Monday, March 2, 2015

The Horiuchi sarcophagus returns to Italy

The Horiuchi Sarcophagus
The US authorities have returned the Horiuchi Sarcophagus to Italy [press release].
HSI New York returned six objects Wednesday including “sleeping beauty,” an ancient Roman marble sarcophagus lid of Sleeping Ariadne, which was smuggled out of Italy. TPC identified the object as part of a collection of suspected looted Italian antiquities belonging to a known trafficker who was involved in trafficking archeological items from clandestine excavation sites in Italy. HSI special agents seized the sarcophagus lid with a warrant issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York.
It is not clear which 'known trafficker' is alluded to in the statement as the lid has been linked to several individuals.

This is a further example of the co-operation between the US and Italian authorities as a result of the MOU between the two countries.

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Walter M. Banko Enterprises Ltd. and the returns to Italy

Source: ICE
The US authorities have returned a number of items to Italy. They include objects handled by Walter M. Banko Enterprises Ltd.
In July 2011, Walter M. Banko Enterprises Ltd., attempted to import four pieces of antique Greek pottery through the point of entry at Rouses Point, N.Y. Based on previous investigations and seizures from Walter M. Banko Enterprises Ltd., law enforcement detained the shipment to determine if the pieces had been listed as lost or stolen. In November 2011, HSI Rouses Point seized two of the four pieces of Greek pottery, both from the 5th century B.C. The items were identified as an antique pottery piece titled “Skyphos” and a red-figured pottery krater. These two pieces were seized once they were confirmed to be the same pieces linked to a well-known trafficker of Italian cultural artifacts.
The 'well-known trafficker of Italian cultural artifacts' appears to be Gianfranco Becchina.

Banko has been linked to a marble janiform head, returned to Italy on a previous occasion.

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Tomb fragment from Paestum returned to Italy.

Paestum Fragment
Source: ICE
Italian authorities have returned a tomb painting apparently removed from Paestum. The statement from ICS gives a little detail:
In 2009, HSI New York special agents received information indicating that a New York-based antiquity collector allegedly dealt in the sale of illicit cultural property. This collector was in possession of an artifact that was looted from an ancient Italian tomb in Paestum, Italy. In February 2012, HSI special agents seized the Steinhardt fragment, and it was forfeited to the U.S. government.
This fragment was discussed before on LM with a link to Chasing Aphrodite that has the full details.

This raises the issue of the falsification of the collecting history. And the intended recipient, Michael Steinhardt, has been linked to several other objects.



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Pompeii fragments returned to Italy

The objects returned to Italy, 2015
Source: ICE
The US authorities have returned a number of objects to Italy ("19 cultural treasures returned to the government of Italy", 25 February 2015). They include a seizure from the Alan E. Paulson Trust:
In July 2012, HSI San Diego received information from HSI New York regarding four illegally excavated antiquities from clandestine sites in Pompeii owned by the Allen E. Paulson Trust. HSI San Diego located and seized the three frescos, dating back to 63-79 A.D., and one askos, dating back to 4th century B.C. The trust administratively forfeited the items to the U.S. government so they could be returned to the Italian government.
A situla seized from Christie's in 2009 also came from the same source, the Alan E. Paulson Trust. Its collecting history can be traced back to the Summa Galleries in Beverly Hills (and subsequently the Royal-Athena Galleries in New York City).  The names of Paulson and McNall coincide. It is not clear if the same ICE press release alludes to this earlier seizure.
During the course of two separate investigations, HSI New York seized two stolen cultural treasures from Christie’s auction house in New York. The TPC contacted HSI Rome to help locate a Lucanian red-figured bell krater (circa 420-400 B.C.) and other stolen artifacts. That tip led HSI New York special agents to Christie’s where they seized the stolen krater in July 2013.
It would be worth reviewing the full collecting histories of other objects that passed through the Alan E. Paulson Trust.

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Friday, February 27, 2015

The workings of PAS

I have valued my relationship with the British Museum over several decades. It has been a feature of my life for as long as I can remember.

I have read some of the material that has come out from Paul Barford's request for information. I hope that senior members of PAS will reflect on the way that staff have responded to awkward questions. Have they always reacted in a professional way? Could things have been handled differently?

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Destruction in Mosul

It has been widely reported that significant archaeological material from Iraq has been deliberately destroyed. One of the reports can be found on the BBC with comments by Professor Eleanor Robson of UCL ("Islamic State 'destroys ancient Iraq statues in Mosul'", February 26, 2015).

This is part of our university heritage, and the destruction is symbolic of the wider tragic conflict in the region.

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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Hypothetical commentary on Syrian antiquities?



Dr Donna Yates is a specialist in Latin American archaeology. She is also a member of the Glasgow criminology team researching the movement of antiquities. She ventures to make a comment on the reporting of Syrian antiquities and is critical of yesterday's stories in The Times and The Washington Post. 

But she goes further. She tweeted to the two newspapers her "doubts" that archaeological material from Syria is "coming to the UK". And she continues, "I say there's no proof".

Can we ask if this is a 'hunch' from Clydeside? Or has Dr Yates been round various London galleries to look? What is the basis of her 'authoritative' claim?

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Washington lobbyist with axe to grind

Paid Washington lobbyist Peter Tompa has decided to criticise investigative reporting of antiquities from Syria by the BBC. He conveniently overlooks the way that the BBC team met key people in the region, viewed material that had been seized coming out of Syria, talked to those handling the material, consulted with a range of non-academics and academics who are informed about the situation and the market, and trudged round galleries in London. The BBC File on 4 team uncovered some uncomfortable truths about the lack of rigour in the due diligence process for the antiquities market in Europe. For Tompa and Chris Maupin this is all 'sensationalist'.

Does Tompa have an 'axe to grind'? Does he receive payments for lobbying for clients who handle ancient material?

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Bronze Herakles to return to Pesaro

In 1964 a bronze Herakles, dating to the 6th or 5th centuries BC, was stolen from the museum in Pesaro ("US returns stolen artwork 'The Holy Trinity Appearing to Saint Clement' to Italy", ArtNews 25 February 2015). It is reported to have been seized from a Manhattan auction-house by the FBI.

The FBI website informs us:
The Statuette was reported stolen from the Oliveriano Archeological Museum in Pesaro, Italy, in January 1964 along with several other items, including ivory tablets of the 9th and 13th centuries, early Christian glass artifacts from the Catacombs of Rome, and Italic and Roman statuettes. After its theft from the museum, the Statuette passed through several hands, and was eventually discovered by Italian and U.S. authorities when it was offered for sale by an auction house in Manhattan. After being provided with evidence that the Statuette was the same piece stolen from the museum, the consignor agreed to the FBI’s seizure of the Statuette for repatriation to Italy. The United States Attorney’s Office submitted a proposed stipulation and order providing for the Statuette’s seizure and return, and the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York entered that order on October 2, 2014.
It would be interesting to learn the full collecting history between 1964 and 2014.

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Monday, February 23, 2015

A North American Dealer on Looting in Syria

North American dealer Chris M. Maupin has commented on Simon Cox's BBC report on antiquities from Syria ("Sensationalist Reporting and the Antiquities Trade: If it’s in Print it Must be True!", February 22, 2015). Maupin only cites the supporting BBC News story ("The men who smuggle the loot that funds IS") rather than the full documentary on BBC Radio 4.

Cox interviewed archaeologist Dr Assaad Seif in Lebanon. Seif noted that the Lebanese authorities had seized a number of antiquities coming out of Syria; among them were a dozen items each worth an estimated $1 million.

Yet Maupin seems to overlook this part of the report:
This despite the fact that in his investigation Cox only once sees any antiquities described as having been looted. These he views via a Skype meeting and are described as small figurines, glass vessels, bits of pottery and coins, acquired over a period of several months.
Maupin also suggests that the movement of antiquities from their find-spots to the market place is "imaginary".
Cox falls into the trap of reporting on an (imaginary) international criminal network, operating in a shadow world of diggers, smugglers, middlemen and dealers.
Cox, and producer Paul Grant, put together a carefully researched programme that explained how objects moved from Syria. Members of the programme team even attended a conference on Syria that was held at the British Academy so that they could hear the latest information.

Those of us in the UK value the professionalism of BBC journalists: rarely a day goes by at work without some discussion of a news piece on the BBC Today programme.

Maupin's post is itself 'sensationalist' and could be described as 'ill-informed'.

Is there another reason why Maupin want to discredit the BBC?  Is he wanting to ensure the continuing movement of archaeological material from the Middle East to potential buyers?

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