Thursday, 20 October 2016

Gullible Collectors Naively Stake Faith on Forgeries

Many recent biblical archaeological ‘finds’ have been proven to be false: often after enthusiastic collectors have handed over large wads of cash for an artefact that appears to be a direct link to their faith  (Jamie Seidel, 'Doubts raised over ‘New’ Dead Sea Scroll fragment finds' News Corp Australia Network, 20th October 2016).

Suspicions have been raised about the authenticity of 70 supposedly new fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls [...]  But they have since been sold to private collectors — among them the head of the controversial US Hobby Lobby craft chain — and their true sources are hard to prove. The US Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary owns one piece which contains two of the Bible’s most strident anti-homosexual passages — from the widely separated sections of Leviticus 18 and 20. It’s the very convenience — and marketability — of this text that has some experts raising questions. “It is extremely unlikely that a small Dead Sea Scroll fragment would preserve text from both chapters,” Dead Sea Scroll researcher Arstein Justnes, at University of Agder in Norway, told Newsweek. He said the ‘new’ fragments appeared to be ‘amateurish’ forgeries, copied from textbooks about the real Dead Sea Scrolls. “I think this fragment was produced for American evangelicals,” he reportedly said. “There is a real danger that an increasing number of forgeries is accepted into the datasets on which we base our knowledge of the ancient world.”

European Association of Archaeologists issues statement of concern on illicit objects in the licit market

Dr Lynda Albertson of ARCA ('European Association of Archaeologists issues statement of concern on illicit objects in the licit market') reproduces a recent statement of concern of the European Association of Archaeologists (EAA) regarding an October 25, 2016 auction at Christie's New York previously reported on ARCA's blog on October 11, 2016 which includes an object traceable to the confiscated Robin Symes archive. Taking this as a starting point and with reference to the dealings of Medici, Becchina and Symes-Michaelides the Statement of the Committee on Illicit Trade in Cultural Materials to an Ongoing Auction at Christie’s makes a number of points in a way which suggests that patience is running out and the EAA has little hope that the antiquities market will regulate itself (see the discussion of the issue of making the polaroid archives available to dealers):
The Roman marble figurine of a draped goddess, lot 92 in the forthcoming Christie's auction, is a typical example of an antiquity on offer: true commercial sources are hidden or not identified; we have an incomplete collecting history employing a chronological generalization ('prior to 1991') and the true country of origin - that is, the place from which the antiquity originally came/was discovered - is not identified. This analysis of the way in which this figurine is presented by the antiquities market encapsulates the state of the market and is a revelation of its deficient practices; this is the true value of this identification.
The Committee on the Illicit Trade on Cultural Material highly deplores such sales and urges every auction house to accurately verify the origin of the objects on sale, and refuse objects with doubtful provenance. In accordance with our statutes, we report any illegal activity, or trade of potentially illegally-acquired material culture. Furthermore, we aim to contribute in any form to discourage commercialisation of archaeological material.
As far as I know, the UK's CIfA has not yet got a 'Committee on the Illicit Trade on Cultural Material' and it is about time that it had.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Texas man busted at border with Mexican artifacts

Thousands of relics smuggled out of Latin America in recent years remain in the hands of private collectors in the United States and Europe.
Trade in rare Mexican artifacts may be a lucrative business, but smuggling them into the country is illegal. A Texas man found that out when he was indicted last week. Federal prosecutors in Pecos charged Andrew Marion Kowalik of Rockport with two counts of trying to sneak in "prehistoric flaked stone artifacts such as projectile points, knives and other stone tools." Prosecutors put a value on the items of $5,000 or more and said the items were stolen or someone was defrauded out of the items. Kowalik has pleaded not guilty.
Brett Barrouquere  Texas man busted at border with Mexican artifacts, October 18, 2016

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

'Art Patrons' Financing Weapons Smuggling to Libyan Islamists?

Blood antiquities on international market?
According to information published by the Italian newspaper La Stampa, an organized crime group related to the Italian mafia in the southern region of Calabria (the 'Ndrangheta network) together with the Neapolitan Camorra, are purchasing Kalashnikov guns, rocket propelled grenades as well as rocket launchers from Moldova and Ukraine. It seems that the weapons are smuggled under the umbrella of the Russian Mafia. The destination of these weapons include being sold to weapon-hungry jihadist groups. It is reported that a major destination of these black market weapons are ISIL-affiliated fighters, based in the city of Sirt, Libya. "Naples has been, for many years, a central logistics base for the Middle East. The Camorra is also active in the world of jihadist terrorism that passes through Naples," Franco Roberti, a prominent anti-mafia prosecutor, told The Daily Beast ('Italian mob sells weapons to ISIS in Libya' Al Arabiya English 17th Oct 2016).

The Italian mafia has long been suspected of selling weapons to jihadist groups. A new detail in the La Stampa text is that allegedly, 'in exchange for weapons, the Italian mob obtains Greek and Roman antiquities that ISIL fighters stolen during their battles in Libya'
A La Stampa reporter posing as a collector was taken to a salami factory in southern Italy where he was offered the marble head of Roman statue looted from Libya for €60,000. The reporter was also shown a photograph of a larger head of a looted Greek statue, on sale for €800,000. According to the report, antiquities are brought to the Calabrian port of Gioia Tauro by Chinese-operated cargo ships.
The antiquities are said to be being sold 'to art patrons and connoisseurs (sic) from Asia and Russia' [...] 'the stolen treasures are [...] later auctioned to art collectors from China, Russia and Japan as well as the wealthy from Gulf countries'.

I doubt that there really is an 'exchange' (in kind), rather the weapons are sold to jihadists or middlemen and the transport which brought them across international borders undetected is used to transfer another illicit cargo on the return journey. This is the way organized criminal groups profit from both legs of the journey - which does not mean that the so-called 'art patrons' who buy this stuff are not financing the activities of organized groups which are involved in the movement of other illicit items, such as drugs and black market weaponry.

Donna Yates is maintaining scepticism. The dealers' lobbyists as usual  are steering clear of the topic so far.

Domenico Quirico, 'Arte antica in cambio di armi, affari d’oro in Italia per l’asse fra Isis e ’ndrangheta' La Stampa 16th October 2016

Tom Porter, 'Italian mafia sells Libyan antiquities looted by Islamic State Italian crime gangs reportedly exchanged the archaeological treasures for weapons'. International Business Times October 17, 2016

Hannah McGivern, 'Italian mafia trading weapons for Libyan artefacts plundered by Isil?' Art Newspaper 17 October 2016

Libyan Express, Agencies, 'Italian mafia is providing Libya’s IS with weapons in return of ancient artefacts', Monday 17 October 2016.

Barbie Latza Nadeau, 'The Mafia Runs Guns for ISIS in Europe The mobsters have the weapons, and they’re making a killing selling them off to Islamic radicals ', The Daily Beast 24th March 2016.

Barbie Latza Nadeau, 'Italian Mob Trades Weapons for Looted Art From ISIS in Libya Two Italian organized-crime rings are accused of trading in weapons with ISIS fighters for illegally pilfered artifacts from Libya', The Daily Beast 18th October 2016.

Chris Jones in his 'Gates of Nineveh' blog gives an interesting breakdown of the story and is sceptical about some of the details (' The Mafia, Looted Antiquities, and the KGB' October 19, 2016 )

Antiques Arrest in Abu Dhabi

Three foreigners held in Abu Dhabi for trying to sell smuggled antiquities '  AP October 18, 2016.
Police in Abu Dhabi said that they have arrested three foreigners for trying to sell smuggled antiquities [...] [the men] arrested at a hotel in the capital of the United Arab Emirates had antique daggers, old coins and other items they tried to sell for a high price. Police identified the three as being Arabs, without offering any specifics on who they were, their nationalities or the providence [sic] of the stolen items. 
It wasn’t clear whether these were archaeological artefacts.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Iraqi Army has Recaptured the Assyrian city of Nimrod

The push to drive ISIL out of Mosul is now underway, already the media are announcing that the Iraqi Army has recaptured the Assyrian city of Nimrod south of Mosul. I assume we will be getting videos of the damage done within the next few days. Nineveh will be coming up soon too. The advance to Mosul continues. Up to 1.5 million people are believed to still be living in Mosul.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Dabiq Taken

ISIS seems to have withdrawn from Dabiq without a fight. Somebody has produced fliers saying this was not the battle for Dabiq prophesied.

The Dabiq prophecy was central to ISIL (see Martin Chulov's 17 September 2015 Guardian article 'Why Isis fights').
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