Wednesday 22 June 2011

Jamie and Louise: Looting Matters

I enjoyed talking to Jamie and Louise on BBC Radio Wales earlier today. The programme is available on the BBC iPlayer here. (The interview was between 11 am and 11.30 am.)

We were able to cover the significance of the seizure of the Medici dossier, the appearance of recently surfaced antiquities on the London market, looting in antiquity, and the Icklingham bronzes from Suffolk, England. There was a short discussion of the impact of the Comprehensive Spending Review on the Portable Antiquities Scheme in Wales.

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Tuesday 21 June 2011

Looting Matters Live on the BBC

Looting Matters will be live on BBC Radio Wales "Jamie and Louise" tomorrow morning (Wednesday) at 11 am.

What should we discuss? The impact of the photographic archives on the market? Recent returns? Looting in the UK? What about the situation in Wales? Universal museums?

We are inviting questions through Louise's Twitter feed @LouiseTalks

Listen in live (or later on the BBC iPlayer) and join in the debate.

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Monday 20 June 2011

The scale of the market

One of the issues that needs to be addressed is the scale of the market. Some have suggested that the annual  turnover of antiquities could be as high as $4.5 billion. But how do you define antiquities? Do you take the cultural range that is represented by the "mainstream" sales of antiquities in London and New York: Classical (Greek and Roman); Egyptian; Near Eastern. But what about material from the Far East or Central America?

Is it possible to extrapolate a figure from the stock of a single dealer that was found in a series of London warehouses? If a single dealer could have stock worth a quarter of a billion dollars, what about the range of other dealers in North America, Switzerland, and the Middle East?

One New York dealer has suggested that the annual value was closer to $200 / $300 million per year. Yet one New York auction house alone sold $112 million worth of antiquities in a single year (2007). But that was not a typical year.

I suspect I am at the more conservative end of the scale, hovering around the $100 million mark but willing to go a little higher. Yet this is probably based on public sales rather than the movement of objects through more secret transactions.

What do readers of Looting Matters think?

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Public Service Award: Further Comment

I started Saturday sitting in the BBC studio in Alexandra Road being interviewed for "Good Morning Wales" about my award from AIA (available on BBC iPlayer). This was serendipitous as not only was this the location of many of Dylan Thomas' broadcasts (see BBC) but Swansea was hosting an International Poetry Festival with visits to Dylan's birthplace and to Laugharne. The BBC subsequently posted the AIA story on their website ("Dr David Gill recognised for illicit antique fight", June 19, 2011).

There is a feature article in the Western Mail (Cardiff): "‘Indiana Jones in reverse’ wins archaeology ‘Oscar'", June 18, 2011).

I am very grateful for the many messages (and creative Tweets!) of congratulation. Thank you.

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Friday 17 June 2011

Chasing Aphrodite: The Culture of Collecting

Ralph Frammolino, one of the authors of Chasing Aphrodite, has been interviewed on PBS news hour. There are informative comments on the purpose of the trial of Dr Marion True.


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Releasing the Images

There has been some talk in the last couple of days of the Italian authorities releasing certain photographic images. It should be remembered that some of these images were available from the Carabinieri website back in 1999 - a fact noted in January 2010 interview with Marion True in The Art Newspaper.
Medici had maintained files of photographs of objects in museums and private collections around the world. These images, some showing sculptures just excavated and dirt still clinging to the surfaces of vases in fragments, were unknown until some were published on the carabinieri website in 1999.
I do not understand why some North American lawyers are insisting that the Italians should release what they had already shared.

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Raiders of the Lost Artefacts

There is a short news story on the AIA Award in the Swansea Evening Post ("US honour for tracking raiders of lost artefacts", June 17, 2011).

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Thursday 16 June 2011

Criminology and Archaeology

I was reading Simon Mackenzie and Penny Green (eds.), Criminology and Archaeology: Studies in Looted Antiquities (Onati International Series in Law and Society; Oxford and Portland: Hart Publishing, 2009) today [Worldcat].

There is a particularly useful essay by Neil Brodie on 'Consensual Relations? Academic involvement in the illegal trade in ancient manuscripts'. It touches on the issue of Aramaic bowls from Iraq.

Roger Bland writes on 'The United Kingdom as a source country. Some problems in regulating the market in UK antiquities and the challenge of the internet'. This has an interesting summary of material on the internet.

Gordon Lobay has a disappointing contribution, 'Border controls in market countries as discincentives to antiquities  looting at source? The US-Italy bilateral agreement 2001'. It would have been helpful to have had some reflection on the "Nostoi".

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AIA Award: Press Release

Swansea University has issued a short press release about the AIA Award.

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The Antiquities Trade: Looking Ahead

The seizure of the three dossiers of photographs in Greece and Switzerland has had one major impact on the antiquities impact: the need for caution. The statement that the piece had once passed through some anonymous European collection is one that would be met with a dose of suspicion. Auction-houses and dealers are now aware that they need to check the documentation for objects to show that their collecting-histores ("provenance") can be traced back to the period prior to 1970. Yet how far are unillustrated invoices being used to provide histories for objects that have surfaced in recent years? Statements in catalogues need to be verified. (This is an issue noted in the recently published Chasing Aphrodite.)

It is interesting that there have been several recent instances of auction-houses proceeding with sales even when they have been notified (privately in several instances) that there have been apparent matches with objects in the seized photographic archives. What does this say about the attitude of the trade to the supply of antiquities through specific European middle men and women?

No doubt there are some who would like to know which recently surfaced objects are unrecorded so that they can be placed on the market.

But what will restore confidence to the market? A desire to impose rigorous due diligence procedures that will confirm the background of objects.

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Wednesday 15 June 2011

Research publications on the antiquities trade

Here is a selection of some of the key works relating to my work on the antiquities trade and the looting question:

  • (with K. Butcher) ‘Mischievous pastime or historical science?’, review article of Minerva, in Antiquity 64 (1990), 946-50. [ISSN 0003-598X] [online]
  • (with Christopher Chippindale) ‘Material and intellectual consequences of esteem for Cycladic figures’, American Journal of Archaeology 97 (1993), 601-59. [ISSN 0002-9114] [online]
  • Commentary (with C. Chippindale) on C. Morris, ‘Hands up for the individual! The role of attribution studies in Aegean prehistory’, Cambridge Archaeological Journal 3 (1993), 57-58 (pp. 41-66). [ISSN 0959-7743]
  • (with Kevin Butcher) ‘The Director, the Dealer, the Goddess and her Champions: the Acquisition of the Fitzwilliam Goddess’, American Journal of Archaeology 97 (1993), 383-401. [ISSN 0002-9114] [online]
  • ‘Publishing unprovenanced artifacts: further observations’, Electronic Antiquity 2.2 (1994). [online]
  • ‘Sotheby’s, sleaze and subterfuge: inside the antiquities trade’, review article of P. Watson, Sotheby’s: inside story (London: Bloomsbury, 1997), in Antiquity 71 (1997), 468-71. [ISSN 0003-598X] [online]
  • Review article of Masterpieces of the J. Paul Getty Museum: Antiquities (Los Angeles 1997), in Bryn Mawr Classical Review (1998). [ISSN 1055-7660] [online]
  • (with C. Chippindale) ‘Material consequences of contemporary collecting’, American Journal of Archaeology 104.3 (2000), 463-511. [ISSN 0002-9114] [online] Supplementary tables available on-line at
  • (with Christopher Chippindale, Emily Salter, and Christian Hamilton) ‘Collecting the classical world: first steps in a quantitative history’, International Journal of Cultural Property 10 .1 (2001), 1-31. [ISSN 0940-7391] [online]
  • (with Christopher Chippindale) ‘On-line auctions: a new venue for the antiquities market’, Culture Without Context 9 (2001), 4-13. [online]
  • (with Christopher Chippindale) ‘The trade in looted antiquities and the return of cultural property: a British parliamentary inquiry’, International Journal of Cultural Property 11.1 (2002), 50-64. [ISSN 0940-7391] [online]
  • Review article of Pat Getz-Gentle, Personal Styles in Early Cycladic Sculpture (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2001), in Bryn Mawr Classical Review (2002). [ISSN 1055-7660] [online]
  • (and Neil Brodie) ‘Looting: an international view’, in L. J. Zimmerman, K. D. Vitelli, and J. Hollowell-Zimmer (eds.), Ethical Issues in Archaeology (Walnut Creek: AltaMira; Society for American Archaeology, 2003), 31-44.
  • Review of Oscar White Muscarella, The Lie Became Great: The Forgery of Ancient Near Eastern Cultures (Studies in the Art and Archaeology of Antiquity vol. 1; Groningen: Styx, 2000), in American Journal of Archaeology 107, 2 (2003), 285-86. [online]
  • Review of Vinnie Nørskov, Greek Vases in New Contexts. The Collecting and Trading of Greek Vases - An Aspect of the Modern Reception of Antiquity (Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 2002), in Culture Without Context 12 (Spring 2003), 21-23. [online]
  • (with Joan Padgham) ‘”One Find of Capital Importance”: a reassessment of the statue of User from Knossos’, Annual of the British School at Athens 100 (2005), 41-59.
  • (with Christopher Chippindale) ‘From Boston to Rome: reflections on returning antiquities’, International Journal of Cultural Property 13 (2006), 311-31. [online]
  • (with Christopher Chippindale) ‘From Malibu to Rome: further developments on the return of antiquities’, International Journal of Cultural Property 14 (2007), 205-40. [online]
  • Review article of Stephen L. Dyson, In Pursuit of Ancient Pasts: a History of Classical Archaeology in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (New Haven, Conn.; London: Yale University Press, 2006), in Bryn Mawr Classical Review (2007). [ISSN 1055-7660] [online]
  • (with Christopher Chippindale) ‘The illicit antiquities scandal: what it has done to classical archaeology collections’, review article of P. Watson and C. Todeschini, The Medici conspiracy: the illicit journey of looted antiquities from Italy's tomb raiders to the world's great museums (New York: Public Affairs, 2006), in American Journal of Archaeology 111 (2007), 571-74.
  • Review of Peggy Sotirakopoulou, The "Keros Hoard": myth or reality? Searching for the lost pieces of a puzzle (Athens: N.P. Goulandris Foundation - Museum of Cycladic Art, 2005), in American Journal of Archaeology 111, 1 (2007), 163-65.
  • Review of E. Robson, L. Treadwell, and L. Gosden (eds.), Who owns objects? The ethics and politics of collecting cultural artefacts (Oxford: Oxbow, 2006); and N. Brodie, M. M. Kersel, C. Luke, and K. W. Tubb (eds.), 2006. Archaeology, cultural heritage, and the antiquities trade (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2006), in Journal of Field Archaeology 32.1 (2007), 103-06.
  • (with Christopher Chippindale) ‘South Italian pottery in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston acquired since 1983’, Journal of Field Archaeology 33, 4 (2008), 462-72.
  • ‘Homecomings: learning from the return of antiquities to Italy’, in Noah Charney (ed.), Art and crime: exploring the dark side of the art world (Santa Barbara: Praeger Press, 2009), 13-25.
  • ‘Context matters: archaeological and antiquities crime’, The Journal of Art Crime 1, 1 (Spring 2009), 43-46. [ISSN 1947-5934 / 1947-5926]
  • ‘Context matters: Looting in the Balkans’, The Journal of Art Crime 2, 1 (Fall 2009), 63-66. [ISSN 1947-5934 / 1947-5926]
  • ‘Looting matters for classical antiquities: contemporary issues in archaeological ethics’, Present Pasts 1 (2009), 77-104. [ISSN 1759-2941] [online]
  • Review article of James B. Cuno, Who owns antiquity? Museums and the battle over our ancient heritage (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2008), in American Journal of Archaeology 113, 1 (January 2009). [online]
  • Review of James Cuno, Who Owns Antiquity? Museums and the battle over our ancient heritage (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008) and Sharon Waxman, Loot: The battle over the stolen treasures of the ancient world (Times Books, 2008), in The Journal of Art Crime 1, 1 (Spring 2009), 65-66. [ISSN 1947-5934 / 1947-5926]
  • Exhibition review: ‘Nostoi: December 2007, Palazzo del Quirinale, Rome’, in The Journal of Art Crime 1, 1 (Spring 2009), 70-71. [ISSN 1947-5934 / 1947-5926]
  • Exhibition review: ‘L’Arma per l’Arte. Antologia di Meraviglie, September 2009, Castel Sant’Angelo, Rome’, in The Journal of Art Crime 2, 1 (Fall 2009), 95-96. [ISSN 1947-5934 / 1947-5926]
  • Review of James Cuno (ed.), Whose Culture? The Promise of Museums and the Debate Over Antiquities (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009), in The Journal of Art Crime 2, 1 (Fall 2009), 99-100. [ISSN 1947-5934 / 1947-5926]
  • ‘Collecting Histories and the Market for Classical Antiquities’, The Journal of Art Crime 3, 1 (2010) 3-10. [ISSN 1947-5934 / 1947-5926]
  • ‘Context matters: Italy and the US: Reviewing Cultural Property Agreements’, The Journal of Art Crime 3, 1 (2010) 81-85. [ISSN 1947-5934 / 1947-5926]
  • ‘The Returns to Italy from North America: An Overview’, The Journal of Art Crime 3, 1 (2010) 105-09. [ISSN 1947-5934 / 1947-5926]
  • ‘The Portable Antiquities Scheme and the Treasure Act: Protecting the archaeology of England and Wales?’, Papers from the Institute of Archaeology 20 (2010) 1-11. [ISSN 0965-9315] [online] With responses from: Trevor Austin (‘The Portable Antiquities Scheme and the Treasure Act: Protecting the Archaeology of England and Wales? A Response’, 12-15), Paul Barford (‘Archaeology, Collectors and Preservation: a Reply to David Gill’, 16-23), Gabriel Moshenska (‘Portable Antiquities, Pragmatism and the “Precious Things”’, 24-27), Colin Renfrew (‘Comment on the Paper by David Gill’, 28-29), and Sally Worrell (‘The Crosby Garrett Helmet’, 30-32).
  • ‘The Portable Antiquities Scheme and the Treasure Act: Protecting the archaeology of England and Wales? Reply to Austin, Barford, Moshenska, Renfrew and Worrell’, Papers from the Institute of Archaeology 20 (2010) 33-40. [ISSN 0965-9315] [online]
  • ‘Context matters. Greece and the U.S.: reviewing cultural property agreements’, The Journal of Art Crime 4 (2010) 73-76.

A full bibliography is available via here.

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Tuesday 14 June 2011

Archaeological Institute of America Award

© David Gill
I am extremely honoured to learn that I have been selected to be the 2012 recipient of the Archaeological Institute of America’s (AIA) Outstanding Public Service Award.

The criteria for the award are:
The Outstanding Public Service Award recognizes exceptional contributions that promote public understanding of, interest in, and support for archaeology and the preservation of the archaeological record.
The award recognises my "ongoing efforts to educate both professional archaeologists and the public at large on the threats posed by the international antiquities trade".

I would like to acknowledge the contribution of my research colleagues Dr Christopher Chippindale and Christos Tsirogiannis.

The announcement of this award first appeared on the AIA's Facebook page.

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Wednesday 8 June 2011

Bulgarian Antiquities and Coins to be Returned from Canada

In August 2010 it was reported that a large group of antiquities and coins had been seized in Canada ("Bulgaria's Culture Minister Demands Archaeology Items from Canada", (Sofia) August 5, 2010).
On Thursday, the Exterior Ministry announced that customs officers from the Canadian city of Montreal have seized 21 000 antique objects with Bulgarian origins in a smuggling attempt. ...

The antiques consist of coins, jewels, metal and glass objects from the Bulgarian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman heritage.
The Bulgarian press has now announced that the objects will be returning to Canada ("Canada to return smuggled archaeological finds to Bulgaria", June 8, 2011).
About 21 000 smuggled archaeological objects and ancient coins will be returned to Bulgaria by the Canadian department for cultural heritage, Focus news agency reported on June 8 2011.
Given recent concerns about the scale of looting in Bulgaria this is an important move on the part of Canadian authorities. It will be interesting to see if the coin dealer / importer concerned is named at the official handover later this week.

In November 2010 Bulgarian authorities stopped the sale of Bulgarian coins through a London dealer.

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Behbeit el-Hagar Fragment: Update

Source: Luxor Times
Yesterday I noted that the Luxor Times had reported that a fragmentary relief from Behbeit el-Hagar had been returned to Egypt from London. Archaeologist Paul Barford spotted a report in that named the auction-house ("Granite depiction of cow-shaped deity returns to Egypt", June 7, 2011).

I am grateful to Julian Roup, Director of Press and Marketing at Bonhams, for confirming the veracity of the report. He noted that procedures were initiated once concerns about the relief's collecting history had been raised.

The vendor for the relief has not been named and it is not yet clear where the fragment had been residing since 1990 when it was detached from a larger block on the site.

In 2008 Bonhams withdrew a fragment from the Tomb of Mutirdis (TT410) that was said to have come from an Australian seafarer's collection.

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Tuesday 7 June 2011

Egyptian Relief Returned From London

Source: Luxor Times
The Luxor Times is reporting that a relief recorded from Behbeit el-Hagar has been recovered from a London auction-house ("Stolen in 1990 and auctioned in London ...", June 7, 2011). The relief had been photographed on site but in January 1990 it appears to have been hacked out of a larger block. (See Favard-Meeks article, p. 39, figs. 9 and 10.)

Who consigned the relief to the as yet unspecified London auction-house?

Favard-Meeks, Christine 2002. "The present state of the site of Behbeit el-Hagar." British Museum Studies in Ancient Egypt and Sudan 3: 31-41. [online]

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Monday 6 June 2011

Breaking Story on Gianfranco Becchina

The June 2011 number of the Art Newspaper is now available. It contains a significant piece ("The masterpiece sold for $1,500 and a suckling pig") by Italian investigative journalist Fabio Isman. The article discusses the detail in the Becchina archive especially the documentary evidence. It will make uncomfortable reading not least for one UK museum. One of the collectors discussed in detail by Isman is George Ortiz whose collection was displayed at London's Royal Academy.

North American museums also get some attention, not least the Toledo Museum of Art. The Louvre receives its section entitled "uncaring about provenance". Other New York galleries feature in the discussion as well as the role of Eli Borowski.

The Becchina Archive is known to have been used to identify material in a number of North American collections. Isman's report is likely to initiate another round of claims.

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Will AAMD take recently surfaced antiquities more seriously?

Lee Rosenbaum of Culturegrrl has drawn my attention to the newly named president of the AAMD: Dan Monroe. Monroe is credited with the tightening of the AAMD's position on recently-surfaced antiquities.

I wonder if Kaywin Feldman, the outgoing president, will be announcing the return of the Minneapolis krater to Italy.

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Publishing recently surfaced Mayan pots

Mike Smith has drawn my attention to a recent article in the Smithsonian Magazine (Chip Brown, "El Mirador, the Lost City of the Maya", May 2011). Smith notes:
The article includes photographs of several spectacular Maya polychrome vessels (p. 45) that apparently are not from the site. In fact, we have no idea where these vessels are from; they lack provenience. In a post on the Aztlan listserv today, Karen Bruhns identifies these vessels as unprovenienced, looted, objects.
One of the pieces has been identified as coming from the so-called November Collection. The point is made:
One might expect that magazines by and for wealthy art dealers might publish looted objects without a second thought. But Smithsonian Magazine is supposedly a legitimate source of news about natural history and related topics, associated with the premier museum in the U.S. Their inclusion of photos of looted objects is deplorable, a real ethical lapse.
Smith draws attention to an article in the New York Times (Susan Diesenhouse, "Arts in America; Looted or Legal? Objects Scrutinized at Boston Museum", July 30, 1998). The discussion seems to be familiar:
Museum officials curtly rejected a request from Guatemala to eventually return a 138-piece collection of Mayan art that is the jewel of its pre-Columbian display. In a two-paragraph letter written a month ago to a Guatemalan official, Malcolm Rogers, director of the museum, said that its board of trustees ''found no basis'' for Guatemala's ownership claim because the country could not produce legal title to the pieces.
It looks as the Smithsonian needs to revisit its publication policy.

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Saturday 4 June 2011

Shock, cajole, and embarrass

Hugh Eakin has written a response to Chasing Aphrodite ("What Went Wrong at the Getty", New York Review of Books June 23, 2011). Eakin's sympathy appears to rest with the North American museums and collectors who seem to have been happy to build their collections with recently surfaced material in spite of the 1970 UNESCO Convention and (a little closer to home) the 1973 Archaeological Institute of America declaration (the benchmark that I have used in my research with Christopher Chippindale).

Italian authorities have adopted an approach that avoided the courts to reclaim objects and for Eakin this was a tactic designed to "shock, cajole, and embarrass". However the decision to bring the curator of a leading North American museum before Italian court is likely to have sent a chill through many curatorial hearts. Eakin notes, with a little sense of disapproval, the way that newspapers were enlisted to support Italian claims; perhaps he should have also commented on the use of new media.

Yet if there are any lingering doubts about the Getty's attitude to recently surfaced antiquities readers should note the 1987 internal memorandum:
HW: We are saying we won’t look into the provenance. We know it’s stolen. Symes a fence.
Eakin is forceful when he raises the larger issue that has always been lurking in the back of the mind of anyone who has been following events at the Getty:
But there was something still more egregious about the readiness of Getty officials to sacrifice their curator and run for cover. In failing to recognize that the Italian case was really about the museum itself, Munitz, Gribbon, and the Getty’s board of trustees bungled numerous opportunities to resolve the case long before it ever went to trial.
It is not without interest that Eakin notes that the Getty appears to have spent some $16 million on external legal services for the period of the dispute.

Eakin closes with an extraordinary statement:
Italy can enjoy the same exquisite artworks of unknown origin that had previously graced American display cases: a victory less for archaeology, perhaps, than for the approach endorsed by collecting museums of showing beautiful objects that, even without knowledge of their discovery, may bring alive the ancient world to the modern public.
I have long argued with Christopher Chippindale that such unquestioning acquisitions have had not only material consequences but also intellectual ones as contextual information is irreversably lost. It is that loss of knowledge through the rapacious desire to acquire "Aphrodites" that is the real tragedy in this story.

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The Stern Collection in New York: Cycladic or Cycladicising?

Courtesy of Christos Tsirogiannis There appears to be excitement about the display of 161 Cycladicising objects at New York's Metropolit...