Skip to main content

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.


Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know

Comments

Krystal D'Costa said…
David, you write:
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?

I agree, but is it really that simple? How easy is it to forge these documents? If the market is flooded with these items, then how does one tell the difference between authentic certificates and forgeries? I ask because this is relatively new to me—but very interesting. I appreciate these updates because they allow me to follow looting patterns.
David Gill said…
Krystal
You raise a good point. We do see falsified documentation - and last week I raised the issue of a pot due to be sold this week that suddenly acquired a history back to the 1960s even though the auction house could not explain why.
We need authenticated documentation.
Best wishes
David

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.