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Looting Matters: looking back on 2017

Detail of Paestan krater
Source: Dr Christos Tsirogiannis
My predictions for 2017 make a good introduction: further seizures as a result of the photographic archives, heritage crime at archaeological sites in the UK, and moves in Westminster to address the protection of cultural property in time of war. I have not covered the latter on LM as some of the discussions are sensitive.

Seizures
The year started with the news of several thousand seizures in a Europe wide Operation Pandora. A major set of seizures were made on the collection formed by the Hobby Lobby.

Smaller seizures included sculptures from Eshmun in the Lebanon, and a fragment of a Persepolis relief.

A head of Drusus Minor was returned to Italy from the Cleveland Museum of Art after it was realised that it had come from a known excavation and had been removed from the archaeological store.

A series of objects were seized from an unnamed Manhattan gallery (Sardinian warrior, Paestan lekythos, Apulian kantharos from the 'J.M.E. collection'). Another seizure included an Attic red-figured lenythos that had formed part of the Kluge collection. An Attic red-figured amphora was seized from a Manhattan gallery after it was recognised from the Becchina archive. A sarcophagus was seized from a Manhattan gallery.

Fragments of a Roman sarcophagus from outside Rome were seized on Sardinia.

Hungary has purchased further part of the Sevso Treasure.

Surfacings
There have been several sightings of objects identified from the photographic archives. They include:

A Paestan krater was returned by New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, and a marble Zeus sold by the Fleischmans to the J. Paul Getty Museum was handed over.

Metal-detecting
The police are acknowledging that there is an issue relating to illegal metal-detecting in East Anglia. An example of such activity was noted for Weeting Castle. The number of Treasure Finds in the UK has increased. The revised code of practice for metal-detecting has been issued.

Reviewing old cases
Although looting continues to be a problem, it is important to look back at historic cases that have yet to be resolved. They include the series of Roman imperial portraits looted from Bubon in Turkey and now in North American and European collections.

The process of how looted antiquities were acquired by museums and private collectors continues to be researched.  One of the key figures in the acquisition of objects by the J. Paul Getty Museum was was Fritz Bürki. Until the full histories of the objects are disclosed a question mark must remain over the objects.

The Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University has yet to resolve the case of three disputed items that have been identified in the Greek press.

Forgeries
Forgeries continue to corrupt the market and provide false information about 'ancient art'. The problem of forging Anatolian sculptures has been discussed.

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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…