Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The UK Intends to Ratify the Hague Convention

© David Gill
The Queen's Speech today highlighted legislation for the year ahead (BBC May 18, 2016). This highlights:
Cultural Property Bill (UK-wide) 
  • The UK to ratify the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the event of armed conflict
  • Dealing in cultural property illegally exported from occupied territory to be made criminal offence 
  • Property protected under the convention and its protocols to be identified by new Blue Shield
The briefing notes for the speech identify this as the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill. It identifies the main elements as:
The Bill would introduce a number of measures that would enable the UK to ratify the [Hague] Convention and its two Protocols: 
● Introduction of offences designed to protect cultural property in the event of an armed conflict at home and abroad. These include an offence of making such property the object of attack. 
● Introduction of the Blue Shield as an emblem that signifies cultural property protected under the Convention and its two Protocols. 
● Introduction of an offence of dealing in cultural property that has been illegally exported from occupied territory and a provision for such property to be seized and returned to the occupied territory after the close of hostilities, where appropriate. 
● Introduction of immunity from seizure for cultural property in the UK which is being transported for safekeeping during a conflict between two or more other states.
Clearly some of the driving force behind the proposed legislation relates to the present conflict in Syria and northern Iraq.

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Friday, May 13, 2016

Sicily: Culture and Conquest

© David Gill
The British Museum is currently showing a temporary exhibition, 'Sicily: Culture and Conquest'.

The accompanying catalogue by Dirk Booms and Peter Higgs (British Museum Press, 2016) does contain illustration and discussion of some material returned to Sicily. The pieces include:

  • The Morgantina Treasure, returned from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (p. 24, fig. 7; p. 124, fig. 91). This had been acquired through Robert Hecht (and prior 'history'). 'The hoard was found by illicit treasure hunters in the 1970s in two pits beneath the floor of a house' (p. 124).
  • The pair of Acrolithic statues, returned from the University of Virginia Art Museum at Charlottesville where they had been on loan from the Maurice Tempelsman collection (p. p. 68, fig. 49). They had previously been handled by Robin Symes. 'Thought to have been illicitly dug up in Building A in the sanctuary at San Francesco Bisconiti (sic.), the statues are likely to represent Demeter and Persephone' (p. 68).
  • The 'Aphrodite' from Morgantina, returned from the J. Paul Getty Museum (p. 69, fig. 50)
  • The Hades, returned from the J. Paul Getty Museum (p. 70, fig. 51). This had been acquired through Robin Symes and had formed part of the Tempelsman collection. 'reputedly discovered in the sanctuary at San Francesco Bisconti' (p. 71).
Morgantina Treasure. Source: MMA

Hades. Source: J. Paul Getty Museum

Acrolithic heads. Source: BBC

It is surprising that there is no mention of Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino's Chasing Aphrodite, or Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini's The Medici Conspiracy (or journal literature) that address some of the concerns relating to this Sicilian material. There does not appear to be reference to Dietrich von Bothmer's full publication of the silver hoard.


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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Hoards: Hidden History

(2015)
I have noted Eleanor Ghey's important work on the (excavated) Beau Street hoard. Her illustrated British Museum Press volume, Hoards: Hidden History (London, 2015) was published last year.

The double-page spread for the introduction is a reminder of the sources of some of these hoards: 'Detector user found gold on first attempt'; 'Treasure-hunters dig up a fortune'; 'A chance sweep of a farm field unearthed the most important hoard of Roman gold and silver artefacts found in Britain'. Ghey's opening paragraph reminds us of 'a story of treasure hunters striking lucky after years of searching the land ...' (p. 10).

In her section on studying hoards Ghey reminds us: 'Archaeologists have come to realize that the key to understanding a hoard is usually held not in the group of objects itself but in its context, that is, the information held in the soil immediately around it and the evidence for human activity in the wider landscape' (p. 14). Her emphasis is one that should not be overlooked in the discussion over the use of metal-detecting.

There are four main chronological chapters: Prehistoric, Roman Britain, Anglo-Saxon and Viking, and Medieval and Modern. There is a discussion of the notorious Salisbury Hoard (pp. 34-35): 'the hoard was illegally excavated by metal-detectorists and sold to dealers; it had to be pieced together after much detective work by the British Museum and the police'.

There is an appendix in the Treasure Act 1996, asking 'What to do if you find Treasure?'

There is no mention of the Lenborough Hoard and its removal from its context.

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