Skip to main content


Showing posts from May, 2015

Cultural property returned to Italy

The Italian authorities have held a further press conference to note a further batch of cultural property from North American collections [press release]. Some have been objects that have been noted before:

1. Kalpis etrusca a figure nere con scene di delfini, databile 510-500 a.C., del pittore di Micali; Nel corso del procedimento penale della Procura della Repubblica di Roma a carico di Giacomo Medici, con il fondamentale supporto di assistenza giudiziaria eseguita negli USA, emergeva che la kalpis, di proprietà del Toledo Museum of Art (Ohio, USA), era riconducibile alle attività illecite del noto trafficante italiano. Il CC TPC forniva all’ICE le evidenze attestanti la provenienza illecita del bene che, pur essendo inserito nell’archivio MEDICI, era stato in realtà venduto al museo statunitense nel 1982 con false attestazioni di provenienza. Sulla base delle informazioni dettagliate fornite dall’Arma, l’ICE di Cleveland e il Toledo, giungevano alla stesura di un accordo concernent…

Studying Silver Plate from Gaul

My review article of Kenneth Lapatin (ed.), The Berthouville Silver Treasure and Roman Luxury (Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2014) has just been published by BMCR [link here]. Lapatin's helpful study reminds us of what can be gained from the methodical study of a distinct group of archaeological material within a wider context of a sanctuary in Gaul. The volume also contains a discussion of Late Roman missoria, some from Italy.

Paperwork and documenting collecting histories

One of the issues that I keep mentioning is the need to authenticate documentation. Paul Barford has provided an excellent example in his discussion of material from Palmyra surfacing on eBay. He mentions an "Unconditionally guaranteed authentic" Palmyrene funerary portrait that is being offered on eBay for $13,500 (and on offer today). Its collecting history ("provenance") is provided: "Ex: European art market; Early American private collection, 1960's".

However the invoice indicates that the stela was flown from Beirut to JFK (arriving on 10 April 2006; customs entry 10 November 2006) by Malev.

So are we supposed to believe that this portrait surfaced on the European art market (no evidence posted) and then passed into an "Early American private collection" in the 1960s (no evidence posted)? And then shipped from USA to Lebanon (no evidence provided) so that it could be returned to the USA in 2006 (invoice provided).

This raises all sorts …

Collaborative Working in Art Crime

Lynda Albertson leading discussion of art crime ... Genuine dialogue — David Gill (@davidwjgill) May 14, 2015
One of the most passionate papers at last week's conference at Queen Mary's was by Lynda Albertson of ARCA. She was urging colleagues who work in the field of Art Crime to find how their research areas could enmesh to provide a greater working of the whole. She encouraged a helpful debate and one of the themes was how academics can engage with the press to ensure that there are informed reports on art crime. (The poor quality of reporting of looting in Syria and Iraq in some of the so-called quality UK press was noted.) ARCA should be congratulated for encouraging such inter-disciplinary research.

Ethical Collectors

I was very impressed with yesterday's presentation on Ethical Collectors by Cinnamon Stephens at Queen Mary's. It made me revisit some of my research on European and North American private collectors, and to think how some of them could have avoided acquiring toxic antiquities.

Stephens reminded us that private collectors need to understand the "red flags" in their area of collecting. This will help them to avoid 'dodgy' material. They also need to seek professional advice from academics. However we see that in the elaborate catalogues that accompanied the objects that formed part of the study I conducted with Christopher Chippindale.

I suppose the main pieces of advice for collectors are as follows:

check the collecting history for the object you are wanting to buy. Is the paperwork authenticated? Is there a clear paper trail?can the collecting history be traced back for certain to the period prior to 1970? be prepared to walk away from an object even if it i…

Academics and recently surfaced antiquities

One of the discussions at yesterday's conference at the Law School at Queen Mary's related to academics working on recently surfaced antiquities. Reference was made to the "incantation" bowls that were the subject of a study at UCL and comments by Lord Renfrew in the House of Lords. A parallel was made with the papyri that are currently the subject of research at Oxford.

One solution is that UK universities need to adopt a more rigorous ethical review of research projects that involve handling potentially looted material.

Antiquities from Syria

Colleagues have been asking about where they can find information about objects from Syria. The ICOM Red List for antiquities from Syria can be found here.
Following reports of widespread damage and looting at cultural heritage sites in Syria, ICOM decided to publish the Emergency Red List of Syrian Cultural Objects at Risk with the aim to help art and heritage professionals and law enforcement officials identify Syrian objects that are protected by national and international legislations. In order to facilitate identification, the Emergency Red List illustrates the categories or types of cultural items that are most likely to be illegally bought and sold. The PDF can be downloaded here.

Forgeries and the market

One of the questions posed for later this week is 'how are forgeries placed on the market?'

I look back to my study of the 'Fitzwilliam Goddess', acquired by the Fitzwilliam Museum in 1926 [JSTOR]. The endorsement for the piece was by Sir Arthur Evans. The dealer, Charles Seltman, was known to the museum. The story of the alleged find-spot (the harbour for Knossos) was plausible. The curator was keen to develop the prehistoric collection.

We could consider other pieces such as the Getty kouros. Is it genuine? Or is it a modern creation? Look at the way that parallels were supplied. And there was the creation of a collecting history (with the wrong postal code).

Or there are Cycladic figures attributed by an expert in the field to named sculptors that have turned out to be modern creations. They share one thing in common: they did not come from a secure archaeological context.

And then there is the Amarna princess. Who authenticated it? It was believable because it had …

The market in ancient coins and self-regulation

I have been reflecting on a series of questions to answer at a conference next week. One of them asks this, Is self-regulation the way forward?

One of the ways that this could be answered is by looking at the responses of auction-houses or galleries when 'toxic antiquities' are identified. The organisations can either open negotiations with the source countries or they can press ahead with the sale. But the second approach is not always successful because potential buyers can get 'spooked' and the objects get left unsold and perhaps unsellable.

But then there is the topic of freshly surfaced ancient coins. Does the market self-regulate? Or do national bodies have to set up procedures?

I have read with much interest the reaction to a scholarly article by a North American academic in a high profile archaeology journal that addresses aspects of this issue.

A Washington lobbyist who is paid for his services by the International Association of Professional Numismatists (IAP…

Ancient coins, find spots, and import restrictions

I note that the next number of the Journal of Field Archaeology, now published by Maney, will be including an important article on ancient coins. I am grateful to Nathan Elkins for sending me a digital offprint.

For those who would like to dismiss this research as appearing in an 'obscure journal' (and only a Washington lobbyist could write this!), can I direct readers of LM to the blibliometric data that places JFA in the first quartile of archaeological journals?

Nathan T. Elkins, Ancient coins, find spots, and import restrictions: A critique of arguments made in the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild’s "test case", Journal of Field Archaeology 40, 2 (2015) 237-43.

The Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG) has launched multiple legal challenges aimed at undermining import restrictions on ancient coins into the United States in bilateral agreements with foreign countries. One key component of the ACCG’s argument is that the State Department has inappropriately res…

The market in antiquities

I have been sent a series of questions to consider prior to a workshop this coming week. Among them was this: Which agencies are best placed to interdict trafficking?

I would only like to comment on classical material. But it seems to me that there is a huge difference between being 'best placed' and actually taking action. The hundreds of objects that have been returned from North American public and private collections are a reminder that these examples of archaeological material have crossed several international frontiers: say, from Italy to Geneva; from Geneva to London; from London to New York. Yet there has been free movement through customs and other checks.

The high profile 'seizures' have been the initiative of the Italian authorities. Should it be up to 'source' countries alone?

So how do we answer the question?