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Showing posts from November, 2009

Operation Tartuffo: has the ACCG detected a conspiracy?

Earlier this year it was suggested that I was "acting as an undisclosed agent of influence for some nationalistic, repatriation seeking foreign government, like that of Greece". Indeed it was even stated, without any hint of evidence, that I was paying "a rate of $400 per 400 words for [my] frequent PR Newswire releases".

Now it seems that my posting on the outcome of the ACCG, PNG and IAPN FOIA case against the US State Department has led to further comments by Peter Tompa.
"That does beg the question, however, how Prof. Gill became aware of the decision so quickly""How did David Gill learn about this decision so quickly ... ?"
Nathan Elkins has made the interesting observation:
It would appear that the ACCG had intended to keep the decision quiet until determining how to react since no comment came from them until immediately after Gill publicized the ruling.
Subsequent to Elkins' post there has been an extended exchange between Elkins and Tom…

Looting Matters: Coin Dealers and Collectors Lose Case Against the US State

Happy Thanksgiving

Looting Matters wishes to extend a "Happy Thanksgiving" to all its North American readers. (Today's snapshot tells me that 51% of readers in the last 24 hours came from the USA, followed by the UK at 17%.)

Looting Matters has received over 100,000 visitors this year. This excludes those who read the posts through the email distribution service, RSS feeds and other syndicated services, as well as postings on various newsgroups.

So thank you for your continued support and readership.

"This litigation was in many ways a win for the plaintiffs": The ACCG responds to FOIA decision

Yesterday I drew attention to the decision over the FOIA case brought by the ACCG, the IAPN, and the PNG. A short statement subsequently appeared on the ACCG website, "Ruling in FOIA case condones DOS intransigence". Judge Richard Leon is described as holding "pro-government views".

Although the decision went against the plaintiffs (ACCG, PNG, IAPN), the ACCG statement proclaims, "Despite the disappointing decision, this litigation was in many ways a win for the plaintiffs."

There is also fighting talk:
The Ancient Coin Collectors Guild still plans to pursue a test case regarding whether those import restrictions were promulgated in an arbitrary and capricious fashion.
This apparently relates to coins from Cyprus and China brought into the US through Baltimore (see the helpful discussion by Paul Barford).

This FOIA case was so critical to two of the plaintiffs that they have yet to comment on the outcome (PNG, IAPN).

The ACCG, IAPN and PNG FOIA Case: Opinion Delivered

The long-running FOIA related case (Civil Case No. 07-2074 RJL) brought against the US Department of State (Defendant) by the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG), the International Association of Professional Numismatists (IAPN), and the Professional Numismatists Guild (PNG) (Plaintiffs) appears to be drawing to a conclusion. On Friday last week (November 20, 2009) Judge Richard J. Leon delivered his opinion [download here].
... the State Department has established that it conducted a reasonable search, that it properly withheld the disputed information under FOIA exemptions, and that it complied with its obligation to segregate the exempted material from non-exempted material. The Court will therefore GRANT the Government's Motion for Summary Judgment and DENY the plaintiffs' Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment.
I notice that one of the FOIA requests included: "Count IV: documents evidencing the potential inclusion of coins on the list of items subject to import restriction…

The Committee, The Institute, The Guild and the Debate Over Coins

The ACCG issued a press release in the wake of the CPAC review of Article II of the MOU with Italy ([Wayne Sayles], "Archaeologists Plead for Import Restrictions on Common Coins", The Xpress Press News Service November 18, 2009). The review was an opportunity for CPAC to acknowledge all that Italy has done to combat the problem of looting (see my overview issued through PR Newswire). Sebastian Heath, speaking for the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), seems to have caused concern when he is reported to have mentioned a particular type of archaeological evidence: ancient coins.

The ACCG ("a collector advocacy group") sees Heath's comments as "a wakeup call for thousands of private collectors, museums and independent scholars". The AIA position is described as "controversial, even among archaeologists, with some AIA activists suggesting that preventing trade would end site looting".

Is it "controversial" for archaeologists …

Iraq: "Now that would be a crime"

Melik Kaylan has written a provocative piece on looting in Iraq ("Babylon revisited", November 20, 2009). Here are his closing remarks:
The archeo-academic community, along with the media, have served us abominably in bringing so little context and balance to a highly sensitive issue. It's time they undertook a long overdue self-examination of their performance.This has attracted a series of comments from a number of scholars, a Washington lobbyist and others:
Larry Rothfield: "It certainly is inconvenient that Col. Bogdanos disagrees with Kaylan, since as a genuine war hero he cannot be tarred as anti-military or anti-American. Shamefully, Kaylan chooses to smear him as self-serving (ignoring that the proceeds of his book, for which he was awarded, I believe, the National Humanities Medal by Pres. Bush, go to charity), and belittle his investigation (he's only a NYC prosecutor when not in the military, after all)."John Robertson: "Kaylan is t…

"Germany has become a hub for the illegal international art market"

Lucian Harris has written about the gold vessel that appeared to have been looted from Iraq ("German court orders return of ancient vessel to Iraq", The Art Newspaper November 18, 2009) [see earlier comments]. Harris reports: "The decision of the Finanzgericht or financial court in Munich on 25 September was reached on the basis of a second expert opinion which concurred that the vessel was of Iraqi origin and it was ordered that it should be handed over to Iraqi authorities."

The report quotes Alaa Al-Hashimy from an October 2009 interview:
Unfortunately, we have information that make it clear that Germany has become a hub for the illegal international art market and the authorities have not yet done enough to prevent it.
A 2007 interview with Dr Michael Müller-Karpe, a German museum curator, had described Germany as a laundry for antiquities.

Müller-Karpe now adds the telling comment:
In Germany you are punished if you buy a stolen car radio, but if you buy a stolen…

Looting Matters: Are Import Restrictions on Italian Antiquities Working?

Looting Matters: Are Import Restrictions on Italian Antiquities Working?

Issues relating to the CPAC review of the MOU with Italy.

Head from the Keros Haul at Auction

The head of a marble Cycladic figure is due to be auctioned at Christie's New York, Rockefeller Plaza on 11 December 2009, lot 78 [entry]. The estimate is $20,000-$30,000. The head is attributed to "the Goulandris sculptor". The head had passed through the hands of Charles Ede (2005), and is sold as "property from the collection of Mr. &  Mrs. Charles W. Newhall, III".

The head surfaced in the 1977 Karlsruhe exhibition, Art and Culture of the Cyclades, Karlsruhe, 1977, no. 172. It then resided in the Kurt Flimm collection; there was no known find-spot ("provenance unknown").

However Pat Getz-Preziosi (Sculptors of the Cyclades, Individual and Tradition in the Third Millennium B.C., Ann Arbor, 1987, 160, no. 34) subsequently placed the head in the so-called "Keros Hoard" (or to be more accurate the Keros Haul) [earlier comments of this misnomer with on-line links]. This information was repeated in P. Getz-Gentle, Personal Styles in Earl…

The CPAC review of the MOU with Italy

On Friday last week the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) met to review Article II of the MOU with Italy. This agreement relates to "the Imposition of Import Restrictions on Archaeological Material Representing the Pre-Classical, Classical and Imperial Roman Periods of Italy". The background to the MOU, which dates back to 2001, was the perceived problem of archaeological sites being pillaged to provide material for the antiquities market. The import restrictions were intended, in part, to check that archaeological material that was brought into North America had not surfaced recently (i.e. after the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property).

Police raids in the Geneva Freeport had drawn attention to the organised looting and redistribution of the antiquities from Italy (and elsewhere) . The evidence gathered from the raids led to the "Medici Conspiracy". On…

"Cuno risks coming across as a bad loser"

Tom Flynn has written an account of Tuesday's lacklustre "debate" with James Cuno at the LSE.  Flynn writes:
At root, however, [Cuno's] mission is to shore up the concept of the encyclopedic museum — a fortress whose boundaries are everywhere under challenge. Once again he reiterated the patently absurd notion that encyclopedic museums should be established everywhere.

Maurice Davies raised the issue of the loan of archaeological material to North American museums in the wake of the return of key pieces such as the Sarpedon krater. After last week's presentation by AAMD representatives to CPAC's review of the MOU Italy it is hardly surprising that Cuno dismissed Italy's generous offers in this area.
Cuno dismissed this as negligible and insisted that relations between the two nations were still not that good. Unlike Montebello, who saw the benefits that issued from the affair, Cuno risks coming across as a bad loser.
Cuno needs to revise his position in the …

Identifications and the Medici Dossier

The Italian authorities have a major task on their hands: the identification of more than 10,000 antiquities that feature in the so-called Medici Dossier. And there will be another 10,000 or so from the seizures in Basel. (And we should not forget the Symes photographic dossier in the hands of the Greek authorities.)

We know that the Italians have acted generously with several North American museums. The list of objects returned to Italy is much smaller than the list of disputed pieces that feature in the photographic archives. But would it be worth the legal tussle and the bad publicity arising from a court case if museums disputed the cases?

But now North American lawyers are complaining (or at least are reported to have been complaining) that the Italian authorities are identifying recently-surfaced material that turns up at New York auction-houses. No doubt cultural property lawyers will be cross that material is being seized rather than being dragged through the courts.

The Itali…

The Portable Antiquities Scheme cited in Washington

It looks as if the UK's Portable Antiquities Scheme was frequently cited at last week's review of Article II of the MOU with Italy.

Peter Tompa, the spokesperson for the numismatic trade bodies the IAPN and the PNG, "advocated" that CPAC should ask Italy to "adopt" a PAS style scheme.

Wayne Sayles in the ACCG's letter of submission to CPAC wrote:
The argument that every object in or on the ground is part of an archaeological context may seem noble to some, but it is unrealistic. Literally millions of objects from the past are found every year. Must we record and control all of them? Of course not, and the British have recognized that rather obvious fact in their equitable Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme for the reporting of finds by the public.
What is unrealistic? The recording of "millions" of objects that are ripped from their archaeological contexts? Or is it "unrealistic" for the collecting lobby --- and remember tha…

Is the "Bulldog" on the Minneapolis case?

In an in-depth interview in the UK's Sunday Telegraph, Maurizio Fiorilli, the Italian state prosecutor, spoke about future action ("Maurizio Fiorilli: scourge of the tomb raiders", Sunday Telegraph August 10, 2008) [previous discussion].

Alastair Smart wrote:
Britain also has far less of a tradition of voracious collectors such as the Fleischmans passing on their purchases to its museums. All of which explains why Fiorilli's major battles so far have been transatlantic. And although he stresses that his investigations 'are now turning to Europe and Japan', he's far from finished in America, where the Cleveland Museum of Art, Minneapolis Institute of Arts and a host of private collectors are on his hit-list ...
At last week's CPAC review of the Article II of the MOU with Italy one of the speakers was Kaywin Feldman of The Minneapolis Institute of Arts. I wonder if she has resolved the issue of the Symes krater.

Here is an earlier comment from me:
In its …

Battle of Ideas: James Cuno speaks

James Cuno will be speaking at tomorrow evening's debate on "Who Owns Culture?" at the LSE (London School of Economics). The other speakers are:
Maurice Davies of the Museums AssociationTatiana Flessas of the LSETiffany Jenkins will be chairing the debate.

It would be worth asking the question why the returns of antiquities to Italy (and Greece) have included so many high profile members of the AAMD, i.e. Cleveland Museum of Art, Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Princeton University Art Museum, and the J. Paul Getty Museum. Any why have museums in the UK been relatively untouched by the same issues? Is it because UK museums (through the Museums Association) have stuck to ethical acquisition policies? Is it because wealthy benefactors have influenced decisions in the US?

My own thoughts on Cuno's Who Owns Antiquity? can be found here (from the AJA website). I suggested:
What [Cuno] has failed to notice is that the “battle”…

"The Italian MOU creates a 'one way street' in terms of trade"

Last Friday's review of Article II of the MOU between Italy and the US was interesting. Kerry K. Wetterstrom, the President Elect of the ACCG and editor of the Celator, was speaking. His closing section talked not about Italy at all but the way that the ACCG is seeking to challenge the US State Department over its MOUs with Cyprus and China.
Of course, the major issue is not so much how difficult it is to export coins from Italy, but the unfair, unworkable burden import restrictions would place on unprovenanced coins of Italian type, of which there are millions already in the marketplace. By way of example, ACCG imported unprovenanced coins of Cypriot and Chinese type from the United Kingdom for purposes of a test case. The coins could have come from literally anywhere, but U.S. Customs has assumed they were exported from Cyprus and China contrary to the import ban. The coins were detained in April 2009, seized in August 2009, and Customs still has not brought an action in court t…

Will there be a rise in illegal metal-detecting in England and Wales?

Dr Pete Wilson, the Head of Research Policy (Roman Archaeology) for English Heritage, has been quoted on the problem of "nighthawking" in England and Wales. He has now written an opinion column, "Gold rush?", for Current Archaeology (237, December 2009).

Wilson makes the point that collectors of recently-surfaced archaeological material need to understand.
It is crucial to move thinking beyond the simple monetary value of finds to the greater loss of archaeological knowledge that looting of sites represents.
Is it enough to report finds which have been recovered as a result of destroying archaeological strata?

Wilson reflects on the possible impact of the "Staffordshire hoard".
This emphasis on money poses a massive threat to the buried past as it may well encourage the looting of sites, whether designated or not, by poorly-informed new detector owners and also by the just plain greedy or criminal who know all too well that what they are doing is illegal.

CPAC and AAMD: will long-term loans be on the agenda?

I suspect that member institutions of the AAMD will have something to say later today about the MOU with Italy. It will probably focus on the "promoting agreements for long-term loans of objects of archaeological or artistic interest, for as long as necessary, for research and education, agreed upon, on a case by case basis" (Article II, E. 1).

AAMD members will need to tread carefully. Member institutions have been returning material to Italy, a reminder of the culture of unquestioning acquisition that has prevailed in some quarters.

It should also be remembered that as little as 1% of the material identified in the photographs seized in Geneva have been returned. There are also images recovered from Basel and Schinoussa. (See the discussion of a further example.)

AAMD needs to develop a collaborative approach with the Italian authorities. Can we look forward to some praise for the Italian approach?

Cultural Property and Italy

The US Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) will be reviewing the MOU with Italy on Friday November 13, 2009. CPAC will consider Article II and how it relates to "the Imposition of Import Restrictions on Archaeological Material Representing the Pre-Classical, Classical and Imperial Roman Periods of Italy".

Italy has made huge strides to deter looting. The raids on the Geneva Freeport have led directly to well over 100 antiquities being returned from North American public collections - from AAMD member institutions. The AAMD has been persuaded to adopt the international standard of 1970 for the acquisition of archaeological material.

Italy has also convicted one dealer; another dealer and a North American museum curator are now on trial. A further dealer is clearly under investigation.

Article II of the MOU also encourages Italy to investigate the "routes" for these smuggled antiquities. A study of the returned items shows an elaborate network of European and…

UCL incantation bowls: report leaked

I note that the UCL report on the incantation bowls has been placed on wikileaks. It is clearly a copy of the report placed in the House of Lords library.
The file is the report from an expert inquiry into the provenance of 654 Mesopotamian incantation bowls owned by antiquities collector Martin Schoyen and loaned to University College London. The inquiry was begun after allegations were made that the bowls were were looted from Iraq. The report was suppressed as part of the legal settlement in which the bowls were returned to Schoyen.

Hansard (the record of the UK Parliament) documents a debate in which Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn tells the House of Lords he has deposited a copy of the report in the House of Lords Library.
I should make it clear that Looting Matters does not endorse the leaking of this report.

New report on private collectors in North America: where is the data?

In August I commented on the impact that the AAMD decision on handling recently surfaced antiquities was having on private collectors. The Cultural Property Research Institute (CPRI) published their first research study, "Project on Unprovenanced Ancient Objects in Private US Hands", earlier this week (November 10, 2009).

The CPRI "project" raises several questions:
a. Who is the author / are the authors of this "project"?
b. Data. The stated aim of the "project" was to "provid[e] the factual basis for policy-making and consideration". Where can we find the data for this study?
c. Sources of information. "This study is the product of a team approach". Who was consulted? Which private collectors? Which museum curators? Which scholars? Which "members of the trade"? How many people? It is not enought to state: "To preserve the confidentiality of the sources of information, specific individuals or institutions are …

Theft of Egyptian antiquities in Amsterdam: clarification

A colleague from the Netherlands has been in touch today about the theft of the Egyptian antiquities from the Bijbels Museum in Amsterdam.

She / he indicates that that the items were recovered from a named auction-house in New York. They indicate that my hunch was correct.

The antiquities themselves are reported to be in the possession of ICE. However as the insurance company paid out money against the claim the items are now their property. (The money was apparently spent on enhanced security.) It is hoped that the insurers will either donate the items or offer them back to the museum for a nominal sum.

The UCL incantation bowls: did they come from Iraq?

I have noted last weekend's discussion of the UCL incantation bowls in the British press. I now see a Washington-based cultural property observer wisely notes that the newspaper article "fails to detail the basis for the conclusion that the bowls originated in Iraq as opposed to Jordan".

And there is the issue. The report has not, as far as I know, been placed in the public domain (though there is now a copy in the library of the House of Lords). But I can only assume that the compilers of the report would have looked carefully at the known archaeological find-spots of incantation bowls that have been retrieved by scientific methods. Do any such bowls come from confirmed excavated contexts outside Iraq?

Theft of Egyptian antiquities in Amsterdam: update

In May I commented on the seizure of some antiquities at an unspecified Manhattan auction-house by agents of ICE (US Immigration and Customs Enforcement). The pieces had been stolen from the Bijbels Museum in Amsterdam on July 29, 2007. The objects were identified by the staff of the Art Loss Register (ALR).

The staff of ICE seem to have been regular visitors to Manhattan auction-houses this year. Their activity includes the seizure of a Corinthian krater from Christie's on 1 June, and more recently an Apulian situla and an Attic red-figured pelike. A Roman wall-painting was also seized from the premises of a Manhattan auction-house at the beginning of June, again with the assistance of the ALR.

But to return to the stolen Egyptian antiquities. Judith H. Dobrzynski on "Real Clear Arts" also covered the story (May 28, 2009) but telephoned the ALR where she spoke to a member of staff:
When I called Christopher A. Marinello, ALR's executive director, he declined to name …

UCL and the Incantation Bowls: further comment

Towards the end of October Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn cited the UCL incantation bowls in a speech in the House of Lords. The Observer has now published a detailed comment on the story (Vanessa Thorpe and James Doeser, "UK scholars linked to 'stolen' bowls of Babylon", The Observer November 8, 2009). The authors appear to have used a copy of the report on the bowls that has been placed in the Library of the House of Lords.

Thorpe and Doeser cite the report:
The UCL report concludes that "the bowls are subject to the Iraq United Nations sanctions order 2003 as cultural objects illicitly removed from Iraq after 6 August 1990 and that UCL has therefore a duty to deliver them to a constable".
The history of the report is also discussed:
The learned team of academics and researchers who worked on the report concluded that both the university and Schøyen were guilty of not showing enough curiosity about the source of the 654 bowls, although it is not suggested that S…

Wordle on Looting Matters: 5

Here is the Wordle image of Looting Matters at the beginning of November 2009.

Looting Matters: Should Auction-Houses Be More Careful Over Antiquities?

Looting Matters: Should Auction-Houses Be More Careful Over Antiquities?

A reflection on the need for auction houses and galleries to pursue a more rigorous approach towards antiquities.

Should auction houses adopt 1970 when dealing with archaeological material?

The 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property provides a convenient benchmark when discussing recently surfaced archaeological material. The Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) has adopted this date when considering new acquisitions. The objects returned to Italy from North American museums have included objects that were acquired during the 1970s.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, speaking in the House of Lords last week, drew attention to the October 2008 sale of archaeological material at Bonham's in London when several lots had to be withdrawn. These controversial lots all surfaced after 1970.

There is now news that two further pieces, an Apulian situla and an Attic pelike, have been seized in New York. It seems that they passed through an auction in New York City in June this year. Both appear to have surfaced through a Beverly Hills Gallery.

On 1 June this year a Corinthian col…

Pots seized in NYC: comment from Christie's

Last week I commented on the seizure of two pots—an Apulian situla and an Attic pelike—in New York City (as reported by Art Daily). The circulated picture of the situla seems to link it with the situla sold at auction in NYC in June this year for $40,000. The reports suggest that the two pots together are worth $120,000.

So we are looking for an Attic red-figured pelike that sold for around $80,000. I see from the Christie's press release for the Antiquities sale of Wednesday June 3, 2009 that they sold "An Attic red-figured Pelike, attributed to the Aegisthus painter, circa 480-460 B.C." (lot 120) for $80,500. The buyer was in the category of "European trade". Is this the same pelike?

Lot 120 ("a large Attic red-figured pelike attributed to the Aegisthus Painter, circa 480-460 B.C. (estimate: $80,000-120,000)") featured in the advance publicity for the sale: "Superb examples of Roman and Greek Art highlight Christie's spring sale of antiquit…

Lord Renfrew calls for greater diligence over selling antiquities

Last week Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn called for greater diligence over the selling of archaeological material in the UK. He gave as a specific example the case of the lots that had to be withdrawn from a Bonhams sale in October 2008 (see my comments from last year).

Renfrew is quoted from his speech in the House of Lords:
Bonhams the auctioneers withdrew from its London antiquities sale at the request of the Italian Government some 10 antiquities, among them items formerly owned by the now sadly notorious dealer Mr Robin Symes. I understand that the Italian authorities had already made representations to the Home Office about several warehouses in London containing antiquities formerly in his ownership—many of them, it is alleged, illegally excavated in Italy.

What is an auctioneer in this country doing, selling antiquities without a documented provenance? It is scandalous that this practice continues, and to put an end to it is one purpose of this amendment. There are serious matters …

Zahi Hawass: Vice Minister of Culture

The President of Egypt has appointed Dr Zahi Hawass to be the Vice Minister of Culture for Egypt [statement]. Hawass comments:
When President Mubarak made this decision and it was published in the newspaper, the reaction was wonderful; I have never seen before in my life anything like it. All the people of Cairo, rich and poor, the taxi drivers and doormen and everyone was so happy. This response made me very happy, to see that the people appreciate what I do, and they see me as a guardian of the monuments. I saw how happy people were when I got the Louvre to return the tomb paintings of Tetiky, and when I asked for the return of the Nefertiti bust from Berlin. I hope these people continue to support my work to preserve Egypt’s history.