Skip to main content


Showing posts from January, 2009

Wordle on Looting Matters: 2

Last November I created a Wordle Image for Looting Matters. I have generated two further "word maps" to give a glimpse of what has been happening this month (with over 11,000 visits).

Phoenix Ancient Art Issues Clarification

Just over a week ago I was asked if I could post a statement of facts about the detention of Ali Aboutaam in Sofia.

Dukas Public Relations, who hold an account for Phoenix Ancient Art, have issued a press release (New York, January 28, 2009) through PR Newswire (see statement). I reproduce it here for convenience:
Phoenix Ancient Art Clarifies Misleading Article Regarding Ali Aboutaam from Thomson Reuters

Phoenix Ancient Art has stated that the information published by the Thomson Reuters news agency regarding Mr. Ali Aboutaam, dated January 15, 2009, is incorrect.

The story stated that Mr. Aboutaam was under arrest in Sofia, Bulgaria. In fact, Mr. Aboutaam is at his home in Switzerland and his movements are not restricted.

A registered letter was sent on January 19, 2009 to the Swiss office of Thomson Reuters to ensure that this false information, which was issued through that company's Cairo agency at the behest of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, would be deleted immediately.

As a…

Culturegrrl and Tom Campbell

Lee Rosenbaum of Culturegrrl is longing to have a 45 minute in-depth interview with Tom Campbell of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (for her "due diligence" search see "The Pendulum Swings: Met's Tom Campbell Gets Punked", January 29, 2009). He is willing to talk to the Telegraph and the Guardian ... so why not this "avidly read" commentator on contemporary culture?

TC - be bold. Give her the interview!

Another concern for Tom Campbell

Tom Campbell, director of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, has given an interview for Ed Pilkington of The Guardian ("NY Metropolitan Museum director Thomas Campbell in 'go mode'", January 29, 2009). I am not sure what to make of the provided detail Campbell drives "through the English countryside ... listening to the punk-rock band Pendulum" ... no doubt it fits with the YouTube message ("spoken in his rather more-English-than-the-English expat's accent"). There are even mentions of iPhones and iPods.

One of the issues mentioned in the interview relates to the Sarpedon krater:
Another concern is tension over looted antiquities, a sore that healed a little last year after the Met returned a famous vase, the Euphronios krater, to Italy.This has been addressed in part by the MMA's newly released Collections Management Policy. But what is Campbell's position on this issue? Perhaps Pilkington could have pressed ever so gently ...

History Lost: Exhibition Catalogue

A copy of the exhibition catalogue for the History Lost exhibition (text by Neil Brodie and Andreas Apostolidis) has arrived.

This all-colour catalogue provides a historical overview of looting (including the sculptures from temple of Aphaia on Aegina) as well as a series of post-1970 cases studies. Among them is a section on "Looting in Cyprus" with a list (and map) of 100 looted sites on the island. The feature includes the 159 silver coins returned to Cyprus from Italy in 2003. (See how this is still a contemporary issue.)

For Greece there are sections on the Aidonia Treasure and the Corinth Museum theft. There are short entries on recent returns including the Saarbrücken bronze youth, the Apollo Lykeios from Gortyn, as well as material from the J. Paul Getty Museum (a Boeotian stele, a gold wreath, a marble kore).

There is a short illustrated section on Iraq, and a reconstruction of the Weary Herakles.

Copies are available from Anemon Productions in Athens. (Also available i…

"The great treasures of ancient art belong to no nation"

James Cuno's Who Owns Antiquity? has received a series of critical reviews.

Cuno has now responded on the Princeton University Press blog: "Where do the great treasures of ancient art belong?", January 27, 2009.

He poses the question:
“Where do the great treasures of ancient art belong? In Western museums or in countries where the civilizations that created them once flourished?”Cuno considers the place of the bronze horses of San Marco in Venice, removed from Constantinople - and who knows where before then. But this is not an example of recent looting from an archaeological site.

A second historic example is provided by the Parthenon sculptures. Yet to turn from this monument to mount an attack on the motives of Greek claims on archaeological material shows a lack of rigour in Cuno's thinking. Is it "Greek nationalism" (as Cuno terms it) to ask for the return of a bronze sculpture, a funerary stele, a gold wreath, and a bronze krater that appear to have been …

Rome trial: il commercio clandestino

Last week I commented on the resumption of the continuing trial of Marion True and Robert Hecht in Rome. The judge is Gustavo Barbalinardo. According to the Italain press this is the sixth session of the hearing ("Getty: domani processo a True ed Hecht, rischio prescrizioni", ANSA January 22, 2009).

The report notes the continuing dispute with the J. Paul Getty Museum over the "Fano Athlete" ("Atleta di Lisippo"). The report also suggests that there remains a long list of "disputed objects" (oggetti contestati) which could be subject of a judicial order.

There are hints about the real targets for the trial: i tombaroli e il commercio clandestino.

Codename: Ainsbrook

I have been watching (UK) Channel 4's Time Team this evening. The programme looked at an undisclosed field (under a potato crop) where a Viking burial had been found. The location in Yorkshire was so sensitive that it was given a codename: Ainsbrook. Here is the summary:
In late 2003 two metal detectorists were working in a field in Yorkshire. They found 'treasure' buried just beneath the surface – a collection of Viking material next to a body. Although they had been detecting on the site for a number of years, during which time they had made large numbers of finds, nothing they had uncovered previously compared with this. They decided to share their discovery with archaeologists.The programme explored the tension between metal-detectorists and the English Heritage sponsored archaeologists putting six trenches into the field based on a geo-physical survey. Finds made by the metal-detectorists did not easily map onto the archaeological features.

Part of the programme had an …

Rome Trial Resumes

Elisabetta Povoledo has noted the resumption of the Rome trial of Robert Hecht and Marion True ("Trial Resumes for Former Curator", New York Times January 23, 2009). This has now entered its fourth year.
Focus shifted to the dealer, Robert Hecht, who has been accused along with Ms. True of conspiracy to traffic in antiquities looted from Italian soil. Both defendants deny the charges. Daniela Rizzo, an archaeologist, presented documents and photographs of artifacts that prosecutors contend passed through Mr. Hecht’s hands. Mr. Hecht’s lawyer said his client disputed the case made by prosecutors for the provenance of each object.Over 100 items have been returned from North American collections to Italy.

Will this herald renewed claims against museums in Denmark and Japan?

From the Geneva Freeport to Egypt: a Review

Arthur Brand has directed my attention to "Sentences slashed in antiquities case", Gulf Times 8 June 2006. It mentioned an allegation relating to the smuggling of "300 rare Egyptian antiquities into Switzerland".

I thought it would be useful to review Egyptian material returned from Switzerland. The media trail goes back to October 2003 ("Egypt hails Swiss decision to return stolen antiquities, urges others to follow suit", World News Connection October 4, 2003). This mentions the return to Egypt of approximately 200 antiquities that had been seized in the Geneva Freeport in August.

The 200 items were handed over to Egyptian authorities in November ("Switzerland hands back seized antiquities to Egypt", Agence France Presse November 28, 2003). The seizure, that took place in August, is discussed:
Three months ago, Egypt asked Swiss authrities to seize the ancient Egyptian treasures at Geneva's customs-free warehouse due to suspicions that people…

The Sofia Detention: Coverage from Beirut

The detention of Ali Aboutaam has now been covered in the Lebanese press. A story featured in today's Al-Akhbar (Beirut; January 23, 2009; in Arabic) giving details of the Interpol arrest warrant. Postings by Arthur Brand on the Museum Security Network were cited.

The Lebanese story also mentions the case of the mummy mask ("Ka Nefer Nefer") in the St Louis Art Museum.

Phoenix Ancient Art has issued a statement concerning the incident in Sofia. This seems to contradict the version of events posted by Zahi Hawass.

Perhaps somebody from Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) could provide a little more detail?

The Sofia Detention: Comment from Phoenix Ancient Art

I have been contacted by a representative of Phoenix Ancient Art who has kindly sent me a statement of facts relating to the recent detention of Ali Aboutaam in Sofia.

I reproduce it here with permission from the representative. (I note that the statement has not been placed in the press release section of Phoenix Ancient Art's website.)

The link to the Reuters story can be found here.


Last week, Reuters wrote a highly misleading story that alleged wrongdoing by Ali Aboutaam in an old legal case brought against him and others in Egypt. The story was misleading in two very serious ways:

First, it did not report what ultimately happened to Ali in Bulgaria -- Ali was allowed to return home to Switzerland after Bulgarian courts determined, after a full hearing, that Egypt’s legal procedures were seriously deficient and that Ali never had a chance to challenge the charges against him.

Second, the article did not mention that Egyptian courts threw out the charge in wh…

Egypt and the Östergötland County Museum

Egyptian authorities have made a formal claim on Egyptian antiquities in the Östergötland County Museum in Sweden ("Egypt asks Sweden to return artifacts", IHT January 19, 2009). The 212 pieces had once belonged to Egyptologist and collector, Otto Smith, who had excavated in Egypt in the 1920s. Zahi Hawass claims that the objects were removed "in an illegal manner".

The museum has now issued a press statement (pdf). The issue will be considered by the museum board in early February.

Such a claim is different to those made by Greece and Italy for archaeological material that has been removed illicitly since 1970.

The Sofia arrest: comments from Bulgaria

Petar Kostadinov ("Bulgarian prosecutor, art collector conspired to free controversial art dealer - journalist alleges", January 21, 2009) has discussed the arrest and release of Ali Aboutaam in Sofia.
The Sofia City Court (SCC) ... said that because Bulgaria and Egypt did not have an extradition agreement, Abou'Taam could not be sent to Egypt. The court's ruling has been appealed but was denied and Abou'Taam was released.According to this report Aboutaam left Bulgaria on January 7, 2009 "after his name was taken off the wanted list based on the [Bulgarian] SCC ruling".

If this is the case, why did the Egyptian authorities make a statement on January 15? They were presumably aware that Aboutaam was back in Switzerland.

"The Egyptian conviction targeting my client was illegitimate"

There has been a further press release to Reuters in Zurich ("Bulgaria rejects Egyptian extradition bid: lawyers", Reuters Africa, January 20, 2009) about the arrest and subsequent release of a Canadian antiquities dealer in Sofia (see earlier post). The Geneva law firm of Woodtli Levy Pardo and Brutsch issued a statement:
Mr Ali Aboutaam is now in Switzerland and is completely free in his movements ... Bulgaria purely and simply refused to take up the extradition request, considering in substance that the Egyptian conviction targeting my client was illegitimate.Apparently the travel ban on Mr Aboutaam was lifted on January 5.
The same story story has also appeared in the Bulgarian press (January 20, 2009; link).

Sofia arrest update

The story about the September 2008 arrest of a Canadian antiquities dealer in Sofia and last week's press statement from Egypt has been updated.

Isabel Vincent ("Antiquities-smuggle rap zapped", New York Post January 18, 2009) reports that "Bulgarian authorities refused to extradite Ali Aboutaam to Egypt, where he would face a 15-year prison sentence". She continued:
Aboutaam, a principal in Phoenix Ancient Art on the Upper East Side spent several weeks under house arrest in Sofia, Bulgaria, as officials debated whether to honor an Interpol warrant issued by the Egyptians, according to court papers.

Aboutaam, 43, was convicted in Cairo in 2004 of smuggling the artifacts. Bulgaria this month rejected the extradition request.

"I think it would be very helpful if the Egyptians read the Bulgarian opinion," said Peter Chavkin, a Manhattan attorney for Aboutaam, who lives in Geneva.

"The Bulgarian authorities found that Ali was not afforded fundamental prot…

Looking back to the al-Suwaysi case

Last week's news story about the reported arrest of a Swiss-based antiquities dealer in Bulgaria alluded to the story about the al-Suwaysi case. The case was mentioned in The New York Times (Barry Meier and Martin Gottlieb, "An Illicit Journey Out of Egypt, Only a Few Questions Asked", NYT February 23, 2004; see also Barry Meier and Martin Gottlieb, "Few questions are asked when rare Egyptian relic is offered", IHT February 24, 2004).

At about the same time as Hicham was arrested in New York, Ali's name was being read out in a Cairo courtroom, one of 31 people accused of being part of a long-running ring that had smuggled artifacts through Switzerland to Western dealers and galleries. The charges grew out of a raid last summer at the main Geneva free port.

The indicted included several high-ranking Egyptian police and government officials; the mastermind, prosecutors said, was Tariq al-Suwaysi, a politician and businessman whose lavish way of life had earned …

New Agreement with China

America has signed an agreement with China, "Import Restrictions Imposed on Certain Archaeological Material from China", that will take effect from January 16, 2009 (see further details from SAFE Corner).

Randy Kennedy has written about the agreement ("Pact on Chinese Treasures Wins Praise", New York Times January 16, 2009). He includes a response from James Lally, a New York based dealer in Asian Art.
James Lally ... suggested that the restrictions would not seriously affect his business or that of many other dealers, saying that the mainstay of their trade is in artifacts that have long been in circulation outside China. But he argued that the agreement was deeply flawed and would end up hurting scholarship and museum patronage in the United States.

“It’s going to have a terrible effect on efforts to encourage new students to study Asian art and on collectors and patrons to become involved in the field,” Mr. Lally said. “They’ll say, ‘Well, I’ll just go to contempor…

A Dealer, Interpol and Sofia Airport

Back in September there was a story that an antiquities dealer, arriving on a flight from Paris, had been arrested at Sofia airport ( September 18 2008). The basis for the arrest was apparently an international arrest warrant requested by the Egyptian authorities in June 2007.

The individual was not named in the report but was said to be a 43 year old Canadian citizen of Lebanese origin.

A report in the Egyptian press now makes things a little clearer (Batoul Helmy, "Interpol arrests antiquities smuggler", Daily News January 15, 2009). It continues:
A notorious antiquities dealer was arrested by the Interpol in Bulgaria after a years-long chase, Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni announced.According to the head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, Zahi Hawass, the smuggler, Ali Abu Ta'am, is Lebanese but resides in Geneva, Switzerland. He owns an antiques exhibition. Abu Ta'am is also a suspect in the case of Tarek El-Suesy, who was arrested in 2003 for smugg…

Farewell to Liapis as Hellenic Minister of Culture

Mihalis Liapis stepped down as the Hellenic Minister of Culture on January 8, 2009 after 16 months in office (press release). The incoming minister is Antonis Samaras.

The speeches for the ceremony have been released. Liapis spoke about the financial challenges to the Ministry and he painted a bleak picture for his successor: "The road is difficult, upwards and ... lonely, but the Ministry deserves a better fate" (Ο δρόμος είναι δύσκολος, ανηφορικός και ... μοναχικός, αλλά αυτό το Υπουργείο αξίζει καλύτερης μοίρας.). (See also press reports in Greece.)

Liapis placed Greece's cultural claims firmly on the international stage through the hosting (in March 2008) of the UNESCO conference in the New Acropolis Museum. He has strengthened links with Italy that led to the Nostoi exhibition in Athens. This coincided with the return of fragments of the Parthenon from Palermo and the Vatican. But he has also initiated claims on more recently looted material; recent returns include an…

Selling antiquities: "Trying to get a brand new take"

I am still thinking about the radical proposal on Archaeological Development Bonds suggested by the Milken Institute ("Financial Innovations to Curb Looting and Preserve Cultural Resources").

It made me go back through my notes. In March 2007 the Aboutaams were featured in an interview for the New York Times (Ron Stodghill, "Do You Know Where That Art Has Been?", New York Times, March 18, 2007). The article was in part about the implications for the market caused by the return of antiquities from Boston and the Getty.
The new wariness of collectors, both public and private, to buy or exhibit works that do not have the most rigorously documented history jeopardizes the business of even the most established dealers. So the Aboutaams are remaking themselves and their business. In a trade that has been full of grave robbers and forgers adding patina to new objects, they are busy digging up documentation for everything they sell in an effort to polish their reputation.Tr…

The Telegraph talks to Tom Campbell

Lee Rosenbaum (Culturegrrl) has drawn attention to Jasper Rees' interview with Tom Campbell, Director of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art ("Tom Campbell, director of New York's Metropolitan Museum, interview", Daily Telegraph January 12, 2009). E-museum technology is likely to be deployed in the galleries ("harnessing modern technology to make sure we can deliver information at different levels for those who want it") presents us with a vision of smart-phone wielding visitors watching their screens rather the objects. (This probably explains Campbell's appearance on YouTube [again a Culturegrrl find].)

Campbell does not say much about the "the ideas and concerns" of the Trustees at the Met---except to say that his own ideas resonated with them. (Does this say something about Campbell's attitude towards antiquities given which of the Trustees was on the search committee?) [A full list of Trustees, as of November 1, 2008, can …

Renfrew, the Met and the 1970 Rule

The public release of the revised Collections Management Policy of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art seems to have been prompted by Lord Renfrew's SAFE lecture. Lee Rosenbaum on Culturegrrl has some useful comparisons to make with the revised (and enlightened) policy at the J. Paul Getty Museum where the local laws of countries are taken into account.

Rosenbaum also comments on the "cloudy" transparency at the Met ...

Perhaps Thomas Campbell could talk about the implications of the new policy in his next YouTube "broadcast".

CPAC, Italy and Hindsight

On January 19, 2001, the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Republic of Italy signed an Agreement to protect pre-Classical, Classical and Imperial Roman archaeological material. (CPAC)The background to the agreement was provided:
This U.S. action is in response to a request from the Government of Italy under Article 9 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. Reports from the Carabinieri Nucleo Tutela del Patrimonio Artistico and in the Italian national and regional press indicate that looting is a current and severe problem, particularly in southern Italy, Sicily, and Etruria. The quantity and nature of Italian archaeological material on the market further indicate that the archaeological heritage of Italy is being pillaged to meet the demand for U.S. and international trade in artifacts. The Agreement offers the opportunity engage in a partnershi…

Reunification or Dispersal: The New Acropolis Museum

Finds from the Athenian Acropolis have long been dispersed between three major collections in Athens (in addition to the old Acropolis Museum): the National Archaeological Museum, the Epigraphic Museum, and the Numismatic Museum. (This excludes some of the material from the North Slope of the Acropolis that is in the Agora Museum.)

Ta Nea (" Χάλκινοι θησαυροί βρίσκουν στέγη στο Νέο Μουσείο Ακρόπολης", December 30, 2008) [link] carried a story that there has yet to be agreement over the range of material from the three museums that will be released for display in the New Acropolis Museum. It had been hoped to transfer some 220 bronzes from the National Archaeological Museum, six hoards from the Numismatic Museum, and 43 inscriptions from the Epigraphic Museum.

The New Akropolis Museum provides an opportunity to consolidate the finds and present the archaeological remains---sculptures, bronzes, terracottas, pottery, inscriptions, coins---from this major civic sanctuary (and Wor…

Welcome to Thomas Campbell

Thomas Campbell, the new Director of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, has issued a short video talking about its encyclopedic collections ("The Met's New Star: Tom Campbell's YouTube Moment", Culturegrrl).

This is clearly going to be a new era with the release of details of the revised collections management policy that tightens up acquisitions. (Lee Rosenbaum had talked about the expectation of such a policy in June 2008; the policy was agreed on November 12, 2008, and the text was placed on the MMA website on January 6, 2009.)

The Journal of Art Crime: Call for Papers

The Journal of Art Crime, published by ARCA, is the first peer-reviewed academic journal in the study of art crime. This biennial publication welcomes interdisciplinary articles from both academics and professionals, related to art crime, its history, and its repercussions. Relevant fields include criminology, law, art history, history, sociology, policing, security, archaeology, and conservation. ARCA welcomes submissions at any time.

Each issue of The Journal of Art Crime will include at least four academic essays, which will be subject to anonymous peer review. Essays considered to be of merit by peers may be returned to their authors along with rewrite guidelines which must be applied before publication.

The Journal of Art Crime will also include book and exhibition reviews, conference write-ups, capsule summaries of major recent art crimes, and editorial columns. The Journal welcomes submissions or proposals for any of the aforementioned.

The following prominent professi…

The 1970 Rule

"The 1970 Rule" will be the key criterion for museums contemplating the acquisition of the antiquities. Was the object known prior to 1970? Is there a recorded history?

A study of the year of acquisition for the items (now numbering well over 100) returned to Italy from Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the J. Paul Getty Museum (Malibu), New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Princeton University Art Museum shows that 14% of the items were acquired in the 1970s (including the Euphronios krater). (This excludes the pieces returned from Shelby White, the Royal-Athena Galleries, and the University of Virginia Art Museum in Charlottesville).

27% of the returns were acquired in the 1990s, well after the USA signed up to the 1970 UNESCO Convention in 1983. Indeed more than 85% of the acquisitions were made in the 1980s and 1990s, after the 1973 Resolution of the Archaeological Institute of America.

And it may make institutions such as the Mic…

Metal-detecting seen as looting by Milken Institute report

The Milken Institute's Financial Innovation Lab Report on Financial Innovations for Developing Archaeological Discovery and Conservation (December 2008) [pdf: registration required] has a section on the UK Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) (p. 9). Although the report initially talks about the reporting of "chance finds" (p. 8), the dedicated section on the PAS seems to present metal-detecting as looting.
The scheme has also been criticized by some scholars as legalizing looting, promoting the removal of artifacts by amateurs. Proponents of the plan counter that the looting was happening already and that the scheme encourages those who have looted to at least document what was taken and from where, preserving minimal cultural context.So it looks like that in the eyes of critics and proponents of the PAS (at least in the eyes of the Milken Institute Report) that looting of archaeological sites takes place.

But is the report suggesting that looting is acceptable so long as th…

The Auction of Antiquities in New York

What is the scale of the antiquities market?

In New York Sotheby's and Christie's have sold more than $270 million worth of antiquities since 1999. This works out at some $27 million each year, normally from two sales a year each.

Sales from galleries and dealers should be added to this amount.

Trends in the sale of Egyptian antiquities at Sotheby'sEgyptian antiquities at Sotheby'sFurther reading
Chippindale, C., D. W. J. Gill, E. Salter, and C. Hamilton. 2001. "Collecting the classical world: first steps in a quantitative history." International Journal of Cultural Property 10: 1-31. [abstract]

New Reviews of Books on Cultural Property

On-line reviews for the American Journal of Archaeology 113.1 (2009) are now available. These include four books relating to cultural property:
Art as Plunder: The Ancient Origins of Debate about Cultural Property. By Margaret M. Miles. Reviewed by Molly Swetnam-Burland.Who Owns Antiquity? Museums and the Battle Over Our Ancient Heritage. By James Cuno. Reviewed by David W.J. Gill.The Acquisition and Exhibition of Classical Antiquities: Professional, Legal, and Ethical Perspectives (A Symposium Held at the Snite Museum of Art, University of Notre Dame, February 24, 2007). By Robin F. Rhodes. Reviewed by Neil Brodie.The Return of Cultural Treasures. By Jeanette Greenfield. Reviewed by Julie Hollowell.

Antiques Rogue Show: Reaction

The drama "Antiques Rogue Show" shown on the BBC yesterday explored the issue of the Amarna Princess sold to the Bolton Museum. One was left with the feeling that Shaun Greenhalgh, the forger, was (in the words of the reporter in the drama) "a gifted, bright kid" - but he came from the wrong place. Was Shaun a talented artist? And we hear the verdicts of the museum curator and the police officer.

The programme was introduced with a shot to the textual definition of "provenance". Central to the story was the acquisition of the catalogue of the sale of the Silver Park Collection ("Silverton Park: costly, rare and valuable antique furniture", Thompson, Rippon & Son, 1892). This appears to be a rare catalogue: only one copy is listed on WorldCat (in the Getty Research Library). The lot items were "all so vague" (to quote the actor playing Greenhalgh). And at the (fictional) police interview with Shaun the lead police officer suggests t…

New acquisition policy for the Metropolitan Museum of Art

It seems that Lord Renfrew's 2009 SAFE lecture has prompted a response from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. SAFE has released the news that the MMA will be accepting the AAMD's guidelines; Elyse Topalian, Vice President for Communications at the MMA sent an email to SAFE on January 2 stating that:
in June 2008 the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees of the Metropolitan Museum of Art accepted the Association of Art Museum Directors's June 4, 2008 Guidelines on the Acquisition of Archaeological Materials and Ancient Art, and on November 12, 2008, the Board of Trustees adopted a revised Collections Management Policy incorporating those guidelines.
SAFE has posted details of the new MMA policy. This includes the statement:
The Museum normally shall not acquire a work unless provenance research substantiates that the work was outside its country of probable modern discovery before 1970 or was legally exported from its probable country of modern discovery after …

The Amarna Princess on the Antiques Rogues Show

The BBC will be showing a drama, "The Antiques Rogues Show", based on the forgers behind the Amarna Princess and the Risley Park Lanx (amongst other items).

The summary of the programme:
A compelling drama documentary about one of the world's prolific and most diverse art forgers. The Greenhalgh family lived by modest means on a council estate in Bolton but, tucked away in the garden shed, Shaun Greenhalgh was creating fake paintings, antiques and sculptures that would dupe the art world out of hundreds of thousands of pounds. He was aided by his octogenarian parents, George and Olive (played by Peter Vaughan and Liz Smith), who concocted elaborate back stories for each forgery. Their trump card came with a fake Egyptian statue, supposedly passed down from George's grandfather, which they sold to Bolton Museum for nearly half a million pounds. Despite the windfall the family continued to live a frugal lifestyle, revelling instead in the satisfaction derived at deceivin…

Australian Antiquities Dealer Arrested In Egypt

A 61-year old Australian antiquities dealer "has been arrested in Egypt for allegedly trying to smuggle two 2300-year-old animal mummies and religious figurines out of the country" (Selma Milovanovic "Antiques dealer faces 15 years in an Egyptian jail", Sydney Morning Herald December 26, 2008).
According to local reports, when security officials opened the suspect suitcase, they allegedly found mummies of a cat and an ibis, both dating back to 300BC. They also allegedly found 19 figurines of the ancient Egyptian gods of Horus and Thoth, wrapped as gifts.The individual was due to take a flight to Thailand.

The Herald Sun (Australia) reported (January 1, 2009):
A MELBOURNE man arrested in Egypt after allegedly trying to smuggle animal mummies out of the country has been released on bail. Frank Bottaro, 61, a successful Armadale antiquities dealer, will likely have to stay in the country until he appears in court.See also:
"Hawass: Linen bandages seized in Cairo Airp…

The Market in Antiquities from Iraq

Neil Brodie, Director of The Cultural Heritage Resource of the Stanford Archaeology Center, has issued a draft of "The market in Iraqi antiquities 1980-2008" (pdf). There is much information about the surfacing of material from the region.

He makes a distinction between public auctions of material from Iraq (which have virtually ceased) and internet sales. He presents striking information about the number of cylinder seals and cuneiform tablets available for sale via the internet on single days in December 2006 and September 2008 (78 and 147 respecitvely for 2006; 142 and 332 for 2008). Some of the pieces seem to have been removed by the use of circular saws.

Brodie continues to use "provenance" as a term; see my comments on the use of "provenience" as well as the confusion about the use of the term "provenance". There is a distinction between the history of the piece (who handled it) and its archaeology (where it was found).

Renfrew on 1970 as a Benchmark

Lord Renfrew will be giving the 2009 SAFE Beacon Award Lecture, "Combating the Illicit Antiquities Trade: the 1970 Rule as a Turning Point (or How the Metropolitan Museum lags behind the Getty)". Mike Boehm has commented on the forthcoming lecture in "Getty's antiquities policy gets kudos vs. the Met" (LA Times blog January 1 2009).

Renfrew has already criticised James Cuno for not accepting 1970 as a key date. (For wider reactions to James Cuno's views see here.)

But times are changing and key bodies are choosing the earlier date. The American Association of Museums (AAM) encourages the use of 1970 for the acquisition of antiquities. The Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) advocates the use of 1970 for the acquisition of antiquities as does its Object Register.

I have discussed 1970 against the 1983 deadline here; after all, material from North American museums that was returned to Italy was acquired from 1971 onwards. And what happens to disputed mate…

Looking Ahead to 2009

There is likely to be continuing fallout from the "Medici Conspiracy". Until now the emphasis has been on North American collections (and at least two more institutions have been mentioned in the press) but the focus is likely to turn to Europe (the Ny Carlsberg) and the Far East (the Miho Museum ). A decision about the "Cleveland Apollo" and a Bronze Victory with Cornucopia from the same museum is due this year.

Authorities in Greece also have sets of polaroids identifying material. It is likely that they will initiate further claims. Discussions with the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University are on-going. The New Akropolis Museum will serve as a focus for renewed and stronger calls for the return of the Parthenon sculptures.

The AAMD needs to resolve the issue of long-term loans of archaeological material. And AAMD members should be more transparent about acquisitions and learn to respond to requests for information.

Will the "credit crisis" cont…