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Looking back over 2016

Source: Schinousa Archive
This has been a year when more of my focus has been on the economic impact of heritage including an analysis of the economic contribution of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Greece. Last year I anticipated further developments around Syria and Northern Iraq, as well as on-going pillaging of archaeological sites in England and Wales. I also suspected that Madrid and the Michael C. Carlos Museum would not be handing over their disputed objects in a hurry (and so they can continue to receive a mention here).

However, some of the themes that have emerged.

Westminster
The All Party Parliamentary Group on Cultural Property has been meeting in Westminster. One of themes was damage to the archaeological record in the UK. Part of its business has been to prepare the legislation in order to ratify the Hague Convention. The Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill started its way through Parliament and some of the debate was instructive. Some of the honing of the wording is underway. Lord Ashton discussed the Bill at the Heritage Alliance Day.

Returns to Italy
The head of Hades was returned to Italy from the J. Paul Getty Museum in January reminding us that disputed cultural property continues to reside in major museum collections. Material from a warehouse associated with Robin Symes has been returned consisting of 45 cases. This includes material linked to Giacomo Medici. Some 350 items have now been returned to Italy from North American public and private collections. Some of the material returned to Italy featured in the catalogue for the Sicily exhibition at the British Museum. The Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen agreed to return a large number of objects to Italy.

Syria and Iraq
Channel 4 produced a programme on antiquities from Syria and Iraq. During the preparation for the programme the team identified a recorded lintel from Syria on sale in London.

Returns to Egypt
A relief of Seti I was returned from London, as was a relief from the temple of Hatshepsut. My overview of recent looting in Egypt was made available. Sarah Parcak is conducting important work on remote sensing to detect the extent of looting in Egypt (and elsewhere).

Greece
A network of suppliers was disrupted in Greece.

Parthenon Marbles
2016 marked the 200th anniversary of the arrival of the Parthenon Marbles in the British Museum.

Metal-detecting in the UK
In January I observed that unauthorised and illegal metal-detecting had been taking place at one of the Roman Saxon Shore forts at Bradwell on Sea in Essex. Yet there is the public presentation of 'treasure hot-spots' without open acknowledgement that damage is being sustained to the archaeological record. An Anglo-Saxon find from Norfolk was declared Treasure.

Coins
Nathan Elkins published important work on coins and the market and specifically the ACCG Test Case. The BM has published a useful book on Hoards.

Due diligence
The conflict in Syria and northern Iraq has re-invigorated the debate about "due diligence" and auction-houses. Some of the commentators have overlooked some of the material appearing in London. I keep suggesting that we need to outline collecting histories for objects and to drop the use of the word "provenance". Two lots were withdrawn from Christie's in New York after concerns had been raised about their associations with Becchina and Medici. Christie's in New York sold a Roman mosaic in spite of concerns being raised about its earlier collecting history. In October the same auction house attempted to auction a sculpture that was identified from the Schinoussa Archive. An Attic amphora due to be auctioned at Christie's in London was identified from photographs taken during a police raid in Greece and subsequently withdrawn. Bonhams in London offered an ex-Chesterman terracotta that had been identified from the Medici Archive and subsequently withdrew it. This raised questions about the Chesterman Collection sold to a major UK university museum. Failure to address the issue undermined the position of dealers and galleries contributing to the discussions at the APPG on Cultural Property. This lack of due diligence also appears to apply to major museums that continue to acquire objects with incomplete collecting histories.

A Munich auction house offered a number of items with questionable collecting histories: some had been identified when they were offered by a gallery in New York.  A New York dealer has been charged in relation to handling material from south-east Asia.

Heritage Crime
Charges have been made over the theft of lead from churches in Norfolk. Dinosaur footprints on Skye were damaged.

Thefts from Museums
There was a theft from the Dunblane Museum.

Trafficking Culture
The Trafficking Culture project in Glasgow ended.

Publication Policy
The SBL published a new policy relating to publication of recently surfaced material.

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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…