Showing posts with label Blood Antiques. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Blood Antiques. Show all posts

February 22, 2016

Second Sentry guard shot at incident at the Deir el-Bersha archaeological site has died

Egyptian news wires have reported that Ali Khalaf Shāker, (علي خلف شاكر), the second site guard protecting the Deir el-Bersha archaeological site, has apparently died on Sunday, February 21, 2016 of his injuries. Mr. Khalaf Shāker was shot during a gun battle with unidentified archaeological site looters along with his colleague and fellow guard A'srāwy Kāmel Jād. 

Information in Arabic on this updated situation can be found here.

Respecting the loss to these two families and their archaeological teammates, ARCA has elected to not post pictures taken of the crime scene. 

For further details on this incident in English please see our earlier two posts here and here. 

The team of the Dayr al-Barsha project, KU Leuven, Belgium has established a Go Fund Me page for A'srāwy's and Ali's family, in order to cover, or partially cover some portion of the loss of his wages. Those who would like to contribute can follow this link

ARCA strongly discourages the purchase of antiquities without a solid collection history; this includes anything made of stone or pottery likely to be more than 100 years old.  We urge collectors to buy the work of contemporary artisans using traditional methods and materials, and to not promote the trade in blood antiquities. 





October 27, 2015

America’s Museum of the Bible - Hobby Lobby Owners Under Federal Investigation for Possibly Trafficked Assyrian and Babylonian Cuneiform Tablets

For years various academics have questioned the collecting and conservation practices of billionaire collector Steve Green, the philanthropist behind the $800 million, eight-story Museum of the Bible.  Slated to open in 2017, the museum will occupy a historically protected warehouse built in 1923 just minutes away from the National Mall and the US Capitol in Washington DC.  But Green's collection raises more questions than it answers.

Where are the thousands of antiquities coming from that have been purchased to supply this expansive museum?   And as a private museum, has the largest evangelical benefactor in the world cut corners in formulating his museum's acquisition policy, forgoing the standards propounded by museum associations and those dictated by international treaties?

Most of the general public are more familiar with the Green family via their landmark case against the US government objecting to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act which required that corporations above a certain size provide medical insurance benefits to their employees, including coverage for certain contraceptive methods.  In approving an exemption as a result of the case, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, 573 U.S. (2014), the US Supreme Court decided in Hobby Lobby's favour stating that the Affordable Care Act's mandate requiring that for-profit corporations supply their employees with access to contraceptives at no cost to the insured employee could be opted out of by commercial enterprise owners who are opposed to contraceptive coverage based upon their religious beliefs.

GC.MS.000462, a papyrus fragment sold
on eBay in 2012 which has a text from
Galatians 2:2-4, 5-6 in the New Testament
But the Green's success in rulings over contraception has now been overshadowed by a federal investigation into the museum's collection practices regarding antiquities from ancient Assyria and Babylonia, what is now Iraq.

According to the Museum of the Bible website, the Green's purchased their first biblical object in November 2009.   Since that time, their collection has grown to an estimated 40,000 objects including Dead Sea Scroll fragments, biblical papyri, rare biblical texts and manuscripts, cuneiform tablets, Torah scrolls, and rare printed Bibles.   That's 6,666 objects per year or a whopping 18 objects purchased per day. Compare that to the number of employees currently working for the Greens in relation to their new museum and one can surmise that an object's collection history has not been a principle concern among the staff or consultants vetting historic items for inclusion in the museum's collection.

In April of 2014 Italian papyrologist Roberta Mazza, a lecturer in Classics and Ancient History at University of Manchester, pointed out her concerns surrounding a papyri fragment in the Green's collection. Mazza identified a small papyrus codex page containing lines from Galatians 2 in Sahidic Coptic during a visit to the exhibition, Verbum Domini II, organized by the Green Collection in Vatican City, Rome.  As might be expected, the fragment had a less than stellar collection history.

Belonging to the Green Collection, the fragment was first identified back in October 2012 by Dr. Bryce C. Jones, then a PhD student at Concordia University's Department of Religion.  The Galatians 2 papyrus had previously been listed for sale on the online auction site eBay that same year through an irreputable dealer using the name “mixantik”.  “Mixantik”, who also has used the names "ebuyerrrrr" and "Yasasgroup", is/was an Istanbul-based trader with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of ancient Coptic and Greek papyrus fragments from Egypt, all with little or no provenance.  This seller was also someone whom academics like Dr. Dorothy King and archaeologist Paul Barford had openly reported for trading contrary to Turkish and International law.

Concerned about the provenance of this piece of papyrus as well as other Green Collection practices, Roberta Mazza asked David Trobisch, the current director of the Museum of the Bible, both publicly and privately for more information on the acquisition circumstances of two specific pieces in the family's collection, GC.MS.000462 (Galatians 2) and P. GC. inv. 105 (the Sappho fragments). 

From the Green's employee she learned that the Galatians 2 Coptic fragment was purchased in 2013 by Steve Green from someone referred to as "a trusted dealer".   Records in the Museum of the Bible/Green Collection archives attest that the papyrus was part of the David M. Robinson collection which was sold at a Christie’s auction in London in November 2011.   

The fact that the auction sale records give no mention of the eBay seller, and conveniently does not contain a photographic record or detailed description of what the 59 packets of papyri fragments contain is suspect to say the least.  This lack of detailed documentation on auction sales involving antiquities makes it difficult to ascertain if any given object's origin is either licit or illicit.  This easy loophole leaves the door open for both buyers and sellers to slide suspect objects into the stream of international commerce undetected.  In a nutshell this method may be used to effectively launders smuggled cultural contraband and give an illegitimate object a plausibly legitimate collection history. 

Speeding forward to today, The Daily Beast has reported that the Greens have been under federal investigation for the illicit importation of cultural heritage from Iraq over import irregularities related to 200 to 300 clay cuneiform tablets seized by U.S. Customs agents in Memphis on their way to Oklahoma City from Israel.  The jointly-written article was written by Biblical scholars Joel Baden, professor of Hebrew Bible at Yale University and Candida Moss, professor of New Testament and early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame.

Cary Summers, president of the Museum of the Bible, spoke with Daily Beast reporters exclusively on Monday and stated that a federal investigation was ongoing and that “There was a shipment and it had improper paperwork—incomplete paperwork that was attached to it.” 

In 2008, the U.S. imposed an emergency import restriction on any archaeological and ethnological materials defined as "cultural property of Iraq. This import restriction was imposed to protect items of archaeological, historical, cultural, rare scientific or religious importance at risk of trafficking as the result of unrest in the country.  This import restriction continues additional restrictions already in effect continuously since August 6, 1990.

The selling of ancient Iraqi artifacts is absolutely prohibited under UN resolution 1483 from 2003, as you may find in paragraph 7 of the link here. 

A source familiar with the Hobby Lobby investigation told reporters at the Daily Beast that the cuneiform tablets were described as samples of “hand-crafted clay tiles” on their FedEx shipping label and were valued at under $300.   If true, this seems less like an simple oversight on the part of the shipper and more like direct falsification, not just of these objects' value but of their historic significance and origin as its doubtful that cuneiform tablets will be showing up in the Wall Decor section of Hobby Lobby anytime soon. 

American imports of art, collections and collectors' pieces, and antiques from Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria increased sharply between 2011 and 2013. Is a pattern developing?  Is this how heritage artifacts from source countries plagued by conflict are being folded into legitimate museum and private collections?

David Trobisch has stated that the Green Collection has one of the largest cuneiform tablet collections in the country.

In selecting antiquities, individual collectors and museums have choices. They can choose to focus exclusively on the historic, aesthetic and economic benefits of their acquisitions in formulating their collections or they can add ethical and moral criteria to their purchase considerations and not purchase conflict or blood antiquities.

By Lynda Albertson 

Excerpt from ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums
©2013


September 30, 2015

Highlights from “Conflict Antiquities: Forging a Public/Private Response to Save Iraq and Syria's Endangered Cultural Heritage”


In an awareness raising initiative to highlight the ongoing upheaval and destruction of cultural heritage in Iraq and Syria, the Metropolitan Museum and the US State Department jointly held an event yesterday titled, “Conflict Antiquities: Forging a Public/Private Response to Save Iraq and Syria's Endangered Cultural Heritage” in New York City.

Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken highlighted one example of a looted and not destroyed antiquity that is known to have passed through the hands of ISIS operatives.  The object, a 9th century B.C.E: ivory plaque, decorated with a procession of Assyrian officials and foreign tributaries was excavated at the ancient Assyrian capital of Nimrud by a team from the British Museum in 1989.  The plaque was recovered by U.S. special operations forces during a tactical raid that killed a key ISIS commander, identified by his nom de guerre Abu Sayyaf, last May in al-Omar in eastern Syria.

This ancient object is known to have been looted from the Mosul Museum (Iraq) and underscores what many following illicit antiquities trafficking have already concluded, that the Islamic State not only destroys objects it find religiously offensive or useful for its public propaganda but also has been known to plunder antiquities for some level of financial gain or as war booty when opportunity knocks. 

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Andrew Keller added that "newly declassified evidence" seized when American Delta Force commandos took out Abu Sayyaf and twelve other Islamic State of Iraq and Syria fighters included receipts collecting taxes from looters as well as written edicts that threatened punishment for those caught looting antiquities without formal Islamic State permission. 

While some of this information appears to be newly declassified, conflict antiquities archaeologist Dr. Sam Hardy released a lengthy analysis of the heritage hoard seized during the Abu Sayyaf raid when details of the cache were released by the State Department in July 2015.  That analysis has been available for two months and can be reviewed here.  

Robert A. Hartung, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Diplomatic Affairs announced a new initiative within their "Rewards for Justice" program,  an incentive established by the 1984 Act to Combat International Terrorism, Public Law 98-533.   The program is administered by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security and announced yesterday that they are set to 


Hartuung emphasized that the Rewards for Justice incentive is not a buyback program, but reward for help in identifying and catching smugglers linked to ISIS.  At present this reward appears to be restricted solely to the Islamic State and does not appear to be not available for information leading to the disruption of the sale of illicit antiquities by other armed groups or other non political traffickers profiting from the absence of controls during the ongoing war.

Another panel discussion highlighted the work of the US government-sponsored organisation currently tasked with ground-based observations of cultural heritage incidents in Syria and Iraq. Michael Danti, from the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR), who’s group has just been allocated a second tranche of federal funding totalling $900,000 in an extension to their previous $600,000 one-year cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of State spoke on his organization's work continues to document the current condition of cultural heritage sites in Syria and portions of Iraq.   While useful in its own right, ASOR's federally-funded initiative often draws upon the research and analysis of other conflict antiquities researchers, some of whom consistently work below the funding radar, within this sector of expertise on a voluntary basis and without the benefit of funding from governmental or academic bodies. 

Wolfgang Weber, ‎Head of Global Regulatory Policy at eBay, spoke about the due diligence of the web-based auction powerhouse that handles 800 million online auctions a year.  Sales of illicit objects online are a known and ongoing problem where illicit antiquities are concerned and attempts to prevent such illegal activity via large auction sites such as eBay are a work in progress.  Judging from their ability to monitor other areas of illicit activity, many believe that eBay's efforts in policing their online marketplace have largely been ineffective or fallen short of desirable outcomes. 

Weber's presence on the panel underscores that the internet is being harnessed to provide valuable tools for traffickers, who exploit weaknesses in online marketplaces, making the illicit trafficking of cultural property faster, easier and ever more difficult for authorities to fight.

During his presentation Weber stated that his team's task is to identify illegal items & remove them from the online marketplace but he added that eBay does not have the capacity to check individual items, only their sales conduit.  This means that the auction site's contribution to stopping illegal sales is limited to preventing sellers from listing items of concern or in some cases removing listings before a sale can be made.  

eBay relies heavily on key word searches and external reports by individuals who inform the company when an object has been identified which is of dubious origin or legality.  Private citizens and researchers connected to small NGOs are hampered from stopping the online trafficking of items as they can only flag up what’s known to be illegal or looks that way to eBay. Those monitoring the online auction site cannot procure hard evidence by buying the actual contraband as they would then be in violation of national and international laws and treaties themselves. 

Lev Kubiak, ICE Assistant Director for International Operations spoke on US Immigration and Customs Enforcements roll in cultural property, art and antiquities investigations highlighting their 
"Operation Mummy’s Curse,” a five-year investigation carried out by ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) that targeting an international criminal network that illegally smuggled and imported more than 7,000 cultural items from around the world and resulted in at least two convictions. 

Sharon Cott, Senior Vice President, Secretary & General Counsel at the Metropolitan Museum, spoke in support of AAMD member museums who apply ethical principles to safeguard against purchasing blood antiquities and to the roll of museums should play as safe havens for objects during times of unrest. 

Dr. Markus Hilgert, a professor of ancient Near-Eastern studies and Director of the Vorderasiatisches Museum im Pergamonmuseum - Staatliche Museen zu Berlin spoke about his newly funded trans-disciplinary research project on the illicit trade, ILLICID, with partners in customs and law enforcement, the German Federal Foreign Office, Federal Commissioner for Culture and Media, German Commission for UNESCO and ICOM. The ILLICID project is financed via the German Federal Ministry for Education.

Hilgert stressed the need to identify and develop criminological methods for in-depth analysis of illicit trafficking, stressing the need for more information on object types, turnover, networks, and various modus operandi.  He further underscored the need to adequately assess the various dimensions of money laundering and terrorist financing that may be being derived from heritage trafficking.  In conclusion he emphasized that trafficking is the number one threat to the world's cultural patrimony - more than destruction. 

ARCA would like to thank all those who were present in the room and who live-tweeted the conference and took detailed notes allowing those of us in Europe to listen in, even if it was way past our bedtimes.

A list of those folks who lent a hand are:
@cwjones89
@vagabondslog
@keridouglas
@AWOL_tweets
@mokersel
@adreinhard
@mokersel
@HeritageAtState
@ChasingAphrodit
@metmuseum
@jstpwalsh
@LarryCoben
@InventorLogan

There was a lot of ground covered and more still that needs to be covered.

by Lynda Albertson

February 18, 2015

Sir, how much is that (2nd Century B.C.E.) Vase in the Window? Part II

Antiquities traffickers continue to make headlines in multiple countries in 2015.  In this three part series, ARCA explores current art trafficking cases to underscore that the ownership and commodification of the past continues. 

Part II - The Dodgy Dealer and Conflict Antiquities - Buyer Beware

Tuesday, investigative reporter Simon Cox's "File on Four" program on BBC Radio 4 featured a radio segment titled "Islamic State: Looting for Terror".  A synopsis of the episode on antiquities looting in its written form, and with accompanying video excerpts, is available on the BBC News Magazine website here. The full audio of the radio program is available in MP3 format here.

The program illustrated, with present-day examples, how illicit antiquities trafficking  sells cultural heritage objects that are often poorly protected, difficult to identify, and easy to transport across international boundaries, especially during conflicts due to the flow of refugees.  The radio broadcast featured interviews with both London and Middle East experts, one of whom, Dr. David Gill of Looting Matters, validated that conflict antiquities do make their way into the UK art market and from there on to collectors.

But rather than recount the program's content, which on its own deftly underscores that the illicit market in conflict antiquities is alive and producing devastating results for source countries like Syria and Iraq, this article focuses on the buyer's side of the market and explores the attitudes of complacent dealers who too often treat the furor over smuggled antiquities as a bothersome nuisance that interferes with their ability to make  living.

In the world of crime, morals follow money.

Not wanting to enter into the ongoing oppositional debate with antiquities dealers or collectors, I decided to spend some time listening to the folks involved in the trade as they talked with one another about collecting and the collecting market. Too often heritage protection advocates get pigeon-holed as the noisy minority of academic archaeologists who oppose acquisition of unprovenanced ancient art.  My goal was to be anything but noisy, and to merely observe.

Publicly, pro-collector blogs frequently argue that nationalistic retention laws for antiquities neither preserve sites nor objects, nor do they benefit the larger interests of civilization and mankind.  But what do collectors and dealers have to say to one another about their own responsibility to preserve site?  And how do they truly feel when it comes to merchandise that enters the art market as a result of the illicit antiquities trade?

To get a better understanding I started by reading through the websites of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA) and the Association of Dealers & Collectors of Ancient & Ethnographic Arts.  Both the IADAA and the ADCAEA's mission statements advocate for the responsible and legal trading and collecting of antiquities. 

  • promote awareness and understanding of ancient and ethnographic art collecting through open communication with members and the public.
  • support the preservation and protection of cultural objects around the globe through responsible and legal trading and collecting.
  • educate and inform members on policies and laws that affects the international movement of cultural property.
  • advocate and support the establishment of clear, transparent and fair laws governing acquisition, ownership and commercial disposal of artifacts.
  • promote a Code of Conduct that underscores the professionalism of our members through responsible and ethical practice.
  • advocate the establishment of a comprehensive digital database register within the USA to secure appropriate title to art and artifacts for museums, dealers and collectors and restore legitimacy and value to objects registered.
Good objectives to strive for even if I found their December 29, 2014 blog post a lot more threatened and defensive as this opening paragraph shows.
As a result, several American museums have been coerced into giving objects to foreign governments that have claimed them as their rightful property purely for political purposes.  American collectors and art dealers as well have been forced to repeatedly defend themselves against all manner of claims by foreign governments for countless pieces of art work that have been dispersed around the globe.  Increasingly, Americans have had to defend themselves in costly litigation against foreign governments who use American lawyers, US Customs, and Homeland Security, and the Press to pursue spurious claims against US citizens.  At the same time these foreign nations do very little to protect their archaeological resources or stem the tide of illicit excavation on their own soil.  The old paradigm of “antiquities collecting equals destruction of cultural heritage and therefore must be abolished” is naive at best and slanderous at worst.
To understand the reason for this defensiveness among dealers and collectors I thought it worthwhile to listen to them chat amongst themselves in non-official capacities, perhaps learning about what drew them individually to the field rather than assume I understood how dealers and collectors truly feel by looking at their safety-in-numbers mission statements.  Wording for large public statements often makes for adversarial lines in the heritage protection sand.   

I joined several collecting groups in hopes of better understanding "their side of the story".  Clearly heritage protection professionals and dealers and collectors should be able to solve their differences if if there is goodwill on all sides.

But is there?

One of the first comments I came across discussed Muslim militants threatening ancient sites in Iraq and Syria.  One dealer staunchly stated over email...
The lesson is clear here. The best overall strategy to preserve mankind's shared global heritage is NOT to keep it all concentrated in the original source countries, but rather to widely distribute it around the world.
"Widely distributed" having the added benefit of also generating revenue for dealers and a source of joy for the buyer.  Each doing their part to salvage history away from the ongoing conflict. But was their viewpoint a noble one?   The rest of the email is listed below for the reader to decide...

Hopefully they will loot and sell them first rather than destroying them! But then we dealers would probably be charged with funding terrorism by our wonderful politically correct governments.
Further in the same conversational thread another mid-level dealer replied...
I have bought many ! objects of ' fetishes and gods' from Moslem Runners who have no problems selling these pieces; nor do I have in buying then.
apparently referring to the secular nature of some Muslim looters and smugglers who don't necessarily subscribe to the religious ideology of Isis, Isil or Da'ish when selecting antiquities for trafficking.

Perhaps in jest, or perhaps by way of introduction, another dealer wrote a How-to email on how to smuggle antiquities from Egypt saying...
 Hello to you all.

I would like to share with you my thought regarding how a piece you end up buying in auction like Bonhams or Christie's is actually looted.

- A poor farmer in Egypt finds it while plowing his land.

- He is scared to report it considering the hell he will go through, confiscating his land , ending up in jail , family dying from hunger etc... so he sells it to the local dealer in the village

- Local dealer sells it to the middle man in Cairo

- Middle man sells it to the big boss in Cairo.

- Big boss smuggles it to an Arabian gulf country, e.g. Qatar, Dubai (UAE), Bahrain

- Piece then shipped to a stupid European country , e.g. Portugal.  sorry, stupid meaning = level of customs awareness

- Then an invoice is made from a dealer in another European country e.g. Belgium, to this Portuguese dealer for the piece, of course nobody checks, it's an EU transaction, no tax , no customs.

- Based on the Belgian invoice, the Portuguese dealer make an export license to U.S.A from ministry of culture, piece origin from Belgium, this totally cancels the fact that the piece came from the Arabian gulf.

- Item received in the U.S, no trouble, legal ,

- Item sold in auction  + old European collection, legally entered to U.S , customs paid.
Do ethics even enter into collector-dealer purchase discussions?  For some yes, but too frequently no.

In listening to collectors' observations I found that not all were black sheep.  While some over-sharing group members aired their profession's dirty laundry, others called for restraint in purchasing and recommended that dealers and collectors stick to objects with verifiable collecting histories.  Some dealers and collectors reached out to one another to help determine if a piece had value, was original or knew someone in the business who might have information on the object's past in the antiquities marketplace.   At face value their motive appears to be less driven by ethics and more by the desire to preserve value for money on object purchases and investments. Objects with sketchy pasts are still money spent in purchase but make for risky investments.

Some dealers and collectors outed dealers known to have sold fakes or to have had problems with previous law violations like Mousa Khouli who also goes by the name Morris.  Dealers reminded new members of the group that Khouli had sold through  Windsor Antiquities as well as Palmyra Heritage, and through eBay as palmyraheritagemorriskhouligallery.

Several group members pointed out pieces that they found problematic on Khouli current auction events such as this listing for an Ancient Roman Egyptian Painted stucco Mummy Mask c.1st century AD and this Palmyran Limestone Head Ca. 3rd-5th century A.D.  I myself notice he trades in Syrian coins, ancient glass and mummy cartonnage.

Khouli is not new to the art and antiquities profession.  He moved to New York City with his family from Syria in 1992 and opened a gallery specializing in the ancient world in New York City in 1995. His father had a gallery in Damascus for 35 Years, and he learned the business from his grandfather who also worked in the art and antiquities collecting field.  When prosecuted in 2012 he was already a seasoned and substantial seller in the New York market.

But Khouli eventually pled guilty to smuggling ancient Egyptian treasure and to making a false statement to law enforcement authorities.  He was sentenced to six months home confinement, one year probation, and 200 hours of community service, along with a criminal monetary assessment of $200.  Today he continues in the business he knows, the buying and selling of history. 

The response by his peers for his misdeeds?....   
Everyone's at it, he just happened to get caught.
Interestingly, like with the How To Smuggle recipe the earlier dealer described, Khouli's smuggled objects were imported via Dubai.

Maybe the one thing heritage workers and the collection community should agree on is that the "white" (clean) art collecting trade is dirtied when black market antiquities are circulated via suspect dealers and purchasers. Singular source countries, acting alone, cannot tackle all of the triangulations between looter, smuggler, dealer and buyer without the active support of neighboring countries, law enforcement and the art collecting community themselves.

Yesterday's Cambodia, is today's Syria and tomorrow's Ukraine, as the grey market of antiquities shifts from one vulnerable nation or one conflict zone to another.

by Lynda Albertson

November 23, 2014

Essay: Do you think art collectors might be tempted to buy Syrian antiquities (looted or otherwise?). We say resoundingly, yes.

By Lynda Albertson

On November 22, 2014 the Syrian Arabic Republic - Ministry of Culture's Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM) published two striking photos of three confiscated artifacts removed from the Taibul Tomb in the Southeast Necropolis at Palmrya.  Taibul (TYBL in his native Palmyrene) was a rich Palmyran merchant who commissioned a tomb for himself and his family in 113 CE in a necropolis five kilometres southeast of Palmyra.

The tombs in this ancient graveyard are subterranean.  To the untrained eye, the zone where Taibul's tomb and others are located originally looked like just another tract of stony Syrian desert. But with the combined work of Syrian and Japanese archaeologists who documented the site between 2001 and 2005 we have learned much about Palmyrene funerary practices, couches, sepulchres and loculi.   

Unfortunately, the finely-sculpted figures of
men and women where of interest not only to archaeologists and historians documenting the site but more recently also to tomb raiders. But were these thieves savvy enough to understand what will sell on the antiquities art market or were they simply opportunists, taking advantage of what they could easily access?  

Are funerary busts of interest to collectors?

And are they willing to pay large sums for them?

A quick search on the internet would lead one to believe so.  In a few clicks I found one relief listed on eBay through Aphrodite Ancient Art LLC with little identifying where the object originated from.  The auction page states only that it was part of an “Early American private collection, 1960’s”.  eBay lists this one for a steal.  Its auction price is an eye-popping $13,500. 
Aphrodite eBay Auction Item

In 2011 an uglier Syrian limestone relief also went on auction.  Listed as Lot 69 in Sotheby’s June 8, 2011 auction, the object's provenance was listed as Sarkis and Haddad, Beirut, early 1970s.  Despite its humbler appearance, it still managed to find a buyer and fetched a modest sum of $8,125.

Going back to the Aphrodite website, I found a second, Syrian funerary relief of two brothers.  This one listed the object as coming from Palmyra with a provenance of having been purchased from Sotheby's New York in June 2011.  Buy it while it still lasts and collectors can get two funerary figures for a whopping $22,500.

Given the fragility of the Palmyra tombs and the many heritage sites damaged, at risk, or already looted as a result of the Syrian conflict, I wonder if it would be wiser if the experts shifted their focus away from statistical analysis to something more concrete.  Instead of trying to quantifying how much money ISIS/ISIL may, or may not, be making off of blood antiquities perhaps we should be stressing that more attention and funding is needed to trace who the individual traffickers are, both upstream and down.  If we do, Syria's cultural heritage might have a less grim outcome.   As for journalists in search of catchy headlines; vandalized tombs make just as dramatic a statement as vague value estimates and they can be substantiated with actual witnesses and imagery confirmation.

Aphrodite Website Auction Item
Given the gargantuan task of protecting antiquities in the midst of a civil war,  I think its pretty remarkable that DGAM had photo images matched so quickly to identify these pieces and to inform the public of their findings.  And while I am not prepared to go out on a brittle limb and assume any of these reliefs on sale or recently sold have dirty provenance, I do think their presence in the fine arts marketplace makes a pretty strong case that Syrian heritage objects are of interest to collectors.  The fact that they garner hefty sums further underscores that we have only seen the tip of the Syrian antiquities iceberg. 

Petty subsistence looters may fence objects for paltry amounts, middlemen fighters may take their cut, and end traffickers may make a bundle selling to auction houses and galleries, but all this useless faffing about of trying to put an unquantifiable dollar sign on how much its making which opponent in this war is doing nothing to stop the flow whatsoever.

In the end percentages are less relevant than simply understanding that collection-worthy pieces like these seen at auction or those stripped from Palmrya will surely find their way into the world's antiquities art market.  Maybe not immediately, but with the lack of market transparency and self policing, surely in the future.

Traffickers are patient.  So are collectors.

February 12, 2010

Blood Antiques

Recently, a variety of news sources carried stories that made reference to an article in the Fall 2009 issue of the Journal of Art Crime by Judith Harris, which discussed the many connections between looted archaeological artifacts and terror. For a both more in-depth study and visual supplement be sure to check out "Blood Antiques," a Belgian documentary by Peter Brems and Wim Van den Eynde featured on Linktv.org.

From LinkTV,
"The European art trade, synonymous with wealth and glamour, has always involved a degree of stolen and smuggled art. Now, Afghanistan’s rich cultural heritage is financing terrorism and the Taliban. From Afghans scrabbling in the sand for treasures, to the dazzling show rooms of unscrupulous dealers and private collectors – ‘Blood Antiques’ uncovers one of the most outrageous illegal trades since blood diamonds."