Saturday 8 September 2018

Museum of the Bible Showcases More of its Potentially Dodgy Antiquities

Lagash II Nail, Iraq, ca. 2150 BC. When Mesopotamian rulers built a temple, they commemorated the event with an inscription on cylinders, cones or "nails." The cones were then inserted into the plaster of the wall or floor and covered over.
I would guess that this is a cone of Gudea, governor of the city-state Lagash (most common on the market at the moment)  and from a temple of Ningirsu. The Green collection which lies behind the MOB's display was built up only after  November 2009.

What about those other ones currently on the market? Mr Google tells me that there are quite a few on open sale. One came on the market that had information that the first transaction we know of involving it was 1991 when it 'surfaced' on the market  (CNG auctions sold this one for $2100), Barakat has one ('Origin:  Mesopotamia') on sale in his US store no with no stated collecting history -$3,000. He has another eleven in his UK store, prices not stated up front, all with Lambert translations, and none of them with any provenance at all.

Catawiki had one on sale in March by dealer antikgallerie, (€950 'Provenance: Austrian Collector Dr. Karl; acquired at Dorotheum, Austria 28.04.1997 ') and featured it in a narrativising sales promotion article ( 'This week's exceptional lots on Catawiki: Treasure from the past: 4000-year-old cone with inscription of Gudea').  [Dr Karl?] A  Dutch dealer  'Ancient Artifacts'  had one for sale (3250 euro, Provenance: 2000 Private collection The Netherlands ) and here he is narrativising it on YouTube - practicing his 'academic humour' (not very droll).  In Vienna, Christof Bacher  had another one for sale, ' Provenance: British family collection Rihani'. Sale price not known.

Here's one on Live Auctioneers ($2,800) Here's one on Live Auctioneers ($2,800 ) sold by Artemission ('Comes with translation by Professor W.G. Lambert of the Birmingham University, England', 'Provenance: Previously property Mr. and Mrs. S.S. [sic], London, U.K.', 'Comes with a Certificate of Authenticity, Comes with Art Loss Register Certificate, Comes also with full Cerificate of Authenticity). What could possibly be wrong there if it 'comes with' all that? Except the vital piece of information is missing, and I'd like to be assured that this is not from any 'Schutzstaffel' collection.

British dealer (Ancient and Oriental) has a Lagash Foundation Cone for   £795 ('Fine condition, with a few light encrustations. Period: 2144-2124 B.C. NB. Stand is not included'). No collection history stated.

Mutina Ars Antiqua (Modena, Italy) has a broken one as a 'recent arrival',price €600.00 and has a provennce: 'private Hawaiian collection, ex. Kaye Fredericks collection, acquired from Pegasi Numismatics, MI., 494, catalog no. 127' It is not clear which of these former owners bought from Pegasi, catalogue 129 is not archived online, but the date of catalogue 133 is August 2005, so I assume that Pegasi had this cone just a while earlier. And look at how much Mesopotamian material Pegasi (Eldert Bontekoe et al. Ann Arbor, Michigan ) seem from those catalogues to have been handling at that time. Pegasi seemingly have had other cunie cones too like this one for US$ 750 and no collection history given. But this other one has: 'Ex Gillman collection #76, imported from London before 2001', but when was it exported from Iraq? After 1990? (sale price 1500 USD)

In Acron, Ohio, Charles E. Puckett sold recently (price not revealed) a clay foundation cone of Gudea  '...translated by Dr. W. G. Lambert ...' ('Each item is fully documented and in good antiquarian condition unless otherwise stated', though what 'documents' the seller possessed is what is not stated).

Founder member of ACDAEA, Hixenbaugh Ancient Art had one of these cones on sale, but the details for some reason were removed from the Internet (though someone saved the pictures on Pininterest, unfortunately without any collecting history associated). It seems he had a second one too, to which the same applies. Here the collecting history was apparently 'Private collection'. (This dealer also has had on offer  cuneiform inscribed clay foundation cone of Ishme-Dagan, fourth king in the First Dynasty of Isin, in which the ruler dedicates the building the city walls of Isin.) Where did Hixenbaugh Ancient Art  gallery. get these from ? Lagash, Isin, those names ring a bell, where have we heard about those two sites in the same context before? Hmm. From here, 'new acquisitions 2016' we learn that one of the cones and three 'Old Babylonian clay tablets' came from the estate of Paul Goodman, Houston Texas and we are assured they were 'bought before 1990'. Another apparently was being sold by founder member of ACDAEA, Sands of Time, a Washington based dealer. The sales offer, like Mr Hixnbaugh's has disappered, but here the social media have faithfully preserved a record of what this dealer too apparently no longer wishes to proudly display (here it is again).

Some of them are being seized. Like the three seized by the police from an unnamed art dealer in London in May 2003 (who is now out of the business) 'and identified by staff from the British Museum only this year' (for an online guide to reading these things see here... why did it take so long when it has writing on it?). Note that the British Museum staff are quoted as saying:  “Analysis of the art market shows that similar inscribed cones were offered for sale during the same period”. In 2010 a foundation cone of Gudea was seized by Chicago Customs and Border Protection officers at the International Mail Branch near O'Hare Airport. It was returned to Iraq. 'Chicago CBP officers found the small brown artifact in 2007 during an inspection of outbound mail parcels. It was valued at $345, listed as a "Babylonian Clay Foundation Cone" and was being mailed to an individual in Australia'. This, together with the number of these items being sold by US dealers, indicates the role of the USA in the trade in unpapered artefacts from Iraq.
Based on the investigation, the ancient artifact was seized because it was of Iraqi origin and subject to Iraqi sanctions which prohibit the trade in Iraqi cultural property.
And yet other dealers in the US are quite openly selling them. One notable thing is that the ones where once can determine the date they 'surfaced' (from underground) - with the exception of Mr Hixenbaugh's unsupported assertion denying this in the case of the ones from his own stock - they appear on the market after the recent looting broke out in Southern Iraq with UN sanctions imposed in August 1990. So, MOB, where did you get that cunie-cone from, and in any case what possible connection does Gudea of Lagash have with the Bible? Gudea reigned some 900 years before the mythical 'Moses', it's stretching the point to see him as any Biblical ruler.

PS I also mentioned Lagash nails in a 2013 post here.

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