Sunday, 22 February 2015

Looting is not "under control", not here, not anywhere

The coin dealers' associations' lobbyist trying to drum up support for his attempts to get anti-smuggling measures lifted from ancient coins from Italy ('Enough Already: Oppose Yet Another Renewal of the Italian MOU') attempts to convince the more gullible in his audience that
In the past 15 years, Italy has mounted aggressive police actions that have greatly diminished looting in the country. [...]  Question CPAC why it’s necessary to renew this MOU yet again when looting is under control
I do not think there is anywhere in the world (outside the permafrost zone) where the soil carries saleable and collectable items that can be said to have "looting under control". While there are people who'll buy them, no questions asked, artefact hunters will continue to supply them. Certainly it seems a bit much claiming that (soley through the efforts of the US imposing import regulations) the problem has been solved in Italy.  Just this month (Wed Feb 4, 2015, 'Italian police seize stolen artifacts, private museum') we learnt (though not from Peter Tompa's "Cultural Property Observer' blog) that some unscrupulous collectors sneaked into the massive archaeological site of Pompeii last March and hacked off part of a fresco of Apollo and Artemis from a wall in the House of Neptune.

Investigating this crime,  Italian police (who dubbed their investigation "Artemis"), carried out a  nationwide sweep aimed at dismantling a criminal gang that was operating throughout southern Italy and dealing in stolen archaeological treasures. In the process police seized more than 2,000 ancient artifacts and
discovered a house that had been turned into a private museum packed with some 550 ancient finds, a police statement said. Three people were arrested. [...] Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini hailed Wednesday's operation, which was coordinated by anti-mafia officials in Naples and involved some 142 police searches in more than 20 Italian cities and towns. "(This) has led to the recovery of thousands of archaeological items and defeated a criminal organization dedicated to plundering southern Italy's cultural heritage," Franceschini said in a statement. Amongst the items recovered were decorated vases, coins and fragments of ancient buildings. Police also seized metal detectors and items they said had been used for illegal digs.  
There is so much material of illicit origin on the market today, and much of it coming precisely from looting in Italy, that no buyer, no dealer can afford not to give the collecting histories and proof of licit handling of anything they buy which might have had an origin in the region their closest scrutiny.

Vignette: Franz Hals, the looter

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