Friday 31 July 2009

Insinuation, assertions and factoids

I owe a debt to Andrew Sherratt. One of the many discussions over coffee or lunch concerned "factoids", defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as "an assumption or speculation reported and repeated so often that it is popularly considered true". (The word "factoid" seems to have come into use during the 1970s.)

My attention has been drawn to a factoid on Moneta-L (July 24, 2009; the author was John Hooker (author of "The Hooker Papers" available from the ACCG website). In a discussion of "astroturfing" Hooker comments:
David Gill pays a rate of $400 per 400 words for his frequent PR Newswire releases, yet despite many requests by Peter Tompa to reveal the source of his funding, still refuses to do so. It is uncommon, to say the least, for archaeologists to maintain such expensive PR campaigns without outside funding. With the limited funding available to the ACCG, such releases are very infrequent and Wayne Sayles tell me that he is always finding less expensive methods -- one of which actually gets fed through PR Newswire at a greatly reduced rate. Even so, the ACCG with its large membership cannot afford the levels of PR releases enjoyed by David Gill.
So what is the fact? Looting Matters has been issuing near weekly press releases via PR Newswire since mid-May 2009. This has been stated quite openly. Topics have include the Sarpedon (Euphronios) krater, the place of Switzerland in the antiquities market, the return of antiquities to Greece, and changing attitudes in North America towards antiquities and coins.

Notice the language of Hooker: "David Gill pays a rate of $400 per 400 words for his frequent PR Newswire releases". How does Hooker know this? What is the basis of this statement? (Hooker's certainty allows him to avoid writing "David Gill possibly pays a rate / is likely to pay a rate" or even "Does David Gill pay a rate ... ?")

Peter Tompa - he wears several hats, among them legal officer of the Cultural Property Research Institute, and an attorney in Washington ("Cultural Property Lobbying and Advice") - left a comment on my original post about PR Newswire:
I am curious about the source of funding for your effort. As I'm sure you know, PR Newswire is not a free service. To give your effort credibility I would urge you to provide your readers with some information in this regard. Otherwise, we might just suspect that you are merely acting as an undisclosed agent of influence for some nationalistic, repatriation seeking foreign government, like that of Greece.
Tompa's curiosity has drawn comment from European and North American archaeologists. I am sure that Tompa is curious: he would probably like his viewpoint to be distributed as widely as those of Looting Matters.

So has Hooker taken Tompa's insinuation ("we might just suspect that you are merely acting as an undisclosed agent of influence ...") and turned it into a fact ("David Gill pays a rate of $400 per 400 words for his frequent PR Newswire releases")?

Thursday 30 July 2009

Cultural Property Research Institute: Projects

I note that the Cultural Property Research Institute has highlighted a number of projects ("issues") for 2009.

Here is the summary:
1. Determining the number of artistically and academically significant, privately-owned objects in the United States that are currently excluded from acquisition by US museums.

2. Developing different models for a registry that can be applied to privately-owned objects.

3. Exploring ways to harmonize US laws and regulations that apply to transfer and ownership of antiquities.

4. Exploring the effect of source country policies on damage to archaeological sites and objects.

The website gives a list of directors for CPRI:
President: Arthur A. Houghton
Vice-President: Kate Fitz Gibbon
Legal Officer: Peter K. Tompa
Secretary: Anne Metcalf
Member, Board of Directors: William Pearlstein

Wednesday 29 July 2009

Robin Symes and the Berlin Hatshepsut

Earlier this month there were reports that the stone head of Hatshepsut in Berlin was a modern creation (Jonathan Stock, "Falsche Pharaonin", Der Spiegel July 20, 2009). The head was apparently purchased in 1986 for one million marks. Now the origin of the head is declared: "Die Skulptur stammt aus den Händen des berüchtigten Londoner Antiquitätenschiebers Robin Symes".

I would not like to comment on the authenticity of the head, though I will observe that the Hatshepsut head does not appear to have a recorded find-spot or documented collecting history.

Those interested in the issue would probably benefit from a read of Peter Watson's Sotheby's Inside Story (Chapter 7: "The Lion Goddess"). Watson discusses a statue of Sekhmet noted in memoranda and other documents in the period 1984-1986. This had been "the property of Xoilan Trading Inc., (Robin Symes)".

In New York it turned out, according to one of the memoranda, that the statue "was a cast, made of a mixture of Portland cement, charcoal, calcite chips and some wood" (Watson, p. 139). The origin of the piece was a dealer in Genoa.

Would the museum authorities in Berlin like to confirm the original vendor of Hatshepsut? Was it indeed Symes or one of his companies?

And what other high profile Egyptian pieces was Symes handling in the mid 1980s?

Tuesday 28 July 2009

Italian Action to Reclaim Antiquities Handled by Robin Symes

Suzan Mazur has written about new Italian action to reclaim antiquities once handled by Robin Symes ("Italy Seeks Ancient Loot From Symes Trustees", Scoop July 28, 2009).
Italy is asking for restitution of some 1,000 artifacts from Symes's Trustees in Bankruptcy, according to Maurizio Fiorilli, the lawyer for Italy's Ministry of Culture who negotiated the return of the Euphronios krater and other treasures from America's museums.
It should be remembered that an Apulian krater once in the Symes Collection had to be withdrawn from an auction at Bonhams in 2008. During this show down in October 2008 Francesco Rutelli made a statement about objects that once formed part of the stock of Symes.

Will we also be seeing moves from the Greek Government to reclaim material?

Monday 27 July 2009

Pieces of the Past: A Collector on Ethical Collecting

I have enjoyed reading Robyn's "Pieces of the Past". There has been some frank discussion about the issues that has drawn some barbed comments. Robyn is sensible enough to recognise why archaeologists like Paul Barford, Nathan Elkins and even yours truly comment about recently surfaced antiquities:
To be clear, Mr. Barford, Mr. Elkins, and Mr. Gill are not anti-collecting. They are anti-LOOTING, none is opposed to collecting that is done responsibly and legally.
Readers of Looting Matters should read Robyn's intelligent response to the responsibilities of collecting.

"Niente di tutto questo": skeletons at the Villa Certosa

Readers of the Italian press will be aware of the taped claim by Silvio Berlusconi that 30 Phoenician tombs were discovered on the site of the swimming pool at the Villa Certosa on Sardinia.

A report in the Corriere della Sera ("Daily Telegraph contro il premier", July 26, 2009) quotes Niccolò Ghedini, Berlusconi's lawyer. Apparently the finds of pottery and bones were probably Roman ("Nel 2005 sono stati trovati solo resti di ossa antiche, probabilmente di epoca romana, assieme a pezzi di ceramica".)

Saturday 25 July 2009

Contemporary Classical Collecting

I was delighted to see that my article "Material consequences of contemporary classical collecting", written with Christopher Chippindale (University of Cambridge), has appeared in the Times Higher Education (July 23, 2009) list of "Highly Cited Papers in Classical Studies Since 2000". We were ranked no. 8.

The commentary notes that the ten papers in the THE list "are deserving of note as research works that demonstrably have had influence".

Chippindale, C., and D. W. J. Gill. 2000. "Material consequences of contemporary classical collecting." American Journal of Archaeology 104: 463-511. [JSTOR] [Abstract and tables]
The nature of contemporary Classical collecting is explored by studying seven celebrated new collections and exhibitions. The concept of provenance is defined in terms of an object's origins, or findspot, and its modern story, or history. The several hundred objects in these collections are analyzed in terms of their findspot and history since unearthing. These show that the dismaying picture previously demonstrated for Cycladic antiquities applies to Classical objects across the board: the overwhelming majority have no declared or credible findspots and simply surface as orphans without history. Some of the many material aspects of this central fact are explored.

Looting Matters: Will Those Involved in the Medici Conspiracy Face Trial?

Looting Matters: Will Those Involved in the Medici Conspiracy Face Trial?

Monday 20 July 2009

Iraq antiquities: should we turn a blind eye?

Last week my PR Newswire briefing suggested: "The international community needs to monitor the sale of antiquities that could have been pillaged from archaeological museums or sites in Iraq."

Archaeologists, museum curators, collectors and members of the general public are concerned that items that have been stolen from archaeological museums in Iraq should find their way back to the collections. They are also keen to identify pieces that could have been removed from archaeological sites by illicit means.

So should we monitor sales, auction sites, and dealers for signs of such material?

Most civilised individuals would say yes.

Or should we turn a blind eye as some in the pro-collecting lobby suggest?

Giacomo Medici: scapegoat or first in a series?

Giacomo Medici's appeal against his conviction for his part in what has become known as the "Medici Conspiracy" has failed. This suggests that Italian courts are taking a firm position over the issue of cultural property. The commercial looting of archaeological sites across Italy has yielded hundreds of thousands of objects; and that has been at a cost, the destruction of unexcavated archaeological sites. And we are all losers if we have cosmopolitan values.

Medici's warehouse in the Geneva Freeport contained not only antiquities but also photographic evidence of previous transactions. And it was those photographs that have helped the Italian government to identify recently looted pieces that had been acquired by various international museums and private collections.

But was Medici alone?

We know of at least one Sicilian dealer whose warehouses in Basel have been raided and the objects returned to Italy.

What about those in Switzerland who are known to have handled the recently surfaced objects? What about the specialised conservator? (His name appears as a vendor with at least one North American museum.)

What about those who identified objects apparently while they were still in Switzerland? It appears that some of the figure-decorated pottery was being attributed to (anonymous) "painters" by scholars before the objects were offered for auction.

What about the staff of auction houses who appear to have known about the trail of the objects through Switzerland? The fact that a major auction-house shut down its antiquities department in London suggests that there was an acceptance that something less than acceptable had been taking place.

What about the independent dealers who were handling high value objects? The names of two appear time and again in the objects returned to both Italy and Greece.

Then what about the curatorial staff of museums that were buying these new objects? What did they think was going on? And let us not forget the senior staff members and trustees of those museums who should have been protecting the good name of their institutions.

What about private collectors who were happily buying recently surfaced antiquities?

This web of dealers, collectors and museum staff all had their part to play in the "Medici Conspiracy" (see also D.W.J. Gill and C. Chippindale, "The illicit antiquities scandal: what it has done to classical archaeology collections," American Journal of Archaeology 111 [2007] 571-74 [AJA]). And this is why museums that have returned material to Italy need to make a full disclosure of the collecting histories of the objects. At least three major museums in North America have chosen to keep this information private. Why? Is it not a matter of public interest for them to disclose the sources for those objects? Did they buy them directly from dealers? Did they buy them at auction? Were they donated by private collectors? Lack of transparency will merely prolong the agony as the information is likely to come out at some stage.

Should Medici be singled out as the only example of wrong-doing?

Friday 17 July 2009

Looting Matters: Why Do Antiquities From Iraq Continue to Surface on the Market?

Looting Matters: Why Do Antiquities From Iraq Continue to Surface on the Market?

Looting Matters: Second Birthday

Looting Matters is two today with over 650 postings. There are on average some 9000 visits a month excluding email subscribers - over 150000 visits have been made in the last 18 months. The major development has been the partnership with PR Newswire which has broadened the readership.

Thank you for your support, readership and comments. Please do continue to send in your suggestions for stories which are always welcome.

Diolch yn fawr fach.

Thursday 16 July 2009

Antiquities from Iraq continue to surface

Earlier this month Dutch authorities handed over 69 antiquities to Iraq ("Netherlands sends back Iraq artefacts", Agence France Presse July 9, 2009). The items were apparently found in two Dutch galleries; their names have not been given. The objects will be placed on temporary display in Leiden.

Perhaps they will be displayed near the South Italian armour that was acquired in 1998.

Wednesday 15 July 2009

Giacomo Medici: conviction upheld

There was a press release this afternoon about the outcome of Giacomo Medici's appeal against his conviction for handling antiquities ("Italian art dealer's looting conviction upheld", AP July 15, 2009). The sentence has been reduced from 10 to 8 years.

The report continues:
Medici, who denies any wrongdoing, said after the closed-doors hearing that he would appeal the ruling to Italy's highest court. He remains free pending the appeal.

In a 1995 raid on Medici's offices in Switzerland, police found a trove of artifacts and photos of antiquities, many still in pieces and covered with mud, which authorities later traced to museums and collectors worldwide.

Authorities maintain thousands of Roman, Etruscan and Greek treasures were stolen or clandestinely dug up across Italy in the last decades, then smuggled out of the country and sold by dealers such as Medici.

Rome's campaign to recover the looted art has pushed top museums, including the J. Paul Getty in California and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, to return dozens of pieces in exchange for long-term loans of other treasures.

The Medici probe also sparked other court cases, including the ongoing trial of former Getty curator Marion True and art dealer Robert Hecht, accused of knowingly acquiring dozens of allegedly looted ancient artifacts.

Both deny any wrongdoing.
Steve Scherer ("Rome Court Upholds Conviction of Antiquities Dealer", Bloomberg July 15, 2009) comments on a procedural error in the original trial that related to the Sarpedon krater.
The 2004 procedural error raised in Medici’s appeal was that the trial judge at first declared in a verbal sentencing that Medici was innocent of handling the Met objects, and then later said he had made a mistake. The judge pronounced him guilty when he submitted his written conviction.
Mike Boehm ("Dealer who sold antiquities to Getty loses looting appeal", LA Times July 15, 2009) extends the report to reflect on Marion True:
True has not denied that she bought works for the Getty from Medici and Hecht but says she acted in good faith, not knowing they had been dug and exported in violation of laws safeguarding Italy's ancient artifacts.

Antiquities from Iraq continue to surface

Images of the looted archaeological museum in Baghdad in the wake of the second Gulf War alerted the initial community to the issue of archaeological material passing into the market. There were swift moves to protect cultural property; these included the UN Security Council Resolution 1483 to Protect Iraq's Heritage.

Professional bodies such as the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) have kept a close watch on developments (see Earthwatch for Iraq). Professor Brian Rose, president of the AIA, made a trip to Iraq in April 2009 to see for himself the damage sustained to archaeological sites as well as the objects in the Iraq Museum (see story from Archaeology magazine). Indeed his report was optimistic: "A girls' school group entered the museum as we were leaving, and it was good to hear the halls filled with their laughter and enthusiasm."

Some 15,000 objects were stolen from the National Museum in Baghdad during 2003. Some 6000 pieces have been recovered in various countries (for example, United Arab Emirates, Germany, Jordan) and are in the process of being returned; the Iraq Museum reopened in February 2009. Assessments are being made of the scale of looting at archaeological sites. John Curtis of the British Museum has been able to undertake a short study in southern Iraq but conceded that damage had been sustained further north.

Iraqi antiquities continue to be offered for sale in spite of all the publicity. Professor Neil Brodie has quantified the internet sales of cylinder seals and cuneiform tablets that are likely to have been derived from Iraq (details). He counted over 300 tablets available for sale on a single day in September 2008.

In December 2008 Christie's in New York had to withdraw gold jewellery from its auction as the lot appears to have been derived from Iraq (details). Other objects have been seized after appearing at an antiquities fair at Maastricht (details).

Within the last month there has been a major story in the German press about a gold vessel, seized from a dealer in Munich, that appears to have come from one of the royal cemeteries at Ur (details). German authorities handed it over to Michael Müller-Karpe of the Römisch-Germanische Zentralmuseum in Mainz for study. Müller-Karpe, a leading expert on metalwork from Iraq, has retained the piece at the request of the Iraqi embassy in Berlin because there are fears that the object could evade repatriation if German courts felt that there the evidence was not compelling (Andreas Ulrich, "Leichtes Spiel für die Antikenmafia", Spiegel Online 26 June 2009).

The international community—archaeologists, museum curators, dealers, collectors, and the general public—need to remain alert to the continuing problem.

Tuesday 14 July 2009

The Parthenon Marbles: an unstoppable moral and practical case?

Neil MacGregor of the British Museum was talking about the Parthenon marbles on tonight's Front Row on BBC Radio 4 (details and BBC iPlayer).

He was asked by Mark Lawson is there was now an "unstoppable moral and practical case" to return the Parthenon sculptures to Greece. Did MacGregor think that the opening of the Acropolis Museum changed the issue?

There was a resounding "no".

MacGregor seemed to suggest that it was "a good thing" for "half" the sculptures to be in Athens and the other portion to be in London. He suggested that the idea of reuniting the architectural sculptures from this dismembered fifth century BCE Athenian building in a single archaeological museum within sight of the Parthenon was a "political" issue.

He also commented that in Britain it was possible to separate politics from cultural issues.

Mainz and the gold vessel

I commented yesterday on the gold vessel that may have been derived from a royal cemetery on Ur.

The story continues today in the German press ("Schutz des Erbes", Allgemeine Zeitung 14 July 2009). Michael Müller-Karpe has now written to the German Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, about the way that recently surfaced antiquities from Iraq but also Turkey continue to pass through Germany. (See also my comments on "Germany: 'it's like an antiquities laundry'", November 12, 2008)

The scale of the problem is highlighted by today's Stuttgart sale that is reported to have had some 28 objects that appear to have been derived from Iraq.

Will Germany take the issue of cultural property seriously?

Monday 13 July 2009

Gold vessel from Ur - or is that Troy?

I have been following the case of the gold vessel that is said to have surfaced at Münzenhandlung Gerhard Hirsch Nachfolger of Munich, Germany during 2005. The piece was seized by the German authorities who asked Michael Müller-Karpe of the Römisch-Germanische Zentralmuseum in Mainz, a leading expert on metalwork from Iraq, to study it. Among Müller-Karpe's publications is his Metallgefäße im Iraq 1 (Stuttgart 1993).

Müller-Karpe concluded that the piece was similar to objects found in the royal cemetery at Ur. There is the possibility that the gold vessel had been looted subsequent to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The gold object remains with Müller-Karpe at the request of the cultural attaché at the Iraqi Embassy in Berlin. Dieter Peulen of the German customs would like it to be returned.

The piece has been discussed by both Nathan Elkins and Paul Barford.

But there are further questions to ask.

Who consigned the gold vessel to the Munich coin-dealer?

What is the basis for the dealer suggesting that the vessel came from Troy?

I also observe that the coin-dealer is a member of the International Association of Professional Numismatists (IAPN). This organisation, based in Brussels, is one of three bodies involved in a legal suit against the US Department of State over the import of antiquities to the USA.

Friday 10 July 2009

The Scottish Parliament on the Parthenon

Among the motions and amendments for the Scottish Parliament on Monday June 29, 2009 was this:
S3M-4498 Hugh O’Donnell: The Opening of the Acropolis Museum in Athens—That the Parliament congratulates the Greek people and Government on the opening of the eagerly awaited Acropolis Museum in Athens, which will house artefacts covering the Greek bronze age and Roman and Byzantine time periods; notes that part of the space is specifically designed to accommodate the Parthenon Marbles, and urges the British Museum to enter into negotiations with the Acropolis Museum with a view to returning the Parthenon Marbles to their original home.

Supported by: Rob Gibson, Mike Pringle, Bill Kidd, Jim Tolson, Gil Paterson, Christina McKelvie, Sandra White, Alasdair Morgan, Jim Hume

Parthenon sculptures on Twitter

The British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles has launched its Twitter site. BCRP's press release (July 9, 2009) had a response to Neil Macgregor from Professor Anthony Snodgrass,
"Let us have a sensible negotiation on the issue of the Parthenon Sculptures, between equals, without any prior stipulations about ownership and possession. Only then can the possibilities for the transmission of the sculptures to other countries, whether physical or virtual, be seriously discussed,"
Image © David Gill

The Journal of Art Crime: volume 1

The first volume of The Journal of Art Crime edited by Noah Charney and published by the Association for Research into Crimes Against Art (details here).

There is much in the volume with a series of regular columns including my own, "Context Matters: Archaeological and Antiquities Crime".

Thursday 9 July 2009

Timothy Rub on loans over ownership

I was struck by a reported comment of Timothy Rub, the out-going director of the Cleveland Museum of Art (Steven Litt, "Losing director could make for great partnership", Plain Dealer (Cleveland) July 5, 2009). Rub spoke at a conference at the end of June and "made a convincing case for long-term loans as a way for countries seeking to control illicit trade in antiquities to share national patrimony". He is quoted:
"Access might not mean ownership."
Such a statement is a move towards a position of stewardship of the archaeological record, a position I have been advocating here. Rub is now standing in marked opposition to senior museum figures such as James Cuno and Philippe de Montebello who have been vocal advocates of "ownership".

Perhaps before he leaves Cleveland Rub could release the collecting histories of the objects returned to Italy.

Wednesday 8 July 2009

Cleveland Museum of Art: Objects in Rome

The fourteen antiquities handed back to Italy by the Cleveland Museum of Art have gone on display in Rome ("Art back home in Italy after stay in Cleveland", July 8, 2009). Although the collecting histories have yet to be released, it is clear that the identifications were made from the seizure of photographs and documents in raids on the premises of dealers in Switzerland.

Wednesday 1 July 2009

Looted Shipwreck off Sicily

ANSA has reported on the recovery of five 1st century CE Roman transport amphorae from the sea off the island of Filicudi in the Aeolian islands ("CC Messina recuperano anfore Romane alle Eolie", June 24, 2009). The containers had apparently been removed from the wreck and then hidden in an underwater crevice nearby.

Another Bubon bronze head likely to be repatriated

It appears that a bronze head acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum from Nicolas Koutoulakis has been removed from display and appears to be...