Thursday, June 15, 2017

Getty returns Fleischman Zeus to Italy

Seated Zeus to return to Italy.
Source: MiBACT
The Italian Government has announcted that the Getty Museum has returned a seated Zeus to Italy ("FRANCESCHINI, IL GETTY MUSEUM SIGLA ACCORDO CON L’ITALIA PER LA RESTITUZIONE DELLO ZEUS IN TRONO RIENTRA A NAPOLI STATUA DEL I SECOLO A.C.", press release, 13 June 2017; "The J. Paul Getty Museum and Italian officials announce agreement to return first century B.C. sculpture to Italy", press release, 13 June 2017). The statue is a copy of the great chryselphantine statue of Zeus from Olympia.

The statue was acquired by Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman from Robin Symes in 1987. It was sold to the Getty in 1992 (inv. 92.AA.10), although the published statement only recorded that it had been in a New York private collection [JSTOR].

Jessica Gelt ("Getty agrees to return 1st century BC sculpture to Italy", LA Times, 13 June 2017) notes what the press releases omit:
Getty Museum Director Timothy Potts said the Italian government came into possession of a fragment that it believed joined the sculpture at the Getty. Italian officials tested their theory on a visit to the museum in 2014. 
“The fragment gave every indication that it was a part of the sculpture we had,” Potts said in an interview. “It came from the general region of Naples, so it meant this object had come from there.”
The Fleischman collection formed part of earlier research that I had conducted with Christopher Chippindale (Chippindale, Christopher, and David W. J. Gill. “Material Consequences of Contemporary Classical Collecting.” American Journal of Archaeology, vol. 104, no. 3, 2000, pp. 463–511. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/507226.). The Zeus joins a large number of former Fleischman pieces that have already been returned to Italy (including one piece from the Cleveland Museum of Art).

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Friday, June 9, 2017

Stela anthemion surfaces at Sotheby's

Images:
L, Sotheby's;
R, Becchina archive (courtesy of Dr Christos Tsirogiannis)
Sotheby's will have bad memories of their antiquities department in London. The auction-house has restarted antiquities sales in London and on Monday 12 June they will be offering a marble stela anthemion with the personal name, Hestiaios (lot 8).

The collecting history is provided as follows:
  • John Hewett, Bog Farm, Kent, 1960s 
  • New York art market, acquired from the above on November 3rd, 1980 
  • American private collection American family trust (Sotheby’s New York, December 10th, 2008, no. 28, illus.) Sold for $116,500.
  • acquired by the present owner at the above sale 
  • Christie's, London, King Street, October 24th, 2013, no. 32, illus. Apparently unsold.
A parallel is suggested for Rhamnous in eastern Attica.

Yet Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has spotted that the anthemion appears in the Becchina archive. The Becchina paperwork suggests that the piece was in his hands from 1977 until 1990, and then passed to George Ortiz. If this does indeed prove to be the case then the fragment appears to have been provided with a falsified collecting history (that can be traced back to the 2008 sale at Sotheby's). This would indicate that there has been a major failure in the due diligence process by the auction-house.

I am sure that Sotheby's will want to withdraw the lot from its sale and that the present owner would be advised to negotiate with the Greek authorities to arrange its return.

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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Sardinian warrior from "old Swiss collection"

Source: New York County District Attorney's Office
Source: Google

One of the Sardinian bronzes of a warrior was seized from an as yet unnamed Manahattan gallery. It appears to be the one that passed through the Royal-Athena Gallery: Art of the Ancient World 23 (2012) no. 71. The collecting history for that warrior suggests that it was acquired in 1990 from a private collection in Geneva.

Other clues suggested that the warrior has resided in a New York private collection.

The identity of the private collection in Geneva will no doubt be telling.

The warrior also features in this news story: Jennifer Peltz, "Looted statues, pottery returned to Italy after probe in NYC", ABC News May 25 2017.

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Paestan lekythos from "an old Swiss collection"

Source: New York County District Attorney's Office
Paestan lekythos. Source: Google

One of the pieces seized from an as yet unnamed Manhattan gallery is a Paestan lekythos attributed to the Asteas-Python workshop. It has a stated collecting history:

  • Swiss private collection
  • Royal-Athena Galleries (1987-1988)
  • John Kluge private collection
  • Patricia Kluge private collection, Charlottesville, Virginia (1990-2010)
  • Royal-Athena Galleries: One Thousand Years of Ancient Greek Vases II ... Featuring the Patricia Kluge Collection (2010) no. 164

It would be interesting to learn the name of the anonymous Swiss private collection in which this lekythos once resided. (And note that this information is derived not from Royal-Athena Galleries but from the present vendor.)

We also note the appearance of the Kluge collection.

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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Kantharos from an old Swiss collection

Source: Google
It appears that the kantharos seized from a second Manhattan gallery came from an old Swiss collection.

This appears to have surfaced in Basel in February 1994 and then passed to a New York private collection. It was then being offered by a New York gallery for $8,500.

The District Attorney's office have yet to release the name of the gallery.

I am willing to amend this entry if this collecting history is incorrect or partial.

The kantharos appears to be the one in Royal-Athena Galleries, Art of the Ancient World 28 (2017) no.  105. It formerly resided in the 'J.M.E. collection' in New York.

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Antiquities from a Manhattan gallery

Source: New York County District Attorney's Office
For completeness I note the seizures from a second gallery in Manhattan.

  • a Sardinian bronze ox, 8th century BC, valued at $6,500
  • a Sardinian bronze warrior wearing a helmet and carrying a bow, 8th century BC, valued at approximately $30,000 
  • a Greek bronze Herakles holding the horn of Achelous, 4th-3rd centuries BC, valued at $12,500.
  • an Apulian Xenon kantharos, decorated with the image of two goats butting heads, late 4th century BC, valued at $8,500
  • a Proto-Corinthian oenochoe, decorated with rams and panthers, c. 650 BC, valued at $22,500 
  • a Paestan red-figure lekythos, decorated with a man holding a plate of fruit, c. 340 BC, valued at $9,500

The name of the gallery has not yet been released.

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Intellectual consequences of the Attic red-figured lekythos

Attic red-figured lekythos
Source: New York County District Attorney
The Attic red-figured lekythos that has been seized from a Manhattan gallery is attributed to the group of Palermo 16. Find-spots (and the Beazley Archive now defines this information as "provenance") for such lekythoi include (and this may include "said to be" information):

  • Nola: 2
  • Tarquinia: 1
  • Camarina, Sicily: 1
  • Gela, Sicily: 5
  • Selinus, Sicily: 3

11 further lekythoi do not have a stated findspot. It seems quite possible that the New York lekythos was found at a site on Sicily but we just do not know.

And note the loss of information: 11 out of 23 lekythoi do not have a secure archaeological find-spot. And how many of the 12 with some sort of reported find-spot come from a scientific excavation that has provided contextual information?

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Monday, May 29, 2017

Attic lekythos returned to Italy

The New York County District Attorney's Office has announced that it has seized a number of antiquities from two separate premises and that the items will be returning to Italy "8th century B.C.E. bronze statues among collection of ancient artifacts being repatriated to Italian Republic by Manhattan District Attorney's Office", May 25, 2017, press release]. Six of the items were seized in April from "a gallery in Midtown Manhattan".

The release adds:
This month, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office also seized an additional item pursuant to a search warrant from a different gallery in Midtown Manhattan. The recently recovered artifact is also being returned to the Italian Republic as part of the repatriation ceremony.
The gallery is not named but is reported to be the same one linked to a returned Attic amphora and a sarcophagus fragment.

This lekythos appears to be the one attributed to the Group of Palermo 16 that had once formed part of an old English collection, and then passed into the Kluge collection (itself a collection not without interest to readers of LM). It had passed through a New York gallery that has returned other items to the Italian authorities. The lekythos appears to have first surfaced on the London market.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Floating Culture: unrecorded archaeological finds

Display in Lincoln (c) David Gill
Adam Daubney, the FLO for Lincolnshire, has written on the unrecorded finds that are obtained via metal-detecting ("Floating culture: the unrecorded antiquities of England and Wales", International Journal of Heritage Studies [2017] 1-15 [DOI]). Readers of LM will know that this is a topic that has featured here. Daubney accepts in his opening paragraph: "loss of archaeological knowledge also occurs on an arguably far wider scale through the non-reporting and subsequent sale of legitimately discovered archaeological material, especially in countries such as the U.K. where there is no legal obligation to report certain classes of finds". There has to be an acceptance that under-reporting of finds is a failure of the Portable Antiquities Scheme to engage with the metal-detecting communities ("it has proved impossible to shift the entrenched ideas of some non-reporters, particularly those who were active during the ‘detector wars’ of the 1970s and 1980s ").

I am pleased that Daubney makes this comment in response to my paper (and responses) in the Papers of the Institute of Archaeology that so far appears to have escaped citation by a member of PAS (and he overlooks my main forum paper in preference to my response to the responses): "To this extent we might concede to Gill’s comment that ‘recording antiquities is not the same as protecting archaeological sites’".

But Daubney has been selective. What is his response to the finding of the so-called Crosby-Garrett helmet (even if it was not in Cumbria)? What about the implications of the uncovering of the Lenborough Hoard?

What is needed is a wider debate about the need to protect the fragile archaeological record in England and Wales.

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Monday, April 24, 2017

The Tiberius and the Drusus heads

Tiberius and Drusus. Source: PIASA
Documented collecting histories are important. The portrait heads of Drusus Minor and Tiberius excavated at Sessa Aurunca have parallel histories.

Both passed through the sale of PIASA in Paris on 17-18 March 2003, lot  569, and 29 September 2004, lot 340. Both came from the same source ("Cette tête de même provenance que la tête vendue le 18 Mars 2003 ").

The Drusus was reported to have been purchased by Phoenix Ancient Art, who then sold it to the Cleveland Museum of Art in 2012. It was displayed in the New York exhibition, "IMAGO: Four Centuries of Roman Portraiture", with the information that it had formed part of a 19th century Algerian collection ["Phoenix Ancient Art to Exhibit Collection of Roman Portraits, Unveil Its Newly Renovated New York Gallery", 29 November 2007].

The Drusus appeared in Randy Kennedy's article, "Museum Defends Antiquities Collecting" (originally from the New York Times, 12 August 2012). The article specifically states, "The Cleveland Museum’s new portrait of Drusus Minor has no ironclad record pre-1970". It is noted, "But the museum said it believed its history could be traced back to the late 19th century as the property of a prominent family in Algiers." The source for this collecting history is unstated though was in circulation in 2007. David Franklin, the then director of the Cleveland Museum of Art, was quoted, “We’ve done our due diligence and we feel that both these objects have a pre-1970 provenance” [the other piece was Mayan].

The Tiberius was purchased by the Royal-Athena Galleries and then sold to the US Private Collector. I am told that the private collector returned the head to Italy in January 2017.

It is unclear when the pieces were removed from the Antiquarium in Italy.

I am grateful to Dr Jerome Eisenberg for the additional information and clarification.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Drusus and Tiberius portraits from Sessa Aurunca

Drusus Minor. Source: Cleveland Museum of Art
The return of the head of Drusus Minor to Italy from the Cleveland Museum of Art has been in part thanks to the diligent research of Giuseppe Scarpati. He has discovered the photographic records of sculptures discovered during the mid-1920s during the excavations of Sessa Aurunca.

The head of Drusus Minor is clearly recognisable from the archive photographs (Scarpati 2008-11: 357, fig. 7, 358 fig. 10). The head passed through PIASA in Paris in 2004, a source that is not without some interest. It was acquired from Phoenix Ancient Art in 2012. (See Gill 2013: 72 for oral histories and objects linked to this dealer, and with a specific mention to the portrait of Drusus.)

David Franklin, the then director of the Cleveland Museum of Art, defended the acquisition of the head at the time. (He resigned from the museum in 2013.) The museum is probably wishing that it had not claimed that the collecting history had been traced back to the 19th century.

The trail of the Drusus portrait had been identified by a companion piece. The head of Tiberius appears to be the one in a North American private collection ("The Magdalene Tiberius")  and published by John Pollini (Pollini 2005; Scarpati 2008-11: 361 figs. 11-14). It was reported to have formed an old French collection in Marseilles dating to the 1960s. It was said to have been found in North Africa (a good reminded of the intellectual consequences of collecting recently surfaced archaeological material). It was acquired by its present proprietors in 2004. The source appears to have been the Royal-Athena Galleries (Art of the Ancient World 15 [2004] no. 24; Scarpati 2014: 33 fig. 9). Will those owners be contacting the Italian authorities in the light of the return of the Drusus portrait?

It is interesting that the (recent) collecting histories of both portraits now do not seem to go back beyond 2004 (i.e. 34 years after the UNESCO Convention). What were their collecting histories immediately prior to 2004?

The Drusus Minor return is merely serving to open up the discussion. Was the Cleveland Museum of Art aware of Scarpati's research prior to the portrait's acquisition?

Now is probably also a good time for the museum staff to revisit the documented collecting history of the Leutwitz Apollo.

Bibliography

Gill, D. W. J. 2013. "Context matters: The Cleveland Apollo goes public." Journal of Art Crime 10: 69-75. [academia.edu]
Pollini, J. 2005. "A new marble head of Tiberius. Portrait typology and ideology." Antike Kunst 48: 55-72. [JSTOR]
Scarpati, G. 2008-11. "Un ritratto di Tiberio da Sessa Aurunca ritrovato note su un probabile ciclo Suessano di statue onorarie Giulio-Claudie." Rendiconti della Accademia di Archeologia Lettere e Belle Arti 75: 345-68. [Academia.edu]
Scarpati, G. 2014. "Il ritratto di Druso minore dal ciclo statuario Giulio-Claudio di Sessa Aurunca." Bollettino d’Arte 24: 29-38. [Academia.edu]

Press Release
"Cleveland Museum of Art to Transfer Roman Sculpture of Drusus Minor to the Republic of Italy", Cleveland Museum of Art April 18, 2017. [press release]
"Il Cleveland Museum of Art restituisce all’Italia una scultura romana di Druso Minore", MiBACT April 18, 2017. [press release]

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Cleveland Museum of Art to return portrait of Drusus

Drusus. Source: Cleveland Museum of Art
In 2012 the Cleveland Museum of Art purchased a portrait head of Drusus that was reported to be from "an old Algerian collection" (see earlier report). The head had been purchased from Phoenix Ancient Art.

It has been announced that the head will be returned to Italy (Steven Litt, "Cleveland Museum of Art returns ancient Roman portrait of Drusus after learning it was stolen from Italy in WWII", cleveland.com April 18, 2017). It is now understood that the portrait was excavated at Sessa Aurunca, Campania in the mid-1920s. It appears that the head was stolen from the museum there around 1944.

This now raises questions about the due diligence process surrounding the acquisition as well as other material handled by the same dealer. The curatorial team will no doubt be releasing the basis of their pre-acquisition enquiries.

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Friday, March 17, 2017

Attic amphora handed back to Italians

Image from Becchina Archive
The research of Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has led to the return of an Attic red-figured amphora, attributed to the Harrow painter, to Italy (Tom Mashberg, "Stolen Etruscan Vessel to Be Returned to Italy", New York Times March 16, 2017).

The amphora is known to have passed through the hands of Swiss-based dealer Gianfranco Becchina in 1993, and then through a New York gallery around 2000 (although its movements between those dates are as yet undisclosed).

During the ceremony, Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., the District Attorney stated:
“When looters overrun historic sites, mine sacred spaces for prized relics, and peddle stolen property for top dollar, they do so with the implicit endorsement of all those who knowingly trade in stolen antiquities”
More research clearly needs to be conducted on how material handled by Becchina passed into the North American market and into the hands of private and public collectors.

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Monday, February 27, 2017

Seizures and a New York Gallery

Source: Becchina Archive
A New York Gallery seems to have been linked to a number of seized or returning objects:

The two pieces seized in 2017 were identified from the Becchina archive. 

The Rimini Venus was also reported to have been seized at the same gallery (Jan 2012). Other material from this source featured in an exhibition of returned antiquities in Rome (and see the earlier Nostoi). 

The unresolved case of identified pieces in Madrid includes material from the same source


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Saturday, February 25, 2017

Attic amphora from 'old Swiss collection' seized in New York

Source: Becchina archive
I understand that an Attic red-figured Nolan amphora attributed to the Harrow painter was seized from a New York Gallery on Friday. It shows a satyr with thyrsos.

The amphora features in Royal-Athena Galleries, Art of the Ancient World xxvii (2016) no. 100.

The collecting history is as follows:

  • Swiss private collection
  • Royal-Athena Galleries 2000, sold in 2002; Art of the Ancient World xi (2000) no. 90.
  • C. H. collection, Ann Arbor, Michigan
  • 2003-2015: exhibited, Yale University Art Museum

The Becchina archive suggests that it was acquired on 15 March 1993.

I am grateful to Dr Christos Tsirogiannis for the information about the seizure.

Beazley archive: 23408

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

More surfacings from Symes and Medici in London

Source: Schinousa Archive.
Dr Christos Tsirogiannis spotted three items that were auctioned in Westminster, London today.

It is a good reminder of the apparently poor due diligence process conducted by some sectors of the antiquities market.

a. Lot 49 Scythian rhyton. Sold: £3100. Collecting history: 'Property of a London gentleman; acquired from a major Mayfair gallery; acquired on the London art market before 2000.' As this seems to appear in the Schinousa archive it should be associated with the London dealer Robin Symes.

b. Lot 79 Silver Sycthian moose.
Sold: £2790. Collecting history: 'Property of a London gentleman; acquired from a major Mayfair gallery; acquired on the London art market before 2000.' This also seems to appear in the Schinousa archive indicating an association with Symes.
Source: Schinousa Archive.
Source: Medici Dossier

c. Lot 183. Roman head of a youth. Opening bid: £900. Collecting history: 'Property of a London gentleman; acquired from a major Mayfair gallery; acquired on the London art market before 2000.'  This head appears to be the one that features in the Medici Dossier seized in the Geneva Freeport.

These three examples suggest that owners of material that passed through the hands of Symes and Medici are now looking for less high profile ways of disposing of their collections. Notice that in all three cases the date of surfacing is said to be 'before 2000' yet clearly well after the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

I understand that the relevant UK and European police authorities have been informed of the auction.




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Is PAS transforming our knowledge of the past in England and Wales?

There is a new online book, Key Concepts in Public Archaeology, edited by Gabriel Moshenska (UCL Press, 2017) [Introduction]. Among the essays (and not all have been published on the site: I am told that there will be second batch) is one by Roger Bland, Michael Lewis, Daniel Pett, Ian Richardson, Katherine Robbins and Rob Webley on "The Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme in England and Wales". It includes a section on the Staffordshire Hoard (though the so-called Crosby Garrett helmet and the Lenborough Hoard do not feature). The authors note that the hoard "appeals to a wide and diverse audience".

There is a discussion of the recording of finds, though no indication of the percentage of finds that are left unrecorded. The report touches on heritage crime:
It has sometimes been said as a criticism of PAS that it has not stopped illegal metal detecting in England and Wales, but this is for the simple fact that it was not intended to. This is an enduring problem and PAS staff are working closely with English Heritage’s Heritage Crime Initiative, which is run by a police inspector on secondment.
This is presumably an unsourced reference to the Forum piece for the Papers of the Institute of Archaeology entitled: "The Portable Antiquities Scheme and the Treasure Act: Protecting the Archaeology of England and Wales?" (available online). (I am informed that senior members of PAS were invited to respond but declined.) Or the allusion could be to other discussions and debates. Who knows? It is telling that the authors continue:
This has had considerable success in targeting illegal detector users, known as ‘nighthawks’. However, it is important to put nighthawking in perspective: a survey commissioned by English Heritage in 2008 found that on two measures (the numbers of scheduled sites attacked by illegal detector users and the number of archaeological units that reported nighthawking incidences on their excavations), the number of cases has declined since 1995, when a previous survey was carried out (Dobinson and Denison 1995; Oxford Archaeology 2009).
Note that the most recent reference is for 2009 to the "Nighthawking" report (and see comments here). A review article I prepared for Antiquity (2015) raised this very issue and highlighted contemporary examples of unauthorised digging on scheduled sites (online). Are the authors of the article unwilling to draw attention to such activities?

The ineffectiveness of the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act is noted.

The article makes mention of the 8,000-10,000 metal-detectorists who contribute to the reporting of finds ("contributor base"). This figures relates to a number Roger Bland produced in 2010. Does it need to be updated?

The article ends with a plea: "the PAS could benefit from more funding". But there needs to be a desire for the PAS to be seen to be protecting and preserving the rich archaeological heritage of England and Wales. And is this a realistic plea in an age of austerity?

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Saturday, February 18, 2017

The value of looting in Syria

Rick Noack has written a piece on the funding of IS ("The Islamic State’s ‘business model’ is failing, study says", Washington Post 17 February 2017) based on a report by London-based International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) at King's College London and Ernst & Young.

The report states that the amount of money derived from IS from Antiquities is 'unknown' though it suggests that some $110-190 million was derived from looting, confiscations and fines (in 2016).

For my work in this area: "Context Matters: From Palmyra to Mayfair: the Movement of Antiquities from Syria and Northern Iraq", Journal of Art Crime 13 (2015) 73-80.


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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Sarcophagus fragment: Greece, Basel, and New York

Source: Becchina archive
One month ago I was informed that a sarcophagus fragment had been seized from a New York gallery. The identification of the piece with an image in the Becchina archive had been made by Dr Christos Tsirogiannis.

It is worth reviewing the collecting history for the piece:

  • piece handled by Greek trafficker, Giorgos Ze[ne...]
  • 25 May 1988: Gianfranco Becchina paid SF 60,000 to Zene[]
  • Object placed in the Basel Freeport
  • Andre Lorenceau cleaned and then drilled the fragment to create holes for mount
  • April 1991: Swiss art market
  • Attributed by Dr Guntram Koch [date of attribution not provided]
  • 1992: Royal-Athena Galleries, Art of the Ancient World vii, no. 57
  • 2000: Royal-Athena Galleries, Art of the Ancient World xi, no. 30
  • April 2000: Dr H collection, Germany
  • 2016: Royal-Athena Galleries, Art of the Ancient World xxviii, no. 6 [online] Price on Request
  • 2017, 14 January: fragment seized
  • 2017, 10 February: sarcophagus returned to Greece
The identity of the vendor on the Swiss art market in April 1991 is not made clear in the history. Who sold the sarcophagus fragment to the Royal-Athena Galleries? What other pieces have been derived from the same source? When did those transactions take place?

Will there be further clues in the Becchina archive showing how material passed from Switzerland to North America?

For further information and images see ARCA.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Weeting Castle and metal-detecting

Weeting Castle © David Gill

It has been reported that metal-detectorists have been investigating the area around the English Heritage property of Weeting Castle in Norfolk (Rebecca Murphy, "Reports of illegal metal detecting near the historic Weeting Castle", Watton & Swaffham Times 13 February 2017).
The incident is believed to have involved seven men and to have taken place around Weeting Castle area over three consecutive nights towards the end of January and beginning of February.
I presume that we will be hearing a strong condemnation from Historic England.


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Friday, February 10, 2017

New York dealer returns sarcophagus to Greece

Source: Becchina Archive
Back in January I reported that a sarcophagus identified by Dr Christos Tsirogiannis from the Becchina archive had been seized from a gallery in New York.

Today there has been a ceremony in New York with the Hellenic Consul General. The sarcophagus was spotted in the Royal-Athena Galleries.

Further details in the Greek press.

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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Revisiting Cycladic figures




I will be presenting a seminar on Cycladic figures to the Aegean Archaeology Seminar in Cambridge on Thursday 9 February. I am taking as my themes:

  • Responses to Gill and Chippindale on Cycladic figures (published in the American Journal of Archaeology)
  • The value of Cycladic figures sold on the antiquities market in London and New York since 2000
  • The Keros Haul (and why it is not a hoard)
  • The return of the Karlsruhe figure and the 'inadequate sculptors'
  • Forgeries of Cycladic figures
  • The wider implications for and the application to classical archaeology


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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Setting high ethical standards for collecting antiquities

Ka Nefer Nefer mummy mask. Source: SLAM
Victoria Reed, from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, has been discussing the need for due diligence in museums ("How should museums respond to art smuggling scandals?", Apollo January 24, 2017). This is clearly an important issue for the museum as it was one of the first of the North American museums to return objects to Italy in the wake of the Medici Conspiracy (see  "From Boston to Rome: reflections on returning antiquities").

Reed makes an important point about 'verified' information; I choose to talk about 'authenticated' documentation. How to we chart the collecting history of an object? What are the confirmed sources?

I was taken by this section:
If, however, an investigation turns up looted antiquities in a museum collection (for example, if photographs show an object shortly after it was illicitly removed from the ground, or if its provenance documentation was demonstrably forged), then a museum has an obligation to redress the break in the chain of that object’s ownership in some way. Usually such a resolution is achieved through a financial settlement with, or physical return to, the country of modern discovery. Museums hold their collections as public trusts, and no museum should wish knowingly to retain stolen property on behalf of the public.
It is worth returning to the case of the Ka Nefer Nefer mummy case at the St Louis Art Museum ("The Case of the Ka Nefer Nefer Mummy Mask"). Now that the email discussions have been made public it would be appropriate for the museum to revisit the acquisition and to start negotiating with the Egyptian authorities.

Minoan larnax. Source Becchina archive, and Carlos Museum
And what about the Minoan larnax in the Carlos Museum at Emory University? Why has there been no attempt to resolve this claim from Greece that has been on-going for so many years? Is the imagery from the Becchina unconvincing for the museum curators? How do they explain the images and the documentation?

Reed, I am sure, is sincere in what she writes. But her writing does not take full account of museums in North America that have yet to adjust their ethical positions in defiance of their public and educational roles.

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Monday, January 23, 2017

Operation Pandora

A selection of coins seized in Operation Pandora. Source: Europol.
The Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH has reported that Operation Pandora has recovered some 3500 cultural objects including some 400 coins. 75 people are said to have been arrested in 18 countries.

Some of the selling of material has taken place online.

Europol has issued a press release ("3561 artefacts seized in Operation Pandora", 23 January 2017). The main activity took place in November 2016.

Countries listed:

  • EU-countries: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Germany, Greece, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain and the United Kingdom. 
  • Non-EU countries involved: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Switzerland

What activity took place in the UK?

See also the report from the BBC ("'Operation Pandora' recovers thousands of artefacts", 23 January 2017).

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Friday, January 20, 2017

Further damage at Palmyra



The BBC is reporting further damage at Palmyra ("Syria: IS destroys part of Palmyra amphitheatre", BBC News 20 January 2017). This includes the theatre (not amphitheatre) and the tetrapylon.

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