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Tiffany Jenkins on James Cuno

Tiffany Jenkins has written a review of James Cuno's Whose Culture? Neil MacGregor's contribution is described as "one of the book’s weakest chapters" that "charts a one-sided history of the British Museum which neglects its historical association with the state and in particular the British Empire".

I am not sure Jenkins has understood the complexity of the issues. She writes, "Italy not only keeps what is found in Italy, but prevents export of artefacts and pushes for artefacts found in Italy but held abroad to be returned". But why has Italy pressed for the return of well over 100 objects from a variety of university and civic museums as well as a dealer and a private collector? Surely it is to discourage the "no questions asked" acquisition policies that have allowed recently looted objects to enter public and private collections. [See my essay on "Nostoi".] Museums may well play an "invaluable role ... in the preservat…

Does blogging matter?

Chuck Jones has raised the issue of blogging ("Does Blogging Matter?") on the Ancient World Bloggers Group. This coincides with the third post of Looting Matters on PR Newswire (a topic that in itself has attracted discussion).

So why blog about archaeological ethics?

Here are some preliminary thoughts ...

First, it allows a day by day response to what is happening on the antiquities market. And things can happen quite suddenly. Take Friday October 26 2007: Bonhams withdrew a piece of Lydian silver from a sale in London, an article was published on incantation bowls at UCL, and then to finish the day, Princeton announced that it would be returned some of its antiquities to Italy. Web 2.0 technology allows for a swift response; without it, the response would have to be submitted to a journal, and the piece would appear months (at best!) later.

Second, it allows a commentary to develop about issues. The July 2008 announcement that Bonhams would be selling antiquities from the Grah…

"The market to sell stolen antiquities in the United States is freezing up"

Seven Egyptian antiquities stolen from the Bijbels Museum in Amsterdam on July 29,2007 have been recovered. The pieces were spotted by staff of the Art Loss Register (ALR) and were recovered from a "Manhattan auction house" by officers of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) ("ICE recovers Egyptian artifacts stolen from a museum in the Netherlands", May 27, 2009). The pieces include a ushabti, and bronze figures of Imhotep of Harpokrates.

Which auction house? Who was the vendor? What histories for the pieces had been provided?

When on Google Earth 43

Looting Matters is hosting When on Google Earth 43 (WOGE 43) after I identified the Medieval Motte at the University of Wales Lampeter. So Lindsay Allen passes the baton to me ...

All you have to do is identify the place and the archaeological feature.

The rules again:

Q: What is When on Google Earth?
A: It’s a game for archaeologists, or anybody else willing to have a go!

Q: How do you play it?
A: Simple, you try to identify the site in the picture.

Q: Who wins?
A: The first person to correctly identify the site, including its major period of occupation, wins the game.

Q: What does the winner get?
A: The winner gets bragging rights and the chance to host the next When on Google Earth on his/her own blog!

Regular readers should bear with me!

Please leave identifications in the comment box.

Nighthawking Survey: version 3

Back in February there was quite a stir when the Nighthawking Survey ("Nighthawks & Nighthawking: Damage to Archaeological Sites in the UK & Crown Dependencies caused by Illegal Searching & Removal of Antiquities. Strategic Study. Final Report. Issue no. 2") commissioned by English Heritage was published (see my earlier comments, February 16, 2009). A month later, as Paul Barford observed, the report was no longer available online.

Issue no. 3, dated April 2009 is now available online. But, as Barford notes, there are significant differences. The first case study is on Icklingham in Suffolk, now sections 6.3.2-3.6 [sic.]. The second case study on Wiltshire in version 2 (6.3.8-3.9) no longer appears. Section 3.2.20 seems to have been expanded.

I cannot see a note in the text of issue no. 3 to explain the changes and differences that have been made. Barford makes a valid point:
I do not know what other changes have been made in this document, but certainly the text ne…

Art and Crime: New Essays

A new edited volume arrived today:
Noah Charney (ed.), Art and Crime: Exploring the Dark Side of the Art World (Praeger, 2009). [WorldCat] [Praeger] [ARCA]
Art crime has received relatively little attention from those who study art to those who prosecute crimes. Indeed, the general public is not well-aware of the various forms of art crime and its impact on society at large, to say nothing of museums, history, and cultural affairs. And yet it involves a multi-billion dollar legitimate industry, with a conservatively-estimated $6 billion annual criminal profit. Information about and analysis of art crime is critical to the wide variety of fields involved in the art trade and art preservation, from museums to academia, from auction houses to galleries, from insurance to art law, from policing to security. Since the Second World War, art crime has evolved from a relatively innocuous crime, into the third highest-grossing annual criminal trade worldwide, run primarily by organized crime syn…

Switzerland's Place in the Return of Antiquities

There have been some major returns of antiquities from Switzerland in recent years. The police raid in the Geneva Freeport in the mid-1990s brought to light the major movement of archaeological material from Italy to the antiquities markets of Europe, North America and the Far East. Photographic evidence seized in these raids has been instrumental in identifying objects that passed through the hands of certain dealers; many of the objects returned from museums and private collections in North America over the last few years were known from these Polaroid images.

Since this initial intervention there have been others. In 2001 a Swiss-Italian raid on a warehouse in Geneva recovered some 100 archaeological items. In May 2002 three warehouses linked with Gianfranco Becchina were raided and some 5000 objects seized. A fourth warehouse in Basel was raided in September 2005. This haul included some 10,000 images of archaeological objects. Three truck-loads of antiquities, about 4400 items, w…

James Cuno on loans from Italy

Richard Lacayo has interviewed James Cuno again ("More Talk with Jim Cuno", Time May 21, 2009). Although the main thrust of the interview is about charging to museums, the interview closes with the topic of antiquities and the encyclopedic museum. Lacayo asks, in the light of the returns to Italy, "Are there still developments in this area you'd like to see?"

Cuno expresses slight scepticism about the new attitude of the Italian authorities to make loans to North American museums.
What I hear about loans, it seems to be that those are going to particular museums with which the Italians had problematic relationships [that were mostly settled to their satisfaction] — Boston, the Getty, the Met. But I don't know if I were in Omaha that the Italian government would respond as generously. We need to see the extent to which they are generous generally.There are, of course, still some outstanding concerns about pieces in a number of museums.

Operation Phoenix: The Geneva Link

The Italian authorities revealed more than the Medieval Frescoes seized on Schinoussa from "the home of Greek shipping heiress Despoina Papadimitriou. She is the sister of the late Christo Michailidis, a London-based art dealer who supplied Greek, Roman and Etruscan antiquities to the Getty" ("Italy recovers lost Byzantine frescos from Greece", AP, May 19, 2009 [link]). (For an antiquity presented to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art in memory of Michailidis see here.)

But these were not the only pieces on display:
Police also showed off some of the 251 artifacts, worth a total of some €2 million, discovered as part of another investigation, dubbed Operation Phoenix, into looted antiquities found in Switzerland.

The goods were handed over to Italian authorities by two Lebanese brothers who operated a Geneva antiquities gallery. Police said they hoped that such a gesture would be repeated by anyone who had illicit antiquities in their possession.
It does not say…

Is UK cultural property for sale to the highest bidder?

The UK government has recently placed temporary export bans on two archaeological finds.

The first is a bronze mirror, dating to 75 BCE, that was found by a metal-detectorist in a shallow grave at Chilham Castle in Kent. (Part of the grave group now resides in the Canterbury Museum.)

The second is a bronze horse and rider found just outside Cambridge in eastern England.

Bronzes do not count specifically (in England and Wales) as “Treasure” under the terms of the 1996 Treasure Act as they do not have “metallic content of which at least 10 per cent by weight is precious metal”. The Act does allow for such finds to be included if “The Secretary of State may by order … designate any class of object which he considers to be of outstanding historical, archaeological or cultural importance.”

Both pieces are clearly important in cultural terms. The mirror is described as follows:
As the only Iron Age mirror to have been discovered in Kent, it is important for the study of this type of object. Only…

New Returns to Greece

The Hellenic Minister of Culture, Antonis Samaras, was present at the National Museum in Athens today (May 19, 2009) to receive the return of antiquities from Belgium, Germany, and the United Kingdom (see press release in Greek). The finds from Germany, some 96 pots and bronzes, were seized in a lorry at Nuremburg; they apparently came from a cemetery in Thessaly. The iconostasis from the UK appears to have come from a Byzantine church somewhere in the region of the Plaka.

Samaras spoke about the international co-operation to return cultural property to Greece - and thanked all those who were involved.

Image from Hellenic Ministry of Culture.

Greece and Italy: sequel to the Schinoussa raid

The two Medieval frescoes removed from a tomb near Naples in 1982 and recovered from the Greek island of Schinoussa have been put on display in Naples (ANSA 19 May 2009; see earlier comments).

Will this herald the release of images seized during the same raid? Their publication could prove to be more revealing than the raid in the Geneva Freeport.

Straight from Suffolk

Nathan Elkins has reported uncleaned coins "straight from" the ground in Suffolk, England, that are being passed by metal detectorists to a North American coin dealer ("Having Cake and Eating it too: Unrecorded and Freshly Dug British Coins Sold in the USA"). Another dealer has been advertising "English dugups".

Please could the offers and staff of the Portable Antiquities Scheme investigate these reports? Have these finds of coins been reported and recorded?

The Chilham Mirror: "Private collection threat"

The case of the Chilham Mirror has been raised by Keith Parfitt, Tina Parfitt and Nigel Macpherson-Grant in a letter to Current Archaeology (231, p. 48).
It was discovered by a metal detectorist in a shallow cremation grave at Chilham Castle in Kent in 1993.The material was subsequently sold at auction.

The CA letter notes that since the sale, "the metalwork has resided in that shadowy world of the private antiquities collector". Now the present owner wishes to export it and there is a temporary ban ("Celtic mirror export bar", MLA Press Release; "Culture Minister defers export of Iron Age Celtic mirror", DCMS Press Release; "Export ban on rare Celtic mirror", BBC News March 2, 2009). Clearly the piece is seen as significant:
As the only Iron Age mirror to have been discovered in Kent, it is important for the study of this type of object. Only 17 complete decorated mirrors dating from the Iron Age have been found in Britain. This is one of the earl…

Market values and inflation

My posting on the Roman horse and rider found just outside Cambridge has prompted a few interesting (private) comments. The piece was sold on May 1, 2008 for £10,200. I added:
The piece can remain in Britain if a purchaser is willing to acquire it "at the recommended price of £22,066.81"So although market forces in May 2008 suggested that the piece was worth £10,200, its present owner (a client of TimeLine Originals) places a higher value on it. (I am grateful to Brett Hammond for confirming this today.)

Then consider the fourteenth century astrolabe quadrant "Found during an archaeological watching brief in Canterbury by the Canterbury Archaeological Trust in 2005"; elsewhere, "It was found in 2005, associated with other medieval material on the site of an earlier inn just outside Canterbury Westgate on the road to London." It was then sold at Bonhams for £138,000 in March 2007 (see BBC News). A temporary export bar was placed on the astrolabe (see "T…

Artful Tom: "Have you paid for that thing?"

Thomas Hoving has been serialising his memoir (Artful Tom) on Artnet. It includes his reaction to seeing the Getty Kouros: "Have you paid for that thing?"

He also recalls his role in the return of the Sarpedon (Euphronios) krater with his advice to the Italian authorities: "Don’t be too harsh on the Met."

Looting Matters and PR Newswire

From today Looting Matters will be releasing a weekly story via PR Newswire. This week's featured post is on the Euphronios krater: "Why Does the Return of the Euphronios Krater to its Original Home Awaken Debate?".

Whoa! More on the Cambridgeshire Rider

The Roman bronze horse and rider from Cambridgeshire has been attracting further observations. Paul Barford talked about this specific piece back in November 2008 as it featured on the cover of the Review of the Portable Antiquities Scheme published by the MLA (2008) [pdf]. Paul has now commented on appeal to save this "stattuette ... of outstanding significance for the study of art, religion and society in Roman Britain" (DCMS Press Release, originally entitled "Culture Minister reigns in export of statuette of horse" (sic.)).

Barford notes the name of the original finder which led me to this report in The Times (London) (Dalya Alberge, "Metal detectives are a national treasure", November 23, 2007).
Duncan Pangborn, who first started metal detecting about five years ago, came across the Roman figurine, which dates from the 3rd or 4th century and is extremely well preserved, in an arable field in Cambridgeshire. "It was a shock," Mr Pangborn, a pr…

Rider heading to the west?

"If you want to get into metal detecting to make a profit, forget it". The quotation comes from Trevor Austin, the general secretary for the UK's National Council for Metal Detecting (Mary Jordan, "In Britain, Guys With Metal Detectors Find Respect Along With History", Washington Post May 11, 2009).

Yet an anonymous ("unknown or access restricted") metal-detectorist has not done too badly from his October 2006 search near, what a press release from the UK Government Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) describes as, "a temple site" located "in Stow Cum Quy, Cambridgeshire" ("Culture Minister reins in export of statuette of horse", April 7 2009).

The find of a bronze horse and rider was recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme. The find is noteworthy and the DCMS release describes it in the following terms:
the statuette is of outstanding aesthetic importance, and of outstanding significance for the study of art,…

The Stewardship of Classical Antiquities in a post-Euphronios World

Trust in North American public museums has taken a major knock over the last few years: well over 100 objects have been returned to Italy, and a museum curator is currently standing trial.

What has been the issue? Museums have been seeking to develop their classical Greek and Roman collections - but had not been asking too many questions about how the stunning objects had been appearing on the antiquities market.

What were the sources for these acquisitions? Italy had not been releasing items found in excavations as these were retained in regional museums. So were they from previously unrecorded private collections?

In the mid 1990s a raid in the Geneva Freeport brought to light a major dossier of images and documentation that provided an insight on how objects moved from ancient burials in Italy through Switzerland and onwards to collections in Europe, the Far East and North America. This photographic evidence brought about a major shift: museums were only too keen to negotiate some ret…

ALR reports and e-commerce

Last week saw the opening of the new e-tiquities website "by Phoenix Ancient Art" (see earlier comments). Yet one week on there has been a major change. Last week you could read the on-line reports from the Art Loss Register (ALR): now the links to the reports have been removed and replaced with a logo and a little message, "All e-Tiquities have been searched in the Art Loss Register database."

Why the change? Is the ALR unhappy about having its reports posted on the web? Do the reports demonstrate in black-and-white terms that the collecting histories for some of the pieces cannot be extended back to 1970?

But what about transparency? How can potential buyers be sure about the "provenance" of the pieces?

Perhaps the time has come, as Larry Rothfield has proposed, for an archaeological body to be responsible for vetting these histories.

Euphronios at the Villa Giulia

The Sarpedon krater once displayed in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art has gone on display in the Villa Giulia, Rome ("Una casa a Villa Giulia per il vaso d'Eufronio; da oggi al Museo Romano insieme con tesori restituti dagli USA", ANSA May 7, 2009). The exhibition containing the pot was opened by the Italian under-secretary Francesco Giro and by Annamaria Moretti representing the archaeological service of Lazio.

The exhibition includes another 14 pieces returned from North American public and private collections. The items include:
the Onesimos cup from the J. Paul Getty Museum [see earlier comment]
the psykter attributed to Smikros from the Metropolitan Museum of Art [see earlier comment]
a Caeretan hydria showing a panther and a lioness from the Shelby White collection (and previously on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art) [see earlier comment]
an Attic black-figured lekythos attributed to the Diosphos painter from the Museum of Fine Art, Boston [see earlier c…

Egypt and Bulgaria revisited

I have read the latest Art & Cultural Heritage Law Newsletter with much interest: Leila Amineddoleh, "Phoenix Ancient Art and the Aboutaams in hot water again", vol. 1, issue 5, Spring 2009, pp. 13-15 [download]. She discusses the Egyptian Tarek el-Suesy case and the arrest in Bulgaria. The Cleveland Apollo and the Egyptian mummy mask in the St Louis Art Museum also feature.

The article raises this question:
And how does this [decision] affect the nation's [sc. Egypt] efforts to crack down on the smuggling and looting of antiquities?

Proposal: a database for the "real vetting" of archaeological material

Larry Rothfield has responded to my earlier post about antiquities and e-commerce. Rothfield suggests that there needs to be an alternative to the Art Loss Register. He notes that this new database would provide "a real vetting of archaeological material to leave no doubt about whether provenance passes muster". He continues:
To be credible to the archaeological community, archaeologists appointed by major archaeological associations would be officially in charge of a registering commission. Dealers would have to pay for the costs of the commission's work -- and one could tack on an additional charge (or if the commission were legally sanctioned, a tax) to raise money to help pay for site guards in countries where antiquities are being looted.It would be good to have some feedback here or on The Punching Bag. What do readers think about Rothfield's proposal?

e-boutaam: "an easy way to expand ... collections"

Phoenix Ancient Art has launched an online service selling antiquities, e-tiquities.com ("Phoenix Ancient Art launches its first e-commerce platform", PR Newswire May 4, 2009 [also available in, at least, Spanish, German and French]). This e-commerce service promised to open "the world of high-end antiquities ... to a larger audience than ever before".

Hicham Aboutaam of Phoenix Ancient Art is quoted:
"In launching e-tiquities(TM) by Phoenix Ancient Art, we hope both to introduce a new audience to the cultures of the ancient world, and to give our existing clients an easy way to expand their collections ... One of the things which makes Phoenix Ancient Art special in our field is the guarantee of authenticity that we provide to our clients, whether they buy works in our galleries or on our new website. Over the years, we've developed procedures to establish provenance (chain of ownership) to ensure that our pieces are both authentic and on the market in acc…

Whose Culture?: FYROM

David I. Owen has written a passionate essay, "Censoring knowledge: the case for the publication of unprovenanced cuneiform tablets", for Whose Culture? His focus is on Mesopotamia and his essay concludes,
"... concerted efforts ... must be made by local and international authorities to eliminate the organized looting and smuggling of antiquities" (p. 130). I do not agree with Owen's overall position and I have discussed the AIA Policy on publication in my review of Cuno's Who Owns Antiquity?

Owen looks beyond Iraq in his essay. He reminds us of the scale of looting in the Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), "the estimated 1 million artifacts ... smuggled out of the country since independence in 1991 ..." (p. 138 n. 12) [see my earlier comments on this report]. Among the pieces discussed by archaeologists from the Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) is the Koreshnica krater, reported to be from an elite burial and said to reside in a New York private collectio…

Collecting Antiquities: The Missing Contributions

I have been reading the conference announcement for "Museums and the Collecting of Antiquities: Past, Present and Future" (May 4, 2006) (available on the AAMD website). The purpose of the conference was twofold:
• To present an overview of the contribution art museums have made to the preservation and understanding of ancient art and culture through the collecting of antiquities, and how this mission can responsibly be continued; and
• To present panel discussions among relevant experts from within and outside the museum profession on the role of collecting in the continuing research on, and appreciation of, ancient art and culture. Panelists will include archaeologists, museum directors, curators, and other scholars.James Cuno's Whose Culture? (p. ix) tells us this conference has led to this edited volume:
The discussion that day made it clear that a book was needed that would present the point of view of museum directors, curators, and university-based scholars regarding …

Wordle on Looting Matters: 3

Here is the Wordle image for Looting Matters taken at the beginning of May 2009.

"Acquired on the London art market": known before 1970?

I was interested in the collecting histories of pieces at the Bonhams sale this past week (April 29, 2009).

Christos Tsirogiannis in Cambridge has drawn my attention to six lots.
lot 48: Roman limestone funerary male bust, Eastern Mediterranean, "Acquired on the London art market in 1998. Accompanied by a French passport", £13,200lot 49: Roman limestone funerary female bust, Eastern Mediterranean, "Acquired on the London art market in 1998. Accompanied by a French passport", £13,200lot 50: Roman limestone funerary male bust, Eastern Mediterranean, "Acquired on the London art market in 1998. Accompanied by a French passport", apparently unsoldlot 51: Roman limestone funerary female bust, Eastern Mediterranean, "Acquired on the London art market in 1998. Accompanied by a French passport", £6,600lot 52: Roman limestone funerary male bust, Eastern Mediterranean, "Acquired on the London art market …

Whose Culture? and the returns to Italy

I have already made a preliminary comment on James Cuno's minimalist views (in his 2009 edited volume, Whose Culture?) on the return of antiquities from North American museums to Italy. I have begun to read the book and have been looking (in vain) for a response from Cuno and his like-minded contributors to these returns.

Kwame Anthony Appiah in his (reprinted) essay merely makes the outdated statement, "Italian authorities are negotiating about the status of other other objects from both the Getty and the Metropolitan Museum" (p. 71). Elsewhere he notes that the Metropolitan had at one point been "close to a deal" over the Sarpedon (Euphronios) krater (p. 76) - yet this Athenian krater has been returned to Italy (January 2008) and has even been on exhibition in Athens.

Philippe de Montebello does address the return of the Sarpedon krater (p. 61). He protests at the Italian description of the pot as a cosa morta, but concedes "it would have been clearly pref…