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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