Friday 30 September 2011

New Head of Antiquities for Egypt

The Egyptian Official Press Agency (MENA) has announced the appointment of Mustafa Amin as head of the antiquities service.

See news reports here.

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Looting Matters on the Move

Swansea University © David Gill
Today was my last day at Swansea University. I joined the then Department of Classics and Ancient History back in 1992. This became the Department of Classics, Ancient History and Egyptology before merging to become the Department of History and Classics within the College of Arts and Humanities.

I have been able to develop a specialised MA module "Collecting Egyptian Antiquity" as well as pursuing my research on archaeological ethics.

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Tuesday 27 September 2011

Antiquities in Houston

There are two antiquities in or, perhaps, that used to be in the Museum of Fine Arts Houston (MFAH) that have been of some interest to me. For some reason the museum has been a little reserved about supplying information about their collecting histories.

The first is a Minoan larnax, given by Shelby White. The MFAH Annual Report (2006-2007) no longer appears to be online. I requested information back in 2008.

The second is a Trebenishte style krater, on loan from Shelby White. I requested information on this krater back in early 2008. It is known that officials from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) have been trying to reclaim the Koreschnica krater (of Trebenishte type) from a North American private collection. (The Shelby White krater was due to be published in the series of essays, Collecting in Context, in honour of Leon Levy.)

Given that yet another object from the Shelby White collection has been returned to its country of origin (Turkey) this month, would it be sensible for the curatorial staff at MFAH to check their records?

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Menil Collection to return frescoes to Cyprus

It has been announced that the Menil Foundation in Houston will be returning Byzantine frescoes from the church at Lysi to Cyprus (Elisabetta Polvoledo, "The Menil Is to Return Frescoes to Cyprus", New York Times September 23, 2011). They will be displayed in a museum in Nicosia as Lysi is in the northern part of the island.  The pieces had been purchased in 1984 on the understanding that they would be returned to Cyprus in due course.

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Monday 26 September 2011

ACCG Appeal

Rick St Hilaire has noted that the ACCG has appealed over the Baltimore Test Case. The ACCG has issued a brief press statement.

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White-Levy Weary Herakles Signed to Turkey

Weary Herakles to be reunited
The upper part of a statue of "Weary Herakles" has been signed over to Turkey by Boston's Museum of Fine Arts [press release]. I have reviewed the collecting history before and a formal discussion appears in a paper (written with Christopher Chippindale) that appeared in The American Journal of Archaeology in 2000 [JSTOR]. The legs and abdomen were excavated at Perge in southern Turkey.

The Herakles torso appeared in The Glories of the Past exhibition (no. 172) with an entry written by Cornelius C. Vermeule III. The sculpture is thus one of several items from the Shelby White and Leon Levy collection that has had to be returned to its country of origin. White has had to hand over material to Italy and to Greece. She has still to resolve the situation over the Icklingham bronzes from Suffolk, England. It would also be interesting to learn the full collecting-history of the Trebenishte bronze krater in her collection.

The Herakles is a further reminder of the way that recently-surfaced antiquities were acquired by private collectors.

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Saturday 24 September 2011

Holyland Numismatics: Uncleaned Coins

Rick St Hilaire has an important discussion of the investigation into the Khouli case. In particular details of emails relating to Salem Alshdaifat of Holyland Numismatics (and ACCG [suspended] member). They include an exchange in January 2009 relating to "uncleaned" coins from a hoard in Egypt:
“[T]he hoard came from Egypt and [is] now in Dubai[.] I asked my partner to ship directly from Dubai to you. [T]his hoard came from Banha, I think we bought coins that we sold you befor[e] from Banha, it is very big Roman city. [Y]ou can wire the funds to my bank account.”
The dealer in Dubai was Nafertiti Eastern Sculptures Trading.

St Hilaire also discusses information about Byzantine coins from Syria.

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An Etruscan head on the market

I note with much interest an Etruscan terracotta votive head that is due to be auctioned at Christie's in London on October 6, 2011 (lot 176). The head, which had formed part of the Jacques Werner collection in Belgium, had surfaced through Galerie Archeologia, Brussels, in 1989.

Such votive heads are normally found in Italy. Where was this one found? Who handled it prior to the Galerie Archeologia? What is the full collecting history?

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Friday 23 September 2011

The religious calendar from Thorikos

Source: Hellenic Ministry of Culture
The return of the religious calendar from the J. Paul Getty Museum to Greece may set a serious precedent. It appears that Eugene Vanderpool ("A southern Attic miscellany", in Thorikos and the Laurion in Archaic and Classical Times, Miscellanea Graeca, vol. 1: 21-42. Ghent, 1975) knew about the inscription from ASCSA student David F. Ogden (see G. Daux, "Recherches préliminaires sur le calendrier sacrificiel de Thoricos", Comptes-rendus des séances de l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, 124e année, N. 2, 1980, pp. 463-470). Ogden was a student at ASCSA from 1959 to 1961 and wrote a paper on “Thorikos: A Fresh Survey of the Site with Chart and Plans”. If Ogden had indeed seen the inscription in the region of Thorikos some 10 years before the 1970 UNESCO Convention, why has the Getty agreed to return the inscription?

And if the Getty is willing to return objects that left Greece during the 1960s, what other objects will now be returned? What about parts of the Keros haul?

And what are the implications for other North American (as well as European) museums? Will there be renewed claims on items that left their countries of origin prior to 1970?

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Thursday 22 September 2011

Getty returns antiquities to Greece

Inscription from Thorikos
Source: Hellenic Ministry of Culture
The J. Paul Getty Museum and the Hellenic Ministry of Culture have announced today that the Getty will be returning two antiquities to Greece [press reports: Greek, English] (see also Culturegrrl). The two objects are:

a. A religious calendar from Thorikos, inv. 79.AA.113 [Getty]. Acquired from Jacques Roux. This was acquired by Jiri Frel as part of an attempt to develop a Greek epigraphic collection (see BMCR). See also the US Epigraphy Project.

b. A fragmentary funerary relief, inv. 73.AA.115 [Getty]. Acquired from Nikolas Koutoulakis. Publ. Janet Burnett Grossman, Greek funerary sculpture: catalogue of the collections at the Getty Villa (Los Angeles, 2001) [Worldcat] [Google Books]. The two fragments in the Getty fit a third piece in the Kanellopoulos Museum in Athens (inv. 1168). A reconstruction appears in Greek Funerary Sculpture, p. 11, cat. no. 2. The link between the three fragments was apparently made by Jiri Frel, and reported by Mary-Anne Zagdoun, in a discussion of the Kanellopoulos collection (BCH 102, 1978, 291-292).

Stele fragments.
Source: Hellenic Ministry of Culture
The reunification of the funerary relief makes a great deal of sense. It would be interesting to learn the source of the Kanellopoulos fragment. Where and when was the stele found?

The Thorikos inscription is clearly important for the study of Attic religious calendars. But why has this object been selected for return? When did it leave Greece? What is its full collecting history?

I am grateful to Julie Jaskol in the Getty's Media Relations for this information.

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Saturday 17 September 2011

Minneapolis to return krater

Athenian krater to be returned to Italy from Minneapolis © MiBAC
The Italian Ministry of Culture (MiBAC) and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) have announced that MIA will be returned an Athenian red-figured volute-krater to Italy (press release: Italian, English). MIA joins five other AAMD museums in returning cultural property to Italy.

The krater was acquired in 1983 from Robin Symes apparently on the recommendation of Michael Conforti. The press releases are silent on the fact that MIA has started (and possibly shelved) an investigation into the krater's collection history back in November 2005 when museum officials were shown images from the Medici Dossier by reporters from the Los Angeles Times.

There are two comments. The Italian Minister of Culture, Giancarlo Galan, commented:
“This success was possible because Italy has chosen the diplomatic route in order to obtain the return of certain objects which might have provenance questions. I take this occasion to thank the Minneapolis Institute of Arts for its cooperation and look forward to future collaboration with them in many areas of mutual benefit.”
Kaywin Feldman, director and president of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, said:
“The decision to transfer the Volute Krater demonstrates the MIA’s commitment to the highest ethical standards in developing and maintaining our collection ... Like so many mysteries, this one began with a fragmentary series of clues, calling into question the provenance of work. We are grateful to our colleagues at the Ministry for Cultural Assets and Activities and officials at Homeland Security Investigations for working collaboratively with us to provide information and resolve any ambiguity about this object.”
Feldman has clearly changed her position towards Italy's claims.

I have reviewed the story before and published a commentary in the Journal of Art Crime (2011).

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Monday 12 September 2011

The Jacques Werner collection

In October 2011, Christie's South Kensington is due to auction some 40 lots formerly owned by the Belgian collection Jacques Werner. Several of them are Italian in origin (Canosan terracottas, Etruscan bucchero, Etruscan terracottas, Apulian pots). The earliest acquisition seems to have been made in 1979.

I notice that 20 pieces (not lots) were acquired from the Galerie Archaeologia in Brussels between 1984 and 1992. Where did that gallery obtain its antiquities?

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Saturday 10 September 2011

From Syracuse to Manhattan: Remembering 9/11

Athenian sunset on the evening of September 11, 2001 © David Gill
Many gathered on the Areopagos in Athens as the news from New York and Washington sank in. I watched the sunset from Philopappos and reflected on the comparison with the disaster at Syracuse during the Sicilian expedition. I tried to capture the moment in this poem, published by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens.

My thoughts are with the American people on this tenth anniversary, and especially to all those who lost loved ones during the attacks.

From Syracuse to Manhattan

Whispered words
“It can’t be true”
“All of them?”
They gather below the sacred stones
And weep at the Sicilian news.

Ashen faces
“We can’t go on”
“What’s the point?”
Satellite dishes line the ancient streets
While orange flames lick the screen.

© David Gill

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Friday 9 September 2011

From a London private collection

It appears that this broken and dirt-coated Greek terracotta protome once formed part of the (extensive) London private "collection" of an anonymous individual or individuals. One suspects that at the time that the photograph was taken that the piece, and its companion, was fresh from the ground, perhaps removed from the site of a Greek colony in southern Italy or Sicily.

It has to be remembered that "collection" can sometimes be a euphemism for "dealer's stock" (see here for a parallel example).

Imagine how the collecting history of this protome would be presented if it appeared on, say, the London market today.

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Turkey and the V&A

It appears that Turkey has asked London's Victoria and Albert Museum to return the head from a Roman sarcophagus (Rob Sharp, "Turkey demands return of its 'Elgin marble'", The Independent September 6, 2011). The head was removed by Lt.-Col. Sir Charles W. Wilson, British military consul-general in Anatolia (1879-82); see C.W. Wilson, "Notes on the physical and historical geography of Asia Minor, made during journeys in 1879-82." Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society and Monthly Record of Geography 6 (1884) 305-25 [JSTOR]. In 1882 Wilson explored a tomb at Ambar Arassi, the ancient Sidamaria, where he found a Roman sarcophagus. One of the heads was removed, and it was this piece that was subsequently presented to the V&A.

The sarcophagus was subsequently removed and transported by railway to the Konya Museum and then sent to the Archaeological Museum in Istanbul (see W.M. Ramsay, "Note sur le sarcophage d'Amber-Arasi." Revue des études anciennes (1901) 358).

Wilson had earlier helped to survey Jerusalem and his worked contributed to the foundation of the Palestine Exploration Fund. He also assisted with the survey of the Sinai.

Sharp quotes Tolga Tuyluoglu, the director of Turkey's culture and tourism office in London:
"The Turkish ministry of culture thinks this item belongs to Turkey. We believe if an item has been removed from a country then it should be returned to the original place."
It was clearly the intention of the sculptor that this head should be an integral part of the sarcophagus. The return of the disputed fragment so that it cold be reunited with the complete sculpture in Istanbul would be a gesture of goodwill towards Turkey.

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Thursday 8 September 2011

Polyphemus in Switzerland

I have been sorting through some papers and came across a picture of this fine Roman comb showing the blinding of Polyphemus and possibly Meleager on the reverse. The comb was apparently part of a grave group that contained other ivory objects, a glass phiale and an agate amphoriskos with silver adornment. 

The group surfaced in Switzerland.

Where was the grave found? What other objects were in the group?

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Wednesday 7 September 2011

SAFE Beacon Awards

SAFE has announced the details of the SAFE Beacon Awards for 2011 and 2012.

Congratulations to Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino, authors of Chasing Aphrodite, for their 2011 Award "for educating the public about how museum practices affect the preservation of cultural heritage."

I am honoured to be the recipient of the 2012 SAFE Beacon Award "in recognition of [my] contribution to raising public awareness about looting and the need to protect cultural heritage worldwide". Details of the 2012 award ceremony will be announced shortly but it is likely to be in New York City in January.

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Tuesday 6 September 2011

Ex Borowski material on sale in London

I note that the October sale at Bonhams is now back on line. It includes a piece of jewellery formerly in the Elie Borowski collection (lot 245).

There is a particularly fine Roman bronze of Lar (lot 107). This has an interesting collecting history. It surfaced in a Swiss private collection in the 1980s before passing through "Hesperia Art Ltd, New York, early 1990s". Is this the same as Hesperia Arts of New York that sold a selection of antiquities in November 1990?

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Monday 5 September 2011

Bonhams October sale

The sale catalogue for Bonhams (London) 5 October sale was available. Hopefully it will be back on line shortly.

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Saturday 3 September 2011

Egyptian Antiquities Under Threat

Earlier this summer I completed a chapter on "Egyptian Antiquities on the Market". I reviewed a number of  recent cases showing the issues relating to recent looting of archaeological sites, the removal of material from museums, and the theft of known objects from archaeological sites. I have included a note on the value of Egyptian antiquities surfacing on the New York market.

Irrespective of the concerns about museum and site security following the political events in Egypt earlier this year, there is clearly an issue to address: how can the market for recently surfaced Egyptian antiquities be dampened down?

It appears that in June this year ICOM was asked to produce a "Red List" of "Egyptian Cultural Objects at Risk". Such a list is defined as follows:
The Red Lists classify the endangered categories of archaeological objects or works of art in the most vulnerable areas of the world, in order to prevent them being sold or illegally exported.
Some will no doubt oppose or criticise the creation of such a List as it will place a great onus on those who trade in this specific group of cultural objects. But if an international body like ICOM recognises that there is a potential problem, then it would follow that auction houses, galleries and dealers should adopt a more rigorous due diligence procedure over the material that they handle.

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Thursday 1 September 2011


I see that the ANS has published a piece by a Washington cultural property lobbyist ("Ancient coins and the cultural property debate"; see here). The lobbyist is well known for misunderstanding academic debate and again repeats his flawed view of how the Portable Antiquities Scheme operates in England and Wales (NOT Britain and Wales).

It may have escaped the lobbyist's notice that there has been a debate about the PAS in the Papers from the Institute of Archaeology. The forum piece posed the question: "The Portable Antiquities Scheme and the Treasure Act: Protecting the Archaeology of England and Wales?" PAS lists reported find-spots but the removal of archaeological material from the ground by unscientific methods can hardly be described as "help[ing to] preserve context". The two things are very different.

I also note that the quote "pays people to loot" (cited in the ANS "article") ---
many archaeologists remain dismissive of the U.K.’s program, claiming that it “pays people to loot.”
--- was coined, if I may use the term, not (apparently) by an archaeologist (or even by "many archaeologists") but by the coin collecting lobbyist himself.

If the ANS wants to join the debate about cultural property, could it select a more informed commentator than an individual "who provides lobbying services and advice to the International Association of Professional Numismatists and the Professional Numismatists Guild"? (The quotation is from the introduction written by Rick Witchonke [sic.].)

The third essay in the series will be by Dr Roger Bland of PAS.

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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...