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Showing posts from August, 2011

Cyrenaican antiquities: keep watch

Readers of LM will be aware that antiquities from Cyrenaica (Libya) do surface on the European market (see here). The Director-General of UNESCO has now asked dealers and galleries to be alert for antiquities that may have derived from the looting of archaeological sites in Libya (see BBC report). There is a telling comment: "careless dealers who buy these objects and fragments are in fact inciting more looting".

It is a timely reminder for buyers to insist on seeing authenticated documentation before making a purchase.

Libya is the potential source of classical material ranging from archaic pottery from the early Greek settlements, to Late Antique sculptures and architectural fragments.

ACCG Appeal

Earlier this month the ACCG's Baltimore Test Case was rejected. The ACCG's board has now decided to appeal using the same legal team that failed to make the case the first time around.

Archaeology and War: the Australian dimension

I have commented earlier on the Shellal Mosaic. I have now received the booklet prepared for the Australian War Memorial by A. D. Trendall.

It includes other material collected by the senior Army chaplain, the Reverend William Maitland Woods. The items include three other mosaics from Syria (two reportedly from Homs). In addition there is a marble gravestone of Theosebes from Homs that was discovered in 1919.

The collection includes a funerary portrait from Palmyra that was part of the exchange for two Australian airmen, Lieutenant N. Hazelwood and Air Mechanic Edward Thomas Parr, who were detained in October 1918.

SLAM Mummy Mask: Update

Rick St Hilaire has covered the response of the St Louis Art Museum (SLAM) to the dispute over the Egyptian mummy mask. It is perhaps significant that there is no official press release on the topic.

SLAM has yet to demonstrate in a convincing way how the mummy mask moved from the archaeological store in Egypt to the antiquities market in Switzerland. Was the collecting history provided by the vendor fabricated?

SLAM's apparent unwillingness to consider the possibility that it had been provided with information that was possibly flawed could mean that it will face some difficult questions through the legal process.

Journal of Art Crime 5 (2011)

I have eventually seen a copy of the spring number of the Journal of Art Crime 5 (2011).

Readers of LM will be interested in the following:
Ludo Block, "European Police Cooperation on Art Crime: A Comparative Overview", 13-25.David W.J. Gill and Christos Tsirogiannis, "Polaroids from the Medici Dossier: Continued Sightings on the Market", 27-33.David W.J. Gill, "Context Matters. The unresolved case of the Minneapolis krater", 57-61.Christopher A. Marinello, "The Art Loss Register. Recovery update", 67-68.Noah Charney, Q&A with Peter Watson, 81-82.

Khouli Case: Egyptian Antiquities Seizure

Cultural Heritage Lawyer Rick St Hilaire has published a useful list of the objects and documents seized from Moussa "Morris" Khouli, Joseph A. Lewis II, Salem Alshdaifat, and Ayman Ramadan.

For the earlier indictment see here.

Why did North American museums acquire recently surfaced antiquities?

I have been reflecting on how major North American museums managed to get themselves into a situation where they acquired recently surfaced antiquities. Indeed they have exposed themselves to criticism from foreign governments, academia and the media.

I presume the motivation was to build a collection of classical antiquities that would rival other museums. Curatorial careers were built on the finest Greek pot, or should that be vase?, or the most unusual archaic marble statue. but did those curators never stop and think about the sources? Had these genuinely unknown objects really resided in some anonymous villa beside Lake Geneva? Or did these same curators suspect that they were derived from the deliberate destruction of archaeological sites? But did they care? Or were they just naive?

The move to address this problem was brought to the world's attention by bodies such as UNESCO and the AIA. From the North American museum community we should also note Maxwell Anderson's pi…

Excavations in time of war

I have been finishing a paper, "Excavating Under Gunfire: Archaeologists in the Aegean During the First World War", and raised a question on academia.edu about objects excavated on territory acquired from an enemy. I was pointed to a discussion of the Shellal Mosaic that was recovered by Australian troops during the second battle for Gaza; it was actually excavated by the senior Australian military chaplain (see here). There has been much discussion in the Australian and Israeli press: Andrew Taylor, "Questions raised over 'looted' mosaic", Sydney Morning Herald August 14, 2011; 'Removal of Gaza mosaic may constitute war crime', Jerusalem Post August 14, 2011. The mosaic now resides in the Australian War Memorial (here).

I have reviewed the initial publication report as well as viewed the photographs of the mosaic in situ. There is little to suggest that it was "plundered".

I find the legal musings a little misleading.
A leading legal exper…

Ankhhaf and Boston

The bust of Ankhhaf was excavated by the Harvard University-Museum of Fine Arts Egyptian Expedition at Giza in 1925 (Dows Dunham, "The portrait bust of Ankh-haf", Bulletin of the Museum of Fine Arts 37 (1939), 42-46). The sculpture was assigned to the Expedition by the Director-General of the Department of Antiquities in April 1927. The collecting history is made clear on Boston's website (inv. 27.442).
Ankhhaf is unique, and by the terms of the Museum's contract with the Egyptian government, he should have gone to the Cairo Museum. However, he was awarded to Boston by the Antiquities Service in gratitude for the Harvard-Boston Expedition's painstaking work to excavate and restore objects from the tomb of Queen Hetepheres.In other words the bust was not looted; it was excavated. It was not removed from Egypt by illicit means; it was assigned to Boston.

Geoff Edgers now reports on Egypt's hope for the return of Ankhhaf ("Fragile, don’t touch", Boston.…

The Lewis Collection: Acquisitions by the Michael C. Carlos Museum

Questions about the Joseph A. Lewis collection of Egyptian antiquities have been raised since the indictment of the collector and some North American dealers. Loans have been noted at Virginia MFA and at Boston MFA. The coffin seized in Miami was also apparently destined for the same private collection.

I have yet to receive a response from the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University. However, Lee Rosenbaum of Culturegrrl is far more persistent and has posted information about the 19 objects donated by Lewis. Yet information about their collecting histories has yet to be released and Rosenbaum rightly draws attention to the AAMD policy on transparency.

Such a silence is not surprising. It appears that the museum has yet to resolve the Greek claims over a Minoan larnax, a pithos, and a statue of Terpsichore.

I have written to the Michael C. Carlos Museum again today.


The scale of looting in Turkey

The Turkish press has an important piece on the scale of looting in Turkey (Ömer Erbil, "Turkish museums’ storage crowded with smuggled artifacts", Hürriyet August 9, 2011). Last year alone a staggering 68,000 objects were seized: that is 1300 items per week. (And if the seizures represent, say, a tenth of all looting we can appreciate that this is a major threat to the extant archaeological record.) Apparently some 5000 individuals were involved with the smuggling ring.

The seizures are creating a storage problem and there is a suggestion that confiscated material will be sold to dealers, thereby creating an interesting "provenance".

Baltimore Test Case Rejected

We have been awaiting the outcome of the test case brought by the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG) relating to the import of Cypriot and Chinese coins (see initial court papers here). According to Rick St Hilaire "Judge Catherine C. Blake of the United States District Court of Maryland yesterday dismissed the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild’s lawsuit against the federal government. The federal district court decision essentially declared that the ACCG failed to make out a sufficient case." It is worth reading St Hilaire's comments in full.

The ACCG has issued a short press statement (here) with a link to the Opinion.

Cuno: "the Getty has had complicated relationships with foreign governments"

James Cuno has reflected on his first working week at the Getty ("Getty Trust CEO James Cuno wraps up debut week", LA Times August 6, 2011). There seems to be a hint at a move towards a so-called licit market ("the benefits of a more open exchange of goods") in the way that the story is reported.

But Cuno stresses that he will support the Getty's current antiquities acquisition policy, designed to deter looting: "The policy is to only acquire objects that can be shown to have left their presumed country of origin before 1970."

"It's the right thing for the Getty, not only because the Getty has had complicated relationships with foreign governments in the past but because the Getty is more than a museum," he says. "The conservation work and foundation work that we do internationally can't be compromised."The key issue is that collecting histories need to be demonstrated through authenticated documentation.

We look forward t…

London market and the American collector: pieces to return to Egypt

It is being reported that four fragments from the mortuary temple of Amenhotep III are to be returned to Egypt (Mohamed Azouz, "Egypt to receive four stolen artifacts from the UK within days", Almasry Alyoum August 6, 2011). They were seized when their present proprietor, a North American private collector, consigned them to a London auction house.
The pieces had been removed from the base of an ancient statue of Amnehotep III in his mortuary temple in Luxor, the statement said. It added that three are heads with Asian features and the fourth is a cartouche that belonged to the pharaoh.The items were apparently spotted by a Trustee of the British Museum.

Who was the collector? How had (s)he acquired them? Which auction house was due to sell them? What had the due diligence search revealed?

We should note that an eye from a statue in the same complex was returned from Switzerland in 2008.

The world's most disputed antiquities

I noticed a list of the top 5 most disputed antiquities in the world. At number 1 are the Parthenon Marbles.

Would the Morgantina "Aphrodite" have been in your top 5?

There is no mention of the Rosetta Stone, the Getty Athlete, or the Benin Bronzes. What about the Egyptian mummy mask in the St Louis Art Museum?

What would LM readers suggest as their top 5? Would you differentiate between historic removals and items that have surfaced in more recent years?

Sutton Hoo conference

One theme of Looting Matters has been to emphasise the importance of archaeological context. Earlier this summer I had the opportunity to revisit Sutton Hoo in Suffolk. Careful scientific excavation was able to reveal a major ship burial that is still much debated and discussed. (My own interest lies in the role of William F. Grimes who was responsible for organic materials during the excavations.)

This September there will be a major international conference, Sutton Hoo: a Swedish Perspective. at University Campus Suffolk and hosted by the Sutton Hoo Society (details here) and the Royal Carl Gustav Adolf Academy, Sweden.

From the discovery of the great Ship Burial the Sutton Hoo cemetery has always been interpreted on the context of apparently similar finds from Scandinavia. Several princely artefacts from Sutton Hoo, in particular the helmet and shield, have parallels in the high-status cemeteries of Uppland, Sweden.
This conference aims to present the latest research on Sutton Hoo&#…

Mummy Mask update: "claim of ownership is legally impossible"

I have commented before on the mummy mask acquired by the St Louis Art Museum (SLAM). Rick St Hilaire has a very useful discussion of the developing legal situation.

I was particularly amused by the due diligence search that included the Missouri Highway Patrol. No doubt officers were unable to confirm that they had seen a deceased Egyptian female driving a white pickup truck.

It appears that the import documentation for the mask has yet to be produced.