Wednesday 24 February 2010

The Spanish Connection: Sarcophagus to Return to Egypt

Back in 2008 I noted a raid on an antiquities dealer in Barcelona, Spain. This revealed a substantial number of archaeological objects apparently looted from Italy.

Now Barcelona is in the news again. It appears that an Egyptian D21 painted coffin of Imesy will be returned to Egypt. Reports in the Spanish press map its route from its acquisition, apparently in Egypt, by a Spanish private collector by name of Miguel Angel Buendía during the 1970s ("Egipto recuperará en marzo un sarcófago faraónico, incautado en Estados Unidos", El País February 22, 2010). [I am grateful to a reader of LM for this report.]

The coffin was reportedly seized by US Customs at Miami, Florida in October 2008. It appears that the object lacked the appropriate documentation to demonstrate its collecting history (or "provenance"). It had apparently been consigned by a Barcelona gallery, "Arqueología Clásica" (proprietor Félix Cervera), passed through Ireland, and arrived in the US at Orlando.

Then I rechecked the details of Operation Ghelas involving the antiquities from Italy ("Italian archaeology smugglers uncovered", ANSA, January 31, 2007). Here is the significant section:
Italian police have uncovered an extensive smuggling network specialised in digging up archaeological treasures in Sicily and selling them to wealthy collectors in Europe and America.
Police arrested 35 people in eight Italian regions on Wednesday. A further 42 people are being investigated on suspicion of smuggling or receiving the goods, which included coins, statues and vases sometimes dating back to pre-Roman times.
According to investigators, the artefacts were dug up illegally by teams of tomb-raiders in Sicily who, through a middle-man in Gela, passed them on to receivers with contacts in Germany, Britain, Switzerland, Spain and the US.
Investigations in Spain also reportedly uncovered links with a Barcelona antiques dealer called Bea Felix Cervera.

It will be interesting to see what further information appears from both these cases.

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Tuesday 23 February 2010

A misleading Washington lobbyist?

I note that a Washington lobbyist responded to my latest PR Newswire release, "Do Coin Collectors Care About the Archaeology of Cyprus", by writing:
Archaeologist David Gill has issued another misleading press release about the ACCG's test case related to import restrictions on "coins of Cypriot type."
I wrote: "Earlier in February 2010 a Washington law-firm acting for the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild filed an action against (among others) the US Department of State and the US Customs and Border Protection." I hope the lobbyist will have observed that somebody from his Washington law-firm has filed an action on behalf of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG).

So to my next paragraph: "The government of Cyprus had urged the US State Department to sign a MOU in order to restrict the movement of archaeological material from the island to the US." There is a MOU in place.

So to paragraph three: "A Brussels-based numismatic trade organization was one of three bodies, along with the ACCG, to initiate a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) court-action against the US State Department." I have commented on the FOIA case before.

Leaving aside the lobbyist's "another" (which press release(s) did he have in mind?), there is a suggestion that the following items are unconnected:
  • a test case over the seizure of coins from Cyprus (and China) at Baltimore - to which the lobbyist's name appears in the filed action
  • a FOIA action that cited the following, "The State Department recently imposed unprecedented import restrictions on ancient coins from Cyprus—requiring importers of even a single common coin of “Cypriot type” to provide unfair, unworkable and unnecessary documentation."
  • an appeal against the FOIA decision that "seeks to overturn Judge Richard J. Leon's November 20th decision to uphold the State Department's (DOS) repression of information about the process by which import restrictions were placed on common collectable coins of Cypriot and Chinese types."
  • the raising of coins at last year's consideration of the CPAC review of Article II of the MOU with Italy that related to "the Imposition of Import Restrictions on Archaeological Material Representing the Pre-Classical, Classical and Imperial Roman Periods of Italy".
  • the "project" by the Cultural Property Research Institute to "study" "unprovenanced ancient objects in US private hands" - and the same lobbyist is the legal officer for the CPRI.
Or did I raise inconvenient issues that would draw thoughtful collectors along a path different to the one that had been waymarked for them by a lobbyist retained by a commercial European-based numismatic organisation?

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Monday 22 February 2010

"False claims" made over CAARI

Washington lobbyist Peter Tompa has responded to a recent PR Newswire Release, "Do Coin Collectors Care About the Archaeology of Cyprus", by commenting that the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute (CAARI) "was involved in behind-the-scenes lobbying on behalf of the Cypriot Department of Antiquities, the Cypriot government body that issues excavation permits that allow CAARI affiliated archaeologists to excavate on the Island".

CAARI also features in a test case submitted by Jason H. Ehrenberg, Tompa's legal colleague from Bailey & Ehrenberg PLLC; Tompa's name is attached to the legal papers.

Ellen Herscher (Vice President, CAARI) has responded to Tompa on the "Museum Security Network" (February 21, 2010). She writes:
Once again the ACCG has made false claims about the role of the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute in the U.S. government's decision to enter into a bilateral agreement with Cyprus.

CAARI's Director and several trustees publicly submitted statements in support of the agreement. This position is in accordance with CAARI's Code of Ethics, which states that the organization "is dedicated to the protection and preservation of archaeological sites in Cyprus and the information they contain." There was no "behind-the-scenes lobbying" involved.

Secondly, "CAARI-affiliation" has nothing to do with the granting of excavation permits in Cyprus. Permits are the sole responsibility of the Department of Antiquities of the Republic of Cyprus.

It is unfortunate that the ACCG continues to publish these erroneous statements, despite the fact that CAARI has responded and refuted them in the past.

Co-ordinated attacks by officers of the ACCG on CAARI were noted in 2008.

Are "false claims" being deliberately planted by some of the North American coin-collecting community as part of the background to the test case over the coins seized at Baltimore?

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Saturday 20 February 2010

From Switzerland to Greece: (Another) Basel Connection

The raids on the Geneva Freeport have led directly to the return of well over 100 antiquities. However there was a similar raid on several facilities in Basel; several truckloads of antiquities have been returned to Italy and there are some 10000 objects along with 200 receipts that will provide many additional leads for the way that the antiquities market was operating.

Now there is news of a return of significant antiquities from Basel to Greece ("Five rare Byzantine fresco-icons stolen in 1978 return to Greece"; Hellenic Ministry of Culture). The Byzantine frescoes were seized from a facility run by "a well-known Italian antiquities dealer, at a gallery he ran jointly with his German wife". (This elusive description recalls the statements made about the earlier returns from Basel.)

The frescoes are reported to have been stolen in 1978 from the Palaiopanagia Church in Steni, on the island of Evia. The four frescoes will need substantial conservation before they are placed on display in the museum at Chalkis.

I was struck by the imagery of the official press release that talked about the wounding of this major Byzantine monument by those who operate outside the law ("«πληγωμένο» από τη βάναυση και παράνομη δράση αρχαιοκαπήλων").

Image from the Hellenic Ministry of Culture.

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Tuesday 16 February 2010

The Antiquities Market and the Journal of Field Archaeology

In the opening editorial of the Journal of Field Archaeology, James Wiseman ("Editorial Comment", JFA 1, 1/2 [1974] 1-2 [JSTOR]) wrote:
The section of the journal called "Perspectives"is open to all readers and the readers are encouraged to comment on, or even challenge, the studies published here or elsewhere, or to write on any archaeological topic. "The Antiquities Market" reflects another central interest of the Association for Field Archaeology; it will provide a forum for commentary on the illicit traffic in antiquities.
Later in the same number is the first of a series of sections on the "Antiquities Market" (pp. 215-24 [JSTOR]). This informs us in the heading section:
The Antiquities Market will be a regular feature of the Journal of Field Archaeology. Its aim is to provide just what is stated in the sub-title: news and commentary on the illicit traffic in antiquities. The presence of this feature in the Journal reflects one of the central concerns of the Association for Field Archaeology, that is, the proper recovery and the protection of antiquities.
The JFA has a distinguished record of presenting the current debate in this area and I feel honoured to have had my research with Christopher Chippindale appear in its pages (see abstract).

Nathan Elkins has written an important piece on the presentation of coins in the classroom (see my comments specifically on this article with a reminder that it was one in a series). The introductory essay by Morag M. Kersel and Christina Luke states,
Public outreach is one of the most undervalued aspects of our work and yet it is one of the most important things we do. Nathan Elkins' article about the Ancient Coins for Education (ACE) program illustrates the importance of such efforts.
This is why it is surprising to see the ill-informed response of a Washington lobbyist and lawyer, Peter Tompa, to Elkins' piece. Not only has Tompa not read Elkins' article ("I must confess I have not read his work") but the fact that this research appears in an academic article (published by Boston University) merely draws the statement, "Elkins' article is not readily available to those not associated with the university culture for free and I don't want to spend any money to get it". (See comments by Paul Barford.)

Tompa, it should be remembered,  is a Director of the Cultural Property Research Institute (CPRI) that has so far acheived the production of a seriously flawed and unreferenced interim report. Tompa's name is also attached to the legal papers relating to the "Baltimore Coin Affair".

Tompa, never reluctant to show his lack of knowledge in these areas, has now turned his attack to the Journal of Field Archaeology in a provocatively entitled piece, "Is the Journal of Field Archaeology now just another propoganda [sic.] tool in the cultural property wars?". Tompa writes:
Unfortunately, it thus appears that the Journal of Field Archaeology has departed from its original scholarly mission in favor of becoming just another propaganda tool in the culture property wars.
If Tompa was at all observant, he would have noticed that this area of research has been a central area of JFA's publication record since its first number over a quarter of a century ago.

Is Tompa really this ignorant of cultural property matters? What does it tell us about the CPRI? What does it tell us about Tompa's role in the CPAC Review of Article II of the MOU with Italy? What does it say about the way that Tompa sees conspiracies where they do not exist? What does it say about the "quality" of his "research"?

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Monday 15 February 2010

The Baltimore Coin Test Case

Last November, after the decision over the FOIA case, it was announced, "the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild still plans to pursue a test case regarding whether those import restrictions were promulgated in an arbitrary and capricious fashion".

Now a Washington-based attorney, Jason H. Ehrenberg of Bailey & Ehrenberg PLLC, has filed an action on behalf of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG) (plaintiff) against the US Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security; the Commissioner,  US Customs and Border Protection; the US Department of State; and, the Assistant Secretary of State (educational and cultural Affairs), United States Department of State. (The pdf can be found here.)

Ehrenberg's expertise lies, according to his firm's website, in "employee benefits, employment and civil rights law, and higher education law, representing both individual and organizational clients on a broad spectrum of issues within the employment relationship".

Apart from wanting the return of coins brought into the United States apparently without the appropriate paper trail, the action seeks:
ACCG requests the Court: (a) to declare that the decision to impose import restrictions on ancient coins of Cypriot type is arbitrary and capricious because, pursuant to applicable law, State failed to disclose to Congress a rational basis for the reason, or reasons, behind State’s decision to reject the advice of its own advisory committee and also in departing from prior agency practice; (b) to declare that the decisions to impose import restrictions on ancient coins of both Cypriot and Chinese type are also arbitrary and capricious because they are both contrary to law and the product of bias, prejudgment and ex parte contact; and (c) to declare that under the applicable statutes Customs must prove that the Cypriot or Chinese coins at issue were illicitly removed from Cypriot or Chinese find spots before they may be forfeited.
However this "test case" is more than about Cyprus and China.

There is an attack on the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA):
Upon information and belief, the Archaeological Institute of America (“AIA”) is a nonprofit group that promotes professional archaeology. Upon further information and belief, although the AIA maintains it has some 200,000 members, this figure is derived from the circulation of its magazine, Archaeology. In contrast, upon further information and belief, a small number of professional archaeologists – many of whose careers are dependent on excavation permits issued by Cultural Nationalist states like China, Cyprus and Italy—actually govern the AIA and formulate its public stances. According to one such pronouncement, the AIA maintains that all unprovenanced artifacts should be deemed to be “stolen” and repatriated to their supposed countries of origin.
There is a comment on the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute (CAARI):
Upon information and belief, the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute (“CAARI”) is a nonprofit group formed to promote the study of Cypriot archaeology and related disciplines. Upon further information and belief, the careers of many CAARI associated archaeologists are dependent upon the Cypriot Department of Antiquities issuing them excavation permits. Upon further information and belief, CAARI also maintains that all unprovenanced artifacts should be deemed to be “stolen” and repatriated to their supposed countries of origin.
I note that among the grumbles in the submitted action is this one:
Allowing Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns to influence the decision to impose import restrictions on coins of Cypriot type, though he had just received an award from Greek and Greek Cypriot interests and had displayed bias in favor of such interests.
I have commented on this issue before. I asked then:
What about organisations that reward congressmen for supporting "collector rights" or intervening "in issues of importance to ancient coin collectors"? Or is that different?
Given the recent comments about academic journals by a partner at Bailey & Ehrenberg, it is curious to see that one of the authorities cited in the legal papers is Wikipedia (section 61).

It is interesting to note that among the cases cited was one where "Supreme Court ruled agency’s decision to be arbitrary and capricious because the agency failed to offer any reasoned explanation for its refusal to decide whether greenhouse gases caused or contributed to climate change" (section 132). Does Mr Ehrenberg side with those who believe that there is no climate change? Or does he prefer to drive a "gas-guzzler" rather than do his little bit to save the planet?

And does he care if archaeological sites on Cyprus are being looted to provide archaeological material for the market? Or is the issue about the right to collect and to own antiquities?

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Friday 12 February 2010

The Fano Athlete: Seizure Order

Yesterday it was announced that an Italian court had ordered the seizure of the ancient bronze known as "The Fano Athlete" from the J. Paul Getty Museum ("Court orders seizure of Getty Bronze", ANSA February 11, 2010). Judge Lorena Mussoni has ruled that the bronze should be confiscated.

Jason Felch has written about the decision in today's LA Times ("Judge orders statue seized", LA Times February 12, 2010). He cites the prepared response from the Museum.

The full statement is available from the Getty's website.

LOS ANGELES—“The Getty is disappointed in the ruling issued February 11 by Judge Mussoni in Pesaro, Italy, involving the Statue of a Victorious Youth, often referred to as the Getty Bronze. The court’s order is flawed both procedurally and substantively.

“It should be noted that the same court in Pesaro dismissed an earlier case in 2007 in which the same prosecutor claimed the Statue of a Victorious Youth belonged to Italy. In that case, the judge held that the statute of limitations had long since expired, that there was no one to prosecute under Italian law, and that the Getty was to be considered a good faith owner.

“In fact, no Italian court has ever found any person guilty of any criminal activity in connection with the export or sale of the statue. To the contrary, Italy’s highest court, the Court of Cassation, held more than four decades ago that the possession by the original owners ‘did not constitute a crime.’

“The Getty will appeal the Pesaro court’s order to the Court of Cassation in Rome and will vigorously defend its legal ownership of the statue.”

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"Commercial interests are increasingly fighting for public-recognized legitimacy"

The Journal of Field Archaeology, published by Boston University, has a regular feature on "Archaeological Heritage and Ethics". I see that the latest number for Winter 2009 has an article that will be of interest to readers of Looting Matters.

  • Elkins, Nathan T. 2009. Treasure hunting 101 in America's classrooms. Journal of Field Archaeology 34 (4):482-9.

Readers will be interested in the flow chart of antiquities from "source countries" to collectors via wholesalers / suppliers.

The editorial, by Morag M. Kersel and Christina Luke, is also worth a read: "Sale of coins = Looting in Bulgaria".

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Thursday 11 February 2010

Looking back: removing antiquities from Turkey

I was interested to read Paul Barford's comments on looted antiquities from Afghanistan. Barford rightly draws attention to Dave Welsh's comments on the programme mentioned in the posting. Welsh writes:
Those dealers in ancient art with whom I am personally familiar, Malter Galleries for example, go to considerable trouble to ensure that they are not involved in acquisition of anything likely to have recently been excavated (as I do in acquiring coins).
Barford discusses the background to the story.

I have done a little more research and found some additional information. The Malter case can be traced back to 1997 ("Antique dealer admits to scheme that smuggled antiquities from Turkey", AP February 25, 2000). It appears that one of the people in the "smuggling scheme" was "a reserve U.S. Air Force major stationed at Incirlik Air Force Base". In the subsequent case, "Joel Malter, 68, of Malter Galleries in Los Angeles, pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge".

There is more (Ron Jenkins, "Customs recover antiquities in Oklahoma", AP, February 25, 2000). This recorded that an employee at the Incirlik base, Sezai Portakalci, had been arrested on June 1, 1998 "after a shipment of ancient Greek, Roman and Persian coins was delivered to the [US] customs agent." Jenkins continued:
The Oklahoma City customs agent met with Malter on June 19, 1998, and investigators said Malter agreed to purchase stolen and smuggled antiquities for $8,000 and inquired about possibly obtaining future artifacts.
Further details were released ("Turkey Reclaims Looted Artifacts", AP March 1, 2000). Apparently 133 antiquities were returned.
Items on display at the State Department ceremony included bronze bracelets and lamps, a terra cotta bird image, a Byzantine cross and a small green glass flask. The collection also contained Greek, Roman, Hittite, Byzantine, Phoenician and Assyrian antiquities.
We should be grateful to Welsh for reminding us of this case and drawing attention to the route by which antiquities left Turkey.

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Monday 8 February 2010

The Universal Museum: time for a rethink?

I have been re-reading the essay, "The Universal Museum: a special case?" (ICOM News 1, 2004), by Geoffrey Lewis, the chair of the ICOM Ethics Committee.
The real purpose of the Declaration was, however, to establish a higher degree of immunity from claims for the repatriation of objects from the collections of these museums.
His comment was on the "Declaration on the Importance and Value of Universal Museums" (December 2002). The declaration included this statement:
Calls to repatriate objects that have belonged to museum collections for many years have become an important issue for museums. Although each case has to be judged individually, we should acknowledge that museums serve not just the citizens of one nation but the people of every nation. Museums are agents in the development of culture, whose mission is to foster knowledge by a continuous process of reinterpretation. Each object contributes to that process. To narrow the focus of museums whose collections are diverse and multifaceted would therefore be a disservice to all visitors.
It was signed by:
  • The Art Institute of Chicago; 
  • Bavarian State Museum, Munich (Alte Pinakothek, Neue Pinakothek); 
  • State Museums, Berlin; 
  • Cleveland Museum of Art; 
  • J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; 
  • Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; 
  • Los Angeles County Museum of Art
  • Louvre Museum, Paris; 
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
  • The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; 
  • The Museum of Modern Art, New York; 
  • Opificio delle Pietre Dure, Florence; 
  • Philadelphia Museum of Art; 
  • Prado Museum, Madrid; 
  • Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam;
  • State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg; 
  • Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid; 
  • Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; 
  • The British Museum, London
It is perhaps telling that since the declaration five of these universal museums have handed antiquities over to other coutnries. These include:
These were all objects acquired since 1970. Such repatriations perhaps demonstrate the flawed thinking behind the "Declaration on the Importance and Value of Universal Museums". 

Has the time come for these major museums to review their policies? Is the declaration now worthless? 

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Thursday 4 February 2010

The intellectual consequences of forgeries

London's Victoria and Albert Museum has been hosting a short-lived exhibition of Fakes and Forgeries. The show has been mounted with the collaboration of the Art and Antiques Squad of the Metropolitan Police. One of the pieces on display was the Amarna princess --- created by Shaun Greenhalgh --- that was sold to the Bolton Museum with the support of the National Arts Collection Fund. The statue was even supplied with a false collecting history, namely that it had once resided in the Silverton Park collection. Greenhalgh was also responsible for the creation of the Roman Risley Park lanx.

The creation of forgeries and their admission to the corpus of knowledge can have serious intellectual consequences. This is the case for some Cycladic marble figures that were attributed to the hand of a supposed third millennium BC sculptor ('The Stafford Master') only to find that they were modern creations. Doubts about the antiquity of the 'artisan' had been raised when it was realised that the statues attributed to 'him' had not come from any known archaeological contexts.

The Bolton Museum case finds a parallel in the acquisition of the 'Getty kouros'. This sculpture, like the 'Amarna princess' was 'falsely historied' placing its initial acquisition around 1930.

The Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas also appeared to acquire what appeared to be a possible modern creation in 2000. It was reported that the 'Sumerian' statue had been purchased from a New York antiquities dealer --- Phoenix Solo --- for $2.7 million (Gabriella Coslovich, "Former state art gallery chief buys into another controversy", The Age (Melbourne) August 21, 2001; see also Russell Berman, "Antiquities Dealers Suddenly Emerge Into Sunlight", The New York Sun April 14, 2006). The statue was apparently returned to the dealer for a refund ("Museum wants refund for $2.7 million statue", AP August 17, 2001; see also Adam McGill, "The Kimbell and its critics", D - Dallas / Fort Worth February 1, 2002).

Forgeries have corrupted collections for centuries. So how can museums and collectors avoid them? One strategy is to insist that the object has a documented collecting history that can be verified. Such a 'provenance' (see earlier discussion of the term) needs to be the subject of a rigorous due diligence search. And such a search will, at the same time, protect the museum or private collector from acquiring a genuine ancient piece that had been looted in recent years.

Scholarship cannot ignore forgeries.

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Michael Brand's Departure from the Getty

Lee Rosenbaum of Culturegrrl has an important interview with Michael Brand about his departure from the J. Paul Getty Museum. She also carries a comment sent to the staff at the Getty about the Fano Athlete story.

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The Fano Athlete: LA Times and Correction

Last month I drew attention to the story covered in the LA Times about the Fano Athlete. Although I did not quote the correspondence from Bernard Ashmole that suggested the acquisition of a bronze statue had been a "crime", my attention has been drawn to a correction in the LA Times:
The letter from the late antiquities expert and Getty adviser Bernard Ashmole, which referred to the museum's "exploits over the bronze statue" as a "crime," was describing a different bronze statue in the museum's collection. Garrett, who initially told The Times the letter referred to the bronze athlete, now says he was mistaken.
I have earlier rehearsed the apparently undisputed collecting history of the statue as it passed through Italy.

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Tuesday 2 February 2010

Morgantina Antiquities Set for Return and Display

The agreement between North American museums and Italy have included three lots of material associated with Morgantina:
The names of Robin Symes and Robert Hecht have been linked with parts of this batch. 

Together this group of objects represents some $22 million worth of acquisitions.

The Italian press is now reporting on the planned reception of the pieces and the expected display in Sicily ("La Venere di Morgantina torna in Sicilia", ANSA January 27, 2010).

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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...