Sunday 30 June 2013

Oscar Muscarella on Archaeological Plunder

British Archaeology:"Let's
just ignore the issues,
eh, partner?"

According to Oscar Muscarella:
Most professional archaeological organizations periodically proclaim their adversity to plundering, the destruction of archaeological sites worldwide, but in fact do little to stop it
He gives an honourable mention to the Society of American Archaeology and the Journal of Field Archaeology which "single handily fight the plunderers" and some websites.
But the only active USA organization, a non-professional lay group (organized by Cindy Ho), Saving Antiquities for Everyone (SAFE), has singularly and continuously fought the good fight from its inception. They cite plunder wherever it occurs, naming names of the plunderers, their supporters and their opponents. That it is unique is a very sad indication of the present state of affairs. I have been a proud member from its incipience and encourage others to join.
And, realistically, which organizations in Great Britain do an equivalent job? Rescue does a bit of quiet muttering, the CBA keeps its head down, and as for the so-called "Portable Antiquities Scheme", what it does to spread the word about the global issues of archaeological looting can be written on the back of an (extremely small) postage stamp. Again it is down to voluntary organizations like Heritage Action to try to keep these issues in the public eye.

Saturday 29 June 2013

Anonymous Swiss Collector 2: Unlooted Wari tombs and looted Wari objects

Donna (Anonymous Swiss Collector) Yates has got her second video-blog out already. I have to mention this one ("Unlooted Wari tombs and looted Wari objects")  for two reasons. The first is that it starts off by referring to the discovery in Peru of one of the very very few unlooted Wari elite tombs at El Castillo de Huarmey by Milosz Giersz and his University of Warsaw team. The second is that she then goes on to discuss statements made by a representative of the Cleveland Museum about wanting to attract scholars to the Wari via the museum's purchase and display of objects looted from Wari tombs. 

I love this moment: "It should be quite obvious what I am going to say... [pause] but I am going to say it anyway [pause]... because museums and collectors have been willing in the past to buy looted elite Wari items... " I guess the more intelligent among my readers can guess the rest. 

As she says "It is so difficult to deal with this attitude, it is so hard to understand, and it's often hard to present to people outside the archaeological world where this all falls apart, but I think this is a very good case to illustrate the disconnect between actual legitimate and very good archaeological work and the idea that looted objects like these have any value for scholarship later ... it's so frustrating [to] have to contend with the situation where lovely Wari things are in collections and museum officials are publicly stating that they are doing me, and you, a favour, I do not think that is right [...] support actual archaeological excavation of the Wari and not the display of looted Wari artefacts in the name of Wari scholarship". 


Review leaves gallery exposed over Indian artefacts

The Art Gallery of NSW in Sydney in Australia has left itself open to claims from the Indian authorities for return of several ancient sculptures in its collections after internal gallery investigations revealed they lacked any documentation to establish proper collecting histories (Michaela Boland, 'Review leaves gallery exposed over Indian artefacts', The Australian June 29, 2013).

Three items bought from Subhash Kapoor when Edmund Capon was gallery director are of questionable origins:
a) "a 1100-year-old West Bengal phyllite plaque" on display in the upper Asian gallery and bought in 2004, "was most likely removed from a niche outside a temple".
b) "two 2200-year-old terracotta sculptures" bought in 1999 and 1994 respectively, one is described as a rattle in the form of a lady playing the drum - "the gallery's notes say it was probably excavated from Chandraketugarh, in West Bengal".
The Weekend Australian has obtained copies of documents Kapoor supplied to the NGA which purport to establish the collecting history of five of those items. Well-placed sources have assured The Weekend Australian those documents are forgeries. Australia passed legislation in 1986 making items liable to forfeiture if foreign countries establish they had been illegally removed. Heritage legal expert Patrick O'Keefe said since that time, institutions were risking losing their collections if they acquired items without papers. "Trustees need to be sure the provenance of objects museum staff recommend for purchase have been thoroughly researched," he said. 
The newspaper reported that it was finding it difficult contacting present and past Gallery directors and trustees, they all somehow beecame unavailable for comment.

Subhash Kapoor is said in the article to have "stocked almost a third of all the artefacts in the Indian art collection" in Canberra's National Gallery of Australia. 

New Clashes in Egypt

Tensions have been rising in Egypt ahead of mass rallies planned by the opposition on Sunday, calling for President Morsi to step down. His supporters are stressing what they see as Mr Morsi's "legitimacy", rejecting the opposition's demand. Sunday is the first anniversary of the president's inauguration.
President Morsi earlier this week warned that divisions threatened to "paralyse" Egypt. He offered a dialogue with the opposition - a move rejected by his opponents. Mr Morsi, who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood, became Egypt's first Islamist president on 30 June 2012, after winning an election considered free and fair. His first year as president has been marred by constant political unrest and a sinking economy.
BBC, 'US warns against Egypt travel after deadly clashes', BBC 29 June 2013 

To offset the possibility that the Morsi government might be tempted to use antiquities in some way to turn foreign opinion against the opposition demonstrators, the latter issued an appeal to  protesters and military to protect Egypt's archaeological sites and museums on 30 June anti-govt rallies.
The Revolution Youth Union (RYU) has asked protesters and the military to protect the country’s archaeological sites and museums ahead of anticipated protests.
The union's media spokesman Omar El-Hadary stated in a press conference that archaeological sites are no less important than banks and governmental institutions, which the police and army have planned to secure during 30 June demonstrations.
'Revolution Youth Union calls on Egypt military to protect antiquities on 30 June', Ahram Online , Thursday 27 Jun 2013.

Meanwhile, in order not to be considered neglecting their job the Antiquities Ministry has assured everyone that they have the situation in hand: 
Major General Abdel Rahim Hassan, director of the Tourism and Antiquities Police (TAP)’s general administration, asserted that the TAP has drawn up a plan to protect monuments, archaeological sites and museums all over the country in collaboration with central security and MSA guards. According to Hassan, these plans were designed to accommodate rumors that the well organised antiquities 'Mafia' will take advantage of the 30th June protests. Hassan asserted that tight security measures were being undertaken in all zones of interest, including security checkpoints equipped with armed forces, ambulances and fire brigades. “The Ministry of Interior is capable of safeguarding Egypt’s heritage, history and future from any risk,” confirmed Hassan.
(Nevine El-Aref, 'Egypt prepares to safeguard heritage before 30 June', Ahram Online, Friday 28 Jun 2013). "Any", that is apart from the endemic looting and encroachment and other damage that has already been going on for the past two and a half years?

Vignette: President Morsi addresses crowd.

Friday 28 June 2013

Belize Banknotes and Cultural Heritage

Belize issues banknotes with a picture of Mayan carvings on the front, and Mayan ruins (Altun Ha, Xunantunich, Lubaantun) on the back :

See Belize 2 Dollars 2003 Item Code: BZ-66

Charges Brought Against Contractor over Noh Mul Destruction

Denny Grijalva
In early May this year, an ancient Mayan monument Noh Mul (18°12'49.63"N  88°34'49.86"W) in the Orange Walk district in Belize was reportedly quarried away by the Demar’s Stone Company, to obtain materials to fix roads. Heavy equipment was caught in the act of excavating material from the edges of the mound. Material has now been gathered to go ahead with a prosecution, the company is being prosecuted and and three persons (among them a 19-year old who operated the excavator and a 60-year old site foreman) have reportedly been detained (Mike Rudon, 'Charges to be levied for the destruction of Noh Mul ' Belize news, Jun 26, 2013).  The company is owned by United Democratic Party politician Denny Grijalva.
[...] two men [a]  truck driver [...] and excavator driver [...], were detained at about five yesterday evening and released at around eight last night. [...] This morning foreman of the Demar’s stone company Javier Nunez turned himself into the Police Station after he heard that he was being sought for questioning. His interrogation was handled by these two special investigators brought in from the Crimes Investigation Branch in Belize City. Our source revealed that in his statement Nunez claims that he did not know where the material was coming from, and that in fact it was a village councillor from Douglas who went with the equipment to Noh Mul.
The men appeared in Corozal Magistrate Court on Friday to answer to charges this morning. It is reported that the foreman will be charged for causing the destruction of an ancient monument. The excavator driver apparently will be handed two charges – removal of stone from an ancient monument and wilfully damaging an ancient monument. Apparently no charges are yet being brought against the owner of Demar’s Stone Company, Denny Grijalva. It seems that although no charges will be laid against him personally, charges of removal of stone from an ancient monument and wilfully damaging an ancient monument will be brought against his company.

The site and its mounds are in the centre of this Google earth screenshot

The site from the end (Past Horizons)
from the side (Village View Post)
Not just one mound affected (Channel 5 Belize)

I get a bit of an uneasy feeling that we see here something of a political provocation aimed at the UDP. The earlier Google Earth coverage (Feb 2011) show that what look (in the fuzzy photos) like mounds were being quarried already in Feb 2011 (though I could not say whether this includes the one now in the news). There is also some digging to the east in 2001. So for over a decade this has been going on without anyone being dragged through the courts.

[PS: And before the xenophobic Houghtonists of the collecting world start frothing at the mouth about "malefactory source countries" and all that junk, let us recall that in Europe the removal of barrows as a source of road-building material was going on for centuries before the main cause of destruction became ploughing flat, and over to the east from the Washington Ranters (and nearer the Ozark Mountain Man) we have the Flattened Mounds of St Louis].

Mike Rudon. 'Wasn’t me? Denny Grijalva passes blame on Noh Mul destruction' News Five, May 15th 2013.

'PlusTV discovers other Mayan sites destroyed for roadfill', Plus TV May 21st, 2013.

Italian Police Recover Trove of Etruscan Antiquities

Five artefact hunters and collectors are under investigation in Italy for unauthorized excavation of archaeological artefacts, possession of artefacts that belong to the state and receiving stolen goods. The artefacts were recovered under a police operation called Operation Iphigenia (a tip-off involved?):
The archeological artifacts, mostly dating to the third and second century B.C., had been discovered several years ago during a construction project in a neighborhood of modern-day Perugia and were illegally excavated and trafficked on the clandestine art market before being traced by the police. [...] Among the items recovered were 23 travertine marble funerary urns dating to the Hellenistic period from a single tomb complex identified as belonging to the Etruscan Cacni family. Police also recovered other objects from the tomb dig, including a bronze helmet and various ceramic bowls.
Elisabetta Povoledo, 'Italian Police Recover Trove of Etruscan Antiquities', New York Times June 27, 2013,

Thursday 27 June 2013

AnonymousSwissCollector Video Blog 1

AnonymousSwissCollector is online with her first web blog. Number 1 has the title "Ecuador, Egypt, and Valdivia Figurines" and is based around the March seizure at Cairo airport of some South American artefacts bought on the US market. This is how she describes it:
"**ALL VIEWS MY OWN** In this Anonymous Swiss Collector videocast I discuss the recovery of Peruvian and Ecuadorian antiquities at the Cairo Airport. I provide a bit of background for one type of object seized: Valdivia figurines from Ecuador. I talk about the looting of Valdivia sites and the problem with faked Valdivia objects. Finally I ask if this story represents a window into what is supposed to be the growing demand for antiquities in the Gulf States. Verdict: Probably not. Vist my blog at and follow me on twitter: DrDonnaYates".
What she does not stress in her blurb, but I think is supremely important in the context of the portable antiquities debate is the aspect of faking to fill the market, that this contaminates the record. If most of the stuff for study is from the market and we know not whether it is real or fake, which scuppers the argument so often heard in certain areas of collecting that obkects can be studied" in their own right, with no need to know their archaeological context. Poppycock - as this case shows so clearly.

just 18 hits this morning, let's boost that a bit. She asks for feedback, I think what she's done is great, I found the explanation of Valdivia admirable and put into language which the average member of the general public can easily cope with (important). If I were to quibble (which I will not much as I am a secret admirer of this particular "Swiss Collector"), I'd say that for public consumption a future vidblog probably needs to be two thirds this length (it's 15 mins). I suspect for better outreach and a bit of visual variety, if she could find a way to edit in (or show) images of the items she's talking about, it would be helpful. But I think this is great and a useful way forward. More? Yes please, once a week if possible.

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: Lenience in Northampton

Judge Waddoups has a few fellow spirits in Northampton. Mr Justice Cranston, sitting with Lord Justice Aikens and Mr Justice Irwin cut the lifetime ban on using a metal detector of Darren West, who admitted "counts of theft and damaging an ancient monument at Northampton Crown Court in December last year". West was also given an Asbo barring him indefinitely from carrying or using a metal detector, the ban has now been cut to five years by the Court of Appeal. So he'll be out metal detecting again in January2019. That's if artefact hunting with PAS-legitimation are still going on in Britain in January 2019. How many sites will have had how many collectable artefacts hoiked out of them by then? And how many non-collectable artefacts (archaeological evidence) will have been removed and discarded by uninterested collectors in the scrap-metal buckets? The answer is likely to be of the rank of one and a half million upwards - unless the PAS cares to provide its own estimate... Nah, thought not. Anyway Mr West can start counting the days until he can get involved in the grabfest.

Callum Jones, 'Lifetime metal detecting ban for Northamptonshire man is reduced to five years' Northampton Chronicle and Echo [Local section, not 'crime'] 27the June 2013

Vignette: Mr West will soon get his artefact hunting rights back. 

British Museums Urged to Change Focus to "Change Lives"

British museums have been urged by the Museums Association to do more to make a difference to the lives of those in their towns and cities to "commit to improving [their] impact on society". The Association said the time was right "for museums to transform their contribution to contemporary life". This need is all the more important in the light of the social disintegration taking place in so many areas
It cited projects with unemployed and homeless people, isolated older people and looked-after [sic] children. [...] Good examples, the association said, included the Museum of Liverpool's House of Memories project, which uses artefacts in dementia therapy. The association also pointed to an art scheme with homeless people who slept rough outside Hollytrees Museum in Colchester and activities to celebrate cultural links between Luton and Pakistan. [...]
They also do a lot of work with socially disadvantaged people with metal detectorists. Not everybody agrees that this is a good thing:
critics fear a change in focus may come at the expense of preservation and research at a time when the numbers of specialist curators are in decline. [...] Dr John Nudds, a senior lecturer in palaeontology at the University of Manchester, said: "In my opinion the raison d'etre of our museums is the preservation of our national heritage. [...] this new role that museums are currently undertaking is to the detriment of the collections. Social work is nothing to do with museums."

Here's the Hollytrees project.

Ian Youngs, "Museums urged to 'change lives'...", BBC News 27 June 2013.

The Outreach of the PAS to the Owners of Finds

Since the PAS is supposed to be all about outreaching to the public, I want to know why every farmer that has given permission to a detectorist to take his (the farmer’s) finds along to the PAS does not get information direct from the PAS to the owner what the object is, and under what number his property is recorded. This could most cost-efficiently be done if the farmer supplies an email on the permission letter that the detectorist receives, and presumably shows the PAS. This way also farmers can keep tabs on how responsible the tekkies they let on their fields are, if they are being shown pocketloads of finds from a site which get taken away and later do not get reported, he can have words with them about being responsible history hunters rather than selfish grabbing looters profiting from his good heartedness.

The Association for the Protection of Syrian Archaeology

The Association for the protection of Syrian Archaeology (or APSA) has been first a Facebook page and a YouTube . It is now a Website in order to facilitate browsing and list a greater number of news items. This is intended above all to inform, that is, to gather and publish news about the threats and damage currently suffered by the Syrian archaeological and historical heritage. It is  also designed to alert the scientific community and international  authorities, either cultural or political.

See the website via AWOL.

Wednesday 26 June 2013

Can heritage survive another hammering?

Matthew Slocombe, director of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings argues in today's Guardian "Can heritage survive another hammering?", 26 June 2013 ) that heritage cuts in Britain "will yield savings too small to help the Treasury, but risk huge damage to our future".
Vast numbers of people appreciate the historic environment as part of their daily lives and will notice the effect as its care erodes. The heritage sector accepts that public spending cuts are a fact of life, but we do not consider it right for heritage to be penalised beyond the level suffered by others. If heritage is hammered again, after the hammering of 2010, it will be looked upon by future generations as one of the greatest tragedies of the current cuts.
Never mind, all those metal detectorists are busy hoiking stuff out of the archaeological record for the public to gawp at, with just a few hundred enormous sums of money for culture going each year on their show-and-tell-and-hand-over fees. Could DCMS please tell us how much was paid out in Treasure awards in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 and how that compares with budgets in other areas such as field survey of monuments?

Meanwhile  the British Government has announced that it will work with English Heritage to consult on establishing a charity to care for the historic properties in the National Heritage Collection on a self-financing basis.

Beware scam

It seems it's not just metal detectorists and coin collectors who find writing proper English a challenge. I just got this:
Please view the document i uploaded for you using Google docs. CLICK HERE just sign in with your email to view the document its very important. Thank you. [curiously unsigned]
Unfortunately for the scammers, they'd hacked into the account of a lady who I mainly knew as a pretty thorough editor of archaeological texts (including some of mine in the past). I imagine she'd have capitalised "I" and put in at least one comma. Sure enough, it's a scam, I have little doubt there is no document revealing the 'dirt' about the PAS or one of my least favourite metal detectorists or whatever. If you get one of these from someone you know, especially from similar circles to mine, beware. [note, there are textual variants of the 'lure' message, including some properly spelt and punctuated - not all identity thieves are dumb and uneducated it seems].

Tuesday 25 June 2013

SLAM Still Trying to Hang on to Ka Nefer Nefer

Rick St Hilaire has the latest in the sorry saga of Ka Nefer Nefer in the US museums and legal system ("Justice Department Files Brief in SLAM Mummy Mask Appeal, Claiming "Clear Abuse of Discretion", CHLRSH,Tuesday, June 25, 2013). Meanwhile  Phoenix Ancient Art, S.A. from whom the contested mask was purchased in 1998 is retaining a 'discreet' silence. Let it be noted that since the original cover-story was questioned, not a single extra piece of information has come to light about the mysterious central European collections through which this item is said to have passed. Total silence. Total silence too in SLAM's catalogue about the fact that at some time between going missing from Egyptian museum stores sometime around 1973 and it being on offer in 1998 somebody scratched the inscription on the hand of the object off, the inscription that identifies the owner. If it could be, as the dealer asserts, documented as passing legitimately through the hands of legitimate collectors and trade, who saw the need to obscure its origins?

Monday 24 June 2013

Carabinieri seize 700 looted artefacts in Calabria

Carabinieri seize 700 looted artefacts in Calabria, a lot of not-very-nice (IMO) pots and some very green coins.

Vignette, just one of the tabletops of antiquities on display. 

R.I.P. Mick Aston

Professor Michael Antony 'Mick' Aston, FSA (1 July 1946 - 23 June 2013)

For me, Mick Aston was one of those who got me really interested in landscape archaeology at an early age, the techniques of studying landscapes. His writings on the subject (together with OGS Crawford) were an important inspiration and influential in making archaeology into a lifelong passion and interest. He was also an exemplary extra-mural teacher, bringing archaeology to a wider public. One of archaeology's more colourful and instantly recognizable characters, he will be sorely missed.


On a forum near you:
"I will repeat my earlier post, regardless of what you think of TT any inappropriate posts will be removed, anyone who brings this forum or topic in to (sic) disrepute, please read the rules, if you don't like the rules PM me and I will be happy to remove your account, if you have nothing good to say keep it to yourself please" 
Guess what that's about.

Vignette: the boyz.  

Following the Drift as Opposed to Mouthing-off

I assume that most people were able to follow my drift in a text I wrote about the difference between what a collector collects (and rejects as a collectable) and what archaeologists consider is archaeological evidence. It is here. Sadly not all metal detectorists could follow the argument. In a bad-language post terminated by a foul-mouthed comment  ("Now It’s Our Junk They Want!"), one of them indicates for all to see that he has not the foggiest what the issue is.
This man, without a doubt, is paranoid, obsessed and in need of treatment.  He’s what I call [...]“bat shit crazy”…. Hmm, makes perfect sense to me? (sic) [...] Are you ready for this? Here it comes….SCRAP METAL!!  Damn, holy cow, knock me over….what a travesty!  What next?

Maybe what next is that a metal detectorist, instead of being insulting might want to actually think about what he reads on other people's blogs before he decides to make an exhibition of his crassness and inability to grasp a (pretty simple, you must agree) point.

Sunday 23 June 2013

Islamist governor of Egypt's Luxor quits after uproar

BBC News is reporting on the resignation from the position of Luxor's governor of Adel Assad Al Islamist governor of Egypt's Luxor quits after uproar). Gamaa Islamiya carried out an infamous terrorist raid in 1997 that killed 58 tourists. The actual perpetrators were all caught - some of them in a chase across the desert - and killed, as were a number (it is reported locally) of members of each of their families to discourage similar attacks.

Photo: From Luxor Times blog. 

Looting in Lanka

The Poson Festival, typically held on the first full moon in June (Poson), celebrates the arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. The Srilankan Sunday Times has an editorial article "Poson reflections: Save our heritage" (Sunday, June 23, 2013) about the looting and smuggling of ancient artefacts, and the authorities' inability (or unwillingness) to combat this. There are an estimated 200 000 historical sites across Sri Lanka, very many of them already heavily looted. Despite this, the thieves, driven by commercial greed, still come back for more:

Week after week, the country’s archaeological sites, our national heritage, are ransacked by organised gangs. Treasure hunters in Sri Lanka no longer waste their time furtively chipping away at ancient monuments with rudimentary implements. They hire large, conspicuous, backhoes. They also bring a kattadiya who conducts rituals to appease the deities before the dastardly deed is done. The sites are predominantly ancient temple complexes; one might as well appease the gods with a few offerings before one desecrates sacred ground. The gangs also include one or more inhabitants of the village in which the site is located. There are often external financiers who aspire to profit from the exercise with minimum risk to themselves. Some military and police personnel and local politicians are said to be involved but information about such cases is less forthcoming. 
The point however is reiterated:
 Treasure hunting is today committed with such chutzpah that it lends credence to the presumption that powerful people are involved. Increasingly, sophisticated equipment is used such as modified and unmodified metal detectors and laser guns. There also seems to be help in getting the artifacts out of the country. According to a source, some authentic ancient sculptures can fetch up to a million dollars. With so much at stake, those in the know contend that none of this can be done if influential persons were not backing the operation. Corruption among key government officials, including police, is a critical component. Complicity is another. Despite this clearly being an organised crime — and therefore easier to crack– investigators have failed to draw the net. Demand is fuelling supply and the chain remains firmly intact.[...], nary an eyelid is batted about the free-for-all, financially motivated rape of ancient Buddhist and Hindu sites.
An area which had not been looted to the same degree were the Eastern jungles around Thoppigala which were largely inaccessible during the war years. Although there had been plundering going on before the war started, this was until relatively recently virgin territory with thousands of remains scattered around. Since the area has been more accessible however, there is considerable activity of criminal looting gangs here too.
There is heightened awareness among these criminal networks about the monetary value of ancient artifacts especially in the international market. Sri Lankan Buddha statues are openly traded on the internet with little or no information about their source. Oriental artifacts are a rave in Western homes. 
A recent London sale, ignored by Srilankan authorities is mentioned:
 The auctioning by Bonham’s of London in April of a “sandakadapahana” or moonstone believed to be of the Anuradhapura period has added to the frenzy at home. Although a Sri Lankan expert based in Britain dismissed the moonstone as a replica, it fetched a massive £553,250 or about Rs. 110 million. Not two months later, a group of robbers “disguised in military clothes” walked into the Herath-Halmillewa Raja Maha Viharaya in Kebetigollewa and spirited away its moonstone after gagging and binding the local guards. This was no random act. Police later claimed to have found its remains, after the robbers had broken it apart to search for treasure. 
The Archaeology Department is understaffed and overwhelmed by the task of just keeping track. The article finishes by urging the increasing of greater public awareness of the issues surrounding looting by education programes:
If the authorities cannot stem the flow, perhaps the public can, through vigilance and persistent pressure. One thing is clear: This destruction must end.  
I would echo that (adding that it is a pity that, for example, countries like Great Britain do not lead the way, though back in the UK, such public outreach about this is unlikely while artefact hunters are the "partners" of museum archaeologists).

Russia Urged to Return WW2 Loot.

A US source  is reporting that:
"Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Russia to return art and antiquities looted from eastern Germany in World War II by Josef Stalin’s Soviet Trophy Commission and said she’s optimistic a solution can be found. Merkel spoke at the opening of an exhibition on the Bronze Age at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, which includes 600 objects seized from Germany during or after World War II" 
Two things, she seems never to have actually delivered that speech, and secondly is it not time that the US started to give consideration to giving back what they took from Germany and Japan in the same circumstances? Note that US 'justifications' for hanging onto such war loot are the same as those used by Russia.

"What is seized in war should remain seized", Arthur Houghton June 11th 2013

Catherine Hickley Stalin's World War II Loot Should Return to Germany, Merkel Says' Bloomberg, Jun 22, 2013.

Saturday 22 June 2013

"Talk About a Conversation Piece..."

I've only just come across this in Donna Yates Twitter gallery. This is horrendous from start to finish.

"coins over eyes used to pay passage to the underworld" - getting a bit confused there I think...

"Since its believed European collection" note they avoid saying where it actually came from.

"several cervical vertebrae still attached", in other words came off when the head was wrenched off the corpse's torso probably by modern looters for easier smuggling and sale.

"So, if your goals are investment, entertainment, conversation, or all three, get a "head start" in your bidding, on this authentic Egyptian mummy head".

Sadly there is no curse of the mummy, so it is unlikely that every single person involved in this sale and the utterly atrocious video woke up to find fire-breathing cobras writhing around on the bed covers ready to strike at their eyeballs to revenge the desecration of the dead in this way. More is the pity.

Heritage Auctions - remember that name.

Lotsa Money in Appeals

Rick St Hilaire has come up with some thought-provoking information about a certain dugup artefacts dealers' lobby group: 
The ACCG's publicly reported expenses in the ancient coins test case have thus far totaled $49,973 according to the group's 2009 and 2010 Form 990-EZ tax filings, the most recent ones available online. ACCG board member Attorney Peter Tompa and his Washington, DC based law firm have been handling the case since its inception.
But how much money did they make in 2011, 2012 and 2013? Talk about a nice little earner.

Vignette: the face of the ACCG legal team

Feb 2010 Getty-Sicily MOU

For Peter Tompa and all who are as confused as (or by) him: The Getty-Sicily agreement
The agreement foresaw exhibitions, conservation projects, scholarly research, and a seismic mitigation conference. The  exhibition "Between Greece and Rome: Sicily in the Classical and Hellenistic Period" is discussed, but there is no mention there of Cleveland Museum

MOU Expires, US Museum Hangs onto Stuff

A bit of a squabble has broken out over the  tour of the J. Paul Getty Museum exhibition “Sicily: Art and Invention Between Greece and Rome”, featuring dozens of loaned antiquities from Sicilian collections, to Cleveland. This exhibition was set up under the terms of a February 2010 memorandum of understanding between the Getty and Sicily that followed the museum’s decision to turn over dozens of ancient artworks to Italy and Sicily and that outlined a series of future collaborations. It  "was supposed to crown years of effort by some American museums to patch up relations with Italy over claims of looted antiquities". Sicilian official Mariarita Sgarlata the assessor of culture for the Region of Sicily would now prefer two of the star attractions to be returned rather than go on tour. These items are:
a dramatic six-foot-tall statue of a charioteer from the island of Mozia  on the western coast of Sicily which the Getty had had a hand in helping conserve,  and
a gold libation bowl, or phiale seized from a New York collection in 1995 by United States federal agents as a stolen object and, following litigation, returned to Sicily in 2000

Antonino Zichichi, Ms. Sgarlata’s predecessor, had asked the Getty museum not to send the charioteer and the phiale to Cleveland after their own exhibition at the time the contract was being agreed. Ms. Sgarlata pointed out that in the end (and apparently partly because of reaching an impasse over this restriction)  Sicily had never signed the contract authorizing the exhibition, but the items were shipped before one had been negotiated, furthermore, the February 2010 memorandum of understanding and between the museum and Sicily expired in February and has not been renewed. “I believe that these imbalanced exchanges” with American museums “have run their course,” Ms. Sgarlata said in her e-mail. “We are open to exchanges, if duly considered, and especially if they respect the concept of authentic reciprocity.”  It was not immediately clear how the museums would respond to the letter about the charioteer and phiale, which does not explicitly demand that the items be returned and leaves open the possibility that a compromise might be worked out.

Is the Feb 2010 MOU not with the Getty, rather than with Cleveland?

It is worth noting the information that the Getty also "agreed this year to relinquish to Sicily another work from its collection that is in the current exhibition, a terra-cotta head of Hades, because matching fragments were found at a Sicilian museum".

Hugh Eakin, 'Sicilian Protest Imperils Exhibition', New York Times June 21, 2013

UPDATE 22.6.13
You did not think for a moment that  Peter Tompa would be giving his readers all the facts about the case, did you? If you did, let a read of his "Sicilian Cultural Bureaucracy Imperils Exhibit" disabuse you. He is not going to admit for a moment that the problem is once again the US tendency to think they can unilaterally decide about other people's cultural heritage, and agreement or no agreement, simply trample over everybody else.  And then they act all hurt and surprised that they are criticised by others for their actions and attitudes.

Copper Scraps Important Evidence at Werowocomoco

A notable example of text-driven archaeology from the US (Dan Vergano,  Virginia to preserve Pocahontas home, USA Today, June 20, 2013) at the "Werowocomoco (WER-ruh-wo-KOM-uh-ko) site near Gloucester, Va.". The excavated portion  located on a shallow bay on the York River is described by excavator  Martin Gallivan (College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va.) as:
"one of the most significant archaeological sites in North America, it is where settlers and Native Americans first encountered each other [...] Jamestown and Williamsburg only tell one part of the story from the colonial era, we could tell another side at Werowocomoco." . 
Werowocomoco was the capital of chief Powhatan's kingship over Virginia's Tidewater region. Powhatan and the empire he put together were major players in 16th- and 17th-century East Coast history. Jamestown was founded some 16 miles away on swampy ground on the James River. Of note is that one of the features thought to clinch the identification of the site were:
more than a dozen copper scraps at the longhouse site, ones that chemically match European trade items used by Jamestown's colonists and also found at that site [...] Only chiefs controlled copper at the time. Its red color was ritually significant in their mythology," says Gallivan
Of course if the average metal detectorist had been there first and dug signals from shapeless copper scraps and nothing else to show what kind of site they were hoiking from, they'd probably just chuck the unrecognisable scrap in their scrap bucket and move of, thus depriving us not only of the knowledge of the presence of the site, but also destroying the information potential of the site for any future investigation. While not as nice a "collectable" as more (to them) recognizable objects, some, maybe much, of what artefact hunters are throwing away is nevertheless archaeological evidence.

One wonders, had there not been any texts with the romantic yarn about Captain John Smith and Pocahontas and her dad, would the findspot of these copper scraps ever have been investigated?

Meanwhile, here are just a few metal detectorists describing what they do with 'scrap' (ake - potential unrecognised archaeological evidence). All metal detecting forums near you are full of such information. Take a look at it and consider what it might mean.

Scrap Metal Bucket anyone do this? Treasure Net
[do it all the time, on my prowling, detecting trips, i pick up everything metal, it usually takes me about three weeks to get a load to sell, comes in 'right handy'.]

Another question for you "MD'ing Veterans"... SCRAP METALS recovered..... 
Treasure Net
["how do you tell what type of metal it is? [...] what should I be saving for scrap, and how do I identify it?"]

Scrap into CASH $$$$$$$, Friendly Metal Detecting Forum
"I had 2 buckets, one for copper, and one for brass.... [...] 90% of this stuff came from field hunting spring and fall. Got $95.46, not bad for junk metal".

Found in the Scrap Bucket Treasure Net
Metal detecting forums are replete with tales of an object that was only recognised for what it was months after it had been rejected off-hand and chucked into the 'scrap' bucket. By the time its identity is realised, the finder has lost all information about even the basic fact of which of his search sites it came from.The frequency of such admonitory stories make it difficult for artefact hunters' supportive "partners" to persuade that it does not go on. 

What US Dugup Dealers Are After

The word from the ACCG:
If, as the ACCG expects, it is determined that the bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs has proceeded in an unjustifiable and contrary to law manner, it is reasonable to expect that the Memoranda of Understanding restricting import of ancient coins will be vacated, and that the bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs will be ordered to conduct its affairs in a more transparent manner, specifically fulfilling many reporting and disclosure responsibilities it has heretofore ignored.
I am not quite sure how Mr Tompa thinks he is going to pull off the scrapping of two (or more?) CCPIA MOUs through a local court decision (District Court of Maryland, Northern division in the matter of "three knife-shaped coins (sic), twelve Chinese coins, and seven Cypriot coins versus the United States of America"). Also what would be the retroactive legal consequences of federal trade restrictions being declared null and void for those responsible and law-abiding dealers in the USA and abroad who were carefully complying with them? Would they be entitled to some compensation from the US gubn'mint for wasted effort, and if they were, would they claim it? If so, can we expect to see them all greedily lining up behind the ACCG? Just who is lining up behind this group of dealers and why?

Munich Again

Dorothy King, in a discussion on German attitudes to other nations ('German Propaganda Continues ...', Monday, April 29, 2013), notes:
since Switzerland cracked down on looted antiquities and ancient coins, the new hub has become Munich.

Friday 21 June 2013

Collector to finance Excavation of Roman Site

A London banker will fund an excavation of a Roman site in Maryport this year:
Christian Levett, a hedge fund manager, has given £500,000 to the Hadrian’s Wall Trust for the Camp farm dig and for one in Italy. Mr Levett owns an archaeological magazine Minerva and an art museum in France. The trust has appointed Oxford Archaeology North, based in Lancaster, to carry out the Maryport dig from August.
 'Banker to finance a second Roman dig', Times and Star, Friday, 21 June 2013.

Russia and Germany Dispute War-Trophy Art

Speeches by Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin at the opening of a major exhibition of Bronze Age treasures were temporarily cancelled because of a long-running disagreement over the looting of art works from territories occupied by the by the Red Army at the end of the Second World War.
The exhibition – Bronze Age, Europe without Borders with more than 1,700 artefacts on display in St Petersburg’s historic Hermitage museum – was supposed to mark the culmination of a Year of Germany in Russia after three years of co-operation between German and Russian curators.[...] But when it emerged that the German leader intended to use her museum speech to insist on the return of hundreds of art works that Germany claims were looted by victorious Soviet soldiers after 1945, the opening ceremony at the Hermitage was suddenly abandoned.[...] It was clear that trouble had been brewing for many weeks after it emerged that some 600 of the exhibits are also listed in Germany as looted works of art. They included the so-called Treasure of Eberswalde, said to be the largest prehistoric hoard ever found in Germany, with 81 separate gold pieces dating from the 9th or 10th century BC, including bowls and beakers, armbands and bracelets. The other most significant part of the treasures that Germany claims were carried off as “war booty” by Soviet soldiers are archaeological remains from the ancient city of Troy. The Hermitage exhibition marks the first time such treasures have been put on public display after years when the former Soviet government denied having them. But their reappearance has inevitably sparked demands in Germany for their return. However, in Russia they are seen as compensation for art works that were looted from Russia by Germany after their invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, and have never been rediscovered.
but of course Troy is not in Russia. Perhaps we should ask Turkey where the stuff belongs? By what right was the Eberswalde hoard taken to Russia? Art taken from Nazi Germany has been shown in Moscow on several occasions in recent years such as a display at the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in 2007 and a Moscow Museum of Architecture event in 2003.

read the rest here:
Quentin Peel, Neil Buckley and Charles Clover, 'Russia and Germany in spat over ‘looted’ art', Financial Times June 21, 2013

See also:
Yahoo! UK and Ireland Merkel tells Putin Germany wants looted ', 21 June 2013
Radio Free Europe, ' Russia Denies Merkel Event Canceled Over 'Looted Art' ', 21 June 2013.

Thursday 20 June 2013

Campbell: The Illicit Antiquities Trade as a Transnational Criminal Network

Peter B. Campbell of Southampton University has just published a Research Article: 'The Illicit Antiquities Trade as a Transnational Criminal Network: Characterizing and Anticipating Trafficking of Cultural Heritage' in the International Journal of Cultural Property (Volume 20 Issue 02 May 2013, pp 113-153). Here is the abstract:
The illicit antiquities trade is composed of a diverse population of participants that gives the appearance of complexity; however, using the network paradigm, a simple underlying structure is revealed based on specific geographical, economic, political, and cultural rules. This article uses a wide range of source material to chart interactions from source to market using a criminal network approach. Interchangeable participants are connected through single interactions to form loosely based networks. These flexible network structures explain the variability observed within the trade, as well as provide the basis behind ongoing debates about the roles of organized crime, terrorism, and the Internet in antiquities trafficking. Finally, a network understanding of trade's organization allows for anticipation, though not necessarily prediction, of antiquities trafficking and offers the opportunity to develop new strategies for combating the trade.
Another 'criminal network approach'. The way to combat it is to stop dealers and collectors financing the criminal networks. They exist not because of the artefacts flowing through them one way to the market, but the flow of financial incentives down the chain the other way, and its the money from the collector's pocket that finances it.

Vignette: Criminal networks, they are everywhere

Nice to get some Acknowledgement once in a while

Metal detectorists, dugup antiquity collectors and coin fondlers all say they have a passion for the past and they say they "hate" looters who bring dodgy stuff onto the market. They claim they'd like to see something done about the problem. Nevertheless, anybody who criticises the status quo that allows it to go on, well, obviously that's somebody you have to attack if you are a metal detectorist or coin collector. Furthermore, they try very hard to persuade fellow metal detectorists and antiquity collectors that nobody in, or out of, archaeology really listens to these guys (so they can be safely ignored). So it is nice to find an honourable mention in the acknowledgements to an article published in Volume 20 of the International Journal of Cultural Property May 2013 (Peter B. Campbell, 'The Illicit Antiquities Trade as a Transnational Criminal Network: Characterizing and Anticipating Trafficking of Cultural Heritage')
"Illicit antiquities research is a small but dedicated field and a synthesis such as this would not be possible without the scholarship of individuals like Paul Barford, Neil Brodie, David Chippendale, Ricardo Elia, David Gill, and Simon MacKenzie to name just a few".

Wednesday 19 June 2013

Top of the US Dealer lobbyists' "Malefactor Source Countries" List

The dealers' lobby goes from the ridiculous to the barking mad with the publication of the latest proposal from the Cultural Property Research Institute's Arthur Houghton to institute a list of so-called "Malefactor Source Countries" which is reportedly being discussed at some length by "political figures associated with the [US] Congress". Sort of like their list of "nations supporting terrorism" blacklist. He asks for proposals. I'd like to propose Great Britain as fitting into the given definition very snugly on all three counts:

a) "has unregulated markets in antiquities that motivate the looting of archaeological sites or material";

b) "engages in public development (roads, buildings) that destroy archaeological sites or material", AND (not "or")

c) "has laws that allow or encourage private development that has the effect of destroying archaeological sites or material".

On three counts. That should put it right at the top of the list - oh, with The United States of America and a few other countries. The antiquities markets of both countries are under no kind of regulation, which allows the no-questions-asked sale of items which includes those looted from elsewhere (shipwrecks, foreign sites, local sites etc). In both countries public development ploughs through ancient sites, sometimes there is a full excavation, most often only a partial one, or none at all (maybe with a watching brief). Last time I looked, some states in the US now have no state archaeological service even. British antiquities law does not protect the majority of sites from the effects of private development, the US Protection of Archaeological Resources Act also fails to provide blanket coverage in a similar manner. I think it is pretty difficult anywhere (except maybe Antarctica) to have any development which is not going to come in conflict with preserved sites of past activity.

Anyway, so much for our so-called 'special relationship'.

As I say, "political figures associated with the [US] Congress" seem barking mad to a degree disturbing in people who clearly have ambitions to impose their will and ideals on the entire world. It is also disturbing that even they once again seem totally unaware of what the 1970 UNESCO Convention actually attempts to regulate (clue its is in the document's title). Duh. UPDATE 20.6.2013 Over on the Cultural Property Obfuscation blog, the argument still goes on. Peter Tompa reckons:
[UK] Export control does regulate the [UK antiquities] market as part of regulating export so I don't get your point.
Well, it is quite obvious that not only does this guy not see my point, but is utterly incapable of formulating a consistent position himself. When the US dealers' lobbyist bellyaches (as he often does) about the Chinese antiquities market, one gets the impression that he is talking about Chinese people buying Chinese antiquities in China (and therefore competition for US buyers outside China). It seems pretty clear he is not talking about Chinese exports to the US. So, as far as Tompa is concerned, the meaning of the word "market" depends on whom he is sniping against at a given moment. I reiterate the British antiquities market is not in any way regulated. Mr Tompa claimed that Britain "appears to have laws encouraging rescue digs". I asked him to cite that "legislation" (because there is none). His only answer was: It's my understanding that rescue archaeology in the UK is mainly a local concern and govererned by local law. Its suffering due to budget contraints currently, but it does exist. What? What "local law"? County law? Borough Council law? Just what on earth does this cultural property lawyer think he is writing about? Mr Tompa, can you quote one of these "local laws"? The one for Colchester maybe, a nice Roman town, lots of history. What is the local law there to which you refer? Either prove you are not speaking tommy-rot, or admit you cannot. To reiterate, despite Tompa's protests, the United Kingdom does indeed fit fairly and squarely all three of the definitions he and Big Mr Houghton propose as the hallmarks of "Malefactor Source Countries". I suggest if they do not like that, then they'll have to either abandon this ill-conceived project, or if they persist on this spiteful and unhelpful divisive course, change their facile definitions for something more subtle.

Tekkie Tries to Understand the World - and Fails

Real straw-for-brains stuff this:
You see, the archaeological community resents the fact that we don’t need grant money to enjoy the outdoors, the fresh air, the joy of the search, the treasure we might come home with, the beer or two we might have afterward, and the fun we always have no matter how our day turns out. Yep, we’re a threat to our historical heritage….
Ah, so that's it. The beer. According to the tekkies' limited world-view, it is not the fact that hoiking archaeological evidence out of the ground is damaging a precious non-renewable resource, they are having none of that. They think we are just spoil-sports like the ones that no doubt victimised them at school and obviously they feel this is continuing into their adult lives, the perpetual victims that they see themselves as. This is followed by a revenge-fantasy about the demise of proper archaeology:
Those in control of their livelihood are slowly but surely cutting their monies because they see the light of day. Spending thousands and even millions on an archaeological project is not money well spent in today’s economy, and the bottom line is that we put the finds and the facts out there faster for free.
"Facts"? And it is hardly for "free" when we tot up all the Treasure awards, year after year.

Then we have his UK tekkie grandpa sidekick proposing that the UK's Ancient Monuments Act was a put-up job by Soviet Intelligence to prevent UK's  detector-using public discovering the secret weapons dumps and hidden espionage equipment that he thinks they'd buried in scheduled archaeological sites all over the country, and that "a high level archaeologist" inadvertently revealed to a tekkie that he had "connections to a foreign intelligence agency". Ergo, all British archaeologists have been duped by the Soviets. He reckons. It will be noticed that shingle-for-lawns does not cite a single date or verifiable fact, narry a link to a single source,  to support his hate-driven anti-archaeological fantasising. No wonder these two have recently been seen hanging around Peter Tompa's conspiracy theory-riddled blog a lot. Like a hand in glove.

Vignette: Typical tekkie talkin'

UPDATE  20th June 2013:
As if to make the point, we now find Peter Tompa validating the tekkies' blog, QED.For him concern about looting and the no-questions-asked trade in antiquities can be ascribed solely to "academic snobbism". 

Egyptian customs seize smuggled artefacts from Peru, Ecuador

The Egyptian Ministry of State for Antiquities has just received from customs officials five Ecuadorian and Peruvian artefacts confiscated from Cairo International Airport, the objects have gone to the Egyptian museum in central Cairo, and will be handed over to the Ecuadorian and Peruvian embassies this week: Official Ahmed El-Rawi told Ahram Online that the statues were confiscated in March when the police at the airport caught an Egyptian citizen trying to illegally smuggle the objects to Alexandria. The objects had been transported to Egypt from the United States in a wooden box. It would be interesting to know whether these objects were part of the importer's own collection, or whether they were destined for the trade, perhaps through, or to, the Gulf States. It is so easy to think of some countries, like Egypt, only as source countries, but the consumption of antiquities globally is far from the simple one-way process we tend to think of.

Nevine El-Aref, 'Egyptian customs seize smuggled artefacts from Peru, Ecuador', AlAhram online Wednesday 19 Jun 2013

UPDATE 28/6/13
Donna Yates points out  that the material the objects are made from and the dates given are way off. Usual antiquities journalism level then.

Bigotry never far away - Looting "The other Islamist threat"

Once again we see a stunning example of xenophobia from the 'multicultural home of tolerance and freedom' the USA. The Tribune-Review calls looting history (aka the archaeological record), "The Other Islamist Threat". What the...?

So looting is not a "Christian threat" when it goes on in the Ozarks, the Four Corners area, or just outside Hailes Abbey? Its not an "Orthodox threat" when it happens in Bulgaria or Northern Russia? Or a "Communist threat" when it takes place in China? What ARE these people thinking? In any case, what IS an "Islamist threat", anyway? What I think IS a threat is bigotry, religious bigotry included, and it seems to me that the Tribune Review article, frankly, reeks of it. Note the appearance of the discredited 'demolishing the pyramids' trope. Disgusting.

Anon (not surprisingly), 'The other Islamist threat: Looting history', The Tribune-Review Tuesday, June 18, 2013.

Image: "Islamophobia", there are people behind the label.  

BIGotry never far away: "Malefactor Source Countries"

The cultural Property Research Institute Director, Arthur Houghton reports on his progress in  attempting to affect US foreign policy to the benefit of the no-questions-asked antiquities market ("More Breaking News: Time for Malefactor Source Countries to Take Some Heat", CPO blog, June 18, 2013):
"I have completed my discussions in Washington with political figures associated with the Congress and can report that there is considerable interest in ensuring that Americans are not disadvantaged by the practices of other countries with regard to cultural property matters, but also that countries that willfully (sic) destroy their own past, either by allowing their domestic markets to flourish -- or -- far worse in everyone's view -- by permitting and even encouraging public and private development that destroys their past history and their archaeological sites. 
He cites of course the Taliban Bamiyan Buddha case,  "the destruction of the Mayan temple in Belize" and now "China". Houghton suggests the creation of a list of what he calls "Malefactor Source Countries", akin I suppose to the USA's list of countries that support terrorism. In Houghtonism:
"Malefactor Source Countries are those that
a) have unregulated markets in antiquities that motivate the looting of archaeological sites or material;
b) engage in public development (roads, buildings) that destroy archaeological sites or material; or
c) have laws that allow or encourage private development that has the effect of destroying archaeological sites or material." 
As someone who lives in a country which, geographically, has fewer such problems Houghton seems to be unaware (or able to ignore) that there are places on this earth, unlike the Arizona desert, where any development, in towns, fertile river valleys etc is going to come into conflict with archaeological remains. Why is that so shocking or surprising?  Among these "political figures associated with the Congress" with whom he met was one: 
"who asked what would be more effective - modifying the Convention on Cultural Property to exact sanctions against states that violated the precepts of the Convention, or enacting legislation that would have the same effect and that, even if unilateral, could motivate other countries (the EU say) to do the same thing. 
I do wonder about who these people were and whether they were under ninety and had access to sharp things. The reason I ask is that these people seem to think that the UNESCO 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property is about protecting sites from being bulldozed by road developers or farmers, covered by the waters of a dam project, or destroyed by religious fanatics. I guess its the misleading words in the title that do it. (Perhaps UNESCO needs to produce a comic-book version for the weak of mind who cannot actually read the text with any understanding.) In order for the US to re-write the Convention (and yes, it's about time it was done to suit the realities of the market of the 1990s) they'd have to start paying again their subs to UNESCO. I really doubt that if the US passed any crackpot exceptionalist law aiming to impose US will on the rest of the world, that many EU countries  would show any support by following suit.  The US will be on its own there.

Curious is the suggestion from the no-questions-asked market sector that it is precisely the US no-questions-asked buying and selling of antiquities which in Houghtonism would be America's "punishment for malefactor source countries to ensure that they began taking care of their own history". This is of course the dealer-collectors' favourite two-wrongs-make-a-right argument again. Houghton furthermore fantasises that if his scheme succeeds: 
Any existing MOU with a malefactor country would be made null and void and would remain so unless and until the country involved could demonstrate [to America] compliance with the Convention. Other acquiring countries would be encourage (sic) to do the same. 
Of course in those cases where the implementation of the Convention is dependent solely on the existence of an MOU saying that states parties will actually do what they have said (by becoming a party to the Convention) that they will do. All the rest of them will carry on helping fellow member states to in doing their best to prohibit and prevent the illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of cultural property. Meanwhile Houghton has been asked by his 'associated-with-Congress' pal to set up a study group to "look at the matter and propose recommendations for action", so that so-called "malefactor states" can be made by America to "suffer the consequences of their actions".

Peter Tompa, who in fact actually spends most of his time online trying by his sniping to do exactly that, says:
I myself think its high time to focus some attention on malefactor source countries. All the archaeological community's selective outrage against collectors has had the effect of diverting attention from poor stewardship of cultural resources in countries like Greece, Italy, and China. Under the circumstances, Houghton's initiative should be welcomed by everyone who truly cares about cultural heritage. 
We note that the self-professed cultural property lawyer from Washington refrains from showing how the legislative systems of the three countries he specifically names actually fit the three definitions supplied by the creator of the Houghtonism he so clearly supports.

UPDATE 20th June 2013:
Houghton now reports: 
 I have had further contacts with knowledgeable political figures and will report later as I can. The concept of malefactor states has begun to gain traction.
So what? 

Tuesday 18 June 2013

The Idealism of NYT's Souren Melikian Challenged

 Souren Melikian (provides "unique coverage of the art scene and market from the view of a collector who is also a cultural historian") has written a feelgood article for the New York Times which would like to persuade us all to think that antiquities collectors are not such a bad lot, that provenance matters to them ("Antiquities, With a Proven Record, Drive Auction Market", NYT ), and slowly, but surely, the dirty antiquities market is cleaning itself up. In fact it would seem he's saying that we need not feel any angst about the market, we need not do anything about it as the situation is righting itself:
The market for antiquities from the ancient world is undergoing an upheaval that sends some works of art skyrocketing to unimaginable heights while scores of others are effectively becoming unsalable. The reason for this discrepancy lies in the Unesco convention adopted in 1970 [...] the convention is effectively being implemented by international institutions and, increasingly, by prudent collectors and dealers, fearful that the legitimate ownership of their acquisitions may be challenged in the future. As a result, important works of art that can be proved to have reached the market before 1970 shoot to vertiginous levels, while those that cannot fail to sell with increasing frequency.
Would that it were true, and of course it is not, not by a long chalk. The problem if anything is getting worse. (He's done this before, too: "How UNESCO's 1970 Convention Is Weeding Looted Artifacts Out of the Antiquities Market" PACHI, Saturday, 1 September 2012). Donna Yates is not at all convinced by his anecdotal evidence, based on her study of several thousand Pre-Columbian pieces, that is not a pattern that can be confirmed by hard figures ("No, NYT, listing a couple of lots doesn't prove that antiquities buyers care about provenance!" June 14,  2013. She calls the article "dumb and wrong".
the listing of a couple of random lots does not prove that buyers prefer pre-1970 pieces. You need stats for that. Real numbers. Trends. Etc. Not just a few random lots. You know what? I just finished a paper this week containing JUST those sorts of numbers. And...well, 1970 is not a factor for what I was looking at. Data from this year. Seriously. This is bad. Paper forthcoming. Sigh.

Good for her, and we all look forward to that paper. Mr Melikian however needs to pay more attention to what he's writing about in another area too. He intones:
The reason for this discrepancy lies in the Unesco convention adopted in 1970 to safeguard the buried heritage of mankind and shield standing monuments from looting. While many countries, including the United States, did not sign up [...]
Quite apart from the acronym not being capitalised, it should be well known to a NYT cultural-antiquity-guru-columist that the USA became a state party to the Convention back in the early 1980s. Though the fact that this has had in fact next to no effect on the way antiquities from both sides of the Atlantic are traded over there may be some justification for him simply not being aware of that fact. Neither does it bear any relationship to the truth to say that it is "prudent dealers" who are "implementing" it. The loudest dealers are OPPOSING the implementation in the US, even in residual half-hearted form, very loudly. Surely Mr Melikian is not unaware of that? If he is, I find that difficulty to understand, he must be out of touch with the US coiney blogs and forums.

But for goodness sake, the man says these dealers are implementing something, and then completely gets it round his neck what that something is. It simply is not true that the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property was "adopted" (sic) "to safeguard the buried heritage of mankind and shield standing monuments from looting". It is simply not true, that is a US collectors' myth without any foundation in the text (or title) of the document itself. I wonder how long that fallacy will persist, certainly as long as newspapers like the NYT keep repeating it unthinkingly.

[Melikian is not all bad though, he does not like UK policies on artefact hunting and metal detecting  - see:  "The Amateurish Destruction of World History by Britain at Crosby Garrett", PACHI  Monday, 11 April 2011.

And let's just keep an eye on that article, how long does it take the NYT to spot the mistake and correct it? Will they?
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