Somebody claiming the rather unlikely name of "Shell Andromache" based in Atlanta, Georgia, United States was looking up Zuzim Judaea coinshop on the internet, and found this blog containing an old post of mine she did not like and decided to comment on it. Most of it's the usual self-serving no-questions-asked collecting stuff.
She claims to have dealt with two named US coin dealers in the past (Pegasi numismatics and Copper Penny/Ancient Byways) and from them bought "Sumerian and akkadian tablets both before and after the Iraq incident" ("Incident" Ms Andromache? Come now, don't be coy, it was a US-led invasion of a sovereign state). She says that "Wayne was always able to provide provenance in such cases", that is Wayne [Somebody - full name not apparent on website] of "copper penny" of Wethersfield CT... looking at their website and what they sell, I find this an odd claim. The "sold" section of the website contains just 16 items. Ms Andromache continues:
Also, anyone who knows anything about such topics should not be in the least bit shocked to realize that there are legitimately tens of thousands of such pieces in the United States thanks to the efforts of the University of Pennsylvania which lead (sic) one of the most successful archeological digs in history with the discovery of the city of Lagash in the late 1800's. It used to be that digs were funded by wealthy donors and part of their reward came in the legitimate gifting of insignificant relics such as a nail cuneiform tablets of Gudea's temple dedications (while cool they are quite common, circa 5000+ for Gudea alone) etc. Also professors often received them for their personal collection for their service in the fields and as these people sell or trade them they make it onto the market for collectors.Now, that is rather convenient isn't it? As I recall, it is precisely Lagash which has been hard-hit by some of the recent looting and Lagash artefacts that are among those suddenly "surfacing" (from underground?) on the modern market. I am sure a claim that thousands of licit examples are floating anonymously around the antiquities market is jolly convenient for the smuglers, Ms Andromache.
But what is the truth behind this glib assertion by a veteran collector? Well, despite the firm assurances of the mysterious collector it seems there are few grounds to accept this story as anything but apocryphal collecting lore which - as much of it - has no grounding in fact whatsoever. First of all anyone passionately interested in the past and engaged in its collecting as a help to self-study would be able to cite the details of the University of Pennsylvania publications of "one of the most successful archeological digs in history". In fact the only excavations going on there in the 1880s was a six-week campaign by a young Robert Koldewey in 1887 who was not, as far as anyone knows, working for the University of Pennsylvania (Robert Koldewey, Die altbabylonischen Graber in Surghul und El-Hibba, Zeitschrift fur Assyriologie, vol. 2, pp. 403-430, 1887). So it is difficult to see how he could be passing out unpublished cunies to rich US collectors. Perhaps Ms Andromache is confusing Lagash with Umma [John P. Peters, Nippur; Or, Explorations and Adventures on the Euphrates: The Narrative of the University of Pennsylvania Expedition to Babylonia in the Years 1888-1890, University of Pennsylvania Babylonian Expedition, Putnam, 1897]? (" In the early 1900s, many illegally excavated Umma tablets from the Third Dynasty of Ur began to appear on the antiquities market").
Ms Andromache suggests that sponsors of these excavations were rewarded by "the legitimate gifting of insignificant relics such as a nail cuneiform tablets of Gudea's temple dedications". According to her, the US excavation team in possession of foreign artefacts (which they told the natives they were taking "for scientific study") were instead gifted (before publication?) to "professors" who "often received them for their personal collection for their service in the fields". I wonder how many "professors" of Akkadian and/or Sumerian studies there were in the USA in the 1880s? I would say if these artefacts were being used as private property of the excavators to curry favour and not for scientific research, they were being misused by foreign guests and therefore should be returned to Iraq.
Certainly by the time of the survey of the Lagash site by Thorkild Jacobsen of the The Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago and Fuad Safar in 1953, partage of artefacts had, I believe, been discontinued (in the 1936 legislation?) as a result of political shifts within the country. The site was the subject of five seasons of excavation (1968-76) and 1990 by a US team (Metropolitan Museum of Art and New York University).
So these "tens of thousands" of Lagash artefacts "Ms Andromache" claims are legitimately on the US market, how did they get there?
It's worth noting that despite the number which it is claimed are "legitimately" on the market from official US-led excavations, the British Museum never seems to have acquired any of the "nail cuneiform tablets of Gudea's temple dedications" mentioned by Ms andromache. Odd that. But there are a number of unprovenanced ones which have "surfaced" from "somewhere" and are now in several private collections discussed on Bron Lipkin's website (follow the hyperlinks down). Where did these come from? Their present owners do not even hint at that - it's obviously not thought to be of any importance.