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Showing posts from February, 2009

"Affording immense spoil"

The discussion about the two bronze heads from the Summer Palace has made me turn to The Times for contemporary reports. Among them is the telegraphic message (December 10, 1860):
The Emperor's summer palace taken and sacked, affording immense spoil.

YSL and Chinese Antiquities: Update

Today has been a busy day with interviews for the BBC World Service (World Update with Dan Damon) and BBC Radio 4 (World Tonight with Robin Lustig). Both have meant separate trips to the BBC Swansea studios in Alexandra Road (where Dylan Thomas once made his broadcasts). The topic has been the bronze hare and rabbit heads sold at the Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé sale at Christie's Paris yesterday (for over US $40 million). Both pieces had been removed somewhat violently from the Summer Palace by British and French troops in 1860 during the Second Opium War. China had requested their return and Bergé had offered a negotiated deal if China reformed its attitude towards human rights.

As we went live at 10.20 am GMT it became clear that China was going to place restrictions on Christie's operations. This has now been clarified by a further report on Bloomberg: "China Slaps Controls on Christie’s After Bronzes Sale (Update3)" (February 26, 2009; 7.35 EST).
China said…

Evidence and legal patience: seeking clarification

Peter Tompa (Washington lobbyist and coin collector) has been pressing me --- "anxiously" --- to comment on the acquisition of a dekadrachm by a national numismatic museum. The prompt was certainly an interesting one and it brought me directly to a letter signed by Tompa (and posted on the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG) website). The communication, sent from Dillingham & Murphy LLP, was addressed to the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (February 1, 2007) and related to the 'Request for Import Restrictions on Coins at the Behest of the Republic of Cyprus'.

In the letter Tompa comments on the movement of ancient coins and specifically those minted on Cyprus. In note 10 he observes that Athenian dekadrachms are not found in Greece. He then slips in an allegation about a recently acquired dekadrachm "which is thought to have been found in Turkey". Unlike the rest of the material in his letter such a comment is unsupported.

Who "thought" th…

"Some activist archaeologists ... [are] too left wing in their approach"

I have commented before on the naive assumption that those who wish to preserve the archaeological heritage can be described as "socialists" ("Always a background of quasi-socialist sentiment"). Now Wayne Sayles has commented on the issue (quoted in Richard Giedroyc, "Cultural Patrimony Policy Still a Concern", World Coin News February 18, 2009).
Wayne Sayles, spokesman for the ACCG, told those attending the Jan. 10 meeting [of the New York International Numismatic Convention] that he is against the looting of archaeological sites, but feels the views of some activist archaeologists on how to protect the sites are too severe and too left wing in their approach.
What is his solution?

The article shows how far some coin collectors misunderstand the issues.
what do you do when a country demands the return of coins found buried within their borders but struck elsewhere (as in the case of the Decadrachm Hoard)Are they saying that it is acceptable to loot an archae…

"Nighthawking" Survey: some corrections and clarification

The recently published "Nighthawking" survey has been attracting some comment and defence. (We should note that the client was English Heritage not the Portable Antiquities Scheme.)

It is interesting to read the section on Icklingham where the bronzes acquired by a New York collector - and defended by James Cuno - were apparently found. The "Nighthawking" report comments (6.3.2):
In 1989 the farmer began an 18 month long campaign to recover objects which did not receive official support from the UK authorities (Rescue News 53 1991). The outcome of the eventual court case will result in some artefacts eventually being given to the British Museum. Although suspects for the original theft were identified, the strength of the evidence was not felt sufficient for a prosecution to proceed.As far as I know there was no "court case" or "course action" (9.9.4) but rather a legal out-of-court agreement.

The report also seems to have been weak when it comes t…

"To say the problem has gone is absolutely untrue"

Keith Miller, Inspector of Ancient Monuments for English Heritage, has commented on the response by some to the "Nighthawking" survey: "To say the problem has gone is absolutely untrue" (Mark Foster, "Detectors angry at 'Nighthawk' slur", The Northern EchoFebruary 17, 2009). Such a comment seems at odds with the response from the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) (Richard Moss, "Portable Antiquities Scheme moves to allay fears over nighthawking", Culture 24 February 18, 2008). Roger Bland of the PAS is quoted:
The number of scheduled monuments that have been attacked and the number of archaeological units that have been reported where excavations have been attacked by nighthawking has declined, and we’re keen to get that message across. One of the issues to be emerging from the report is the under-reporting of looting from archaeological sites in the UK.

And if anyone is in any doubt about the issue they should consider the fields of John …

From Germany to Iraq

Rolf Kleine, reporting from Baghdad, has written about the arrival of a German delegation including the President of Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Professor Hermann Parzinger ("Was will der Außenminister im Irak?", Bild.de February 17, 2009). He is returning an object seized by police in Germany in 2005: an axe inscribed, "The divine Schulgi, the strong man, the king of Ur, king of Sumer and the Akkadians".

The piece apparently surfaced at TEFAF in Maastricht (see background).

Fresco from Boscoreale recovered in London

The Italian Carabinieri have issued a press statement relating to the recovery of a Roman fresco in London (see also "Stolen Roman fresco recovered in London", ANSA February 13, 2009). It appears to come from a villa at Boscoreale near Naples.

The fresco, showing the god Dionysos, was identified in an unspecified London gallery on October 29, 2008 and then handed over at the Italian Embassy in London on December 23, 2008.


From an illicit hobby to a semi-professional criminal industry

The "nighthawking" survey is out today. One news report has already covered the story with a depiction of how archaeological sites in England are being pillaged (Maev Kennedy and Sam Jones, "Treasure raiders scooping up UK heritage", The Guardian February 16, 2009). The issue shows "that what was once an illicit hobby has mushroomed into a semi-professional criminal industry. According to police, thieves have formed loosely connected networks to trade information, often in online forums, about new and vulnerable sites."

Other reports:
"Nighthawkers raid nation's archaeological heritage to sell on eBay", The Times February 16, 2009"Warning over metal detector crime", BBC February 16, 2009"On the treasure stealers' trail", BBC February 16, 2009
Stephen Adams, "Metal detector thieves are plundering our history, English Heritage warns", Daily Telegraph February 16, 2009

The corruption is long-lasting

Cambridge colleagues and I have been discussing the likely impact of the Robin Symes - Christos Michaelides archive of photographs found on the Greek island of Schinousa in 2006. In the last two to three years we have seen the fallout from the Medici "archive" seized in the Geneva Freeport. But which pieces will be identified from this Symes-Michaelides record?

My co-researcher Christopher Chippindale observed:
the corruption through looted objects is so deep and wide and long-lasting that even people of good character who bought things decades ago may inadvertently have acquired illicit stuff.

How can such material be avoided?

Museums and private individuals need to have a rigorous due diligence process. Was the object known, i.e. documented, prior to 1970? How reliable is the information?

The acquisition of antiquities requires more than "good faith" or a reliance on "good title".


Coins, a metal-detector and Halkidiki

A pet-shop owner from Halkidiki in northern Greece has been arrested ("Greek man arrested with stash of antiquities", AP, February 13, 2009). Giorgos Tassiopoulos, the anti-crime squad director in Halkidiki, said that 1500 silver and bronze coins had been recovered from the man's home in the village of Nea Moudania (close to the ancient city of Olynthos); another 680 antiquities, including pots, lamps, terracotta figures and jewellery, were also found.

The police search also recovered a .22 handgun, and (according to the Athens News Agency, February 13, 2009) a metal-detector.

Zahi Hawass on the Web

Zahi Hawass has a new website. This includes material relating to objects such as the Ka-nefer-nefer mask in the St Louis Art Museum ("Dr. Hawass Calls for Return of Stolen Artifact") and comments on the head of Nefertiti in Berlin ("Cairo Demands Clarification on Nefertiti Bust - Spiegel").

Lydian Hoard Conviction

In July 2006 ten individuals, including the director of the Usak Museum Kazim Akbiyikoglu, were charged "with embezzlement and artifact smuggling in a case involving the theft of a piece of the famed Lydian Hoard at the Usak Museum" ("10 charged in missing brooch case", Turkish Daily News July 14, 2006). The tragedy of the case was that this formed part of the hoard that had been returned from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.

It has been reported today that the 10 have been jailed ("Turkey jails 10 for stealing ancient treasures", Hurriyet January 13, 2009).
A coin and a gold brooch in the shape of a winged sea horse were taken from a museum displaying possessions of the wealthy king of Lydia who ruled in the 6th century B.C. ...

A court in the western city of Usak says museum director Kazim Akbiyiklioglu was imprisoned on Friday for nearly 13 years for theft and embezzlement. Nine others received lesser prison terms.

The treasures were replaced …

YSL and China

I have commented about next week's sale of the Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé collection at Christie's (Paris) next week. Dave Itzkoff, writing for the New York Times, reports that China has called for the return of two pieces ("China Asks for Return of Relics in Laurent’s Collection", New York Times, February 12, 2009). This repeats a story carried initially on Bloomberg (Eugene Tang and Dune Lawrence, "China Urges Return of Saint Laurent Sale Bronzes", February 12, 2009).
The two animal-heads -- a rabbit and a rat -- were severed from a water fountain at Beijing’s imperial Summer Palace when British and French troops plundered and burned the palace in October 1860.The pieces are lots 677 and 678.

Christie's have also issued a statement (covered by Bloomberg):
The auction house said last month that “each and every item” in the Berge Collection has a clear legal title. Today’s statement from Christie’s reiterates that, saying the objects, “including t…

YSL and Antiquities

Christie's will be auctioning the Collection Yves Saint Laurent et Pierre Bergé at the Grand Palais, Paris next week (23-25 February 2009). There are 14 lots of 'Ancient Art and Antiquities', mostly classical marble sculpture with two Attic kraters and two Egyptian pieces.

The stated sources are:
GalerieAkko van Acker, Paris: lot 695, marble Minotaur (1985; formerly French private collection 1970).GalerieKrimitsas, Paris: lot 679, torso of Narcissus (around 1980); lot 681, Attic bell-krater (around 1970-1980; formerly Woodyat Collection, 1912); lot 682, head of Dionysos (around 1980); lot 688, Attic bell-krater (around 1970-1980); lot 690, head of Diomedes (around 1980); lot 691, Egyptian anthropoid wooden coffin (1975); lot 693, Attic black-glossed hydria (1970)
Galerie Marc Lagrand, Paris: lot 680, torso of athlete (1970-1980).Galerie Simone deMonbrison, Paris: lot 694, torso of Mercury (around 1975). Not stated: lot 687, torso of athlete (between 1970 and 1980); lot 689, R…

Bonhams: "The market for Classical and Egyptian antiquities is thriving"

I was interested to read the press release announcing the sales of antiquities at Bonhams for 2009. It started: "Following a series of strong sales, 2008 saw Bonhams’ Antiquities department established as the market leaders for UK sales of ancient art."

Yet 2008 could also be seen as a singularly unfortunate year for the antiquities department at Bonhams. The sale of the Graham Geddes collection was a PR disaster: intervention by the Italian Government, lots withdrawn, objects left unsold. And to cap it all the sale had been showcased in the Bonhams magazine (even to the point of featuring on the cover).

The sale raised some key issues about the way that the antiquities department had been operating. This new press release talks about "interesting and long-established provenance" for objects. Certainly the "provenance" of objects that had passed through a certain London auction house was not only "interesting" but also highly significant: but the…

Ny Carlsberg: failure to co-operate leads to intervention of ambassador

A diplomatic row is brewing between Denmark and Italy ("Ambassador mediates in a case of stolen artefacts", The Copenhagen Post February 3, 2009). Denmark's ambassador to Italy has been drawn into the dispute relating to antiquities acquired by the Ny Carlsberg (see earlier story).

Presumably the negotiations initiated by Italy in January 2007 had not been making progress. The Post notes, "for more than two years the museum and the Danish culture ministry gave various reasons for not co-operating in the investigation". But the pressure has been stepping up:
In December 2008, the Italians presented a list of 100 artefacts that they believed were acquired illegally and wanted returned. The Glyptoteket management refused to oblige, stating that many of the objects on the list were purchased legally after the former administrators, who are suspected of purchasing the alleged illegal artefacts, left their positions at the museum.The paper also notes, "Many of the…