of Westerners. So why keep her captive in London when she would be a subject of veneration and reverence in her homeland Benin, Nigeria? Why do the British Museum and the British Government still insist on keeping in Britain cultural artefacts of others, against the will of the owners? So far, we have not come across any reasonable justification for such an attitude.
 Opoku concludes that the only real reason that the Brits hang on to stuff like this is to cling to the relics of their own imperial 'glory'. Meanwhile another part of the Post-Enlightenment British Museum:

 Greek tragedy in the British Museum (Portableantiquities photostream on Flickr)

As ian Richardson reports, apparently approvingly ('Medieval Late at the British Museum), the Post-Enlightemnent today relies on edutaining gimmicks:
The Mausoleum of Halikarnassos gallery (Room 2) with its two specially-lit colossal statues formed the stage for a young acting troupe’s twist on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, which was seen by an overflowing crowd of onlookers. Even a presentation on the art of medieval hairdressing for film and theatre was given a dramatic location in front of the Nereid Monument in Room 17.
So I suppose this is the cultural mix-and-match of the Universal Museum in practice. Most "enlightening" I am sure. Was this what these sculted stones were transported across an entire continent to London for? To provide a "culcherall' backdrop to some tomfoolery that could have been done equally artistically in a shopping mall? What does the bloke with a cycling helmet on his head add to anyone's appreciation of the statues from Halicarnassus. That is Bodrum, Turkey. Maybe they should go back too to where they might be subjected to fewer indignities than they do in the BM's peculiar brand of dumb-down "outreach".

Cleveland Art Museum Standing their Ground

The Cleveland Plain Dealer has an article by Steven Litt on Turkey's ongoing repatriation drive ('Turkey's inquiry into 22 treasures at the Cleveland Museum of Art lacks hard proof of looting', Sunday, May 27, 2012) The government of Turkey is:
proceeding in a way that could shake the foundations of encyclopedic museums with items collected before contemporary laws and international agreements intended to prevent looting and trafficking. In late March, Turkey released to Times reporter Jason Felch a list of 22 objects in the Cleveland museum that the country says were dug up and illegally exported from its territory. The list casts suspicion on a stunning catalog of objects acquired by the museum between 1915 and 2005. [...] Turkey hasn’t yet officially claimed that the works should be returned, but it wants to perform scientific tests on them and to collect information the private, nonprofit museum keeps in its “object files,” which are not open to the public. 
The text ascribes the Turkish move "as part of a campaign by the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to assert Turkey’s rising economic and political power in the Middle East".

Mr Litt brings up the old chestnut beloved of Americans: "if museums around the world were forced to return ancient objects to modern countries occupying the territories of long-gone empires, it could result in a grand reshuffling of art collections along strictly nationalistic lines". What does that mean? If my neighbour borrows my lawnmower and I ask for it back, is that part of a "reshuffling of agricultural machinery" along "strictly domestic lines"?

What they really mean is as one commentator "Big Daddy Sunshine" wrote below the article (May 27, 2012 at 5:18PM):
Turkey is CRYING over spilt milk. Finders keepers, losers weepers. It's OUR STUFF. They can't have it! They are welcome to visit it anytime they want. Phat-tooey. Looted, my rear end. 
Another ("Dougal", May 27, 2012 at 9:50PM) blames it on "the Jews":
 This is what we get for being soft-headed about returning Nazi art to people with dubious claims. What ever happened to the 'holder-in-due-course' protections of law? Turkey's only legitimate complaint is against their own citizens who sold the stuff.
Others follow the Peter-Tompa-two-wrongs-make-a-right-line, saying the Ottomans were "emperialists" (sic) so Turkey deserves to lose antiquities to other imperialists.

Coming back to Cleveland Museum's dilemma, removal of the requested items from the collections "would seriously hurt its collections of ancient Roman, early Christian and Islamic art".
David Franklin, the museum’s director since late 2010, said that, based on legal advice, he could not comment on Turkey’s inquiry. “We don’t want to have an open discussion about this in the media,” Franklin said. “We don’t think that’s productive.”
No, of course not, why should a museum collector care what members of the public think?

Turkey's claims are based on whether art objects stylistically linked to Turkey in foreign museums have official permits showing artworks were legally exported.
The Ottoman Empire began requiring such permits in 1869. In 1906, Turkey declared that all cultural objects are state property, unless permission is granted to remove them. Turkey hasn’t found any Cleveland permits in its files, Suslu said. This “means obviously and logically that the artifacts have been removed illegally,” he said. 
Cleveland Museum of Art features prominently in David Gill's Looting matters, but mostly with reference to Italy.

Photo: Cleveland Museum of Art , the Medieval Yurope Trophy Hall, 
Chrétien de Troyes meets Disneyland.... Yuk.

Cleveland's Bubonic Antonine?

Steven Litt's text on another US museum's dispute with Turkey over dugup items in its collection begins by discussing a bronze statue:
A large, headless, Roman-era bronze statue believed to represent Marcus Aurelius has reigned for 26 years as the resident philosopher-king of the Cleveland Museum of Art. With its lifelike presence, fluid drapery folds and dark, luscious patina, the sculpture is one of the museum’s signature treasures. Yet a mystery has always hovered over this exceedingly rare object. Where, exactly, did it come out of the ground, and who unearthed it? Just as important, how many hands did it pass through before it found its way into the collection in 1986? The museum has long stated that the work might have been found in the 1960s in an obscure village in southwestern Turkey called Bubon, but it isn’t sure. The government of Turkey, on the other hand, is sure. It says that the bronze and nearly two dozen other works in Cleveland were looted from its soil, although the country has produced no evidence. [...] former curators familiar with the Marcus Aurelius statue [...] say they don’t know where [it was] excavated before the museum bought [it]. Arielle Kozloff of Shaker Heights, the now-retired curator who led the purchase of the Marcus Aurelius bronze in 1986, traveled to Bubon later that year to investigate its origins. According to local gossip, villagers dug up the sculpture in the 1960s, along with many other bronzes, which appeared on the art market over the following two decades. But Kozloff concluded in a 1987 article in the museum’s bulletin that any connection between Bubon and the Marcus Aurelius was conjectural.
The site at Bubon is accessibly summarised here. See also here. But there is more on this statue in David Gill's "Looting Matters" where we read a somewhat different story from that which Cleveland wants to promote ('Cleveland and Turkey: Marcus Aurelius and Bubon'):
In 1980 Cornelius C. Vermeule put together a list of Roman imperial statues that could be linked to the sebasteion in Bubon, Turkey. Subsequent to this in 1993 J. Inan published a list of some of the present locations, and this was discussed by C. Chippindale and D. Gill in 2000. [...] The year of acquisition, 1986, coincides with 5 pieces that Cleveland has now returned to Italy. 1986 is a date when due diligence does not appear to have been of paramount importance to the curatorial team in Cleveland. It is important that Cleveland reveals how it acquired the statue in order to show its commitment to the highest ethical standards.
Despite the Cleveland museum saying it really does not know where the stature is from, Gill points out that "the association with Bubon is clearly stated on the Cleveland website".

There is a podcast here about the new display of the collections, the statue is mentioned at 2mins 10 seconds:


Vermeule, C. C. 1980. "The late Antonine and Severan Bronze Portaits from Southwest Asia Minor", in Eikones. Studien zum griechischen und römischen Bildnis. Hans Jucker zum sechzigsten Geburtstag gewidmet , Basel, pp. 185-190.

İnan, J. 1993. "Neue Forschungen zum Sebasteion von Bubon und seinen Statuen", in Akten des II. Internationalen Lykien-Symposions Vienna, 6.-12. Mai 1990, ed. J. Borcchardt, J. and G. Dobesch, Vienna 1993, pp. 213-239.

Chippindale, C. & D. Gill, 2000. Material consequences of contemporary Classical collecting. American Journal of Archaeology 104, 463–511. 

Photo: "The Emperor as Philosopher, probably Marcus Aurelius (reigned AD 161�180), c. 175�200. Turkey, Bubon(?) (in Lycia), Roman, late second century. Bronze, hollow cast in several pieces and joined; 193 cm. Leonard C. Hanna Jr. Fund 1986.5"

Archaeological Sites in USA Left Unguarded: Looted

US dealers and collectors of dugup antiquities insist that their no-questions-asked activities are in no way responsible for the looting of sites to fuel the expansion of the market. They claim the sole responsibility is with the citizens of the source country who "allow the looting to go on" by not guarding the archaeological sites which they come from.

Yet the United States has an analogous problem with looting, and not even one of the world's richer economies can support stationing a guard or two to oversee 24/7 what happens on the archaeological sites of that country, not even those which have upstanding remains and rich deposits underground.

One such site reported in the press recently was Kincaid Mounds State Historic Site, a town and religious center of the Mississippian culture of 1,000 years ago in what is now rural Massac and Pope counties (about 170 miles southeast of St. Louis, infamous for its looted mummy-mask).  Last month, someone dug several holes in a portion of the site, which had been targeted before.
In 2008, three holes several feet wide and deep appeared in the side of one of the nine mounds, with two of the holes in spots looters had struck the previous year.[...] The disturbance of archaeological sites or skeletal remains on state-owned property can be a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail, a $10,000 fine, reparations and forfeiture of any vehicles or equipment used in the misdeed. Unsettling of burial sites on public land also may be a felony carrying a three-year prison term and $25,000 fine.
Or, as we have seen in such cases over the past few years, a mere slap on the wrist if the US judge feels like it, of course. Hardly worth putting any resources into finding the culprits if the US court system fails to accept the laws making it a punishable offence. Nevertheless the Chicago Tribune tries to persuade its readers that the US does look after its archaeological heritage:
Such cases have produced federal charges. In 2010, Leslie Jones pleaded guilty to excavation, removal or damage of archaeological resources without a permit after investigators found more than 13,000 artifacts from southern Illinois' Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge at his home in Creal Springs, Ill. The collection included pottery, clay figures, stone weapons, tools and more than 200 pieces of human skeletal remains dating from roughly 6000 B.C. to 400 A.D. Jones was sentenced to a month in jail, five years of probation, 500 hours of community service and ordered to pay more than $150,000 in restitution. He had faced up to two years in prison and a $20,000 fine. Jones admitted he had sold some of the artifacts he unearthed at the refuge from 2004 through February 2007, having done extensive research that enabled him to identify pieces of artifacts and their time periods.
 Ah, the "research" artefact hunters and collectors do. Perhaps he used for this a showcase gallery "research website" on the same lines as the one being produced for coins by Alfredo De La Fe.

 Of course not all (White) Americans care: In the comments to the story, Chrissakes asks "Were there any casino chips in those mounds?". Another expression of the same sort of cultural indifference is that more damage was done to the site recently when an all-terrain vehicle or truck was driven on one of the mounds, where "No Trespassing" signs are posted and ATVs are prohibited, the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency said on Friday.After all, it's only 'injun' stuff innit? Not part of the heritage of AMERICANS, not like Roman and Greek coins dug up back in Yurope.

So if the US is not guarding sites like this to stop collectors looting them for profit, is it not unreasonable  to expect poorer countries to do so? Surely a more effective way will be to clean up the international antiquities market to make it much more difficult to shift the looted material? Why would responsible dealers and collectors refuse to take responsibility for helping do that?

AP, 'Agency: Ancient burial mounds looted, driven over', Chicago Tribune May 25, 2012

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Barriers to Social Media Archaeology

As an archaeoblogger I was interested in one other presentation in last week's 'Barriers to Participation in Archaeology Online' Workshop at UCL. Doug Rocks-McQueen's "The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly of Archaeology and Social Media" is now available online. Towards the middle he speaks of the potential personal cost of passing comment on archaeological matters through social media like blogs - quite interesting then to compare that with the British Museum's Dan Petts engaging a few papers later in exactly that kind of behaviour on behalf of his Organization.

Vignette: Instead of closing a whole forum because you don't like what two or three people say, there are other options

Sayles: "Tips for Buyers of Ancient Coins"

The latest post on Wayne Sayles' blog is a text on: 'Tips for Buyers of Ancient Coins' which begins
A basic precept of criminal law is that "the act does not make a person guilty unless the mind be also guilty." This principle is called mens rea. It simply means that an element of intent is necessary for guilt to be assigned. 
So you are OK from the legal point of view if you practice the 'ask-no-questions-get-told-no-lies' model of buying dugup antiquities. The acquisition of dugup antiquities in deliberate and carefree ignorance of the manner in which they arrived on the market may absolve the buyer of any legal responsibility, it does not of course in any way however absolve them of any ethical responsibility.

What however is most interesting is that the post is dated Sunday, August 07, 2011. It seems Sayles has made good his word earlier (A Foul Wind quoted in 'The Return of a lost Numismatist'): "I will not be posting anything further on this blog about cultural property issues or the ACCG". He has deleted several months' worth of posts - some of which were real crackers. This is good if you are a coin collector searching for blogs talking about ancient coins, less helpful for the preservationist cause as it is blogs like that of Mr Sayles' which really showed the holes in the pro-collecting lobby's various arguments. It is interesting that instead of just blogging henceforth on the stated topic, Sayles appears not to have had the courage of his convictions to leave online as a record the material he wrote previous to this 'turn'. Does it mean that in reality all that stuff he was writing before was politically motivated posing and not the writer's sincere beliefs? How many other pro-collecting webstuff could one say the same of? Several other examples of apparent opportunist insincerity to maintain a damaging status quo come to mind.

Doug Rocks Answers the ACCG

In reply to a certain infamous press release, archaeoblogger Doug Rocks MacQueen  ('Petty Bull%£%* and Open Access Pitbulls: How to control your message online') observes:
Basically, the ACCG has turned a discussion about Open Access into a smear campaign against AIA’s stances regarding the trade of antiquities.
Doug presents to his readership the options available to prevent his group's concerns being misrepresented by the ranting dullards of the ACCG. He decided to move the material to which the ACCG links:
It was decided that instead of talking past the ACCG we would do what anyone does in a conversation when the subject changes, talk about the new subject. Thus we changed the webpage of ours discussing the boycott of AIA, that they linked to, to a page discussing the different views of the antiquities trade, click on the link in their press release and see. Yes, we changed the webpage on them. If the ACCG wants to discuss collecting and trading then we are willing to meet them in the middle. It is actually a very balanced view of the subject that we got from MATRIX. It is not trying to say the ACCG is wrong just a look at the different points that people make about the subject. 
 Good for the Open Access website. At least one group of archaeologist who are not going to let artefact hunters and collectors call the shots. So, will there be discussion fro the ACCG on the varying viewpoints on collecting? Sadly, since material discussed here cannot be reached from the AGGC press release as promised (the link going to the promised open access discussion of the antiquity trade on the Open Access Archaeology page  does not work), we'll never know...

Lobboblogger Tompa replies to this here:
'Closed "Open Access" Debate?' THEN the ACCG wasted some more of its sponsors' money by releasing a SECOND press release on the same matter. What buffoons.

The History of Script: Sixty Important Manuscripts Leave the Schøyen Collection for Sotheby's

. We are supposed to believe that the main reason why collecting histories do not contain information on previous owners is that the latter do not like people to think they are selling because they have fallen on hard times. One cannot however but wonder why collector Martin Schøyen is selling these gems through Sotheby's: History of Script: Sixty Important Manuscript Leaves from the Schøyen Collection
This sale comprises a selection of items from the celebrated manuscript collection of Martin Schøyen, in London and Oslo. The sixty lots have been chosen to represent the entire history of writing in Europe, from piece of an ancient manuscript of Homer’s Iliad right through to the thirteenth century, with specimens of some of the rarest and most compelling scripts from the Dark Ages and early medieval Europe. [...]
Not much of a history of writing in Europe if the slide presentation starts with a dugup manuscript scrap from Fustat (that's in Africa). Oh, and do look at the tenth century Visigothic-manuscript-meets-Stanleyknife. Where's that from and where's the rest of it? Note how the SALE is presented as having been constructed to reveal history ("The sale catalogue will doubtless be reference work for many years to come"). "Only if it goes open access" shout the collectors. I'm guessing the rest of us decent folk would not touch it if the collecting histories are not properly detailed.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Avoiding Archaeologists "Aggressively" Posting Archaeological Concerns...

The British Museum is claiming that since archaeologists kept "aggressively" posting archaeological concerns on the PAS Forum, they've had to conduct their "outreach" to the public through metal detecting forums.

Those of my readers who have taken up my suggestion to register on a few to see what is going on in the secretive world of UK artefact hunting will be aware however that - despite having at times upward of fifty staff all engaged in this outreach - on such forums there never has been any substantial and concerted PAS public outreach especially on topics related to 'best practice', and it has been ages since there was anything much. Roger Bland begging for petition signatures to save the PAS was the most recent that I can recall.

Maybe the PAS would like to provide links to their outreach threads on such forums to show this was not an empty claim.

New Book Out: the Impact of Looting and the Illicit Antiquities Trade on Our Knowledge of the Past

The Society for American Archaeology have recently published a new book of interest to readers on both sides of the antiquities collecting fence: "All the King's Horses: Essays on the Impact of Looting and the Illicit Antiquities Trade on Our Knowledge of the Past", Edited by Paula K. Lazrus and Alex Barker 2012.

The title is significant, obviously referring to the nursery rhyme (that "all the King's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty together again") which brings attention to the destruction of evidence by the removal of objects, while collectors of course like to think of themselves as "saving" the objects from lying in the earth, or somebody else getting their hands on them.

 After the introductiony article by the editors (All the King's Horses : An Introduction /​ Alex W. Barker and Paula Kay Lazrus ), the book has some useful essays in it:

  • The Economics of the Looted Archaeological Site of Bab edh-Dhra' : A View from Google Earth /​ Neil Brodie and Daniel A. Contreras
  • The Material and Intellectual Consequences of Acquiring the Sarpedon Krater /​ David Gill
  • Moot Loot Speaks : Classical Archaeology and the Displaced Object /​ Stephen L. Dyson
  • Unprovenienced Artifacts and the Invention of Minoan and Mycenaean Religion /​ Senta C. German
  • Early looting and destruction of Australian shipwreck sites : legislation, education and an amnesty for long-term preservation /​ Jennifer Rodrigues
  • The Trade in Fresh Supplies of Ancient Coins : Scale, Organization and Politics /​ Nathan T. Elkins
  • The social and political consequences of devotion to Biblical artifacts /​ Neil Brodie and Morag M. Kersel
  • What "All the Kings Horses" has to say to American Archaeologists /​ Ann M. Early.
SAA Member Discount Price: $21.95; Nonmember price: $26.95
At the moment there are no plans to make it "open access" for cheapskate coin collectors who cannot be bothered to buy books (and call it "lack of transparency" when they cannot get what they want on a plate for free).

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

New Report on Damage to Syria’s Cultural Heritage

New Report on Damage to Syria’s Cultural Heritage from Global Heritage Network:

Global Heritage Network member and Durham University PhD student Emma Cunliffe has prepared a comprehensive summary of the known damage to cultural heritage sites in Syria. Titled “Damage to the Soul: Syria’s Cultural Heritage in Conflict,” the report draws from a number of sources to present a picture of the destruction – from looting to shelling – that is afflicting cultural heritage sites as a result of the ongoing conflict in the country. Click here to read the full report.
Remember the Facebook pages: "Protect Syria's Heritage!"

 “Le Patrimoine Archéologique Syrien en Danger [الآثار السورية في خطر]”.

ACCG Can't Get the Name Right

It seems the coiney lobby group the Ancient Coin Collectors' guild (ACCG) is having trouble sorting out who is who in the heritage world. They've just issued about a month overdue a press release (written by John Hooker?) which announces: 'American Institute of Archaeology Under Fire from Watchdog Groups for Lack of Transparency' . Most of the rest of us know the institution to which the dullards are referring as the Archaeological Institute of America. As for the message, it seems to me that there is as much confusion about the  position of the AIA and the American Anthropological Association over the Federal Research Public Access Act of 2012 and its relevance as over the former Institute's name (the latter is not mentioned in the ACCG press release).  

Well, so far the ACCG's embarrassing display of ignorance has reached just 69 places on the Google search engine, but hopefully that number will rise and more and more people will be scratching their heads and wondering just who these people think they are. 

Note also that coiney fave PAS is also worried about having everything out in the open.

To which "watchdog groups" do the ACCG refer? 

UPDATE 24th May 2012:
It seems that the Guild of Coin Collecting Ancients likes people to see it as an infallible organization. It is now explained by Alfredo De La Fe that the mistake appeared  "somewhere between the final draft and its release". That is, as the coineys always claim, it is somebody else's fault not their own. (In that case they'd be justified in asking PR Newswire for their money back so they can re-release it with the wording they actually sent, no?)

and of course we should also mention that the ACCG seem not to have been aware  that about a month earlier, the 'Archaeological Institute of America Back Tracks on Stance Against Open Access'. 

American Institute of Archaeology Under Fire from Watchdog Groups for Lack of Transparency

American Institute of Archaeology Under Fire from Watchdog Groups for Lack of Transparency

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Sisyphus and the TrollS on the Gate of the Digital Divide (I): "Nur Fur PAStplunderers"

It seems from a recent public presentation at a 21st May workshop on "Barriers to Participation in Archaeology Online" that the British Museum has something against public discussion of artefact hunting and collecting. Dan Pett of the Portable Antiquities Scheme was down as addressing 
barriers that are readily apparent in the Portable Antiquities Scheme’s(PAS) attempts to engage a worldwide audience with its online and offline offer. It will look at the problems of ethics and recording of archaeological objects from disturbed contexts, technological and knowledge transfer challenges and the effects of internet ‘trolls’ on the participatory experience”. 
Well, from the pre-meeting abstract it was not too clear who these trolls were. With the release of the slide presentation however, all became clear:

Just look at slide 14:

At the top the BM logo. Yes the PAS - charged with interacting with the public - had a public forum. After it had been going for some while, an invitation was sent out (I forget by whom) to archaeologists to join this forum to discuss there the details of a Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales which was being created at that time (the PAS wanted to take credit for this, though my understanding is that much of the actual work came from the CBA, Mike Heyworth in particular). I was one of several people who joined in in that discussion. I gave up quite a bit of time to discuss this with forum members. It's nice [ironic text] to see the efforts people made appreciated by "our" PAS.

The actual number of contributions to that forum made, on any subject, by the fifty archaeologists working IN the Scheme were pathetically small over the several years of its existence. 

I find it a disturbing suggestion that a Portable Antiquities Scheme public forum should be devoid of contributions by archaeologists or that the only archaeologists who should be allowed to speak must only sing the Scheme's praises and pat artefact hunters on the back. It is not as if the PAS was running a "Nur fur metal detectorists" publicly funded metal detecting forum to promote ideological apartheid. The PAS is not a metal detecting club, it is (was set up as) archaeological outreach. 

Also - what on earth IS an "aggressive archaeological posting" on a state-funded ARCHAEOLOGICAL OUTREACH programme?  How does one define the difference between "aggressive" archaeology and "passive" (sessile?) archaeology? Is stressing ethics and responsibility and concerns for preservation an "aggressive" form of archaeology in the eyes of the PAS? If so, just what is it they think they are doing?

More to the point, why would any discussion between an archaeological outreach scheme and members of the public (in general, that's what they are paid for) be moved to forums hosted by metal detecting [something or other]"?

Several years ago, the Hawkshead review castigated the PAS for not doing enough to outreach about what they are doing to the wider archaeological community (not those just interested in the goodies being found). The PAS has yet to put that recommendation into action. Here in the British Museum presentation slide 14 we see outright hostility to the idea. 

I challenge the British Museum to reinstate the PAS Forum archive so people can actually see the truth behind that charge of "aggressive archaeological postings". Let the people funding this Scheme see just who was being aggressive and uncivil on the Portable Antiquities Scheme forum. I dare the BM to demonstrate the truth of Pett's words by making these old forum posts permanently available as an archive. All of it mind, let us see again the crude comments and pornographic pictures posted by the Scheme's "partners". The faked one of Nigel Swift and I for example, and the one purporting to be of Dan Pett and his enormous appendage a la Beardsley. Let the wider public have the opportunity again to see what "partners" Gary Brun, "Belzoni", Clive Hallam, "Sheddy", not forgetting Steve Burch and many, many others wrote on the PAS forum, and what issues were raised by whom. The PASF archive is a wonderful source of material illustrating what metal detecting is all about and where the "Divide" (not a digital one) lies between theory and practice of "partnership" and "best practice" in public liaison with artefact hunters and collectors. Is THAT not, in reality, why the PAS hid it? I think so.

Those of us who tried to use the forum to interact with the Scheme (rather than the hard core of naysaying metal detectorists it hosted) certainly came away with a lasting impression from that "participatory experience".  The opinions expressed on this blog are a reflection of that.

UPDATE 31.05.2012

The video of Pett's presentation have been posted on You Tube. I must say Dan Pett is much more portly than I had imagined him - though I am interested to find out his voice sounds very much like mine. I'd only ever had contact with him through emails and forums.
Dan Pett talks about "barriers": Published on May 29, 2012 by


Sisyphus and the Troll on the Gate of the Digital Divide (II): Accountability

To return to the allegation from the British Museum about "digital trolls" who persist in discussing the Portable Antiquities Scheme, even though they closed  down the forum in an attempt to shut off such comment:

The speaker bemoans the fact that people (who he dismisses solely as "trolls") are discussing the Scheme in places OTHER than "internet forums hosted by metal detecting [organizations]". However much the British Museum (logo at the top) would like everybody except their staff and supporters to shut up, that surely is what access to information is all about.

As a result of the discussion shifting outside the media controlled by the PAS and "metal detectorists", the speaker complains "We are subject to blog posts....". Well that's a shame. Imagine that, people having thoughts about a public scheme expressed in a form that the Scheme cannot control. People writing independently about their perceptions about the Scheme and what it is doing. 

" posts that contain many inaccuracies". Oh, well, no - that should not be happening. Probably the problem is that the information used is coming from publicly available sources. Where this is incomplete, ambiguous or plain wrong, then any interpretation based on them is only as reliable as what it is forced to use as a source. I have commented many times on the lack of proper information from the Scheme that can be used to examine more than the narrow themes it apparently wishes people to focus upon.  Obviously the way to avoid this is more transparency and for the Scheme to provide fuller and more explicit information in a format more conducive to analysis in the first place. Certainly, people like myself or David Gill writing about the PAS (or anything else) cite the source of the information used, and readers can go back to it and check it out for themselves. If what we say is wrong, the attentive reader will discover that.

A public Scheme, financed from the public purse should indeed - like any organization - be aware  of what is said about it, and if the impression being created is a false one, react and set the record straight. I do not think it too hard to set up some kind of alert system to find out when and where the PAS is discussed in the public forum. The PAS has not just one member of staff, it has forty or so, all of whom are computer literate, and able to inform the public about the PAS (that is after all precisely what their JOB is). The British Museum also has a Press and Public relations office, which the PAS uses with great alacrity in other situations, why not in presenting the PAS (now British Museum) position on some of the issues raised, like to what degree the PAS protects the archaeological record (Gill and Heritage Action) and where this "partnership" with collectors of archaeological artefacts is going (Barford, Anderson)?

What happened when there was a forum discussion on a recent text by David Gill in PIA? Did the PAS engage with it, or did they dismiss and ignore his comments? Is he too a "troll"?

I would suggest that a responsibility that goes with spending 14 million pounds of public money to do ARCHAEOLOGICAL outreach to the British public, is to account fully for how that money was spent and what its actual effects are. That includes addressing, in much more detail than the PAS at present do, the concerns of their critics instead of merely hoping vainly that if they ignore them long enough, the issues will go away.

Sisyphus and his Global Outreach?

In the public presentation at a 21st May workshop on "Barriers to Participation in Archaeology Online", Dan Pett of the British Museum's Portable Antiquities Scheme specifies the current PAS scope and mission:
“[...] the Portable Antiquities Scheme’s(PAS) attempts to engage a worldwide audience with its online and offline offer [...]
So the British public is paying for a Scheme to persuade the whole outside world that artefact hunting and collecting are kosher ways of treating the buried archaeological heritage? How so? Is that really a useful way to spend public money? Especially when it outright refuses to engage in any serious discussion on how true that is and in what circumstances.It seems to me that the PAS is doing a lot of damage by adopting this approach.

Monday, 21 May 2012

PhDiva versus Coiney Dealer-Researcher

Wannabe-"Researcher" Dugup Dealer Alfredo De La Fe decided to 'have a go' at PhDive - Dorothy King. Probably not a wise move on his part. He questioned what she was saying about the ACCG's non-profit status ('Ancient Coin Collectors Guild').  She had said that she had been in contact with two mainstream dealers who were furious that Morris Khouli was still on the list of members and told her that
they had no intention of donating to the ACCG again because of that. They feel that they don’t want to be associated with a group that so blatantly supports breaking laws they don’t like.
De La Fe pointed out that Khouli was suspended before he declared his guilt of the charges against him (plea deal coming up) and Dr King explains it to him in simple words of two syllables or less in the [probably vain] hope he will be able to grasp their meaning. She writes:
I was rather amused to see that Mr De La Fe also thinks suspending a confessed and convicted smuggler's membership of the ACCG was enough. I guess that tells us all we need to know about his own interpretation of the ACCG's views about breaking US laws - and perhaps explains reputable business' reluctance to give the American Crooks and Criminals' Guild any more money? [...] The ACCG smuggled ancient coins into the US, which was possibly acceptable as a test case, but it was still a breach of the law - and although they want to appeal, the legal case has been decided by a judge. ACCG member "Morris" Khouli broke quite a number of US laws, by his own confession, and was convicted. Because he confessed - as part of a plea bargain to avoid other charges - he cannot appeal, and will bear witness against two other ACCG members that he was charged with.* Those two other ACCG members* may yet be found innocent, but by his own confession Khouli is not. The ACCG is free to argue whatever "legal" arguments it likes, but it is clear to all that by only suspending convicted smugglers they are saying they to all that the organisation not only supports smuggling but condones it.
De La Fe is welcome to use the "we stamp our feet and shout loudly" technique, and it may well work when they are preaching to their own fans, but that sort of bullying technique alienates pretty much everyone else.
As she had earlier said, "one day the [ACCG will] get around to terminating the membership of that dealer who confessed to smuggling ... No news on their web site about it yet, but I'm sure they'll do it sometime before his prison sentence is over". I'm not so sure, perhaps they are counting on the short attention span of their other members to cause the matter to be forgotten, rather than spark some discussion in the ranks ("To  smuggle or not to smuggle?").

The latest news from the ACCG concerns nothing so mundane as the re-establishment of their ethical stance, but that four members of the ACCG Board of Directors have been re-appointed - by the Board of Directors  - so no change there then.

Mr de La Fe has yet to express an opinion on whether he wants to be in an organization alongside confessed coin smugglers. He has conveniently announced he's not going to comment any more on her blog. Maybe the dealer will put a post ("what I think about coin smuggling and what active steps I take to keep smuggled coins from getting into the stock I offer my clients") on his own blog about this. We look forward to seeing it.

 * PS I think only one other defendant is an ACCG member, also at this point 'suspended'.

"Heritage Auctions" gets Bad Press in Wikipedia

Wikipedia is one of the havens of collectors, on this "people's encyclopaedia" they give metal detecting fulsome praise, and any indications that there are other 'issues' gets edited out. Any text on an ancient civilization will attract some nerd who posts a photo of a Coin of that civilization/ruler (usually 'one I just happened to have hanging around at home') and perhaps a chunk of text on the Coins issued by that civilization or ruler. So it's nice to see "Heritage Auctions" getting some deserved flak there in the current article:
A 75%complete Tarbosaurus illegally exported from Mongolia was sold for $1,052,500[27] alongside other possibly looted artifacts[28] despite protests from the Mongolian government[29], an online petition[30] against the sale, proof from paleontologists[31] that it was stolen, and in violation of a court order.[32][33] In trying to avert negative press, Heritage Auctions at once claimed to both have undisclosed proof of its provenance being legal and to have no way of knowing its provenance, only a week after making public statements in British media[34] showing it to be illegally exported from Mongolia by a private collector.[35][36]
By the way, considering the discussion going on elsewhere 9on the use of looted artefacts for "research") it is worth looking at the other notable auctions listed there and considering whether the items mentioned there were bought as trophies (for 'bragging rights') or study material and consider in what way coin collecting (really) is different from collecting old comics or props used in cult films and TV shows. Also of course whether "Heritage Auctions" would treat the legal and ethical background to the sale of a two-thousand year old dugup coin from a foreign land any differently from a 65-million year hunk of dugup fossil bone dug up outside the US.

Heritage Auctions unaware of any treaty?

Greg Rohan, president of Dallas based Heritage Auctions commenting on his firm's selling of a Mongolian fossil despite a temporary restraining order is quoted in The New York Observer as saying he was confident that the transport of the skeleton to the U.S. was legal, because:
“We and our counsel are not aware of any treaties under which the sale would be illegal,” Mr. Rohan said.
Well, that depends what export licences they have for it, so far they have refused to say. One international convention of no small import is the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. The president of Heritage Auctions surely is not "unaware" of that? Yet what figures in the first point of the first article of that convention? In case he's forgotten I'll quote it:
 For the purposes of this Convention, the term `cultural property' means property which, on religious or secular grounds, is specifically designated by each State as being of importance for archaeology, prehistory, history, literature, art or science and which belongs to the following categories: (a) Rare collections and specimens of fauna, flora, minerals and anatomy, and objects of palaeontological interest; [...]
Then the president of heritage Auctions surely cannot, if he values the reputation of his firm, to be "unaware" of the content of Article 3:
The import, export or transfer of ownership of cultural property effected contrary to the provisions adopted under this Convention by the States Parties thereto, shall be illicit.
The USA is a state party of that Convention, so, where are the export licences? Showing how it left Mongolia, where it was before bought by the Brit and its legal export from the UK to Florida?

Laura L. Griffin, 'T-Rex Wreck: Mongolian Representative Disrupts Skeleton Auction', New York Observer 21st May 2012.

Vignette: Dinosaur in US confused 

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Italy Busts eBay Looted Artefacts Ring

I am not sure if this is a repeat of an older news item, it is dated May 18th:
'Italian police on Friday said they were investigating 70 people for trading thousands of looted archaeological artefacts including ancient coins and vases on Internet auction site eBay. The investigation began when the police found an eBay announcement in 2009 and they tracked down a father and son team of tomb raiders in a village in Calabria in southern Italy who had dug up Byzantine, Greek and Roman burials. Police said in a statement they had seized 16,344 artefacts including bronze and silver coins, rings and ceramic vases, as well as 10 metal detectors'.
AFP, 'Italy busts eBay looted artefacts ring' DesiWireFeed May 18, 2012.

UPDATE: (See the comments) a reader has kindly sent the following link: Piero Russo, 'Reperti dell'epoca Daunia messi in vendita su eBay' La Repubblica (Bari) 17th May 2012.
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