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Showing posts from August, 2009

"Coins are pouring out of the ground"

Sam Moorhead of the Portable Antiquities Scheme based at the British Museum has been commenting on the number of new coins emerging from East Anglia: "The old theory was that there was relatively little currency circulating in East Anglia in the late-Roman period – we know now that's not true because coins are pouring out of the ground" (Maev Kennedy, "Digging deep: An army of amateur archaeologists is rewriting British history", The Guardian, Friday 28 August 2009).

So coins are "pouring out of the ground" (for which understand being found in large numbers by metal-deectorists), and "buckets and Tupperware boxes that amateur archaeologists and metal detectorists fill with battered, corroded, base-metal coins and other finds".

The same report tells us that there are 180,000 metal-detectorists in Britain and that there are 50,000 new recorded finds every year. So if each metal-detectorist is gaining a full "grot pot" (say) once a …

Antiquities seized in Macedonia

Antiquities have been seized during a police raid in Macedonia, northern Greece ("Police find stolen antiquities in northern Greece", Associated Press Worldstream August 29, 2009). The objects had been hidden in an abandoned house at the village of Tholos. The finds included two Roman-period gravestones. One was decorated with relief, and the other, belonging to Julia Clara, carried an inscription covering 30 lines. Coins were among the other finds seized.

Wordle on Looting Matters: 4

Here is the Wordle image for Looting Matters at the end of August 2009.

Numismatic dealers raise concerns about the AIA

The Professional Numismatists Guild (PNG) has at long last broken its silence about the Freedom of Information Act suit that was filed against the US Department of State in response to the restriction of ancient coins from Cyprus back in November 2007 (see my original comment). On Wednesday last week (August 19, 2009) the PNG issued a press release on its website, "PNG Assists in Combating Import Restrictions".

The PNG defines itself as follows:
The Professional Numismatists Guild, Inc. is the only numismatic organization in the United States that restricts its membership to dealers who possess and demonstrate three essential qualifications: Knowledge, Integrity and Responsibility.
Robert Brueggeman, the Executive Director of PNG (and of Positive Protection Inc. [as stated on the PNG website]), is quoted:
The PNG Board of Directors unanimously agreed to contribute the funds to assist IAPN in its lobbying efforts to combat unfair import restrictions. We are concerned that overz…

Robin Symes: Overview

Looting Matters: Where are the Sculptures Stolen from Albania?

For press release relating to sculptures stolen from the Butrint Museum.

Looting Matters: Where are the Sculptures Stolen from Albania?

Albania: Overview of Butrint Returns

During the 1990s a number of antiquities were stolen from museums in Albania (details here). The recovered pieces are:
a. Portrait of Livia (BAM inv 9). Stolen from Butrint in 1991; said to have been in Greece and then Switzerland; by 1995 said to be in the possession of Robert Hecht and appeared in From a North American Collection of Ancient Art; allegedly offered to the Glypothek in Munich; portrait returned by dealer in 2000.
b-d. Three heads: Agrippa (BAM inv. 583); young woman (BAM inv. 50); head from Herculaneum type figure (BAM inv. 584). Stolen from Butrint in 1991; seized at Koropi, Attica (Greece). Heads returned in 2003.
e. A female figure possibly of Artemis. Stolen from Butrint in 1991; seized at Koropi, Attica (Greece); returned in 2008.
f. A fragmentary statue of Apollo (1.2 m) (BAM inv. 4).Stolen from Butrint in 1991; seized at Koropi, Attica (Greece); returned in 2008.
g. Head of Asklepios (BAM inv. 60). Stolen 1991; sold at Christie's in London at an auction on July …

Coin matters: a new resource

SAFE has launched a new resource for those interested in numismatics.
Ancient coins are among the most abundant finds from Greek and Roman period excavations. As objects of daily life, they're an essential part of the archaeological and historical record. At the same time, huge demand for fresh sources of ancient coins makes such finds susceptible to illicit sale. The looting of coins and other portable antiquities to meet market demand vandalizes archaeological sites and forever erases knowledge that could otherwise have been preserved.

SAFE is therefore pleased to announce the launch of the Coin Matters resource page listing resources relating to the trade in ancient coins, including links or citations to peer-reviewed articles, books, and lectures. There are also several media reports on the subject from affected countries, notably from Bulgaria.

Cultural Property and Africa

There is a call for papers, "Critical Interventions: Journal of African Art History and Visual Culture", on Cultural Property from Africa:
We seek papers that posit or contest African ownership of its cultural patrimony in the dual contexts of the relationship between African artworks in their contemporary locations (Western museums, Western private collections, the art historical construction of meanings), and the history of their origins as part of communities of objects, whose use in religious, ritual, secular, and social space formed part of knowledge systems and cultural heritage of particular African peoples. We particularly encourage submissions that interrogate the commodification of African cultural patrimony and cultural identities in the context of global capital, and examine the representational, legal, political, and cultural positions that support or deny African claims to ownership of historical art objects as relevant aspects of contemporary African cultural p…

The Looting of the Iraq Museum

Johan Franzén has reviewed Lawrence Rothfield's, The Rape of Mesopotamia (University of Chicago Press, 2009) for the Times Higher Education (August 13, 2009). [Chicago UP]
This meticulously researched and convincingly argued book is a damning indictment against the US (and British) cultural policy in Iraq during the 2003 invasion. Having interviewed 28 key players, Rothfield leaves no stone unturned in his unearthing of the shenanigans that went on behind the scenes in the run-up to the invasion. ...The Rape of Mesopotamia is an important book and one that should be read by anyone interested in the Iraq War, US foreign policy or modern history, as well as by members of the cultural heritage community. ...

The Parthenon sculptures: Hitchens and Cuno in debate

At the end of July Christopher Hitchens and James Cuno were in debate over the Parthenon sculptures.

Hitchens argues for the reunification of the sculptures that were intended to be seen as a unity. These would be displayed in the Acropolis Museum adjacent to the acropolis.

Cuno suggests that the sculptures could be 'reunified anywhere', and that London was just as good as Athens. (Hitchens can be heard saying, 'What about Glasgow?'). Cuno observes that the Parthenon sculptures in London are displayed in the context of world cultures. He also argues for the changing role of the Parthenon through time as Greece became part of the Roman Empire and then the building itself was converted in a church and then a mosque. He talks about the Pericleian temple as a 'fantasy of a building' and at times speaks as if it was the Parthenon itself that was to be restored.

Hitchens responded with a reminder that the Parthenon sculptures are a 'narrative in stone' that at…

The scale of looting in Bulgaria

I have earlier commented on looting in Bulgaria. More information is coming to light thanks to David O'Shea, an Australian journalist, who has been making a programme for Dateline (sbs tv) about the topic ("33 000 Treasure Hunters Sack Bulgaria's Archaeology Heritage", July 31, 2009).

The programme has been made in collaboration with Volodya Velkov who is in charge of a team tasked with addressing the trade in cultural property. Velkov claims "Between 30000 and 33000 people are involved in treasure hunting in Bulgaria".

Protection for archaeological material is now provided by the Cultural Heritage Act (April 2009).

A detailed survey of the issue is provided by Ivan Dikov, who provided material for O'Shea ("Bulgaria: an Archaeology and Treasure Hunting Paradise. Or Hell", July 31, 2009).
The story of Bulgaria's treasure hunting issue is simultaneously simple and complex, and hard to tell. But here is a start: thousand…

"Stolen, illegally excavated or illegally exported"

I have earlier commented on the use of the word "stolen" as it relates to antiquities. My list was not intended to be exclusive, and it was not providing a definition of "stolen" from a legal perspective. It was a comment on my personal use of the word.

I am grateful to Washington attorney Peter Tompa for pointing out that my usage, as previously outlined, was overly restrictive and does not accord with the legal definition of “stolen” established in the U.S. courts. Nor does it accord with the U.K. law. My personal position, as a British citizen, is informed by UK legislation and in particular The Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003. (Note: the Act does not cover Scotland.)

The guidance notes to the Act make it clear that the legislation was created to make
"a criminal offence of trading in cultural property in designated categories from designated countries which had been stolen, illegally excavated or illegally exported from those countries" (…

Is the AAMD policy having an impact on private collectors?

In 2008 the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) adopted a new policy towards the acquisition of antiquities. They chose to use 1970, the date of the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, as the benchmark for acquisitions ("the most pertinent threshold date for the application of more rigorous standards to the acquisition of archaeological material and ancient art"). At the same time they launched an object register to allow individuals to study newly acquired items.

The AAMD needed to react to the bad publicity generated by five of its members having to return antiquities to Italy (and in one case Greece):
Boston, Museum of Fine ArtsThe Cleveland Museum of ArtMalibu, The J. Paul Getty Museum
New York, Metropolitan Museum of ArtPrinceton University Art Museum
Why was the material returned? The answer appears to be quite simple: documentary and photographic evidence (some of i…

Trends in the sale of Egyptian antiquities at Sotheby's

In December 2008 I presented a chart showing the median value of lots of Egyptian antiquities sold at Sotheby's New York. I have updated it in the light of the June 2009 sale. The trend seems to be firmly downwards.

66.7% of the Egyptian lots sold since 1998 were first known after 1973.

Tompa on "stolen" antiquities

Peter Tompa has posed this question in response to my post on factoids:
But isn't the "Mother of All" such "factoids" in the cultural property debate the insinuation by members of the archaeological community like Prof. Gill that undocumented artifacts "must be stolen?"I would have hoped that Tompa as a trained lawyer would be precise in his use of language. My use of the word "stolen" is normally applied to:
objects stolen from a museum (e.g. Corinth, Baghdad, museums in Italy)objects stolen from archaeological stores or similar holding areas (e.g. Egypt, Italy, Libya)
objects stolen from a private collectionobjects stolen from a monument at a recorded archaeological site (e.g. the eye of Amenhotep III, part of an Egyptian tomb decoration)
I see that I make a clear distinction in a discussion of Philippe de Montebello's comment on the Sarpedon krater: "I find it interesting that he [sc. de Montebello] uses the word 'stolen' to …