Skip to main content


Showing posts from January, 2014

Fordham, The Walsh Collection and Collecting Histories

I have been working my way through Barbara Cavaliere and Jennifer Udell (ed.), Ancient Mediterranean Art: The William D. and Jane Walsh Collection at Fordham University (New York: Fordham University Press, 2012) [Review in BMCR].

I was disappointed in the presentation of the catalogue. Where are the full collecting histories for each piece? How did they enter the Walsh collection? When? Who were the previous owners?

The limited information is likely to be significant.

The entries for the coins (nos. 93-103) do not contain collecting histories.

Some of the information on the antiquities includes:

Atlantis Antiquities, New York
Greek and Etruscan Art (1988): no. 16, cup fragment

Christie's, New York
1995, December 7, lot 98: inv. 4.016, Faliscan stamnos
1999, June 4, lot 11: no. 11, Attic neck-amphora; lot 26, no. 35, terracotta Eros; lot 32, no. 36, terracotta thymiaterion; lot 52, no. 33, Gnathian situla; lot 72, inv. 7.050, Etruscan kylix; lot 74, inv. 7.024, Etruscan chalice
1999, …

Fordham's Villanovan Hut

It appears that Fordham University is not a stranger to "illicit antiquities". It appears that an impasto "cinerary hut urn" (inv. 4.021) given to the university by William and Jane Walsh (presumably in 2006) had an interesting collecting history. Jennifer Udell has stated that the urn was "illegally excavated, exported, and sold at auction". In fact, the urn was not "excavated" but rather "dug up" or "looted". And where was it sold at auction?

In 2010 the legal title to the hut was handed over to Italy, and the Italian authorities have placed the hut on long-term loan at Fordham.

Interestingly there does not appear to be anything in the press releases for Fordham or the Italian Ministry of Culture. But credit to Udell for making this information public.

We should not forget the bronze Villanovan hut in Princeton. Will that be handed over to the Italian authorities?

The so-called Crosby Garrett helmet: "This helmet really belongs here"

The so-called Crosby Garrett helmet allegedly found buried in a field near the village of that name in Cumbria has now been placed on display in the British Museum. It has attracted over 20,000 visitors when display at the Tullie House Museum in Carlisle (Chris Story, "More than 20,000 see Roman helmet at Carlisle Museum", in-Cumbria January 27, 2014). One of the Carlisle visitors is quoted: "This helmet really belongs here". Indeed it does (if it was found in a Cumbrian field). But it was acquired by an anonymous private collector.

We should not forget that this helmet underwent a rushed restoration "job" before it went under the hammer in London. There has been (as far as I can tell) no scientific study of the helmet.

And we need to question where it was found.

Heritage Futures

I am working with my colleagues Dr Ian Baxter and Dr Geraint Coles on 'Heritage Futures'. We are hosting regular research seminars, interacting with local heritage organisations, as well as teaching students. You can follow our activities here.

One of our themes at the moment is site interpretation and the writing of guidebooks.

The alleged burial place of the so-called Crosby Garrett helmet

The February number of Current Archaeology has a feature on 'Crosby Garrett: Exploring the helmet's burial place' (Issue 287; Mike Bishop and Stuart Noon with Matthew Symonds). This coincides with the public display of the helmet at the Tullie House Museum in Carlisle, and then the British Museum.

Was the helmet found where it is claimed? The article comments, 'Unsubstantiated rumours speculated that perhaps the artefact had been found elsewhere, maybe even overseas, and that a faux findspot in the Hadrian's Wall hinterland was a way to secure a provenance'.

So what is the evidence that the helmet was found in a hole near Crosby Garrett? "Minerva Heritage Ltd opened a small trench on the spot, which revealed that any cut made when the helmet was deposited had been destroyed when it was dug up in 2010". In other words, the metal-detectorists obliterated any archaeology that could have been there, and there is no compelling evidence that the helmet was …

"La Memoria ritrovata"

Judith Harris in Rome has drawn my attention to an exhibition, "La Memoria ritrovata", that is on show at the Quirinal (Judith Harris, "Stolen Treasures on View at Quirinal Palace", January 22, 2014). It contains some 110 objects that have been recovered by the Carabinieri in the last three years. They include the Etruscan cinerary urns from Perugia. Objects recovered from a Japanese dealer in Switzerland via Operation Andromeda have also been put on display.

Harries reminds us that there are some 5.7 million stolen objects and the search for them is supported by a data bank of some 560,000 images.

"Archaeology can become a vital, positive force in the Greek community"

Stephen G. Miller has responded to the Association of Greek Archaeologists with a letter to the same newspaper (January 22, 2014). This includes a link to his letter (downloadable as a Word file). Miller notes that his concern lies with unguarded and unfenced sites.

His letter also draws attention to damage to items from Phlius (Nea Nemea).

Miller concludes his (attached) letter with his vision for the contribution that archaeology can make to the Greek community.

"Sites embody our historic memory and conscience"

The Association of Greek Archaeologists has issued a response to the suggestion that archaeological sites should be privatised ("Greek archaeologists reject call for private firms to manage ancient sites",, January 20, 2014). The statement notes:
“Archaeological sites and the country’s monuments belong to the whole of society ... The protection, promotion and management of these sites is the duty of the state, as stipulated in the Constitution and laws of this country ... These sites embody our historic memory and conscience, they are not objects for negotiation with whatever investors, they are not up for privatization of available for any private firm or individual to make a profit.” The issue recalls the debate (and consultation) in England over the National Heritage Collection.

Preserving and promoting Libyan heritage

Paul Bennett, Head of Mission, Society for Libyan Studies, will be lecturing on 'Libya today: recent initiatives seeking to preserve and promote Libyan heritage' at The Royal Society, London on Wednesday 12 February 2014.

Shaky Ground: Context Matters

I am working my way through Elizabeth Marlowe's Shaky Ground: Context, Connoisseurship and the History of Roman Art (Debates in Archaeology; Bloomsbury 2013). Readers of LM need to read this important contribution. There is a chapter on "Indifference to Context", and "Red Herrings" includes discussions of licit / illicit, the Nostoi exhibitions, as well as repatriation.

The work includes a short discussion (and photograph) of the bronze Marcus Aurelius in Cleveland that appears to have come from Bubon in Turkey.

Marlowe is reminding her readers that loss of context has an impact on the way that scholars can interpret works of art that have been removed from their find-spots without record.

Buying from the Lebanon market

Those buying antiquities that had once allegedly passed through the Lebanese market need to be on their guard when conducting their due diligence search. Items include the major silver hoard, the Morgantina treasure, that was clearly derived from Sicily. The Sevso treasure was claimed to have been derived (among a number of locations). The Sarpedon krater was reported to have a Beirut connection. Likewise the statues of the Dioskouroi on loan to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art are linked to Sidon when other documentary evidence points to a findspot in Syria.

Back in 2010 I even draw attention to Late Antique (Byzantine) mosaics with a Lebanon link. Does this sound familiar?

Italy requests return of Symes material from UK

Cristina Ruiz and Javier Pes are reporting in The Art Newspaper ("Italy threatens to sue UK firm over ancient ‘loot’", January 16, 2014) that the Italian government has requested that the UK Government return some 700 objects identified as being removed from Italy. The Italian authorities had worked with DCMS to identify relevant material following agreement in the autumn of 2007. It appears that if there is no response that the Italians will consider taking legal action the UK company handling the seized assets of dealer Robin Symes. It could be the first series use of the Dealing in Cultural Offences Act (2003).

Cambridge University researcher, Dr Christos Tsirogiannis, is quoted. It appears that he requested the information during his research into Symes. (I had also made several enquiries but without success.)

The news report states, "Sources close to the Italian investigators say that Italy has provided ample evidence to substantiate its claim and that it is up to …

US - Bulgaria MOU Signed

Readers of LM will know that there was some discussion of the proposed MOU between the US and Bulgaria. The Numismatics and Archaeology blog has covered the details of the signed agreement citing an article in the Sofia press ("US, Bulgaria sign cultural heritage protection memorandum", January 14, 2014). The official Bulgarian press statement can be found here.

Prime Minister Oresharski attended the ceremony and stressed the importance of cultural heritage for both nations. The Bulgarian Minister of Culture stressed that the US was a major importer of antiquities derived from Bulgaria. The US Ambassador to Bulgaria, Marcie B. Ries, stressed the co-operation between the two countries and the work of the law enforcement agencies.

Visiting the British Museum

Visitors to Google today will probably have seen an image of the British Museum. It marks the 255th anniversary of the opening of the museum to the public ("The British Museum celebrates 255 years with record visitor numbers", The Guardian January 15, 2014). There were 6.7 million visitors who went to the museum, up by 20% on the previous year. 471,000 visitors went to the Pompeii and Herculaneum exhibition (behind the 1.6 million who went to Tutankhamun back in 1972).

Fordham and Chasing Aphrodite

My colleagues over on Chasing Aphrodite have a detailed piece on the Fordham mosaics. The post highlights some of the issues that should have been addressed prior to acquisition.

It is time to look at the Beirut market in a bit more detail. Consider, for example, the Morgantina hoard that clearly came from Sicily.

Fordham mosaics update

I have now received an update from Fordham about the acquisition of its mosaics. It is claimed that documentation is available:
two separate special customs invoices, issued by the U.S. Bureau of Customs and filed with the Treasury Department, which confirm that the mosaics were legally purchased in Beirut on May 19, 1972, and August 4, 1972, and shipped on the SS Concordia FJell and SS Star, respectively, and imported into the United States at the port of Baltimore on June 16 and August 23, 1972, respectively. It is unclear from the latest release if images accompanied the invoices or if they were just basic descriptions. It also appears that the mosaics remained in the donor's family from 1972 until 2013.

The first recorded published mention of the roundel seems to have been in 1994.

Why did Fordham forget to place this information in its original press release?

Fordham is keen to make its position clear:
Fordham University acknowledges the serious and legitimate concerns for th…

St Louis Art Museum and the Mummy Mask

Ric St Hilaire has commented on today's oral arguments for the Egyptian mummy mask acquired by the St Louise Art Museum ("Oral Arguments Scheduled in Ka Nefer Nefer Mummy Mask Appeal").  LM has reviewed this case on several occasions.

It is clear that that the collecting history provided to SLAM by the vendor cannot be true (given that the mask appears in the Cairo register at a time when it is supposed to be moving around collections in Europe). It follows that the rest of the account is also open to question.

Will SLAM do the honourable thing and agree to return the mummy mask to Egypt?

Fordham's acquisition of Christian mosaics

Fordham University has acquired a series of nine Christian mosaics derived from the eastern Roman Empire ("Museum Acquires Rare Early Christian Mosaics", press release). The mosaics include inscriptions and they suggest a link with the city of Apamea in Syria through the name of Epiphanios, a bishop there in the 5th century. One of the inscriptions provides a date that is the equivalent of AD 463. The series seem to come from an ecclesiastical building.

The press release tells us that the University acquired the mosaic in December 2013 "from an anonymous donor".

Professor Michael Peppard has been engaging in a debate over on Twitter. On January 10 he claimed that the mosaics surfaced on the Beirut market in the 1960s and were "legally purchased" in 1972. He has suggested that photographs were known in 1968. He indicates that further details will be published in ZPE during 2014. Further discussion was terminated on Twitter.

We know that the city of Apamea …

Blogging Matters: Carnival Issues

Doug Rocks-Macqueen's Blogging Carnival has set a question for January: "What are your best (or if you want your worst) post(s) and why?".

Is the best post measured in the number of hits? Looking back over the last year Looting Matters receives on average 250-300 hits a day (excluding RSS feed viewing and email subscription). Yet some days there were 600-700 hits a day. (Note that due to other pressures it has not been possible to post on a daily basis.)

And what encourages 'hits'? It is clear that there are weeks when there are clusters of hits on a similar topic, e.g. 'The Getty kouros', and it looks as if there is a student essay deadline looming. Or LM can be used as a learning resource for research seminars.

There was a marked increase in visits when I was invited to collaborate with PR Newswire to write a blog post linked to a short press release.

Do blog posts lead to publications? LM is a research blog and ideas are worked into more formal printed …

Roman mining in Romania

A colleague in London drew my attention to a "disagreement" over the interpretation of a major Roman gold-mining complex at Roşia Montană in Romania. Professor Andrew Wilson, Professor David Mattingly and Mike Dawson were invited by the Romanian Minister of Culture to prepare a (confidential) report on "on the heritage value of the Roşia Montană gold mining district" (confidential report released on 17 October 2013 here). This led to the issuing of a response by David Jennings, Chief Executive of the York Archaeological Trust (see press release).

Wilson, Mattingly and Dawson have now responded, point by point, to Jennings. I will not repeat their discussion and conclusions here.

Readers of LM will no doubt be interested in this debate to protect an internationally significant archaeological landscape.

The Pearlstein perspective on the Khmer statue

In December 2013 it was announced that Sotheby's would be returning a Khmer statue to Cambodia. I have been reading William G. Pearlstein's "Buying and selling antiquities in today's market" (Spencer’s Art Law Journal, 3, 1, spring 2012). There is a section on the case and Pearlstein predicted:
Sotheby’s compliance director (a former U.S. prosecutor who worked with Zawi Hawass on the Schultz trial) was quoted to say, correctly, that the statue could have been exported at any point in time before or after Cambodian national ownership laws were in effect. A dispassionate analysis under McClain, Schultz and SLAM suggests that the Government should lose, given its failure to allege the date of export. [Emphasis mine] Pearlstein correctly anticipated "The owner/consignor is at risk of losing its purchase price in the statue".

Forming collections

One of the issues that LM will be exploring is the way that museum curators have encouraged private collectors to acquire objects that are then "donated" to the museum. This raises the issue of how we define a "private collection". We should recall that the stock of one London dealer was even described as from an English private collection.

Heritage and Cultural Property Crime

The UK Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) launched a report on Heritage and Cultural Property Crime today at the Tower of London [details].
National HCPC Policing Lead, Chief Constable Andy Bliss, said: “Our historic environment and cultural property are among our most prized possessions as a nation and play a huge part in our tourism economy. However, crime against our heritage and cultural assets is a significant threat to this legacy. This report allows for a much clearer understanding of the breadth and complexity of the problem.” The report itself is not without interest. The chosen motif for the report is Stonehenge, placing the context on (prehistoric) archaeological monuments in their wider landscape settings. The reports notes:
A considerable amount of heritage assets targeted by criminals take the form of places, buildings, structures, and archaeological and maritime sites which this assessment refers to as the historic environment. Readers of LM will know that I wa…

Blogging and Looting Matters

New Year's Day has given me a chance to respond to Doug Rocks-Mcqueen's "Blogging Carnival" where he posed the theme (for December): the good, the bad, and the ugly of blogging. In May 2009 I wrote on the topic Does Blogging Matter?

The Good
Web 2.0 allows researchers to respond authoritatively to stories as they emerge. Objects can surface in auctions and the blog allows immediate comment. My posts in conjunction with PR Newswire allowed the stories to reach a wider audience and to be picked up by mainstream media outlets.

The blog reaches an international audience. A snapshot from today (perhaps not typical!) suggests that the readership is drawn from the US (41%), UK (18%), Italy (11%), Canada (5%) and including FYROM, Cyprus, Hong Kong and Qatar.

Blogs are beginning to be recognised as an academic and citable resource. LM has had an honourable mention in Archaeological Reports as well as my Outstanding Public Service Award from the Archaeological Institute of Amer…

2014: The Year Ahead

What will be some of the issues that are likely to emerge during 2014?

I would be surprised if there are not further revelations from the Medici Dossier and the Becchina Archive. There are pieces in North American museums waiting to be identified. But a more fundamental question is why has the due diligence process conducted by major auction-houses failed to stop these antiquities from surfacing? Are the checks made by organisations such as the Art Loss Register adequate? We need to expect more rigour in the research prior to sales.

But is it just about North American museums? When will Copenhagen return material to Italy? And what about the Goulandris in Athens?

There needs to be more research on the quantification of the market. What is the annual value for the sale of antiquities? What percentage of the objects are known (and documented) prior to 1970?

It would be good to see resolution on some outstanding issues that include the Koreschnica krater, the Icklingham bronzes, the Mino…