Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The "Morgantina" Silver Hoard

The antiquities returned to Italy from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York have been dominated by the pottery:
However the return also included a major hoard of Hellenistic silver dating to the 3rd century BCE and acquired in 1981, 1982, and 1984 (inv. 1981.11.15-22; 1982.11.7-13; 1984.11.3). The pieces were said to have originated in Turkey and had been purchased via Switzerland.

Indeed the official line is that this was a "hoard" and that it was "presumably found together a generation ago" (D. von Bothmer, A Greek and Roman treasury. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1984, nos. 92-106).

In reality the sequence has been reported as follows (see P. Watson and C. Todeschini, The Medici Conspiracy, p. 106):
  • Vincenzo Bozzi and Filippo Baviera, tombaroli
  • Sold to Orazio Di Simone of Lugano, Switzerland for the equivalent of $27,000
  • Sold to Robert Hecht for $875,000
  • Sold to the MMA for $3 million
The silver is staying in New York until January 2010 and will then be transferred to the Aidone Archaeological Museum (Elisabetta Povolodeo, "A Statue As Symbol In Patrimony Tug of War", New York Times, July 4, 2007). The silver plate is likely to be displayed with the acrolithic Aphrodite formerly in the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the acroliths on loan from Maurice Tempelsman.

Recent excavations by Malcolm Bell III may have even located the possible site of the looting (Celestine Bohlen, "Archaeologist vindicated in hunch on antique silver hoard", IHT, February 3, 2006):
In 1996, Raffiotta in Sicily got court permission and Italian government money for Bell to start digging at the spot where the silver was thought to have been discovered. That was when Bell first found two holes, which corresponded to the rumored stories that silver had been found in two separate lots. The excavation also turned up a 1978 Italian coin, proof that the site had been excavated since that date.
The terminus post quem provided by the modern coin is not incompatible with the 1981 appearance of the silver on the market.

The "Morgantina" silver was purchased with help from,
  • Rogers Fund
  • Classical Purchase Fund
  • Harris Brisbane Dick Fund and Anonymous
  • Mrs Vincent Astor
  • Mr & Mrs Walter Bareiss
  • Mr & Mrs Howard J. Barnet
  • Christos G. Bastis
  • Mr & Mrs Martin Fried
  • Jerome Levy Foundation
  • Norbert Schimmel
  • Mr & Mrs Thomas A. Spears

1 comment:

Nathan T. Elkins said...

This is an interesting story about which I was previously unaware.

This perhaps strays from the post a bit, but I fail to understand how those who wish to profit from the sell of undocumented antiquities can reasonably try to diminish the important role of context and methodical study. In the past, I've used (and I know others have too) the analogy that an archaeological excavation/site is like a crime scene. Like investigators, we recreate past events based on material evidence. Just as a tainted or disturbed crime scene hinders expert knowledge and investigation of the crime, so too does the unrecorded and careless removal of ancient objects from their material contexts diminish or even destroy information that we can learn about our past.

But to return to my point, I find it quite interesting that in this case archaeological investigation was able to help reconstruct the crime of looting!

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