Saturday 31 October 2009

Hawass on return from New York

Zahi Hawass has commented on the return of the naos fragment to Egypt. The private collector seems to be male, and the fragment was apparently purchased in the 1970s. Hawass added, "It is also a kind gesture from the newly appointed Met director Thomas Campbell”.

Yet there are still questions that need to be answered. Which funds were used to purchase the fragment? How much was paid? What else is in this collector's possession? Does the collector have any formal links with the Met? Does the collector plan to give the rest of his (or her?) collection to the Met?

From Zahi Hawass website.

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Friday 30 October 2009

Pots seized in NYC: update

Earlier today I commented on the two pots seized in NYC. Art Daily now has a little more on the seizure with a picture.

The two pieces are:
  • an Apulian red-figured Situla (circa 365-350 B.C.)
  • an Attic red-figured Pelike (circa 480-460 B.C.)

This report added:
The Attic Red-Figured Pelike and the Apulian Red-Figured Situla were part of a collection that in the late 1990s was presented to an expert in the antiquities trade who described the collection as “fresh”, meaning that they were new to the international marketplace for such items. Items of this same collection have been traced back to Giacomo Medici.
The picture of the situla illustrated by corresponds with an Apulian situla that was sold at Christie's Rockefeller Plaza 3 June 2009, lot 132. The situla, attributed to the painter of the Dublin situlae, sold for $40,000. It is dated to "365-350 BC". Its collecting history is as follows:
  • Summa Galleries, Beverly Hills, 1977 (Catalog 2, no. 13)
  • Royal-Athena Galleries, New York, 1984
  • Summa Galleries, Beverly Hills, mid 1980s
  • sold as property of the Allen E. Paulson Living Trust
Is it significant that a Corthinian krater was seized from Christie's just before the June sale this year? [details] That, too, has been reportedly linked by photographic evidence to Giacomo Medici.

Detail of Apulian situla illustrated by

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Looting Matters: Why Did the Met Purchase an Object to Return It to Egypt?

Looting Matters: Why Did the Met Purchase an Object to Return It to Egypt?: "The Met has announced that it will be returning a granite fragment from a shrine (or naos) to Egypt on Thursday October 29, 2009. The piece bears the name of the 12th Dynasty (Middle Kingdom) pharaoh Amenemhat I (1985-1956 BC)."

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Toxic antiquities: Pots seized in NYC

Two pots have been seized by US customs agents in New York City ("Millennia-old stolen artifacts recovered in NYC", AP October 28, 2009). The pieces, one dating to c. 460 BCE and the other to c. 350 BCE, had apparently already entered the United States and had been "offered for sale in New York". The pots were worth some $120,000.

It sounds as if the raid was in the full knowledge of the Italian authorities. Had they been offered for sale on the internet or in a published catalogue? Presumably this had alerted the Italian authorities who are clearly monitoring this type of material.

It sounds as if these two pieces feature in the polaroids seized in the Geneva Freeport.

There are some unawanswered questions. Who was selling the pieces? Had the import paperwork been completed correctly? Had the pots been acquired from another source? What is their recent collecting history?

This case illustrates the toxic effect of undocumented antiquities entering the market. Buyers should be very suspicious if there is no recorded history before 1970.

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UCL and the Incantation Bowls: Lord Renfrew comments

Earlier this week Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn was speaking in the House of Lords on the "Amendment of Treasure Act 1996" [record]. After mentioning the Sevso Treasure he turned to the UCL Incantation Bowls:
The second case to which I shall refer is as scandalous but less well known in view of intimations of libel action by the lawyers of Mr Martin Schøyen, a Norwegian shipowner. He purchased a major series of 654 Aramaic incantation bowls that had been imported into this country in the 1990s in dubious circumstances and lent them for study to a London university. When the university realised that they might be looted antiquities, it rightly set up a committee of inquiry on which I had the honour of sitting under the chairmanship of the distinguished lawyer, Mr David Freeman. We determined that they had indeed been looted from Iraq, or more precisely concluded,
“on the balance of probabilities that the bowls were removed from Iraq, and that their removal took place after 6th August 1990”,
and was therefore illegal. We recommended,
“the return of the incantation bowls to the Department of Antiquities of the State of Iraq”.
A copy of that report is in the Library of the House.

Despite that, I am sorry to say that the bowls were not returned to Iraq: they were returned to the custody of Mr Martin Schøyen. Under the new clause proposed in Amendments 70 and 68, lending and borrowing would both be dealing in terms of the Bill. It would be an offence to deal in undocumented archaeological objects in such a way—and so it should be: it is scandalous that the heritage of Iraq has been treated in this way.

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Wednesday 28 October 2009

Met returns object to Egypt: some further thoughts

Yesterday I commented on the extraordinary story about the New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art acquiring an object so that it could be returned to Egypt. The Met has now issued a press statement.

There are several new details.

a. The granite relief fragment is inscribed with the name of Amenemhat I. Curatorial research showed it was part of a larger monument. Dorothea Arnold is quoted: "For a long time, I puzzled about the object to which this fragment belonged. I finally pieced it together when I came across a photograph showing a naos in Karnak which is missing a corner in an article by Luc Gabolde ..."

b. "The work had been on loan to The Metropolitan Museum of Art from a private owner, though the Museum had never displayed it publicly."

c. Once the identification of the piece had been made, "the Museum reached out to the owner of the work and took steps to notify the Egyptian authorities of the discovery".

d. "The Museum also arranged to purchase the work from its owner in order to take official possession of the work and return it promptly and unencumbered to Egypt".

Thomas P. Campbell, the Met's Director, provides a comment:
The Metropolitan Museum is delighted to be able to assist in returning this granite fragment to its original home. Though the fragment is small, its return is a larger symbol of the Museum's deep respect for the importance of protecting Egypt's cultural heritage and the long history of warm relations the Museum enjoys with Egypt and the Supreme Council of Antiquities.
The precedent for buying the fragment is provided by a 19th Dynasty head from the chapel of Sety I at Memphis.  In that case the piece had also been on loan from an unnamed private collector from 1996. (It had reportedly been purchased from Sotheby's in 1981, and before that had been in the collection of Mrs Richard Rogers.) It was purchased and returned to Egypt in 2001. [News story detail]

This latest return raises interesting issues. Who was the collector? Does the collector have any formal links with the Met? Why did the Met have to purchase the piece? Could the collector have been asked to return the piece directly? Is the Met trying to ensure that the collector does not suffer any consequences? Who provided the funds for the purchase? (Remember the cuts at the Met: Culturegrrl)

Perhaps the Egyptian press will provide some of the answers.

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Theban Tomb 15: who pays for conservation?

I have earlier commented on the Louvre's return of the wall fragments from Theban Tomb 15. Paul Barford has written a discussion of the need to conserve the tomb. Should France be asked to take responsibility?
I think the French government should now be invited to take patronage over TT15, do a proper conservation job and perhaps restoration, and then find a way of making this tomb more secure from further attacks, but also allow its opening to the public and bear all the costs. If they want to "preserve the past", fine. Let them actually do it and not add to the destruction by financing it.
Perhaps the gallery and auction-house that handled the fragments could also be asked to make a contribution.

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Tuesday 27 October 2009

Met to return Egyptian object

The Associated Press is reporting that New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art will be returning an object to Egypt (Joseph Freeman, "The Met returns Egyptian artifact", AP October 27, 2009 [07:58 GMT]). The piece apparently comes from a red granite shrine of Amenemhat I and was purchased from an unnamed collector.

Intriguingly the report states that the fragment "was purchased from an antiquities collector in New York last October so that it could be returned". Does this mean that the collector did not wish to be in direct contact with the Egyptian authorities? How did he or she acquire the piece?

Zahi Hawass commented positively on the way that the Met purchased the item purely so that it could be "repatriated".

The fragment is due to be returned to Egypt on Thursday this week.

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Monday 26 October 2009

CPAC and Italy: Learning from 2001

The CPAC will be reviewing the MOU with Italy in November (see announcement). I presume some of the speakers from 2001 are unlikely to be presenting their views given the recent returns to Italy.

Would a former curator at the Cleveland Museum of Art want to talk about why objects acquired on her watch were returned to Italy? And would another individual want to expand on the details behind the trial in Rome? What could a worldwide director of compliance say when several of the antiquities returned to Italy had passed through the London auction-rooms of her company?

Can we expect to hear from officers of the Cultural Property Research Institute? No doubt somebody will be arguing that "collecting coins is not a direct threat to archaeology as most coins in collectible condition are found in hoards outside the archaeological stratum" (summary).

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Further reflections on toxic antiquities

Earlier this year I wrote about the impact of "toxic antiquities". In other words antiquities that have surfaced on the market in an illicit manner and then lurk in a private collection or as part of a dealer's stock for some years before resurfacing. Take some recent examples:
The objects could have been purchased in "good faith" but it does not lessen the impact of the bad publicity if a government such as Egypt or Italy makes a claim.

We need to remember that there are well over 10,000 unidentified antiquities waiting for somebody to make the connection between a polaroid seized in a police raid in, say, Geneva or on, say, a Greek island, and the piece appearing in a sale or a museum catalogue.

So what can auction-houses do to protect their reputations? Why not avoid selling any ancient object that does not have a properly documented collecting history that can be traced back to the 1960s?

And what can museums and private collectors do to avoid the sort of "corrosive" publicity that has been attached to the returns to Egypt, Greece, and Italy? They should avoid objects that do not have a properly documented collecting history that can be traced back to the 1960s.

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Opaque transparency

Nearly a year ago I commented on the AAMD's "commitment" to transparency over the acquisition of archaeological material. One year on I have yet to receive the information that I requested from two (AAMD member) museums about four items that have been acquired since 2002. (Note: these are very recent acquisitions.)

Why are AAMD members reluctant to disclose collecting histories? Why do they send out a signal that they have something to hide?

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Friday 23 October 2009

Looting Matters in London: Contemporary Issues

Readers have been asking for an overview of yesterday's seminar in London. My starting point was the decision for the Cultural Property Advisory Committee to review the MOU with Italy (on Wednesday) [see discussion of 2001 presentations]. We considered the way that Italy has been increasing the protection of its cultural property, action that has celebrated in a series of exhibitions dispaying returned material. The returns from North American museums and the ongoing trial of Robert Hecht and Marion True serve as disincentives for those who would want to buy recently surfaced antiquities (see earlier comments).

At the same time we reviewed those bodies that are seeking to challenge US Import Restrictions through the FOIA action against the US State Department. The perception by some cultural property lobbyists that the UK Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) is only there to "ensure that the State only keeps what it can reasonably be expected to take care of" (Peter Tompa) was challenged. (It was good to have Roger Bland as a member of the audience.)

We speculated about the implications of the photographic dossier (some 10,000 images) and receipts seized from warehouses in Basel. (Overview of Switzerland.)

A review of the returns of antiquities from North American museums has shed light on some of the dealers, galleries and auction houses that were handling recently surfaced material. There was a reflection on Apulian pots attributed to the Darius painter which supported Ricardo Elia's work on this area. I also addressed the question of the missing memorandum that sought to discredit Elia's research.

We reviewed the October 2008 Bonhams sales of the Graham Geddes collection and the way that the Italian authorities were able to challenge the auction. In the questions members of the audience wondered how reputable museums had been able to accept this recently surfaced material on loan.

Examples of returns to Greece and Egypt were also provided. The seminar was reminded of the Greek request from the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University, and FYROM's desire to reclaim the Koreschnica bronze krater thought to be in a North American private collection.

The presentation closed with a summary analysis of the sale of antiquities at Sotheby's New York in the period 1998 to 2009.

It is hoped to make an online version of the lecture available shortly.

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Thursday 22 October 2009

The collecting history of a black-figured stamnos

Next week Bonhams is planning to auction an Attic black-figured stamnos attributed to the Michigan painter (28 October 2009, lot 193; estimate £60,000 - £80,000). The collecting history ("provenance") is provided:
"Acquired at a German [sic.] auction, Kunstwerke der Antike, Münzen und Medaillen A.G., Basel, Auktion 70, November 14th, 1986, lot 203. Formerly ex Ferrucio Bolla Collection, Lugano, 1960s."
There is a little more we can add as the stamnos appears in the database of the Beazley Archive (no. 3886). It was first published in Numismatica e Antichità Classiche, Quaderni Ticinesi 5 (1976), 39, fig. 3 (A). (The journal was founded by Bolla.) There is nothing cited in the Beazley archive to indicate its history between the 1960s and 1976.

The stamnos was exhibited at the J. Paul Getty Museum in 1980. Bolla died in 1984 and the stamnos was sold at Münzen und Medaillen A.G., Basel in 1986. It was then offered for auction at Christie's New York on 7 December 2000 as lot 433 [not 2001 as in the Beazley Archive database]. The estimate was for $100,000 to $150,000 but the stamnos failed to sell [see report].

The stamnos features in an interview with Hicham Aboutaam (June 19, 2009) [see post].The interview, found here, asks about the collecting history:
Interviewer: Where was this stamnos before Phoenix Ancient Art acquired it?

Hicham Aboutaam: The Stamnos was part of the collection of Mr. Ferruccio Bolla, a banker in the Canton of Ticino, Switzerland and was published in 1976. We also learned that it was exhibited at the J. Paul Getty Museum of Art, Malibu, in 1980.
There is no mention of the history of the piece prior to 1976. What is the basis for Bonham's statement ("Formerly ex Ferrucio Bolla Collection, Lugano, 1960s.")?

I emailed Madeleine Perridge in the Antiquities Department at Bonham's and she replied (Wednesday October 21, 2009)
I am afraid that this is the only information that we have concerning the provenance.

[The stamnos] was part of the collection of Mr. Ferruccio Bolla, a banker in the Canton of Ticino, Switzerland and was indeed published in 1976. But prior to it being in Mr Bolla’s collection, I do not have any more information to give you.
So who supplied the information? Who checked the facts?

The stamnos presently is on offer on-line from for 78,000 euros (or $110,00). The seller is Phoenix Ancient Art. (At today's exchange rate that is the equivalent of £71,000, the mid-point of Bonham's estimate.)

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Wednesday 21 October 2009

CPAC and Italy

The US Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) has announced that it will be meeting on Friday November 13, 2009 to review its interim MOU with Italy (2001, 2006) [CPAC Italy].
On November 13, the Committee will continue its interim review of the MOU with Italy and will have an open session from approximately 9:30 a.m. to 12 noon to receive oral public comment. An open session is not a statutory requirement, nor is the invitation for public oral or written comment. These steps are taken at the initiative of the Department of State. Persons wishing to attend either of these open sessions should notify the Cultural Heritage Center of the Department of State at (202) 632–6301 no later than November 4, 2009, 5 p.m. (EST) to arrange for admission. Seating is extremely limited. Requests for reasonable accommodation should also be made at that time; last minute requests will be difficult to fulfill.

Anyone wishing to make an oral presentation at either public session must request to be scheduled and must submit a written text of the oral comments by November 2, 2009, to allow time for distribution to Committee members prior to the meeting. Oral comments will be limited to allow time for questions from members of the Committee ... With respect to comments on the interim review of the Memorandum of Understanding Between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Republic of Italy Concerning the Imposition of Import Restrictions on Archaeological Material Representing the Pre-Classical, Classical and Imperial Roman Periods of Italy, concluded on January 19, 2001, and extended in 2006, oral comments must be limited to Article II of this MOU. The Committee also invites written comments and asks that they be submitted no later than November 2, 2009, to allow time for distribution to Committee members prior to the meeting. ...

The text of the MOU can be found here.

The demonstrable work of the Italian Carabinieri in their work to deter looting is the subject of an exhibition in Rome at the moment.

It will be interesting to see who will be seeking to speak. I suspect North American museums will be wanting to put the recent returns behind them and also be seeking to develop cultural links (including the loan of archaeological material from Italy).

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Looting Matters Goes Live in Torrington Place

The Looting Matters debate with the Heritage Studies Research Group of the Institute of Archaeology starts at Thursday 5 pm in the Galton Lecture Theatre, Torrington Place, London.

What are the breaking issues?

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Tuesday 20 October 2009

Looting Matters Goes Live: Contemporary Issues

Looting Matters goes on the road this week and will be visiting the Heritage Studies Thursday  (October 22) research seminar at the Institute of Archaeology, London, hosted by Tim Schadla-Hall.

What are this week's contemporary issues?

Have we moved on from Egypt's actions against the Louvre? What about Nefertiti and the Rosetta Stone?

What is happening about the trials in Rome? Will the thousands of objects shown in polaroids seized in Switzerland be identified and returned to Italy?

What about Greek claims over objects in Atlanta? FYROM's claim on the Koreschnica krater? Bulgaria's request for Greece to return the Byzantine silver hoard?

Will there be an update on the octodrachm in the Swiss sale?

And can we make sense of the challenges to US import restrictions on archaeological material from Cyprus?

Is there a story waiting to break?

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Monday 19 October 2009

Is the debate about reclaiming cultural property?

Are those involved in discussions over cultural property confusing several issues?

Italy has long been concerned about the destruction of its archaeological record. Tombaroli have been entering Etruscan burial chambers for centuries. But the organised, systematic and widespread looting of archaeological sites meant that action had to be taken. The surfacing of the Sarpedon krater in New York was a visual remind of archaeological contexts torn apart to supply the market.

And it was not just Etruscan tombs. Cemeteries in southern Italy were being ripped apart to supply the demand for Apulian pottery.

Turning to Greece, the Early Bronze Age cemeteries of the Cyclades were being pillaged to supply the demand for marble Cycladic figures. On Crete Bronze Age sites were worked over to supply the demands of the market. And in Macedonia, elite tombs served as a supply for high quality items to be sent to market.

So the return of the Sarpedon krater, Apulian pots, Macedonian gold wreaths, or bronze kraters to countries like Greece and Italy send out a clear message: museums and collectors should not handle recently-surfaced antiquities. The collector-driven market leads to the destruction of the finite archaeological record.

Then there is the issue of material stolen from archaeological museums and stores. Mummy masks and bronze statues that have been raided from archaeological collections should be returned.

There are also the long-standing issues that predate the 1970 UNESCO Convention. What about Nefertiti? What about the Rosetta stone? What about the Parthenon marbles? What about the Bubon bronze statues? What about the Benin bronzes? Here the issue is less about looting than the appropriate place to display key archaeological objects. Are the architectural sculptures from a fifth-century BCE temple best displayed in London or within line of sight of the building on which they were once placed?

Such issues also raise concerns about how to preserve our cosmopolitan cultural property. Should there be restrictions on the movement of archaeological material (including coins) across international boundaries? How can those who handle archaeological material (including coins) ensure that they are not handling the proceeds of recent looting? How can we protect our past for the benefit of future generations?

Is the debate about reclaiming cultural property?

Not really. The issues revolve around the material and intellectual consequences of looting.

© David Gill

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Thursday 15 October 2009

Octodrachm seized in Switzerland: update

I recently commented on a news story (in a Greek language newspaper published in Thessaloniki) about the reported seizure of a Thraco-Macedonian coin in Switzerland. (My post was unillustrated.)

The paper does not state the auction house but it does provide key information: "Η δημοπρασία στη Ζυρίχη, που οργανώθηκε από αγγλικό οίκο, ολοκληρώθηκε την περασμένη Τρίτη και το νόμισμα πουλήθηκε αντί του ποσού των 116.500 ελβετικών φράγκων (περίπου 77.000 ευρώ)". There is an auction house with an address in London SW1 and with a further branch in Zurich (and Milan). And on Wednesday (not Tuesday) last week (October 7) lot 110 (auction 52) consisted of "Greek coins, Kings of the Bisaltae, Mosses, Octodrachm". Lot 110 sold for 100,000 Swiss francs (excluding buyer's fee). The buyer's "premium" was 16,500 Swiss francs giving a total price of 116,500 Swiss francs. Moreover the newspaper report described the octodrachm: "προέρχεται από την περιοχή της αρχαίας Βισαλτίας και κόπηκε επί βασιλείας ενός Μοσσή".

The description of the coin in the Zurich sale describes it as "Apparently unique and unpublished". It is therefore not unreasonable to assume that this coin and the one described by the Thessaloniki newspaper are one and the same.

The auction house in question is a member of the International Association of Professional Numismatists (IAPN). The IAPN website states:
The IAPN is a non-profit organisation of the leading international numismatic firms founded 1951. The objectives of the Association are the development of a healthy and prosperous numismatic trade conducted according to the highest standards of business ethics and commercial practice.
A member of IAPN would no doubt wish to co-operate with the Interpol investigation into the coin.

I have contacted the London and Zurich offices of the coin dealership but have not received a reply.

But the story does not end there. A Washington lobbyist and legal officer to a cultural property research institute has questioned the story; indeed he is even an "avid collector" of Greek coins (though from Greek colonies in Southern Italy and Sicily). (The basis of his rejection seems to be the use of a stock photograph of an ancient coin to the illustrate the article in the Thessaloniki newspaper.) Moreover the same lobbyist works for a law firm that appears to be retained by the IAPN.

And the IAPN is one of three bodies that are involved with a FOIA request served on the US State Department (see details).

So why should a Washington lobbyist object to people drawing attention to a story? Should coin collectors be aware that Interpol could move against specific coins? Or does the Zurich seizure highlight an uncomfortable truth about recently surfaced coins?

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Wednesday 14 October 2009

Octodrachm seized in Switzerland

There are reports in the Greek press that a silver octodrachm has been seized by Swiss authorities ("Το δρόμο για την Ελλάδα παίρνει το αρχαίο οκτάδραχμο", Makedonia October 13, 2009). The coin was minted during the reign of Mosses, king of the Basaltae, and dates to around 480 BCE.

It appears that the octodrachm was auctioned in Zurich last week and fetched 116,500 Swiss francs (approximately 77,000 euros). The press report suggests that a photograph of the coin was taken two years prior to the sale. (Such photographic evidence lies behind other investigations.) The Hellenic Ministry of Culture tried to intervene before the sale but without success. However, with the help of Interpol, the coin was seized on Friday October 9 before it had been collected by the person who made the "winning" bid.

The auction house is not named in the report though it also has an office in London.

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Monday 12 October 2009

Hawass asks for loan of Rosetta Stone

The Daily Telegraph has a short interview with Zahi Hawass in the wake of the announcement that the Louvre would be returning tomb fragments to Egypt (Samer al-Atrush, "Egypt asks British Museum for the Rosetta Stone after Louvre victory, Daily Telegraph October 10, 2009). Hawass would like the British Museum to loan the Rosetta Stone to Egypt. The Telegraph added "[Hawass] promised to return the relic after Egypt's Grand Museum opens in 2013".

Hawass is quoted:
I am not asking for all the objects in the British Museum to come back, only for the unique objects to come back to Egypt.
What is meant by unique? Are they the culturally significant pieces?

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Friday 9 October 2009

Toxic Antiquities: Lessons from the Louvre

The announcement today that the Louvre would be returning tomb fragments to Egypt raises more disturbing questions. It is being reported that one of the pieces first surfaced at a London auction in the early 1980s. Are museums taking the 1970 benchmark seriously? Does the due diligence process demonstrate a recorded collecting history that can be traced back prior to 1970? Are museums too eager to acquire?

How many other toxic antiquities are still in museum collections?

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France to Return Tomb Fragments to Egypt

The French Ministry of Culture announced today that the Louvre would be handing over disputed fragments to Egypt (press release October 9, 2009). A scientific commission of 35 experts gave a unanimous decision that the pieces should be returned. The Minister, Frédéric Mitterrand, has followed the commission's advice.

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Looting Matters: Egypt Puts Pressure on French Museum

Looting Matters: Egypt Puts Pressure on French Museum

Wednesday 7 October 2009

Egypt Requests Return of Reliefs from Paris

The Tomb of Tetaki in Thebes (TT 15) was investigated by Lord Carnarvon in 1908. It belonged to one of the 18th Dynasty (New Kingdom) officials of Thebes who was alive during the reign of Ahmose (1550-1525 BCE). A photographic record was made at the time of the opening, but, as a result of thefts, Arthur Weigall, the then Chief Inspector, decided to close the tomb. Howard Carter, who had joined Carnarvon in 1909, helped to write up the tomb in Five Years' Explorations at Thebes: a Record of Work Done 1907-1911 (Oxford 1912).

The tomb was reopened in 1924 by Professor Percy Edward Newberry (who held the first chair of Egyptology at the University of Liverpool). A copy of the tomb paintings was made by N. de Garis Davies ("The Tomb of Tetaky at Thebes (No. 15)", The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 11, 1/2 [1925] 10-18 [JSTOR]).

Further archaeological work on the tomb was conducted by Daniel Polz during the 1990s.

In 2000 and 2003 the Louvre in Paris acquired four funerary reliefs. In today's announcement, Dr Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), claimed, "The Louvre Museum refused to return four archaeological reliefs to Egypt that were stolen during the 1980s from the tomb of the noble Tetaki" (Paul Schemm, "Egypt cuts ties with France's Louvre museum", AP October 7, 2009). It is claimed that the reliefs were cut out of the tomb during the 1980s.

The vendor of the reliefs has not been stated, and the due diligence processes conducted by the Louvre have not been disclosed. However Frederic Mitterrand, the Minister of Culture for France, stated that the pieces had been acquired in "good faith" ("acquis de bonne foi") [press release]. (On the use of the phrase see here.) A statement from the Ministry continued, "It wasn't until November 2008, after archaeologists rediscovered the tomb from which the frescoes appear to have come, that serious doubts emerged about the legality of their removal from Egyptian territory."

A panel will review the case and decide if the reliefs should be returned to Egypt. Mitterand's statement makes it clear that the reliefs would be returned under the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (see further). This is widely considered to be the benchmark date for considering recently surfaced archaeological material. In the meantime, the Louvre-sponsored excavation at Saqqara has been suspended. A lecture due to be delivered in Egypt by former Louvre curator, Christiane Ziegler, has been cancelled.

Hawass is taking an equally firm line with the St. Louis Art Museum over a mummy case excavated at Saqqara.

Egypt is also seeking the return of "historic" finds (i.e. material acquired prior to 1970) from western museums, among them the Rosetta Stone in London's British Museum (see comments and video of Hawass) and the head of Nefertiti in Berlin.

French authorities seem to be treating Egypt's claim seriously although it appears that the Louvre had refused earlier requests by Hawass.

UPDATE (October 9, 2009): Fragments to be returned to Egypt. Click here.

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Egypt takes action against the Louvre

It has been announced that Egypt is taking firm action against the Louvre in Paris (Paul Schemm, "Egypt cuts ties with France's Louvre museum", AP October 7, 2009). The issue revolves around the Louvre's possession of four reliefs from the tomb of Tetaki which were acquired in "good faith" in 2000 and 2003.

The statement means that Egypt's Supreme Council of antiquities has suspended the Louvre-sponsored excavation at Saqqara. A lecture due to be given in Egypt by Christiane Ziegler, a former curator at the Louvre has also been cancelled.

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Tuesday 6 October 2009

Nighthawking and illicit raids: clarification

Observant readers of Looting Matters will want to note that the Nighthawks and Nighthawking Survey (2009) was commissioned by English Heritage (see my earlier comments). Inspectors and archaeologists working for English Heritage have also commented on the continuing problem of looting in England.

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Monday 5 October 2009

Illicit raids on the rise

Those who think that the Portable Antiquities Scheme is the solution to looting in the UK should read today's Daily Telegraph ("Treasure hunters raid historic sites", October 5, 2009). While the PAS does good work in recording (some) finds removed from the fields of England and Wales, this is only part of the picture. (For a comment on the low scale of reporting see here.)

Pete Wilson, an archaeologist with English Heritage, is quoted by the Telegraph:
Nighthawking is a problem across the country and we fear that the recession may produce a spike.
We are getting increasing attacks on private land where the nighthawks have no permission to be.
But who are the people acquiring the finds from such nocturnal activities? Observant readers will know the answer.

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Friday 2 October 2009

Thursday 1 October 2009

Antiquities from North American Collections at the Villa Giulia

The Euphronios krater and its companions sit in a darkened first floor room (Room 23) in the Villa Giulia, Rome. Outside the trams can be heard rumbling their way down the Viale delle Belle Arti.

The immediate museological context for these returned antiquities is the outstandingly important Etruscan collection of the Villa Giulia. Yet each one of the returned pieces has apparently been ripped from its last resting-place; this contrasts with many of the other pieces throughout the building that are derived from excavations.

The Euphronios krater, the intended highlight of Room 23, is not there at the moment. A handwritten note in its empty (but lit) case informs the visitor that it can be seen in the Museo Nazionale Castel Sant'Angelo. It is accompanied by other pieces (see earlier discussion):
  • the Onesimos cup returned from the J. Paul Getty Museum (see earlier comments).
  • Attic red-figured phiale, Douris, returned from the J. Paul Getty Museum (see discussion).
  • Attic red-figured column-krater, attributed to the Geras painter, returned from the Royal-Athena Galleries (see earlier comments).
  • fragment of Attic red-figured calyx-krater, attributed to the Berlin painter, body of Achilles (see earlier comments).
  • Attic red-figured cup, Pamphaios, returned from the J. Paul Getty Museum (see discussion).
  • Attic red-figured psykter, Smikros, returned from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (see earlier comments).
  • Attic black-figured lekythos, attributed to the Disophos painter, returned from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (see MFA website).
  • Attic red-figured lekythos, attributed to the Terpaulos Painter, returned from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (see MFA website).
  • a black-figured skyphos fragment returned from the Princeton University Art Museums (see earlier comments).
  • a Pontic oinochoe, attributed to the Tityos painter, returned from the Royal-Athena Galleries (see earlier comments).
  • a Pontic amphora, attributed to the Tityos painter, returned from the J. Paul Getty Museum (see discussion).
  • a large Etruscan bronze figure, 2nd century BCE, from a French private collection (earlier reported as coming from a Swiss private collection).
  • a terracotta architectural antefix with centaur returned from the Princeton University Art Museums (see earlier comments).
  • a Protocorinthian olpe, returned from the J. Paul Getty Museum.
  • a duck-shaped askos, returned from the J. Paul Getty Museum (see discussion).
  • Caeretan hydria, attributed to the Busiris painter, returned from the Shelby White collection (see earlier comments).

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