Monday, 9 August 2010

Bernd Gackstätter and "His" Disputed Bowls

David Gill has joined the discussion of the "Frankfurt Bowls" case which has been in the antiquity collecting news (mostly due to the rather unorthodox, one might even say emotional, phrasing of a Frankfurt judge in his summing up, rather than the implications of the verdict itself). On Looting Matters he discusses how the disputed items came onto the market. On the basis of the existing accounts he notes: "It appears that the Phrygian bowls were removed from Turkey without a permit, wrapped in a carpet". In that case, David makes an observation and asks a very pertinent question which I would like to quote. The bowls are apparently the property of "den Frankfurter Antikenhändler Bernd Gackstätter" who:
"is a member of the IADAA. IADAA members are bound by an ethical code (German):The members of IADAA undertake not to purchase or sell objects until they have established to the best of their ability that such objects were not stolen from excavations, architectural monuments, public institutions or private property.
Die Mitglieder der IADAA verpflichten sich, Objekte erst zu erwerben oder zu verkaufen, wenn sie nach bestem Wissen und Gewissen sichergestellt haben, dass die Objekte nicht aus Ausgrabungsstätten, von Denkmälern der Architektur, aus öffentlichen Institutionen oder dem privaten Eigentümer gestohlen wurden. "
So has Bernd Gackstätter established ("to the best of their ability") that the phialai "were not stolen from excavations" (or indeed any unrecorded archaeological site)? Note that the IADAA expects its members to aspire to an ethical standard.

In their press release (which David Gill quotes) it is clear that the IADAA is aware of the facts of this case and as Gill suggests is "trying to present a story in their favour" (like actually missing out from their English translation the bottom half of the original document being quoted with the - revealing - nitty gritty of the verdict Cf: here with here), and that there is the world of difference between what is merely legal in the antiquities trade and what is ethical. Gill also notes evidence that suggests in other cases action has been taken by the IADAA against other members who transgressed the Code of Ethics. He concludes:
I hope IADAA members who value their ethical code will be urging Bernd Gackstätter to return the Phrygian phialai to Turkey without any further adverse publicity for their organisation.
It remains to be seen whether the IADAA code of ethics is actually worth more than the paper it is written on.

By the way, we should not lose sight of the fact that the disputed items also include two Byzantine metal vessels too, but the Phrygian omphalos bowls are perhaps more photogenic.

Vignette: the omphalos schlossen at the centre of the row (Frankfurter Rundschau).

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