Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Miami Law: Missing the Ethical Point?

Derek Fincham has drawn attention to a draft paper by Stephen K. Urice (University of Miami, School of Law) with Andrew Adler (University of Miami), "Unveiling the Executive Branch's Extralegal Cultural Property Policy", University of Miami Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2010-20 [SSRN].

There is a section on the Third Intermediate Period Egyptian coffin of Imesy seized in October 2008 as it arrived in Miami from Ireland (pp. 10-13). This has been discussed elsewhere: "Looting Matters: Why Has a Coffin Been Returned to Egypt?", PR Newswire March 19, 2010. According to the Spanish press, the coffin was acquired in the 1970s. It had been shipped by a Barcelona galerista, Félix Cervera, of "Arqueología Clásica"; the gallery at the time of seizure was a probationary member of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA). This same gallery (and its galerista) has been linked to "Operation Ghelas" [story archived here]. One wonders why the Egyptian coffin was imported with agricultural products if all the "paperwork" was in order. The coffin was handed over to Egypt in March 2010 and then returned to Egypt.

Urice and Adler do add one interesting detail. Previously the final part of the coffin's history was recorded as follows:
The item had been sent to an unnamed US dealer; it was claimed that it had already been sold to an anonymous Canadian collector.
However we are now told (on the basis of the verified complaint):
In September 2008, Joseph A. Lewis III imported an Egyptian sarcophagus constructed between 1070 and 946 B.C. into the United States from Barcelona, Spain. Lewis purchased the sarcophagus from Felix Cervera Correa, the owner of a Spanish gallery.
I presume that this Joseph A. Lewis III is the same as the Joseph A. Lewis III (and Sofi Lewis) who loaned "an Egyptian falcon mummy dating from 664-332 B.C." to the Clay Center exhibition "Lost Kingdoms of the Nile" ("Falcon mummy joins Clay Center exhibit", Charleston Daily Mail (West Virginia) November 12, 2009 [see also here]). The Lewis collection appears to have other items and it would be interesting for their full collecting histories to be disclosed.

The comments of a Sofi left on the blog post of a Washington lobbyist are cited (p. 12, n. 88):
“I have not seen a single article on this coffin with the correct facts so far. . . . Hawass’ only claim to this item . . . was the lack of an export permit from Egypt[;] in fact he stated that the Egyptian government had no idea whatsoever when this coffin left Egypt as they had no record of this item—period.”
Who is this Sofi? How does Sofi expect the Egyptian authorities to know about looting in Third Intermediate Period tombs? How does Sofi expect the Egyptian authorities to have documentary and photographic records of objects last seen when they were placed in a tomb during the Third Intermediate Period? Why was the Barcelona galerista unable to supply the correct papers when the coffin was seized?

Urice and Adler note that a certificate for the coffin had been obtained from the Art Loss Register. Such certificates are relatively meaningless when it comes to antiquities and this aspect need not detain us.

The authors of the paper at least concede:
none of this means that Dr. Hawass was incorrect to assert that the sarcophagus was “likely the product of an illegal excavation.” Indeed, there is admittedly a “great difficulty . . . in establishing the date of export where the parties evading export controls have every incentive to conceal such evidence.”
Perhaps what this paper reminds us is that private collectors in North America continue to be willing to acquire recently-surfaced antiquities without considering the ethical dimension of their purchases.


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