Showing posts with label Archaeology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Archaeology. Show all posts

February 26, 2020

Valerie Higgins returns to Amelia this summer to teach “Antiquities and Identity” at ARCA's Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection

By Edgar Tijhuis 

This year, the ARCA Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection will be held from May 28 through August 12, 2020 in the beautiful heart of Umbria in Amelia, Italy. In the months leading up to the start of the program, this year’s lecturers will be interviewed. 

Valerie Higgins
Can you tell us something about your background and work?

I am the Program Director for the Master’s program in Sustainable Cultural Heritage and Associate Professor in Archaeology at The American University of Rome. I am an archaeologist by training, and I began my professional career as an archaeologist working in local government before returning to university to complete a Ph.D., studying human remains from a medieval Italian monastery site.

After completing a visiting university appointment in New Zealand, I returned to work in Rome where I was lucky enough to get a tenured position at the American University. Being based in Rome, a lot of my teaching has been outside at the monuments themselves, rather than in the classroom, and it was this that first sparked my interest in cultural heritage. The daily contact with the monuments and witnessing the issues of caring for such a massive patrimony, gradually led to me becoming more and more involved in that side of archaeology. Looting of antiquities is a huge problem in Italy and it has deep historical roots. An important part of tackling looting is to understand the societal context in which it takes place.

What do you feel is the most relevant aspect of your course?

The course incorporates discussion of contentious issues that are currently in the news, such as the role of museums and their obligation (or not) to reflect social issues, decolonization of heritage and museums, issues of identity politics relating to ownership, etc. Those of us who are engaged in protecting heritage need to get involved in these debates and we need to ensure that the discussion are well informed. This is increasingly difficult in an era of fake news and short soundbites.

What do you hope participants will get out of the courses?

I hope participants will understand the broader context behind art crime and will feel a greater engagement with topical issues. I hope that they will have a more profound understanding of the background to current disputes. Increasingly, journalistic sources present arguments in a very one-sided way and reduce complex arguments to emotive headlines. I hope that participants will appreciate more the complexity and long history that underlies many current issues.

What would a typical day be like in your classroom?

My classes are very interactive. I like everyone to contribute to class discussions from their own experiences. Every year at ARCA we get participants from all over the world, with diverse professional and personal backgrounds so when we are discussing issues we can get many different viewpoints, and this is very stimulating.

While each year participants are very enthusiastic about your courses, is there anything you learn from them in class?

A huge amount! I encourage everybody to take the topics we cover in the class and apply them to situations they face in their professional lives back home. As a result, I get to hear about new places, new disputes, new heritage sites, new groups and it is always fascinating to me. I regularly incorporate in my teaching at the American University information I have gained from ARCA participants and in that way I hope that I spread the knowledge.

In anticipation of your courses, what book, article, or movie would you recommend to participants?

I enjoyed the book ‘Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World’s Richest Museum’ by Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino. It is written by two journalists, not academics, but it conveys very well the attitudes that were current in the museum world in the last part of the twentieth century and the first decade of this century and the almost total disregard for ethics that should have governed museum acquisitions. I would also recommend the BBC podcasts in the series the Museum of Lost Objects. This series looked at antiquities that were lost or looted in Iraq, Syria, India and Pakistan. I like the series because it focuses on the human cost of looting not the economic cost.

What makes the yearly ARCA program so unique?

The people! Every year we get an incredible mix of people taking and teaching the courses in the program and then, of course, during the conference this number increases dramatically. The setting in Amelia also makes the program special. Amelia is a small intimate setting where it is easy to meet people outside of class, over a coffee.

Which other course in the program would you love to follow yourself and why?

I am very interested in Marc Balcells course because he studies art crime as a sociological phenomenon rather than on an individual case by case basis. I believe this aspect is very underdeveloped. Although we will always need law enforcement as a backstop, the greatest impact on reducing art crime is to have a greater understanding of the underlying social forces. Very few people do this and Marc does it so well.

Is there anything you can recommend for future participants to do in Amelia or Umbria?

Amelia is set in beautiful countryside and there are some great walks and picnic spots in the countryside outside the walls. Don’t think that you always have to get on a bus or train to have a great day out!

Are there any funny or interesting things you experienced in Italy, outside class?

Italians certainly have their own ways of doing things which often seem incomprehensible to foreigners. It is not uncommon to go to see something that is supposed to be open and you find it isn’t. However, if you ask around there may be someone who can help you to get in or you might find something else to see that you did not even know existed. Italy is full of fantastic sites that are not in any guidebook or on any website, you may end up having an even better day out. It pays to be flexible and laid back.

What is your experience with the yearly ARCA conference in June? 

I find the conference a very useful way to catch up with what is going on in the field and also people working in the field. The refreshments breaks are almost as valuable as the presentations. To my knowledge, no other conference has such an eclectic mix of people from museums, law enforcement and academia.

Anything else…. The most important thing is to enjoy yourself in Amelia!

For a detailed prospectus and application materials or for general questions about this postgraduate program please contact us at 


Edgar Tijhuis serves as the Academic Director at ARCA and is a visiting scholar at the Institute of Criminology in Ljubljana. He is responsible for the postgraduate certificate program in the study of art crime and cultural heritage protection and since 2009, has taught criminology modules within the ARCA program.

January 13, 2015

Sheila Dillon, Editor-in-Chief of the American Journal of Archaeology, publishes letter on the AJA's publishing policy on its "commitment to protecting archaeological heritage"

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin,
   ARCA Blog Editor-in-chief

Sheila Dillon, Editor-in-Chief for the American Journal of Archaeology, has published a letter in the January 2015 issue (which can be found here on which thanks "all the peer reviewers who contribute their time and expertise to vetting manuscripts to the AJA." Ms. Dillon also concludes with the following positions on scholarship and collecting history:
Finally, in light of recent events in both this country [USA] and abroad, it is important to restate that the AJA maintains its commitment to protecting archaeological heritage. In keeping with the 2004 policy of the AIA [Archaeological Institute of America], the AJA will not accept any article that serves as the primary publication of any object or archaeological material in a private or public collection acquired after 30 December 1973 unless its existence is documented before that date or it was legally exported from the country of origin. 
In addition, given the recent and continuing threats to the archaeological sites and material culture of countries such as Syria, Iraq, Egypt, and Libya, the Editor-in-chief and members of the Advisory Board condemn in the strongest possible terms the recent sale of Egyptian artifacts and the scheduled sale of Mesoamerican artifacts by the AIA St. Louis Society through the auction house Bonhams. While technically not illegal, the sale of the Egyptian antiquities certainly violated the spirit if not the letter of the agreement that brought the objects to St. Louis in the first place. The selling off of archaeological artifacts in the society's possession not only contravenes the ethical standards current in archaeology but also reinforces the commodification of archaeological material and in effect condones the traffic in antiquities, which is in opposition to the AIA's principal missions of research and education. As stewards of the past, no one associated with the AIA should be incentivizing the illicit trade in antiquities, which is a global criminal activity. High-profile sales such as these can have the unintended consequence of putting further at risk the archaeological heritage that the AIA has vowed to protect. 
SHEILA DILLON, Editor-in-Chief, American Journal of Archaeology

February 14, 2014

Simon Metke and His Ongoing Relationship with "Protecting" Cultural Heritage

In a strange twist of you are famous three times and not just once, Simon Metke was first interviewed by CBC News Edmonton in December 2011 at his South Edmonton, Water's Edge condo on Saskatchewan Drive regarding incomplete works by the developer on the exterior of the highrise development.  
Photo Credit:  CBC News Edmonton
During his interview with Klingbeil and Pruden, Metke indicated he was drawn to the Achaemenid bas-relief panel stolen from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 2011 because of his own interest in Mesopotamian religion and art.  He also indicated that he was pleased with having protected the object so that it didn’t get destroyed or lost.

Mr. Metke's feeling of protection towards cultural patrimony also seems to have included historic houses.  In March 2013 he was listed as a campaign team member for an Indiegogo crowd sourcing effort to raise $80,000 to preserve a historical landmark home to be designated as "The Healing Arts History House".  The home was to be utilized as a community centre for art, massage, music, dance, health, sustainable research, and community living.   The project only raised $1450 CAD.

CTV Edmonton News has a live interview with the puzzled Mr. Metke which Canadian viewers can see here.   

In further information related to this ongoing investigation, ARCA was informed by Sergente Mélanie Dumaresq, Agent d’information, Service des communications avec les médias for the Sûreté du Québec  (via email) that no reward has been paid out related to this case. When asked if police acted on a tip, Sergente Dumaresq replied that “Information received from the public enabled us to advance the investigation and identify the suspect.”  She added that the investigation was begun by the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) but was transferred to the Sûreté du Québec in order to make use of the expertise of the integrated artworks investigation team, a specialized team composed of members of the Sûreté du Québec and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Sergente Dumaresq stated that the investigation indicates that the suspect did not commit the theft at the MMFA, but purchased the object knowing that it had been stolen.

Metke has been ordered to appear in an Edmonton courtroom on March 19, 2014.

February 13, 2014

AXA Art Insurance, the Sûreté du Québec, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Announce the recovery of a rare and valuable Achaemenid Bas-Relief Stolen from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 2011

Sandstone, Head of a Guard photo by @DomenicFazioli
At a press conference today in Montreal, the Sûreté du Québec - Enquête de l'Équipe intégrée des enquêtes en œuvres d'art and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, in cooperation with AXA Art Insurance Limited and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, announced the recovery of the Achaemenid bas-relief panel stolen from the gallery more than two years ago.

On October 26, 2011, a surveillance camera at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts recorded a suspect in a baseball cap walking out of the gallery with a satchel believed by police and the museum to possibly contain one of the stolen artifacts reported to be worth "hundreds of thousands of dollars" (Montreal Gazette).

Three months later, an Art Alert (Case File : 11-98, dated February 14, 2012) issued by the Enquête de l'Équipe intégrée des enquêtes en œuvres d'art (the official name for Canada's Art Crime Enforcement Unit headquartered in Montreal) publicly identified the stolen objects as a 1st century C.E. yellow Numidian marble "Head of a Man, Egypto-archaizing style" and a more valuable 5th century B.C.E. Sandstone "Head of a Guard (fragment of a low relief)" from Persepolis. The announcement advertised a "Substantial Reward (Offered by AXA Art, subject to specific conditions) for information leading to the recovery" of the two archaeological objects. To avoid compromising the police investigation, no details of the theft aside from the video of the potential suspect, were released.

According to the press release issued for today's press conference, the $1.2 million sandstone bas-relief panel "Head of a Guard", valued at 1.2 million dollars, was recovered during a raid on an Edmonton house by an Alberta unit of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on January 22, 2014. This action led to the arrest of a 33-year-old man who has been charged with possession of stolen goods.

Surete du Quebec's spokesperson Joyce Kemp said in today's press conference said the unnamed individual arrested had purchased the object for an amount significantly inferior to its actual value.  The investigation and subsequent arrest have not, as yet, led to the recovery of the second artifact, the Yellow Numidian marble "Head of a Man", valued at $40,000 and reportedly stolen on October 26, 2011 nor the thief responsible for both thefts.

ARCA spoke with Mark Dalryrmple, the specialized fine art loss adjuster appointed by AXA ART assigned to this case, and asked him for his thoughts on today's recovery.  His responded positively with “No comment since as may be appreciated, the matter is sub judice, but we are extremely pleased that it is been recovered safely”.

Here's an excerpt from today's formal press release from the insurance company who offered the reward two years ago:

AXA ART announces the recovery of a rare and valuable Achaemenid Bas-Relief Following an intensive year long investigation between the police authorities in Montréal and Edmonton, AXA ART is pleased to announce the recovery of a rare and valuable Persian Achaemenid bas-relief panel.  The panel, together with a Roman marble head, was stolen from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) in 2011.  The small portable panel was recovered almost 2,000 miles away in Edmonton and has now been returned to the Montréal Museum. “Given the difficulties involved in the recovery of stolen artwork we would like to acknowledge the diligence and extraordinary efforts of the Sûreté du Québec and Royal Canadian Mounted Police, in collaboration with our Loss Adjuster, in securing the return of this precious cultural property”, commented AXA ART’s Claims Manager, Clare Dewey.  “The recovery should serve as encouragement for on-going investigations and as a deterrent for similar crimes. Our responsibility to our policy holders doesn’t end with a claims payment; we have a duty to work with law enforcement to recover cultural artefacts.” The Achaemenid relief dates from the 5th century BC. It is made of limestone, and worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.  It has been part of the permanent collection held by the Montréal Museum for decades.  AXA ART is thrilled that this object can be returned to the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts where it will continue to be enjoyed by the public for generations to come. 

UPDATED: This afternoon via email, ARCA interviewed Prof. John M. Fossey, Emeritus Curator, Mediterranean Archaeology for the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts, who gave the following quote as to why the recovery is historically important:

"As the Curator who was responsible for organizing the exhibition hall from which the object was stolen over two years ago, I am obviously very happy to see this beautiful work of ancient sculpture return to the museum. It was one of our only pieces representative of Persian art of the Achaemenid period (2nd half 6th century BCE to 330 BCE). It represents in low relief the head and shoulder of an armed Persian guard and probably decorated the walls of one of the several Achaemenid palaces spread across the Persian empire. Similar pieces are found in various museums and most were looted from palace sites in the first part of the 19th century. This particular piece is very well preserved and had suffered no damage during its recent adventure. The work of the RCMP and the Sureté du Québec in recovering this artefact was remarkable and the officers in question are to be complimented for the quality of their work and its successful end. We all hope that this success will deter would-be thieves from attempting other such thefts. The investigation continues to try and recover the second object stolen from the museum also in the autumn of 2011."

Sergente Mélanie Dumaresq, spokesperson for the Sureté du Québec, answered a few questions also via email on behalf of Canada's Art Crime Team:

Was a reward paid? In this case no reward was given.

Were the police acting on a tip?  Information received from the public enabled us to advance the investigation and identify the suspect.  The investigation begun by the Montreal Police (SPVM) but it was transferred to the SQ in order to make use of the expertise of the integrated artworks investigation team, which is a specialized team composed of members of the SQ and the RCMP.

What charges will be filed against the suspect?  The investigation shows that he did not commit the theft at the MMFA, but purchased the object knowing that it had been stolen. The arrested suspect may be charged with possession of criminally obtained property. He will appear on march 19, 2014 in the morning at the Edmonton courthouse.

We have posted a copy of the French press release from the Canadian authorities in Quebec below (the original can be viewed here):

Objet: Artéfact de 1,2 million $ rapatrié au Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal
Montréal, le 13 février 2014 – L’Équipe intégrée des enquêtes en œuvres d’art de la Sûreté du Québec a retrouvé, le 22 janvier dernier à Edmonton, l’un des deux artefacts volés en septembre et en octobre 2011 au Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal. La pièce d’une valeur de 1,2 million $, qui a été volée le 3 septembre 2011, est un fragment de bas-relief perse datant du 5e siècle avant Jésus-Christ. Elle a été rapatriée au Québec et restituée au Musée des beaux-arts à la suite de sa découverte lors d’une perquisition dans un logement d’Edmonton en Alberta. Un homme de 33 ans d’Edmonton a été arrêté à la suite de cette perquisition réalisée avec la collaboration des policiers de la Division K (Alberta) de la Gendarmerie royale du Canada. 

L’enquête se poursuit pour retrouver le deuxième artefact volé, une statuette de marbre représentant la tête d’un homme de style Égypto-archaïsant datant du 1er siècle avant Jésus-Christ. Cette pièce a été volée le 26 octobre 2011. Toute information pouvant permettre de la retrouver peut être communiquée à la Centrale de l’information criminelle de la Sûreté du Québec, au 1 800 659-4264 ou à l’adresse Tous les signalements seront traités de façon confidentielle. Soulignons la collaboration de la compagnie AXA Art qui a permis de faire progresser  cette enquête. L’Équipe intégrée des enquêtes en œuvres d’art est formée d’enquêteurs de la Sûreté du Québec et de la Gendarmerie royale du Canada. Elle travaille en étroite collaboration avec différentes organisations qui détiennent des expertises permettant d’enquêter sur les crimes liés au marché de l’art. 

Pour plus d’informations sur l’Équipe d’enquête et pour s’inscrire au service gratuit de diffusion ART ALERTE, les intervenants du monde de l’art sont invités à visiter le site web de la Sûreté du Québec, au

Here's a link to the article announcing today's press conference and links to other published reports:

"Edmonton man charged with possessing stolen artifact 'honoured' to have looked after it", Jana G. Purden, Cailynn Klingbeil, Edmonton Journal:

EDMONTON - For two years, a stolen ancient artifact worth $1.2 million sat on an Ikea bookshelf in a south Edmonton apartment, displayed above a plastic Star Wars spaceship, flanked by crystals and a small collection of stuffed animals. The Persian bas-relief sculpture, dating from the fifth century BC, sat slightly behind a handmade vase decorated with a painted fish and filled with dried flowers. Then, at about 9 a.m. on Jan. 22, a team of police officers working with Quebec RCMP’s Integrated Art Crime Investigation Team banged on Simon Metke’s apartment door. “There’s like 20 RCMP officers flooding my place, the sunshine’s coming in, the crystals are making rainbows everywhere, the bougainvillea flowers are glowing in the sunrise light,” Simon Metke, 33, said Thursday evening, sitting cross-legged in his south Edmonton apartment. “And I’m just sort of, ‘What the heck is going on?’ And, OK, here’s the thing I think you’re looking for. This thing is a lot more significant than I thought it was.”

Police say the sculpture was stolen from Montreal’s Museum of Fine Arts in September 2011. The same thief is then believed to have taken a second piece from the museum a month later. That piece, a statuette of a man dating from the first century B.C., is still missing. The man who took the pieces has not been charged. Police aren’t saying what led them to Metke. Metke said he bought the sculpture from the neighbour of a friend in Montreal, thinking it was an “interesting replica” or maybe an antique — but mostly drawn to it because of his own interest in Mesopotamian religion and art. “I didn’t realize that it was an actual piece of the Persepolis,” he said, referring to the ancient Persian ceremonial capital. “I’m honoured to have had it, but I feel really hurt that I wasn’t able to have a positive experience in the end with it.” He said he was somewhat skeptical about buying the piece for $1,400 — mostly because he thought it might not be worth it. In the end, he said he bought it to help out his friend, a “starving artist” who received a $300 commission, and the seller, who said he needed to pay child support and rent, and assured Metke it was “a good deal.”

Twice during fall 2011, someone walked into Montreal's Museum of Fine Arts and walked out with two ancient artifacts worth close to $1.3 million. The Sûreté du Québec, with the help of the RCMP, recently found one of the rare pieces of art in an Edmonton home and arrested a man. The other, from the first century BC, is still missing. Yet the museum said its security system — cameras and agents — is fine and they have no intention of putting the treasures under protective glass. "This is very unusual," Danielle Champagne, director of the museum's foundation, said about the thefts. "Montrealers are very respectful." The last theft from the museum was in 1972, she said. 

"Artifact taken from Montreal museum found in Edmonton; 2nd piece still missing", Peter Rakobowchuk, The Canadian Press:

A reward was offered several months after the theft. Provincial police spokeswoman Joyce Kemp said Thursday that whoever bought the artifact after it was stolen paid less than what it was actually worth. "We know that the person purchased it for a price really inferior to what is the real value of the artifact," she told reporters. Kemp would not give any details about how it was purchased. "The investigation is still ongoing (and) it might interfere with the next steps of the investigation," she said.

The SQ/RCMP Integrated Art Crime Investigation Unit issued an Art Alerte for the "Recovered World of Art" (Case File: 11-098) to announce the return of sandstone Bas-Relief, noting its size (21 x 20.5 x 3 cm). Here's the link to the YouTube channel for the Sûreté du Québec if they publish a video of the conference.

by Lynda Albertson, ARCA's CEO and Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

February 1, 2014

Introducing Sam Hardy and "Conflict Antiquities" -- the blog that aims to track the use of antiquities to fund war

In Vernon Silver's article "The Apollo of Gaza: Hamas's Ancient Bronze Statue" in Bloomberg Businesweek, Sam Hardy is quoted as to the complications of the discovery:
In the hands of the Hamas government, the bronze is worth more than just money. The most valuable reward would be recognition of any kind by U.S. or European institutions and governments. Even the slightest cooperation, say, over restoration, sale, or loan of the statue, could open the diplomatic door a crack. “This case is fiendishly difficult,” says Sam Hardy, a British archaeologist whose Conflict Antiquities website tracks the use of looted artifacts to fund war. “National and international laws make it difficult to assist the administration in the West Bank, let alone that in the Gaza Strip. Indeed, any sale or leasing of the statue might normalize looting of antiquities as a funding stream for Hamas.”
We've added Hardy's blog "Conflict Antiquities" to ARCA's "Related Blogs" on the right side of our website.

September 6, 2013

Christos Tsirogiannis, 2013 winner for ARCA's Award for Art Protection and Security, speaks out against metal detecting in treasure hunting

Christos Tsirogiannis (Photo by DW, J. Di Marino)
Christos Tsirogiannis, winner of the 2013 ARCA Award for Art Protection and Security, weighs in on the subject of metal detecting enthusiasts in "UK treasure hunters make archaeologists see red" for Deutsche Welle (DW):
It's estimated that there are now more than 10,000 metal detector users in England and Wales alone. They've been making an impact. In 2011, close to a million artifacts were found by hobbyists. Nearly 1,000 of those could be classed as treasure - precious metals discovered by metal detector users. 
No harm done? 
But not everyone is pleased. Archaeologist and illicit antiquities researcher at Cambridge University, Christos Tsirogiannis, is one of those concerned. He says the amateur archeologists are damaging important sites. 
"Every object has an amazing historical value, especially when it's found in its actual and original archeological context," Christos Tsirogiannis explains. "If something is extracted violently and by an uneducated, non-specialist person from its original context, this cannot be reconstructed."
Mr. Tsirogiannis is quoted by DW as recommending the banning of all metal detectors:
"I'm sure that there are several people who are operating metal detectors and they do it just for excitement," he says. "But even in a legal way, the destruction that they generate is really big, and it is an unfortunate phenomenon that it is still legal."

August 9, 2013

Report from ARCA in Amelia: More on the Pompeii field class, Napoli, and courses by Valerie Higgins and Dick Ellis

Painting of Amelia
 by A. M. C Knutsson
by Sophia Kisielewska, ARCA Intern

Extremely early on Sunday morning a large proportion of the ARCA class gathered outside the town walls of Amelia to wait for the bus that would take them to Pompeii. 

Other members of the class had taken a train two days earlier to enjoy at the great sights of Naples. High on everyone’s agenda seemed to be the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli; Caravaggio’s spectacular ‘The Seven Acts of Mercy’ at the church of Pio Monte della Misericordia; Napoli Sottoterranea (underground); and above all a pizza from one of the three classic Neapolitan pizzerias: Da Michele, Di Matteo and Sorbillo.

The class caught up with these students at the gates of Pompeii at around 11 a.m. After a much needed cup of coffee, the reunited class entered the site and met up with Crispin Corrado, ARCA’s academic director and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Classical Archaeology at The University of California, Rome Study Center. Dr. Corrado led the students around the site, successfully keeping everyone distracted from the desert heat. She explained how the inhabitants of Pompeii had been living at the time of Mount Vesuvius’s eruption in 79 AD and the history of the site since its discovery in 1748 by Spanish Engineer Rocque Joaquin de Alcubierre. Later in the afternoon we visited the villa at Oplontis situated in the heart of the Mafia district, but a beautiful spot regardless. After this we all hopped back on the coach to return to Amelia. It was perhaps both the most beautiful and the most exhausting day yet.

Walking in Pompeii
Monday morning saw the arrival of the first British lecturer of the week, Valerie Higgins, the Associate Professor and Chair of Archaeology and Classics at the American University of Rome. Dr. Higgins teaches courses in Roman archaeology and history; ancient art; archaeological method and theory; funerary archaeology and human remains. Her personal research focuses on the role of archaeology in contemporary society covering aspects such as trafficking of antiquities; contemporary approaches to human remains; heritage in conflict situations; and the role of heritage in contemporary Rome. Her ARCA course, Antiquities and Identity, touched upon many of these topics. The primary focus of Day One was to assess how far the current issues of repatriation and disputed legal ownership are the result of the archaeology practices of the past and how contemporary attitudes to heritage are consequently changing, bringing new challenges to the field. To fully understand this problem, we were required to know a little more about the history of the field and this began with a lecture on the growth of antiquarianism and collecting from the time of Raphael. 

With a limited number of archeology trained students this summer, everyone was captivated by Day Two’s lectures in which Dr. Higgins explained the different archeological methods. A run through of the controversial debates that surround archeology in today’s climate was the heart of discussions during Wednesday’s lectures.

Mark & Laura renew vows at Palazzo Farrattini
Midway through this intense series of lectures, ARCA students and staff joined their classmate Mark and his wife of five years, Laura, at a ceremony to renew their marital vows at sunset in the beautiful garden at Palazzo Farrattini. It was a fantastic event and a welcome opportunity to relax and forget the murky world of art crime.

After lunch on Wednesday, Richard "Dick" Ellis, founder of Scotland Yard’s Art and Antiquities Squad and current Director of Art Management Group, began the last course of the program, Art Policing and Investigation. Mr. Ellis brings an unparalleled level of expertise and field experience to the ARCA classroom. In his first class, Mr. Ellis directed the non-law enforcement figures in the room through the structure of police services around the world and their differing contributions towards the protection and recovery of stolen art.

The following two mornings, through a series of case studies, often ones that Mr. Ellis was closely involved in, the class learned the common reasons why art is targeted by criminals. We also understood, through such case studies, how large a role the global art market plays in aiding these criminals. The myth that art is stolen by the order of Thomas Crown-figures was immediately dismissed, and any sense of glamour evaporated as we were instantly made aware of the rather more sinister figures that govern the illicit art trade.

December 6, 2012

Part II of Dr. Tom Flynn's Interview with Georges Okello Abungu at Forum d'Avignon

TF — If the original acquisition involved intense violence or things were taken as a part of the subjugation of another culture — as was the case with Benin in 1897 — is that not a justification for thinking again about those objects?

GA — The Benin question is very complex. The first thing we need to accept about the museums that own those Benin collections is to come out and say: ‘Yes, we know these things were taken under those circumstances; we know the Benin kingdom, the Benin royal family, they still exist even if they are not as powerful as they were; we know there are contestations, we know there are claims’. How are we going to satisfy this after all the changes that have taken place? Even if you took it back, who are you going to give it to? Are you going to give it back to the kings? Are you going to give it back to the Nigerian government? Who are you going to return it to? These are issues that need to be discussed. They have been through so many hands, how are we going to trace them back? But these questions do not give you immunity against discussion. You cannot even talk about compensation because these things were done in the late nineteenth century. It was an attack, it was looting, it has ended up in some of these museums. If you measure them even in terms of financial economic benefits to the Benin people, how much is it? In some instances it may not apply because, as others argue, even if it were compensation, who would it go back to? Will it go back to the community, for who are the community? Will it go back to the royalty, for who are the royalty? Will it go back to the government and how will it trickle down there? So the issue is that we must engage in this. We cannot run away by claiming that we are a superior status or that we don’t want to talk. If we can start to engage in a discussion we will probably come to an understanding whereby source communities will be saying, ‘Now we understand. This case is so complex, that this heritage is better preserved where it is’. But if we do not engage and discuss with the [source communities], this problem will continue to be there, because there are people also who are making money out of this. There are NGOs who are paying so that they are in business, there are community members for whom it is a business to continue to agitate for return. There are also people who are genuine, who feel they have a genuine case that they need to be able to discuss and agree on. So at the end of the day I think sitting down, talking, negotiating, compromising and agreeing — ‘Ok, time has passed, you have had this. We are transferring it in good will, on a permanent loan. Have them because you have recognised that ideally these should have belonged to us.’ That is very simple because mentally and psychologically it also helps the community. They know you have reached a compromise, that their ownership has been accepted, symbolically, but physically things remain in the custody of the institution that now owns it on behalf of the world. But you see this is what we have never reached because most of the big institutions think that once they accept that, there will be another big legal challenge, you know, ‘OK, now you have accepted it, now we want it back.’ But if it is in good faith and negotiated properly, this issue of the flood of returns will disappear. I don’t think this is something that will last forever, but it is energized by the fact that big institutions refuse to negotiate and refuse to accept responsibility even where they have been wrong. You cannot win without dialogue, especially in terms of heritage because people feel very attached to it at times and emotional about it.

TF — Where do you stand on partage? As an archaeologist, is it not a way of enabling archaeology to continue to take place, for countries to collaborate on unearthing things and sharing them when they’ve found them? Or do you think anything that is dug up in a country should stay in that country?

GA — That is a very difficult question because we have had some very bad experiences. For years I personally have resisted the issue of sharing when it comes to commercial activities and this applies much more to underwater archaeology which has been misused because you have private companies with suspect archaeologists, you know, so-called archaeologists, who go and negotiate with governments who don’t understand the Convention and then you have officials who are corrupted for a few hundred dollars and they give permits and people go into the sea within the territories and get this material. In Africa there is a lot of problems with that. And they say ‘Fifty percent’. But the fifty percent in the first place on what basis? These are cultural materials. Their fifty percent is going to be sold somewhere. And so you are turning archaeological material into a sellable material. The second things is that the people who are digging here are people from outside so when they say fifty percent, how do you know that is really fifty percent? In most cases when you are told fifty percent, it is actually one hundredth of what is found. I was educated at Cambridge and so I grew up in a culture of cooperation; to me cooperation in the archaeological field is very important. But that sharing was always in the sharing of the knowledge, not in the sharing of the material, unless there was a request from an institution for a particular object or set of objects where there were more and you did not need all of them. In that case it should not be a problem. But I think the idea of people ganging together to go the field to exploit it and then share it; to me that has a risk, the risk that it becomes more of an occupation than the pursuit of knowledge and the representation of humanity’s heritage. It becomes like treasure hunting and if we can do away with the treasure hunting out of it then I have no problem with governments or  institutions sharing knowledge and information and sharing material as long as it is clear and documented and everything is clean. But I’m saying there must be clear policies and regulations and arguments as to how this can be done. It must not be based on bureaucratic decisions taken at government levels with people who could be compromised by giving them a hundred dollars and then the fifty percent comes in.

The conclusion of this interview will be posted tomorrow.

October 25, 2011

Virginia Curry: From the FBI to Etruscan archaeological sites

Southern Methodist University reported on October 18: "Ancient Etruscan childbirth image is likely first for western art".

by Virginia Curry

In 2009, I had the honor of lecturing at ARCA’s First International Symposium in Amelia on the topic of “Crimes by Those Most Trusted” in which I highlighted my interviews and investigation of Dr. Marion True which as an FBI Special Agent assigned to the Los Angeles Field Office, I performed pursuant to a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty request of the Italian Government. Those interviews resulted in the Getty Museum’s first return of two objects purchased without receipt or provenance: an Etruscan tripod and a candelabrum to Italy. After retirement from the FBI, I enrolled as a graduate student at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, majoring in Art History and had an experience which re-kindled my desire to preserve and protect cultural patrimony. Now working on my thesis which considers the Etruscans in their funerary context, I am especially sensitive to our inability to now connect some of these artifacts with their historic context.

Also in 2009, I had the unique opportunity to participate in the six week Poggio Colla Field School and Mugello Valley Archeological Project as teaching assistant to Professor P. Gregory Warden, Distinguished Teaching Professor and Associate Dean of the Meadows School of the Arts at SMU, who co-directs this project with Professor Michael L. Thomas, University of Texas. Sponsoring institutions of the Poggio Colla Field School include the Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University, Franklin and Marshall College, the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, and the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

The Poggio Colla Field School is unique because of its inter-disciplinary and hands-on approach to the regional landscape analysis which combines excavation, land survey, archaeometry and visiting lecturers who are leaders in their field, such as Professor Phil Perkins, London Open University and others. Professor Perkins, an expert on Etruscan black paste pottery known as “Bucchero” recently identified two pottery fragments excavated by a student in this field school at Poggio Colla as the earliest representations of a birthing scene found in Western art.

This is also an exciting program because of the emphasis given to local community outreach programs which include a local Dicomano Museum exhibit of the artifacts in their own region and opportunities for local Italian high school students to learn field techniques and excavate at the site with a local archeologist. Parents and students learn the importance of physical context of the find and pride in the preservation of their local history.

The goals of the Poggio Colla Field School are summarized on the Mugello Valley Project Website, “Mugello Valley Archeological Project” found at

“If archaeology is to survive as a discipline into the next century, it will have to develop a broader base of support and will have to change its image from an elite and esoteric discipline understood by only a chosen few. Archaeological sites are becoming endangered by pollution, construction, and human pressures that run the gamut from neglect to outright vandalism. We hope that over the years, through our field school, we will train a large number of individuals, some of whom may go on to become professional archaeologists, but most of whom, no matter what their career, will become advocates of cultural and archaeological preservation.”

January 26, 2011

Profile: ARCA Lecturer Valerie Higgins to Teach "Archaeology and Antiquities" in Amelia This Summer

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin

Valerie Higgins of the American University of Rome will teach “Archaeology and Antiquities” this summer as part of ARCA’s Postgraduate Program in International Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection Studies in Amelia this summer.

Ms. Higgins is Associate Professor and Chair of Archaeology and Classics at The American University of Rome. She gained her Ph.D. in archaeology at the University of Sheffield, Great Britain. She currently researches the impact of war on heritage and communal memory and changing attitudes to the excavation of human remains in contemporary society.

At the International Art Crime Conference held last July, Ms. Higgins delivered a presentation: “Archaeology and War: the Importance of Protecting Identity.” She wrote in her abstract:
“Trafficking in art and cultural heritage can be seen primarily as an activity undertaken for profit and governed by short-term objectives. However, underpinning trafficking is the notion that these objects have an intrinsic value that can ultimately be realized in financial terms, and in this regard, the illegal trafficker is equally as concerned as the most fastidious museum curator in the authenticity of the object. Yet these objects can only have value if society decides that they do, if there is a widely held belief in the importance of preserving objects from the past. The last two decades have seen an exponential growth in heritage, in both practitioners and consumers - indeed heritage has become literally an “industry”. What is it about our contemporary society that makes heritage so important to a current sense of identity? This paper will explore this issue with particular reference to recent areas of conflict and the impact on the trafficking market.”
ARCA blog: Welcome to the program, Dr. Higgins. For those of our readers who didn’t attend the conference in July, how would you explain to them here what it is about our society that makes heritage so important to a current sense of identity?
Dr. Higgins: The last decade has seen an explosion of interest in the past from the general public. Archaeology and history used to be something largely confined to academics but now many different types of people engage in investigating the past and they often have different priorities from academics. Overall, the past has become incredibly important to many people’s sense of identity. Some social scientists have linked this to the way we live today. People move around a lot, they often don’t have much contact with their family and, unlike in previous eras, their environment is changing all the time. We are the first generation where the lifespan of the average person is longer than the lifespan of the average building. Locating yourself within a historical context can be a way of gaining a personal sense of identity. You only have to think of the massive number of people who research their own ancestors to realize how important this has become. This great expansion of interest in the past also impacts on the trafficking of antiquities because it changes the market for illegal antiquities. I am currently preparing an article on this for submission to the Journal of Art Crime, where I will go into this in more detail.
ARCA blog: What areas will you focus on in your course “Archaeology and Antiquities”?
Dr. Higgins: In my course I will look at the changing attitudes to antiquities. What we define now as trafficking was seen in previous eras as legitimate, even philanthropic. I will attempt to put our current attitudes in a historical context. That will be the easy bit! The more difficult part is to address the ethical issues of collections acquired in the past by means that today would be illegal. What do we do about those and what would be the consequences of dismantling those collections? We will hold some debates over particular case studies and hope that everyone will join in and make it a lively discussion!
ARCA blog: What do you mean in saying “the illegal trafficker is equally concerned as the most fastidious museum curator in the authenticity of the object”?
Dr. Higgins: ‘Authenticity’ is a major preoccupation of our society. We need to know we have the “real thing”, even if we wouldn’t personally be able to tell the difference between the genuine article and a good fake. Obviously a museum curator is bound by professional integrity to ensure the veracity of the museum collection. Illegal traffickers know that whilst a genuine 5th century BC Attic vase will be worth millions, a fake will be worth only a few dollars, so they are equally concerned with authenticity. Unless, of course, they are the ones making the fakes!
ARCA blog: How would you explain your current research of war, communal memory and excavation of human remains to someone who is unfamiliar with the field?
Dr. Higgins: The expansion of interest in the past from different sectors of the public has thrown up some very heated debates. My research looks at the impact of this both on how we interpret the past and how our perceptions of our own history affect our attitudes today. Rome, where I live and work, is an excellent place to study these trends. The centre of Rome looks like it has stayed the same since antiquity but, in fact, it has been changed a lot by different regimes to support their political programs. I recently gave a conference paper (available on ) on how Rome’s ancient past was drawn on by both Fascists and Rome’s Jewish population in very different ways. Wars highlight these disparities because, of course, the conflict will be seen differently depending on what side you were on. Another area of intense debate at the moment is how to deal with human remains. Many people find the way graves are dug up by archaeologists and the skeletons examined disrespectful. Archaeologists have had to fundamentally change their practice over the last decade to address public concerns.