Wednesday 30 November 2022

"I have every confidence in the dealer"

quam-antiquum Nov 30 #97668
I bought this piece about a month ago as a Moche vessel. I have every confidence in the dealer I purchased it from and trust that it is indeed ancient, but I can't find any analog for it in Moche art and culture. Could someone help me identify this, or perhaps point me to other examples that I haven't been able to find? Is there a name for vessels of this type?
The dealer is not named, nor (red flag) is any mention made of collection history/documentation. Reply from other forum member:
PeregrineNov 30 #97669 It looks a lot like an African pipe bowl; follow link for examples:
Mmmm. And indeed it is. And not necessarily "ancient". This was an example of a "trusted" dealer that knows his or her stuff, eh? Where do they pluck their cultural attributions from? Thin air? And collectors, do they really know what they are doing, actually? 

"Ancient Art" Conundrum

Estimate: £4,000 - 6,000 (+bp*) Sold for (Inc. bp): £4,680

In a break with their normal practice, it seems that you can now comment below the YouTube videos that TimeLine Auctions uses to display some of their more recent acquisitions. An example is this rather odd-looking ["unbelievable"] relief in ancient Egyptian style (whose collection history only goes back to "[a] French collection, 1990s-early 2000s"). Where is it from?

But there are some comments. Barb in FL 4 days ago wrote: "Shouldn't it be returned to Egypt to a museum? Who stole it in the first place?" [no reply as yet]. I was more interested in its form and iconography.
PortAntissues 19 hours ago
This caught my eye. This is from an external surface (sunken relief) but where and how did it get this extensive wear? You do not say. What was the context it was discovered in (a floor maybe?) that would shed some light on its current condition? "French collection, 1990s-early 2000s" does not tell us much about the collection history or actual origins. How did it leave Egypt, is there any documentation?

What does the back look like? Has it been sawn off a larger block, or was it originally a slab? You do not say.

The iconography is a bit weird isn't it? Did the artist intend to depict him with deformed shoulders and misshapen arms? Also the profile of the "wife" is rather poor, with piggy little eyes.

If this is a seated figure and the horizontal lines are supposed to be their thighs (yes?) why do they look different from other reliefs of this period where a sceptre is shown, where the arm is above the thigh, not resting on it? Anyway, try and put your elbows on the top of your thighs while sitting on a stool. Where are the figure's bottoms? The ancient Egyptians were very fond of bottoms (aren't we all?) and it is odd that this couple were shown in such a bottomless form.

This craftsman, whenever he lived was not very good, was he? As "art". it's all a bit gawky and odd looking. Perhaps that is why Mr Tim Wonnacott is so enamoured of it? I wonder who will end up buying it?

No answer to that, either.  

LOT 0028 is dated by eminent TimeLine specialists ("Dr Alberto Maria Pollastrini, Paul Whelan, MA, Peter Clayton, FCILIP, Dip, Arch, FSA, FRNS") to the Ramesside period. Maybe, I am not sure on what evidence. But compare it with - for example - this one of Kha'emweset, son of Ramesses II. There are some differences.

I think it is especially disappointing that the people that put it on the market have disconnected it from the information about its biography. For example was it found redeposied in a later context - like, maybe, used as a paving stone, but face-up. Or is the erosion due to water movement? What was its history? If we postulate that it is from the exterior wall of a tomb chapel, to whom did it belong? We obviously will never know, the passage of this object through the market has ensureed that this information is lost.

Tuesday 29 November 2022

Mr Bonchev's "Fresh-to-Market Well-Provenanced Antiquities"

Apollo Art Auctions Presents Fresh-To-Market Ancient Art and Antiquities of Extraordinary Quality  

11/29/2022 by Apollo Art Auctions With each successive sale, London's Apollo Art Auctions delights collectors of ancient art and antiquities with a fresh selection of fully authenticated treasures from bygone civilizations. Each rare object – whether valued for its great beauty, historical significance, or both – is offered with the assurance that it has been vetted by top experts working under the direction of Apollo's founder, Dr. Ivan Bonchev (Ph.D., University of Oxford). On October 9th, the London-based firm will conduct yet another outstanding gallery auction of ancient art and antiquities, with worldwide bidding available online through LiveAuctioneers.

The beautifully illustrated catalogue features 499 lots divided into three sections: Classical and Egyptian, Masterpieces of Ancient Asia, and Medieval Antiquities and Ancient Weaponry. The well-provenanced artifacts represent cultures of many significant eras and geographic regions, including Classical Europe, Egypt, the Near East, India and China.[...]

Apollo Art Auctions is located in a newly expanded gallery at 25 Bury Place in the heart of London's Bloomsbury district, opposite The British Museum. Their Oct. 9, 2022 auction will commence at 7 a.m. US ET/12 noon BST. View the fully illustrated auction catalogue and sign up to bid absentee or live online through LiveAuctioneers. Apollo Art Auctions is a member of the British Numismatic Trading Association (BNTA) and the Art Loss Register (AR).

Oscar White Muscarella

Like others in our field,  I was sorry to hear of the passing away of Oscar White Muscarella on November 27 at the age of 91. His important work "The Lie Became Great: The Forgery of Ancient Near Eastern Cultures" (2000), opened the eyes of many to the scale of the distortion of the archaeological record by the functioning of the antiquities market and collecting. Oscar Muscarella was an early courageous voice in the movement to hold museums accountable for their part in the illicit antiquities market. In his career he played a heavy price for his advocacy and his memory deserves to be honored.

Friday 25 November 2022

When is an Amber Coloured Substance not Amber?


There is an interesting case concerning when a single misidentification in a sales spiel can change perceptions about the past. In ancient times, there were only a limited number of sources known for amber. The antiquities dealer 'Sands of Time' held a Black Friday Sale (It's here, it's happening, it's the sale you've been waiting for! ❤️): 

MA2217 A rare Sumerian Amber Seal of a Lion ca. 3000 BCE [...] $1,950 USD
sensitively modeled from amber, rendered in the form of a recumbent lion with small vertically drilled eyes, with small alert ears, the legs bent, the underside depicting two felines surrounded by dots. Vertically pierced for attachment. A very rare example in this medium. [...] Provenance:
Property of a Philadelphia collector.
From the property of a London gentleman; thence by descent;
previously in an important private Mayfair, London, UK, collection, acquired after 1970,
accompanied by a paper by Professor W.G. Lambert.[...]

But, an email sent accidentally to a forum reveals what lies behind that dealer-garble:

Hi Sue, I want to inform you about one of the items in your Near Eastern Gallery, the brown Sumerian lion-form stamp seal ca. 3000 BCE. I am the Philadelphia collector who consigned this to Arte Primitivo. The only reason I purchased it from TimeLine Auctions is that it was purportedly amber, as per the note by Lambert, which would make it very rare. I showed it to Max Bernheimer at Christie’s, and he immediately determined that it is definitely not amber, although he thought it was genuine. I then performed a salt water test on it, and it did not float, as amber would, confirming his conclusion. That was the main reason I decided to sell it (at a loss). I agree with Howard Rose’s opinion that it is probably brown agate. I thought you would want to know about this.
Best regards,
Lee Simerman 
Oops, eh? Now actually there is a fair difference in 'heft' (the technical term for specific gravity) between amber and agate,* so just having it in your hand should tell an experienced dealer (or gemstone collector) the difference. Professor Lambert should have known. But here is the rub. Nowhere in the Washington dealer's "provenance" (she means collection history) is there mention of Howard Rose's Arte Primitivo (East 65th Street, New York city) why? And where is TimeLine Auctions mentioned? Is that the "London gentleman"? Presumably in both cases the item would be in the catalogues of both sales, so why is that fact not mentioned? Furthermore, "in an important private Mayfair, London, UK, collection, acquired after 1970" does not place the export before the relevant legislation. So where is the mention of the export papers? Note how this collection history emphasises ownership, but obscures the agency of the antiquities trade in the process of moving it from one place to another. Sue McGovern-Huffman is the President of the "Association of Dealers and Collectors of Ancient and Ethnographic Art".

Oh yes, and let us just mention US amateurs dunking dugup antiquities in "salt water" in the absence of any other more technical way to analyse the artefacts they acquire.

 * as the gemological specialists at "TimeLine Auctions Inc. Gregory, Bottley and Lloyd (Gregorys) Est. 1858" would know: Amber 1.08, Agate 2.60 - 2.65.


On an antiquities collectors' forum near you: Sue McGovern 7:19pm #97664
Hi Lee, Thanks for the heads up, and apologies for the delay in responding, it has been a busy time. It is interesting you raised an issue with this seal because I’ve gone backward and forward on it before thinking it is amber. I’m not convinced it is brown agate because it is very light, and quite transparent without the agate markings. I’ve pulled it from the website to restudy the piece, and given the background you’ve now provided, will have a professional gemologist take a look at it. Will keep you updated,
Again, very much appreciate your input and hope you had a great Thanksgiving weekend.
Whoah. It was up on the dealer's website as "amber" (very rare and significant is it is Sumerian) even though in reality the dealer has "gone backward and forward" on the identification of the raw material, and even though that has happened, at no time before the sale did she contact a proper gemologist, and in both the title and description, the object is stated categorically to be amber. Secondly what does the term "agate markings" mean? I presume it means it is not banded, but then semitranslucent brownish unbanded cryptocrystalline quartz [chalcedony] is called "carnelian" (and if opaque jasper, or if darker in colour sard). All have more or less the dame SG, but McGovern does not quantify the value of her "light". It is an interesting exercise to Google the term ""Sumerian carnelian"", despite all the museum collections that have been digitalised and online, the hits form a very interesting and thought-provoking pattern. Although some entries have been deleted from the internet leaving a very vestigial entry, it does look a little as if the term mainly occurs in the listings of just two dealers, one in the US and one in the UK. If so, these dealers are maybe creating new knowledge about trade relations of southern Mesopotamia between c. 4100-1750 BCE, or maybe they are doing siomething else. Question, how is a "professional gemmologist" going to tell whether the object is an authentic antiquity without any information about the archaeological context it was supposedly found in?

Medieval coin hoard could be one of the largest ever discovered in Scotland

Medieval coin hoard could be one of the largest ever discovered in Scotland Story by Tom Metcalfe MSN Live Science 9h ago

Metal detectorists have unearthed what may be one of the largest hoards of coins ever discovered in Scotland, in a field in the southwest of the country. The hoard is made up of more than 8,400 silver coins that date from the medieval period, mostly from the 13th and 14th centuries. Ken McNab, a spokesman for the Scottish government, told Live Science that many of the coins are "Edwardian pennies" named after King Edward I, who reigned in England from 1272 to 1307. 
Ah, but another "story" has it that the coins are "a mixture of Scottish, English, Irish and continental silver. The majority of the 8,407 coins are Edward I and II pennies and are believed to be worth hundreds of thousands of pounds". No doubt. But Edwards the which?

Hat tip Dave Coward

Thursday 24 November 2022

"Industrialist's Antiquities" Seized in Ukraine

Reports are coming in of a seizure in Ukraine of objects that include antiquities, allegedly being prepared for illegal export by industrialists suspected of collaboration with Russia, including the chairman of board of directors of JSC Motor Sich, Vyacheslav Boguslayev (СБУ запобігла вивезенню з України колекційних авто та скіфського золота, які належать президенту "Мотор Січі" Богуслаєву, 24 November 2022 ).

The Security Service of Ukraine has released evidence of treason and collaborationism, namely cooperation with Russia during the ongoing conflict, by the president of JSC "Motor Sich" Vyacheslav Boguslayev, who has been a Russian citizen since 2000. Allegedly, the "Motor Sich" company sold aircraft parts worth UAH 400 million that went to a Russian aircraft repair plant that serves the military-industrial complex of Russia, allowing for the maintenance of helicopters that are destroying Ukrainian critical infrastructure. Boguslayev​ was arrested by the court on October 24.

On November 4, all property of the president of JSC "Motor Sich" and the head of the department of foreign economic activities of the company, who are suspected of working in the Russian Federation, were seized. On November 7, Oleksiy Danilov, Secretary of the NSDC, announced that the assets of the companies "Motor Sich", "Zaporizhtransformator", "AvtoKrAZ", "Ukrnafta" and "Ukrtatnafta" were transferred to the Ministry of Defence.
A search ws carried out for the assets of the president of JSC Motor Sich worth hundreds of millions of hryvnias. It is reported that among the items found and confiscated were rare cars, firearms and antiquities. Apparently members of the direction of the company had tried to hide the property on the territory of the company's premises and were intending in future to take it abroad illegally. During the searches, officials found seven luxury cars, including four rare ones, a cutter, three hunting guns and a rifle, and "a large number of antiquities of European nations" including items of Scythian gold, as well as objects from Classical Antiquity and Kyivan Rus. The photos supplied by Ukrainian authorities show some of the items.

Sythian Gold

Antiquities including Crimean Gothic fibulae and other stuff

An Odd Gold (?) Bowl with Amethysts and Celtic interlace....

A collectable Nazi dagger
The latter we can dismiss. It is a very clearly a crude fake of a type produced in large numbers for the collectors' market (I do not know much about the Ukrainian market for WW2 militaria, so do not know if its  a local product, but such things have been turned out by Polish, German and western European fakers and are sold in flea markets and online). 

The bowl with interlace and amethyst cabochons is probably intended as a lavebo for use in the liturgy. I'd say it is unlikely to be an antiquity, probably it is nineteenth/twentieth century 'in the style of' Celtic Revival piece from western Europe, but I really do not know, it's not my field. 

The rectangular plates and the things in bags look like Scythian mounts, I am rather puzzled by the long case they are stored in. It will be interesting to see if it is claimed they are recent dugups (most Scythian kurhans in the region have been dug into already) or museum thefts. 

The neckrings with horse head protomes are probably Hellenistic from the Black Sea region, but have a rather stiff, soapy appearance in the photos. The basket earrings are Medieval Rus'ian (10-13th cent-ish).

The mixed stuff in the fourth photo (in a slide box!) has me puzzling. The top left has openwork silver beads, Medieval 10th-?? century, with rather chunky carnelian beads (not sure the latter are antiquities). Five of the other compartments contain broken and whole Crimean Gothic-type fibulae and buckles. These have me stumped. I'd say from the photos that the ones on the right are modern fakes (very much reminiscent of some of which I have had in my hand in Warsaw) are the broken ones also fakes, broken to make a job lot look more convincing? There is zero doubt about the items in the centre compartment. They are the worst, crappiest brass cast fakes of Penkovska fibulae ever. The industrialist who bought these had no eye. One of them is broken. There is no excuse for this, Ukraine has a small army of antiquity fakers turning out this kind of stuff by the bucket-load, but of a much higher quality, and masquerading as detector finds. They are good at faking the patina too.   

So what is this assemblage? To my eye there is a lot here that is questionable as an antiquities dealer's stock, still less a millionaire's stash to preserve/transport his capital. 

I do not know anything more about this case than I read in that article and deduce from the photos the Ukrainians have shown us, but as an archaeologist and observer of the antiquities market it looks a bit fishy to me. I'm not going to speculate on what is going on, just going to say that this is another case involving antiquities where all may not be as it seems. This is regrettable as it is difficult enough getting antiquities treated seriously by the authorities anywhere, and it really gets my goat when "antiquities-shock-horror" stories are used to further other ends (Abu Sayyaf being a case in point) when there is a big hoo-haa that in the end leads nowhere. 

hat tip: Sam Hardy

Tuesday 22 November 2022

Hoard of 450 Celtic gold coins worth €113.8m stolen from museum in Germany

This is disturbing; another high profile museum theft in Germany:  Hoard of 450 Celtic gold coins worth €113.8m stolen from museum in Germany

Thieves have stolen a hoard of Celtic coins worth several million euros from a German museum after apparently disrupting local telephone and internet connections. Employees at the museum in Manching discovered on Tuesday that a “showcase was broken” and the collection of 450 coins had been stolen, local police told AFP. Investigators did not provide any other details as to the circumstances surrounding the heist, but local officials highlighted a disruption to phone and internet services. “They cut off the whole of Manching,” the mayor, Herbert Nerb, told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung. “The museum is actually a high-security location. But all the connections to the police were severed.” “Professionals were at work here,” Nerb added. The disappearance of the treasure was a “complete catastrophe” for the Bavarian town, he said. The collection of gold coins has been a highlight of the Celtic and Roman museum in Manching. Discovered in 1999, the coins date back to the third century BC and have a value of “several million euros”, according to police.

The coins are unlikely to have been stolen in a raid of this sophistication just for their bullion value, but if not, it says something about the state of a collectors;' market where thieves can count on that number of items being simply dispersed to collectors without being detected.

Sunday 20 November 2022

Meet the 'Black Diggers:' The Russians Robbing WW2 Graves

VICE film from 2015: "Meet the 'Black Diggers': The Russians Robbing WW2 Graves

In World War 2 thousands of soldiers were killed on the border of Germany and Russia. Many of their bodies were never found. Now there is a group of "Black Diggers" that illegally dig up the remains of German and Russian soldiers to sell the military artifacts they find.

Friday 18 November 2022

Tekkie Challenge

Many tekkies think v-e-r-y slowly, so I only got some comments to a post from 2010 just now. Most of the text is the usual ad personam/ad hominem chip-on-the-shoulder stuff you'd expect from such a milieu, this one risably attempts to use big words and hyperbole to affect a position of superiority in their harassment of the author of this blog, but there's a bit at the end that is worth examination. Thomas Hall wrote 18 October 2022 at 13:01 ("Thomas Hall" is a pseudonym and an individual using that name has been here before)...
Paul, my dear fellow, still hiding behind the 'working in Poland' facade? Anyhow, I know my postings are most unwelcome and an affront to your archaeological sensibilities, but modern-day archeological (sic) thinking, in contrast to the oppressive head-in-the-sand viewpoint proffered by you and your steadily diminishing band of brothers, is slowly coming to realize that we, us, can, if not able to use all the terms, measurements and university learned techniques, can, nonetheless, advance historical knowledge immeasurably, I look forwards to your edited, twisted and biased version of my sincere posting./ Mt dear fellow, from all I witness here you are destined to, as all deniers are from early Christians to later Trump advocates, reap the rewards of your ignorance. to put it bluntly, you will, as archeological (sic) minds advance, be left, like a gasping fish wondering what strange forces have pulled you from the river of ignorance and left you floundering on the banks of enlightenment. / I will hound you my ignorant friend until you shrug off the cold coil of ignorance and embrace the warm coat of reality./

As far as finds, 'Real-Public Interest' finds are concerned, let me offer you this challenge, I, and members of my metal-detecting fraternity will, at our own expense, organize a display of our finds, and you and your archaeological comrades can, side by side with ours display yours. The ten thousand pounds prize for the most viewer interest, determined by an independent observer will be presented at the conclusion of the event. If you can be so brave as to put your money where your Gobellesian mouth is, then please, let me contact my friends in the local media and set a date.
We see from this that according to the harasser, the aim of "detecting" is to "get noticed", my finds are better than your finds, everyone agrees.... Real Donald Trump narcissistic attention-seeking. Real Public Interest Finds, are not the aim of archaeology. Like who can shoot the biggest elephant, or deer with the widest antlers. Gaining sound reliable information is.

So a pseudonymous artefact hunter challenges the archaeologists that he together with members of his "metal-detecting fraternity" (eh?) will, at their own expense, organize a display of metal detected finds. Alongside that he proposes someone ("you and your archaeological comrades") at somebody's expense can mount an archaeological display. Somehow magically a "ten thousand pounds prize" will materialise (who's putting up the money?) and it will be awarded to the exhibit generating "the most viewer interest, determined by an independent observer" (how will independence as well as competence be determined? How will they measure "interest"?) "If you can be so brave as to put your money where your Gobellesian mouth is, then please, let me contact my friends in the local media and set a date". Local media to where? Is he proposing we set up his challenge where I and my "comrades" (and the material and evidence we would show) are, that is Warsaw Poland?

More to the point, after saying he'd finance it, he asks me to commit to putting "your money where your mouth is". But I am not sure what he means by that - as far as I recall, I do not think I have ever specifically compared "real public interest" of one type of presenting the past over another.

Spectator: "STOP Sneering at Metal Detectorists"

John Gimlette of the Spectator says (19 Nov 2022) "It’s time to stop sneering at metal detectorists". It's another review of Nigel Richardson's "The Accidental Detectorist" ("a story of how he found himself again, along with a few bits of treasure"). Boring review. And totally off-mark, most UK archaeologists and members of the public are far from "sneering" at treasure hunters with metal detectorists and pockets full of loose goodies to gawp at. Gimlette gives the impression that the book is the usual tekkie-playing-the-victim. I don't see the conservation aspect as having impinged on his consciousness.

Detectorists' Finds Among Items Reportedly Missing from Northern UK Council Store

The Express newspaper has reported UK police are investigating the disappearances of potential treasures from council storerooms: "Metal detectorists' possible treasures 'worth thousands' vanish from safety of store room" (Ian Randall, Nov 14th 2022):

An investigation has been launched after a spate of disappearances of potential treasures from secured council storerooms — amid fears of an inside job. The missing artefacts were unearthed by metal detectorists across Cumbria and Lancashire over the last four years, and are believed to have been worth thousands of pounds in total. The finds had been handed over to the authorities, pending an inquest to determine whether or not they officially constituted treasures. However, the detectorists fear that the missing items may now have been secreted into the antiquities black market. One unnamed metal detectorist told the Sun: “This is devastating for us personally but also for the nation. “Some of these items had not been held by human hands since the Bronze Age. “But after we found them and passed them to officials, they have vanished into thin air.”

Another detectorist, Peter Major of Barrow — whose finds had included a set of 3,500-year-old, Bronze Age [pal]stave axe heads — added: “For two-and-a-half years I heard nothing, so went to see them and was told that one of my axe heads and all the coins had vanished. “I began speaking to other detectorists and was shocked to find I wasn’t alone.” [...] A British Museum spokesperson said: ‘As the investigation is ongoing it would not be appropriate to comment any further at this stage.’
'Further'? On the forums, information gathering is in full flow:
Post by justinbell » Mon Nov 14, 2022 9:11 pm Missing items from PAS Evening all, I wondered if any other members have had notification about finds being either lost, misplaced or even stolen from / by the PAS in Cumbria". [...] "This topic has 31 replies You must be a registered member and logged in to view the replies in this topic".
So the public cannot see what is happening to the public's heritage, eh? Smart move guys.

Comments underneath the Express article include:
Phoenixxxx 6 HRS AGO
So let me get this right? By law you have to give it to a bunch of toffs at the Council and they then potentially go on holiday and build an extension?

Rombalds way 1 DAY AGO
And they have the cheek to bang on about night hawks and stealing the nations heritage. This is disgusting and I'd be absolutely fuming if it was my finds stolen.

Walter Drizzle 1 DAY AGO
A cop out by the British Museum... no comment. It's all going the way of not my problem. Then who's responsible for finds to be kept safe.

happy wanderer 3 DAYS AGO
Do the right thing then find it’s been stolen. Better not handing it in then
Let us just be clear, because it seems the Express' journalist is not, if any objects have been mislaid in or from the Preston storerooms, it is not just the finders that are deprived of them but landowners are deprived of their property. Did the BM press release on behalf of the Portable Antiquities Scheme and its partners neglect to say this?

Thursday 17 November 2022

Drilling Prehistoric Holes in Stone

What do they write about on antiquities collectors' forums? A lot of it seems to be of the "what is this?" type, with a strong preponderance towards "is this a real dugup antiquity or a fake?". An example from yesterday caught my eye: prometeus2@... · #97608
I got it 2 days ago .... Does the inside of the shaft hole looks what it´s supposed to be ?
Mmmm. Now it will be interesting to see how this is answered, if any collector on the forum ventures an opinion at all. So far, and give him credit where credit is due we have an opinion by Robert Kokotailo
Is your question what is it, or more is it authentic.

What is it, likely Danish ground stone hammer axe. . These can be late Neolithic to early Bronze Age. The curved shape suggests late in the period, likely very early Bronze Age at a time stone axes were influenced by the shapes of early bronze axes.

Is it authentic, difficult to tell from the images. These can be very well made and very well preserved if made for grave goods and interned (sic) when new.

I don’t see anything that suggest to me it is fake. There seems to be the right kind of grind marks on the surfaces. The hole looks like it was drilled with a bow drill as it should be. But having the right characteristics does not prove genuine. A provenance to a Danish or near by find site would go a long way.
Well, only if it were independently verifiable, anyone can make up a story. Leaving aside the identification, how can you say whether a hole is "right"? A hole is a hole, no? What does a collector see in a hole? 

Wednesday 16 November 2022

UK Dealer Gets Inventive

I spotted a discussion on a collectors' forum of one dealer, based in the UK who allegedly buys: "uncleaned metal detector finds from across Eastern European equivalent of eBay" and sells them with a "UK coin fair" provenance:

what I found really objectionable was he had crates of near identical bronze bracelets, obviously all same culture, period and source, but would list them across Catawiki auctions as Viking, Roman and Prehistoric, sometimes in same jewellery sale, to see what description brought the best price!
That is, "gets the best price" from people naively believing you can trust an antiquities dealer. From what I know, that is a very risky step to take, with anything.

Tuesday 15 November 2022

Two Americans accused of smuggling Mayan relics in Guatemala

Two Americans are potentially facing charges over artefact smuggling from Guatemala and trafficking in national patrimony when they were caught in a car load of antiquities ("90 percent of them were real pre-hispanic relics, while 10 percent were replicas"), but many of the reports are focusing on the fact that only three days before, one of them had reportedly been apprehended at a Guatemalan airport attempting to illegally take two 1,000-year-old Mayan relics out of the country. Now the same U.S. woman has been caught again, this time riding in a vehicle with 166 other pre-Hispanic artefacts (Sonia Perez, 'US woman accused of smuggling Mayan relics in Guatemala' The Associated Press Nov. 14, 2022).
The case of Stephanie Allison Jolluck began Thursday at the Guatemala City airport when inspectors were reportedly tipped off by the weight of her luggage and found two large Maya stone carvings in her bags. She told authorities she had bought the pieces, made between 600 and 900 A.D,, at a market in the tourist town of Antigua, Guatemala. A judge released her on a form of personal recognizance, but on Sunday police stopped a car she was in and said they found dozens of other relics. Another American, Giorgio Salvador Rossilli, was also in the vehicle.
The case is discussed in other media too: Nathaniel Janowitz, 'American Busted Twice in 3 Days Smuggling Mayan Artifacts Out of Guatemala', Vice Nov 15 2022; Miguel Barrientos Castaneda, 'Ligan a proceso a estadounidenses por tráfico de piezas arqueológicas, pero juez los favorece con caución económica' 15 Nov 2022 (pictures); Sonia Perez, 'Guatemala expat community roiled by relic smuggling charges' Yahoo, Nov. 15, 2022. BBC 'Guatemala arrests two in car full of Maya artefacts' Tue, November 15, 2022 (pictures).


Wednesday 9 November 2022

Questions About the San Casciano dei Bagni Excavations

Photos have emerged on social media purporting to show how Italian archaeologists are treating the coins excavated from the series of votive deposits at San Casciano dei Bagni and it is not a pretty sight. How is this site being "excavated"? There is no sign that these artefacts are all individually labelled by the excavators and each one tied in to a specific findspot and layer and the surrounding content of the layers so the mechanisms of deposition in the accumulated sediments can be studied. In the photo, one can see how these loose coins have been dumped into a rough stone basin through which somebody is rifling, grabbing handfuls to make a pretty photo. Is this investigation too nothing but a giant treasure hunt? 


Pretty chaotic looking site, handfuls of unlabelled coins: ArcheoCafe on Facebook 

If these really are a heap of loose coins extracted from the deep stratigraphic sequence in the spring deposits, think the archaeological community (for example the EAA at the bequest of the University of Siena and Italian monument conservation services) should urgently take an interest in the methods used on this site, because on the evidence of what is in the public domain, this does not look like this significant series of deposits is being examined and documented with the required attention to detail. If so, that would be scandalous. If the job cannot be done properly with the resources available, better to leave the site alone.

Tuesday 8 November 2022

The Barnetby Bull Rider

"Paul Campbell's find depicts a topless woman grasping a bull by the horn as she rides with her arm raised in the air [...] The Barnetby Bull Rider is due to be auctioned on Wednesday 9 November with an estimate of £8,000-£10,000" and the BBC is giving it a bit of free marketing (BBC Lincolnshire metal detectorist's Iron Age bull rider up for auction BBC News 8 November 2022). The usual "lucky last-minute find" trope:

A last-minute find by a Lincolnshire metal detectorist could sell for £10,000 at auction. Paul Campbell had given up for the day when he discovered a 2,000-year-old bull rider figure in a field in Barnetby le Wold in 2016. [...] After a successful day detecting, which had produced a few Roman coins, Mr Campbell said he had been heading back across the field to fetch his bicycle when his detector gave a positive signal. Expecting to find more Roman coins he dug down and saw "old damaged horns". "That was the clue it was from Corieltauvi times," he said.
Yeah? Horns is Corries? Eh? Anyway, it's been recorded by the PAS and is now off to auction at essex Coin Auctions (City Road London EC1V 2NX) whose specialist is quoted in the BBC piece.
Adam Staples, from Essex Coin Auctions, said it was thought to be the only recorded example of a figure riding a bull and probably dated from the early 1st century AD. "It is such a unique piece and begs the question just who was she? Was she a slave, a priestess, a Queen [sic]?" he said. "The names of powerful Celtic Queens such as Boudicca and Cartimandua have survived the ages, but the identity of our rider has been lost to history," he added. Mr Staples said the bull rider would have been fixed to the top of a bowl that may have been filled with blood during ritual sacrifices.
So, it's got everything going for it, bloody sacrifices, topless women who might be "a slave, a priestess, or a Queen", wherever your fantasy takes you. There are said to be 1600 archaeologists in teh UK (Profiling the profession), very few of them speak out against their "partners', the site-trashers with metal detectors and spades that steal knowledge from archaeological sites for collecting, or sale. Not a peep from most of the passive jobsworths. You need very few hands to count on the fingers British archaeologists who consistently place conservation and methological issue over the desire get new loose artefacts for archaeologists to study and speak out. One of them is Andy Brockman who comments on a phrase that was used in the BBC article, a quote attributed to the finder and seller:
He said it had been a race against time as the field was being turned into grassland for sheep a few days later [...] Speaking of the auction Mr Campbell, who has been detecting metal since he was nine years old, said he was "not money orientated". "It's more important that I've saved it from the plough," he said.
. Which is of course what turning arable land into pasture would actually do. But a cynic might think that the real point here is that (despite the protective mythology being referenced here), it is less lucrative for the finders to leave saleable objects in situ, eh? Brockman's response to this was:
"Metal detectorist wins "race against time" to find rare Iron Age votive bull rider and get it to market, in another commercial auction apparently involving well known consultant Adam Staples who has also been linked to Hansons & it is all perfectly legal./ The BBC article does not pick up that the "race against time" before the field was turned into pasture, described by the finder, was in fact a race against time before the detecting permission may have been stopped given the field's new status. The object was not going anywhere. / Neither do the BBC question why this story is emerging days ahead of the auction where the bull rider will be sold (it's Lot 10 BTW). In fact the story, with valuation highlighted, is all about the money, as it is effectively a press release designed to drive interest and bids./ Without the promised, but MIA, reform of the Treasure Act to allow artefacts made from non precious metals to be declared Treasure, artefact finders (mostly metal detector users), and landowners, will continue to be allowed to bet heritage objects at the auction room casino."
 Another in the small group of plain-speaking and aware archaeologists, Paul Blinkhorn spots the usual spiel:
Ah, here we go, it's MD bingo time! "It's not about the money" "it's about the history and it being seen" [...] Also some ludicrous bollocks from a coin dealer about blood and ritual sacrifices.
Where are the rest? Where is the PAS? Time and time again the same old junk is parrotted by metal detectorists and uninformed and unreflexive journalists and the PAS (BM Press Department too) just plug their ears and hunker down behind their desks. And the public that pays for their comfy warm offices and their wages, is none the wiser for it. Value for money? I think not.

To my mind the notion that the figure represented is a "topless lady" is a metal detectorists erotic fantasy. The figure clearly is clothed, with seams of the decollete and sleeves clearly shown (unless we are urged to interpret this as some kind of "Celtic bondage harness"). Actually, if you look at the side view, the breasts are nowhere near as prominent as the lighting on the photo of the front view implies. There are no other 'female' attributes. I have another issue with this piece and the manner that the findspot is documented in the public domain (an apparently unsubstantiated second-hand account by the PAS).
This item is shown in PAS photos presumably soon after discovery: LIN-B96982. Both there and in auction photos that patina looks a bit off as a ground-dug object. The 1160-word 'report' by anonymous FLO omits mention of condition of the object's surface/ which is odd, as it is that surface that they are "describing". According to a 2015 study, depending on where object was found, preservation of metal objects in the parish is "fair" to "poor". This patina is more than that. Why? / Also, bearing in mind the ("better out than in") arguments for removing artefacts from a "damaging" (according to the PAS and its supporters) ploughsoil environment- where on this object is the plough and agri-chemical damage so universally claimed as justification for wholesale metal artefact removal?

 Update 10.11.2022

The object went for a hammer price of  £7500, below the estimate. Which goes to show that lurid metal detectorists' stories of "topless ladies" and "gory blood sacrifices" won't always attract discerning (or gullible) buyers.

"Archaeological Treasures' in Context, Please? [Updated]

                  Some of the finds from the excavations still in situ
The current state of the public presentation of archaeology is well illustrated by the treatment in the media of a breaking news story from Italy, and the general lack of archaeological commentary on it in the public domain. As has been widely reported (for example, here), at San Casciano dei Bagni in Tuscany a team of archaeologists led by Jacopo Tabolli from Università per Stranieri di Siena and Emanuele Mariotti have excavated from a sealed waterlogged deposit deposit a number of complete and substantially complete bronze statues together with coins, ex voto and Latin and Etruscan inscriptions. The statues were found at the bottom of a thermal pool in a votive sanctuary and are "dated dated between the 2nd c. BCE and the 1st c. CE". The sanctuary here, with its bubbling pools, sloping terraces, fountains, altars, existed at least since the third century BC. and remained active until the fifth century AD. At this stage, excavators claim, the pools were sealed with a layer that contained heavy stone columns from the adjacent temples, and it is thought that it was at this time that the figures of the deities were dumped into the water. The archaeologists therefore found themselves in front of a deposit that was still intact, in fact "the largest deposit of statues in ancient Italy and in any case the only one whose context we have the possibility to completely reconstruct" archaeologist Tabolli says. The news articles are enthusing about the "ancient art" emerging from the mud (excavation conditions are very difficult), oooo-ahhhh.... And yes, the stature are nice. Some have a rather interesting provincial look. The naked goddess lying prone in the mud with slimy mud rubbed all over her body looks like a picture from some depraved porn mag. And the texts go on and on about them. It must be said that the published photos are unfortunately without a scale, and it is difficult to judge from them how big the statues actually are.
The Minister of Culture Gennaro Sangiuliano has already visited the restoration laboratory that has just welcomed the statues and is now applauding: "An exceptional find that confirms once more that Italy is a country made of immense and unique treasures. The stratification of different civilizations is unique in Italian culture ".
The articles only mention the archaeology in passing ("specialists at work here of every discipline, from architects to geologists, from archaeobotanists to experts in epigraphy and numismatics". Archaeobotanists going through the waterlogged deposits, eh? Here we come to the crux of the matter, we should know an immense amount about the deposition of those objects, the state and layout of the site when they went into the water, what elements of building material were present (and what that means), changes in function of the area and so on. That is what the archaeological excavation is for, that is the "context we have the possibility to completely reconstruct". Yet that context is not presented by the articles about the site, just one of the find categories. What is important here are not the statues, but the mud. why is the mud not being written about? If we want the public to understand what archaeology is, we need to tell them what it is, not just present some cherry-picked snippets because they make nice pictures.

So, I would like to know what the actual evidence is that the sanctuary was destroyed "in the 5th century AD", when it had remained active but then "in the Christian era it was closed but not destroyed, the tubs sealed with heavy stone columns, the deities entrusted with respect to water". What is the archaeological and stratigraphic evidence of this date and scenario? Or is this just a romanticised literary trope imposed on the remains? The news items report it uncritically as "fact".

Vignette: It is the site the archaeologists are excavating for knowledge, not a treasure hunt for "things" to display as trophies.

Update 9.11.22
It seems I was misled by the label "archaeologists" used in these articles. Look at the way it seems that excavated material from this site is being documented and handled
This is very disturbing.

Saturday 5 November 2022

Etsy Reticence

My attention was drawn a while ago to the sales portal Etsy, where there are a lot of craft items - but also over-priced (I would say) dugup antiquities and fake "antiquities". There are also some dealers who show items with nice patinas that they class as "Museum-quality Replicas". Some of them are nice and have a good vibe... others, umm... hm. This applies particularly to their attents at Greek or Roman figurines, and large-breasted fertility figures of any culture. These are difficult to imitate it seems. I was struck by one seller with a lot of items that had an intriguing patina that I'\ve seen before and decided to chance it:
10 hours ago13:46 EDT
Message:Hi, I am a British archaeologist and have been studying the antiquities offered by a certain UK antiquities dealer recently. Among them are a whole group of fake items that are supposed to be from the Middle East/Iran area that I realise have a patina very much like this one. May I politely ask what chemicals are used to produce this attractive effect, or is that a trade secret? (there is very little literature with real information on patination methods of the modern producers of antiquities that are not as-described). Thanks, sorry to bother you.
Paul Barford (Warsaw, Poland)

Roman Bronze Brooch Fibula Museum Quality Replica, Historical Copy, Reproduction PLN177.13 Add to basket
6 hours ago17:56 EDT
Museum Quality Reproductions
Message:Hi Paul,
Thank you for your interest, but I am afraid that I am not able to share it. Sorry about that.
Thank you!
So that's coming out of my basket. I was hoping I could get a chemical analysis and SEM of an out-of-a-bottle patina made by a known method. I already have some examples of the UK fakes (donated by a disgruntled buyer who asked my opinion) and it'd be great to do a comparison. It is also interesting to speculate if the reticence to share is due to the seller having their own recepie (or favourite one from fakers' lore), or due to the seller not actually being the producer and does not know. To my eye, these are not, for several reasons I'll not go into, imported fakes of Bulgarian origin.

Thursday 3 November 2022

More UK Detectorists Reporting Objects Missing When Curated by Portable Antiquities Scheme

It seems that archaeologists who do not visit the metal detecting websites are missing an opportunity not only to do outreach but to look and learn about why the recording of artefacts found by artefact hunters is dropping off. But it is just there a mouse click away. Take this one for example: Metal Detecting Resource Hub /Detecting Related/ Detecting Chat Stolen treasure. It starts off with a post that starts the whole thing off (spelling and punctuation as in original). It is by a bloke called Majorpete75 ( Mon Oct 31, 2022 9:27 pm):
As you no I found 2 hoards and treasure find all in about 4 months of each other it's been about 29 months the ba hoard . So 2 weeks ago I went to my local museum to see the flo as I need some finds I'd was sat for about 30 mins with him . Then got up to leave and thought I would ask about my treasure finds . So he said sit down so I did he told me one my axhead had been stolen from Lancashire council where he is based the police was involved I was gutted and shocked and when I ask about my coin hoard if that was missing he couldn't tell me .He even said for me to keep it quiet well me being me I was straight on the phone to BM to speak to micheal lewis confirmed that there is theft and the coroner had called investigation so micheal lewis didnt get back to me so I call bk again spoke to someone else who said Lancashire council will be notifying everyone that has had items stolen will be notified this was ment to happen a week ago . So today I get a phone call today of the flo who said his boss heather hasnt got back to me as b been busy and she will get back to me the end of week if she hasnt then to call him . So I asked what was missing of mine he said besides the axhead I told you about at the museum all your coins have gone to 23 hammered coin hoard that the chance of ever finding again gutted . and he was sure if my pendant has gone to until he in the office . This is massive theft of treasure it's not just mine there is loads one guy half his saxon hoard gone another lady been trying to get hold of heather demanding a crime number for her stollen treasure this is unbelievable someone in there house has stolen 1000s worth of treasure.
That quote is significant (punctuation, spelling tweaked): "This is massive theft of treasure. It's not just mine, there is loads; one guy half his Saxon hoard gone, another lady been trying to get hold of Heather demanding a crime number for her stolen treasure. This is unbelievable, someone in their house has stolen [£]1000s worth of treasure".

Writing on 1 Nov, Majorpete says "I have not had crime number neither have other people when asking it's a big cover up". [...] "I will be calling police myself tomorrow was ment to find out today if my pendant has gone a not a reply shocking watch me out I seen about 8 people from same flo and most are half hoards or full hoards gone".

It seems forum members are not at all surprised by this:
"There have been rumours of items going missing for decades". 
Wardie1994 "Hear of items going missing all the time, I’ve had a few bits go missing" [...]
Metalurgy (Mon Oct 31, 2022 10:18 pm) "I’m very sorry to hear this but not surprised, there has been so much theft in the past and unfortunately it’s still going on. This isn’t an isolated incident but the professionals are incapable of sorting this out and I’m afraid it will just continue".
alloverover (Mon Oct 31, 2022 9:33 pm) "Not too supprising, ive had stuff go missing before".

Since there are now quite a few accusations on this issue, one wonders why detectorists have not raised a ruckus before. As Wardie1994 says: "if we don’t let it go and make a fuss things will change. This isn’t about money, it’s about safeguarding items that have been lent to a system for recording for the wider benefit of everyone. If it can’t be trusted then confidence goes and the system collapses. That is in no one’s interest…

The PAS should address this wider issue now as a matter or urgency. How many cases were there and how many do they have records for? because there are accusations too of record-fiddling

Prasutagus [ Mon Oct 31, 2022 11:41 pm]
I had a Saxon silver cross disappear after handing over to my FLO. Not only that, but they had the audacity to then tell me, after further review, from studying the remaining pictures of the cross, they believed it was actually less than 300 years old and closed the treasure case. It was 100% Saxon. I was speechless. This happens way more than people think.

Any details and comment from the Portable Antiquities Scheme? What are the facts according to them? Can we see the pictures?

Member keyfits (Wed Nov 02, 2022 11:24 am) voices an opinion about an issue that many of us are wondering about:

I suspect that one theory regarding missing finds are possibly down to a third party who have had access to the finds store area rather than official department long term staff who would be the first obvious suspects and would have to be very cunning and brazen or very stupid (or a bit of all those). It's obviously someone with the knowledge (staff or third party) that treasure finds can take forever to get processed and won't be missed for a long time which brings in to play another theory, staff knowing they are about to leave? The last theory is the one that PAS use most of the time, that the finds have been misplaced or lost but this has been happening quite a lot from various posts and reports over the years but can't be totally be dismissed, although I suspect that this is more unlikely for most (not all) of missing items. I will leave it to Columbo to sort out. This disturbing ongoing issue of finds going missing needs to be publicised at the highest level to make sure that these departments bolster their security and ensure that only authorised personnel have monitored access.

The forum thread has now been locked. A shame, because it looks quite revealing and raises some questions that should be being addressed about PAS curation and heritage management. 

Wednesday 2 November 2022

SLAPPing by Antiquities Dealers

Information gathering about market methods
Erin L. Thompson @artcrimeprof 10 g.
I'm collecting threatening letters sent to scholars for their questioning the authenticity of artworks. I've got quite a few (all threats of lawsuits so far). Anyone want to send me more/tell me whom to ask? erin.louisa.thompson at gmail - keeping this very confidential!
Equally interesting are the cases where a fake is called out and reasons given, and the dealer thought better of getting their lawyers involved defending it... (jus' saying). Andy Brockman (@pipelinenews 6 g) reminds us:
These are SLAPP suits, or threats thereof... Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation is an abuse of legal process designed to intimidate and to prevent scrutiny and they are almost invariably engaged in by entities with something to hide.
He accompanies this by a link to a text by Sofia Verza, published by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) "SLAPP: the background of Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation". I would be more interested in examples of attempts to use SLAPP on people questioning the collection histories given (or rather not given) by antiquities dealers. I personally know of at least three, there probably are many more, and I think that as a community archaeologists, heritage professionals and others should be more open about having received them (though the threat is usually sent in a form that includes a demand for 'conidentialty').

Tuesday 1 November 2022

Heritage Blogger Vindicated

I first became aware of Manhattan antiquities dealer Subhash Kapoor through a fellow blogger writing to me about a legal threat they had received for writing about him. He dealt with that but a few months later Kapoor was arrested in circumstances that are by now well-known. Just a few days ago the dealer was convicted on trafficking charges in India — more than a decade after his arrest. A CID press release cites "diverse dilatory tactics adopted by Kapoor and the co-accused to delay the trial"; apparently preferring life in jail to facing the accusations in court, “the accused Kapoor filed at least seven bail applications and discharge petitions before the High Court, all of which were dismissed. He also filed various applications before the trial court under some pretext or the other to delay the trial…”. Kapoor and his criminal associates were sentenced to 10 years in prison and fined for plundering Indian temples. Indian press is reporting that several more cases are pending against Kapoor. So let that be a warning to dealers threatening bloggers, eh? Just saying.

Vignette: The National Gallery of Australia Returns to India 13 More Works Bought From Now-Imprisoned Art Dealer Subhash Kapoor


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