Sunday, 15 November 2015

Orlando Dealer, his Shop and 'Museum'

Dealer John Bryan McNamara from Orlando is reportedly in trouble over a shipment of 1300 misdeclared ancient artefacts he tried to bring into the US. He "acknowledged as a part of his plea, and after the hearing, that he [....] did not always seek the appropriate approvals" and "he did not think initially that what he was doing was illegal". They never do. Think.
According to his plea agreement, McNamara had real access to and knowledge of artifacts, though he said he formally studied accounting at the University of North Carolina. McNamara said he taught himself ancient history and supported his family through his legal work as an artifacts dealer. McNamara’s plea said that he “has personally handled thousands of genuine metal artifacts, as well as forgeries, and is able to identify authentic ancient metal objects, including items from the Iron, Bronze and Neolithic ages.”
but apparently not the all-important skill of which have documentation allowing them to be verified as licitly-obtained. Surely, this should be a skill high on the list of priorities for being a reputable dealer in the 21st century. As the article says of McNamarra:
According to his plea, he sold smuggled artifacts through another company he ran, Paleo Direct Inc.
The latter is a fossil dealership,. There are many trophy items ('large architecturl fossils', 'Museum, investment and rare fossils and artefacts, Dinosuars/reptiles). It is a very interesting site, but notably very short on the information about legal export and import of the items concerned - despite a lot of recent media attention about the role of smuggling in the US fossil industry. The "unconditional guarantee" they offer dodges the question of licit provenance in favour of assurances on authenticity. Caveat emptor

Right at the bottom we find the antiquities - interestingly reflecting an odd US approach which sees ancient (ie non US. capitalist) cultures as some form of Natural History (so you find NativeAmercans displayed in Natural History museums over there). Mr NcNamarra has therefore a sectin on "Ancient Man" which includes such things as:
Greek, Roman and Byzantine artefacts,
Near Eastern and Lurisatn Artefacts and weapons,
Pre-Columbian Indian (sic) Artefacts,
 Artefacts of Other Cultures.
Here's one of those "other culture items":

As one of the most impressive and architecturally
 African tribal vessels we have ever seen, 
this piece
  just commands attention in any interior design setting
It is an UNBROKEN and AUTHENTIC shrine vessel
from the Lobi Culture of western Africa". 
Among the problematic items he is selling, I am interested in the Lustian culture items he has, allegedly "de-commissioned from an old museum collection". In the area where this material is found, it is legally impossible for such items (state property since 1928 legislation) to leave a museum collection and appear on the market - was this "decommissioning" done in the 1940s in occupied Poland? I think the "Gothic snake pin" is a fake.

McNamara also hosts on his website what he calls a 'World Museum of Man' which  has pictures and short descriptions of a selection of artefacts, including masks, arrowheads, knives and axes which do not seem to be for sale but have accession numbers but no provenance (but the reasons for that are presented as altruistic: "Many of our provenance locations per each specimen's information page are purposely published as ambiguous to protect the sites where the pieces were collected". The sites would be better protected if Mr McNamarra did not buy artefacts removed from them in the first place, encouraging more looting). It can only be assumed that these items are Mr McNamarra's personal collection to which he was intending to add some of the freshly-imported items smuggled from Pakistan. What else has he got in here? Presumably this is to show customers what they can aspire to. Interestingly this 'museum' has 'curators' ( Dr. Cajus Diedrich, Dr. Henri Kerkdijk-Otten, Dr. Raffaele D'Amato Eastern Roman / Byzantine Collection, Dr. Stoyan Popov - University of Plovdiv — Curator Eastern European Collections). It is not at all clear what their purpose is. As for the "Director and Founder" of the "World Museum of Man", like so many collectors aspires to be seen as a real home-grown 'independent scholar', dead-set on making groundbreaking discoveries which overturn the findings of the academic 'establishment':
Mr McNamara is not bound or silenced by university politics or influenced by the pressures of an elite academic society. With such freedom, Mr. McNamara has been able to analyze what we can touch and hold in our hand, the remnants of Man's existence, in a completely objective light. In doing so, he has come to realize there is very little we can rely on as truly known fact and the most important questions of Man's existence and origin remain unanswered.
In pursuit of this aim: "Each year, the field experience and world exploration he undertakes exceeds what most upper level members of academia ever achieve in a lifetime". Let us hope that in this case at least, he has a better idea of whether what he is doing is legal and has the proper permits than in the case when he reportedly imported 1300 artefacts with a false declaraton, claiming "he did not think initially that what he was doing was illegal and, in some ways, thought he was rescuing precious materials".

Vignette: Butuan death mask, Philippines (World Museum of Man) 

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