Friday, 15 February 2019

Surely Some Mistake, Antiquities Trade Figure Named

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York bought a Ptolemaic gilt cartonnage coffin from the 1st century B.C. that was inscribed for Nedjemankh, a high-ranking priest of the ram-headed god Heryshef of Heracleopolis Magna. It went on exhibition in July last year. But this week the Met agreed to return the object to Egypt, after investigators determined it had been recently plundered from that country (Colin Moynihan, 'Met Museum to Return Prize Artifact Because It Was Stolen', New York Times Feb. 15, 2019).

 Museum officials said that they bought the object from an art dealer in Paris in 2017 and were fooled by a phony provenance that made it seem as if the coffin had been legitimately exported decades ago. But prosecutors with the Manhattan district attorney’s office presented the museum with evidence that suggested it had been looted from Egypt in 2011. This was the latest of several incidents that have raised questions about the thoroughness of the museum’s vetting procedures when acquiring antiquities [...] Museum officials said that the district attorney’s investigation showed that the Met had received a false ownership history, fraudulent statements and fake documentation, including a forged 1971 Egyptian export license for the coffin. The Met paid 3.5 million euros (about $3.95 million) for the coffin in July 2017, said Kenneth Weine, a spokesman for the museum. He added that it had been purchased from an art dealer in Paris named Christophe Kunicki and that the Met planned to consider “all means” for the recovery of the money it had paid. A website featuring the name Christophe Kunicki, a Paris address and the title “Mediterranean Antiquities” says that Mr. Kunicki specializes in “Greek, Roman, Egyptian and Near East antiquities.” There was no response to an email message requesting comment sent to an address listed on the site.
How awkward, there was a lot of publicity associated with this new acquisition and a whole exhibition was put on to celebrate it. The exhibition 'Nedjemankh and His Gilded Coffin' was supposed to continue to April 21, 2019 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Quite a lot of the web-related material on it seems to have disappeared from the Internet.

Dorothy Lobel King notes
As I’m sure researched, the guy is meant to be less a dealer, more a chap who provides expertise to some big auctions ...
which makes the naming of the guy in the article, contrary to normal practice, rather problematic. It is a shame that the man named as seller was not contacted before the article went to press. 

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

The 'Curse of Sekhemka' Strikes Again?

Andy Brockman notes 'sometimes it is hard not to believe in the #CurseofSekhemka. Four pump fire at Northampton Museum which is undergoing renovations, which Northampton Borough Council says, are paid for by the controversial sale of #Sekhemka. Council Leader states artifacts had been removed'. For the Curse itself, see here - and the possible consequences of ignoring it here.

I put this down to coincidence, but readers may remember the post I wrote on the 'Curse of Ka Nefer Nefer' (note the date), the writing and publication of which coincided with freak weather conditions at St Louis (the region of the airport to be precise) in which lives were lost - so when I found out about it, I did not publicise it at the time). Though not superstitious, I am not going to be doing any more 'ancient Egyptian curse' stunts on this blog.

But the point raised - about the deliberate appropriation and use for decoration and entertainment of loose objects taken from mortuary deposits is a moral and ethical issue that needs confronting by archaeologists and collectors.
I think we tend to forget that, in the case of Ancient Egypt, many of the eagerly collected trophies (portable antiquities) which find themselves in foreign hands had for their original users deep religious significance, not to mention were intimately connected in their minds with their future fate. Sekhemka's 'shadow' (stature in his likeness) was (is) the house for his ka-soul. Only the maintenance of offering to this statue according to the prescribed rite (hardly likely to have been continuing in Castle Ashby or Northampton) prevented the akh-soul (a combination of the ba and ka) from experiencing a second death. By removing him from his tomb, looters killed Sekhemka, who, in the eyes of his culture, now wanders the earth as a homeless living dead. Perhaps some of my less culturally-sensitive readers are scoffing at such notions, but in what way does this tomb-statue differ from a Hopi mask, Native American kachinas, sacred artefacts, African fetishes, Jewish Torah scrolls, Australian tjuringa stones or the sacred objects of any other culture (including our own)?

Once upon a time some artefact collectors, wanting to create a good impression, wrote a "Code of Ethics"  (most of which they pinched from me) which said they'd not touch such items. Let us see tomorrow afternoon how "ethical" collectors will be faced with a trophy item as unprecedented as Sekhemka's soul. How many millions is a dead man's soul worth?

Google+ Notes to Commenters

Google+ is being phased out, but from what I gather, this affects this blog mainly in the area of comments:
If you’ve used Google+ for comments on your own or other sites, this feature will be removed from Blogger by 4 February and from other sites by 7 March. All your Google+ comments on all sites will be deleted starting on 2 April 2019. Learn more
I think there have been quite a few of these. If anyone has comments up here and said anything that you want to remain part of this resource, you can repost them but PLEASE mark them as such and attach the original date and time of publication to the text, as the new comment will appear out of sequence.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Doubts About ISIL Organized Antiquities Trade

Re:United Nations Security Council Resolution 1267 etc
Interesting details in latest UN 1267 Monitoring Team report querying that ‘ISIL ever generated significant funds from human slavery or sexual violence’ or fully exploited ‘the funding potential of looting and trading in antiquities and cultural goods’.  

I cannot find the full reference online at the moment (1267 refers to Afghanistan).

Saturday, 9 February 2019

Prof. Archaeodeath and the Skeleton in the Closet of British Portable Antiquities 'Policy'

Anglo-Saxon treasure including jewellery, scissors
after being first discovered by a history teacher in 1962

Prof. Howard M. R. Williams ( Researcher and teacher in early medieval archaeology, contemporary archaeology, mortuary archaeology, the archaeology of memory and the history of archaeology. MA Archaeology of Death and Memory) Prof. Archaeodeath ‏ @howardmrw has a lengthy blog post on the Welbeck Hill Flog-off Fiasco hosted by Hanson's auctions ('Selling dead bodies and mortuary artefacts in the UK today: Welbeck Hill'):
Taylor was not a trained archaeologist and clearly was unable to publish his finds in a coherent and professional manner. Upon Taylor’s death, the collection has been inherited by his family. Two years subsequently, it is being sold off by auction, rather than donated to a museum, by Taylor’s widow and four children.
These are two of my concerns about private collecting in a nutshell. The first is that many artefact hunters we meet online are barely literate, totally incapable of framing their thoughts (such as they are in many cases) in words. I am often criticised as non-'pc' for emphasising that incontrovertible fact. Yet, note who is involved in the barford-bashing, the very same people that want us to believe that artefact hunters are "citizen archaeologists' who are "rescuing (sic) the archaeological record (sic)". You cannot rescue a record by demolishing it into component fragments and not making a record of what you've done. That is simply destruction and knowledge theft.

The second point is that

Prof. Archaeodeath, the Hard Liners versus Archaeo-Jobsworths

I get a mention in the blog post of Howard Williams / Prof. Archaeodeath about the Muriel Taylor Sale of her late husband's artefact collection ('Selling dead bodies and mortuary artefacts in the UK today: Welbeck Hill'): 
Paul Barford’s blog unsurprisingly regards it as a ‘disgrace’ that money is being made from the sale of artefacts and human remains. He poses a succinct series of questions unanswered by this scenario as it has accrued over six decades to this depressing situation [...] While not everyone takes the hard-line of Barford regarding these situations
He seems to regard it as obvious that not every archaeologist (for example) would take the same line. in reply, I have one more question: 'why not?'

MDAs and the Ethics of Portable Antiquities Collecting

There is an interesting thought in the blog post by Prof. Howard M. R. Williams [Prof. Archaeodeath] on the Welbeck Hill Flog-off Fiasco hosted by Hanson's auctions ('Selling dead bodies and mortuary artefacts in the UK today: Welbeck Hill'):
 while human remains are the most emotive and particularly contentious sale items that prompted the ire of archaeologists, the integrity of collections of mortuary-derived artefacts are equally deserving of our attention. Indeed, I would suggest that the sale of mortuary-derived artefacts without human remains should be considered no less controversial and unethical. I’m looking forward to a forthcoming paper by Adam Daubney reflecting on the ethics of the sale of artefacts unquestionably from mortuary contexts, since splitting bones from artefacts doesn’t make the latter any more ethical as sale items!
Indeed, sounds interesting, especially as coming from an FLO (FLOs generally keep out of discussions of the ethics of antiquities collecting - which is a shame as the perspective on it will necessarily be of a specific character). I am not sure about the idea that Prof. Archaeodeath seems to be pondering about not splitting grave goods from human remains, so if a collector collects the grave goods, he would have to curate the body too - for example in collector's wife's bedroom wardrobe.

This while thread of thought raises an important issue about the 'portable antiquities' that are deemed collectable as 'ancient art'. Many of them come from graves. So ancient Egypt we think of shabtis, 'mummy beads' (not all from mummies), amulets (ditto), Fayum portraits, the front part of mummy cases ripped off and 'portableised' as "mummy masks", cartonnage frafments, including mummy masks, canopic jars and their lids, heart scarabs, tomb models etc. In South American archaeology we have all those West Mexican figurines made as accompaniment in the grave Colima, Jalisco, Nayarit. The textiles from mummy bundles, gold ornaments such as those from Sipan. In Asia, Han and Tang tomb figures. In Europe, complete red figure vases from Etruscan tombs, complete fragile Roman glass vessels and lamps from graves. Roman and Greek grave stelea. The list goes on. In fact, a very large proportion of the portable antiquities collectables on the market today come from graves. There's two reasons for that, firstly graves contain buried objects of - quite often high quality and complete, but also graves tend to occur in groups (family, community, group) - so if you find one and dig around there will often be more - and are often still marked on the surface or figure in local folklore. So if you want to find old objects to sell to some graspy middleman, these are good places to look for them. Metal detectorists find the 'partifacts' in open fields that feed the lower end of the market, tomb-robbers' finds tend to go more to the upper end of the market.

Perhaps it is worth taking a good look at the ethics of the portable antiquities trade as a whole with regard to mortuary-derived artefacts (MDAs).        ,

Thursday, 7 February 2019


ALIPH, a new international foundation headquartered in Switzerland, has announced grants to support initiatives that address the prevention, protection and rehabilitation of cultural heritage threatened or damaged by conflict.
ALIPH – an acronym which also designates the first letter of the Arabic alphabet – has been created to act in favour of cultural heritage in conflict areas via an aid programme which enables it to be flexible and to react quickly. ALIPH’s three areas of intervention are: preventive protection to limit the risks of destruction, emergency measures to ensure the security of heritage, and post-conflict actions to enable local populations to once again enjoy their cultural heritage. As a result of the widespread destruction of monuments, museums and heritage sites in conflict areas, the President-Director of the musée du Louvre Jean-Luc Martinez published in November 2015, at the request of the President of the French Republic, Fifty proposals to protect the cultural heritage of humanity. These included the creation of an international fund to protect heritage in situations of armed conflict. On the initiative of France and the United Arab Emirates, this idea became a reality after the international conference on heritage in danger held in Abu Dhabi in December 2016, with the creation of ALIPH in March 2017. Since then, the initiative has taken a number of other countries and private partners on board.

Profiting From Disturbing the Dead: UK Grave Robbers and a Skull Called "Charlie"

This blog does not show skellie-
porn unlike certain auctioneers
There are it seems no bounds to human indecency, UK artefact hunter's widow Muriel Taylor stored human remains in a wardrobe in her home for years and now is selling them off. She's expecting between fifty amnd eighty thousand quid for a group of objjects her husband dug up and kept at home. She says the skull is called "Charlie".

Habnson's has no qualms about shouting it from the rooftops, no doubt posting a full frontal picture of a naked human skull is intended to get people talking about the material and then somebody will set up a crowd-sourcing page so he can get his money and the objects get in a museum. Oh yes, let's talk about it then.

1) Who gave anyone the right to dig up these remains out of curiosity and put them in a cupbord at home? Where is the publication? Why were the objects not deposited in a museum right away instead of forming a private collection? Here is a very good argument for a permit system in the UK.

2) But if the body called by Mrs Taylor "Charlie" (why? Who gave anyone that right?) was buried with the Square headed brooch, it was a woman anyway,.

3) If the objects are sold off for fifth to eighty thousand, how much of a cut will the landowner get?

4) Has Muriel Taylor a document from the landowner confirming transfer of title (and under what conditions) that has been deposited with the collection being handled with such gay abandon by Hanson's ? 

5) What ethical code governs the treatment of human remains by the British antiquities trade? Is publishing disrespectful skellie-porn photos of naked ancestral human remains in accordance with that ethical code or a breach of it?

And actually, once the objects and their labels are mixed up by the collector or his wife when she decided to profit from the past by flogging off her dead husband's artefact collection, is the 'project archive of this amateur excavation not now just a few boxes of loose artefacts?

What a disgrace.

Julian Bird and the Tomb Robbers

Hansons auctioneers and valuers antiquities - 'the Julian Bird private collection acquired 1970-2012' Feb 11th, both the catalogue photos and some of the bids show there's one born every minute. ... Let's start by discussing what the word 'faience' means when applied to ancient Egyptian artefacts and souk-bought items. The vast majority of these objects would have come from looting of tombs. 

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Five People Arrested in Antiquities Bust in Spain [UPDATED]

It has been reported that three looted sculptures (VI century BC) have been seized in Spain and five people have been arrested by Spanish Police on suspicion of handling stolen items. Allegedly, among the detained are three antique dealers from Barcelona, and one of the other people reported to be involved is the daughter of the founder of a major national bank. The usual presumptions of innocence until proven guilty apply.

Last March, two dealers in Spain were arrested during an operation against terror financing. They are accused of were trading antiquities looted from Libyan regions controlled by ISIL, and it looks like there might be a connection between these two antiquities cases.

The online article announcing the arrests and naming the accused was taken down a few hours after being published. 

Sunday, 3 February 2019

Response to DCMD Treasure Consultation Dumbdown

The continuing Brexit farce clearly reveals, if there was any doubt earlier, that the UK is currently being governed by clowns, thus it will be no surprise that the DCMS could not announce the Treasure Act Consultation without dumbing it down ... as entertainment:
Dr Matt Pope has a suggestion:

And Raksha Dave is rather scathing:

'Creativity' in the Fields, Blinkered Ivory Towerism in Bloomsbury

Creativity before creativity
Heritage Action are questioning Herr Fischer's Heritage Heresy ('BM’s director inadequately briefed by PAS?' 03/02/2019). Herr Fischer has infamously 'used awkward verbal gymnastics to justify keeping the Parthenon marbles: “When you move cultural heritage into a [collection], you move it out of context. Yet that displacement is also a creative act“...'. As HA drily remark: 'surely creating a colonial narrative at the expense of the Greek one is damage not creativity?'. They continue:
Worse (given his position): does he think “displacement” of 12 million recordable finds from Britain’s fields without reporting them to PAS or anyone else is creative? Last week we complained MPs are underinformed about that scandal. Is Mr Fischer equally unaware, else why say something so at odds with the domestic experience of his organisation? It’s not a good look: the Head of the BM saying “the marbles will never be returned” while tens of thousands of detectorists are signalling to him “You will never be told what I’ve found.” Perhaps there’s a conversation to be had between Mr Fischer and PAS about the reality of most “displacement” in Britain?
Perhaps the PAS can rope in Herr Fischer to explain how the displacement of millions of artefacts ripped out of the archaeological record by selfish collectors is not destruction, but 'creativity'. Like this:

Saturday, 2 February 2019

Keeping the CPAC in Work

Jordan has requested U.S. import restrictions on Jordanian artifacts and other archaeological material.
Notice of Receipt of Request From the Government of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan Under Article 9 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property
The 1970 Convention has other articles too. Why does the US ignore them?

'Iran Says It Has traced Two Ancient Sculptures Stolen Decades Ago'

A limestone bas relief was on show in the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts from 1951-2011 when it was stolen. When I reported on this at the time, I suspected for a number of reasons that the head was in fact a fake and wrote so here. I was wrong (OK, we all make mistakes), the object really was looted from Persepolis. the object subsequently was found, the Museum had already taken the insurance money, so the insurance company sold it and it ended up on the stand of Rupert Wace Ancient Art at TEFAF New York in October 2017. It was then seized as illegally removed from Iran in the 1930s. The object returned to Iran on September 27, 2018 and is no being exhibited there. What is interesting is that Iran is now claiming
that it has traced two more Achaemenid bas-relief sculptures stolen from Iran nearly ninety years ago. "We have exactly located the stolen pieces and already started negotiation to take them back," the chief of Iran Cultural Heritage Organization, Ali Asghar Mounesan maintained in a radio show..
Have the records of the Montreal Museum led to the dealer that handled their piece and then other dealings of the same people led the Iranians to another two removed in the same way? Time will tell.
Iran News 'Iran Says It Has traced Two Ancient Sculptures Stolen Decades Ago' January 31, 2019

Friday, 1 February 2019

Friday Retrospect: How Many 'Metal Detectorists' are there in England and Wales?

The opening of discussion on the Treasure Act and its operation invites deeper reflection of how Collection Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record has changed since it was established and set up in the middle of the 1990s. This post from PACHI, Sunday, 15 July 2018 seems very relevant:

How Many 'Metal Detectorists' are there in England and Wales?

The Ixelles Six /Helsinki Gang debacle got me thinking about the data they were trying to ignore. For the past two years I had been struggling with the implications of some of Sam Hardy's recent research and the numbers he came up with. I have long asked the question concerning the scale of Collection-Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record as the only true background against which to measure the incessant 'propaganda of success' of the PAS and its supporters. They saw 'x000' more metal detectorists than a few years ago, and got 'y000' more artefacts in their database, all well and good, but to what degree are these figures representing any true mitigation of the information loss?

Back then (first years of the 21st century), there were some wild estimates of overall 'metal detectorist numbers', but nothing concrete. So I began to look into it. The figure I came up with in 2003 was quite a low one, 10000, with just over a thousand in Scotland. That was the basis for the figures used in the Heritage Action Artefact Erosion Counter. About 2010, I was forced to reassess that original estimate, it seemed to me that by that time the number had probably gone up to 16000 (Thomas 2012, 58-9 has a similar estimate), and I ascribed this to the PAS popularising the hobby through their support and promotion. That's when I really began to see the PAS as having a totally negative influence on the very problem that they had been set up to solve.

In 2011, the NCMD was claiming there were around 20000 metal detectorists in the UK. By 2015 the NCMD estimate appears to have risen to 25000 (see here and here), which I was inclined to dismiss at the time. But then in 2017 Sam Hardy produced his figures of 27000 'metal detectorists' (in England and Wales) and another 1000+ in Scotland. I must admit, though I thought his methods were sound and the figures he was using were the best available at the time, I really was a bit sceptical of such high numbers. Until I sketched a graph out. The two lower-left points are my own estimate, the three on the right are the NCMD's and Dr Hardy's. They seem to work together quite convincingly to tell a story of expansion of this damaging hobby on the PAS's watch. What however has not increased by the same degree is the proportion of the finds they are currently making being recorded in the public domain.

The implications of these figures would seem to be that the increase may have been of the order of 17000 more detectorists' in 17 years. That is that while PAS has been legitimising and promoting Collection-Driven Exploitation of the archaeological record, numbers of metal detector-using artefact hunters have been quite steadily rising by 1000 a year.  We have no statistics on the number of scattered ephemeral private artefact collections formed in the UK at the same time.

That post ended: "At what stage are Britain's heritage professionals going to get up off their complacent jobsworth backsides and stop shoulder-shrugging and do something about this other than just smile and pat the collectors on the head?". Let us see how many people take part in the consultation  urging far-reaching changes in how this problem is dealt with. 

UK Government Announces Plans to Redefine Treasure and Prevent Sale of Unreported Finds.

"We welcome comments and observations,
particularly where these are supported by empirical evidence".

Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Press release, 1 February 2019: 'Government announces new plans to protect treasure finds'. 
Plans to widen the definition of treasure so more archaeological finds can be protected for the nation have been outlined by the government today. Heritage Minister Michael Ellis announced proposals that would allow more artefacts to be acquired by local and national museums and put on public display. Under the plans, the definition will be changed so that finds worth more than £10,000 will be considered treasure and made available for acquisition by museums. [...]  Each year, dozens of items of national importance are believed to be lost to private sellers because they do not meet the treasure criteria or are sold by those who do not declare the find. [...]  The proposals are to be consulted on and aim to clarify, improve and streamline the process for reporting treasure to ensure that museums can continue to acquire important finds for the nation. There are currently no sanctions on someone who knowingly buys an unreported find and the growth in online markets has given opportunistic finders an outlet to sell unreported finds under the radar. The changes will also mean that the duty to report treasure will be extended to those acquiring it. The measures would be the first major changes since the Treasure Act came into effect more than 20 years ago. Heritage Minister Michael Ellis said: [...] "These new proposals will [...] make it harder for nationally important finds to be sold for personal profit. 
the Press release also shows that the threat to the British archaeological record is increasing annually:
More items than ever are being discovered by treasure seekers across England, Wales and Northern Ireland with the number of finds increasing by over 1,500% since 1996. The latest figures show that 2017 was a record-breaking year for treasure finds with a total of 1,267 items unearthed, including ancient Roman statues, Bronze Age rings and a Stuart pocket watch. In the last 20 years, 13,000 finds have gone through the treasure process. Of these, over 30% are now in museums and can be enjoyed by millions of people each year.
That means 70% of them are not. Is this additional evidence that Treasure Rewards will be slashed, post Brexit. Surely the limited resources available for heritage conservation will be stretched by an increased number of Treasure finds.

It is rather sad that after twenty years, the best lawmakers can come up with as determining 'value to the nation' is still market value. I hope this is brought up in the consultation process by archaeologists concerned about knowledge loss through Collection-Driven Exploitation (CDE) of the archaeological record.

One way that I have long advocated could be by making reporting by artefact hunters of all artefact finds to the PAS mandatory (perhaps with a recording fee) and the PAS in their record making the assessment (as is already IN the PAS database records) of what is important on archaeological grounds and in the local context. This would strengthen the PAS buy giving it an established place in the heritage management system, and strengthen the archaeological response to CDE, as well as strengthening the system of mitigating information loss.

In fact one finds that the consultation document includes a section on The long term future of the treasure process and its sustainability (sections 136-43). One of the biggest difficulties with regard to the Treasure process is its long term financial sustainability. The rise in administrative costs resulting from the substantial increase in the amount of cases is a matter of concern, "if, as seems likely, the number of treasure cases continues to rise, a revised approach will be required". In order for the Treasure Act "to encourage positive behaviour", the Treasure Process "must have a sound financial underpinning" (141).
142. To this end we are putting forward several initial suggestions as the basis of discussion on the future form of the treasure process. These are:
● the introduction of a process similar to that in Scotland, whereby all archaeological objects become the property of the Crown;● strengthening educational outreach to the full spectrum of the metal detecting community in order to encourage the proactive reporting of finds and adherence to the Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting and the treasure process; and
the introduction of a regulation as in Northern Ireland where archaeological digging of any sort (both by professional archaeologists and others) is only allowed by permit
143. We are aware that these suggestions would involve considerable changes to the current process. We emphasise that the aim in raising them within the current consultation is to open some initial debate and to encourage other suggestions for the long term sustainability of the treasure process.
One thing, if artefact hunting with metal detectors was made into a permit-led archaeological activity, on what grounds would a Treasure Reward be issued to artefact hunting permit-holders and not to archaeologist permit-holders? Perhaps the answer is to only allow rewards to accidental finders who are not out going equipped with tools to actively find buried metal objects?

The second and third points of section 142 may be taken as an admission that the PAS-voluntary reporting of metal detected finds is not working. This comes twenty years after the PAS was set up precisely to avoid introducing mandatory reporting and a permit system as required by articles 2 and 3 of the Council of Europe 'Convention for the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage of Europe (revised)' -Valletta, 1992 (doubly ironic that it comes in the year the UK leaves Europe!).

 hat tip Alan Simkins
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