Wednesday 6 May 2020

Pandora Film (Part I - What is Going on?)

There are at least two videos online to illustrate the news item about the 'Pandora IV' cultural property raids (see above). The first (here) is an edited version of the main one, which is the one I want to discuss:


The EUROPOLtube video actually is quite weird and the first part of it raises quite a few questions, not least - what on earth are we viewing? It is cobbled together from at least ten scenes and there is no soundtrack to explain what's going on. I want to take a closer look at this (you might like to slow it down until you get to the divers, the speed has been manipulated). The last three scenes are not really all that interesting, so I'll split them off to a separate post to shorten this one (see here). Here's what we see:
1) 0:09 to  0:30 a) white cloth on table in cluttered office, in foreground, jewellers' anvils back left handtools, foreground left  pressblech matrices [metal plates for sinking embossed designs], some objects, centre back two plastic bags of coins into which an officer THROWS two more. b) Closeup of these coins... all same size and shape, soapy look, several duplicates. These are all surely fakes. c) (0:15) two figures hurriedly open shallow drawers in cluttered office revealing corroded metal objects on grey felt. Is that a gas torch hanging on wall? d) part of the same table, at 0:19 top right, fake Koson coin (?) further to the right several fake white metal 'ancient' coins, bottom left, dies for pressing fake coins and other objects. To the right I am not sure, but they could be the outer casings reinforcing an inner investment mould, for thin flat items (coins probably). There's a Spanish coin book, and some other objects that might be ancient - or not. As the camera pans to the side we see the edges of the anvils, the dies and matrices, some rather nasty looking 'gold coins', a heap of stringed beads. The film then (e) abruptly switches (0:24) to shots of cruddy bronze fragments on  cotton wool (!! not the best idea) in a shallow wooden tray. Then (f) we see some officer packing these (or similar) objects  in more cotton wool, not particularly expertly handling them.
This is odd, this is supposed to be an antiquities bust, but what I think we see here is a faker's workshop. The tools and so on. On a wall at the end of the room is a bank of shallow wooden drawers which I think contain metal detected items (that's what's on the cotton wool). My interpretation is this is that a seller would make up batches of items that would contain the fakes and bulk them out with actual antiquities to make them look more believable. I'm going to guess that the shallow drawers are to allow the seller to select certain items to put on top of the pile in the photo of the sales offer. If that is a Koson coin, that's interesting. Made in Spain? 
2) a) The scene changes to a garage. Two officers manhandle some panels of mosaic reset into plaster - a car and a tractor are seen in the background (0:30  to 0:38 ). b) is this the same raid in the same place? A plastic container with some carved stone architectural details, in the background other stonework and an amphora (?). On left wooden beam wall visible. c) A wooden building with amphoras lying on the floor - not all are ancient (?), one has marine encrustations on it. One of them  has a 'Guardia' label already on it, so is this a thieves' storeroom, or a police storeroom we are seeing? If the latter, why are so few of these items labelled in any way we can see? 
Is this an antiquities seller or an architectural salvage trader (the amphoras to use as garden ornaments)?
3) a) A whole lot of stuff laid out (0:44 to 52) as trophies on the floor in an office (we presume Guardia HQ):
What is this about? Not a single piece of this 'evidence in a criminal case' is labelled, they are jumbled on the floor in areas divided by tapes, some stand on sheets of paper. This is no way to maintain the integrity of evidence. There's all sorts here, rows of small groups of metal detected finds at the front, a painting at the back, at least one large Chinese bronze vessel at the back too, there's Greek painted pots here, a 'rhyton', trays of coins. This is a typical range of what collectors like and dealers deal, rows of flagons, few other forms apart from a few small cups and beakers, surgical implements, terracotta figurine, nice black-burnished bucchero ware (?) at the back. We cant see any of them close enough to determine authenticity... but there are a large group of lamps, those lower right all similar colour (already suspicious) but look at the white things on the right towards the back. These are the plaster moulds for making copies of lamps (only the lower half, where's the rest?). I'm going to guess that the number of authentic lamps here is minimal. 
This seems to show several dealer's/collectors' assemblages. Are the taped off areas individual suspects' stuff?  All those lamps (and moulds) are from a dealer and/or faker. 

4) Presumably another part of the same display (0:53-57), a table top with green covering, camera pans across. The lion and 'senatorial bust' are, I think, fakes (is that a brass Bodhisattva to the left?) , then there are - literally - heaps of coins, some spilling out of an envelope. Possibly/probably these are real metal detected items.  c) the camera runs along the same table, showing an earlier stage of laying out the 'evidence/trophies'. Face pot, flagon, you'd have to see a better photo/them in the hand to see what they really were, but those bronzes, the large fibulae with intact pins.... I am sceptical about them. The silver ring at the back too. On the right end of the table, somebody frantically moving about little UNLABELLED polybags with things in them
Again, there are an awful lot of small portable antiquities here that I suspect are really fakes. There are others that may not be (pots, coins). 
5) This is weird (1:07- 11). a) round wooden table, boxes in background, yellow tape across table, green form lying half under some scales. Lots of little UNLABELLED polybags (as in the previous scene), somebody frantically counting and weighing coins - probably ancient, but nastily chemically cleaned. b) Probably the same table top (same tape). UNLABELLED polybags lying around, some with artefacts tipped out. There's an early medieval openwork mount and other metal detected items, though not all are ancient, I'd say. 
It is not clear whether 4 and 5 are related and how. One shows a lot of 'Bazaar archaeology' fakes, the other seems to show actual metal detected stuff. One of the officers is wearing a similar blouse to the 'bedroom\'' scene that follows it - possibly what we are seeing i
os the documenting of the items they are taking away so this scene is teh aftermath to the search scenes that follow it. 
6) The scene shifts, we are back in a cluttered room (the same place as in the first group of scenes?) and two hands in nitrile gloves proffer for our inspection two 'Roman oil lamps' (1:13 to 1:14). What's that junk on the green plastic shelves behind him by the door? Note the maroon bedspread in bottom right corner. 
The lamps are fake, if I'd seen them on ebay, I'd automatically attach the adjective 'Bulgarian' to them, because that's where a lot of the ones looking like this - and much worse - do come from, but are these 'made in Spain'?
7) The same green plastic shelves are seen on the edge of the rest of the 'red bedspread' sequence (1:14 to 1:25). One of the officers is wearing a top with the same coloured sleeves as in the coin-counting scene. This appears to be a cramped cluttered bedroom, there's a big bed in the centre of the room, boxes behind the headboard, officers have strewn various items and boxes of items all over it, I see some flaky ironwork, some odd-looking bronzes, some tattered old books. the officers are handling the items very roughly, I see no documentation going on (photo scales are lying on the bed though). Some of those pots don't look very convincing to me.
Is this part of a dealer/faker's storeroom (and maybe somebody sleeps there at night to keep an eye on it), or is this a metal detectorist's bedroom?   

What I find interesting is the emphasis placed in the press release on antiquities seized, not a word on the fakery. The antiquities market is full of fakes, this video seems full of fakes, but there is little kudos in capturing fakers instead of smugglers. I wonder what charges we will see pressed for those "109 arrested people".

Read on for Part two

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