Monday, 28 September 2020

Stela from Saittai (Lydia)

A Roman period stele from the sanctuary of Apollo at Saittai in Lydia, modern Turkey, has been recovered in Italy ("1,800-year-old artifact delivered to Turkey from Italy", Anadolu Agency 23 September 2020). It was seized in 1997 from an undisclosed antiquities dealer. The stela, inscribed in Greek, has now been returned to Turkey for display in Anakara. 

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Monday, 24 August 2020

Suspected illegal metal-detecting at Silbury Hill

Silbury Hill © David Gill
Silbury Hill © David Gill

There are reports from the Wiltshire Constabulary of "illegal metal detecting" at Silbury Hill, part of the Avebury prehistoric landscape. How can such activity be considered to be acceptable? 

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Thursday, 13 August 2020

Illegal detecting on Hadrian's Wall

This intentionally significant Roman frontier system needs to be protected.

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Protecting archaeological contexts ... or not?

Tim Loughton, the MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, has tabled a question (15 July 2020):
To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, what requirements are placed on organisers of commercial rallies to (a) report Treasure, (b) follow best practice, (c) ensure that in-situ archaeology is protected and (d) ensure that archaeological finds made on their events are lawfully exported.
Note that there are themes here: reporting, best practice, preservation of archaeological context, and restrictions on the movement of cultural property of national significance.

There is a parallel question on the same date:
To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, what in-situ (a) hoards and (b) other archaeological finds found on metal-detecting rallies and club events have been excavated without archaeological support in 2020; what assessment his Department has made of the level of loss to knowledge of those excavations.
Note this is a question specifically about hoards and other archaeological finds, as well the monitoring of the intellectual consequences of such activity.

The response from Caroline Dinenage, MP for Gosport, is telling:
Guidance for both individual metal detectorists and organisers of events operating during the covid-19 lockdown was published on the page Guidance on searching for archaeological finds in England during COVID-19 on 9 July 2020. The guidance points organisers to directions on operating inside and outside events and also advises organisers and finders what to do if they discover a new archaeological site. The page also directs finders and organisers to the National Council for Metal Detecting guidance on best practice when detecting. 
Rallies and club events are legally permitted and take place on private property with the landowner’s consent, The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport does not currently monitor or record activities at these events. 
Responsibility for reporting possible treasure finds and arranging for an export licence lies with the finder and owner of the cultural object. Guidance on reporting treasure and applying for an export licence during the present situation is included on the pages Guidance on searching for archaeological finds in England during COVID-19 and Export art, antiques and cultural goods: special rules. Anyone not reporting a potential treasure find or not obtaining an export licence where necessary can be subject to legal sanctions.

Dinenage, no doubt informed by someone within DCMS, ignores the issue about hoards and archaeological contexts and instead talks about 'a new archaeological site'. 

But essentially her answer appears to be: 'DCMS has not made any attempt to assess the level of loss to knowledge of those unscientific diggings to remove hoards and other material from archaeological contexts'.

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Monday, 27 July 2020

Knowledge destruction, confusion and collecting

Suzie Thomas and Bonnie L. Pitblado have written a 'Debate Article' for Antiquity: 'The dangers of conflating responsible and responsive artefact stewardship will illicit and illegal collecting'. They create a 'straw-man' suggesting that some archaeologists assert 'all private owners of cultural material ... have ill-intent or engage in illegal behaviour'. Take, for example, the pharmaceutical millionaire Sir Henry Wellcome whose collection of Egyptian antiquities form the core of the Egypt Centre at Swansea University. The collection is drawn, in part, from his share of finds from the archaeological excavations that he sponsored, as well as from purchases on the market, often from old (and named) collections. Thomas and Pitblado do not provide any evidence to support their (flawed) assertion (made in the abstract for their article). Which archaeologists have made this universal claim?

Their opening paragraph suggests that 'early archaeological expeditions purchased artefacts for museum collection to complement material from their excavations'. Their citation points to excavations in Egypt but does not specify a time period. If we look to Greece, the early excavations of the British School at Athens (from its opening in 1886) would not support this claim. There is somehow a lack of clarity in what Thomas and Pitblado are trying to assert.

The focus of the paper is about the relationship between 'private artefact' collectors and archaeologists, and specifically 'to counteract the damage done by stereotyping all members of the collecting public and the archaeologists who work with them'.

Let us imagine a largely unexcavated archaeological site with a Roman component in a rural part of England, say East Anglia. For the sake of argument let us say that the site was 'investigated' by metal-detectorists. Did they have permission from the local landowner? Was any damage sustained to the archaeological record? Was any contextual information lost?

But let us take this a step further, imagine that a set of impressive Roman bronzes was found and then removed from the UK. These bronzes were then sold by, say, a Manhattan gallery to a private artefact collector who keeps the figures in their apartment and occasionally loans the objects for an exhibition in, say, a university museum. Would Thomas and Pitblado commend the private collector for 'saving' and 'sharing' the bronzes? What if the collector claimed to have purchased the bronzes 'in good faith' through the 'licit market'? Would Thomas and Pitblado find such an explanation acceptable? Would they feel able to include the bronzes in an account of Roman East Anglia? How would such a scenario relate to their claim, 'we do not condone either the illicit trade in antiquities or the collection of artefacts in violation of any law'?

Would Thomas and Pitblado suggest that this rifling of this (imaginary) Roman site was acceptable because those conducting the search were taking exercise 'outdoors', 'socialising', and taking an interest in the latest technology? (These specific examples are taken from the section, 're-nuancing motivations'.)

Who, in this fictional example drawn from eastern England, are the individuals 'contributing to archaeological knowledge'?

Thomas and Pitblado go on to cite the SAA statement encouraging the recognition of 'the importance of privately held collections as potential sources of information about sites, and the irreplaceable loss of this information when responsible and responsive stewards are ignored or treated disrespectfully'. As it so happens I am writing about a high profile private collection that contains material that I suspect comes from a specific site: but the information either has been lost or has not been disclosed. The result is that the objects are not a potential source of information about a specific site. Indeed the conclusion is that there has been an 'irreplaceable loss of ... information'. This aspect of knowledge destruction is left unaddressed by Thomas and Pitblado.

Thomas and Pitblado conclude: 'When we work with and listen to others, it is better for everyone—and it is better for archaeology'. Are they listening to those, such as Sam Hardy, who are raising genuine concerns about the destruction of the archaeological record?

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Saturday, 4 July 2020

Septimius Severus from Santa Maria Capua Vetere

It has been reported (by ARCA) that a portrait of the emperor Septimius Severus that had been stolen from the Antiquarium of Santa Maria Capua Vetere in November 1985 has been seized at Christie's New York (June 2020) after being offered at auction by them on 28 October 2019, Faces of the Past: Ancient Sculpture from the Collection of Dr. Anton Pestalozzi.

According to the stated history, the head first passed to Jean-Luc Chalmin, London. Chalmin also supplied antiquities to the Stanford Place collection and to the Fleischman collection (apparently the fourth most important supplier). The Severus then passed to Galerie Arete in Zurich in 1993. (The same gallery appears to have handled ex-Becchina material.) It was then sold to Dr Pestalozzi.

How did the portrait appear at auction when it had been reported as stolen? Was the history of the piece checked? What was the due diligence process?

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Thursday, 25 June 2020

Selinous at the Getty

Lex Sacra from Selinous
My next column for 'Context Matters' has appeared in the Journal of Art Crime vol. 23 (Spring 2020). It reviews the range of material from Selinous on Sicily that was acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum. One text, acquired from Dr Max Gerchik, has been returned to Italy. Previous publications accepted that some of the objects were derived from "clandestine operations most probably at Selinous".

Other pieces include stelai, architectural elements, as well as other hexametric texts.

Gerchik's other donations to the Getty are considered including material from Italy that appears to have passed through Switzerland.

At least one of the Selinous pieces, a lionhead spout, passed through the Summa Galleries.

For some of the texts:
Faraone, C. A., and D. Obbink. Editors. 2013. The Getty hexameters: poetry, magic, and mystery in ancient Selinous. (Oxford).

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Monday, 15 June 2020

Christie's withdraws four lots

Pelike attributed to the Washing painter
Image from the Becchina archive
Courtesy of Christos Tsirogannis
Christie's has withdrawn for lots from its June 2020 auction after the objects had been identified by Professor Christos Tsirogiannis (Dalya Alberge, "Christie's withdraws 'looted' Greek and Roman treasures", The Guardian 14 June 2020). The four pieces are as follows:

  • lot 25 a bronze Roman eagle identified from the Becchina archive
  • lot 49 a Roman marble hare identified from the Becchina archive; acquired from "Tullio" in 1987.
  • lot 113 an Attic black-figured Band cup identified from the Becchina archive. Reported to be in a private collection, Basel, and consigned to Galerie Günter Puhze, Freiburg; J.L. Theodor collection, Brussels; Sotheby's (New York) 17 December 1998, lot 77.
  • lot 121 an Attic red-figured pelike attributed to the Washing painter identified from the Becchina archive. Surfaced: Sotheby's (London) 14–15 December 1981, lot 236. Then Dechter collection of Greek vases.
It would suggest that Christie's needs to tighten its due diligence process. Did the auction-house authenticate the histories of the lots before they were placed in the auction? Did it check with the Italian and Greek authorities before the sale?

I am grateful to Professor Tsiorgiannis for sharing this information with me.

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Friday, 12 June 2020

Geometric horse due to return to Greece

From the Schinousa archive
courtesy of Christos Tsiorgiannis
A Geometric horse, identified by Associate Professor Christos Tsirogiannis in May 2018, is due to be returned to Greece ("Greece to reclaim ancient horse from US after court ruling", 11 June 2020). The date that the horse left Greece does not appear to have been made public. Were the present owners unable to provide the authenticated documentation?

One of the major concerns for auction houses, galleries, museums and collectors is that the horse is known to have passed through the Basel market in 1967, well before the 1970 UNESCO Convention. Does this mean that countries such as Egypt, Greece, Italy and Turkey will step up their claims?

A spokesperson for Sotheby's responded:
While we are disappointed with yesterday's decision, it does not impact what is at the heart of this matter – there is, and remains, no evidence to support Greece's claim to ownership of the bronze sculpture.
Sotheby's can be expected to demonstrate conclusively that either the horse was found outside the present state of Greece, or the horse was exported from Greece with the relevant paperwork.

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Tuesday, 21 April 2020

Coins in context

One of the conservators at the British Museum speaks about why it is important to treat coin hoards as part of an archaeological context.

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Wednesday, 15 April 2020

Context Matters: Collating the Past

Context Matters is based on the twenty essays contributed to the Journal of Art Crime over its first ten years. They are supplemented by articles and review articles that were published alongside them. The chapters were written as museums in Europe and North America were facing a series of claims on recently acquired objects in their collections in the light of the photographic dossiers that had been seized from dealers in Switzerland and Greece. They engage with some of the recent debates over cultural property that include the Ka Ka Nefer mummy mask currently in the St Louis Art Museum, and the Leutwitz Apollo acquired by the Cleveland Museum of Art. Two of the essays reflect on the recent and controversial metal-detecting finds in England, the so-called Crosby Garrett helmet and the Lenborough Hoard. The volume contributes to the wider discussion about the appropriate due diligence process that should be conducted prior to the acquisition of archaeological material. 

Gill, D. W. J. 2020. Context matters: collating the past. ARCA. ISBN-13: 978-1734302615.

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Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Peter Sharrer and the Getty

It would be interesting to know the source of the Greek Neolithic figures (eleven in number) and vase fragments that the Getty acquired in 1995. They appear in the published list as "donated jointly by Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman and Herbert L. Lucas". But the Getty's online catalogue tells that they were sold by Peter Sharrer Ancient Art of New York. 

Why the differing accounts? Are the listed donors just the people who paid the bills?

Lucas, incidentally, donated fragments for the krater attributed to the Berlin painter that the Getty returned to Italy.

Sharrer also sold a proto-Corinthian recumbent ram and a Corinthian lion rattle to the Getty in 1986, and a Minoan jar in 1990. Sharrer is also known to have purchased from Robin Symes, e.g. the portrait head of Faustina the Younger.

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Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Questions about the source of a dealer's fragments

I am working on the sources of Attic figure-decorated pottery fragments at the moment. I was interested to see that two fragments of a cup attributed to Euphronios by J.R. Guy (Euphronios no. 50) that had been on loan to Princeton University Art Museum (L.1990.134a–b) are now in the Michael C. Carlos Museum (2005.026.004A [and B?]). (I presume that the other fragment was acquired as the kalos inscription naming Lea]gr[os is on the second fragment. (Does the date for Leagros kalos need to be adjusted?)

The history of the fragment is provided as follows:
Ex coll. Peter Sharrer, New Jersey, acquired European art market, 1982-1983. Purchased by MCCM from Sotheby's New York, June 7, 2005, lot 26.
Sotheby's note the following:
acquired together on the European art market in 1982/1983 as part of a group of fragments by various painters
What were the other fragments acquired by Sharrer in 1982/83? Where are they now? Who acquired them?

But the more interesting question relates to the identity of the "European art market". Who was involved?

Why the interest in Sharrer? He supplied a fragmentary Roman relief to Princeton University Art Museum in 1985 that was returned to Italy in 2002 after it was realised that it had been found near Tivoli. Moreover, Sharrer was the source of a fragmentary Attic figure-decorated lekythos attributed to the Pan painter that was donated to Princeton in 1998 and again returned to Italy.

Were any of the pot fragments sold by Sharrer to another major North American university museum also derived from the same "European art market"?

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Saturday, 28 March 2020

The anonymous history of a Minoan larnax

Minoan larnax from the Becchina archive (l), and in the Michael C. Carlos Museum (r)
The Minoan larnax in the Michael C. Carlos Museum has been provided with a 'history'.

  • Ex private collection, Switzerland, 1980s. 
  • Ex private collection, Japan, 1990s. 
  • Purchased by MCCM from Robert Haber & Associates, Inc., New York, New York.

As the larnax appears in the Becchina photographic archive, it would be logical to identify Becchina (a dealer) as 'private collection, Switzerland'. There is no history prior to Becchina; in other words, there is no history that predates the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

The identity of the 'private collection, Japan' is not provided. But we know that Becchina had links with at least one Japanese dealer. And as the Michael C. Carlos Museum seems to describe dealers and private collections, it could be fair to assume the possibility that the 'private collection, Japan' is also a 'dealer, Japan'.

As for Robert Haber & Associates, there is an instance of them handling what appears to be ex-Becchina material. What was their due diligence process to check the history of the larnax?

A responsible university museum would have resolved an issue that was first raised in 2007. Are the museum's curatorial team unaware of the apparent Becchina link with this piece? How do they explain the movement of the larnax from Crete to Switzerland in the '1980s'? Is there any supporting documentation?

I am grateful to Associate Professor Christos Tsirogiannis who made the first identification of the larnax from the Becchina archive.

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Wednesday, 18 March 2020

TEFAF Update

Following identifications made by Associate Professor Christos Tsirogiannis, two antiquities were seized at TEFAF, Masstricht last week (Theo Toebosch, "Twee oudheden in beslag genomen op kunstbeurs Tefaf", 17 March 2020). 

A Roman head of Apollo had formerly passed through the hands of Gianfranco Becchina and Palladion Antike Kunst in 1976. It is reported that it was displayed in the Merrin Gallery in New York from 1978–81, before passing into the hands of a Beverly Hills collector. It was auctioned in New York in 2008. This head had been displayed by the Chenel Gallery in Paris.

An Egyptian alabaster vase had passed through the hands of Robin Symes. This was displayed by the Merrin Gallery.

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The Reinstallation of the Getty Villa

Elizabeth Marlowe has written a review article on 'The Reinstallation of the Getty Villa: Plenty of Beauty but Only Partial Truth',  AJA 124.2 [online]. Sections include: 'Opportunities missed and stories not told', and 'Why context matters'.

Earlier this month I had listened to one of the Getty curators talking at a Cambridge conference on the "provenance" section of the Getty online catalogue. He was using examples that had a history that went back to the period before the 1970 UNESCO Convention. Marlowe's essay is a reminder of some of the histories that need to be told in more detail. Indeed, some of the stories may mean that the Getty will need to return further objects to Italy.

I was pleased to see my review of the Getty's Masterpieces cited:
Gill, D. W. J. 1998. Review of Masterpieces of the J. Paul Getty Museum: Antiquities (Los Angeles 1997). Bryn Mawr Classical Review. [BMCR]

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Friday, 28 February 2020

Looting at English Heritage Sites

Old Sarum © David Gill
It has been noted that reported incidents of looting at heritage sites in England have doubled in the last year ("English Heritage urges end to illegal metal detecting at historic sites", BBC News 27 February 2020). The sites include:

  • The site of the Battle of Hastings
  • Goodrich Castle
  • Old Sarum
It is noted that up to 75 holes were dug at each site.

Back in 2015 I noted that such incidents were falling outside the definition of "Heritage Crime" that was being promoted by some commentators. 

Are such incidents being trivialised by some in the academic community? The archaeological record needs to be protected from such acts of looting.

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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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Stela from Saittai (Lydia)

A Roman period stele from the sanctuary of Apollo at Saittai in Lydia, modern Turkey, has been recovered in Italy (" 1,800-year-old art...