Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Nighthawking and Hertfordshire

I note that Hertfordshire Constabulary have issued some guidance over 'nighthawking'. Over the county boundary in Essex a 'Heritage Watch' scheme has been launched.

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Monday, April 27, 2015

Metal-detecting at Castlerigg Stone Circle

Video shot taken inside the circle. Posted April 2015.
The Castlerigg stone circle is located near Keswick in Cumbria. Aurbrey Burl describes is as 'one of the earliest circles in Europe' (Burl, no. 18). The site is under the guardianship of English Heritage and is managed by the National Trust. (It was taken into State care in 1883.)

A video posted on YouTube in April 2015 [12 minutes] noted what appears to be metal-detecting activity on the site, including within the circle.

The stone circle was "... one of the earliest Ancient Scheduled Monuments ever designated in the UK, giving it special legal protection".

The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 states:
If a person uses a metal detector in a protected place without the written consent of the Commission (in a case of a place situated in England) or of the Secretary of State (in any other case)] he shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction ...
This is yet another case of a nationally significant site, and one in public care, being targeted by metal-detectors. Some would, no doubt, call this 'heritage crime'.

I am grateful to Paul Barford for drawing my attention to this video.

For a view of the site in its setting:



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Archaeological looting in Spain

Ignacio Rodríguez Temiño and Antonio Roma Valdés have written an important study "Fighting against the archaeological looting and the illicit trade of antiquities in Spain" for International Journal of Cultural Property 22,1 (2015) 111-30. [Available here]

Abstract 
During the seventies, archaeological looting, of both land and underwater sites, not only was widespread in Spain, but also went unpunished. This situation stemmed from a lack of effective administrative and criminal legislation, human resources to combat the plague, and educational policies warning of how harmful such practices were, in spite of damning reports in the media and the social alarm raised in certain professional and political fields. The new political and social phase that began with the Constitution of 1978 has enabled the country to overcome this situation in three ways: first, by passing new, more appropriate administrative and criminal laws to help combat looting and illicit trade; second, through the creation of new regional governments (the autonomous communities) able to enforce these laws, and which have hired archaeologists specializing in cultural heritage management. The fight against the criminal aspect of looting and the illicit trade of antiquities has also been intensified by the creation of police and prosecuting bodies dedicated to the area of cultural heritage, among others. Last, educational policies have been put in place to help increase social awareness of the importance of our cultural heritage and the global loss its destruction represents. In this article we will present the first two points that have improved the initial situation as regards archaeological looting and the illicit trade of looted goods.
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Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Houston bronze krater

The bronze krater (once) on loan to Houston is mentioned by Monica S. Dugot, Thomas R. Kline, Jennifer Anglim Kreder, and Lucille A. Roussin, "Legal and Ethical Problems in Art Restitution", in a paper given in New York on April 4, 2008.
... a bronze krater is currently on loan to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston from the Shelby White –Leon Levy collection, and there are calls for the museum to release its provenience history. 
As far as I know the collecting history for this krater has not been released.

Interestingly the cases relating to cultural property in Minneapolis (2011) and Toledo (2012) and mentioned in the same paragraph have now both been resolved.

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Operation Mummy's Curse

Source: ICE.
There are times when you wonder if there is a lack of imagination when it comes to naming operations but 'Mummy's Curse' is probably one of them.

Put that aside, ICE has announced that it is has returned "dozens" of Egyptian antiquities to Egypt as part of an "ongoing five-year investigation by ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) targeting an international criminal network that illegally smuggled and imported more than 7,000 cultural items from around the world". The total value of the seizures so far is approximately $3 million.

This sarcophagus appears to be the one siezed in a garage in Brooklyn in 2009. It is reported (Kathleen Caulderwood, "US Returns $2.5M In Egyptian Antiquities As Experts Call For Tougher Punishment On Smugglers", International Business Times April 22, 2015):
The coffin had been emblazoned with the name Shesepamutayesher and the title “Lady of the House” sometime between 664 and 111 B.C. But when Special Agent Brenton Easter of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) uncovered the artifact Sept. 8, 2009, after months of investigation, it had been slapped with a few false shipping labels.
So once again we are seeing that the "paper trail" of a significant object is being corrupted to allow the piece to enter the market.

Caulderwood reveals that the investigation is linked to Morris Khouli (and see my earlier discussion here).
Easter recovered the head and other objects from Khouli’s gallery, intercepted shipments in Newark, New Jersey, and eventually found the “Lady of the House” sarcophagus at Khouli’s home, in a crate all ready for shipment.
ICE issued a press release on these investigations back in 2011.

Caulderwood also makes the point that there is the potential for this investigation to be linked to material coming from Syria. And this is a point that I have made before with links to material allegedly from Palmyra.

The material is not just Egyptian in character. The press release states: "A related December 2010 shipment interception netted agents 638 ancient coins from different countries, 65 of which are being repatriated to Egypt today." Which countries? Who imported the coins? What did the paperwork say? And coins have already formed part of the discussion in the Khouli case.

This immediately raises the big question: who has acquired the 7000 plus objects mentioned in the release? Museums? Private collectors? Or are they still part of the stock in a range of dealers? And are some of these objects forming part of what some term "the licit market"?

And this stated case comes against a broad backdrop that appears to include an Egyptian coffin seized in Miami.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Bronze krater (once) on loan to Houston

I have been rather taken aback by the amount of interest to my post on a bronze krater that was once (and perhaps still is) on loan to Houston. I had been looking forward to the publication of the piece by Conrad Stibbe in the volume for Leon Levy but I understand from colleagues in NYC that this will not be appearing.

Does this mean that there is a move to return the krater to FYROM?

I have commented elsewhere on the Koreschnica krater and its burial.

Parts of the tomb assemblage appear to be in a major North American university collection so there could be significant implications if this group is investigated.

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The modern movement of ancient coins and protective legislation

I have been reading an important new piece of research by Professor Nathan T. Elkins of Baylor University ("Ancient coins, find spots, and import restrictions: a critique of arguments made in the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild's 'test case'," Journal of Field Archaeology 40, 2 [2015] 236-43). He considers the way that the ACCG "has launched multiple legal challenges aimed at undermining import restrictions on ancient coins into the United States in bilateral agreements with foreign countries".  He includes an important table that lists coin hoards from Cyprus that contain Cypriot coins. This data is provided to challenge the "spin" provided by those who lobby for the coin dealing bodies.

Elkins makes an important point in his conclusion: "Legal challenges have been launched by lobbying groups with a commercial interest that present a highly skewed picture of the actual situation that is not based on evidence".

This academic research is likely to undermine attempts to waive restrictions on the modern movement of ancient coins.

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Monday, April 20, 2015

"The trade and auction houses are doing the best they can "

I have been interested to read the responses to the decision to withdraw four antiquities from Christie's. The latest is by Georgina Adams ("The Art Market: Blue Period Picasso emerges", Financial Times 17 April 2015). A spokesperson for Christie's commented that they needed access to the confiscated archives, and Chris Marinello of the Art Recovery Group is quoted, "The trade and auction houses are doing the best they can with the available information".

One of the withdrawn pieces passed through the December 1985 sale at Sotheby's. Any "due diligence researcher" or member of an auction house will know the significance of that sale. And to help them along their way the list of consignments from Boursaud (and ultimately, it seems, from Giacomo Medici) has been published. Six years ago I drew attention to some of the issues relating to the year 1985, so to miss this item in such a sale but then to state that "The trade and auction houses are doing the best they can with the available information" suggests that some of these so-called "researchers" need to do better. Indeed one of the 1985 pieces was seized from an auction-house beginning with ... C ...

One of the other pieces also surfaced through Sotheby's in 1986. Again a researcher familiar with these sales should have been alerted: the "Medici youth" from 2010, and the Graham Geddes collection in 2008. And it is a year that I highlighted back in 2010.

For the other two pieces Montreal and Japan are both significant for potential associations with Gianfranco Becchina ... and Tsirogiannis has linked them to objects in the Basel Dossier.

I have a great deal of respect for Marinello when it comes to fine art but I wonder if he has not understood the toxicity of the antiquities market.

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Collecting histories matter

I see that there continues to be significant issues raised over the four antiquities withdrawn from Christie's. the key issue that needs to be addressed is an improvement in the due diligence process. It would appear that the collecting histories for these four objects were either incomplete or had not been authenticated. The advocates of a licit market need to demonstrate how an object passed through known collections and sales, and that paperwork should be authenticated. This is not an issue about access to images but rather about the rigour of those undertaking the research by or on behalf of the auction houses. 

Separately, how often are dealers represented in the paperwork as collectors? so, for example, is, say, a Japanese Collector shorthand for a Japanese dealer operating out of Switzerland? 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Should Christie's have known?

I plan to comment on the withdrawn objects from Christie's in a little more detail. I note that a spokesperson for the auction house has called for access to the Medici and Becchina photographic archives. But this misses the point that at least one of the pieces appears to feature in a published consignment list. Surely the register used by Christie's to check for stolen items would have made that link ... But it appears that they are unfamiliar with such literature. 

It goes back to my earlier point that the auction house needs to adopt a more rigorous due diligence process and that may mean changing the agency used to check collecting histories. 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Lots withdrawn from Christie's

The four lots at Christie's that had been identified by Glasgow University researcher, Dr Christos Tsirogiannis, have been withdrawn from the auction next week:

  • Lot 83: Attic black-figured amphora, attributed to the Swing painter. The property of a gentleman.
  • Lot 103: Etruscan terracotta antefix. Property from a London collection.
  • Lot 108: Apulian hydria, attributed to a follower of the Snub Nose and Varrese painters. Property from a London collection.
  • Lot 113: Gnathian bottle, attributed to the White Sakkos Group. [Note only one of the two pieces has been withdrawn.]
It appears that the Italian authorities were in touch with the auction house and we look forward to a statement in due course.


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Thursday, April 9, 2015

An Etruscan antefix and Christian Boursaud

I have been looking through the consignment list of Christian Boursaud, dated 24 September 1985. The items were intended for the December 1985 sale at Sotheby's in London (9 December 1985).

Number 37 is listed as 'ANTEFIXE ETRUSQUE TERRE CUITE' with a reserve of £2000.

I presume that a due diligence search would make the link should the antefix resurface on the antiquities market.

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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Swing painter and the Becchina archive

Attic black-figured amphora
Attributed to the Swing painter
Becchina Archive
Source: Dr Christos Tsirogiannis
In December 2002 Christie's Rockefeller Plaza sold an Attic black-figured amphora attributed to the Swing painter for $53,775 (December 12, 2002, lot 16). It was stated as 'The property of a private collection". The amphora is listed in the Beazley Archive (no. 26090) although no other information is provided other than the sale at Christie's.

However this same amphora has resurfaced on the London market and is due to be auctioned at Christies on 15 April 2015 (lot 83). The estimate is £50,000-£70,000. The collecting history is now provided as:

  • Private collection, Japan, acquired prior to 1980s. 
  • Anonymous sale; Christies, New York, 12 December 2002, lot 16. 
  • Private collection, New York, acquired at the above sale. 
  • with Charles Ede Ltd, London, from whom acquired by the present owner in 2006. 

It is now the property of 'a gentleman'.

Were the staff at Christie's in New York unaware that the amphora had resided in a Japanese collection in the 1980s?  Why were they unable to provide that information?

This amphora is important as Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has spotted the piece in the Becchina archive. Indeed the annotations on the record card show that images of the amphora were sent to three European academics.

Becchina had links with a Japanese dealer so the private collection in Japan is not without interest.

And (part of) the stock of Becchina's Basel operation has been the subject of considerable interest since it was revealed earlier in 2015.

Will 'the gentleman' withdraw the amphora from the auction? Or will Christie's withdraw the lot?

And what does it say about the 'due diligence' search conducted by Christie's prior to the sale?

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New sightings at Christie's

Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has identified four lots in the forthcoming April sale at Christie's in London from the Medici and Becchina archives. Further details will be posted here.

however it does raise a major issue, once again, about the lack of rigour in the due diligence process conducted by Christie's.  

Thursday, April 2, 2015

"Owning stolen stuff is not part of our mission"

I applaud the Stephan Jost, Director of the Honolulu Museum of Art, for his comments about the voluntary return of antiquities to India (Jennifer Sinco Kelleher, "Antiquities looted from India end up at Honolulu museum", Denver Post April 2, 2015). The items have been linked to Subhash Kapoor.

Jost added: "I'm not sure we've done anything heroic. We just want to do the right thing."

The article cites James Cuno:
It's very rare for evidence to come to light to show a museum has items that were illegally obtained, said James Cuno, president and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust. 
"Claims might come from time to time. But most often those claims are based on just interest or the construction of national identity," he said. "If evidence is provided that's convincing, no museum will resist."
Perhaps the Director of the St Louis Art Museum could read this story and "do the right thing" and return the Ka-Nefer-Nefer mummy mask.

Perhaps the present proprietor of the Icklingham Bronzes could read this story and "do the right thing" and return the Roman objects to the UK.

Perhaps the curator at Fordham would like to return the bronze Caracalla from Bubon to Turkey?

Perhaps the New York owner of the Koreschnica krater would like to return it to FYROM? (And perhaps also the North American university museum that acquired some of the other burial goods.)

And the list could go on.

What we are seeing is a professional response to the shame of the Indian antiquities scandal.

And could the AAMD add "Owning stolen stuff is not part of our mission" to its policy on acquiring archaeological material? It might just help curatorial staff to remember.


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Icklingham is not a safe place to search



It appears that Icklingham could have serious shocks for anyone looking for Roman material in its environs. Be warned!

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Please return the Icklingham bronzes to the United Kingdom

The New York Times piece on the "repatriation" of antiquities raises issues beyond Syria and Iraq (Tom Mashberg and Graham Bowley, "Islamic State Destruction Renews Debate Over Repatriation of Antiquities", March 30, 2015). James Cuno, the advocate of retentionism, is concerned that antiquities are taken out of potential war zones and are placed somewhere safe. He is quoted:
“Calamity can happen anywhere, but it is unlikely to happen everywhere at the same time,” Mr. Cuno said in an interview. “I say ‘distribute the risk,’ not ‘concentrate it.’ ”
I presume that Cuno would be happy for looted antiquities to be returned to museums in "safe" countries.

Can I suggest readers of LM turn to page 21-22 of Who Owns Antiquity? to read about a Roman bronze that was welcomed into a Harvard exhibition while Cuno was director? The bronze was removed from a Roman town in Suffolk. And I have discussed it in my review of Cuno's volume for the American Journal of Archaeology.

Would Cuno like to ask the present proprietor of this bronze (and the other pieces found at Icklingham) to return them to the United Kingdom as soon as possible so that they can be placed on public view?

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James Cuno: "the lone voice in the wilderness"

I see that James Cuno presents himself in the New York Times as "the lone voice in the wilderness". But he needs to see how he has failed to obtained a balanced view over the acquisition of recently surfaced antiquities. He should read my review of Whose Culture? a volume that could be considered partial and partisan.

Interestingly Cuno's colleague at the Getty, Tim Potts also has a view on the debate: “It has become an article of faith that any form of trade in cultural items is bad”. In the same review of Whose Culture? I asked what had happened to his voice, especially as he was recorded as the co-organiser. Perhaps he would like to comment on some of the acquisitions he made and why one had to be returned to the vendor. What is the full account?

Perhaps the trade in cultural items is not as good as he would like us to believe it is.

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Wednesday, April 1, 2015

"There is a far greater awareness of the problem of trafficking in looted antiquities"

I was very struck by Timothy Rub's comments to reporters from The New York Times in the discussion over whether or not North American museums should "repatriate" --- a loaded word? --- antiquities to their countries of origin (Tom Mashberg and Graham Bowley, "Islamic State Destruction Renews Debate Over Repatriation of Antiquities", March 30, 2015). Rub is quoted:
Timothy Rub, director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and former president of the art museum directors association, said acquisition scandals, including those involving the Getty before Mr. Cuno’s tenure, had put his peers on the defensive when it came to holding on to items. 
He added, however, that “there is a far greater awareness of the problem of trafficking in looted antiquities and the role that American museums can and should play in discouraging this.”
Then in response to a comment by Gary Vikan, former director of the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, who suggested that antiquities that surface on the "black market" should be "ransomed back".
Mr. Rub said that approach was warranted only in rare cases when “an item was in fact taken out of harm’s way and would be at risk if returned to the country of origin.” 
“That’s when museums and philanthropies and governments should work together,” he said, “to ensure that the item is acquired and cared for and kept safe until it can be returned to its rightful owner.”
Mashberg and Bowley miss a key point here. It was not just the J. Paul Getty Museum that was involved in an "acquisition scandal". There was also the Cleveland Museum of Art where Rub had been director from 2006 to 2009. Indeed Rub was director when it was agreed to return objects (that had been acquired prior to his directorship). Yet he also declined to disclose the collecting histories of the return items (unlike Boston or the Getty). Rub has also had a confused position over the return of antiquities, placing "clear blue water" between himself and James Cuno (see here).

But have we seen major museums working with the governments of countries to see the rightful return of archaeological material? The case of the Ka-Nefer-Nefer mummy mask is a case in point especially now that the internal emails and memoranda have been released.

Have senior museum directors of North American museum appreciated the scale of the problems that have developed over the last 45 years? Perhaps they should read something on the "scandal" that would help them to focus their minds.

Newspaper reports such as this demonstrate that there continues to be a lack of genuine awareness of the problem of trafficking in looted antiquities by some in the North American museum, antiquities market and legal communities.

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From Cyrene to London via Dubai

Statue from Cyrene
Source: Daily Telegraph
A UK court viewed a female statue apparently from Cyrene in Libya as part of an investigation into the movement of recently surfaced antiquities (Victoria Wood, "Court sits at British Museum for first time as judge studies looted Libyan sculpture", March 30, 2015 Daily Telegraph 2015). The statue, worth some £2 million, entered the UK via Dubai and was seized in a warehouse by a customs official. There were indications that the statue had been removed from the ground relatively recently.

The report informs us:
Jordanian, Riad Al Qassas, who does not reside in the UK, is accused of falsifying paperwork after telling customs that the sculpture came from Turkey, rather than Libya, and was worth £60,000, rather than between £1.5m to £2m. 
He denies one count of knowingly or recklessly delivering a false document to HMRC on November 1 last year.
It seems like another instance of paperwork being "falsified" in order to allow such objects to move freely. But there is more:
Andrew Bird, for HMRC, has told the court that documents suggest Al Qassas had only a marginal role in the export. He claimed Hassan Fazeli, a Dubai businessman who has claimed the sculpture has belonged to his family collection since 1977, was behind the crime. 
Mr Bird said the false documents were submitted by Hassan Fazeli Trading Company LLC, which is based in Dubai, and which was last year accused by New York prosecutors of illegally bringing five ancient Egypt artefacts into the USA.
The Telegraph is not quite accurate. The case in the USA was in 2013 (Lucile Scott, "Uncle Sam Seizes Ancient Egyptian Art", Courthouse News March 22 2013).
They were purchased from the Hassan Fazeli Trading Company in Dubai by Salem Alshdaifat, who "sells ancient coins and other antiques" online through a business called Holyland Numismatics, according to the complaint. U.S. Customs seized the package, sent by FedEx, as it entered the country through Newark International Airport in August 2010. 
The Customs officer became suspicious because the invoice identified the items as "Ancient Egyptian," but listed the country of manufacture as Turkey.
And there is specific discussion of the way that paperwork is prepared.
But the government claims that Fazeli, the exporter, admitted to a confidential source that he often "lists incorrect countries of origin to circumvent cultural patrimony and export laws. In particular, Fazeli acknowledged that he often supplied 'Turkey' as the country of origin because he had Turkish papers that he could use."
This is not the first link between Holyland Numismatics and Dubai (see LM).


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The Backs and Cambridge Heritage



The Dean of King's College, Cambridge has announced springtime changes to the face of the Backs in Cambridge. A bold new plan has been put in place to change the chapel, well known as the setting for 'Carols from Kings'. This scheme is likely to cause a huge debate in the heritage community in Cambridge.
To celebrate the 500th anniversary of the completion of its magnificent Chapel, King’s College is delighted to announce that work is soon to commence on a substantial redevelopment of its buildings.
The press release can be found here.

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