Wednesday, April 1, 2015

From Cyrene to London via Dubai

Statue from Cyrene
Source: Daily Telegraph
A UK court viewed a female statue apparently from Cyrene in Libya as part of an investigation into the movement of recently surfaced antiquities (Victoria Wood, "Court sits at British Museum for first time as judge studies looted Libyan sculpture", March 30, 2015 Daily Telegraph 2015). The statue, worth some £2 million, entered the UK via Dubai and was seized in a warehouse by a customs official. There were indications that the statue had been removed from the ground relatively recently.

The report informs us:
Jordanian, Riad Al Qassas, who does not reside in the UK, is accused of falsifying paperwork after telling customs that the sculpture came from Turkey, rather than Libya, and was worth £60,000, rather than between £1.5m to £2m. 
He denies one count of knowingly or recklessly delivering a false document to HMRC on November 1 last year.
It seems like another instance of paperwork being "falsified" in order to allow such objects to move freely. But there is more:
Andrew Bird, for HMRC, has told the court that documents suggest Al Qassas had only a marginal role in the export. He claimed Hassan Fazeli, a Dubai businessman who has claimed the sculpture has belonged to his family collection since 1977, was behind the crime. 
Mr Bird said the false documents were submitted by Hassan Fazeli Trading Company LLC, which is based in Dubai, and which was last year accused by New York prosecutors of illegally bringing five ancient Egypt artefacts into the USA.
The Telegraph is not quite accurate. The case in the USA was in 2013 (Lucile Scott, "Uncle Sam Seizes Ancient Egyptian Art", Courthouse News March 22 2013).
They were purchased from the Hassan Fazeli Trading Company in Dubai by Salem Alshdaifat, who "sells ancient coins and other antiques" online through a business called Holyland Numismatics, according to the complaint. U.S. Customs seized the package, sent by FedEx, as it entered the country through Newark International Airport in August 2010. 
The Customs officer became suspicious because the invoice identified the items as "Ancient Egyptian," but listed the country of manufacture as Turkey.
And there is specific discussion of the way that paperwork is prepared.
But the government claims that Fazeli, the exporter, admitted to a confidential source that he often "lists incorrect countries of origin to circumvent cultural patrimony and export laws. In particular, Fazeli acknowledged that he often supplied 'Turkey' as the country of origin because he had Turkish papers that he could use."
This is not the first link between Holyland Numismatics and Dubai (see LM).


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The Backs and Cambridge Heritage



The Dean of King's College, Cambridge has announced springtime changes to the face of the Backs in Cambridge. A bold new plan has been put in place to change the chapel, well known as the setting for 'Carols from Kings'. This scheme is likely to cause a huge debate in the heritage community in Cambridge.
To celebrate the 500th anniversary of the completion of its magnificent Chapel, King’s College is delighted to announce that work is soon to commence on a substantial redevelopment of its buildings.
The press release can be found here.

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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Does Heritage Crime Matter?

I submitted a review article on the theme of "Heritage Crime" earlier today. It strikes me that archaeological concerns about looting and its impact are moving away from the position held by criminologists. The criminologists (appropriately) focus on "crime", whereas archaeologists consider the importance of context.

But I go back to my earlier position on the intellectual impact of looting. What information is lost by extracting an object from its archaeological context in an unscientific way? How is that loss of information having an impact on the way that the wider corpus is interpreted?

Imagine a rare piece of armour that is removed from its archaeological context without any appropriate recording. Has a crime taken place? Has information been lost?


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Monday, March 30, 2015

"Enabling the whole world to see, study and enjoy the sculptures of the Parthenon"

The Duveen Gallery © David Gill
Sir Richard Lambert has responded to the request by the Greek Government to mediate on the Parthenon sculptures [26 March 2015, letter]. The key message from the Trustees is this: "After full and careful consideration, we have decided respectfully to decline this request".

The position of the Encyclopedic Museum is presented: "Museums holding Greek works, whether in Greece, the UK or elsewhere in the world, are naturally united in a shared endeavour to show the importance of the legacy of ancient Greece. The British Museum is committed to playing its full part in sharing the value of that legacy for all humanity".

Visitor figures are pulled out: More than 6 million visitors a year visit the British Museum, and thereby the Parthenon Sculptures, free of charge. 

Lambert concludes his letter: "In conclusion, therefore, we would invite our colleagues in Greek museums to continue to work with us and to explore new ways of enabling the whole world to see, study and enjoy the sculptures of the Parthenon". He could have added "... in London, not Athens".

Yet the statement misses the key point. The architectural and visual context for these wonderful fifth century sculptures is in Athens, under Greek light.

I recorded my thoughts on this topic back in 2009.

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Saturday, March 28, 2015

Mosaic glass: from Antinoupolis to London

Bonhams online catalogue showing lot 65
Dr Roberta Mazza has published an important discussion of a piece of Roman mosaic glass apparently from Antinoupolis in Egypt ("From Egypt to London: looting in Antinoupolis (el Sheikh ‘Abadah)", Faces and Voices, March 27, 2015). She draws attention to published research by Rosario Pintaudi who  has worked at the site. Mazza notes:
This little and beautiful piece traveled from Egypt to the showrooms of Bonhams in London, where the sale was stopped by the police, after the object sold for about £ 5,000.
The fragment was offered at Bonhams in London in their sale of antiquities on 23 October 2013, lot 65. The collecting history ("provenance") was given as "English private collection, acquired in the late 1960s".

The article is “Latrones: furti e recuperi da Antinoupolis”, Analecta Papyrologica XXVI 2014 pp. 359-402 and is available from academia.edu. This fragment is discussed on pp. 367-70.

Mazza also raises questions about lot 64 that came from "English private collection, acquired in the mid-1970s".

This raises various questions for Bonhams. Who was the vendor? What other objects were consigned by this individual (or individuals) in this and other sales? Which member of the Bonhams team conducted the due diligence search? What is the basis of the stated so-called "provenance"? What documents were shown to Bonhams?

It is significant that concerns were raised by the Egyptian authorities at the time of the sale ("Egypt’s government cracks down on illicit sales", Art Newspaper 31 October 2013):
This month, Bonhams planned to auction a set of 165 Egyptian artefacts. According to the website Egypt Independent, Mohamed Ibrahim, Egypt’s head of antiquities, requested documentation from the auction house to prove that the artefacts had left Egypt legally. Bonhams spokesman Julian Roup, however, says that that the firm received no official request from the police, the Egyptian embassy or Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities, and that the provenance in all cases was sound. The sale went ahead ...
Will Bonhams be conducting an internal investigation into how this piece was allowed to come to auction?

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Mithras seized in Italy

Mithraic group seized in Italy. Source MiBAC.
Italian authorities have seized a statue of Mithras ("I CARABINIERI DEL COMANDO TPC RECUPERANO TRE OPERE DI STRAORDINARIO VALORE ARTISTICO", 27 March 2015, press release). The group seems to have been removed from a site in the vicinity of Tarquinia. The site itself has now been investigated.

The group was being transported in a van with plants. After being stopped the hired van was found to contain maps of Switzerland indicating the statue's immediate destination.

I am grateful to Fabio Isman for drawing my attention to this seizure.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Bland on the so-called Crosby Garrett helmet and the Lenborough Hoard

Roger Bland has placed his paper on 'The Portable Antiquities Scheme and Treasure Act: the Current Situation' given at the Museums Association March 2015 Dig It: Museums and Archaeology Conference online.

I notice that he discusses two topics discussed on LM. The first is the so-called Crosby Garrett helmet. Bland notes:
This was found by a metal detector user who reported it to one of our FLOs who was able to establish exactly where it was found.
I have discussed this helmet in print elsewhere (available online). Bland does not draw attention to the fact that the two FLOs [not one!] were not shown the reported find spot for some three months (i.e. on 30 August 2010).

Bland then talked about the subsequent excavation:
This at least proved that the object had come from Crosby Garrett – some people commenting on the web had doubted that – and that it had a context, as it came from a so - called `native’ settlement. The immediate context of the helmet remains difficult to pin down: it seems to have been buried below a rough stone floor, though whether that belonged to a building, a road, or possibly a cairn is unclear.
I have discussed this investigation and I found that the evidence was not compelling.

Lenborough Hoard
Source: finds.org.uk (under CC)
At the end of the talk Bland turned to the Lenborough Hoard as an example of a hoard falling under the Treasure Act:
Four days before Christmas the Finds Liaison Officer (FLO) for the Portable Antiquities Scheme in Bucks was invited to record the finds made by detectorists at a metal detecting rally at Lenborough, just south of Buckingham. Within half an hour of arriving and setting up her recording table, news came that something interesting had been found! As the light went at the end of the day a hoard of more than 5,000 silver coins, wrapped in a damaged lead parcel, had been excavated. The coins had been piled onto a thin rectangle of lead sheet with cut edges. The longer edges had then been lifted and folded over on themselves and the ends pinched together to make an elliptical parcel. Through the damage on the upper surface a tightly packed, jumble of coins could be seen. They did not appear to have been laid in any order and there was no trace of, or room for them to have been in leather pouches. This was a rescue job and Ros, as our sole FLO at event with about a hundred metal detector users, did a heroic job in the circumstances and ensured that all the coins were recovered.
This hoard has been discussed on LM before. In particular there is the issue of the historic nature of the location where the rally was held. And what about the less than orthodox removal of the coins, in contrast to the Beau Street Hoard that was removed in a scientific way that has allowed detailed study and interpretation?

Bland has only placed his notes on line and not his refined final views. But his online presentation appears to overlook some of the key issues relating to both these 'finds'.

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Saturday, March 21, 2015

Nighthawking and the BBC

The BBC has written an overview of so-called 'nighthawking' (Lauren Potts, "Digging for treasure: Is 'nighthawking' stealing our past?", 21 March 2015). There is discussion of recent digging adjacent to Hadrian's Wall.

Mark Harrison has described their activities:
"Some of these people are very happy to travel long distances, sometimes in groups. They use camouflage kit and sophisticated equipment with night vision and very powerful torches. 
"They're very well organised. This idea people have that they're just having a bit of fun and that they don't know what they're doing is something we need to dispel."
Interestingly I have just been writing on the topic of 'heritage crime' and the BBC report contrasts with some of the current 'academic' discourse.

An issue left undiscussed by Potts is the one explored in the forum article for the Papers of the Institute of Archaeology.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Rendlesham and metal-detecting

Professor Chris Scull gave an excellent presentation on the Rendlesham project to the Heritage Futures seminar today. He explained how the team was able to map the vicus regius on the landscape. One aspect of the presentation was the constructive use of metal-detectorists to map finds in the study area. It was clear how their carefully recorded work contributed to the understanding of this important Anglo-Saxon site that clearly has a relationship with the major ship burial site at nearby Sutton Hoo.

During the questions and discussion a little detail was revealed about the 'illegal' metal-detectoring on the site that led to investigation of the site. Scull thought that the fact that Rendlesham was known as a 'royal' site had probably attracted metal-detectorists. (I noted that there was never a mention of 'nighthawking' by Scull or members of the audience.) We were informed that a local estate worker had spotted searchers working at night.

Scull made a strong case for responsible and collaborative metal-detecting. But there was also a reminder of the damage that could be sustained to a site that clearly has international significance.

Earlier discussion of Rendelsham here.


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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Proposal to extend MOU with Italy

Object label spotted
in North American encylopedic museum
reminding us of the success of the present MOU
Source: David Gill
Those who visit major encyclopedic museums such as New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art will know that the Italian government has been willing to share archaeological material with a North American audience. This generous action reflects the way that the Italian authorities are demonstrating their commitment to working with the North American curatorial community in spite of past acquisitions.

CPAC will be considering an extension to the MOU with Italy and there is still time to comment. Further details can be found here.

Leave comments here (Docket no. DOS-2015-10).


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