Monday 22 August 2022

"Antiquities Looted from Crimean Museums"


           A pile of rusty ironwork in a Kyiv office (Babel)         

Several months on from the discovery in a Kyiv office block of some store rooms with a collection of 6000 antiquities ("DPR" Financed by Antiquities? PACHI Friday, 24 June 2022), it is worth placing on record that apart from the initial announcement, I have not come across any further news of this find or the progress of any investigation into the material, which may or may not be significant (admittedly officials in Kyiv have other more important problems to deal with at the current time). The artefacts were reportedly 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 ['Ex-MP turned collaborator found to store over 6,000 unique artifacts from Crimea worth millions of dollars', Hromadske International 24 June, 2022; see also Anhelina Sheremet, 'Unique antiquities were found in the attic of the former Crimean Prime Minister Valeriy Horbatyʼs house. This is the largest illegal collection in Ukraine' Babel, 24 June 2022] and it was suggested that some of the artefacts might have been stolen from Crimean museums. It is not clear why this was proposed, there is a thriving black market in antiquities in Ukraine, much of it involving material dug up by so-called "black archaeologists" (artefact hunters). There are a number of museums in Crimea, but as far as  I know at the time of writing no reports of any of them having been looted since the Russian invasion in 2014. According to the only reports we have to date, the reason why Ukrainian law enforcement agencies consider it "probable" that somehow Horbatov had material stolen from the museums of Crimea was that: 

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.
While that may be where the book was at one time, there are a number of ways it could leave that library and end up in somebody else's hands. Also it should be noted that there is no evidence presented that the rest of the artefacts had been acquired in Crimea. While some of the coins explicitly mentioned were from Panticapaeum/Pantikapaion at the extreme east of Crimea (just by the Kerch strait), the source of the other coins mentioned, Olbia, is not. It's on the Dniestr estuary. One of the red figure pots shown looks fake to me (though I'm not a specialist - I'd like to hear the opinion of those that are on the pots shown in the Babel article). The iron weapons shown are a mixed bag, mostly atrociously conserved.

I think that in the absence of better evidence in the public domain, and any details of this case, we should be wary making loose claims of the "Russian (or any other) looting of museums in Crimea".

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