Saturday 29 March 2014

Looting Matters: looking ahead

The Blogging Archaeology Carnival has asked contributors to reflect on the future of blogging.

I would like to think that the art market, private collectors, and public museums have now distanced themselves from handling recently surfaced antiquities and therefore there is no need to continue 'Looting Matters'. But in the coming days objects handled by Giacomo Medici and Gianfranco Becchina are due to resurface on the London market through major auction houses. And in the last week it has been announced that Hungary has purchased part of the Sevso Treasure.

We also know that only some 1 per cent of the objects illustrated by the seized polaroid archives in Switzerland and Greece have been identified. So there is work to be done.

We are also aware of museums such as the Ny Carlsberg, the Allard Pierson Museum, and the Miho Museum that appear to have acquired recently surfaced antiquities.

Blogging requires time and that is a precious commodity. At a personal level I am about to change roles and that could allow for more time allocated to 'Looting Matters'. But would it be better to invest time in 'published' (i.e. print) outputs? But then there are times when the immediacy of blogging allows rapid comment and reflection.

I suspect that micro-blogging will become more important and that needs to be linked to blogs and online materials.

But the internet is changing along with the tools to generate information. Will I be incorporating self-generated audio and video commentaries within blog posts?

One thing that does need to concern bloggers is how we archive the information that we have generated over the years. Do we need a "blogging archaeology" archive? Where will it be hosted?

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Sevso Treasure and Hungary

It appears that the Hungarian Government has purchased 7 pieces of the Sevso Roman Treasure for 15 million euros. the details of the vendors have not been disclosed.

Can we be certain that the Sevso Treasu was found in Hungary? will other countries feel that they have an equal right to it? who are the beneficiaries of this transaction? 

Should this entire group be on public display as a group?

Readers of LM will know that I would want to emphasise the loss of knowledge. Where was the treasure found? What was the context? Were there any associated finds? what information has been lost?

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Friday 28 March 2014

Becchina, Ariadne and a London sale

My Cambridge colleague Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has spotted that a Canosan polychrome painted and lidded pottery pyxis being offered at Bonhams London next week (April 3, 2014, lot 22) seems to appear in two photographs from the Becchina Archive. The pyxis has an estimated value of £3000-£5000. The stated collecting history is: "American private collection, New York, acquired from Ariadne Galleries, New York City in the late 1980s". Did Becchina sell the pyxis to the Ariadne Galleries as the paperwork seems to suggest? (And what else did Ariadne Galleries acquire from this source?)

British readers will know that the Ariadne Galleries are associated with the infamous case of the Icklingham Bronzes. (When will they be returned to the UK?)

Will Bonhams be contacting the Italian authorities? How has Bonhams tightened up it due diligence process? How has it changed since the Geddes issue?

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The Medici Archive and a London sale

My Cambridge colleague Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has spotted that a Greek core-formed glass oinochoe being offered at Christie's London next week (April 2, 2014, lot 173) seems to appear in the Medici Dossier. The estimated price is £4000-£6000. It had surfaced through Sotheby's in London (Sotheby's, London, 11 July 1988, lot 198). The oinochoe also appears to be owned or co-owned by Christie's: "From time to time, Christie's may offer a lot which it owns in whole or in part. This is such a lot".

As Christie's have an interest in this piece, can we assume that they will be contacting the Italian authorities?

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Tuesday 18 March 2014

Pompeii fresco stolen

Pompeii, Regio VI. Source: Google Earth
There are reports in the Italian news media that a fresco of Apollo and Artemis has been damaged and Artemis removed from Room 20 of the House of Neptune (VI.5.3) at Pompeii. An image of the fresco can be found here (Pompeii in Pictures: December 2007). It appears that the fresco was removed earlier in March.

The house was damaged by Allied bombing in 1943 during an attack on the nearby railway.

Presumably somebody thought that they could sell this documented painting on the market. Perhaps it would have surfaced as formerly in an "old European collection". Hopefully the publicity will mean that the fragment, measuring some 20 by 20 cm, will be returned.

The damaged fresco
with Artemis removed
Source: ANSA
This incident reminds us of the difficulty of policing such a huge archaeological site of such international importance.

It is worth remembering that North American collectors acquired fresco fragments that clearly had been derived from the area of the Bay of Naples, and that these have formed part of the returns to Italy. For further details see here.

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Saturday 15 March 2014

Rendlesham exhibition

Rendlesham opening at Sutton Hoo © David Gill
I attended the opening of the exhibition of finds from the Anglo-Saxon site at Rendlehsam last night. This took place at the National Trust's Sutton Hoo visitor centre. It was a glorious evening with talks on the discovery of the site and its interpretation.

It was stressed that Rendlesham was the elite site — perhaps the location of King Raewald —whereas Sutton Hoo related to "death and memory". It looks as if we now have two major Anglo-Saxon sites in close proximity.

What became clear during the evening was the damage that had been sustained to the site by "nighthawkers". (Before anybody comments, three local metal-detectorists were present at the event as they helped to map small finds in the vicinity of the site.)

There is more on the Rendlesham site from BBC News. The Ipswich Star has been commenting on the damage sustained to the site [press].

We need to recognise that this internationally significant site has been damaged by illicit activity. Information has been lost. It is another reminder of the intellectual consequences of unscientific "exploration" of archaeological sites.

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Saturday 8 March 2014

The Horiuchi Sarcophagus

Source: HSI
Colleagues over on "Chasing Aphrodite" have provided further information about the seized Roman sarcophagus. It now appears that the sarcophagus went from Nino Savoca to Becchina, sold to Becchina (August 1981), imported to Switzerland (August 1981), sold to George Ortiz (1981), offered to the Getty (1982), displayed at the Historical Museum in Bern (1982-83); jointly owned by Becchina and Ortiz (1986); subsequently acquired by the Japanese dealer Horiuchi.

This seizure is likely to bring renewed focus on the Miho Museum in Japan. It also raises concerns about the role of George Ortiz, the subject of detailed research work by Gill and Chippindale.

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Tuesday 4 March 2014

Roman Sarcophagus Seized

source: ICE
It is being reported that a Roman sarcophagus has been seized in a store in Queens (Tom Mashberg, "Authorities to Seize a Roman Statue in Queens That They Say Was Stolen", New York Times February 27, 2014; ICE Press release). The sarcophagus was valued at $4 million and was due to be put on display by Phoenix Ancient Art. It appears that it was identified from the photographic archive seized from Gianfranco Becchina.

Mashberg quotes the lawyer for Phoenix Ancient Art:
Henry J. Bergman, a lawyer for Phoenix, said the gallery did not own the statue and had “only exhibited it on behalf of a client,” whom he declined to identify “on grounds of confidentiality.” Mr. Bergman said Phoenix had not played a role in shipping, importing or storing the item.
Who is the anonymous owner?

It appears that the sarcophagus was moved by Becchina to his gallery in Switzerland in 1981 and then displayed at an unnamed Swiss museum between late 1982 and 1983.

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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...