Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Studying Silver Plate from Gaul

My review article of Kenneth Lapatin (ed.), The Berthouville Silver Treasure and Roman Luxury (Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2014) has just been published by BMCR [link here]. Lapatin's helpful study reminds us of what can be gained from the methodical study of a distinct group of archaeological material within a wider context of a sanctuary in Gaul. The volume also contains a discussion of Late Roman missoria, some from Italy.

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Monday, May 18, 2015

Paperwork and documenting collecting histories

One of the issues that I keep mentioning is the need to authenticate documentation. Paul Barford has provided an excellent example in his discussion of material from Palmyra surfacing on eBay. He mentions an "Unconditionally guaranteed authentic" Palmyrene funerary portrait that is being offered on eBay for $13,500 (and on offer today). Its collecting history ("provenance") is provided: "Ex: European art market; Early American private collection, 1960's".

However the invoice indicates that the stela was flown from Beirut to JFK (arriving on 10 April 2006; customs entry 10 November 2006) by Malev.

So are we supposed to believe that this portrait surfaced on the European art market (no evidence posted) and then passed into an "Early American private collection" in the 1960s (no evidence posted)? And then shipped from USA to Lebanon (no evidence provided) so that it could be returned to the USA in 2006 (invoice provided).

This raises all sorts of issues not least the paperwork seen by US Customs in November 2006.

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Collaborative Working in Art Crime



One of the most passionate papers at last week's conference at Queen Mary's was by Lynda Albertson of ARCA. She was urging colleagues who work in the field of Art Crime to find how their research areas could enmesh to provide a greater working of the whole. She encouraged a helpful debate and one of the themes was how academics can engage with the press to ensure that there are informed reports on art crime. (The poor quality of reporting of looting in Syria and Iraq in some of the so-called quality UK press was noted.) ARCA should be congratulated for encouraging such inter-disciplinary research.

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Friday, May 15, 2015

Ethical Collectors

I was very impressed with yesterday's presentation on Ethical Collectors by Cinnamon Stephens at Queen Mary's. It made me revisit some of my research on European and North American private collectors, and to think how some of them could have avoided acquiring toxic antiquities.

Stephens reminded us that private collectors need to understand the "red flags" in their area of collecting. This will help them to avoid 'dodgy' material. They also need to seek professional advice from academics. However we see that in the elaborate catalogues that accompanied the objects that formed part of the study I conducted with Christopher Chippindale.

I suppose the main pieces of advice for collectors are as follows:

  • check the collecting history for the object you are wanting to buy. Is the paperwork authenticated? Is there a clear paper trail?
  • can the collecting history be traced back for certain to the period prior to 1970? 
  • be prepared to walk away from an object even if it is the one that will 'crown' your collection. It could be the piece that damages your personal reputation.
  • document your acquisition: its purchase, restoration, display, or loan. This will be important should you wish to lend to a museum.



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Academics and recently surfaced anqiuities

One of the discussions at yesterday's conference at the Law School at Queen Mary's related to academics working on recently surfaced antiquities. Reference was made to the "incantation" bowls that were the subject of a study at UCL and comments by Lord Renfrew in the House of Lords. A parallel was made with the papyri that are currently the subject of research at Oxford.

One solution is that UK universities need to adopt a more rigorous ethical review of research projects that involve handling potentially looted material.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Antiquities from Syria

Colleagues have been asking about where they can find information about objects from Syria. The ICOM Red List for antiquities from Syria can be found here.
Following reports of widespread damage and looting at cultural heritage sites in Syria, ICOM decided to publish the Emergency Red List of Syrian Cultural Objects at Risk with the aim to help art and heritage professionals and law enforcement officials identify Syrian objects that are protected by national and international legislations. In order to facilitate identification, the Emergency Red List illustrates the categories or types of cultural items that are most likely to be illegally bought and sold.
The PDF can be downloaded here.

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Forgeries and the market

One of the questions posed for later this week is 'how are forgeries placed on the market?'

I look back to my study of the 'Fitzwilliam Goddess', acquired by the Fitzwilliam Museum in 1926 [JSTOR]. The endorsement for the piece was by Sir Arthur Evans. The dealer, Charles Seltman, was known to the museum. The story of the alleged find-spot (the harbour for Knossos) was plausible. The curator was keen to develop the prehistoric collection.

We could consider other pieces such as the Getty kouros. Is it genuine? Or is it a modern creation? Look at the way that parallels were supplied. And there was the creation of a collecting history (with the wrong postal code).

Or there are Cycladic figures attributed by an expert in the field to named sculptors that have turned out to be modern creations. They share one thing in common: they did not come from a secure archaeological context.

And then there is the Amarna princess. Who authenticated it? It was believable because it had the right elements.

So how can we avoid forgeries? Perhaps by acquiring objects that have authenticated collecting histories and that come from known contexts.

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Friday, May 8, 2015

The market in ancient coins and self-regulation

I have been reflecting on a series of questions to answer at a conference next week. One of them asks this, Is self-regulation the way forward?

One of the ways that this could be answered is by looking at the responses of auction-houses or galleries when 'toxic antiquities' are identified. The organisations can either open negotiations with the source countries or they can press ahead with the sale. But the second approach is not always successful because potential buyers can get 'spooked' and the objects get left unsold and perhaps unsellable.

But then there is the topic of freshly surfaced ancient coins. Does the market self-regulate? Or do national bodies have to set up procedures?

I have read with much interest the reaction to a scholarly article by a North American academic in a high profile archaeology journal that addresses aspects of this issue.

A Washington lobbyist who is paid for his services by the International Association of Professional Numismatists (IAPN) has reacted sharply to this piece of academic research, and has even complained that the author of the article shared an electronic offprint with colleagues ("provided advance copies of his article to his fellow archaeo-bloggers"). (There has also been an unsightly discussion of how those who deal in ancient coins seem to define collegiality.)

It gets worse: the lobbyist appears to misunderstand that copyright rules that restrict the author (or anyone else) from posting the article in a place where it can be downloaded for free.

And this same lobbyist has been outspoken about the movement of archaeological material removed from Syria to western markets.

And what has the IAPN said about one of its members linked to a recent incident?

It appears that IAPN spent $40,000 on lobbying for 2014, and $10,000 so far this year (to Messrs Bailey & Ehrenberg). (But I rely here on information that has been made available in the public domain to aid transparency.)

If the IAPN does not 'reign in' its paid lobbyist, it could suggest to the academic and policy-making communities that 'self-regulation' does not work in the area of ancient coins.

And, if I can use a soccer image, the lobbyist will have scored an 'own goal' and encouraged North American authorities to intervene more closely in the market in ancient coins.

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Thursday, May 7, 2015

Ancient coins, find spots, and import restrictions

I note that the next number of the Journal of Field Archaeology, now published by Maney, will be including an important article on ancient coins. I am grateful to Nathan Elkins for sending me a digital offprint.

For those who would like to dismiss this research as appearing in an 'obscure journal' (and only a Washington lobbyist could write this!), can I direct readers of LM to the blibliometric data that places JFA in the first quartile of archaeological journals?

Nathan T. Elkins, Ancient coins, find spots, and import restrictions: A critique of arguments made in the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild’s "test case", Journal of Field Archaeology 40, 2 (2015) 237-43.

Abstract
The Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG) has launched multiple legal challenges aimed at undermining import restrictions on ancient coins into the United States in bilateral agreements with foreign countries. One key component of the ACCG’s argument is that the State Department has inappropriately restricted certain types of coins according to where they were made rather than where they are found, as mandated by the 1983 Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act. Although the ACCG has thus far been unsuccessful, it has not been pointed out that existing import restrictions on coins, in fact, have been written to include coins that tended to circulate locally and that are found primarily within the borders of the country with which the bilateral agreement is made. The ACCG’s argument is thus on shaky ground. As the ACCG continues to press ahead with new litigation, it is worth drawing attention to realities and probabilities of ancient coin circulation as they pertain to protected coins.

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The market in antiquities

I have been sent a series of questions to consider prior to a workshop this coming week. Among them was this: Which agencies are best placed to interdict trafficking?

I would only like to comment on classical material. But it seems to me that there is a huge difference between being 'best placed' and actually taking action. The hundreds of objects that have been returned from North American public and private collections are a reminder that these examples of archaeological material have crossed several international frontiers: say, from Italy to Geneva; from Geneva to London; from London to New York. Yet there has been free movement through customs and other checks.

The high profile 'seizures' have been the initiative of the Italian authorities. Should it be up to 'source' countries alone?

So how do we answer the question?

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