Monday 25 December 2023

Belgian Family Never Learnt about not Buying Stolen Antiquities


One born every minute. Some villager from Herzele in Belgium was on holiday in Italy and came home with an ancient artefact which he reportedly took out of the country without the requisite paperwork ('Stolen Pompeii earthquake relief found in Belgian village stairwell' The History Blog December 22, 2023)
5-year-old Raphaël De Temmerman, bought the relief under circumstances that were almost comically shady during a trip to Italy in 1975. He was visiting Pompeii with his little boy Geert when they were approached by a man carrying something heavy in a burlap bag. He showed them the contents — a marble slab — and asked them for money. A quick exchange of cash for goods, and the seller turned tail and ran away as fast as his legs could carry him. De Temmerman took his “souvenir” home and added it to the new greay marble cladding on the staircase wall, a renovation inspired by Pompeii and ancient Rome.
It turns out that the marble relief had been stolen on July 14th, 1975, from the house of banker L. Caecilius Iucundus in Pompeii where it originally hung above the atrium altar. Belgium will probably return it to Italy under existing legislation, but there's a snag. Reportedly:
Meanwhile, the De Temmermans want compensation for the looted object [...] and are considering getting a lawyer to advocate for their interests. Their argument is that at least they kept the looted object safe for five decades [...] because after all, the piece hung here for 50 years without anything happening to it. It could so easily have been sold on or broken.”
Or treated as "decor" and cemented into some foreign Philistine's wall.

Vignette: Repairs with grey concrete and then secondariloy grouted, some of which is on the surface of the object. Yuck.

Sunday 24 December 2023

Christmas 2023

I would like to wish all my readers a Very Merry Christmas, wherever they are and whatever they are doing over the holiday. It's a time of reflection, of looking back at the year that is passing and that which is to come. Let us look back and remember all the good things that have happened in 2023, and look forward to the hopes and opportunities that 2024 will bring. Let us resolve not to squander them.
The Adoration of the Shepherds, second half of the XVII century, Lviv region (Ivan Honchar Museum)

The illustration is of a Ukrainian icon that well illustrates a trend characteristic of this period, it moves well away from the schematic rigid, repetitive two-dimensional diagram-like forms of Russian post-Byzantine iconography. Here the figures are depicted as flesh and blood, modelled in the round with individual features in settings that have a real-life character. Like the cotemporary "Cossack Baroque" this art is an adaptation of western forms overlain on native material culture, and like it, with a reduction of the fussy ornament.  It is a form specific to the regions of what is now Ukraine. This cultural separateness from that of Muscovy beyond the Polesian forests persists in time from the deeper past, and preserving that as a living culture, and not just a memory is what is keeping hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians out in trenches in the sleet, snow, fog and chill defending their territory with their lives from those that would deny them that. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers. Слава Україні!

Friday 22 December 2023

Lenborough Hoard does a Runner


Readers will remember the Lenborough Hoard "excavated" at Christmas 2014 by the FLO in a narrow hoik hole and tipped onto a farmer's kitchen table from a carrier bag. Over on social media,the lady who'd got a big grant to publish this excavation (not the FLO) to - I would venture a guess - try and show that "nothing bad happened really" has just made this announcement:
"Lenborough Hoard Project 💙 @LenboroughHoard 23m
This account is being retired. The analysis is complete and a summary will be included in the forthcoming SCBI catalogue of the hoard. #Cnut #coins…"
[Lenborough Hoard Project 💙 @LenboroughHoard Sep 28, 2019
So what can a coin hoard tell us about society, economy and the impact of Danish rule in the early 11th century? If you are interested in any of the above, then follow this page!
]Hmm. SCBI = "Syllogue of Coins of the British Isles". When's "forthcoming"?

So she apparenly does not anticipate any substantive discussion in the long term of the results of her long and expensive project processing and analysing this hoard and its recovery methods? Why is that? Is her report the final word ever? Hardly.

If this hoard was recovered as "citizen archaeology", why is the publication in an object-centric format and not an archaeological monograph series? There will be a LOT of archaeology to discuss when this publication is out, is the author running from that? Looks rather like it. Mind you, I would too given the way this hoard was handled by British archaology from day one of its discovery.

So it has taken a decade and X thousand quid...

Sunday 17 December 2023

The Plundered Soul of a Nation: US Collections and Cambodian Looting

       The infamous Gallery 249 Metropolitan Museum, New York      


The Metropolitan Museum of Art will return 13 antiquities to Cambodia that are linked to Douglas Latchford, an art dealer who was charged with trafficking, Federal Prosecutors announced two days ago.
CBS News 60 Minutes

How Cambodian artifacts stolen from temples ended up in American museums, private collections 60-minutes By Anderson Cooper. Dec 17, 2023
It might be the greatest art heist in history – thousands of Cambodia’s cultural treasures, including sacred stone, bronze and gold artifacts, have been looted from religious sites across the country. 60 Minutes reports, Sunday.
Worth a watch. The latest in quite along line of material reflecting CNN interest in Cambodian looting. 

Searching for the rest of Cambodia's stolen crown jewels

In addition to the report on the statues: 
60 MINUTES OVERTIME  by Will Croxton
Searching for Cambodia's stolen crown jewels
60-minutes-overtime December 17, 2023

In the film, Brad Gordon tells of what he learnt from former looter ("Lion") who'd been working for Douglas Latchford, a British antiquities dealer and leading scholar on Khmer art who in 2019 was accused by US authorities of trafficking artifacts looted from Cambodia. When interviewed about looting of the Temple on Sandak Mountain - Prasat Phnom Sandok (1:50):
"....I said to him "well, what did you find in this area?" He said, "well, I found a jar", "I found a jar of three kilos of jewellery, and it was necklaces, earrings and crowns...",  and I said to him "did you just find one jar, and he said no, he'd found hundreds".
This is presumably the source of a lot of Khmer jewellery that has been on the market (for example this group of items: 'Ancient Artefacts Returned to Cambodia from London', PACHI Saturday 6 May 2017; PACHI  Sunday 3 December 2017, 'Looted ancient gold jewelry returned to Cambodia from Britain';  'Ancient Angkorian jewellery to go on show', PACHI Saturday 6 January 2018). There was never any explanation where the Canadian seller got them, or how they travelled to the UK. 

Claudine Bautze-Picron  Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (2010, 2011) writes: "all my gratefulness goes to the private collectors who welcomed me, allowing me to see and study these jewels, gorgeous testimonies of a remote and lost past.." apparently oblivious to the fact that the past is being "lost" to the looting that enables and is enabled by this very same private collecting.

It seems that Latchford had retained 77 pieces for himself, and they were inherited by his daughter, who ultimately handed them back in February this year, the items include several crowns, necklaces, bracelets, belts, earrings, arm bands and amulets. (David Sanderson, 'Britain returns stolen crown jewels to Cambodia' The Times Feb 20, 2023;  Tara Subramaniam, Oscar Holland, 'Disgraced art dealer’s family returns rare royal jewels to Cambodia', CNN, Thu February 23, 2023; Tom Mashberg, 'Cambodia Says It Has Recovered Looted Gold Jewelry Once Worn by Royals' New York Times Feb. 24 2023). 
Lawyer Bradley Gordon, who advises the country’s culture ministry and is leading Cambodia’s efforts to repatriate stolen artifacts, first saw the jewels last summer when a representative for Latchford’s family took him to a parking lot in the English countryside outside London. There, in the back of a car, sat four boxes containing a collection of Cambodia’s crown jewels.
But if there really were "hundreds of jars", where are the rest? 


Bunker, Emma (2000) Splendour and Sensuality in Angkor. Period Khmer Jewellery. Orientations (Hong Kong). 31/3: 102–113.

Bunker, Emma C.; Latchford, Douglas (2008). Khmer Gold: Gifts for the Gods. Douglas A.J. Latchford. ISBN 978-1-58886-097-2.

Claudine Bautze-Picron Jewels for a King - Part I. Indo-Asiatische Zeitschrift, 2010, 14, pp.42-56. ffhal-00550774f

Claudine Bautze-Picron. Jewels for a King - Part II. Indo-Asiatische Zeitschrift, 2011, 15, pp.41-56. ffhal-00646540f

Historical England and Heritage-Health


Historic England
"The evidence that heritage is good for health and wellbeing is growing. We are making a call for papers and contributions for next year's Wellbeing and Heritage Conference. The submission deadline is 15 January 2024".
My predictions is that Day Two will be full of presentations by amateur metal detectorists. But collection-driven exploitation of teh archaeological record is not a healthy way to treat such a resource.

Friday 15 December 2023

Clasps and Plaques from metal detecting

Having finished the end-of-year editing (four books all at once) and some translation work, can at last get back to my own stuff, this includes writing up a metal detectorists collection that was recently sold online, apparently substantially intact. It's an eye-opener (more of that later). There were a couple of lots containing items that the PAS had not seen(?) and nobody - including the dealer, had identified. I tried my Twitter followers, but they weren't very forthcoming. Anyway, I got there myself and thought I'd put the results down here for future reference. 

     Live Auctioneers
1) "clasps" 
Sold as part of a mixed group together with some flimsy book clasps (or book-clasp like things, could be casket hasps too) I'm looking at the broad rectangular plates with three or four rectangular slots. My first thought was some kind of strap-tightener (on analogy with the fittings of the lanyards of a tent)? It later turned out that they are probably a simple form of neck-stock clasp (early 18th - late 19 century) . In use, it'd look like this: 'Getting Dressed in the 18th Century - Men' National Museums Liverpool  Dec 15, 2023.

          Live Auctioneers        
2) "plaques" 
Unfortunately we do not know what the backs look like (dealers font bother showing you all the information, there are enough buyers who'll indiscriminately buy any old crap). Archaeo-Twitter did not know, but then I found a Dutch metal detecting site that did. It lists similar items as “Blinker or saddle brass [mounts]” and dates them to the end 19th - begin 20th century". Then I found one on eBay and had some very pleasant correspondence with the seller (westcountryponies2011). in this case some old plaques had been removed from the harness and remounted at some time quite a while ago on a new strap. 
It turns out that there is rather more to male neckware than one might have thought (herehere, and here) and one might ask what we have lost by the examples of clasps sold here not being recorded. Who wore these, where and when? Are they found in fields, as worn by... well, who? Ploughboys? In both of these cases the items concerned fall outside the 300-year limit of PAS recording. And yet... PAS has 16 records of them, almost all the mappable ones from the coastal regions of SE England, and none of them of the type sold here.  There seem to be none in the totally useless UKDF 'Database'.


Tuesday 12 December 2023

Poland, ***** ***

"It's official: Poland has a new government. An eight-year attempt to build a xenophobic, autocratic and corrupt one-party state has failed. A democratic coalition will replace it".(Anne Applebaum)

So it is time to remove the logo depicting how I see the PiS regime's treatment of my country. Now it will be "Kyiv- Mother of Cities" which depicts a whole world.

Sunday 10 December 2023

Taking the -ology out of Archaeology

Katy Prickett, 'Beautifully made' Bronze Age gold torc fragment found at Erpingham', BBC News, Norfolk
A tiny, twisted fragment of a gold torc made thousands of years ago has been uncovered by a metal detectorist. The "beautifully made" Bronze Age piece was made from a twisted gold rod just 0.09in (2.4mm) thick and had been bent into an 0.43in (11mm) loop. The piece was found in a field near Erpingham, Norfolk, in September and dates to between 1400-1100BC. Dr Helen Geake, the Norfolk finds liaison officer, said: "It's been tidily tightened and folded. "Maybe it was to put back into a pot to be melted down and used to create something new - or it could be a neat little offering to the gods."
"Maybe it was to put back into a pot to be melted down and used to create something new - or it could [have been] a neat little offering to the gods." huh? 

So the fact that we have no context - not even the nature of the site it was/was not associated with, means we've again lost information. Because surely the -ology of archaeology is about not having simply to speculate and use make-believe like an eight-year old kid all the time. That's not -ology but taking archaeology back 100 years to naive antiquarianism and Treasure Hunting.

Archaeology, still carelessly dismembering sites to get portable fragments to display as trophies in museums.

Friday 8 December 2023

An 'Ordos' Fitting Online

On sale online:
4 3/4 in. (234 total, 12.2 cm wide including stand).
Rectangular openwork panel with lioness biting the neck of a doe in a foliage setting; hook to one short edge; mounted on a custom-made stand.
Private collection, UK, acquired 1986.
Acquired from Chiswick Auctions, London, 11 December 2018, lot 131.
Private collection of Professor Kenneth Graham, London, UK.
Accompanied by the original catalogue page and a copy of the original invoice.
Atrociously bad photo, the buyer cannot see anything here. Appalling technique. Note zero provenance cited, zero detail of how it got on the market, zero detail of its collection history. The problem is that something that can only be traced (nominally, because no mention is made of any paperwork) back to a collection in 1986 cannot be legitimised in relation to the 1982 Cultural Relics Protection Law (Cultural Relics Protection Law promulgated by the Standing Comm. of the National People's Congress of the PRC, Nov. 19, 1982 - see Dutra 2004, 80-1).

The 'Ordos Culture'

 The Ordos culture was a Bronze and early Iron Age material culture group known primarily through the "ancient art" trade. Its remains are found mainly in the Ordos desert, in that big loop of the Yellow River in modern Inner Mongolia, NW China. At the time of the functioning of this group (from about 500 BCE to  the 2nd century BCE),* the Ordos Plateau was watered by numerous rivers and streams to produce rich grazing lands, and this was some of the best pasture lands on the Asian Steppe, covered by grass, bushes, and trees.  Many of the buried metal artefacts have emerged on the surface of the land as a result of the progressive desertification of the region (Bunker 2002, p. 200).The Ordos culture is known for its "Ordos bronzes" (zoomorphic figures and small plaques and fittings for clothes and horse harness being particularly collectable), blade weapons, finials for tent-poles, horse gear. Many of these items exhibit animal style decoration with relationships both with the Scythian art of regions much further west, and also Chinese art. Different authors have various ideas to which "ethnic group" mentioned in the written sources, or genetic group, they should be related.  

The material seems to fall into two main groups. The first consists of bronze items (sometimes tinned) of the 6-5th century BC, these seem to reflect a nomadic culture based on the use of wheeled vehicles rather than the mounted horse. The items found include ornamental fittings for yokes. 

Sources, wikipedia and the trade
The 4th-3rd centuries BC saw the introduction of new metallurgy and style. From this period, there is the use not only bronze but of silver and gold (or at least gilding) that appeared from the 4th century BC. This new "intrusive style" seems to relate to the appearance of the mounted-horse culture, and a disappearance of vehicle ornaments around that time and other changes in the material culture. The iconography of the artefacts seems clearly derived from Altaic or eastern Central Asian motifs from Central Asia and southern Siberia.

Sources, wikipedia and the trade

Ordos-After Ordos
The development of these styles was disrupted by the arrival of new styles that seem to be related to the emergence of the Xiongnu group here (circa 160 BC) - these are the nomads that would emerge in western Europe as the "Huns" in the 4th century AD. The artefacts of this 'Xiongnu' period were inspired by the art of the steppes and include belt plaques in the shape of a kneeling horse in gilded silver, or belt buckles with animal combat scenes. Some of these may have been made in North China workshops for the Xiongnu in imitation of steppe art (it is noted by Bunker that the design was flattened and compressed within the frame (Met Museum 'Belt Plaque in the Shape of a Crouching Horse' North China 3rd–1st century BCE)


Yan Liu, Rui Li, Junchang Yang, Ruiliang Liu, Guoxing Zhao and Panpan Tan, 2021 'China and the steppe: technological study of precious metalwork from Xigoupan Tomb 2 (4th–3rd c. BCE) in the Ordos region, Inner Mongolia' Heritage Science 9(1)

Fan Zhang 2022, 'Xianbei Zoomorphic Plaques: Art, Migration, andHuman‑Environment Entanglement' Arts 2022, 11(6), 129;

*The dates vary from author to author, based on art-historical grounds.

Thursday 7 December 2023

Akkadian Cylinder Seal, c. 2300-2200 BCE

Sold through Live Auctioneers:
Akkadian Cylinder Seal, c. 2300-2200 BCE
Estimate $500-$900,
Dec 02, 2023
Sold for $550

Carved dark green stone, apprx 12.5 x 8 mm. Depicting a contest of two symmetrical pairs; a hero with a buffalo and a hero with a lion.
This seal comes with a museum quality modern impression and is accompanied by a signed hand written note by W. G. Lambert, Professor of Assyriology, University of Birmingham, UK, 1970 - 1993. From the collection of Juliane and Philip Lynch, Shaker Heights, Ohio.
Condition: good, well preserved.
Buyer's Premium 23%
Neue Auctions Beachwood, OH, United States
Note zero provenance cited, zero detail of how it got on the market, zero detail of its collection history - or even the actual date that W. G. Lambert (1926-2011) - based in the UK - saw it and where.  Unlike some auctioneers one could mention, the seller actually shows you what the Lambert note looks like (some don't at all, others only make a token effort: "In a Parallel Universe, Buy A Cylinder Seal from London Dealer, Get a Fuzzy Photo of a 'Lambert Note' for Free" PACHI Friday 19 August 2022).

When I wrote that other post, I recall there were quite a few examples of Lambert notes online, on collectors' sites. They see to have gone, which is a shame. In particular look at the two signatures, the one from the recent sale, the one from the one from the earlier text. Is that the same hand? 

On the right is a photocopy of one of Lambert's surviving notebooks, now online (C. Jones "The Notebooks of W.G. Lambert Online " AWOL blog 25 Dec 2015). 

Since Lambert is being cited all over the market  for antiquities of assorted kinds, it would be helpful to get a decent online archive of his notes, chronologically arranged. 

Tuesday 28 November 2023

Sunak and the "British" Parthenon Fragments

Gillian Keegan Secretary of State for Education, member of Parliament for Chichester in response to a diplomatic hiccup over the continued presence of Athens' ripped-off (literally) Parthenon Marbles in a post-imperial Bloomsbury tourist attraction gave a press interview. She, presumably deliberately, called them the "Elgin" Marbles (but misprouncing the name as /ˈɛldʒɪn/ instead of the correct /ˈɛlɡɪn/) after the bloke who sold them to the Museum - Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin and 11th Earl of Kincardine (1766–1841). Having established their "Britishness", she says that they are "Actually protected under law, and under that law, they have to stay in the British Museum". This has prompted commentators to refer to a "Sunak's Law" (after the current PM). It's worth reflecting that it is not "Sunak's Law" but the British Museum Act 1963 was enacted as long ago as the end of Harold Macmillan's premiership (July 1963) and revised the British Museum Act 1902 (2 Edw. 7. c. 12) of 22 July 1902. So time for a change.

Thursday 23 November 2023

Looter Alert at Walney

Bad news from another corner of Britain (Alec Whitaker 'Round House Hub and Cafe to host new metal detecting club in Walney' The Mail 23.11.23),
Metal detector enthusiasts of all levels of ability have been invited to attend a newly formed club this weekend. The first meeting is being held at the Round House Hub and Café on Walney Island on Sunday (November 26) from 11am to noon. People will be educated on the importance of obtaining permission from the landowner before using a metal detector on beaches, footpaths, or council-owned land. A plan will then be put in place for metal-detecting sessions in the future. Seasoned detectorist Graeme Rushton, who has been a successful metal detector for over 40 years, will be in attendance. The session is free of charge and will gauge people's interest.
What's this then? "People will be educated on the importance of obtaining permission from the landowner before using a metal detector on beaches, footpaths, or council-owned land ". Is that all anybody taking a spade to a site producing archaeological and historical finds needs to be "educated" about? 

Is not Walney Island covered in SSSIs and NNRs? Even somewhere like that, it is symptomatic that there's be enough selfish would-be heritage diggers to form a club. 

"Seasoned detectorist Graeme Rushton, who has been a successful metal detector (sic) for over 40 years, will be in attendance". No doubt to offer advice on what's the best machine to buy. 

Shame on you Round House Hub and Cafe for hosting such a meeting! The archaeological and historical record in the ground is a priceless and finite resource. It is one that is also intensely threatened by being dug up non-archaeologically, by self-centred acquisitive individuals simply to get collectable items for personal entertainment and profit. Unsystematically pulling random individual artefacts blindly out of the archaeological context (that is destroyed by people digging little holes all over it) is irreversible damage. It's like those people that cut up antiquarian books just to get the pictures to frame, or those who make collections of bird eggs taken from nests on the marshes. You understand nature conservation I assume, what about conservation of the historical environment, is that a concept difficult to grasp? Will you be inviting the Portable Antiquities Scheme or any other heritage professionals to talk about the ethical side of the practice and responsible and irresponsible use of the historical environment? I hope so.

Tuesday 21 November 2023

Putting Moscow's Cultural Destruction in Ukraine into Context

Russia has bombed and destroyed another hospital in Ukraine. The number of damaged and destroyed health care facilities in Ukraine is approaching 2,000. Russia is committing grave war crimes in Ukraine to achieve its genocidal goal of exterminating the Ukrainian nation and people.

Sunday 19 November 2023

Pre-Empting What (While promoting the ALR)?

Blue Shield Initiative Working Group on Countering Trafficking Webinar: Pre-emptive Measures to Protect Movable Cultural Heritage and Enable Later Repatriation Efforts :

Join us for an insightful free online event on Tue Nov 28 2023 at 14:00 GMT, focusing on the pre-emptive actions to take to protect movable cultural heritage in the event of conflict and natural disaster and to enable later repatriation efforts.
In the first half we will look at recent cases of conflict and disaster and assess the effectiveness of preparatory measures taken, the use of Cultural Heritage At Risk Database (CHARD) to enable public and private agencies and individuals to be one step ahead by searching the art market proactively for registered 'at risk' objects, and the legal strategies countries should take in advance of armed conflict or natural disaster to facilitate the recovery of movable objects.
Hmmm. First of all, who is to take these "pre-emptive actions"? It seems to me what these folk are proposing is that the foreign communities in the source countries suffering the trauma of conflict and natural disaster should be burdened with (a) settng up the measures these folk choose for them and (b) actually implement them while that conflict and natural disaster is going on. 

The pre-emptive way to protect NOT just the "movable cultural heritage" but the sites and assemblages they are taken from is to work to make the collection of such items (especially without a full suite of legitimating paperwork) completely socially unacceptable

The whole point is the actual issue is not that American fixation with "repatriation", it is protecting the cultural resource as a whole, not the ownership of loose objects of "ancient art".  The focus on "repatriation" shows that te focus here is entirely on the "soft power" aspects of antiquities preservation, rather than the damage done by getting the artefacts on the market in the first place.  

Note: the Cultural Heritage At Risk Database (CHARD) is just another initiative of the Art Loss Register and it is to be used by enable "public and private agencies and individuals" to search for ... well, not really clear here:
proactively register objects in situ at museums, warehouses and archaeological sites, to ensure that if such items are stolen they can be identified if offered for sale. A particular focus for the project has been museums, sites and depositories in Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, and India – to name a few – but there is no restriction on where such objects can be located, provided that they are at risk [...] These registrations are carried out on a pro bono basis and are thus free of charge to whoever provides the necessary data. In addition, they will be kept confidential and secure on the ALR’s database so that only the ALR can access them. No dealer or auction house has direct access to the database.
So more of a gotcha than a deterrant [but actually is iot not the case that dealers can get ALR certificates on the basis of these data, is that different from a CHARD certificate?]. So when can we see the eight million objects in the British Museum's storerooms added pro bono for starters? That have demonstrably been under risk and items have already been found on the market.

Interesting business model: "you give us your data for free, we'll put it on our database making it look even more reliable and complete, and then we'll charge all those folk for access to your data...".
Now tell us again, how that's going to work here (the photo used to advertise the webinar): 

What we need is not a "pre-emptive" way to get some of those lose unprovenanced and basically archaeologically useless artefacts to an Iraqi storeroom to gasther dust and create a cataloguing and administrative nightmare for the locals, but a pre-emptive way to stop incentivising digging all those holes in an ancient site.  

Ukrainian Gold, British "Geography", No excuses.

How do you feel about buying from an ignorant seller? St James’s Ancient Art London

"Near East (Western Asiatic): A set of five Scythian gold sheet appliques from the Crimea, specifically the Dnieper region [...] Provenance: Ex. Mayfair gallery, London. [...] 
These delicate appliques come from the Crimea region in modern Ukraine, the region surrounding the river Dnieper".
[poor spelling too, "adorne" in the wikipedia-like narrativisation]

Where do you start with this? This is just so much ignorant bollocks, do they teach geography in London comprehensive schools these days? Neither Crimea (not 'the') nor Ukraine are anywhere near "Western Asia" Where's the Dnipro, morons? [Dnieper is an anglicised version of the Russian form, but the Soviet Union is OVER]. But at least they got right that Crimea is a region of UKRAINE. But then why is their website showing them selling the Ukrainians' stuff with too-vague collection history nine years after the Russian invastion? Better explanation please?

New York Gallery Mosaics Sent to Lebanon, but there's a Catch [Updated]

Dalya Alberge, 'US accused of sending fake Roman mosaics back to Lebanon. Guardian 19/11/2023.

Authorities in New York have been accused by leading academics in France and Britain of repatriating fake Roman artefacts to Lebanon. Eight out of nine mosaic panels that the US authorities recently returned to the Middle Eastern country are not what they seem, according to claims made by Djamila Fellague of the University of Grenoble. She claims to have uncovered proof that forgers had copied designs from original mosaics in archaeological sites or museums in Sicily, Tunisia, Algeria and Turkey. “Eight of the nine ‘returned’ mosaic panels were fakes that [are] relatively easy to detect because the models used are famous mosaics,” says Fellague.
Oh how embarrassing if they were not aware of that. The nine mosaics were sent to Lebanon on 7 September were part of a lot of 22 that  reportedly had been seized in July 2021 from Georges Lotfi a Lebanese antiquities trafficker. It now seems however that there was no scientific justification to prove that the mosaics were Roman, looted and plundered precisely in Lebanon.
Before being seized by the US authorities in 2021, one of the mosaic panels was offered for sale in 2018 in a New York gallery, with an estimate of less than $20,000.

Fellague suspects that a forgers’ mosaic workshop was located somewhere in the Middle East, probably in the 1970s and 1980s, judging from other pieces that have surfaced on the art market.

A DA spokesman denied the accusations. “In order for these antiquities to be repatriated a court had to evaluate our evidence, which included expert analysis about their authenticity and significant details about how they were illegally trafficked. The court found based on the evidence – which these individuals do not have – that the pieces are authentic.”
This expertizse would not happen to be from a New York Gallery would it?

Is that expert willing to come forward? [UPDATE Jason Felch notes the DA says: “We also recognize C. Brian Rose, Amr Al-Azm and Isber Sabrine for their expertise and assistance throughout these complex investigations.”"]

hat tip Dave Coward.  

Friday 17 November 2023

Stolen Sacral Art Found in British Shed

Two 8th-century yogini sculptures stolen from a temple in Banda district, in Uttar Pradesh, India, were handed over to Indian authorities in London. The statues, depicting Yogini Chamunda and Yogini Gomukhi, were found in a garden shed in England. The Lokhari temple, where the statues were stolen from in the 1970s and 1980s, originally housed 20 yogini statues, all now gone (Naomi Canton, 'Two ancient yoginis found in English shed handed over to Jaishankar in London' Times of India Nov 17, 2023) India's External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar on receiving these items stressed that Noting that “antiquities of various kinds” had left India illegally, and that “It is important to ensure that cultural exchanges are legal, transparent and rules-based, and where there have been deviations, whenever these are corrected, I think this is something of great importance as a message that this is a practice which is not acceptable in this day and age”.

Yoginis are powerful female deities who are considered masters of the yogic arts, with 64 such divine figures worshipped as a group of goddesses at yogini temples. The Lokhari temple, believed to have been built in the 10th century, originally contained 20 yogini statues, depicted as beautiful women with animal heads. The yoginis had been kept in the temple without a roof, door or lock, because of the belief that the deities commune with the heavens at night. In the 1970s and early 1980s, the temple was targeted by a group of looters, who operated out of Rajasthan and Mumbai and smuggled goods into Europe via Switzerland. An unknown number of statues were stolen, with others having been broken. The remaining unharmed statues were then removed and hidden by the villagers.
There are no details given on the all-important information how they got from the looters to a British shed four or five decades later.

Tuesday 14 November 2023

UNESCO's International Day against Illicit Trafficking in Cultural Property

14th November: "International Day against Illicit Trafficking in Cultural Property", and what?

UNESCO: "Let us join our forces and work more closely together to combat the scourge and protect our common heritage for future generations". And what?

Monday 13 November 2023

"Leading British Archaeologist and Their Outreach: "There's No Serious Archaeology Until You Get Two Feet Down".

    "Not two feet down, so OK": Leading British Archaeologist     

In addition to the comment I discussed just below this, in yet another comment to my post '"Metal Detector Use"', the sock-puppet metal detectorist blog-troller going by the assumed name of "De. (sic) William Shephard" decides this is somehow an appropriate response:
Paul the Troll, my dear chap, I have a couple of questions, are you really based in Poland, or, are the stories I am hearing that seem to cast a little doubt upon this claim correct? Secondly, regarding "strata damage", I have recently conversed with a leading Archaeologist, very much your senior, [No mames no, etc.,] who assured me that serious archeology [sic] is only concerned with what is beneath the initial two feet of soil, hence the use of bulldozers, are you in agreement with this pronouncement, or are you in opposition? Bearing in mind that I have the fellow's name and details...
Good grief. Where do we start? firstly, I do not see why whether or not the ad personam "stories are true" about where I live and with whom I live have any relevance at all to the content of this blog. If I lived under a bridge in Wensleydale, that would not change the importance of the questions I ask about metal detecting and the antiquities market. Note he seems to imply that he's in contact with people who claim to know about my private like - a stalker? I would not put that past the direputable crowd that the UK metal detecting community incorporates.

The second argument is what interests (I use the term loosely) me. Note what they both have in common though. Both fail to cite a source. Some unspecified "stories I am hearing" [from somebody I'm not going to reveal] are comparable to "I have recently conversed with a leading Archaeologist [...] No mames no,etc., who assured me...". What?

Well, "Bearing in mind that I have the fellow's name and details...", I'd like to know that. If they've got time to talk to a detectorist about this, I'd be willing to give them a listen, too. Can "De. (sic) William Shephard" put us in touch?

Just so things are clear. I do not think I have ever used the term "strata damage" here. Shephard's got me confused with somebody else. Anyhow:
a leading Archaeologist [...] assured me that serious archeology [sic] is only concerned with what is beneath the initial two feet of soil, hence the use of bulldozers, are you in agreement with this pronouncement, or are you in opposition?
In opposition, seniority or not. This is just wrong - I'm guessing said "Unnamed Leading Archaeologist" (ULA) was misquoted. Serious archaeology is interested in usable archaeological evidence wherever it is found in usable form. But to find it you have to look. 

- I once worked on a Cotswolds Roman rural site where the entire fifth century AD phase was revealed in the material from the topsoil (which we stripped by hand, no bulldozers). If ULA had used their bulldozer on that site, they'd not only have removed the latest phase, but most of the shallow archaeology, the ploughsoil was less than 0.25m deep. The plotting of the material in that ploughsoil revealed activity areas that were ploughed-out, but still detectable and recordable. 

- At Cottham, the VASLE project revealed patters of artefacts in the ploughsoil that related to discrete phases of activity (among others: here, here, here and refs). 

- Another classic examle that ULA should have heard of is the metal detecting surveys at Rendlesham base the interpretation of the site on the evidence from the ploughsoil (which has been damaged by metal detectorists intent on just collecting stuff for themselves). 

- Metal detectors are used to plot material in the ploughsoil to produce material for interpretation at many a battlefield site (Bosworth, Grunwald here in Poland, Little Big Horn in America). I cannot believe that an ULA determined to "assure" a metal detectorist would not be aware of this type of work and many more. At every one of these sites, bulldozing off the topsoil to get at the "serious archaeology" two feet below (sic) would simply destroy that evidence - and indeed the site. 

- Methodological surface surveys are the staple of many of the research projects foreign schools in the Mediterranean region and the Middle East. Has ULA worked abroad ever?

- I have published an article on the situation in North Africa where the collecting of artefacts from surface scatters in the desert to serve the collectors' market has totally stripped away whole sites (2020: Green Saharas, Grey Markets: Commercial Exploitation of North African Prehistory, an Overview) this is not just "somebody else's problem", surface lithic assemblages in Breckland, and on the Moors in the North of England are also being distorted (damaged) by the activities of collectors - whether or not British archaeologists want openly to talk about it. ULA might like to comment.

- In a paper I'm writing at the moment, I am addressing the damage done to sites of twentieth century conflict by metal detectorists in Poland. Most of these sites are in the forest (so tekkies don't bother to get a permit) and most of the recovered stuff comes from just under the leafmould. That does not mean that no damage is done. On the contrary. That's where the unburied fallen (or rather their body parts with shreds of uniform and all the buttons and fittings) are found and robbed.

No, Shephard's ULA has got this completely wrong (leaving aside the issue that archaeology is NOT about digging up artefacts but their context - like the body parts just below the surface in the case I mentioned. So, yes, "senior" or "leading" he may be to Shephard, but I think ULA is wrong when making such broad and superficial generalisations to a metal detectorist ill equipped to understand them. Can we get British archaeologists to take a little more responsibility for the way they communicate with the public? 

Who WAS this archaeologist? Was it a real archaeologist or an imaginary one? 

Sunday 12 November 2023

Meritorial Discussion "Hard" for the Uninformed Thickoes in British Detecting - So We Get This

In a comment to my post '"Metal Detector Use"', a sock-puppet metal detectorist blog-troller going by the assumed name of "De. (sic) William Shephard" decides this is somehow an appropriate response:
Paul, my dear chap, why do you persist in blogging? Seemingly doing nothing else but, at taxpayers' expense, pouring forth bile regarding a perfectly legitimate hobby, and doing sweet F*** A** yourself to justify your pay cheque? I await your answer, but it will no doubt be skewed.
Skewed or not, the answer will express my observations (actually, going back almost half a century!) on the mental, cognitive and analytical capabilities of the artefact hunters like "De. Shephard". Why do I blog I blog because as it says at the top, a primary interest of mine has long been research on artefact hunting and collecting and the market in portable antiquities in the international context and their effect on the archaeological record.Something that does not concern the majority of the people involved in these activities.

In a country where there ought to be freedom of speech, it should in no way be a problem to discuss (be it objectively, or een subjectively - but substantively) something that is regarded as "legitimate" (actually, a term I would challenge, IS it "legitimate" to selfishly take things for one's own private entertainment and profit in a way that totally destroys the resource they come from for others?). "De. (sic) William Shephard" may wish the ability to shout such discussion down, dismiss it, but it is certainly in my rights (and I would say as an archaeologist my obligation - you listening the rest of you?) to explore and share my deep concerns on the matters I raise. AND also expect some answers from those who wish to convince us there is, in fact , "no real problem". Let's hear you, rather than simple dismissal.

This is not a "pouring forth of bile", it is raising issues that need to be discussed, challenging the glib platitudes that the UK's PAS, the Helsinki Gang, the Suzies and Bonnies and all those other archaeologists try to fob off any enquiries from the public sphere about what is actually going on behind the shameless spin about artefact hunters.

According to this Trolling Tekkie, I allegedly "do nothing else" [than blog] but, "at taxpayers' expense [...] doing sweet F*** A** yourself to justify your pay cheque". Hmmm. I live in Poland (but see here) and "De. (sic) William Shephard" [according to my tracking software] lives in the Barrow-on-Furness region right up in the distant North of the UK, far from London, so I really do not know how he has determined "how" I spend my time. Quite apart from what I do out of work (like look after a sick wife, a disabled cat and a number of Ukrainian refugees for starters), I run a company of my own, that is a full-time job in the current economic climate. So the "pay check" is paid to me by... er, myself. The only "taxpayers' money" involved is what I pay the Polish state out of what I earn.

So this blog is an investment of my time, my money. It's part of some wider writing around the issues it discusses. It is not financed by any external agencies (Messers Soros and Gates, I am open to offers - Elon however, no thanks), still less any British archaeological body.

The Trolling Tekkie however repeats a trope that is incredibly prevalent on the British metal detectorists forums, about archaeologists (the ones that fondly think metal detectorists are their "partners") there are a lot of scathing comments. One of them is that they all allegedly live of "are taxes". Very few do, most in the UK are employed at the cost of firms that are contracted by developers, those that work in museums are generally paid from rates rather than income tax. I really find it astounding that all those (40 000 people, apparently in UK) who are metal detecting because they "really passin'tly intrest'd in th' 'istry" have despite over 25 years of outreach (I use that term loosely) by the PAS hae absolutely sod all idea of how professional archaeology works, even such basic things like where the money comes from. So we continue toi get such ill-conceived half-brain ignorant comments from metal detectorists, even the ones (like this clown) who claim to be "educatid".

When is British archaeology going to take metal detecting and the problems it raises seriously?

Sunday 5 November 2023

ICOM Red List of Afghanistan Antiquities at Risk

International Council of Museums 2006, ' Red List of Afghanistan Antiquities at Risk'. To be honest though, I'm not sure how useful this actually is. Of the seven pages of text, two are about ICOM, only four list artefacts rather superficially. The bit on legislation is inadequate (no links, refers to the World Heritage Convention which is nothing to do with this issue). It says: "The Red List of Afghanistan Antiquities at Risk is in no way exhaustive" (so what's it for? How is it envisaged this and its titchy little (and admittedly selective) pictures will be used in practice, by "museums, art dealers and collectors, customs officials and police officers" ... "to help them to recognize objects that could originate illegally from Afghanistan")? It is bonkers simply to say "any antiquity for sale said to be from Afghanistan should be treated with great caution and suspicion" because it is unlikely that an object illegally on the market will come to any of the above with a label saying where it is from !! As usual, a lot of the thyinking in the institutions is based on a model of the antiquities marjet as it was (imagined to be) back in the 1970s.

Saturday 4 November 2023

US Academics: Afghan Government "Not Honoring Their Promise"?

A 2021 satellite image (left) of an unknown archaeological site in the Balkh province of Afghanistan shows evidence that bulldozers have scraped the left side of the site. By late 2022 (right), it appears looters have dug numerous pits in the cleared area.MAXAR/DIGITAL GLOBE/PREPARED BY CHICAGO CENTER FOR CULTURAL HERITAGE PRESERVATION

Looting of archaeological sites in Afghanistan is continuing, despite attempts by the Taliban government to protect the nation’s cultural treasures, a recent analysis finds (Ruchi Kumar, 'Looters continue to pillage Afghanistan’s rich archaeological heritageDespite Taliban promises to protect sites' Science 3 Nov. 2023). Science is a journal of the Washington DC-based American Association for the Advancement of Science. It is not clear why the Americans apparently think the current Afghan government owes THEM a promise of this nature...
Using artificial intelligence (AI) to help comb through a trove of satellite images, researchers at the University of Chicago’s (UC’s) Center for Cultural Heritage Preservation found that looters are still actively pillaging at least 3 dozen sites that had been targeted before the Taliban came to power in August 2021. Researchers say the finding suggests the Taliban government, like its predecessor, is having difficulty cracking down on local leaders who profit from selling artifacts. [...] The borders remain porous, and there are no clear policies or laws and regulations to punish those violating Afghanistan’s cultural heritage[...]
These results come from the 'Afghan Heritage Mapping Partnership', a U.S. government–funded effort to identify archaeological sites across the nation that has been operating since 2015. This has used various sources, in collaboration with Afghan archaeologists, including satellite imagery and has expanded knowledge of the location of sites across the region. Previous efforts had documented some 5000 sites.
[The AHMP] worked with computer scientists to develop an AI that could recognize archaeological sites, training it on nearly 2000 images of known sites. By 2021, such tools had enabled teams in Chicago and Kabul to identify more than 29,000 archaeological sites—the largest ever data set gathered for Afghanistan.[...] The researchers soon discovered the tools could also “identify which sites were looted,” Stein says. At some sites, the imagery shows pits dug with picks and shovels. Damage done by bulldozers begins to show up in images taken after 2017, when conflict with the resurgent Taliban was ramping up. Looters “would essentially bulldoze an already looted site … exposing a completely new undisturbed area,” Stein says. When the researchers examined 162 sites known to have been looted between 2018 and 2021, they found 37 that showed signs of continued looting since the Taliban came to power.
I wrote about these guys earlier (PACHI Thursday, 23 September 2021, ' Archaeological Sites and Objects in Afghanistan'), the two news items seem very similar. And of course it is, among others, Chicago dealers that continue to offer objects from this region of the world, it seems part of the solution to this problem lies closer to home for the Chicago team, who if their primary concern was curbing the looting could be looking more carefully at the US market that is creating the demand instead of "blaming the Taliban".

We recall the disgraceful repetition by US scholars (to use the term loosely in some cases) of the ISIL-looting mantra of the US Department of State ignoring the evidence documented elsewhere (including on this blog) that the actual situation is much more nuanced. Recently we've had the same thing over "Russian looting/cultural property destruction in Ukraine" (again more nuanced than the picture presented by grant-winning academic projects intended to bolster a particular picture favoured in the USA). 

Thursday 2 November 2023

Archaeological Record of England and Wales "a Bottomless Pit": Official


Archaeological officials in Britain were jubilantly proclaiming the archaeological record of the country a "bottomless, inexhaustible pit" of antiquities. The comments were made by Tarquin Utopian, Head of Resource Conservation of National Heritage on the news that "Most treasure finds reported since records began – figures" (The Leader 2/11/23) 

he amount of buried treasure discovered in the UK reached a new high last year as latest figures suggest more finds were reported in 2022 than in any other year since records began. Some 1,378 finds were made in 2022, marking the ninth consecutive year that the 1,000 mark has been exceeded, according to provisional information from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). The figure represents an increase on 2021’s total of 1,072 across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, which was similar to the 2020 figure of 1,071.
Dr Utopian was quoted as saying: "Responsible metal detecting the archaeological record has never been at such a high level as currently, and seems to be an inexhaustible source of goodies just there for the taking, no matter how much we hoik, the stuff keeps coming out of the ground! it's amazing!! We here at National Heritage are right chuffed!!"

Twisty Tarquin however will not actually tell it like it is... In 2019, for example, the total number of records of Treasure items was very similar to these trumpeted latest ones: ' British Museum says metal detectorists found 1,311 treasures last year' (Mark Brown, Guardian Tue 17 Mar 2020 ). BUT in 2019 the number of voluntarily-reported non-Treasure finds was 53483. In 2022, the number of Treasure finds was up by 67 records respective to the 2019 figures, but the number of voluntarily-reported non-Treasure items was down by 10230 records (43255 records). And what about the number of detectorists active, is it the same as it was in 2019, or has it gone up (or down?) since then?  

Hat tip: Hougenai.

Saturday 21 October 2023

Coin Collectors and Dealers, bankrolling Violence?


The people that recently bought the smuggled coins of the Gaza Hoard(s)... How much of your money went to Hamas and paid for some of the hardware used in the October 7th attack on Israeli civilians? Into whose pockets did that money ultimately go?  Why is none of this mentioned in the "Codes of Practice" of any of the numismatic bodies and dealers' associations? 

(L'Orient, Jack Gues/AFP)

 (Credit: Jack Gues/AFP)

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