Tuesday, 9 August 2022

More on Catawiki Due Diligence

A seller of antiquities on a collectors' forum near you has a complaint about Catawiki (Jun 22 #96875):
¡Hola! I'm from Spain and yes, I've started the process of selling in Catawiki and they are asking for boring paperwork.
Member prometeus2 says (Jun 22 #96877), "Ya....they do that since a while..". And it is interesting to note what that onerous paperwork consists of: "They ask you to fill this..."

... a form with some of the boxes already ticked. This is presumably sent to Catawiki for their files so they can claim they are covered if an artefact is challenged. Note there is no field to fill in for the actual documentation that is/wll be made available. It is difficult to avoid getting the impression that this form is purely for show.

Saturday, 6 August 2022

Nimrud Material in Museums

Museums worldwide holding archaeological material from Nimrud (the ancient Assyrian city of Kalhu), as of 2013.

Map created by Ruth A. Horry in January 2014 for the Nimrud Project: http://oracc.org/nimrud funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Published on 3 June 2015

Friday, 5 August 2022

Catawiki Seller Changes his Tune: The Seven Points of Licit Antiquities and Responsible Collecting


     Austro-Dutch Smoke and Mirrors        

The Dutch company Catawiki profits from selling off collectables, including artefacts ripped from the archaeological record. The way this is done has been commented a number of times on this blog. The sales go on... like this oddly-labelled item sold yesterday: "No. 60730115 Ancient Roman Silver Extremely Rare Massive Legionary ''Knee'' Fibula- 29,5g. or 10 Silver Denarii-Legions Monthly Salary" ( "Purchased by the current owner in 2015 in Austria, Wien. Collected Since: 1970's. Previous owners history: Old Austrian Private Collection. The Seller can prove that the lot was obtained legally, provenance statement seen by Catawiki"). But look at the sidebar where it says:
The seller guarantees and can prove that the object was obtained legally. The seller was informed by Catawiki that they had to provide the documentation required by the laws and regulations in their country of residence. The seller guarantees and is entitled to sell/export this object. The seller will provide all provenance information known about the object to the buyer. The seller ensures that any necessary permits are/will be arranged. The seller will inform the buyer immediately about any delays in obtaining such permits".
Now look at the photos. They avoid actually showing the structure of the spring mechanism of this brooch, but enough of the tooling to show it has been very inexpertly cleaned... the fourth photo is of an official "certificate" of some kind. This very clearly shows what complete morons this seller takes his clients for. Look at it more carefully.

The questions involved in buying licit antiquities are:
1) In which country (ie under which legislation) was this object dug up (how is that documented) or is that information being suppressed?

2) Was this object legally excavated, when, where and under what circumstances (how is that documented) or was it looted?

3) Did the person who put it on the market in the source country acquire legal title that was passed to the first buyer (how is that documented) or was it placed on the market without any process to establish legality?

4) Is there a paper trail confirming legal origins and legal transfer of ownership and its date (what does it consist of)?

5) If the object is now being sold outside the source country (see point one) can the seller show when and how that took place and that proper export procedure for that source country was followed (how is that documented) or was the object smuggled?

6) Can the person handling the object in the market country demonstrate (with what documentation) that they are not handling illicitly-obtained objects stolen from the source country [where such country mandates state ownership of resources such as archaeological material] and not the product of trafficking/smuggling?

7) Can the destination of the funds generated by commerce in this artefact be demonstrated and established (not merely assumed) not to be an organized criminal gang, extremist political group etc ?
Now look at the nonsense of a declaration Catawiki supplies. The first group of fields establish nothing. The second ("Provenance (sic) Informatioon") that this artefact was bought in Vienna in 2015 from a "private". Private could mean anything. Mafia men, drug dealers and human traffickers are very private too - as are right-wing politicians that sell antiquities, no doubt. In 2014 and 2015 there was a lot of looting of Roman sites going on in several countries of central Europe and the Balkans, probably very many antiquities coming onto the market from these, so how does this declaration help show that Mr (or Ms) Private was not in Vienna trafficking them?

The third block of fields... ("Previous ownership history"). Woah. Having been told that the provenance (origin) of the object is dated to "2015 in Vienna" we now learn that since then it has been in a private collection ("Old Austrian private collection D") since the 1970s (!). Eh? It seems the seller is muddled. What they want to say is that the object has no known provenance (uh-oh) but that it was in a collection "in the 1970s". What does that mean? 1970/71? 1978/9/80? And it was in that "Old Austrian private collection D" (what does that even mean?) for at least 36 years before it was sold by a "private" (so is that "D" or somebody else?) to "somebody" who had it another seven years, somewhere before the catawiki seller gets it. Or is the catawiki seller that anonymous hidden someone? I think this seller has simply not grasped the basic concept of "ownership history" and "paper trail". Nothing in their declaration makes any sense and certainly contributes zero information to work out whether that piece can be shown as licit. But look at the next bit: "documents that corroborate this ownership OR provenance" (should be AND)... a Cerificate of Authenticity that will be supplied "on request". Just think about that a second, they acquired somehow somewhere an antiquity that has one of these famous "Antiquities dealer's Certificate of Authenticity".. and though they sell the artefact, they'd prefer to hang on to the COA. Why? A souvenir? Surely this should pass automatically (no?) to the new owner as part of the corroborating documentation THEY will need when they in turn try to sell the antiquity. It is difficuult not to suspect that this COA in fact is one that does not yet exist, and will be created (like this pathetically inadequate declaration) by the Catawiki dealer. Is that the case? Note they do not say anything about whose COA that is and when it was issued (1970s? 2015? Another time?).

Note the three "seller ensures" tickboxes. Weasel wording alert. Seller ensures any necessary permits are arranged. Necesary is an export licence if that item was exported from specific countries (the UK to Vienna for example). Has the seller got that? If they have why is it not listed? And look at the first one, the seller ensures the "seller has familiarised himself that (sic) in line with the laws and regulations in his own country it is allowed to export this object". Regardless of whether or not it got theere by trafficking, he means.

It seems to me that both Catawiki and this Catawiki seller have got themselves in a right mess. Basically, the latter seems to have acquired an artefact that cannot be documented in any way to answer the seven criteria of considering an artefact licit. In fact, not a single one of them. I am sure if confronted they'd start whining how difficult they find it with the business contacts they have at the moment to get artefacts with paperwork. That of course raises questions (point seven) who those business contacts are in fact in contact with? I would say that a dealer that connot establish the contacts with suppliers who can provide demonstrably kosher artefacts with the proper paper trail and verifiable back stories, they should not be in the antiquities business. All they are doing is bringing the whole trade into DISrepute.

Wednesday, 3 August 2022

The Enterprising Worley Loves his Job Profiting from the Trashing of the Past

If online Khazar antiquities from "the southeastern region of modern day European Russia" are your thing, Auburn, Alabama, US-based dealer worleyenterprisesinternationalllc has just what you need. They've been on eBay since Oct 07, 2014 and have over 9000 positive feedback, currently selling 1456 items. Apart from the Khazar ones, they have a load of those Koban culture "daggers" that I wrote about a while back (and there is potentially more 'Koban-culture-on-sale' news coming up soon).

The Worleys also have a number of intact Roman period fibulae presumably from grave-robbing. Because, where else would you find them in an archaeological context? [update: I should have written: these types, with the high catchplates, the folded feet, this spring construction etc. are all of types not found in the West, they are eastern European ones and are found in particular in the area north of the Limes, so the seller is misleading writing: "These originated from the Ancient Roman Empire". These more probably originated from Romania and/or Ukraine] (these ones do not appear to be the fakes that Ukrainians are now turning out in an interesting variety of forms and numbers - I hope to get time to do a post on these too some time soon).

 If you want orthodox pectoral crosses (also the best place to search for them is cemeteries), they've got those too.  

If you are into Judaica, metal detecting the sites of eastern European ghettos and sifting through the ashes of vanished lives will get you some dreidels (how 'funny', eh?)  [... but their Torahs come, they actually admit without shame, from Yemen and Syria (!)]. 

And of course we have the Russian wire money and the Olbia dolphins. that no 'enterprising' US dealer offering decontextualised artefacts from this part of Europe could be without.

The US market being what it is, it goes without saying that in none of these auctions is any kind of documentation of export procedure mentioned, or any document covering assignment of title in the source country (where all dugup antiquities belong to the state). Most are accompanied only by some coverall text with a surfeit of exclamation marks like this: 
"This is an incredible lot, and would make a great addition to any antiquities collection, coin collection, or display. This would be a great teaching tool, research piece, display piece, decor lot, conversation piece, gift, or addition to any collection! [...] All items come from a smoke free pet free home. [...] My items come from my personal collection, reputable whole-sellers, art/antique dealers, auction houses, old barns/houses, and more. Some are given to me to sell, found, or even items that I got here off of (sic) eBay (from reputable sellers of course;). Some Is (sic) bought in bulk so I can offer you great prices, and some are rare and I only have one! Let me know if I can help you in any way and I’d be happy to!!"
Smoke-free, 100% positive, I hate opening packets of things bought on eBay that reek of stale tobacco smoke. A house without a cat or a dog though??? There is something very suspicious there. As for the rest...

The proprietor has this to say:
"I have a high value for what our past can teach us, and thus want to help preserve it all I can! Part of preserving our past, is helping historic pieces find new homes where they will get the attention they deserve. With past pieces from my collection currently in museums, prestigious collections, or in formal displays, we are helping preserve the past a little at the time! "
Except by providing a market for goods obtained by trashing ancient sites, cemeteries among them, dealers like this are knowingly financing and encouraging the unsustainable DESTRUCTION of the evidence of the past. But of course, he himself makes a profit... "Selling things on eBay is my job, and I love it!".    

Interestingly, there seem to be a number of companies, including in Alabama, with the name "Worley Enterprises", none of which seem to be this one. All very secretive and untransparent. 

Tuesday, 2 August 2022

Creaming off the Best Bits: Sites Trashed, Undocumented Export from Region of Ongoing Conflict.

Really no comment is necessary, in the usual word-soup that eBay sellers use to entice buyers, we find both "Russia" [invaders] and "Ukraine" [Victim of unprovoked destructive attack and looting], add in "ancient" and the buyer can see exactly what this sale represents in the fifth month of the war.
Lot 3 Ancient Viking Enamel Bronze Cross Kiev Russia Ukraine 1100 Byzantine 10 Condition: --not specified Price: US $110.00

Item specifics
Material: Bronze
19. Pendant hoop indicted.
SIZE 27X36; 25X33; 19X31 (19X58) mm.
K 357. K 10.14
Ugly picture, complete garbage as a description, collection history: zero. Export permit and documentation of title - no mention.

Seller information: cream1904 (9594) Located in Jersey City, New Jersey, United States, has been an eBay member since Apr 20, 2005, 25K Items sold, now selling 5,501 items. These include such things as:

Ancient Viking Scandinavian Bronze Cross Kiev Russia Ukraine 1100 Byzantine 17 $70.00

LOT OF 9 Ancient Viking Enamel Bronze Cross Kiev Russia ca 1100 Byzantine 64 $200.00

Ancient Viking Scandinavian Bronze Cross Kiev Russia Ukraine 1100 Byzantine 42 $200.00





LOT OF 6 Olbia Cast Dolphin ca 5th BC OY θY Greek Ukraine 515 $95.00

Olbia Cast Bronze Dolphin ca 5 Th BC Ukraine Greek Russia LOT of 7 Dolphin 237 Price: US $72.00 (Plus another 51 of these coins in a number of lots).

There are also relatively large numbers of the small hammered 'wire money' coins current in Russia between 1360 and and the early reign of Peter the Great (c. 1710).

In not a single case is any metion made of how the items got onto the market, and how they left war-torn source countries (at a time when one of them is under sanctions). How can this be? And what is more notable is that this (and dozens of sales like this) are going on in the plain view of those US and British academics that are grabbing grant money to do remote surveys and publish summary reports independently of Ukrainian specialists working on the ground on "damage caused to Ukrainian cultural heritage". Yet they just turn awy from the sale of items in their own counbtries that are the motor for the destructive mining of archaeological sites (also cultural heritage of course) for collectable items like this. Dealers like Creamy above skim off the more seleable stuff while all the other artefacts hoiked out while looking for them are simply discarded, leaving huge holes in the archaeological record of countless undocumentyed sites. And British and American archaeologists shrug their shoulders as this happens right under their noses and in their own countries.

Underneath the ARCHES: Damaging "Participation" Better Than No Damage At All?

The acronym ARCHES is really pushing it, it refers to Antwerp University's "AntweRp Cultural HEritage Sciences" research group of the "Faculty of Design Sciences" (sic) associated with the educational programs of Conservation-Restoration and Heritage studies. It aims to "build bridges between various scientific fields [...] in a transdisciplinary way in pursuit of improving the conservation of both tangible and intangible heritage". One wonders though what they have in mind by the latter term.

They've just bounced out on social media to announce "A new open access article was published, titled "#Metal-Detecting Rallies Characterizing the Phenomenon, Understanding the Challenges, and Identifying Strategies for #Heritage Protection," which ARCHES member Suzie Thomas co-authored. Read it here". I wrote about this text two weeks ago here: 'Ivory Tower Strategy, Carry on Doing What We're Doing'. I thought it was pretty hopeless, and ask where does that multiauthored text get us when it comes to protecting the fragile European (and further) archaeological record from wholesale damaging commercial exploitation by artefact hunters, dealers and collectors.

This is a particularly relevant question to ask ARCHES in this context since they have already published another gleeful text about a project they are doing about artefact hunting, where again it is seen as a "participatory approach" to the "heritage" (objects ripped out of the archaeological record). [ Kiara Beaulieu Archaeological Legislation and Practice of Metal Detection in Ontario, Canada ]. This reads:

By exploring the types of attitudes and legislation found globally it can help identity trends in behaviours, reactions and real-world outcomes of restrictive and permissive approaches to detecting. By identifying if moveable heritage is ‘safer’ in countries with restrictive approaches, this research hopes to understand and illustrate what types of approaches have found successes in artifact protection (sic).

Since her promotor is Suzie Thomas, no prizes for guessing what she'll come up with. I cannot get to understand this fixation these people have with "working out" whether legislation restricting looting protects the heritage more than legislation that lets them get along with it. What in the end this actually comes round to is they fx the question asked and then "evidence" gathered to make it look like liasse faire is in some way better at preventing archaeological sites being damaged by having random objects hoiked out of them by people interested in their values as collectables rather than components of a pattern of evidence (which they don't see because their holes are too narrow and they are not looking for it anyway). As an archaeologist, I do not get it, and none of the people .who adhere to this way of thinking are prepared to explain their views with more than platitudes and appeals to a idealised picture of "metal detectorists' that has nothing to do with the reality clearly visible on the forums they never go to.

Notice that Ms Beaulieu admits at the end of this extract that she is seeking "success in artefact protection" rather than the buried archaeological record that is ripped apart to produce the collectables (and constitutes the essence of the site that is being ripped apart). Perhaps they don't teach students about archaeological sites in Antwerp, just loose "old things". 

I am a bit puzzled, seeing as this is based in Ontario where the metal objects (prehistoric traded copper and meteoric iron excluded) are mostly going to be post-1608-ish, why she's not including the collection driven exploitation of archaeological sites represented by lithic artefacts too. It is exactly the same problem as with "metal detecting" (collection driven exploitation of the archaeological record). It would be churlish of me to suggest that this is avoided as here the issue in question is far too difficult to ignore. Once a collector has picked off the (necessarily fewer) diagnostic artefacts from a site that provide the information on what went on there and when (etc), leaving just the debitage and uncharacteristic bits, the site is all too obviously near-ruined as a source of information about the past. It does not matter if the collector is after lithic points or metal buckles, the effect is the same.  Ms Beaulieu's project only looks at part of the issue she claims to be addressing. Collection of lithics is also a form of "participation", involving the artefacts themselves as well as the landscapes they are found in.  

But then, so is putting graffiti on standing stones a means of personal interaction with sites and monuments of the past. There are a number of studies of graffiti and 'public art' that look at this (see for example here). Personally, I do not see any difference between this form of behaviour and somebody who takes a spade to an archaeological site and pulls out random fragments, leaving nothing except (maybe a scant 'x-marks the spot' record of some of the evidence they have disturbed). In both types of "participation", damage is being caused to the original surviving form of the site. A question I would like to see ARCHES answer is whether closing a blind eye to the damage done by such a "participatory approach to the past" preserving and enhancing the most valuable heritage values of the site affected?

Catawiki Still Being Used for Laundering Ukrainian Artefacts

The problem with Catawiki (CEO Ravi Prakesh Vora, Amsterdam, NL) is that one really wonders about the veracity or effectiveness of their stock mollifier: "The Seller can prove that the lot was obtained legally, provenance statement seen by Catawiki". But not verified, apparently. Fibulologist Renate (see previous posts) has again uncovered some disquieting evidence that the site is being used to launder material that can be firmly documented as originating from war-torn Ukraine. At a time when there is so much concern about damage to Ukrainian cultural heritage, there is so little notice being taken in the concerns being raised about this. So once again, we are being asked to believe that ancient artefacts are capable of being in two places at once: 

More “dual presence” brooches (all offered by aesnumismatics on Catawiki)

These are artefacts that required some imagination or scientific sensation to explain their provenance. Or a very simple one. In any case, the information on Violity.com and Catawiki.com do not match.

You noticed that? Bought from a seller with material from Kharkiv? Does Aesnumismatics still have business links with this person, and are they Russian? Why is the Austrian seller giving totally different collection histories from the one that can so easily be documented online? Parallel universes, really, or is there something to hide here? Why has Catawiki made no effort to verify the collection history of objects they are facilitating the sale of?  They employ experts who should be flagging up things like this ("Oj, that ain't Ostrogothic, no way!"), and if their experts would not know an Ostrogoth if it hit them in the face, then they need to give their experts extra training. There is no such word as "goatling". 

Vignette: Europe, showing current conflict zones (red) and movement of artefacts from Ukraine to Catawiki in Netherlands - via an Austrian consigner. 

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