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Syria and Iraq, a Continued Black Market and a Cycle of Corruption

Michael Peppard of Fordham University has been talking about the destruction of archaeological sites in Syria and Iraq (Matthew Bell, "ISIS wants to erase the Middle East’s Christian history — and make a few bucks along the way", WGBH News, January 22, 2016). He reflects on the destruction of the monastery of St Elijah.

Peppard talks about the looting of sites in Syria to raise funds for IS.
“Anything that is portable, that has been discovered, for example, through a systematized looting operation, is being monetized and used as a currency and sold abroad.”
The report then continues with the astonishing:
There could be one tiny shred of good news here. If ISIS continues to facilitate the excavation and sale of artifacts, that means some antiquities could potentially make their way into the hands of experts who could learn from them and preserve them for future generations.
Is the report suggesting that "experts", by which I would understand museum curators and others who acquire ancient "art", pay money to acquire archaeological material that has been derived from such a source? Is it suggesting that it is acceptable to loot so long as that the objects are acquired by somebody who will "preserve" the objects? Do the acquirers reflect on who gains financially from such an arrangement?

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The scale of the returns to Italy

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.

Stele returns to Greece

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.



"Beating sites to death"

Policy decisions for protecting archaeological sites need to be informed by carefully argued positions based on data. Dr Sam Hardy has produced an important study, “Metal detecting for cultural objects until ‘there is nothing left’: The potential and limits of digital data, netnographic data and market data for analysis”. Arts 7, 3 (2018) [online]. This builds on Hardy's earlier research.

Readers should note Hardy's conclusion about his findings: "they corroborate the detecting community’s own perception that they are ‘beat[ing these sites] to death’".

Pieterjan Deckers, Andres Dobat, Natasha Ferguson, Stijn Heeren, Michael Lewis, and Suzie Thomas may wish to reflect on whether or not their own position is endangering the finite archaeological record. 

Abstract
This methodological study assesses the potential for automatically generated data, netnographic data and market data on metal-detecting to advance cultural property criminology. The method comprises the analysi…