Thursday, 28 May 2020

Still no Arrests Made, But Soothing Messages from the British Museum


A spinoff from the July 2019 Heathrow seizure of two trunkloads of antiquities from Bahrain... (Jonathan Gornall, 'Why fakes are replacing real trafficked antiquities from the Middle East' Arab News May 25, 2020). Readers will know I do not buy the argument offered (see also here), but the graphic is nice.

The article is not very well-researched though. For example, the looting in Iraq did not "begin" in 2003, in some areas we now know that it was coming to a close.  And to claim that this is due to "the on-the-ground support of the British Museum" is just junk journalism copy-and-pasting the type of self-gratulatory puff the BM pumps out analogous to the vacuous spin it produces on the Portable Antiquities Scheme. This - in the light of what actually is happening out there - ins nothing short of scandalous and irresponsible:
The discovery was confirmation, believes archaeologist Dr. St John Simpson, senior curator and assistant keeper of the British Museum’s Middle East Department, that the war on looters is being won. 
Because it most certainly is not, and the BM is doing precious little to contribute to that. I also profoundly disagree with the next statement. I do not know what the BM curator has been seeing, but this is not at all true:
Faking, added Simpson, “is an emerging trend. There is still looting going on in certain parts of the world — in parts of Syria there has been very bad looting. But the supply of fakes is on the increase. 
But to return to the fakes:
Unlike looting, which deprives an entire nation of its heritage, faking artifacts has only one direct victim — an unscrupulous wealthy individual blessed, perhaps, with rather more money than sense. “In this case I think it was somebody very gullible indeed,” says Simpson, “probably somebody who is interested in collecting ancient Mesopotamian documents as examples of the first writing in the Middle East, has read about them, maybe seen pictures of them, but has never actually handled the original, and who fell for fraud.” [...]  It was, said the museum, “as if the whole genre of ancient Mesopotamian writing was represented in one shipment: An entire collection ready for a single, uninformed buyer.” [...] Exactly where the forgers’ workshops are based “is difficult to say at the moment,” said Simpson. “We believe they are probably somewhere within the Middle East, but we have seen evidence of metalwork purporting to be from Iran or the Islamic world actually being made in the Far East. There is a global market.”
The article also puzzles over a "mystery" about the consignment seized by the UK authorities:
 despite extensive investigations no arrests have been made in the UK.
and I wonder why that is? Perhaps the people responsible are in some way connected with Dominic Cummings?



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