Tuesday 28 June 2022

ICOM Researching How to put Paper Watchman on Door of Empty Stable

Ta ra! ICOM, in close cooperation with its National Committee in Ukraine, is preparing an Emergency Red List of Cultural Objects at Risk for Ukraine to combat illicit traffic following the invasion. An invasion that started in 2014. How timely, eh?

The article mainly promotes ICOM and its "long track record in [...] protecting heritage from illicit trafficking", and how many "Red Lists" it has produced in the last 20 years.

ICOM will build on this expertise to protect cultural heritage in Ukraine by publishing a Red List with the support from the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture and Information Policy. ICOM is currently working with museum experts from ICOM Ukraine and neighbouring countries to research and determine which objects are most at risk of being illicitly trafficked. In fact, for each Red List, ICOM closely cooperates with art historians and archaeologists from the concerned countries, as these experts are in the best position to ensure that the objects included in the lists appropriately reflect both present and possible future threats. [Anastasiia Cherednychenko, Vice-Chair of ICOM Ukraine says,] “Our heritage is under threat, and to protect it, ICOM Ukraine is coordinating a team of experts who are working on an Emergency Red Lists for Ukraine. We know that the international community needs a tool that will help identify Ukrainian objects at risk of being illegally exported, and the ICOM team is mobilized to produce this List as soon as possible”
They say, "Red Lists are both flexible and non-exhaustive tools but share a common point by identifying objects protected by law, objects which can be the target of illicit trafficking, and which are also on high demand on the international art market". Basically, that could have been done ten years ago on the basis of the insane outflow of cultural objects out of Ukraine. Archaeological objects among them. Just take a look on the auction provider Violity (est Aug 2010)
Thousands of collectibles are sold and bought daily on VIOLITY. Our site is recognized by sellers and buyers as one of the most user-friendly, reliable and user-friendly Internet sites in the world. Convenient and well thought-out structure of sections and subsections allows you to spend a minimum amount of time looking for what interests you. [...] 5 502 797 active lots 142 000 users.
There is a war going on, but on open sale on this one site, you can see 108 pages of "Ancient and medieval objects (up to 1700).These break down as follows:
Ancient and early middle ages metalwork antiquities 2,703 ,
Ancient, antique and medieval glass, porcelain, earthenware, stoneware 490,
Christian cult metal work (crosses, pandants, encolpions etc.) 1,266,
Finger rings XVI–XIX cent. 933
The metal objects include personal ornaments (fibulae etc.. many probably the product of grave-robbing) and items of Scythian goldwork (mostly small objects - the sort of items involved in the Melitopol Museum discussion). On eBay.com at the moment, there are 1837 antiquities assigned to "Kievan Rus" (taking into account only the ones in appropriate sections, the search produces more items that are not antiquities) the majority of them being sold (during this war) by sellers living in Ukraine - most of them in the west and southwest, but including at least one apparently behind the front line. These sales did not start of 24th February this year, together with the so-called "Black Archaeology" that feeds this market, this has been going on for more than a decade (Sam Hardy will possibly have more precise figures).

Satellite photo evidence shows that looting has been taking place on sites on the south coast in waves since the earliest open source detailed satellite photos available from 2003. Coins and small metal objects from the classical sites among them (and stone and ceramic objects from looting of Trypilske Culture sites further west) are on open sale direct from the finders and ready for illegal export in internet portals just one mouse click away.

Objects that have already reached foreign markets are on open sale too, though this time often with a made-up "provenance" involving fictional (but conveniently anonymous or dead) previous owners. Sometimes a bit of dedicated searching by archaeologists and sometimes collectors reveals "dual presence artefacts". artefacts that a seller claims were long ago safely tucked away from sight in one place, while external evidence shows they surfaced much later in the hands of a Ukrainian artefact hunter (and sometimes amateur artefact-modifier - "pimping" the goods before selling them). The number of people in the foreign market countries that have devoted time to this search seems to be relatively small, and publications of the results even thinner on the ground. Two of these researchers have been threatened by the lawyers of a (the same) dealer implicated in such practices, and when the police are notified (at least in Britain, we hear a whole list of reasons why they cant, actually, take this up ("but we'll note it down"). Yeah.

So what are people like myself to do? Make a rolling record of those successive bunches of 6000 +1837 artefacts week after week, and when two or three years later international auctioneers Grebkesh and Runn offer stuff that looks suspiciously like material from Ukraine check through hundreds of thousands of those records to find one that instead of being from the "European collection made before 1968-70")  claimed was dug up by "RudiDetekts" from Kriyvy Rih in September 2022. And when that's been identified, trot along to the police only to hear that they'll "note it down"? Will it help if I clutch in my hand a copy of the "Red List"?  Will it? If I posted a copy of the "Red List" to the dealer's lawyers, will they stop sending me threatening letters, forbidding me from writing what I found? 

Yet the people selling online are there for everyone to see, ICOM, the Ukrainian authorities. The metal detectorists and pot-diggers admittedly choose remote spots (mostly), but a patrol could identify fresh digging (thirty fresh looters holes several metres across are not dug in eight to ten hours, but are several week's work). But the looting goes on, the same sites are visited over a period of several years. The goods come through the post (crossing the EU border in many cases), but somehow ancient fibulae and weapons (!) don't seem to show up on the scanners either at the point of export, or import.

And if ICOM or anyone else were really concerned about how they are going to stop the passage of any conflict antiquities there may be onto foreign markets a few moments thinking about the real world will reveal that since there is already an ongoing trade in antiquities, it makes sense for anyone wanting to get involved with the movement of material to tap into the previously existing network established over years clandestinely to move this stuff, instead of creating a new one in competition with it. So really the key to curbing postulated future trade is to tackle and dismantle the existing trade networks. It hardly take a brain the size of a planet to work that one out. Prevention is always better than a cure.  
In addition to the production of Red Lists, ICOM continues to foster international cooperation to fight against the illicit trafficking of cultural goods by encouraging the ratification of the international cultural conventions, such as the UNESCO 1970 Convention and the UNIDROIT 1995 Convention, as well as bilateral agreements between states, which are vital in addressing this illicit trade. This Emergency Red List will play an important role in ensuring state parties to these conventions will respect their international obligations. As international cooperation is crucial to fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property, ICOM counts on the support of strong international partners such as INTERPOL and WCO to raise awareness on this multifaceted phenomenon.
Those "Conventions" don't seem to be doing much, do they? Many countries that have signed such pieces of paper to look good don't actually do more than pay lip-service to "respecting their international obligations" in this regard, and just how much "raising awareness on this multifaceted phenomenon" is being done? In the UK for example. Who's doing that then? Well, there's David Gill's blog and ... and... um. The British Museum..? The British Museum, proud holder of colonial loot, hosts the Portable Antiquities Scheme that PROMOTES going around with a metal detector and hoiking out collectable items for collection or sale. Hardly the message we need. But there will be a Red List, so somebody will look good - and that will most likely be the end of the matter. And, meanwhile, the looting and the trade will go on; the looters and dealers will carry on making money. And anything that's lost - blame the Russkies.

Sunday 26 June 2022

Greek and Roman Provincial Coins Found in England and Wales


A question  arose in correspondence with a reader and I suggested that for a comparison to what we were discussing, they looked at the occurrence of Greek and Roman provincial coins in England and Wales on the Portable Antiquities Scheme "Database". They reported some problems, so I decided to extract the data myself and send them. When you start to do that... what a complete ballsup. The PAS (stricte: the well-paid staff of the British Museum), shamed by the fact that UKDND had started doing this before them, spent ages a few years ago, well before the Pandemic lockdown, getting up "guides"  to various finds categories. In effect what they did was create something that was not much more than a wordy online numismatic guide - as if there were no coin books on the planet. 

Anyway, the one of Greek and Roman Provincial coins is rubbish. They spent ages creating a list of all the possible rulers that could issue the things... it goes into 30 pages, 506 rulers, and that's a waste of time because coins of most of those rulers never reached the British Isles (these coins circulated locally, mostly around the eastern Mediterranean). But when you turn to the issuing places, you find a shorter list . When however you start clicking, you find most of the fields are empty and the ones that are not contain links to BYZANTINE coins. What a public-funded fiasco.

Using the search engine, one finds that all this wasted effort was to "provide a background" for just 346 coins

Since the PAS database is mainly geared up to creating dot-distribution maps, here's one for the Greek issues ("500BC to 50 AD") on the left and ones for provincial issues of the Roman period ("40AD to 450AD") on the right generated by the clunky map-making application that forms part of the PAS database. Does this pattern mean anything? What does it mean? 

Let's look at this. This is where according to the table in the right sidebar of the PAS database display the coins in the PAS database were from:  

county of origin: Kent (27), Wrexham (22), Hampshire (18), Monmouthshire (15), Lincolnshire (14), Oxfordshire (14), Newport (11), Cornwall (10), East Riding of Yorkshire (10), Isle of Wight (10), Powys (9), Suffolk (9), Essex (7), Leicestershire (7), Norfolk (7), North Yorkshire (7), Nottinghamshire (7), Buckinghamshire (6), Darlington (5), East Sussex (5), Gwynedd (5), Medway (5), West Sussex (5), Cambridgeshire (4), Carmarthenshire (4), Cheshire East (4), Cumbria (4), Greater London Authority (4), North Lincolnshire (4), Surrey (4), Swansea (4), County of Herefordshire (3), Denbighshire (3), Devon (3), Hertfordshire (3), Lancashire (3), Warwickshire (3), Wiltshire (3), Wirral (3), Worcestershire (3), Cardiff (2), Central Bedfordshire (2), Cheshire West and Chester (2), Derbyshire (2), Doncaster (2), Flintshire (2), Neath Port Talbot (2), Northamptonshire (2), Pembrokeshire (2), Rhondda Cynon Taf (2), Shropshire (2), Staffordshire (2), Tameside (2), Wakefield (2), West Berkshire (2), Windsor and Maidenhead (2), Bath and North East Somerset (1), Calderdale (1), Ceredigion (1), City of Peterborough (1), Halton (1), Kirklees (1), Newcastle upon Tyne (1), Northumberland (1), Sefton (1), Solihull (1), Somerset (1), South Tyneside (1), Stockton-on-Tees (1), Wokingham (1), York (1), the Vale of Glamorgan(1)
Interesting. The 22 Wrexham ones are from a find called "Llanarmon Dyffryn Ceiriog" and are all records imported from the IARCW ("a corpus of work produced by Peter Guest and Nick Wells, entitled "Iron Age and Roman coins of Wales@. There are no images to accompany this series and our staff did not identify these coins. Questions about these data should be directed to Dr Guest/ Dr Wells"). So why are they in the PAS database and not the IARCW one? In fact as many as 82 of the Greek and Roman provincial coins found by members of the public in the PAS database are data imported equally blindly from the IARCW database... this rather would skew their geographical distribution (Wrexham (22), Monmouthshire (15), Newport (11), Powys (8), Gwynedd (5), Carmarthenshire (4), Swansea (4), Cardiff (2), Denbighshire (2), Neath Port Talbot (2), Pembrokeshire (2), Rhondda Cynon Taf (2), Ceredigion (1), Flintshire (1), the Vale of Glamorgan (1)). What is more that with the exception of three finds, from Powys, Denighshire and Flintshire, all the Welsh records in the PAS database came from the IARCW data, gathered by unknown means, and therefore not comparable to the PAS data. Why are they even there? 

Taking all of these finds (PAS and IARCW) together * we can find the following pattern of coins recorded in the PAS database  according to the  information presented in the table in the right sidebar of the PAS database display:
Septimius Severus (27), Diocletian (13), Probus (13), Caracalla (8), Julia Domna (8), Trajan (8), Hadrian (7), Gordian III (6), Antoninus Pius (5), Juba I (5), Severus Alexander (5), Alexander III (4), Diadumenian Caesar (4), Nero (4), Philip II (4), Ptolemy II (4), Aurelian (3), Carinus (3), Ptolemy VI (3), Uncertain Roman Provincial (3), Antiochus IV (2), Azes (2), Cassander (2), Claudius (2), Commodus (2), Demetrius I (2), Elagabalus (2), Hermaeus (2), Hieron II (2), Kujula Kadphises (2), Maximian I (2), Maximinus I (2), Philip I (2), Ptolemy (2), Ptolemy I (2), Trajan Decius (2), Vabalathus (2), Agathocles (1), Alexander the Great (1), Amyntas III (1), Antiochus VIII (1), Apollodotus I (1), Augustus (1), Azes II (1), Domitian (1), Galba (1), Gallienus (1), Geta (1), Juba II (1), Julia Mamaea (1), Kanishka (1), Lucius Verus (1), Marcus Aurelius (as Caesar), (1), Maximian (1), Menander (1), Nerva (1), Numerian (1), Philip III (1), Ptolemy III (1), Salonina (1), Sextus Pompeius (1), Timoleon (1), Tranquillina (1), Trebonianus Gallus (1), Uncertain - 1st/2nd Century AD (1), Valerian I (1), Vespasian(1)
and Place of Issue, as presented by the table in the right sidebar of the PAS database display:
Alexandria -Egypt (34), Alexandria - Egypt (26), Laodiceia Combusta (24), Emisa (8), Nicaea, Bithynia (6), Syracuse (6), Carthage (5), Ebusus (5), Lycia (5), Massalia (5), Byzantium (4), Numidia (4), Sardinian (4), Sicily (4), Athens (3), Caesarea, Cappadocia (3), Sicilian mint (3), Antioch (2), Antioch (Antakya, Turkey), (2), Antioch (Syria), (2), Bactria (2), Carteia (2), Nicopolis ad Istrum (2), Sardes (2), Syrian Mint? (2), Agrigentum (1), Amisus (1), Amphipolis (1), Antioch, Syria (1), Aradus (1), Babylon (1), Camarina (1), Carmo (1), Centuripae (1), Colophon (1), Commagene (1), Cranium (1), Cyprus (1), Cyrene (1), Deultum (1), Ecbatana (1), Emporiae (1), Ephesus (1), Hierapolis (1), Istrus (1), Macedonia (1), Mamertines (1), Massicytes (1), Nisibis (1), Odessus (1), Pamphylia (1), Pella (1), Philippi (1), Philippopolis (1), Poseidonia (1), Punic-Sardinia (1), Samos (1), Sekaisa (1), Siculo-Punic (1), Tabae (1), Tauromenium (1), Thessalonica (1), Tomis (1), Viminacium (1), Uncertain (5), Uncertain (11),

We can analyse these data from the database. I've already done that for the Alexandrian tetradrachms  in the PAS database and in the process shown why accurate interpretation has significance far beyond just intellectual curiosity: 'Alexandrian Tetras and US Coiney Dishonesty' PACHI Monday, 2 June 2014. I am of the opinion that some, and very probably many, of these finds were modern collectors' losses or possibly modern 'plants' rather than an indication of any substantial coin circulation in Roman times (see the 60 examples now in the database above). 

Those 24 coins from Laodiceia Combusta in the region of Pisidia, central Anatolia were all data imported from the IARCW database, and one (Geta Caesar/Septimus Severus) was found in 'Duffryn' (Newport), and another 23 were of Julia Domna/Septimius Severus, one from 'Segontium', and the rest were from that 'Llanarmon Dyffryn Ceiriog' find. No details are available for the circumstances or date of discovery, or how they are interpreted. The same goes for all but one of the Emisa coins (IARCW data).

One could go through the list and look at where these coins are coming from, and how they are dated... but it seems to me not worth the bother for two reasons. Since we do not know from the database anything at all about the site context (one 'ploughed field' is not equal to the next 'ploughed field' in terms of what it contains and how it got there), using the database as presented, we cannot really make anything except a guess as to whether a single recorded find is part of a contemporary coin scatter or whether it is a modern collectors' loss. I think the latter explanation is more likely for many of them. Secondly, and much more importantly, there are severe doubts as to what the PAS database is showing us anyway.

Take a closer look. I think if we do, we see that the PAS map-making thingy is a piece of crap. The dataset for mapping is 346, not an enormous number. There should be a cluster of 82 coins shown on that map in Wales. That's 82 (23%) of the 346 coins that the database search engine says are there. Count the dots. There are two shown on the map, two of the 82. What's going on?
Look at the totals above. Add up all the given numbers in brackets for the rulers... does it come to 346? Add up the numbers in brackets for the places of issue... do they come to 346? Well, no. No they do not. The total for the number of rulers (including uncertain ones) is 201, not 346. Then again the number of issuing places identified (including uncertain and unidentified ones) is 218, not 346, and not the same as the 201 in the table in the same sidebar from the same search!  So where do these numbers come from? Why is there a discrepancy and what information is missing (and why)? Presenting this material to the public that pay through the nose for it (whether they want it or not) as the results of all the work done for over quarter of a century by the British Museum (no less) and its team, for those millions of pounds, you'd either expect results that match and make sense or at least a transparent bit of accountability, or if they are hiding data from the public, there should be a clear notification of that and an indication of what is not there and why. Why is there neither transparency or accountability here

What is the point of incorporating smart-looking "digital analysis tools" into the public-funded database that do not actually work? The mapping application, as it is, is a gadget, a toy of no use to anyone to do anything useful. so if this part of the PAS database is just for show and does not actually work, how accurate are the results produced by the search engine itself? ARE there really 346 coins of this category in the database? Are the data that are shown representative of what is stored among those million plus records? And with over a million records, who is to ever know? The PAS can just roll out the big numbers and nobody would be any the wiser (including themselves). So what is the point of a database of questionable reliability?  

And what IS this crap at the bottom of the page, that has been there over a decade taking up space just above the British Museum logo ? What is it intended to be used for, who is it intended for and what the blazes does it show? (and if it shows something, why is there nothing anywhere on the webpage that explains that to the user of this website?).

While on the subject of the way the 'data' about individual decontextualised objects is presented on each dedicated page, the maps there I assume are just intended to be totally unusable and uninformative. Which they are. So why are they there at all? The point is, rather than faffing about taking up space with useless peripherals like this, more attention should be being paid to using the British Museum's resources to make the database more reliable and not "just for show". 

*For what it is worth, these are the data for the IARCW finds alone:
Septimius Severus (23), Julia Domna (7), Diocletian (3), Caracalla (2), Maximian I (2), Probus (2), Ptolemy I (2), Ptolemy II (2), Vabalathus (2), Antoninus Pius (1), Augustus (1), Aurelian (1), Demetrius I (1), Geta (1), Hieron II (1), Lucius Verus (1), Marcus Aurelius as Caesar (1), Nero (1), Philip I (1), Trajan (1), Trebonianus Gallus (1), Uncertain - 1st/2nd Century AD (1), Valerian I (1), Vespasian (1).
Laodiceia Combusta (24), Alexandria, Egypt (18), Uncertain (11), Emisa (7), Sicilian mint (3), Carteia (2), Syracuse (2), Agrigentum (1), Athens (1), Carmo (1), Centuripae (1), Commagene (1), Mamertines (1), Massicytes (1), Nisibis (1), Poseidonia (1), Tauromenium (1)

Belgian Ballsup: But Dealer Insists on His Money


Provenance matters. A dealer bought a bargain at a Belgian government sale, did not know or ask where item was from and why it was on the market at all.

And now, British police are keeping a stolen statue worth millions of dollars in their custody as a dispute rages between a Belgian antique dealer and a Nigerian museum (Barnaby Phillips, Nigerian Ife head: Why UK police are holding a priceless sculpture BBC, 26th June 2022). In the 1980s and '90s Nigeria's museums suffered many damaging robberies, apparently sometimes in collaboration with corrupt staff of Nigeria's National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM). Among the robberies was one on the night of 14 January 1987, when thieves broke into the Jos Museum, beat up the guard and made off with nine of the museum's most precious treasures.

The NCMM instantly alerted Unesco, providing photographs of everything stolen from Jos. In 1990 collectors in Switzerland were approached by a man trying to sell a beautiful Benin Bronze head for a half a million Swiss francs. The collectors were suspicious, and with the help of American, Swiss and Nigerian diplomats it was identified as having come from Jos and was returned to Nigeria. Meanwhile the other eight pieces had, apparently, vanished. Most of them, including the Ife head, are listed in a 1994 publication by the International Council of Museums (ICOM), entitled One Hundred Missing Objects; Looting in Africa. It wasn't until many years later, in bizarre circumstances, that the Ife head would reappear, in Belgium.
That's when things get a bit wozzy. On 14 November 2007, the Belgian authorities held an auction of "confiscated art items", and among them was this head, which was bought by a local antique dealer, for €200. What is not clear is how the Belgian authorities got the head and when, why they simply sold it instead of returning it to Nigeria. This is just sheer incompetence. The dealer claims that, despite the obvious quality of the piece, and the fact that Swiss collectors did know what issues were involved and which questions to ask, he did not know what he was buying and what problems there could be with its provenance. In 2007. What kind of a dealer is that?
The Nigerian authorities are incandescent, not least because Belgium's failure to answer these questions may make it impossible to ever discover what happened to the other pieces stolen from Jos. [...] As for the antique dealer, I managed to track him down. We had a short, terse telephone conversation. "Did you know you were buying stolen property?" I asked the man, who we have decided not to name. "Of course I didn't, I bought it from the Belgian state," he replied, and put the phone down.
Hmmm. This is Belgium, this citizen is convinced that the Belgian state never stole anything itself from Africa (Belgian Congo, Heart of Darkness)? Really? 

"We have decided not to name" the dealer says the journalist,  as though the wider public has no right to know. If the dealer's done nothing wrong, then they can go on the record. Anyway, the dealer who had bought the head for a bargain price in good faith decided not to try and shift it straight away. They waited ten years. Waited for what? (serious question):
The story then leaps forward 10 years, to London and 2017, when the dealer tried to sell the head through Woolley and Wallis, who passed it on to the British police. In 2019 the police took the head to the British Museum, where curators confirmed its authenticity [...] the head has been sitting in a secure police facility for the past five years.
It is not stated whether Woolley and Wallis were the first auction houses approached. Anyway, the Nigerian government has asserted its ownership, but the dealer refuses to relinquish their claim. What happened subsequently is explained by Babatunde Adebiyi, a Nigerian museum official:
In 2019 a Nigerian delegation met the dealer. The atmosphere, according to Mr Adebiyi, was "cordial". Mr Adebiyi pleaded with him. "I told him he could be an international hero. He said he wanted money, not people saying nice things about him." The Nigerians say that at times the dealer has asked for €5m, but has brought his price down. British officials tell me he is now asking for €39,000 (£33,500).
If he does not care for what people say about him, all the more reason why he can be named. After all, many clients will want to know which dealer can take an object they bought for €200 and sell it for them for €39,000, irrespective of its pedigree. Magic.

Here is an interesting video about these Ife heads.

Whoops.... [Updated]

COIN Unique ID: KENT-542043
Object type certainty: Certain
Copper alloy Roman Provincial bronze coin struck for Hadrian (AD 117-38) at Oddessus in Moesia (modern Ukraine on northern coast of the Black Sea), dating to c.AD 125-128. RPC III, p. 98, no. 772 (three specimens recorded, five on the online version of RPC III). 22mm; 6.5g.
Obverse: [ΑΥΤ]ΟΚΡΑΤωΡ ΑΔΡΙ[ΑΝOС]; laureate and draped bust right
Reverse: OΔHCEI-TωN; Heracles standing left, resting on club with his right hand, lion skin over left arm
Measurements: 22mm in diameter and 6.5g in weight.
Notes: We are grateful to the finder for providing the images for this record.

and what else? The record is anonymous - who actually wrote this?

While it is true that Odessos (one 'd') was in the ancient region of Moesia, which later became a Roman province, Moesia ended on one side of the Danube, while modern Ukraine begins on the other. So Moesia was not "modern Ukraine on [the] northern coast of the Black Sea". Moesia was on the eastern coast of the Black Sea, between teh Balkan mountains and the Danube. The colony and then urban centre of Odessa in which this coin was struck is under today's Varna in modern Bulgaria.

I suspect the FLO is confusing that with the similarly named Ukrainian city of Odessa, founded in 1794 on the site of a Tatar settlement (Hacibey/Khadjibey) by Tsarina Catherine the Great - and giving it a Greek name was a conceit of hers.

Millions, literally, of pounds have gone into this Portable Antiquities Scheme, mainly because the Brits cannot be bothered to actually tackle artefact hunting. The least those who work for it as "partners" of the artefact hunters and collectors can do is to check the facts that they provide the public as their costly "archaeological outreach" and not spread nonsense.  

Update a few minutes later
Generally PAS do not like me commenting on the records when I spot an issue and do not always react when I write, but I usually try. Doing so this time produces the information missing from the public page:
"Report an error relating to KENT-542043
Thank you for taking the time to report an error about this find. The error report will be sent to:
Finds Adviser(s) responsible
Sam Moorhead Andrew Brown
Finds Liaison Officer(s) responsible
Jo Ahmet<
br> You are submitting an error report on:
PAS record number: KENT-542043"
So the FLO wrote this junk record? And Sam Moorhead and Andrew Brown are responsible for its accuracy? Tragic.

UPDATE The next Day:

"Recording Institution: KENT
Created: 4 years ago
Updated: About one hour ago"

Four years it took the British Museum to get it right.

I got this in my inbox too:
"Dear All, I have slightly rejigged the record. It is Odessus (which was ancient Varna) in Bulgaria. I can see the confusion with Odessa further up the coast. Thanks Paul for the alert.
Valete, Sam [This Message is Official]"
Yeah. "Confusion" is why we have experts, the PAS is supposed to be the experts here.

How Many 'Planted' Finds in British Fields?


If you look at metal detectorists' forums (and why not?), you can quite often come across mentions of commercial detecting enablers (rally organizers, detecting holiday hosts)  "seeding" the fields where an activity is to take place. Maybe they've found a convenient and agreeable place to hold their events and may not want to move. But after a crowd of blokes have "done" the same half-a-dozen fields, the finds begin to dry up, so ("it is said")  some of these blokes go out and buy a few job lots of assorted bits from ebay, or scrounge from their mates' scrap buckets and scatter the bits in the field just before harrowing so event participants will see and report that more old-looking  bits of metal and partifacts keep coming up from "Scraggy Joe's Digs" or wherever. There are FLOs (no names) who simply refuse to touch material from certain "metal detecting holidays" (no names) digs. They know that none of it can be guaranteed to actually be from the field where they were found. 

I have a feeling that this practice was more prevalent in the past than it is today. One reason is that metal detectors were less sensitive than they are (reputed to be) today, so there had to be more metal in the soil to produce the impression among participants that a "dig" was more productive.  

The problem is, if "Scraggy Joe's" customers did not find all the added bits, then they lay in the soil for ever - or until they are found by a detectorist or fieldwalking archaeologist decades later, long after Scraggy Joe has moved on to other pastures and memories of his activities fade. And some of those found by detectorists will be taken to the PAS, who now employ a fresh, young, eager new FLO to replace the one that came after the one that had had dealings with Scraggy Joe.  And a farmer who barely knew the bloke he bought the land from and certainly does not know whether he let detectorists on it or not.

It seems to me that some of these potentially planted finds (alongside old collector's losses) are now turning up in the PAS database and for some reason (why?) are not being recognised by FLOs for what they actually are. There are objects that are clearly modern fakes that have been handed in and a FLO has naively treated them as genuine artefacts (some are types that are very well known to collectors). There are objects that have a well-known distribution well away from the British Isles and the area between this and England is a blank space. They are recorded by insular-minded FLOs who do not know their European artefacts. 

I was wondering if there was some way we could come up with an algorithm suggesting the likelihood that a field in a certain region could have planted artefacts. The number of metal detecting clubs and groups organizing "pay to dig" events in the past and their density on the ground (the more clubs the more they have to make the effort to be competitive). What other factors need to be taken into account to make FLOs more aware that a in British metal detecting, a "findspot" need not be what they seem to automatically assume it is?

What a Tangled Web we Weave: Provenance Research Once Again Reveals Lack of Care Checking Consigners' Sales Spiels


 So what do we do when another consigner's spiel to an auction house is repeated by them in print uncritically/ carelessly/ 'in good faith' and turns out to be utter bollocks? What should an auction house do? What should collectors who (say they) care do? Or does everybody just shrug their shoulders and say: 'business as usual in this dirty game'? In a recent blog post, Forging Antiquity Team member and Macquarie University PhD candidate Richard Bott examines a catalogue of antiquities recently offered for sale(Richard Bott,  'Cycladic Heads, Christie’s, and Problematic Provenance' Markers of Authenticity June 26, 2022)

During an auction held in April 2022 in New York, Christie’s sold the head from a Cycladic figurine, of the early Spedos type, for $252,000 USD. While this, in and of itself, is rather unremarkable—an unfortunately large volume of Cycladic figurines were looted in the 20th century and now circulate that antiquities trade, some fetching similarly high prices—the provided provenance (ownership history) is rather interesting. According to the provenance supplied by Christie’s, this piece was supposedly owned first by the Swiss antiquities dealer Heidi Vollmoeller, who acquired it sometime in the 1960s; then by the Merrin Gallery of New York, who acquired it from Vollmoeller in the 1980s; then by a private Canadian collector who purchased it in 1990; and then it was acquired in 2015 by the unnamed individual who sold it through Christie’s: the current owner remains unknown. Further investigation, however, suggests not all is right with this narrative.
I think the frequency with which 'not all is right' with seller's narratives on the international antiquities market at both 'high' and 'middling-low' ends depends on the number of times a researcher sits down and devotes time to any given one. But Dr Bott has made a bit of decent headway of draining this little bit of the antiquities-swamp. This starts with a 1984 article by Pat Getz-Preziosi in which the head features in a picture together with 17 other heads part of a single “Private collection”. Bott then addresses the question of where on the timeline of the consigner's stated 'collection history' that photo was taken and where (in whose ownership was this group of objects). That revealed an astonishing mismatch, not spotted by the 'Christies's experts'. He asks questioons that it seems had not occurred to the latter....
A more substantial issue with the offered provenance arises when one begins searching for the other heads featured in the 1984 photograph: a third possible, and seemingly more likely, owner emerges. Since 2019 at least three more of the heads from the photograph were offered for sale. [...] it would appear that these heads were owned initially not by Heidi Vollmoeller, but by [the dealer Nicolas] Koutoulakis.
Having done a huge amount of work to attempt to penetrate the clouds created by the April 2022 'collection history' and present a more closely-argued alternative version, Bott then addresses the issue of why a consigner would hide the previous owner. Probably the issue is that Loutoulakis had handled the Keros 'hoard' of Cycladic idol fragments, a well-publicised looting case that occurred there during the mid-20th century.
With pressure increasing in recent years for those who now hold looted antiquities that passed through Koutoulakis to return them, it is certainly possible that the seller of the Christie’s head wanted to hide Koutoulakis’ involvement. After all, $252,000 is hardly an insignificant amount of money. Admittedly, it is difficult to place too much faith in one provenance narrative over the other given that none is presented with verifiable support. While the cumulative weight of evidence does suggest that Heidi Vollmoeller did not own the Cycladic head sold at Christie’s earlier this year, without further evidence the exact provenance of the Christie’s head remains unclear. [...] The only way to avoid these confusing provenance webs is with greater transparency from all involved: the auction houses and dealers who sell these works, the collectors who buy them, and those who continue to willingly publish them with hidden provenances. In this case, one thing is, however, clear. At some point, someone has obscured the provenance for at least one of these sculptures.
And... well, business as usual of course. Because, actually, in the collectors' world, who cares? And if they don't care, and nothing happens when somebody gets it wrong yet again, why should any dealer waste time and money exercising a little bit of discretion, criticism or intellectual curiosity to check out what they are told?

Vignette: A place in London where it seems the emptor is not helped very much to caveat.

Saturday 25 June 2022

What we Know About Damage to Museum Collections in Ukraine (and those "Looting to Order" Allegations)

I was looking through the 'Damaged cultural sites in Ukraine verified by UNESCO' list. This in fact contains a very mixed bag of items, and one wonders on the basis of what was it composed and what underlying assumptions it embodies. Some of the buildings and monuments it lists are not historical buildings at all, and date from the last few decades. Also this list says nothing at all about the date of the report of damage, the circumstances of the damage, or any description of its extent, or what has been done to the place since then. The picture it presents is therefore rather a skewed one, not what I would expect from a body like UNESCO.

With regard the ongoing propaganda about Russian troops and government-sponsored 'gangs' removing selected items of cultural property to Russia, I thought it would be helpful to list the location of the 11 (they say 12) museums on this list in three broad geographical blocks:

Kievan Campaign (24th Feb - 3rd April 2022)

1) Ivankiv Museum – (Kyiv Region). Hit by shelling in Battle of Ivankiv, 25 February 2022 burnt, some artefacts believed to have been saved by staff (see posts on this blog).

2) Local History Museum of Borodyanshchyna in Borodyanka – (Kyiv region) the Borodyanka Museum of Local Lore was hit by an air strike

In the first three days of March, Borodianka survived four air raids. The Russian military dropped dozens of bombs on seven high-rise buildings on Tsentralna Street. The explosions were so powerful that they destroyed half a house, and people hiding in basements were torn to pieces or buried alive.
There seems to be very little information online about the current state of the museum collection and whether looting had taken place.

Northeastern Ukraine offensive and temporary occupation (24th Feb - 14 May 2022)

3) Chernihiv Museums  (Chernihiv region). Damaged [Sophia Kishkovsky, Museum building heavily damaged in Ukraine's battle-ravaged city of Chernihiv The Art Newspaper 15 March 2022]. The main museum had escaped damage, but The Military Historical Museum - a branch of the main museum – "the façade of another of the museum's buildings, a branch devoted to military history, had been damaged but that the contents were safe and had been moved to a secure location".

3a) One structure associated with the main city museum, the "House of the Vasil Tarnovski Museum of Ukrainian Antiquities" — now a regional youth library, was almost destroyed by bombing on 11 March.

4) Regional Art Museum. G. Galagana (built in 1899) – (Chernihiv). Damaged. On February 24, the galleries of the Galagan Art Museum were emptied. The exhibits were moved to a safe place and are now returning.

5) Kharkiv Art Museum – (Kharkiv) Museum building damaged. For the collections, see: Vitalii Hnidyi, 'Ukraine museum scrambles to save Russian art from the Russians' Reuters March 9, 2022. See also Justin Klawans, Staff at Kharkiv Art Museum Working Desperately to Save Masterpieces, Newsweek 10th March 2022:
As the war on Ukraine passes the two-week mark, Russian forces continue to surround numerous cities within the country. This includes Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city and a key industrial hub. With Russian bombs continuing to fall, citizens in the city are trying to prevent Kharkiv from being turned to rubble. This effort is especially evident at the Kharkiv Art Museum.

While the museum building itself remains intact, photos show that the majority of the windows have been blown out by a number of airstrikes. In addition, the museum is said to be covered in a layer of dust and debris. [...] As efforts to save the artwork continue, Maryna Filatova, the head of the museum's foreign art department, spoke to Reuters about the collection.

"There are more than 25,000 items in our collection," Filatova told Reuters. "Kharkiv Art Museum's collection is one of the biggest in Ukraine, one of the most valuable." Ironically, Filatova said that while the Russians continue to drop bombs on the museum, many of the pieces within the collection were created by Russian artists, not Ukrainians. "It is simply the irony of fate that we should be saving Russian artists, paintings by Russian artists, from their own nation," Filatova said. "This is simply barbarism."

Filatova also noted that the windows being blown out had made it impossible to control the temperature and humidity within the building—something that is key to preserving the older paintings.

She said that one of the museum's most prized paintings, Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks by Russian painter Ilya Repin, had to be taken down and put in storage, which could potentially damage the artwork. "Repin's painting, basically, it should not be moved," Filatova said. "Temperature or humidity conditions are not recommended. Any movement should be avoided. We treat it with great care, but there is not a single window intact in this room."

"Thank God there is no damage that anyone can see. The real damage we will only be able to assess in a peaceful time, when it is calm," Filatova said. "Workers, women that are still in town, we will work and do our best to save it all. We are taking the paintings down and will hide them," adding that: "We are doing our best to preserve them."
These precautions seem to have prevented immediate damage to the works, there are no reports of Russian troops having found the caches where they were stored during the Battle for Kharkiv (24 February – 14 May 2022), the Museum's website shows the museum is open again

6) Hryhorii Skovoroda National Literary Memorial Museum – Skovorodynivka – (Kharkiv region) - museum dedicated to the life and work of 18th century philosopher and poet Hryhorii Skovoroda. On 6 May 2022, the museum burned down from being struck by a Russian missile during the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine.
On the night of 6-7 May, a Russian rocket smashed into the building, setting it on fire and injuring a museum worker. The museum was renovated just before the war. Now it lies in complete ruins, a burned-out husk. Ukrainian Minister of Culture Oleksandr Tkachenko offered only one point of solace: the exhibits were evacuated when the war began, and they survived.
Let us hope that is true.

7) Okhtyrka City Museum of Local Lore – (Sumy region) - stores materials about the history of the Cossack regiments of the Sumy region.
" On March 9th, during the attack on Okhtyrka, a small town in the Sumy region, shelling destroyed the local history museum. Housed in a building erected in the first half of the 19th Century, the Okhtyrka City Museum was a typical small museum exhibiting local flora and fauna, family heirlooms, folk art, and documents relating to the Okhtyrka Cossack Regiment of the 17th and 18th Centuries. Ironically, the pride of the museum was a collection of materials about the Nazi resistance movement from the Second World War, a subject near and dear to the hearts of Vladimir Putin and the ideologists of the Russian aggression against Ukraine. There’s an excellent word for this kind of museum in German: “Heimatmuseum,” which embodies the sense of “home” and “homeland.” There’s no more Okhtyrka “Heimatmuseum:” no more antique farm tools, no more yellowing photographs of heroic partisans. The intricate old embroideries have been reduced to ashes" [Konstantin Akinsha March 13 — A lost museum in Okhtyrka, and an unholy attack on the Holy Mountains].
8) Trostyanetsky Museum and Exhibition Centre, the main house museum of the estate L.E. Koenig (building from the late XVIII century – 1870) – (Sumy region). Trostaniets was occupied by troops of the 1st to 26th March 2022. The city was the site of some stomach-churning abuse (see here too which places the blame on a shift in policies to the arrival of units of separatist fighters brought in from the southeast). In this time, damage was done to a number of historical buildings (including the Baroque 'Round Yard'). The early 20th century (Art Nouveau) house of the estate manager Leopold Koenig, where the Krasnotrostyanets Forest Research Station was located, was burnt down [Retreating from Trostyanets, the occupiers set fire to a monument of national importance March 30th 2022]. I am not clear why this is listed by UNESCO as a museum, but it seems to have housed a herbarium

8a) The Golitsyn Palace in Trostaniets is also reported to have been destroyed. It is not stated what happened to the artworks in the gallery there, most reports concentrate on it being "the villa where Tchaikovsky stayed" and it being a chocolate museum.

Southern Region (Occupied from the end of February 2022 until today)

Especially heavy shelling in Mariupol damaged many thousands of buildings, including the nominal 30 of cultural importance in the UNESCO list.

9) Mariupol Museum of Local Lore (Donetsk region) – The museum, in the city centre, was reportedly almost entirely destroyed and burned down by Russian bombing during the Siege of Mariupol.[NBC NEWS Mariupol's history museum survived WWII, but not Russia's bombardment, "Mariupol museum staff work to recover exhibits damaged by bombing". Australian Broadcasting Corporation 27th April 2022:
Employees of the local history museum in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol are working to recover exhibits after a fire caused by Russian shelling damaged the building. Frequent bombings have meant the museum's building has been almost entirely destroyed, with many exhibits partially or completely burned. Some exhibits have also disappeared, with allegations of looting from rebel Donetsk authorities. [...] Exhibits have been temporarily moved to another museum to carry out restoration work, and staff hope to return all the items to the Mariupol museum once the building is rebuilt.
Another really sad report with photos of the empty abandoned and unguarded building from Komsolomolskaya Pravda by pro-Kremilin photojournalist Vladimir Velengurin ( Ничего, кроме пепла: Как сейчас выглядит разбитый Мариупольский музей, 28 April 2022):
Of the more than fifty thousand exhibits, only two thousand artifacts were saved and brought to the Donetsk Museum for temporary storage. [...] Two shells hit the end of the building. A fire broke out, almost the entire museum burned down. Now there is an announcement hanging on the doors on a white standard sheet: “The Museum is protected by the DPR.” I knock on the door - in response, silence. [...] During the Great Patriotic War, the Nazis in Mariupol did not have time to destroy the museum. But the current fascists destroyed it now.
Unfortunately, in the context of the article - lingering as it does on the disrespect paid to the memorials of the Soviet past - he apparently means the Ukrainians are themselves to blame for the destruction of the museum - which he is at pains to point out was also created in the Soviet Union. That really seems a bit bonkers to me.

10) Mariupol Semashka street, 19 [House of Culture named after Karl Marx and Museum of the History of the Ilyich metallurgical plant here]. (Donetsk region)
May 8th 2022. The shelling partially destroyed the facades, load-bearing walls, roof and ceiling of the old building of the joint-stock company "Nikopol", built in the late XIX century (not registered), which housed the House of Culture named after Karl Marx, the Museum of History and the Library of the trade union of the “Ilyich” plant.
11) Historical and Architectural Museum "Popov Manor" Vasylivka (Zaporizhzhya Region) (Historical and architectural museum reserve "Sadyba Popova", a Gothic Revival-style historical manor (built in 1864) that housed exhibits of local art, WW2 history, Ukrainian ethnography and life on the estate. It was only fully opened in January 2022 (Zaporizhzhya region). On March 7, 2022 Russian invaders shelled the area around the Popov Manor Historical and Architectural Museum. As a result of the shelling, the stable building was damaged (photos show that the ground floor window openings were closed with concrete block walling. On March 13, 2022,
"The Popov Manor Historical and Architectural Museum was looted by the Russian occupiers, which they had previously damaged by shelling. The director of the museum, Anna Golovko, said that the military of the Russian army took away "everything that could be taken in hand and bags." The occupiers smashed and trampled office equipment. In addition, they smashed windows and broke down all doors, as well as destroyed everything in their path.".
See also "V Zaporozhskoy oblasti rossiyskiye okkupanty razgrabili muzey: odin iz trofeyev - mramornyy unitaz - In the Zaporozhye region, Russian invaders plundered a museum: one of the trophies is a marble toilet Posted on 14 March 2022:
"Later, the director of the Department of Culture and Information Policy of the Zaporozhye Regional State Administration Vlad Moroko noted that among the exhibits stolen from the "Popov Manor" was a marble toilet. "For the first time, this toilet was stolen by the Bolsheviks. Later, one of the descendants of the thieves" returned "the artifact to the museum. And again, the newest invaders steal the ill-fated toilet !!! Why !!! I do not understand !!! Horde, just Horde !!! ", - the director of department wrote.
This was a time when soldiers from the Asiatic part and outlying regions of the RF were being used as cannon fodder in the invasion and stealing everyday items such as Adidas shoes and washing machines, allegedly because they did not have easy access to such goods where they had come from.

[12) [Not on the list] Melitopol Museum of Local Lore. Building relatively undamaged, there is currently controversy over the status of the artefacts stored by museum staff in a cellar for safety during military activity that were later recovered by the new (Russian appointed) staff of the museum. I have written about this in several posts on this blog.

Crimean Penisula (Occupied from the end of February 2014 until today) 

Totally missing from this list are the museums and cultural institutions in Crimea that were occupied or damaged in the first stages of this War (2014) or subsequently. The same goes for any in Luhansk (UNESCO uses the Russian spelling). We seem to have information on recent looting of at least one museum in Crimea (though this may have occurred before the 2014 annexation) 

It seems worth attempting a summary. five Museums were hit by shells or bombs during combat (or were deliberately destroyed - Trostaniets) and were completely or partially burnt: (1) Ivankiv Museum [some artefacts believed to have been saved by staff], (6) Hryhorii Skovoroda National Literary Memorial Museum – Skovorodynivka [the collection had been evacuated when the war began], (7) Okhtyrka City Museum of Local Lore [exhibits inside reduced to ashes], (8) Trostaniets Museum, Koenig house [fate of any collection unknown] and Golitsyn Palace in [fate of any of the collection unknown].

Other buildings were damaged by shelling or air strikes: (2) Borodyanka Museum of Local Lore was hit by an air strike [no information about losses to the collection], (3) Chernihiv Military Historical Museum, façade damaged [collections evacuated beforehand to a secure location], (4) Chernihiv Regional Art Museum building damaged [collections evacuated beforehand to a secure location], (5) Kharkiv Art Museum, building damaged [collections evacuated beforehand to a secure location], (9) Mariupol Museum of Local Lore building heavily damaged [parts of collection evacuated to Doniets, some destroyed in situ (?)], (10) Mariupol Museum of the History of the Ilyich metallurgical plant [fate of collection unknown], (11) Vasylivka Historical and Architectural Museum "Popov Manor" badly damaged [heavy looting of the building in general], (12) Melitopol Museum of Local Lore, building more or less undamaged [collections hidden in secure place].

I really do not see here any firm evidence (from what we know so far) that these collections are being selectively looted by the Russian invader as has been suggested in a number of recent sensationalist  media accounts. We need clarity and understanding about what is happening to cultural property in this war, not made-up stories and propaganda. 

Friday 24 June 2022

"DPR" Financed by Antiquities?

As has been reported by the Office of the Prosecutor General, Prosecutor General Irina Venediktova and the State Bureau of Investigation, some six thousand unique artifacts have been found in the Kyiv office of former Ukrainian MP Valery Horbatov, who headed the Council of Ministers of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea in the early 2000s. At least some of the artefacts seem to have been stolen from Crimean museums, while others could have been bought from "black archaeologists" (metal detectorists) ['Ex-MP turned collaborator found to store over 6,000 unique artifacts from Crimea worth millions of dollars', Hromadske International 24 June, 2022]
The artifacts were found as part of a criminal case on financing the self-proclaimed "DPR", withdrawing money to Russia, as well as doing business in the occupied Crimea.
Law enforcers investigated illegal activities of Horbatov (the People's Deputy of Ukraine of III-IV convocations and the former chairman of Council of Ministers of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea) and other connected participants. In the process, investigators learned that Horbatov has relics and "black" archaeological finds.
According to investigative information, the former deputy fled from Kyiv to the occupied territories on the eve of all-out Russian aggression. Law enforcement officers conducted six simultaneous searches, and found more than 6,000 items of historical and cultural values in one of Horbatov's Kyiv offices. Part of the collection was stored in pre-prepared "secret rooms" of office space.
According to Venediktova, law enforcement officers found the largest collection of antiquities, part of which is now presented in the Museum of History of Ukraine.
The seized artefacts were of varied character, some dated to the Bronze Age and the Trypillia culture. There were allegedly Scythian swords-akinaki, helmets of the Hellenistic era, amphorae, hryvnia torcs, coins, but also medieval and post medieval items (swords, sabres, helmets, chain mail, arrowheads and spears, rifles and carbines). The coins were from the "Southern Black Sea coast' [eh? Presumably northern PMB] of the times of the Chersonese State, the Scythian and Bosporus Kingdoms and the city-state of Olbia, that is Vth-Ist centuries BC.
According to police, part of the collection was probably stolen from the museums of the temporarily occupied Crimea. During the search, they found, in particular, an ancient book "Sarcophagi of Gaul" — it was an exhibit of the Russian Archaeological Museum of Constantinople, and later part of the library of the Chersonese Museum in the Crimea. [...] SBI Director Oleksiy Sukhachov said that the agency's investigators had gathered irrefutable evidence of Horbatov's involvement in financing actions aimed at overthrowing the constitutional order in Ukraine, changing its borders or state border, and justifying aggression against Ukraine.
What is worth noting in the context of various people claiming that Russians are looting Ukrainian museums to shift the stuff to Russia, here material was reportedly being moved from Russian-occupied Crimea to Ukraine at some time between 2014-2022 (when did Horbatov get this office space?) and then presumably to western markets from there. Where would you take a Hellenistic helmet to sell? Who would handle it? In who's who in Crimea, he lists his hobby as "archaeology" and was a deputy director in a "Khołhoz" (collective farm) in Soviet Crimea 1985-1994 (?) and got a Soviet Red Banner medal of Labour in 1988. Looking at the photos of the artefacts simply heaped unlabelled all over the place, I doubt that one could really call this in any way or form "archaeology". Is it true that he fled on the "eve" of the Russian invasion? That he knew the date? More details and pictures here: https://www.pravda.com.ua/news/2022/06/24/7354396/

Sunday 19 June 2022

The Melitopol Kurhan

Since a few hundred pieces of gold from this site have been in the news recently, I thought the reader might like to know more about the site they came from. The Melitopol’ Kurgan [Мелітопільський курган; Melitopilskyi kurhan] was a Scythian barrow of the fourth century B.C.(340-320 BC), which is one of the most spectacular of the monuments of this nature excavated in Ukraine (alongside the royal Scythian barrows at Solokha and Chertomlyk). The mound measuring about 6 m high was located in what is now Scythian (formerly May Day) Street, near the railway station in the northwestern part of the city of Melitopol, Zaporizhia oblast. After a local resident accidentally came across one of the tombs, the site was excavated first by local archaeologists from the Melitopol Museum of Local Lore in May 1954. Subsequently, the work was continued until September that year by a team from the Institute of Archeology of the USSR Academy of Sciences, led by Aleksii Ivanovych Terenozhkin (1907—1981). In the body of the mound, two chamber tombs were discovered. The northern one contained the remains of a high status woman and a female slave. The second tomb in the centre of the mound belonged to a Scythian warrior buried with a boy and this grave was probably slightly later in date. A grave containing two horses was found near the second catacomb and the remains of a funerary chariot were also found. These tombs contained a large number of grave goods including about 4000 (c. 2 kg) gold objects. Among the most famous is a Greco-scythian gorytus (quiver) faced with repousee gold depicting Achilles, a belt with metal fittings, and 50 small gold plaques. The military gear was decorated with animal (eagles, lions, wild boars) and mythological (Athena, Achilles) motifs. Eleven amphorae and a bronze kettle were also found. Many of these goods were apparently gifts from the Greeks to the Scythians, The mound had been looted at some time in the past, and the looters had probably removed other gold items. It was originally planned to transfer the treasures from this mound to the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, but Ukrainian scientists managed to create their own museum in Kyiv – the Museum of Historical Treasures of Ukraine, and this is where the bulk of the collection is stored, while a small group of artefacts from the first season of excavations is in the museum at Melitopol. Here is a video about the significance of this find for the development of the Ukrainian museum:


Scythian Gold 4 | Virtual Museum Tour,  Posted on You Tube by UATV English Oct 27, 2019

REFERENCE  Terenozhkin, A. I. “Skifskii kurgan v g. Melitopole.” In the collection Kratkie soobshcheniia instituta arkheologii AN USSR, fasc. 5. Kiev, 1955.  

More Sensationalist and Superficial Claims on Organized Russian Looting to Order in Ukraine

Possibly it is hard to be taken seriously as a journalist if your first name is Barbie, I don't know, but it certainly is not helping if your reporting is as sensationalist and air-headed as this one is (Barbie Latza Nadeau, ' IT’S A STICKUP Russia Is Pulling Off a Massive Art Heist in Ukraine' The Daily Beast Jun. 18, 2022).
Museum curators are hiding out in basements across Ukraine trying to protect the nation’s priceless cultural heritage from Russian invaders.[...] So far there are no specially trained armies in Ukraine to protect treasures from the precision Russian art thieves working under the cover of war to empty museums and destroy important pieces of Ukraine’s cultural heritage. There are just brave museum curators in regions where the Russians have seized control doing everything they can to hide and fortify their art and antiquities, using supplies smuggled in from the West to help them crate up paintings and sandbag statues. Since Russia began its invasion in February, 250 cultural institutions have been targeted by Russian munitions [...] Thousands of important museums pieces have been destroyed during the bombing of Mariupol and elsewhere.
This is just superficial/uncritical research coupled with bad writing, giving misleading results. 

- nobody "smuggled" or had to smuggle in supplies "from the West" (eh, Ukraine's the other side of the Caspian somewhere, is it?). Ukrainian conservators have materials, but needed more in the light of this unexpected threat. 

- Very few countries in her all-superior "West" have or had "specially trained armies to protect the nation's priceless cultural heritage". 

- Thieves steal, the ones destroying cultural heritage are not "thieves".

As for "targeting" X-number of cultural institutions, I'd like to see that set against number of buildings hit, people's houses, shops, places of work generally. In the first four weeks of the War alone (24/2 to 24/3) "at least 4,431 residential buildings, 92 factories and warehouses, 378 schools, 138 healthcare institutions, 12 airports and seven thermal power and hydroelectric power plants" had been damaged, destroyed or seized, 8265 km of road needed reconstruction and 260 bridges. At least 95% of Mariupol has been destroyed by fighting, largely as a result of the Russian bombing campaigns (and just one of those tens of thousands of buildings was the museum) and by the middle of April city officials reported that up to 20,000 civilians had been killed (not to mention those who fled). In Kharkiv alone, some 600 buildings were destroyed (and one Museum had its windows blown out, but exhibits were not damaged). In the siege of Chernihiv (whence came four of the refugees currently sheltering with my family here in Poland), 70% of the city has been destroyed as a result of Russian bombing and shelling (in which the Museum of Ukrainian Antiquities was hit, but it seems the exhibits survived). This Times of Israel article describes the shelling. Not all of these strikes were deliberately targeting the buildings they hit  (or  were Russian - the missile mentioned was launched from neighbouring rogue state Belarus). Also some actual targets (Mariopol Theatre for example) may not have been hit because of their cultural role, but because of the numbers of civilians seeking shelter there.

Without minimising the cultural losses, the word "targeting" really needs better justification here. The author of this article here totally downplays the enormity of the destruction as a whole and simply focuses on one aspect - and I would say is missing the point entirely. 

I feel very strongly that all this hand-wringing heritagey-waffle and lamentation about 'cultural genocide' should take into account that genocide is above all something done to living people. And frankly a few museums and sports venues hardly matter in that context. 

Ms Latza Nadeau then goes on to supply the concrete facts that she feels supports her hyperbole:
In Melitopol, Scythian gold artifacts worth millions that date back to the fourth century B.C. were stolen from crates the museum had hidden them in. Brian Daniels, an anthropologist in Virginia, is heading a project that monitors the destruction of cultural heritage in Ukraine. “There is now very strong evidence this is a purposive Russian move, with specific paintings and ornaments targeted and taken out to Russia,” he told The Daily Beast. His team saw surveillance video supplied by Ukraine in which a Russian art expert in a white lab coat removed the gold with the precision of a surgeon, careful not to destroy them.
Hmmm. It's this again. In fact, we all saw this video when it was online (it seems to have been taken down) and it shows the unpacking of artefacts - all the other interpretation is precisely that. I've examined the Melitopol case three times before (here, here and here) and really do not see the firm evidence that should be there to support the interpretation being put on it. Precisely what Dr Daniels "heads" or does, or where he gets his information are all unclear to me.  He cites "information" from  unnamed "Ukrainian officials" - but given that some of them seem to have been involved in spreading false stories (see here compared with here) it is a shame that he does not give more precise sources. 

Another fact that Barbie Latza Nadeau uses to support her narrative:
Among the destroyed art are 25 pieces by Ukrainian artist Maria Prymachenko which were in the Ivankiv museum near Kyiv. Ukrainian officials say the art was taken by Russian troops before they destroyed the museum in a missile attack.
As for "targeting", although the museum building is an isolated building in a park on the riverbank, it is on the outskirts of Ivankiv a major centre right on the route of the advance on Kiev on 24th Feb onwards from the north at the place where it crosses the River Teteriv. In fact it is almost on the route of the infamous 64-km "stalled convoy" with its concentration of troops, and just 990m from the road junction that was the most frequently-reproduced aerial shot of the line of trucks stuck between Hostomel and Prybirs'k. During the 'Battle of Ivankiv', the museum was hit by three missiles. It is entirely possible that during this battle, there were Ukrainian troops taking cover or even firing from the park on the river scarp overlooking the road to Kiev perhaps in the immediate vicinity of some of the buildings here and it was they who were targeted. To jump to the conclusion that it was the museum that was the target of the attack seems to be simply applying a stereotype rather than looking at the situation on the ground in the first two days of this invasion. 

As for her account of looting by Russian troops "before" the missile attack (a story assigned to unnamed "Ukrainian officials")...  I think there is evidence that she's muddling two things here. In a Guardian article that this author may have been using as a source, Charlotte Mullins claims that works of this artist (Марія Оксентіївна Приймаченко 1908–1997) were burnt as Ivankiv’s Historical and Local History Museum caught fire after shelling on  February 25th, 2022. But in the Daily Beast article, the author seems to be garbling this with other reports that they had been removed from the building. Which is true? The latter narrative suggests that all 14 of the museum's works by this artist had been secured in storage before the attack, and when the museum was hit had been evacuated from the burning building. We are even given the names of the individuals that are reported to have saved these items and then hid them from the Russian invader (the army of the Russian Federation left the area by March 31st 2022). They are named as Anatolii Harytonov, and Ihor Nikolaienko - the first is termed in one report the Museum's security guard (but he has the same surname as the Museum's director so presumably a relative (husband?) and another local man (references below). I do not know if they are speakers of Ukrainian or Russian, but they seem hardly likely to be members of the invading "Russian troops". So what is the truth? Is the story about them being saved some kind of morale-boosting propaganda? Or is the story that they were destroyed or stolen outrage-generating propaganda? I can find no independent alternative story that these paintings were removed on or before the 25th February by Russian Federation troops on the way to take Kiev. 

Articles Claiming the Saving of the Maria Prymachenko Paintings from Ivankiv

Saturday 18 June 2022

"Museum of Rescued Art" in Rome

Italy has been so successful in recovering ancient artworks and artefacts that were illegally exported from the country it has created a museum for them (Italy inaugurates new museum to house traded antique artworks The Associated Press 17 Jun 2022 ).

The Museum of Rescued Art was inaugurated Wednesday in a cavernous structure that is part of Rome's ancient Baths of Diocletian. The Octagonal Hall exhibition space was designed to showcase Italy's efforts, through patient diplomacy and court challenges, to get valuable antiquities repatriated, often after decades in foreign museums or private collections. Exhibits in the new museum will change every few months as the objects on display return to what experts consider their territory of origin, many of the places that were part of ancient Etruscan or Magna Grecia civilizations in central or southern Italy. The inaugural exhibit revolves around some 100 of 260 artefacts recovered by the nation's paramilitary Carabinieri art squad from the United States and brought back to Italy in December 2021. The pieces on display, which were found during clandestine digs and illegally exported, include exquisitely carved Etruscan figurines and imposing painted jars from several centuries B.C. The items previously were held by museums, auction houses and private collections. The new Rome museum is exhibiting objects "never before seen in Italy," said Massimo Osanna, director general of Italy's state museums.
The recently recovered antiquities are from before the Roman era, dating back to the 8th to 4th centuries B.C. Many of them came from the area near modern-day Cerveteri. Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini explained the decision to opt for a series of rotating exhibits in the new museum instead of establishing a permanent collection of rescued art. "We thought it's right to have the pieces return to the places where they were stolen from," Franceschini said. In some cases, experts don't know the exact original location of the antiquities, underlining the irreparable damage done when archaeological treasures are clandestinely snatched away. Pieces with unknown origins will be returned to the general geographic area.  

Tuesday 14 June 2022

Theft at the Museo Andino

On 5 June 2022 more than 80 pre-Columbian items of cultural property were stolen from the Museo Andino in the Buin area of Chili:
"UNESCO calls upon professionals and the public involved in the trade of cultural property to intensify their vigilance and refrain from acquiring or taking part in the import, export or transfer of ownership of these items of cultural property, pursuant to the UNESCO 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (1970), ratified by Chile in 2014."
It seems rather optimistic to expect dealers and collectors to start thinkng about these issues now, fifty years on from the Convention. In order to prevent looting and theft, there needs to be a coordinated campaign by heritage professionals in a united front to generate utter public condemnation of the trade and collecting of improperly obtained and unpapered portable antiquities to make people turn away from them and those involved in these practices.

On the Eastern Front: Parutino Shelled

More erasing history by army of Russian Federation:
Andrei Kurkov @AKurkov 1 g.
This morning Russians shelled the village of Parutino on the Black Sea - the archeological site of ancient Greek colony Olbia [...] .

Olbia here.


Monday 13 June 2022

One of the Melitopol Museum's last Events before the 2022 War

Ironic, I was looking through the Museum website and found one of the last entries that was made on the website before the February 2022 invasion was:

International Mother Language Day
February 21, 2022
Last year, in order to support linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism in the intercultural community of Melitopol, staff of the Melitopol City Museum of Local Lore and students of Melitopol Multicultural Secondary School № 22 launched an intercultural action "Come to the museum - touch the origins!"

The exposition of the Museum of Local Lore presents exhibits that acquaint visitors with the culture of 14 European nationalities. The multicultural school № 22 has more than 500 students - representatives of 17 nationalities, who study their mother tongue in optional classes in Crimean Tatar, Bulgarian and Russian.

Museum workers and educators believe that the joint intercultural action will be an important step in developing the cultural diversity of the Melitopol community, promote the mother tongue among national minorities, spread multilingual education, spread language and cultural traditions, act as a unifying factor for spiritual enrichment. love for the native language, the desire to know their own origins and be proud of them.


Melitopol Gymnasium №22

Department of Youth Culture Melitopol
[Original: Міжнародний День рідної мови (International Mother Language Day)21 лютого 2022 року

>Минулого року задля підтримки мовного і культурного різноманіття та багатомовності в інтеркультурній громаді Мелітополя науковці Мелітопольського міського краєзнавчого музею та учні Мелітопольської полікультурної загальноосвітньої школи № 22 започаткували інтеркультурну акцію «Приходь у музей – доторкнися до витоків!».

>В експозиції краєзнавчого музею представлені експонати, що знайомлять відвідувачів з культурою представників 14 європейських національностей. У полікультурній школі № 22 навчається більше 500 учнів - представників 17 національностей, які вивчають материнську мову на факультативних заняттях з кримськотатарської, болгарської, російської мов.

Музейники та освітяни вважають, що спільна інтеркультурна акція стане важливим кроком для розвитку культурного розмаїття мелітопольської громади, сприятиме популяризації материнської мови серед представників національних меншин міста, розповсюдженню багатомовної освіти, поширенню мовних і культурних традицій, виступатиме об’єднуючим чинником задля духовного збагачення та зміцнення почуття любові до рідного слова, бажання знати власні витоки та пишатися ними. 


 Мелітопольська гімназія №22

Управління Культури Молоді Мелітополь]
I wonder if this action will be continued now the city and Museum have been taken over by the Russians.


Sunday 12 June 2022

More US Fictionalising in Cultural Property Research? [Updated]

     I wonder who or what in Ukraine CHML Director
     Bassett imagines he is "commanding" from Virgina.

While there are very many grounds to be seriously concerned about what is happening in Ukraine, and also about the fate of the cultural heritage in that country, I think we need to be careful to stay within the bounds of the objective truth when talking about it. The old saying about the first casualty of war being the truth should not be applicable in heritage resource research. We saw the distortions happening in the US campaign in Syria, where all sorts of accusations were made that bore no relation to what is/was on the ground and in verifiable sources. Several academic institutions got some nice grant money to "research" these issues - some of them coming up with results that seem to be be of questionable balance. I do not see why we have to tolerate the same thing happening here. 

I am prompted to write this by the shock-horror headline of today's The Observer: "Specialist gang ‘targeting’ Ukrainian treasures for removal to Russia: International academics and digital imaging experts have spotted a pattern in the theft of high-value artefacts" (Vanessa Thorpe Sun 12 Jun 2022 08.00 BST). Is that really what is happening? Ms Thorpe writes:

A specialist gang is smuggling valuable historic artefacts out of Ukraine and into Russia, according to an international team of academics and digital technology experts who are tracking thefts. “There is now very strong evidence this is a purposive Russian move, with specific paintings and ornaments targeted and taken out to Russia,” said Brian Daniels, an anthropologist working with archaeologists, historians and digital imaging specialists. From a laboratory in the US state of Virginia, Daniels and his colleagues have monitored the despoiling and destruction of cultural targets since the invasion began, and have detected patterns in the crimes.
There is some confusion about this "laboratory in the US state of Virginia" where Daniels and his colleagues have been doing the monitoring that led to this conclusion. In an earlier Guardian text by the same Vanessa Thorpe, there is mention of a  "network" (sic) involving  "The Cultural Heritage Monitoring Lab, at the Virginia Museum of Natural History in Martinsville [...] set up last year in partnership with the acclaimed Smithsonian Institution Cultural Rescue Initiative". Dr Brian I. Daniels is listed on the website of the latter ["Brian I. Daniels is the director of research and programs for the Penn Cultural Heritage Center at the University of Pennsylvania Museum and a research associate at the Smithsonian Institution. Dr. Daniels co-directs the Safeguarding the Heritage of Syria and Iraq Project, which aims to enhance the protection of cultural heritage by supporting professionals and activists in conflict areas, and leads a National Science Foundation-supported study about the intentional destruction of cultural heritage in conflict"]. Hence his interest here, I guess. Meanwhile, the website of the so-called Cultural Heritage Monitoring Lab, run by the Virginia Museum of Natural History does not mention him as a member of staff (he also denies being affiliated with them but insists he has plenty of evidence for his claim). The article goes on:
The trail of thefts focuses heavily on precious Scythian gold. These are high-worth ancient filigree pieces, often depicting animals. They were produced by tribes of the area of central Asia and eastern Europe once known as Scythia. “These items are visually stunning, and there are now so many reports of thefts it is evident that it is a strategy,” said Daniels. “The Ukrainians, of course, are also very keen that we establish a list of stolen items.” Daniels told the Observer that it was hard to know if the monetary value was the most important factor for the Russians, or whether the objects were chosen for their cultural significance. “There is a possibility it is all part of undermining the identity of Ukraine as a separate country by implying legitimate Russian ownership of all their exhibits.” What is clear to Daniels is that the thefts tend to follow the menacing interrogation of museum curators and custodians. Russian attempts to locate and steal hidden artefacts in occupied Ukrainian cities are becoming more determined.
I'd like to see this US ("international") orientalising backed up with some actual facts and numbers.

Like, for example, just how many museums have been looted by this alleged gang to date. Among the ten (?) arts institutions that have been damaged or destroyed so far are the Ivankiv Museum in the Kyiv region, the Regional Art Museum in Chernihiv, and the Kharkiv National Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre Museum and the nearby Hryhoriy Skovoroda Literary Memorial Museum. But (as far as we know) the art collections of the City Museum in Kiyiv, Kharkiv and Chernigov were not looted by Russians. Neither was there any looting on museums reported during the concentration of Russian Federation troops around Kyiv (in the regions of Hostomel, Irpin, Bucha). At the time of writing (apart from Crimea), the invading troops of the Russian Federation are only in control of  the eastern and southern fringes of the country, at least part of which had their art collections evacuated when this war began in 2014. So I am not clear where the "Cultural Heritage Monitoring Lab" is getting the data from on which these statements are based. 

The Museum in Mariupol was damaged by an airstrike that left paintings exposed to the elements, hanging on walls amid piles of rubble. It was in Mariupol on  April 28th, that city council officials announced that Russian forces had stolen “more than 2,000 unique exhibits from the city’s museums". The items that were taken included, they say, a “unique Torah manuscript” and a “Gospel from 1811 created by the Venetian printing house for the Greeks of Mariupol”, Orthodox icons, 200 medals and three works by Ukrainian realist painter Arkhip Kuindzhi vanished from the painter’s namesake Kuindzhi Art Museum and works of Ivan Aivazovsky. Both painters were born in Ukraine (Aivazovsky in Crimea and Kuindzhi in Mariupol), but are often described as Russian. Other missing works are by Tetyana Yablonska (1917-2005), a politically active Ukrainian painter who was born in Smolensk, Russia, and Mykola Hlushchenko (1901-1977), who lived in Donetsk from a young age but was also born in Russia. It is being claimed that it is significant that "paintings by Western European artists were not [removed]". According to the city council, the Russian forces took the art to Russian-occupied Donetsk. Natalia Kapustnikova, director of Mariupol’s Museum of Local History has been accused of delivering the artworks directly to the Russians, asserting that Kapustnikova, “who knew the exact place of secret storage of masterpieces, personally passed everything from hand to hand”. Whether she received something in return is not stated. Several Mariupol Museums have been heavily damaged by shelling and satellite images show the destruction precisely in the vicinity of the Museums. At least one of these structures has lost part of its roof. To what extent does safeguarding by an occupier become "theft"? 

                    Layla Ibrahimova              

In another case, discussed by me earlier here ('2022 Russian Invasion of Ukraine: Russian Invaders Reportedly Remove Scythian Gold' PACHI Saturday, 30 April 2022, see also 'Melitopol Museum Inventory April 2022 ' PACHI 2nd May 2022), in the southern Ukrainian city of Melitopol, objects are reported as having been taken by Russians from the city's Museum of Local History. They included Scythian gold artefacts and again medals (of the Soviet period). "Museum workers had hidden the gold in the basement when a squad of armed Russians arrived and took it. Melitopol’s mayor said in a statement that he did not know the current whereabouts of the objects". I suggested in my post that the details of this case differed from what was being reported in most of the external press, much of it based on interpretation of one video report from the museum after the director was apparently replaced. [Early reports about another incident involving the looting of Scythian gold from the museum at Zaporozhia turned out to be a journalists' confusion of the same incident with the wrong museum.]  

Unless Dr Daniels has much more information that has not yet been made public, I really have problems seeing this as "very strong evidence" that this is an organized campaign of "specific paintings and ornaments targeted and taken out to Russia”. Last time I looked, Donetsk is still in Ukraine (and is of course the centre of Donetsk Oblast which Mariupol lies), and it is not in fact clear whether the Melitopol artefacts in fact left the Museum that is apparently now under a new, Russian-appointed, caretaker director. The Museum's original director Leila Ibragimova on 10th March was arrested by armed and uniformed men at her home and led away with a bag on her head and detained. Although it is reported (by Crimean Tatar activist Eskender Bariiev) that she was released the same day, her current whereabouts is unknown, which is a cause for concern. Her detention however may be as much related to her position in the town, and ethnic origins (she is a Crimean Tatar) as to a specific interest in the Museum collection.  

The statement that Vanessa Thorpe seems to be assigning to Dr Daniels: "the trail of thefts focuses heavily on precious Scythian gold" is simple hyperbole. As far as we know only the objects stashed in unlabelled cardboard boxes in a museum cellar  that were retrieved when the Russian appointed director moved in seem to be the only Scythian artefacts involved (so far).  

UPDATE 13.06.202
In the discussion in social media of this text, Dr Daniels  enlarges somewhat
Brian I. Daniels @DrBrianIDaniels
W odpowiedzi do @PortantIssues i @ChasingAphrodit
There is considerable evidence that I hope can be made public in due course. Also, @PortantIssues , I do not work for the Virginia Museum of Natural History’s Cultural Heritage Monitoring Laboratory [now rephrased above - PMB]./ I am in close contact with the VNMH-CHML team and the team at the Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative on damage issues. On looting, I’m working directly with the Ukrainian colleagues. I won’t make a public statement that I don’t think can be supported in a court case.
Through the quotes in this article, Dr Daniels has already made public statements, but we are a very long way from winning this war, apprehension of anybody involved, charging and any court case (if ever). Which is why I think abnybody making judgements and then inflamatory statements in our field, need to make the evidence fully available to public opinion. Otherwise we are going to have a repeat of the Syria 2014-8 situation, where to accompany the US bombing campaign the organisation ISIL is accused of antiquity crimes on a huge scale to the near-exclusion of mentions of other groups and distortion of the discussion on the wider phenomemnon in the media, and what is worse, academia.

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