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Showing posts from January, 2015

The Michael C. Carlos Museum and the Basel Dossier

The public display in Rome of the 5000 plus antiquities seized in Basel, Switzerland were a reminder of the scale of archaeological material surfacing on the market. The objects were seized alongside photographs and bundles of receipts. And so there are museums that will need to respond to the identification of material in their collections.

The Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University was the subject of a report in 2007, followed by a request by the Greek authorities to return three items acquired in 2002 and 2004. Will the museum reveal the full collecting histories of the three pieces? Will they explain why the pieces are linked to the Basel archive?

The market and looting: a Parliamentarian's view

Robert Jenrick, the Conservative MP for Newark, has decided to write a piece on the looting of antiquities in the Middle East for the Art Newspaper ("‘No one group has done more to put our heritage at risk than Islamic State’", 28 January 2015). He writes emotively about the sites that are being destroyed in Syria and Iraq:
this is a 21st-century crime being conducted purposefully, in full view and on social media. Those of who attended the meeting at the British Academy on this topic earlier this month were given an informed position, both by those making presentations and through contributions from the audience. It is not made clear how Jenrick conducted his research or obtained the information to assert:
Through systematic looting, these works of art are funding the murderous activities of IS. Indeed, these activities are now believed to be their third largest source of revenue, after oil and robbing banks. A brave network of informants, today’s “Monuments Men”, give us s…

Becchina and Japan

In 2011 Fabio Isman reminded us of the likely impact of the Becchina archive. Palladion Antike Kunst handled material now in collections in Japan. These include:
Kamakura, Japanese collection. Attic black-figured amphora. Perhaps attributed to the Antimenes painter. Palladion (1976).Kurashiki Ninagawa Museum (no. 34). Attic red-figured cup attributed to Makron. Palladion (1976). This excludes material in the Miho Museum.

Becchina and Madrid

One of the museums that has not yet responded to the identifications in its collection is the Museo Arqueologico in Madrid [see earlier links]. The material has been discussed by Fabio Isman in The Art Newspaper and there he notes:
Becchina’s archive contains photographs of both sides of an Oriental-style Italic Amphora with a Wounded Deer from the seventh century BC, height 52cm, whose dimensions are clearly important enough to note down. The Madrid catalogue, showing a similar object, says of its provenance that “the location is unknown, making it difficult to ascribe it to a specific Italic workshop”. This orientalizing amphora is impressive (inv. 1999/99/159). Its condition suggests that it had been placed in an Italic tomb. So what was the collecting history before the amphora has handled by Becchina?

The curatorial staff need to be reviewing the 22 pieces that were identified by Isman as a matter of urgency. Becchina material could now be considered as "toxic" acquisi…

The Basel paperwork will be raising further issues

The 5000 or so antiquities revealed in Rome as a result of "Operation Teseo" were the stock of a Basel gallery. But the photographic dossier from the same source point to a series of major international museums that were buying from the same source. For now we can list the countries:

USASpainHollandEnglandJapan It is likely that more details will emerge over the next few weeks.

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Bettany Hughes on the Sappho Papyrus

I have had the privilege of seeing the new #Sappho poems but was sworn to secrecy!
— Bettany Hughes (@bettanyhughes) January 30, 2014
At the end of January 2014 Bettany Hughes commented that she had seen the new Sappho papyrus fragments. This was in preparation for her Sunday Times article that appeared on 2 February. In that piece it was claimed:
The elderly owner of our new Sappho papyrus wishes to remain anonymous, and its provenance is obscure (it was originally owned, it seems, by a high-ranking German officer), but he was determined its secrets should not die with him. Yet now Dirk Obbink has rejected this in an interview published on 23 January 2015.
Obbink characterized Hughes' story as a "fictionalization" and an "imaginative fantasy." Who is telling the truth here? Or have Hughes and Obbink both presented (perhaps unwittingly) separate 'fictionalised' accounts? What makes the collecting history presented by Obbink more trustworthy? What is th…

'Fragments in time': reflecting on the Bothmer collection

Christos Tsirogiannis and I have published "“A Fracture in Time”: A Cup Attributed to the Euaion Painter from the Bothmer Collection" that is now available in the latest number of the International Journal of Cultural Property 21, 4 (2014) [DOI]. IJCP is published by Cambridge University Press.

The paper considers the issue of "orphaned" figure-decorated pottery fragments.

In February 2013 Christos Tsirogiannis linked a fragmentary Athenian red-figured cup from the collection formed by Dietrich von Bothmer, former chairman of Greek and Roman Art at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, to a tondo in the Villa Giulia, Rome. The Rome fragment was attributed to the Euaion painter. Bothmer had acquired several fragments attributed to this same painter, and some had been donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art as well as to the J. Paul Getty Museum. Other fragments from this hand were acquired by the San Antonio Museum of Art and the Princeton University Art …

From Switzerland to Italy: further on the returns

For further details of the return to Italy see "Record €50m hoard of looted Italian antiquities unveiled by police", The Guardian January 22, 2015. LM is mentioned in the piece and I discuss the related documentation: "the documentation will likely point to objects that were now in top museums and would certainly be on the Italians’ list for repatriation".

It is likely that objects in European collections such as Amsterdam and Madrid will be investigated further.

For further details on Gianfranco Becchina see this overview and also this link.

Objects in Rome revealed

The Sicilian press has started to report on the handover of some 5000 objects at the Terme di Diocleziano del Museo Nazionale Romano this morning ("Ricettazione internazionale: Restituiti 5 mila reperti storici", Live Sicilia January 21, 2015). This group appears to be formed by the objects seized from warehouses associated with Gianfranco Becchina in Basel who is named in the article.
In particolare, i carabinieri evidenziarono la figura di un intermediario – Gianfranco Becchina di Castelvetrano – il quale aveva curato la vendita del vaso al museo californiano. The report discusses Becchina's links with the Asteas krater returned from the J. Paul Getty Museum, as well as the Getty kouros.

These developments should be considered against the letter issued by Becchina on 14 January 2015.

Recovered Antiquities: Rome Press Conference, 21 January 2015

I understand that there will be a press conference tomorrow (21 January 2015) at the Museo Nazionale Romano alle Terme di Diocleziano. It appears that there will be a statement about a major batch of recovered antiquities.

This is likely to be an important development. If it relates to the stock of a dealer, then there are implications for those museums, private collectors, and galleries that purchased from that same source.

The (un)authenticated collecting history of the newly surfaced Sappho papyrus fragments

is no one bothered by the incongruencies between Obbink's account and Bettany Hughes' account of the provenance of the Sappho papyrus?
— rogueclassicist (@rogueclassicist) January 13, 2015
Dirk Obbink has presented a paper on "Provenance, authenticity, and text of the New Sappho Papyri" at New Orleans, January 2015. (Why do academics continue to use the obsolete term "provenance" when they mean "collecting history"?)

I have commented on the previously stated collecting history before. Now it appears that a new account has appeared "It was one of two pieces flat inside a sub-folder (folder 'E3') inside a main folder (labelled 'Papyri Fragments; Gk."), one of 59 packets of papyri fragments sold at auction at Christies in London in November 2011". Obbink thus places the new Sappho fragment in the David M. Robinson collection (and for the text of the discussion of the catalogue see discussion by Roberta Mazza here).

Lot 1 of…

Cultural Heritage in Syria and Iraq

Sam Hardy on organised criminal activity and looting of archaeological sites
— David Gill (@davidwjgill) January 16, 2015
There was a helpful series of presentations at the British Academy today, sponsored by the Council for Research in the Levant. This was followed by a constructive discussion.

Dr Sam Hardy's paper reminded us of the basis for the estimates for the value of antiquities coming out of Syria.

One of the lively sections was a discussion relating to the publication of recently surfaced cuneiform tablets especially by UK scholars. There was a call for research ethics committees in UK universities to consider the issue more carefully.

Syrian Heritage in Crisis

A panel discussion will be taking place this afternoon (Friday 16 January 2015) at the British Academy to discuss the situation in Syria and Iraq.

Join a panel of experts to discuss cultural heritage in Syria, raise awareness of its Syrian dimension, to consider it within a regional and international context, and to look for any measures that might be taken to reduce the damage being wrought.   Cultural heritage has become a serious casualty of the ongoing civil war in Syria as widely seen in media reports describing damage to archaeological sites for both military and ideological reasons, the looting of antiquities to order to support groups like Daesh, and the rise of the illicit antiquities trade. Although less immediately tragic than the humanitarian disaster unfolding across the country, the destruction and loss of community and cultural property represents catastrophic damage that directly affects people and society, with long-term harm to culture, identity and economy.  Respo…

Collecting histories and objects

Readers of LM will know that I dislike the word "provenance". I have discussed the use of the term in an article in the Journal of Art Crime that can be found here.

Chris Chippindale and I suggested that we use the terms "archaeology" and "collecting history". Thus the find-spot is discussed under "archaeology", e.g. this core-formed glass alabastron was found in grave 172 of the Fikellura cemetery at Kameiros, Rhodes; or, this bronze oinochoe has no known find-spot. And collecting history charts the movement of the object from collector to auction house to museum, e.g. the Baron Icklesford collection; London market; the Hortenshaw Art Museum. (For an example of how to describe objects using this method see here.)

Yet I note that some persist in tying themselves in knots trying to explain what they mean by "provenance" or even "unprovenanced". For example, a discussion of a Late Roman treasure could have said, "we do not…

Parthenon sculpture on loan

Parthenon sculpture vacates London
— David Gill (@davidwjgill) January 13, 2015I popped in to see the empty plinth.

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Condemning "monsters": Yates on the trade in archaeological material

Dr Donna Yates (University of Glasgow) has been interviewed by Chris Havergal for the Times Higher ('Cultural Guardian', THE 15 January 2015, 42-45). The interview starts with her experience of looting at Mayan sites. She explains her role, 'piercing together smuggling networks or studying legal mechanisms for preventing looting'.

She reflects on the impact on local communities:
It's a situation in which extremely rich and wealthy white people take complete advantage of people who can't fight back, and then blame them for it. I see it as double victimisation - these people are not only having their property taken from them, they are having their ability to construct their own identities taken from them by people who have all this power, who don't even consider it to be a problem. She also talks about museums:
She says some museums have done "horrible" things and has little sympathy for institutions that are not honest about their past and the prov…

Learning from the Lenborough Hoard

The Lenborough Hoard has raised some important issues for the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Can I make some suggestions for PAS staff who attend 'events'?

Do not be surprised if finds are made are made at an archaeological site featured in the Historic Environment Record.Take the appropriate digging and recording equipment with you.Remember to take some appropriate containers for any finds.Do not be afraid to ask for the exploration of a 'deposit' to be stopped so that it can excavated in an appropriate manner in order to preserve information.Make a plan so that a location can be secured if a major find is made and has to be left overnight. It is becoming clear that significant information has been lost by the rushed removal of the coin hoard from its archaeological deposit.

How to excavate and study a coin hoard

I was very struck by a presentation on the Beau Street Hoard at a conference last November. The publication notes:
The archaeologists decided to lift the hoard as a block with its surrounding soil so that it could be excavated under laboratory conditions. A perusal of Eleanor Ghey's The Beau Street Hoard shows what can be gained from such a careful study.

What information has been lost through the rushed and apparently unscientific removal of the Lenborough Hoard from an unploughed field in Buckinghamshire?

From the Eastern Mediterranean to Switzerland

Paul Barford has spotted a dealer based in Zurich, Switzerland selling uncleaned Islamic coins and other Byzantine material on eBay. What is their source?

Only last month I was exploring material from Palmyra that was available on eBay with Cambridge students.

PAS: Code of practice for responsible metal detecting

Some readers of LM may be unfamiliar with the "Code of practice for responsible metal detecting" on the website of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS). I extract some key points here.
Before you go metal-detecting  "Adhering to the laws concerning protected sites (e.g. those defined as Scheduled Monuments or Sites of Special Scientific Interest: you can obtain details of these from the landowner/occupier, Finds Liaison Officer, Historic Environment Record ...)" While you are metal-detecting "Wherever possible working on ground that has already been disturbed (such as ploughed land or that which has formerly been ploughed), and only within the depth of ploughing. If detecting takes place on undisturbed pasture, be careful to ensure that no damage is done to the archaeological value of the land, including earthworks."  "Minimising any ground disturbance through the use of suitable tools and by reinstating any excavated material as neatly as possible. …

Protecting the archaeology of England and Wales

In late 2010 I was invited to write a forum article on 'The Portable Antiquities Scheme and the Treasure Act: Protecting the Archaeology of England and Wales?' for the Papers of the Institute of Archaeology (online). There were responses by Trevor Austin, Paul Barford, Gabriel Moschenska, Lord Renfrew and Sally Worrell (also online) and with a rejoinder by me. The text was written against the background of the 2009 Nighthawks and Nighthawking report (see some discussion from that time).

A number of issues were raised including suggestions about how the Treasure Act could be revised and strengthened. There was a tension that I highlighted:
Archaeologists would argue for the stewardship of the archaeological record and the importance of context, whereas (some) metal-detectorists are perhaps only interested in retrieving objects that can be owned either by themselves or sold on to others. (Please note the deliberate use of some and perhaps.) Perhaps one of the disappointing issue…

The Lenborough Hoard

The BBC is now reporting on the finding of a major late Anglo-Saxon (to early Norman) hoard near Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire ("Thousands of ancient coins discovered in Buckinghamshire field", 2 January 2015).
Paul Coleman from the Weekend Wanderers Detecting Club discovered more than 5,000 coins buried inside a lead bucket two feet under a field near Aylesbury. This has earlier been reported as a find made at Lenborough ("Silver coins worth £1m found on farm", Buckingham Today 31 December 2014). Paul Barford has drawn attention to the fact that the find was made at the location of a deserted medieval village, and a Medieval Manor House (see website of metal-detecting group: "Tons of history here, DMV site, Medieval Manor house and windmill site, Roman treasure found at adjacent village and much more....").

Two feet underground does not sound like a surface find. What stratigraphical and contextual information has been lost? (For a discussion of these iss…

Market demands for archaeological objects

One of the issues that needs to be addressed is the demand for archaeological material. Which groups are acquiring or handling such material?

Museums. Yet it is clear that since the Medici Conspiracy that most museums are cautious about acquiring freshly surfaced material. There is still some work to do on long-term loans.Private collectors. The Medici Conspiracy has highlighted a number of 'high profile' collectors, and some of them continue to hold material that needs to be returned. (I have not forgotten about the Icklingham bronzes.) Investors. There are some who still see archaeological material as a way as investing in 'ancient art'. Auction houses. 'Toxic' antiquities continued to surface on the market during 2014 and it is clear that the present due diligence process needs to be made more rigorous. Galleries and dealers. Some dealers are raising their standards but not all. Can we expect to see improved documentation for archaeological material passing t…

2015: The Year Ahead

What will I expect to see covered in 2015?

The debate about the looting of archaeological sites in Syria is likely to dominate the press and the wider debate of the movement of antiquities.

I would hope that the major auction houses will review their due diligence procedures in the light of events in 2014. However I suspect some will not and we will probably continue to see "toxic antiquities" surfacing on the market. Will the company used to check the collecting histories prior to sale be asked to become more rigorous? (One solution would be to use the 1970 UNESCO Convention as a benchmark.)

I also expect the San Antonio Museum of Art to investigate which items in their collection also appear in the Medici Dossier.

I suspect that papyri will continue to be debated. Have classical and New Testament scholars grasped the ethical issues about newly surfaced material?

At a local level I hope that there will continue to be discussion about the degrading of the archaeological reco…