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Showing posts from February, 2015

The workings of PAS

I have valued my relationship with the British Museum over several decades. It has been a feature of my life for as long as I can remember.

I have read some of the material that has come out from Paul Barford's request for information. I hope that senior members of PAS will reflect on the way that staff have responded to awkward questions. Have they always reacted in a professional way? Could things have been handled differently?

Destruction in Mosul

It has been widely reported that significant archaeological material from Iraq has been deliberately destroyed. One of the reports can be found on the BBC with comments by Professor Eleanor Robson of UCL ("Islamic State 'destroys ancient Iraq statues in Mosul'", February 26, 2015).

This is part of our university heritage, and the destruction is symbolic of the wider tragic conflict in the region.

Hypothetical commentary on Syrian antiquities?

Not saying Syrian antiquities aren't coming to UK (doubt they are). I say there's no proof. VERY shoddy reporting. @washingtonpost@thetimes
— Donna Yates (@DrDonnaYates) February 25, 2015

Dr Donna Yates is a specialist in Latin American archaeology. She is also a member of the Glasgow criminology team researching the movement of antiquities. She ventures to make a comment on the reporting of Syrian antiquities and is critical of yesterday's stories in The Times and The Washington Post. 

But she goes further. She tweeted to the two newspapers her "doubts" that archaeological material from Syria is "coming to the UK". And she continues, "I say there's no proof".

Can we ask if this is a 'hunch' from Clydeside? Or has Dr Yates been round various London galleries to look? What is the basis of her 'authoritative' claim?

Washington lobbyist with axe to grind

Paid Washington lobbyist Peter Tompa has decided to criticise investigative reporting of antiquities from Syria by the BBC. He conveniently overlooks the way that the BBC team met key people in the region, viewed material that had been seized coming out of Syria, talked to those handling the material, consulted with a range of non-academics and academics who are informed about the situation and the market, and trudged round galleries in London. The BBC File on 4 team uncovered some uncomfortable truths about the lack of rigour in the due diligence process for the antiquities market in Europe. For Tompa and Chris Maupin this is all 'sensationalist'.

Does Tompa have an 'axe to grind'? Does he receive payments for lobbying for clients who handle ancient material?

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Bronze Herakles to return to Pesaro

In 1964 a bronze Herakles, dating to the 6th or 5th centuries BC, was stolen from the museum in Pesaro ("US returns stolen artwork 'The Holy Trinity Appearing to Saint Clement' to Italy", ArtNews 25 February 2015). It is reported to have been seized from a Manhattan auction-house by the FBI.

The FBI website informs us:
The Statuette was reported stolen from the Oliveriano Archeological Museum in Pesaro, Italy, in January 1964 along with several other items, including ivory tablets of the 9th and 13th centuries, early Christian glass artifacts from the Catacombs of Rome, and Italic and Roman statuettes. After its theft from the museum, the Statuette passed through several hands, and was eventually discovered by Italian and U.S. authorities when it was offered for sale by an auction house in Manhattan. After being provided with evidence that the Statuette was the same piece stolen from the museum, the consignor agreed to the FBI’s seizure of the Statuette for repatriat…

A North American Dealer on Looting in Syria

North American dealer Chris M. Maupin has commented on Simon Cox's BBC report on antiquities from Syria ("Sensationalist Reporting and the Antiquities Trade: If it’s in Print it Must be True!", February 22, 2015). Maupin only cites the supporting BBC News story ("The men who smuggle the loot that funds IS") rather than the full documentary on BBC Radio 4.

Cox interviewed archaeologist Dr Assaad Seif in Lebanon. Seif noted that the Lebanese authorities had seized a number of antiquities coming out of Syria; among them were a dozen items each worth an estimated $1 million.

Yet Maupin seems to overlook this part of the report:
This despite the fact that in his investigation Cox only once sees any antiquities described as having been looted. These he views via a Skype meeting and are described as small figurines, glass vessels, bits of pottery and coins, acquired over a period of several months. Maupin also suggests that the movement of antiquities from their find-…

The so-called Crosby Garrett helmet

My article on the so-called Crosby Garrett helmet that appeared in the Journal of Art Crime is now available on This documents the varying accounts of the discovery, reporting, 'restoration', sale, and display.

Egyptian antiquities on the market

My study of Egyptian antiquities surfacing on the market is due to be published in March 2015.

Gill, D. W. J. 2015. "Egyptian antiquities on the market." In The management of Egypt's cultural heritage, edited by F. A. Hassan, G. J. Tassie, L. S. Owens, A. De Trafford, J. van Wetering, and O. El Daly, vol. 2: 67-77. London: ECHO and Golden House Publications.

Several million dollars’ worth of Egyptian antiquities are sold on the market every year. The majority of these items seem to have surfaced for the first time since 1973, the date of the Archaeological Institute of America’s ‘Resolution of the Acquisition of Antiquities by Museums’. Some of the material appearing on the market appears to have been removed from archaeological stores in Egypt. There is also clear evidence that reliefs and other items are being removed from recorded tombs. Many other items, such as the Akhmim stelae, come from previously unknown sites, and their removal has led to a loss of know…

Becchina material in Britain

Alice Philipson and David Harrison have followed up the Gianfranco Becchina story ("British museums linked to Sicilian ‘loot dealer’", Sunday Times 8 February 2015). They have named one UK university museum (that had already been named by Italian journalist Fabio Isman) and suggest that further investigations are taking place in North America and Spain (presumably Madrid).

I am quoted in the report noting that a range of international museums had purchased from Becchina. The UK Museums Association was quoted and urged UK museum to checked their "provenances" (i.e. their collecting histories) carefully.

The Dioskouroi from Syria

New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art has been displaying a pair of Roman statues (on loan since 2008). The reported (but unauthenticated) collecting history attempts to place the pieces in a Mithraeum at Sidon with their discovery in the 19th century. However the paperwork seized in Basel (see here), Switzerland places them in Syria. Is this another case of 'adjusted' findspots?

It is important to stress that these statues were not removed during the present conflict.

A parallel discussion needs to take place around the Christian mosaics acquired by Fordham University.

Looting in Syria

BBC's File on Four investigative team have made a detailed exploration of the movement of looted antiquities from Syria to the markets of western Europe. They look at material that is on offer for sale in Beirut, and other objects that have been seized in Lebanon. The journalist asked specifically about Roman mosaics.

One of those interviewed spoke about the shift in volume of material moving out of Syria since the start of the recent conflict.

The BBC emphasised the need to verify information especially about the amounts of money highlighted from captured UCB sticks.

One of the UNESCO officials spoke of the need to dampen down the market as she expected some objects could be stored for some years. A middleman in Turkey talked about one object that had sold for $1.1 million.

Some material apparently from the region was spotted on the London market.

There was a discussion of the lack of regulation ("unacceptable") in the antiquities market in London.

Trading antiquities from Syria

BBC Radio 4's journalists have been investigating the movement of archaeological material from Syria to the antiquities markets in the west (Simon Cox, "The men who smuggle the loot that funds IS", BBC News Magazine 17 February 2015). The results will be broadcast later today on Radio 4 ("Islamic State: Looting for Terror"). The programme has talked to an individual who moves objects across the border of Syria into Lebanon. He claims some of the items have sold for $1 million. They then talk to a middleman in southern Turkey who passes material onto the western dealers. Material includes a large Byzantine coin hoard. The team talked to a dealer in Beirut who offered to arrange the shipment of mosaics to London. Museum officials in the Lebanon raise the issue of fakes being produced to flood the market.

The programme also talks to Vernon Rapley who suggests that material from London is for sale in London.

Searching heritage sites in Devon by night

Plympton police warning 'treasure hunters' not to break the law #HeritageCrime#Nighthawking
— EH Heritage Crime (@EHHeritageCrime) February 16, 2015
It appears that a police officer apprehended an individual searching the Castle Green by torchlight at Plympton St Maurice in Devon. The site is recorded by English Heritage as follows "This garden or other land is registered under the Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments Act 1953 within the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens by English Heritage for its special historic interest."

Is there a need to renew the debate about the need to protect heritage sites in England?

I am grateful to Paul Barford for drawing my attention to the incident.

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Palmyran head for sale

I noticed some time ago (December 2013) that there was a 'Palmyran limestone head' for sale on eBay. It was even used to illustrate two lectures in Cambridge.

The head has now been discounted at $3,900. Its collecting history has been given as "Provenance: Private NYC Collection, Ex Arte Primitivo." What are the dates? What documentation has been provided?

Note that the vendor is 'palmyraheritagemorriskhouligallery'.

The head also appears on the Palmyra Heritage website but at the undiscounted price.

The gallery is apparently run by Morris Khouli, For further information see here.

Heritage Crime and the need to protect Hadrian's Wall

It appears that illegal metal detecting has been taking place along the line of Hadrian's Wall in Northumberland (Tony Henderson, "Heritage crime concern on Hadrian's Wall because of illegal digging", Chronicle 10 February 2015). The hunting has taken place in the central section of the wall to the west of the well-preserved fort at Housesteads.

This is discussed in the wider context of 'Heritage Crime'.
Mark Harrison, English Heritage national crime advisor said: “The practice of nighthawking, particularly from such important sites as Hadrian’s Wall, is an issue that we take very seriously.  “We recognise that the majority of the metal detecting community comply with the laws and regulations relating to the discovery and recovery of objects from the land, but just as it is against the law to break into someone’s house and steal their possessions, so it is illegal to damage land and steal valuable historical artefacts.  “The objects they are stealing belong t…

The Lenborough Hoard and loss of knowledge

I noticed that The Times (London has covered the Lenborough Hoard (Jack Malvern, "Metal-detector row led to £1m Anglo Saxon coin hoard", 11 February 2015). Much of the story recycles the British Museum press release but it includes a section on Paul Barford, an "archaeological blogger". The Times draws attention to the information that has been lost by the scooping of the coins into a carrier bag.

Antiquities from Syria

BBC Radio 4's "File on Four" will be covering the topic of looted antiquities from Syria and Northern Iraq its programme next week (and also available on the BBC World Service). It will investigate claims about the value of the material surfacing on the market as well as the routes used to get items onto the western markets.

Programme details here.

The Lenborough Hoard and the future of PAS

The Lenborough Hoard is now featured on the BBC ("Hoard of Anglo Saxon coins largest discovered under Treasure Act", 11 February 2015). It is essentially a recycled press release (see here), and even includes a mention of the alleged "excavation".

We should also note that Dr Roger Bland has suggested that the future of PAS is far from certain.
However, the head of the antiquities scheme that funds the finds, Roger Bland, said the future was looking uncertain because of budget reductions.  "I'm not sure whether we're going to be able to renew the contracts for nine of the 32 posts that we've got in the scheme from the 1 April.  "I'm quite concerned but I also feel that we've been in difficult places before and we've managed to keep going," he said.
Meanwhile Dr Daniel Pett of PAS has tweeted me a message.
@davidwjgill your post stating that there was an error with the PAS site is incorrect. You were searching our backup server (…

Lenborough Hoard: update

There appeared to be a curious blip on the PAS website earlier today that meant the normal record was unavailable. I have checked again this evening and it is now all there [here].

The circumstances provided on the website appears as "Weekend Wanderers Xmas Dig". (For further images see here.)

We also need to remember that under The Treasure Act (1996) 'the occupier of the land' can receive part of the reward.

The amazing archaeological hoard

I see that the Lenborough Hoard features prominently in the press release for the launch of the Treasure Annual Report 2012 [press release, "Largest Anglo-Saxon coin hoard tops list of latest nationwide treasure finds". 10 February 2015].
... the largest Anglo Saxon coin hoard found since the Treasure Act began is announced. This amazing archaeological hoard of around 5,200 coins was discovered in the village of Lenborough, Buckinghamshire. This discovery highlights the ongoing importance of the Portable Antiquities Scheme and Treasure Act in ensuring that the most important finds are secured for the nation. Neil MacGregor also comments on the hoard:
More Treasure finds are being reported than ever before and unique objects are documented and conserved for study and public display, such as the recent find of the largest Anglo-Saxon coin hoard recorded since the Treasure Act of 1996. These achievements are a testament to the network of Finds Liaison Officers, who play a key r…

Unearthing the Lenborough Hoard

I have commented on the Lenborough Hoard before. Current Archaeology has a short account of the "discovery" in its March 2015 edition ("Unearthing the Lenborough Hoard", p.9) and the entry is partially posted on the PAS website (I suggest you visit to see the error message that I am sure will disappear shortly after this post goes up).

The CA report tells is, 'Attending metal-detecting events in order to ensure finds are properly recorded and their precise locations logged is all in a day's work for a Finds Liaison Officer'. So does that mean that the precise relationship of the coins one to another was retained? After all, the BM has published the model way to excavate and remove a coin hoard.

Earlier reports had suggested that the coins were found in a 'lead bucket' but Ros Tyrrell (FLO) is now quoted: 'The coins had been piled onto a thin rectangle of lead sheet, after which the longer edges were folded over on themselves, and the ends pi…

The Elusive Truth About Papyri

The Truth Behind What Dr. Craig Evans Has Been Doing at Acadia Divinity College
— Danny Zacharias (@iDannyZacharias) January 22, 2015
I am sure that many readers of LM will have been taking an interest in the collecting histories of some of the recently surfacing (or should that be emerging?) papyri in North American collections. Those of us who take an academic interest in these matters do have a genuine interest in 'the truth behind' what is going on. So the emergence and disappearance of links to 'the truth' (in fact a rather dismissive attempt at what some could interpret as 'humor' [which is apparently not the same as 'humour' in the UK]) raise more questions than provide answers.

Paul Barford has captured the essence of the now lost YouTube video (perhaps now known as VTruth).

Archaeological objects have contexts

I have been working on some recently surfaced material. And as I sat discussing the objects with a colleague it reminded me of some key issues.

Archaeological contexts provide information about dates, associations, place of use etc. Such information does not 'reside' in the object if it is plucked --- one could use the word 'hoiked' --- from its context in an unscientific manner.

So a database of decontextualised archaeological odds and ends is not the same as a detailed archaeological report.

I wonder if one of the issues is that some museum curators do not understand the importance of archaeological contexts. They can attempt to understand the object by searching for parallels --- and how many people have read Kevin Butcher's excellent "Land of Parallél" in the Archaeological Review from Cambridge? --- but are unable to "give" the lost information back to the object.

I will be exploring this tension between "archaeological material" …

Mario Bruno, Becchina and the Bucci painter

The public handover of antiquities linked Gianfranco Becchina and seized in Basel raise major issues over objects identified from Becchina's dossier of images. Among them is an Attic black-figured column-krater attributed to the Bucci painter. The Becchina dossier suggests that they had been handled by the dealer Mario Bruno of Lugano.

Bruno appears in The Medici Conspiracy (p. 154): '[one of two] competitors in trafficking archaeological material from Italy, both busy trying to buy the best objects that came to light'.

I have noted this krater before when it passed through Christie's in 2013 (for $37,500) as part of the dispersal of the Kluge collection. The present owner of the Bucci painter's krater is unstated.

The Bruno-Becchina link also appears in the statue in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (noted by Dr Christos Tsirogiannis).

Craig Evans and the Ossuaries

There are ongoing discussions about the surfacing of new papyri on the market. I have posted my review of Craig A. Evans, Jesus and the Ossuaries (2003) on as it touches on related points.