Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Artefact Hunters Damage Hadrian's Wall

Illegal treasure hunters have damaged part of Hadrian's Wall, experts claim. BBC 20th Jumne 2018
[..] metal detectorists are blamed for more than 50 holes found around the 1,900-year-old Brunton Turret section, near Hexham, Northumberland. Historic England said those responsible were searching for loot such as Roman coins and military regalia. Other areas of the ancient wall, a World Heritage site, have been targeted. Historic England said it was working with police to try and find those responsible. But it added it was not practical to install security measures like CCTV along the stretch of the wall. The 73-mile (117km) wall stretches between Wallsend in North Tyneside and Bowness on Solway in Cumbria and has about 160 scheduled monuments, which include Roman camps, forts and signal stations. Anyone using a metal detector without authorisation on these sites is committing a criminal offence.
Mike Collins, Inspector of Ancient Monuments, is the one roped in to do the usual bit of fluff-talk "We know that the majority of the metal detecting community complies with the laws and regulations regarding discovery and recovery of objects from the land. "But the small number of people who steal artefacts and damage ancient sites [...]" Mr Collins might like to tell us how we know that. Can he? Or is this just waffle? How does he 'know' how many people do things they are hardly going to be bragging about?
He said the majority of items taken were sold on, some via online auction sites, with others being bought by individual collectors.
Again, how do we know that: No artefact hunter acting illegally in the UK has a collection of their own? That would be going against what we know of illegal artefact hunting in other countries. The upshot of what Mr Cioollins is saying is if we block thiose sakles, we stop the majority of what he calls 'nighthawking'. Is that true?

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

In the case of Unpapered Artefacts Without Documented Collecting History, 'Who Knows?' Caveat Emptor.

 Last month I discussed a seizure by the Italian Carabinieri of antiquities from a Roman property developer who now faces prosecution for possessing illegally excavated works. But the Art Museum is, interestingly, taking this further perhaps on behalf of the beleaguered collector (?) (Cristina Ruiz, 'Top experts dispute Italian police claims about seized ‘antiquities’...' Art Newspaper 19th June 2018):
When we sent this picture to five independent experts, all of them questioned the objects’ authenticity. Although the specialists said they could not offer a definitive opinion based on a photograph, all of them expressed grave doubts. 
Four of these six (not five) specialists are unnamed, so it is not clear in what their specialism lies, one says he 'cannot imagine where a terracotta life-size horse head could come from in antiquity', a second decided the horse and a bull head were 'crude copies' and a third questions the value assigned to the seized artefacts, and in the case of the vase on the far right, 'The background colour is suspicious as well as the shape of the vessel. There are subtleties in where the handles are placed, the shape of the vessel as well as the foot, which are giving me pause for thought'. A fourth also  had suspicions about the two vases shown as well as the larger terracottas ('but they are good quality. As I understand it, the Italian forgers [are] some of the best'). 
The London-based dealer Rupert Wace concurred. “The bull and horse heads do look dubious,” he said, adding that “the value suggested for the pieces in the photograph is preposterous, even if the objects are genuine”. [...] John Boardman, emeritus professor of classical archaeology at the University of Oxford, said: “The vases look more plausible than the rest, but who knows?”
One thing they do not mention, to judge by the way they are propped up with grey boxes, neither the bull head nor the horsey one seem to have been mounted in the collector's original display. Why not?

I think the newspaper is trying to limit the damage done to public opinion about the antiquities market by this sort of seizure, but instead with that 'who knows?', they've done another kind of damage. How can you trust a dealer's opinion if six specialists differ so much in their opinion based on the same evidence? How much of what a dealer claims about an artefact they are trying to sell is substantive information, and how much just guesswork and humbug?


Turkish security forces seize two 'ancient gold-plated Torahs'

Apparently, one of the seized manuscripts

'According to reports, security forces stopped a vehicle arriving from Istanbul with five passengers upon receiving intelligence. After conducting a search, the gendarmerie found the Torahs hidden inside a loudspeaker in the trunk. The Torahs were reportedly written on gazelle skin and were embellished with emerald and ruby decorations. The suspects were planning to sell the ancient books and were headed to meet the buyers. Bilecik Museum Directorate officials noted that the exact date of the Torahs will be announced after examination'.
(source: Daily Sabah, 'Turkish security forces seize 2 ancient gold-plated Torahs', May 8, 2018)

One feels they'd be better advised checking whether the seized items are authentic and not tourist bazaar fakes before they report their 'success'.

Another One

'Any input to any of the vellum pages of our Codex by a reader would be most grateful (sic), please any useful comments or corrections can be send directly to me at We here at would appreciate all the help we can get, to decipher this unique Codex'.

 Well, Mr Owen Felix, where did you get this and did you get it with the valid export papers for it? Similar things have been appearing on the market in some numbers in the past five years (only), the same texture and colour of the pages, the same raggedy edges, random damage, the same manner of binding, they have similar faded uneven (unpracticed) script, the nonsensical insertion of random images. In yours one (43 seconds) looks 'Classical Greek' (or Minoanish) doesn't it, just before a Hodegetria Theotokas modelled on the Iwerska image maybe (look at the Christchild's halo) ...

The problem is all the other ones quite clearly are fakes, they seem to originate in the Turkish/Syrian border area (that's where most of them turn up), is that where you got this? In which case who did you buy it from, and what was it represented as?  If you agree you've been duped, take it back and ask for your money to be returned because you 'made a mistake buying it' and see what the seller says. I'd suggest care in how you phrase that, we suspect the some involved in the trade in such items have guns...

Good luck getting your money back!

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Controversy over Thai Buddha in London's SOAS

There is a 13th-century broken off Buddha torso of Thai origin standing in front of the Brunei Gallery in London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).  On its website, the SOAS describes the statue as “a delightful 13th-century Lopburi Buddha torso of Thai origin”. The manner in which it got there is under discussion (Phatarawadee Phataranawik, Thai Buddha statue not smuggled: SOAS', The Nation June 16, 2018)
The SOAS has denied claims the prestigious institution possesses a 13th-century sculpture likely smuggled from Thailand “We strongly reject any suggestion that SOAS University of London has handled this donation improperly. The allegations made in the blog post by this student are without foundation,” SOAS spokesperson Vesna Siljanovska told The Nation by email. Siljanovska was referring to allegations made by SOAS scholar Angela Chiu, who had accused her school of accepting the one-metre-tall Buddha statue that stands at the entrance to its Brunei Gallery. It was gifted to the SOAS by American alumni Mary and Paul Slawson who reportedly bought it minus documents attesting to its provenance some 30 years ago.
Paul Slawson
(thus around 1988, Paul Slawson here, on the list of benefactors here). SOAS has denied any wrongdoing in accepting the sculpture. In doing so they bring out the art trade's hoary old ALR excuse:
Siljanovska added due diligence was carried out by SOAS in accordance with SOAS’s Collections Management Policy and Due Diligence Procedure for the acceptance of Philanthropic Gifts [...] Siljanovska said: “[...] before accepting the gift, checks were carried out by our experienced Galleries and Exhibitions Manager and included placing the details of the object on the Art Loss Register” [...] John Hollingworth, head of Galleries and Exhibitions at the SOAS [says]. “[...] his team had checked with the International Council of Museums and found that the artefact is not on the ICOM [International Council of Museums] Red Lists of lost or vulnerable artworks.”
That rather misinterprets the nature and function of ICOMOS Red Lists (as I am sure the academics at SOAS know - or jolly well should know). Their student does:
However, Chiu commented that checking the ICOM Red List was not sufficient to identify provenance. There are no Thai objects on the Red List. “ICOM does not say that checking its Red List is a substitute for documented provenance.”
But in any case, there is no ICOMOS Red List for Thailand (!).

See also:  SOAS Watch 'SOAS Accepts Gift of Potentially-Looted Southeast Asian Sculpture, Begins Offering Antiquities Laundering Service' 08/06/2018
On 12 March, Mr. Slawson sent Mr. Hollingworth a letter which states that the sculpture was purchased in 1985 at the “Ormond Gallery on Portobello Road,” the staff of which was “not aware of the exact origin” of the sculpture. (p. 1) [...] On 12 March, one working day after his meeting with the Slawsons, Mr. Hollingworth informed SOAS Development staff about the donation so that they could begin the process of due diligence and documentation. (p. 23) Thirteen minutes later, Mr. Hollingworth emailed the Slawsons that he was in touch with art moving companies about the transport of the sculpture; by the end of the day, he had scheduled it for 3 days’ hence. (pp. 8, 9, 36) Thus, even as the due diligence process had hardly begun, Mr. Hollingworth was already proceeding to take possession of the sculpture.
UPDATE 17th June 2018
More startling details here: SOAS Watch 'SOAS Administration’s Misunderstanding of Museum Standards ' 16/06/2018
Thailand is a notoriously looted country. This heightens concerns about the antiquity in question having no documented provenance. Also, stone Buddhist sculpture of the Lopburi era (13thcentury) of this size is rare. This is an artefact that should have been treated with great cautiousness and sensitivity.

Thai Artefacts Gone Missing

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Its good that Eggs are not Sold like Antiquities

Just think what would happen if something as common and cheap as eggs were sold in the no-questions-asked way antiquities dealers handle their goods: 'More than four million eggs recalled in Poland'. There would be no way of telling where any of the eggs in any of the shops had come from.  But of course, in the case of antiquities, that is the very idea...

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