Tuesday 26 April 2016

Egyptian Statue Bought by Belgian Collector Stolen from Museum Store

Youm 7 reported on Saturday that an Egyptian antiquities ministry official and three security personnel are to face trial over charges of theft and smuggling of a Middle Kingdom limestone statue from antiquities storerooms at Egypt’s archaeological site of Memphis, and replacing the original there with a replica. The statue of an ancient Egyptian couple was bought by a Belgian collector who failed to determine how the object had entered the market. The collector and dealer from whom he bought it have not been named.

 The statue, alongside other four artifacts, had been unearthed by the U.S. mission in 2011 before they were handed over for the inspector to store them [...], the disappearance of the double statue was revealed after a curator in the British Museum in London told Nagwan Bahaa Fayez, a member of the U.S. mission who was visiting the museum to display photos for the team’s discoveries in 2011, that he saw the statue with a Belgian antiquity collector. The Administrative Prosecution formed a committee to inspect the U.S. mission’s storehouse in Memphis. The committee confirmed the statue had been replaced by a replica. Meanwhile, the Criminal Investigative Unit at the Egyptian Museum has confirmed that the statue has been stolen and smuggled outside Egypt.
Cairo Post 'Antiquities inspector, 3 guards stand trial over theft of 3,600 year-old statue', Apr. 23, 2016

An Anonymous Archaeologist Afraid to tell metal Detectorist What is What

Afraid of metal detectorists?
There is a nicely-written article in the Guardian about being an archaeologist (Anonymous, 'The secret life of an archaeologist: soil in your sandwiches and sexism on sites' The Guardian Monday 25 April 2016). The author mentions artefact hunters: 
Equally, metal detectorists can be the stuff of nightmares when on a dig. Those acting as treasure hunters, operating without a licence, digging under the cover of night, are not likely to be keeping detailed records. Once an object is removed from a site, it loses its context and its informative value is decreased to almost nil, depending on the artefact. When someone walks onto site uninvited with a bag of artefacts your heart just sinks and you have to bite your tongue. 
The illegal chaps are unlikely to be the ones venturing onto a dig with an orange Sainsbury's carrier bag full of loose hoiked finds (the only reason they might be there perhaps is to scout the place out and see if it'd be worth risking a nocturnal visit there too). What she's talking about here is the other kind, the ones that are supposed to be archaeology's (potential) partners,  the non-nighthawking type (the so-called 'responsible" ones). All the expensive 'outreach' by well-meaning but misguided archaeologists is wasted if these folk are still coming to archaeologists with "a bag of artefacts"  - so, loose objects divorced from context and associations without individual bagging and labelling with findspots. Twenty years of 'outreach' has not produced the intended result. But why on earth is this person "biting their tongue" and not doing some proper outreach? What is the matter with British(/Irish?) archaeologists these days that they are afraid to say 'boo to a goose'? Or has 'dealing with metal detectorists' become in the archaeological mentality something that only the PAS have to endure to relieve others of the bother?

Hat tip Nigel Swift

Just one of the 233 comments under the original article referred to the 'metal detecting interlude' - but also totally misses the point, preferring to interpret what she is saying as archaeological standoffishness:
gez_smith 25 Apr 2016 16:13 "When someone walks onto site uninvited with a bag of artefacts your heart just sinks" Or how about looking at it as it really is, a detectorist is helpfully trying to share information with you? Nighthawks who strip sites and people who think detecting is 'treasure hunting' should definitely be stopped, but some of us detectorists record all our finds (which only come from context disturbed plough soil anyway) to 10 figure grid references, conserve them carefully, store them to archaeological standard and record them dilligently with PAS. You could encourage detectorists you meet to become more like that you know. The blanket 'all detectorists are bad' attitude of archaeologists stinks, and needs to stop. 
He cannot see how what is being described is not "helpful", the artefact hunter is taking for themself  and a loose bag of finds or a no-matter-how-many-figure NGR in some central database is absolutely no mitigation of the damage done. This goes also for selectively stripping out random diagnostic (collectable) material from a surface assemblage.  Note the de rigeur 'we are not all nighthawks' argument, it'd be refreshing to see a metal detectorist who does not trot this one out every time they put finger to keyboard.

What is worth noting is that none of the other comments under this article (so far) are not from enlightened metal detectorists expressing annoyance that a metal detectorist is ripping stuff out of the ground and curating it like that and by taking it to the archaeologist in that state is bringing the hobby into disrepute just as much as the nighthawks mentioned in the previous part of the extracted fragment.

Monday 25 April 2016

Antiquities Collecting: Power Relations and Social Approval

Dr Donna Yates,
photo: Mark Gibson
There is an article in the Scottish Herald focussed on Dr Donna Yates who offers some thoughts on why the present system of dealing with trafficking is failing, and what we need to do about it. Above all though it depends on power relations and social approval:
“The other side is that there is a market for it. There’s a desire to own, to keep for yourself something that others might think should be public and available to everyone. “I’m mostly in this,” she volunteers, “because of the power imbalance between somebody who has a huge amount of financial buying-power, who wants to keep these bits and pieces of the past to themselves, and people who don’t have a strong international voice, who don’t have that power. Translating it to criminology, it’s like white-collar crime versus the masses, but for me, working in the developing world, it’s very poor people being taken advantage of by very rich people.” Ultimately, Donna Yates would like to see the collecting of antiquities become socially unacceptable, “like having a gigantic elephant tusk on your mantle. I want somebody who has, say, Iraqi figurines on their mantle - I want all their fancy dinner-guests to go …” and here she mimics a sharp, disapproving intake of breath. Yes, she concedes, such a collective attitude would require a huge cultural shift. “It will, but I think we’re moving in that direction. At least, I hope we are.”
Russell Leadbetter, 'The expert aiming to make antiquities-collecting socially unacceptable - “like having a gigantic elephant tusk on your mantle"...', The Herald 25th April 2016.

I am not sure many collectors give a flying tinkers about elephants, remember this from not so long ago? 'The "Green" Credentials of Hobby Lobby's Mr Green' PACHI Sunday, 1 November 2015.

Sunday 24 April 2016

Whose heritage and Why? Conflict over a Museum

Jaroslaw Kaczynski
The present Polish government's approach to historiography is very controversial:
Poland’s conservative government is taking steps that threaten an ambitious new World War II museum which international experts have spent eight years creating — the latest ideological battle the nation’s nationalistic authorities are waging against the pro-European rivals they ousted from power last year. The Museum of the Second World War has been under development since 2008 and was due to open next year in Gdansk, where the first shots of the war were fired. [,,,]  The Euro-skeptic Law and Justice party accuses the state-funded museum of not focusing enough on Poland, objecting to an approach that puts Poland’s wartime experience in the broader context of the fate of other nations under the German, Soviet and Japanese occupations. Kaczynski vowed in 2013 that if his party ever took power it would change the museum so it “expresses the Polish point of view.”
Vanessa Gera, 'Polish leaders threaten fate of nearly finished WWII museum' April 24 2016.

Of course Kaczynski himself is the symptom, not the problem. But actually, what are museums for? What does the "British" Museum do, in fact but promote a nationalist message of British superiority?

Friday 22 April 2016

"In the UK, Who goes Metal Detecting?"

ONR March, Poland April 2016
On a metal detecting forum near you - associated with a certain metal detector producer - member "Iron Hearted Gog" has started a "Brexit: in or Out?" poll. The results were entirely predictable to anybody who'd been noting the xenophobic attitudes on UK metal detecting forums:

The comments attached to the poll are mostly of the sort that would be familiar to the people shown marching at the top of this post. The degree to which crude nationalism has been spreading in European society over the past few years is disturbing. What is very clear also is the way these nationalisms link to issues such as (a particular interpretation of) heritage [cultural heritage/ ahnenerbe] and a particular interpretation of history. Given that, it seems to me that the current policies of entrusting the exploitation of the archaeological record as a form of creating personal histories does not need looking at from the angle of the relationship between artefact collecting and nationalism. How many black or Asian members are there in the metal detecting clubs of England and Wales? Can the PAS give an estimate based on their club visits?

Thursday 21 April 2016

Earth Day 2016

I was under the impression that I had done more posts linking environmental concerns expressed by Earth Hour and earth Day to concerns for the historical enviriopnment, according to the search engine, that was not quite the case. Here are the past posts:

Saturday, 27th March 2010
Earth Hour (1): in the dark
Earth Hour (2): The Anthropocene
Earth Hour (3): an Archaeological Resource Awareness Day?

Thursday, 22nd April 2010
Earth Day 2010 .

Tuesday, 23rd April 2013
Archaeological Looting is an Environmental Issue

Sunday, 24th March 2013
April 2003 - April 2013: Light a Virtual Candle

Saturday, 19th March 2016
If we Cannot STOP Irresponsible portable antiquities collecting...

Carabinieri bust another online dealer

Do you believe in the
dealers' coin fairies?
Have you bought any antiquities from this guy (Lynda Albertson, 'The Carabinieri TPC Sequester Stash of Archaeological Finds For Sale on the Internet' Art Crime Blog Thursday, April 21, 2016)?  In Sicily, the Syracuse culture-cops (Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale), have
seized a cache of antiquities including rings, fibulas (brooches) earrings, pottery, oil lamps and more than 100 silver and bronze coins dating to the Greek and Roman period [...] at the home of a 48 year old restaurant worker in Ragusa. At the residence in addition to the illegally excavated antiquities officers found a small amount of hashish and marijuana, a metal detector and tools used for illegal clandestine excavations.
These policemen do not believe in coin fairies
(Photo: Carabinieri TPC - Ragusa Division)
The stuff laid out on the table in the photo comprises mostly the so-called staple "minor antiquities" offered by online sellers in Europe and the USA. So where do they come from? Well, they will swear blind that (tho' they "seem to have lost all the paperwork, it was here a minute ago, and it's all kosher") their objects are all from "old collections". So I guess the artefacts the Sicilian seller was flogging off must have disappeared into the magic cupboards of the coin fairies. That's what European and American dealers will have you believe. Time to STOP the lies.

Wednesday 20 April 2016

The Demand for Antiquities

The number of licitly-acquired antiquities available on the market must be pretty low if this is true:
"There is simply no way for the illegal diggers to loot enough pieces fast enough to satisfy the demand"
by How many irrefutably licit antiquities can actually be documented to be on the global market right now? And how many antiquities are on the market right now? I can answer the first question, its in the low thousands. The second one is a much, much higher figure. So, perhaps it is true, the market as it is tiodfay qwill absorb any number of illicit items.

UK Detectorists: "Vote Brexit, stop nighthawking".

The metal detectorists of the UK consider it is a sign of their "responsibility" that they call people who trespass to go artefact hunting by the worst possible names. Here from a thread on one incident discovered recently are a few: "lowlife cretins", "SCUM", "pondlife", For added bonus points they apparently gain kudos in their colleagues' eyes by threatening physical violence or death (Dingdong: "And if I had my way, I'd string em up high..!"/ Deadlock: "They need stringing up low life"). Or like CelticSpike, interfering with their vehicles It is extremely notable that not one forum member mentions contacting the police. But of course, in this crowd, it would never occur to them that the culprits would be anyone in a club or the NCMD doing this:
I have also heard of Polish/ Romanian Lorry drivers stopping over night getting out and searching fields with detectors not in my area but who knows apparently there was one getting confronted on a u tube video ?? Some time ago [emoticon]
So, it's "orl these bloody furriners, innit?" Dangerous simpletons. "Vote Brexit, stop nighthawking?"

Tuesday 19 April 2016

Public Engagement Fellowship for podcast on illicit Antiquities

Prof. Zoe Kontes of Kenyon College has been awarded a Whiting Public Engagement Fellowship for creating a podcast on the illicit trade in classical antiquities, the first of its kind.
Each episode will use the story of a specific artifact from the ancient Mediterranean world to explore a larger topic, such as the looting of ancient sites; forgeries and the science behind determining the authenticity of classical artifacts; and what happens to cultural property during war. She will also delve into the issues around repatriation, through objects like a 4th-century BC gold funerary wreath concealed in a hollowed-out watermelon to be smuggled out of Greece. The podcast will include interviews with archaeologists and museum curators in the field to show how preservation and exhibition of antiquities work in practice. In the continuing battle for the preservation of the world’s cultural treasures, Kontes believes, public opinion matters. The stories she tells will not only let listeners in on the fascinating journeys museum objects take to their display cases; they also have the potential to help galvanize and translate ethical thinking into legislation, helping to curtail looting by bringing its impact to life.
Professor Kontes was author of a 2015 op-ed on the repatriation of antiquities for the New York Times.

Washington: "ISIS Looting Cultural Artifacts on ‘Unprecedented Scale"

Washington says
Washington, 'ISIS Looting and Destroying Cultural Artifacts on ‘Unprecedented Scale’' Apr 19 2016
The Financial Services Task Force to Investigate Terror Financing held a hearing today to examine the best ways to counter the plunder and sale of priceless cultural antiquities by Islamic State terrorists. Such looting is occurring on an “unprecedented scale” and is generating significant revenue for the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, the United Nations has warned. Task Force Chairman Michael Fitzpatrick (R-PA) said, “The United States must do its part in curbing the demand for these cultural and artistic pieces by taking another look at customer due diligence and improving coordination with our international partners. This is a revenue stream exploited by illicit actors around the world and it cannot continue unabated.”Although the precise amount is unknown, [...] The U.S. has estimated that ISIS has earned “several million dollars” from antiquities sales since mid-2014.
It is untrue that the scale of destruction of monuments by ISIL is unprecedented. I live in Warsaw. This text is full of the same old staple tropes which have not changed now for yonks with the usual  wildly diverging guestimates of the "numbers". As for "taking another look at due diligence" Well, when are they going to stop talking and get around to some doing? Article 4(4) of the 1995 Unidroit Convention - Unidroit Convention made twenty years ago a set of recommendations for the exercise of due diligence in transactions involving cultural material. And since then a lot has happened. Al lot, that is, apart from this kind of due diligence becoming standard practice in the modern antiquities trade. If these standards had been consistently applied for even the last decade, we would not be sitting around discussing whether and how much ISIL is making money from illicit antiquities sales. It is not exactly rocket science. And anyway, why "customer" due diligence? Don't the dealers have anything to do with it? The  "greedy foreign dealers and collectors taking advantage of the mayhem [who] feel they have licence to steal antiquities away".  Twenty years on, America - one of the biggest global antiquities markets - gets around to setting up a so-called "task force". Meanwhile it is not just in Syria and Iraq that huge numbers of archaeological sites and monuments have been devastated to produce hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of portable antiquities for twenty years worth of no-questions asked collecting.

Furthermore in light of "the unabated continuance of the exploitation of the antiquities revenue stream exploited by illicit actors around the world", the United States has MOUs with only 15 of the countries affected. More than ninety percent of countries have no such agreement.

Sunday 17 April 2016

Hoard Hoikers Note: Jersey Coin Hoard: Purse found with coins

"The team from Jersey Heritage  
have been working for the past 18 months
on removing the coins one at a time. There are
an estimated 70,000 coins in the hoard". 

All those who feel that the best way to deal with a metal-detected coin hoard is to hoik it all out through a narrow keyhole dug down from above in fading light should note: Jersey Coin Hoard: Rare purse found with coins (BBC News 15th April 2016)


The Jersey hoard was found in a field by metal detectorists Richard Miles and Reg Meade in 2012. The leather purse is about the size of an average palm and is described as an important find by senior conservator Neil Mahrer. He said they have so far removed some 40,000 coins and this was the first bag they had come across. Mr Mahrer said: "It is made of leather, it looks like it is either made of one sheet or bootlace strands. "It is about 8cm across and 4cm deep. It is joined at one side to two rings that could have been for fixing it to a belt." [...] He said they would be removing all the coins surrounding the purse so they could then remove it with the earth in a single block.
So a bit like a small Sainsbury's orange shopping bag, then? The Lenborough Hoard was also found in a field by metal detectorists, but was tipped out loose onto a farmer's kitchen table the same night. As are many other hoards found in a field by metal detectorists in England and Wales.

Librarian Who Saved Timbuktu’s Cultural Treasures

A middle-aged book collector in Mali helped keep the fabled city’s libraries, books and manuscripts

safe from occupying jihadists (Joshua Hammer, 'The Librarian Who Saved Timbuktu’s Cultural Treasures From al Qaeda', Wall Street Journal 25th April, 2016)

Britain's Heritage Crime: "We as a Nation have Taken our eye off the Ball"

A jobless 23-year-old Romanian-born lead thief from Birmingham has pleaded guilty to stealing lead worth £40,000 from churches in East Anglia and jailed for nearly three years. He was identified by the DNA on a cigarette butt found on the wrecked roofs of two Norfolk churches stripped a year apart. Norfolk Police continue to pursue the gang and it is understood Nitu may face deportation once he finishes serving his jail term of two years and eight months. There is now renewed focus on rural crime affecting the heritage, including theft of building materials roofing lead resaleable vintage stone slabs and bricks) as well as those who illegally pilfer archaeological artefacts from sites:
One senior curator with a major museum told the i: “There can be doubt that we as a nation have taken our eye of the ball. Our history is being pilfered from under our noses and the authorities are only just waking up to it. Safeguarding our past is incredibly important because without it we don’t know who we are.”
All those British archaeologists happily promoting artefact collecting please note. Just what is it you are doing?

Cahal Milmo, 'Judgement day for heritage crimes: new law will crack down on sinners who steal from churches',  April 15th 2016

Vignette: All Saints' Church Thwaite Hill, Norfolk. 

Jungian Interpretation of Archaeology: Academic/Nationalist Ghetto

In something pompously called 'A prolegomenon to Jungian archaeology: conclusion', artefact collector, Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and amateur psychology buff John Hooker, makes an attempt to redefine what archaeology "should" be. He describes what he sees as an "academic/ nationalist ghettoizing of archaeology" a characterisation which seems totally oblivious to a pretty huge chunk of the academic writing of - oh - at least the last forty years. One wonders just who is in this ghetto, the global discipline or the antiquarian fellow who - like most collectors - cannot work out how to use a proper library. Hooker FSA portrays archaeology as a parasite and scavenger, acting:
"for other groups such as those with political motives who use nationalism in order to obtain a subservient population and to provide troops whenever needed; and through political/economic shenanigans such with the structure of the US memoranda of understanding on "heritage" issues whereby protection is granted through the offering of secret "perks" to the applying country. These perks are kept secret because they often consist of deals that would not be supported by the majority of the public were they to know all of the details".
I rather think if US Customs (for it is they who are the actors here) were to release proper details of the trade in artefacts (names, trade contacts and details of the activities of the sellers they quietly relieve of dodgy goods), we would see just how much "support" the antiquities dealers would have. Playing the victim comes easily to dealers, collectors and their claquers, taking responsibility for the market never does.

As for the ills of nationalism which archaeologists are supposedly party to: "Canadian nationalism seeks to promote the unity, independence, and well-being of Canada and Canadians". Is it at all a rational statement to suggest that it is there "to obtain a subservient population and to provide troops whenever needed"? I hardly think that is the main purpose of the people who support their nation's interests, not even in far-off Canada (where Mr Hooker lives).

The Antiquarian Fellow and collector sees archaeology as involved in a nefarious campaign of "public indoctrination", the function of which is to allow universities to utilise archaeology as a way of generating income:
such as with creating courses on art crime where, if such courses were genuine, would probably require previous accreditations in international law, criminology and at least a strong working familiarity with the international art market. Such courses act a bit like a Ponzi scheme where the subterfuge is only realized when the graduates find it impossible to get jobs and the word gets out.
It is a good job isn't it that there are no such fake art-crime courses in Canada, and of course the one in Glasgow, due to where it is sited in the University system there can hardly be so described. I would say the calibre of the team of staff there vis-a-vis their familiarity with the international art market (MacKenzie, Brodie, Yates, Tsirogiannis etc) makes them far more competent commentators on the subject than the lone amateur Mr Hooker FSA. What nonsense some of these Antiquaries write.

Vignette: "Ills of nationalism": John Hooker's Canada profiting from WW1

Saturday 16 April 2016

The father of Euro-hoiking?

Heritage Journal ask:
Dr Michael Lewis of the British Museum’s Learning, Audiences and Volunteers department was invited to speak today at the first European Council for Metal Detecting conference at The Holiday Inn, Birmingham Airport, an event specifically designed to promote the benefits of the “English Model” throughout Europe. Is it going ahead? Or did Dr Lewis decline the invitation because he felt being the father of Euro-hoiking was a step too far for him? We’ll know soon." 
Given that this is a suggestion of the international artefact collecting community which has been renewed many times over the past decade and a half (since PAS started trumpeting its achievements), it would be very useful for colleagues abroad to have an official statement on the approach of the PAS to the antiquities legislation of other countries which protects sites from Collection-driven Exploitation, and the pros and cons of scrapping that and replacing it with a voluntary recording scheme modelled on the PAS.

Could the BM "Learning, Audiences and Volunteers Department" knock one up as a consultation document? Could they? Yes. Will they? We will see.

Sicily: Police Find Ancient Artefacts

Archaeological finds more than 2,000 years old were found by Police in southern Italy who were searching for illegal weapons. The pieces are thought to have come from settlements and burial sites in central and southern Sicily, but some had signs of salt incrustation, suggesting they had been fished out of the sea.
Image copyright Polizia di Stato
Officers were looking for arms and ammunition in a house near the Sicilian city of Enna when they found a stash of artefacts which date from between the 5th and 2nd Centuries BC[...]  In total, 254 pieces were seized from the site, including dozens of vases, oil lamps and terracotta figures [...]  stored in cardboard boxes and plastic crates, wrapped in newspaper.  "It's likely that they were ready to be put on the black market," says Gabriele Presti, head of the investigation team. The homeowner - a man with a string of previous convictions - was arrested. 
The artefacts gave now been handed over to the cultural heritage authority in Enna. So collectors, do you know who is supplying the suppliers of your dealers? Do you know where that artefact has been? Do you want to know?

Source: BBC News 'Italy police stumble upon 'priceless' ancient artefacts' 15 April 2016

Polish Mission in Palmyra

Two Polish specialists were among the first foreign experts who visited the museum in Palmyra after it was taken over from Islamic State militants  after their 10-month occupation of the town. They spent a week collecting fragments of broken sculptures from the museum grounds and preparing them for transportation to Damascus in a rescue mission they hope will help salvage most of its contents (DGAM 'Urgent mission for damage assessment in Palmyra museum' 17/04/2016).

Dr. Robert Żukowski,
Prof. Maamoun
Abdulkarim, Dr. Ahmad Deeb, Dr. Bartosz
and Olivier Bourgeois, Palmyra April 2016

In an urgent field visit to the national museum of Palmyra, a group of experts from DGAM, Dr. Bartosz Markowski who already restored Athina Al-lat statue 10 years ago, and Dr. Robert Żukowski, both from the Polish archaeological mission, who worked previously in Palmyra, gave a targeted damage assessment to the museums, its galleries and the statues smashed by the terrorist militants of ISIS. The members of this mission worked together to gather all fragments of statues, in order to help restore the statues to its potential state prior the invasion of ISIS in May 2015. In the near future, restoration works will start in the proper lab in DGAM headquarters in Damascus, under supervision of local and international experts, under the support of UNESCO and other international partners, i.e. specialized scientific organizations and institutes.

Robert is a former student of mine, and has been associated with the Palmyra project for many years. I attended a conference on Syria here in the Institute of Archaeology of Warsaw University two weeks ago  where Dr Markowski spoke of the reconstruction and then destruction of the statues. It must have been a heartbreaking trip for them both.

UPDATE 17th April

Zeina Karam, 'Grim new details of IS destruction in Syria's Palmyra museum' Asscociated Press April 16th 2016.
 The museum was trashed and some of its best-known artifacts and statues were smashed by the militants, who cut off the heads and hands of statues and demolished others before being driven out last month. Bartosz Markowski, from the Polish Archaeological Center at the University of Warsaw, told The Associated Press that most of the 200 objects which were exhibited on the ground floor of the Palmyra museum were destroyed, many of them apparently with hard tools like hammers. Many artifacts have been stolen, he added, though it was not possible to know how many. He and his colleagues were the first specialists to visit Palmyra after it was taken over by the Syrian army, and spent a week working and assessing the damage. "We collected everything we could. The fragments were spread around the whole museum among broken glass and furniture ... It is a catastrophe," he said, speaking to the AP in the garden of the National Museum in Damascus.  [...]   Markowski said the museum building has suffered structural damage due to bombs falling. "There's broken ceilings, broken walls, roofs, a lot of garbage and fragments of bricks everywhere, and among that there are fragments of sculptures," he said. He said the restoration will require a massive international effort and years to accomplish. "I think most of the objects can be restored, but they will never look as they did before," he added.  

Syrian Artefacts in London?

Lintel, from Ancient Heritage blog
Channel 4’s Dispatches programme is doing a report on Monday on the London antiquities trade. They sent two academics undercover to pose as collectors and Augusta McMahon (senior lecturer in archaeology at Cambridge), and Alessio Palmisano (University College) wore hidden cameras as they browsed antiques shops.  The episode is being broadcast tomorrow on Channel four (Isis and the Missing Treasures)
Journalist Simon Cox investigates how easy it is for terrorist groups such as Islamic State to exploit the trade in looted antiquities. For the last eight months, he has been undercover examining this lucrative business and testing the laws designed to regulate it, finding a world of dubious provenance and questionable deals in the heart of London and on the internet. He also looks at what Isis doing to the world heritage sites in territory it holds.
According to Robin Henry writing in the Sunday Times (‘Syrian antiquity found on sale for £30,000 in London’ The Sunday Times - 17 April 2016) they found what seems to be a recently-surfaced Syrian artefact in an upmarket antiques shop in Mayfair, central London . This was located in one of the places I examined on my December trip there, but I do not recall spotting this there then. They report that the dealer in Middle Eastern Eastern and Islamic metalwork and manuscripts had on offer an ornate 6ft piece of carved stone probably a lintel, "the academics suspected that it originated from Syria". The original offering price was £50,000, but when McMahon and Palmisano returned several weeks later, the shopkeeper said the "owner of the antiquity had agreed" to drop the price. Of course linking this item with ISIL as the programme-makers apparently wish to do is impossible unless firm evidence appears on which part of Syria it came from and precisely when and how it entered the market - but that is precisely the kind of information the no-questions-asked mode of doing business on the antiquities market is intended to obscure.

UPDATE 20th April 2016
After much fiddling, fussing and checking, I concluded that the Channel 4 streaming video  thingy cannot be accessed from Poland, but from all accounts (David Knell Wednesday, 20 April 2016 'Dispatches and the Missing Evidence'; David Gill Monday, April 18, 2016 'ISIS and The Missing Treasures' see here too) I did not miss much. The broadcasters' own summary can be found here.   Gill notes laconically: "The programme discusses a lintel known to have come from Syria and on offer in London; a manuscript in Copenhagen; and an intercepted consignment". Knell points out that in the case of the lintel from Nawa, removed from Syria sometime after 1988 "Nawa was captured by al-Nusra Front and other rebel factions, most recently in November 2014, and al-Nusra Front had already split from ISIS by the end of 2013. So, were the real culprits al-Nusra Front?". The manuscript is equally difficult to pin to ISIL. Knell summarises his impression:
the documentary failed to track down a single object in the UK that had definitely been looted from Syria or Iraq since civil unrest began in 2011, let alone one that had definitely helped to fund ISIS [...] we are still left wondering why the media is fixated only on ISIS (it is far from being the sole reason for Syria's appalling loss of its heritage both before and during the crisis) and, despite wild claims, just how much money that organisation is really making from the sale of antiquities. And how many of those antiquities are really reaching the UK. Even only one object is one object too many and we must be utterly vigilant but this programme did nothing to dispel the suspicion that the involvement of the UK market in ISIS loot may be greatly exaggerated. 
It is disappointing to find a British TV documentary instead of doing some proper investigative reporting, uncritically jumping onto the US political bandwagon of blaming everything on ISIS and thus feeling compelled to find evidence that the UK is receiving ISIS loot. The fact that such evidence is hard to find does not seem to have worried them in making sensationalist tv. This really is helping nobody I was in that same antiquities mall just four months ago, and it is full of some very interesting material, and a little poking around would have revealed much about the antiquities market's workings.  McMahon and Palmisano walked past a whole load of disturbing things, yet for some reason only this lintel seems to have taken the film-makers' fancy. Why?

Cultural Protection versus Colonialism

'Ordinary Syrians are risking their lives to protect their cultural heritage' the Conversation, April 15, 2016
but US dealers and collectors (who'd never risk their lives to do so) claim they can protect it "better" by taking it away from Syrians.

Vignette: The cake thief

Friday 15 April 2016

Blood Antiquities: Death Sentence for Tomb Robbing

Don't even try to ignore the law
Lex dura, sed lex. I guess if you go about robbing graves in China, best to check out the law first. Perhaps foreign collectors might like to look at them too ('Tomb thieves sentenced for protected relics robbery', China Daily 15th April 2016),
A court has sentenced the head of a tomb-raiding ring to death with a two-year reprieve for robbing ancient graves and trafficking in cultural relics stolen from the Hongshan cultural relics protection region. Another three key members of the gang received life sentences for excavating ancient graves and cultural sites, [...] The court said a gang led by Yao Yuzhong formed a secret chain of workers to conduct the crimes, including some who provided financial support, invested in equipment, excavated the tombs and sold the relics. Another 18 gang members received sentences ranging from three to 15 years. "Yao directed others to excavate the nationally protected cultural relics ... causing great losses for our national heritage. The circumstances of such a crime are very serious, and the suspect is subject to death," the court said. In Yao's case, the reprieve means his sentence could be later reduced to life in prison.
Peter Tompa will no doubt soon be starting a campaign urging leniency.

Brussels Given up on Antiquities Crime

Brussels does not give a...
The Belgian government has quietly decided to eliminate the federal police unit dedicated to fighting illegal trafficking of cultural property, part of the central directorate against serious and organised crime. This has been explained by the interior minister Jan Jambon "crime related to art and antiquities is not considered a priority". Yet Belgium is one of the transit countries for a number of dodgy-looking items from the MENA region (at least) and the venue of more than one international art fair. If you search this blog for the word "Belgium" you'll find quite a few texts referring to dodgy artefacts and dodgy practices precisely in Belgium. Copy them into Word, and you get ninety pages worth. I'd say that is a pretty good indication that if it is not being treated as a serious problem for this miniscule country around EU capital Brussels that is simply grossly negligent.

The Social Benefits of Metal Detecting

In the newspapers:
A man who said metal detecting had helped turn his life around has been given “one last chance” after admitting going to heath near Thetford Forest “equipped for theft”.
Yeah, you can make it, you can become one of PAS' star "responsible detectorists". According to the received view, just avoid breaking the law and you're one. See how easy it is? Rhino hunter Mbpangwe Mbungo in Mozambique was also praised for only killing animals outside the national parks.

German Antiquiities Trade "at Risk"?

Catherine Hickley, 'Storm clouds gather over German art market' Art Newspaper 14 April 2016
One sector of the art market that may leave the country for ever because of the law is the antiquities business. The bill requires an export licence from the country of origin for any archaeological treasures imported into Germany or sold on the domestic market. Van Ham is considering closing its Asian art department, Eisenbeis says. At Nagel Auktionen in Stuttgart, Michael Trautmann, an expert in Chinese art, says that the summer auction of Asian art has been brought forward to May from June, before the law is enacted.
Yeah... get all those papierlos antiquities onto the market while you can. Discerning buyers however may wish to wait until the market is cleansed of such junk and buy responsibly afterwards. Meanwhile all those dealers that filled their stockrooms no-questions-asked with unpapered artefacts will have reason to rue their rashness. Still, they can stick them in a container, hope they are not detected at the border and send them to the UK or New York to sell - for now. 

European Council for Metal Detecting Conference Scheduled for Today

The first European Council for Metal Detecting conference is scheduled for today and tomorrow in Birmingham. Regular readers will remember perhaps that I discussed this a few months ago (PACHI 22nd February 2016:'UK Artefact Hunters Want to Establish Hegemony to Threaten European Archaeological Heritage - and British Museum's PAS is Party to it'). As explained there, artefact hunters are hoping that through the ECMD, foreign artefact hunting and collecting organizations
can help establish a working relationship with their respective governments, the eventual aim being to to encourage the type of co-operation and recording of finds that has been so successful [sic] here in the UK [...] and with the power to advocate reform and influence existing National [sic] legislation. [...] The promotion of the benefits of the "English Model" will be a key factor in achieving these goals
So, not an examination of the realities, pros and cons, just a spin-doctored version of the "benefits". Nothing new there, then. Characteristically the meeting is sponsored by Minelab and the Searcher.

Disturbingly, part of this British plan to undermine European preservation legislation was to invite  the British Museum's Michael Lewis to come and strut his stuff. 

There will reportedly be delegates from Ireland (who've already roped the all-too-willing PAS into supporting their anti-heritage cause), Bulgaria and now France . The Irish want it legalised there and the French want "un Treasure Act Francais" ("we hope to return with hopes to put pressure on our government") so Michael Lewis is a star ally for heritage pocketers to the West and heritage pocketers to the East.

The only hope is that according to the latest material, the guest speakers are only "invited" so maybe they aren't going and the conference has been called off? Did the BM's Learning, Audiences and Volunteers stuff do the decent thing and refuse to have their name associated with the attempt to spread the "English Disease" further on the Continent than Jersey? Is this conference going ahead? If it has been cancelled, it was done so very quietly, with no explanation - what would there be to hide?  Or maybe it is a Secret Conference? If it goes ahead have some of the delegates, one wonders, made some arrangements to stay on a few days in laissez faire England  to indulge in a bit of Le Hoik and a spell of O'hoiking

What happens to the ECMD though if Britain Brexits? Those of us watching the way talk goes on metal detecting forums in the UK are of the opinion that almost every oik that has ever picked up a detector is going to be voting "Out!" 

Groupe Militante Pour un Treasure Act Francais,
complete with FLO support

UPDATE 22nd April 2016

Nope, the BM's Mike Lewis certainly did not have second thoughts, here he is in a post by Liam Nolan of Thursday April 21st, 2016 7:57 pm
Pleased to say that I have met [...]  Michael Lewis at a few events now, last one in Birmingham when the European Council for Metal Detecting was launched. He gave a wonderful presentation on how the PAS operates and all the country delegates enjoyed the content. At the end of the Conference I was voted in as General Secretary, so I hope to keep you all updated on what progress is made throughout Europe to obtain more freedoms to detect in a responsible manner, Liam [emoticon]
It is rather disturbing to see a heritage professional engaged in a project attempting to obtain "freedom' for collectors to undermine the heritage protection measures of neighbouring sovereign states. Has Mr Lewis actually read the 1970 UNESCO Convention and any of the other European documents? Does he assume that they somehow do not refer to him, that he is in some way an exception? Interestingly Mike Lewis's visit to the den of thieves is not mentioned in the PAS social media, not on facebook, Twitter or its own blog. Why the secrecy Mr Lewis?

Thursday 14 April 2016

Which Totally Useless Bunch Could be Meant?

Bloomsbury Pete of Great Russell
Street, more vociferous advocate for
the preservation of the past than
most of his neighbours.
David Gill can be so opaque at times. I really cannot think which group of people present at the  the Heritage Crime conference held at the British Library he could mean:
It is worth noting that the two representatives from a certain national museum were remarkably silent on the subject, while some of us were drawing attention to examples of damage in various counties across East Anglia.
Maybe readers have a better idea.

Coins From the Front?

"Picek" coin on sale
There have been an interesting series of sales of coins from Crete which have been exciting the interest of several Greek newspapers. They've been appearing on auction sites recently, Roma Numismatics sold three pieces for over £70,000 some days ago and Kunker had a small offering of these in their March sale. Now a whole bunch is being sold by Nomos [ Nomos 12, lots 73 etc  Cretan Coins From the Brünn Collection, the property of Dr. Ludek Vostal]. The story behind some of them is intriguing:

The Cretan coins that appear in this and the following lots all once belonged to a Czech collector named A. Picek. He was born shortly before the beginning of the 20th century, and was mustered into the Austro-Hungarian army soon after World War I broke out. He ended up being stationed on the Italian front, which was the scene of an almost endless series of terrible battles that took place in mountainous terrain. Along the Isonzo, the Austrian army continually repulsed attacks by the Italians, inflicting massive casualties (though suffering considerably itself). At some point, probably around the time of the Austrian victory at Caporetto in November 1917, the young soldier Picek saved the life of an Italian civilian, a banker; in return, this unknown Italian gave his savior two bags of old coins (!). One contained copper pieces and the other silver. This led Picek into a life of collecting coins and paper money. In 1970, when the present owner, Dr. Ludek Vostal, was a young collector, he met Picek, then in his 80s; now Dr. Vostal is proud to acknowledge his debt to a man he considered to be his mentor. In 1975 Picek sold him a small collection of ancient Cretan coins, which came from one of those sacks that he had received over fifty years earlier Dr. Vostal promised to keep the group intact as long as he continued to collect coins; now that his interests lie solely in paper money, he has decided to let these coins go to new owners. Where that nameless Italian got these coins is unknown, but when he got them has to be prior to 1914: they must be remnants from one of those many 19th century Cretan hoards the only traces of which lie within Svoronos' famous work on the ancient coinage of Crete.
There, altruistic young Czech "saves life of enemy soldier" and gives some coins a firm provenance. Now, if A, Picek was Vostal's "mentor", why did the latter apparently not know his first name? How likely is that story?  Basically, if I was a soldier (formerly a banker) taking part in tough mountain fighting, I wonder if "two bags of ancient coins, one corroded copper" is actually what I'd be lugging around on the front line when my army was on the retreat? Why did he take his coin collection to the front line anyway? Perhaps though the coins were stolen from a house the unit had looted just before it was attacked by Picek's unit. I think we are supposed to infer that, since Vostal "lost interest" in these coins in favour of paper money, that even if we are not inclined to believe the war experience story, he had indeed acquired them a long time ago. This is one of those stories that has a lot of ' corroborative detail, intended to give artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative', but without providing a single fact that is verifiable.

Group photo
I am just a bit puzzled by this photo, is this one of Mr Vostal's own shots? Look at the state of that Euro, it has not been on any battlefield, but it shows what a new coin looks like if it has been rattling about loose in a bag with others. Why do none of the earth-dug (corroded and thus more fragile) "Picek" coins look anything like this if that is really where they came from?

Can Nomos and Roma produce Mr Picek's war-record from the military archives?

Comment on Our Attitudes to Syria

ربما بهذا الشكل تركزّون على معاناتنا أكثر
The sign says  "maybe this way, you will focus on our suffering"

Islamists demand and attract attention, we should not lose sight of the wider picture(s).

Norfolk men appear in court for metal detecting

Two men were spotted by police on part of West Harling Heath metal detecting near burial mounds, upon seeing police, the men reportedly ran off, discarding the metal detector as they fled.
When officers caught up with [Aiden McCulloch, 26] and Xavier Ruiz, 30, they found old Roman coins and other metal detecting equipment in a car belonging to McCulloch. The court heard that the coins had nothing to do with the incident on July 1 last year but had been acquired legally by McCulloch who has a passion for metal detecting. McCulloch, who represented himself in court, said he thought the heath, close to Thetford Forest - a site of special scientific interest (SSSI) - was common land where he would be permitted to search for treasure.
But did he have a written search and take permit or not?
McCulloch, who yesterday admitted one count of going equipped for theft, said: “Before I started metal detecting my life was very different. “I had nothing to live for. I was on a downward spiral. It’s changed my life and given me something to focus on.” McCulloch, who has a number of previous convictions, said he “did not have much in his life” and insisted he might have been in prison now were it not for metal detecting.  [...] Charles Kellett, for Ruiz, said his client’s offending had been “coming down in recent years” and was now studying for a degree in computing online which had given him something to focus upon.
So basically the sort of no-hopers that apparently often take up Treasure hunting. The forums are full of them.  The two admitted going equipped for theft, and received some light sentences.

Peter Walsh, 'Norfolk men appear in court for metal detecting', Eastern Daily Press 13th April 2016

Wednesday 13 April 2016

HR 1493: US Senate Votes to Ban Imports of Syrian Antiquities

Palmyra funerary relief
Latest news on HR 1493 (Steven Lee Myers, 'Senate Votes to Ban Imports of Syrian Art and Antiquities, New York Times April 13, 2016): The Senate voted on Wednesday to ban the import of virtually all ancient art and artifacts from Syria to discourage the looting and trafficking of illicit objects by the Islamic State and other armed groups.
The Senate voted by unanimous consent, reflecting broad bipartisan support, but it did so after months of delay and debate over the legislation, which the House of Representatives passed last year. The bill’s provisions would fulfill commitments the United States supported at the United Nations Security Council more than a year ago to try to choke off the trade of so-called blood antiquities that the Islamic State, the Nusra Front, Al Qaeda and other groups use to help finance their military operations in Syria and Iraq.
The newspaper suggests that "the Senate’s action closed a loophole in American law",  no, it narrows a significant gap in US law, and highlights the need to deal with that gap which places more than the heritage of just Syria at risk of being exploited by greedy US dealers and collectors.  White House spokesman, Peter Boogaard, issued a statement
welcoming the Congressional action and pledging to “enhance our ability to identify and prosecute those who unlawfully acquire or sell precious historical artifacts.” The legislation should soon move to the White House for a signature. It broadly mirrors a law adopted after the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 that banned imports of culturally or historical significant objects from that country.
HR 1493 was opposed all along the way by the lobbyists of the international antiquities trade (the bit that operates no-questions-asked). They have lost their fight to "preserve [what they understand to be] collectors' rights", let us see what they do now.

Meanwhile there is one element of the new law which awakens my misgivings:
The legislation includes an exemption that would allow some objects to enter the United States temporarily for safekeeping in instances where they might otherwise be destroyed.
And who decides when that "might" is the case? And how "temporary' is this US temporary? We remember the Hungarian Crown which they held onto far too long and the scandal of the "help" they offered in conserving the Iraqi Jewish archive which they then decided they would keep in the US - not to mention the Auschwitz barrack I discussed here earlier. US collections and commerce have exhibited a voracious tendency to grab large amounts of everybody else's heritage (calling it theirs as "common" heritage). Why should heritage assets go to the US instead of a neighbouring country?  If the US is going to take anything out of Syria and Iraq, there are thousands of people who have lost their homes, families, places of work due to the civil war which the US is commonly believed to be co-responsible for and demonstrated to be helpless to stop (familiar story). Neighbouring countries and Europe are expected to provide a solution to the refugee problem. Instead of pots and stones, let the American do-gooders save some real living people.

Text of HR 1493 here

#Culture Under Threat's "Recommendations..." on Halting Antiquities Looting and Trafficking from the MENA Region

In the NYT article by Steven Lee Myers on HR 1493 we find mixed in - fairly indiscriminately - material concerning something else entirely. It discusses a report coordinated by the Antiquities Coalition, the Asia Society and the Middle East Institute which reflects "broad frustration at the inability of the United States and other governments around the world to stanch (sic) the rapacious looting that has occurred since Syria’s civil war began in 2011".
A task force of prominent advocacy organizations, museums and universities called on the Obama administration to take far more aggressive steps — including military operations — to halt the destruction and looting of cultural sites in Iraq and Syria. In addition to calling on Congress to pass the legislation the Senate voted on, the task force’s report, titled “#CultureUnderThreat,” urged the White House to appoint a senior director to coordinate the government’s actions against blood antiquities and to increase resources for stricter enforcements by customs officials, the Justice Department and the Internal Revenue Service. “The U.S. response to cultural racketeering is currently decentralized and implemented on an ad hoc basis, with several agencies involved but no single agency coordinating the efforts,” the report said. It went on to lament the slowness of enacting provisions that the United Nations Security Council had called for in February 2015. “The lack of action has kept the United States market open to the import of Syrian antiquities, making it a potential source of funding for extremist organizations,” the report said. [...] The United States, as the task force’s report noted, accounts for 43 percent of the global art market, making it a potential leader in demand for illicit imports.
Of course "decentralised" is a euphemism for virtually non-existent. The US quite obviously has no Ministry of Culture and no legislation which protects its own cultural property from loss through export (like the Hopi and Navajo masks etc they are always bellyaching about when they surface on the Paris market). In sheer Bonkerness, the US legislation is only marginally worse than that of the lackadaisical UK.
One of the most striking recommendations calls on the Pentagon to use airstrikes to protect sites, presumably by trying to halt advances by the Islamic State to new territories or by striking heavy machinery used in the looting of places like Palmyra, which Syrian government forces reclaimed from the Islamic State last month. That recommendation prompted a dissenting opinion from one of the task force’s members, Emma Cunliffe, a researcher at Oxford University. Ms. Cunliffe argued that the use of military force, by itself, was neither strategically nor ethically sound. “Military action may necessitate both a risk to the lives of the military force and the loss of the lives of those under attack, for what — to some — is no more than stone and so not worth any human life,” she wrote in a statement included in the report.
And good for her. She is one hundred percent right. It is a shame that so few Europeans were included in the Task Force. The Americans seem very fond of bombs when they are aimed at brown-skinned folk in other lands, in love with their armed forces and jolly happy to send swarms of terror drones overseas to provoke enmity towards the west by their unilateral policy of executing foreign nationals without trial. I think they are forgetting that the whole, and sole, idea of the 1970 UNESCO Convention is to use antiquities as one of the means of "building peace in the minds of men" (or rather if you look at the text, preventing disputes over cultural heritage fostering dissent and conflict). "Bomb the lot of the blighters who touch our [sic] heritage"  is not really my idea of peace-fostering. It is sheer naked aggression provoked by greed masquerading as pseudo-altruism. STOP it.
The Culture Under Threat Task Force was established by the Asia Society, the Antiquities Coalition, and the Middle East Institute as the result of a forum on how to combat antiquities trafficking and destruction held at Asia Society in New York last September.
 Below is a summary of the task force's key recommendations:
For the [United States] federal government, the Task Force calls on:
  • President Obama to block the import of illicit antiquities through executive action, as he did for oil, and to designate a senior director at The National Security Council to drive U.S. policy in the fight against blood antiquities and terrorist financing.
  • The U.S. Congress to pass the Protect and Preserve Cultural Property Act to immediately restrict antiquities imports from Syria, and to grant the limited waiver requested by the State Department to rejoin the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to assert U.S. leadership and influence in the global battle against heritage destruction.
  • The U.S. Defense Department to consider in conjunction with allies when appropriate the launch of airstrikes when extremists threaten heritage sites, to further identify “no strike lists” of cultural sites, to train Army civil affairs personnel to work with civilian authorities on cultural property protection, and to reinvigorate the modern “Monuments Men” for cultural missions.
  • U.S. law enforcement to buttress Immigration's and Custom Enforcement’s “seize and repatriate” strategy with prosecutions that dismantle criminal networks engaged in the antiquities black market, and for the U.S. Justice Department to end impunity by dedicating prosecutors with expertise in terrorist financing and heritage crime, modeled on its wildlife trafficking unit.
  • The Internal Revenue Service to eliminate tax breaks for blood antiquities by requiring proof of legal ownership and history.
For the international community, the Task Force calls on:
  • The United Nations to urge the International Criminal Court to open an investigation of cultural crimes in Iraq and Syria, to train peacekeepers to safeguard cultural resources, to include heritage reconstruction in post-conflict planning, and to support the capacity of national courts to conduct domestic prosecutions of cultural racketeering and cleansing.
  • All intergovernmental organizations to include the protection of cultural resources in their peacekeeping mandates.
  • UNESCO to ask the International Court of Justice for an opinion on the nature of war crimes related to heritage destruction in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region.
For the art market, the Task Force calls on:
  • Museums, dealers, and auction houses to commit to greater transparency and to make public proof of legal title and known ownership history for any antiquities.
  • Publicly funded museums to adopt disclosure policies in the spirit of the Freedom of Information Act.
  • An art dealers’ trade organization to establish a registry of approved antiquities dealers who are verified to abide by prescribed ethical codes and industry best practices.
  • Stolen art database services to cease certifying antiquities as not registered as stolen, as looted artifacts cannot be so verified. 
 The full report is available for download here. (PDF)
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