Monday, 13 August 2007

A Middle Kingdom Alabaster Duck - and a member of the IADAA

A Middle Kingdom alabaster duck has recently been handed over to Egyptian officials in New York (Bradley Hope, "Stolen Egyptian Artifact Handed Over to Consulate", The New York Sun, August 10, 2007).

Why the interest?
It turns out that the piece had been excavated "at the pyramid of Amenemhat III" [reigned 1831-1786 BCE] in 1979, and then stolen from the store at Saqqara where the finds were kept. It had surfaced at auction at Christie's in New York (but was withdrawn when concerns were raised).

Old news?
In one sense it is old news (see short statement from Zahi Hawass). This was one of two pieces to surface last year (Brian Handwerk, "Egypt's Antiquities Chief Combines Passion, Clout to Protect Artifacts", National Geographic News, October 24, 2006).

What about the second duck?
The second piece had bobbed up in the gallery of Rupert Wace Ancient Art (London).

Is this the object presented as one of the "Rare and ancient works of art dating from 4000 BC to the 10th century AD [that] will be displayed by the London dealer Rupert Wace at the Winter Antiques Show that takes place at the Seventh Regiment Armory, 67th Street and Park Avenue, New York, from Friday 20 to Sunday 29 January 2006" [Press Statement]? Among the "objets" is listed:
"A more unusual piece is an alabaster vessel carved in two separate halves in the form of a plucked duck that would originally have contained an actual duck as an offering. From a private collection in France, it dates from the Middle Kingdom, 2040-1648 BC."
A colour image is posted on the gallery's Public Relations website.

So what is this private collection in France?
It turns out, according to Hawass, to be PIASA in Paris.

What is PIASA?
"PIASA was founded by four auctioneers (Picard, Audap, Solanet, Velliet) with a common commitment to high ethical standards and the desire to pursue their development in the wake of the reform of the French auction market and its opening to international competition".

Praise to Wace and PIASA: the duck has been returned to Egypt (though the case is still "under investigation").

But how did a member of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA) end up offering a stolen antiquity for sale?

"The members of the 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."

Would careful research have picked up the fact that the piece had been stolen from the excavation store?

What is "the best of their ability"?
Such an incident is likely to undermine confidence in the IADAA. Is adequate "research" being undertaken to stop stolen (let alone looted) antiquities being offered for sale by IADAA members?

And who is Rupert Wace?
Wace has "handled the private sales of antiquities from the British Rail Pension Fund and his clients include the British Museum, the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, the National Museum of Wales, the Musée du Louvre in Paris, Staatliche Museum in Munich, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the Cleveland Museum of Art. As well as being a member of IADAA, Rupert Wace is Chairman of the Antiquities Dealers Association in the UK which also rigorously upholds the ethics of dealing in ancient art." [Quoted from Press Release for Basel Ancient Art Fair, November 2007].

Wace was also a member of the Ministerial Advisory Panel on Illicit Antiquities, Department of Culture, Media and Sport, UK Government in 2000 [Report].

What sort of advice was being offered to the Panel? How does the IADAA define "upholding" ethical standards?

These Middle Kingdom ducks have raised a clutch of questions.


Michael said...

Looting is wrong... But this site takes it to the extreme, never acknowledging the role the private trade has played in building up western museums. Moreover, this website fails to acknowledge the fact that countries such as Egypt/Greece and Italy are not so concerned with the return of objects (of which they generally have thousands that are identical if not better) and its more to do with the fact they want to evoke nationalism, shame and destroy the image of western or american museums in a hope to capture tourism. Archeologists who take things too far are very naive and do not recognise the political, social and economic strings at play....

David Gill said...

You have chosen to leave your comment on a posting that discusses the theft of an archaeological object (excavated from a specific site in Egypt) from an archaeological store in Egypt. I hope we can both agree that this is wrong.
Now to the rest of your post. Could it be that North American, European and Japanese museum curators have "taken things too far" by failing to uphold ethical acquisition policies? Have acquisitions encouraged looting of archaeological sites?
Ask another question. How would you feel if archaeological sites in your country were being stripped out to provide the market with some "fine antiquities"?
And why do archaeologists like me comment? Because this is part of our "cosmopolitan heritage" that we must protect and preserve.
I would love to read your response.
Best wishes

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