Discussion of the archaeological ethics surrounding the collecting of antiquities and archaeological material.
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The Horiuchi Sarcophagus
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.
I have been watching (UK) Channel 4's Time Team this evening. The programme looked at an undisclosed field (under a potato crop) where a Viking burial had been found. The location in Yorkshire was so sensitive that it was given a codename: Ainsbrook. Here is the summary: In late 2003 two metal detectorists were working in a field in Yorkshire. They found 'treasure' buried just beneath the surface – a collection of Viking material next to a body. Although they had been detecting on the site for a number of years, during which time they had made large numbers of finds, nothing they had uncovered previously compared with this. They decided to share their discovery with archaeologists.The programme explored the tension between metal-detectorists and the English Heritage sponsored archaeologists putting six trenches into the field based on a geo-physical survey. Finds made by the metal-detectorists did not easily map onto the archaeological features.
The Hellenic Ministry of Culture has announced (Saturday 8 September 2018) that a stele that had been due to be auctioned at Sotheby's in London in June 2017 has been returned to Greece (Friday 7 September 2018). The identification had been made by Cambridge-based forensic archaeologist Dr Christos Tsirogiannis.
It appeared that the stele had been supplied with a falsified history as its presence with Becchina until 1990 contradicted the published sale catalogue entry. It then moved into the hands of George Ortiz.
A year ago it was suggested that Sotheby's should contact the Greek authorities. Those negotiations appear to have concluded successfully.
The 4th century BC stele fragment, with the personal name, Hestiaios, will be displayed in the Epigraphic Museum in Athens. It appears to have come from a cemetery in Attica.
I have been busy working on an overview, "Returning Archaeological Objects to Italy". The scale of the returns to Italy from North American collections and galleries is staggering: in excess of 350 objects. This is clearly the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the material that has surfaced on the market without a history that can be traced back to the period before 1970.
I will provide more information in due course, but the researcher is a reminder that we need to take due diligence seriously when it comes to making acquisitions.