Friday 29 September 2023

Yemen’s Stolen Heritage

Abdullah Mohsen

The illicit antiquities trade has rapidly expanded during the civil war: thousands of smuggled Yemeni artifacts, valued at tens of millions of dollars, are now housed in the United States and at museums across the globe (Muhammed Ali Thamer, 'Yemen’s Stolen Heritage: Looted Artifacts in International Auctions' Carnegie Endowment September 28, 2023

[...]antiquities gangs flourish amidst deteriorating security conditions. During the nine-year-long civil war, Yemeni artifacts—including Sabaean statues, Himyarite animal heads, and stone plaques written in Musnad, a cuneiform script—have appeared at international auction houses. A recent report by the al-Hudhud Center for Archaeological Studies reveals a significant increase in the number of smuggled Yemeni antiquities at international auctions. Between 1991 and 2022, over 4,265 Yemeni artifacts were sold in six Western countries, through 16 American and European auctions. This includes 2,610 pieces that were smuggled and sold during the war period alone—the vast majority of which ended up in the United States, at a value of more than $12 million.
On August 30, the United States and Yemen signed a MOU to safeguard Yemeni heritage by ending the movement of illegally exported Yemeni artifacts in the U.S. market. This builds upon the February 2020 Emergency Import Restrictions that banned the import of Yemeni cultural property and antiquities to the United States.
Yemeni activists and researchers tend to blame the Yemeni government for ongoing smuggling. One of the most prominent among them is the Yemeni archaeological researcher Abdullah Mohsen, whose social media pages are filled with news of the sale of Yemeni antiquities in international auctions. Another is the journalist Ahmed Ashour, who published an investigative report documenting the theft of precious Yemeni artifacts that were sold through antiquities marketing sites in Europe.

Thursday 28 September 2023

Faith Stolen/Faith Misplaced: How do Catawiki Dealers do Due Diligence? (27)

According to the social media site Lost Arts of Nepal @LostArtsofNepal [1,883 Followers] (Faith Stolen – Breaking News Sept 27):
"This 11th Century Image of LAKULISHA/PARASURAMA, Stolen in 1983 CE, From Rudragadesvara, Pasupati Temple Complex, Has Been Located Sold at Catawiki Auction, Belgium on 22nd November 2020."
Lost Arts point out that the sculpture had been published in three separatre places before the sale. How was the collecting history and therefore legitimacy of this object checked by the vendors, and where is this piece now?

Wednesday 27 September 2023

Sycamore Gap Tree at Hadrian's Wall Cut Down [UPDATED]

National Trust

One of the most photographed trees in the world, the Sycamore Gap Tree stood in a dramatic dip in Hadrian's Wall, well within Northumberland National Park and also on land cared for by the National Trust, just next to Milecastle 39. Hadrian’s Wall and Housesteads Fort is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The tree was felled overnight in what appears to be an act of premeditated vandalism. A sixteen-year old boy has been arrested in connection with this heritage crime.  

BBC (Ian Sproat)

This is just so sick


Members of the public were asked not to visit the site while investigations were ongoing, so details were slow to get onto social media. When they did, overnight 28th/29th it seems that matters are not so simple. First of all it seems that this was done in the middle of a storm - not the best time for a lone unskilled teenager (even the most stupid and reckless) to attempt to bring down a tree of this size on their own, and - apparently - at night. Then there is this:
Dr Jonathan Foyle  @JonathanFoyle 7h
Personally find it unlikely a 16 year- old would bother to do this in a storm for a prank, let alone mark a saw cut with white paint.

That wasn't mentioned earlier. The comments underneath both posts confirm that many people (including those who have actually felled trees as large as this) think that the story of the 16-year old does not hold water, this was professional equipment used skilfully, and probably involved more than one person.

I could not understand the flat cut, apparently made from two sides, and the flat end of the fallen trunk and why it was so far from the stump. Somebody else pointed out that the photos show there is at least one bit missing.
Nick Blackford @nickblackford · 7h
It also appears as if a large piece is missing. The end of the felled tree doesn’t look nearly the same size or angle as the cut atop the stump…
Here is another post in the same vein:
Ken Ef 📸 @Clash16Ken 6h
It looks like a chunk of the trunk is missing from the tree.
Actually, I don't think he's right, as when you see a photo from another angle it's more obvious that this is a foreshortening effect (also you can see on the end of the fallen trunk where the fibres of the wood have been ripped when the tree fell, between the two cuts).

There is a growing feeling that there is a lot more of this case still to be revealed.
Ian Ashman @IanAshmanTHX · 6h
Isn't it convenient that the "perpetrator" is 16 years old, so they can't be named. 16? The size of that tree and they're claiming a 16yr old child did this? I smell bullshit. Someone's covering this up for reasons unknown.
UPDATE UPDATE (30.09.2023)

David McKenna and PA Media, 'Sycamore Gap: Man in his 60s held after Hadrian's Wall tree cut down' BBC News 6 hours ago
A man in his 60s has been arrested by police investigating the cutting-down of the world-famous Sycamore Gap tree in Northumberland. The landmark, beside Hadrian's Wall, was cut down overnight on Wednesday. Northumbria Police said the man was arrested on Friday evening and remains in custody assisting with inquiries. A 16-year-old boy was arrested on suspicion of criminal damage on Thursday and has since been released on bail, police said.


MMCA becoming FEMM as Collector's Interests and Ambitions Change

The privately-owned Mougins Museum of Classical Art closed in August for a revamp and its owner, Christian Levett says he has decided to sell most of the works previously on display at the museum (Carlie Porterfield, 'Private museum's collection of ancient arms and armour could bring in £22m at Christie’s' The Art Newspaper 27 September 2023)
A collection of objects from the recently-closed Mougins Museum of Classical Art in the south of France—including what has been described as the world’s largest privately-owned collection of ancient arms and armour—is estimated to bring £22m at Christie’s over the course of a year as the private institution shifts focus [...].

In August, founder and owner Christian Levett, a former commodities trader, announced plans to briefly close the museum after 12 years in order to rebrand it as the Femmes Artistes du Musée de Mougins (FAMM) and to switch out the existing collection of largely classical art to work by women artists, which Levett has focused on acquiring over the past few years. Christie’s will auction much of Levett’s collection once held in the Mougins museum across six sales in London and New York, including a two-part, trans-Atlantic auction dedicated to ancient arms and armour.

Checked the Paperwork, did they?


This 11th century image of LAKULISHA/PARASURAMA, stolen in 1983 from Rudragadesvara, Pasupati Temple Complex, has been located. It was sold at a Catawiki Auction, Belgium on 22nd November 2020.

British Museum: It is Worse than we Thought

It is worse than we thought: Paul Glynn ( Entertainment reporter), 'British Museum asks public and experts to help recover stolen artefacts' BBC 26.09.2023.
The British Museum has asked the public to help identify and recover ancient artefacts that have gone missing from its collection. Last month a member of staff was sacked and police launched an investigation after around 2,000 treasures were reported "missing, stolen or damaged" over a "significant" period of time. The museum has now said most are Greek and Roman gems and jewellery, and shared pictures of similar items. Sixty objects have been returned. In a statement, the museum added that 300 more had been "identified and [are] due to be returned imminently". In an attempt to recover the rest, it has put details and images of the types of objects that are missing on its website. "If you are concerned that you may be, or have been, in possession of items from the British Museum, or if you have any other information that may help us, please contact us," the website said.
(recte: says). Oh, so there are reasons why they cannot actually find in their archives the photos of the actual items that were in the collection and now are not? They can only show you the "types". We are furthermore told that "as well as classical Greek and Roman gems, there are rings, earrings and other pieces of jewellery - some dating back to the Late Bronze Age". 

So if my sister had bought for 843 GBP an ancient Greek earring from a London-based dealer who swore ("nudge-nudge-wink-wink") that it was from "an Old European collection by descent", she's supposed to wonder if hers is one of the BM ones, and contact the Museum and ask them if they are interested in looking at it? And then if the BM says "yes, it is one of ours stolen in 2017 - you have to give it back"... what recourse does my sister have? Does she get her money back? Or does she have then to spend money getting a lawyer and suing the dealer - who may well contest it and ask my sister to prove it (at which point my sister discovers that the BM does not actually have watertight records identifying this, precise, earring as the precise one that went missing from their collection at a time they cannot precisely define)?  
The museum also said it would work alongside an international panel of experts to identify and recover the items, and had placed them on the Art Loss Register. James Ratcliffe, director of recoveries at the Art Loss Register, said the museum had "carefully balanced the need to provide information to the public to assist the recovery efforts with the fact that providing too much detail risks playing into the hands of those who might act in bad faith".
Ahhh... so that's why. Of course the Museum and ALR are ignoring the fact that there may be dealers out there who are honest and acting in good faith, and might themselves (for their reputation) prefer to find out about and weed out stolen items from their stockroom if they have them. Which group is bigger? Because it seems to me that this decision is prejudiced agianst the needs of the latter group - and therefore the general public.

Tuesday 26 September 2023

US looted treasures unit faces accusations over credit

Dalya Alberge, '‘Enough is enough’: US looted treasures unit faces accusations over credit', The Guardian Tue 26 Sep 2023.
Since 2017, when the Manhattan district attorney’s office announced the formation of its first antiquities trafficking unit, it has recovered nearly 4,500 artefacts stolen from 29 countries, with a combined value of more than $375m (£307m).
It is an impressive track record, made possible by specialists such as the Cambridge-based Greek archaeologist Christos Tsirogiannis, a leading expert in looted antiquities and trafficking networks.
In the past five years, Tsirogiannis has helped the unit recover and repatriate ancient treasures to their respective countries of origin, providing crucial evidence obtained through his own extensive research.
But in an extraordinary breach, Tsirogiannis has accused the unit of abusing his intellectual property by ignoring or downplaying his requests to be credited in official announcements.
“They are taking my work and presenting it as theirs,” Tsirogiannis said. “They are showing off with my academic work and not giving me the credit. It is an abuse of my intellectual property. But now, enough is enough.”
Tsirogiannis said he was interested only in an acknowledgement of his research, and never requested payment. He said he had lost patience after discovering that his original research was used in the district attorney’s latest case, without any credit, even though he had made it clear to the antiquities unit that the research came from his 2012 PhD thesis.

Sunday 24 September 2023

Chat GPT Justifies Collecting...

I thought I'd see what our AI pal reckons about artefact collecting: " What do collectors of ancient and historical artefacts found in the fields (such as metal detectorists) and collectors of ancient coins DO with the artefacts they have in their collections? What are their justifications for collecting these items?" The answer was not a bad one, in the circumstances:


Collectors of ancient and historical artifacts found in fields, including metal detectorists, and collectors of ancient coins engage in these hobbies for various reasons. Their motivations and what they do with their collections can vary widely. Here are some common justifications and practices associated with these collectors:

Hobby and Personal Interest:

Many collectors are passionate about history and archaeology. They see their hobby as a way to connect with the past and learn about different cultures and time periods.
They derive personal enjoyment and satisfaction from the thrill of discovery and the process of research and preservation.

Preservation and Documentation:

Responsible collectors often take great care to document the artifacts they find, recording their context, location, and any historical significance.
Some collectors see themselves as stewards of history, preserving items that might otherwise be lost or damaged over time.

Research and Education:

Collectors often use their collections as educational tools. They may share their findings with scholars, museums, or the public to contribute to historical knowledge.
The artifacts and coins can be studied to gain insights into ancient civilizations, economies, and technologies.

Community and Social Bonding:

Many collectors are part of local or online communities where they can share their finds, experiences, and knowledge with like-minded enthusiasts.
Metal detecting clubs and archaeological societies provide opportunities for social interaction and support.

Display and Exhibition:

Some collectors create displays or private museums to showcase their collections. These displays can serve as educational resources for visitors.
Exhibiting artifacts can also be a way to share the beauty and historical value of these items with a wider audience.

Financial Investment:

While not the primary motivation for all collectors, some do consider their collections as investments. Rare or historically significant artifacts and coins can appreciate in value over time.
However, this approach may raise ethical concerns if it leads to the illicit trade of stolen or illegally acquired artifacts.

It's important to note that the motivations and practices of collectors can vary widely. While many collectors are responsible and ethical in their pursuits, there are also instances of looting, illegal artifact trafficking, and damage to archaeological sites. Laws and regulations regarding artifact collection vary by country, and it's essential for collectors to be aware of and comply with local and international laws governing the excavation and possession of historical artifacts.

In recent years, there has been increasing awareness of the ethical considerations surrounding artifact collection, and efforts have been made to encourage responsible collecting, reporting of finds to authorities, and collaboration with archaeologists and historians to ensure that valuable historical information is not lost through unregulated activities.
So how much of this applies to the metal detectorist that you do not personally know, because you met them on an excavation? I still see the influence of the PAS/ Bonnie-Suzie/ Helsinki here.

Russia has Destroyed Huge Numbers of of Ukrainian Texts in Ukraine.

It is estimated that as a result of military action or deliberate vandalism, Russia has damaged or completely destroyed more than 620 libraries in Ukraine since February 2022. Over 187 million Ukrainian library books have been destroyed by Russians. This estimate is just the library books and doesn’t account for all the other books they've destroyed. School library destroyed by a rocket attack, Kramatorsk, August 27, 2022

Saturday 23 September 2023

Preparations for Getting Crimea Back


          The current state of the headquarters of the               
Russian Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol.    
In Ukraine, Vice Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk made an appeal: "Ukrainians who live in Crimea are asked to leave and wait out the deoccupation in another territory", she said. It is to be expected that things will get a bit chaotic in occupied Crimea the next couple of months.

This means that those currently in charge of the collections of museums in the temporarily occupied territories in Crimea must begin now their efforts to safeguard the collections currently in their care under the provisions of the 1954 Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict [Вы знаете, что есть такое, правда?].

Since nobody outside Russia recognizes the Russian territorial claims to Crimea, any attempt to "evacuate" material to Russia will be an attempt to smuggle cultural property, and can be treated as a war-crime too (Mali provided a precedent). 

Ukraine should publish a list of the names of the people currently in charge of institutions housing cultural property (museums, libraries, archives etc.) so they should know that the world is watching them closely.   

Of Akinakes and Axes

Office of the President of Ukraine: ' A ceremony of returning cultural property stolen from the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine was held in Washington with the participation of the President' 21 September 2023

During a working visit to the United States, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy took part in a ceremony of returning cultural property stolen by Russian invaders from the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine [...] and [...] confiscated by U.S. law enforcement agencies.[...]

In June 2022, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection detained an antique, which, after examination, turned out to be a European iron axe from the 17th century with a hammer on the back. The axe was illegally exported from Ukraine to the United States.

Also last June, artifacts smuggled into the United States from Russia were seized. In particular, three 17th-century iron axes, three 17th-century mattocks, two 6th-century BC Scythian iron acinaces, and one iron spearhead dating from approximately 500-1200 BC.

These artifacts were confiscated for transfer to the Embassy of Ukraine in the United States under administrative procedure.
Plus: the usual peptalk speaking as per normal, heritage values, bla bla.

I guess the first axe really was being exported by one of Ukraine's many eBay dealers, active before and during the War. I bet it's the one in the left foreground. The blunt peen could be used to knock nails (or wooden pegs) into a structure.

There is potential for a very satisfying PhD thesis for someone on "The Morphology, Characteristics and function of Post-Medieval Axes in Northern Europe (15th to 19th centuries)" - or maybe Europe generally? I don't think there is a monographic treatment (stand to be corrected). Dealers (no, I'll not name-names, I am sure you can come up with some) habitually [literally habitually] sell these and other forms as "Viking Axes", anything handmade with an odd-shaped blade and very-very rusty. The ones I saw in an auction house a year ago were quite specific in form, and on the Polish online sales-place Allegro I spotted the exact same form of axes in the "technological antiques" (ie byegones from the backs of rural barns). I am sure the dealers' ones were recent axes from Poland (Maybe the same form occurs in neighbouring countries) but this was no older than the nineteenth century. I do not know how this one is dated to the "17th century", the forms of utilitarian iron tools is (a) limited by the technique of forging and (b) tended to be very conservative over time.

The June 2023 ones, the same would apply to the axes. They are of vaguely-Viking-looking form, but are not. Again, I could not say how they are dated, perhaps they know where they were dug up (?). Weird forms like this could be spotted in manuscript illustrations, in manuscripts, early woodcuts, paintings. They are specialist woodworking tgools (perhaps boat-building? Just a guess). The one back right is robust and could [I'd suggest would] have been used to split logs longitudinally, with a mighty whack and then hammering the peen ito the wood until it split. It is not a battle axe, too heavy to carry about for one thing. The three hand-picks (NOT "mattocks"!) are small hand tools, used for dressing stone (similar tools are used for making stone-slab roofing tiles with the spike for making teh nail holes - but I am not sure whether such tiles were made in Russia/Ukraine, can't recall reading abouty them or seeing any). Totally beats me how they are dated. I have one bought new in Jack's in Colchester in the 1980s - used it as an excavation tool. Mine too is now as rusty as these as it's been in a leaky shed at my Mums for the last 37 years. Two of them are not ancient IMO. At the back... well, unlikely that the spearhead is as old as 1200 BC, wherever it is from. It probably is ancient, but why it is not Early Medieval beats me (given my background, it screams "Anglo-Saxon" to me, but it can't be - but it is to that period that I'd start looking for parallels, not the early Metal Ages). It's a fuzzy picture but the crud on it looks plausible. The sword behind it (now is that really an akinakes (here too) - I really doubt it, though it has to be admitted that they were variable is shape and size) is equally cruddy and until there are better photos deserves (or rather the dealer selling it as ancient) the benefit of doubt... But then, what links it specifically with Ukraine? The akinakes (the real one) was Achaemenid in origin and it and its derivatives occurred along a wide band of steppe between Crimean and Pesoia if not beyond.

The other one, I can only ask WTF? To my eye this looks for all the world like a recently-forged replica with an oxide patina. From that photo, I really cannot accept that it is anything else. But note that it is the same shape and size as the cruddy one, which has lost its tii and the end of the hilt. Is this a replica sold with the first to give an idea how it originally looked? So the dealer was not cheating, but making something more marketable. But then.... this replica (if that's what it is) draws attention to something else. How was the hilt finished? There are no rivet holes for hilt plates, nothing making a guard (though these does not have to be) no pommel as such (akinakes generally have one). IMO you cant just have some filler plates making a handgrip (OK, maybe glued to the metal?) and bound round tightly with tapes or leather strips to make a handgrip. IMO this would work loose in no time (and what rain-proof glue was there in the centuries BC?). This whole sword business looks a bit fishy to me.

But this is all object-centric divagation. These items are off the antiquities market, which we all know is  a swamp, so of course they are mis-described and now what they are represented as. That's par for the course.  And that the Americans are once again using antiquities to score a point without any real caere as to what it is they are "repatriating" - they do it all the time (vide: Kalmakara ('Western Cave') Griffin the  the dubious documents and @antiquities@ from the Abu Sayyaf raid) What I think is very clear that this is what's happening here. Hundreds of looted antiquiteies (real ones) are being exported from Ukraine, and not a few of them are going to the US, but this is the best Homeland Security could come up with for Zelensky's visit. A pathetic showing. let's note the phrase above: "smuggled into the United States from Russia". Given the rather unspecific/generic shape of most of these artefacts, what (apart from modern politics) determined that these objects should go to Ukraine? Can the US authorities explain that? Is this not an example of US instrumentally treating narratives of "X destroying/stealing cultural property" to create the picture of an evil Other [where a few years aggo X was "ISIL", and now it's "Russia"], regardless of what the facts are, or how securely one can actually justify these easy slogans. What actually links this ONE sale and the whole picture of "Russian theft" the US is trying to create? (and this is by no means a slight attack on the Ukrainian delegation Слава Україні!)

Crimean coin Seized in Athens Suburb


The premises of an antiquities smuggling ring were raided on September 16th by the Cultural Heritage and Antiquities Department of the Attica Security Directorate in  a coastal suburb of Greater Athens. The criminal syndicate was led by a man of Albanian origin known by the alias "Tzoni", and was reportedly operating from the Sports Hall of the Coastal Zone Olympic Sports Complex in Paleo Faliro. The antiquities were said to be from the regions of Attica and Epirus. In the raid, 31 ancient artifacts were seized, many of which hold great historical and archaeological importance and are protected by cultural heritage regulations. Archaeological experts evaluated the items, determining that 27 of them fell under the protective provisions of the Law on Protection of Antiquities, while four required further examination [I presume this means that they are suspected as possible fakes]. 

 Among the remarkable finds was a gold coin - a stater from Pantikapaion, a Greek colony in the Tauric Chersonese of the Black Sea, which is modern-day Crimea. This dates back to the 4th century BC. This coin, measuring approximately 17 millimeters in diameter and weighing about 9.2 grams, stood out as exceptionally rare. An archaeologist from the Numismatic Museum of Athens noted its uniqueness, as it featured a frontal depiction of Pan. Upon examination in the Numismatic Museum of Athens, it was affirmed that the coin falls under the protective provisions of Law No. 4858/2021 and holds substantial economic and cultural value due to its extraordinary rarity. it is valued at 6 million euros {there is no better information yet, but I assume that it is one of these staters that is referred to like the one sold in the Prosper collection a while back (here too)].

On what grounds however is this coin retained in Greece? What was the proof that it had been dug up in Attica/Epirus? While it is true that the normal staters did circulate a bit wider than the hinterland of the colony, one wonders what the grounds are for keeping this coin in Greece (apart from the national collections not having one).

But... would it not be ironic if this coin was one of the items that has not yet been declared a real, pukka antiquity? I.e., that it is a fake prompted by the publicity surrounding the "Prosper" sale? IS it real, or a fake? And if real, where was it from? 

Hat tip ARCA

Friday 22 September 2023

British Archaeology and its Ivory Tower

Archaeosoup raises some important points 26.5K subscribers:

"Head of the Council for British Archaeology Blocked me on Twitter... This is (or should be) WEIRD!
Neil Redfern blocked me on Twitter. This is NOT normal!
Every now and then I am reminded just how bizarre the behaviour of people at the top of Archaeology in this country can be..."
Posted on You Tube by 'Archaeosoup' 26.5K subscribers Sep 18, 2023 [450 views ]

From my own point of view, this seems quite normal for British archaeology if you start asking questions that people just don't want to think about - like on metal detecting. So I am blocked just about everywhere that anyone involved in the Portable Antiquities Scheme does their "public outreach" through social media. Blocking people from asking questions is a very one-sided way of interacting with a wider group, it is zero accountibility and transparency. That is what British archaeology is becoming.

But the PAS and its camp followers are quite happy to post crap like: "On this day the Roman Empire's first black emperor began his reign - here's a coin of his", or "This nice seal from the times of the Plantagenet kings shows a pelican - cute, eh?" that tells nobody anything about archaeology.

And yes, the CBA tends to steer away from searching questions about whether artefact hunting with metal detectors and collecting loose artefacts is really " involving people in archaeology", or something else entirely. Why? Is this not somethingwe should be discussing? 

Thursday 21 September 2023

The UN and its UNESCO Failing to Meet Modern Challenges

              UN, pull your finger out.            

The UN is incapable of preventing aggressors like Vladimir Putin from invading other countries, Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky has claimed, as he made an impassioned call for reform of the General Assembly and Security Council to end Russia’s war on his country [...] as he addressed the UN Security Council in New York for the first time since Moscow’s invasion of his country.
There is no question that he is absolutely right. In its current form, the UN is not only no longer fit for purpose, but it has not been for a long time. The same goes for its documents such as the 1970 UNESCO Convention that refers to the situating on the antiquities market of the 1960s and 1970s and no longer are applicable to that of the 2020s. The world does not stand still, but the UN seems to think that it can ignore that fact.  

"They Can't Touch Yer for It" in Germany

In Germany, much was made of the new law (the Act on the Protection of Cultural Property) that entered into force in August 2016 penalizing the illegal export, import and trade of cultural property from and to Germany. There have been some repatriations to neighbouring EU states as a result of it (in 2018 three items, in 2019 over 1,000, in 2020 38, in 2021 a total of 884, in 2022 10, and so far this year 15). However, there are problems convicting people accused of breaking current legal regulations, because these acts are difficult to prove (for example in all of Bavaria since 2017, only two verdicts have been issued in against people prosecuted under the Cultural Property Protection Act). So, in a recent case (, 'Freispruch in Prozess um antike Silberteller aus der Ukraine' 19.09.2023) a trial involving ancient silver plates from Ukraine ended in acquittal (worth noting, as far as I can see, there is no evidence here that anyone is contesting that the plates actually were dug up in Ukraine and ended up on the Munich market - that to me is the actual point of importance): 

"On Tuesday, a district court in Munich acquitted a man of illegally importing antique silver plates from Ukraine to Germany. He was charged with violating the Act on the Protection of Cultural Property. Even the prosecutor who brought charges against him had to admit in his justification that he could not be proven to have committed a crime. Like the defence, she also demanded acquittal. A man brought fragments of two silver plates dating from the 2nd to 4th centuries AD to an auction house in Grasbrunn near Munich to auction them off. The relics are believed to be Ukrainian cultural assets, originating from looters' excavations in the Ternopil region of Ukraine in 2016–2017. The prosecutor's office assumed that he imported them to Germany illegally in 2019-2020. On Tuesday, the court decided that this could not be proven to the accused. It cannot be ruled out that he could have bought the works "from a dealer in Stuttgart a long time ago" and "that these items had been in the auction house for a long time."

(and so before the new law). So now some guy can buy this stuff, safe in the knowledge that in this case because there is no actual documentation, "They Can't Touch Yer for It"

[anyone got any more information? Like where did the prosecutor get the general location of the findspot and 2016-7?] 

 Hat tip Alexander Nagel

Wednesday 20 September 2023

"Where did you say your artefacts came from? "

The illustration is not very clear here, but the general idea is: "A Map of the Distribution of Roman Coins Found in Eurasia and North Africa" (actually "Distribution of coins in CHRE database by Findspot" [Hekster, Olivier and Manders, Erika 2022, 'Coinage in the Roman Provinces: the RPC and CHRE projects',* Journal of Roman Studies. 112. 1-15. 10.1017/S0075435822000326]).

* RPC -Roman Provincial Coinage ; CHRE - Coin Hoards of the Roman Empire project.

Sunday 17 September 2023

West Mercia Police Arrests "Horde" Raiders

West Mercia Police have arrested two men in connection with an investigation under the 1996 Treasure Act as well as the 'Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003' (West Mercia Police Press Release 'Two arrested following discovery of treasure horde (sic)' 17/09/2023)
Two men, aged 65 and 66, were arrested on suspicion of criminal damage and handling tainted coins. Both men have now been released on police bail.
The police connect the arrests to a hoard found in August 2023 in Cradley, Herefordshire. Well, let's see how far they get with this, the press release shows that the British police force employs people who cannot even spell the word 'hoard' properly.

Birmingham Live's Nick Horner, whose spelling is better, shows how to take a laconic press release and turn it into a fuller article, without adding anything new (apart from the adjective "huge"): "Huge Midlands treasure hoard discovery leads to arrest of two men" 17 SEP 2023.

The police could give a little more information, even if it is still just an ongoing investigation - like what the coins were (just to alert the market what information they are looking for if somebody offered items like that to them in the past two weeks or so).

"I Looked him In the Eye, he Said They Were OK, so I Purchased Them"

 Michael Bennet has left his post at the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, Fla. after a touring exhibition of antiquities put together there raised concerns at a Denver museum (Graham Bowley, 'Provenance of a Museum’s Greek Exhibit Is Questioned, Fueling a Debate' New York Times Sept. 17, 2023) The exhibition of objects representing ancient Greek art from the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, Florida was called “From Chaos to Order”.

But earlier this year, when the exhibition was scheduled to travel to the Denver Art Museum, the staff there balked because many of the 57 artifacts lacked detailed provenances. None of the antiquities, on loan from the businessman and collector Sol Rabin, were known to have been looted, but some had been purchased from sellers who have been accused of handling stolen antiquities in the past, Denver Museum officials noted. The Denver museum had recently had its own scandal, when it returned four artifacts to Cambodia. Its director, Christoph Heinrich, suggested postponing the Florida exhibition in the hope that the provenance issues could be resolved. [...] The show never made it to Denver. Two months later, Bennett, the curator in St. Petersburg, was put on leave. A month after that he was fired.
Michael Bennett of course was the curator in Cleveland who'd been involved in the as-yet-unresolved issue of the so-called "Leutwitz Apollo" discussed in this blog a while back as being one of those objects that was in to places at the same time.
The exact circumstances of Bennett’s dismissal, which dismayed his supporters in St. Petersburg, remain unclear. Museum officials declined to detail their reasoning, saying they could not discuss personnel matters, but in a statement they stressed the importance of adhering to the highest industry standards in a changing world and said that they had started a complete provenance review of the museum’s collection [...] A board member, Robert Drapkin, said that he believed the provenance issue was a factor but that he was told there was more than one reason for the dismissal.
Belinda Dumont, a board member at the St. Petersburg museum is quoted as saying: "The response was exaggerated, [...] I think the hysteria about provenance is deeply misguided because the items are valuable to be shown to the public.” I think the quote suggests that Ms Dumont does not really understand the issues cannected with looting. A few of the objects came from Robert Hecht, a prominent antiquities expert who investigators say often dealt in stolen objects. Neither the Rollins Museum of Art, in Orlando, Fla., or the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, S.C., where the exhibition toured, raised issues about the loaned items.
Rabin, who is currently chair of the Ancient Art Committee at the Harvard Art Museums, said his collection of Greek art, which runs to some 700 pieces, was built up over several decades, with the advice of Bennett and David Mitten, an emeritus professor of classical art and archaeology at Harvard, who died last year. He said that two of the objects in the show had also been on loan recently to other major museums. Rabin said he had not asked dealers he worked with for full provenance information, but had sought clear assurances objects had not been stolen. In dealing with Hecht, Rabin said: “I would look him in the eye. He would say, ‘No, these are fine. These are legitimate pieces,’ so I purchased them.”
All of the claptrap justifications offered in this article are object-centred, they do not even mention what happens when items are ripped out of the ground to satisfy the no-questions asked market they are defending, nor the rights of the Citizens these objects were taken from without anyone bothering whether or not there is documentation that shows that was done legally.

Tuesday 12 September 2023

The Banality of British Lootier Crassness

This really beggars belief in this day and age (Harriet Sherwood, 'Victoria and Albert Museum to look after ancient Yemen stones found in London shop Guardian Tue 12 Sep 2023 )
The V&A is to look after four ancient carved funerary stones that were found by police in a shop in east London in a historic agreement with Yemen. The stelae, which date from the second half of the first millennium BC, come from necropoli that have been looted in recent years. The V&A will care for, research and conserve the stelae on a temporary basis before they are returned to Yemen when it is safe to do so [...] The stones were discovered by an archaeology enthusiast in an interior design shop in east London, and recovered by the Metropolitan police’s art and antiques unit
The stelae will eventually be repatriated, but before that will feature in the Museum's exhibition connected with its "Culture in Crisis" that helps curtail the illegal trade of looted objects and the preservation of cultural heritage worldwide.It is not stated how many of the stelae acquired by the shop had been sold before the police paid them a visit. The shop was unnamed.

Article 10: The States Parties to this Convention undertake [...] (b) To endeavour by educational means to create and develop in the public mind a realization of the value of cultural property and the threat to the cultural heritage created by theft, clandestine excavations and illicit exports.
The UK is failing, utterly, to do that.

Edoardo Almagià, Antiquities and Princeton

Edoardo Almagià ’73 ‘got away’ with trafficking looted Italian antiquities for decades, says the Manhattan district attorney’s office. Now the Princeton University Art Museum and other museums are facing scrutiny for being homes to his artifacts (Rachel Axon, 'Raider of the Lost Art', Princeton Alumni Weekly September 12, 2023). The antiquities that he handled:
"were often purchased, Almagià says, in open markets, a common practice when he started as an art dealer in the 1980s. Where they came from and how they got there, Almagià says he didn’t ask.

[...] From his base in New York, Almagià found eager buyers. In receptions at Christie’s and Sotheby’s auction houses, he met collectors and museum curators who would purchase the antiquities for a few hundred or few thousand dollars. His network grew and eventually antiquities sold, loaned, or donated by Almagià appeared in museums across the United States.

Now, though, hundreds of his items have been returned to Italy and Almagià is the target of an ongoing investigation. The Manhattan district attorney’s office, working with the Italian government, has executed search warrants across the United States over the past two years in the homes of private collectors, in galleries, and in museums, including the Princeton University Art Museum (PUAM).

Led by Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos, who heads the Antiquities Trafficking Unit, the office has repatriated more than 200 Almagià antiquities to Italian law enforcement. They’re valued at nearly $7 million."

Monday 11 September 2023

Cultural property criminals’ responses to the invasion and occupation of the Donbas

Samuel Andrew Hardy and Serhii Telizhenko
Russia was ‘doomed to expand [its] aggression’ against Ukraine: Cultural property criminals’ responses to the invasion and occupation of the Donbas since 20th February 2014.Published online: 11 Sep 2023

This study explores how Russia’s invasion and occupation of Ukraine has affected cultural property crime and how cultural property criminals have responded to those practical, social, political and economic changes. To do so, this online ethnography draws on netnographic data from 184 artefact-hunters across Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Greece, Germany, Belgium, the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada, two artefact-dealers and one violent political operator, whose discussions spanned 19 online communities. It examines the legal fictions and legal nihilism of antiquities looters; the criminal operations of antiquities looters and antiquities traffickers in the occupied territories of Ukraine; the international networks of artefact-hunters that facilitate the trading of equipment and antiquities, plus the movement of the artefact-hunters themselves and the conduct of their criminal operations. Thereby, it documents the pollution of Western markets with tainted cultural goods from the occupied territories of Ukraine and elsewhere in Eastern Europe and the contribution of Western consumers to the conflict economy.
This is great, it is really rare to see an archaeology text that so closely relates to present day (and individual) realities. I am told that it is first of a series.

I think this is very important work as the same thing is happening concerning the Russian attack on Ukraine as happened in Iraq and Syria, a whole group of scholars and journalists in US and UK jumped on the issue, wrote a whole lot of words and set up organizations to monitor things (but really to generate grants), and made up a load of myths. In the case of UA however, there was a flurry of activity in the US, in 2022, a lot of exaggerations were published, work was done and words were written without the involvement of Ukrainians. So it is good to see this evidence-based collaborative text that crosses beyond the usual well-trodden paths when talking about the interaction between archaeology (and broadly-understood "heritage") and modern conflict. I look forward to seeing further papers in this series.

Friday 8 September 2023

"To safeguard yourself from such situations, diligent research and thoroughness are imperative".

 That we still need more articles like this is thought-provoking:  Matthew Erskine, 'Do The Right Thing: Returning Looted or Stolen Art (and How Not to Buy It in the First Place)' Forbes Sep 7, 2023

Sadly part of the reason for that is poor writing like this:
There are several common indications that an artwork might be stolen or looted. First, if the artwork lacks a clear provenance or ownership history, it raises a red flag. Second, if the artwork has been unlawfully removed from a museum, church, or archaeological site, it should be approached with caution. Third, if the artwork has been illegally exported from its country of origin, there is cause for concern. Fourth, if the artwork has been sold or offered for sale by an untrustworthy dealer, it is wise to exercise prudence. Lastly, if the artwork appears on a stolen art database, such as Art Recovery Group's Art Claim, it is important to proceed with thorough verification of its ownership history before making a purchase.
The first is an indication, the other four are not (the fourth does not work if this "artwork" is a clandestinely- excavated antiquity).

A lot of the rest is the usual art-market fluff (author describes himself as " a trusts and estates attorney writing on estate and tax planning"). The list of recommendations is all over the place and the suggestions overlap, it reads as if it were written on the back of an envelope in a pub, with other people around the table excitedly offering their suggestions:
"Before purchasing a piece of artwork, it is crucial to conduct thorough research into its provenance. Consider the following steps:
- Examine the artwork's ownership history, exhibition history, and publication history.
- Verify the ownership history of the artwork before making a purchase.
- Review exhibition catalogs to determine if the artwork was featured in any gallery or museum exhibitions.
- Utilize resources like the International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR) Provenance Guide, which serves as a valuable starting point for provenance research.
- Cross-reference any information found, as resources can be inaccurate or forged.
- Consult stolen art databases, such as Art Recovery Group's Art Claim, to check if the artwork appears on any registries.
- Collect relevant information about the artwork, including the artist's name, title, and any applicable export or import licenses.
- For high-value art, consider hiring a provenance researcher to conduct a thorough investigation into the artwork's history.
- Researching the provenance of artwork can be challenging, as records may have been lost or destroyed over time.
However, conducting due diligence is crucial to ensure that the artwork is not stolen or looted, particularly for high-value pieces or those of significant artistic merit".
(why "however" given the content and title of this article?).

Saturday 2 September 2023

What was he Thinking?


This was in a few papers but South Wales Argus (Iwan Gabe Davies, 'Caerphilly man filmed himself damaging ancient monument' 30th August 2023) had better details and by far the better picture with the oblique photo of the cup-marked boulder. Julian Baker, 52, from Abertridwr, filmed himself damaging an ancient monument and put the film on Facebook. The buried monument at Eglwysilan Mountain in Caerphilly is two large sandstones with “cup marks” cut into their upper surfaces dating back to the Bronze Age, c. 2,500BC. He has now appeared at Newport Magistrates’ Court where he admitted deliberately exposing and damaging theprehistoric monument. He was ordered to pay £4,400 compensation and given a suspended sentence. Heritage officials said Baker ruined part of the artwork beyond repair and it is now "lost forever". 

Baker, who lives near the site, filmed himself excavating the monument and separated the rock art panel from its stone. The charges state Baker "executed unauthorised work affecting a scheduled monument" in January of this year. It added that he "executed works, namely disturbed the ground exposing an ancient monument." The second charge said Baker acted to "destroy or damage an ancient protected monument," on the same date. It said: "Without lawful excuse destroyed or damaged a protected monument, namely rockart panel knowing that it was a protected monument and intending to destroy or damage the monument or being reckless as to whether the monument would be destroyed or damaged."
It is difficult to know what he was up to. One can only assume that the mention that he "separated the rock art panel from its stone" implis that he was trying to reduce its weight so he could transport it awy for collection or sale. Recently there was a sale of a piece of rockart by a British auction house that may have given him the idea.

Hat tip Dave Coward

Friday 1 September 2023

Museum Image Question


Elizabeth Marlowe @ElizMarlowe 12:09 AM · 2 wrz 2023
"Folks who write about museums: what is your sense on what permissions I need to publish my own photos of installations and gallery labels in a scholarly article? / I've somehow managed to avoid this question up until now, but a press I'm currently working with wants me to obtain permissions".

Patty Gerstenblith @PGerstenblith ·2 g.

The underlying work (the antiquities) are in the public domain. The copyright in the photo is yours. The museum arguably has a copyright in the exhibit arrangement and you’re copying that in the photo, but you’re not using your copy for the same purpose so probably fair use. /The museum has a copyright in the label text. Your use may be fair use, depending on a 4-factor analysis: eg, how much of the label you used, whether for the same or different purpose (such as critique). Commercial vs nonprofit use is not dispositive (a common misperception). · 2 g. Depends on the museum but they sometimes have a page detailing that (though usually in press section). I’ve used my own photos of installations + museum photos with proper credits in media but maybe academic papers work differently.
With the museum exhibit arrangement, the issue of the selection of angle, lighting, composition, your photo is your individual, creative, interpretation of a space, and then copyright of the image is less of a straightforward issue. Museums should be happy people are writing about them and not making life difficult for those that take an interest in what they are doing. 


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