Wednesday 1 June 2022

Just in Case, Eh?

A group of medieval metalwork items had been illegally mailed to the UK, and "will be sent to Kyiv museum when safe to do so", Martin Bailey ('Seized antiquities sent from Ukraine to go on show at British Museum' The Art Newspaper 31 May 2022)
The British Museum will today unveil a collection of Ukrainian antiquities that has been seized in the UK. The early medieval jewellery, intercepted in the post last year, was illegally acquired and exported from Ukraine. The trafficked haul will be exhibited in London, until it can be safely returned to Kyiv. The Art Newspaper can report that the 86 recovered metalwork antiquities include pendant crosses, dating from the 11th to 14th centuries, [...] Disc pendants [...] finger rings—some early medieval, although most are later. The copper alloy antiquities were posted from Ukraine and intercepted by the UK Border Force at Gatwick airport last July. It has not been revealed whether this was a chance discovery or the result of a tip-off.
Nor is it written who in the UK was the intended recipient, or who had sent it without the required paperwork. From the point of view of what is happening on the ground, it is a bit odd to see the next statement:
A British Museum spokesperson says: “This seizure demonstrates the excellent around-the-clock work Border Force do to search, find and stop these historical artefacts entering the UK illegally, and we will continue to work with international partners to detect such items.”
That seizure was in July 2021, and how many have there been of Ukrainian artefacts entering the UK since then? Because there are hundreds of them on sale online daily.... Round the clock, you say? So how many seizures at the border? How many auctions taking place right now of objects (that if they did not come from illegal excavations in Ukraine came from diggings in the neighbouring countries that have near identical laws about looting) have been challenged under the 'Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003'? How may? To the nearest dozen or so will do. After all, the article refers to: 
 “objects acquired by illicit metal detectorists in Ukraine were sold to private collectors in Russia, Germany and Britain. Some of these artefacts are unique, such as a Viking Age ship’s vane terminal found in Ukraine in 2015 and sold in England in 2016 with a fake provenance.” This was an important animal figurine that seems to have been sold through a smaller London auction house. [...] “We are facing gigantic transnational looting of Ukrainian heritage which needs to be stopped through common efforts”.
The shocking story by Björn Gustafsson of the ship's vane with the provenance that places it in two places at once can be found online here.

As for the artefacts seized at Gatwick:
The objects will now be put on display in room 53 of the British Museum until it is logistically safe for them to be returned to Ukraine. This could be many months away.
Why is this for the British to decide? While the artefacts are holed up in Britain, they cannot be used as material evidence for the Ukrainian authorities to go after the smuggler(s). By hanging onto the evidence, Britain is preventing this case going forward. As we all hope and expect (the British government too), Ukraine is going to win this War, the Ukrainians have entire museum collections safely stored until they do, what makes these 86 items so different? (Nota Bene, items that, even if they are in the BM are still illegally exported UNTIL they are returned.) Except of course it's good propaganda for the BM, and bolstering its claims to be providing 'safety' for all the looted items within their walls.

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