Monday, April 28, 2014

Northampton statue to be sold

The Northampton Museum and Art Gallery is pressing ahead with the sale of an Egyptian statue ("Northampton's Egyptian statue sale to help fund £14m museum growth", BBC News April 28, 2014). It is due to go to auction in July (apparently at Christie's). The sale of the statue will help the museum to position itself:
The new development will position Northampton as a leading regional museum focused on history, art and Northampton's footwear heritage, a spokesman said.
Lord Northampton, whose ancestor presented the statue to the museum, opposes the sale.

For details of the campaign to save the statue see here.

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Blogging Archaeology: the e-book

The e-book Blogging Archaeology is now available as a download or as an online e-book. My contribution looks at how "Looting Matters" emerged from my research with Dr Christopher Chippindale. I have included a complete list of all the Looting Matters / PR Newswire press releases (and they appear in an appendix).

Out of interest the word "archaeoblogger" appears in Doug Rocks-Macqueen's summary as a shorthand for archaeologists who blog.

Gill, D. W. J. 2014. "Looting Matters: blogging in a research context." In Blogging archaeology, edited by D. Rocks-Macqueen and C. Webster: 44-59, 246-67. Landward Research Ltd.

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Thursday, April 24, 2014

The collecting history of PDodg

I am grateful to Paul Barford for drawing my attention to further discussion of the collecting history of PDodg. otherwise known as "The Gospel of Jesus' Wife". Last September I noted the reports that the papyrus had surfaced in "... the early 1980s indicating that Professor Gerhard Fecht from the faculty of Egyptology at the Free University in Berlin believed it to be evidence for a possible marriage of Jesus".

Owen Jarus has done a little more background work ("'Gospel of Jesus's Wife': Doubts Raised About Ancient Text", Live Science, April 22, 2014). This draws attention to the collecting history: "it was purchased, along with five other Coptic papyrus fragments, from a man named Hans-Ulrich Laukamp in November 1999 and that Laukamp had obtained it in 1963 from Potsdam in then-East Germany". It is now suggested that Laukamp did not collect antiquities, and that as a resident of (partitioned) West Berlin in 1963 he would not have been in a position to visit Potsdam.

The papyrus has been prepared for publication in HTR by Professor Karen King, the Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard. (Incidentally, the title of her chair reflects the benefaction of the republican Thomas Hollis whose collection passed into the hands of the Reverend John Disney, and was donated to the University of Cambridge by his son Dr John Disney as the Museum Disneianum.) King provides the details of the collecting history though it is not clear that the supporting documentation has been authenticated.


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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Blogging in a research context

I am grateful to Doug Rocks-Macqueen for the invitation to contribute to his "Blogging Archaeology" carnival for the SAA 2014 conference.

Doug and Chris Webster will be bringing out an e-book for the conference with 14 main contributions. I have written a chapter on the theme of "Blogging in a Research Context". It has given me the opportunity to reflecting on how "Looting Matters" emerged from an established research project, and how the blog enabled me to gather information for further published research. There is a section on the blog series linked to the PR Newswire press releases (and there will be an appendix with a list of the releases). I have included a section on the contribution of LM to the Journal of Art Crime, as well as mentions of the blog in other research print publications.

More details will follow.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

James Ede responds to Christos Tsirogiannis

London-based antiquities dealer James Ede has responded to Dr Christos Tsirogiannis in Apollo ("In Defence of the Antiquities Trade", April 11, 2014). Ede is right to suggest that the scandal  --- is there another word that could be used? --- relating to recently surfaced antiquities has been "embarrassing" for those involved in the market. And it is surely appropriate for Tsirogiannis (and others) to draw attention to the need for the application of a rigorous due diligence process to be applied to objects offered for sale.

There is a suggestion by Ede that the photographic dossiers from Medici, Becchina and Symes are not available to authorities and to the Art Loss Register. I am aware of a case (in London) where the ALR was aware of the appearance of an object in the Medici Dossier and had informed the auction house who had still proceeded with the sale.

Ede cannot be unaware of the huge damage that was sustained to the reputation of Sotheby's in London following the detailed investigative book by Peter Watson that revealed the way that antiquities moved from Italy, India and elsewhere to the London market. The research undertaken by Tsirogiannis (and others) has been able to reveal the networks that allow the material to cross international frontiers.

Ede asks for the evidence that the objects were "stolen". Why do so many of the objects in the Polaroid photographs still show the objects in a broken and uncleaned state? These do not appear to be items that had been residing in some private collection. Rather there is the suggestion that they were fresh out of the ground when the photographs were taken. "Stolen" is an interesting word to use, and one used by the press officer of Christie's to describe objects identified from the polaroid photographs.

Ede concedes that some ("many") of the objects handled by Medici and Becchina entered the market "illicitly". It is therefore important for dealers and auction-houses to identify objects handled by Medici, Becchina, Symes (and others) in the collecting histories.

Have the changes in the market in the last twenty years --- 25 years takes us to the period before the Medici scandal broke --- been the result of enlightened dealers, or the concern that photographic evidence would emerge? Ede draws attention to the IADAA's Code of Ethics and to the removal of membership from some dealers. (He does not give their names, but see here.)

Ede suggests that documentation is hard to find. Yet the Medici Conspiracy places the emphasis on the need to demonstrate the authenticated collecting history for an object before it is offered on the market. The Conspiracy has shown us the way that "oral histories" have been supplied to mislead buyers.

Ede reminds us of Syria. The full collecting histories of a pair of statues now on loan to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art are not without interest. And material from Egypt is not without significance.

Ede wants the "legitimate trade" in antiquities to flourish. To do so, those handling recently surfaced antiquities need to work co-operatively with authorities seeking to return items to archaeological collections in the countries where they were discovered. I am aware of a number of cases where auction-houses and dealers (including a member of IADAA) have ignored photographic evidence linking items to the networks that handled recently surfaced antiquities.

The article in The Times is a reminder that we cannot be complacent about how objects have moved from archaeological contexts to the market.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Hull Hands on History Museum

In November 2013 it was announced that Hull would be the UK City of Culture in 2017, beating Leicester, Dundee and Swansea Bay (see BBC News; DCMS Press Release). The news story reminded us:
Phil Redmond added that the panel was "particularly impressed with Hull's evidence of community and creative engagement, their links to the private sector and their focus on legacy, including a commitment to enhance funding beyond 2017".
Hull's Council Leader, Stephen Brady was also quoted:
"It will give Hull a platform to tell the world what this great city has to offer, transform perceptions and accelerate our journey to make Hull a prime visitor destination."
However, five months on, Hull City Council has decided that it will close the Hands on History Museum housed in the Old Grammar School with its associations with William Wilberforce (see Hull City Council website). The Hull Daily Mail has more details.

Those concerned about the removal of this museum from the portfolio of the UK City of Culture 2017 should consider signing the online petition (here). What message is Hull City Council "telling the world"?

For some of the objects from the museum see here.


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"Near North Cove Hoard": valuation

The finder of the the "Near North Cove Hoard" in Suffolk has been interviewed on the BBC website ("Suffolk Bronze Age axe and ring hoard 'undervalued'", April 12, 2014). The Bronze Age finds were discovered near Lowestoft in 2011 and their value has now been set at £550 (instead of the £6200 that the finder was expecting). The finder, Steven Walker, is quoted:
"I've been metal-detecting for 15 years and this was my best ever find and my experience does not inspire confidence in the official valuation process. 
Unless changes are made, people aren't going to donate their treasure finds to the nation."

Further details are available from PAS.

SF-BDA986SF-BDA986PAS record number: SF-BDA986
Object type: Hoard
Broadperiod: Bronze Age
County of discovery: Suffolk
Stable url: http://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/458499


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Friday, April 4, 2014

Tsirogiannis on recent identifications

Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has written a short piece on the identification of Medici and Becchina pieces for Apollo ("Auction houses should do more to root out looted antiquities", April 2, 2014).
Since 2007 I have been identifying antiquities, depicted while not yet conserved, in these photograph archives, before the auctions take place. Since this happens several times every year, it is not usually considered ‘newsworthy’ by sources that non-experts notice, even though the estimated value of the objects I’ve identified ranges from a few thousand to several million pounds.
The surprising thing is that the auction houses do not pick up on the indicators.

And what is the role of the Art Loss Register?

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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Bonhams and Becchina

Bonhams has withdrawn one of its lots from a sale. It was a Canosan pyxis that had passed through the Ariadne Galleries in New York during the 1980s. So it surfaced well after 1970, has an obvious link with Italy, and was handled by a gallery that has been linked with recently surfaced antiquities (such as the Icklingham bronzes). These would be three good reasons to conduct a thorough due diligence search.

Yet an unnamed spokesperson for Bonhams is quoted by the BBC ("'Looted' artefacts removed from auction", April 2, 2014):
"We take immense trouble to check and verify the history of any object we sell and work closely with the Art Loss Register, the British police and Interpol on establishing accurate provenance. 
"At this point there is no evidence to show that it was illegally excavated. But we take any such intimation very seriously and hence we have withdrawn it for further investigation."
Bonhams is well aware of the issues relating to these Italian photographic archives after the case of the Geddes sale. Or what about the "Medici" statue? And note the similarity of this statement to ones in previous cases.

Perhaps the spokesperson for Bonhams would care to expand on Becchina's role in the handling of antiquities. Or will the "further investigation" include contacting Becchina and asking him for the full collecting history?

And we note that in the list of sources Bonhams did not think of contacting the Italian authorities. The omission is perhaps significant.

Is it time for the senior management at Bonhams to tighten up the due diligence procedures for selling antiquities? (I suggested this precisely four years ago.)


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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Becchina, Medici and the London market

Peter Watson has reported in today's Times (London) that the objects linked to Gianfranco Becchina and Giacomo Medici have been withdrawn from auction in London. This is due to identifications made by Cambridge University researcher Dr Christos Tsirogiannis.

The remaining question is why the due diligence process conducted by the two major auction houses were unable to detect these objects? We also note that one of the auction-houses appeared to be the vendor or co-vendor of one of the pieces.

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