Saturday, 27 May 2017

A Metal Detectorist's Advice on Exporting Archaeological Artefacts from the UK

When the objects they find are in transit between two countries, apparently some UK metal detectorists find, for some reason that:
it helps to mark the envelope….’Numismatic Specimen’ rather than ‘roman coin’ thus helping to deflect the attention of prying eyes."

More Laundering by Misdescription Going on

An artefact collector in the UK gives advice to his readers:
Do you remember that Dupondius of Domitian that I wrote about some months ago? Well, it’s currently winging its way across ‘The Pond’ as a gift to a treasure hunting friend in Florida. If you ever send coins like this by post, anywhere and especially overseas, it helps to mark the envelope….’Numismatic Specimen’ rather than ‘roman coin’ thus helping to deflect the attention of prying eyes.
And alert authorities to the attempted export of an item which requires an export licence to be legally exported. No mention is made here (in the interests of demonstrating 'best practice') of proof of the existence of an export licence being included in or accompanying the shipment. We trust that the recipient 'treasure hunting friend in Florida' would not wish to be the recipient - still less owner - of an illegally exported archaeological artefact from England where every stop is pulled out to help the responsible artefact hunter. Should the export licence not arrive with this 'numismatic specimen', we trust that - as any truly law abiding citizen would do - the unwitting recipient of an illegally-exported artefact would turn the coin in to ICE and inform them of the identity of the exporter. Will they?

Marking packages containing dugup artefacts with a non-transparent vague description is believed to be common practice among artefact dealers to avoid the legality of transfer of ownership to be challenged by the authorities of both exporting as well as importing countries (there is a lot of this about). Gentle reader, remember if you care about losses to the world's cultural heritage through illegal activity and come across information about something like this, you do not have to stand by helplessly like a British archaeologist 'partnering' artefact hunting:
The public, government and private institutions often aid HSI in identifying, investigating and prosecuting illicitly trafficked cultural property. If you have information about the illicit trade of cultural property or art, call the HSI Tip Line, 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or report tips online.
This is probably the coin type that was exported, a VIRTVTI AVGVSTI dupondius:

Timeline Auctions via Wildwinds (for illustration purposes only)
This embodies the virtue of the ruler, it is a shame that certain activities of many UK metal detectorists seem not really to reflect any virtues at all.

UPDATE 27th May 2017
The PAS suggests that It is also best practice for finds t'o be recorded with the PAS before they are exported',. Was best practice followed here too? 

The finder will no doubt be quick to explain why the PAS datavbase seems not to contain this artefact. 

Friday, 26 May 2017

Two more NY Dealers can't show the Paperwork

The Manhattan District Attorney’s office seized
the objects — collectively valued at $90,000 — in April

 from an unnamed Manhattan gallery, whose owners faced 
no charges after agreeing to forfeit the pieces.

The antiquities
Quelle surprise, the federal authorities caught another dealer with apparently dodgy goods but are refusing to name him (or her) [Rebecca Rosenberg, 'Looted ancient artifacts found in Midtown gallery, finally returned' New York Post May 25, 2017]. In fact, these artefacts (worth reportedly $100,000) which had apparently been stolen from Italy were discovered in yet another New York gallery last April, when:
investigators seized six items, including a 4-inch-tall, 2,800-year-old Sardinian bronze warrior valued at $30,000, from the unnamed gallery, according to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. The $90,000 haul also included a drinking cup emblazoned with two goats butting heads from the late 4th century B.C. worth $8,500 and a wine jug decorated with panthers valued at $22,500, officials said. The items were looted from archaeological sites in Italy, including tombs, in the 1990s then smuggled into the US, according to the DA’s office.
Oh and:
The gallery, which had listed the antiquities for sale, was unaware that they were stolen and fully cooperated with investigators, authorities said.
He probably thought they grew on tees, like spaghetti. The items concerned are:
I. Paestan red-figure lekythos, an oil flask depicting a man holding a plate of fruit, dating to 340 B.C. and valued at $9,500.
II. Sardinian bronze warrior wearing a helmet and carrying a bow, dating to the 8th century B.C., and valued at approximately $30,000.
III. Proto-Corinthian oenochoe, a wine jug decorated with rams and panthers, dating to 650 B.C. and valued at $22,500.
IV. Sardinian bronze ox dating back to the 8th century B.C. valued at $6,500.
V. Attic red-figure lekythos, an oil flask depicting a man holding a lyre, dating back to 430 B.C. and valued at $12,500. [seized pursuant to a search warrant from a different gallery in Midtown Manhattan PMB]
VI. Apulian Xenon kantharos, a drinking cup decorated with the image of two goats butting heads, dating to the late 4th century B.C. and valued at $8,500.
VII. Greek bronze Herakles holding the horn of Achelous, dating to the 3rd or 4th century B.C., and valued at $12,500.
Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos, Senior Trial Counsel, and Assistant District Attorney Christopher Hirsch handled the recovery of the artifacts. These recoveries were made possible through a joint investigation with the Italian Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale and with the assistance of the following individuals: Angelo Ragusa, of the Rome Office of the Archaeological Section of the Carabinieri; Ms. Leila A. Amineddoleh, professor at Fordham University School of Law, St. John’s University School of Law, and New York University; and Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis, Affiliate Researcher at the Scottish Centre of Crime and Justice Research, University of Glasgow, and lecturer for the Association for Research into Crimes Against Art ("ARCA") in Italy.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Shooting Fish in a Barrel: Treasure Hunting for Profit on the First Frome Hoard Site

The Second Frome Hoard, voted Britain's Top Treasure in a dumbdown publicity stunt by the Portable Antiquities Scheme was discovered in April 2010 by a man using a device engineered to find buried metal artefacts in a field near Frome known to have produced other Roman material. In other words another Treasure find that was dragged up out of its undisturbed archaeological context by an artefact hunter targeting a known site. Is this really a manner of treating the archaeological record that British archaeology should be promoting by dumbdown publicity stunts? 

Treasure hunter Dave Crisp was searching here because three days previously, he had previously found 62 late Roman silver coins dating to around and after the 380s* there (the First Frome Hoard Treasure case tracking number: 2010T278) as a result, presumably, of searching for more coins deriving from the scattered hoard represented by the group of 111 coins which had been found on the same farm in 1867. In other words, when the Treasure reward of the First From Hoard was paid, Treasure hunter Crisp received money for 'finding' a hoard that was already known about. Should Treasure rewards (ransoms) be paid for people targeting known findspots like this? It's rather like shooting fish in a barrel. 

On getting a signal from the deeply-buried mass of metal which turned out to be the second hoard - dating to  AD 253 to 305 - the Treasure hunter dug down 35 cm below plough level to reveal a pot still in its archaeological context (the Second Frome Hoard).  This necessitated an under-resourced salvage archaeological investigation - a three day keyhole dig ('led by Graham and assisted by Hinds, Booth, Crisp and members of the landowner's family') which failed to reveal anything of the landscape context of that find - and its relationship to the other one nearby. The coins themselves took six weeks of a BM conservator's time to do the preliminary cleaning so that they could be studied (hidden costs) but at this stage no attempt was made to perform a full conservation, which would have cost an additional £35,000. In the event, when the museum  received a National Heritage Memorial Fund grant for the ransoming of the hoard (at £320,250), an additional  £105,000 was paid out for the conservation work - that means a sum equivalent to a third of its full commercial value. The costs of sorting, cataloguing, photography and publication of the items concerned have never been counted, but will come probably to a similar figure. 

The Second Frome Hoard is lauded as an example of 'best practice' because archaeologists came along and excavated this otherwise unthreatened complex of material, let us see the archaeological documentation that Treasure hunter Crisp made of the pattern of finds comprising the First Frome Hoard. 

* It says in the 'database' report that 'A full catalogue is available on request'. Why has this material still not been published properly seven years on?

Vignette: Treasure hunting, shooting fish in a barrel

Skipping the Issues: a Coin Dealer in Trouble with Some of his Business Partners

I sell to people who have a passion to collect,”
he says. “I sell stress relief. I sell escapism. I’m just as
appy selling someone a $2,000 coin as I am a $200,000 coin.

A recent text discusses the activities of Rob Freeman, a noted coin scholar, or numismatist, and the owner of Freeman and Sear, formerly one of the top five ancient-coin dealers in the country ('The downfall of Rob Freeman, an ancient coin dealer who allegedly defrauded customers of millions and lost a bronze head, LA Weekly  MAY 16, 2017 ) . The article opens with a cameo presentation of the denizens of a local copin fondling club as a bunch of anorakish weirdos before passing on to the subject of the text:
Freeman’s peers and customers [...] were so surprised when rumors about him began to circulate, citing missing coins, bounced checks, cheated customers, some sort of Ponzi scheme. Then there’s the mystery of what happened to the head of the Roman Lucius Aelius Verus, a larger-than-life bronze head depicting the adopted son of Emperor Hadrian and the father of Co-Emperor Lucius Verus. [...] “There are so many rumors going around, it’s hard to separate fact from fiction,” says Victor England Jr., co-owner of Classical Numismatic Group, one of the nation’s top coin dealerships. [Reportedly,] At least 20 lawsuits have been filed against Freeman in the last four years, alleging such acts as breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, misrepresentation, negligence and fraud. One such complaint, filed in January 2016 by Marie Rosales and Jack Luu, alleges the two plaintiffs were victims of a “Ponzi scheme,” and were “swindled out of more than $1 million by con men passing themselves off as legitimate dealers of ancient coins and antiques.” “I’ve known Rob for probably 25 years,” says Ira Goldberg, who with his cousin Larry owns an auction house. “I would say he just went bad. He was a fine numismatist, always honorable and hardworking. That all changed about three years ago.”
Freeman studied history at UCLA, and went ion to work in Numismatic Fine Arts, a prominent coin dealership owned by Bruce McNall.

In 1993, Freeman left to form Freeman and Sear, along with David R. Sear, perhaps the most noted coin scholar in the world, author of the book Roman Coins and Their Values, and someone who had also been at Numismatic Fine Arts. His time working for McNall had given Freeman contacts with ancient-coin dealers all over the world. In the eyes of any knowledgeable collector, Sear’s name gave the new business instant credibility. [...] Today, if you go to Sear’s personal website, a message in bold lettering at the top of the page reads: “I wish it to be known that David R. Sear has no connection with the company currently doing business as ‘Freeman and Sear,’ this association having been terminated in 2001.” The site makes no other mention of what happened to the partnership.
It seems that in recent years he began touting ancient coins as a form of investment (rather like the NFA business model) - many of the people suing him reportedly allege that they bought shares in pools of coins but never saw returns.
Marie Rosales and Jack Luu bought a percentage of a pool of coins for $1.25 million. They allege that Freeman promised a 30 percent profit in one year, which would have been a remarkable return. It was too good to be true. [...] The trouble began, according to Freeman, in 2007, when he started a new company, Helios, based in Munich, closer to where the majority of the world’s most valuable coins first hits the market. But Freeman lived in Los Angeles. Helios was run by a few employees in whom Freeman had placed great trust.
Then there were four silver Athenian decadrachms....

Basically the author of the text seems to believe that there are good coin dealers, but then he skips over totally the issue of where one actually gets four Athenian dekas and a head of Lucius Aelius Verus  from... that side of the dugup coin industry is skipped over.

ISIL's Raqqa to Fall Soon?

After a 4-year existential war across northern Syria, the YPG can now measure its distance to Raqqa in individual fields (map by @Nrg8000 )


Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Egypt says it retrieved 4 stolen artefacts from Britain [UPDATED}

The Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities announced yesterday that it has received four artefacts that had been stolen and smuggled out of Egypt. [...]  Shaaban Abdel Gawad, a ministry official, said two of the artefacts were displayed in an auction house in the UK while the other two pieces were in the possession of an antiquities dealer in London. Two of the artefacts were stolen during the security mayhem that prevailed in the wake of the 2011 uprising, which resulted in the ousting of long-time president Hosni Mubarak, while the other two were stolen in 2013, according to the ministry.
 'Egypt says it retrieved 4 stolen artefacts from Britain' Middle East Monitor May 24, 2017

Al-Ahram has more - but conflicting - information (thanks to Dorothy King for drawing my attention to it):
The artefacts include a glass sculpture of a human head that was stolen from Qantara-East store galleries, a stone relief stolen during the 1970s from Hatshepsut temple on Luxor’s west bank, a Middle Kingdom wooden ushabti figurine engraved with golden hieroglyphic text stolen from an Aswan store gallery, and a Roman piece stolen from Minya.  Abdel-Gawad pointed out that all these pieces, except the one stolen from Hatshepsut temple, were stolen during the lack of security in the aftermath of January revolution in 2011.

Metal Detectorists Happy About Brexit, Real Archaeologists Likely to be Less so.

New report shows that UK archaeology and classics are likely to be the worst hit academic disciplines due to loss of EU funding after Brexit. After all, who now needs archaeologists to make crowd-pleasing discoveries like the Frome hoard?

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Antiquities collectors compared to kerb crawlers

Katherine V Huntley‏ @KVHuntley 10 godzin temu
W odpowiedzi do
This is good, but I think antiquities trafficking is like prostitution: we need to be targeting the demand side of things. #archaeology

Vignette: Lady talking to motorist in street at night

'Greek Police Arrest Three Men for Possession of Antiquities

Hellenic Police on Saturday arrested three men at Grevena, northwestern Greece, for illegal possession of antiquities of archaeological and scientific value (Philip Chrysopoulos, 'Greek Police Arrest 3 Antiquity Smugglers at Grevena ' Greek Reporter May 21, 2017).
 According to the Athens News Agency, the three men, 42, 52 and 63 years old, had in their homes 32 items in violation of the Law on Antiquities and General Cultural Heritage. Specifically, the three men had in their possession 26 metal coins of the Ancient, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman eras, a clay vase with a handle, a part of a bronze vase, an intact clay amphora, a bronze cylindrical stem, a bronze curved handle and a circular metal object. In addition, police found a metal detector, while the 63-year old had 7.5 grams of cannabis seeds and small quantities of raw cannabis. The antiquities were seized and handed over to the Grevena Ephorate of Antiquities, while local authorities investigate how and when the three men acquired the items

Monday, 22 May 2017

The Plight of Syrians (video clip)

Searching for Syria – in partnership with Google United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

Attempt to Smuggle Coins from Turkey to Russia Foiled

Syrian caught at Şanlıurfa airport boarding a plane to Istanbul on his way to Russia with Roman and Hellenistic coins (article in Turkish)

Now find a dealer that would have had any qualms once they reached the international market  at about buying and then selling on those coins without any paperwork at all showing how they came onto the market. 

UNESCO End trafficking, save culture

UNESCO End trafficking, save culture  Published on May 17, 2017

Conflict situations and natural disasters increase the risk of theft and trafficking dramatically. Many instances of plunder, theft and trafficking of cultural objects go unseen or unsolved.
Help stop illicit trafficking of cultural property by spreading the video. For more info visit:

This video was produced by the UNESCO Beirut Office in the framework of the Emergency Safeguarding of the Syrian Cultural Heritage project, funded by the European Union and supported by the Flemish Government and the Government of Austria.

Video credits:
Produced by Keeward
Illustration, Animation and Sound Design by Squarefish

Sunday, 21 May 2017

'Not in it fer the Munny;': No?

Returns on rare coins over ten years to the end of 2016 were 195%, easily beating the S&P 500 index. It is after all a growing market, and the PAS is helping it along.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Treasure Hunting, Like Shooting Fish in a Barrel

This story has everything: love-interest, bling, money and a gory death - making it ideal for BM dumbdown story telling, hence the BBC news item ('Lost ' medieval gold brooch was 'gift from beheaded baron'). In Leicestershire castle a medieval gold brooch believed to have been lost by a baroness more than 500 years ago has been found near the moat of Kirby Muxloe Castle.

The 15th Century heart-shaped brooch probably belonged to Baroness Hastings, who lived in Kirby Muxloe Castle. The jewel, found by a metal detectorist in a farmer's field, will be sold at auction in August. Experts say it would have been given to her by Baron William Hastings, who was beheaded in 1483. The brooch has a guide price of £6,000-£8,000. It is inlaid with white enamel and engraved with the medieval French inscription "honor et joie" (honour and joy). The finder, who wants to remain anonymous, will split the proceeds of the auction with the landowner after the British Museum declared it treasure but declined to purchase it. [...] The jewel was examined by experts at Hanson's Auctioneers and then authenticated at the British Museum. 

I am sure he's joyful about finding it but if the finder had any honour, he'd not be taking a cut of the proceeds of selling off a dead woman's lost property. Um, why was it reported as only handed to the BM after valuation by Hanson's?  his Treasure hunting game is like shooting fish in a barrel, find a known high status site, get a metal detector and hoover away all around it, you are sure to find something if you dig deep enough.

Are there any descendants of Katherine Neville, Baroness Hastings, alive? Perhaps they should have first option on what happens to this? 

Destruction in Syria

Some rather upsetting before-after photos mounted one over another with a slider: Gareth Davies, 'Thousands of years of history wiped out by ISIS: Shocking new pictures show how the terror group has obliterated Syria's ancient treasures' Mail online, 12 May 2017

Warsaw set for Night of the Museums

 The objective of International Museum
  Day is to raise awareness of the fact that 
“Museums are an important means of cultural exchange,
nrichment of cultures and development of 
mutual understanding,cooperation
and peace among peoples.” 

The worldwide community of museums will celebrate International Museum Day on and around 18 May 2017. Participation in International Museum Day is growing among museums all over the world. In 2016, more than 35,000 museums participated in the event in some 145 countries.
More than 200 museums, galleries, theatres and other institutions in Warsaw are set to take part in the annual Night of the Museums, being held in the Polish capital for the 14th time. Some 300 cultural events will be on offer as museums stay open overnight Saturday-Sunday and other locations which are normally closed to the public throw open their doors. Concerts, sound-and-light multimedia shows and art exhibitions are among other attractions planned across Warsaw.
Warsaw set for Night of the Museums 20.05.2017

The Barford family have an ambitious and eclectic programme planned for tonight. Sadly there is little evidence in the offerings that there is much awareness that the International Museum Day theme chosen for 2017 is "Museums and contested histories: Saying the unspeakable in museums".  But then, I am not sure what the organizers mean by that.

Head of Khorsabad Lamassu

   Head of lamassu winged bull at iraq museum from usa 🇺🇸 to 🇮🇶 recovery but i think it's not original it's fake
Ha! Interesting idea. As you are a curator at the museum in Baghdad, I'd say you could be right. It would not be the first time ICE was taken in and repatriated a fake to the same region. Here is is mentioned here earlier:
 'Stolen Artefacts to be Returned by US to Iraq' PACHI Sunday, 15 March 2015;
'More on the Iraq Repatriation Ceremony' PACHI Tuesday, 17 March 2015;
'Dur-Sharrukin ( Khorsabad) Reports'  PACHI Wednesday, 18 March 2015. 
and here on CHL .

hat tip to Dorothy King

Friday, 19 May 2017

Bust Stolen from Villa Adriana Turned up on Market

While some collectors and dealers are willing to pay high
prices for a rare cultural object although it may be stolen,
the public needs to be better informed about what to look for
and the questions to ask before making a purchase

Giulia Domna’s Story of Illicit Trafficking Unite for Heritage May 15th 2017
On 2 December 2016, Dutch police returned the 2nd century marble bust of Roman Empress Giulia Domna to the Italian authorities. The 31-centimetre head had been stolen in 2013 during an exhibition at the Canopus Museum at the Villa Adriana (Tivoli), a site inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1999. [...] The story picks up when two Dutch citizens consigned Giulia for auction at Christie’s in Amsterdam in 2015. Christie’s’ staff became suspicious even though they found no listing for the sculpture in databases of stolen art. As the bust was recognized from photos taken at the Villa Adriana and questions of provenance were raised, Christies contacted the Dutch and Italian authorities. The professional approach of the auction house was key to the joint criminal investigation that immediately got underway. It led to the police seizure of the bust of Giulia Domna, and to the arrest and prosecution of the Dutch citizens who had stolen it and then tried to put it on the market. 
And their naming and shaming?
The bust has been on display at the “Recovered Treasures” exhibition at UNESCO, which is sponsored by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and by the Carabinieri Department for the Protection of Cultural Heritage. Her next stop is back home at the Villa Adriana. 

Convention on Offences relating to Cultural Property Signing Begins Today

19th May
Proud to be 1st signatory Convention on Offences relating to Cultural Property ( ),priority of chairmanship

US Grave Robbers and Collectors Happy: NAGPRA Review Suspended?

US Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is reportedly suspending the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act review committee. That is odd because just over a month ago new nominees were being sought.

Archie McArchface, versus Trezzi McTreasureface

Having publicised their asinine 'Britain's favourite Treasure' campaign and invited the plebs to vote, the British Museum Department of Dumbdown might at least have published the results and said what they 'mean'. Voting finished on May 15th.

It was the Frome Hoard

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Nederland is gek geworden

Where the CDE has been recorded, where the
conservation services need to get more active
A website of 'Portable Antiquities' in the Netherlands just launched. Maybe our Dutch archaeological friends might care to explain what they mean in the English subtitle by the use of the word 'antiquities', instead of archaeological finds? Antiquities are what collectors collect, looters look for and dealers flog off. The use of the word implies a certain approach to the artefacts and I would like to know why the British disease has spread to the Continent. Can we get a sensible answer here?  The Dutch bit 'Kijk mee met verzamelaars van Nederlandse bodemvondsten' apparently means 'check out the collectors of Dutch soil discoveries'. You cant get more explicit than that. 

There's 89 'prehistoric finds' ('De oudste (metaal)vondsten uit Nederland'), 385 from targeting Roman sites, and 274 from hoovering Medieval ones. Of the latter as many as 116 buckles and 158 disc fibulae - hardly a very accurate reflection of the material culture of the region between AD450 and AD1500 one would have thought. The Roman period fares no better, artefact hunters and collectors have selected from the assemblages they searched 367 assorted fibulae and eighteen slingshot... There are just three miserable coins, the one artefact type which dominates the English PAS database,.

I am not really all that clear what the Dutch think they are doing with this database.  There is not much in the way of an introductory text setting out its aims and objectives. The findspots of the loose artefacts from private collections are not given, The collections containing the objects are not named, zero information about a load of loose artefacts. 

Istanbul police seize over 550 Byzantine, Roman coins from taxi

Doğan News Agency has reported that Turkish police seized 553 coins dating back to the Byzantine and Roman period inside a plastic bag held by a passenger in a cab, in Istanbul on May 16
(Istanbul police seize over 550 Byzantine, Roman coins from taxi

 Police security teams stopped a suspicious cab in the main bus terminal in the Bayrampaşa district and conducted searches inside the car. The passenger was detained during the search after police found a total of 553 coins from the Byzantine and Roman eras, as well as four rosaries and three colored stones belonging to the same periods. Police also conducted searches at a store belonging to the passenger, as well as at Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, finding another two ceramic plates, 50 cylinder seals of different sizes and colors, five metal rings, two metal seals, five coins, five metal objects and a cross.[...] The detained passenger has been released by police pending an investigation on charges of “violating the law on protecting cultural and natural properties.”
I wonder what makes a taxi cab 'suspicious' - apart from carrying a coin dealer, that is.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Some Artefacts Smashed in Deir Ezzor province

It is being reported (Ivan Castro, 'ISIS militants crush antiquities discovered in Deir Ezzor province (VIDEO)'  Al Masdar News 14th May 2017):
Amaq agency, which is one of the media wings affiliated with [...] ISIL/ISIS), has published a new video that shows designated terror group’s jihadists destroying ancient statues and artifacts found west of Abu Kamal city in southeastern part of Deir Ezzor province.
 Abu Kamal is just inside the Syrian-Iraq border. The caption to the film, however, actually states that the site concerned is الصالحية  As-Salihiyah, the main town eight kilometres to the west of Dura Europos.  Note the film is dated in the European calendar. A shorter version is presented by EAMENA here. This is the original:

Deir Al-Zour Department - Destruction of statues found by the Antiquities Authority in Salhia, west of Albuqamal

Initially I was wondering whether the narrator here was the same as we saw in the Nimrud video a while ago (wearing the same waistcoat now faded) but these are clearly different men.
The Nimrud-smasher (left) and the Al-Salihiyah (right) compared
The video however seems not to be as objective a record as some commentators have been suggesting. It is clearly a pastiche, first of all showing several scenes which do not seem to me to be As-Salihiyah (27 and 30-1 secs). It opens with a few shots of small items looking like antiquities, but those shown at 9 seconds and 10 seconds include objects which have every appearance of being fakes. These objects are shown standing on a floor of cement-grouted concrete slabs (a museum storeroom floor maybe?). Note that there seems to be the suggestion of a black dado out of focus in the background (see below). 

Then at 51-58 seconds, the camera scans down a series of large classical style sculptures. They are standing in a room on the same (?) concrete slab floor which has a black dado and there are grey walls behind. I've made a photomontage of this sequence, there is a large Roman funerary stele, and three heads. The one in the centre I suspect is a fake. 

But then look at the 'haram figure smashing scene' ...(1m 07 secs). This is set in a space (courtyard?) surrounded by lime-green walls and with a beaten earth floor. We see a scatter of elongated, presumably stone, objects which we are invited to identify as the items we saw in the opening sequences. In fact,  few of the items shown scattered on the earth look like figurines or fragments of figures (there are some that might be animals). There is the large funerary fragment at the back, but it now looks much more battered than in the previous sequence. There are heads too, the brownish one to the right might be that shown in the earlier piled sequence, but I think the large white on to its right is not the same as the (fake?) one we saw in the foreground of the earlier sequence. Among the sculptures are also other stone fragments, none of them obviously sculpted and thus probably added for effect to bulk out a smaller scatter of artefacts. 

In the 18 seconds where we see them smashing things (1.08-1.26), the brownish head breaks pretty easily, showing the colouration to be superficial only (is this a painted plaster cast? The sound it makes when splitting however suggests that this is not the case). We see two people involved, and I am unsure whether the hammer wielder shown in the scene at the end (1.19-1.26) focussing on the destruction of (ceramic?) figures has the same sandals as the narrator who began the hammering. 

Although in the beginning of the sequence we see a number of heads go under the hammer and at the end a close-up view of figurine smashing (1.19-1.26) there are a number of  reasons not to accept at face value what the film purports to show. For example in that last scene, the rubble shown in the background looks nothing like that produced by the hammering in the preceding shotsWe nowhere see the large stela being smashed (or bits from it).

It is unclear where this film was made. Perhaps we are invited to believe that the first shots of the items themselves were filmed in a museum, but then, that would not explain why there are fakes mixed in with what do seem to be genuine artefacts. Perhaps this is material accumulated by a middleman for selling - and thus including material perhaps taken from Dura Europos eight kilometres away and Mari or other sites a bit more distant. It is unclear if the green-walled courtyard is in the same building as that with the concrete slab floor. Perhaps they were transported there from the first filming site - which may explain why there are fewer shown than in the general shots (they had not bothered to bring all the fragments from the one place to where the filming was to be done). 

The reader will guess that after looking carefully at this film, I think it is largely staged. I suspect that the amount of damage done was far less than the film is intended to make the viewer believe. Why would this be? The reason might be prosaic, smashing rocks is hard work in the warmer months, like May, and propagandists were more interested in the overall appearance of the film than actually breaking lots of large stones. The reason might be that the film makers wanted to make people (ISIL-followers, or is this aimed at western collectors?) believe that they are smashing more stuff than they are. It seems to me that the objects got rid of were not all genuine antiquities, and there is reason to believe that some of the things shown in the general shots in fact were not smashed. So where are they now? Were they left in the courtyard in As- Salihiyah to be found when ISIL is pushed out, or are they making their clandestine way to foreign markets as this is being written?

Search on for "The Nation's Fave Trezure"

Will it be a silver pig with an invented backstory?

Oh Yeah?

'The Portable Antiquities Scheme is a project to encourage the voluntary recording of archaeological objects – not just Treasure – found by members of the public in England and Wales.'
But... Treasure Act 1996 c. 24 Art 12 Report on operation of Act.
'As soon as reasonably practicable after each anniversary of the coming into force of this section, the Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament a report on the operation of this Act in the preceding year'.
Treasure reporting is already defined by an act of law, The Secretary of State does not lay the Portable Antiquities Database before parliament annually - so why is the reporting of Treasure items being duplicated at public expense in an extra-legal form? The PAS was set up alongside the Treasure Ac t in 1996 to serve a specific purpose vis a vis the Valetta Convention Arts 2 and 3. That purpose has now been both subverted (it is not working) and abandoned. 

The inclusion of Treasure finds (which will include a high proportion of coin hoards with multiple 'numbers of objects' in each one) in the PAS database is intended to boost 'finds recorded by us' figures. It is also chalk and cheese, the PAS database is to record finds made by members of the public, while Treasure finds made by archaeologists (such as here and here) have to be reported as Treasure. All this gives a false picture of the degree to which UK artefact hunters are responsibly reporting the finds they pocket. 

Strange Collecting habits of 'A Middlesex lady'

Rogueclaccist asks: 'who is the 'middlesex lady' who is selling her papyri collection via timeline auctions? several examples!' Apparently this 'Middlesex lady' acquired everything two decades ago from a dealer who was trading the contents of a collection formed in the 1980s. The manuscripts include:
Lot 83: Egyptian Papyrus Page Fragment Ptolemaic to Roman Period, 4th century BC-4th century AD.A large fragment of papyrus with demotic text to both sides
Lot 84: Egyptian Papyrus Page Fragment Group Ptolemaic to Roman Period, 4th century BC-4th century AD A large fragment of papyrus with eighteen lines of Greek text
Lot 86: Egyptian Papyrus Page Fragment Group Ptolemaic to Roman Period, 4th century BC-4th century AD. A group of two papyrus fragments with demotic text written in ink to both sides
Lot 87: Egyptian Papyrus Scroll Group Ptolemaic to Roman Period, 4th century BC-4th century AD A group of three rolled papyrus documents with demotic text written in inkLot 88: Egyptian Coptic Manuscript 18th-19th century AD.
Lot 1337 Egyptian Papyrus Page Fragment Group Ptolemaic to Roman Period, 4th century BC-4th century AD A group of ten fragments of papyrus with Greek text
Lot 1338, Egyptian Papyrus Page Fragment Group : Ptolemaic to Roman Period, 4th century BC-4th century AD. A group of eleven papyrus fragments with Greek text      Lot 1339 Egyptian Papyrus Page Fragment Group Ptolemaic to Roman Period, 4th century BC-4th century AD. A group of fifteen papyrus fragments with Greek text written in ink, 
The stated collecting history is quite interesting because it is repeated by the seller in the case of a number of other artefacts offered in the same auction, The collector was clearly interested in Hellenistic Greek manuscripts and so we find a Hellenistic gold piece among her acquisitions Lot 104, 'Greek Hellenistic Gold Diadem'. Did this come from Greece or Turkey or Thracian zones? Or is it some kind of votive plaque from Egypt like the manuscripts? This is a possible interpretation considering the Coptic items attributed to the collection of this same anonymous lady: Lot 72 - Egyptian Coptic Marbled Glass Finial, Lot 73 - Egyptian Coptic Marbled Glass Finial and Lot 1336, 'Wooden Coptic Stamp with Horse and Rider',  There is also Lot 2765 - Islamic (sic) Page Fragment Group. I would not be surprised if  picking over sites of the Roman period in Egypt  is also.the collection of glass fragments (Lot 1341 Egyptian and Roman Glass Fragment Group 3rd century BC- 3rd century AD. 'A mixed group of glass fragments including spindle whorls, bangles, beads, drinking vessel rims and a sphere, 96 grams total').

From a clearly different cultural region are two other items that this collection contained: Lot 310: Western Asiatic Inscribed Sword of King Ninurta-nadin-Šumi ['supplied with detailed report by M[ark] Weeden, SOAS'] and 'Lot No. 0729 Western Asiatic Bactrian Cylinder Seal with Animals'. Anonymous Middlesex ladies with an interest in Egyptian Coptic civilization and its predecessors might be unfazed by buying artefacts coming from that region reportedly in the '1980s'. I'd say concerns about buying in 2007 an item coming (presumably) from southern Iraq in the 1980s should arouse some qualms, as well as a cylinder seal potentially from Afghanistan (or neighbouring areas) which could have left the source region during the 1979-1989 Soviet–Afghan War or the 1989-1996 civil war is highly dubious behaviour.  

What would this lady's collection have looked like? What about that collection (or is it collections?) from which all the items were reportedly acquired? Here is an attempt to present all the items the dealer says are from both:

What was this lady thinking? How would this 'collection' have been used, and how was it stored and displayed? (Most of it consists of tatty manuscript scraps.) What do collectors do with all the items they accumulate? This is not a collection put together as the result of random bleeps of a metal detector, both collectors (in the 1980s and the Middlesex Lady) put this group of items together by selecting them individually from a larger pool of objects on the market. What were the reasons, emotions, incentives, behind these decisions? Surely if archaeologists in Britain are treating collectors of portable antiquities as their 'partners', we ought to be gaining a much better understanding of the processes by which these collections are being built up. What are the intellectual consequences of this activity and the manner in which it is currently carried out? Why are British archaeologists so slow to study the taphonomy of collections like this and what it says of this 'partnership'?

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Elizabeth Marlowe Replies to Vikan on Museums and the Antiquities Trade

Elizabeth Marlowe has written a piece 'American Museums First? A Response to Gary Vikan', which is a reply to the latter's essay “Why US Museums and the Antiquities Trade Should Work Together,” in the January 30, 2017, issue of Apollo. The response is an excellent one, as one might expect from the author of the excellent Shaky Ground: Context, Connoisseurship, and the History of Roman Art 2013) . The text begins with a brief overview of the development of concerns about Collection-Driven Exploitation of the archaeological record in the 1990s when 'the first clear picture of the staggering scale of antiquities looting' emerged and the direct, knowing collaboration of US museums in it'.
Antiquities and other items of cultural property without clear proof of a legal, pre-1970 export date are now assumed guilty until proven innocent, and very few museums in North America or Europe are willing to acquire them.
 and it is that which Vikan was polemising with. But, as Marlowe notes of Vikan's attitudes to US museum collections:

It is hard not to notice the resonances between this perspective and the “America First” rhetoric of the current US political regime. Vikan appears blissfully un-self-aware, blind or indifferent to the global political and economic inequalities that underpin his worldview. Little can be done about that in this essay. Worth analyzing, on the other hand, are the particular mechanisms he proposes to “unfreeze the pipeline.” Despite his civic-minded claims, the main beneficiary of his “solution” would be not so much the general, museum-going “American public” as the private antiquities collectors, and the unscrupulous ones in particular.
Professor Marlowe then discusses Vikan's idea of a 'database of unpapered artefacts' but concludes 'it is clear that the primary function of this database would be to restore marketability to currently unsellable orphan antiquities'. In addition she remarks that 'I do not believe it is an exaggeration to say that the amnesty component effectively transforms Vikan’s orphan database into a laundering operation'. Marlowe questions the assumption that owners, motivated by a desire to sell their collections and/or to obtain legal “amnesty” for their stolen contents, would 'volunteer compromising or unflattering details in a public record'. She is of course right.
Vikan presents his proposal as a fair, innovative, broad-minded solution to a relatively new problem. In fact, what he offers is a system weighted even more heavily in favor of the collectors and the collecting institutions than the pre-2008 status quo. His basic maneuver is to take the onus off the purchasing institution to prove that an object wasn’t stolen and to put it back on the aggrieved source country to prove that it was.
She then goes on to justify the view that 'the actual harm the database could cause is, in fact, tremendous'.

Professor Marlowe then turns briefly to Vikan's second solution to the problem of the 'frozen antiquities pipeline'. He proposed that museums should deaccession the 'second- and third-tier antiquities' in their reserve collections which could be sold to collectors and other museums. Marlowe suggests that museums could redirect resources toward the stewardship of and research into the objects they already own, which she argues is as much a function of a museum as the old ideals of mainly staging spectacular exhibitions of eye-catching trophy artefacts.
Even “second- and third-tier” artworks have stories to tell, and often they are stories that can reach different audiences from those reached by the standard art-museum narratives about beauty and style.
My blog post on the same subject is here: 'Clearing the Vaults and Whitewashing the Taint: Vikan on US Museums and Trade 'Partnership'' PACHI Monday, 30 January 2017

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