Thursday, January 28, 2016

Terracotta Head of Hades to Return to Sicily

Head of Hades
Source: MiBACT 
Three years ago I reported that the J. Paul Getty Museum would be returning a terracotta head of Hades to Italy. It appears to be derived from a sanctuary of Demeter and Persephone ("the decision to transfer this head is based on the discovery of four terracotta fragments found near Morgantina in Sicily, similar in style and medium to the Getty head").

The head will be handed over to the Italian authoroties in Los Angeles tomorrow (Friday, January 29, 2016) [press release]. It will then be displayed in the museum at Aidone next to the 'Aphrodite' from Morgantina (announced in 2007; returned in 2011).

The Getty has yet to issue a press statement, but for convenience here is the one from 2013.

The head itself had surfaced on the market via Robin Symes and had then formed part of the Maurice Tempelsman collection. (For the acquisition of the collection and Arthur Houghton's view, see here.)

Is this the time for the Getty to be releasing the full collecting history of other Tempelsman material?

And what about the 'Cleveland Victoria' in the Cleveland Museum of Art?

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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Syria and Iraq, a Continued Black Market and a Cycle of Corruption

Michael Peppard of Fordham University has been talking about the destruction of archaeological sites in Syria and Iraq (Matthew Bell, "ISIS wants to erase the Middle East’s Christian history — and make a few bucks along the way", WGBH News, January 22, 2016). He reflects on the destruction of the monastery of St Elijah.

Peppard talks about the looting of sites in Syria to raise funds for IS.
“Anything that is portable, that has been discovered, for example, through a systematized looting operation, is being monetized and used as a currency and sold abroad.”
The report then continues with the astonishing:
There could be one tiny shred of good news here. If ISIS continues to facilitate the excavation and sale of artifacts, that means some antiquities could potentially make their way into the hands of experts who could learn from them and preserve them for future generations.
Is the report suggesting that "experts", by which I would understand museum curators and others who acquire ancient "art", pay money to acquire archaeological material that has been derived from such a source? Is it suggesting that it is acceptable to loot so long as that the objects are acquired by somebody who will "preserve" the objects? Do the acquirers reflect on who gains financially from such an arrangement?

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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Objects identified from the Medici Dossier

Christos Tsirogiannis and I have reviewed the way that objects surfacing on the antiquities market can be identified through the Medici Dossier. It notes that some of the databases have been using information from the dossier, and that information has in some cases been passed to auction houses. This suggests that there needs to be an improved due diligence process for those involved with the market.

Gill, D. W. J., and C. Tsirogiannis. 2016. "Polaroids from the Medici dossier: continued sightings on the market." In Art crime: terrorists, tomb raiders, forgers and thieves, edited by N. Charney: 229-39. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

The paper is a revision of:
Gill, D. W. J., and C. Tsirogiannis. 2011. "Polaroids from the Medici Dossier: continued sightings on the market." Journal of Art Crime 5: 27-33.

Full details of the book can be found here.

Other contributors:

  • George H.O. Abungu, Okello Abungu Heritage Consultants, Kenya 
  • Stefano Alessandrini, Specialist Consultant to the Ministero per i Beni Culturali and the Advocate General 
  • Maurizio Fiorilli, Italy 
  • Colonel Matthew Bogdanos, New York County District Attorney's Office, USA 
  • Toby J.A. Bull, Hong Kong Police Force, Hong Kong SAR 
  • Neil Brodie, University of Glasgow, UK 
  • Duncan Chappell, Australian Institute of Criminology 
  • Noah Charney, Association for Research into Crimes against Art 
  • Simon A. Cole, Newkirk Center for Science and Society, USA 
  • Tess Davis, University of Glasgow, UK 
  • Asif Efrat, Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, Israel 
  • Paolo Girogio Ferri, Former Italian State Prosecutor 
  • David Gill, University Campus Suffolk, UK 
  • Blake Gopnik, Art Critic 
  • Patricia Kennedy Grimsted, Harvard University, USA 
  • Karl von Habsburg-Lothringen, Association of National Committees of the Blue Shield 
  • Jerome Hasler, Art Recovery Group International 
  • Charles Hill, Formerly London Metropolitan Police, UK 
  • Saskia Hufnagel, Queen Mary University London, UK 
  • Martin Kemp, University of Oxford, UK 
  • John Kerr, University of Roehampton, UK 
  • Thierry Lenain, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium 
  • Simon Mackenzie, University of Glasgow, UK 
  • Christopher A. Marinello, Art Recovery Group International 
  • Erik Nemth, Independent Scholar 
  • Vernon Rapley, Victoria and Albert Museum, UK 
  • Lawrence Rothfield, University of Chicago, USA 
  • Laurie W. Rush, US Army 
  • Francesco Rutelli, Associazione Priorita' Cultura, Italy 
  • Howard Spiegler, Herrick, Feinstein's International Art Law Group 
  • Arthur Tompkins, District Court Judge, New Zealand 
  • Christos Tsirogiannis, University of Glasgow, UK 
  • Bill Wei, Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands



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Monday, January 18, 2016

Metal-detecting at Roman Saxon-Shore Fort

(c) David Gill
BBC Inside Out East has recorded the conversation between police and a metal-detectorist at the Roman Saxon Shore Fort at Bradwell on Sea in Essex.

Listen here.

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Treasure hotspots in England

There is a report on the BBC that identifies "The best places in England for unearthing lost treasure" (Laurence Cawley, BBC News 17 January 2016). The report claims: "Research by the BBC has revealed Norfolk as the best spot for treasure hunters."

The report is full of praise for the Portable Antiquities Scheme:
In the 1980s, archaeologists and metal detectorists were at war over the nation's subterranean heritage. 
But in the 20 years since the PAS set out clear guidance for the reporting of finds by the public, the relationship between responsible detectorists and archaeologists has thawed. 
It so happens that Norfolk features in the Nighthawking Survey (2009) and in my discussion of PAS ("The Portable Antiquities Scheme and the Treasure Act: Protecting the Archaeology of England and Wales?", 2010). I also gave Norfolk as an example in my 2009 response to the Survey.

The BBC report also gives a little more detail of the "hundreds of holes" at the site of the Roman "Saxon Shore" fort at Bradwell in Essex: "Animals don't dig using a flat-sided object, Nor do they pat the ground back on top of the hole or take out a ring-pull and leave it by the side of the hole."


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Saturday, January 16, 2016

"Auction houses implement the highest standards of due diligence"

Sue McGovern has been contributing to the debate over the appearance (or not) of archaeological material from Syria and Iraq on the western markets. She makes the claim:
In the past, the trade has not always had a good record in dealing with illicit material but over the past 15 years this has changed dramatically and continues to do so: Auction houses implement the highest standards of due diligence.
McGovern may be unaware of the regular need for one major NYC auction house to withdraw lots because of their associations with Italy. This suggests that the due diligence process for that organisation is not yet at a point that is sufficiently robust.

The topic has been addressed on a regular basis by Glasgow University researcher Dr Christos Tsirogiannis, most recently in the latest number of the Journal of Art Crime (see here). For a recent example in New York see here.

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Friday, January 15, 2016

From Switzerland to Italy: "Symes material" returns

The media in Switzerland are reporting that material stored by London-based antiquities dealer Robin Symes have been returned to Italy ("Trésors d'un célèbre trafiquant cachés à Genève", Le Temps [Geneva] 15 January 2016). The items were seized in the freeport in 2001. The size of the haul is reflected in the statement that there were 45 containers.

The source is stated:
Comment ce trésor est-il arrivé à Genève? Interrogé, le parquet genevois ne fait aucun commentaire, se bornant à préciser que les pièces avaient été apportées du Royaume-Uni par un marchand d'art anglais très en vue à une certaine époque et ayant plusieurs fois défrayé la chronique. Son nom, qui nous a été confirmé par des professionnels du milieu: Robin Symes.
This does not appear to have been confirmed by the Italian authorities.

If this is confirmed as ex-Symes stock then it will place additional pressure on the British authorities to return material seized in warehouses in London.

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Antiquities from Syria and the London market

© David Gill
I have read Judith H. Dobrzynski's article "Antiquities and ISIS: Something Doesn’t Add Up" in the Artsjournal blog for January 15, 2016 with interest. She notes:
What I discovered, for one thing, is that actual examples of ISIS-looted antiquities on the market are slim to none. True, it may be that objects looted now are being kept in warehouses, for later sale–but that doesn’t finance ISIS now. Also true. the goods may not be coming into the U.S. market. The antiquities dealers I spoke with said they had not seen anything on these shores from looted areas since ISIS began its jihad. 
One of the things that I think is exercising many of us is the indication "ISIS-looted". Unless an object is photographed during the looting process it is unlikely that we can be 100 per cent certain about who has looted it. (But remember the fall-out from the Medici, Becchina, and Schinousa photographic archives.)

Commentators seem to be overlooking London. Last February I can remember looking round a small number of galleries in central London with a team from BBC Radio 4's "File on 4". I was expecting to see a small number of objects that could have been derived from Syria but I was overwhelmed by what we found. (Listen to the tone in my voice.) This research was broadcast in February 2015 both on BBC Radio 4 and subsequently on the BBC World Service. I covered the story here (with link to online BBC programme). My observations and reflection on the programmes were published by the Journal of Art Crime ("Context Matters: From Palmyra to Mayfair: the Movement of Antiquities from Syria and Northern Iraq") in 2015 (and the article is available here).

Then there was an article in the summer relating to further observations about the London market (noted on LM here). This appeared in The Guardian ("Looted in Syria – and sold in London: the British antiques shops dealing in artefacts smuggled by Isis", 3 July 2015).
Mark Altaweel is surprised at how easy it is. A few hours into a hunt around London, the near-east specialist from the UCL Institute of Archaeology has uncovered objects that, he says, are “very likely to be coming from conflict regions” in Iraq and Syria. The items – pieces of early glass; a tiny statue; some fragments of bone inlay – range from the second to fourth centuries BC. Altaweel says they are so distinctive that they could only have come from a particular part of the region: the part now controlled by the so-called Islamic State. That we were able to find such items openly sold in London “tells you the scale – we’re just seeing the tail end of it,” he says.
The article refers back to the BBC programme and quotes me:
Today, other experts assume that similar routes are being used for looted goods coming out of Syria and Iraq. “It’s just the way the market works,” says David Gill ... Looted goods are “coming out through Turkey and Beirut and then containered to who knows where”. By the time an object gets to London, he says, it “has paperwork, internally, within Europe”.
I have been round a number of galleries in London since February. Some have disappeared, but each time I have been able to identify material that is likely to have come from Syria.

I am aware that further research is being conducted in this area and will be made public in due course. (I am lecturing on this topic next week.)

There is also scope to look at material from Syria for sale online and through social media. (But I will be addressing these routes elsewhere.)

But for now it would be worth some of the commentators talking to those of us who have tramped round the streets of London to gather evidence.

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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Theft from Dunblane

Source: Dunblane Museum
A Bronze Age 'petrosphere' has been stolen from the Dunblane Museum in Scotland.

Police in Dunblane said they were investigating the theft and appealed for information. 
A spokesman said: "If you have any knowledge of who may be responsible or know the whereabouts of the stone ball, please contact Dunblane officers on 101 or via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111."



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Monday, January 11, 2016

Journal of Art Crime Fall 2015

The Fall 2015 number of the Journal of Art Crime vol. 14 has been published.

Readers of LM will be particularly interested in the following essays:

  • Christos Tsirogiannis, 'Due diligence? Christie's Antiquities Auction, London, October 2015', pp. 27-38
  • Francesco Rutelli, 'The return of iconoclasm: barbarian ideology and destruction by ISIS as a challenge for modern culture, not only for Islam', pp. 55-60
  • David W. J. Gill, 'Context Matters. Malibu Memoirs: Marion True breaks silence', pp. 65-72
  • Laurie Rush, 'The Carabinieri, peacekeeping and foreign relations: the Carabinieri mission to Iraq', pp. 73-80
  • 'Stefano Alessandrini, Looting and passion of Greek vases from Etruria and Magna Graecia: the birth of the great collections', pp. 81-86



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Friday, January 8, 2016

The Shefton Collection

A series of essays on objects from the Shefton Collection now in the Great North Museum, Newcastle upon Tyne, has appeared. This provides information on how Brian Shefton developed 'the Greek Museum' during his time as a member of staff at Newcastle University.

My own contribution to the volume included a discussion of an Attic black-glossed bolsal that had once formed part of the Nostell Priory collection in Yorkshire.

My memoir on Shefton was published in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography this week.


  • ‘The Nostell Priory bolsal’, in J. Boardman, A. Parkin, and S. Waite (eds.), On the Fascination of Objects: Greek and Etruscan Art in the Shefton Collection (Oxford: Oxbow, 2016), 95-106. [Casemate]
  • ‘Shefton, Brian Benjamin (1919–2012)’, in The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016). http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/104851


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Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Impact of Returning Antiquities to Italy

I have been working on the impact of the returns to Italy from North American public and private collections as well as auction houses and galleries. The count now exceeds 350 items, and is valued in (at a conservative estimate) the tens of millions of dollars.

How did museum curators and directors support these acquisitions? Were private collectors unaware of the issues? And what did those involved in the market know about sources and collecting histories?

How far have due diligence processes been strengthened and tightened?


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Relief of Seti I returned from London

In October 2015 a relief of Seti I was recovered from an unspecified London auction-house (Nevine El-Aref, "Egypt recovers Stolen relief of King Seti I from London", ahramonline October 4, 2015). This was seized by British police and has now been returned to Egypt (Nevine El-Aref, "Stolen relief of Egyptian King Seti I recovered from London", ahramonline December 14, 2015).

The piece was identified by Marcel Marée of the British Museum.

The relief is currently being conserved in Egypt.

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Monday, January 4, 2016

Checking Collecting Histories

Collecting histories lie at the heart of research behind objects that surface on the market. Can the 'history' be traced back to a point before the 1970 UNESCO Convention (or the relevant law relating to cultural property from a particular country)?

We should not mistake oral accounts for history. Phrases such as "said to be from an old collection" or "thought to have been in a specific collection" need to be checked out by those selling objects at auction or in a gallery, and certainly by those acquiring the items. What is the authenticated documentation? (Note, not just the documentation.)

The Ka-Nefer-Nefer mummy mask excavated at Saqqara and now in the St Louis Art Museum has a reported collecting history that does not sit comfortably with other verifiable evidence.

In 2016 the issue of the due diligence process needs to be brought higher up the agenda so that buyers need not be concerned that they are acquiring objects that could be contested in the courts or reclaimed by national governments.

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Friday, January 1, 2016

Looking Ahead: 2016

The continuing looting and destruction of archaeological sites in Syria and Iraq is likely to dominate the news. The academic discussion will focus on how material is moving from the Middle East to the markets in Europe and North America. We are likely to see confirmed material from Syria surfacing on the London market. The bigger question is which groups benefit from the sales?

Dealers, galleries and auction houses have been keen to reassure the press that they would never handle recently surfaced material from Syria or Iraq. (Incidentally, I walked into one London gallery this summer and the object nearest to the attendant's desk had a label naming one of the best known handlers of recently surfaced antiquities.) The observation that one of the major international auction houses continues to offer Italian material identified from the Becchina and Medici archives suggests that the due diligence process needs to be improved.

I suspect that there will continue to be identifications made from the Becchina, Medici and Symes archives. But will the Michael C. Carlos Museum return material to Greece? And will Madrid hand objects back to Italy?

Heritage Crime is a major topic in the UK: damage to archaeological sites, removal of lead from churches, theft of heritage signs. There needs to be a voice through the RSA, the Heritage Alliance, and other heritage organisations to draw attention to the problem. It is unclear how the newly reformed Portable Antiquities Scheme will engage with the debate.

The issue of forgeries in the market need to be explored.

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