Skip to main content


Showing posts from June, 2011

Jamie and Louise: Looting Matters

I enjoyed talking to Jamie and Louise on BBC Radio Wales earlier today. The programme is available on the BBC iPlayer here. (The interview was between 11 am and 11.30 am.)

We were able to cover the significance of the seizure of the Medici dossier, the appearance of recently surfaced antiquities on the London market, looting in antiquity, and the Icklingham bronzes from Suffolk, England. There was a short discussion of the impact of the Comprehensive Spending Review on the Portable Antiquities Scheme in Wales.

Looting Matters Live on the BBC

Looting Matters will be live on BBC Radio Wales "Jamie and Louise" tomorrow morning (Wednesday) at 11 am.

What should we discuss? The impact of the photographic archives on the market? Recent returns? Looting in the UK? What about the situation in Wales? Universal museums?

We are inviting questions through Louise's Twitter feed@LouiseTalks

Listen in live (or later on the BBC iPlayer) and join in the debate.

The scale of the market

One of the issues that needs to be addressed is the scale of the market. Some have suggested that the annual  turnover of antiquities could be as high as $4.5 billion. But how do you define antiquities? Do you take the cultural range that is represented by the "mainstream" sales of antiquities in London and New York: Classical (Greek and Roman); Egyptian; Near Eastern. But what about material from the Far East or Central America?

Is it possible to extrapolate a figure from the stock of a single dealer that was found in a series of London warehouses? If a single dealer could have stock worth a quarter of a billion dollars, what about the range of other dealers in North America, Switzerland, and the Middle East?

One New York dealer has suggested that the annual value was closer to $200 / $300 million per year. Yet one New York auction house alone sold $112 million worth of antiquities in a single year (2007). But that was not a typical year.

I suspect I am at the more conserva…

Public Service Award: Further Comment

I started Saturday sitting in the BBC studio in Alexandra Road being interviewed for "Good Morning Wales" about my award from AIA (available on BBC iPlayer). This was serendipitous as not only was this the location of many of Dylan Thomas' broadcasts (see BBC) but Swansea was hosting an International Poetry Festival with visits to Dylan's birthplace and to Laugharne. The BBC subsequently posted the AIA story on their website ("Dr David Gill recognised for illicit antique fight", June 19, 2011).

There is a feature article in the Western Mail (Cardiff): "‘Indiana Jones in reverse’ wins archaeology ‘Oscar'", June 18, 2011).

I am very grateful for the many messages (and creative Tweets!) of congratulation. Thank you.

Chasing Aphrodite: The Culture of Collecting

Ralph Frammolino, one of the authors of Chasing Aphrodite, has been interviewed on PBS news hour. There are informative comments on the purpose of the trial of Dr Marion True.


Releasing the Images

There has been some talk in the last couple of days of the Italian authorities releasing certain photographic images. It should be remembered that some of these images were available from the Carabinieri website back in 1999 - a fact noted in January 2010 interview with Marion True in The Art Newspaper.
Medici had maintained files of photographs of objects in museums and private collections around the world. These images, some showing sculptures just excavated and dirt still clinging to the surfaces of vases in fragments, were unknown until some were published on the carabinieri website in 1999.I do not understand why some North American lawyers are insisting that the Italians should release what they had already shared.

Raiders of the Lost Artefacts

There is a short news story on the AIA Award in the Swansea Evening Post ("US honour for tracking raiders of lost artefacts", June 17, 2011).

Criminology and Archaeology

I was reading Simon Mackenzie and Penny Green (eds.), Criminology and Archaeology: Studies in Looted Antiquities (Onati International Series in Law and Society; Oxford and Portland: Hart Publishing, 2009) today [Worldcat].

There is a particularly useful essay by Neil Brodie on 'Consensual Relations? Academic involvement in the illegal trade in ancient manuscripts'. It touches on the issue of Aramaic bowls from Iraq.

Roger Bland writes on 'The United Kingdom as a source country. Some problems in regulating the market in UK antiquities and the challenge of the internet'. This has an interesting summary of material on the internet.

Gordon Lobay has a disappointing contribution, 'Border controls in market countries as discincentives to antiquities  looting at source? The US-Italy bilateral agreement 2001'. It would have been helpful to have had some reflection on the "Nostoi".

AIA Award: Press Release

Swansea University has issued a short press release about the AIA Award.

The Antiquities Trade: Looking Ahead

The seizure of the three dossiers of photographs in Greece and Switzerland has had one major impact on the antiquities impact: the need for caution. The statement that the piece had once passed through some anonymous European collection is one that would be met with a dose of suspicion. Auction-houses and dealers are now aware that they need to check the documentation for objects to show that their collecting-histores ("provenance") can be traced back to the period prior to 1970. Yet how far are unillustrated invoices being used to provide histories for objects that have surfaced in recent years? Statements in catalogues need to be verified. (This is an issue noted in the recently published Chasing Aphrodite.)

It is interesting that there have been several recent instances of auction-houses proceeding with sales even when they have been notified (privately in several instances) that there have been apparent matches with objects in the seized photographic archives. What does …

Research publications on the antiquities trade

Here is a selection of some of the key works relating to my work on the antiquities trade and the looting question:

(with K. Butcher) ‘Mischievous pastime or historical science?’, review article of Minerva, in Antiquity 64 (1990), 946-50. [ISSN 0003-598X] [online](with Christopher Chippindale) ‘Material and intellectual consequences of esteem for Cycladic figures’, American Journal of Archaeology 97 (1993), 601-59. [ISSN 0002-9114] [online]Commentary (with C. Chippindale) on C. Morris, ‘Hands up for the individual! The role of attribution studies in Aegean prehistory’, Cambridge Archaeological Journal 3 (1993), 57-58 (pp. 41-66). [ISSN 0959-7743](with Kevin Butcher) ‘The Director, the Dealer, the Goddess and her Champions: the Acquisition of the Fitzwilliam Goddess’, American Journal of Archaeology 97 (1993), 383-401. [ISSN 0002-9114] [online]‘Publishing unprovenanced artifacts: further observations’, Electronic Antiquity 2.2 (1994). [online]‘Sotheby’s, sleaze and subterfuge: inside th…

Archaeological Institute of America Award

I am extremely honoured to learn that I have been selected to be the 2012 recipient of the Archaeological Institute of America’s (AIA) Outstanding Public Service Award.

The criteria for the award are:
The Outstanding Public Service Award recognizes exceptional contributions that promote public understanding of, interest in, and support for archaeology and the preservation of the archaeological record.The award recognises my "ongoing efforts to educate both professional archaeologists and the public at large on the threats posed by the international antiquities trade".

I would like to acknowledge the contribution of my research colleagues Dr Christopher Chippindale and Christos Tsirogiannis.

The announcement of this award first appeared on the AIA's Facebook page.

Bulgarian Antiquities and Coins to be Returned from Canada

In August 2010 it was reported that a large group of antiquities and coins had been seized in Canada ("Bulgaria's Culture Minister Demands Archaeology Items from Canada", (Sofia) August 5, 2010).
On Thursday, the Exterior Ministry announced that customs officers from the Canadian city of Montreal have seized 21 000 antique objects with Bulgarian origins in a smuggling attempt. ...

The antiques consist of coins, jewels, metal and glass objects from the Bulgarian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman heritage.The Bulgarian press has now announced that the objects will be returning to Canada ("Canada to return smuggled archaeological finds to Bulgaria", June 8, 2011).
About 21 000 smuggled archaeological objects and ancient coins will be returned to Bulgaria by the Canadian department for cultural heritage, Focus news agency reported on June 8 2011.Given recent concerns about the scale of looting in Bulgaria this is an important move on th…

Behbeit el-Hagar Fragment: Update

Yesterday I noted that the Luxor Times had reported that a fragmentary relief from Behbeit el-Hagar had been returned to Egypt from London. Archaeologist Paul Barford spotted a report in that named the auction-house ("Granite depiction of cow-shaped deity returns to Egypt", June 7, 2011).

I am grateful to Julian Roup, Director of Press and Marketing at Bonhams, for confirming the veracity of the report. He noted that procedures were initiated once concerns about the relief's collecting history had been raised.

The vendor for the relief has not been named and it is not yet clear where the fragment had been residing since 1990 when it was detached from a larger block on the site.

In 2008 Bonhams withdrew a fragment from the Tomb of Mutirdis (TT410) that was said to have come from an Australian seafarer's collection.

Egyptian Relief Returned From London

The Luxor Times is reporting that a relief recorded from Behbeit el-Hagar has been recovered from a London auction-house ("Stolen in 1990 and auctioned in London ...", June 7, 2011). The relief had been photographed on site but in January 1990 it appears to have been hacked out of a larger block. (See Favard-Meeks article, p. 39, figs. 9 and 10.)

Who consigned the relief to the as yet unspecified London auction-house?

Favard-Meeks, Christine 2002. "The present state of the site of Behbeit el-Hagar." British Museum Studies in Ancient Egypt and Sudan 3: 31-41. [online]

Breaking Story on Gianfranco Becchina

The June 2011 number of the Art Newspaper is now available. It contains a significant piece ("The masterpiece sold for $1,500 and a suckling pig") by Italian investigative journalist Fabio Isman. The article discusses the detail in the Becchina archive especially the documentary evidence. It will make uncomfortable reading not least for one UK museum. One of the collectors discussed in detail by Isman is George Ortiz whose collection was displayed at London's Royal Academy.

North American museums also get some attention, not least the Toledo Museum of Art. The Louvre receives its section entitled "uncaring about provenance". Other New York galleries feature in the discussion as well as the role of Eli Borowski.

The Becchina Archive is known to have been used to identify material in a number of North American collections. Isman's report is likely to initiate another round of claims.

Will AAMD take recently surfaced antiquities more seriously?

Lee Rosenbaum of Culturegrrl has drawn my attention to the newly named president of the AAMD: Dan Monroe. Monroe is credited with the tightening of the AAMD's position on recently-surfaced antiquities.

I wonder if Kaywin Feldman, the outgoing president, will be announcing the return of the Minneapolis krater to Italy.

Publishing recently surfaced Mayan pots

Mike Smith has drawn my attention to a recent article in the Smithsonian Magazine (Chip Brown, "El Mirador, the Lost City of the Maya", May 2011). Smith notes:
The article includes photographs of several spectacular Maya polychrome vessels (p. 45) that apparently are not from the site. In fact, we have no idea where these vessels are from; they lack provenience. In a post on the Aztlan listserv today, Karen Bruhns identifies these vessels as unprovenienced, looted, objects.One of the pieces has been identified as coming from the so-called November Collection. The point is made:
One might expect that magazines by and for wealthy art dealers might publish looted objects without a second thought. But Smithsonian Magazine is supposedly a legitimate source of news about natural history and related topics, associated with the premier museum in the U.S. Their inclusion of photos of looted objects is deplorable, a real ethical lapse.Smith draws attention to an article in the New York …

Shock, cajole, and embarrass

Hugh Eakin has written a response to Chasing Aphrodite ("What Went Wrong at the Getty", New York Review of Books June 23, 2011). Eakin's sympathy appears to rest with the North American museums and collectors who seem to have been happy to build their collections with recently surfaced material in spite of the 1970 UNESCO Convention and (a little closer to home) the 1973 Archaeological Institute of America declaration (the benchmark that I have used in my research with Christopher Chippindale).

Italian authorities have adopted an approach that avoided the courts to reclaim objects and for Eakin this was a tactic designed to "shock, cajole, and embarrass". However the decision to bring the curator of a leading North American museum before Italian court is likely to have sent a chill through many curatorial hearts. Eakin notes, with a little sense of disapproval, the way that newspapers were enlisted to support Italian claims; perhaps he should have also commente…