The IADAA English-language press release (and see further comments here) gives a taster of the background:
In 2008, the police confiscated a number of ancient bronze bowls from a conservator. Some of the objects – five small vessels and bowls – belonged to an antiquities dealer from Frankfurt who had purchased them from a private collector. The latter had legally acquired the bronzes in the 1980s. To get the pieces back, the dealer had to endure several lawsuits. Even when the Frankfurt district court ascertained that there was no violation of the Act on the Return of Cultural Property and the insinuation of receiving of stolen goods was without justification he did not get the objects back. Pending the decision, they had been handed to the Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum Mainz (RGMZ), to the archaeologist Michael Müller-Karpe. At the instigation of an official of the Hessian Ministry of Higher Education, Research and the Arts a so-called confiscation order was issued to the effect that the museum was not obliged to hand over the objects.
The story has been covered in the German press: Matthias Thieme, "Rechtsbruch mit Räucherkesselchen", Frankfurter Rundschau August 7, 2010; Daniel Gerlach, "Eine gordische Affäre", zenithonline). The legal summary can be found here.
So how did the Phrygian bronze bowls come onto the market? One of the report suggests:
Die Geschichte, die Gackstätter den hessischen Ermittlern zu Protokoll gab, beschreibt eine beinahe rührende Antiken-Odyssee: Ein deutsches Lehrer-Ehepaar, das nach einem längeren Aufenthalt in Istanbul in den 1980er Jahren nach Deutschland zurückgekehrt sei, habe bei einem – inzwischen längst verstorbenen – armenischen Händler einige Teppiche gekauft.
Beim Auspacken der Ware in der deutschen Heimat seien die Bronzeschalen »in einen Teppich eingewickelt« gewesen. Auf mehrmalige Bitten der pensionierten Lehrer habe er, so berichtet Gackstätter, für einen symbolischen Betrag von 200 Euro die Schalen übernommen.In other words, it appears that the Phrygian bowls were removed from Turkey without a permit, wrapped in a carpet. (The carpet account has been confirmed by official sources in Ankara.) I presume that the Turkish export permit will be produced if this is incorrect.
And where were these Phrygian phialai found? What was their original context?
The reports name the German dealer:
Die Polizei leitete Ermittlungen gegen den Frankfurter Antikenhändler Bernd Gackstätter ein, der dem Restaurator die Gefäße übergeben hatte.The Frankfurt based Bernd Gackstätter is a member of the IADAA. IADAA members are bound by an ethical code (German):
The members of IADAA undertake not to purchase or sell objects until they have established to the best of their ability that such objects were not stolen from excavations, architectural monuments, public institutions or private property.So has Bernd Gackstätter established ("to the best of their ability") that the phialai "were not stolen from excavations" (or indeed any unrecorded archaeological site)? Note that the IADAA expects its members to aspire to an ethical standard.
Die Mitglieder der IADAA verpflichten sich, Objekte erst zu erwerben oder zu verkaufen, wenn sie nach bestem Wissen und Gewissen sichergestellt haben, dass die Objekte nicht aus Ausgrabungsstätten, von Denkmälern der Architektur, aus öffentlichen Institutionen oder dem privaten Eigentümer gestohlen wurden.
IADAA is trying to present a story in their favour (but see earlier comments). I note that the website lacks details of the Barcelona galerista associated with the Miami coffin. And certainly nothing about IADAA's former member, Galerie Nefer.
I hope IADAA members who value their ethical code will be urging Bernd Gackstätter to return the Phrygian phialai to Turkey without any further adverse publicity for their organisation.
From Frankfurter Rudschau.