I have been reading the comments made by James Ratcliffe over the return of archaeological material recovered in Europe after being removed from archaeological storage facilities in the Lebanon (Laura Chesters, "Art Loss Register, New York’s district attorney and antiquities dealers team up to safeguard Lebanese sculptures", Antiques Trade Gazette 6 February 2018). The comments relate to material that was derived from the archaeological excavation at Eshmun (see also here).
The two Roman sculptures are given a little history:
- "One sculpture was recovered when an antiquities dealer in Freiburg, Germany, was acquiring it from an Austrian dealer."
- "The second sculpture was identified when a dealer in London contacted the ALR before its potential acquisition. The sculpture was owned by a private collector and ALR contacted US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in New York. The New York County District Attorney’s Office then seized the piece to ensure its return to Lebanon."
In principle there is nothing wrong with a trade in antiquities where items have lawfully entered the market, but trading in pieces that are looted is entirely wrong and must stop.The Eshmun pieces were not "looted" from an unknown archaeological site, they were apparently removed from an archaeological store. In spite of the photographic evidence that was available an Austrian dealer and a New York collector were able to acquire these pieces. Were they acquired in "good faith"? Was there anything "unlawful"? How do newly surfaced antiquities "enter" the market?
Ratcliffe continues to misunderstand how the ALR is unlikely to detect recently looted material.
Through due diligence checks it is possible for those in the trade to identify when they are being offered looted material and for it then to be returnedHow will a due diligence check identify looted material? Imagine an Etruscan tomb of the early fifth century BC. No photographs were taken of the objects as they were placed around the body. Now picture the scene of a tombarolo removing the objects from the tomb in, say, 2015. The objects are sold to an intermediary, passed to a dealer in, say, Germany, and then images are sent to the Art Loss Register as part of the due diligence process. The ALR will report back that there is no image in their records, and the dealer can state that the ALR has been consulted. Can looted objects be identified in the process?
I suspect that there needs to be some clarification. Ratcliffe needs to reflect on the ALR's role in the case of the St Louis Mummy Mask, an object recorded from an archaeological site and then apparently removed from an archaeological store.