Friday, 31 January 2020

Insular Stupidity Night

"Officially exported by Archbshop Alexios, Greek Orthodox Church, December 8, 1967"


The Dubai based coin collector/dealer Tareq Hani is getting over-bothered that I am discussing information in the public sphere (some of it put there on his own behalf) about the confusion surrounding some recent finds of ancient coins. He's been sending a stream of comments to my several posts here. One in particular seems worth highlighting. It is under this post: Sunday, 26 January 2020, 'Another 'Archbishop Alexios' Alexander III Decadrachm' making reference to the protocol dated "2-5-2005" (second of May, or fifth of February?) created while handing back to the family items that had been deposited with the church on 8th December 1967. I noted that there was no coin on that list of the same weight as the one sold in the US on 14th January this year that was linked in the description of the collecting history to that documented deposit. Look what Mr Hani writes (31 January 2020 at 02:35 ):
tareq hani collection said... again, I'll explain you this one . if you watch the bbc investigation you would definitely understand that there's one more will be on sale which means this one also they hided weights and Mm. on the documents because family doesn't accept to share the whole info. anout ghazzat hoard and they Alexander DECADRACHMs they both were totally in different time than the discovered of new hoard .
Who is this "they" who hid the information? The family?

[UPDATE: In a comment below the Hami Collection spoksesperson clarifies:
the document is definitely true but as fam infomed BBC for some reasons to hide the number of coins so it doesnt burn the value .
When was 'the number of coins' being given back by the Church falsified in a document issued BY the Church as a receipt for the coins being returned to the family? Why when writing a protocol of return did the Church deliberately not include all the items 'so as not to burn the value' (and why was that of concern to Archbishop Alexios, was he selling them too?)? Why would the Church issue a document that did not correspond to the real situation (ie to the real number and character of the deposited items being returned)? The purpose of a protocol of return is to document that the Church has done what it was requested to do and is handing over the objects (these objects documented) to the owners and handing over responsibility for these specific objects. The objects not on the list would, it terms of the protocol, still be the responsibility of the Church. Also, why is there no counter-signature of the recipient on this protocol? How can the Church show that it has correctly discharged its responsibilities on the basis of such a document? All very odd and irregular]

So, let me get this right, is what Mr Hami Collection is now saying is that this "document" of 2005 that is presented is NOT in fact an original document of 2005 signed by the Archbishop that is the contemporary and irrefutable documentation of what was in the Church deposit between 1967 and 2005? Is he revealing that it is a redacted version produced later, and in which "they" (presumably "the family that doesn't want to share the whole information") edited out the very information that would allow confirmation that specific coins were in that deposit? Is that what he is are saying? If so, what value is that "document" at all? If that is the correct meaning of what he said, no matter who signed it, it has no value at all. Let's see the originals.

What does it mean in this collecting history: "Tareq Hani Collection. Officially exported by Archbshop Alexios, Greek Orthodox Church, December 8, 1967". Why would an archbishop be exporting coins on behalf of the family that had just deposited them with him in 1967? So this coin from the Hani family collection was in the hands of the Archbishop, who exported it, on the same day that the family deposited for safe keeping OTHER coins (which just happen to all be Alex III dekas too) as shown in the signed document the family provided to the BBC? I must say, I find this all very confusing.

What is the legal status of ancient silver coins found in the land (or the sea) of the Gaza region in or before December 1967? What laws apply to them, and is it really a case of "finders keepers"? The area at the time was under Egyptian administration.

As I asked: "Where did these 500 coins pictured on the dealer's website on 28th August 2018 come from? Where were they in 1967?" How many hoards were there? Where are they now? That's a perfectly justifiable question in the public interest.

Why and how did the Archbishop "export" that coin? Did the Archbishop "export" other cultural property in this period? What is going on here?

Thursday, 30 January 2020

'Metal Detecting' caused by low levels of education?


Good education is a foundation for a better future
The results of a study carried out at the University of Leicester suggested that Brexit has been caused by low levels of education and that even a slight increase in higher education in the UK could have kept Britain in the EU (Jon Stone, 'Brexit caused by low levels of education, study finds', Independent 7 August 2017). Access to higher education was the 'predominant factor' in how people voted in the referendum.

So, I will continue to oppose the current trend to dumb-down archaeology ("buy a metal detector an'experience the past") because dumbdown is damaging to the critical faculties. British dumbdown is nationally damaging. We need to aspire to do encourage people to do better, try harder, not pander to the lowest denominator. That goes not just for our discipline of course but the interactions of academics with society as a whole.



"Tits-and-Bums Items" from The Alan Dershowitz Collection



Smut
Alan Dershowitz, member of the defence team for the 2020 impeachment trial of Donald Trump, is an avid 'art collector', he has a house full of stuff. Erin Thompson has a short thread on Twitter about it. She links to a New York Times article in which Dershowitz complains that he can’t donate his antiquities to museums because they won’t accept them without paperwork to show they were legally exported from their country of origin (duh). They show some photos of the inside of his house that I am sure I blogged about when they were published - as I recall very much in the same spirit as the comments now being made, but I cannot find that post here. What we do learn however is that though museums will not take his items, auction houses continue to do so. These, this blog records, included a Bronze 'Erotic' group from 'South Arabia' Sold by Bonhams, but it is difficult to say from the photos what it was really. Then there are some lamps, with, er... scenes of couples.


One That UK's Metal Detectorists Did Not Trash


Metal Detecting Greg
versus archaeology
ITV REPORT, ' ‘Incredibly rare’ grave of Iron Age ‘warrior’ unearthed' 29 January 2020
The “incredibly rare” 2,000-year-old grave of an Iron Age “warrior” has been unearthed by archaeologists in West Sussex The recently-revealed burial site, one of only a handful known in the south of England, featured an iron spear and a sword in a highly decorated scabbard. The grave was discovered during excavations ahead of the building of 175 new homes near Chichester. [...] Archaeologists are continuing to investigate this new discovery and hope to find out more about the identity and social status of the individual, and the local area and landscape around that time.
So it's a good job that the metal detectorists did not get there first and hoik out all the metal bits willy nilly. There's not much that metal detecting can tell us about the environment and site context around a hoiked metal artefact or two. A lot of 'metal detecting' is purely damaging and destructive.

But collectors need not fret, there's more than enough Iron Age swords on the internet market, so many that these products of the commercial exploitation of these "incredibly rare" archaeological contexts can be picked up quite cheaply, for a few hundred dollars only. Plenty on Catawiki, right under our noses...


Wednesday, 29 January 2020

The New Sappho Came from Istanbul eBay seller 'Mixantik'?


The 'New Sappho Saga' gets murkier and murkier. Some of the fragments ended up in the ownership of Hobby Lobby (the Green Collection). Now we know more about how. Brent Nongbri has been in contact with the Washington Museum of the Bible and reported some ' Important Developments with the New Sappho Papyrus' (Variant Readings blog, posted on January 29, 2020):
Mike Holmes of the Museum of the Bible has just released some new discoveries from the Museum’s ongoing provenance research to me and several other people via e-mail. There are several important revelations. Especially important are 1) a stunningly sharp observation by MOTB curator Brian Hyland and 2) the news that Yakup Eksioglu (“Mixantik”) appears to be the source of the Hobby Lobby Sappho fragments.
We know that on Feb. 7 2012, Scott Carroll displayed the new Sappho fragments at a lecture event in Atlanta claiming that they “came out of a mummy mask I dismantled a few weeks ago”. In the 2016 publication, Dirk Obbink writes of the origins of these papyri:
all of the fragments were recovered from a fragment of papyrus cartonnage formerly in the collection of David M. Robinson [...]. It was one of two pieces flat inside a sub-folder (sub-folder ‘e3’) inside a main folder (labelled ‘Papyri Fragments; Gk’.), one of 59 packets of papyri fragments sold at auction at Christie’s in London in November 2011 [...] The layers of the cartonnage fragment, a thin flat compressed mass of papyrus fragments, were separated by the owner and his staff by dissolving in a warm-water solution.
So not by Carroll? Quite a lot of detail there, where from? The problem is that now it turns out that some of these Hobby Lobby (HL) fragments are visible in the now-infamous 'Green Scholars Initiative' video 'Uncovering the Past, From Mummy Mask to Manuscripts', apparently showing Scott Carroll dismantling a mummy mask, filmed at Baylor University on January 16, 2012. They are clearly seen in the pile of wet fragments from here to here, being sorted in the midst of a chaotic scrum of students in the 'Classics Lounge' at Baylor.  It now seems that this video was partially staged and that the students did not actually sit around waiting while Carroll trashed a mummy mask in a sink somewhere off the Classics Lounge. The pieces being sorted in the second part of the video were not actually from that mummy mask, it seems. Holmes continues:
A purchase agreement dated January 7, 2012, and signed by Yakup Eksioglu is accompanied by (i) an invoice for the following items:
“Ancient Greek-Coptic language Papyrus fragments parobably between 800- 1000 fragment Shown as in the group pictures”
“Cartonagge Masks and other cartonagge fragments Shown as in the group pictures”
and (ii) several “group photographs” of the items purchased, arranged in rows and columns. The “group photographs” clearly show the shape and general appearance of the items, but do not show enough detail to identify the contents of any particular item.
Readers might remember the vehement denials by the MoB/Green Collection that the 'Galatians' papyrus fragment that Roberta Mazza took a great interest in, had come from this eBay seller (Mixantik) in Turkey. And here we have what seems to be a black-and-white record, apparently in the Green Collection archives. Since 2012. Oh well.

Accompanying the invoice was a photo, which matches a second photo that was later being shown round by Obbink (and containing a wad of papyri that includes an identifiable fragment of the New Sappho). The metadata of this picture shows it was taken on Dec 11th 2011, possibly it was part of the sales offer of the Turkish dealer. Perhaps by that time the objects were already in the US 'on approval'.

We may guess that the fragments were bought by Mr Green, on the offchance that there were scriptural texts inside, and then were prised apart by Carroll - nota bene by about a week after the invoice was issued. They then passed to Obbink for reading, and he found out that the texts were not scriptural, but something equally interesting. What a laugh, eh? Rather than a trophy gospel, it seems the ultraconservative Bible-thumping Mr Green found himself inadvertently to be the proud (?) owner of bits of some lesbian poetry book.

The first news started to surface in January 2014, by which time there had been quite a lot of people (Roberta Mazza, Dorothy Lobel King, Candida Moss, ‎Joel Baden, Brent Nongbri  and a whole series of Biblical bloggers and myself) who'd been investigating and writing quite critically of this seller. So the true source of the fragments was hidden. Obbink produced several stories about it coming from some mysterious 'gentleman's collection' (he forgot to say 'in a builder's yard in Istanbul') and a November 2011 sale (so predating the actual sale by Mixantik).

This was probably convenient to Mr Green. After all, he surely by the time he purchased these items from him ("between 800- 1000 fragment"), he would have realised that there was probably something dodgy about a sale of ancient Egyptian papyri from a builder's yard in Istanbul and their export (how?) to the USA. Surely.

They knew. Candida Moss and Joel Baden, 'Did Hobby Lobby Buy a Piece of the Bible Illegally Sold on eBay?' Hyper allergic, Oct. 22, 2017) report about the fragment of Galatians:
Josephine Dru, then curator of papyri for the Green Collection [...] told us that the Greens had not bought it on eBay, but that it had been legally purchased from a trusted London dealer in 2013. That dealer, she said, traced the papyrus back to a large lot of papyri that had been sold at Christie’s in November 2011. And that lot, in turn, had a clear provenance, having originally been part of a collection known as the Robinson Collection, a segment of which had been donated to the University of Mississippi back in 1955—­well before the UNESCO regulations went into effect. Though the appearance of the papyrus on eBay was difficult to explain [no, not really, now PMB], there seemed to be no legal problem with the provenance of the fragment—­at least, everyone at the Green Collection declared themselves to be satisfied.
Hmm. Were they, when they had the invoices? The Mississippi connection also turned out to be a dud. A lot of fog, confusion, deceit and false leads. Peter thrice denied Christ, how many times will the Green Collection deny its own sources and for how long?

Vanitas, Sappho, Mixantik and the eBayers


In the above text about the 'New Sappho Saga' getting murkier and murkier, I did not have space to mention two other aspects. Brent Nongbri has published information (from MoB's Mike Holmes) that reveals the real source of the new Sappho texts published in 2014-6 by Dirk Obbink. This revelation is rather cathartic (' Important Developments with the New Sappho Papyrus', Variant Readings blog, posted on January 29, 2020). It now turns out that Yakup Eksioglu (“Mixantik”) in Istanbul appears to be the source of the Hobby Lobby Sappho fragments. The information that he publishes has a lot of implications, but (apart from the muddle caused by a litany of denials and false 'provenances/collecting histories' by those involved with this brewing illicit antiquity scandal), three are of especial importance:

1) The  purchase agreement dated January 7, 2012 in the MoB archives signed by Yakup Eksioglu is accompanied by an invoice (for an undisclosed sum) for:
“Ancient Greek-Coptic language Papyrus fragments parobably between 800- 1000 fragment Shown as in the group pictures” “Cartonagge Masks and other cartonagge fragments Shown as in the group pictures”
Thus at least 800-100 fragments of papyri and 'other cartonnage fragments'  in the Green Collection came from Mixantik.  We know about what ONE of them contains, we are getting closer to understanding the collecting history of ONE of them, what about the other 999+ fragments Mr Green bought at the same time? When are we going to see the full details of these? Will we? Or will MoB skip their responsibilities to be fully transparent about the items that have been part of the Green Collection for, already, eight years? Will they now they've been found out, just send the whole lot back to Egypt to wash their hands of the whole affair?

2) Wherever Mr Eksioglu got them from, there is no guarantee that he (or his suppliers) kept the whole batch of material together. Somewhere there was in antiquity some cartonnage that used the other parts of the Sappho-containing document that we now have just 20 odd fragments of. A broken part of that cartonnage object was dug up and sold by a shady Turkish ebay seller to Mr Green. Where is the rest? In the ground still?? Where? Or were other bits sold to other buyers on eBay? Is the rest of Sappho hanging on the wall of some wannabe-nerd in some cheap tatty frames from the local DIY shop ('Come, be Impressed by My Papyri', PACHI Thursday, 1 November 2012)? Or split up and sold to goodness-knows-here by another dealer with a 'plausible-sounding provenance' (The Hamdy Sakr Collection of Egyptian Artefacts' PACHI 5th December 2014)? 

For eight whole years a greedy and careless collector has sat on the information, false information has been released, and by now any trail there might have been has gone cold. 

So which eBayer has the rest of Dirk Obbink's Sappho, and will we ever know?

Pieter Claesz, Vanitas, still life 1630
3) A US collector set out to create 'the biggest' collection he could of a certain type of material. Although it is believed he was advised of the problems this would involve in the case of certain types of cultural property, he went ahead and - we now know - incautiously bought a lot of things that were caught up in the very issues that collecting antiquities on the black and grey market involves.

My question is, what was he thinking? If you want to create a Bible Museum to present to the public (for whatever reason), especially one that turns out in fact to be full of multimedia and gimmicky showpiece 'reconstructions', why do you "need' shoeboxes (or whatever) full of papyrus scraps that can only be read by specialists and range in sizes between that of a postage stamp and a playing card? What actual display function would they serve? What was the thinking behind this purchase and similar ones, such as the thousands of cunie tablets? Modern museums do not attempt to overwhelm with rooms and rooms full of case after case of duplicate similar-looking objects.

It seems to me that this Green Scholars Initiative (now apparently abandoned) and the purchase of huge roomfulls of objects owned by Mr Green for them to pore over, was nothing other than an enormous vanity project of the collector. I really cannot think of any other, logical, explanation for this. For perhaps he was misled by the likes of Carroll into believing that Carroll and his associates if they bought up enough loose material and trashed enough objects and sites to get it, they might find that ultimate collectors' trophy, an elusive Gospel or Epistle manuscript fragment that is nearly contemporary with the author of the Scriptural text. That might explain buying on spec 1000+ loose and unprovenanced papyrus fragments. It would not explain the cunies.

Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Five Years Ago


Given what we are now being told about "First Century Mark", this on Dirk Obbink and Mahmoud Elder's Castle Folio Facebook page, published exactly five years ago, is rather interesting.
A print of the ancient Gospel of Mark has been discovered inside of an ancient Egyptian mummy mask that had been fashioned with recycled papyri.
Researchers have dated this fragment to be from before the year 90 A.D., making this fragment the oldest known copy of the Gospel of Mark!
#History #Egypt #GospelOfMark #MummyMask #AncientEgypt #AncientHistory #Recycled #Papyri #Egyptian #Discovery #Papyrus #Archaeology #AncientCivilizations
THECASTLEFOLIO.COM
Mummy Mask Reveals Fragments of the Past
The link is dead. But a copy has been preserved: (it was found by Lynda Albertson and also discussed on Reddit by u/AractusP)
Mummy Mask Reveals Fragments of the Past
A print of the ancient Gospel of Mark has been discovered inside of an ancient Egyptian mummy mask that had been fashioned with recycled papyri. Researchers have dated this fragment to be from before the year 90 A.D.! While preceding copies of the New Testament Biblical gospel text only goes back to 101 to 200 A.D., making this fragment the oldest known copy of the Gospel of Mark! It may come to a shock to some that a mummy mask was made from recycled papyrus sheets, but not all of the dead in Egypt received such fine burial ornamentations, as the jewels and masks of gold were only used for the wealthy. Otherwise, if you were just an ordinary person, mummy masks were typically created from materials like linen, as well as papyrus, and since papyrus was not cheap, sheets that typically had writing on it were recycled back into the mask. These materials were then combined with glue to bind everything together into a “paper-mâché” mask.

This could very well could be considered to be another ‘holy grail’ discovery as the Gospel of Mark fragment is just one of the hundreds of new transcripts being revealed, as additional antique documents have also been recovered from the first, second, and third centuries. However, these papers are not just Christian or biblical texts, as classical Greek texts have also been discovered, in addition to personal letters, business papers, and other various mundane fragments. In order to retrieve the information out of the glued mummy masks, researchers are utilizing a combination of paleography (handwriting analysis), carbon dating, in addition to using a method in which they can unglue the papyrus without obscuring the paper’s ink. As of right now, the research team claims to have its first volume of texts available sometime later this year.

When released, this might help solve the debate over recovery methods, as the process of extracting the papyrus ultimately destroys the mummy masks. Nonetheless, when these texts are published it will help settle the controversy surrounding this practice, as some feel that this process is licentiously ruining historical ancient artifacts. Another motivation for the controversy is that some are questioning the value of these texts, asking is it worth it to destroy an artifact for a document that turned out to be just an everyday, mundane note? But on the other hand, these masks that are being destroyed are not considered to be museum quality pieces, and the end product could be hundreds, if not thousands, of documents that could be very beneficial to biblical scholars, historians, as well as archaeologists in putting together the pieces of the past! 
and who is "Daisy LoCascio" of the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) and what is their role in this story? Links to this story were reposted to a relatively large number of other social media portals on the same day, spreading the 'mummy mask' story:
‎Daisy LoCascio‎ do Ars Longa 28 stycznia 2015 ·
I can't wait for these findings to be published! Turns out they found the oldest known copy of the Gospel of Mark inside a papyrus mummy mask-pretty cool stuff!
I am just curious to why they would use religious text, in addition to other mundane pieces of paper; I thought the religious texts would have been held more sacred. The mixture of random notes, to religious texts baffles me a bit-what do you guys think?
Is this genuinely scatter-brain, or is it written like that to elicit comment (like "scatter-brain"?) to get people discussing the mummy mask provenance? If the latter, it seems to have failed, following the links shows that few took the bait.

Going back to the Castle Folio  Facebook page, there is a lot of very superficial chitchatty links, lots of Voynich manuscript and ancient Egypt stuff, and a disturbing number of memes about backstabbing and conspiracies. I do not have much first hand knowledge of Obbink's written style, but this does not look like a page that he has compiled, more like an intern. So who put this mummy mask article up and why?

Monday, 27 January 2020

Dark Heritage with Important Lesson for Today



Today is the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Michael Bornstein was 4 years old when he was liberated from the Auschwitz death camp in 1945.
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Sunday, 26 January 2020

Dealing With The Dirty Business


Peter Tompa has blocked me on Twitter so somebody sent me for comment what he wrote about the smuggling of the 2017 Gaza Fishermen's Hoard out of the Gaza Strip:

Really, as several people have pointed out already, this rather odd in the context of this lobbyist's opposition to any suggestion that the profits from the no-questions-asked sales of antiquities might be used to buy weapons and finance violence, especially in the MENA area.

He's now arguing precisely in the same way as those he opposes. Also you'd have to live in some special kind of bubble to consider it would be necessary for the BBC Arabic service to have to tell its Arabic-speaking audience 'who runs Gaza'. 

I believe that if Palestinians were selling coins or any other antiquities from their territory to finance their opposition to the colonialist Israeli occupation of their land and oppression, they would find no end of no-questions-asking dealers and collectors in the US and beyond who would not give a second thought to the possibility of paying them  (or indeed the Israelis, whose antiquities market is government controlled), money for blood antiquities.

This actually is what the current concerns about the present manner in which the antiquities market operates, with no transparency about where material is coming from, and where the not-inconsiderable sums of money are going, and collectors and dealers doing their level best to avoid that being changed. This is what allows, looted, unreported,. smuggled and fake material to pass unchallenged onto and further contaminate the dirty grey antiquities market. It is the aim of lobbyists like Tompa to earn money from dealers and collectors to keep it that way.

The way to stop Palestinians, or anyone else, doing things like that any more is simply to clean up the antiquities market. Not simply condone middlemen and smugglers that steal the heritage from under their noses so that Mr Tompa's pals the dealers can sell it to well-heeled greedy collectors in Europe and the US. 

Not 'Five' but nine


The Tareq Hani Collection
WE PROUDLY INTRODUCED A 9 DECADRCAHMS OF ALEXNADER THE GREAT STARTING FROM YEAR 2016 UNTILL YEAR 2018 TO THE WORLD MARKET .SOME OF OUR DECADRCAHMS WERE SOLD AT DIFFERENT AUCTION HOUSES AND SOME WERE SOLD TO A PRIVATE HAND .

Treasure and Jail, a Lesson for US Antiquities Dealers


US coin dealers, their lobbyists and collectors are unanimous in saying how what a great thing it would be if all countries had something like Britain's Treasure Act. I think, now that two finders and two dealers have been sentenced, three of them jailed as a result of not abiding by it, maybe they'll change their tune.


Treasure Finders and Smugglers: The "Surfacing" Dekadrachm Coins of Alexander the Great [Updated]


A reader alerted me to a BBC interactive resource about the Hellenistic Gaza Hoard, which was an interesting approach, but I found it difficult to use. Not surprising, as the case is quite complicated.  I think it brings home how difficult exploring a story like this is for a journalist. Fortunately, there is a video that sets it out in a little less disjointed manner   There is a lot going on in it:
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Posted on You Tube by  BBC News 23 Jan 2020
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I am not clear what the intention here is. The presentation is not very easy to follow. The story is that (it is claimed that) a large Hellenistic hoard was found by three (?) fishermen in spring 2017 in the sea off the Gaza Strip (near the site of the harbour of Anthedon). It contains "hundreds of coins", and among them are dekadrachms of Alexander III. They showed them to an archaeologist who documented [some of] them, and then the coins disappeared. Four were recovered when a Palestinian tried to smuggle them into Israel (July 2017) but the others presumably were sold to dealers. [the film does not mention that another seizure in October may be linked with this find, too]. Then a few weeks later dekas of Alexander the Greatt started "surfacing" in auctions in Europe, the UK and the US (sold by, among others, Roma Numismatics, CNG, Heritage Auctions, Nomos, Naumann, names readers of this blog will know). We also now know now about the connections between Salem Alshdaifat /Athena Numismatics [quite a lot of mentions of him on this blog] and Roma Numismatics. While before 2017, only 12 dekas of Alexander were known, so far 19 new ones have suddenly surfaced with vague provenances like 'US dealer's stock' and 'Canadian private collection'... 

2005 document (screenshot)
The general idea of the film seems to be that they can be linked with the '2017 Gaza Fishermen's Hoard'. Except they cant. The ones seized by Israel probably can. The film however shows  that five of them came from 'The Tareq Hani collection' (but Hani is a dealer tareq.numismatics based in Dubai). They are all corroded and pitted in the same way - like they were under water.   

Now these five are interesting. They are documented as having been deposited with the Church in Gaza in December 1967. There is a document of 2005 which is a protocol of handing them back. Five of them. But there is a sixth one, sold just recently with, apparently, the same documentation. But look at the weights... this sixth coin is not on that document. Something odd going on here [UPDATE Tareq Hani later revealed that this document as presented is not in the original state. It is therefore worthless as evidence].

A guess. It might be surmised that Tareq Hani already had, before the 1973 Babylon Hoard of Alex III Dekas was found, at least five Allexander III dekadrachms in his stock. From 'somewhere', but looking at the state of them, an undersea find cannot be ruled out. Like the  Ghazzat Hoard of the 1960s of Archaic coins in the custody of another Palestinian family (jewellers), Khader Tarazi family, they were deposited with the Church in a time of instability, and were retrieved at about the same time too (the CNG sales page tells the story of the 'Ghazzat hoard'). The Dubai dealer then appears to have hung on to them for a decade and a half, and now decided to release them on the market, within a very short time of each other. I'm going to guess that the reason for this is they knew that another large group of these coins would be hitting the market soon, and that the value of the coins they had would drop. So this would be why they decide to sell them to pre-empt this

But then, there is the photo of serried rows of shiny coins on their facebook page (I got a screenshot from the BBC video as the FB page was made private at 8:30 this morning as I was in the middle of perusing it), apparently showing a whole heap of them in the Dubai collection of Tareq Hani. Where did they come from? Are they from the pre-1967 hoard? Or are they from a later find? Like, perhaps the 2017 Fishermen find?

I'd also love to hear a bit more from the fisherman Abu Ahmed, about this "friend" who told him about searching in this particular area for undersea antiquities. Was the advice accompanied by a 'suggestion' where to look? For example from somebody who knew where the 1960s coins had come from but was unable to search there themself? 

Note also the bastardly exploitation of these fishermen by the antiquities market. The people buying these coins from them know full well what they are doing, and how much those coins are worth, yet Abu Ahmed seems resigned to the fact that he sold them for 50 shekels (15$) each. But the middlemen, exploiting their poverty, are laughing all the way to the bank. This is a dirty business. 

Another 'Archbishop Alexios' Alexander III Decadrachm


sixbid
In the context of the recent BBC film, the recent sale here: AUCTIONS XLVIII LOT 5 14 Jan 2020 Online bidding ended: 14.01.2020 is of interest:
Starting price: 24.000 USD Estimate: 30.000 USD Result: 29.000 USD
Lot 5. Macedonian Kingdom. Alexander III 'the Great'. Silver Decadrachm (41.34 g), 336-323 BC
Macedonian Kingdom. Alexander III 'the Great'. Silver Decadrachm (41.34 g), 336-323 BC. Babylon, lifetime issue, ca. 325-323 BC. Head of Herakles to right, wearing lion's skin headdress. Reverse: AΛEΞANΔPOY, Zeus seated left, holding eagle and scepter; below throne monogram, M below; in left field bee. Price 3618A; Mnemata 6. Extremely Rare. Original dark toning. NGC grade Choice XF; Strike: 5/5, Surface: 2/5. Fine Style scratches. [...]
Ex Tareq Hani Collection. Officially exported by Archbshop Alexios, Greek Orthodox Church, December 8, 1967.
What is interesting is that the document presented to legitimise five other sales in the BBC documentary gives the weights of the five coins (decadrachms of Alex III) that Archbishop Alexios of Gaza received from the Hani family on 8th December 1967, the same day that he - reportedly -exported' one of them. Yet there is none listed there of a weight of 41.34 g. Were there two deposits of two lots of Alex III dekas that were retrieved from the Church after the Six Days War? Or is this document being overused? What is going on?

Where did these 500 coins, some  pictured on the dealer's website on 28th August 2018, come from? Where were they in 1967?


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ANOTHER Alex III Deka Surfaces - on eBay [Updated]


These previously rare Alexander III dekas seem to be popping up everywhere now. There is even one, looking for all the world like the ones found in the 2017 Gaza Fisherman hoard (same state, wear, pitting), on eBay. It is being sold by Seller ' spongebobsbrother' (525 100% Positive feedback) from Mineola, New York. The price is $19,999.99 or Best Offer
Alexander The Great Dekadrachm (Decadrachm)
Insanely rare, as less than 30 are known. Believed to be handed out by Alexander the Great himself to high generals in Susa in 324 BC. There are hundreds of thousands of drachms and tetradrachms known, but less than 30 of these Dekadrachms known. These in high grades go upwards of $300,000 +, so donot miss out on this one at a fraction of that cost. Raw coin, but estimated grade is Fine.
That's perhaps a bit of seller's licence. Note, absolutely no information is offered on collecting history, which is rather odd in the case of a seller that has been on ebay since April 2005, but previously selling mostly low grade stuff (baseball cards etc), though now has a lot of 'higher end' ancient coins. Also note that this guy does not offer the possibility of zooming the photo. Looking at the chair/throne and monogram under it, this seems to be the same reverse type as one of the recently sold (Roma Numismatics) ones.

Update 26.01.2020
In fact, it turns out that this is another coin that was previously sold by Roma Numismatics:
Lot 133 Estimate: 1000 GBP Kingdom of Macedon, Alexander III 'the Great' AR Dekadrachm. Babylon, circa 325-323 BC. Head of Herakles right, wearing... Price realized: 1200 GBP
Quite a markup "SpongeBob". 1200 Pound sterling equals 1569 United States Dollars. Ripoff merchant. Don't trust any ancient coin dealer.

Footnote to 'Ghazzat' Hoard


This is interesting, from the Facebook page of  'The Tareq Hani Collection', 10 czerwca 2019 ·
FROM OUR PREVIOUS COLLECTION
WE PROUDLY OWNED THIS WONDERFUL COLLECTION FOR MANY YEARS TILL 2016 . THE GHAZZAT HAORD IS A HUGE SIGN MARK IN THE WHOLE NUMISMATICS INDUSTRY AND WORTH ALL THE STUDIES AND EFFORT WE SPENT ON IT [...]  Ref , CNG WHERE WE HAPPILY AUCTIONED IT IN 2016
WE AUCTIONED THIS WONDERFUL HOARD WITH CNG AUCTION THROUGH LONDON COIN GALLERIES ( LONDON ) 
This is a bit odd, as the seller's blurb for the Triton XIX sale, where this group of twenty-seven archaic and early classical silver coins was sold (6th January 2016) says:
CNG is pleased to present this hoard of 27 Greek coins – The Ghazzat Hoard – found in the sea off the coast of Gaza in the 1960s. The coins have been consigned by the Tarazi family, who acquired the coins immediately after they were found. In recognition of the significance of this hoard, the Tarazi family has requested that the coins be sold as one lot, in order that the coins can be kept together for further study and the benefit of scholarship. The family has retained two coins (two Delphi tridrachms, out of a total of four in the hoard) as family keepsakes. Thus, the present offering consists of 27 coins out of a total of 29 that comprised the complete hoard. .
Khader Joseph Tarazi, who passed away in 2014, was a prominent member of the Palestinian Christian community in Gaza. He was the owner of a gold and metal shop, called Al-Tarazi, in downtown Gaza, and he was known as a buyer of coins and antiquities.
Mr. Tarazi’s daughter, Rawia Khader Tarazi, has related the history of the hoard:
My father had a big passion for collecting…. He loved antiques from all periods…. These pieces [The Ghazzat Hoard] came from a fisherman called Haj Salama and my father bought all the pieces. [Haj Salama] had a boat and stand at the fish market, Hesbt El Samk on el Bahr Street… [My father] knew they were important and only until my son looked at the Internet a few years ago we realized that they are extremely important.
On 5 December 1967, Mr. Tarazi deposited the Coins for safekeeping with Penyot Khair, the priest at St. Porphyrius Church of Gaza (within the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem). The church acted as a repository for valuables and was regularly used by the community for safekeeping. Mrs. Tarazi, who was six years old at the time, recalls the circumstances:
The Christian community was always a minority and the Church was responsible for handling all Christian affairs and it was common to keep valuable pieces in the Church. There were no banks or safe places to keep items. The times were difficult and not secure. Many times we would not be allowed to go outside after 3PM or 7PM or sometimes for the whole day. My father would travel a lot and leave us alone and this was the safest place to store our valuables.
The coins were left with the Church from 1967 until 2005. On 2 March 2005, the coins were released to Mrs. Tarazi by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem and were collected from St. Porphyrius Church. The family recognized the significance of the coins while Mr. Tarazi was still alive and had intended to have the hoard published. Mrs. Tarazi adds:
We are very thankful to the Orthodox Church of Gaza for supporting us and all the Christian community. My father left us many things before he died last year and he had many hopes for these coins and unfortunately we are sad that he will not be able to see them published by academics… and sold to a collector or museum.  
So what is the relationship between the Tarazi family and the Hani family?

Talking the Talk and Walking the Walk


The BBC journalists reporting on the 2017 Gaza Hoard did not make anything of this;
"Mr Alshdaifat told us [...] I do have two Alexander decadrachms that were bought from a dealer with invoices, and money wire proof the two coins have nothing to do with Gaza

Richard Beale, the director of Roma Numismatics told the BBC: "we were satisfied that the consignor(s) were known to us  and had an established record of professionalism and trust. Furthermore, we were provided with information that the items had entered the UK from an origin country that raised no concern". 
What actually do these nice phrases mean within the no-questions-asked antiquities market and what interpretations could we put on them looking from the outside in?

- "bought from a dealer with invoices" is not paperwork showing legal excavation and removal from a source country. That Messers Grabkesh and Runn or any other dealer ('reputation' or not) had it in their stock does not mean anything without the other paperwork.

- "money wire proof the two coins have nothing to do with Gaza" means nothing, it shows who he paid of the coins, not where they had been hoiked out of the ground. The coins could be from Iraq or Syria, and whom eventually Athena Numismatics paid to get them is immaterial.

- "we were satisfied that the consignor(s) were known to us" so? Some of these dealers are known to us too....

-  "established record of professionalism and trust". Professionalism and trustworthiness in what regard?

- "Furthermore, we were provided with information" so, we did not try to find out, we just went along with what we were told?

- "that the items had entered the UK", but that is not the question. Of course it is intended to translate  "no British law was broken" (actually not quite, because just look at the 2003 "Dealing in Cultural property (Offences) Act" provision 2) 

- "from" it's not where, but how that is the issue when  it comes to trafficking of cultural property. Is there an export licence?

- "an origin country that raised no concern". Where is that? (!) If the coins were imported from Greenland (no known Hellenistic sites there), it would still be a matter of concern if there was no paperwork showing they'd been taken to Greenland by somebody who had legal title and had acquired them legally.  The same goes for (say) Dubai.



-


Saturday, 25 January 2020

Coin From Homs: Psst, Wanna Buy From Me?


Many of the comments under the BBC video are religious in inspiration, but this one caught my eye:
تغريبة عربية
جدتي تمتلك نفس هذه النقود و جدها والدها وهو يحفر أساسات منزله في مدينة حمص.
و لحد الآن ما زالت تحتفظ بها. 
و لديها قطعة كبيرة تفوق 5  سم
حقيقة أمر جميل جدا عندما تلامس أصابعك قطع ضاربة في أعماق التاريخ.
My grandmother has the same coin and her grandfather and her father are digging the foundations of his house in Homs, but still keeps it. It is a large piece that exceeds 5 cm. In fact, it is very beautiful when your fingers touch pieces rich in history.
and the inevitable several people who also claim to have such coins, or other Roman coins for sale and offering them (for some reason) to readers of the You Tube comments...  Crazy world.



Friday, 24 January 2020

Leominster: Sickly Numismatist gets a Suspended Sentence


Fags not good
 for the health
This sentence was supposed to have been delivered a month ago, in December last year (BBC, 'Man gets suspended sentence for hiding Viking treasure' 24/1/2020). Most of the estimated 300 coins believed to be in the hoard are still missing:
Paul Wells was one of four men guilty of stealing and concealing about 300 coins found in a field in Eye, near Leominster in Herefordshire, in 2015. The coin seller was handed a 12-month suspended jail sentence at Worcester Crown Court. He was sentenced after his co-defendants because he was ill at the time of his conviction in November. The 60-year-old from Cardiff, and fellow seller Simon Wicks, were found guilty of concealing the find [...] Wells admitted during his trial he knew the coins should [have been] declared under the Treasure Act[...]  Just 31 coins - worth between £10,000 and £50,000 - and some pieces of jewellery have been found [...] Judge Nicolas Cartwright suspended Wells's jail sentence for two years and ordered him to do 15 days of rehabilitation and 240 hours of unpaid work. He acknowledged Wells had "significant health difficulties", which made his position "very different to that of your co-accused"
It did not stop him from committing the offence however. Depending on the circumstances, perhaps the other three are worried that Wells knows, or could find out where the other 260 coins ("worth between £10,000 and £50,000") are and monetise them himself before the other three get out. Perhaps that is part of the judge's strategy.

The journalist got a bit confused writing about the Treasure Act which his readers were told "is so proceeds can be shared between the finder and landowner". Hmmm. When are the PAS going to arrange information sessions for the British press so we see less of this nonsense?

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Brill Now Imposes US Standards on Antiquitist Writing


Following the issue of an open letter signed by over 100 academics and endorsed by the Board of Directors of the Society for Classical Studies organised by Dr Roberta Mazza (Letter to Brill on the Museum of the Bible’s Dead Sea Scrolls Fragments: A Positive Outcome' Faces and Voices Jan 20th 2020), the Brill Statement of Publication Ethics now includes a section on "unprovenanced artifacts".


Brill is a Dutch international academic publisher founded in 1683 in Leiden, Netherlands. It has offices in Leiden, Boston, Paderborn and Singapore. So why, actually, are the only links given to US organizations? ASOR - the American School of Oriental Research (as though nobody else has one), the 'Society of Biblical Literature' is based in Atlanta, Georgia, AIA, Archaeological Institute of America, SCS - the School for Classical Studies was founded as the American Philological Association, and is based in New York University. Do we not have any archaeological bodies in Europe? No schools of classical research at all?

This is despite the fact that some 93 of the signatories of the open letter (from 150 overall) came from outside the USA and presumably a sizeable number of whom already belong to professional bodies and institutions that have their own codes to which they adhere.

Also, is the problem of 'unprovenanced artefacts' only something that applies to 'oriental', 'Biblical' and 'classical' archaeology/philology (done by American organisations)? What about metal detected items from the UK found in the 1990s but not reported to the PAS (even though they may be in, for example the UKDFD)? Are they 'documented' or 'undocumented' items in the eyes of the AIA policy quoted by Brill as their benchmark? Metal detected material from Poland for example, who (in the Brill company) determines the legality of publication by a Polish academic in Brill's series of material deriving from collaboration with metal detectorists? The situation here is complex, who arbitrates? Polish authorities or the AIA?

Tuesday, 21 January 2020

Export Ban on "Mirror of Recluses"



Mirror of the art market?
An Oxford academic stands to gain from the sale of an artefact important for the nation, reports Charlotte Higgins in the Guardian (21 Jan 2020). Dr Dirk Obbink, associate professor in papyrology and Greek at Christ Church, runs two businesses marketing artefacts, controversially for a figure in academia, where involvement in the market may be regarded as a conflict of interest. antiquarian books and documents, Castle Folio and Oxford Ancient operate 'in an office above a branch of TK Maxx in Oxford'. They are now controversially mixed up in the sales of ancient Greek documents to Hobby Lobby, who also bought manuscripts dating from between 1100 and 1600 from Obbink. Obbink's firm is the owner of another object, a unique book dating from around 1414. The only other known copy belongs to the British Library, and is incomplete. Obbink had bought it at an auction at Christie’s in London four years earlier, on 16 July 2014. At that time, the hammer price was £182,500. When he sold it in 2019 it fetched just £135,000.
The arts minister, Helen Whateley, has announced a temporary export bar on the precious Myrowr of Recluses, or “Mirror of Recluses”, a Middle-English volume of advice addressed to female anchorites and religious hermits. Last summer, Obbink put it up for sale at Bloomsbury Auctions in London where, on 2 July, it was sold to an overseas buyer. The temporary export bar has now been placed on the item because of its outstanding importance for British history and culture. It is a measure that gives UK buyers the chance to fundraise to purchase the item. A UK buyer would have to raise £168,750 by 13 April to save it for the nation.
thus leading to the unusual scenario of a civic institution raising funds from the public to acquire an item from Dr Obbink.
One senior academic has said: “Given that there is a police investigation [into Dr Obbink] it seems reasonable to question whether any of the activities Obbink has been involved with should be allowed to proceed. The process should be suspended.” [...] A DCMS spokesman said: [...] We are not aware of any evidence of wrongdoing in relationship to the manuscript.”
The timing of all this is interesting, and I would be very interested to know whether Hobby Lobby was at all interested in acquiring this document. It was sold by Bloomsbury Auctions on 2nd July 2019 for less than the seller had paid for it (a figure that could have been known to bidders, though the estimate was: £70,000 - £90,000). Mr Holmes was circulating details of Hobby Lobby's (note NOT the MoB's) dealings with Obbink in April 2019 and then on 4th June released copies of the invoices. Quite possibly (even though Obbink's ownership of the manuscript was in theory a trade secret), possibly the questions this raised may have depressed bidding on the "Mirror of Recluses". Was that intended? Obbink claims that the documents supplied by the MoB "have been fabricated in a malicious attempt to harm my reputation and career”.


Monday, 20 January 2020

"Compromise" on the Antiquities - by Legalising Tomb-Robbing?


'Anyone can do archaeology...'
Antique furniture restorer Clinton R. Howell is owner of 'Clinton Howell Antiques, dealers in high end English Antique Furniture' in New York  and current president of the International Federation of Dealer Associations, representing art trade organisations. In  the latter guise, he was moved to write a 'statement' in response to something Trump said... 'Trump’s Threat to Attack Cultural Sites Raises Broader Questions, " Cultural Conservation of Objects – Will it be history too?" January 18, 2020.

We may leave aside the issue of whether the irresponsibly spontaneous and infantile rantings of the narcissist in the White House raise any more questions broader than the motives of the millions of Americans who chose him as the representative of their nation.

Howell, however, suggests that the MAGA-ideology of Trump himself has become the national credo: “win at all costs” and asks what this means for global heritage conservation efforts.  He seems to regard that as some kind of civilisational norm: "winning at all costs has infected our (American) society in all sorts of ways and it has seeped into Europe".  Howell's argument is, however, merely clumsy and is based on depicting those who oppose current modes of operation of the antiquities market as displaying such a "win at all costs" attitude. In doing so, he demonstrates that he does not really understand the issues when it comes to so-called portable antiquities. I think he's been listening too much, and too uncritically, to the distortions of the likes of Peter Tompa.
Mr Howell
The main thrust of his argument comes from depicting those that oppose the way the current market works that facilitates trade in illicit artefacts as "non-compromising zealots". He then moralises:
 It isn’t hard to see that compromise and collaboration are a far more desirable route to achieving one’s goals. [...] if you wish to shut down the illegal trade on websites, don’t think that shutting down the legitimate trade is going to end that practice. 
He seems to fall into the self-serving rhetorical game as the lobbyists of the antiquities market that argue, circularly, that calls to cut out the trade in illicit artefacts are no less than a call to destroy the antiquities market as a whole, while loudly proclaiming at the same time that the 'legitimate' market is quite separate from that which deals in the illicit artefacts.

The rest of us do not see any such problem here. The compromise is to take effective steps to make that separation physical, get rid of the cowboy traders in illicit artefacts, leaving the guys who play fair a free hand to trade ethically with items that can be shown to be licitly obtained. The problem is that the dealers in dugup portable antiquities - for some reason - seem afraid of doing that. They prefer instead to pretend that the preservation lobby "wants the impossible" and most of all "wants" to get rid of the market as a whole. Having set it out like that, and demonised the preservationists, they then declare that they are justified in having no intention of working to cull the illicit antiquities sales. Mr Howell does not diverge from this time-worn formula for inaction.

As president of an antiques dealing federation, he takes the view that 'objects are just as important as sites—indeed, they give meaning to sites'. Both in furniture as in archaeology, that's pretty questionable on all counts. In the context that he is discussing, it could almost be taken as meaning that the 'sites' can be destroyed, and yet if the objects remain, not all is lost. The sites need the meaning given by the objects, but even if the sites are gone, the meaning in the object remains. And those objects are 'preserved' by collectors and dealers, the real saviours of the day. Is that it?

I take exception to a used furniture salesman telling us that:
Sovereign states that would like to see the eradication of the antiquities trade (sic) could take a page from the book of compromise. If one looks at how the United Kingdom (sic) has approached the unearthing of historical objects as an example, there is a rough template for how to deal with tomb robbing and/or illegal excavations [I presume he means the Treasure Act and PAS]. 
What, make it legal, and then let it go on, on the proviso that the artefact hunters voluntarily show us a little of their haul? So in the case of the looting of the average Etruscan cemetery, what 'objects that give the site meaning' would the furniture specialist suggest it should be obligatory to show the archaeologists? How does he see this template working in such a context? I think Mr Howell really does not see that the PAS is a product of the medieval and 1880s British legislative framework and not in fact the reason for its existence in that form...

He also does not see that in the case of an artefact hunter taking apart contexts (and tombs!) to put loose objects onto the antiquities market, it is not the loss or not-loss of the objects that is the issue, but the loss of the close observation and documentation of context that is trashed in the removal of those things that is the issue. And, demonstrably, neither in Britain, nor Etruria are tomb-robbers capable of making those records. Some of the British ones can barely write. And here it makes no difference whether the activity is legal or illegal, a looter's hole is not an excavation. A looter is not an archaeologist. A looter cannot produce archaeological information, they can only produce loose objects. The same way as I have a saw, hammer, chisels and nails and a lot of old wood in my garage, and can easily make a chair, with four legs and a seat, maybe even some rungs, but this piece of furniture would be of no use to 'Clinton Howell Antiques, dealers in high end English Antique Furniture'. It's not the same thing.

Sunday, 19 January 2020

Timeline Auctions, Ukrainian Cultural Property and the Soviet-Era Smugglers


In their 25th February 2020 Auction, Timeline are selling a 'Viking Single-Edged Petersen Type C Sword 9th-early 10th century AD' (Lot 0463) Estimate GBP (£) 8,000 - 10,000
Provenance:
From an important private family collection of arms and armour; acquired on the European art market in the 1980s, and thence by descent; believed originally from the Dnieper River.
There's a whole lot of superfluous narrativisation, over-using the word "important" and mostly yammering on about the pattern-welding. I'm more interested in the statement that it came out of the Dniepr (now in Ukraine) in the "1980s". Just to put that in context: Leonid Brezhnev (1964–1982), Yuri Andropov (1982–1984), Konstantin Chernenko (1984–1985), Mikhail Gorbachev (1985–1991). Who, in the 1980s was in a position to take a find from the Dniepr and transport it through the Iron Curtain to "the European art market"? What were the connections of this particular art smuggler? Whose hands did this item pass through, and how were the funds raised from its sale made use of? There is more than one type of blood antiquity.

In a recent article we learn that Timeline claim to be super-ethical as dealers in this difficult and disreputable market (almost as difficult as that in rare wild birds):
Christopher Wren of Timeline said the auction house employed the ALR “to check all Western Asiatic items submitted to us for possible sale, so it was directly at our instigation that the piece was identified.” He added: “We also liaise closely with the Art Squad of the London Metropolitan Police and with other authorities in our constant endeavours to ensure that stolen or looted pieces are not offered and can be returned to their proper home.
And in this case? Its proper home is Ukraine. Unless of course Timeline has access to export licences with the correct stamps and signatures on it. But they do not say anything about that in their sales offer.

Saturday, 18 January 2020

Wide-eyed and 'Innocent' on the Grey Market


A fragment of a temple relief looted from an Afghan museum  30 years ago has resurfaced on the antiquities market, where it was spotted on a British auctioneer’s website and investigated by the Metropolitan police. It is now being repatriated (Dalya Alberge  'Met police and British Museum help Afghans recover looted ancient masterpiece' The Guardian  18 Jan 2020). 
Carved in the 2nd century AD from a yellowish limestone, the sculpture of two bulls was excavated in the 1950s in northern Afghanistan only to be looted during the civil war in the early 1990s, following the withdrawal of Soviet troops. Where the bulls have been since then is unknown, but they were spotted by the Art Loss Register (ALR), which has an international database of stolen artworks, on the website of Timeline Auctions, and reported to the police. The seller immediately relinquished ownership and its status was confirmed by the British Museum, where Dr St John Simpson, a senior curator, recognised the sculpture immediately. “It’s a very well-known, unique piece,” he told the Observer. 
The fragment is listed in the Catalogue of the National Museum of Afghanistan 1931-1985 by Francine Tissot, published by UNESCO in Feb 2007 (p. 57, K.P. Sk. Ff 117 1a and 1b)  where it is pretty clearly visible. This publication is available online.  It was one of a number of pieces from the same site in the museum, but as Simpson notes, it is the only one of them to have been recovered so far. About 75% of Kabul Museum’s antiquities have been destroyed or looted. Presumably these c. 70 000 museum objects too are mostly floating around the voracious no-questions-asked antiquities market, each and every one of them having been 'innocently' bought (no-questions-asked) and sold a number of times already. Simpson said the site this museum object had  come from had been
"totally ransacked and looted and pitted during the civil war period. So it’s in a complete mess now. “Archaeological sites are even more vulnerable than the built museum environment at times of loss of central control. There’s not an archaeological site in Afghanistan that’s been untouched by this wave of looting.” It makes the recovery of such sculptures all the more important, he said, “but it’s tinged with inevitable sadness that at times of conflict, museums and places of culture are deliberately targeted.”

So, in fact there re massive numbers of objects lurking in the greyness of this same no-questions-asked market.

There is some confusion in the article. Above it says that it was ALR that spotted the object 'on the website of Timeline Auctions, and reported to the police'. Just below that, it says something else.
Christopher Wren of Timeline said the auction house employed the ALR “to check all Western Asiatic items submitted to us for possible sale, so it was directly at our instigation that the piece was identified.” He added: “We also liaise closely with the Art Squad of the London Metropolitan Police and with other authorities in our constant endeavours to ensure that stolen or looted pieces are not offered and can be returned to their proper home. [...] The vendor in this case innocently came into possession of the piece many years ago and, on being informed of the origin… immediately relinquished any claim to ownership and agreed that it must be returned to the Museum at Kabul.” 
How could they otherwise? Yet, had the Museum catalogue not been published, and had the illustrations from it not been copied into the ALR (which is what I imagine had happened), and this was one of the items items looted from unexcavated parts of the site in the same civil war, it would have turned up on Timeline's doorstep with no guilt-inducing ALR record, and no way for any 'art squad' to prosecute ('old European collection, innit, guv') and then what would have happened? How far do those 'constant endeavours to ensure that stolen or looted pieces are not offered' go into researching the background of each and every item offered? (They missed the picture in the Kabul Museum catalogue for this one.) On accepting this item for auction, with what collecting history was Timeline presented? Where is it supposed to have been before being 'innocently' acquired by an unnamed owner? Has that owner's collection been scrutinised by the art squad to see what else is in it? Did the art squad follow it up by investigating the person who had sold it to them? And where actually had it been between being looted from Kabul Museum in the early 1990s and its surfacing and through whose hands did it pass?

Location of site
Surkh Kotal (also called Chashma-i Shir or Sar-i Chashma), is located in southern and consists of monumental constructions, temples mostly, made during the rule of the Kushans and is a major site for understanding this period of the region's history. The site  was excavated between 1952 and 1966 by Prof. Schlumberger of the Délégation Archéologique Française en Afghanistan. 


Timeline 'Policy'


From the blurb of their auction site: "All lots with an upper estimate value of £1,000 and above, and all Western Asiatic lots are searched against the Art Loss Register database". No mention here of authenticating documentation of collecting histories. As has been many times pointed out, and as many times totally ignored by smug dealers, there is zero chance that objects that were clandestinely dugup and smuggled will be on the ALR. Now, actually there are 4031 lots in the upcoming auction (Feb 25th), and 3596 are in the 10-999 quid range. So the ALR will not have had a lot of work to do. "Western Asia" is where? Do they mean perhaps just Anatolia, the Arabian Peninsula, Iran, the Levant, Mesopotamia, the Sinai Peninsula, and Transcaucasia? The auction filter gives us 473 objects described as "Western Asian" mostly Mesopotamia (cunies, cylinder seals, vessels) and "Luristan" (odd-shaped bronzy things).  The mesopotamian stuff has cited origin stories like: "Property of a Middlesex lady; acquired on the London art market in 2007; formerly in a private collection formed in the 1980s". But the ALR was established in London as a commercial company only in 1991, by which time - if the given story is true - objects like these had been in a private collection for about a decade. So what is the point of asking the ALR about whether it was stolen before that? Obviously what needs to be checked is whether the object left the ground and the source country in accordance with the law, and that can only be determined by looking at the accompanying documentation for each item - and rejecting any item that has none.

 From the website we learn "How to sell": 
Consignment
Once you have decided to put items into our auctions, a property receipt will be issued, confirming the details of the agreement and items. This will stipulate the sale terms, reserve, estimate ranges, selling commissions and any other charges such as collection of goods, storage or insurance. Sellers who live abroad must check local laws and regulations regarding the export of items for sale in the UK and documentation to prove legal export will be required. In addition, UK Import VAT may be payable at the time of importation into the UK (at 5% of the assessed value) and is payable by the seller. Please contact us before sending any items.

(3) Cataloguing and vetting
Items entered into our sale are then expertly researched, catalogued and professionally photographed for our website and printed catalogue. Before inclusion in the sale, each lot is rigorously vetted by an external committee of specialists, all respected and recognised experts in their fields. In individual cases, further scientific tests are undertaken. [...]
Again, no mention of vetting the collecting histories. No wonder dodgy objects get in...


  
 
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