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Showing posts from 2015

Statue of Amenhotep III recovered near Edfu

A black granite statue of the Egyptian pharaoh Amenhotep III has been recovered by police — Archaeology Magazine (@archaeologymag) December 31, 2015

A black granite statue of the Pharaoh Amenhotep III has been recovered during a police operation to recover weapons and drugs at Al-Nakhi in Egypt (Archaeology magazine).

Further details can be found at ahramonline (Nevine El-Ahref, "King Amenhotep III statue accidently recovered in Edfu", December 31, 2015).

Celebrations in Kilmartin

The New Year's Honours List 2016 includes Dr Sharon Webb of the Kilmartin Museum for her services to heritage and archaeology in Scotland. I would like to add my congratulations to Sharon and the Kilmartin team.

For further information see Heritage Futures.

Bradwell Saxon Shore Fort looted

The Roman fort at Bradwell on Essex formed part of the Saxon Shore series of fortifications stretching from Portchester in Hampshire to Brancaster in Norfolk. The site of Bradwell is stunning with its views over the Essex salt marsh. A Saxon chapel was built over the fort's west gate and includes reused Roman material.

It now appears this historically significant site has been the target of metal-detectorists. It is reported today (Cahal Milmo, "'Nighthawks': Tracking the criminals plundering ancient sites with the latest equipment", The Independent December 30, 2015):
Another Roman site at Bradwell in Essex was attacked earlier this month, leaving the landscape pockmarked with tell-tale holes. Essex police are conducting Operation Chronos at the moment, and PC Andy Long is quoted in the report:
People in this country love their heritage. If someone came along and started removing the stones from Stonehenge, there would be outrage. When a Saxon necklace is taken …

Looting Matters: Looking Back Over 2015

Readers of LM will have noticed that I have been blogging less on cultural property issues (though broader heritage issues are discussed on "Heritage Futures" written with my colleague Professor Ian Baxter). I started the year with a number of predictions, some of which appear appear below.

Syria and Iraq
2015 has been dominated by archaeological destruction in Syria and the debate about the amount of archaeological material turning up on the European market, particularly in London. In January there was a major conference on the scale of the problem at the British Academy in London. This topic was the focus of a carefully researched BBC File on 4 documentary. Sites in Syria and Iraq have been deliberately destroyed (e.g. Mosul, Nimrud, Temple of Bel at Palmyra, Temple of Baal Shamin at Palmyra). The red list for Syria can be found here. Archaeological material from Syria continues to be intercepted.

Cuneiform tablets were intercepted at Memphis.

United Kingdom
It is a year sin…

Archaeological Material from Syria Seized in Turkey

There are reports that Syria would like details of some 2000 objects seized in Turkey (Shadia Nasralla, "Syrian antiquities chief says Turkey refuses to return looted art", Reuters, December 11, 2015). What is important about this report is the note on the level of seizures:
The 2,000 objects seized in Turkey compare with 6,500 recovered by Syrian authorities from smugglers, 300 seized by Jordanian authorities and 90 returned to Syria from Lebanon since the beginning of the war, according to Abdulkarim. Earlier in the year BBC reporter Simon Cox reported on some of the material that had been seized in Lebanon ("Are looted antiquities from Syria funding IS?", BBC News February 18, 2015). These reported seizures are likely to be the tip of the iceberg. Where is the other material that has not been intercepted?

Cox was able to identify some material that was appearing in London ("Islamic State: Looting for Terror", BBC File on 4, February 22, 2015).

Happy Christmas 2015

I would like to wish all readers of Looting Matters a very Happy Christmas.

I am sure that our thoughts are with those communities in the Middle East who are facing daily dangers and uncertainties.

Lenborough Hoard: appeal

Just one year ago the Lenborough Hoard was removed from a Buckinghamshire by less than scientific means. An appeal is now underway to raise money to buy the coins for the Buckingham County Museum: it has raised £12,000 ("Lenborough Anglo Saxon coin hoard pledges reach £12,000", BBC News 19 December 2015).

The money raised is hoped to persuade "funding bodies" to meet the balance, perhaps in the region of just under £1.3 million.

The account of the find raises several issues about the holding of "rallies" on sites that appear on the Historic Environment Record.

For further details see my: "Damaging the Archaeological Record: the Lenborough Hoard", Journal of Art Crime 13 (2015) 51-57 [].

Old Oswestry

In 1955 Lord Harlech described the hill fort at Old Oswestry as 'perhaps the most elaborate in the country'. The English Heritage Heritage Unlocked book on the Midlands describes its earthworks as 'among the most impressive of any British hill fort'.

Yet this week Shropshire County Council voted to damage the landscape setting of this important monument. Full details are available on the Heritage Journal ("Is The Campaign to Protect Rural England the best heritage conservation body?", 18 December 2015).

This is a huge disappointment to those of us who value Britain's archaeological and built heritage.

Antiquities Sales: December 2015 overview

The two major sales of ancient art at Christie's and Sotheby's took place in New York this week. The four sales of ancient art throughout the year raised some $26 million, half a million dollars down on 2014. Once again Sotheby's sales raised more than Christie's: $15.3 million against $10.9 million. This is the fourth year in succession where Sotheby's has been ahead. Sotheby's sold slightly more than in 2014, whereas Christie's were significantly down (at 2008 levels).

We should also note the move to the title 'Ancient Egyptian Sculpture and Works of Art' at Sotheby's for the December sale.

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Canaanite Deity Left Unsold

Lot 101, the Canaantite deity, that had been spotted by Dr Christos Tsirogiannis in the Symes-Michaelides archive was left unsold at auction today.

Christie's withdraws one further lot

Christie's New York has withdrawn lot 45, 'Celtic dagger and scabbard'. This is no doubt linked to its appearance in the Becchina photographic archive and undeclared in its collecting history.

Lot 101, the Canaanatie bronze figure, remains in the sale even though it appears in the Symes Michaelides archive. Did Mathias Komor acquire this directly from Symes? What is the full collecting history of the figure? Did Christie's know that it had been handled by Symes but had chosen not to declare this part of the collecting history in case it raised concerns with potential buyers?

The antiquities team at Christie's would do well to reflect on the implications of overlooking such collecting histories.

Surfacing Antiquities at Christie's

Two further antiquities due to be auctioned at Christie's New York on December 9, 2015 have been identified by Glasgow University researcher, Dr Christos Tsirogiannis.
Lot 45. Celtic bronze dagger and scabbard. Estimate: $10,000-$15,000. 'From a Texas Private Collection'. Collection history: 'with Robert Haber, New York. Acquired by the current owner from the above, 1986'. Images of the dagger appear in the Becchina archive where they are listed as 'Villanovan'.Lot 101. A Canaanite bronze enthroned deity. Estimate: $100,000-$150,000. 'The property of a New York private collector'.  Collecting history: 'with Mathias Komor (1909-1984), New York (inventory no. F.761). Antiquities, Sotheby's, New York, 29 November 1989, lot 17.' Six images of the figure appear in the Symes-Michaelides photographic archive. When did lot 45 pass through the hands of Becchina? When did lot 101 for part of the stock of Robin Symes?
These two examples suggest that…

Christie's Withdraws Zeus and Ganymede

Christie's New York have withdrawn a Canosan terracotta figure of Zeus and Ganymede from their December 9, 2015 sale (lot 36). It comes from 'an Important American Collection'. The reported collecting history is as follows:

with Boris Mussienko, Upper Marlboro, Maryland. William Froelich, New York, acquired from the above, 1981. with Fortuna Fine Arts, New York, acquired from the above, 1995. with Safani Gallery, New York. Acquired by the current owner from the above, 1999.

Yet there is documentation in the Becchina archive suggesting that this was in his possession in January 1995. Why is this part of the collecting history absent from the above list? Does Becchina sit between Froelich and Fortuna Fine Arts? What is the authenticated documentation that this figure was in the possession of Mussienko and Froelich?

Will Christie's be stating why this lot was withdrawn?

I am grateful to Glasgow University researcher, Dr Christos Tsirogiannis, for this information.

Woodhenge sign stolen

The site of Woodhenge in Wiltshire was discovered in the 1920s through aerial observation and it was excavated in 1928. It was placed in state guardianship and metal plaques erected by the Ministry of Works to interpret the site for visitors.

This important part of the heritage of the site has now been stolen.

Woodhenge lies some 2 miles from Stonehenge.

Phil McMahon, inspector of ancient monuments for Historic England is quoted ("Historic prehistoric monument Woodhenge plaques stolen", BBC News November 28, 2015):
The sad theft of these historic plaques has deprived us of an important aspect of the story of Woodhenge.  They represent a key part of one of the earliest attempts to interpret and present to the public the complex and internationally-significant prehistoric monuments of the Stonehenge World Heritage Site.  We very much hope that the plaques can be recovered and restored to their rightful place at Woodhenge.

Rigorous Due Diligence Matters

One of the lessons from the so-called Medici Conspiracy --- but also the Schinousa and the Becchina archives --- is that recently surfaced archaeological material has passed through well-known dealers and auction houses in Europe (including London) and North America. It is also clear that these same objects were acquired by major public museums as well as by a number of private collectors.

Yet at the time of acquisition there does not seem to have been documented and authenticated evidence that the objects had been circulating in the period before the 1970 UNESCO Convention. Oral histories and incomplete paperwork seem to have been acceptable (and can now be shown in some cases to have been falsified).

The fact that this same material continues to surface on the market at very regular intervals suggests that some auction houses and dealers do not appear to be taking the matter seriously. They should as the resulting negative publicity can unsettle potential buyers. After all, who woul…

Cuneiform tablets under invesitgation

It is being reported that a consignment of 200-300 cuneiform tablets were intercepted by US Customs in Memphis ("Exclusive: Feds Investigate Hobby Lobby Boss for Illicit Artifacts", Daily Beast October 26 2015). Although the interception took place in 2011 the case has not yet been resolved.

It appears that the tablets were intended for the proposed Museum of the Bible in Washington DC.

The report claims to have seen the consignment details that describe the tablets as 'hand-crafted clay tiles' valued at c. $300.

I have yet to read clarification on the detail of this report.

Christie's withdraw lots from antiquities sale

Christie's has withdrawn the four lots highlighted on LM from its sale of antiquities in London day. They could have been expected to fetch some £50,000 but will now have lost most, if not all, of their value.

It is unclear if the vendor or vendors will be returning the pieces to Italy.

This case once again highlights the weaknesses in Christie's due diligence process. This issue is of particular concern given the reassurances that are being given over the ability to identify surfacing antiquities derived from Syria.

Further sightings on the London market

Glasgow University researcher Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has identified four items that are due to be auctioned at Christie's King Street (London) on 1 October 2015. I understand that Interpol, the Carabinieri Art Squad and Scotland Yard Art and Antiques Unit have been notified.

Three of the lots come from the Heissmeyer Collection (lots 1-34).
The Heissmeyer collection brings together vases and figural vessels of Greek antiquity from Athens to South Italy, dating from the 8th-4th century B.C. Professor Heissmeyer assembled his collection in affection for the craftsmanship of the ancient potter and painter, considering the vases his 'guests', and as such 'able to move on and delight others'. Prof. Heissmeyer published his collection in two volumes: Vasen und figürliche Gefässe aus der griechischen Antike. Katalog einer süddeutschen Sammlung, Dettelbach, 2008 and Vases and Figure-Shaped Vessels of Greek Antiquity: Catalogue of a Collection in South Germany, Schwäbisch…

Temple of Bel at Palmyra destroyed: confirmation

Satellite imagery supplied by the UN has confirmed the destruction of the Temple of Bel at Palmyra (released via the BBC). There had been suggestions that the destruction had been partial.

"Credible provenance" and the Minoan larnax

Back in September 2008 the Michael C. Carlos Museum spoke about the importance of a "credible provenance" or "history of ownership" in a press statement responding to Greek claims for three items in the museum.

As far as I can see the museum has never presented the authenticated collecting history (sometimes obsoletely termed the "provenance") for the Minoan larnax in its collection.

I have read the documentation on this piece and the photographic evidence from the Becchina archive is compelling.

I am also aware that the positive identification was made by Dr Christos Tsirogiannis.

We know that the "credible" collecting history for this larnax places it in the hands of Gianfranco Becchina. Why has it taken the Michael C. Carlos Museum seven years to ignore this "credible" evidence?

Palmyra: Temple of Bel destroyed

The BBC is now reporting that the Temple of Bel at Palmyra has been partially destroyed ("Syria's Palmyra Temple of Bel 'severely damaged' by IS", BBC News August 31, 2015). This is the latest in a sequence of deliberate destruction of this UNESCO World Heritage site.

The Minoan Larnax in the Michael C. Carlos Museum

I am much enjoying Adam Nicolson's The Mighty Dead: Why Homer Matters (London: William Collins, 2014). I love the weaving of the literary landscapes and the application of Homer's works to contemporary society. And I am about to move from "Grasping Homer" to "Loving Homer".

The book has a series of "Homeric" (broadly speaking!) colour images: a gold mask from the shaft graves at Mycenae; inlaid Myceanean daggers; representations of the Homeric narratives on Athenian black- and red-figured pottery; a writing tablet from the Ulu Burun shipwreck; the walls of Tiryns; the "Homeric" cup from Ischia; an Egyptian ivory cosmetic container; the Kypselid gold phiale from Olympia.

And I wait to see how this diverse group of objects are woven into Nicolson's narrative.

But I am not writing a review. Readers of LM can always get a copy of the book for themselves. [ |]

So why am I writing about this book?

One of the colour p…

The Becchina case continues

Ursula Kampmann has written about the continuing case of Gianfranco Becchina ("The Becchina case – or: a footnote to practical aspects of the return of cultural property", Coins Weekly August 27, 2015 [note that the article has been translated]). She notes that some 1278 objects were left without certain "provenance" --- what is clearly meant (and this is why I do wish that those writing about the market would differentiate between "collecting history" and "findspot") is that it was not possible to ascertain where those 1278 objects had been found. (And just to clarify, I suspect that the seized paperwork will provide some of the information about the "collecting history".)

Kampmann informs her readership that the 1278 objects could be returned to Palladion Antike Kunst for sale. But who would want to buy these objects? Could Greece, Turkey and who knows which other countries bring a claim once the objects have been matched to the pape…

Temple of Baal Shamin: satellite images of destruction

The BBC has circulated images of the destruction of the temple of Baal Shamin at Palmyra (Jonathan Amos, 'Palmyra: Satellite image of IS destruction', BBC News August 28, 2015). The satellite shots were taken on 25 August 2015 - and there is a comparison shot of 22 May.

The Google Earth image was taken in February 2014, and the temple of Baal Shamin can be seen at the top of the picture.

UNESCO on the Temple of Baal Shamin

UNESCO has issued a statement on the reported destruction of the temple of Baal Shamin at Palmyra.
UNESCO stands by all Syrian people in their efforts to safeguard their heritage, a heritage for all humanityDirector-General Irina Bokova firmly condemns the destruction of Palmyra's ancient temple of Baalshamin, Syria

Palmyra, Temple of Baal Shamin

It is being widely reported that the temple of Baal Shamin at Palmyra has been deliberately destroyed. The temple featured in Robert Wood's Temples of Palmyra, otherwise Tadmor, in the desert (London 1753). The ruins had been observed in 1751 (with James Dawkins).

The temple carries an inscription, dated to AD 130/31, in the wake of the visit of the emperor Hadrian to the city. The temple was initiated by Malé son of Yarhai.

Parts of the sanctuary are dated epigraphically to AD 23.

I was asked to comment for the BBC with live interviews this morning for BBC 24 and BBC World, and prerecorded interviews for BBC World Service and BBC1.

Marion True may put her side of the story

Geoff Edgers ("One of the world’s most respected curators vanished from the art world. Now she wants to tell her story", Washington Post August 20, 2016) reports on Marion True's notes for a memoir.
... today, for the first time, she is talking openly about the way she and her museum-world colleagues operated. Yes, she did recommend the Getty acquire works she knew had to have been looted. That statement, though, comes with a qualifier: If she found out where a work had been dug up from, she pushed for its return. In contrast, many of her colleagues did little, if anything, to research a work’s source. None of them were put on trial. She described her position on recently surfaced material:
“The art is on the market,” True said, describing the Getty’s collecting approach. “We don’t know where it comes from. And until we know where it comes from, it’s better off in a museum collection. And when we know where it comes from, we will give it back.” I have commented on Mari…

Roman altar stolen from Senhouse Roman Museum, Maryport

Various news sites are reporting that a red sandstone Roman altar from Maryport in Cumbria has been stolen from the Senhouse Roman Museum. It was found in 1880.
"Roman altar stolen from Maryport's Senhouse Museum", BBC News 17 August 2015Freya Findlay, "Appeal After Thieves Steal Roman Altar From Museum", News and Star, 17 August 2015

Becchina and a Peucetian clay stamnos

I have been reflecting on some of the objects returned to Italy in May 2015. One of the objects in the press photograph was a Peucetian clay stamnos that I had noted before, The Italian press release described it as follows:
Qualche tempo fa, la Sezione Elaborazione Dati del Comando CC TPC individuava queste straordinarie opere d’arte, in vendita all’asta Christie’s New York del 7.12.2011, tra quelle presenti nel c.d. Archivio BECCHINA.  Gli ulteriori accertamenti investigativi condotti dal Reparto Operativo consentivano di accertare che tutti i beni erano riconducibili a scavi clandestini avvenuti negli anni 70-80 in Puglia. Dopo lo scavo, i beni erano giunti nelle disponibilità del BECCHINA.  Le informazioni investigative, che confermavano le false attestazioni di provenienza ed origine presenti nel catalogo Christie’s così come fornite dal consegnatario e proprietario dei beni, consentiva all’ICE di sequestrare i beni che, in seguito alla confisca, venivano restituiti all’Italia.  …