Thursday 29 June 2023

An Antiquities Factoid Examined

          a journalists' fairy tale       

Donna Yates and Neil Brodie 2023, 'The illicit trade in antiquities is not the world's third-largest illicit trade: a critical evaluation of a factoid', Antiquity , First View , pp. 1 - 13 (29 June 2023)
The claim that the illicit trade in antiquities is the third largest, second only to arms and narcotics, is widely repeated. But where does this claim originate and what is the evidence for its veracity? The authors present a ‘stratigraphic excavation’ of the claim by systematically searching through academic articles, popular press and policy literature to reveal the factoid's use and reuse over the past five decades. The authors find that the claim is not based on any original research or statistics, and it does not originate with any competent authorities. The analysis demonstrates how the uncritical repetition of unsubstantiated ‘facts’ can undermine legitimate efforts to prevent looting, trafficking and illicit sale of antiquities.

Friday 23 June 2023

India/US Cultural Property MOU


After Biden's wooing of Modi, a White House announcement indicates that India will be seeking a cultural property agreement with the US. Among the points agreed (near the bottom)
President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. and Prime Minister Narendra Modi today affirmed a vision of the United States and India as among the closest partners in the world – a partnership of democracies looking into the 21st century with hope, ambition, and confidence. [...]
55. Prime Minister Modi conveyed his deep appreciation for the repatriation of antiquities to India by the United States. Both sides expressed strong interest in working quickly toward a Cultural Property Agreement, which would help to prevent illegal trafficking of cultural property from India and enhance cooperation on the protection and lawful exchange of cultural property.
I guess the US could hardly do anything else since their hopeless 1980s illicit-antiquities measures allowed dealers like Subhash Kapoor to operate from the centre of places like Manhattan under everybody's noses with nothing that could be done to curb their activities. This MOU is several decades too late. Time to change the US soft-power system and stop the trade in illegally procured and smuggled artefacts from everywhere, not just a few selected favoured countries.

Hat tip, Rick St Hilaire.

Thursday 22 June 2023

Louvre puts Evacuated Treasures from Ukraine on Display

David Klein, 'Protected from Russian Looting, the Louvre puts Treasures from Ukraine on Display' OCCRP 21 June 2023

The Louvre has revealed that it has been working closely with colleagues in Kyiv for months to remove treasured pieces of Ukraine's artistic and cultural heritage from the country to safety. [...] , since December 2022, Louvre staff have collaborated with their counterparts at the Bohdan and Varvara Khanenko National Museum of Arts in Kyiv to facilitate the transfer of sixteen of the most iconic works from the Ukrainian national collections to France in complete secrecy. At the beginning of the war, the Khanenko Museum, which had already survived the first and second world wars, hid its collection but suffered damage when a missile struck just 40 meters from its walls. Now, five of its works will be publicly displayed in Paris in an exhibition titled "The Origins of the Sacred Image". As the Khanenko Museum specializes in Byzantine and Asian art, the artworks include four wooden icons created in St. Catherine's Monastery on Mount Sinai in Egypt in the 6th and 7th centuries CE, as well as a mosaic from 13th-century Constantinople.
Not a word here how collectors Bohdan and Varvara Khanenko obtained these works to build what once was among the best private collections of arts and antiques in the Russian Empire (1870s-1917).

Wednesday 21 June 2023

Chicago, hotspot of Unpapered Ancient Coin Imports: Repatriation Goes Wrong

  For the Americans, map where Apollonia Pontica and Mesembria were.   
Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Chicago, alongside distinguished representatives from Greece and the National Hellenic Museum, conducted a repatriation ceremony on June 16 to return to Greece the largest number of stolen ancient coins seized by U.S. law enforcement officials in recent HSI history. The artifacts included 51 ancient Greek coins that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) intercepted via four separate examinations of merchandise entering the United States.[...] As a result of the original shippers’ and consignees’ inability or unwillingness to provide proper documentation of ownership, CBP seized the coins and turned them over to HSI. [...] This return of these ancient coins was made possible by the investigative efforts of HSI Chicago, HSI’s Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities (CPAA) program, and law enforcement partners at CBP. One of the primary goals of the CPAA program is to protect and preserve the world’s cultural heritage and knowledge of past civilizations.
The Ambassador of Greece to the United States Alexandra Papadopoulou is quoted as saying: "This is a successful example of how when we join forces, we can make miracles [...] As these coins get back to Greece where they belong, I’m sure it will make an exciting, powerful display as part of our culture, as part of our shared identity, and as part of our close relationship with the United States”. Yeah, cute, eh? And what about the archaeological sites and assemblages that were trashed to get those coins to display? THAT's where the "knowledge of past civilizations" comes from. Nothing has been preserved here, just the impression that the US is going through the motions of trying to curb the open trade of looted artefacts.

But there is a twist.  

           HSI shows what they've seized        
Meanwhile, the only coin you can see more clearly on the (deliberately?) soft-focus photos of the proudly displayed trophies seems not to be from modern Greece at all, but looks to me like a unit of Apollonia Pontica in what was Thrace (late fifth, fourth cent BC or thereabouts) and now near present-day Sozopol, on the south side of Burgas Bay in modern Bulgaria.

The even blurrier one to the front and left has a radiate wheel that looks for all the world like the reverse of a coin from Mesembria that has a stylised helmet on the obverse and dates to the late fifth and fourth cents BC. Surprise surprise, it is also in Thrace, on the North side of Burgas Bay, under the fascinating modern town of Nesebar (that's Bulgaria too). 

Both coins, both real and fake, are fairly common on the antiquities market due to the scale of Bulgarian /Black Sea coast looting. 

Frankly, it seems to me that some coin dealers need better lawyers and the Feds better archaeological advisors. A case for seizing "Greek" coins on the basis that they were, or "may have been" exported contrary to "Greek" cultural property laws rather falls flat when it turns out the Feds cannot tell Greek coins from Thracian ones. Duh.

And the  National Hellenic Museum  did not notice what they were getting?

Los Angeles Man Convicted of Illegally Importing Ancient Roman Mosaic depicting Promethius from Syria

Courthouse News Service

After a four-year court case, a Los Angeles-area man has been convicted of unlawfully importing an ancient mosaic from Syria depicting the story of Hercules rescuing Prometheus. The case is quite an old one (ICE press release July 24th 2020, 'Los Angeles-area man charged with unlawfully importing ancient mosaic'). Prosecutors claimed the man, a naturalised Syrian, lied to his customs broker and declared that he was importing ceramic tiles from Turkey worth less than $600.
Mohamad Yassin Alcharihi, 53, was named in an indictment that charges him with one count of entry of goods into the United States falsely classified as to quality and value. [...] Alcharihi claimed he was importing a mosaic and other items valued at $2,199, when in fact he was importing an ancient mosaic worth more than that. The indictment also alleges that he misrepresented the quality of the mosaic and what the artwork depicted.
The court case dragged on for four years, during which there was a discussion of whether the item itself (weighing over a tonne) should be presented in court (it was) and further details emerged ( Sarah Cascone, 'A California Man Is on Trial for Allegedly Importing an Ancient Roman Mosaic That Was Stolen From Syria The accused's lawyer now contends that the mosaic is actually a fake', ArtNet News June 20, 2023 ):
Alcharihi purchased the mosaic from Turkey in 2015, as part of a larger shipment of dozens of vases and two mosaics that he indicated was worth $2,200. He later admitted to having paid $12,000 for the lot.
The evidence against Alcharihi includes a text message with a photo of the mosaic sent by a Syrian associate in early 2015 that included a picture of the mosaic. He also admitted in court filings before being indicted in July 2020 to spending $40,000 to restore what he described as a “Turkish mosaic”—but claimed he imported it “as trash,” as reported by Courthouse News.
The mosaic that has since landed Alcharihi in legal trouble is 18 feet wide and eight feet tall, and weighs in at 2,000 pounds. It depicts scenes from the myth of Hercules. The FBI raided Alcharihi’s Palmdale, California, home in 2016, seizing the piece, which a government expert identified as a 2,000-year-old Byzantine-period mosaic that is stylistically consistent other ancient works hailing from the region around Idlib, Syria. But while the expert will testify at the trial to the work’s authenticity—including the advanced age of the materials and their origins in the Eastern Mediterranean— Alcharihi’s lawyer, federal public defender Ashley Mahmoudian, challenged the mosaic’s authenticity during opening arguments last week, and blamed the falsifications on the import form on an inexperienced customs broker who made multiple errors.
“Mr. Alcharihi isn’t an art expert. He didn’t see the mosaic prior to its arrival in the U.S.,” she said, arguing that her client was simply a man looking for a promising business venture. “The mosaic is a fake.”
Last week, the defense presented testimony by New York art dealer and antiquities expert Randall Hixenbaugh. He questioned some of the iconography in the mosaic, especially a depiction of a woman in pants, which he told the court was strange because “it’s a symbol of male barbarism to wear trousers,” Courthouse News reported.
Hixenbaugh did not examine the mosaic in person, and was unable to say outright whether he thought the mosaic was a fake (and it is odd that the court asked a dealer but seem not to have engaged an academic specialising in the mosaics from the area to testify), but he did offer the opinion that it was worth only $30,000, in other words less than what Alcharihi had spent on restorations. The DOJ claimed a governmental appraisal expert valued the mosaic at $450,000.

Mohamad Yassin Alcharihi was convicted today of having illegally imported to the USA of an ancient Roman mosaic from war-torn Syria. Alcharihi faces a maximum of two years in prison. He is expected to be sentenced on Aug. 31.

More details from Chasing Aphrodite: UPDATED > USA vs One Ancient Mosaic: A Looted Syrian Masterpiece in Los Angeles Posted on May 26, 2018

Hat tip Lynda Albertson.

Saturday 17 June 2023

Interpol Notice for Alleged Old-Time Antiquities Smuggler

Lebanon is considered to be an antiquities smuggling hotspot, artefacts (including complete mosaics) from looted museums and sites in the 2011-present Syrian Civil War have passed onto the global market through the country, during Lebanon's own civil war in 1975-90 antiquities smuggling (and possibly looting) was also rife. Lebanese dealers were therefore deeply involved in this trade, but few have been prosecuted. An 'international notice' has now been issued at US insistence for the arrest of a Lebanese man accused of having been involved in antiquities smuggling for many years (Bassem Mroue, 'Interpol issues notice for Lebanese man suspected of trafficking in looted antiquities' Associated Press June 16, 2023)
Interpol has issued an international warrant for a Lebanese man suspected of trafficking stolen antiquities, weeks after he was questioned in Lebanon, judicial officials said Friday. The Red Notice was unsealed 10 months after a criminal court in New York issued an arrest warrant for Georges Lotfi, 82, charging him with criminal possession of stolen property as well as possessing looted artifacts. [...] When Lotfi was summoned for questioning by Lebanese authorities earlier this year, the officials said he denied charges that he had stolen antiquities, saying instead he had bought them from archeologists and sold them to a museum in the U.S. They said it later became clear that the 27 antiquities were stolen in 1981 from a warehouse in Lebanon. The Interpol Red Notice that was posted online said Lotfi is charged with criminal possession of stolen property in the first degree, second degree and third degree. [...] The officials said U.S. authorities said they would repatriate the antiquities to Lebanon on condition that Lebanese authorities put Lotfi under arrest.
Here the problem is the difficulties of prosecuting cases internationally. These Interpol warrants are non-binding requests to law enforcement agencies worldwide that they locate and provisionally arrest somebody they regard as "a fugitive". The notice is not an arrest warrant and does not require Lebanon to arrest Lotfi. In theory, once Lebanon formally receives such an Interpol warrant, the subject should be summoned for questioning and their passport confiscated.

Monday 12 June 2023

The US Backtracks Again on UNESCO

Good grief: Angela Charleton, 'US decides to rejoin UNESCO and pay back dues, to counter Chinese influence' AP News June 12, 2023 ) The United States plans to rejoin — and pay more than $600 million in back dues — after a decade-long dispute: U.S. officials say the decision to return was motivated by concern that China is filling the gap left by the U.S. in UNESCO policymaking, notably in setting standards for artificial intelligence and technology education around the world. The U.S. and Israel stopped funding UNESCO after it voted to include Palestine as a member state in 2011, and the Trump administration decided in 2017 to withdraw from the agency altogether the following year. China’s ambassador to UNESCO, Jin Yang, rebuked the US:

"Being a member of an international organization is a serious issue, and we hope that the return of the U.S. this time means it acknowledges the mission and the goals of the organization,” the ambassador said.
Let us see if the US can manage that this time. The backdues they will pay has reportedly been earmarked for Holocaust education, preserving cultural heritage in Ukraine, journalist safety, and science and technology education in Africa.

There is no word on whether Israel will try to rejoin.

The United States previously pulled out of UNESCO under the Reagan administration in 1984 because it viewed the agency as mismanaged, corrupt and used to advance Soviet interests. It rejoined in 2003.

Sunday 11 June 2023

Canadian Sanctions to Protect Ukrainian Culture

Canada will not let Russia strip Ukraine
of its cultural heritage and will do everything
in its power to end the Kremlin’s war on Ukrainian
identity. These intentional and targeted attacks on
Ukraine’s cultural property cannot remain unpunished”.
Mélanie Joly, Minister of Foreign Affairs

Canada is imposing sanctions against 24 individuals and 17 entities as part of the Special Economic Measures (Ukraine) Regulations in direct response to Russia’s attempts to destroy Ukraine’s cultural sites, institutions and identity (News release, 'Minister Joly announces additional sanctions to protect Ukrainian culture from destruction by Russia, Global Affairs Canada, June 10, 2023). The news alert announcing these measures states:

In addition to the extensive damage and complete destruction of a number of Ukraine’s cultural sites, thousands of Ukrainian cultural artifacts have been found missing or reportedly stolen by Russian forces in the temporarily occupied territories since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 and prior to that during the attempted annexation of Crimea in 2014. In its effort to erase Ukraine’s identity, Russia reportedly illegally exported artifacts from Ukraine, and damaged cultural heritage sites.

With today’s announcement, Canada is sanctioning persons connected to Russia’s theft of Ukrainian cultural objects to counter the Kremlin’s efforts to "Russify" Ukraine’s culture. The list of individuals being sanctioned includes Ukrainians who work at museums and other cultural centres who collaborate with Russia. [...] As Russia tries to forcefully impose its culture and education on the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine, these sanctions will impose further costs on so-called authorities in areas of Ukraine illegally occupied by Russian forces in order to protect Ukrainian culture and identity. With these sanctions, Canada reaffirms its unwavering commitment to supporting the people of Ukraine against Russia’s war of aggression while continuing to increase pressure on Russia and Ukrainians who collaborate with Russian administrations in Ukraine until they put an end to these unjustifiable attacks.

Return of "Scythian Gold" to Ukraine a Step Closer

Scythian gold
The Dutch Supreme Court has just ruled that 565 ancient gold artefacts that were loaned by Crimean museums for show abroad should be returned to Ukraine, and not to Russian-occupied Crimea (Toby Sterling, "Gold treasures should go to Ukraine not Crimea, top Dutch court rules" Reuters June 9, 2023). Though moral arguments and political rhetoric deny the validity of the Russian annexation of the region a decade ago, this antiquities case is one of the few international legal judgements that actually confirms that the Russian claims to property in the region have no legal basis. Lower courts in the Netherlands found in 2016 and 2021 that the pieces should be returned to Ukraine.

More than a thousand ancient objects, including a solid gold Scythian helmet and a golden neck ornament from Crimea were on loan to Amsterdam's Allard Pierson museum when Moscow seized the peninsula from Ukraine. When the exhibition ended, both Ukraine and the museums in the now Russian-controlled territory said they had rights to the artefacts and claimed them. Unsure what to do, the Dutch museum kept the works in storage pending a final legal decision. "This decision ends this dispute. The Allard Pierson museum must return these artistic treasures to the State of Ukraine and not to the museums in Crimea," Friday's ruling said, upholding the decision of a lower court in 2021. [...] The U.N., the European Union and the Netherlands all recognise the "territorial integrity" of Ukraine in its pre-2014 borders.
The Allard Pierson museum said on Friday it "can now act in accordance with the ruling of the Supreme Court" and deliver the works to Ukraine, and the artefacts will be held at the National Historical Museum in Kyiv "until the situation in Crimea has stabilized".

President Volodymyr Zelensky's reaction here.

Saturday 10 June 2023

Dynamite Doug Podcast Seen from the "Art" World

      Project Brazen       

The six-part "Dynamite Doug" podcast hosted by Ellen Wong and produced by Project Brazen and PRX 28th Feb to 5th April 2023 still seems to be attracting a bit of attention (see my comments on Edna Bonhomme's review in April). Now the Art Newspaper has its say (Alice Proctor, "Dynamite Doug podcast is a pioneer in ‘looted heritage’ genre — but not its peak" the Art Newspaper 9th June 2023).
The new podcast Dynamite Doug tells the story of how Douglas Latchford and his collaborator Emma Bunker illegally removed hundreds of sculptures from Cambodia, often by faking provenance records and export licences, to fill the galleries of museums in the West. Latchford was charged for antiquities trafficking in New York in 2019 but died the following year.
Again, the issue is raised of complicity of collecting institutions:
The question of how deeply museums are invested in, and benefit from, the trade in stolen art could be given more space. Why was the art world so willing to turn a blind eye, even when Latchford and Bunker regularly contradicted themselves about the provenance of statues? The auction houses Sotheby’s and Spink and Son that sold such looted works were presented with ample evidence of looting, through both the sketchy provenances and the physical condition of the statues they sold. These were not brilliant criminal masterminds: they were enabled.
It is good that the issues involving the antiquities market are getting wider publicity. As the reviewer points out here is scope for much more of this. 

The Implications of UK Detectorists Being Urged, in Private, NOT to Report their Finds


On a metal detecting forum near you, but in the sections that are closed off from public scrutiny by those who want to hide the utterly irresponsible, selfish and oikish way its members write there about pocketing the common archaeological heritage...  they are banging on about - despite the position they affect in public - "why it’s unwise to report your metal detecting finds":

“There are obvious downsides to recording finds with the PAS. You need to ensure that you ask for the records to be confidential. However if you record too many finds from a particular Parish it soons flags up as an area of potential [..]. Finds recorded with the PAS are regularly passed onto the County Historic Environment Records for use in responding to planning permission or research. However they are also used to feed into application for agri-environment schemes to identify known archaeological sites for protection with a no detetecting clause. Now the field can continue to be ploughed and so on, but not detected on. PAS records of detector finds are used to identify finds scatters and so on, so by recording you are often shooting yourself in the foot so to speak.”
Gor-blimey, eh? Let us just go back two steps, first metal detecting can take place on sites on Entry Level Stewardship land that are not otherwise designated as scheduled monuments, or as Sites of Special Scientific Interest "providing searchers follow the Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales", and that in the case of rallies, the authorities get 12 weeks notice of any large scale metal detecting events on Environmental Stewardship land. Metal detecting cannot take place on archaeological sites on holdings with Higher Level Stewardship agreements or Sites of Special Scientific Interest without the permission of Natural England. In any case existing agreements on the agri-environment scheme expire in 2024, so not long for greedy tekkies to wait now. But for now, the detectorist has no choice, if they search land included in one of these agri-environmental schemes, the farmer (ie the guy that takes public money to see that its conditions are followed) must ensure the finds are being recorded, the detectorist who pockets them has no option otherwise.

Secondly, let us note what the term "agri-environment scheme" denotes, it is about protecting the environmental reources of land in agricultural use, that includes the historical environment. In public, metal detectorists claim they want to help "protect the past". What they say behind the closed doors of their forums is often diametrically the opposite. It should be noted that if information is obtained, for example from reporting via the PAS, that an important and vulnerable site exists, that site should be protected from as much avoidable damage as possible. This is, in fact, one of the reasons why the PAS exists, to allow responsible detectorists to responsibly report what they are finding - precisely to use them as archaeology's "eyes on the ground" to elicit such information. If detectorists are being urdged not to report what they find, they no longer function as "partners" and we can just scrap the PAS, and spend the money somewhere else and deal with the artefact hunters and looters by other means.

Friday 9 June 2023

On an Artefact Collectors' Forum Near You

The effects of the antiquities market that anyone can see in the
Western Cemetery at Dura Europas, Syria (Google Earth)

A Canadian artefact collector has a question: furk_61 [Jun 8/9 #98600/ #98603] Ancient Roman Vases and Artifacts
I was wondering if anyone here knows good dealers to get ancient roman vases, bowls, other pottery, and rings for cheap?// Maybe a small vase in good condition for like 80 USD. I live in Ontario. Also sorry if the 80 USD does not make sense, I am not familiar with Roman artifacts.
This elicited a response (note the issue of "rings" was avoided):
kyrikmk Jun 9 #98605 You will be lucky to find a Roman vase for $80 more like $200/500 depending on size and condition. If you're on a small budget look at oil lamps or even coins to start with. V coins have many dealers based in the US. Look at their website for an idea.
The collector elucidated:
furk_61Jun 9 #98606
Thanks for the suggestions kyri. I am actually a mainly coin collector, but if oil lamps can be bought under a small budget, that sounds good!
'Sounds good'? What the collectors fail to mention is that most countries that produce real dug-up Roman artefacts have laws that prevent the transfer of ownership to private hands or the market, so buyers need to look out for items with paperwork to show that the objects they want to purchase have come onto the market by verifiably legal means, but also (since laws exist to control that too) export by legal channels, with the paperwork. Most Roman pots sold online have no mention of the existence of that paperwork. And collectors and other dealers don't ask for it. 

The second point is that ripping these items out of the soil involves the destruction of archaeological context. The digging for artefacts, with and without a metal detector, damages and destroys sites, not only by disrupting stratigraphy, but above all by selectively, but also randomly removing archaeological evidence from them, rendering what is left useless. Unique sources of future archaeological information are reduced to mere hole-ridden vestiges of their former self, not a very valuable asset to replace the ability of a few selfish individuals to put a few hundred dollars in their pockets.  

The third point that leads on from this is where do the complete pottery and glass vessels quite frequently on sale come from? Most Roman sites all over the Mediterranean world, the MENA region and western Europe produce lots of scattered potsherds that can rarely be joined into a whole vessel. You get complete pots from wells and cesspits, shipwrecks but above all grave and tomb furniture. Does the Roman pot on offer come from grave-robbing (or plundering a protected historical wreck)? Entire cemeteries are emptied by artefact hunters for the grave goods, the human remains are thrown about and left lying on the surface. All so some foreign dealer can earn their 200/500 dollars, no questions asked (see Daubney 2018). 

There is the issue of telling real from fake. There is a seller in the UK that has job lots of Roman pots that ostensibly come from a collection in an Asian country that has no right to be producing such vessels, looking at the fabric and form of the vessels, with the eye of an archaeologist who's processed more Roman pottery than I'd care to admit to, I think they are all fake.

This brings us to the rings, like other forms of personal adornment, they are lost as loose finds on and around settlements, in the long grass at the edge of the fields while tending a baby or making love. They can then be found by metal detectorists who'll be searching such areas for hours to get a handful. Or the artefact hunter can target a cemetery, and take the finger rings that were buried with the deceased as a token of love.

Fortunately, it seems to me that there are whole modern factories (Bulgaria and now the Balkans it seems) that are producing large numbers of probable- and improbable-looking fingerrings for the market, ready patinated (you don't want to know) and distressed. Many of them are bought by people that intend to actually wear them ("again") to experience the frisson of wearing something from a dead person's fingers. "OOoooo, cool", eh?

Of course these are the sort of things you'll find collectors NOT talking about among themselves. I guess the dealers would not like it if people started to think aboiut "responsible collectiong" and started to ask such questions.

Adam Daubney (2018) Grave Finds: Mortuary-Derived Antiquities from England and Wales, Public Archaeology, 17:4, 156-175, [DOI: 10.1080/14655187.2019.1635408].   

Societies seen as artefacts

(Relic Shack)

This is an interesting poster on eBay (eBay item number:132221902722) that I find thought-provoking. It is produced by 'Relic Shack', a dealer ("The Lee Family Collection, online since 1999"):
14,000 Years in the Ozarks - Indian Artifact Timeline Poster
An arrowhead type collection timeline poster covering the Central United States. This print displays the full chronological order of prehistoric arrowheads starting with the Paleo era and completing with the Mississippian era.
Beautifully photographed
Displayed at the 'Museum of Prehistory - Tautavel France'
Suitable for framing
Based on the award winning 'Native American Timeline Project'
Wide variety of lithics exhibiting fantastic color
36" W x 24" H
Note that the line of artefacts ends with "Columbus" as if the moment whole societies woke up on the morning of October 12, 1492, they decided to abandon making all the traditional forms of artefacts and switch to something else less collectable. Instead of course, there was a period that saw a series of transitions and the period of functioning of groups like the Osage in the north and the Quapaw in the south with sporadic activity by Kickapoo, Shawnee, and Delaware in the 19th century, and by the 1830s, the influx of groups from the east fleeing the white settlers and their growing militias. There are a whole load of stories that these artefacts could tell, and this chart (and the collectors that compiled it) misses out about 430+ years of it. 

The truth is whatever claptrap about "avocational science", "citizen science", "jus' intrestid in th' 'istry" artefact collectors come out with, it is not true that they are trying to do independent scholarship with these artefacts. here the pretty chipped stones are intended to speak of a Noble Savage, of a simpler storytale Golden Age before the white man came and imposed his own print on the landscape. These objects speak to emotions rather than allow the writing of history. And the places in that landscape they came from no longer have the same possibility to speak of their past, because part of the evidence has gone into a collector's pocket or on the market. 


Thursday 8 June 2023

"The Hoard": "Detectorists" meet Leominster

   Staffordshire gold used to promote TV show  
Upcoming Channel 5 TV miniseries 4x60' centred around Treasure hunting in the UK:    
The Hoard is the story of keen detectorist Martin (Morrissey) and his wheeler dealer soon to be son-in-law Ashley (Buckley) who, while on a boys bonding trip in the idyllic fields of rural Somerset, discover a hoard of buried Saxon treasure worth millions. Legally, they should declare it, but Ashley spots an opportunity to look after number one, and as pressures are building at home with his wife Anne (Ripley), straight arrow Martin can’t help but have his head turned. It’s tempting. If they sell it on the black market, they could be set for life and Ashley has the connections to make it happen. But with a hoard this good, could it really be that easy? After all, they might not be the only ones out for its spoils. [...] Simon Lupton commented: "Seven Seas Films is delighted to be able to bring the characters and story Dan has created to life. Martin is going to find temptation a frighteningly powerful adversary, which takes him into situations he is painfully unprepared for. We hope the viewers are thrilled by the twists and turns as he struggles to keep control and save his family. We are extremely grateful for the opportunity provided by Channel 5 and ITV Studios, and the support of Quay Street Productions, which enables us to share this rollercoaster ride with audiences."

Filming for the series begins in the UK this spring and is expected to air on Channel 5 in the UK later in 2023.
Let us see whether this shows artefact hunting and its interface with the antiquities market for what it is. Not holding my breath though, Channel Five is the same setup that made an earlier inglorious attempt to make cash from promoting metal detecting in that awful "Digging for Treasure" last year. And some of the promotional material uses photos of the Staffordshire Hoard.

Tuesday 6 June 2023

You Don't Say.

International Observatory on Illicit Traffic in Cultural Goods (Created by ICOM), 6 Jun 2023:
Over 22,000 #looted cultural objects were seized by the local authorities in Mardin, in Türkiye, along with metal detectors, and were delivered to Mardin Museum The immense number of objects in this seizure shows the dangers posed by metal detectors to cultural heritage

Monday 5 June 2023

Looted Symes Objects Returned to Italy

Some 750 looted archaeological treasures seized from the British antiquities trader Robin Symes have at last been returned to Italy after a decades-long fight for their return (Barbie Latza Nadeau, 'Trove of 750 looted artifacts returned to Italy from disgraced British dealer' CNN, Sun June 4, 2023). 

The artifacts, which according to the Italian cultural ministry are worth more than €12 million ($12.9 million), will go on display in Rome’s Castel Sant’Angelo museum as part of a collection of stolen art that has found its way home. The objects “offer a cross-section of the many productions of ancient Italy and the islands,” including “numerous and diversified archaeological contexts (funerary, cultural, residential and public) … concentrated in particular in Etruria and Magna Graecia,” according to a statement from the Ministry of Culture. Among the recovered items from the Roman and Imperial eras is a bronze tripod table from an aristocratic Etruscan family, two parade headgear for horses, two funerary paintings, male busts in marble, various portions of statues and bronzes, and a wall painting with the depiction of a small temple, likely from a Vesuvian residence, according to the ministry statement. There are also precious gems set in gold, silver, bronze, as well as bone and amber. Other pieces include weapons, sarcophagi, funerary urns, ritual objects, furnishings in bronze and marble, mosaic and painted decorations. The artifacts originate from “clandestine excavations on Italian territory” and were illegally obtained by Symes Ltd, the company owned by Symes, a major trafficker of cultural goods, according to the ministry statement. [...] Symes, who sold precious artifacts to some of the world’s most prestigious museums, fell from grace in 2016 when a Swiss warehouse he rented was raided. Now in his 80s, he has not spoken to the press for years.[...] He was often investigated but never charged for his alleged crimes despite countless attempts by Italy and Greece. But old statutes of limitations laws prohibited prosecution.

Friday 2 June 2023

Looted Symes Objects Returned to Greece

Hundreds of items are being repatriated to Greece after a 17-year legal battle with the liquidated company that belonged to disgraced British art dealer Robin Symes (Karen Ko, ' Greece Will Recover 351 Looted Antiquities After 17-Year Legal Battle With British Art Dealer Robin Symes' ArtNews May 23, 2023).

The Greek Ministry of Culture announced last week that it had recovered 351 objects dating from the Neolithic period to the early Byzantine era previously in the possession of Symes’ company. The illegally exported items included an early Cycladic figurine dating to between 3200 and 2700 B.C.E. a damaged marble statue of an Archaic kore from 550-500 B.C.E., and the torso of a larger-than-life sized figurative Bronze statue depicting a young Alexander the Great dating to the second half of the 2nd century C.E. [...]  Minister of Culture and Sports Lina Mendoni said the case was “difficult” and had plagued her office since 2006, the year after Symes was convicted on two counts of contempt of court and sentenced to two years in prison. He only served seven months. [...] The Greek Culture Ministry’s announcement did not specify whether the hundreds of items were part of the same hoard of antiquities that authorities recovered from 45 crates belonging to Symes at a Geneva freeport in Switzerland in 2016.

Greece’s announcement on May 19 also coincided with news from the Manhattan District Attorney’s office of two antiquities being returned to Iraq, one of which, a limestone sculpture of an elephant that had been hidden “since at least 1999” in a storage unit belonging to Symes. It had been looted from the ancient city of Uruk, now known as Warka, “stolen from Iraq during the Gulf War and smuggled into New York in the late 1990s". the other item returned to Iraq and apparently also from Warka was seized from the collection of former Met trustee Shelby White.

Of course, all of the newspapers celebrate the return of the OBJECTS, with not a mention of the archaeological sites that were damaged to get out these items (and the many more that [a] did not get into Symes' stock and [b] were still there when the stockroom was raided). After 17 years, the chain of passage of these items through the market will have been forgotten and it is unlikely that Greece will ever find out the name of the site from which any of these items were hoiked. This represents another 351 bits of destroyed archaeological context, 351 instances of loss of archaeological information. 


Stolen Head Returned to Torlonia Collection

Artnet news
An antiquity from a private collection in Switzerland has been returned to the collection from which it had been stolen (Jo Lawson-Tancred, 'Italian Police Recover a Long-Lost Roman Marble Head Nearly 50 Years After Its Theft' June 1, 2023)
After nearly half a century, authorities have returned a stolen Roman marble head to Villa Albani Torlonia in Rome, Italy. Thieves had snatched the head of the Hydrophora, which is part of a larger statue, in 1978 along with four other priceless objects. The Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage in Italy has recovered the piece and returned it to its former home, under the guidance of brigadier general Vincenzo Molinese. The rescue mission began in February 2015, when the squad received a tip from a German scholar who believed he had seen the precious item in an art publication, listed as part of a private collection in Zurich, Switzerland.[...] The wife of the deceased collector had inherited the piece in good faith, according to the authorities. Its successful repatriation last year was only recently announced after a careful restoration process. During a special ceremony to celebrate the head’s homecoming, it was reattached to its long-lost torso in the presence of the Carabinieri who had helped ensure its safe return.
Several things here, the head appears to have been detached from the torso of the statue by the thieves, a reminder that the antiquities market is ALWAYS the cause of destructive activities. Two: the widow inherited a lot of old stuff from a deceased collector. Collectors dying without leaving proper documentation places a huge responsibility and burden on their heirs. Three: the object had to be restored, many collectors simply do not know how to look after and prevent deterioration to the objects they hold (so-called Crosby Garrett helmet infill, still OK?). Four: the so-called "repatriation" process is always accompanied by some silly ceremony with freshly-pressed gala uniforms, a lot of name-dropping and glib speeches and superlatives, never about finding out how the object got to where it is and reconstructing who was responsible (and for what). The thief and middleman may be dead, but documenting who they were may help untangle other cases if it turns out these criminals clandestinely handled other objects.

I am not sure why it is "the" Hydrophora, rather than "a" hydrophora (water carrier) here. 

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