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Showing posts from February, 2011

Egyptian Cultural Heritage: the wider perspective

Dr Christina Riggs, lecturer in Art History at the University of East Anglia (UEA), has written a comment piece on the loss of archaeological material from the Cairo Museum during the recent demonstrations ("We've been here before", THE February 24, 2011, 28). She chides the archaeological blogosphere for not commenting specifically on the protests. (At the same time, should academic blogs stray from their main purpose of commenting on archaeological material?)

Riggs makes an interesting observation:
Egyptology websites, discussion lists, even Facebook groups have circulated updates about suspected looting, and several organisations have issued statements calling for the protection of Egypt's antiquities. Ironically, such statements come on the heels of vigorous US and European rejections of Egyptian requests to repatriate objects, including some granted to foreign excavators before the 1920s.She appears to be alluding to the legal action being taken by the St Louis A…

Nefertiti and the Parthenon Marbles

I am grateful to my sharp-eared colleague Chris Hall for drawing my attention to this interview.

Salima Ikram, American University in Cairo, and Tom Holland, were in conversation with John Humphrys of BBC Radio 4's "Today" programme earlier today [Monday, February 21, 2011: interview]. They discussed the limited looting in the Cairo Museum and were in agreement that the people of Egypt demonstrated that they cared about the protection of their antiquities.

Humphrys explored the issue of distributing significant finds across a number of museums around the world. They considered the issue of material from Afghanistan and drew attention to the forthcoming exhibition at the British Museum.

Salima Ikram was asked what she would like to see returned to Egypt and top of her list was the head of Nefertiti in Berlin. She was also concerned to see fragmentary pieces reunited. She also made it clear that she was not speaking in an official capacity.

Tom Holland seemed to hesitate o…

Costing the Earth: Digging Up Britain

I am grateful to Paul Barford for prompting me to listen to Dr Alice Roberts' analysis of the impact of metal-detecting in Britain (BBC Radio 4, broadcast Wed 16 Feb, Thurs 17 Feb 2011). The programme is available from the BBC website.

Three major finds are discussed: the Frome Hoard, the Staffordshire Hoard, and the Crosby Garrett Helmet. There is consideration of the impact of metal-detectors allowing the searching of deeper levels, as well as the "Nighthawking Report". There was an important distinction made between "treasure" and other archaeological material.

Roger Bland of the Portable Antiquities Scheme was interviewed and he noted the finite nature of the archaeological resource. He drew attention to the number of finds being recorded, but nothing was said about the apparent under-reporting among some sectors of the metal-detecting community.

The programme finished with a consideration with the situation in Ireland that takes the protection of the archae…

St Louis Art Museum and AAMD Guidelines

The St Louis Art Museum (SLAM) is a member of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD). In 2008 the AAMD published "2008 Report of the AAMD Subcommittee on the Acquisition of Archaeological Materials and Ancient Art". Guideline G states:
If a member museum, as a result of its continuing research, gains information that establishes another party’s right to ownership of a work, the museum should bring this information to the attention of the party, and if the case warrants, initiate the return of the work to that party, as has been done in the past. In the event that a third party brings to the attention of a member museum information supporting the party’s claim to a work, the museum should respond promptly and responsibly and take whatever steps are necessary to address this claim, including, if warranted, returning the work, as has been done in the past.The Stanford Archaeology Center has published an image of the Saqqara register apparently showing the mummy mask. It …

St Louis Mummy Mask: SLAM takes legal action

In April 2010 Zahi Hawass "turned over to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security 'all the evidence that I have to prove that this mask was stolen, and we have to bring it back'." [full story]
It now appears that the St Louis Art Museum (SLAM) is so worried about the issue that it has taken out "a civil action for declaratory relief concerning the ownership and possession of an Egyptian mummy mask known as the Mask of Ka-Nefer-Nefer ("Mask"), an approximately 3,200 year old Egyptian cartonnage mummy/funerary mask, which was discovered in 1952, purchased by the Museum in 1998 and remains owned and possessed by the Museum." [full statement]

The "factual allegations" note that the mask was excavated at Saqqara.
In or about 1952, the Mask of Ka-Nefer-Nefer was discovered during an excavation of the unfinished Step Pyramid of the Third Dynasty ruler Sekhemkhet on the Saqqara necropolis. The excavator was Mohammed Zakaria Goneim (“Goneim”). W…

Looting in the Cairo Museum: Update

It appears that two of the items reported as stolen have now been found at the Cairo Museum (report from CNN).
Searchers found a heart scarab and one of 11 missing Shabti statuettes that had been reported missing Sunday, according to a statement from Zahi Hawass, Egypt's minister of antiquities.He said it appeared thieves threw the scarab outside the museum. The statuette and part of a mummy were found on the ground outside of the museum's display areas, Hawass said. See also a report in Greek.

Looting in the Cairo Museum

Zahi Hawass has now issued a preliminary list of some of the items that are now known to have been looted from the Cairo Museum ("Sad news"). The highly important pieces are:


Gilded wood statue of Tutankhamun being carried by a goddessGilded wood statue of Tutankhamun harpooning. Only the torso and upper limbs of the king are missingLimestone statue of Akhenaten holding an offering tableStatue of Nefertiti making offeringsSandstone head of an Amarna princessStone statuette of a scribe from AmarnaWooden shabti statuettes from Yuya (11 pieces)Heart Scarab of YuyaThese objects are well known and documented, so they are likely to be recognised should they appear on the market or in a private collection,.

However the same may not be true for objects removed from archaeological stores.

Now we know that material has been looted, even if the scale is not yet evident, there is an urgent need for those involved in the trade in antiquities to be cautious over what they handle. They need…

Munich dealer hands over axe from Iraq

Reuters reports that a battle-axe recovered from a Munich dealer has been handed over to Iraqi authorities ("Germany hands ancient battle axe back to Iraq", February 10, 2011).
German authorities found the ancient axe in 2004 during an investigation into a Munich antiquities dealer and turned it over to the Roman-Germanic Central Museum (RGZM) in Mainz to determine its origin and age.The route by which the axe passed from Iraq to Germany is unclear.

The name of the dealer has not been disclosed. However it should be noted that a gold vessel was seized from a named Munich dealer in 2004 [see earlier comments].


"Reputable and responsible" dealer faces deportation

London-based antiquities dealer, Malcolm Hay is facing deportation to Greece (Dalya Alberge, "D-day looms for antiquities dealer facing jail in Greece", The Guardian February 7, 2011). Alberge writes:
Malcolm Hay, 60, an Oxford-educated trader who has sold antiquities to museums worldwide, was arrested in 2007 – eight years after he sold broken pottery pieces to the dealer.

He claims the trader, who bought hundreds of shards from him, used his invoice falsely as "whitewashing" for valuable unprovenanced items that were later found in her shop by Greek police.The story has appeared in the mainstream London press before (Richard Edwards and Jackie Williams, "I sold junk. Now I face four years in Greek jail, says antiques dealer", The Daily Telegraph August 28, 2010 [online version]).
Mr Hay showed The Daily Telegraph the invoice of the transaction at the centre of the claims by Greek authorities.It shows that on July 15, 1999, he sold a female trader from Ath…

IADAA condemns looting in Egypt

Last week the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA) issued a statement about the alleged looting of museums, archaeological stores and archaeological sites in Egypt.
The members of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA) are deeply concerned at seeing pictures of the looted rooms in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. We are dismayed at the damage looting will cause at remote excavations and museums. Such criminal activity is not only a catastrophe for scholarship but an attack on an important part of the world’s cultural heritage. Raids on poorly protected museums, magazines and excavations constitute theft from the Egyptian state and people.

The IADAA condemns such looting in the strongest possible terms and deplores the reports that the necessary security is lacking.The statement adds:
With immediate effect IADAA offers utmost diligence cooperation and support in order to track objects, which might have been smuggled out of the country, and all…

Situation in Saqqara

Lee Rosenbaum has published an eye-witness account of the situation at Saqqara.

Zahi Hawass: update on situation in Egypt

Zahi Hawass has issued an update on the situation in Egypt ("The State of Egyptian Antiquities - 4 February 2011", February 4, 2011). He has clarified the situation at Saqqara:
Many people have been saying that Saqqara was looted and it is not true. If anything had happened there, the operation room in Zamalek would have called me immediately and reported what happened. I hope that you will all read each of the statements I have released on my website that say all our sites are safe. The army, curators, antiquities inspectors, and security guards guarded the important sites. As I have said everyday, the only two incidents that have occurred are the break-in at the Egyptian Museum, Cairo, and the break-in at the storage magazine in Qantara East, in the Sinai.

The Proposed MOU with Greece: an Interview

I have been interviewed by the ARCA blog about my column, "Context Matters", for the Journal of Art Crime. I was asked a number of questions relating to the proposed MOU with Greece.

Zahi Hawass: Comments from New York

Lee Rosenbaum has an important piece on Zahi Hawass ("Egyptian Turmoil: Will Hawass Survive a Regime Change?", Culturegrrl February 3, 2011). She points to Samantha Henig's piece on the New Yorker blog ("Protecting Egypt's Treasures", February 3, 2011).

It is significant that the cited information site is now Restore + Save the Egyptian Museum! on Facebook.

Egypt: Statement from US Bodies

I have drawn attention to a statement by various US bodies.
We call on the Egyptian authorities to exercise their responsibilities to protect their country’s irreplaceable cultural heritage. At the same time, we call on United States and European law enforcement agencies to be on the alert over the next several months for the possible appearance of looted Egyptian antiquities at their borders.
The Lawyers' Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation has issued the full text and the list of signatories has expanded to include:

American Anthropological AssociationAmerican Institute for ConservationAssociation of Art Museum Directors (AAMD)Friends of Cultural Heritage (Turkey)International Association for Art ResearchSino-American Field School of Archaeology

Egyptian antiquities on the market

The situation in Egypt requires those involved with the antiquities market to conduct a rigorous due diligence policy when it come to material that is offered for sale.

SAFE is conductioning a survey: "Should market countries stop buying antiquities from Egypt until order is restored?". What do you think? Vote now!

Looting at Saqqara

Zahi Hawass has commented on the situation in Saqqara:
The sites of Giza and Saqqara are also safe. Outlaws only broke the padlocks that secure the tombs of Saqqara, and when we went inside to check them we were happy to see that no damage had been done. The most serious offence that occurred was the looting of the storage magazine in Qantara, in the Sinai. On Friday night a group armed with guns entered the magazine and stole some antiquities that were stored in boxes. Yesterday, 288 of these objects were returned. We do not know the full extent of the damage done to this magazine, but we will soon.

Reputable auction houses and the situation in Egypt

The implications of the situation in Egypt receive treatment by Brian Vasatg ("Reputable auction houses try to get all (arti)facts before selling antiquities", Washington Post February 2, 2011). Clearly those involved in the antiquities market need to carry out due diligence searches. Over $133 million worth of antiquities were sold by two New York auction houses in 2010. Some $64 million worth of Egyptian antiquities have been sold at Sotheby's New York since 1998.

I read the comments from Max Bernheimer of Christie's with much interest. Bernheimer claims that that Christie's now uses 1983 as the benchmark for collecting histories: "Christie's ... sells only items that are documented to have been removed from the country before 1983". He commented: "Christie's sells only objects that it can confirm as legitimately acquired". This is different to last year's statement from Christie's: "we do not sell works that we have rea…

UNESCO: "protect Egyptian cultural heritage"

The Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, has commented on the situation in Egypt ("UNESCO Director-General launches heritage and press freedom alert for Egypt", UNESCO February 1, 2011).
The Director-General called on all parties to protect Egyptian cultural heritage, symbol of the country’s identity, and to respect freedom of expression, pillar of democracy. Although the situation in Egypt is evolving rapidly, reports from Egypt concerning these two domains are a cause for deep concern, the Director-General said.

“Egyptian cultural heritage, both its monuments and its artefacts, are part of the ancestral heritage of humanity, handed down to us through the ages,” she said. “The value of the 120,000 pieces in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo is inestimable, not only in scientific or financial terms, but because they represent the Egyptian people’s cultural identity. The proof, hundreds of citizens spontaneously formed a chain around the museum to protect it. I solemnly reques…