Wednesday, 30 September 2020

Due Diligence Fail and Item with Wrong Description from Timeline: Vendor now "Tens of Thousands of Pounds" out of Pocket

An ancient sculpture, a Sumerian plaque dating from around 2400BC is to be returned to Iraq after it was secretly smuggled out of the country and offered for sale in the UK – only to be seized by the Metropolitan police after Sébastien Rey, curator of ancient Mesopotamia at the British Museum tipped off the police after spotting its planned sale in 2019 (Dalya Alberge, 'Ancient sculpture put up for auction in UK to be returned to Iraq', Guardian Sun 27 Sep 2020).

“It’s really exceptional to see something of this quality,” said Dr St John Simpson, the British Museum’s senior curator. Neither published nor listed in any museum inventory, it is thought the plaque was looted from the Sumerian heartland in modern-day southern Iraq. Simpson said: “There are only about 50 examples of these known from ancient Mesopotamia. So that immediately places it on the high-rarity scale. We can be fairly sure that this object comes from the Sumerian heartland. That is the area that got very badly looted between the 1990s and 2003.” The plaque was offered for sale in May 2019 by TimeLine Auctions, an online auctioneer, which described it as a “western Asiatic Akkadian tablet” that had come from a private collection formed in the 1990s. Simpson said its date, description and provenance were incorrect: “It’s Sumerian, not Akkadian, and definitely not a tablet. They also assumed it was 200 years later.”
The object is a fragment of a limestone votive wall plaque belonging to the Early Dynastic III period of southern Iraq. It bears traces of burning, a feature found on previously excavated finds at Girsu, one of the world’s first urban civilisations, on the site of modern-day Tello in southern Iraq, and it is thought that this item came from there (readers of this blog will know that recently other looted material from this site has surfaced on the market). The consigner of this item was not named, and no mention is made of any arrests (yet, but I doubt that will change).
Christopher Wren of TimeLine Auctions said of the Sumerian plaque: “The piece is not documented as having been looted and is not listed on any database, so it did not show on the checks with the Art Loss Register and other sources undertaken by us. [...] In informing the vendor “that it was possible, perhaps likely, that the piece could have been looted”, he added: “The vendor, who had casually and innocently acquired it from a German arts fair some years ago, was horrified to hear this and immediately volunteered to renounce any claim to ownership and expressed the wish that it be returned to its place of origin.”
Is this vendor German? If so, might there be a reason why he or she chose Timeline in drowsy old Harwich as the vehicle for the sale of this item, rather than a respectable German auction house. Why would they do that? Remember, the British Museum asserts "Such is the plaque’s importance that, if it were sold on the legitimate market, it would fetch tens of thousands of pounds". Matey reportedly just "casually and innocently" bought an item (apparently with no paperwork to back up the claim of legal origins) and just as casually abandoned it after having put it up for sale by Timeline (who also was not bothered by the lack of the said paperwork) hoping to make tens of thousands of pounds from the transaction.

When was "some years ago"? Was it some time after the beginning of 2003 when material from fresh looting at Tello was seized in London? Was the London dealer from which Tello material was seized earlier supplied through a "German art fair"? How did this material reach Europe? How is it possible something from southern Iraq came onto the UK market with absolutely no paperwork showing that the claim that it "was possibly, perhaps likely" looted could be challenged by either seller or purchaser? For that is the only way one can, I think, read the abandonment of this object by the vendor. I think anyone buying items from the area of Iraq really does need to have paperwork for it. It only makes sense. 

The article makes a mention of another recent case involving Timeline Auctions in January, the British Museum repatriated a 2nd century AD sculpture of two bulls that had been stolen from the National Museum of Afghanistan in the 1990s. It too had been offered by TimeLine Auctions until its sale was reported to the police.

Once is a mistake, twice a habit. Mr Hammond needs to pay more attention to the paperwork, he's not dealing in birds now.   

Maltese Megalodon Megalomania

 

The impulsive Mr Herrera
Caroline Davies,Questions raised in Malta over Prince George's shark tooth gift from David Attenborough Guardian Mon 28 Sep 2020. Seven year old Prince George of the British royal family met Sir David Attenborough in the gardens of Kensington Palace last week, and the environmentalist presented him with a giant prehistoric shark tooth that he had found on a family holiday to Malta more than 50 years ago
But the kindly gesture caused consternation in Malta, a British colony until 1964 [...] The Maltese culture minister, José Herrera, reportedly pledged to investigate if the tooth should, in fact, be returned for display on the island where it was originally excavated (sic). [...] Asked by the Times of Malta whether there were plans to add the tooth to the nation’s heritage collection, Herrera said he would “get the ball rolling”. “There are some artefacts that are important to Maltese natural heritage, which ended up abroad and deserve to be retrieved,” he said.
The tooth was of the Miocene/Pliocene shark Carcharocles megalodon, that are relatively common fossils in many locations (and rock fairs).
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince George (seated), Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis with Sir David Attenborough (L) in the gardens of Kensington Palace. Photograph: Kensington Palace/AFP/Getty Images Late on Monday, however, Malta’s culture ministry appeared to row back from the threat to Prince George’s keepsake. A spokesperson said: “The minister’s initial comments were based on the related national legislation in particular the Cultural Heritage Act, 2002 which superseded the previous legislation being the Antiquities (Protection) Act of 1910 and the Antiquities (Protection) Act of 1925. The minister would like to note that with reference to this case, it is not the intention to pursue this matter any further.”
In most countries, the ministry of culture is rarely given to any bright politician. The export of this item took place before the 2002 legislation.


Outreach from a Distance

 

The PAS in 2020
The Society of Antiquaries is holding a Zoom Seminar on 15 Oct 2020, 19:00 CEST. It is free to register and details on how to join are on your ticket for the event. They say:

Our guest speaker is Benjamin Westwood, FLO for Co. Durham, Darlington, and Teesside, who will be talking about being an FLO during lockdown followed by a live QandA.
"Objects in Lockdown: Finds of Note from the Portable Antiquities Scheme Northeast 2020
This is your chance to ask Ben any question you may have about the Portable Antiquities Scheme and about being a Finds Liaison Officer.
Hmm. Note the object-centric title. I don't know about the Antiquaries (nomen omen), but archaeology is not about finding loose notable things. Also the finds are not from/made by the PAS. This looks like the speaker's own self-presentation:
"2020 has been a very strange year and brought many changes, yet the work to record our portable heritage continues. Like many others, most of the staff at the Portable Antiquities Scheme have been working from home, trying to adapt our working practices to adapt to often rapidly changing circumstances. The major difference has been the inability to meet with the public in person and trying to ‘virtually’ ensure that finds, and Treasure, are reported and recorded. Nevertheless, there have been many interesting and exciting discoveries, not least in the Northeast!"

It looks like to me that this "virtual" interaction causes all manner of possibilities for false "data" to get into the PAS database. So, it would be interesting for reference to know in detail how PAS working practices have adapted over the past six months of remote working. One question I would have to ask this FLO, any FLO, is the actual aim of what they are doing. Is it really all we need to worry about to "record" odd bits of "our portable heritage"? Surely that is just a part of the tasks the PAS was set up to achieve. How are they doing realising the other original aims of the Scheme, or are they hoping we've conveniently forgotten them? 

Also I wonder how the Soc of Ant would justify a talk by the FLO that of the 16398 records made by the PAS between 1st March and today, only 35 are recorded as being by Baenjamin Westwood, and 759 by his neighbour Matthew Fittock....



You Want to be Careful When Working With Antiquities Dealers

 

lawyer
How liable is a lawyer retained by a client to commit an antiquities trafficking crime? Often cultural heritage traffickers hire reputable lawyers and other professionals to manage seemingly lawful transactions, which are actually unlawful. As such, the American Bar Association (ABA) has raised the caution that "a lawyer may ... face criminal charges or civil liability, in addition to bar discipline, for deliberately or consciously avoiding knowledge that a client is or may be using the lawyer’s services to further a crime or fraud". A lawyer must do due dilligence to assess whether or not they should undertake new work. 

Full article by Rick St. Hilaire: Cultural Property Lawyers Take Note: ABA Ethics Opinion Warns About Criminal Clients.



Tuesday, 29 September 2020

Ivan Macquisten Soothes Dealers in Artnet News


Argument invalid...

"Let's capitalise every word in this" says Ivan Macquisten (in Artnet news, September 28, 2020): A New Report on Transnational Crime Shows That the Business of Smuggling Cultural Property Is Not as Big as People Think - yay!
Despite reports from some officials that have characterized the illicit trade in antiquities as a multi-billion-dollar industry and the third largest black market after the drugs and arms trades, the new report reveals that the scale is much more modest.
Never mind that those of us that actually study this market dismiss such puff as just that...

Mr Macquisten stumbles on with his interpretation of the 2019 World Customs Organization's annual report on transnational crime. He's great pals with the likes of Peter Tompa and the ACCP and picks for highlighting the elements of the narrative that suits the story they want him to tell, so I cant be bothered to go through this, Donna Yates has announced on Twitter she'll be doing a blog post on it which will no doubt pull his crap apart (Update Link here). In fact for the last couple of years, Macquisten has been repeating this activity each time one of these reports comes out, same arguments applied, same kind of data used to support them. So it will be good to see an academic like Yates set the record straight in a place where the general public can (if they look) learn of it. 

Macquisten soothes "In fact, cultural heritage crime is so minor compared with other risk categories globally that it barely registers on Customs’ radar" - which is not the same as saying this is not a problem to be dealt with by the legitimate market (for the sake of argument lets's say such exists) and the rest of the civilised world (except the no-questions-asked collectors and dealers, for they belong to another world).

Here's his subheadings:
"A Global Picture of Relative Inactivity"
"Antiquities Are a Small Share of Crime"
"Western Europe Is Not a Hub for Smugglers"
" Not the Full Picture"

Actually hate rape with a racist motivation is also a small share of crime, about which one could say there is a global picture of relative inactivity, and perhaps western Europe is not a hub for that, and I doubt we are getting a full picture of its scale and consequences in the media. I do not see that as any kind of an "argument" for not taking the problem seriously and trying to stamp out the root causes. Do you, Mr Macquisten? 





Monday, 28 September 2020

Artefact Hunting and Gender in US

 

Allyson Cohen, self-styled Detecting Diva, from Connecticut​ (USA), has a bit about succumbing to couch-potato-dom as the years creep by (The Aging Detectorist April 12, 2020). This caught my eye:

I started out in this hobby when women were scarce, and the men’s discrimination toward us was epic—dismissing any woman’s decent finds as being found by luck, not by skill. So I’ve paid my dues, kicked a ton of guys butts in the field, and was instrumental in opening up the hobby to women. Mission accomplished.

This is worth putting alongside my comments on the alleged 'inclusivity' of UK artefact hunting with metal detectors (' How Inclusive is Metal Detecting?', PACHI Wednesday, 24 June 2020). 

Sunday, 27 September 2020

Sawn off Stupa Bit for sale in Chicago


Unprovenanced piece of Gandharan sculpture for sale, described as having "earthen encrustation". It's being offered by the same Chicago dealer Harlan J. Berk who announced a while ago that he wants to "beat archaeologists" … and not surprising, seeing as he (ostensibly just a "coin dealer") has a LOT of stuff any archaeologist and officials would like to ask a number of questions about. Mostly about the documentation of this assemblage of commodities from all over the world. 

This schisty thing is here. Here's the desccription: 

ca. 2nd-3rd Century AD. A nice example of a Gandharan panel fragment modeled in grey micaceous schist. The piece has two main registers, the lower register depicting scenes from the life of the Buddha, with the upper register depicting an architectural panel from a stupa. The piece is a wonderful combination of Asian and Classical influences, mainly in the modeling of the figures and the Corinthian columns in the top register. Earthen encrustation. Mounted. H. 8 3/4" W. 5 7/8" (22.2 cm x 15 cm) H. 10 1/4" with mount.

So it's actually quite titchy. That's probably why the people that portableised it did not just cut the figures off. Above all we can see that this "earthen encrustation" is nothing of the sort. It's a wash (calcite? Gypsum?) and more importantly evenly covers the piece from all sides, no variation where it'd have been exposed/sheltered. Now another gallery that has a lot of Gandhara is Bob Dodge's "Artemis" Galleries in suburban Boulder, Colorado, and we can see that many of those that he's sold recently have similar surfaces. Are these two dealers using the same source? At what stage is the wash applied and why? Note sawmarks on right side.

Now I think that before Mr Berk tries to beat me, I'd like to ask him to show me this "model[l]ing" he is trying to convince his buyers is worth the 2467.50 US$ that he wants for this small piece of architectural salvage.



Saturday, 26 September 2020

More Asinine Bloomsbury Guessing Games

 British Museum 

CERN

Can you imagine CERN giving the public information about its equipment like this?

So why do archaeologists feel they have to do the dumbdown? 

Now, the BM catalogue entry says this:

"[ErnstHerzfeld purchased this object in Baghdad for the sum of 10 rupees from Daud Salman in 1923 according to his Notebook 89, where it is entered as item 150 (Freer Gallery of Art & Arthur M. Sackler Gallery archives, Smithsonian Institution)".
So, this is an ungrounded artefact removed to Prussia from Iraq during the British mandate, and the identification by the non-generic term "finial" is not based on any facts deriving from its archaeological context. It's here not because it can tell Brits about Iraq's past, but because it "looks cute".  Pathetic. Can't Bloomsbury's educators do any better than this fob-off-the-hoi-polloi upperclass twittery

Also, given the predominantly sedimentary geology of Iraq (ergo oil) and adjacent SE Syria, would it not have been a useful topic of public outreach to discuss the significance of it being (they say) of pyrophyllite [ a member of the same group as talc and serpentine] which is a metamorhic rock. There are some deposits in the Zagros region but quite sizeable ones in what is now Saudi Arabia. As well as elsewhere - on what grounds is this thing assigned a date and culture if they came from the market?

 

Wednesday, 23 September 2020

Fortuna has Ceased to Smile for one US Dealer?


"We are asking anyone who may have dealt 
with Mr. Dere or Mr. Khan to contact us at 
NYArtCrime@fbi.gov. You may have been 
a victim of their alleged scheme.”

FBI agents carted off boxes and bags of apparent evidence during a raid Tuesday on the home of a former Manhattan art gallery owner, Selim Dere (Jerry DeMarco 'FBI Raids Ridgewood Home Of Former Upper East Side Art Gallery Owner', Ridgewood Daily Voice 22nd Sept 2020). The former dealer's son Erdal Dere, 50, of New York City was also arrested by federal agents on Tuesday as was his longtime business associate Faisal Khan.

An indictment returned by a grand jury in Manhattan charged both men with "engaging in a years-long scheme to defraud buyers and brokers in the antiquities market" by using the names of dead dealers and brokers to "offer and sell antiquities." The men conducted the scheme from the now-defunct Fortuna Fine Arts Ltd gallery on East 69th Street off Madison Avenue that Selim Dere and his son owned and operated, authorities said. The younger Dere falsified sales records and then posed as dealers when meeting with clients, the Southern District of New York indictment alleges. “The integrity of the legitimate market in antiquities rests on the accuracy of the provenance provided by antiquities dealers, which prevents the sale of stolen and looted antiquities that lack any legitimate provenance," acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said. Dere and Khan, she said, “compromised that integrity, and defrauded buyers and brokers of the antiquities they sold."
Audrey Strauss seems to believe one can seek integrity in such a market. The dealer had been previously involved with law enforcement when Turkish police took him and two other men into custody more than 25 years ago in connection with the alleged smuggling of a marble sarcophagus depicting the 12 labours of Hercules. The dealer is also mentioned in connection with artefacts from Turkey, a marble statue of a young man and fragment of garland smuggled from a Greco-Roman city of Aphrodisias in Turkey, and a fragment of a mosaic from Zeugma (Ozgen Acar, Zeugma's Plundered Mosaics ArtNet 29th August 2000) and also an ancient “Hare Aryballos” from Etruria circa 580-560 BCE (See ARCA Lynda Albertson, 'Seizure: An Etruscan Hare Aryballos circa 580-560 B.C.E.' ARCA). Lynda has done a very useful and full breakdown of what can be put together about the defendants:' Some background on Erdal Dere and Faisal Khan and Fortuna Fine Arts Ltd., charged in the SD/New York' (ARCA Blog September 23, 2020) including possible connections with the Garsana tablets, and I think the question that raises is 'what took them so long?'. Interestingly, the December 2015 case that is specifically mentioned in the indictment is not on her list. 

According to the indictment issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office Southern District of New York, September 22, 2020, "Antiquities Dealers Arrested For Fraud Scheme", they are:
charging ERDAL DERE, the owner and operator of the Manhattan-based antiquities gallery Fortuna Fine Arts Ltd. (“Fortuna”), and his longtime business associate and co-conspirator, FAISAL KHAN, with engaging in a years-long scheme to defraud buyers and brokers in the antiquities market by using false provenances to offer and sell antiquities. DERE is also charged with aggravated identity theft for his misappropriation of the identities of deceased collectors who were falsely represented to be the prior owners of the antiquities.
That is an interesting take on top of the alleged fraudulence. This is quite an important development, because one might suspect that the practices described could be relatively frequently used in this market:
From approximately 2015 through September 2020, DERE and KHAN engaged in a scheme to defraud buyers and brokers in the antiquities market by providing false information regarding the provenance of antiquities they offered for sale. Specifically, DERE and KHAN falsely claimed that various deceased collectors of antiquities were the prior owners of items being sold and offered for sale, in order to conceal the true provenance of the antiquities and the sources from which Fortuna had acquired them. DERE communicated the false provenances featuring the names of deceased collectors to buyers and brokers. DERE also fabricated documents purporting to evidence the prior ownership of antiquities by the deceased collectors, and provided them to buyers and brokers, including to an auction house in New York, New York in connection with a December 2015 antiquities auction. KHAN assisted Fortuna in finding buyers for items from its pre-existing inventory and acquired new items, primarily in Asia, that KHAN worked with Fortuna to sell to collectors in the United States and internationally. With KHAN’s knowledge, DERE provided false provenance information to potential buyers of items that KHAN had personally located and acquired, listing deceased collectors as the long-time owners of items which KHAN and DERE well knew had not been owned by those collectors.
The question is, can assertions of former ownership by a "Swiss Collector" be treated in the same way? Glad to see law-enforcement getting tough with pseudo-provenances and faked collection histories.


 



Tuesday, 22 September 2020

US Dealers named in Money Laundering Report



Kapoor accused


Data from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), the US regulatory agency for enforcing money laundering laws, provide a glimpse into the network of companies and individuals trading with antiques dealer Subhash Kapoor. The data show that dealings of stolen artefacts and transactions continued years after the arrest of the alleged kingpin (Shyamlal Yadav, 'FinCEN Files — Antiques smuggler in Tamil Nadu jail, and a trade that flourished even after his arrest' Indian Express September 23, 2020). US Antiquities dealer Nancy Wiener was named in FinCENFiles for suspect Nepal transactions worth $27 million between 2010-2017. This is the same gallery that sold a stolen 16th-century bronze from Nepal in 2010 and transferred the payment to Pantheon Worldwide in Hong Kong. Some of the transactions were linked to Subhash Kapoor [Indian national and the 'Art of the Past' Gallery owner in New York, who imported artefacts from India to the United States and was arrested by Interpol in 2011 at Frankfurt airport, was extradited to India in July 2012 and is now in a Tamil Nadu jail still awaiting trial].

According to the Suspicious Activity Report, a firm called Pantheon Worldwide Limited, with two listed addresses, one each in the UK and Hong Kong, had extensive financial links with Kapoor and his alleged business partners. Pantheon had several transactions with the Nancy Wiener Gallery, and also received a payment from Nancy Weiner. The Suspicious Activity Report stated: “It is unclear why Weiner conducted a personal remittance to Pantheon for USD 150,000, nor the purpose of the funds.” The Suspicious Activity Report stated that Pantheon utilised its three accounts at Standard Chartered Bank, Hong Kong for the transactions. The UK company registry data show that a company of a similar name was incorporated on July 18, 2016 and dissolved on September 4, 2018. The accounting firm that established the company said that the UK-based Pantheon had never dealt in antiquities — or anything else for that matter. “To the best of my knowledge, the company never traded at all,” a spokesperson for PRB Accountants told ICIJ.

 

Thursday, 17 September 2020

Commercial "Veterans' Charity Rally" Fears in Lincolnshire [UPDATED]


"Ancaster weekend rally  
is a go, we will be covid secure and
all government guidelines will be followed
". 

A local Lincolnshire newspaper can spot something UK metal detectorists are too thick and self-absorbed to see, and that does not reflect well on the artefact hunting community's ability to self-regulate to attain anything like what the rest of us would regard as "responsible metal detecting" (Matthew Taylor, 'Covid concerns over hundreds of people converging on village near Grantham this weekend' Grantham Journal, 18 September 2020)

Concerns have been raised by a parish council ahead of a metal detecting event set to take place in Ancaster this weekend. The event, run by Detecting for Veterans, has sold out all 230 tickets for its Ancaster Summer Rally starting today (Friday) and continuing until Sunday.
The rally's organisers stubbornly claim that "as the event is charitable, collecting money with raffles and tickets to raise money for two armed forces charities (The Veterans Charity and Talking2minds), it can go ahead under the latest government guidelines" [At the moment, UK Coronavirus guidelines state that: "Businesses and charities following COVID-19 Secure guidelines can host larger groups in total, provided that social interaction of those in attendance are limited to groups of six or less which do not mingle"].
However, there is concern over possibility that the event may spread Covid-19 to the village of Ancaster. [...]   David Sayer, chairman of the Ancaster, Sudbrook and West Willoughby Parish Council, said: “[...] they’re saying they’ve got stalls and they’ve got a bar and they’re all stopping overnight. "Presumably, they’ll be going to the local shops and things like that and all I’m worried about is, is it covid safe for us? “Although it’s not bad in our area, all of a sudden you’ve got 230 people from all parts of the country all heading into Ancaster and that’s our concern really. [...] At the moment we are relatively Covid-free in our village and we want to stay like that."

Heritage Action, covering this story add: "Add to [this risk] the fact rallies damage everyone’s heritage and it’s inarguable that the holding of such events, especially just now, is plain wrong". Note the poster claims these 230 people will be spending the weekend stripping out and pocketing "300 acres of Roman history". 

Update: 3rd October 2020

As the locals feared, the number of Covid-19 cases has increased in Lincolnshire in recent days since a group of metal detectorists proposed "charitably" holding their rally in South Kesteven and mingling with the villagers in local shops etc. It is now 21.1 per 100,000 up from 16.1 (BBC Covid cases on the rise across most parts of Lincolnshire 2nd October). While this is not necessarily due to the tekkies, that's an awful lot of unnecessary tracking and tracing to be done.

Saturday, 12 September 2020

"Twinkly Ritual Star Figurines" and Incantation Bowl Seized



In southern Iraq, in Al Fajr District, in the north of the Dhi Qar governate the National Security authorities h ave seized artefacts that they claim were intended for smuggling
"They are (50) antique masterpieces, (162) antique coins, and (180) antique pottery pieces".
There is an incantation bowl probably from the al-Jazira (Upper Mesopotamia) region of the sixth to eighth centuries, some copper alloy items (the "masterpieces"?) but also ceramic spindlewhorls, two weights (loomweights?) and a lot of triple-pointed things. These are kiln furniture (kiln props - spurs). It is quite unusual to have indusrial material being traded as collectables, possibly artefact hunters found a cache of them on a kiln site and decided to take them not knowing what they were. One almost regrets them not reaching the market, I'd love to know what a creative dealer would market them as.










Friday, 11 September 2020

Commemorative Rally Cancelled

 

A bit of history saved from foreign artefact hunters, for now: 

Team of Yorkshire - Metal Detecting Group 10th September 2020
Z przykrością informujemy że jesteśmy zmuszeni odwołać z powodu pandemii nasz październikowy zlot charytatywny w Lincoln. Jest nam z tego powodu bardzo przykro. Jednocześnie robimy wszystko aby zlot ten przenieść na wiosnę 2021. Szczegóły podamy wkrótce. We regret to inform we had to cancel our October rally in Lincoln due to the covid-19 pandemic. We are doing our best this rally to take place in spring 2021. More details soon. Anna
What however is worth noting is that the British archaeological heritage was about to be ripped apart to out of "charity" (eh?) to commemorate (for the sixth time it says) the "100th anniversary of the Battle of Warsaw". In Lincoln. 

This "Team of Yorkshire" crowd have a facebook page, all written in Polish, and the main topic seems to be "treasure", getting the law in Poland changed, and commemorating great battles of Polish history.  The term "only interested in the history" covers a number of totally different things. 

Investors Push Rio Tinto Bosses Out After Cave Site Trashed


Rio Tinto CEO Jean-Sébastien Jacques has, though not after hanging stubbornly on since May, resigned under pressure from investors over the company's destruction of a 46,000-year-old sacred indigenous site in Australia to expand an iron ore mine. The rock shelters at Juukan Gorge in Western Australia’s Pilbara region, showed evidence of toolmaking and almost 50,000 years of ongoing human use, the only inland site in Australia known so far to do so. It may be suggested that the cold-blooded destruction of these sites by Rio Tinto was a heritage crime on the level of the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddha statues.

Wednesday, 9 September 2020

There are Bottle and There are Bottles

 

Another piece of unimaginative and uninformative gatekeeper/dumbdown "public outreach" from the PAS. "Finds Friday: Do you know what these are?". When in a short time a member of the public (John Bunyan.descended from immigrants) identified it as a "pilgrim's Ampulla", he got a "yay" from the FLO.... and nothing else.

I am at a loss to know what the educational value of that exchange was, and what Mrs Simmons who lives next door to my Mum would make of that (if she ever bothered to find out what the PAS says about anything). So the FLO is preaching to the choir, which is not the same as public outreach.

There have been recent research projects on these ampullae based on PAS records. There is material about them in books, articles, though there is not yet a BM recording guide for them.  But you would think for all those millions of public quid spent on the PAS something a bit more educational and multiculturally enlightening than "yay, a pilgrim's ampulla". What Mrs Rashid who lives down the road from my sister wants to know is what was a "pilgrim" in this context? What do they need "ampullas" for? Mrs Simmons also does not know; she was last in Church in the primary school carol service nearly half a century ago.  

Here's another bottle, a brown glass beer bottle. Any paper label has gone but it has the embossed legend: '
No deposit - No return - Not to be refilled'. Just a modern bottle. But its findspot is known, in a forest outside a small town in northern Italy where it was dug up by artefact hunters. More than that, it was found with a large number of similar bottles in a rubbish dump left behind by a Wehrmacht unit fighting on the Gothic Line in the spring of 1945. But there is more to that, these bottles were produced in the US and originally carried beer to US, not axis, troops. It is unlikely that they got into the Nazis' hands from the US Fifth Army coming up from the south, it is probable that, like much else they were captured from overrun US units in the battle of Ardennes (Battle of the Bulge). This narrativisation (the details are published in the Polish metal detectorists' magazine Eksplorator of Jan 2016) however is based on research, not the kind UK detectorists do (to find potential productive sites to plunder), but the kind their central and eastern European fellows do, where they use the documentary evidence and context in the ground in a way unthinkable to the average British Baz Thugwit. 


One would have hoped this is the kind of approach to artefacts from artefact hunting we'd see from the PAS FLOs. Not "I know what this mysterious looking thing is, can you guess what it is, and I'll tell you if you're right". 


Sunday, 6 September 2020

Moral: You Can Never, Really Trust a Metal Detectorist for the Details


Tertiary rocks purple
A row has broken out in Germany over an artefact found by two metal detectorists in 1999 by Henry Westphal and Mario Renner while they were illegally treasure-hunting with a metal detector but no licence. They claim they found it in the Mittelberg hillfort near Nebra in the Ziegelroda Forest, some 60 km west of Leipzig. The find was reported as a hoard in a pit with two bronze swords, two axes, a chisel, and fragments of spiral bracelets. The next (!) day, Westphal and Renner sold the entire hoard for 31,000 DM to a dealer in Cologne. and it was only recovered in February 2002, the original finders were eventually traced and led police and archaeologists to the discovery site. An excavation, as yet unpublished, took place and seemed to confirm the finders' story. Apparently the soil at the site matched soil samples found clinging to the artefacts. The two looters received jail sentences of six and twelve months. There is a tourist-attracting archaeological park on the hilltop now.

The disc was thought to have been part of the hoard and thus dated to the Early Bronze Age. Recently doubt was thrown on this interpretation. Rupert Gebhard and Rüdiger Krause, two archaeologists from Goethe University Frankfurt and Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich have taken a fresh look at where and how the disk was discovered and critically examine the "vague information given by the looters" (Critical comments on the find complex of the so-called Nebra Sky Disk, in the journal Archäologische Informationen).

A critical examination of the published results by the authors does not allow the conclusion that the site investigated in a re-excavation is correct, nor that the ensemble itself fulfils the criteria of a closed find (hoard). On the contrary, according to the excavation findings the ensemble could not have been in situ at the site named. The scientific examination of the objects contradicts rather than confirm their belonging together. If the disk is considered – as required by these facts – as a single object, it cannot be integrated into the Early Bronze Age motif world. Instead, a chronological embedment in the first millennium BC seems most likely. On the basis of this overall assessment, all further conclusions and interpretations of the cultural context and the meaning of the Nebra disk that have been made so far will have to be subjected to a critical discussion.

At the end of the (preprint) text, the authors describe a number of problems they had with the German archaeological establishment getting their critical study published...  

Rather weirdly, just after that went online on 3rd September was a response (published anonymously!) from the Landesamt für Denkmalpflege und Archäologie Sachsen-Anhalt: "Himmelsscheibe von Nebra eisenzeitlich? Eine Richtigstellung/ Sky disc of Nebra dated into the Iron Age? A corrective statement". This is really dotty, and one wonders what lies behind this.

The colleagues not only ignore the abundance of published research results in recent years, their various arguments also are easily refuted.

Well, Landesamt, get the results of the confirmatory excavations published for a start.  And I think if you are going to "easily refute" the reasoning, it is best properly to acquaint yourself with it first. Landesamt goes on: 

Claims are that the soil attachments on the Sky Disc do not correspond with those of the other findings and that the geochemical analyses of the metals do not support their coherence. Both of these statements are demonstrably incorrect. According to an essay by Dr. Jörg Adam (then State Office of Criminal Investigation of Brandenburg), who conducted the investigations of the soil attachments for the Regional Court of Halle as an expert, and who was not quoted by the two authors...

Wass? Landesamt has not read the text above, which actually refers to that report prepared for a court. They give a link to it, and you decide if those soils are the same and can only locate the findspot to a single small hole on a huge hilltop at the southern end of a hill complex 15x7km in a particular region of Germany (bear in mind how much of Germany overlies Tertiary rocks). Note, only six control samples were taken from just three localities (Suhl, Hainspitz and three samples from Hettstedt). As for the metal analysis, the significance of the analysis of copper production in Mitterberg in the Salzburg region that shows it "ended at the beginning of the 1st millennium BC" (so allegedly the Sky Disc could not have been made later) depends on what the Sky Disc was made from.  Landesamt (using the royal 'we') says: 

Due to lack of space, we refrain from discussing the many other inconsistencies in the content of the article here. 

Well, as  Rupert Gebhard and Rüdiger Krause said, all further conclusions and interpretations of the cultural context and the meaning of the Nebra disk that have been made so far will have to be subjected to a critical discussion. Let's now see it. Let us see it start with a discussion of whether metal detectorists are cognitively equipped to make the kind of observations and record of the details of archaeological context that is the basis of this dispute. It is their word here against some evidence that throws their account into doubt. Because at the moment, this dispute suggests that the only record available are several court depositions of a criminal case that took place more than three years after the discovery. Let us find out where the metal detectorists and their associates had been digging earlier and see soil samples from those sites given the same analysis to help falsify the theory that the objects were not originally found together at x-marks-the-spot on Mittleberg bei Nebra.

Attempt to Sue Ariadne Galleries over ‘forged’ mosaics

Mr Demirjian in 2015

There are a lot of faked antiquities around on the market, and it seems even the 'high end' are not above suspicion of handling them, as an unfolding case suggests (Tristan Kirk, 'Sheikh who entertained Queen sues gallery over ‘forged’ mosaics' The Evening Standard 4th September 2020)
A member of the Qatari royal family has accused an art gallery of selling two mosaics worth almost £300,000 which later allegedly turned out to be fakes. His Highness Sheikh Hamad Bin Abdullah Al Thani is locked in a High Court dispute with Ariadne Galleries over the two sales which date back to December 2013 and July 2014. Legal papers lodged reveal the art firm — which has galleries in Mayfair and New York — is being sued for alleged breach of contract and misrepresentation over the sales. The claim concerns the sale of mosaics named "Cupids At The Grape Harvest" and "Eros Hunting With A Stag". The writ states: “Both mosaics are inauthentic and/or forgeries. They were purchased for $200,000 and $150,000 respectively, equating to a total purchase price of $350,000.”
It is not stated on what grounds the inauthenticity of the items in question is claimed, and it remains to be seen whether that accusation will stand up in court. I could not find online pictures of these mosaics, possibly the Gallery used them in a 2013/14 catalogue.The legal challenge to Ariadne Galleries is being brought primarily by the Qatar Investment and Projects Development Holding Company (Qipco) of which the Sheikh, a cousin of the Emir of Qatar, is chief executive. The Sheikh is listed as the second claimant. The Al Thani family is very active in the art-buying world.  Ariadne Gallery is a family-run business with locations in New York and London and specializing in the art of the ancient civilizations of Egypt, the Near East, Greece, Rome, Asia, and early medieval Europe. Its founder and current chairman is Torkom Demirjian.

Thursday, 3 September 2020

British Museum's Stuff was Bought and Paid for, Says Director


Hartwig Fischer said it was a 'simplification' to treat the British Museum's collection of 13 million historical objects from all over the globe as a hoard of stolen goods that can be returned because many of its artefacts were bought and paid for (Craig Simpson, 'The British Museum's 'loot' was bought and paid for, says director', Telegraph 27 August 2020).
Mr Fischer has argued that many significant pieces in the museum were acquired by less controversial means, including purchases, donations and treasure finds. These items cannot simply be sent back to their country of origin, the director said, and the legitimate acquisition of objects had to be taken into account. [...] the museum has worked to address its colonial legacy, and the issue of possessing cultural artefacts taken during the pomp [sic] of empire. [...] When asked why treasures cannot simply be handed back, Mr Fischer referenced the complex histories of many of the displays. Items from the Sutton Hoo hoard were gifted by Edith Pretty, the landowner of the site where the famous ship burial was found, and pieces like the Bronze Age Ringlemere cup were given to the museum after being legally declared as treasure finds.
See the text by Kwame Opoku: "Did British Museum Buy Most Of Its Thirteen Million Artefacts?" in Modern Ghana who analyses Mr Fischer's apologism.
It is depressing to realize that those who often preach the rule of law and human rights seem not to care much for the human rights of others to an independent cultural development and the right to determine freely the location and use of their artefacts. If the British Museum wants to discard its reputation as a citadel of looted and stolen artefacts of others, it should stop trying to advance baseless arguments and justifications for its illegitimate and unjustifiable detention of artefacts of others. [...] A large portion of the 13 million artefacts in the British Museum were clearly acquired under colonial rule with all the force at the disposal of the defunct violent British Empire.
Also, in the relationship to the debate on "who owns?", note the issues that it runs the Portable Antiquities Scheme handling finds for the most part dug and brought in by artefact hunters. Has legal title of the many individual objects the PAS handles been cleared with the owners of the property they were taken from? Or do PAS not really bother about title assignment and provenance documentation? 


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