Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Coffee with Christos

Spilling the beans on at market (Wikipedia)
Catherine Schofield Sezgin conducts an interview with the Greek forensic archaeologist Christos Tsirogiannis to discuss the context and scope of the work he does in identifying suspected looted antiquities that have surfaced  after 1970 in galleries, sales catalogues, and museum exhibits ('Espresso with Christos Tsirogiannis, ARCA's 2014 Writer-in-Residence, at Amelia's Bar Leonardi' ARCA Blog, July 16, 2014). 
The discussion concentrates mainly on the Medici, Becchina, and Symes-Michaelides archives of Polaroids, photographs and receipts. These remain the property of the Greek and Italian states and is in active use in prosecuting cases and in recovering objects from museums and auction houses. Tsirogiannis points out that they are not his property and he only has indirect access to them. If the archives were to be published, those who have items on them - on finding out that they figure in these archives -  would be wary of ever putting them on open sale and may even destroy them to remove incriminating evidence. The archives are of use to try to describe how the networks of illicit antiquities sales operated on the market and how they were bought by people who must have known or suspected they were looted, smuggled or stolen.
Tsirogiannispoints out the importance of early papers by Gill and Chippendale in bringing these issues to wider public attention, it was only later that Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini published The Medici Conspiracy, showing how these items reached the collectors. Other work then followed.  It is difficult not to agree with the conclusion:
CT: It is everyone’s responsibility to inform the people about the wrongdoings that are still on-going in the antiquities market and, subsequently in the antiquities collections of the most well-known private and state museums. Then, an informed visitor will have the ability to understand why an institution fails to provide basic information on the collecting history of the antiquities on exhibition.
And British archaeologists, how much do they participate in this? British archaeologists who call metal detectors their "partners", shutting their eyes continually to the knowledge theft which they allow to take place under the umbrella of bonhomie with the nearly-compliant few? Those who invite no-questions-asked dealers to sit with them in academic conferences, as though nothing was more normal? Who when an artefact hunters' lobbyist says there is no such thing as archaeological context, so it does not matter what you take and how, simply fail to react (how long does it take to tap on a keyboard "I do not agree with what you say")? Ninety percent of British archaeologists are failing their duty to the stakeholders, the public, by keeping very, very quiet about anything smacking of contradicting the artefact collectors. David Gill has a blog. No other archaeologist in Britain has a blog pointing out that Looting Matters. Not even the Portable Antiquities Scheme has even half a page on its website about this portable antiquities issue.

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