Friday, 19 December 2014

AIA RFeiterates its Policies on the Antiquities Trade


A Letter from the (AJA) Editor-in-Chief Sheila Dillon January 2015
 [...] Finally, in light of recent events both in this country and abroad, it is important to restate that the AJA maintains its commitment to protecting archaeological heritage. In keeping with the 2004 policy of the AIA, the AJA will not accept any article that serves as the primary publication of any object or archaeological material in a private or public collection acquired after 30 December 1973 unless its existence is documented before that date or it was legally exported from the country of origin.

In addition, given the recent and continuing threats to the archaeological sites and material culture of countries such as Syria, Iraq, Egypt, and Libya, the Editor-in-Chief and members of the Advisory Board condemn in the strongest possible terms the recent sale of Egyptian artifacts and the scheduled sale of Mesoamerican artifacts by the AIA St. Louis Society through the auction house Bonhams. While technically not illegal, the sale of the Egyptian antiquities certainly violated the spirit if not the letter of the agreement that brought the objects to St. Louis in the first place. The selling off of archaeological artifacts in the society’s possession not only contravenes the ethical standards current in archaeology but also reinforces the commodification of archaeological material and in effect condones the traffic in antiquities, which is in opposition to the AIA’s principal missions of research and education. As stewards of the past, no one associated with the AIA should be incentivizing the illicit trade in antiquities, which is a global criminal activity. High-profile sales such as these can have the unintended consequence of putting further at risk the archaeological heritage that the AIA has vowed to protect.
Of course collectors will also tell you they are "stewards of the past" so it behoves the AIA to explain what they mean by that term. Does any sale of an archaeological artefact always "incentivise the illicit trade in antiquities"? I'm not really sure about that. I've always accepted that there is a clear line between licit and illicit, and I would say that as long as that distinction is not blurred (which of course those in the trade wish it to be) then the trade in licit artefacts - clearly identified and verified as such - could have the opposite effect.

How do Syria region coins enter the US and UK Markets?


Coincidentally, soon after my post on this ARCA raise a similar question about a similar group of coins in a similar state to the Spink ones
2 godz.2 godziny temu
How do Syria region coins enter the US and UK Markets? And why is there no provenance listed in the sale records? 

How did these coins enter the UK Market?


Spink's, linked to past sales of Koh Ker statues and supplier to the ACCG, is primarily known as a coin shop. Their recent Auction: 14007 ("Ancient, British and Foreign Coins and Commemorative Medals") held a few days ago, contemporary with conflict and looting going on in not-so-distant Syria, caught my eye. I was discussing the case of a coin yesterday (Auction 14007, Lot: 484) where the sellers were telling us (more or less) where it was found, the exact date, and what had happened to it since it was dug up to legitimise it as a genuine British find. What a contrast with three other lots I passed in the catalogue while looking for it.

As we have all seen, dealers are bending over backwards to say "there is no recently looted stuff from Syria and Iraq coming on the market". I ask how they can tell that when they obviously have no information to pass on to prospective buyers that the items they sell are not objects recently surfaced and smuggled from the region being silently passed off as though "from an old collection".

Take these three lots, all coins minted in and circulating within precisely the region currently being affected by conflict looting and theft. Two of them small high value pieces, easily smuggled, the other the sort of low value bulk find that comes from mass digging of ancient sites for collectables (the Syrian equivalent of 'Roman grots') Where, in the sales description is any indication that the consigners can provide assurance that these items are not the proceeds of such activities? If the seller has such documentation, why is it not being presented (or mentioned) here in the sales offer? Is it because the seller is convinced that the thought that care should be exercised here to avoid buying dodgy goods has crossed the mind of a single one of the buyers in their auction?

Lot: 46 (x) Umayyad, temp. 'Abd al-Malik (685-705), AV Dinar, 4.27g, mintless type (Damascus), AH78 (Bernardi 41; A.125), good very fine
Lot: 46 
 Lot: 47 (x) Umayyad, temp. 'Abd al-Malik, AV Dinar, 4.24g, mintless type (Damascus), AH79 (Bernardi 42; A.125), very fine
Lot: 47
Lot: 48 (x) Umayyad and Abbasid, AE Fals (c.60), an interesting group, many with mint names: Dimashq, Halab, Homs, Jordan, Ramlah, Tabaria, fine to very fine, some scarce (lot)
Lot: 48 
Responsible collectors will obviously want to verify that any items they are considering buying are not coming from contemporary or past conflict zones and are not the products of looting, coercion or theft. The information offered by Spink in these three cases is not sufficient to do that, even though elsewhere in the same catalogue there are coins offered with even the actual date of finding given. When are UK dealers going to demonstrate a commitment to supporting responsible collection by dealing only in material whose licit origins can be guaranteed and verified?

New Thinking on Ownership gaps in NGA


Caught out by the Dancing Shiva scandal, the National Gallery of Australia is starting to take an innovative approach to provenance research on items already in the collection (Michaela Boland, 'National Gallery of Australia blitz on 54 ownership gaps' The Australian December 19, 2014). They will be taking a new look at  the gallery’s Asian collection (some 5000 objects) starting with the South Asian sculptures. As a result the Gallery:
has identified another 54 South Asian sculptures in its collection with gaps in their recent ownership histories, which could indicate they were also stolen. More than $13m in public funds was spent acquiring the antiquities between 1969 and 2011. The collection would be valued at considerably more than $13m now but in light of the federal government’s new guide to Collecting Cultural Material, the pieces have essentially been rendered worthless until a secure chain of ownership can be established.
These are two interesting innovations. The notion of "ownership gaps" seems a useful one to introduce (applicable to the non-mention of certain dealers - Medici/ Symes - in the reported collecting histories of items offered by certain auction houses). The second is the notion that - due to a series of proven abuses of the system - presumed innocence no longer guarantees that an object will retain its assigned value.
Today, the gallery will publish online pictures and acquisition details for the antiquities in question, including revealing for the first time how much was paid for the pieces in question, who owned them and who traded them. This information was historically considered commercial-in-confidence but Dr Vaughan admitted there were few instances of genuine commercial in confidence where public art galleries were concerned. “I think as a public institution we have a duty to be open — it’s public money and transactions of this kind should be out in the open,” he said.  
Again, it seems there is no arguing with that. But we could take it further if we accept that these items are all the common heritage of mankind, so even those in personal collections should be subject to the same ideals of transparency. Of course the usual culprits are dead against all this, almost as if they in reality have something to hide:
The Art Gallery of South Australia has been frustrated by dealers refusing to assist its trail-blazing provenance research but Dr Vaughan said the NGA would no longer deal with dealers, donors or auction houses who refused to be completely frank about the ownership history of new pieces or ones they had previously sold the gallery.
I suggest this is an attitude we all, collectors and observers, should adopt. Boycot the cowboys who buy stuff no-questions-asked and have no paperwork legitimating the objects they've been filling their stockrooms with all these years.

Grave of Confederate soldier dug up in Georgia


AP, 'Grave of Confederate soldier dug up in Georgia; 'Graverobbing' investigated', Associated Press Dec 18, 2014

Authorities in Georgia say the grave of a former soldier has been dug up at the Old Bethel Church Cemetery in Knoxville. The deceased was a first lieutenant in the Confederate Army who had died Nov. 9, 1866. The suspects may have been looking for saleable artefacts that were buried with his body. So far authorities have been able to contact the family of the deceased.  No doubt artefact collectors in denial will be suggesting the authorities concentrate their search on seeking giant gophers with a taste for artefacts.

Georgia Artefact Hunters' Entitlement


An artefact hunting case in south Georgia has been in the news quite a lot recently, an Albany man, Eddie Ballard (37) was reportedly charged with 58 counts of digging up artefacts on both public and private property and selling them, criminal trespass, destroying or marring a pre-historic site, and failure to notify the state archaeologist after an investigation which lasted for more than a year. His home was searched and artefacts were confiscated. It is alleged that he'd been digging up artifacts like arrowheads in and along the Flint River since 2011 and selling them without reporting them to state officials as state law requires. Department of Natural Resources officers investigating say Ballard made thousands of dollars selling the artefacts, so some of the charges against him are felonies. The evidence against the man includes You Tube videos which Ballard shot of himself digging up artefacts'  (!). The man was arrested in summer of 2013, but as investigations progressed, the original indictment was re-issued.

Ballard reportedly pleaded guilty to to 45 counts of artefact theft last week, and was sentenced to 3 years behind bars. It seems he'd been in jail since his arrest.

There's that pious US monetary overvaluation again: "Prosecutors said some of the artifacts he stole are priceless because of their rarity". State DNR Law Enforcement rangers say the stolen artefacts in South Georgia "bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars each year".

But what is really sickening about this whole episode is the way the removal of cultural property (that of the indigenous people of the North American continent and part of its rich cultural history) is treated by the local judicial system as on a par with the destruction of "wildlife" (Georgia DNR Law Enforcement Corporal Greg Wade) and "natural history":
So that people understand that the arrow heads and other artifacts are part of our natural history.  And were significant.  And there are significant safeguards to protect this natural history," said Dougherty D.A. Greg Edwards.
 I wonder what the Muscogee (Creek) think of that. How utterly insulting.

Sources:
Jim Wallace, 'Albany man arrested for stealing artifacts' WALB Jun 08, 2013

Jessica Fairley, 'Alleged artifact digger indicted', WFXL 14th August 2013

Jim Wallace, 'Artifact theft indictment re-issued', WALB Apr 03, 2014
Jim Wallace, 'South Georgia artifact thieves video their own crimes' WALB Dec 17, 2014 

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Stemming a Tide of Cultural Theft


Another report on the Berlin conference (Alison Smale, 'Stemming a Tide of Cultural Theft' New York Times Dec. 17, 2014).
After a decade of turmoil, and a longer stretch of wilful destruction, the world’s antiquities are in such jeopardy that preservationists are sounding a screeching alarm.[...] while the fighting in the region has been devastating to scores of heritage sites — decay, negligence and religious fervor also have taken a heavy toll — the destruction is also driven by the persistent demand for looted goods, European experts said. Many participants called for tightening laws to make it more difficult for the very wealthy to acquire tangible bits of world history.[...] Over all, many experts blame illicit cultural deals on the desire of wealthy people to have an ancient piece of culture to boast about.“There is no business if there are no buyers,” said France Desmarais, a Canadian expert with the International Museum Conference in Paris, which has 33,000 members worldwide. “Don’t buy this stuff!”

There is now:
 a proposal for what experts say would be the most far-reaching laws regulating the booming market in cultural property. Ms. Grütters outlined plans for a new law that would require documented provenance for any object entering or leaving Germany, long among the laxest of regulators of the art market. Among other measures, dealers would be required to show a valid export permit from the source of the piece’s origins when entering Germany. Countries like Switzerland, and European Union members like France, Italy and Britain, have in recent years considerably tightened their rules, and are now re-examining them. [...] the German proposal could be “a big step,” said Neil Brodie "[...] "the Germans are now looking to go one step further,” he said. “You don’t just have to prove something is not guilty, but show that it is innocent.”
but...
Vincent Geerling, chairman of the International Association of Dealers in ancient art, insisted that “we don’t need an extra German law.” Museums and serious collectors can police themselves, he suggested.
Yeah, right, like they've all been doing since 1970.
 
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