Friday, February 27, 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?

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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.

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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Hypothetical commentary on Syrian antiquities?



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?

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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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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

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 repatriation to Italy. The United States Attorney’s Office submitted a proposed stipulation and order providing for the Statuette’s seizure and return, and the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York entered that order on October 2, 2014.
It would be interesting to learn the full collecting history between 1964 and 2014.

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Monday, February 23, 2015

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-spots to the market place is "imaginary".
Cox falls into the trap of reporting on an (imaginary) international criminal network, operating in a shadow world of diggers, smugglers, middlemen and dealers.
Cox, and producer Paul Grant, put together a carefully researched programme that explained how objects moved from Syria. Members of the programme team even attended a conference on Syria that was held at the British Academy so that they could hear the latest information.

Those of us in the UK value the professionalism of BBC journalists: rarely a day goes by at work without some discussion of a news piece on the BBC Today programme.

Maupin's post is itself 'sensationalist' and could be described as 'ill-informed'.

Is there another reason why Maupin want to discredit the BBC?  Is he wanting to ensure the continuing movement of archaeological material from the Middle East to potential buyers?

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Friday, February 20, 2015

The so-called Crosby Garrett helmet

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

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Thursday, February 19, 2015

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.

Abstract
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 knowledge about the original contexts. The scandals surrounding the return of antiquities to Italy has resulted in more rigorous acquisition policies being developed by North American museums. This is likely to suppress the market for Egyptian objects that do not have recorded collecting histories.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Becchina material in Britain

Source: MiBAC
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.

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The Dioskouroi from Syria

Dioskouroi
featuring in the Schinoussa Archive
and on display in New York MMA

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.

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