Thursday, 21 September 2017

Archaeologist Layla Salih



An extended piece about archaeologist Layla Salih from the Smithsonian Magazine by Joshua Hammer, Photographs by Alice Martins  'The Salvation of Mosul An Iraqi archaeologist braved ISIS snipers and booby-trapped ruins to rescue cultural treasures in the city and nearby legendary Nineveh and Nimrud'.
Dodging sniper fire and mortar blasts in a three-minute sprint down rubbled streets, she clambered through a hole that the terrorists had blasted into the Mosul Museum [...] Salih, a curator at the museum for a decade before the invasion, methodically documented the damage they had inflicted before fleeing. [...] The terrorists had cleaned out the Hatra Gallery, once filled with Greco-Roman-influenced marble statuary from Hatra, a pre-Islamic trading city on the major trading routes between the Roman Empire in the west and the Parthians in the east. They had also stolen 200 smaller objects—priceless remnants of the Assyrian, Akkadian, Babylonian, Persian and Roman empires—from a storage room. “I had had an idea about the destruction, but I didn’t think that it was this kind of scale,” said Salih, who had inventoried many of the artifacts herself over the years and knew precisely what had been stolen.  [...] This past January, Iraqi troops discovered a trove of 3,000-year-old Assyrian pottery stashed in a house in Mosul occupied by the Islamic State. Salih rushed into this combat zone after midnight to retrieve 17 boxes of stolen artifacts, including some of the world’s earliest examples of glazed earthenware, and arranged their shipment to Baghdad for safekeeping. “She is a very active person,” Muzahim Mahmoud Hussein, Iraq’s most famous archaeologist, who worked closely with Salih while serving as head of museums in Nineveh province before the Islamic State invasion, told me. “She has always been like that.” Maj. Mortada Khazal, who led the unit that recovered the pottery, said that “Layla is fearless.”
Were the Jonah's Tomb tunnels dug to loot or for military purposes?


Monday, 18 September 2017

Caretaker Searches Employer's Property


Google earth
A primary school caretaker with a metal detector discovered a hoard of 128 silver Medieval-era coins, which were buried underneath the playground at the Warkworth Church of England Primary School in Warkworth, England The  silver coins of  the 15th and early 16th centuries include groat and half-groat coins of  Edward IV and Henry VII, plus nine coins from the 1460s associated with Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy (Kirstin Fawcett, 'English School Caretaker Discovers Medieval Coin Hoard Buried in Playground Mental Floss 14th Sept 2017).
As the ChronicleLive reports, the caretaker of a primary school in Northumberland, England used his own electronic device to find a stash of Medieval-era silver coins buried underneath the school's playground. [...] The school sits near a well-preserved medieval castle, which was once owned by the House of Percy, a powerful noble family. [...]  "The collection was found in the playground by the caretaker who had asked to metal detect and was granted permission," Fred Wyrley-Birch, director of Newcastle auctioneers Anderson and Garland, who will auction off some of the coins, told Mental Floss. "The hoard was then declared a treasure trove, and was valued and authenticated by The British Museum." [...] Together, they're worth £11,000 (nearly $15,000 US).  [...] The British Museum didn't opt to purchase the silver currency, so the primary school caretaker and the landowner, the Diocese of Newcastle, agreed to split the buried treasure. On Wednesday, September 13, Anderson and Garland will sell 66 coins at auction, all of which belong to the Diocese.
and the schoolkids all got a lesson in selfish greed. What about the other finds the caretaker made? Were they made when the man was being employed to look after the property? What has happened to them? What kind of 'care' is it when somebody 'looks after' a property by walking over it with a spade looking to see what can be taken from it?  Does this metal seeker sell off bits of copper wire from defunct electrical systems too?

Google Earth
 Meanwhile, from Google earth we see that the grounds of the school are a bit of a tip. Maybe a shool caretaker should take a bit more care of the surroundings in which Warkworth's kids learn rather than spending time on the property filling his own pockets with the town's history.


Too far Away to be of Concern?


World leaders need to step up to help the Rohingya refugees fleeing violence in Myanmar and get the violence stopped: 



Friday, 15 September 2017

Ancient Gold will end up in Collectors hands or Not?


Mark Hambleton and Joe Kania (StaffordshireCounty Council)




Now we see why artefact collectors think the British Treasure act is such a 'good thing' (for them). If the nation does not cough up the money for what is already theirs (heritage, innit?), then collectors can get their hands on them:

A council is campaigning to raise £325,000 to stop the "oldest" Iron Age gold found in Britain being sold to private bidders. The gold jewellery, believed to be about 2,500 years old, was discovered by friends Mark Hambleton and Joe Kania on Staffordshire Moorlands farmland. Stoke-on-Trent City Council has been given three months to buy the three necklaces and bracelet by the Crown. If its bid is successful, the gold will go on public display. The council has until 5 December to meet the valuation price, set by the Treasure Valuation Committee. Council leader Dave Conway said: "It is going to take [a] big fundraising effort to ensure we can save these stunning finds." The council said that if it failed to meet the target, the artefacts could be split up and sold to private bidders. It hopes the gold can be displayed at the city's Potteries Museum and Art Gallery. The torcs were found separately, about one metre (3ft) apart, buried near the surface in Leekfrith last December. Experts believe they date back to 400BC. They are thought to be from the continent and would have been worn by important women in society.
Kania is a Polish name, it means a type of fungus.


Wednesday, 13 September 2017

BM Dumbdown


In the 'encyclopaedic museum': British Museum careful not to use too many 'confusing' Asian names Twitter #AskACurator 13th September 2017

... We aim to be understandable by 16 year olds.
 So the British public is fobbed off with information about foreign cultures represented by objects in this 'universal' collection usable only to the level of a sixteen-year old. The rest of us, with reading abilities above that of a teenager, are short-changed - as are the cultures thus represented.

I think those of us (the ones with reading level above a fourth form kid) who are grateful to those of our teachers who achieved (and thus gave to us) a lot are well aware that these were generally the one who made high demands on us and our abilities, not the jobsworths who did not encourage us to push ourselves.  Dumbdown is not education.  Stick a QR text box on the label for the slow-of-reading to pick up a superficial soundbite on their phones. Give the rest of us information.

Vignette: Jane "Keeper of Asia"

Why the Secrecy? No Shame in Collecting Antiquities, Surely?



The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has acquired the gilded lid of a first-century Egyptian coffin [...]  Since 1971, the coffin has been owned by a private collector (whose name is not disclosed on the Met’s website or in the release about the work). It had been sold to the collector by the heirs to the holdings of Habib Tawadrus, an antiquities dealer, and made its way to Europe—with an export license—in 1977.  Alex Greenberger. 'Metropolitan Museum of Art Acquires First-Century Egyptian Coffin', Art News Sept 12th 2017.
 The export licence no doubt accompanies the object, but why not the collector's name? The latter would have claimed he or she was altruistically 'preserving the object for future generations', so why are they so ashamed to admit who they are? If this is considered to be the common heritage of us all, then why should some of the information about how it cam legitimately onto the market be withheld from us all? If the collecting history is indeed kosher, publish all of it. If you get involved in the antiquities trade as a private collector, why should you do so secretly and clandestinely - unless the objects you acquire and your dealings in them do not stand up to proper scrutiny? Collectors, come out of the closet.

Vignette: the coffin is inscribed for Nedjemankh, a priest to the god Heryshef.

Syrians Launch Campaign to Return Antiquities Stolen in Ongoing War


AlBawaba, 'Syrians Launch Campaign to Return Antiquities Stolen in Ongoing War', September 13th, 2017
Local officials in Syria’s Idlib province have launched a campaign aimed at retrieving Syrian antiquities smuggled abroad during the country’s six-year-long conflict. “The war has resulted in the disappearance or destruction of numerous Syrian antiquities and monuments,” Anas Zeidan, curator of the Idlib Museum, told Anadolu Agency on Tuesday. “We are now in the process of drawing up lists of pilfered antiquities before filing cases demanding their restoration with the relevant legal institutions, including UNESCO,” [...] As a direct result of the conflict, Zaidan said, Syria’s Idlib Museum, which includes numerous ancient artifacts, has stopped publishing information on its inventory “for security reasons”.
The depth of the hidden market will be revealed by the expected discrepancies between the numbers and identities of the inventorised objects known to have been stiolen, and those of the artefacts which have 'surfaced' (from underground) in the hands of dealing and buying scumbags. My bet is that for more than a decade or so, huge numbers of the displaced artefacts, the loss of which is known, will fail to turn up openly on the grey market. This will show what is happening also to the freshly-looted items arriving on the same maket, and simply being stockpiled for surreptitious monetising 'when the fuss has blown over'. Whether the prediction is fulfilled that the 'fuss will blow over' in the case of the trade in unpapered MENA artefacts of unknown origin depends on all of us who care about the past.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Fluff Celebratory Conference all the Brits can do on Significant Anniversary


Yorkshire Museum,Museum GardensYork
PAS 20 Years of Treasure Conference – Wed 11 Oct 2017
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the commencement of the Treasure Act 1996 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In this time over 11,000. Treasure finds have been reported under the Act, presenting local museums with an opportunity to acquire important objects from all periods of British history. Treasure objects not acquired by museums have a permanent record on the Portable Antiquities Scheme online database.*

This conference will consider Treasure now, and look at what has been learnt in the past 20 years. There will be particular focus on discovery, acquisition and interpretation with relevant case-studies.** The conference will also look forward, considering the potential of Treasure in the years to come.

Speakers include:
Ian Richardson, Treasure Registrar, Portable Antiquities Scheme
Anna Booth, Finds Liaison Officer, Portable Antiquities Scheme
Penny Bull, Senior Programmes Manager, Art Fund
Andrew Woods, Curator of Numismatics, York Museums Trust
Natalie Buy, Curator of Archaeology, York Museums Trust
Tim Pestell, Curator of Archaeology, Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery
Mike Heyworth, Director, Council for British Archaeology

So the usual fluffstuff from UK museum folk and coineys. Mr Heyworth will probably come out with his usual fence-sitting lukewarm 'archaeology for all-innit?' message by which the interests of the archaeological record are traditionally 'represented' in Bonkers Britain. No other archaeological body seems likely to have been invited.

Why, instead of fluff, is there not going to be an informed debate about where the TA has got us, and where it will take us in the next two decades? What if its a road to nowhere?

*But of course that is NOT what the Treasure Act actually stipulates, is it?
** And what about proper PUBLICATION?

Vignette, a massive shoulder shrug

Monday, 11 September 2017

Perga Hercules Sarcophagus to Return This Week


Seven years after it was discovered in a Geneva free port, a rare Roman Empire-era sarcophagus carved with the 12 Labours of Hercules is returning to Turkey this week. [...]  This Wednesday the ornately decorated 2nd-century AD marble sarcophagus, one of only four of its kind in the world which experts say is the most beautiful, is due to be loaded onto a cargo plane at Zurich airport. From there it will be flown to Turkey, where it will be displayed in the Archaeological Museum in Antalya. This marks the culmination of a drawn-out ownership battle over the three-tonne marble coffin [...] The sarcophagus is thought to have been smuggled out of Turkey in the 1970s before Swiss customs officials stumbled upon it during checks at Geneva’s huge free port warehouse complex in 2010.   Geneva-based antiques dealer Phoenix Ancient Art which had legal possession of the sarcophagus, had tried to block the restitution before finally abandoning its efforts before the Swiss courts in March 2016. [...]. “I inherited the sarcophagus from my father who bought it totally legally, like all the objects he bought, in accordance with the laws of the time,” said co-owner Ali Aboutaam. His deceased father Sleiman Aboutaam, a Lebanese art dealer, allegedly purchased the object in the 1990s. During the restitution procedure, Geneva and Antalya prosecutors found that the sarcophagus had been removed from Turkey after being dug up in illegal archaeological excavations in the 1970s on the site of the necropolis in the ancient town of Perga in Antalya. But it is unclear exactly how the priceless sarcophagus ended up being sold and transferred to the Geneva free port warehouse. In 1998, Sleiman Aboutaam died in a Swissair plane crash off the coast of Nova Scotia. The Geneva prosecutor’s office closed its criminal investigation into the sarcophagus in 2015.
Simon Bradley, Priceless Roman sarcophagus heads home after legal saga www.swissinfo.ch Sept 11, 2017

PAS's legacy?


Top ten adventurous jobs Brits would most like to do:
1. Archaeologist (24 per cent)
2. Treasure hunter (21 per cent)
I'm willing to bet that after two decades of  their brand of 'outreach' by the Portable antiquities Scheme, many members of the public do not see any substantial difference between the two.

Friday, 8 September 2017

The the so-called 'Iraqi Jewish Archive' Being Returned to the Country from which it was Taken


The US will return a group of Iraqi Jewish artifacts that lawmakers and Jewish groups have lobbied to keep in the US, the so-called  'Iraqi Jewish Archive' to the country from which it was taken, a State Department official said (Josefin Dolsten, ' Despite protests, State Department says it will return trove of Jewish artifacts to Iraq' Jewish Telegraphic Agency September 8, 2017)
A four-year extension to keep the Iraqi Jewish Archive in the U.S. is set to expire in September 2018, as is funding for maintaining and transporting the items. The materials will then be sent back to Iraq [...] The archive was brought to America in 2003 after being salvaged by U.S. troops. It contains tens of thousands of items including books, religious texts, photographs and personal documents. Under an agreement with the government of Iraq, the archive was to be sent back there, but in 2014 the Iraqi ambassador to the U.S. said its stay had been extended. He did not say when the archive was to return. Democratic and Republican lawmakers and Jewish groups have lobbied to renegotiate the deal, arguing that the documents should be kept in the U.S. or elsewhere where they are accessible to Iraqi Jews and their descendants.[...]  Iraq and proponents of returning the archive say it can serve as an educational tool for Iraqis about the history of Jews there and that it is part of the country’s patrimony.
The material concerned , much of it waterlogged, was found in 2003 by U.S. troops in the basement of the Iraqi secret services headquarters in Baghdad. In Saddam Hussein’s reign, Iraq had driven the Jewish community out of the country amid intense persecution and taken these objects. The material was cleaned, preserved and then digitalized and exhibited under the auspices of the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Thus ends another episode of American Exceptionalism.


Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Shrinking Territory of a Militant Group in Syria and Iraq




Comparison of territory controlled by the Islamic State group from January 2015 to August 2017 in Iraq and Syria

Monday, 4 September 2017

Artefacts stolen by ISIL from Mosul museum recovered


Eight artifacts, stolen by Islamic State from Mosul museum, have been recovered after a displaced family returned them to police, an official said. “A displaced family found pivotal artifacts as [they] returned back to [their] house in al-Zanjili district. The relics were returned back to Federal Police elements deployed there,” Moss’ab Jassim, head of Nineveh monuments department, told Baghdad Today on Sunday. The artifacts, according to Jassim, “were stolen by IS from Mosul museum while the city was under the group’s control.”
Nehal Mostafa, 'Artifacts stolen by IS from Mosul museum recovered' Iraqi News Sep 3, 2017

 
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