Monday 25 December 2023

Belgian Family Never Learnt about not Buying Stolen Antiquities


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

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

Sunday 24 December 2023

Christmas 2023

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

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

Friday 22 December 2023

Lenborough Hoard does a Runner


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

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

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

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

Sunday 17 December 2023

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

       The infamous Gallery 249 Metropolitan Museum, New York      


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

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

Searching for the rest of Cambodia's stolen crown jewels

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Historical England and Heritage-Health


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

Friday 15 December 2023

Clasps and Plaques from metal detecting

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

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

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


Tuesday 12 December 2023

Poland, ***** ***

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

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

Sunday 10 December 2023

Taking the -ology out of Archaeology

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

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

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

Friday 8 December 2023

An 'Ordos' Fitting Online

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

The 'Ordos Culture'

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

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

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

Sources, wikipedia and the trade

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


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

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

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

Thursday 7 December 2023

Akkadian Cylinder Seal, c. 2300-2200 BCE

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

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

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

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

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

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