Skip to main content

The "Morgantina" Silver Hoard

The antiquities returned to Italy from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York have been dominated by the pottery:
However the return also included a major hoard of Hellenistic silver dating to the 3rd century BCE and acquired in 1981, 1982, and 1984 (inv. 1981.11.15-22; 1982.11.7-13; 1984.11.3). The pieces were said to have originated in Turkey and had been purchased via Switzerland.

Indeed the official line is that this was a "hoard" and that it was "presumably found together a generation ago" (D. von Bothmer, A Greek and Roman treasury. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1984, nos. 92-106).

In reality the sequence has been reported as follows (see P. Watson and C. Todeschini, The Medici Conspiracy, p. 106):
  • Vincenzo Bozzi and Filippo Baviera, tombaroli
  • Sold to Orazio Di Simone of Lugano, Switzerland for the equivalent of $27,000
  • Sold to Robert Hecht for $875,000
  • Sold to the MMA for $3 million
The silver is staying in New York until January 2010 and will then be transferred to the Aidone Archaeological Museum (Elisabetta Povolodeo, "A Statue As Symbol In Patrimony Tug of War", New York Times, July 4, 2007). The silver plate is likely to be displayed with the acrolithic Aphrodite formerly in the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the acroliths on loan from Maurice Tempelsman.

Recent excavations by Malcolm Bell III may have even located the possible site of the looting (Celestine Bohlen, "Archaeologist vindicated in hunch on antique silver hoard", IHT, February 3, 2006):
In 1996, Raffiotta in Sicily got court permission and Italian government money for Bell to start digging at the spot where the silver was thought to have been discovered. That was when Bell first found two holes, which corresponded to the rumored stories that silver had been found in two separate lots. The excavation also turned up a 1978 Italian coin, proof that the site had been excavated since that date.
The terminus post quem provided by the modern coin is not incompatible with the 1981 appearance of the silver on the market.

The "Morgantina" silver was purchased with help from,
  • Rogers Fund
  • Classical Purchase Fund
  • Harris Brisbane Dick Fund and Anonymous
  • Mrs Vincent Astor
  • Mr & Mrs Walter Bareiss
  • Mr & Mrs Howard J. Barnet
  • Christos G. Bastis
  • Mr & Mrs Martin Fried
  • Jerome Levy Foundation
  • Norbert Schimmel
  • Mr & Mrs Thomas A. Spears

Comments

This is an interesting story about which I was previously unaware.

This perhaps strays from the post a bit, but I fail to understand how those who wish to profit from the sell of undocumented antiquities can reasonably try to diminish the important role of context and methodical study. In the past, I've used (and I know others have too) the analogy that an archaeological excavation/site is like a crime scene. Like investigators, we recreate past events based on material evidence. Just as a tainted or disturbed crime scene hinders expert knowledge and investigation of the crime, so too does the unrecorded and careless removal of ancient objects from their material contexts diminish or even destroy information that we can learn about our past.

But to return to my point, I find it quite interesting that in this case archaeological investigation was able to help reconstruct the crime of looting!

Popular posts from this blog

Codename: Ainsbrook

I have been watching (UK) Channel 4's Time Team this evening. The programme looked at an undisclosed field (under a potato crop) where a Viking burial had been found. The location in Yorkshire was so sensitive that it was given a codename: Ainsbrook. Here is the summary:
In late 2003 two metal detectorists were working in a field in Yorkshire. They found 'treasure' buried just beneath the surface – a collection of Viking material next to a body. Although they had been detecting on the site for a number of years, during which time they had made large numbers of finds, nothing they had uncovered previously compared with this. They decided to share their discovery with archaeologists.The programme explored the tension between metal-detectorists and the English Heritage sponsored archaeologists putting six trenches into the field based on a geo-physical survey. Finds made by the metal-detectorists did not easily map onto the archaeological features.

Part of the programme had an …

The scale of the returns to Italy

I have been busy working on an overview, "Returning Archaeological Objects to Italy". The scale of the returns to Italy from North American collections and galleries is staggering: in excess of 350 objects. This is clearly the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the material that has surfaced on the market without a history that can be traced back to the period before 1970. 

I will provide more information in due course, but the researcher is a reminder that we need to take due diligence seriously when it comes to making acquisitions.

Stele returns to Greece

The Hellenic Ministry of Culture has announced (Saturday 8 September 2018) that a stele that had been due to be auctioned at Sotheby's in London in June 2017 has been returned to Greece (Friday 7 September 2018). The identification had been made by Cambridge-based forensic archaeologist Dr Christos Tsirogiannis.

It appeared that the stele had been supplied with a falsified history as its presence with Becchina until 1990 contradicted the published sale catalogue entry. It then moved into the hands of George Ortiz.

A year ago it was suggested that Sotheby's should contact the Greek authorities. Those negotiations appear to have concluded successfully.

The 4th century BC stele fragment, with the personal name, Hestiaios, will be displayed in the Epigraphic Museum in Athens. It appears to have come from a cemetery in Attica.