Thursday, 13 February 2020

A parade helmet among 50 Roman finds

John Pearce and Sally Worrell have presented 50 largely decontextualised Roman finds from England. Among them (no. 4) is the so-called 'Crosby Garrett helmet' that some claim comes from Cumbria, though there remains a possibility that it was recovered near Catterick on the other side of the Pennines. 

How reliable are these reported find-spots? Why is there no discussion of the loss of archaeological context?

For some of the issues related to this helmet are discussed here.

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Wednesday, 12 February 2020

The Schøyen Collection

It has been some time since LM commented on the incantation bowls from the Schøyen Collection and the discussion (including the report available via wikileaks).

A detailed study of the Schøyen collection is now available:
Prescott, C., and J. M. Rasmussen. 2020. "Exploring the “cozy cabal of academics, dealers and collectors” through the Schøyen Collection." Heritage 3: 68–97.

This raises important ethical issues for academics who are involved in the research on and publication of such newly surfaced materials.

In the wake of the trade in ancient materials, several ethical and political issues arise that merit concern: The decimation of the cultural heritage of war-torn countries, proliferation of corruption, ideological connotations of orientalism, financial support of terrorism, and participation in networks involved in money laundering, weapon sales, human trafficking and drugs. Moreover, trafficking and trading also have a harmful effect on the fabric of academia itself. This study uses open sources to track the history of the private Schøyen Collection, and the researchers and public institutions that have worked with and supported the collector. Focussing on the public debates that evolved around the Buddhist manuscripts and other looted or illicitly obtained material from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, this article unravels strategies to whitewash Schøyen’s and his research groups’ activities. Numerous elements are familiar from the field of antiquities trafficking research and as such adds to the growing body of knowledge about illicit trade and collecting. A noteworthy element in the Schøyen case is Martin Schøyen and his partner’s appeal to digital dissemination to divorce collections from their problematic provenance and history and circumvent contemporary ethical standards. Like paper publications, digital presentations contribute to the marketing and price formation of illicit objects. The Norwegian state’s potential purchase of the entire Schøyen collection was promoted with the aid of digital dissemination of the collection hosted by public institutions. In the wake of the Schøyen case, it is evident that in spite of formal regulations to thwart antiquities trafficking, the continuation of the trade rests on the attitudes and practice of scholars and institutions.

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Thursday, 9 January 2020

The Oxford Papyri Scandal: "a crime against culture and knowledge of immense proportions"

The Guardian has an extended review of what will probably become known as the Oxford Papyri Scandal (Charlotte Higgins, "A scandal in Oxford: the curious case of the stolen gospel", The Guardian 9 January 2020). The report includes a review of the movement of papyri to the Museum of the Bible, and the apparent role of one Oxford academic. 

Manchester University academic Roberta Mazza is quoted,
The Greens have “poured millions on the legal and illegal antiquities market without having a clue about the history, the material features, cultural value, fragilities and problems of the objects,” she said. This irresponsible collecting “is a crime against culture and knowledge of immense proportions – as the facts unfolding under our eyes do prove.”
It will be interesting to see what information was reviewed by the relevant Oxford research ethics committee when the funding for the project was scrutinised.

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Monday, 6 January 2020

AIA Condemns Threats to Cultural Heritage Sites in Iran

The Archaeological Institute of America has issued the following statement:

AIA Statement Condemning Intentional Targeting Of Iranian Cultural Heritage Sites

The AIA, an advocate for the preservation of the world's archaeological heritage, condemns any intentional targeting of Iranian cultural heritage sites in unequivocal terms. The 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and the U.S. Department of Defense's Law of War Manual prohibit the intentional destruction of cultural heritage during armed conflict except in situations when targeting is imperative for a legitimate military goal. The AIA calls upon President Trump and the U.S. Department of Defense to protect civilians and cultural heritage in Iran, and to reaffirm that U.S. military forces will comply only with lawful military orders.

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Koutoulakis and due diligence

My latest column for the Journal of Art Crime reviews a number of antiquities that were handled by Nicolas Koutoulakis. This includes a group of 100 architectural terracottas from Cisterna di Latina that were returned to Italy, a marble herm, and a skyphos in Toledo. Museums would be wise to conduct a due diligence process on objects that were derived from the same source.

Gill, D. W. J. 2019. "Context matters: Nicolas Koutoulakis, the antiquities market and due diligence." Journal of Art Crime 22: 71–78.

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Saturday, 4 January 2020

The Woman on a Balcony: Hecht and Bürki

Fresco Fragment: Woman on a Balcony, 10 B.C.–A.D. 14, Fresco
60 × 45.2 × 3 cm (23 5/8 × 17 13/16 × 1 3/16 in.), 96.AG.172
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Villa Collection, Malibu, California, Gift of Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman

Christos Tsirogiannis has published the history of the fresco fragment, 'Woman on a Balcony', that was acquired by the Getty from Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman. The fragment was sold to the Fleischmans in 1987 by Fritz Bürki. Why is the image of this fragment among the photographs seized from the property of Robert Hecht?

Around 60 of the Fleischman pieces were acquired from Bürki. How many of these were actually derived from Hecht?

The research of Tsirogannis appears to be opening up the way for new claims to be made by the Italian authorities on objects in North American museums.


Tsirogiannis, C. 2019. "Nekyia: ‘Woman on a balcony’ at the Jean Paul Getty Museum." Journal of Art Crime 22: 65–69.

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Thursday, 2 January 2020

Roche Abbey and metal-detecting

The Cistercian Roche Abbey has been in State Guardianship since 1921 and is now in the care of English Heritage. The abbey was founded in 1147.

It now appears that illegal metal-detecting has been taking within the site. A notice from the South Yorkshire Police ("Police appeal for witnesses following criminal damage at Roche Abbey", 29 December 2019).
Police received reports of two incidents of digging and illegal metal detecting activity believed to have been committed between 11 December 2019 and 18 December 2019. Multiple holes were dug, causing damage to the grounds of the grade ii listed medieval monument.
These incidents show a flagrant disregard for the nation's protected heritage.

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A parade helmet among 50 Roman finds

2020 John Pearce and Sally Worrell have presented 50 largely decontextualised Roman finds from England. Among them (no. 4) is the so-cal...