Friday 30 September 2011

Turkish Repatriation Through Archaeological Eyes

There is a rather pedestrian interview with a Turkish archaeologist Professor İnci Delemen, assistant director of the Perge excavation team, which is probably more of interest to the coiney opposition: Barçın Yinanç, 'Return of ‘Herakles’ a victory for Turkey’s cultural heritage', Hürriyet Daily News, September 30, 2011.

Hot and Dirty

Joshua Knelman’s 'Hot Art: Chasing Thieves and Detectives Through the Secret World of Stolen Art', looks at the shadowy side of art fairs, galleries, museums, auction houses, private and public collections. In the United States alone, the business of fine art is worth billions of dollars annually, but that the value of the amount of stolen art annually is not clear. But it is clearly a lot. The book brings the message that "in the 1980s, stolen art grew to an estimated $4-billion to $6-billion". These estimates vary of course, and depend on what we consider to be "stolen art", the definition is somewhat ambiguous. In any case it still seems worth stressing that whatever the precise figures are, this still makes the trade in stolen art: "the fourth-largest black market in the world after drugs, money laundering and weapons, according to Interpol and UNESCO". While I generally do not think it is useful to treat dugup antiquities as "ancient art", this passage from a review of the book struck a chord:
The main story is told from the perspective of a handful of crusaders who battle not only the increasing sophistication and determination of art thieves but the indifference of their police colleagues and even the hostility of gallery owners who don’t want to change their ways. “The business of art is one of the most corrupt, dirtiest industries on the planet,” maintains one such crusader, a Toronto lawyer specializing in cultural property law named Bonnie Czegledi. “There are no regulations and theft is rampant.” Proper documentation of sales is often missing, and gallery owners often feel it is rude to inquire closely about the provenance of a work of art offered to them. “Nobody in the art world asks questions,” Paul [the author's main informant from the criminal world] informs Knelman.
Nowell is a little more critical of the book's style and coverage, but in her review gives a piece of information about the Art Loss Register which has often been misused by antiquity dealers to show their items are 'clean' that seems worth drawing attention to:
The Art Loss Register, founded in London in the 1990s, lists more than 100,000 works of stolen art. Only 2 per cent have been recovered. In 2001, the register listed as missing or stolen 659 Picassos, 397 Miros, 347 Chagalls, 313 Salvador Dalis, 216 Warhols and 199 Rembrandts. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Stolen Art File is small by comparison, with only 6,500 listings.
I wonder where the designer of the book's cover has been since 1963. Still this seems like a new book worth considering adding to our libraries.

Philip Marchand, 'Open Book: Hot Art, by Joshua Knelman', National Post, Sep 30, 2011,
Iris Nowell, 'Catalogued, admired and stolen', Globe and Mail, Sep. 30, 2011

Looters at Lake Whitney

On the shores of lake Whitney (Texas) looters (artefact hunters) are taking advantage of dropping area lake levels to collect artefacts from sites not normally accessible to them. Five sites full of Native American artefacts are now exposed, some of them date back more than 8,000 years. In the past few months more than thirty people
have been caught digging according to the authorities. These sites are protected by both state and federal law. The Archaeological Resources Protection Act says it is illegal to remove any Native American artefact from government property (but then in the Four Corners area we've seen how that is (not) held up by the courts). In Texas, doing that also violates the state Antiquities Code. Not being able to find anyone from anything like a Federal antiquities protection service to talk to, the newspapers quote Brady Dempsey, of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (!):
Once the damage has been done to these sites, the effects are nearly impossible to reverse, Dempsey said. In one area, he said, looters broke concrete open, burrowed in under it and then sifted through the dirt, taking what they could and leaving the rest behind. “They've just scrambled the archeological record," Dempsey said. The damage looters leave behind is becoming increasingly expensive. Recently a dig site had to be repaired at Lake Whitney at a cost of more than $30,000.
The damage actually was to concrete capping to prevent the site being eroded by the rising lake water.

Of course, nobody told Engineer-archaeologist Dempsey or the reporter that US "collectors' rights" advocates insist that if the US had a Portable Antiquities Scheme, the artefact hunters would not be "damaging archaeological sites" but the newspapers would be reporting that they are "providing new information". This seems an ideal story for the ACCG and other dealer organizations to hammer this point over. After all it was Texas congressmen who so clearly came out in support of the ACCG's attack on the State Department's "cultural property Protection" programme. They'd obviously jump at the opportunity to show their support of a motion to set up a Portable Antiquities Scheme in Texas to work with local pot hunters and arrowhead collectors.

Rachel Cox, 'Dropping Lake Levels Expose Ancient Artifacts And Looters Have Noticed' KWTX, September 30, 2011.
There is a video too with some wonderful accents.

The Fourth ACCG Benefit Auction

The ACCG are soldiering on. Their fourth "annual Benefit Auction" has just opened on the VAuctions website ( ). It will close on October 13. The sale includes more than 120 lots of ancient coinage, numismatic literature and related items which have been "collectors, dealers and friends of ACCG" and the proceeds will be used "to support guild initiatives on behalf of the hobby".
The primary activities of ACCG in recent years have been related to the opposition against overly broad State Department import restrictions on ancient coins. This includes Litigation, Education and Public Affairs programs as well as frequent interaction with domestic and foreign governmental officials and U.S. legislators.
yeah, right. Well, oddly enough for an organization which has mostly been banging on about "transparency' in US gubn'mint dealings there is a notable lack of such transparency in the dealings of this "501c(4) non-profit organization". last year they said who had donated the coins and other stuff, this year clicking on the "sponsors' link gives the public no information on that subject at all. Perhaps they are afraid of being caught profiting from coins donated buy somebody who later ended up being expelled from the ACCG when faced with a court hearing about what they had or had not been doing... So the only donor we actually know by name this year is Susan Welsh (lots 108-9 dreadful soldering, ma'am). Traditionally another kind of transparency is missing from these auctions, any mention of where the objects sold were in the time between they were dug out of the ground (where, when?) taken from the source country (how, when?) and ended up on V-coins. This is odd because for example looking at the bulk lots (92- 103) they have the appearance of not being dug-up groups shoved onto the market. They look like the sortings of old collections, the lower grade coins bought by a beginner collector for example sorted out from those a dealer might sell from the same collection individually. So why can't we learn whose collections have ended up in this fragmented state? Why is that a secret?

What however is very interesting is to plot out what we know about where those coins were last known to be, ie the place where they were minted, often for a local market. The map below shows this, yellow spots are Greek and related (a bit of a misunderstanding calling Sassanian coins "Eastern Greek' in my opinion) while the black ones are of Roman date.

The cluster over Rome of course is due to this being the principle mint identifiable before the middle of the third century, but nevertheless it seems clear that many of the coins in this auction could very well have been dug up in Italy (one of the countries with an MOU with the USA because of the known scale of the looting). The concentration in another US-MOU country, Greece is notable. But look at Turkey and Bulgaria (+Macedonia). All areas where looting is known to be going on - in some cases on an industrial scale. Just look at the proportion of the coins in the ACCG benefit sale are last attested in precisely these countries. The coins from Siscia could have come to the US as dugups from the Balkans, or perhaps from Britain (+Gaul/ Germany) along with the Lugdunum coins as they circulated in the western Empire too. Then there are the coins from the Near East (Syria, Iraq, Iran) but most notably, look at the concentration of coins of Alexandria. When we know at the beginning of the year there was severe looting and museum storeroom robbery in precisely the delta region of Egypt, we may justifiably ask the anonymous donors, when and how did they leave Egypt?

I note that on one of the forums, Aussie coin dealer Cameron Day is announcing:

10% off all the coins listed on our website at We are raising funds to buy a small hoard of Roman Egyptian potin tetradrachms. The quicker we can raise the needed funds the quicker we can pass these coins on to you.
From whom, and where was it dug up, and how has it come onto the market is not revealed, we can only assume they were not dug up in Australia. It's obviously felt to be nobody else's concern how they get there so a dealer can keep his clients happy.

Actually I think these foreign no-questions-asked sales of material of completely unknown collecting history a matter of grave public concern.

Thursday 29 September 2011

Egypt: New Head of SCA

It appears that Dr Mustafa Amin Mustafa (currently head of the SCA's Islamic & Coptic section) has been appointed the new head of the SCA after the resignation of Mohammed Abdel Fattah on 20th September (he had been appointed only a few weeks earlier, on 18th August - Hawass left office c. 17th July).

It in not clear what status the new head of the SCA has, Fattah had met with Prime Minister Essam Sharaf a week ago and gained some concessions such as a Treasury review of SCA funding and the establishment of his position as a Minister. he still refused to return to the post - quoting health reasons.

Youm7 English Edition, 'Egypt appoints new antiquities chief'

UPDATE: Friday
MENA: 'Sharaf appoints new secretary general for Supreme Council of Antiquities', Fri, 30/09/2011.

Anon, '
Another SCA Secretary General in office ..... But till when???!!!', Luxor Times blog, Friday, 30 September 2011

UPDATE Sunday:
Nevine El-Aref ,'New antiquities head, new plan, protestors satisfied', Ahram Online, Sunday 2 Oct 2011
"The newly appointed secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities says he will meet protestors’ demands, promises reform".

Photo: from Luxor Times note the apparent zebibah.

Wednesday 28 September 2011

Stitching up the Sforzas

This is nothing to do with the topic of the blog, but some recent discussion in the newspapers on this has old books and Poland involved and intrigued me. Art historian Martin Kemp reckons a 330 x 239 mm chalk and ink drawing on vellum originally sold as a nineteenth century art work modelled on something Renaissance is in fact a real Leonardo da Vinci drawing from the 1490s. He's written a book on it. Now that one of the "proofs" of this (a fingerprint) has been called into doubt he's been to Poland to find another. First of all, to my art-interested layman's eye, the drawing DOES look like a rather mechanical product of a much more recent hand than a fifteenth century one, doesn't it? That's what Lucy Vivante thinks too.

Kemp provisionally identified the sitter as Bianca Giovanna (Sforza) di Sanseverino (1482-1496), the illegitimate daughter of Leonardo's great patron, the Duke of Milan, Ludovico (Il Moro) Sforza. She died a few months after her marriage at the age of 13. Now he claims he has proven it by "the title page of the Sforziad, a volume celebrating the Sforzas; symbols in the book show that it was a wedding gift".
"Assertions that it is a forgery, a pastiche, or a copy of a lost Leonardo are all effectively eliminated," Kemp told the Guardian. Earlier this year, he embarked on what he describes as a "needle-in-a-haystack" search for a 15th-century volume with a missing sheet. A clue lay in the stitch-holes along the portrait's left-hand margin, suggesting it had been torn from a luxury-bound volume. But the chances of this volume surviving 500 years were remote, and the chances of it being found even remoter. Against the odds, Kemp tracked the volume down, to Poland's national library in Warsaw; the stitch-holes are a perfect match for those on [the disputed picture]. It is overwhelming evidence, Kemp says, that the portrait dates from the 15th century
well, not it's not. The vellum may have been ripped out of a fifteenth century book, but that does not tell us when something was painted on it.

In any case he's spinning a bit of a yarn about the wild book chase. The volume in question is a copy of Johannes Simonetta's "Commentarii rerum gestarum Francisci Sfortiae" printed in 1490. Only a few copies were printed on vellum, and only four of them exist; Ludovico's copy is in the BM, there is another copy in the French National Library, a damaged one in the Ufizzi and we in Poland have the fourth. This copy seems to have been brought here from Italy By Queen Bona Sforza, who married the Polish king Sigismund August. It then went into the Jan Zamojski library (there is an ownership inscription and library stamp on it) and from there into the national collection. So it has a pretty good collecting history. So when would somebody have cut the picture out with it ending up in what was described as an "Italian frame" but lost to sight? At the hands of Queen Bona and Sigismund? Jan Zamojski? Or while it was still in Italy (very probably the copy of Duke Gian Galezza Sforza [Bona's dad], or maybe Gian Galezza San Severino). It is the latter possibility that got Prof. Kemp so excited, he was the husband of Bianca. So he came to Warsaw hoping the vellum on which the painting had been created came from this volume. Well, we will have to wait for his next book to come out for the information which "symbols in the book show that it was a wedding gift". The only symbols are an illuminated initials and an elaborate border to the beginning of book 1 (which are known to be by Giovanni Pietro Birago and not Leonardo).

More to the point is where Prof. Kemp sees this page as having been excised from. Here the mystery starts. This morning the guardian had a photo showing how the stitching marks line up (left, from this morning's Guardian article). Well, here's a funny thing. The drawing is 330 mm high, shown as fitting in a book whose pages are nine milimetres taller. If the reported measurements are correct, there's been a bit of photoshoppery there. Likewise there is a wormhole on the verso of the page in front of it (which is paper) but no trace on the drawing itself. Also if the drawing is chalk, why is there no transfer onto the back of the paper page in front of it?

This book is available in digital form here. It can be seen that the page in the first Guardian picture is the reverse of the endpaper (turned into a title page by a later owner). The back is blank, the next page too was blank, and only on its verso was the first printed page. The insertion of a portrait precisely here with no dedication or anything, especially if this were a wedding gift, would be highly illogical. But this would be the outer sheet of the first gathering of pages. Gathering 'a' has only two sheets anyway, and the first one is numbered at the bottom 'ai'. Placing the unnumbered sheet with a portrait on it in front of the unnumbered sheet at the front of the gathering containing the introductory letter would mean that there would have been two completely useless blank sheets between gathering 'a' and 'b'.

It seems that somebody worked this out between the first photo being printed and the second being placed in the article (about midday today). This amended version shows the portrait page inserted into the book between gathering 'a' and 'b'. It would therefore correspond to the other end of the unnumbered sheet before gathering 'a', passing behind its four printed pages. This would make more sense, there was the letter, the translator's foreword, then a blank page and then the decorated initial page of the first book.

Except Professor Kemp wants us to believe that after the translator's introduction and facing it, for some reason was inserted a portrait by an artist other than the one who produced the illuminations in the rest of the book (including a portrait on the following page of Francis Sforza) and this portrait has no relation to the preceding text (the translator's introduction) and no dedication. Why was it bound facing the upper cover and not as the verso of that sheet facing the first page of the history? If this book was illustrated for the wedding in the summer of 1496 the book lay somewhere unillustrated six years after its printing, and presumably Leonardo would have then drawn this portrait in the complete book. Is this possible or likely? This would have meant that Ludovico II had initially retained it for himself alongside the one now in the BM, but later decided to present it to his future son-in-law (duke Gian Galazza Sanseverino) with his bride's portrait in it to welcome him into the family.

The problem is that while (as the Guardian's original photo showed) is is possible to believe that something has been taken out of the book just behind the endpage where the upper vellum gathering meets the paper sheets (but is it not more likely that this was a paper sheet?), it is less obvious from the scanned images that anything is missing from behind the verso of the vellum sheet aii. But a question remains, where is the other end of the unnumbered vellum sheet sheet on the verso of which the author's letter is printed? Is it cut off in the spine of the book along the stitching? The description of the book accompanying the digital images does not give any information.

My feeling is that the portrait does not come from the Warsaw volume, though the Polish newspapers have talked about this a bit, there has been no official reaction from the library staff concerning whether they agree that the end of a vellum sheet is missing from the volume.

UPDATE 31 Oct 2011.
Just now I received a grumpy comment from Martin Kemp, complaining that I was discussing the newspaper articles I read, and not "the full evidence" he'd posted as a pdf "on the Leonardo da Vinci Society website and the Lumiere website".
This is very muddled because the author has not taken the trouble to look at the full evidence (not press summaries) pasted on the Leonardo da Vinci Society website and the Lumiere website. Nor has he had the courtesy to contact Pascal Cotte or myself to clarify any of the points. Martin Kemp

A fairly extensive Google search had failed to pick up this material on 28th September , so it's hardly my fault I did not refer to it.

I suspect this is it: La Bella Principessa and the Warsaw Sforziad, by Pascal Cotte and Martin Kemp (was this undated text really available on 28th September?) make of it what you will. I am still not convinced by the "science". I look forward to the full publication of the evidence.

Five years Cultural Property Blogging

Derek Fincham celebrates today five years of blogging about illicit cultural property, congratulations and here's hoping for many more years of peaceful metal-detectorist-aggro-free blogging.

Sent to the BBC

Among the comments to the "Inside Out" text on illegal metal detecting (so-called 'nighthawking'), the first four selected by the BBC are of note:

night flyer

you do everything by the book, does it work, no. Do you get a pat on the back, NO. You mention that you are a detectorist you are a condemned man , you have to wait years for your finds to be recorded and then if they have not been lost , you get half of what they are worth.


i have just started doing metal detecting and i think you should be able to go anywhere to do it. The way to control it is by having some sort of licence that costs a few pounds. If you are caught detecting without this licence you are liable to prosecution. People that are caught nighthawking are banned from getting this licence and if they persist in doing it they are charged with theft.

The finds should belong to us all if you buy a detector and spend the time to find then they should be yours. Some of the items being found have been deposited before these people owned the land so what gives them the right to own them. Finders keepers loser weepers.


Night hawking is my one and only hobby and I absolutely love it. I got into metal detecting 2 years ago and basicly I am too late in the game to find any decent land in the day, so I have to night hawk.
I dont condone nighthawking, but people like Tony Robinson have potrayed detectorists in such bad light, that gaining permission from farmers is getting harder and harder, and so is the introduction of the stewardship scheme. So detectorists that were once as honest as the day was long that they detected now find themselves detecting later than they expected.
So, basically according to these metal detector owners, it's everybody else's fault, not theirs that there is illegal activity going on. It takes too long to get yer reword munny payed en' then it's not enuff and nobody thanks you for ripping the artefacts out. The landowners have no right to what their land contains, all property is theft, artefact hunters should be allowed to "go anywhere to do it" (I'm not quite clear how "Steven" defines nighthawking or how many times people should get away with it before eventually being charged with theft). All the decent land has been taken buy other artefact hunters. It's all Tony Robinson's fault and landowners don't want to let artefact hunters on their land, so they go there anyway to take things without their permission.

These comments were posted in March 2003. How much have attitudes been changed in this milieu by a further eight years of PAS "outreach"?

Tuesday 27 September 2011

Two face looting rap at Roman site?

John Harrison ('Pair investigated on suspicion of attempting to loot buried treasure from Northamptonshire Roman town' 27 September 2011) reports in the Northampton Chronicle that "several alleged crimes" involving the use of metal detectors were being investigated at Chester House Farm, in Irchester, a nationally important Roman small town site in Northamptonshire. Local police are now liaising with experts from English Heritage "and a national police expert about pursuing a case, which if prosecuted, could be one of the biggest of its kind in the country".
Two people are being investigated by police on suspicion of attempting to loot buried treasure from the site [...] Police confirmed the two suspects remained on bail on suspicion of illegally using a metal detector, the theft of treasure, damage to the land and other offences at a site of “tremendous historical and archeological importance”. They are believed to have attempted to take Roman coins and other historical artefacts.
The area has an unfortunate history:
In 2004, Northamptonshire County Council received a grant of £1.2 million from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (now the Department for Communities and Local Government) and purchased Chester Farm, including the walled Roman town and the deserted medieval village of Chester on the Water. Wellingborough's Local Plan states that "planning permission will be granted for a heritage park in association with the archaeological remains of the Chester camp ancient monument" as part of the planned River Nene Regional Park. The aims of the development of the park are to make Chester Farm accessible to the public and provide opportunities for education, leisure and recreation. However, the park plan stalled, due to the lack of "a viable business plan and subsequent pressure on resources." A county council report of November 2007 stated that "In order to safeguard the heritage asset, Cabinet is asked to... declare Chester Farm surplus to the operational requirements of the Council and to approve its sale." Subsequently, in 2010, the farmhouse was gutted by fire (Source: Wikipedia).

Plan: Irchester Roman site.

Monday 26 September 2011

Baltimore Illegal Coin Import case Drags on, and on

On August 8, the Baltimore Illegal Coin Import Stunt "test case" launched in 2009 by the ACCG (ostensibly on behalf of collectors who want the 'freedom" to buy illegally exported coins rather than those with paperwork proving licit export) was thrown out of court by Circuit Court judge Catherine Blake. The ACCG Board of Directors authorized an appeal of the ruling and on September 20, 2011 the Washington firm of Bailey and Ehrenberg, PLLC filed a Notice of Appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. Whoopee, eh? I bet all those collectors hungry to get their hands on illegally exported dugup ancient coins are over the moon that they have the ACCG fighting their corner. The rest of us are left shaking our heads in bewilderment and sadness. Problem is, it seems to me (and of course I am no lawyer) that two of the points they raise have no relation whatsoever to the grounds of the dismissal which they are appealing. Is this a real appeal or just one done 'for show' to make no-questions-asked collectors feel that all the money and hope they've invested in the ACCG are well spent? At least when it's thrown out, everybody concerned can play the part of the victim. These people seem to like playing the part of the victim, it's obviously easier than pulling their fingers out and getting on with cleaning up the market.

Vignette: Why not just settle for selling legally exported coins? What's the point of a lawsuit to enable the selling of illegally exported ones if you only sell legally exported coins?

Sunday 25 September 2011

MP Attends "Charity" Commercial Metal Detecting Rally

On Saturday 24th September Graham Stuart will attend a charity metal detecting weekend to benefit Help for Heroes. The event will take place at Raikes Farm in Bishop Burton from 23rd-25th September. The Beverley and Holderness MP helped ensure that the event could take place by contacting the Chief Executive of Natural England on behalf of the organisers when the future of the event was called into question. Graham said, “I would like to thank Guy Ellerington and the Northern England Weekend Searchers for all of their hard work in organising this event. Natural England also deserves credit for making sure that hobbyists from around the world could come together to enjoy the weekend while benefiting Help for Heroes.”[...]
Too bad however about the heritage, eh? Here he is Twittering about it:

Election Tweets - Graham Stuart MP
Tweets for the Election 2010

Graham Stuart MP

Tomorrow I'm attending the Help for Heroes charity metal detecting weekend at Raikes Farm in Bishop Burton. Good luck to those taking part! 23 Sep
On his website he adds: Hopefully this weekend’s event in Bishop Burton will prove a huge success and may even allow some lucky person to find a treasure”.

So, let's get this straight, the conservation body English Nature wanted to protect this site from having all the collectable and saleable artefacts hoovered out, and the Conservative MP picks up the phone and "arranges" it for his metal detecting mates? Why?

Why should we not be attaching the label "heritage wrecker" to the name of Conservative politician "Graham Stuart"?

Commercial Artefact Hunting "Festival" in East Yorkshire

"More than 400 treasure hunters have descended on an East Yorkshire village for a weekend metal detecting festival" cheerfully chirps the BBC. "The Bishop Burton event has drawn enthusiasts from around the world to hunt for buried items on 1700 acres (688 hectares) of farmland" and the legal looting at Raikes Farm is all in a good cause: "each participant's entrance fee goes to the military charity Help for Heroes". The event was organized by Norman Smith's Northern England Weekend Searchers (NEWS) and cost participants £60 per weekend or £20 per day (so made a minimum of £8000, potentially £24000 for the charity).
One of the experts supporting the event said he hoped they would uncover some new finds. Dr Kevin Leahy [...] an archaeologist from Scunthorpe [...] said: "We know quite a lot about East Yorkshire. But, the more we can find out, the more kilometre squares we can fill in with information, the better. "There will be new sites discovered here."
Discovered and immediately denuded of many of the most diagnostic metal finds which will then be scattered in ephemeral personal collections or end up on eBay. It beggars belief that a state-funded archaeologist can actually give a journalist the impression he "supports" this kind of treatment of the archaeological record. This seems a tragic misunderstanding of what modern archaeology is about - and that is not "filling the kilometre squares" with dots. That is what Gustav Kossinna would have been doing a century ago. Archaeology has moved on quite a bit since then, though the old cultural historical and antiquitist paradigms of the antiquaries are obviously still alive and well in Britain's Portable Antiquities Scheme.
One participant, Mike Stavas, had travelled to the event from the Netherlands. He said: "I come here for the first time in England just to find hammered coins, or things we don't find in Holland.
Like archaeologists who support commercial artefact stripping of archaeological sites? (Export licences ?). He later appeared on a metal detecting forum to advertise the video he had made and saying he'd made "three great finds" on British soil.

Anon, 'East Yorkshire hosts charity metal detector festival', BBC 24 September 2011
"The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites" it says, but it IS responsible for the way it presents such events on its own. Since when has Britain hosted plundering "festivals"?

The Hull Daily Mail also sees no problem in what can only be seen as a treasure hunt ('Metal detectors want to strike gold at Help For Heroes rally', September 20, 2011). "Metal detector enthusiasts from around the world are hoping to strike gold at a major charity fundraiser [...] some from as far away as America, Iraq and Japan". It was feared the commercial event would be scrapped by the environmental conservation body Natural England: "However, the government agency, which is responsible for protecting the environment, has worked around the clock so the event can take place". That's nice, do they work that hard for toxic waste dumpers, bird egg collectors and other environmentally damaging groups too? Northern England Weekend Nesters take note of the name: Bishop Burton.

Could not the PAS, as part of its "archaeological outreach", prepare a brief journalists' pack to hand out when interviewed at such events? This would point out how damaging artefact hunting, and commercial rallies in particular, are and stress that PAS presence at commercial rallies is the lesser of two evils, because experience has shown that if the PAS does not attend, very few of the items removed are later brought to the FLOs for recording.

Vignette: the green man in the local church is not the only bit of the historical heritage of the village that is "battered" now.

Another Way UK Landowners Can be Cheated Out of More Money by Artefact Hunters

A while back a British metal detectorist was demanding from a blogger a copyright fee for some pictures that he or she had used. The sum requested was surprisingly high for some scrappy artefact shots with poor lighting and no scale. He was demanding £500 each for them, and justifying this by claiming that this was the price he had routinely been getting from magazines for this type of photo.

This raises the question of whether landowners are aware of this when they sign finds agreements with metal detectorists. Most of these documents do not go into much detail about the financial responsibilities of the artefact hunter after he takes the collectables home. Heritage Action has pointed out that these agreements seldom contain clauses concerning division of the profit should a collector subsequently sell an item received as a gift from the landowner (whose property it is). This is significant when a single Roman brooch or buckle is valued in the "what's it worth?" page of metal detecting magazines at several tens of pounds, let a detectorist sell six or eight of them and he can pocket several hundred pounds a sale. Surely it is clear that the landowner should be aware of the profit the detectorist is making on items he took away for next to nothing and their own rights in the matter.

Now an additional factor is added to the equation. If a detectorist who does not sell the finds taken makes photos of them and then charges magazines and others £500 for the use of each one of them, even for non-commercial purposes, then obviously these proceeds should be being split with the landowner too. By such means a landowner somewhere should be getting £250 for each photo of an artefact which appears in a metal detecting magazine or newspaper article, and probably also for each shot of a metal detectorist on his land. Do they? If landowners make so much money from the photographic rights sold by finders, why does this source of income not figure on a single 'model landowners' agreement' published online? Are metal detectorists maintaining a silence about the profits they make in this area in the hope that landowners never find out?

British metal detectorists loudly protest that they are "not in it for the money", but it is quite clear that some of them waste no opportunity to find ways of making money from their hobby, what however is disreputable is when it seems this takes place with the wool being drawn over the eyes of landowners. The more detectorists who try to take advantage of a landowner's ignorance of the true market value of the finds they release and their goodwill, the more suspicious landowners will become towards the motives of the milieu as a whole. Probably with good reason in certain cases.

Svishtov Treasure

According to the private Nova TV channel, Rosen Todorov, a 42-year-old unemployed Bulgarian man was out "looking for old metals and scrap metal" in a rural area near the town of Svishtov, on the banks of the Danube River. He found a Bronze Age ("Thracian") treasure of 20 gold and bronze objects including bracelets and earrings of gold and bronze axes, more than 4,000 years old hidden in a pottery jar. The find, valued at EUR 1.5 million, was given to the regional historical Museum. Police sources cited by a local newspaper suggest that the finder kept it a week in his home before reporting it, for having agreed to make the donation to the regional Museum, the finder will face no charges of concealing archaeological objects of value.

Un desempleado encuentra tesoro traciano valorado en 1,5 millones de
- September 23, 2011

The Future of RECORDING the Past in England, Scotland, Ireland and the USA

The American Bar Association International Law Section and its Art and Cultural Heritage Law Committee will be attending an autumn meeting in October in Dublin. As part of this, it has been announced that it will be sponsoring a panel for ABA members "about the law of finds in England and Wales, Ireland, Scotland and the United States" called: The Future of Recording the Past in England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and the United States.

It will be chaired by US lawyers Patty Gerstenblith (DePaul University College of Law) and ACCG board member and paid dealers' lobbyist Peter K. Tompa (Bailey & Ehrenberg PLLC).
Gerstenblith will (presumably) be speaking about the law of finds in the United States and the future of Recording the Past there. England and Wales will be represented at the session by Roger Bland (British Museum), Scotland by Stuart Campbell (Treasure Trove Unit, Scottish National Heritage) and The republic of Ireland by Eamonn Kelly (Irish National Heritage).
The panel will bring together these experts to consider the benefits and disadvantages of the systems in each of these countries, the policy goals fostered by each, and the effect the current economic crisis on the implementation of these different systems.
It is odd then that the US is represented in the discussions not by an archaeologist or heritage professional, but a lawyer. The US of course unlike most of the rest of the world does not have a state-run national heritage institution (as per article 10 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention).

It is also notable that the theme is "recording the past", ie what to do with stuff already dug up, and not preventing it being dug up by artefact hunters in the first place. Why is it not being called "The Future of Preserving the past in..."? We recall that Roger Bland (and we know exactly what well-worn paths his presentation will follow) never addressed the questions posed in the PIA Forum piece, and nobody is holding their breath that he will do so behind closed doors in conference with the Americans in Dublin either.

I think a serious problem arises with defining the topic of discussion. In the US there are arrowhead hunters, pot diggers and others out there seeking ancient finds, but also dugup bygones. There is basically no national system in place to ensure that their findspots get properly recorded. Obviously setting up one would be very beneficial to everyone, even at this late stage when many lithic sites have been seriously compromised by collecting. Perhaps that is what this meeting will discuss, how to create such a system for the US as a model for other nations to follow? I have long been urging that if groups like the ACCG propose that the source countries of the artefacts they collect should adopt this allegedly 'ideal' system, then they should above all be promoting it in their own country. It seemed to me that whenever the question was raised, it was ignored. Could it be that this is a first step in initiating such a national programme in the US? Who will run it (the Smithsonian? Parks Service?) how much would it cost, and who will meet the bill and how?

The problem is however that one of the US party, Tompa represents three bodies (ACCG, the coin dealers' professional bodies, and the Cultural Property research Institute) which are involved in a wholly different area of the way "finds" are handled in the US, through the trade. The interest for the groups he represents of the legal systems in these other countries is how they allow artefacts to enter the market. The English system is the "ideal one" for US collectors and dealers because it allows large numbers of archaeological artefacts to go straight from the ground onto open sale with no restrictions (and the only constraints are entirely voluntary so easily ignored by large numbers of 'grey artefact hunters'). Patty Gerstenblith is now CPAC chair and it is from this point of view one suspects that she will be listening to the presentation of the so-called "ideal" model of the PAS from the individual with the most interest in present it as an ideal and cost effective system.

As for the future of the PAS, if England really believes it is doing its bit to protect the archaeological heritage, then it needs to be given an established place within the legislation and fixed funding of heritage protection and not as an ad hoc organization lurching from one financial handout to another. If its position was more secure it could afford to take a stronger line with artefact hunters who are not toeing the line.

Finally, I am reminded that it was from the hands of Peter Tompa as President of the ACCG that four long years ago that the British Museum's Dr Bland received his ACCG "Friends" award. Bearing in mind who else has received one and what for and what the ACCG stands for, it seems to me that this panel meeting would be a good occasion for him to give it back.

Saturday 24 September 2011

The American Bar Association: Who Put them up to It?

As noted above, there will be a panel session at a Dublin meeting of the American Bar Association International Law Section and its Art and Cultural Heritage Law Committee in October on "the law of finds in England and Wales, Ireland, Scotland and the United States" called: The Future of Recording the Past in England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and the United States.

One wonders who initiated this and with what aim. The significance is that it will be chaired by US lawyers Patty Gerstenblith (DePaul University College of Law) and ACCG board member and paid dealers' lobbyist Peter K. Tompa (Bailey & Ehrenberg PLLC). Gerstenblith is the chairperson of the US Cultural Policy Advisory Committee (CPAC) set up by the [1970 UNESCO] 'Convention on Cultural Property Implementation (sic) Act' (CCPIA). As we have seen one currently fashionable tactic of the US antiquities dealers' lobby (coin dealers in particular) has been to insist on what I have termed here the "Witschonke principle". This basically insists that US lawmakers should (regardless of what the 1970 UNESCO Convention actually says) not feel obliged to do anything to help a foreign country to deal with an archaeological looting problem unless it adopts first the measures US collectors and dealers would like to be applied. These measures of course are such that would mean the least possible interference with free access of the trade to loads and loads of freshly dugup archaeological artefacts. Such a system is England's Treasure Act (only restricting sale of artefacts - excluding most coins - of gold or silver) with a voluntary Portable Antiquities Scheme overlay to make it look good.

I cannot help but think that the aim here is to persuade the Chair of the CPAC to look more favourably at such proposals from the collecting community when more MOU proposals and renewals come before the CPAC, thus further undermining US resolve to do anything about the massive and damaging US no-questions-asked market in antiquities.

I would say that a heavy responsibility lies on participants Roger Bland, Stuart Campbell and Eamon Kelly to present their case in such a way as it separates issues of "finders" from that of the no-questions-asked commerce in archaeological artefacts which is what the CPAC (and the US Art and Cultural Heritage Law Committee are primarily concerned with. In particular, will Dr Bland admit that every indication is that under his watch the amount of artefact hunting in England and Wales has been sharply increasing, instead of decreasing as a result of conscientious "archaeological outreach" by the PAS? Will anyone ask him for proper answers to the questions David Gill posed in the PIA forum session about the preservation of the archaeological record as a result of PAS "outreach"? Will the CPAC chair and her legal pals get a fully balanced picture of the long-term archaeological effects of current British policies on artefact hunting and collecting, or will they have to satisfy themselves with the standard "wottalottastuff-we-got" presentation of the PAS merely as an expanding database of the partial fruits of archaeological destruction?

How Some Fresh Dugups Ended up on the US No-Questions-Asked Market

Rick St Hilaire has another revealing post on the Holyland Numismatics case based on Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) documentation in the public domain (Khouli +3 Case Update: Search Warrant Affidavit Describes HSI Investigation). The material discussed includes a warrant on July 12, 2011 to search the premises of "Holyland Numismatics", in the Michigan home of one of the defendants. (Let us note the author's caution on the presumption of innocence in a case not yet brought to trial.)

It appears that the search warrant petition was filed following some sales of Egyptian artefacts (boat figures and statues) which allegedly took place in 2009, some questions involving ancient coin imports in Detroit in 2010 and apparently a review of Alshdaifat’s email account.

St Hilaire reports that at the end of December 2010, HSI documentation alleges that Salem Alshdaifat carried coins through the Detroit Metropolitan Airport on his way back from Amman, Jordan. They were accompanied by an invoice from 'Nafertiti Eastern Sculptures Trading in Dubai' (NEST) to Holyland Numismatics for Byzantine gold coins and Byzantine gold tremissis coins totaling $234,875 originating from Syria. At a second check, Alshdaifat reportedly offered a second set of invoices listing Byzantine gold coins and Roman-Egyptian billion tetradrachms.
When Alshdaifat returned later with two mail packages of similar coins in an attempt to convince federal authorities to release the detained coins, customs officials seized these packages too because they were without entry paperwork, declared the affidavit.
All that without an MOU with Jordan or Syria, just as the 1970 UNESCO Convention stipulates. It is not recorded if the dealer got them back in the end.

In the documents cited by St Hilaire, it is alleged that an examination of email records showed that the dealer had (unsurprisingly) communicated "with sellers, purchasers, dealers and transporters of cultural property" but also - it is alleged - that this included "stolen and/or smuggled cultural property.”
A January 2009 email exchange was described where Alshdaifat allegedly offered a hoard of coins “[u]ncleaned at $4.5 each.” The email continued: “[T]he hoard came from Egypt and [is] now in Dubai[.] I asked my partner to ship directly from Dubai to you. [T]his hoard came from Banha, I think we bought coins that we sold you befor[e] from Banha, it is very big Roman city. [Y]ou can wire the funds to my bank account.”
(My hyperlink - it is interesting how many of the artefacts in the news recently are coming from the same region of Egypt) Obviously the partner in Dubai referred to is NEST from which it is alleged in the affadavit that antiquities would be shipped to Holyland's customers on the dealer's behalf. What is not revealed is who bought these items knowing full well from the email quoted above that they had been freshly and illegally taken out of Egypt from the delta region. Was the sale made to a dealer or collector? Was this ever followed up by HSI? Was this person questioned to see what else he had been buying and from whom? We do not learn.

Hilaire goes on to discuss a second email dated February 22, 2010 from Holyland Numismatics to an unknown client. It reportedly said:
“[F]or a hoard from Egypt this is real[l]y a[]lot :) , you got a small group[], we usually don[‘]t see them at all in Egypt, I was told today that they found in the same spot while they are making the hole bigger another group[] around 800 coins, they are still working in the area, I hope it will[] be bigger than what I think. [N]ext week I will get those 800 tog[e]ther with the 2000 coins. [I]t is much easy to sell uncleaned, I notice[e] that they already tried to clean some, but I told them to stop[.]”

The HSI investigating agent, without supplying specific details, added that Alshdaifat’s email account allegedly showed that he “has offered customers hoards of coins taken directly from Petra, Jordan and from Kyrene, Libya.”
What is not clear is whether he would "get" these coins direct from the people who he seems to imply he is in contact with who are digging these objects up, or whether this transaction would have involved the Dubai office.

I think if the truth were known, we would find that the sort of activity that seems to be suggested in this firm's business correspondence actually underlies a very large amount of the international commerce in dugup ancient coins, especially in the US (which of course has no native sources of such items). How many dealers and collectors are willingly snapping up coins and other artefacts knowing full well that they were obtained in flagrant disregard of the legislation protecting the archaeological heritage from looting and depletion?

This case as it develops has great potential for revealing some of the mechanisms by which the US market is supplied with fresh dugups, and really should get collectors of such items thinking very hard about the connection of their hobby to illegal practices and the destruction and depletion of the world's archaeological record for commercial gain. Not that they will, of course.

Vignette: the Holy Land on a medal

Truth Neglect Among the Lobbyists

It "makes little sense" to cultural property dealers' lobbyist Peter Tompa ("Afghan Neglect") "to repatriate minor artifacts to a country when so little has been done to preserve the major sites that should really matter to the culture". This is because he's found an old article which suggests that ancient sites and monuments in Afghanistan are in a parlous position. But far from the actual emphasis of what the collector depicts as "national governments and archaeological groups like the AIA [...] harassing collectors and museums" being repatriation issues, it's about preventing the ongoing stealing and looting. There is a huge difference - though of course dealers' lobbyists might see a reason for their side to blur the issue. After all, in the past they opposed US legislation intended to curb this.

It is also symptomatic of the neo-colonialist attitudes that underlie US collecting that the lobbyist judges what priorities others set by their own standards, without of course any concurrent attempt to suggest how the more "enlightened nations" (like their own) can help - except relieve them of some of the more collectably-desirable artefacts.

Whose Side are the Illicit Art bloggers on?

Derek Fincham seems to have trouble in deciding whose side he is on and be getting meaner towards the preservationists:
The Getty will repatriate two objects to Greece, unsolicited. Does that mean James Cuno is 'kindler and gentler'? David Gill thinks this "makes sense", and as usual has more questions (but no answers).
Derek Fincham it will be recalled had no answers to my two posts querying his "let the world adopt a PAS to solve the looting problem" paper, and two posts (one sans "filth") about whose fault looting is. I am not sure why he thinks Professor Gill should be answering his own questions.

The Antiquities Conflict

Meg Lambert has an interesting post on her blog in which (against the background of this blog being targeted by metal detectorists) she asks whether the antiquities "issue" should not be seen more generally as an antiquities "conflict" ("The Illicit Antiquities Trade as Conflict vs. Issue = Scary Stuff") and that heritage blogging in such a situation is less like having a cosy chat with and about like minded people but more akin to "sitting in a redwood [...] while the chainsaws idle below you".
The illicit antiquities trade is not just an issue the way global warming is an issue; it’s an intractable conflict the same way the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is an intractable conflict, which is to say it is long-standing, has eluded resolution, appears impossible to solve, and has threatened the safety of those involved.
It's a big money business of course, but one reliant on maintaining public complacency. Saving the archaeological record from being riddled with holes like Gruyère cheese by being turned into a mine for saleable and collectable geegaws involves shaking that complacency - the origins of which have a multitude of sources. In the case of England Nigel Swift of Heritage Action (again with reference to recent events affecting this blog and its owner) has pointed out the mechanisms of part of it connected with the denuding of sites in that country by artefact hunters ('Why it matters).

The question is who is responsible for the existence of a conflict, the tree huggers or the guys with chainsaws? After all, there is "common ground", they are both interested in "trees".

"he calls us coineys"

There is a really telling exchange of views on the Unidroit-L discussion list at the moment about - in effect - "why Paul Barford should not be allowed to participate in any discussions on heritage on this list while his blog is closed". Apparently list members are incensed that I "take what we say out of context" (in other words the context of closed antiquity collecting interest groups and bring it into a more public forum?) and I use what list members concur are pejorative terms such as "dugups" (a collective noun I in fact borrowed from the parlance of certain dealers in bulk uncleaned lots of ancient coins) and "dodgy dealings" (an adjective which I use for what- given the circumstances- in my mind can only be called "dodgy").

Most upsetting for them all seems to be the shorthand terms I have used for certain groups of collectors which (because they are the noisiest in the cultural property debates) I write about here a lot: "coin fondlers" and "coineys". These are thought, by those who feel the term refers to them, to be wholly offensive. In particular Alfredo De La Fe (a Cuban) considers that calling an action "coin fondling" equates it with paedophilia. I think he's getting muddled. I do indeed make the parallel between closed access antiquity collecting discussion lists and kiddie porn websites. I see no reason why discussions on responsible collecting with a responsible attitude to the material collected and its origins needs to be closed off from public scrutiny as if something illicit was going on there. The need for transparency is very clear.

"Coin fondlers" was an extension of the idea "a piece of history in your hand" which is often used by antiquity sellers to encourage buyers. In other words it is argued that it is not enough to see ancient finds on the TV, in books, or through the glass of a museum case. Holding it in your hand is what gives the "experience of the past". Furthermore it's what those radical archaeologists allegedly want to prevent (the public "getting their hands on" artefacts). Clearly, the sense of touch is the important thing here. Coin collectors talk about the difference between seeing a specimen (for example one the authenticity of which is in dispute) in a photo or "in the hand". Some collectors talk about having a "pocket piece", a collectable coin they carry around with them in their pockets and can feel when they put their hands in their pockets. Others wear coins as personal ornament in close contact with their bodies.

In general collectors will say they cannot possibly "do numismatics" based on photos or scans of coins, they must have the specimens in their own collections, in their hands. Hence the idea (admittedly a bit tongue in cheek) of "coin fondling". I really baulk at the idea of calling all who accumulate dugup Greek, Roman and Biblical" coins "numismatists". I have a narrower definition of what numismatics consist of than being able to work eBay.

An unforeseen problem is I am British, I speak the language of the Queen. Now, Her Majesty and I see nothing untoward in the word "fondling". We may speak of a nervous passenger fondling his pocketwatch as he waits for a train, a gentleman might fondle the ears of his dog. If it was the downstairs parlour maid in which he was interested, the word in UK English is 'grope'. I was quite surprised to find that in US usage the word seems to be used almost exclusively with sexual (though not wholly paedophilic) overtones. This might therefore lead to some misunderstanding I suppose. So let me clarify, I use the verb to "fondle" to mean " to handle tenderly, lovingly, or lingeringly". Are coins not handled tenderly by their owners, with love and lingeringly and reflectively?

This brings us onto "coiney/coinies". It's a rather vague term I must admit. Most of the time I use it to mean:
English-speaking collectors of dugup ancient coins based generally in the USA and firm supporters of the ACCG.
ESCDACUSAACCGS seems a bit of a lengthy acronym to replace it.

In fact there are lots of
collective nouns ending "-ies" in use. For example there are: Tekkies (UK metal detectorists) and they hate/love "Archies" (UK Archaeologists) who might be "Lefties" (slightly left of the middle politically) and may even be "Trekkies" (fans of a particular TV Science Fiction series). Many of those I know are serious "Foodies" (yum yum). And so on. Now if one is a bearded woolly-jumper-wearing bicycle-riding whole-food and environmental activist social worker, being a "lefty" is something you might be proud of. If you are a gun-toting, tea-partying, FEMA-suspecting Republican Birther from Wisconsin, the term would be used as a pejorative one.

Now, what I do not really see is why somebody who actually is an English-speaking collector of dugup ancient coins from Wisconsin and a fully paid up supporter of the ACCG, would see the term "coiney" in itself as offensive?

The quite separate issue is the general characteristics which it seems to me can in general be ascribed to many, if not most, of these people. If they are led astray by the crass and all-too-obvious ACCG propaganda, they only have themselves to blame that they are ridiculed for it, just the same as if they believed a claim that the President had been abducted by aliens and replaced by a Reptilian.

f course the argument "we'd start considering collecting responsibly if people like Paul Barford stop calling us rude names" is also one we've heard before. The PAS, David Gill, Derek Fincham, SAFE and Heritage Action are for putting the argument politely, I don't see why one of us should not say it in stronger terms.

Vignette: Ralph Wiggum

Friday 23 September 2011

What Coins Do Black Americans Collect?

US collectors of dugup ancient coins and artefacts claim that they use them to explore and affirm a connection with the roots of their own society. There is however a huge gap in American society between the white population, all too willing to see themselves as children of the Enlightenement and Renaissance with its fixation on the classical world, and a large coloured population who might find it difficult seeing the roots of their own social conditions in a truly Enlightened society. Except that of course like early America, the Classical civilisations were also slave-owning cultures. One is struck by how few coloured coin dealers there seem to be in the US, such as for example visible in photographs of coin fairs and bourses in the US and how many coloured (as opposed to Latino) faces one sees among the clients. So coiney "cultural property internationalists" collecting dugups to promote some vague form of cuddly-fluffy-bunny international "cultural cosmopolitanism" do not seem to be making much headway even in their own society. The same goes for metal detecting in the UK, how many metal detectorists are there from ethnic minorities in UK metal detecting clubs?

Troy Davis:
"there [i]s a vast racial disparity in the state of Georgia where 48.4% of people on death row [a]re black males, despite only making up 15% of the population. “As long as the death penalty is applied in a racially bigoted fashion and a class bigoted fashion, this sort of cheating, this sort of legalized lynching this sort of heartless application of punishment will continue. It has to come to an end.” James Crugnale, 'Troy Davis’ Lawyer: The State of Georgia Legally Lynched An Innocent Man', September 22nd, 2011

World shocked by U.S. execution of Troy Davis September 22, 2011

Troy Davis: Last 15 Minutes of the Drama Described by Lawyer

Vignette: Troy Davis

Egyptian Archaeologists' Strike - Stealing Artefacts as Protest?

In Egypt, protesting archaeology workers are threatening to begin strikes (including hunger strikes) which will result in the closing of archaeological excavations and monuments all over the Egyptian governorates. Protesters are apparently calling for the official appointment of 12,000 workers in the Supreme Council of the Antiquities. Not only are they intending to close sites - further endangering the rebuilding of Egypt's fragile tourist industry - but it is reported they threaten to "steal monuments from museums and stores if their demands are not met". This is apalling and would place the professionalism of the organizers of this action in question and raises the spectre again of the endangerment of the objects in the Egyptian Museum on 28th January for political gain by the collapsing regime. "The demonstrators will not give up their demands, said Ahmed Abdel Maqsoud, one of protesting workers" - not to be confused with Mohamed Abdel Maqsoud.

Dina Abdel Alem, 'Egypt's archeologists threatening strike if demands not met, Sept 22, 2011.

Thursday 22 September 2011

Hawass Apologises

Dr Zahi Hawass was scheduled to hold a public lecture in Brussels on the 15th of July 2011 as part of the accompanying program of the exhibition ‘Tutankhamun – His Tomb and His Treasures’. The lecture had been postponed to a new date, 23rd of September, but Dr Hawass has informed the organizers that he would be unable to attend. It will be delivered now as a live transmission from Cairo via satellite, with free entrance. In his statement, Dr Hawass said today:
“I am writing to apologize that I will not be able to give my scheduled lecture in person in Brussels. Due to the difficult situation here in Egypt, I am not currently able to travel. I am very sorry about this, and appreciate your understanding. I do hope very much, that my lecture, which I will hold live at 25TV’s “Nile Studio” in Cairo this Friday night, will be acceptable".
Dr Hawass is currently banned from leaving the country because procurators are continuing their investigations of charges which have been brought against him.

Stolen Egyptian Artefacts Seized in Australia

Over a hundred stolen ancient Egyptian Greek and Roman artefacts have been returned to Egypt after a whirlwind few months of travel. They were seized in Melbourne at an (unnamed) auction house in November 2010 and it was determined that they had been smuggled from Egypt to Australia. They were discovered because the seller had put them on sale through the internet and the Egyptian embassy presented an official request to retrieve them. They have been presented by Australian authorities to the Egyptian ambassador in Australia, Omar Metwali. This is apparently the third repatriation from Australia in such circumstances in recent years.

Samantha Meys, ' Australia will return 122 Egyptian archeological pieces', Canberra Times, September 18, 2011

Amany Saber, Australia will return 122 Egyptian archeological pieces', Youm7, Sep 17, 2011.

Syrian Site Being Looted in Unrest

Several archaeological sites in the ancient city of Apamea in Syria have been vandalized and pillaged by groups taking advantage of the events in Syria to excavate secretly, dig randomly and steal artefacts. Some of the looters attacked site guards and threatened to kill them if they tried to stop them.

H. Sabbagh, 'Archeological Sites in Ancient City of Apamea Vandalized and Pillaged', Syrian Arab News Agency, Sep 20, 2011.

Photo: Apamea in NW Syria. Sites with upstanding remains like this are particularly prone to attack by looters, after both sculpted elements as well as "minor artefacts" which may be recovered easily from the places pinpointed by the surface remains.


Getty Returns More Greek Pieces

At first sight this looks a bit like a publicity stunt in order to assuage public comment on the appointment of James Cuno as president of the Getty Trust. It appears that the situation is more complex, with the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Greek Ministry of Culture planning cultural exchanges of scientists and scholars in the fields of archaeology, conservation, art history and other fields which will no doubt greatly benefit the cultural heritage of currently cash-strapped Greece. As an initial gesture of goodwill, the Museum is returning two ancient artefacts from its collections to Greece.
The objects in question are fragments of a grave marker and a Greek language inscription, both acquired in the 1970s, according to the Getty. The museum said the grave-marker fragments have never gone on display in L.A. and that they are part of a larger work depicting female forms that dates from the 5th century BC. [...] the Greek-language inscription features 65 lines describing sacrifices and festivals celebrated in Thorikos, in southeast Attica. The work dates from 430 to 420 BC and is currently on view at the Getty Villa.
David Ng, 'Getty Museum to return additional ancient pieces to Greece', LA Times, September 22, 2011

See also Meg Lambert on the returns: 'The Getty returns two objects to Greece' (referring in turn to the Chasing Aphrodite blog)

David Gill also comments Getty returns antiquities to Greece

Vignette: Best of friends, James Cuno shakes hands heartily with the Greek Minister of Culture Pavlos Yeroulanos.

A Collector's View of the Conflict

Chris Rose, a previous correspondent with this blog, offered his own opinion on an ongoing Unidroit-L discussion about whether I should brave the naysaying lynch mob and attempt to take part in discussions with collectors and dealers on that list. He mentioned there that he felt I'd been a bit rude to him when he came here (which I accept I was, because it seemed to me at the time that he was an ACCG supporter trying to be disruptive). I wrote to him to apologise and received a long reply which I asked him to edit out certain remarks and for permission to reproduce here as it presents a somewhat different picture of part of the collectors' world than the one usually presented on the pages of this blog.

Hi Paul, It is nice to get a direct email from you. First of all, I am sorry that you are under various threats related to your blog. Sometimes people get caught up in an argument and lose basic human decency. You certainly have a right to speak out over your concerns. Collectors need to check our bruised egos and recognize that your freedom of speech is at least as valuable as our freedom to collect.

I think you have made some serious headway among a good portion of Moneta, people that largely communicate with me off-list. It is frustrating to me and others that the market offers no other real options to collectors than buying coins without evidence of legitimacy or stopping collecting all together.

A few months back I made a real push to see if I could build some collector concern around this issue by focusing on a collector's right to clear title to what they purchase. It may have appeared that I was wasting your time but I was taking your strongest responses and trying to inject them into the Moneta discussion. Unfortunately most of the list was caught up in a fit of pique at the thought that anybody would question their right to totally unrestricted access to whatever they wanted. They had plenty of attention for scurrilous accusations against you but no attention for your strongest responses, such as your demonstration that the AIA is not implacably anti-collecting.

You have a right to do as you like, but generally advocates of a certain position do well to make it easy for people to learn about their views. I really don't understand why you don't have a FAQ that lays out your main points and your strongest evidence. Combing through 4 years of blog entries is not an option for me or most people who come to your site for information. I read a good deal of your blog and it seemed to me -- incorrectly or not -- that your position varied. Having an explicit summary would have been helpful.

I am sure that most or all of the Moneta-L members are nice people in person. I suspect that many of them suffer from the inflexibility of viewpoint that comes with having many years under their belts. Some of them do sometimes seem to be extremists but then seem totally normal in other situations. I have spoken out out publicly several times against unhelpful statements about suppressing "anti-collector" blogs [...].

I appreciate that it was difficult to distinguish me from someone who was attempting to wear you down with feigned interest. But I am human. I really was operating with good will towards you (meaning that I respected your right to have your views and to call ancient coin collectors and dealers to task. And also that I respected your knowledge and was interested in learning more about the issue from your perspective) so the tenor of your response did hurt my feelings. But I am a big boy. Certainly it is no longer an issue after hearing your side.

I am a consultant. I live around the concept of win-win solutions. I do not understand why that phrase bothers you. Solutions that work for both sides in a dispute are much more stable and reliable than unwelcome solutions forced upon one party.

As I have laid out in various postings on Moneta, I think lack of provenance and site information puts collectors at much greater risk of counterfeits. It introduces criminals into our hobby. People that smuggle coins are likely also to be human traffickers, gun runners, and a host of other things that I don't want to support or be involved in. We are erasing the information that we need for our own studies. Not keeping provenance is not in the everyday collector's interest.

Is the absolute refusal of ACCG to address the problem of looting and provenance just a question of old timers not wanting things to change? Is it an ego battle? Or is dealers' profit dependent on illicit coins? Are 1% of coins on the market looted? Or 95%? I don't know and it really seems that nobody wants me or others to find out.

I believe that antiquity belongs to all of us and that individuals have as much right to collect ancient coins as organizations and professionals. But I also believe in the rule of law. I do not want to see archaeological sites ruined for a greedy grab at a few coins. I personally think that the British scheme should be adopted worldwide. But I cannot impose that solution. Countries not passing the laws I want does not mean that I am free to ignore the laws that ARE in place. We are adults, not spoiled children. I am tired of the tantrums.

Nobody is going to get everything they want in the issue of cultural property. I recommend negotiation. There are a lot of coins. There should be enough for everyone. Archaeologists and collectors should stand hand in hand around remaining pristine sites and ensure that all interested parties get maximal benefit from their study and excavation. If the interested parties don't come to agreement amongst themselves politicians will force some incomplete and fractured solution on us that doesn't serve anybody's interest.

That is my position today. It is a work in progress. I realize you feel differently. I am open to learning more.

I do not claim to be "enlightened". I am motivated by self interest and self respect. I too benefit from archeology. I do not want to be involved with criminals. I do not want to be tricked by counterfeiters. I am enraged at the thought that provenance is purposefully being erased. And I am enraged at the image of looted sites. And I do not like being played for a sucker.

I would appreciate an invitation to your blog. If it matters to you I will not share its content with anyone without specifically asking for your permission. However if you do not wish to invite me I respect your decision.

I would love to see a debate on Unidroit or Moneta. I think that you would find a decent amount of support on the list, particularly if you suspended the generic collector gibes ("coiney", etc) for a while. In any case, I wish you well in your current trials. I am a web systems architect. If I can be of assistance please let me know.

Best regards, Chris

Vignette: a rose for collectors with responsible attitudes.
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