Sunday 30 November 2014

More Naive Defence of Metal Detecting

Heritage Action have received a comment from an artefact hunter on their post about how they try to use naive arguments to defend what they are doing to the archaeological record. He should have known better (30/11/2014 at 09:41). Their response:
“Peter”, this is a conservation site and unless you’re committed to legal regulation of metal detecting in the public interest there’s no place for you here. Nor is there a place for a succession of simplistic and irrelevant statements about you all being “citizen archaeologists” and the Detectorists TV programme being more popular than Time Team and cases of archaeologists being caught stealing artefacts. Save it for the places where they ARE considered relevant. We aren’t interested.
There are issues to discuss, and the PAS was set up in 1997 to be a forum for such a discussion. In fact it never was, and never can be. Looking at the way metal detectorists have been reponding well shows why, and why this problem is not going to be solved by polite discussion and reasoning with reasoning people, the time for such dreams surely is long over. Let's see some action to deal with the Collection-Driven Exploitation of the archaeological record, in Britain and beyond.

A naive defence of Metal Detecting and Knowledge Theft

Heritage Action discuss ('A naive defence of Metal Detecting' 30/11/2014) the sort of arguments that regularly get trotted out to bolster the façade.
Faced with wrongdoing by colleagues, detectorists often use the “Not Me” defence. Fair enough if true but not if not. For example, we recently cited a detectorist (“Mr A***r”) saying he doesn’t report all finds to PAS and is threatening to not report Treasure – whereupon the Chairman of his previous club left a “Not Me” comment saying they had ejected him for misbehaviour. [...] ”The problem is that, incredibly, despite masses of virtuous talk, hardly any detecting clubs insist on members keeping to the official code or reporting all finds to PAS ! That’s why “Not Me” is an uncomfortable defence.
As is pointed out, in Bonkers Britain, despite saying that keeping to the official code is the only acceptable way to conduct the hobby, in fact neither the Government nor PAS say a word about the fact that so few do. It's a matter of tarring all the tekkies with the same brush, some do, ergo they are all good guys. I see no reason, just because there are many jobsworths who acquiesce in total and embarrassed silence, we all should. Heritage Action and myself quite often face indignant demands like the following:
“When are you going to stop banging on about the same thing week after week, who the hell do you think you are?” writes a detectorist yesterday. To which we’d reply: the day after you all stop stealing the public’s knowledge – who the hell do you think YOU are?

How to do Conservation

How to do achieve conservation of the UK archaeological resource and protect it against thoughtless and damaging collection-driven exploitation:
"Remember how birds egg collectors were invited to discuss how they should collect eggs? Nor do I !"

Collection-Driven Exploitation: Two British Academic Fails

With a few notable exceptions, The British academic community is only an occasional participant in social media discussions of archaeological heritage issues when it comes to collecting and the antiquities trade. Perhaps archaeologists there are embarrassed that their biggest 'outreach scheme' is partnering collectors and collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record and they find that hard to explain away. Heritage Action quote an interesting example of the problems relating the two worlds using a quote from somebody commenting on this blog (so I am using their picture - seems fair). In a text published today called 'A naive defence of Metal Detecting' (Heritage Journal 30/11/2014), Heritage Action quote 'Lestak de Lioncourt IV' from Liverpool John Moores University, counting what he said as among the things that are said by academics in Bonkers Britain which "beggar belief":
Archaeology is “inherently (neo)colonialist, in denial of its own criminogenic creations and, therefore, eventually and essentially state-corporate crime enhancing”. So the massive loss of cultural knowledge isn’t the fault of non-reporting artefact hunters, the poor innocent puppies, they are simply “the criminogenic creations” of Archaeology. Bloody archaeologists!
This 'sins of the fathers' argument is quite common among collectors. Archaeologists did in the past things which we now consider wrong, which collectors argue gives them the right to continue doing damaging things in the present without criticism.

Mr de Lioncourt IV having said his party piece fluttered away leaving us all a little nonplussed as to what point it was he actually wanted to make. Jessica Dietzler at the same time and in the context of the same discussion had made a pronouncement from Glasgow which was equally puzzling. She addressed the current discussion on Syrian conflict antiquities, the notion that paramilitary militants such as ISIL are profiting from the sale of (among other things) Syrian antiquities. She announced that the research she is doing there on criminal networks and the antiquities trade led her to believe that dealer Wayne Sayles "is right that evidence is lacking" for this. As this is quite an important point, I asked her to expand on that and just what kind of evidence she is expecting, but she declined to engage in more substantive discussion of the issue. My guess now is that the young lady just prematurely shot her mouth off to gain attention, and was apparently not expecting that anyone would query what she said. I am going to guess that a reason for this might be that the level of polemic in doctoral seminars in a UK criminology department may be at a lower level of robustness than those in a central European archaeology/history faculty and it never occurred to the young academic that she might be expected by others to give reasoned argument supporting her statement. Mr Sayles and Ms Kampmann in the trade however are smiling, another academic supports them. The rest of us are simply perplexed. Bonkers.

Saturday 29 November 2014

Antiquity Collection: "Preservation" or Destruction?

A nice article about the work of 'The Walk of Truth' ('Looted artefacts from occupied Cyprus returned', In Cyprus: Fri, 28 Nov 2014): "Following
the Turkish invasion in 1974, the cultural heritage of Cyprus has been plundered, churches have been violated, icons have been stolen, and frescos and mosaics have been violently removed from walls and floors. A large number of these artefacts have been repatriated, while many others are still missing. Prior to 1974, there was an attempt to prepare an archive, however the research was never completed due to the Turkish invasion. The lack of a completed archive for the cultural heritage in the occupied Cyprus makes the identification process, and the process of claiming stolen artefacts, often found in private collections abroad, auctions and art trade, an arduous process".
I am left wondering how on earth it is possible to see what Tasoula Hadjitofi is holding in her hand in an "art" dealer's shop and not realise straight away that it is dodgy. You can see at a glance that it is a sheet of plaster from a wall, that is part of a monument, roughly hacked about. This has not been professionally removed as, for example, a stage in an architectonic investigation of a standing building or removed from a threatened archaeological site (in which case, you'd anyway have to explain how they are on the market). You can see that the hoiker has centred attention on the face (with that amazing sideways glance) and in fact has cut through [let's be clear destroyed] part of the rest of the figure to isolate a bit that is not too big to "portableise" [run off with]. In fact you can see that rather than fit a frame to the 'preserved' fragment, the oik dealer has cut the edges of the latter to fit a frame. How on earth dealers and collectors can claim to be 'preserving the past' ('preserving culture') by destroying context and associations, damaging the material substance and turning it into trophy geegaws utterly beats me.

But to come back to the first point, a normal intelligent and informed person sees that in a shop and realises what it is, sees it has been hacked out of a larger fresco/mural obviously in a standing building. WHY would he buy it to take home to have and hold? The invasion was forty years ago, much of the looting followed soon after. Why has it taken so long for a collector with a conscience to come forward and offer the pieces back? What makes people hang on to obviously looted material like this? Is it just greed? Is it just a total lack of morals? Do they kid themselves that whatever unverifiable cock-and-bull anecdote the dealer told them "might" be true in permanent self-delusion?

 It is the same with dugup artefacts, ripped out of archaeological assemblages and sites, destroying context and associations, damaging the material substance and turning the object into trophy geegaws. The rest of us can see this is the wrong way to be treating a precious, fragile and finite resource, you try discussing it with collectors and instead or entering into frank and open debate, they simply start to get nasty. What kind of people are these? What kind of mentalities do they have? Take a look at the way they behave and decide for yourselves.

Near Eastern Archaeologists According to Houghton: "Lickspittle Apologists"

Houghton: "Lickspittle"
Arthur Houghton III insults US and other archaeologists who do research in Syria, suggesting that they may be referred to as "lickspittle apologists for the Asad regime because they cravenly hope not to have "business as usual" - their excavation permits - held hostage". Apparently he used to be a US diplomat. Perhaps it is worth him noting that an excavation permit is generally issued for a team, not its individual members.

Comments recently published in the same source go even further in vulgarity, referring to academic collaboration as being "involved in what some people might regard as an unnatural act". It seems the no-questions-asked collectors of dugup Middle Eastern antiquities are alienating themselves from the discussion because events have overtaken them and their nineteenth century mentalities and they have run out of real arguments. They therefore are increasingly relying on verbal trickery, nastiness, provocation and insult. Let us see how much public support this will gain the dealers' associations in the long run. 


Egyptian court drops charges against Former President Mubarak

Lizzie Dearden, ' Mubarak trial: Egyptian court drops charges against ousted President', Independent Saturday 29 November 2014.
An Egyptian court has dropped all charges against overthrown President Hosni Mubarak in connection with the killing of 240 protesters during the 2011 Arab Spring. His former interior minister, Habib el-Adly, and six aides were also cleared of charges related to the deaths, during protests against the regime centred in Cairo's Tahrir Square. [...] Mubarak was also cleared of corruption charges related to gas exports to Israel, alongside a former oil ministers and further corruption charges against his sons, Alaa and Gamal, were also dropped.[...] Saturday's verdict concludes his retrial along with his two sons, his security chief and six top security commanders, who were all acquitted. Also on trial was businessman Hussein Salem, a longtime Mubarak friend tried in absentia, who was cleared.
While it is by no means the most pressing of Egypt's problems today, it is worth reminding folk that the events surrounding the incursion into the Cairo Museum on 28th January 2011 and the subsequent discovery that a number of items were missing (some still are) have never been properly investigated and no official report has appeared. One of the men acquitted today might have the answer to why that is.

Syria and Iraq: Looting "not going on"?

 The International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art wants to brush away the suggestion that the German part of the no-questions-asked trade in dugup antiquities is in any way involved in funding ISIL. "Extremely unlikely" is how they phrase it. So they've just released a triumphant text 'No Evidence of Trade in Ancient Art Funding ISIS' (Basel, November 25, 2014). The argument is, to put it mildly, weak and based just on two 'sources', one post in a journalist's blog and one weekend newspaper article. That's it.

However if you want to deny something, you cannot just take two things which you say contradict the view and simply ignore all the reasons why people say something is happening.

It's particularly annoying that the dealers and collectors persist in maintaining a totally superficial approach to the whole issue when there are a lot of people making a lot of effort to produce better information, and more nuanced analyses on the basis of the slim information we can get from an illicit activity conducted by several secretive and dangerous groups in a country ripped apart by civil war. A lot of information can go missing under such situations. It's bad enough trying to understand criminal networks in countries at peace and the dealers obviously expect miracles.

I assume (but who knows, coineys eh?) that most people accept that the holes visible on satellite photos do indeed for the most part represent looting . Back in May I was looking over the Google Earth evidence for Syria (such as it was in May) and you could/can see holes which probably are not looting, and holes that are. Some of the latter predate the war, some predate ISIL. But some are very recent (and this is now being supplemented by the US Department of State ASOR (SHI) and others by newer and better photos). Not all the looting holes are in ISIL regions, and obviously not one group is responsible, the FSA and Nusra Front seem to have been involved. Over in Iraq (though I admit I've not personally had the time to look at it) probably you'd see the same. So the looting is going on. Let's take Dura Europos and Mari as the type sites (Apamea as I have shown elsewhere seems to be related to the period when it was Syrian government troops in control and is nothing to do with ISIL).

I think we can also assume that in the middle of a civil war and under the noses of ISIL in particular, nobody much is digging these holes for entertainment or find a few pretty clay idols to stick on the mantelpiece. Some of these holes require the removal of dozens of cubic metres of earth, and some are reported to have horizontal tunnels at the bottoms. In other cases, people on the ground report the use of earthmoving machines (I've not personally observed any traces of that on the satellite photos I've seen). And I think this is something the dealer (and mouthy young students in a hurry) Conflict Antiquities Deniers are missing out - there are observers on the ground. Our contact with them is limited (as is their freedom to visit and see all they'd like) but their testimony cannot simply be dismissed.

Neither can one simply dismiss the fact that some antiquities that have been seized and seen (and I refuse to believe that these are anything other than the tip of an iceberg, albeit of unknown size) at various times in recent years on the other side of the Lebanese and Turkish borders. I do not accept that just because a Russian journalist could not actually find a real smuggler and wanted to make a report so she got a pile of coins and faked it (inadvertently using two obvious fake coins to do it) negates the reports of the other journalists who do seem to have met real artefact smugglers and middlemen on the Turkish side. The smuggling of artefacts from Syria and Iraq did not start in 2011. The constant flow of freshly surfaced Tell Brak figurines for example (assuming they are real) shows that the smuggling routes out of the country were established well before the civil war started. Gliding up and down it on Google Earth suggests that the border between Syria and Turkey is for most of its length a pretty solid one (compared to that between Donbas and Russia) and getting contraband across it probably requires 'organization' with some 'friends' on both sides of the fence at crucial border crossings. Tell Abiab and Kilis are mentioned in journalists accounts (both mentioned by Al Azm here). Kilis is rather too far over to be in 'The Islamic State'.

The literature has tended to concentrate on the issue of the movement of objects to 'the west' (us) rather than 'out of Syria and Iraq'. There's a longish border with Jordan which does not seem to have attracted much attention, but if we are talking about smuggling, why is there nothing written about stuff moving southeast, out of Syria and sites in Iraq down towards the Persian Gulf? Out there you have Qatar, Bahrain, the market in Dubai, lots of rich people, some of whom will have a taste in 'ancient art' (well that's the "it's-not-just-us" collectors' story anyway). These regions certainly have 'all sorts' of links with group in Mesopotamia and Syria, yet nobody seems to be exploring beyond the Turkey-Lebanon links. Dubai is of course well known as an outpost through which all manner of ancient objects is then shipped to Europe and the States.
The scale of the looting is enormously distressing. We know how much destruction is being caused (Dura Europos looks to have been totally and systematically trashed from one end of the ancient city to the other). What we don't know is what is coming out of those holes. Forget all the crap about "billions of dollars", that's not true. Where we've seen looters in action, they do not take everything. In the same way as metal detectorists in the UK pick over what an ancient site contains pulling out what is 'collectable' or saleable, looting in Iraq (2003+) was marked by holes with scatters of discarded artefacts all around them.  A few stones and ceramic objects are surprisingly heavy if you have to carry them over rough ground, in the heat. A looter's not likely to take something 'on the off-chance' if he has to lug it for miles only for a middleman tell him he'll "take that, and that, the rest no, no market".  One hole may contain dozens of collectable items, another just a few - it depends what the diggers dig down through.

So looting is going on. Smuggling is going on.

IADAA: Syrian Conflict Antiquities "Very Unlikely"

The International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art issued a press release on October 21, 2014, suggesting that "the validity of the facts and figures presented in the suggestive broadcast “Das geplünderte Erbe” of the German trade in ancient art being involved in funding ISIS are extremely unlikely". The text of the document seems not to be on their website. So that's OK then, the no-questions-market innocently blunders along dealing with stuff from goodness-knows-where, while the Syrian Erbe is well-and-truly geplünderte, but no German dealer or collector need be in the least bit perturbed, because the dealers assure each other that it is "very unlikely" that any of the money is going to any but the nicest most docile cultural people in the global antiquities market (Source: No Evidence of Trade in Ancient Art Funding ISIS IADAA, Basel, November 25, 2014). 

Friday 28 November 2014

Friday Retrospect: Looting and Drugs?

A while ago in the discussion appeared the opinion  by Marc Balcells ‏@artcrimeHQ from New York City who wrote:
Drugs trafficked alongside smuggled art… not many cases found, against general assumptions on the topic
This prompted my post (PACHI Sunday, 17 February 2013, 'Antiquities and Narcotics: What is the Connection?') commenting
It's a notable characteristic of those that write about what they insist on calling "art crime" that all too often they are concerned with saying what they have discovered "does not" happen ("contrary to what people believe") [....].
It is good to note that in the volume of which Prof Balcells was an editor ('Cultural Property Crime: An Overview and Analysis of Contemporary Perspectives and Trends Brill), the link between trafficking illicit antiquities and other illicit goods, including antiquities, is made by at least one of the authors (Donna Yates).

Just who is this IADAA?

The International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA) issued  a rather superficial and ill-prepared text "proving" that the the surfacing of undocumented artefacts from Mesopotamia and Syria on the German antiquities market is not an issue anyone should be concerned about. Just who is this group?

They are an association of 32 dealers, formed in 1993. Their locations are concentrated in western Europe, with a few outliers in New York and one in Israel. Their "objectives" are set out on their website and may be summarised:
  1. To encourage the study and interest throughout the world of ancient art [...]
  2. To encourage contacts between museums, archaeologists, collectors and the trade and to foster its relations with governmental and non-governmental international organisations.
  3. To actively encourage the protection and preservation of ancient sites.[...] We believe that a more liberal and rational approach to regulations on the import and export of works of art will help to protect world cultural heritage.
  4. To organise mutual assistance between dealers in works of ancient art and official Institutions, by communicating to members of IADAA all information needed to apply strictly to the code of ethics and practice.
  5. To foster friendly relations between the members of the Association.
 The scope of the "ancient art" (ie dugup archaeological material and loose bits of monuments) is narrowed in objective 1 to "issues exclusively concerning works of ancient art from the Mediterranean civilisations and other civilisations directly in contact with them". That's not really applicable to the Akkadian and Sumerian artefacts of their latest press release as there was no 'civilization' as such to be in contact with in the Mediterranean region, but that's a by the by.

The nature of their vision of the second objective is illustrated by the curious page on their website of quotes from antiquarian-minded scholars, classicists and museum folk (Cuno, de Montebello, Boardmann et al.) all of whom approve collecting and the antiquities trade (see here). There is nothing alongside it showing that they perceive the reasons behind the concerns of the other group of scholars (which even includes some classicists and museum professionals) who have concerns about the existing situation. It is a very - and deliberately - one-sided presentation hardly serving the aims of the second objective. The second objective does not seem to be served either by the latest press activity of the IADAA, involving at least one ad hominem attack on archaeologist Muller-Karpe and in effect accusing the archaeologists (like myself) raising concerns about undocumented artefacts of being liars. In the light of its current activity, the "relations" it seems to be headed for with the German authorities if they are intent on cleaning up the trade seems likely to be those of opposition and confrontation.

We've all seen the IADAA idea of "actively encouraging the protection and preservation of ancient sites", (see here too). Like all dugup antiquity collectors, it is seen as something "others must do" and the role of dealers is simply to watch and tell others what to do. There is no notion embodied in the wording here that anything dealers and collectors can do can have an effect on the commercial exploitation of sites (which is not likely to help them foster the relations of objective three).

Likewise the "more liberal [...] approach" to regulations on the import and export of works of art will do absolutely nothing to help to protect the Syrian archaeological heritage from wholesale hoiking. All it means is that dealers who have earlier "fostered those relations" with the government officials turning a blind eye to the problem will be able to get their hands on them even more easily ("rational" innit?)

The meaning of objective four is a bit unclear, but the the code of ethics and practice as published is  seriously lacking in any substance. If this is not due to atrociously bad phrasing, it serves as a façade only (see below).

Objective five is much clearer and rational  - party time! I don't know how much the subs are for this club, but it should be enough for a keg or two of ale and pizza once a year. Quite what other use the organization has, to go by the timbre of recent activity on the German front, it is difficult to see. They have five German members, none of them were mentioned in the DW reports to which the IADAA took such exception (but this case is not irrelevant to this discussion and the vindictive attacks on Muller-Karpe). In other words, they are defending the interests of other German dealers, ones not subject to their own regulations. Will they now be inviting them to their next Christmas beer and pizza knees-up in a Swiss beerkeller as a result?

IADAA Due Diligence Guidelines

The IADAA have revealed what they consider to be good "due diligence" ("Due Diligence Guidelines for IADAA Dealers"). Let us for the moment accept that due diligence in the antiquities trade, rather than being about broader responsibilities and ethics, is concerned just with the defining the legitimate trade through commerce only in items that are 'legal'. It is clear there are only  two types of legality in the trade in portable antiquities.
1) There are artefacts which have arrived on the market by legal means, their removal from the ground and possession was legal according to the antiquities and other laws of the land at the time of discovery, or they were obtained by official excavations and donated by partage, or whatever, and any cross border movement was according to the established procedure appropriate to the time, place and nature of the moved item (export licences). As something which has passed through the proper channels, such items should be verifiable as such through their paper-chain.

2) Some would consider that an additional form of legality is the 'they cannot touch you for it' kind, where there is no documentation of legality, but neither is there any way of anyone producing documentation which calls the legality into question. This is the more prevalent kind in most antiquity collecting circles. This is why there is so much angst about the inaccessibility of the Medici (etc.) archives.

Obviously, any dealer truly dedicated to trading in legal and licit artefacts must concentrate on finding items for his or her stockroom and gallery which fall into the first group only, and rejecting all the rest for the cowboys to deal with. The Guidelines for due diligence of a group of such ethical traders would therefore differ markedly from that which is merely a façade for a cowboys charter.

Just to be clear here, objects which have lost their paperwork cannot be verified as legal, they therefore fall into the second category. In a situation where some estimates put almost 80% of certain artefact types on the market today as fresh dugups (see here), there may well be very good reason why those details have become "lost" by previous owners, in order to delete the evidence so the object in the trade is reduced by anonymity and removal of context to a "they-can't-touch-you-for-it" class of antiquity for ready sale to no-questions-asked buyers.  

Here is the IADAA Guidelines which are intended to "prevent the illicit trade in stolen antiquities".  It says "dealers must endeavour to":

1. Require a vendor to provide their name and address and to sign and date a form identifying the item for sale and confirming that it is the unencumbered property of the vendor which they are authorised to sell.
2. Verify the identity and address of new vendors and record the details
3. Pay particular attention in the case of any item offered for sale where the asking price does not equate to its market value
4. If you are offered an item you know to be stolen (a) Attempt to retain the item while enquiries are made (b) Contact the appropriate authorities (c) Check with the relevant stolen property registers
5. Look critically at any instance when requested to pay in cash and avoid doing so unless there is a strong and reputable reason to the contrary. In the absence of such a reason pay by cheque or other method that provides an audit trail
6. Be aware of money laundering regulations
7. Ensure that staff are aware of their responsibilities in respect of the above code
Please note that members’ national laws must be considered with regard to the above.
An additional criterion is the only one which does not refer only the the direct purchase from the 'last known owner'. This one goes back a little further: 
It is a condition of membership that all members undertake to check items which are to be sold at a price of € 5,000 or over (or local currency equivalent) with the Art Loss Register or with a stolen art register which is recognised by the Board, unless the item has already been checked.
First of all, let us note that to stay within this code of conduct, the dealer buying something only has to "endeavour" (it is not defined what that means), rather than these guidelines saying that if the dealer cannot do these things, he should not touch the artefact at all. So at once there is total elasticity ("I tried, but he would not say") which basically renders this document virtually meaningless. As mentioned, all these things refer only to the last known owner - rather than checking a collection history elucidating the details of the legal passing of the object onto the market. The Art Loss Register may identify an object stolen from another collection, it will not document items stolen by digging into archaeological deposits and sites illegally and clandestinely. In any case, whether its 'worth" (on the market) € 5,000 or not is immaterial to whether it is of legal origins. Coins and brooches looted from archaeological sites are often worth less, but the damage done to the site by digging a hole for them does as much damage to the archaeology as one to remove a gold torc. The Code (point 9) says the "IADAA condemns illegal use of metal detectors" , but the Due Diligence Guidelines do not follow through by consistently covering the main types of artefacts coming from such activity.

It looks very much as if the prime purpose of these guidelines is to ensure that the dealer is 'covered' if (despite "endeavouring") a dodgy artefact passes through their hands (principles 1-3, 5-7) rather than filtering artefacts in their storeroom to those of truly licit origins. Principle 4 is nuts. First of all if the dealer "knows" an object is stolen, the last thing he or she wants to do is retain it. If they "know" something is stolen and it does not appear on the "relevant stolen property registers", then what? This is nothing to do with due diligence of antiquities, but good business practice, applying to cell phones, electronic equipment and anything else that can be stolen and flogged.

But the best is right at the end: "members’ national laws must be considered with regard to the above".  Well, again that applies to all businesses. But (as dealers repeatedly stress) an item looted in Africa can often be openly and legally sold in New York, because "no US law was broken" by the US dealer, even though a number of laws were repeatedly broken when the object was illegally dug up, illegally sold on, among the cache of stolen objects which were the subject of a gang fight in which machetes and petrol canisters were in full play, illegally smuggled out of the source country to another and thence to Dubai, from where it was exported to the US (with a customs declaration and everything). After such laundering, this may well be a 'they can't-touch-you-for-it-legal' object for an American dealer and collector. But it is not an object of legal origins and does not have a clean collecting history. Objects whose clean collecting history cannot be established cannot automatically be assumed to be kosher, and nobody has any business to insist that we accept that this should be the case. To be of any use in defining the legitimate trade from that in illicit and otherwise dodgy artefacts, the Due Diligence Guidelines for IADAA Dealers obviously should read "Please note that all appropriate laws must be respected at all times by all involved in the chain of ownership of an artefact".Otherwise it is just another cowboy's charter.

But above all, note the one major omission here. the total lack of any mention of any documentation, no mention of copies of protocols of transfer of ownership (for example in partage) number in any dealer's register (for example in the case of items from Israel) or archaeological database (metal detected finds from the UK responsibly recorded in the PAS database). Several US museum cases we have discussed here are accompanied by [slim, it is true] files of documents, statements by former owners, letters from their heirs, etc. No mention is made either in these guidelines of copies or originals of export licences - obviously a crucial omission. If that is missing, it is therefore no surprise that there is no mention of the all too crucial phase of verifying these documents and analysing critically the suggested collecting history and identifying and discrepancies or suspicious gaps.

If the clay figurine above was looted from a site in northestern Syria six months ago by a particularly nasty gentleman in good relations with the local ISIL commander and after the latter had been paid off, was then sent along the usual smuggling routes, paying the required 'contributions to the fighting fund on the way) and then through several foreign  intermediaries and is taken to Grebkesh and Runn's Munich office by a smooth-talking gentleman vendor who gave a good sales spiel, would the IADAA Due Diligence process identitify it as dodgy? Let's look:
1-2.  Vendor gave his name and address it was verified.
3. The bloke wanted a lot more for it than the sale price eventually agreed, so no suspicions there.
4. Grebesh had no reason to think it was stolen, Vendor had a good story about "an old collection", hard times, and the need for "discretion".
5. Grebkesh paid by bank transfer as he usually does.
6. No laundering regulations apply,
7. Grebkesh dealt with the Vendor personally.
No Bavarian or German Federal law was broken.
The value is less that 5000 euros, so no need to consult the ALR (where as freshly looted find it would not figure anyway). Mr Grebkesh is not obliged to "endeavour to" check any documents or verify the reported old collection - so he does not.

So, obviously such a process is not at all able to identify that this is a Syrian Conflict Antiquity, freshly dug up on an archaeological site and smuggled out. And indeed, it probably can be claimed that as things stand now, no (German) law  was broken.

Does that however mean the IADAA are right in suggesting that there is "no problem" with stolen (and/or ISIL blood antiquities) in Germany if their own Due Diligence process would fail to identify such a piece even if it is right under the dealer's nose?

Vignette: [the figure shown is a pastiche, not an object from any dealer's stock in reality].

ISIL Antiquities in June 2014: so "Unimaginable"?

'Adnan Isma'il Najam Al-Bilawi
The report of the content of the "al-Bilawi memory sticks" has been a problem since they first appeared in the discussions of the effects of the current political situation in Syria and Iraq back in June. Discussion has flared up again as antiquity dealers tried to pull a fast one and pretend that the information that they contain refering to antiquities was totally invented by a Guardian journalist. In response to these accusations, Sam Hardy has gone through the evidence and concluded that the records examined by Martin Chulov did indeed refer to funds raised by antiquities dealing. Of course the dealers' lobby is already pouring scorn on such an idea, and especially the rather high sum said to be involved (35 million dollars). Readers may be aware that the same thing happened when there was extensive looting in Iraq from 2003 onwards - then the dealers to a man denied that any of them had ever left Iraq and arrived on their market (despite the fact that not a few were documented already in the US and elsewhere at the time they were saying this).

One possibility remains that the 2003+ looting in Iraq (documented on the ground and in satellite photos) resulted in stockpiles of antiquities, bought cheap at source and mothballed in a secure store as an investment, say a retirement nest-egg for some local wiseguy - intended to be sold piecemeal when the fuss dies down in a decade or so. We know holes were dug, stuff hoiked, US and European dealers tell us it never arrived on any market they know -  postulating such warehouses is therefore one (pretty good) way of explaining that evidence.  What's more, nobody can say that there are not such warehouses.

Somewhere in Iraq, what's in this building?
If they exist, they could be veritable treasure houses, the buyer had the pick of a vast amount of numbers of objects from the tens of thousands of holes dug in 'productive' areas of productive sites. They could afford to buy the best of the best, sawn-up Assyrian friezes, glyptic  material, cunies, Sumerian statues, Akkadian jewellery, Seleucid bronzes, and coins, loads of coins. You can just imagine it. Rather like a Swiss freeport, just somewhere at the end of a dirt track in the Middle Eastern desert.

You can also imagine it when one day some armed thugs bust their way into the hoarder's house, thrust an AK in the face of his daughter and bawls out that he'll pull the trigger if he does not hand over the keys - and when he gets the keys anyway blows a hole in her head. And then the hoarder's. They'd come with some guy who knows the trade - ISIL has access to specialists in many fields - who picks out the pieces that give more bucks per transport costs, load them up on some trucks and off they go with them to some market. They can come back for more with impunity until they empty the store of the best bits. Them they might use informants to tell them where the next one is. Plausible? You bet. Did it happen? Could have.

You can imagine too, can't you, the smiling Lebanese dealer shaking hands with the well-dressed man offering him some prime antiquities. The seller is an ISIL political officer, suave and well-groomed in a suit. The dealer is anticipating a good profit, he has some clients on his list (15000 people, you know) who he knows will be very interested in those Assyrian reliefs, no need to put them on open sale, he can sell directly. The coins he can shift too, to America - nobody there asks any difficult questions. Plausible? You bet. Did it happen? Could have.

The point I am making is not that this is what happened. The point is that one cannot simply dismiss the  information of the Al-Bilawi memory sticks because the total sum mentioned is - as Sam said - "unimaginable". One can imagine a plausible scenario - we just did. It is entirely plausible that there are stockpiles of unsold looted and mothballed antiquities somewhere in the region, it is entirely plausible that someone has the keys. We know ISIL paramilitaries have guns and trucks and need to make money.  We know they can find a market of plenty people who, presented with good material at a tempting price  are not going to ask too many questions and are all-too ready to delude themselves that, as the seller asserts, are from "an old collection, my late grandfather".

That mundane fragment, the Montreal Achaemenid head (21 x 22.5 cm), if real, is valued at 1.2 million Canadian dollars (that's about a million USD). All you need is a truck load of, say, 50 or so bits like that sold cheaper to make the 36 million. The question is, do we think there are warehouses of looted stuff just waiting for an aggressive  militant group to find and exploit to their own ends, and if so, is there a shortage in them of pieces whose value on the black (or any other) market is akin to that stated for the Montreal fragment?


Social Media Support for ISIL

The Guardian has an interesting graphic on Arabic language support for ISIL on the social media. Look at Belgium and Qatar.

Would there be any connection between this and the direction of flow of contraband items (including conflict antiquities) to support the group? 

Rouble Hits new Low

Time to buy those Russian antiquities, rouble hits historic low. Viking grave goods anyone? Hacksilver hoard bits, Permian bronzes, wire money, what else?

German Media Corroborate $36M Islamic State Antiquities Trafficking

The IADAA screeching headline that there is "no evidence that any collectors money is going to ISIL" was intended by them, I assume, to be the final word, shouting down the conservationists, rather than the opening of a discussion. I think the discussion is far from over, though whether they have the stomach to take part in it remains to be seen. Anyway, at the same time as my consideration of the "evidence" they offered yesterday (when it turns out it was the kind of sniping that only appeals to the coineys), I know Sam Hardy was working on his own version. This has been published today in the "Hyperallergic" blog and is (of course) well worth a read. The results of his enquiries are quite surprising, "German Media Corroborates $36M Islamic State Antiquities Trafficking".

It is a well-written account, with lots of internal hyperlinks to a lot of additional material (including some of my old posts) and it sets out the background and development of the question in a clear and logical manner. This includes the involvement of the IADAA in trying to dismiss the questions raised in recent writing on the effects of Middle Eastern conflict on cultural heritage. Sam then discusses the problem of the discrepancy between what the IADAA spokesperson was claiming about the Chulov "160 al-Bilawi memory sticks" issue and what the German journalists (whom she initially avoided naming) had actually seen, found out and reported.

His conclusion is thought-provoking:

While verification specifically of the antiquities trafficking data is still absolutely necessary, the verification of these other data, from the same set, lends credibility to the claim that the Islamic State has made thirty six million dollars from antiquities trafficking. The question then becomes, once more, whether the IS is trafficking literally unbelievable quantities of material, or whether IS agents are late middlemen who operate close to the market end of the conflict antiquities trade and the $36m is a larger proportion of the final sale price (or whether there was a misunderstanding and more mundane criminal activities form a larger proportion of its income).

Regardless of the answer, profits from the sales of conflict antiquities are clearly partly underwriting Islamic State operations, and thus partly underwriting repression, war and genocide. And regardless of the precise numbers, that reality reinforces the need for cultural property protection, antiquities trade regulation and powerful policing.
We await the answer of the representatives of the legitimate and responsible antiquities trade, not only from Germany, whether they are going to try and help this, or continue trying to block such moves.  Not only that, but what active steps they propose undertaking to achieve this aim.


Peter Tompa and his Childish Penis-Measuring Competition

Mine's bigger Than Yours"
To further illustrate the problems with ascertaining accurate figures on heritage matters (like those behind the current hounding of Michael Danti by the antiquities trade), in reply to my question, Peter Tompa not only differs markedly from the information supplied on his behalf by Wayne Sayles, but decides to use the Chasing Aphrodite blog to compare penis size:
 MarketWatch reports there are 7-10 million serious coin collectors in the US alone. There are no figures about the number of coin dealers in the US, but there must be thousands (individual shows in the US can draw out over 100). In contrast, Doug’s Archaeology page puts the number of archaeologists in the US at under 2000. So, it can be said with some confidence that the State Department is running a special interest program to benefit a very small number of academics [...].   
Yet there are currently only about 30,000 active members in the ANA, collectors of ancient, US and 'world coins' (see the thread on cointalk where a number of wildly varying answers to the same question can be found). So Mr Tompa is saying that in the USA there are 7-10 MILLION collectors of ancient coins, or 7-10 million serious collectors mainly of Morgans, wheat pennies and state quarters? Why the discrepancy between Sayles' ("fifty years in the business") 50 000 and Mr Tompa's seven million?

 Professor Danti, are you watching this?

Can we also get this clear. What Mr Tompa is interring here is that there are "under 2000" people in the US who - because of their convictions - are concerned about protecting archaeological sites from collection-driven exploitation and curbing the profits militant groups can gain from illicit activities with cultural property, and seven million people in the US who (presumably lacking those convictions and therefore) are interested in no restrictions being introduced on buying and collecting goods smuggled out of war-torn Syria, Iraq and potentially supporting the economy of the 'The Islamic State'. Does that really reflect the position of seven plus million coin collectors in the USA? All of them? On whose behalf do the ACCG speak?

The Scale of the Problem: "How Many" Undocumented Coins in US and German Collections?

Over on the Chasing Aphrodite blog, the collectors and dealers are still savaging Michael Danti for the way his opinions were represented by journalist Justine Drennan who quoted him as saying that apart from dodgy oil, a second major source of income for ISIL was antiquities smuggling. In the course of the discussion, Peter Tompa sharpens his poison pen and accuses behind the scenes "conspirators" of threatening the interests of dealers in and collectors of Middle Eastern antiquities through proposed new regulations in both Germany and the US. He says:
It’s absolutely critical that government decision makers in both Germany and the United States be making decisions that impact thousands of small businesses and hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of individuals honestly interested in preserving the past through collecting based on accurate information.
In the interests of getting that accurate information in front of the public opinion in the two countries (and  holding him to the same standards as he and his dealer mates wish to impose on others), I politely enquired of Mr Tompa clarification of the basis for those numbers. Interestingly, he declined to answer himself, so Wayne Sayles stepped in and then Dr Geoffrey Smith Trustee of the San Diego Museum of Man. The latter seems to regard a question like that a 'flame war' (see his own comments discussed here) and Sayles gave a long rambling reply to my question addressed to Tompa. Sayles boasts that he has sold "60000 copies" of his popular compilation on ancient coin collecting, and assuming its only collectors who buy it, that would be a minimum number of collectors. He adds that he is "personally aware of several ancient coin dealers in the U.S. who have in excess of 15,000 names in their active customer list" though obviously the degree of duplication between those lists he has not ascertained. He goes on:
Almost ten years ago, in an article in The Celator, I estimated that the number of active ancient coin collectors in the United States exceeded 50,000. That number, I believe, was conservative because there are many collectors who trade only at numismatic conventions and local venues—where statistical analysis is virtually impossible. Based on my own experience with new collectors and book sales, as well as more than 50 years as a professional numismatist, I can say with absolute certainty that the private collecting of ancient coins is growing at a rapid pace and with absolute confidence that my earlier estimate was short of the mark. 
So that is far short of the putative "millions" claimed by Tompa, it's not even a tenth of one million. As for the "thousands of small businesses", the best Sayles can do is point readers to "the 133 VCoins dealers in ancient coins". The number of US (and probably, German) businesses, small and large, is likely to be measured - thankfully - in the hundreds and not "thousands".

The failure to justify Tompa's hyperbole (notable in the context of the personal attacks on Danti which we are seeing at the moment from the collectors and dealers' lobby) however should not obscure the frightening scale of the phenomenon in just two countries. Fifty thousand (and growing) collectors even with thirty ancient coins in their trays and coin albums each is one and a half million coins in one country alone. Think - since not all metal objects signalled by a metal detector is a coin, let alone a collectable coin - how many holes in the archaeological record that represents. Yet some collectors have much larger accumulations stashed away. Despite what collectors claim about the literary achievements of the average collector based on the 'study' of the material they accumulate, we have very few published catalogues of  average private collections in the US with which to gain even a sketchy idea what the range is. Some collections however when they come on the market are revealed to have many thousand coins in them (Stephen Album is still selling coins from the private collection one of Wayne Sayles' own collaborators). So how many millions of coins are now stashed away in private homes all over the USA? Maybe Mr Sayles would like to answer that question.

Nathan Elkins ("A Survey of the Material and Intellectual Consequences of Trading in Undocumented Ancient Coins: A Case Study on the North American Trade," Frankfurter elektronische Rundshau zur Altertumskunde 7 (2008): 1-13 - page 2) has, among other things, to say in an important article freely accessible online that has not yet received any proper response from numismatists ('professional' or otherwise):
In 1993, it was estimated that 80% of all ancient coins openly sold on the market had been dug up within the past 30 years (McFadden 1993; see also discussion in Beckmann 1998: 25). Now, I suspect the percentage is even higher given that the supply of ancient coins on the market surged during the 1990s, particularly from Eastern Europe after the fall of the Iron Curtain. In addition, the increasing use of the Internet for commercial activities has allowed dealers and collectors to network as never before and made auctions and dealer inventories easily accessible to a global audience, thus fueling a growth in demand that has outstripped the supply of previously documented and provenanced antiquities, including coins, prompting the search for fresh sources
We see here the aspect of the "absolute certainty" that a fifty years' observation of the industry that "the private collecting of ancient coins is growing at a rapid pace", outstripping the supply of material formerly in the collections of a former generation when there were fewer people participating. These are facts which demolish the "old collection, just lost their labels" model relied on by dealers pushing freshly-surfaced" ("from underground"?) material bought in from suppliers onto the growing market. Another text which should be read by those concerned about preservation issues connected with the no-questions-aqsked trade in dug-up ancient artefacts is Nathan Elkins' chapter "The Trade in Fresh Supplies of Ancient Coins: Scale, Organization, and Politics," [in] P.K. Lazrus and A.W. Barker (eds.), All the King's Horses: Essays on the Impact of Looting and the Illicit Antiquities Trade on Our Knowledge of the Past (Washington, 2012), 91-107. Again, this text has been ignored by numismatists ('professional' or otherwise) who probably imagine that by ignoring concerns, they will go away.

Given the totally carefree (not to say careless) manner in which US collectors have become used to treating the documentation of their fresh acquisitions, the vast majority of those millions of coins currently in US collections will have lost all trace of their collecting history and provenance. They are loose and decontextualised geegaws now stripped of any possibility of use for understanding the assemblages, sites and ancient landscapes they came from by the application of archaeological methodology. Instead we have just the picture-comparison 'it-looks-like' fantasising of the amateur enthusiast - imagining he is rewriting history (see here faux numis). This represents an enormous destruction of potential archaeological information. This is especially the case if we extend it over the very many years Sayles stresses that these coins have been ripped out of the ground, year after year, and circulated and mixed anonymously and shunted from continent to continent among no-questions-asking collectors and dealers.

Yet, those are the estimates for one country alone.  On a global scale, and let us remember that coins are only one class of artefact eagerly sought by greedy collectors, the ongoing scale of this destruction must be enormous.

Yet the collectors really do not care. The dealers really do not care. They are going to carry on arguing around and around in circles about what one man might have said to a journalist and stressing that we "don't need to change anything about the coin trade". Yes, we jolly well do.

Thursday 27 November 2014

Steinhardt statue withdrawn

Christie's was due to sell the Steinhardt  Sardinian marble female statue seen by Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis in the Medici archive in their upcoming December 11 New York City sale. According to the ARCA Blog the object has now been withdrawn for further clarification of its 'less than optimal collecting history' as someone put it. Good.  The news aroused a (small) Twitter storm of applause, mostly in Italian.

UPDATE 28 Nov 2014
David Gill sees another aspect to the issue ('Announcing news on Thanksgiving Day'; Looting matters Thursday, November 27, 2014:
But what is surprising is that a major institution like Christie's has not absorbed the lessons of the last eight years in what has become known as "The Medici Conspiracy". Academic researchers now realise that it is important to probe and investigate "collecting histories". And we know that it is important to check the photographic archives that have been seized by the Italian authorities. Staff in the "Ancient Art" department at Christie's need to adopt a more rigorous due diligence process to prevent this type of incident happening again. They ought to recognise that their present process is not "fit for purpose". It is perhaps timely that my next essay in the 'Context Matters' series for the Journal of Art Crime is on this very theme.

Dealers Again: "No Evidence of Trade in Ancient Artefacts Funding ISIS" (1)

The International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art wants to brush away the suggestion that the German part of the no-questions-asked trade in dugup antiquities is in any way involved in funding ISIL. "Extremely unlikely" is how they phrase it. So they've just released a triumphant text 'No Evidence of Trade in Ancient Art Funding ISIS' (Basel, November 25, 2014). They announce it in Coin Weekly: "Exhaustive investigation has revealed that the most important sources of the allegation the trade in ancient objects would finance IADAA are not existing". So collectors can sleep soundly tonight. 'Sorted' says the IADAA and the majority of them will now most likely as a result not fatigue themselves by reading another word on the topic. But one gets the impression that this is the idea of producing such a text in the first place - to prevent collectors thinking and questioning the dealers who supply them with stuff.

The notion that coin collectors are homegrown scholars, doing important "research into the past" is a recurrent leitmotif  in their attempts to justify the continuance of the damaging status quo. So let us have a look at this scholarly "exhaustive investigation". Does it consist of an exhaustive literature search of where claims have been made and the verification of their sources? Does it perhaps consist of a breakdown of the information we have about the mechanisms of ISIL funding in general? Well, heck, no. "during the last week, two articles have been published by independent parties supporting our point of view, one from Suddeutsche Zeitung, the other the blog ‘Chasing Aphrodite’".  So this "exhaustive investigation" consists of just a single newspaper article and a single blog post. Moreover, the author of this text (Ursula Kampmann) actually cannot even manage to quote either of those accurately in support of her thesis.

And the "First IADAA Smoking Gun" is:
The source of the rumour: The Guardian, June 15, 2014
Martin Chulov [...]
I've discussed this problematic material about Nabuk at least twice here,[1] Sam Hardy[2] has also returned to the topic a couple of times. Ever since it appeared we and others have been saying there obviously is something wrong with the way it is quoted. That does not mean that sales of antiquities are not involved, but the information has become garbled. For the IADAA it is their key argument: 
This unverified allegation was taken up by numerous activists and journalists who concocted a purely fictional story about how these ancient objects were sold in the German art trade.
Well no, actually not. The main discussion was and still is focussed on the global trade, and not Germany. The 'Nabuk antiquities' story was NOT by any means the beginning of the story. In many news items, many web sources as well as in the archaeological literature (some of it discussed down the years in this blog)[3] there has been much information about looting in Iraq and Syria used to finance militant (and terrorist) activity in this region. It began soon after the 2003 invasion in Iraq (actually the looting began before), and then spread with the 2011 civil war starting in Syria. The story, and the smuggling routes that they involve have been active long before ISIL. The IADAA then goes on to say that: 
Süddeutsche Zeitung, November 15/16, 2014 It is somewhat ironic that Volkmar Kabisch, who was responsible for the ARD documentary “Das geplünderte Erbe”, has now had to admit – after careful examination of the 160 usb sticks: “But where does the money come from? There has been much speculation about art trafficking, revenues from kidnapping or the sale of oil but no such information can be gained from the documents.” Nevertheless, his broadcast “Das geplünderte Erbe” is still aired by Phoenix. The IADAA demands that this and similar broadcasts that are based on false and obsolete information are removed from the program at once.
There are three cogent points here.
1) The IADAA "demands" that this whole story is suppressed "at once" because they claim that it contains "false and obsolete" information. Just who do they think they are, to dictate what we can watch and what we cannot? Fine, they think the information can be shown to be "false and obsolete" and they can present their arguments as above. It is then up to the viewer to decide, not for them to dictate to what information they have access. That's totalitarianism in action.
2) If you've not watched it, have another look at “Das geplünderte Erbe”, and work out for yourself just what part the "memory sticks" motif plays in it. Take them away, does a story not still exist? Yes, it does. IADAA is "demanding" suppressing all the rest of the information and opinions expressed (for that is what interviews are constructed of - both of the interviewee as well as interviewer/editor) because they think they can contest one fragment of the programme eleven seconds long.
3)  But then, is Ms Kampmann actually citing her sources in context and accurately? On looking at the article quoted (thanks to Sam Hardy for getting this for me) we see two things which simply dismiss her argument.
[UPDATE: Just as I was about to send this, I got a tweet from Esther Saoub with the link to: '‘Islamic State’: A Bureaucracy of Terror' [translated by Candice Novak] an English summary of the text: Thanks]

Perhaps it escaped the notice of Ms Kampmann, but the journalists  state quite clearly that they did not see all the documentation (Cf "a German journalist has checked all 160 data carriers, the Guardian article wrote about"). They also specifically note that were shown (by Iraqi intelligence officers) documents relating to Iraq. That is the Iraq which is a neighbouring country to Syria, where one will find al-Nabuk (where the antiquities were reported to have been from). It is perhaps not surprising then that the Germans did not see the data about Nabuk in the documents they had available about ISIL's Iraqi provinces. Duh. In fact what they also say is the documents they had access to concerned mostly social services in 'The Islamic State'. Martin Chulov, was reporting about what he'd learnt from another part of the same batch (maybe the intelligence services of the two countries have apportioned the material since Chulov saw it).

In passing, I must say that I found some of what I read in that article extremely disturbing, and I am not sure that "hey there's nothing about antiquities here" is the first thing that would come to even my mind on reading it.

And the "Second IADAA Smoking Gun" is: 

Moving on from misquoted sources. The Second "key piece of evidence" for the IADAA is the "second not fifth or whatever" argument. Personally, I think using the tactic of deflecting discussion onto a side-issue treated pars pro toto as the only argument is a typical example of the smoke and mirrors tactics always adopted by the antiquities trade and artefact collectors. The only reason I return to this already-tired point it is because the IADAA see fit to treat it as the "smoking gun".

Now, this idea that "the trade in ancient art provided the second largest source of revenue for ISIS" was treated with scepticism before Jason Felch wrote about it, that IADAA has not really been following this discussion is nobody's fault but their own.[4]  For them it is "news" that it turns out to be journalistic hyperbole. In fact, if they'd done any reading on the topic beforehand, they'd have found other articles published at the same time which gives a much more detailed breakdown about what we know about ISIL's funding, it's not exactly an unpopular or un-newsworthy topic at the moment, but no, it suits them to continue hounding the one point.

IADAA allege that this is all a conspiracy of the United States (against the German antiquities trade?). Kampmann alleges:
In his function as co-director of a State Department funded campaign to track cultural heritage destruction in Syria, Danti had published an article in the magazine “Foreign Policy” on October 17, 2014, in which he called the illicit trade with ancient objects the second largest source of revenue of ISIS.
True to coiney form, no link to that alleged article by Danti is given. Too many facts spoil the story I guess. The article  ('Black Market Battleground') was by Justine Drennan and she was quoting Danti. I wish Ms Kampmann the luck that the next time she is interviewed by a journalist, what she says is presented absolutely verbatim and having the meaning she gave it. Most of us in archaeology have completely the opposite experience. I think it is an unfortunate consequence of speaking to the press and consider it par for the course - as I think we all do. In my own case the only time my words have never been twisted was when I wrote a short piece myself for the local newspaper back in England. None of us knows what Michael Danti actually said, I think most of us who read the article smiled wryly when we read the article. Only the coineys seem insistent on treating it as a case of an archaeologist deliberately twisted a fact. But then, we all know how they love an "everyone is against us" conspiracy theory; it fosters a feeling or brotherhood.

It is quite important to see the context (we know how some coineys despise that word) of this soundbite. Drennan was writing after the US airstrikes on Syrian towns had begun and in the context of Kerry's Sept. 22 gung-ho speech at the Met (see here too). She herself says "my aim was to show how ISIS’s looting necessitates non-violent efforts to stop trafficking, not military intervention". That is the context in which she used whatever Danti had said. It was a useful quote because Kerry was using ISIL's mistreatment of the "cultural heritage of all mankind" to justify the US no-boots-on-the-ground remote bombing them into the Stone Age (and anyone else who happened to get in the way of US bombers - see yesterday's report on the deaths in Ar-Raqqa). Drennan wanted to make the point that there is another - bloodless - way of doing that, and Danti's quote served her to uphold that argument. But then others copied it out of that original context. I really do not think Prof Danti can be held responsible for that. But then, I'm not a vindictive archi-(b)hating coiney.

The upshot of all this is that as proof  that there is "No Evidence of Trade in Ancient Artefacts Funding ISIS" - the two items adduced by Ms Kampmann as such turn out on closer scrutiny to be nothing of the kind.

Footnotes for those with a longer attention span

[1]  Monday, 16 June 2014, 'ISIL and its "36 million" ; Monday, 16 June 2014 'Iraq/Syria: ISIL/ISIS fundraising by antiquities trafficking: Implications for the Market'; Monday, 14 July 2014, 'Syrian Heritage Task Force on the Antiquities Trade' ; Sunday, 31 August 2014 'More on Isil Looting, but What's Really Going on?'; Tuesday, 2 September 2014, 'Art Net News, Looting Bankrolling ISIL?' ; Wednesday, 3 September 2014, 'ISIL Looting: In war, the first casualty...?' and not so long ago that IADAA can't find it themselves Wednesday, 29 October 2014, 'US Brigadier General Urges Proper Antiquities Market Transparency' and Wednesday, 29 October 2014 'Conflict Antiquities' in Syria and Iraq: How Much for it to be "OK" for dealers?' (and for interest: Tuesday, 17 June 2014 'Collectors Criticised by Esquire blogger') 

[2]  Reuters blog  ('How the West buys ‘conflict antiquities’ from Iraq and Syria (and funds terror)', October 27, 2014 and conflict archaeology, passim  many of these texts referenced in the above-mentioned blog posts.

[3]  You kidding? Use the search facility up there above (little box).

[4] Wednesday, 12 November 2014 ' Mulder on Blood Antiquities', Thursday, 6 November 2014, 'Newsweek and ISIL Funding'; Wednesday, 29 October 2014 'US Brigadier General Urges Proper Antiquities Market Transparency' Saturday, 18 October 2014 The connection between ISIL, Looting and the Antiquities Trade (1) ; Saturday, 18 October 2014, 'The connection between ISIL and the antiquities trade (2)'.

UPDATE 26/11/14

Michael Müller-Karpe replies to IADAA "proof"
I have checked with Volkmar Kabisch, the „German journalist”, mentioned by Ursula Kampmann, who allegedly “has checked all 160 data carriers, the Guardian article wrote about.“ Mr. Kabisch has explicitly stated in the documentation, that he had access to parts of the information only. And he made statements about the contents of these parts only. The allegation by Dr. Kampmann is simply false.

Dealers Again: "No Evidence of Trade in Ancient Artefacts Funding ISIS" (2)

The International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art claims they have "proven" that there is 'No Evidence of Trade in Ancient Art Funding ISIS' (Basel, November 25, 2014). Their published  argument is, to put it mildly, weak and based just on two 'sources', one post in a journalist's blog and one weekend newspaper article. That's it.

It's particularly annoying that the dealers and collectors persist in maintaining this totally superficial approach to the whole issue when there are a lot of people making a lot of effort to produce better information, and more nuanced analyses on the basis of the slim information we can get from an illicit activity conducted by several secretive and dangerous groups in a country ripped apart by civil war. There are people out there on the ground risking a lot trying to get this information to us, something just totally dismissed contemptuously by the IADAA spokesperson for the antiquities trade. How dare they? The responsible legitimate trade should be trying to help us make sense of this information as a whole rather than  trying simply to pick holes in other people's work like this. And I stress that, the truly legitimate and responsible part of the trade - where is it?

I am not in the so-called "ancient art trade", I would not know where to get a Tell Brak figurine from. But there are people who do, and - as we all have had the opportunity to observe for as long as I've been watching the market - have been doing it for a good number of years. My suggestion is that these are the very people who'd very likely have an interest in hiding precisely how that Tell Brak figurine, that cylinder seal, that cunie, came on the European market. Because, they are not really going to succeed in kidding anyone these days that they really are all "from an old collection, found at the back of a dealer's cupboard" and have accidentally just happened to have "lost its label".

The subject of looting in Iraq and Syria is not a new one, there are many, many texts on the subject. I've discussed some of them on this blog, in some cases finding reason to agree with the conclusions, sometimes being sceptical of some elements of the reconstructed narrative. This blog is full of my observations on these issues (I am not going to hyperlink them all here, there's a search box at the top of this page). That is certainly a vast amount more writing about and sharing views and observations about these issues than most dealers (and we are told there are several thousand of them) have been doing. All they can do is moan, snipe and try and pick holes. None of them will engage in any real, deep, searching discussion, and when they do say something it never goes much beyond the superficial (and the ad hominems for which the milieu is infamous). 

The dealers will have to explain - if that is what they claim - how it is at all possible that trade in antiquities is going on under the noses of ISIL, but the latter are keeping their distance from it. 
Perhaps the dealers lobbyists will deny looting of archaeological artefacts is going on in Syria and Iraq and has been for some time. I am among the many who believe the evidence shows it is.

Perhaps the dealers lobbyists will deny smuggling of archaeological artefacts out of Syria and Iraq is going on and has been for some time. I am among the many who believe the evidence shows it is.

Certainly some of the sites which we know have been heavily looted (Dura Europos, Mari) are in ISIL-held territory (others are outside it).

Certainly some of the smuggling routes we know of are through ISIL-held territory. Others are outside it.

Basically, those who ask us to believe that ISIL is not taking funds from this activity ask us to simply accept that for some magical reason (coin dzinns?), the antiquities trade is treated in some privileged way by ISIL. Let's be clear, the opportunities the commodity offers are ignored by ISIL leaders, by ISIL local commanders, as well as by the individual groups of trigger and knife-happy young men who get 400 dollars a month to oversee what's going on on the ground. we are asked to believe that these opportunities are ignored by the ISIL who reports say are inserting themselves into deep into the daily lives and control the behaviour of the 'citizens' of their polity. They are simply, but mysteriously, ignored by the same ISIL who reports say uses all manner of pretexts to extort payment in one form or another from anybody and everybody. That is the ISIL whose finances have (insofar as the data allows) been analysed by dedicated 'terror finance analysts' and whose income is thought to come from a variety of forms of transactions involving even mundane commodities such as grain.

Furthermore the IADAA (and all who want us to dismiss from our heads the idea that ISIL can be getting their cut of the profits of any antiquities trade) ask us to believe that in today's Syria and Iraq, groups of people can, without attracting any attention to themselves:
- dig huge holes in the open, pull out objects which may be assumed to have some value,
- sell them on to a middleman who fills a suitcase or truck with them,
- the latter can then drive them on somewhere to sell to somebody else,
- somewhere in the process objects arrive at a border, somebody is bribed to let the illicit goods out, (and over the border somebody most likely has to be bribed to let the smuggler in).
Yet all of this we are asked to believe would take place without ISIL asking for a cut? Furthermore that all these people are working independently of, and have zero contact with, any ISIL people, they are free agents working for themselves and contributing nothing to ''The Islamic State'. 

Now of course we can all assume that this is the case. I am sure it is the most comfortable assumption to make if you are a collector or dealer. But there is, isn't there, a greater likelihood that this is all self-delusion. Like much else in antiquities collecting of course - so nothing new there.

As is noted by Sam Hardy, who has done much sterling work on Conflict Antiquities, and especially that in Syria and Iraq recently:

[...]  As has been conclusively demonstrated – as has been confessed by participants – sites are being looted by paramilitaries and antiquities are being sold by paramilitaries.

As has been explained – repeatedly – the key question is not “how much money are they making?” but “how can we minimise the money that they are making?” And we can only do that through material protection, trade regulation and policing.
Yet what we see the antiquities trade engaged in is distracting polemic about the first quite clerly intended to stave off the possibilities of the second ever happening.
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