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Showing posts from March, 2015

Does Heritage Crime Matter?

I submitted a review article on the theme of "Heritage Crime" earlier today. It strikes me that archaeological concerns about looting and its impact are moving away from the position held by criminologists. The criminologists (appropriately) focus on "crime", whereas archaeologists consider the importance of context.

But I go back to my earlier position on the intellectual impact of looting. What information is lost by extracting an object from its archaeological context in an unscientific way? How is that loss of information having an impact on the way that the wider corpus is interpreted?

Imagine a rare piece of armour that is removed from its archaeological context without any appropriate recording. Has a crime taken place? Has information been lost?

"Enabling the whole world to see, study and enjoy the sculptures of the Parthenon"

Sir Richard Lambert has responded to the request by the Greek Government to mediate on the Parthenon sculptures [26 March 2015, letter]. The key message from the Trustees is this: "After full and careful consideration, we have decided respectfully to decline this request".

The position of the Encyclopedic Museum is presented: "Museums holding Greek works, whether in Greece, the UK or elsewhere in the world, are naturally united in a shared endeavour to show the importance of the legacy of ancient Greece. The British Museum is committed to playing its full part in sharing the value of that legacy for all humanity".

Visitor figures are pulled out: More than 6 million visitors a year visit the British Museum, and thereby the Parthenon Sculptures, free of charge. 

Lambert concludes his letter: "In conclusion, therefore, we would invite our colleagues in Greek museums to continue to work with us and to explore new ways of enabling the whole world to see, study and e…

Mosaic glass: from Antinoupolis to London

Dr Roberta Mazza has published an important discussion of a piece of Roman mosaic glass apparently from Antinoupolis in Egypt ("From Egypt to London: looting in Antinoupolis (el Sheikh ‘Abadah)", Faces and Voices, March 27, 2015). She draws attention to published research by Rosario Pintaudi who  has worked at the site. Mazza notes:
This little and beautiful piece traveled from Egypt to the showrooms of Bonhams in London, where the sale was stopped by the police, after the object sold for about £ 5,000. The fragment was offered at Bonhams in London in their sale of antiquities on 23 October 2013, lot 65. The collecting history ("provenance") was given as "English private collection, acquired in the late 1960s".

The article is “Latrones: furti e recuperi da Antinoupolis”, Analecta Papyrologica XXVI 2014 pp. 359-402 and is available from This fragment is discussed on pp. 367-70.

Mazza also raises questions about lot 64 that came from "Eng…

Mithras seized in Italy

Italian authorities have seized a statue of Mithras ("I CARABINIERI DEL COMANDO TPC RECUPERANO TRE OPERE DI STRAORDINARIO VALORE ARTISTICO", 27 March 2015, press release). The group seems to have been removed from a site in the vicinity of Tarquinia. The site itself has now been investigated.

The group was being transported in a van with plants. After being stopped the hired van was found to contain maps of Switzerland indicating the statue's immediate destination.

I am grateful to Fabio Isman for drawing my attention to this seizure.

Bland on the so-called Crosby Garrett helmet and the Lenborough Hoard

Roger Bland has placed his paper on 'The Portable Antiquities Scheme and Treasure Act: the Current Situation' given at the Museums Association March 2015 Dig It: Museums and Archaeology Conferenceonline.

I notice that he discusses two topics discussed on LM. The first is the so-called Crosby Garrett helmet. Bland notes:
This was found by a metal detector user who reported it to one of our FLOs who was able to establish exactly where it was found. I have discussed this helmet in print elsewhere (available online). Bland does not draw attention to the fact that the two FLOs [not one!] were not shown the reported find spot for some three months (i.e. on 30 August 2010).

Bland then talked about the subsequent excavation:
This at least proved that the object had come from Crosby Garrett – some people commenting on the web had doubted that – and that it had a context, as it came from a so - called `native’ settlement. The immediate context of the helmet remains difficult to pin down…

Nighthawking and the BBC

The BBC has written an overview of so-called 'nighthawking' (Lauren Potts, "Digging for treasure: Is 'nighthawking' stealing our past?", 21 March 2015). There is discussion of recent digging adjacent to Hadrian's Wall.

Mark Harrison has described their activities:
"Some of these people are very happy to travel long distances, sometimes in groups. They use camouflage kit and sophisticated equipment with night vision and very powerful torches.  "They're very well organised. This idea people have that they're just having a bit of fun and that they don't know what they're doing is something we need to dispel." Interestingly I have just been writing on the topic of 'heritage crime' and the BBC report contrasts with some of the current 'academic' discourse.

An issue left undiscussed by Potts is the one explored in the forum article for the Papers of the Institute of Archaeology.

Rendlesham and metal-detecting

Professor Chris Scull gave an excellent presentation on the Rendlesham project to the Heritage Futures seminar today. He explained how the team was able to map the vicus regius on the landscape. One aspect of the presentation was the constructive use of metal-detectorists to map finds in the study area. It was clear how their carefully recorded work contributed to the understanding of this important Anglo-Saxon site that clearly has a relationship with the major ship burial site at nearby Sutton Hoo.

During the questions and discussion a little detail was revealed about the 'illegal' metal-detectoring on the site that led to investigation of the site. Scull thought that the fact that Rendlesham was known as a 'royal' site had probably attracted metal-detectorists. (I noted that there was never a mention of 'nighthawking' by Scull or members of the audience.) We were informed that a local estate worker had spotted searchers working at night.

Scull made a strong …

Proposal to extend MOU with Italy

Those who visit major encyclopedic museums such as New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art will know that the Italian government has been willing to share archaeological material with a North American audience. This generous action reflects the way that the Italian authorities are demonstrating their commitment to working with the North American curatorial community in spite of past acquisitions.

CPAC will be considering an extension to the MOU with Italy and there is still time to comment. Further details can be found here.

Leave comments here (Docket no. DOS-2015-10).

TEFAF Maastricht 2015

Followers of LM will be interested in some of the archaeological material appearing in this video.

Weep for Nimrud

Heaven cried out, Earth groaned Day grew silent, darkness emerged, Lightning flashed, fire broke out, Flames crackled, death rained down.
— David Gill (@davidwjgill) March 6, 2015
I thought that we could use these ancient words to remember what has been happening at Nimrud (and elsewhere).

The words are said by Gilgamesh (tablet IV) in the translation by Stephanie Dalley (Oxford UP).

Damage to Nimrud

Various media outlets are reporting the deliberate damage to the archaeological site of Nimrud.
Nimrud: Outcry as IS bulldozers attack ancient Iraq site (6 February 2015).
The Director General of UNESCO has issued a press release ("UNESCO Director General condemns destruction of Nimrud in Iraq", 6 February 2015).

“I condemn in the strongest possible manner the destruction of the archaeological site of Nimrud site in Iraq. This is yet another attack against the Iraqi people, reminding us that nothing is safe from the cultural cleansing underway in the country: it targets human lives, minorities, and is marked by the systematic destruction of humanity’s ancient heritage,” said UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova.  “We cannot remain silent. The deliberate destruction of cultural heritage constitutes a war crime. I call on all political and religious leaders in the region to stand up and remind everyone that there is absolutely no political or religious justification for the des…

National Gallery of Australia to return statue to India

BREAKING > The Kushan Buddha Goes Home: Nancy Wiener and National Gallery of Australia Will Return Buddha to India
— Chasing Aphrodite (@ChasingAphrodit) March 5, 2015
The National Gallery of Australia will be returning one of its statues to Australia. This seems to be another instance of unauthenticated documentation.

The full story can be found on Chasing Aphrodite. There is an interesting comment on how new ethical standards are likely to be applied retrospectively ... and making those adopted in the US (by AAMD) look very dated.

A Manifesto for Heritage in the UK

The Heritage Alliance has produced a manifesto in case some of the political parties need some ideas relating to heritage.

The text can be found here.

Heritage on the Agenda for the Election

closing answers from
— David Gill (@davidwjgill) December 4, 2014
It is important to remember that three political parties (Conservative, LibDem, Labour) were represented on the pre-election 'hustings' at the December 2014 AGM for the Heritage Alliance. There were some searching questions and a heated debate during the length of the session.

The politicians were reminded of the economic contribution of heritage to UK PLC and some of the changes that needed to be made.

The destruction in Mosul

The Horiuchi sarcophagus returns to Italy

The US authorities have returned the Horiuchi Sarcophagus to Italy [press release].
HSI New York returned six objects Wednesday including “sleeping beauty,” an ancient Roman marble sarcophagus lid of Sleeping Ariadne, which was smuggled out of Italy. TPC identified the object as part of a collection of suspected looted Italian antiquities belonging to a known trafficker who was involved in trafficking archeological items from clandestine excavation sites in Italy. HSI special agents seized the sarcophagus lid with a warrant issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York. It is not clear which 'known trafficker' is alluded to in the statement as the lid has been linked to several individuals.

This is a further example of the co-operation between the US and Italian authorities as a result of the MOU between the two countries.

Walter M. Banko Enterprises Ltd. and the returns to Italy

The US authorities have returned a number of items to Italy. They include objects handled by Walter M. Banko Enterprises Ltd.
In July 2011, Walter M. Banko Enterprises Ltd., attempted to import four pieces of antique Greek pottery through the point of entry at Rouses Point, N.Y. Based on previous investigations and seizures from Walter M. Banko Enterprises Ltd., law enforcement detained the shipment to determine if the pieces had been listed as lost or stolen. In November 2011, HSI Rouses Point seized two of the four pieces of Greek pottery, both from the 5th century B.C. The items were identified as an antique pottery piece titled “Skyphos” and a red-figured pottery krater. These two pieces were seized once they were confirmed to be the same pieces linked to a well-known trafficker of Italian cultural artifacts. The 'well-known trafficker of Italian cultural artifacts' appears to be Gianfranco Becchina.

Banko has been linked to a marble janiform head, returned to Italy on a …

Tomb fragment from Paestum returned to Italy.

Italian authorities have returned a tomb painting apparently removed from Paestum. The statement from ICS gives a little detail:
In 2009, HSI New York special agents received information indicating that a New York-based antiquity collector allegedly dealt in the sale of illicit cultural property. This collector was in possession of an artifact that was looted from an ancient Italian tomb in Paestum, Italy. In February 2012, HSI special agents seized the Steinhardt fragment, and it was forfeited to the U.S. government. This fragment was discussed before on LM with a link to Chasing Aphrodite that has the full details.

This raises the issue of the falsification of the collecting history. And the intended recipient, Michael Steinhardt, has been linked to several other objects.

The Steinhardt Sardinian FigureThe gold phiale

Pompeii fragments returned to Italy

The US authorities have returned a number of objects to Italy ("19 cultural treasures returned to the government of Italy", 25 February 2015). They include a seizure from the Alan E. Paulson Trust:
In July 2012, HSI San Diego received information from HSI New York regarding four illegally excavated antiquities from clandestine sites in Pompeii owned by the Allen E. Paulson Trust. HSI San Diego located and seized the three frescos, dating back to 63-79 A.D., and one askos, dating back to 4th century B.C. The trust administratively forfeited the items to the U.S. government so they could be returned to the Italian government. A situla seized from Christie's in 2009 also came from the same source, the Alan E. Paulson Trust. Its collecting history can be traced back to the Summa Galleries in Beverly Hills (and subsequently the Royal-Athena Galleries in New York City).  The names of Paulson and McNall coincide. It is not clear if the same ICE press release alludes to this ea…