Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Floating Culture: unrecorded archaeological finds

Display in Lincoln (c) David Gill
Adam Daubney, the FLO for Lincolnshire, has written on the unrecorded finds that are obtained via metal-detecting ("Floating culture: the unrecorded antiquities of England and Wales", International Journal of Heritage Studies [2017] 1-15 [DOI]). Readers of LM will know that this is a topic that has featured here. Daubney accepts in his opening paragraph: "loss of archaeological knowledge also occurs on an arguably far wider scale through the non-reporting and subsequent sale of legitimately discovered archaeological material, especially in countries such as the U.K. where there is no legal obligation to report certain classes of finds". There has to be an acceptance that under-reporting of finds is a failure of the Portable Antiquities Scheme to engage with the metal-detecting communities ("it has proved impossible to shift the entrenched ideas of some non-reporters, particularly those who were active during the ‘detector wars’ of the 1970s and 1980s ").

I am pleased that Daubney makes this comment in response to my paper (and responses) in the Papers of the Institute of Archaeology that so far appears to have escaped citation by a member of PAS (and he overlooks my main forum paper in preference to my response to the responses): "To this extent we might concede to Gill’s comment that ‘recording antiquities is not the same as protecting archaeological sites’".

But Daubney has been selective. What is his response to the finding of the so-called Crosby-Garrett helmet (even if it was not in Cumbria)? What about the implications of the uncovering of the Lenborough Hoard?

What is needed is a wider debate about the need to protect the fragile archaeological record in England and Wales.

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Monday, April 24, 2017

The Tiberius and the Drusus heads

Tiberius and Drusus. Source: PIASA
Documented collecting histories are important. The portrait heads of Drusus Minor and Tiberius excavated at Sessa Aurunca have parallel histories.

Both passed through the sale of PIASA in Paris on 17-18 March 2003, lot  569, and 29 September 2004, lot 340. Both came from the same source ("Cette tête de même provenance que la tête vendue le 18 Mars 2003 ").

The Drusus was reported to have been purchased by Phoenix Ancient Art, who then sold it to the Cleveland Museum of Art in 2012. It was displayed in the New York exhibition, "IMAGO: Four Centuries of Roman Portraiture", with the information that it had formed part of a 19th century Algerian collection ["Phoenix Ancient Art to Exhibit Collection of Roman Portraits, Unveil Its Newly Renovated New York Gallery", 29 November 2007].

The Drusus appeared in Randy Kennedy's article, "Museum Defends Antiquities Collecting" (originally from the New York Times, 12 August 2012). The article specifically states, "The Cleveland Museum’s new portrait of Drusus Minor has no ironclad record pre-1970". It is noted, "But the museum said it believed its history could be traced back to the late 19th century as the property of a prominent family in Algiers." The source for this collecting history is unstated though was in circulation in 2007. David Franklin, the then director of the Cleveland Museum of Art, was quoted, “We’ve done our due diligence and we feel that both these objects have a pre-1970 provenance” [the other piece was Mayan].

The Tiberius was purchased by the Royal-Athena Galleries and then sold to the US Private Collector. I am told that the private collector returned the head to Italy in January 2017.

It is unclear when the pieces were removed from the Antiquarium in Italy.

I am grateful to Dr Jerome Eisenberg for the additional information and clarification.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Drusus and Tiberius portraits from Sessa Aurunca

Drusus Minor. Source: Cleveland Museum of Art
The return of the head of Drusus Minor to Italy from the Cleveland Museum of Art has been in part thanks to the diligent research of Giuseppe Scarpati. He has discovered the photographic records of sculptures discovered during the mid-1920s during the excavations of Sessa Aurunca.

The head of Drusus Minor is clearly recognisable from the archive photographs (Scarpati 2008-11: 357, fig. 7, 358 fig. 10). The head passed through PIASA in Paris in 2004, a source that is not without some interest. It was acquired from Phoenix Ancient Art in 2012. (See Gill 2013: 72 for oral histories and objects linked to this dealer, and with a specific mention to the portrait of Drusus.)

David Franklin, the then director of the Cleveland Museum of Art, defended the acquisition of the head at the time. (He resigned from the museum in 2013.) The museum is probably wishing that it had not claimed that the collecting history had been traced back to the 19th century.

The trail of the Drusus portrait had been identified by a companion piece. The head of Tiberius appears to be the one in a North American private collection ("The Magdalene Tiberius")  and published by John Pollini (Pollini 2005; Scarpati 2008-11: 361 figs. 11-14). It was reported to have formed an old French collection in Marseilles dating to the 1960s. It was said to have been found in North Africa (a good reminded of the intellectual consequences of collecting recently surfaced archaeological material). It was acquired by its present proprietors in 2004. The source appears to have been the Royal-Athena Galleries (Art of the Ancient World 15 [2004] no. 24; Scarpati 2014: 33 fig. 9). Will those owners be contacting the Italian authorities in the light of the return of the Drusus portrait?

It is interesting that the (recent) collecting histories of both portraits now do not seem to go back beyond 2004 (i.e. 34 years after the UNESCO Convention). What were their collecting histories immediately prior to 2004?

The Drusus Minor return is merely serving to open up the discussion. Was the Cleveland Museum of Art aware of Scarpati's research prior to the portrait's acquisition?

Now is probably also a good time for the museum staff to revisit the documented collecting history of the Leutwitz Apollo.

Bibliography

Gill, D. W. J. 2013. "Context matters: The Cleveland Apollo goes public." Journal of Art Crime 10: 69-75. [academia.edu]
Pollini, J. 2005. "A new marble head of Tiberius. Portrait typology and ideology." Antike Kunst 48: 55-72. [JSTOR]
Scarpati, G. 2008-11. "Un ritratto di Tiberio da Sessa Aurunca ritrovato note su un probabile ciclo Suessano di statue onorarie Giulio-Claudie." Rendiconti della Accademia di Archeologia Lettere e Belle Arti 75: 345-68. [Academia.edu]
Scarpati, G. 2014. "Il ritratto di Druso minore dal ciclo statuario Giulio-Claudio di Sessa Aurunca." Bollettino d’Arte 24: 29-38. [Academia.edu]

Press Release
"Cleveland Museum of Art to Transfer Roman Sculpture of Drusus Minor to the Republic of Italy", Cleveland Museum of Art April 18, 2017. [press release]
"Il Cleveland Museum of Art restituisce all’Italia una scultura romana di Druso Minore", MiBACT April 18, 2017. [press release]

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Cleveland Museum of Art to return portrait of Drusus

Drusus. Source: Cleveland Museum of Art
In 2012 the Cleveland Museum of Art purchased a portrait head of Drusus that was reported to be from "an old Algerian collection" (see earlier report). The head had been purchased from Phoenix Ancient Art.

It has been announced that the head will be returned to Italy (Steven Litt, "Cleveland Museum of Art returns ancient Roman portrait of Drusus after learning it was stolen from Italy in WWII", cleveland.com April 18, 2017). It is now understood that the portrait was excavated at Sessa Aurunca, Campania in the mid-1920s. It appears that the head was stolen from the museum there around 1944.

This now raises questions about the due diligence process surrounding the acquisition as well as other material handled by the same dealer. The curatorial team will no doubt be releasing the basis of their pre-acquisition enquiries.

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Friday, March 17, 2017

Attic amphora handed back to Italians

Image from Becchina Archive
The research of Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has led to the return of an Attic red-figured amphora, attributed to the Harrow painter, to Italy (Tom Mashberg, "Stolen Etruscan Vessel to Be Returned to Italy", New York Times March 16, 2017).

The amphora is known to have passed through the hands of Swiss-based dealer Gianfranco Becchina in 1993, and then through a New York gallery around 2000 (although its movements between those dates are as yet undisclosed).

During the ceremony, Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., the District Attorney stated:
“When looters overrun historic sites, mine sacred spaces for prized relics, and peddle stolen property for top dollar, they do so with the implicit endorsement of all those who knowingly trade in stolen antiquities”
More research clearly needs to be conducted on how material handled by Becchina passed into the North American market and into the hands of private and public collectors.

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Monday, February 27, 2017

Seizures and a New York Gallery

Source: Becchina Archive
A New York Gallery seems to have been linked to a number of seized or returning objects:

The two pieces seized in 2017 were identified from the Becchina archive. 

The Rimini Venus was also reported to have been seized at the same gallery (Jan 2012). Other material from this source featured in an exhibition of returned antiquities in Rome (and see the earlier Nostoi). 

The unresolved case of identified pieces in Madrid includes material from the same source


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Saturday, February 25, 2017

Attic amphora from 'old Swiss collection' seized in New York

Source: Becchina archive
I understand that an Attic red-figured Nolan amphora attributed to the Harrow painter was seized from a New York Gallery on Friday. It shows a satyr with thyrsos.

The amphora features in Royal-Athena Galleries, Art of the Ancient World xxvii (2016) no. 100.

The collecting history is as follows:

  • Swiss private collection
  • Royal-Athena Galleries 2000, sold in 2002; Art of the Ancient World xi (2000) no. 90.
  • C. H. collection, Ann Arbor, Michigan
  • 2003-2015: exhibited, Yale University Art Museum

The Becchina archive suggests that it was acquired on 15 March 1993.

I am grateful to Dr Christos Tsirogiannis for the information about the seizure.

Beazley archive: 23408

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

More surfacings from Symes and Medici in London

Source: Schinousa Archive.
Dr Christos Tsirogiannis spotted three items that were auctioned in Westminster, London today.

It is a good reminder of the apparently poor due diligence process conducted by some sectors of the antiquities market.

a. Lot 49 Scythian rhyton. Sold: £3100. Collecting history: 'Property of a London gentleman; acquired from a major Mayfair gallery; acquired on the London art market before 2000.' As this seems to appear in the Schinousa archive it should be associated with the London dealer Robin Symes.

b. Lot 79 Silver Sycthian moose.
Sold: £2790. Collecting history: 'Property of a London gentleman; acquired from a major Mayfair gallery; acquired on the London art market before 2000.' This also seems to appear in the Schinousa archive indicating an association with Symes.
Source: Schinousa Archive.
Source: Medici Dossier

c. Lot 183. Roman head of a youth. Opening bid: £900. Collecting history: 'Property of a London gentleman; acquired from a major Mayfair gallery; acquired on the London art market before 2000.'  This head appears to be the one that features in the Medici Dossier seized in the Geneva Freeport.

These three examples suggest that owners of material that passed through the hands of Symes and Medici are now looking for less high profile ways of disposing of their collections. Notice that in all three cases the date of surfacing is said to be 'before 2000' yet clearly well after the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

I understand that the relevant UK and European police authorities have been informed of the auction.




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Is PAS transforming our knowledge of the past in England and Wales?

There is a new online book, Key Concepts in Public Archaeology, edited by Gabriel Moshenska (UCL Press, 2017) [Introduction]. Among the essays (and not all have been published on the site: I am told that there will be second batch) is one by Roger Bland, Michael Lewis, Daniel Pett, Ian Richardson, Katherine Robbins and Rob Webley on "The Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme in England and Wales". It includes a section on the Staffordshire Hoard (though the so-called Crosby Garrett helmet and the Lenborough Hoard do not feature). The authors note that the hoard "appeals to a wide and diverse audience".

There is a discussion of the recording of finds, though no indication of the percentage of finds that are left unrecorded. The report touches on heritage crime:
It has sometimes been said as a criticism of PAS that it has not stopped illegal metal detecting in England and Wales, but this is for the simple fact that it was not intended to. This is an enduring problem and PAS staff are working closely with English Heritage’s Heritage Crime Initiative, which is run by a police inspector on secondment.
This is presumably an unsourced reference to the Forum piece for the Papers of the Institute of Archaeology entitled: "The Portable Antiquities Scheme and the Treasure Act: Protecting the Archaeology of England and Wales?" (available online). (I am informed that senior members of PAS were invited to respond but declined.) Or the allusion could be to other discussions and debates. Who knows? It is telling that the authors continue:
This has had considerable success in targeting illegal detector users, known as ‘nighthawks’. However, it is important to put nighthawking in perspective: a survey commissioned by English Heritage in 2008 found that on two measures (the numbers of scheduled sites attacked by illegal detector users and the number of archaeological units that reported nighthawking incidences on their excavations), the number of cases has declined since 1995, when a previous survey was carried out (Dobinson and Denison 1995; Oxford Archaeology 2009).
Note that the most recent reference is for 2009 to the "Nighthawking" report (and see comments here). A review article I prepared for Antiquity (2015) raised this very issue and highlighted contemporary examples of unauthorised digging on scheduled sites (online). Are the authors of the article unwilling to draw attention to such activities?

The ineffectiveness of the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act is noted.

The article makes mention of the 8,000-10,000 metal-detectorists who contribute to the reporting of finds ("contributor base"). This figures relates to a number Roger Bland produced in 2010. Does it need to be updated?

The article ends with a plea: "the PAS could benefit from more funding". But there needs to be a desire for the PAS to be seen to be protecting and preserving the rich archaeological heritage of England and Wales. And is this a realistic plea in an age of austerity?

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Saturday, February 18, 2017

The value of looting in Syria

Rick Noack has written a piece on the funding of IS ("The Islamic State’s ‘business model’ is failing, study says", Washington Post 17 February 2017) based on a report by London-based International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) at King's College London and Ernst & Young.

The report states that the amount of money derived from IS from Antiquities is 'unknown' though it suggests that some $110-190 million was derived from looting, confiscations and fines (in 2016).

For my work in this area: "Context Matters: From Palmyra to Mayfair: the Movement of Antiquities from Syria and Northern Iraq", Journal of Art Crime 13 (2015) 73-80.


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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Sarcophagus fragment: Greece, Basel, and New York

Source: Becchina archive
One month ago I was informed that a sarcophagus fragment had been seized from a New York gallery. The identification of the piece with an image in the Becchina archive had been made by Dr Christos Tsirogiannis.

It is worth reviewing the collecting history for the piece:

  • piece handled by Greek trafficker, Giorgos Ze[ne...]
  • 25 May 1988: Gianfranco Becchina paid SF 60,000 to Zene[]
  • Object placed in the Basel Freeport
  • Andre Lorenceau cleaned and then drilled the fragment to create holes for mount
  • April 1991: Swiss art market
  • Attributed by Dr Guntram Koch [date of attribution not provided]
  • 1992: Royal-Athena Galleries, Art of the Ancient World vii, no. 57
  • 2000: Royal-Athena Galleries, Art of the Ancient World xi, no. 30
  • April 2000: Dr H collection, Germany
  • 2016: Royal-Athena Galleries, Art of the Ancient World xxviii, no. 6 [online] Price on Request
  • 2017, 14 January: fragment seized
  • 2017, 10 February: sarcophagus returned to Greece
The identity of the vendor on the Swiss art market in April 1991 is not made clear in the history. Who sold the sarcophagus fragment to the Royal-Athena Galleries? What other pieces have been derived from the same source? When did those transactions take place?

Will there be further clues in the Becchina archive showing how material passed from Switzerland to North America?

For further information and images see ARCA.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Weeting Castle and metal-detecting

Weeting Castle © David Gill

It has been reported that metal-detectorists have been investigating the area around the English Heritage property of Weeting Castle in Norfolk (Rebecca Murphy, "Reports of illegal metal detecting near the historic Weeting Castle", Watton & Swaffham Times 13 February 2017).
The incident is believed to have involved seven men and to have taken place around Weeting Castle area over three consecutive nights towards the end of January and beginning of February.
I presume that we will be hearing a strong condemnation from Historic England.


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Friday, February 10, 2017

New York dealer returns sarcophagus to Greece

Source: Becchina Archive
Back in January I reported that a sarcophagus identified by Dr Christos Tsirogiannis from the Becchina archive had been seized from a gallery in New York.

Today there has been a ceremony in New York with the Hellenic Consul General. The sarcophagus was spotted in the Royal-Athena Galleries.

Further details in the Greek press.

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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Revisiting Cycladic figures




I will be presenting a seminar on Cycladic figures to the Aegean Archaeology Seminar in Cambridge on Thursday 9 February. I am taking as my themes:

  • Responses to Gill and Chippindale on Cycladic figures (published in the American Journal of Archaeology)
  • The value of Cycladic figures sold on the antiquities market in London and New York since 2000
  • The Keros Haul (and why it is not a hoard)
  • The return of the Karlsruhe figure and the 'inadequate sculptors'
  • Forgeries of Cycladic figures
  • The wider implications for and the application to classical archaeology


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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Setting high ethical standards for collecting antiquities

Ka Nefer Nefer mummy mask. Source: SLAM
Victoria Reed, from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, has been discussing the need for due diligence in museums ("How should museums respond to art smuggling scandals?", Apollo January 24, 2017). This is clearly an important issue for the museum as it was one of the first of the North American museums to return objects to Italy in the wake of the Medici Conspiracy (see  "From Boston to Rome: reflections on returning antiquities").

Reed makes an important point about 'verified' information; I choose to talk about 'authenticated' documentation. How to we chart the collecting history of an object? What are the confirmed sources?

I was taken by this section:
If, however, an investigation turns up looted antiquities in a museum collection (for example, if photographs show an object shortly after it was illicitly removed from the ground, or if its provenance documentation was demonstrably forged), then a museum has an obligation to redress the break in the chain of that object’s ownership in some way. Usually such a resolution is achieved through a financial settlement with, or physical return to, the country of modern discovery. Museums hold their collections as public trusts, and no museum should wish knowingly to retain stolen property on behalf of the public.
It is worth returning to the case of the Ka Nefer Nefer mummy case at the St Louis Art Museum ("The Case of the Ka Nefer Nefer Mummy Mask"). Now that the email discussions have been made public it would be appropriate for the museum to revisit the acquisition and to start negotiating with the Egyptian authorities.

Minoan larnax. Source Becchina archive, and Carlos Museum
And what about the Minoan larnax in the Carlos Museum at Emory University? Why has there been no attempt to resolve this claim from Greece that has been on-going for so many years? Is the imagery from the Becchina unconvincing for the museum curators? How do they explain the images and the documentation?

Reed, I am sure, is sincere in what she writes. But her writing does not take full account of museums in North America that have yet to adjust their ethical positions in defiance of their public and educational roles.

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Monday, January 23, 2017

Operation Pandora

A selection of coins seized in Operation Pandora. Source: Europol.
The Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH has reported that Operation Pandora has recovered some 3500 cultural objects including some 400 coins. 75 people are said to have been arrested in 18 countries.

Some of the selling of material has taken place online.

Europol has issued a press release ("3561 artefacts seized in Operation Pandora", 23 January 2017). The main activity took place in November 2016.

Countries listed:

  • EU-countries: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Germany, Greece, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain and the United Kingdom. 
  • Non-EU countries involved: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Switzerland

What activity took place in the UK?

See also the report from the BBC ("'Operation Pandora' recovers thousands of artefacts", 23 January 2017).

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Friday, January 20, 2017

Further damage at Palmyra



The BBC is reporting further damage at Palmyra ("Syria: IS destroys part of Palmyra amphitheatre", BBC News 20 January 2017). This includes the theatre (not amphitheatre) and the tetrapylon.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Intellectual Consequences of Forgeries

I attended the Second AHRC Workshop | Art, Crime and Criminals: Painting Fresh Pictures of Art Theft, Fraud and Plunder at RUSI in London yesterday. I was very struck that some of the issues that I have explored with Christopher Chippindale in our work on Cycladic sculptures were emerging for other works of art and from so many different cultures. Undetected forgeries corrupt the corpus of knowledge and undermine the genuine pieces.

Some of the lessons derived from the conference should be that academics need to be more cautious about providing attributions and opinions as these can be used to authenticate the forgeries. Secondly, the due diligence needs to be far more rigorous.

I will be revisiting Cycladic figures in February as part of a presentation in Cambridge and I expect modern creations will feature in the discussion.

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Monday, January 16, 2017

Sarcophagus fragment reported to have been seized

Image from Becchina archive. Source via Dr Christos Tsirogiannis
I was in London for a conference today and was informed that US authorities seized a fragmentary sarcophagus in New York over the weekend. Full details have yet to be confirmed and I also understand that the fragment remains on display in the gallery.

It seems likely that the piece of sculpture has associations with northern Greece.

The fragment featured in the Becchina archive.

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Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Benin Bronzes in London

© David Gill
I have commented on the acquisition of the Benin Bronzes before (see here). The display of what can only be interpreted as plunder as a result of the 1897 Benin Punitive Expedition sits uncomfortably in an internationally important encyclopaedic museum. 

I feel unhappy with the emphasis presented by Tiffany Jenkins (p.288):
In some circumstances ... the very sculptures and plaques that some would like to see returned to Nigeria were made from the proceeds of slavery, exchanged for men and women. Are these artefacts tainted by how the material was acquired?
She somehow seeks to justify the continued presence of the bronzes in London by looking back over the centuries to the context for how these works of art were created.

Johanna Hanink makes an important point about the Benin Bronzes in her review of Jenkins:
When not ignoring them outright, Jenkins over-simplifies, mocks, and dismisses the arguments in favor of artifact repatriation that detail the more abstract, lasting damage their (oftentimes violent) seizure caused.
Kwame Opoku adds in his important response to Jenkins:
Jenkins should be careful. If we apply her argument to Britain we could argue that Britain derived all her wealth from slavery and colonization and therefore all objects made in Britain, ignoring British industry, agriculture and manufacture, may be looted/stolen because they derived from slavery and colonization. Surely, this would be going too far. She should abandon this way of thinking which stretches ideas as far as possible to cover whatever view she shares even if the result is patently absurd.
If anything Jenkins has strengthened the cause for those who actively seek the return of cultural property.

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Monday, January 9, 2017

A sarcophagus passing through the Swiss market

Image from Becchina archive. Source via Dr Christos Tsirogiannis
When an object has a recorded collecting history of the 'Swiss market' it is likely to draw attention to itself.

I am grateful to Dr Christos Tsirogiannis for drawing my attention to a series of images from the Becchina archive that relate to a fragmentary Roman sarcophagus.

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Friday, January 6, 2017

The London market: Christie's


I have been presenting a regular overview of the New York sales of antiquities at Sotheby's and at Christie's. However this chart shows the value of antiquities sold at Christie's in London (in South Kensington and at Duke Street).

Some of the more expensive pieces included an Egyptian sculpture of Isis for £3.6m (October 2012), the so-called Crosby Garrett helmet for £2.2 (October 2010), and the portrait head of an Hellenistic ruler for £1m (October 2012).

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Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Due diligence searches and appropriate rigour

One of the recurring claims from dealers and auction-houses in the last year is that those from outside 'the trade' are spotting toxic antiquities. Members of the trade need to examine is why their due diligence searches are not picking up this material. Are they placing too much confidence in searchable databases? Are they aware that these databases will be unlikely to pick up archaeological material fresh out of the ground?

But then there are the other clues. For example, if the personal name on an Egyptian relief is linked to a known tomb in Egypt, it could be worth checking the publication. If the vendor of a group of material appears in published lists linked to the "Medici Conspiracy", then it is worth checking the material a little more carefully. If an object is similar to material that has been returned to Turkey, then ensure that the collecting history can be authenticated. If a lot is linked to a dealer known to have handled material whose collecting histories are suspect, then dig a little deeper.

The appropriate response from the members of the trade is to improve the rigour of their due diligence searches and to work with members of the academic community to protect our universal archaeological heritage.

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Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Metal-detecting and archaeology

Displays in Lincoln © David Gill
The recent archaeological survey work at the Anglo-Saxon vicus at Rendlesham in Suffolk has reminded me of the contribution of controlled metal-detecting on archaeological sites. But the account of the discovery of this significant site is partly due to the unauthorised activity of metal-detectorists on the site.

The archaeological community needs to be reminded that there is a difference between scientifically excavated material and finds that are scooped out of the ground and literally carried away in a supermarket carrier bag. Contrast the difference between the Lenborough Hoard (and see my discussion here) and the Beau Street Hoard. I was full of praise for the excavation of the Beau Street Hoard (e.g. "It is a good reminder of the amount of information that can be gleaned from a properly excavated, conserved and studied Roman coin hoard").

As we start 2017, would it be possible for there to be a sensible discussion of how the archaeological heritage of England and Wales can be protected from unauthorised disturbance?

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Monday, January 2, 2017

New York Auctions: Overview

There has been a marked decrease in the value of antiquities sold at auction in New York during 2016. This is partly due to the splitting of sales between London and New York rather than the usual two sales a year. The combined sales of Sotheby's and Christie's in New York for 2016 were half that of the combined sales in both 2014 and 2015.

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Sunday, January 1, 2017

Looking Ahead: 2017

As we look ahead for 2017 there are likely to be some key themes.

The Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill is likely to complete its passage through Parliament and pass onto the statute book. However it is likely to be applicable to material coming from conflict areas in the Middle East and a new legal response will be required. I also remain unconvinced that there is sufficient resource within London (and certainly not outside it) to enforce the legislation. The Cultural Property APPG will be changing its focus to museums and there is likely to be discussion about repatriation.

It is not clear how Brexit negotiations and intentions will affect the protection of the UK's cultural property or co-operation with other European nations to enforce the restrictions on movement of recently surfaced cultural property. The Heritage Alliance is clearly watching this brief.

Due diligence is a theme that has emerged from the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill. Although we hear that auction houses and galleries are conducting due diligence checks, it is also clear that suspect material continues to surface on the market (including known material from Syria). There is a need to move away from an over-reliance on art databases, and to replace it with solid research on the authenticated collecting histories.

Even so, I suspect that we will see more material identified from the Schinoussa, Medici and Becchina archives.

Heritage Crime is a continuing problem in the UK. I am acutely aware that the theft of lead from medieval churches in East Anglia is damaging the fabric of some of the finest heritage structures we have in the region. However it is also clear that there is a passive acceptance in most of the archaeological and heritage communities of the use of metal-detectors on archaeologically sensitive sites in England and Wales.

I am also aware that heritage more broadly, and archaeology more specifically, will need to be seen to be contributing to the economy of the UK (and indeed other countries). Some of these broader trends will be addressed though our research unit, Heritage Futures (heritagefutures.org.uk), in collaboration with Professor Ian Baxter.

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