Tuesday 31 January 2023

Treasures of the Crimea Belong in Ukraine

Crimean Tatar Resource Center (ctrcenter), 'Scythian gold should be transferred to Ukraine – Attorney General of the Netherlands' January 30, 2023.
The Attorney General of the Netherlands, Paul Flas, decided that the Scythian gold should be transferred to Ukraine. This is stated in the conclusion published by the Supreme Court of the kingdom.
The document notes that the decision made earlier by the Amsterdam Court of Appeal to transfer the collection to Kyiv may be upheld, and the cassation complaint of the Crimean museums should be rejected.
“The arguments presented by the Crimean museums, in particular that the decision violates the first protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights, are invalid, and the decision of the Court of Appeal to transfer the exhibits to Ukraine is based on the current code of national laws and serves legitimate public interests”,- the prosecutor said.
We remind you that on October 26, the Amsterdam Court of Appeal announced the decision on the ownership of Scythian gold – archaeological monuments of Ukraine, taken to the exhibition at the Allard Pearson Museum in the Netherlands back in 2014, before the occupation of Crimea.
What is interesting is that this verdict on a cultural property dispute is one of the first international judicial decisions on the legality of Russia's annexation of Crimea. Nice to see 'archaeology' leading the way for once. I do, however, feel that we have not heard the last of this - at least as long as Crimea remains occupied.

Monday 30 January 2023

Rubbish In, Rubbish Out

On Twitter:
Ross Coulthart @rosscoulthart 29 sty
This is fascinating. How did a 5200 yo Egyptian civilisation with supposedly just flint adzes craft a vase that, as this video shows, is accurate, in one example, on two axis points, to within 1/17000th of an inch (0.001mm). That's better precision than our best industrial lathes
UnchartedX @UnchartedX1 28 sty
New video! What happens when you scan a pre-dynastic ancient Egyptian granite vase down to 1000th of an inch, and have the results analyzed by professional metrologists? The results are utterly profound. Check it out here: https://youtu.be/WAyQQRNoQaE and please subscribe for more!
The latter is part of a series by a bloke called "Ben van Kerkwyk" (aka UnchartedX) entitled "The Updated Case for Re-Writing History! The Cosmic Hamster Wheel of Human Civilizations!" (exclamation marks in the original).

Sadly there seems no concept of scientific method here, just "looks like" speculation, with a "bitta science" to pad it out. The "evidence" on which these claims are made is based on vessels of unknown origin bought from the antiquities market https://youtu.be/WAyQQRNoQaE?t=464. So guess what? A lathe of very modern type may well have been used, no sensation in that as its most likely another modern fake. The photo shows that the object is not of "rose granite" from Egypt (Aswan), but seems to be some kind of browny-red breccia. I could nt find any vessels made f this material nline, though there are one or tw on eBay that lok familiar. The frm f e vessel is also difficult to paallel in excavated assemblages. As always, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Here, that requires the origin of that evidence to be clearly established and of watertight reliability. The "evidence" produced is nothing of the kind due to the poor provenance of the analysed sample. The appeal at the end of the video (while showing alabaster vessels) calls for more work by "open-minded independent researchers" on other vases from private collections to "confirm" these results. Listen to the end.

Saturday 28 January 2023

Repatriation: the “Epic of Gilgamesh Dream Tablet” in Iraqi National Museum

The infamous Epic of Gilgamesh Dream Tablet was formally handed back to Iraq by the United States of America at a ceremony in April 2022 at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. It is now on exhibition in the Iraq National Museum. It was seized in the US in September 2021 and hailed as a sizable victory in the fight against the illicit trade of cultural property ( Joseph Ostapiuk 'Feds seize ancient literature tablet; say ‘Epic of Gilgamesh’ was smuggled' SiLive.com Jul. 27, 2021). A reminder:
"The rare artifact, known as the “Gilgamesh Dream Tablet,” originated in what is now modern day Iraq and entered the U.S. against federal law in 2003 and 2014, authorities said. A false provenance letter was used to sell the six-by-five inch tablet written in the Akkadian language before it was purchased by Oklahoma arts and crafts retailer Hobby Lobby in 2014, according to authorities. The tablet is considered Iraqi government property and should be returned, court documents said.[...] Hobby Lobby, which is fully cooperating with the investigation, put the artifact on display at the Museum of the Bible before law enforcement seized it from the museum in September 2019. [...] A government investigation found a U.S. antiques dealer purchased the tablet from a coin dealer in London in 2003 and shipped it into the U.S. without declaring formal entry. Once the encrusted tablet was cleaned, experts recognized it contained cuneiform portions of the Gilgamesh epic in which the protagonist describes his dreams to his mother, federal authorities said. Four years later, authorities said the dealer sold the artifact using the false paperwork that claimed the work had been inside a box of ancient bronze fragments purchased at an auction in 1981. That paperwork followed the tablet as it was sold in several different countries, the investigation found. A later owner of the tablet sold the tablet to a London-based auction house using that same provenance. The tablet was purchased by Hobby Lobby in 2014, and an employee with the auction house carried it on a flight from London to the United States before it was transferred to New York. Hobby Lobby agreed to the tablet’s forfeiture based on the illegal importations to the U.S.
The tablet has been sent to Iraq, and none of the dealers, transporter, facilitators, producers of false documentation, handling money in fraudulent transactions or anyone else involved in the affair are sitting in jail. Of course, but hey... "repatriation", eh? Business as usual.

But something is also disturbing. The photos of the seized object (left from the above-cited text) show its condition two years ago. That on the right is a photo of the object in the museum today. There is substantial discolouration and very clear efflorescence of soluble salts on the surface. When did they appear? What were the environmental conditions where the object was held by US authorities before its transfer, and then after its transfer? Where was it kept, and what is the cause of this effect (and when will this apparent deterioration of the tablet be studied and dealt with)??

Monday 23 January 2023

"Archaeologists of the World Unite! Why We Need to Pay Attention to Pseudoarchaeology Today"


Posted on YouTube by HEAS,  Dec 14, 2022  31,397 views

This recording is of a talk delivered on Friday the 9th December 2022 by Dr. Flint Dibble (Cardiff University). It was hosted by Prof. Tom Higham from HEAS (Human Evolution and Archaeological Sciences) in Vienna, Austria (whose irritatingly self-indulgent introduction I personally would skip starting here). It also refers to a Q&A session that is not in the video. Also irritatingly, and only adding to the impression that the archaeologists are censoring the public debate, "comments are turned off".

The talk has two main parts, both of interest, but the second, "way to reach the public with real archaeology", part begins about here.
I would of course say the same points apply to the those (few) of us who are concerned about addressing the current near ubiquity of archaeology being reduced in the public's view as just gawping at interesting artefacts and putting them in museum cases or private collections (otherwise they are just "lost" in the ground, in the archaeological record). That is also a pseudoarchaeology, just as much as "ancient aliens and Atlantis"


Sunday 22 January 2023

More detail on Melitopol Museum

'The history of Scythian gold from Melitopol, which Ukrainians found, then buried, and could not save from Russia', UA Position, January 21, 2023  

. A rather disjointed article, the events in the museum are described by Leila Ibragimova, the director. No mention is made of the abduction of a second museum worker, Galina Andriivna Kucher that was reported 3-5th May 2022 in several sources.
On April 20, 2022, Russian soldiers appointed a new director, a collaborator – Yevhen Gorlachov. Gorlachov and Russian military thoroughly searched the museum for a week, and interrogated the staff one by one, but no one provided them with information. And in the end, they reached the basement and stole everything they found,” Leila Ibragimova adds.
The Museum itself is described (among other places) here on Wikipedia, but also in a lesser-known source, The Megalithic Portal ' Melitopol Museum of Local History'.

Archaeozoology of Cat Migration in Europe

Until recently, we thought cats spread to northern Europe from the Mediterranean in Late Antiquity, around the 3rd to 7th century AD. That still holds true for many parts of the continent, but advances in zooarchaeology in the last 20 years have complicated that picture. We now know that there was an earlier influx via Asia Minor into the Balkans, and further north, that seems to have preceded it. We now know that domesticated cats were present in Serbia and Poland around 6000 BC. This pushes back the arrival in Europe of one of humanity’s earliest companion animals by several thousands of years ('The great European house cat migration', The Big Think Jan 22, 2023).

For further details, see the interdisciplinary study called “Five-Thousand Years of History of Domestic Cat in Central Europe”, a holistic project at the Centre of New Technologies at the University of Warsaw, involving paleogenetics, archaeozoology, and radiocarbon dating.

Hat tip @notesfrompoland

Jordan: Former Archaeological Museum Director Sentenced for Counterfeiting Coins

The media seem to have been relatively quiet about a long-going scandal involving the Jordan Archaeological Museum. This is located in the Citadel of Amman (Jabal Al-Qalaa). It was built in 1951 and presents artefacts from archaeological sites in Jordan, dating from prehistoric times to the 15th century. There is also a coin collection, and this is the subject of a longterm investigation that resulted in the conviction of an unnamed defendant.

At some time before 2015, a French archaeologist brought some students to Jordan and was showing them some of the material -  Ptolemaic Greek silver coins - that they had discovered at the Iraq Al-Amir site in 1993 had been removed from the cases and replaced by forgeries. On reporting this to  the Jordanian Department of Antiquities an investigation was carried out and a commission confirmed in a report issued in December 2015 that 315 Ptolemaic Greek silver coins in the custody of the museum had all been replaced with fake ones except for one. It was later discovered that 73 Byzantine gold coins that had been discovered at another site in Abdoun in 1996 had been replaced by forgeries. After that, a further inventory led to a report by the Public Prosecutor and the Integrity and Anti-Corruption Commission, which showed that the replacement had been carried out on a huge scale. Somehow there had been a replacement of 5972 antique coins in the collection (1249 of gold, 4478 silver, and 245 bronze). 

The investigations concluded that responsible for this situation was the former director of the Jordanian Antiquities Museum at Jabal Al-Qalaa (the Citadel), where the coins were held. He was arrested, tried and convicted of a felony of embezzlement, and a misdemeanour of counterfeiting and falsifying antiquities. For this he was sentenced to five years imprisonment and fined a sum equalling the value of the coins, in addition to trial expenses and any other expenses (the value of the original coins was estimated at $1 million). Al-Ghad News reported that he has just lost his appeal in the Amman Court of Appeals against the sentence (Ex-museum director sentenced to prison for counterfeiting antique coins Jordan News 22 Jan 2023). 

It was found that some of the missing coins from the Jordan Antiquities Museum had been sold outside the country. Notably, "one such artifact is a golden ring, which after further investigation was found to have been taken to Israel and from there to Germany, where it was sold during an auction held in Munich, in December 2018, for 23,000 euros". Note this was after the thefts were discovered. It is not stated where this ring is now.

I am puzzled where the perpetrator found the producer of such a wide range of one-off fake coins and the technique by which the copies were made.

It is rather ironic and embarrassing that this was the location of the issue of the 2012 'Amman Declaration on the Prevention and Response to Theft and Looting of Cultural Objects from Museums and Sites'.

[It also explains the Jordan News' interest in museum thefts elsewhere: " Celtic gold coins-worth millions stolen from German museum"]

Saturday 21 January 2023

More CPAC Malarkey in US

In the USA, the Cultural Property Advisory Committee intends to meet January 30 - February 2, 2023 to review (1) extending and amending the cultural property agreement with the Government of Cambodia, (2) to review a new request from the Government of North Macedonia, and (3) to review a new request from the Government of Uzbekistan for cultural property import restrictions. The Committee invites public comment on these proposals. The Macedonian, Cambodian and Uzbek ones includes coins so we'll have the usual brainless cut-and-paste protests from greedy coineys goaded on by the lobbyists. It is about time the CCPIA was scrapped and the US response to looting was brought into the 1990s.

Thursday 19 January 2023

Polish "Efforts to STOP Ukrainian artefact smuggling". Effects?

This, from Poland, takes the biscuit: EJ/MD (PAP), 'Culture minister highlights risk of trade in stolen Ukrainian artefacts' PAP Jan 18, 2023

Ukraine’s cultural heritage could be looted and traded on illegal markets as a result of the Russian invasion, Poland’s culture minister warned on Wednesday. Speaking at the opening of a UNESCO workshop in Warsaw entitled 'Fighting the illicit trafficking of Ukrainian cultural property: sub-regional capacity-building training for law enforcement and the judiciary' Piotr Gliński, who is also a deputy prime minister, thanked the UN cultural body for addressing the issue. "This important UNESCO initiative, in cooperation with its Polish partner, is a unique opportunity for experts to exchange practical experience concerning counteracting the illegal export of cultural goods related to the growing threat of antiquities being smuggled from Ukraine as a result of the Russian invasion," Gliński said. He added that Polish experts were active in the recovery of stolen art given that Poland had an estimated 500,000 items stolen by German and Soviet forces during Second World War. "Based on our experience from World War II, Polish experts remain engaged in the protection and rescue of cultural heritage the world over," Gliński said, highlighting Ukraine in this regard. "One of the threats faced in war-torn Ukraine is the illegal export, and more widely, the illegal trade in moveable monuments," he said.
Wow. Chutzpah. First of all the experiences of the Communist 'bezpieka' in recvering Nazi loot (and inability to recover much of the Red Army loot) after the Second World War is neither here nor there. The conditions at present are entirely different. Secondly, I am interested to know what exchange there was of the "practical experience concerning counteracting the illegal export of cultural goods ... being smuggled from Ukraine" from Polish experts in the field considering that at this very moment there are disturbing quantities of Ukrainian antiquities (including coins) on open sale on websites operating from within Poland. At this very moment. And this has been going on in Poland for the last five (and to a lesser extent at least eight) years or so. So what steps are being taken to deal with this? Maybe Minister Glinski can tell us just which Polish laws are being applied to this issue. I am not holding my breath as they are the same ones that failed to deal with Bulgarian traffickers that some of us were trying to stop some time ago. Polish police did not want to touch it. So what actually are Polish authorities doing about this issue?

I hope UNESCO will be publishing the proceedings of this workshop. 

Tuesday 17 January 2023

Kam'yana Mohyla, Zaporizhia Oblast

Google Maps
I've been watching this one. The open air site at Kam'yana Mohyla, about a mile from the village of Terpinnya, Zaporizhia Oblast Ukraine is a large complex of rocks and caves full of prehistoric paintings and petroglyphs lying just NNE of Melitopol (46°57′0″N 35°28′12″E). 

The site consists of a prominent outlier of large sandstone blocks (3d model here) in a former loop of the Molochna River [Ancient Greek: Γέρρος?]. On the surface of the rocks in natural and artificial cavities in them are a series of petroglyphs and also cultural layers.  and the petroglyphs have been dated to the Palaeolthic and Meso/Neolithic. Late activity is also evidenced. There is an onsite museum and a free-standing open air museum displaying several examples of the type of monument known as 'Kam'yana Baba' to the east of the main complex.

 Reportedly, Vladimir Putin has now ordered that the administration of the site and its museum is to be transferred to the care of the federal museum-reserve "Tauric Chersonesos" in Crimea. This action is a continuation of the integration into Russian institutions of the collections of the Ukrainian museums occupied by Russian forces (such as the evacuation of the collections of Kherson museum to Crimea). Of course such activities are against the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (1954) ratified by Russia. Whether this will lead to better protection and documentation of the site or the converse in current war conditions remains to be seen. 

There is a lot of stuff about this site on You Tube, a lot of it fringe-Kookie stuff about 'proto-Sumerian signs' on the rocks (no), 'cradle of the Aryans' (no), 'Ukraine's Stonehenge' genre (it's a natural outcrop, not megaliths). A selection can be found here for example, or here. If you ignore the pseudo-archaeological and speculative /"what if?" waffle that many of them contain, you can get an idea of the  nature of the site and its setting as well as something about its fragility - people clambering over the stones - let alone adding their own graffiti - are damaging this site which is easily eroded sandstone rather than anything harder. 

Monday 16 January 2023

Psychopaths do not make Good Neighbours

                  Mariupol (Hanna Liubakova)            
"Look at pictures of Mariupol, this is what Kharkiv, Dnipro, Kyiv will look like when we attack them". Russian TV is openly saying they want to turn Ukrainian cities to ruins, killing thousands, tens of thousands. The Russians are glorying in talking about genocide and obliterating Ukrainian culture. 

Stubborn eBayer and Expensive Bazaar Archaeology for Aficionados

       EBay, Bazaar archaeology    
Over on eBay you can buy a sintered/glazed steatite scarab mounted in a gold ring for a mere Buy now price of £995.00. Seller peterlancaster (1771) from London has an ANCIENT EGYPTIAN FAIENCE SCARAB RING SET IN SWIVEL 15CT GOLD MOUNT. SUPERB!
Large size ancient Egyptian scarab beetle with hieroglyphics on back, set in a very fine quality 15ct swivel mount. Gold work and faience scarab in excellent condition. Looks really fantastic and unusual when worn. Shank size - T 1/2 (can be altered bigger or smaller). Weight - 10.3 gms.  
No collection history is even hinted, let alone any indication where it came from, and how a piece like that would get on the market. The photo does not support the identification as faience, and the gold mount looks as good as new. More disturbingly, the piece is covered with dried loamy/alluvial mud which always makes me suspicious (how is it "used"?). The seller has a lot of antique jewellery and other antiques, some rather kitschy. Note the seller describes this as "antique" and "used" and "antique ancient Egyptian". The lack of collection history is matched by a lack of literature cited supporting its identification as "ancient". He does not venture to tell the potential buyer how many Maatkare scarabs there are, and how they look in comparison with this one. Neither from the 'About me' page is there any indication what qualifications Peter Lancaster has for authenticating ancient Egyptian artefacts, or judging the veracity of the claims made by its previous seller. So on what can a potential buyer place their trust?

There is some discussion on an antiquities collectors' forum near you:
mmnestic2001Jan 15 #97913
Hi, I explained carefully and with several photos, but this fellow doesn't want to believe that this is a cheap tourist souvenir. Maybe a few more helpful comments might convince him he's wrong? Cheers, Bron.
PS: The scarab is badly copied from one for Hatshepsut of course.
[in fact there were two other royal Maatkares in 21st and 22nd dynasties] Well, mnestic/Bron[Lipkin] is one of the dealers who knows what he's talking about, so Peter Lancaster should jolly well listen. The scarab is indeed a modern tourist fake, the hieroglyphs Maat-ka-re are roughly gouged out and ill-spaced, hardly fitting for a royal inscription. The gold ring too seems to be of modern manufacture, using modern wire. The scarab itself is exactly the sort of thing one might have picked up in the Luxor souk in the 1970s, 1980s or later, or bought from a "pssst-come-over-here" hawker of dubious antiquities in the car park of the Valley of the Kings or Temple of Hatshepsut. 

Sunday 15 January 2023

Missile fragments fall on Museum in Kyiv


      One of the downed rocket fragments (Pravda UA

The Pyrohovo Open-Air Museum is located in the south of Kyiv, on the south edge of the sprawling Holosiivskyi National Natural Park that features forest steppe landscapes, trails, ponds, playgrounds and eateries. The ' National Museum of Folk Architecture and Life of Ukraine' museum (Akademika Tronʹka street) lies 11km from the city centre, not far from the city ring road. It features traditional Ukrainian buildings, including houses, windmills and a stave church, from all across the country, in a peaceful rural setting of woods and fields. Unfortunately even this area of the city is affected by the Russian invasion ( Missile fragments fall on Pyrohovo Open-Air Museum in Kyiv New Voice of Ukraine January 14, 2023). In a renewed heavy attack on the capital of Ukraine in the morning of Jan 14, Russia fired a number of missiles at the city in two groups. In the secnd attempt, fragments of a Russian missile interceptedabove Kyiv by Ukrainian air defences fell on the area of the Open-Air Museum, Ukraine's Minister of Culture and Information Policy, Oleksandr Tkachenko, reported on Telegram on Jan 14. The nature and extent of any damage caused were not reported, photos shwed several large pieces of missile lying in open areas between the buildings.

Can Britain Afford Mitigating Artefact Hunting? Actually, no.


     Median household income increasing everywhere else       

In an article in the Economist magazine is a significant article by Nick Cohen: "2023: This time the UK’s decline is real" (14 Jan 2023). It summarises the opinions of economic historians about Britain’s dismal economic performance, who point out that the country has not been in such a state in the past two centuries:
We are not merely in relative economic decline against our competitors – we’ve experienced relative decline since the late 19th century – but in a period of stagnation of such length and severity that we are decoupling from the rich world. Unless current trends are reversed, the UK will become like Argentina and Italy: a country that was once was prosperous, and might have been more prosperous still, but lost its way. You do not need to be an economist to feel our decline. You see it in the shabbiness on the streets, the worn faces and clothes of passers-by, the frustration and disappointment of the young, the ambulances unable to discharge the sick and the dying, the pound shops and charity stores, the befouled rivers and beaches, the creaking criminal justice system, the inability to build anything from homes to a railway line, and above all in the decline in living standards [...] for most of the last 15 years the UK has just quietly tottered away from the prosperity of countries it once considered its equals.
A PAS that was set up a quarter of a century ago, like many other heritage protection systems, were created in a totally different economic environment. Today, the state can no longer afford to meet the obligations they imply. Another approach needs to be sought, precisely like hose of states like Italy where artefact hunting is regulated by a permit system. Making all archaeological material state property as there would also cut down the need to pay out expensive Treasure rewards.

At this rate, we will soon see an explosion of "subsistence looting' in the UK, though impoverished local buyers will not be buying British collectable artefacts, they will be going abroad to the expanding economies elsewhere. 

Outreach on Archaeological Looting: UK Style

Colchester Museums @ColMuseums · 22 g.
Hands up who else has been binge-watching The Detectorists?
Most people, Colchester Museums, need watch it only once to see what damage 'cuddlifying' and encouraging uncontrolled and unmitigated intensification of collection-driven exploitation of archaeological record does to sites and assemblages up and down the UK. I expected more from them. Archaeology in Colchester and Essex Museums used to be of a very high quality relative to the country as a whole, mind you that was under Rex Hull, half a century ago. 

One might ask the Museum: Have they even got an FLO now to record artefacts ripped out of context by metal detectorists? I see not, instead they have something called "Essex Treasure Finds". So is looting sites for more items that just disappear into private collections something that Museum should be celebrating? Or in the view of the staff of the museum, is it really all about TREASURE HUNTING?

The Essex FLO post was once held by an individual who thought it was a perfectly balanced thing to do to lodge a police complaint that somebody had written on a blog some comments about her "finds days", now the PAS webpage under 'contacts' says:
The Essex FLO post is currently vacant. Please hold onto non-Treasure finds until the new FLO is in post and contact the post manager Philip Wise for any Treasure finds.
Hold on to them, and their documentation, or take them to another FLO for recording they mean. With lax approaches like that, it is not even a little bit surprising that on the watch of the PAS, latest figures suggest that some 93% percent of artefact hunted objects hoiked out of the archaeological record in UK as a whole have disappeared with neither trace nor record. Probably in Essex the figure is closer to 100% while there is no FLO and finders are too lazy to take them elsewhere. 

In fact, when you check, Disturbingly, seven objects from Essex (all loose coins) have been entered on the PAS database since mid October 2022 [by FLOs in SUR (4) and SF (3)]. Tragedy. It may be estimated that there are probably some 1200+ detectorists in Essex. Applying the HAAEC figures to this means that annually they are hoiking some 37,400 (37,396) artefacts [an average of 3,116 a month which would mean that 9350+* objects were hoikedin the three month perid from Mid October to now].

* plus, because most detecting goes on in the days with milder weather in the winter.

Saturday 14 January 2023

Announcement of New Tombs Found at Luxor

There is some media excitement about an announcement by Mostafa Waziri, head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities of a newly-discovered tomb on the west bank of the River Nile in Egypt’s southern province of Luxorthat has been unearthed by Egyptian and British researchers (AFP Egypt unveils ancient royal tomb in Luxor 14 January 2023). It is believed that it holds the remains of a member of the ryal family of the 18th dynasty.
“The first elements discovered so far inside the tomb seem to indicate that it dates back to the 18th dynasty” [...] Waziri said in a statement.[...] Piers Litherland of the University of Cambridge, head of the British research mission, said the tomb could be of a royal wife or princess of Thutmosid lineage. Egyptian archaeologist Mohsen Kamel said the tomb’s interior was “in poor condition.” Parts of it including inscriptions were “destroyed in ancient floods which filled the burial chambers with sand and limestone sediment,” Kamel added, according to the antiquities board’s statement.
Piers Litherland, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at Cambridge University and head of the New Kingdom Research Foundation, has been conducting some research in the fascinating Western Wadis (The Western Wadis of the Theban Necropolis: A Re-Examination of the Western Wadis of the Theban Necropolis: By the Joint-Mission of the Cambridge Expedition to the Valley of the Kings and the New Kingdom Research Foundation, 2013-2014 2015)
The wadis which lie to the west of the main Theban mountain were last officially explored by Howard Carter in 1916 and 1917. He suggested in a subsequent article that these wadis might contain the burial ground of the XVIIIth dynasty royal family members whose burials were then missing. The granting of the concession to excavate the Valley of the Kings to the Earl of Carnarvon, and the subsequent discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun, meant that Carter never returned to the Western Wadis to test his theory. The burials of many members of the XVIIIth dynasty royal family remain missing to this day. Since Carter’s exploration of this area the evidence in these wadis has been examined by many people, both officially and unofficially, but this report represents the results of the first Ministry of Antiquities-approved attempt to re-address Howard Carter’s hypothesis.
What is interesting about this work (apart from the following in Carter's footsteps, and the fact that it presents new information about senior royal women*) is the evidence that it has produced of climate change in the Western Wadis of the Theban Necroplis. Work in Wadi Bairiya and its surroundings together with research in the other Western Wadis and Wadi 300, has produced evidence of a cycle of wetter weather in at least four periods, the most extreme of which was the XVIIIth dynasty (1550-1292 BC).
As well as advancing our understanding of this landscape and its development, this wetter weather may account for a marginal expansion in the hunting and gathering constituents in the economy and provide a model for explaining the extraordinary expansion of the economy in the early XVIIIth dynasty and its subsequent contraction through the XIXth and XXth dynasties (1292-1077 BC).
The AFP article containing the announcement also notes that " Egypt has unveiled several major archaeological discoveries in recent years, most notably in the Saqqara necropolis south of the capital Cairo" but that "critics say the flurry of excavations has prioritized finds shown to grab media attention over hard academic research". These discoveries have become a key component of Egypt’s attempts to revive its vital tourism industry, the country of 104 million inhabitants is suffering a severe economic crisis. "Egypt’s tourism industry accounts for 10 percent of GDP and some two million jobs, according to official figures, but has been hammered by political unrest and the Covid pandemic".

*"Investigation of the Wadi Bairiya shaft tombs has brought to light a hitherto unknown group of court women of the period of Amenhotep III, including a Great Chief Wife of the King, Nebetnehet, a Son of the King, Menkheperre, a Wife of the King, Henut, a Daughter of the King, Tia, and at least 28 other individuals whose burials were deliberately destroyed in pharaonic times".

Friday 13 January 2023


Oh boy, what directionless clowns. The US is reportedly now considering rejoining UNESCO (which it should never have left) despite more than $616m membership debt and ongoing US disapproval of the current direction of world opinion on Israel-Palestine controversies.

Thursday 12 January 2023

Another Euphronios Krater?

Quite apart from any other matters, another mystery is emerging from the Vaican (Italy 24 Press News, 'Thirty crates of works of art hidden in the dome of St. Peter’s. Who was Don Michele Basso?" Jan 2023). Monsignor Michele Basso, an elderly canon of St. Peter’s, was recently found dead in his apartment close to the Vatican basilica. He was the owner of a large collection of important works of art that included ancient artefacts. The origins of these items and how they got into the ecclesiastical collector's hands are unclear. The collection is now stored, in a room under the Dome of the Basilica of St Peter.

Were those goods part of private collections inherited by Basso? Were they regular purchases made over time, or were they still bequests from convents, religious institutions, gifts received from benefactors or never cataloged ecclesiastical goods? There are canvases from the school of Mattia Preti, sketches by Pietro da Cortona, wooden tables by Guercino, Golzius, Pasqualotto, as well as seventeenth-century wooden sculptures and even a white marble sculpture inspired by Michelangelo’s Prisoners. Authentic canvases, however, also mixed with various fakes, made by very skilled forgers who worked in Rome.
Interestingly the material also contains some repoductions of famous pieces, "among the objects there are also several copies of Etruscan and Roman vases reproduced so well that they seem authentic".
In Rome towards the end of the 19th century it was almost a fashion to reproduce Roman or Etruscan artifacts in every little detail. It was a skill of some master craftsmen that gave birth to forgeries so extraordinary that they too have a thriving international market [...] [the Basso collection reportedly contains] a wonderful copy dating from the early twentieth century of the famous Euphronios Crater, the Etruscan original of which is kept in the Museum of Villa Giulia. After it was stolen by grave robbers in 1971, illegally exported to the USA and purchased by the New York Metropolitan, the crater had been at the center of a diplomatic tug of war with Italy. The copy in the hands of the Vatican risks calling everything into question because it would refute the date of the discovery of the original that the Metropolitan had to return. If the real crater was only found in 1971 in a clandestine excavation near Cerveteri, how is it possible that there is a copy made at the end of the twentieth century in the Vatican?
How secure is the dating of the manufacture of the copy of the Euphronios vase, and is it an exact copy? Is it possible that this copy is based on a second ancient version of the vase? (see 'Vatican, the death of don Michele Basso and the mystery of his (splendid) collection of works of art') Perhaps more to the question, were there not two modern fabrications f vases showing the Sarpendon story, one of which entered the Bass collection, and the other sold to the Met, posing as a dugup from 1971? The Met's vase was not securely "grounded", was it, and did it have a TL test dne?

Decay and the Millennia

        Accident victim's mobile phone (Mario Buildreps after Recovery Divers NL)

More amateurish archaeofallacy
Mario Buildreps @MaartenDeege
This is how a mobile phone looks like after lying 15 years in water and mud. Why are there no tools found in #ancient #egypt? Because it’s much older than we think. All tools are gone due to natural decay, decomposition, and erosion.  

The photo comes from the article Telefoon uit het water na 15 jaar in Den Horn by Recovery.Divers.NL, Dutch metal detectorists who search for lost property, this was a pphone lost in water durring a motorcycle accident. The phone is damaged by the accident, it is difficult to see the condition of the fragments as they are covered by mud, but on the lower left corner of the keyboard, the keys are intact with the printed letters clearly visible.

Of course it is a total nonsense to claim that "no tools are found in ancient Egypt" as that is utterly false - we find them in dumps of building waste, we find them (and their models) in foundation deposits, occasionally they were left in tombs. But of course if you are an amateurish (in the bad sense of the word) conspiracy theorist, mere facts are of no interest if they get in teh way of teh story you want to tell. Of course there is an interesting logical hiatus in claiming "it" [the remains of Ancient Egyptian culture] "is older than we think" and saying that those postulated long-term natural causes ("natural decay, decomposition, and erosion" - note decay and decomposition are the same thing) have removed all the tools, but left the rest. Bonkers. Tools or no tools, the framework and much of the detail of the chronology of ancient Egyptian cultural development are pretty well known - though the amateurs would not have the first idea as they are wilfully totally illiterate in the copious literature where that information can be found.

Buildreps claims some special knowledge on a wide range of topics that he says that scientists are "hiding", but one wonders how much of it that he goes on and on about is the same easily-refuted bollocks and stubborn ignorance.

Archiving Dealers' Stories (aka. "collection histories")

I was working on comparing some collection histories of a series of artefacts this morning and getting quite engrossed with it... an 'interesting' pattern was emerging. But then I received a request from a colleague not to put the blog post up just yet because they too were working on it (and from what I learnt had got even more than I had at the time - which they shared). The reason given was that if dealers and collections (note the use of that word) get wind that a particular string of words in a collection history is awkward, they will hide the relevant bits of their websites, which we have seen before. This then would get in the way of our research, and also preparing a potential (ahem) case. So I am keeping quiet for now.  I'd like to draw attention to one thing they wrote:

"[...] Will keep you and [...] who is also working on this, as soon as I have all the files saved. Wayback is no longer a reliable "home" because more and more people are asking to remove records".

And I have seen that before myself. So now we will have to start archiving material currently stored in the Wayback archives if we want to understand how artefacts are moving through the market. What a disturbing situation.

Wednesday 11 January 2023

Zeitschrift für Provenienzforschung und Sammlungsgeschichte

New journal: Transfer – Zeitschrift für Provenienzforschung und Sammlungsgeschichte | Journal for Provenance Research and the History of Collection

Archiv / Nr. 1 (2022) is now out. The editors are Ulrike Saß, Florian Schönfuß and Christoph Zuschlag. It has got a whole lot of stuff, including antiquities (Brodie and Yates addressing some myths on antiquities in money laundering). Most of the articles are very short, so this is not the vehicle for the publication of larger pieces of research on the flow of antiquities through the market, but certainly it is good to get this important area of research in the movement of artefacts through the market and collectors' hands properly studied. Too long have we simply shrugged shoulders at the obfuscations of the market (those myriad "anonymous Swiss collections" "property of a London gentleman", "private Chicago collection, 1970s-1989"), now let us see what treating Sammlungsgeschichte seriously can produce.

In the context of the "art trade", I am not sure the short title is particularly helpful. Some of the journal's articles deal with paintings. In the world of paintings the name 'transfer' means a specific treatment of the painted surface which further complicates (in more ways than one)  the issue of 'provenance' and 'collecting history' - indeed introduces a separate issue, the production of artefacts/antiquities by laboratory manipulation ("restorifacts"?). An example might be turning the floor of a house into a tessellated panel of bits of stone called an ancient mosaic - when it is nothing of the kind (also called a 'transfer'). The same goes for physically splitting the various paint layers of a repainted panel painting producing several different items from the first, what is their provenance? With archaeological artefacts, we have situations like the dissolving of cartonnage to make pieces of papyrus, with the rest flushed down the sink. This is a quite different issue from artefacts moving from collection A to B to C with a bit of tarting up and stabilisation on the way. 


Monday 9 January 2023

Christies' Macaw Mosaic: A Conspiracy or One For The Conspiracy Theorists? [updated]

   "Macaw Mosaic", cover of old Christie's auction catalogue  

In 2003 Christie's sold a lifted mosaic panel dating (they say) to the second century AD. But there is a problem with it, only spotted in 2021 (Karl Shuker , 'Mystery of the Macaw Mosaic - a (not so) Roman Riddle?" ShukerNature blog July 22, 2021). It was spotted by Brazil-based parrot aficionado Rafael Nascimento
As seen, this mosaic panel is decorated with five bird depictions, shown variously surrounding and perched upon a water vessel, and according to its description in a catalogue produced by the famous auction house Christie's it is of Roman origin and dates from approximately the 2nd Century AD. This attractive artifact was sold on 11 December 2003 by Christie's for the very princely sum of US$ 107,550. Its previous owner was an unnamed private collector who had owned it since c.1980.
What is interesting is that one of the birds shown is clearly intended to be the blue-and-yellow macaw Ara ararauna (aka blue-and-gold macaw). This is a readily-recognisable parrot species native to South America. All macaws are endemic to the Neotropical Americas. Did the Romans penetrate the jungles of this continent 1300 years before western Europeans discovered the way there? If so, this artefact would be immensely important piece of evidence - and yet one that has so far been ignored by researchers into Roman trade patterns ("if this macaw-depicting mosaic truly provided firm evidence of Roman trading with South America, why had it not attracted considerable attention from historians and archaeologists? A detailed online search by me concerning it had proved singularly unable to uncover any evidence of such attention"). Dr Shuker considers it unlikely that the panel has been reworked in recent times to add this bird ("and even if it had been, this would surely have been alluded to in its description by Christie's").
Worth noting, incidentally, is that whoever wrote its description for Christie's catalogue was clearly not well-versed in ornithology. For what they referred to as a pileated woodpecker is actually a hoopoe (bottom right in the mosaic), what they called a greenfinch is a European roller (top right, perched upon the water vessel), and what they termed a chaffinch is a goldfinch (top left). Indeed, the only correctly-identified bird on the mosaic was the partridge (bottom left). Let us hope, therefore, that their dating and authenticity abilities in relation to this particular object were more accurate – but were they?
Interestingly, Dr Shuker has tracked down a reference to this panel in Arthur Brand's 2019 De paarden van Hitler ("Hitler's Horses").
Mentioned almost in passing within Brand's book, moreover, were some most intriguing details relevant to the macaw mosaic. Brand recalled a conversation that he'd had with an enigmatic figure from the art world named Michel van Rijn, during which van Rijn had shown him an auction catalogue whose cover had depicted a Roman mosaic panel depicting five birds around a drinking vessel, one of these birds being a South American blue and yellow macaw! (Although not named, judging from Brand's description of the mosaic panel this catalogue must surely have been Christie's?) Bursting out laughing, Brand had asked where this forgery (his word) had originated. Here is van Rijn's reply:
Tunisia, I think. There's a village just south of Sousse where they churn out fake Greek and Roman mosaics. A regular goldmine.
I wish to make absolutely clear here that I am entirely unaware of any formal, professional confirmation that this particular artefact is indeed a fake, a forgery. Yet if what van Rijn had said about it and the veritable mosaic fake factory operating near Sousse does have merit, might this be why the macaw mosaic panel has signally failed to influence the accepted mainstream views concerning early Roman trading?
He is suggesting that this antiquity is ignored as evidence by a whole profession that quietly accepts that the object is a fake. Now all we need is the conspiracy theorists to latch on to it as evidence of another "archaeological cover-up" (like the "giants", "Lost Ice-Age period civilisation", "alien visitors" etc).

Shuker adds in a reply to the comments:
As I state in my article, I am entirely unaware of any formal, professional confirmation that this particular artefact is indeed a fake, a forgery, but obviously the claim made by Michel van Rijn as reported in Arthur Brand's book is potentially concerning. Ideally, in the light of that, it would be interesting if the mosaic could be professionally, comprehensively re-examined, preferably independently by several different experts, but who knows if that will ever happen?
And how, since the object is in unknown private hands, who-knows-where. And who would fund this re-examination, or are archaeologists supposed to do it for free, for the fun of it - but also so as the archaeological record is not tainted by pseudo-evidence courtey of the antiquities market? And....
Ve 4 August 2021 at 12:26
I doubt it will ever happen Karl, because surely if actually proved to be a fake, it's perceived monetary value would plummet. That would be a hefty motive to disincentize any current owner from cooperating with tests. There may be another possibility though, that the design came to Rome from Egypt, and that the Egyptians had limited trade with South America. This question came up before, re "Cocaine Mummies" and Architectural similarities. Nothing was conclusively demonstrated though. We do know Egyptian reed boats could cross seas. So who knows...
Christies has so far not commented on the blog post.

Update 10.01.2023

In a subsequent twitter thread, the Christie's description is cited from here:
A ROMAN MARBLE MOSAIC PANEL Circa 2nd Century A.D. Composed of minute tesserae in multiple shades of red, green, black, gray and tan on a cream ground, the rectangular panel centered by an elegant water-filled krater with a trumpet-shaped foot, wide flaring mouth and vertical voluted handles, a parrot and a greenfinch perched on either side of the rim, the greenfinch dipping to take a drink, its tail uplifted, a chaffinch on the upper left pecking at a floral, a large partridge below, its wing unfolded, facing right and pecking at foliage, and a pileated woodpecker bottom right, facing left, with additional foliage in the field 44 in. x 32¾ in. (111.8 cm. x 83.2 cm.)

PROVENANCE  Private Collection, circa 1980.

Lot Essay The small size of the tesserae and the subtle color gradations combine to give a painterly quality to this work, especially the shadowing, the detailed feathering of each bird, the highlights of the krater and its rippling water. Similar compositions were popular throughout the Roman world, and all can be traced back to Hellenistic originals. The most famous of these depicts doves perched on the rim of a bowl, thought to be based on the work of Sosus at Pergamon, mentioned by Pliny and preserved in several copies. See for example the version from Hadrian's Villa at Tivoli, now in the Capitoline Museum, Rome, no. 27 in Dunbabin, Mosaics of the Greek and Roman World. For a more closely related scene of various birds around a krater compare the mosaic from the House of the Sun Dial at Antioch, p. 194 in Cimok, ed., Antioch Mosaics.
"Lot essay" translates to "narrativisation". The latter is presumably this one, note no mention is made of why those particular birds are grouped together - not of what material the tesserae of different colours are. Nor indeed how the panel was lifted and mounted. Why are the edges so ragged? This is a description that is less than full. 

Friday 6 January 2023

Real Archaeologists Silent on Context Issues of Another Repatriated Looted Antiquity

   Repatriated ivory spoon    

In the first time the United States has repatriated a cultural object to the Palestinian Authority, US and Palestinian officials held a ceremony in Bethlehem on Thursday to mark the return of a looted ivory antiquity seized from the collection of a Jewish American billionaire (US gives Palestinians looted antiquity owned by Steinhardt, in 1st such repatriation, Times of Israel 6 January 2023). Hooray, eh? The usual speeches were made:
George Noll, head of the US Office of Palestinian Affairs, gave the “cosmetic spoon” to the PA’s Tourism and Antiquities Minister Rula Maayah. According to Maayah, the tool — which is from between 700-800 BCE — dates to the Assyrian civilization and was used to pour incense. Citing information from US investigations, Maayah said the artifact was stolen from an archaeological site near the southern West Bank city of Hebron. “This artifact is important as it acquires its real scientific and archaeological value in its authentic location,” she was quoted as saying in a statement from the US Office of Palestinian Affairs. Noll touted his office’s role in returning the spoon, which he called “an example of Palestinian cultural patrimony.” “This is a historic moment between the American and Palestinian people and a demonstration of our belief in the power of cultural exchanges in building mutual understanding, respect, and partnership,” he said. According to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, which had confiscated the object from hedge fund manager Michael Steinhardt as part of a criminal probe, the spoon first appeared on the market in 2003. A statement from the district attorney’s office said Steinhardt purchased it that year from Israeli antiquities dealer Gil Chaya.
While we may be gratified by this much belated US recognition of Palestinian rights, and that both the dealer and collector are named - highly unusual in a fluff piece like this - we wonder where the archaeologists are. No, a loose object does not "acquire its real scientific and archaeological value" by just being transported back to the country it was taken from, even if that is "its authentic location". Part of the site was trashed so dealer Chaya could hobnob with the moneyed clients and profit from that destruction of the evidence (by pretending it is revealing "ancient art"), the context of teh object and all the other objects and information it was taken from among are lost forever. Instead of being happy that another piece of recently looted art has been "repatriated"| we need to work on ways to stop the ongoing commerce in the products of looting and DEpatriation and letting asinine comments like that in the public domain go unchallenged is a start on the road to that. But there it seems most archaeologists who know the truth, fall silent. Shhh eh?

Instead of as "Ancient Art", Looking at an Eighth Century BC Ivory Carving as Craft


Despite, or perhaps because of its lack of context and 'grounding', the Steinman Cosmetic Spoon recently returned to Palestine by US authorities is an interesting object. I'm wondering why a (presumably) 'high end' object coming from a (presumably) reputable dealer and in a billionaire's private collection in his home (presumably) is so grubby and dirty. In fact not just all-over 'dust of ages' dirty-dirty, but the dirt highlights the design. It also obscures the toolmarks. I am interested in them, the laying out lines and the cutting of the design. What tool or tools were used to create these shallow round-bottomed (on the whole) lines with their tapering and blunt ends? How were the curves obtained? In the shoulder for example? Some hatching lines are parallel, some radiate. Look at the creature's (proper) right forearm, what tool is that the traces of?  There is an odd area of what could be acid-damage where the creature's wing approaches the border of the spoon's bowl. Would that have been caused in or out of a burial environment? Why just there? What a shame that this loose item is not 'grounded' in a proper archaeological context. So much information is missing that would help set these observations into context. Or is the lack of context telling us something else? Who can say?

I suggest the Palestinians get a proper tool-trace analysis done of this item before and after cleaning (they can always reversibly dirty it up again for aesthetic effect afterwards) and do some experimental work for comparanda, and then publish the results. 

Thursday 5 January 2023

Disc-ground Amulet in a US Museum

Another of those facile and pretty pointless object-centred tweets on social media: Where was this excavated? This would be incredible evidence for "lost knowledge of the ancients" as it looks every bit as if it has been carved by modern high speed rotary discs - we need full trace mark analysis on this one to study this advanced technology. One for Graham Hancock maybe? But there is a problem, the online catalogue of the  Michael C. Carlos Museum says: 
"Gift of Sands of Time Antiquities [...] PROVENANCE With Sue McGovern-Huffman [Sands of Time Antiquities], Washington DC". 
Oh, so not grounded in a known proper archaeological context then? Uh-oh. All the more case for a proper toolmark analysis. 

Of course the tweet has lots of comments under it, almost all superficial ones commenting that it looks like some kind of gelatinous sweet and that readers would "like to eat it". 

Tuesday 3 January 2023

Stories Detectorists Tell

The Portable Antiquities Scheme Database is reliant on finders (metal detectorists included) telling the truth about the circumstances surrounding the discovery and subsequent handling of artefacts. Readers may remember this story posted in November on a publicly available metal detecting forum, accusing the PAS of allowing finds in their care to "go missing". A forum member by the pseudonym of "Prasutagus" wrote (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.
At face value, this is a pretty disturbing account. Using the name "Prasutagus" (a king of the Iceni) suggested to me that he was a Norfolk or Suffolk detectorist. While the FLOs of Norfolk and Suffolk did not respond to my request for information and a copy of the photo of this object, Professor Michael Lewis kindly replied with the following information (pers comm. email dated ):
This find was made in Essex, not Norfolk or Suffolk. The finder posted it to Philip Wise (copied in), but it did not arrive, hence an identification/report was made from the images. I am not really sure how we (on the archaeological side) can be responsible for its loss given the finder posted it... The Crown has disclaimed its interest.
So that explains that, if this is true, the detectorist is caught out telling a distorted version of the truth, the fault here would be the British Post Office (pretty crap these days by all accounts). But also his own, Philip Wise is neither the Coroner, FLO or Treasure Registrar. So why is this hapless numpty posting what he says is a valuable Anglo-Saxon pendant and therefore potential Treasure to him in the first place? Secondly did he really just pop it into an envelope and post it instead of in a proper package hand delivered by a courier? Or not take it himself? There are not many parts of Essex that are outside an hour's drive from the Museum. 

Also note that there is not a mention here of the fact that (unless he has a copy of a protocol assigning sole ownership to him) until an inquest decides otherwise, the joint owner of this item is the landowner. 

From the evidence of Professor Lewis's statement, this (anonymous) detectorist makes up a story, missing out the important facts, and publishes it in order unjustifiably to besmirch the name of the (Essex) FLO. With what looks like being a lie. Who'd trust a grabby British metal detectorist about anything?

Note, though, no photo of this "Anglo-Saxon Cross" has been seen by me. How did the Museum get the photo without getting the object, was it sent on in advance, or was it sent after the loss in the post?

Monday 2 January 2023

"Green Coffin" of Priest Ankhenmaat Returns to Egypt

BBC Ancient Egyptian 'Green Coffin' returned to Cairo by US, Jan 2 2022.

A looted ancient Egyptian sarcophagus that was on display at a US museum has been returned to Egypt. The 2.9m (9.5ft) long "Green Coffin" dates back to the Late Dynastic Period, which spanned 664BC to 332BC, and belonged to a priest called Ankhenmaat. It was looted from the Abu Sir necropolis in north Egypt by a global art trafficking network, which smuggled it through Germany into the US in 2008.[...] In September, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said the Green Coffin, which was valued at over $1m (£830,000), was illegally trafficked out of Egypt by a multinational network of antiquities smugglers. The network was also responsible for trafficking the "Gold Coffin", which was which was returned to Egypt in 2019, the Stele of Pa-di-Sena, which is also from the Late Dynastic Period and was handed over in 2020, and five pieces seized from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art last year.
Neither the collector who bought a recently smuggled item, nor the dealer they bought it from are named. A press release links it with the Dib-Simonian network, and says the unnamed collector had loaned the piece to the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University until 2013, when it was loaned to Houston Museum of Natural Sciences. An earlier article mntions the loan again without naming the collector handling this item, but giving an insight into how artefacts are viewed in US America (Whitney Radley, 'Yes, size matters: Green Giant sarcophagus wows at Houston Museum of Natural Science unveiling ' May 15, 2013)
The Houston Museum of Natural Science is preparing to unveil its 10,000-square-foot Hall of Ancient Egypt at the end of May, but on Wednesday, curator of anthropology Dr. Dirk Van Tuerenhout and consulting curator Tom Hardwick introduced the press to the first of its new residents. A remarkably preserved artifact carved from sycamore wood, the sarcophagus of Gemshuankh, a priest of the god Herishef, dates back to the Ptolemaic period. The sarcophagus has been nicknamed the "Green Giant" for its brightly-painted face (symbolic of rebirth) and its length (a whopping 10 feet). "Size has always mattered throughout human history," explained Hardwick, noting that the Egyptian priest's colossal commemoration was a status symbol for the afterlife. [...]

Sunday 1 January 2023

Rethinking Slavonic Studies in Aftermath of Russia's Imperialist War


How should academia look now at "Russia"? This topic is discussed in an extremely US-centred article (Todd Prince  2023, 'Moscow's Invasion Of Ukraine Triggers 'Soul-Searching' At Western Universities As Scholars Rethink Russian Studies'  Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Jan 2 2023). I am left wondering about some of my old writings, dare I revisit them?
In Ukraine, Moscow's unprovoked war has killed tens of thousands of people and laid cities and towns to waste. At universities across the West, it has thrust Russia's history of imperialism and colonialism to the forefront of Slavic and Eurasian academic discussion -- from history and political science to art and literature.

The war is forcing scholars, departments, and university officials to question how they teach the history of Russia, the former Soviet Union, and the region, what textbooks and sources they use, whom they hire, which archives they mine for information, and even what departments should be named.

The Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES) has made "decolonization" -- which it describes as "a profoundly political act of re-evaluating long-established and often internalized hierarchies, of relinquishing and taking back power" -- the theme of its 2023 conference. "Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine has led to widespread calls for the reassessment and transformation of Russo-centric relationships of power and hierarchy both in the region and in how we study it," the association says in a notice on the convention. [...] Among other examples, scholars in North America are working on a book of essays that will focus on "decolonizing Eastern European and Eurasian art and material culture."
It will be interesting to see how this develops and what new insights it will bring. Together with it should be a decolonisation of Russian museum collections, with the return of items taken to what is now the Russian federation (particularly in Moscow and St Petersburg) from the former Soviet colonies.
Many scholars say the Russian state receives too much focus in academia at the expense of the colonized nations, regions, and groups, including Ukraine, the Caucasus, and Central Asia, as well as ethnic minority communities in Russia itself. The view from St. Petersburg and Moscow -- the capitals of Russia since the tsarist era and of the Soviet Union -- dominates. Proponents of decolonization or "decentering" are calling for a greater inclusion of voices from those nations and regions in the curriculum of Russian, Soviet, and Eurasian history, literature, culture, political science, and economicss [...] many scholars of the region feel that academia has "overlooked to a large extent" the trauma caused by Russian imperialism and colonialism.
The past of a vast region of central and eastern Europe (and north Asia) has historically been seen from a Moscow-centric perspective because of the outsized influence of Russian-born scholars engaged in the field. More related to my own field is the way Kievan Rus is treated in academia
One key narrative passed on from imperial-era historians [...] is that Russia is the direct and sole successor to Kievan Rus -- also known as Kyivan Rus, from the city's Ukrainian name -- a state that reached the peak of its power a century before Moscow was founded. Putin, who has falsely claimed that Ukrainians and Russians are "one people" and has suggested in numerous historically inaccurate written and spoken remarks that Ukraine has no right to exist as a fully sovereign state, has used that vastly simplified notion of continuity in attempts to justify his war. His skewed version of history appears to be at the center of what numerous analysts have said is Putin's obsession with dominating Ukraine.
Mark Steinberg, professor emeritus of Russian history at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is quoted saying that Russia's invasion of Ukraine has "pushed the field to understand empire and colonialism as probably never before [...]. Previously it was all academic discussion but now people are dying over this."

Waiting for a Coiney Explanation

Dr Graham Rawson (@RawsonGraham) PAS recorder South and West Yorks "and finder of stuff" does archaeological outreach on international social media:
Dr Graham Rawson (@RawsonGraham) 6 g.
To all #detectorists out there, a very Hammy New Year! Here's my own favourite find, recorded in the past year @findsorguk with @SWYOR_FLO . A penny of Henry I, c. 1117, full face/cross fleury type, BMC 10, only the fourth PAS-recorded found in the North: https://finds.org.uk/database/artef
There are also four others - apparently unrecorded by PAS - on eBay right at this moment. I really do not see the point of this use of social media by PAS staff. "Hey look at this!" is the only message the public gets from this. Let's see what this gets:
Paul Barford @PortantIssues W odpowiedzi do @RawsonGraham @findsorguk i @SWYOR_FLO
Aha, I see, it's on the database, now please in the spirit of outreach and encouraging "best practice", run us through what that means. Please.

What about this loose 5 zloty coin found by a Warsaw bus stop this morning? What archaeological info would a "record" of that locating it in space give us?

To be clear, I asked about the archaeological information this loose item gives. Not what anyone who knows the language can say about the writing and image on it.

Don't hold your breath while waiting, anyone. This is the PAS after all. 


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