Wednesday, 30 November 2022

"Ancient Art" Conundrum

Estimate: £4,000 - 6,000 (+bp*) Sold for (Inc. bp): £4,680

In a break with their normal practice, it seems that you can now comment below the YouTube videos that TimeLine Auctions uses to display some of their more recent acquisitions. An example is this rather odd-looking ["unbelievable"] relief in ancient Egyptian style (whose collection history only goes back to "[a] French collection, 1990s-early 2000s"). Where is it from?

But there are some comments. Barb in FL 4 days ago wrote: "Shouldn't it be returned to Egypt to a museum? Who stole it in the first place?" [no reply as yet]. I was more interested in its form and iconography.
PortAntissues 19 hours ago
This caught my eye. This is from an external surface (sunken relief) but where and how did it get this extensive wear? You do not say. What was the context it was discovered in (a floor maybe?) that would shed some light on its current condition? "French collection, 1990s-early 2000s" does not tell us much about the collection history or actual origins. How did it leave Egypt, is there any documentation?

What does the back look like? Has it been sawn off a larger block, or was it originally a slab? You do not say.

The iconography is a bit weird isn't it? Did the artist intend to depict him with deformed shoulders and misshapen arms? Also the profile of the "wife" is rather poor, with piggy little eyes.

If this is a seated figure and the horizontal lines are supposed to be their thighs (yes?) why do they look different from other reliefs of this period where a sceptre is shown, where the arm is above the thigh, not resting on it? Anyway, try and put your elbows on the top of your thighs while sitting on a stool. Where are the figure's bottoms? The ancient Egyptians were very fond of bottoms (aren't we all?) and it is odd that this couple were shown in such a bottomless form.

This craftsman, whenever he lived was not very good, was he? As "art". it's all a bit gawky and odd looking. Perhaps that is why Mr Tim Wonnacott is so enamoured of it? I wonder who will end up buying it?

No answer to that, either.  

LOT 0028 is dated by eminent TimeLine specialists ("Dr Alberto Maria Pollastrini, Paul Whelan, MA, Peter Clayton, FCILIP, Dip, Arch, FSA, FRNS") to the Ramesside period. Maybe, I am not sure on what evidence. But compare it with - for example - this one of Kha'emweset, son of Ramesses II. There are some differences.

I think it is especially disappointing that the people that put it on the market have disconnected it from the information about its biography. For example was it found redeposied in a later context - like, maybe, used as a paving stone, but face-up. Or is the erosion due to water movement? What was its history? If we postulate that it is from the exterior wall of a tomb chapel, to whom did it belong? We obviously will never know, the passage of this object through the market has ensureed that this information is lost.

Friday, 25 November 2022

Amber-Not-Amber in Antiquities Muddle

Sue McGovern-Huffman's Sands of Time Black Friday Sale (It's here, it's happening, it's the sale you've been waiting for! ❤️): 

MA2217 A rare Sumerian Amber Seal of a Lion ca. 3000 BCE [...] $1,950 USD
sensitively modeled from amber, rendered in the form of a recumbent lion with small vertically drilled eyes, with small alert ears, the legs bent, the underside depicting two felines surrounded by dots. Vertically pierced for attachment. A very rare example in this medium. [...] Provenance:
Property of a Philadelphia collector.
From the property of a London gentleman; thence by descent;
previously in an important private Mayfair, London, UK, collection, acquired after 1970,
accompanied by a paper by Professor W.G. Lambert.[...]

But, an email sent accidentally to a forum reveals what lies behind that dealer-garble:

Hi Sue, I want to inform you about one of the items in your Near Eastern Gallery, the brown Sumerian lion-form stamp seal ca. 3000 BCE. I am the Philadelphia collector who consigned this to Arte Primitivo. The only reason I purchased it from TimeLine Auctions is that it was purportedly amber, as per the note by Lambert, which would make it very rare. I showed it to Max Bernheimer at Christie’s, and he immediately determined that it is definitely not amber, although he thought it was genuine. I then performed a salt water test on it, and it did not float, as amber would, confirming his conclusion. That was the main reason I decided to sell it (at a loss). I agree with Howard Rose’s opinion that it is probably brown agate. I thought you would want to know about this.
Best regards,
Lee Simerman 
Oops, eh? Now actually there is a fair difference in 'heft' (the techncal term for specific gravity) between amber and agate,* so just having it in your hand should tell an experienced dealer (or gemstone collector) the difference. Professor Lambert should have known. But here is the rub. Nowhere in the Washington dealer's "provenance" (she means collection history) is there mention of Howard Rose's Arte Primiivo (East 65th Street, New York city) why? And where is TimeLine Auctions mentioned? Is that the "London gentleman"? Presumably in both cases the item would be in the catalogues of both sales, so why is that fact not mentioned? Furthermore, "in an important private Mayfair, London, UK, collection, acquired after 1970" does not place the export before the relevant legislation. So where is the mention of the export papers? Note how this collection history emphasises ownership, but obscures the agency of the antiquities trade in the process of moving it from one place to another. Sue McGovern-Huffman is the President of the "Association of Dealers and Collectors of Ancient and Ethnographic Art".

Oh yes, and let us just mention US amateurs dunking dugup antiquities in "salt water" in the absence of any other more technical way to analyse the artefacts they acquire.

 * as the gemological specialists at "TimeLine Auctions Inc. Gregory, Bottley and Lloyd (Gregorys) Est. 1858" would know: Amber 1.08, Agate 2.60 - 2.65.


On an antiquities collectors' forum near you: Sue McGovern 7:19pm #97664
Hi Lee, Thanks for the heads up, and apologies for the delay in responding, it has been a busy time. It is interesting you raised an issue with this seal because I’ve gone backward and forward on it before thinking it is amber. I’m not convinced it is brown agate because it is very light, and quite transparent without the agate markings. I’ve pulled it from the website to restudy the piece, and given the background you’ve now provided, will have a professional gemologist take a look at it. Will keep you updated,
Again, very much appreciate your input and hope you had a great Thanksgiving weekend.
Whoah. It was up on the dealer's website as "amber" (very rare and significant is it is Sumerian) even though in reality the dealer has "gone backward and forward" on the identification of the raw material, and even though that has happened, at no time before the sale did she contact a proper gemologist, and in both the title and description, the object is stated categorically to be amber. Secondly what does the term "agate markings" mean? I presume it means it is not banded, but then semitranslucent brownish unbanded cryptocrystalline quartz [chalcedony] is called "carnelian" (and if opaque jasper, or if darker in colour sard). All have more or less the dame SG, but McGovern does not quantify the value of her "light". It is an interesting exercise to Google the term ""Sumerian carnelian"", despite all the museum collections that have been digitalised and online, the hits form a very interesting and thought-provoking pattern. Although some entries have been deleted from the internet leaving a very vestigial entry, it does look a little as if the term mainly occurs in the listings of just two dealers, one in the US and one in the UK. If so, these dealers are maybe creating new knowledge about trade relations of southern Mesopotamia between c. 4100-1750 BCE, or maybe they are doing siomething else. Question, how is a "professional gemmologist" going to tell whether the object is an authentic antiquity without any informatyion about the archaeological context it was supposedly found in?

Medieval coin hoard could be one of the largest ever discovered in Scotland

Medieval coin hoard could be one of the largest ever discovered in Scotland Story by Tom Metcalfe MSN Live Science 9h ago

Metal detectorists have unearthed what may be one of the largest hoards of coins ever discovered in Scotland, in a field in the southwest of the country. The hoard is made up of more than 8,400 silver coins that date from the medieval period, mostly from the 13th and 14th centuries. Ken McNab, a spokesman for the Scottish government, told Live Science that many of the coins are "Edwardian pennies" named after King Edward I, who reigned in England from 1272 to 1307. 
Ah, but another "story" has it that the coins are "a mixture of Scottish, English, Irish and continental silver. The majority of the 8,407 coins are Edward I and II pennies and are believed to be worth hundreds of thousands of pounds". No doubt. But Edwards the which?

Hat tip Dave Coward

Thursday, 24 November 2022

"Industrialist's Antiquities" Seized in Ukraine

Reports are coming in of a seizure in Ukraine of objects that include antiquities, allegedly being prepared for illegal export by industrialists suspected of collaboration with Russia, including the chairman of board of directors of JSC Motor Sich, Vyacheslav Boguslayev (СБУ запобігла вивезенню з України колекційних авто та скіфського золота, які належать президенту "Мотор Січі" Богуслаєву, 24 November 2022 ).

The Security Service of Ukraine has released evidence of treason and collaborationism, namely cooperation with Russia during the ongoing conflict, by the president of JSC "Motor Sich" Vyacheslav Boguslayev, who has been a Russian citizen since 2000. Allegedly, the "Motor Sich" company sold aircraft parts worth UAH 400 million that went to a Russian aircraft repair plant that serves the military-industrial complex of Russia, allowing for the maintenance of helicopters that are destroying Ukrainian critical infrastructure. Boguslayev​ was arrested by the court on October 24.

On November 4, all property of the president of JSC "Motor Sich" and the head of the department of foreign economic activities of the company, who are suspected of working in the Russian Federation, were seized. On November 7, Oleksiy Danilov, Secretary of the NSDC, announced that the assets of the companies "Motor Sich", "Zaporizhtransformator", "AvtoKrAZ", "Ukrnafta" and "Ukrtatnafta" were transferred to the Ministry of Defence.
A search ws carried out for the assets of the president of JSC Motor Sich worth hundreds of millions of hryvnias. It is reported that among the items found and confiscated were rare cars, firearms and antiquities. Apparently members of the direction of the company had tried to hide the property on the territory of the company's premises and were intending in future to take it abroad illegally. During the searches, officials found seven luxury cars, including four rare ones, a cutter, three hunting guns and a rifle, and "a large number of antiquities of European nations" including items of Scythian gold, as well as objects from Classical Antiquity and Kyivan Rus. The photos supplied by Ukrainian authorities show some of the items.

Sythian Gold

Antiquities including Crimean Gothic fibulae and other stuff

An Odd Gold (?) Bowl with Amethysts and Celtic interlace....

A collectable Nazi dagger
The latter we can dismiss. It is a very clearly a crude fake of a type produced in large numbers for the collectors' market (I do not know much about the Ukrainian market for WW2 militaria, so do not know if its  a local product, but such things have been turned out by Polish, German and western European fakers and are sold in flea markets and online). 

The bowl with interlace and amethyst cabochons is probably intended as a lavebo for use in the liturgy. I'd say it is unlikely to be an antiquity, probably it is nineteenth/twentieth century 'in the style of' Celtic Revival piece from western Europe, but I really do not know, it's not my field. 

The rectangular plates and the things in bags look like Scythian mounts, I am rather puzzled by the long case they are stored in. It will be interesting to see if it is claimed they are recent dugups (most Scythian kurhans in the region have been dug into already) or museum thefts. 

The neckrings with horse head protomes are probably Hellenistic from the Black Sea region, but have a rather stiff, soapy appearance in the photos. The basket earrings are Medieval Rus'ian (10-13th cent-ish).

The mixed stuff in the fourth photo (in a slide box!) has me puzzling. The top left has openwork silver beads, Medieval 10th-?? century, with rather chunky carnelian beads (not sure the latter are antiquities). Five of the other compartments contain broken and whole Crimean Gothic-type fibulae and buckles. These have me stumped. I'd say from the photos that the ones on the right are modern fakes (very much reminiscent of some of which I have had in my hand in Warsaw) are the broken ones also fakes, broken to make a job lot look more convincing? There is zero doubt about the items in the centre compartment. They are the worst, crappiest brass cast fakes of Penkovska fibulae ever. The industrialist who bought these had no eye. One of them is broken. There is no excuse for this, Ukraine has a small army of antiquity fakers turning out this kind of stuff by the bucket-load, but of a much higher quality, and masquerading as detector finds. They are good at faking the patina too.   

So what is this assemblage? To my eye there is a lot here that is questionable as an antiquities dealer's stock, still less a millionaire's stash to preserve/transport his capital. 

I do not know anything more about this case than I read in that article and deduce from the photos the Ukrainians have shown us, but as an archaeologist and observer of the antiquities market it looks a bit fishy to me. I'm not going to speculate on what is going on, just going to say that this is another case involving antiquities where all may not be as it seems. This is regrettable as it is difficult enough getting antiquities treated seriously by the authorities anywhere, and it really gets my goat when "antiquities-shock-horror" stories are used to further other ends (Abu Sayyaf being a case in point) when there is a big hoo-haa that in the end leads nowhere. 




hat tip: Sam Hardy

Sunday, 20 November 2022

Meet the 'Black Diggers:' The Russians Robbing WW2 Graves

VICE film from 2015: "Meet the 'Black Diggers': The Russians Robbing WW2 Graves

In World War 2 thousands of soldiers were killed on the border of Germany and Russia. Many of their bodies were never found. Now there is a group of "Black Diggers" that illegally dig up the remains of German and Russian soldiers to sell the military artifacts they find.

Friday, 18 November 2022

Spectator: "STOP Sneering at Metal Detectorists"

John Gimlette of the Spectator says (19 Nov 2022) "It’s time to stop sneering at metal detectorists". It's another review of Nigel Richardson's "The Accidental Detectorist" ("a story of how he found himself again, along with a few bits of treasure"). Boring review. And totally off-mark, most UK archaeologists and members of the public are far from "sneering" at treasure hunters with metal detectorists and pockets full of loose goodies to gawp at. Gimlette gives the impression that the book is the usual tekkie-playing-the-victim. I don't see the conservation aspect as having impinged on his consciousness.

Detectorists' Finds Among Items Reportedly Missing from Northern UK Council Store

The Express newspaper has reported UK police are investigating the disappearances of potential treasures from council storerooms: "Metal detectorists' possible treasures 'worth thousands' vanish from safety of store room" (Ian Randall, Nov 14th 2022):

An investigation has been launched after a spate of disappearances of potential treasures from secured council storerooms — amid fears of an inside job. The missing artefacts were unearthed by metal detectorists across Cumbria and Lancashire over the last four years, and are believed to have been worth thousands of pounds in total. The finds had been handed over to the authorities, pending an inquest to determine whether or not they officially constituted treasures. However, the detectorists fear that the missing items may now have been secreted into the antiquities black market. One unnamed metal detectorist told the Sun: “This is devastating for us personally but also for the nation. “Some of these items had not been held by human hands since the Bronze Age. “But after we found them and passed them to officials, they have vanished into thin air.”

Another detectorist, Peter Major of Barrow — whose finds had included a set of 3,500-year-old, Bronze Age [pal]stave axe heads — added: “For two-and-a-half years I heard nothing, so went to see them and was told that one of my axe heads and all the coins had vanished. “I began speaking to other detectorists and was shocked to find I wasn’t alone.” [...] A British Museum spokesperson said: ‘As the investigation is ongoing it would not be appropriate to comment any further at this stage.’
'Further'? On the forums, information gathering is in full flow:
Post by justinbell » Mon Nov 14, 2022 9:11 pm Missing items from PAS Evening all, I wondered if any other members have had notification about finds being either lost, misplaced or even stolen from / by the PAS in Cumbria". [...] "This topic has 31 replies You must be a registered member and logged in to view the replies in this topic".
So the public cannot see what is happening to the public's heritage, eh? Smart move guys.

Comments underneath the Express article include:
Phoenixxxx 6 HRS AGO
So let me get this right? By law you have to give it to a bunch of toffs at the Council and they then potentially go on holiday and build an extension?

Rombalds way 1 DAY AGO
And they have the cheek to bang on about night hawks and stealing the nations heritage. This is disgusting and I'd be absolutely fuming if it was my finds stolen.

Walter Drizzle 1 DAY AGO
A cop out by the British Museum... no comment. It's all going the way of not my problem. Then who's responsible for finds to be kept safe.

happy wanderer 3 DAYS AGO
Do the right thing then find it’s been stolen. Better not handing it in then
Let us just be clear, because it seems the Express' journalist is not, if any objects have been mislaid in or from the Preston storerooms, it is not just the finders that are deprived of them but landowners are deprived of their property. Did the BM press release on behalf of the Portable Antiquities Scheme and its partners neglect to say this?

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