Saturday 30 October 2021

Citizen Activists Lead the Hunt for Antiquities Looted From Nepal

              Nepal (Wikipedia)            
Roshan Mishra, director of the Taragaon Museum in Kathmandu, has creasted a digital archive, which he operates with his wife, of nearly 3,000 Nepalese artefacts that he believes are being held by museums outside the country. Two years later, the archive that he operates with his wife is at the heart of a citizen-led effort to use the internet to find the missing gods and goddesses, Buddhas and bodhisattvas that have been looted from Nepal (Zachary Small, 'Citizen Activists Lead the Hunt for Antiquities Looted From Nepal', NYTtimes October 29, 2021).

Emails now arrive daily from antiquities experts and hobbyists with tips and finds, a process that has helped a small, resource-strapped country persuade some of the world’s most prestigious museums to part with precious artifacts. “When I look at the inquiries that I get, it’s unbelievable,” said Mishra. “Now this has become my life’s work.” The Australian museum is now negotiating possible repatriation of the 13th-century wooden goddess with Nepalese officials, according to a spokesman for the institution. Seven other sculptures have already been returned this year to Nepal because of information provided by the citizen watchdogs and armchair experts who call themselves the Nepal Heritage Recovery Campaign. In September, it was the Metropolitan Museum of Art that returned a 10th-century statue of a Hindu deity. In March, a campaign member helped the F.B.I. in a repatriation case regarding a Nepalese sculpture which was returned by the Dallas Museum of Art.[...] Many experts, including the Harvard art historian Jinah Kim, said that about 80 percent of Nepalese artifacts outside the country were likely to be illegal exports. But it wasn’t until 2015 when an anonymous Facebook page called Lost Arts of Nepal started accusing museums of holding looted objects that repatriation efforts gained traction. The page now has more than 17,000 followers and collaborates with the Recovery Campaign in researching and publicizing claims. [...] Finding evidence of looting is only the first step in the repatriation process. The nonprofit starts by sending a letter identifying a find to Nepal’s Department of Archaeology, which reviews smuggling claims and forwards credible ones to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Embassy officials in the countries where the items are found take over from there, connecting with institutions and collectors to negotiate the return of stolen artifacts.
parallels are drawn with another citizen initiative that is quite often in the news;
The approach echoes earlier efforts by Vijay Kumar, a writer who in 2008 started using social media to identify religious artifacts stolen from Indian temples. His blog, named Poetry in Stone, became popular for its coverage of the antiquities dealer Subhash Kapoor, now jailed in India on smuggling and theft charges. In 2014, Kumar turned the blog into a nonprofit, the India Pride Project, which assists the Indian government in tracking down looted objects. He also now serves on the Nepal Heritage Recovery Campaign’s advisory committee.

Friday 29 October 2021

US Returns 250 Antiquities to India after Belated Probe into Stolen Art

Authorities in the United States have returned about 250 antiquities to India in a long-running investigation of a stolen art scheme. The items, worth an estimated $15m, were handed over on Thursday during a ceremony at the Indian consulate in New York City (Al Jazeera,'US returns 250 antiquities to India after probe into stolen art' 29 Oct 2021).
The ceremony follows a sprawling probe by the Manhattan district attorney’s office and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which focused on tens of thousands of antiquities allegedly smuggled into the US by dealer Subhash Kapoor, who has denied the allegations [...] Authorities say Kapoor – jailed in India and facing charges there pending a US extradition request – used his Art of the Past gallery in New York to traffic looted treasures from India and various countries in Southeast Asia. The investigation has resulted in the recovery of 2,500 artefacts valued at $143m and convictions of six Kapoor co-conspirators, Vance said. [...] In June, the district attorney’s office returned more than two dozen artefacts worth $3.8m to Cambodia as part of the investigation. Another 33 objects were sent back to Afghanistan in April. Court papers filed in New York say Kapoor went to extraordinary lengths to acquire the artefacts, many of them statues of Hindu deities, and then falsified their provenance with forged documents. They say Kapoor travelled the world seeking out antiquities that had been looted from temples, homes and archaeological sites. Some of the artefacts were recovered from Kapoor’s storage units in New York. Kapoor had the items cleaned and repaired to remove any damage from illegal excavation, and then illegally exported them to the US from their countries of origin, according to US prosecutors.
The Art of the Past Gallery was opened in 1974. He was arrested in Frankfurt in 2011 on suspicion of involvement in illicit trade, and extradited to India in 2012, but has yet to face trial there. It is unclear therefore on what grounds the items were forfeit in the US. All very odd.
Among the items going back was also a bronze Shiva Nataraja valued at $4m
The Shiva Nataraja bronze was sold by the mother of Nancy Wiener, a gallery operator who pleaded guilty in the case this month to charges of conspiracy and possession of stolen property, authorities said. Nancy Wiener sold looted items to major museums in Australia and Singapore, they said.

Thursday 28 October 2021

Roadmap for the G20 to Combat the Illicit Trade

Antiquities Coalition:
This year, for the first time, the Group of Twenty (G20) under the Italian Presidency gathered heads of state and government to work together to combat the illicit trade. To support this important work, an international coalition of experts released Safeguarding Cultural Heritage in Conflict Zones: A Roadmap for the G20 to Combat the Illicit Trade in Cultural Objects.

This evidenced-based report puts forward nine specific recommendations to strengthen global policy against the looting and trafficking of cultural objects, a transnational crime closely linked to war and terrorism. It highlights risks posed by the illicit trade through a case study illustrating how armed groups plundered ancient sites in Syria and then laundered cultural objects into unsuspecting global marketplaces. More importantly, based on lessons learned from Syria’s tragedy and others, it calls for new policies, priorities, and practices to be considered by the G20, its Member States, and the private sector as they work together to support the communities victimized by this transnational crime.

The report was developed by leading experts and is being published online by the Antiquities Coalition, a not-for-profit organization and non-partisan think tank, in collaboration with Heritage for Peace.
The naysayer lobbyists for the antiquities trade are already at this moment tapping out a response. What will it be this time?

Wednesday 27 October 2021

Looted Gold Anatolian Ewer from London's Victoria and Albert Museum Returned to Turkey

 © The Rosalinde and     
Arthur Gilbert Collection

A golden ewer dating to around 2500 BC from Anatolia has been returned to Turkey after it was discovered to have been bought by a dealer who had traded stolen antiquities. It was part of the 1200-piece "collection of fine objects and decorative art" of American collector Arthur Gilbert on long-term loan at the London museum (Amah-Rose Abrams, 'A 4,250-Year-Old Vase in the V&A Collection With Ties to the Illegal Art Trade Has Been Restituted to Turkey', Artnet News October 27, 2021)
The Gilbert Trust discovered the truth of the provenance of the object [...] after hiring the specialist Jacques Schuhmacher to check into possible Nazi-looted objects. Schuhmacher uncovered that the dealer who had sold the ewer to Gilbert was now known to have dealt in stolen items. Gilbert, who died in 2001 at age 88, had bought the ewer from Los Angeles dealer Bruce McNall for $250,000 in 1989. “Like most collectors of his time, Arthur Gilbert acquired various pieces without asking in-depth questions about their provenance, which is why it is important to conduct this research today, not only to increase our knowledge, but also to ensure that the Gilbert Trust can act as an ethical steward of the collection,” said Schuhmacher in a statement. McNall, who sold the work to Gilbert, said he had bought it from the Swiss-based collector Fritz Bürk —it emerged that the latter had connections to the convicted trafficker Giacomo Medici, according to The Art Newspaper. At the time that the purchase was made, these names would not have caused alarm but today they raise serious concern. As soon as these connections were established, the ewer had to be removed from museum property and sent back to Turkey immediately, in accordance with U.K. law.

In 1989, some twenty years after the 1970 UNESCO Convention, any collector should have known better to buy unpapered  antiquities from anyone, whatever their "reputation" at the time, or later. Whenever it was that the Victoria and Albert Museum agreed to handle this item, the acquisition process should, as a matter of course, n'est pas, have  ascertained how the Gilberts got this item and what guarantees there were of licit origins. Should the Gilberts not have been able to provide this, this object (and all the others that Dr Schumacher is only now having to investigate because the answers are not in the paperwork the Museum and collectors have) should never have passed through the Museum's doors. Why are we celebrating the fact that it took 32 years for this unprovenanced loose object to be offered back to the citizens of the country that it seems to have been taken from? How long was it in the VandA's basement? 

Sunday 24 October 2021

Hereford Hoard Hopes

Museum without a future will be "saved" by stolen hoard? That's what Bill Tanner says, vacantly glorifying treasure hunting that obviously they don't talk about enough in journalism-school ('The incredible discovery that gives Hereford Museum a future', Gloucestershire Live 23rd oct 2021). The byline is equally vacuuous: "Viking treasure find could change the course of history [...] Coins found in a field could change the course of history". Yeah, right. Coins in a field reverse global warming, make the seas plastic-free, the virus go away and stem the rising tide of nationalism. Yes, Mr Tanner?

Viking 'bling' with the potential to change perceptions of the past could mean Hereford's long-awaited new museum has a future. Work is underway on a fundraising strategy that brings one of Herefordshire's most significant historic finds home - strengthening the business case for a museum worthy of the county's heritage treasures. Right now, the Herefordshire Hoard - a cache of jewellery and coins dating from the Viking era and hidden near Leominster for more than 1,000 years - is in the British Museum awaiting evaluation. Once valued, Herefordshire Council will have the opportunity to acquire the hoard and display it for "the benefit of the people of Herefordshire." Some estimates suggest the hoard is worth up to £3 million, others even more.
This is of course the Eye near Leominster Hoard that has been in the news recently. The coins that Mr Tanner finds so exciting are of Alfred of Wessex together with Ceolwulf II of Mercia and "offer a fresh perspective [...] [on] England stirring toward a single united kingdom" ("Vorgeschichte, Eine Hervorragend Nationale Wissenschaft"?). Mr Tanner is not unaware of the context of discovery: "
Most of the hoard is missing, with two metal detectorists and two coin sellers convicted of charges related to the theft and concealment of the 2015 find. Once the hoard has been valued, Herefordshire Council's fundraising will begin in earnest. The council says the eventual intention is to have hoard displayed at Hereford Museum as the single most important treasure find in Herefordshire, a discovery of such significance that it is unlikely to be repeated for many years to come - if ever.
Yes, this theft has totally removed any possibility of understanding the archaeological context this unique find was deposited and lay in until along come two greedy detectorists.
Why is it being valued"? There is no need to value it since nobody should be getting a reward. The landowner failed to secure this piece of the national heritage from being stolen. The reward is entirely discretionary. Enough damage has been done to the nation's heritage in this case (a large part of the stolen hoard seems to be still missing) and nobody should be profiting from this scandal. The money should instead go to the museum that should immediately be offered what is left of this group, to publish the material, and carry out an excavation to establish the context of deposition.  

Personal: Why Barford May Seem to be a bit of a Bastard

           Real Bastards
I'm just trying today to deal with two long (other people's) texts on disparate topics today and catch up with my emails. Last week, a reader/colleague castigated me on a comment I made here a few days ago. Maybe he's right and I should edit it. But as far as the criticism went, I made the point that in my view the web-persona expressed here actually does not correspond totally with the real Paul who is "quite nice really" (people say). He commented that "I'm not always quite so keen on the sometimes overly aggressive 'Web-Barford' persona!". I thought about this, responded, but then cut it out of the mail, which was rather long anyway, but thought I'd put it up here to set this blog in its context:
"[***], thanks for that comment. I recognise that “Web Barford” may or may not be counter-productive. IT's too late to change now. Some people like it and engage with it. As you know, he exists to counter the effects of the current, existing and entrenched fey wishy-washy, laissez faire approach of the majority of the UK’s 6000 jobsworth archaeologists and heritage professionals (PAS and CBA in particular) towards “metal detectorists” and collectors in general. It seemed to me when I started this, 20 years ago, that the English speaking public was getting from them a very one-sided and wholly benign vision of the hobby, instead of the more complex nuanced one they deserve. So I thought it might be of use to occupy the other end of the spectrum. Odd, isn’t it, that nobody (nobody – correct me if I am wrong) advocating a middle road and a true responsible approach has started up any substantive resource at all sincerely promoting that. At one end of a spectrum of views, we have a mass of “Helsinki Gang/Bonny and Suzie” wishy-washy, “wouldn’t it be nice” crap, and a flood of the  one-sided, superficial “partnership is producing wonderful results, look (but not at that, that and that)” misdirection waffle. There’s Barford and Heritage Action (and HAPPAH) at the other end shouting about needing to see both sides of the coin (“for example, look at this...”), but nothing in the middle (“yes this and this are good, but what do we do about these problems?”). That’s not (I would argue) my fault. I do not see any evidence that would suggest that if I had not started my activities, those realistic, robust “middle way” approaches would be out there now.
But it's not too late. There is a (real) world of issues out there to face.

Friday 22 October 2021

Friday Retrospect: Scheme Interactions: PAS on Social Media [Updated]

On learning that the Rutland FLO as soon as (?) she starts the job blocks an archaeoblogger from seeing how she uses social media to interact with the public that pays her salary, I thought it would be informative to update this old post. In it I am going to specifically note which of the FLOs etc. are blocking my own twitter account (@PortantIssues) first of all to place on record which of them lacks the courage of their "convictions" and is willing to listen to an alternative view of current policies on collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record and their effects (or to do the outreach needed to respond). Secondly documenting this shows why this blog may not refer to any noteworthy substantive content any of these people may be posting in the public domain on social media because I am prevented from seeing it. 

Social media
According to the PAS website in its current form, the Portable Antiquities Scheme currently employs 58 members of staff, among them 43 Finds Liaison Officers and one outreach officer. What is interesting is that even though they are employed to do public outreach, the PAS website only gives you details of how to contact them, rather than reach their social media output. So I've done it for them. It seems only about half of them are using Twitter to reach a wider audience, some are using Facebook. I have listed here the ones I am aware of, and would be grateful for any information on ones I have missed.

1) Matthew Fittock Finds Liaison Officer for Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire [Twitter  @MatthewFittock] OK

2) Philip Smither Finds Liaison Officer - Berkshire [Twitter  @BerkshireFlo] OK [page no longer active?]

3) Arwen Wood Finds Liaison Officer - Buckinghamshire  [Twitter @Bucks_FLO  BLOCKING the author of this blog]

4) Helen Fowler Finds Liaison Officer - Cambridgeshire [unkown]

5) Heather Beeton Finds Liaison Officer - Cheshire, Greater Manchester and Merseyside [Twitter: @FLOChe_GM_MSY] [this account does not exist]

6) Tasha Fullbrook  Finds Liaison Officer - Cornwall [Twitter @CornwallFinds]   Just started work, already BLOCKING the author of this blog
7) Meghan King Finds Liaison Officer - Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire [no Twitter we know about, consistently refuses to answer enquiries, museum director happy with that]   
8) Lucy Shipley Finds Liaison Officer - Devon and Somerset [Twitter @lshipley805 BLOCKING the author of this blog]]

9) Ciorstaidh Hayward Trevarthen, Finds Liaison Officer - Dorset [unknown]

10) Carolina Rangel de Lima, Finds Liaison Officer - Essex [unknown]

11) Kurt Adams Finds Liaison Officer - Gloucestershire and Avon [Twitter  @Avon_GlosPAS]  OK [account no longer active]

12) Jenny Durrant, Finds Liaison Officer - Hampshire [Twitter @Durrant_Jenny]

13) Peter Reavill Finds Liaison Officer - Herefordshire and Shropshire [Twitter: PAS in the Marches @FLO_Marches  @PeterReavill BLOCKING the author of this blog on the second account]

14) Lewis Fererro, Finds Liaison Officer - Isle of Wight [no known Twitter account]

15) Perry Mesney, Historic Environment and Finds Officer - Jersey [unknown]

16) Jo Ahmet Finds Liaison Officer - Kent [Twitter @Kent_Finds BLOCKING the author of this blog] ]

17) Ian Bass Finds Liaison Officer - Lancashire and Cumbria [Twitter: 
@IanLBass] OK, but restricts readers. 

18) Alex Whitlock Finds Liaison Officer - Lancashire and Cumbria [unknown]

19)  Meghan Gard, Leicestershire and Rutland [Twitter @Meggard1 BLOCKING the author of this blog]

20) Lisa Brundle Finds Liaison Officer - Lincolnshire [@LisaBrundle ]  OK

21) Stuart Wyatt Finds Liaison Officer - London   [Twitter @stuartlondonmud] OK

22) Andrew Williams, Finds Liaison Assistant - Norfolk [unknown]

23) Garry Crace, Finds Liaison Assistant - Norfolk [Twitter @hirsuteface Tweets restricted]

24) Helen Geake Finds Liaison Officer - Norfolk [Twitter: @HelenGeake] OK of course

25) Emily Tilley, Finds Liaison Officers - North and East Yorkshire [Twitter @ertilley]  OK

26) Rebecca Griffiths, Finds Liaison Officers - North and East Yorkshire [@Bexx_FLO, another one  BLOCKING the author of this blog]

27) Ellie Cox Finds Liaison Officer - Northamptonshire [No Twitter]

28) Martin Foreman Finds Liaison Officer - Northern Lincolnshire North Lincolnshire Museum, Oswald Road, Scunthorpe,[unknown]                                                                        [UPDATE: 15 December 2021: But in "professional" correspondence also seems to me likely to be the RUDEST FLO on the Internet, hard to beat]

29) Edward Caswell, Oxfordshire FLO Finds Liaison Officer - Oxfordshire Museums Resource Centre [Twitter: @edward_caswell] OK

30) Maria Kneafsey, Finds Liaison Officer - Somerset [Twitter@mariakneafsey] OK

31) Amy Downes Finds Liaison Officer - South and West Yorkshire [Twitter @SWYOR_FLO BLOCKING the author of this blog]

32) Teresa Gilmore, Finds Liaison Officer - Staffordshire and West Midlands  @StaffsWMFLO  BLOCKING the author of this blog
[facebook too ]

33) Victoria Alnatt, FLO for Staffordshire and West Midlands [unknown]
34) Anna Booth Finds Liaison Officer - Suffolk [Twitter @AnnaBooth3, account unavailable]

35)  Phil Hughes Finds Liaison Officer - Suffolk [unknown] 

36) Simon Maslin Finds Liaison Officer - Surrey [Twitter @spmaslin]  OK

37) Jane Clark, Finds Liaison Officer - Sussex [Twitter: @sussex_flo BLOCKING the author of this blog]

38) Benjamin Westwood Finds Liaison Officer - The North East (County Durham, Darlington, and Teesside) [Twitter: @FLODurhamFLO   BLOCKING the author of this blog]              ]

39) Andrew Agate Finds Liaison Officer - The North East (Newcastle and Northumberland) [Twitter @Northeast_FLO]  OK

40) Mark Lodwick, Finds Liaison Officer - Wales [unknown]

41) Susie White Finds Liaison Officer - Wales NWales [Twitter: @NWales_FLO] OK

42) Susheela Burford, Finds Liaison Officer - Warwickshire and Worcestershire [Twitter @WandWFlo, plus answers queries civilly, promptly and fully] OK

43) Sophie Hawke, Finds Liaison Officer - Wiltshire   [unknown, Twitter account @PasWiltshire inactive]. [Update 12 Feb 2022, it now appears that Salisbury Museum's FLO is now BLOCKING me].


Central Unit team [Twitter: @findsorguk - BLOCKING ME] The Scheme currently employs 2 Central Unit staff members in the Department of Learning and National Partnerships, The British Museum: Michael Lewis Head of Scheme and Treasure (Tostig BLOCKING me], Claire Costin Resources Manager.

The Scheme currently employs 5 National Finds Advisers in various sites. Andrew Brown [@AIBArch], Kevin Leahy, Sam Moorhead [slideshare], John Naylor, Sally Worrell [@sworrell2 ].

The Treasure Administration team currently employs 5 in the Department of Learning and National Partnerships, The British Museum: Ian Richardson Senior Treasure Registrar [Twitter joint account: Treasure Registrars @TRegistrars BLOCKING the author of this blog], Gail Hammond Treasure Registrar, Ayla Karaman Treasure Registrar, Darya Kwarta Treasure Registrar, Denise Wilding Treasure Registrar.

Twitter hashtags include:

@crap finds 'Fighting back against pretty Treasures! Celebrating mundane, mediocre, & ordinary artefacts dutifully recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme (and others)' (might be an anonymous FLO account)


New FLO For Rutland

FLO for Leicestershire and Rutland, based at Rutland County Museum. Started just recently. I find out quite by chance looking up something else entirely on Twitter. Just for the record, Ms Gard and I have had narry a microsecond of interaction on social media on anything at all, let alone British policies of collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record or dog ownership:

There's archaeologists and Portable Antiquities Scheme archaeologists.  One group are interested in talking about their work to all members of the public and debating its significancer, the other.,.. not really interested at all. 

Wednesday 20 October 2021

"Black Swan"/ Mercedes Case Collapses

The case against the exploiters of the wreck of the Spanish frigate Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes includes sunk in 1804 off Portugal’s Algarve coast has collapsed (Jesús A. Cañas, 'Spanish court shelves case against US treasure hunters that looted ‘Mercedes’ frigate' Pais 19 Oct 2021). The preserved remains of the ship were exploited in May 2007 for the cargo of 500,000 silver and gold coins that it was carrying by the US treasure-hunting company Odyssey Marine Exploration. In order to conceal the origin of the treasure, the company used the code name Black Swan for the recovery project. In February 2012 the US justice system confirmed that the treasure belonged to Spain, but a case was opened in Spain into alleged crimes committed by the US treasure hunters as they were removing the coins.
At the same time as the legal process began in Florida to determine who was the rightful owner of the rescued treasure, Odyssey or Spain, a court in La Línea de la Concepción, in the southwestern Spanish province of Cádiz, began investigating whether the then-CEO of Odyssey Marine Exploration, Greg Stemm, and his team had committed any criminal offenses when they removed the haul from the shipwreck. Among the potential crimes were damaging an archeological site and smuggling.
After a tortuous 14-year investigation, the court has had to let the probe die, due mainly to the fact that the potential offenses have now exceeded the statute of limitations in Spain for trial. Part of the blame for the slow process of the case was due to the failure of the US justice system to comply with the legal requirements if the US citizens who were under investigation could be questioned by Spanish investigators. The case was being pursued as a private prosecution by archaeologist Javier Noriega, head of the company Nerea Arqueología Subacuática based in Málaga.
[Noriega] believes that an opportunity has been missed by Europe to convey “a clear message to the thieves who have spent years destroying the history of those shipwrecks from the modern era all over the world.”
Odyssey Marine Exploration never had any interest in the Spanish frigate beyond the cargo of silver and gold that it was carrying. That was made clear by the destruction caused by the company in the archeological area where the remains of the 275 people killed in the attack in 1804 lay. “When an archeological site is plundered, it is destroyed forever,” states Noriega.
After the site was looted, ARQUA led a scientific excavation that was carried out in three campaigns – from 2015 to 2017 – in which the remains of the shipwreck were documented and the items that the treasure hunters left behind were removed. These included cannon, cutlery and other everyday objects from life on board. The expedition also achieved the challenge of descending 1,130 meters underwater, the maximum depth achieved until that point during a subaquatic arqueological mission by a European country.

New Journal - Transfer


I was just saying to a British colleague with whom I've done a little project that we need a journal on.... and a few days later one appears: 'Transfer: Zeitschrift für Provenienzforschung und Sammlungsgeschichte'. The blurb in German is here, here Google puts it into English:

Call for Papers: transfer - Journal for Provenance Research and Collection History

The digital journal transfer is a scientific publication organ for articles on provenance research and collection history as well as on related research areas such as art market research, reception history, cultural sociology and legal history.

The annual publication of the articles takes place in Open Access (Diamond) using the publication software Open Journal Systems. The quality of comprehensive articles in German and English is ensured by a peer review process (double-blind). Other formats are subject to an internal review by the editors and the scientific advisory board made up of international experts. All contributions receive professional editing and can be commented on in a subject-specific manner.

The journal is institutionally linked to the research center for provenance research, art and cultural property protection law at the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn and is financially supported by the German Research Foundation. The technical project partner is Heidelberg University Library, which guarantees hosting via

Editors: Ulrike Saß & Christoph Zusatz
Editorial support: Florian Schönfuß
Scientific Advisory Board: Provenance Research Working Group, dbv Commission on Provenance Research and Provenance Development, Uwe Fleckner, Larissa Förster, Gilbert Lupfer, Antoinette Maget-Dominicé, Gesa Vietzen

Open call for submissions

The magazine sees itself as interdisciplinary, spanning epochs and international. It primarily addresses readers from academia. In addition to established researchers, transfer would also like to offer young academics a platform for broad-based and barrier-free publication of their own research results. By means of a fast and quality-assured open access model, which is also free for authors and guest editors, transfer offers a medium for maintaining research transparency as well as an opportunity for uncomplicated research networking across disciplines and institutions. The professional long-term archiving, web OPAC listing and repository indexing guarantee that the articles can be found on the web over the long term.

The editors welcome articles in German or English that address the following subject areas:
• Transfer of art and cultural assets in different historical-political and spatial contexts
• Collection history
• Art trade
• Culture and politics of remembrance, cultural identity, collective memory
• Cultural sociological aspects
• Contributions to the biography of natural persons
• History of institutions
• Restitution, return, repatriation
• Provenance research on individual objects or groups of objects
• Relevant archive holdings, source transcriptions and comments
• Legal and financial aspects
• Art policy, art and cultural property protection

In addition to established formats (articles, research reports, reviews, miscommunication, interviews), the editorial team expressly welcomes the submission of subject-specific text categories such as dossiers (on the provenance of individual objects or groups of objects), reports or comments on relevant sources (correspondence, inventories, catalog raisonnés, etc.). Contributions of more than 10,000 characters should be accompanied by an abstract of no more than 250 words and at least five key words.
The submission deadline for contributions to the first annual edition 2022 ends on May 1, 2022.

Potential contributors should be advised that the review process for articles via double blind peer review by selected external experts can take several weeks. Accepted contributions are published under the Creative Commons license CC-BY 4.0. The copyright remains in full with the authors. If you are interested, the style sheet and editorial guidelines can be obtained from the editorial team in PDF format.

All very well and good, but I am rather disturbed by the extremely wide range of potential topics, which makes me feel the coverage is going to be rather "bitty". Also no particular group of subjects is explicitly indicated. One assumes that it's about "cultural property" - or is it? Do dinosaurs fit in? And Japanese katana swords, postage stamps and fake chinese porcelain? Anyway, worth looking out for - may there be lots and lots of portable antiquities texts, as i think the antiquities market alone needs a journal like this.

Tuesday 19 October 2021

Yahoo "Antiquisleuths" use Yandex to Accuse Foreign Archaeologists [UPDATED]

    Ancient-artefacts forum accuses  

The former "Yahoo" Ancient.Artifacts groups, now colonially based in the British Indian Ocean territories, has recently featured posts suggesting that there has been a change of heart in the artefact collecting community - revealing some of the wrongdoings of the no-questions-asked dealers that were formerly swept under the carpet. Appearances can be deceptive though, as a recent post there (Lodewijk That's a first...2019 catawiki object is dug up 1,5 year later as an artefact, Oct 18 #95849 ) shows [hyperlinks edited inline].

[...] something went south on this one [...] auctioned 16-9-2019 at Catawiki And than a miracle. Shown on three news-websites as begin dug up in Croatia as a "Greco-Illirian" helmet with other artefacts in December 2020. LOL. 13 дек. 2020] [an aggregator, 13 Dekabr 2020 ] [15.12.2020
All four show what is quite clearly the same helmet. The implication being that something that was on the antiquities market in September 2019 is then represented as having been discovered on an archaeological site in Croatia in or before mid-December a year later (2019 catawiki object is dug up 1,5 year later as an artefact). Scandalous, if true. And of course the Indian-Ocean Yahoos then jump in with tales of it not being a "first" time with other archaeological misdeeds they've half-heard of. None of them of course bothering to check Lodewijk's sources. If they had, they'd have noticed that none of these three articles that he quotes for them gives an actual reference to the Greek Reporter text on which they are (reportedly) based. Not surprising, collectors apparently don't like bothering with the details of where something comes from and just love comparing pictures. There seems to be no December 2020 article in Greek Reporter to which the Russian aggregator results refer.

There is one article on this find from Greek Reporter that clearly is the same story (Patricia Claus, ' Ancient Greek Helmet Found in Burial Chamber in Croatia', Greek Reporter July 16, 2021), but it is dated much later than the Russian quotations... but what is important is that the article shows the actual helmet in situ - which the quick-to-accuse amateur(ish) antiquisleaths did not spot. The site is a rock-cut tomb in Zakotarac, located on the Pelješac peninsula, near Gradina in southern Dalmatia, Croatia, excavated by Dr Domagoj Perkić

But what there is from December 2020, and Lodewijk totally missed, is an article in the Daily Mail about a helmet from a rock-cut tomb in Croatia (Stacy Liberatore, 'Greek battle helmet from the 4th century BC is found buried with an elite warrior who was laid to rest in a rock-cut tomb more than 2,000 years ago', Daily Mail 9 December 2020) that quite clearly is the origin of the shortened and garbled Russian aggregator version. The text is quite long and informative (unlike the Russian ones used by Lodewijk for his accusations). There is an earlier one on the Archaeology News Network from November 2020 - also showing the excavated helmet.

Of course what has happened here and Lodewijk was in too much of a hurry to spot, apparently intent on archie-bashing, is that the Russian aggregators just pulled an image off the Internet of an ancient-helmety-looking helmet as a decoration of their space-filler article. This is not the first time that has happened by any means. One wonders whether nationalism played a part too in making this find look like it was of a type found in Easter Europe (including Russia) rather than what was actually found? But collectors like Lodewijk need to be more careful in their interpretation. 

Coming back to the Catawiki sale of September 2019, the seller is listed as based in Germany and is a PRO[fessional dealer] and their user name is unhelpfully "user-384dd70". The description is  inadequate, unprofessional and lacking rather a lot of important pieces of information:
Scythian Brons vergulde helm - 20×20×20 cm - (1)
3th -5th cent BC - Rusland
Scythian helmet (original). Was
found with a hole (3x4") in the top which was restored through a specialist. The artifact was cleaned and covered with a special preservative solution. Cheek protectors (1 original, 1 reproduced) non-fixed
The Scythians were a nomadic Iranian people who migrated towards Russia, Ukraine and Central Asia in the 7th and 6th centuries BCE. They are well attested in Herodotus and are said to have been ruthless, bloodthirsty people.
Purchased by the current owner on 24-Oct-2017 in Sweden from Mr. C. Svenson before that private collection
Provenance: The Supplier warrants that he obtained this lot in a legal manner. Provenance statement seen by Catawiki [..].
Note how the narrativisation replaces any mention of where it was dug up, in what situation, how it left the source country - and with what the hole in the top was filled and that cheekpiece replace3d and attached. The 'protective coating' looks like gold spray paint. The object was bought by 'Bieder 6820' on 16-09-2019 12:03:20 for € 3.100.
Lodewijk has found another reference that he shows (after stating "I'm assuming the Catawiki seller was not a fraud"):
It also has shown up on the Russian auction website (Yandex results). Unfortunately the auction does not exist anymore and only the yandex indexed image is available. We can not check if that was before or after the Catawiki auction. So no issues with Catawiki on this one, simply cant tell when the Russian auction was.

The photo is clearly the same as the Catawiki one, and since the seller admits that it comes from "Russland" and Meshok has been selling antiquities from Russia, the relationship between the two is suggestive... so what about "bought in Sweden from Mr. C. Svenson in September 2019 before that private collection" collecting history? When and how did it leave the source country for Sweden? What documentation did Catawiki vet? Any?

Update 21.10.2021

Over on Tuppenny Tim's AAGio forum, they are still at the archie-bashing. In which Canadian dealer Robert Kokotailo demonstrates he cannot read, and anonymous member "Renate" gets ad personam and reckons it is somehow "unfair" for a blogger to pull a collector up on not having done the research that they should have before publishing damaging conclusions on social media. Tough. 

Actually, far more interesting than tendentious archie-bashing stories is that "user-384dd70" has also sold rather a large number of other items through Catawiki, such as this:

"Early medieval Iron Khazar Sword Original 88×5×3 cm - NO. 29967991 [...] Purchased by the current owner on 24.09.2018 in Hungary from Mrs. J. Kis before that private collection since 2001 Provenance: The Supplier warrants that he obtained this lot in a legal manner. Provenance statement seen by Catawiki.
"2001" of course is much later than the relevant laws in the source country - so where is the documentation of legal origins and export? 

There is a whole block of auctions by the same seller that all have the same sort of formulaic collection history which we are invited to believe has been individually vetted by Catawki (is there any documentation of this?). 

A quick Google search reveals 86 results many of them items of weaponry with closely similar descriptions - some of which may be duplicate results in different languages (Catawiki has a built-in translator). Adjectives such as "Kipchak", "Khazar", "Scythian", "Meotian", "Viking" point clearly to an Eastern European (Ukrainian) origin for a lot of it. Interestingly, but I do not know the significance, is that if you try playing with the 'tools' of the Google search engine, it asks if you want to search in Belarussian (though the seller is reportedly in Germany). It seems that the seller has not been active on Catawiki (at least not under that name) for over a year. Maybe all the Kipchak helmets ran out.

I'd like to see Lodewijk finish the job and do a Yandex search on these items comparing those collecting histories with what a search tells us about other appearances of these items on the Internet.

Saturday 16 October 2021

British Museum Halloween Trope

Babylonian clay tablet. White line tracing © James Fraser and Chris Cobb
for The First Ghosts, by Irving Finkel. Photograph: The British Museum

As Bonkers Britain heads towards Halloween, the Guardian plugs a forthcoming book on ghosts by a British Museum curator (Dalya Alberge, ' Figures of Babylon: oldest drawing of a ghost found in British Museum vault' Guardian, Sat 16 Oct 2021):
" Its outlines are faint, only discernible at an angle, but the world’s oldest drawing of a ghost has been discovered in the darkened vaults of the British Museum. A lonely bearded spirit being led into the afterlife and eternal bliss by a lover has been identified on an ancient Babylonian clay tablet created about 3,500 years ago. It is part of an exorcist’s guide to getting rid of unwanted ghosts [...] the tablet had been incorrectly deciphered previously. The drawing had been missed as the ghost only comes to life when viewed from above and under a light. Forgotten since its acquisition by the museum in the 19th century, the tablet has never even been exhibited."
Note the provenance "British Museum vault", no site mentioned, nor how long it's been there before being properly (?) examined and published... or mention made of the two deep gouges, presumably made when it was "excavated"... what is the collection history of this item?

Friday 15 October 2021

Dealer's Custody Damages Artefacts

Lawrence H. Schiffman and Andrew Gross, 2021; The Temple Scroll 11Q19, 11Q20, 11Q21, 4Q524, 5Q21 with 4Q365a (Brill, Dead Sea Scrolls Editions, Volume: 1) e-publication available now, hardback later.
In this volume, Schiffman and Gross present a new edition of all of the manuscript evidence for the Temple Scroll from Qumran. It includes innumerable new readings and restorations of all of the manuscripts as well as a detailed critical apparatus comparing the manuscripts of the Temple Scroll as well as Qumran biblical manuscripts and the ancient versions. Each manuscript is provided with a new translation, and a commentary is presented for the main text. Also included are a general introduction, bibliography of published works on the text, catalog of photographic evidence, and concordance including all vocables in all the manuscripts and their restorations. This work promises to move research on the Temple Scroll to a new level.
Årstein Justnes​ draws attention to one detail about its collecting history:
The authors discuss some newly surfaced fragments said to be part of manuscript fragment  11Q21, including several in the Schøyen Collection (trophy items because "they preserve almost no legible text") and consider that they all belong in the group of "post-2002 Dead Sea Scrolls fakes".

Berlin Breakthrough on Benin Bronzes

 Germany and Nigeria have signed an agreement setting out a timetable for the restitution of artefacts looted from the royal palace of Benin in a British military raid in 1897.

Yahoo Group Vindictively Wants to Influence US Court Decision

 In a sentencing memorandum filed
with the court the district attorney’s office
asked that Mr. Sadigh, who has no previous record
of arrests, be sentenced to five years’ probation
and banned from ever again being involved
in the sale of antiquities, “both genuine and fake.”

 The UK based moderator of the ancient artifacts.groups forum, "Tuppenny Tim"  who I cannot answer there since threw me off the group for explaining why some unpapered artefacts they were discussing there were fakes comments on the Sadigh trial: 

tuppennyblueOct 14 #95825
That's an absurdly low sentence considering his two decade long reign as king of the antiquities fraudsters, taking the piss out of collectors all over the world. I think we should all write to the court, demanding that nothing less than a sentence of immediate and lengthy imprisonment is appropriate - in particular, it would be appropriate for out US members to do this. Does anyone know of an address we can write to to make our case?
I wonder what part of the phrase 'plea deal' he does not understand? Taking the piss out of collectors however is a fully justifiable activity while they as a group continue to behave in their traditional holier-than-thou manner. None of Sadigh's customers saw verifiable documentation of legal excavation or legal export. Most of them were caught-out by the layers of varnish and dirt and the generally 'clunky-nasty-tatty-gawky' aesthetic of many of the items he handled. Tuppenny Tim does not see that. And no, Sadigh is far from the "king of fraudsters" - there are other antiquities on the market as we write that would make their producers and marketers more eligable for that title. The no-questions-asked market in unpapered antiquities from-goodness-knows-where is FULL of them. Some of them have been sold by dealers on Tuppenny Tim's own list.
Of course the dealers' pretence that Sadigh is in some way worse than any other dealer that sells unpapered and misdescribed artefacts is behind this vindictive posing.  This is an application of the "two wrongs make a right" pseudo-argument. In this context, note what the Times article adds at the end:
Mr. Sadigh came to the attention of investigators, Mr. Bogdanos has said, when dealers being pursued for trafficking plundered antiquities complained about “the guy selling all the fakes.”

["yeah, OK, I admit I could have looked more carefully at the lack of paperwork, officer, but at least MY artefacts are real, not like that other guy over  there who sells the fakes, you REALLY should be going after him, not me"] 


Thursday 14 October 2021

Some UK Metal Detectorist Really Are as Fik As Planks

Some metal detectorists in the UK really do seem to be thicker than the average punter. An unnamed man has been arrested after he allegedly damaged Stonehenge - by removing historical artefacts he found using a metal detector (Grace Hammond, 'Yorkshire man arrested for damaging Stonehenge - by removing artefacts he found with his metal detector' Yorkshire Post 14th October 2021)
The 30-year-old Yorkshire man was arrested after he posted photographs of his discoveries on social media in August and September this year. Wiltshire Police launched an investigation and soon identified the suspect, tasking West Yorkshire Police with apprehending him. On locating him at his home in Bradford, he was arrested for five offences: damaging a protected monument, using a metal detector in a protected place without the written consent of the Secretary of State, removing an archaeological or historical interest which is discovered by the use of a metal detector in a protected place without the written consent and possession of explosives without a valid permit. During his arrest, officers found cannabis in his possession - an offence which landed him a caution.
Explosives, narcotics and looted artefacts. And decides to draw attention to his activities on social media. And he was no doubt mightily surprised he got caught, UK metal detectorists and collectors being above the law as they generally seem to feel they are. 
 Hat tip: Chris Cumberpatch, Dave Coward plus angry
archaeologist who wants to remain anonymous.

Wednesday 13 October 2021

Commercial Archaeological Despoilers' Van Spotted in UK in Broad Daylight


Photo: Alan Simkins

A reader in Truro was shocked when this van pulled up alongside him. As a conservationist, he was disturbed "The past in the ground is there to be found" - not conserved, not protected but hoiked out by a greedy White Van Man.  He checked their website and found that this CIC metal detecting company offers a range of "services", from £100/person/day.

Grim Sweepers Metal Detecting C.I.C. will introduce and guide you through the art of history finding with a metal detector. Whether you are looking for a new hobby, a day out with your family or you have lost something, the Grim Sweeper is here to help.

and in the LinkdIn page they plug the "mental health benefits of taking the past" aspects:

Grim Sweepers Metal Detecting was initially set up to bring the much-loved hobby to more people, having identified that many "would love to try it, but don't know where, or how, to start". We realised how much metal detecting helps people "escape" and deal with the world; they spend time outside, on their own but also making new friends and enjoying support from those new friends.

The company is run anonymously: contact (but it is run by Christopher Horner from Hertfordshire, a long way from Truro). There's some merch here, and a facebook page- with one of the most naff advertising videos with cheery-text-reader soundtrack (and showing detecting on grass) that you'll see for a good while. There is a "donate" button on the company's website!. Of course to make it look good, there are links to two codes of conduct, but EXCEPT one (as can be seen in the voideo they pay no heed to that), and of course they say they do not condone 'night-hawking':
GRIM SWEEPERS DOES NOT CONDONE THE ILLEGAL ACTIVITY KNOWN AS NIGHT-HAWKING! This is gaining access to land without the landowner’s permission.
But looting with the involvement of the landowner is presumably so OK, that they feel quite comfortable plastering it all over the side of their van. Why is the van so big, what have they got in there, and in the roofrack?

New York Antiquities Dealer Admits Mass-Producing Fakes He Sold for Years

The value of a COA with no other paperwork

In the USA, nobody involved in archaeology and artefact collecting was much surprised by today's news: Antiquities Dealer Admits Mass-Producing Fakes He Sold for Years (New York Times 13th October 2021). What is surprising was how long it took US authorities to actually look into the many complaints that had been made down the years. 

Mehrdad Sadigh, the owner of a longtime Manhattan gallery admitted in court that while some customers thought they were buying ancient items, they were actually modern knockoffs, just made to look old. He admitted that over the years he'd "aged" thousands of antiquities in an assembly line-like operation, but he got "others to post glowing, but false, reviews of his gallery, inventing dozens of appreciative customers". 

 Sadigh pleaded guilty to seven felony charges, including forgery and theft. In a memorandum of understanding filed with the court, the district attorney’s office asked for Mr. Sadigh, who had no previous arrest record, to be sentenced to five years of probation and be banned from being involved in the sale of antiquities again. 

Sadigh had begun his business in 1978 as a small mail-order company, but moved to a gallery on to the upper floors of the 5th and 31st East buildings in 1982. There he sold artefacts that were said to be ancient Anatolian, Babylonian, Byzantine, Greco-Roman, Mesopotamian, and Sumerian. Many of them shared a significant style, and may perhaps one day become collectors' pieces in their own right. Some of the low-value artefacts in his catalogue however were genuine. During a sting operation, an undercover federal investigator had purchased a gold pendant and a marble portrait of an ancient Roman woman from Sadigh’s gallery. They and the representations made of them were then the basis for visits to the gallery by members of the District Attorney’s and Department of Homeland Security investigations. Officials said hundreds of fake relics were on display at various stages of preparation, and thousands more were found in the back room where various means were being used to make items look older than they were. These included the use of varnish, spray paint and belt sander.

What is annoying is now the uninformed people that would formerly have bought a Sadigh artefact and been quite happy with it as they know no better, will now increasingly be buying other artefacts from other sellers, which will include looted items that the same ignorance prevents them from asking the proper questions of the dealers offering them with the same warm assurances as Mr Sadigh was employing. 

Fake Ceramic Bullae Doing the Rounds


Bulla, photo Bron Lipkin

A group of ceramic objects have been marketed as "Roman bullae" and have circulating in the collectors' market for quite a while. Members of the collecting community were unconvinced by the undocumented "nod's-as-good-as-a-wink" assurances of the dealers handling them. So they clubbed together, crowd-funded a TL date. The results came back. Nobody was surprised. As one member (kyrikmkOct 13 #95822) trenchantly notes: "Now we know this one is fake in my opinion they are probably all fake unless it can be proven that they were actually excavated. Personally I wouldn’t buy any on the market kyri " - which is what people like me have saying all along. That goes for any "antiquity" sold by any dealer anywhere. If they have not got the paperwork, it should never have entered their stock.

(photo Bron Lipkin)

Metal Detected Finds Sold to Public Collection by Mayfair Dealer via Hanson's


What is being described as a "1,800-year-old hoard, including a bust of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius", has been, as they put it, "secured" thanks to generous support of Richard Beleson, other individual donors, Art Fund and David Aaron Ltd ('RARE ROMAN BRONZES ACQUIRED BY THE YORKSHIRE MUSEUM', 13th October 2021)

The 13cm bust is part of a collection of bronze objects found by metal detectorists James Spark and Mark Didlick in a field near Ampleforth in Ryedale, North Yorkshire, in May 2020. [...] The purchase was made possible largely thanks to the generosity of American donor Richard Beleson, with additional funding through Art Fund and a number of individual donors. This enabled York Museums Trust to make the purchase from David Aaron, who originally acquired the hoard at auction.[...] Reyahn King, chief executive of York Museums Trust, said: “On behalf of York Museums Trust I am incredibly grateful to Richard Beleson, Art Fund, the other individual donors and David Aaron who have made the purchase of this incredible hoard possible.” [...] Mr Beleson has been interested in Roman Britain since his childhood and first came to York in 2010 to attend a symposium on the coinage of Roman Britain. [...] "The situation of this discovery, with detailed and reliable provenance information, makes the hoard even more significant".
Hmm. A findspot is not the same as an archaeological context (Ampleforth Tales (I): Clearing out the Desk). And like the "All-Buckinghamshire Too-Bad-Harness Brooch" sold by Hansons a few months back, again we can see here that there would be very good financial reasons for taking the items to the PAS on their way to the auction block. Again, PAS is involved in the process of enhancing market values of archaeological material. The dealer's gallery is in Berkley Square, Mayfair.
David Aaron
Originally founded in Isfahan, Iran in 1910, David Aaron Ancient Arts is widely recognised as one of oldest and the most pre-eminent galleries in the world for important and exquisite antiquities and ancient works of art. The scope of the collection includes Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Persian, Central Asian, Near Eastern, Islamic and Indian works of art. Over the last century the gallery has helped to assemble some of the best known private collections and has worked with major museums worldwide. Directors David and Salomon Aaron represent the third and fourth generations in this family business.  
Vignette" Were the metal detectorists invited to Mayfair to view their finds on display in the gallery?

Tuesday 12 October 2021

Provenance Researchers Take Note: UK Antiquities Dealer Changes Name Again

  Old wine for new skins?  

While some dealers try to establish their authority by making extravagant claims about when they (or a subsidiary) were "established", others glory in swapping names every so often to appear to be somebody new, offering the market in old things something equally fresh and new. So, London dealer Parthenon Antiquities then became Pax Romana Antiquities (25 Bury Place, London, WC1A 2JH, established November 2015, CEO Ivan Bayanov Bonchev) and now they have shifted back to evoking Classical Greece with their new name of Apollo Antiquities (on the shopfront it says "Apollo S.P.Q.R.).
Apollo Galleries
We are established central London dealers and auctioneers of Ancient Art and Numismatics. Our two-floor gallery is located just opposite the British Museum - 25 Bury Place, WC1A 2JH. We specialise in the appraisal, sale and authentication of Antiquities and coins. In our gallery and auction you can find a great variety of genuine artifacts from Neolithic to Post Medieval periods including Chinese, Gandharan, Near Eastern, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Viking, Crusaders and many others. Please browse our website and register for our Gallery Shop and Auction Catalogues.
Here is their account of how they determine authenticity... strangely, it does not mem=ntion in teh first oplace the technique of verifying the documentation about its legal grounding in a known archaeological context (and then legal export maintaining documentation of lawful custody and title). This, it seems to me should be the fundamental tool used by any dealer ... actually in anything really. 

This is particularly the case as a number of collectors (for example some expressing their doubts on the Ancient Artifacts Group, or in places like the BidAmount Asian Art Forum) seem to have doubts whether the company's experts (Dr Ivan Bonchev, Prof. Marco Moriggi, Clive Sawyer, Alba Moyano Alcantara, Cristina Gonzalez Esteban and Ralf Kotalla Laboratory for XRF and TL) have always been getting the attributions and descriptions right.

In the context of perhaps signalling a fresh start in the light of recent public discussion of the failures of the previously-existing system, it is odd that Mr Bonchev says of himself in the new website: "Seven years ago, Ivan founded Apollo Galleries [...] He has worked for numerous auction houses and large private collectors – curating and inspecting their acquisitions". But seven years ago there was no "Apollo Galleries". How odd. Ancient.artifact.Groups member Renate suggest: Renate (Oct 11 #95811) "So that it is always clear that it is the same company, we should in future speak more often of Apollo Galleries (formerly Pax-Romana) or Pax-Romana (now Apollo Galleries). It is important to mention both names in the same sentence so that search engines make a connection". And provenance researchers too.

Hat tip: Lodewijk
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