Saturday, 24 June 2017

International Art Market Helps Finance Terrorism, Experts Tell Congress



In the US, Officials from the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Smithsonian testified before the House Financial Services’s Terrorism and Illicit Finance Sub-Committee on Friday morning at a hearing dedicated to  'The Exploitation of Cultural Property: Examining Illicit Activity in the Antiquities and Art Trade' (Leo Doran, 'International Art Market Helps Finance Terrorism, Experts Tell Congress' Inside sources, June 24, 2017.
Knowingly or unknowingly, super-wealthy art collectors in the United States and Western Europe are propping up terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS through the purchase of looted cultural artifacts from war zones. The challenge for law-enforcement, customs officials, and art dealers is the opaque nature of the international art market. The longstanding problem of black and grey-market transactions among dealers and collectors famously led one critic, Robert Hughes, to declare “apart from drugs, art is the biggest unregulated market in the world.”
Brian Daniels, of the Smithsonian Institution and one of the expert witnesses invited to testify, added more details of hos the trade operates, including adding:
Indonesia, Thailand Singapore
experts have a rough sense of the path the stolen goods take before eventually ending up in private and public collections. Daniels testified that to his knowledge, most stolen art goods make their way to Southeast Asia, in countries like Indonesia, Thailand, or Singapore, before being distributed back to major art-trading centers like the U.S., Europe, China, and the Gulf States. Of particular concern to experts like Daniels is increasing cooperation between organized crime in Western countries and terrorist-linked smugglers. He noted an uptick in looting of archeological sites in Libya, which are then transferred to Europe through powerful organized crime syndicates like the ‘Ndrangheta in Southern Italy. The ‘Ndrangheta, or the Calabrian cousin of the Sicilian mafia, is the primary supplier of hard drugs like cocaine and heroin to most of continental Europe. The difficulty for art dealers is that without proper documentation explaining an object’s provenance, it is often extremely difficult to tell whether an object is being sold legally or illegally. 
So they handle it anyway. It seems that here is the crux of the matter. Dealers habitually ignore the risk (with no threat to their 'reputation'), instead of being sensitive to it. They cannot be bothered to obtain documentation of licit origins, as it is irrelevant to their purpose.
Further complicating the situation is a culture of secrecy that pervades the art world, which has, by tradition, awarded extraordinary privacy to buyers and sellers trading artworks at auction. Top auction houses, like Sotheby’s in the 1990’s have been accused of turning a blind eye to illegally stolen artworks and artifacts in order to pocket healthy commission fees
Law enforcement official Raymond Villanueva of the Homeland Security Department was another witness on the panel and 'highlighted a joint operation, Hidden Idols, which recently took down an art-crime ring in New York that was attempting to sell artifacts at Christie’s. Hmm, that's not the entire truth. The US only started an investigation into the gallery involved, operating openly under their noses for two decades, when the US dealer was arrested in Germany (reportedly after a tip-off by a jilted ex-girlfriend) and extradited to India, forcing the hand of the US authorities.
The panel also touched at times on instances of domestic art smuggling—in particular from traditional Native American burial grounds. Like the international crime rings, the experts indicated that they believe that the domestic illegal art trade is also often linked to organized drug trafficking, particularly in methamphetamine. 
The key point:
Unless they receive far more serious cooperation from the art community, the experts did not seem particularly optimistic that the illegal trade will be significantly curtailed in the near future.
And there would be no incentive for that collaboration if dealers and collectors had good grounds for a fear that is illicit sources were excluded, the market would cease to expand and dry up. Do they? 

Friday, 23 June 2017

Investigating Metal Detecting: Big Funding, No Results Again?


Remember this (PACHI Thursday, 23 June 2016)?
Investigating Metal Detecting: Big Funding, No Results Again?Where is the final document of the Leverhulme Trust funded project 'ThePortable Antiquities Scheme Database as a tool for archaeological research' in which Roger Bland was principal investigator? It was due to finish last year and all we have from it so far is a rather slim and tentative "Guide to Researchers' which says mainly what we already knew.
Still no results published, still no answer to the question. Surely that slim booklet is not the product of a project funded on the scale this one was? Is it?

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Caring for the Archaeological Record?


"Provenance Creations" https://www.etsy.com/shop/ProvenanceStore
Metal Detecting Finds...Transformed! My husband "Chicago Ron" Guinazzo leads metal detecting tours twice a year to England. We met in 2012, and I joined him on these trips. We dig all types of items; coins, tokens, buttons, watch winders, buckles, bells, clothing fasteners, etc. All of the artifacts we find are reported to the British Museum, and exported with proper documentation. I personally research, sort, clean, and polish the artifacts. In designing the jewelry piece, I try to maintain the integrity of the artifact. You are receiving [buying] a real piece of wearable history!
Yes, by stripping, drilling, mounting them on thongs, a tidy profit can be made in Chicago of bits ripped out of the archaeological record of another country. Please, give a link to the records of all of these items 'reported to the British Museum' - do the buyers of Ms Guinazzo's twee jewellery get a certificate giving the PAS numbers and link to that description of what it is in the PAS record? And a copy of the export licence?

So here we have it, detectorists claim indignantly "we ain't in it fer the munny", except when they are. Chicago Ron makes money from Britain's heritage by organizing metal detecting holidays for his paying American pals to go over to England to fill their pockets with artefacts ripped out of sites known-to-be-productive and take them out of the country, his wife takes the things these collectors reject and makes more cash by turning the 'non-collectable' artefacts into tacky trophy jewellery. It's a win-win situation for the artefact coveters, but what loses out is archaeological preservation and the British heritage.

When are these metal detecting holidays organized for legal-innit-looting parties from abroad going to be banned?

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Great Mosque of al-Nuri in western Mosul Destroyed


This aerial view taken on June 21, 2017 and
provided by Iraq's Joint Operation Command

 shows destruction inside Mosul's Nuri mosque
 compound CREDIT: AFP
The same area in August 2008 (Google  Earth)

The Islamic State has blown up The Great Mosque of al-Nuri with its distinctive leaning minaret in western Mosul, according to U.S. and Iraqi forces (Alex Lubben, 'ISIS blows up 845-year-old mosque, tries to blame U.S.' vice.com,  Jun 21, 2017). The twelfth-century mosque, along with its minaret, was one of Iraq's most famous buildings. Haider al-Abadi, Iraq's prime minister, said the destruction of the sites was "an official declaration of defeat" by Isil in the eight-month-old battle for Mosul. Probably the aim was to deny the government the possibility of declaring victory there. The destruction of the mosque (apparently by explosives previously placed inside it) has also beebn taken by some as a form of confirmation that the Russian claim to have killed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi may have basis in fact.
The leaning minaret  AFP
The mosque [...] carries symbolic weight in Iraq and the greater Middle East. The Great Mosque of al-Nuri also carries symbolic weight for the terror group: It’s where ISIS founder Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi gave his first speech as caliph in 2014, days after the terror group declared its caliphate in Iraq and Syria. ISIS has held the city as its de-facto capital in Iraq since then, using it as a central hub for commerce and illegal oil sales, and stealing stores of weapons and cash from the Iraqi forces who had abandoned the city. [...] But ISIS, over their newswire Amaq, contradicted reports from Iraqi forces, claiming instead that the U.S. was behind the mosque’s destruction. The U.S.-led coalition forcefully contested that claim, saying in a statement that the “responsibility for this devastation is laid firmly at the doorstep of ISIS.” The coalition added that it had confirmed through drone surveillance that the mosque was destroyed. An investigation is underway. Taking the mosque back from ISIS militants, who have waged a long and bloody campaign to hold the city since Iraqi forces began their offensive eight months ago, would have been a symbolic victory for U.S. and Iraqi coalition forces.
It is believed that ISIL is still holding up to 100,000 civilians in Mosul, using them as human shields during combat. The taking of the western part of Mosul, with its winding roads and small buildings, has proved more difficult than the eastern part which fell five months ago.
The Old City in West Mosul has been the site of the deadliest fighting in the course of the 8-month-long offensive. The Iraqi army believes there to be only 300 Iraqi fighters left in Mosul; there were 6,000 at the start of the offensive, according to Reuters.
BBC News Battle for Mosul: IS 'blows up' al-Nuri mosque 22nd June 2017. 

UPDATE
I am not fully convinced that the much-published footage of the controlled explosions that reportedly depict this tower being felled are authentic, at least one version in the web seems to have been manipulated. This film (disseminated by 'Palmyra Pioneer) shows the damage on the ground and you can see the building was blown flat by explosions from inside and there are no traces whatsoever of craters.  An air-conditioning fan is represented as a bomb fragment.


Warped Priorities


Ten countries, who account for 2.5% of world GDP, host 56% of the world's refugees. The world's 6 richest countries host The world's 6 richest countries host less than 9%

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But guess where the bulk of the looted cultural property goes. People before trophy artefacts.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Florida Artefact Hunters Face Charges


James Call, 'Arrowhead hunters face felony charges' Tallahassee Democrat June 13, 2017
Florida Wildlife officers arrested two artifact hunters they say were mining Taylor County creeks and river channels for ancient arrow and spear points. Deanna Danielle Ray and James Garrett Taylor faced 3rd-degree felony charges for the unlawful removal of archeological specimens located on [state owned] lands. A Florida Wildlife Commission spokesman said officers were alerted to a suspicious vehicle in the Econfina Wildlife Management Area during the last week of May. Ray and Taylor, according to an FWC report, fled when a trio of officers approached them in a wooded area [...] Further investigation found artifact digging tools, a dig site and female shoes.
The use of a dog was necessary to capture one of the looters.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Well, What DO the PAS think?


Heritage Action have another cogent observation about how Britain treats the nation's archaeological heruitage (Metal detecting: six words that still can’t be said', 18the June 2017)
At a time when detectorists persuade farmers to deep plough to maximise their loot, when a huge registered business called Lets Go Digging is paying up to £1,000 to get access to farms and at a time when Dr Sam Hardy’s work is pointing to between 90 and 98 percent of recordable finds not being reported, we’d like to make the point we made a few years ago: “Ever heard PAS or the Government say “not reporting detecting finds is immoral?” How come? Well, Britain is special. It’s the country where theft of society’s knowledge of it’s past isn’t morally indefensible [...] [This] dates from when it became evident that most detectorists take “voluntary” to mean “not necessary”. At that point, for the Scheme to assert reporting was necessary on moral grounds would be to point out a too-painful truth to their partners and indeed to their funders. Thus, “moral obligation” has been dropped.
HA suggest that it would be an interesting litmus test of attitudes if one was to write to PAS, or one of the FLOs or the Government and ask them straight out “do you think not reporting detecting finds is immoral?” I thought I'd do just that: (the topic name comes from an earlier -bulk post requesting information):
Sunday, June 18, 2017 8:48 AM
To: 'Michael Lewis'; 'philippa.walton@stalbans.gov.uk'; 'vanessa.oakden@liverpoolmuseums.org.uk'; 'anna.tyacke@royalcornwallmuseum.org.uk'; 'c.h.trevarthen@dorsetcc.gov.uk'; 'kurt.adams@bristol.gov.uk'; 'katie.hinds@hampshireculturaltrust.org.uk'; 'Peter.Reavill@shropshire.gov.uk'; 'frank.basford@IOW.gov.uk'; 'stuart.noon@lancashire.gov.uk'; 'dot.boughton@tulliehouse.org'; 'adam.daubney@lincolnshire.gov.uk'; 'julie.shoemark@norfolk.gov.uk'; 'Anna.Booth@suffolk.gov.uk'; 'Alex.Bliss@suffolk.gov.uk'; 'mark.lodwick@nmgw.ac.uk'; 'ABolton@worcestershire.gov.uk'; 'anni.byard@oxfordshire.gov.uk'; 'Mary Chester-Kadwell'; 'Helen Geake'; 'Lauren Speed'; 'Robert Webley'

Subject: Re: Maintaining high levels of reporting by artefact hunters: from Paul Barford

A question for the PAS from myself and Heritage Action:

do you think not reporting detecting finds is immoral?

Thank you
Paul Barford


  
 
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