Wednesday 14 March 2018

Symposium: The Horse in Ancient Greek Art

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts will be hosting a symposium in April 2018. It will explore some of the themes emerging from the exhibition, 'The Horse in Ancient Greek Art'.

It would have been interesting for one of the papers to have explored the histories of some of the objects appearing in the show. Items include pots reported to have been handled by individuals such as Edoardo Almagià and Fritz Bürki.

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Monday 12 March 2018

Reported archaeological finds in Essex

Source: RSA Heritage Index derived from PAS.

I have been working through the data included in the RSA Heritage Index for Essex. The section on 'Museums, Archives, and Artefacts' includes an element 'Archaeological finds reported' derived from the Portable Antiquities Scheme. This presents just over 16,000 finds for the different parts of the county. (This is dwarfed by more than 60,000 finds reported for Suffolk.)

These finds contribute to the overall heritage score for each of these administrative districts in Essex (and other parts of the UK).

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Thursday 8 March 2018

Conflict antiquities, myth, realities and evidence

The next Heritage Futures seminar will be given by Paul Barford. His title is: Collection-driven exploitation of the Middle Eastern archaeological record: Conflict antiquities, myth, realities and evidence.

This will take place at the University of Suffolk, Waterfront Building in Ipswich, on Wednesday 11 April 2018 at 4.30 pm.

Please reserve a place by following the Eventbrite link from here.

Over the past five years or so, the press has been full of stories about the destruction of the heritage as a result of the ongoing conflict and rise of militant Islamism groups in places like Syria, Iraq and Libya. What we see is an echo of what happened two decades earlier in the aftermath of the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, the Gulf War and invasion of Iraq, when museums and sites were looted and many antiquities were stolen to feed a voracious and expanding international antiquities market. During the social instability caused by external events, we can observe that whole sites have been utterly destroyed through artefact hunters digging deep and close-set looters’ pits across huge areas and pulling out what is saleable to collectors and leaving behind in a jumble what is not. Some of these decontextualised items are appearing on the no-questions-asked international market. Along with them are large numbers of the fakes (of varying degrees of deceptiveness) that the same market mechanisms allow to pass into the public domain masquerading as dug-up artefacts.

The shocking rate of destruction of the accessible parts of the fragile and finite archaeological record across a substantial portion of the broader Middle East region and its turning into a muddle of loose artefacts treated as a commodity for the private profit and entertainment of individuals in the market countries should be a matter of concern, as should the question of who is profiting from this trade.

In more recent years, the smuggling of the products of looted sites has been labelled a source of ‘terrorist’ funding that facilitates social conflict and violence. In particular, several factors have led to a focus on certain groups (such as ISIL) being blamed for these problems. There are obvious political gains to be had by promoting various aspects of this ‘fight for culture’. In addition, heritage activists see such claims as bolstering their call to take a closer look at the market for illicit antiquities and somehow curbing its activities. Several interest groups, especially those benefiting from the commerce in antiquities, and museum professionals, are therefore intent on representing the issue concerning the fate of illicit and ‘conflict’ antiquities from these areas in different ways. This means that the area is one where there is lively debate, but in which research on the topic is rendered extremely difficult, especially as those involved in the market itself has always been less-than-forthcoming about almost every aspect of the scale and mechanisms of the processes involved.

This presentation will focus on the issues surrounding the recent (1990 onwards) collection-driven exploitation (“looting”) of the archaeological record in Iraq and Syria. What can we say today about which sites are being exploited, what kind of material is sought, who is involved? Where is the material obtained being taken to? Where and when will it ‘surface’ on the market, and what mechanisms will be used to obscure its true identity? To what extent can this material be considered ‘conflict antiquities’?

Another aspect of concern is the manner in which this issue has been ‘weaponised’, particularly by the United States administration. Damage caused to the cultural heritage becomes an element of dehumanising propaganda directed against groups that are presented as ‘enemies of civilization’. An ethical question is raised by the manner in which archaeologists have been caught up in promoting these messages. To what extent is the information presented to and by journalists in such a context a balanced, or even true picture? What can we learn from recent seizures of antiquities from ISIL contexts in Deir Ez-Zor, Palmyra and Mosul? Is some of this ‘evidence’ planted?

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Monday 5 March 2018

Surfacing Apulian tomb-group in 1981

I have been reflecting on a group of Apulian pots that are said, by A.D. Trendall, to have been derived from the same tomb. All surfaced on the New York market in 1981 and then passed to the same private collection.

Some initial questions. Who provided the information to Trendall? Was it the New York dealer? If so, who provided the information to the dealer? Or was Trendall aware of the source in, say, Switzerland? If this group does not appear to have been known prior to 1970, will the present proprietors seek to contact the Italian authorities?

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Saturday 3 March 2018

Ex Almagià Apulian krater at Fordham University

Among the returns from the Cleveland Museum of Art was a pair of Etruscan silver bracelets that were derived from Edoardo Almagià. Then there was a major return from the Princeton University Art Museum that contained numerous pieces derived from Almagià (discussion here). The Dallas Museum of Art decided to investigate its collections and returned ex Almagià to Italy (discussion here). And other museums have ex Almagià material: Boston Museum of Fine Art, Indiana University Art Museum, Tampa Museum of Art. Chasing Aphrodite has added material in the San Antonio Museum of Art.

Among the items in the Walsh collection at Fordham University is an Apulian volute-krater attributed to the Virginia Exhibition painter (inv. 8.001). The catalogue entry does not appear to provide a statement about the kraters' history. However, the krater is currently on view at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA), and the catalogue entry helpfully states: "Ex. coll. Edouardo [sic.] Almagiá [sic.]; Arte Primitivo, 1994; Gift of William Walsh, 2006".

Can I suggest that the curatorial teams at Fordham and VMFA contact the Italian authorities to check the background to this krater?

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Thursday 1 March 2018

Making sense of pottery fragments

This seminar will consider the issue of how pot fragments have been acquired by museums. It will focus on the pots that have been returned to Italy where fragments have been supplied by a range of different donors. Do the patterns apply to other pots that have yet to be investigated? Why were museum curators unaware of the patterns of donation that allowed complete pots to be created? The more disturbing question relates to the possibility that pots were deliberately fragmented in order to allow them to move across international frontiers.

Entry is free but please reserve a place.

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Another Bubon bronze head likely to be repatriated

It appears that a bronze head acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum from Nicolas Koutoulakis has been removed from display and appears to be...