Showing posts with label antiquities looting. Show all posts
Showing posts with label antiquities looting. Show all posts

March 19, 2017

One well documented theft = three separate seizures - Egypt's successes in curbing the sale of a stolen ancient objects

Image Credit: Antiquities Repatriation Sector of the Ministry of Antiquities, Egypt
Four years after being stolen and then trafficked illegally out of Egypt, a painted wooden New Kingdom mummy mask has been returned to its country of origin this week, after turning up at a French antiquities auction in December 2016.

The mask is just one of 96 artifacts from the Pharaonic, Greek and Roman periods, discovered during foreign archaeological missions which were stolen in 2013, during a break-in of the Museum of Antiquities storage facilities at Elephantine. An archaeologically rich island, Elephantine is the largest island in the Aswan archipelago in Northern Nubia, Egypt. The island lies opposite central Aswan, just north of the First Cataract on the Nile.  


Given that the professionally excavated objects were formal discoveries by authorized archaeological missions, versus illicitly excavated, the stolen antiquities, were well documented.   This gave the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities the necessary evidentiary documentation to list the ancient objects as possibly in circulation with national and international law enforcement authorities.  

One Well Documented Theft = Numerous Separate Seizures

Monitoring the antiquities market closely, Egypt has succeeded in stopping the sale of several stolen objects from this single theft over the last few years. In this most recent incident, once the mummy mask had been spotted, Shabaan Abdel Gawad, the general supervisor of the Antiquities Repatriation Sector of the Ministry of Antiquities, was able to request that the mask's auction be halted, demanding the object's return through formal channels via the Egyptian embassy in Paris.

Image Credit: Antiquities Repatriation
Sector of the Ministry of Antiquities, Egypt
Earlier, on January 29, 2017, the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities announced that a deputy from the British Museum had handed over a 16.5 centimeter tall, carved wooden Ushabti statue with gold inscriptions.  This ancient object, stolen during the same break-in, had been relinquished by a British citizen. The funerary object had been excavated by Spanish archaeologists at the site of the Qubbet al-Hawa Necropolis in Aswan, and dates to ancient Egypt’s Middle Kingdom period (circa 1990 BCE – 1775 BCE). 

Ushabti statues, sometimes called simply "Shabtis" by dealers in the antiquities trade, are very popular with ancient art collectors. These small wooden and stone figurines were once placed in Egyptian tombs, intended to function as the servants of the deceased during their afterlife.

Image Credit: Antiquities Repatriation
Sector of the Ministry of Antiquities, Egypt
On June 14, 2015 a 2,300 year old Ancient Egyptian ivory statuette was identified up for sale at the Aton Gallery of Egyptian Art in Oberhausen, Germany. Stolen during the same 2013 robbery, this 11.5 cm tall, statuette of a man carrying a gazelle over his shoulders, was unearthed in 2008 by a Swiss archaeological mission that had been carrying out excavations at the Khnum Temple at Elephantine.  Once identified at the auction house, the Egyptian Antiquities Ministry reported the auction to INTERPOL.

The statuette is believed to date back to Egypt's Late Period, from 664-332 BCE which ended with the conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great and the establishment of the Ptolemaic Dynasty.

According to a screenshot grabbed by ARCA on June 14, 2015 (and since removed from the dealer's website), the web page depicted the object's upcoming auction and included a reserve price of $5050.  At the time of the auction, Aton Gallery had listed the provenance for the ivory figurine as being part of a German private collection, formed in the 60s and 70s, before being part of an earlier American Collection formed in the 1930s.  Misleading provenance, in this case either by the auction house or the consignor, underscores how easy stolen and looted antiquities can be made to appear part of older more established collections, when in fact they are not. 
ARCA Screenshot capture: June 14, 2015
Piece by priceless piece, Egypt is taking collectors and dealers to task.  And while 93 of the 96 stolen items are still out there, three recoveries are better than none.  

France Desmarais of ICOM’s International Observatory on Illicit Traffic in Cultural Goods has stated 

"Stolen items are not necessarily lost forever because many can be recovered and will inevitably resurface at some point in time, whether in the art market or while crossing borders."

But Egypt’s police force and governmental heritage authorities can only do so much in their protection of the country’s thousands of archaeological sites, museums and historical objects.  This vulnerability is something looters are all too aware of. 

Playing on the limited resources of source countries, especially those suffering from political turmoil, looters, middlemen and traffickers can wait years before floating highly valued pieces onto the licit art market.   In the interim, those dealing in black market sales sustain themselves financially on the proceeds derived from a small but steady trickle of smaller finds, often dribbled out to lesser known dealers and galleries. As the art market is adapting to online sales, some items are not being sold through brick and mortar shops any longer, instead, objects are passing through simple one on one, online or social media transactions. 

But while objects from well documented thefts like the one on the Elephantine storeroom eventually do resurface, the process of identify-seizure-forfeiture, on an object by object basis is a painfully slow, and only moderately successful, road to repatriation.  

To staunch the flow of high demand antiquities for vulnerable source countries collectors must begin to hold themselves more accountable.  Knowing what we know today, collectors should curb their consumerist tendencies of wanting what they want when purchasing ancient art without documentation of legal export. More often than not, antiquities without sound paperwork have a higher probability of having been stolen or looted. 

It's time for collectors to take themselves to task, taking stock in the origins of their past purchases and voluntarily relinquishing items bought in the past without concern for legality, when they have have contributed to the theft and looting of historic sites around the globe.

Doing the Right Thing

If you are a collector and you suspect an antiquity you have purchased may have been looted or stolen, here are some things you can do.


If your object is on one of these lists, consult with your local museum's curatorial staff. 

Lastly, Interpol, National Law Enforcement, UNESCO, ICOM and organizations like ARCA maintain contacts with experts familiar with looted and stolen art.   If you have doubts about a purchase and don't know who to contact or need help with the ancient remains in a specific country, please write to us here

By:  Lynda Albertson

February 21, 2017

Police Seizure: 250 artifacts recovered by police near Rome


250+ archaeological finds, some dating as far back as the late Republican period were recovered by the Finanzieri del Comando Provinciale di Roma as part of the "Lanuvium" initiative which was coordinated by the Public Prosecutor of Velletri, in the province of Lazio, near Rome.

Focusing on two women, who reportedly had established an elegant private museum in their upscale home, a variety of objects, many of them epigraphic remains such as brick stamps and marble inscriptions.  The pieces are believed to have come from illicit excavations in and around the Lanuvio archaeological site, a sanctuary dedicated to the worship of "Juno Sospita". 

The Soprintendenza ai Beni Archeologici del Lazio are presently involved in the full documentation of the objects seized. by law enforcement authorities. Unfortunately, artifacts ripped from their context by looters often lose much of their meaning. 

Illicit excavations not only destroy a site’s stratigraphic layers that help define an archaeological site’s chronology alongside unmoveable architectural elements. They also remove ancient objects from the context which gives the object its own cultural meaning.  

As a result of the seizure, three persons are now under investigation and will likely be charged with unlawful possession of archaeological material belonging to the country of Italy. 


January 4, 2017

Wednesday, January 04, 2017 - , 1 comment

Update on three Iranian heritage workers shot and seriously injured by antiquities smugglers in the Kurdistan province of Iran

Image Credit: ISNA News
NOTE:  This article has been updated January 5, 2017 as more information has been reported.

In an interview with Iran news reporters the Director General of Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization of the Kurdistan province in Iran, Seyed Mohsen Alavi, has stated that a primary suspect in the attack on three cultural heritage protection unit officers has been arrested.  He further indicated that following the culprit's interrogation, other arrests were expected to follow shortly. Those believed to have been involved in the incident have now been formally indicted by Iranian authorities.

The suspects in this case were conducting illegal excavations in a remote area searching for ancient objects.

Image Credit: ISNA News
According to Azad News Agency, on Monday, January 3, 2017 two site workers and one heritage bureau activist from the town of Baneh were ambushed by the looters shortly after they arrived at a location in rural Baneh County along Iran's western border with Iraq. Responding to citizen reports of illicit excavations near the village of Mirabad and Shrg·h, the heritage personnel came across tools used by the looters to carry out illegal digging, as well as a large excavated looting pit, estimated to be approximately twelve meters deep.

Image Credit IRIB News

Image Credit IRIB News
Seven armed men reportedly opened fire on the heritage workers using both pistols and shotguns and in the onslaught the three workers were struck by projectiles and a vehicle was also overturned and damaged.

Image Credit: Khabarduni News
One veteran 42 year old cultural heritage protection unit officer remains in the hospital having sustained a penetrating wound to the head. Another suffered shotgun pellet wounds to his neck and left shoulder. Another is reported to have suffered a seriously hand injury.

Image Credit: ISNA News
The area where the looters were working lies along the border between the Kurdistan province in Iran and Eastern Iraq, a lengthy remote area which stretches 230 kilometres along the territorial divide between the two countries. Because the city of Baneh sits inside this scarcely populated zone, it has long struggled with underdevelopment and high unemployment, both key contributors to the zone's reputation as an area where illegal transportation, goods smuggling and illicit drugs pass on their way to or from porous country borders which are difficult to secure.

Kulbar — a colloquial word for the region's border couriers or load carriers, smuggle untaxed and prohibited goods between Iraq and Iran frequently via the Kurdistan province. Small time smugglers move food, electronics, or other hard-to-find necessities.  Bolder traffickers move riskier merchandise: satellite dishes, illegal drugs, cigarettes and alcohol.  Sometimes violent confrontations occur between the kulbar and Border authorities but the payoff to traffickers and rampant poverty create a recipe for continued illicit activity, making it easy enough for heritage looters to use the already well-established smuggling conduit to transport looted antiquities out of the region.

Speaking to Iranian journalists during a press briefing the Director General of Cultural Heritage in Baneh in Kurdistan said that while violent incidents such as the one that occurred this week are unusual, he worries that there is an increased likelihood for events such as this to reoccur. Stating his concerns he said "Unfortunately, illegal excavations and smuggling have increased everywhere in the country and also [our] protection unit in the city does not have weapons. The poor empty-handed are sent out to these kind of locations more frequently and chances are, something like this could be repeated."

By: Lynda Albertson

December 3, 2016

Geneva authorities report the confiscation of 9 artifacts from Palmyra, Syria, Yemen and Libya

Swiss authorities have confiscated nine archaeological objects originating from Libya, Syria, and Yemen. Through document records obtained by Swiss tribunal it has been determined that the objects were shipped to Switzerland between 2009 and 2010 and were stored at the Ports Francs et Entrepôts de Genève in their 6-story La Praille facility, located in a sprawling grey industrial building on the corner of a busy junction in southwest Geneva.

Back in September ARCA posted its own concerns about Ports Francs et Entrepôts de Genève SA attempt to reduce their risks surrounding the trade in stolen antiquities, both in terms of money-laundering and as a potential support for arms traffickers or terrorist groups. At that time, the free port was set to make changes that may or may not have been prompted to address this seizure, but still, in our opinion fall short of the thoroughly addressing the problem of storing looted artworks.

Originally set to be implemented this past summer, the new internal policy was implimented on September 19, 2016 and requires that anyone wanting to store ancient artifacts at the sprawling facility will have to undergo checks by an independent firm KPMG.  This group is tasked with investigating the validity of requests and the precise origins of any antiquities before the object is approved for transport to the complex for subsequent storage.  It should be noted that KPMG is a powerhouse accounting audit firm and in no way has had prior experience with this type of art-related transport auditing.

Back in October French finance minister Michel Sapin's, speaking on terrorism funding criticized security at Switzerland's free ports saying "there is a weak link, which is the existence of free ports."    And while it should be clearly noted that the recently publicized seizures in the tax-free zone predate both the Syrian and the Yemen conflict, ARCA agrees that controls by art provenance experts and not accounting experts would be a better means of addressing the continued problems seen at not just Ports Francs et Entrepôts de Genève but freeports as holding facilities for art world wide. 

The antiquities were discovered during an target-based Federal Customs Administration audit of the free port in April 2013 in a space rented by a private individual.  Presently that individual has not been publically identified.

In January 2015 Swiss authorities, through the Federal Office of Culture (FOC) confirmed the authenticity of the ancient objects, and have stated that some of the seized objects were shipped to the facility from Qatar (Items 1-6) and the United Arab Emirates (Item 7).  Swiss authorities have also stated that evidence gathered during the investigation has led the prosecutor to conclude that the goods seized were from looting and as a result, confiscation was ordered.  In addition a criminal case has been opened by the Tribune de Genève in March 2016 to be followed by Prosecutor Gregory Orci.

North-West Façade
Musée d'Art et d'Histoire
While the objects await permanent release to their countries of origin Swiss prosecutors have transferred the objects for safekeeping from Ports Francs et Entrepôts de Genève to the Musée d'Art et d'Histoire located at Rue Charles-Galland 2, 1206 Genève where they will be placed on public display.  

The objects have been identified by the Swiss authorities as follows with the following designations and in the order as they appear in official records.

Item 1 - A head of Aphrodite, origin Hellenic North Africa, Libya

Image: Geneva Public Prosecutor
Item 2 - A priest wearing his miter head, origin Palmyra, Syria

Image: Geneva Public Prosecutor
Item 3 - A circular table with decoration of ovals and head of ibex, origin southern Arabian Peninsula, Yemen

Image: Geneva Public Prosecutor
Item 4 - A praying [sic] origin southern Arabian Peninsula, Yemen


Image: Geneva Public Prosecutor
Item 5 - anthropomorphic stele, origin southern Arabian Peninsula, Yemen


Item 6 - anthropomorphic stele, origin southern Arabian Peninsula, Yemen
Image: Geneva Public Prosecutor
Item 7 - A quâtabanite registration stele, origin southern Arabian Peninsula, Yemen


Image: Geneva Public Prosecutor 
Item 8 - Funerary bas-relief from Palmyra, Syria

Image: Geneva Public Prosecutor
Item 9 - Funerary bas-relief from Palmyra, Syria
Image: Geneva Public Prosecutor

No longer simply Italian and Greek objects raising concern at the free ports, the Geneva port authority also recently relinquished a Nile Delta stele to Egyptian authorities following a two-year investigation after an inventory control by Swiss Federal Customs at the Ports Francs et Entrepôts de Genève SA facility at the Geneva airport.   The stele was identified as suspicious using the ICOM red list for Egypt and as a result was held pending authentication and then reported to Swiss prosecution for its irregularities. Criminal proceedings were conducted by the Attorney Claudio Mascotto and the object was returned in November of this year.

By: Lynda Albertson 

October 19, 2016

Abu Dhabi Police arrest three for illicit marketing and circulation of the antiquities


Photo Credit : Gulf news
goo.gl/VQq1Xa
Via the the state-run WAM news agency Brigadier General Dr. Rashid Bu Rasheed, Director of the Criminal Investigation Division of the Abu Dhabi Police has confirmed that law enforcement officials have foiled an attempt to smuggle illicit objects into the Gulf country. 


The nationalities of the smugglers has not been released. For the present, the objects will remain with the UAE authorities for security and pending further review.  No further information has been released at present as to if these objects originate from current areas of conflict. 

Stolen artefacts largely move from poor course countries to rich market countries.  Smugglers often buy antiquities from looters within their network before selling them on knowingly and unknowingly to dealers and collectors 

The antiquities markets in Gulf States such as the UAE are known transit and terminus points for illicit antiquities.  Fakes and forgeries of coins and artworks also pop up frequently via well known dealers operating within the country. 

One example of a previous illicit antiquities seizure in the AUE is outlined on Paul Barford's 2010 report excerpted here:



A sampling of similar incidents of importing or exporting of illicit antiquities via the UAE can be found below.

https://www.ice.gov/news/releases/ice-makes-arrests-and-seizes-cultural-artifacts-stolen-egypt

http://www.uaeinteract.com/docs/Dubai_Customs_foil_a_major_attempt_to_smuggle_antiquities/33117.htm

http://thetrialwarrior.blogspot.it/2011/08/prosecutors-reveal-further-details-in.html





October 10, 2016

Carabinieri del Comando Tutela Patrimonio Culturale to return stolen archaeological finds to Mexico

Mexican Embassy in Rome, Italy
In a ceremony to be held October 11, 2016 at 13:00 at the Mexican Embassy in Rome, Brigadier General Fabrizio Parrulli, Italy's new Commander of the Carabinieri for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, in a ceremony to repatriate illicitly trafficked heritage will return twelve archaeological objects to the Mexican authorities via a handover to the country's ambassador to Italy, Signore Juan Jose Guerra Abud, KBE. 

Having succeeding General Mariano Mossa as the head of Italy's specialised Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale this year, Brigadier General Fabrizio Parrulli is not stranger to the nuance of international policing.  With degrees European Studies as well as International Law and Diplomacy the new general has commanded a team of Iraqi police as part of the NATO mission in Iraq and served as the commander of a training department for police in Baghdad.  Closer to home,he has served within the Carabinieri TPC overseeing the its NCO School in Florence.

The twelve pre-Columbian Mesoamerican pieces to be repatriated are from the Mesoamerican Preclassical period (2500 BCC - 200 CE) and the Classical Period (200-1000 CE).  The objects seized included a clay head of votive use portraying a character of high rank, another votive bust with disk-shaped earrings and another sculpture with nose ornamentation.

The antiquities were seized by law enforcement between 2013 and 2016 as the result of three separate investigations coordinated by the prosecutor of the Republic of Palmi (RC), Pesaro and Ascoli Piceno.  Several of the objects were seized during a customs cross-check of two travellers arriving from Mexico via the Reggio di Calabria "Tito Minniti" Airport, also known as the Aeroporto dello Stretto, in southern Calabria.  In a second instance an object had been marketed via "a popular online sales site" where the seller listed the city where the object was currently located and a cellular where he could be reached for further questions.  To verify the authenticity of the objects being sold the Carabinieri TPC worked with experts from the Museo Nazionale Preistorico Etnografico Luigi Pigorini in Rome as objects of this type are often reproductions.


Mexico is a quintessential example of an antiquities-rich “source nation”.  It's a country with an abundance of unprotected archaeological sites that all too often yields artifacts with a commercial value on the art market.  It is also a nation, that despite making great strides, still lacks the economic resources necessary to adequately protect much of the remote cultural patrimony found within its borders. 

In 2013, art market trend watcher Emma Crichton-Miller noted that Paris had superseded New York as "the most dynamic centre for pre-Columbian art globally, attracting collectors mainly from Europe and America, but also Latin America, the Middle East and Asia." This might explain why traffickers importing illicit goods, appreciate Italy's strategic placement on the European mainland. 

The theft and illegal trade of Mexican pre-Columbian antiquities is fed by high demand within the art market, which in turn creates strong incentives for poverty-driven digging.   Individuals and teams of looters dig indiscriminately where opportunity avails, without concern for the objects lost archaeological context.  They then collect and smuggle valuable finds to market countries by whatever channels are available to them.  

What legal instruments are there in Mexico to protect cultural heritage? 

Mexico's heritage law, written January 19, 1934 (Art. 27, Political Constitution of the Republic of Mexico; Law on the Protection and Conservation of Monuments. Typical Towns and Places of National Beauty), established national ownership of all immovable archaeological material in the public domain, and precluded the export of all works of art or antiquities without an export license.  

This law was further refined in 1972 creating new archaeological zones and extending national ownership of the cultural patrimony to private collections and absolutely forbidding the export of pre-Columbian antiquities. The only exception to this strict mandate is in the case of presidentially-approved gifts and exchanges to foreign scientific institutions and foreign governments for diplomacy purposes. 

It is also illegal in Mexico to excavate archaeological sites, even on private land, without the permission of the Mexican government's National Institute of Anthropology and History. 

October 8, 2016

From the Ground, Up: The Looting of Vưườn Chuối within the Vietnamese and Southeast Asian Antiquities Trade

Vưườn Chuối (Hoai Duc, Hanoi) -
Photo: Lâm Thị Mỹ Dung


Authors:

Huffer, Damien
Chappell, Duncan
Dzung, Lâm Thị Mỹ
Nguyễn, Hoàng Long

Abstract

The exact nature of the illicit antiquities trade from ground to market in Southeast Asia remains poorly known outside of Thailand and Cambodia, where most research has been focused. This paper helps to address this imbalance by documenting and contextualizing looting activities at the Bronze and Iron Age site of Vưườn Chuối, located within urban Hanoi. A brief excavation history is provided so as to place recent looting into archaeological context. The methods used to document the recent and on-going looting observed are then discussed, followed by the nature of the current threat to Vưườn Chuối and a summation of what little is known about the Vietnamese antiquities trade in general and its relationship to regional antiquities trafficking. Finally, we discuss the current regulatory landscape in terms of constitutional, ownership, penal and international law, difficulties with enforcement and prosecution, and what course of action is needed not only to protect Vưườn Chuối and similar sites in and around Hanoi, but also to continue to raise public awareness of the archaeological repercussions of the trade itself.

Article available in:

Public Archaeology 
Volume 14 2015 - Issue 4
Pages 224-239 | Published online: 07 Oct 2016

For full journal subscriptions please see the publisher ordering sites here.

September 23, 2016

“Decorative Panels for the Garden” Since when has garden furniture been the code word for antiquities?




The cargo was shipped labeled as “pierres d'ornement pour décoration de jardin” (ornamental stonework for garden decoration) and arrived on March 10, 2016 in transit from Lebanon to Thailand via Paris Charles de Gaulle/Roissy Airport (French: Aéroport de Paris-Charles-de-Gaulle, IATA: CDG, ICAO: LFPG).  Attracting the attention of customs authorities, the crate was inspected based on data originating from the ICS (Import Control System) that came into force in the European Union at the end of 2010.

The ICS is an eSecurity Declaration Management System used for the importation of goods into the European Union customs territory. Designed in part to deal with the massive volume of cargo that passes through the EU annually, the new regulation requires that a certain number of data elements be sent to the EU customs office at the first port of entry, by a specific deadline, in this case, at least 4 hours before the long haul transiting cargo was scheduled to arrive at the first airport in the territory.  

In most cases this type of prearrival information is transmitted by the sender before the shipment has even left the country of export. Upon receipt of the Entry Summary Declaration message, what is known as the cargo's ENS, the customs office at the port of arrival can then elect to order a shipment pulled where it will undergo a security-related risk analysis.  

When the ENS arrived for the innocuously labeled garden decorations, the identifying data supplied, plus the shipping crates weight (108 kilos), and the cargo's shipper and recipient raised questions.   To be thorough, customs authorities earmarked the container for a cross-check.  

While examining its contents, search officers did not find ordinary household decorations mass produced for a garden, instead they found what appeared to be two original bas-reliefs intricately dotted with grape clusters and birds with no export license from any country of origin.  Called in for consultation, the Department of Antiquities at the Musée du Louvre believe that the carved stone reliefs are authentic and likely dating from between the 14th and the 16th century CE, possibly originating from the middle Euphrates valley, (North Western Syria). *NOTE: This assessment still needs further scientific and validating research.  


Some Import-Export information to chew on...

✈ The Charles de Gaulle, Roissy airport, north of Paris, is the first customs border of France. 

✈ Some 65 million passengers transit through CdG annually. 

✈ In terms of air cargo, just over 50 million metric tonnes of freight are shipped around the globe annually.  

✈ In 2015 a whopping 1,890,829 of those tonnes passed through CdG making it the number two European airport for freight, after Frankfurt.

✈ Art and antiquities valued above a certain threshold exported or imported from one country to another require export licenses

✈ More than 31,500 scheduled international flights depart Lebanon annually, destined for 54 airports in 41 countries.

✈ While legal instruments in place vary from country to country, cultural goods that reach or exceed specific age or monetary value threshold require an individual licence for export, whether on a permanent or temporary loan basis.

✈ Both national ownership laws and export controls are put in place as a restraint on the free circulation of artworks through the market and are promulgated in response to the sale of objects or dismemberment of ancient monuments and sites simply to satisfy market demand.

✈ Ancient artifacts, taken in violation of national ownership laws are stolen property in market nations, as well as in the country of origin.

✈ This is not the first time that smugglers have intentionally mislabeled an illicit ancient object as a contemporary outdoor accoutrement to circumvent the legal instruments. In a case involving the now imfamous Subhash Kapoor, a shipper was expecting the arrival of a shipment containing seven crates manifested as a single “Marble Garden Table Set.”  The consulate believed these crates contained stolen Indian antiquities. This merchandise was allegedly imported by Kapoor.

Kind of makes you wonder how many antiquities/garden sets there are floating around the world over our heads smuggled in or out under the radar.


Some examples of French customs seizures involving cultural objects (though by all means not an inclusive list)

🏺 In March 2006, more than 6,000 artefacts looted from archaeological sites in Niger and seized by French customs officials in 2004 and 2005 were given back to their country of origin.

🏺 In January 2007 customs seized nine suspicious-looking packages marked "hand­crafted objects" from Bamako,  the capital of Mali.  Inside they found more than 650 ancient objects, including ax heads, bracelets, flint stones and stone rings, excavated from a Neolithic settlement in Ménaka (Eastern Mali)

🏺 In 2008, French customs officials seized crates arriving from Togo stamped "craftwork" which contained artefacts. ICOM approached a specialist to appraise the objects, one of which was revealed through thermoluminescence testing to be a genuine Nok statuette from Nigeria. 

🏺 In January 2013 France returned five ancient terracotta sculptures to Nigeria smuggled out of the country in 2010.

🏺 In 2014 France returned 250 Egyptian antiquities dating back to the Roman dominion over Egypt (circa 30-641 BCE) and the Coptic Christian era were seized from the luggage of travellers arriving in Paris in March and November of 2010.

If these are the launderers, then who are the buyers?  

Buying and selling ancient art requires a prudent purchaser, one willing to research the provenience (country of origin) and provenance (history of ownership) of an object they intend to own and to evaluate the available information in the context of the current legal framework.  

When details of an object's past are omitted, by the seller, by an antiquities dealer or by an auction house, either intentionally or accidentally, and a buyer knowingly turns a blind eye, they are just as complicit in facilitating the illicit market and the destruction of cultural heritage.  In the 21st century churning trafficked antiquities through the legitimate marketplace, buying and selling intentionally mislabeled pretty things while still conveniently clinging to the negligent “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach is inexcusable. 

By Lynda Albertson

April 21, 2016

The Carabinieri TPC Sequester Stash of Archaeological Finds For Sale on the Internet

Italy's Syracuse branch of its specialised art squad, the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale, has seized a cache of antiquities including rings, fibulas (brooches) earrings, pottery, oil lamps and more than 100 silver and bronze coins dating to the Greek and Roman period. 
Photo Credit - Carabinieri TPC - Ragusa Division

Tracking cCommerce online collector auctions, the Carabinieri's data researching officers notified authorities in Sicily and a search warrant was executed at the home of a 48 year old restaurant worker in Ragusa.  At the residence, in addition to the illegally excavated antiquities, officers found a small amount of hashish and marijuana, a metal detector and tools used for illegal clandestine excavations. Law enforcement authorities are now trying to determine which archaeological sites in Sicily may have been the likely find spots for the objects.

While it is not illegal to purchase a metal detector in Italy, there are strict rules on where and what you can metal detect.  There are also many historical and protected archaeological areas where metal detecting is forbidden altogether.  These include the antiquities rich zones of Calabria, Lazio, Tuscany, Val D'Aosta and not surprisingly, Sicily.  

It should be noted that Italian Law 1939:1089 on the Custody of Artistic and Historic Objects published in the Official Gazette no. 184 on August 8, 1939 affords protection to all objects of historical or archaeological value, including coins. All objects discovered by excavation or fortuitously are the property of the Italian state.  They also must be reported to the heritage superintendency immediately.  Rewards may be offered by the state but only within a certain limited percentage of the finds' combined worth.  

The destruction of archaeological layers and the removal of objects by Nighthawkers, those who illegally search and remove artefacts using a metal detector, affects everyone.  Reckless treasuring hunting,  destroys our archaeological and historic understanding of a site, which in turn destroys the information and knowledge of our shared heritage, which should be available to all.

By.  Lynda Albertson

April 20, 2016

Highlights from the US Hearing Entitled “Preventing Cultural Genocide: Countering the Plunder and Sale of Priceless Cultural Antiquities by ISIS”

On April 19, 2016 the US House Financial Services Committee Task Force on Terrorism Financing held a one panel, two hour and fifteen minute long hearing entitled “Preventing Cultural Genocide: Countering the Plunder and Sale of Priceless Cultural Antiquities by ISIS” in the Rayburn House Office Building.

A 16 page introductory memorandum and witness biography can be found on the US House of Representatives Financial Services website here. 

During this hearing, testimony was given by: (in alphabetical, not speaking order)

• Dr. Amr Al-Azm, PhD, Associate Professor, Shawnee State University
• Mr. Robert M. Edsel, Chairman of the Board, Monuments Men Foundation
• Mr. Yaya J. Fanusie, Director of Analysis, Center on Sanctions and Illicit Finance,
Foundation for Defense of Democracies
• Dr. Patty Gerstenblith, PhD, Distinguished Professor, DePaul University College of
Law
• Mr. Lawrence Shindell, Chairman, ARIS Title Insurance Corporation

A video recording of the entire hearing can be viewed below.



During the hearing witnesses described the unabated and systematic process of cultural heritage destruction in Iraq and Syria and antiquities looting in the region which has grown steadily given the regions' instability.  

Secretary of U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield, Patty Gerstenblith, speaking in a personal capacity and for the Blue Shield organisation she represents, testified before the Financial Services Committee’s Task Force saying, in part

“Unfortunately the looting of archaeological sites is big business, often carried out on an organised industrialised scale and in response to market demand.  And many of these sites are unknown before they are looted.  

As cultural objects move from source, transit and destination countries different legal systems create obstacles to interdiction of objects and prosecution of crimes and they allow the laundering of title to these artefacts.  

The United States is the single largest market for art in the world, with forty-three percent of market share.  Because of the availability of the charitable tax deduction, the ability to import works of art and artefacts without payment of tariffs and because of artistic preference, the United States is the largest ultimate market for antiquities, particularly those from the Mediterranean and the Middle East."

A transcript of Dr. Gerstenblith's testimony can be read in its entirety here.

Key imagery from Dr. Amr Al-Azm's testimony can be viewed here.

A transcript of Mr. Robert Edsel's testimony can be read in its entirety here.

A transcript of Mr. Yaya Fanusie's testimony can be read in its entirety here.

A transcript of Dr. Lawrence Shindell's testimony can be read in its entirety here.


While key takeaways from this hearing conversations are distilled here ARCA strongly encourages its blog readership to take the time to listen to the entire hearing and examine the legal instruments evidence Dr. Gerstenblith underscores as being necessary.  

She reminds us that looting of archaeological sites imposes incalculable costs on society by destroying the original contexts of archaeological artifacts thereby impairing our ability to reconstruct and understand the historical record.  Her testimony reminds us that looters loot because they are motivated by profit and that the looting and illicit trafficking phenomenon we are seeing in Iraq, Syria and Libya are responses to the basic economic principle of supply and demand.   

The statements of all of the speakers remind us that while the market in antiquities has existed for centuries, its role in facilitating criminal enterprise on the scale that we are seeing in the Middle East is a terrifying one.  

Maamoun Abdelkarim of Syria’s DGAM inspecting the condition of delivered
artefacts transported from various parts of Syria to Damascus on Sept. 21, 2015.

Antiquities collectors must be educated to understand that the purchase of objects emerging on the open market without legitimate collection histories (i.e. provenance) are the likely product of conflict-based looting of archaeological sites, and contribute significantly to the destruction of the world's cultural heritage.  Buyers need to be made to realise that their buying power and their, until now, unharnessed demand for archaeological material, absent transparent ethical acquisition documentation, incentivises those facing economic hardship to participate in, or tacitly condone,  the looting that we are observing in countries of conflict.  

If collectors in market nations such as the United States and London refuse to buy undocumented artifacts, then the incentives for looting historic sites, which by proxy funds criminal enterprise and terrorism, diminish. 

Armed conflicts have long been called the “perfect storm” within which large-scale looting can take place, but not without collectors willing to look the other way. 

By Lynda Albertson, ARCA CEO


February 22, 2016


SAT 27 FEB, 2016

Symposium on Art and Terrorism
The Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House, Strand, London

Saturday 27 February 2016 - 10:00 am - 6:30 pm
Registration from 09.30
Kenneth Clark Lecture Theatre,
The Courtauld Institute of Art,
Somerset House, Strand, London, WC2R 0RN

Organised by

Professor Julian Stallabrass: The Courtauld Institute of Art
Dr Anna Marazuela Kim: The Courtauld Institute of Art
Dr Noah Charney: ARCA, Association for Research into Crimes against Art
Lynda Albertson: ARCA, Association for Research into Crimes against Art



Bringing together scholars of the image, art and violence with experts on counter-terrorism and conflict antiquities, the Courtauld Institute of Art and the Association for Research into Crimes against Art (ARCA) present a day-long symposium on the subject of Art and Terrorism. The collaborative event aims to provide a forum for engaging issues of urgent and wider public concern.

Two strands of inquiry inform our discussion. One concerns histories and theories of war and images, including terrorist use of visual images and media, such as YouTube videos and the documented destruction of cultural monuments. The other takes a criminological approach, examining the use and abuse of art and antiquities by terrorist groups, including ISIS, al-Qaeda, the Taliban and the IRA.

The event inaugurates a new initiative, Courtauld Debates, that brings the significance of art history to a wider audience through public facing dialogue. It also highlights a new collection of essays, Art Crime: Terrorists, Tomb Raiders, Forgers and Thieves (Palgrave), which features numerous expert speakers on this important and timely subject.

The day's talks will include the UK's first screening of الزلزلة (The Quake), a musical and video collaboration between Oscar-winning composer Ennio Morricone and filmmaker Matteo Barzini and produced by Feel Film Production in collaboration with UNESCO. 

The film narrates the tragedies of the Syrian war creating an analogy between the destruction of human life and cultural heritage. Images of prewar Syria alternate with the devastation of minarets, mosques, temples, towns and human life in a modern day war opera through the syncopated notes of Morricone's musical themes.

Programmme

09.30 – 10.00 Registration

10.00 – 10.15 Welcome – Alixe Bovey (The Courtauld Institute of Art)

Session I
Chair: Julian Stallabrass (The Courtauld institute of Art)

10.15 – 10.30 Noah Charney (Founder, ARCA): A Very Brief History of Art and Terrorism.

10.30 – 11.00 Jennifer Good (Senior Lecturer in History and Theory of Documentary Photography, London College of Communication): Totalising Narratives of 9/11.

11.00 – 11.30 Anna Marazuela Kim (Andrew W. Mellon Post-Doctoral Fellow, The Courtauld Institute of Art): The New Image Wars.

11:30 – 12.00 Francesco Rutelli (Former Italian Minister of Culture and Mayor of Rome, Chairman Associazione Incontro di Civiltà, President Cultural Heritage Rescue Prize): The Return of Iconoclasm: Ideology and Destruction by ISIS as a Challenge for Modern Culture

12.00 – 13.00 Lunch (provided for the speakers/chairs only)

Session II
Chair: Noah Charney (ARCA)

13.00 – 13.30 Mike Giglio (Investigative Journalist and War Correspondent):
Antiquities Looting and Terrorism: a View from the Field.

13.30 – 14.00 Michael Will (Manager, Europol’s Organized Crime Networks Group):
Europol and European Involvement in the Fight Against Cultural Goods Trafficking.

14.00 – 14.30 Sam Hardy (Adjunct Faculty, Graduate School, American University of Rome):
‘Blood clings to these things’: Uncovering the trade in conflict antiquities.

14.30 – 14.45 Film screening: “The Quake” الزلزلة Directed by Matteo Barzini
Musical score by Ennio Morricone, Produced by Feel Film Production

15.00 – 15.30 Discussion

15.30 – 16.00 Tea/coffee break (provided)

Session III
Chair: Anna Marazuela Kim (The Courtauld Institute of Art)

16.00 – 16.30 Julian Stallabrass (Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art, The Courtauld Institute of Art): Representing the Iraqi Resistance.

16.30 – 17.00 Edmund Clark (Award-winning photographer) Negative Publicity: Artefacts of Extraordinary Rendition

17.00 – 17.30 Neville Bolt (Senior Teaching Fellow, Department of War Studies, King’s College, London): The Violent Image in Non-linear Conflict.

17.30 – 17.45 Giovanni Boccardi (Chief of the Emergency Preparedness and Response Unit of UNESCO’s Culture Sector): UNESCO’s Global Action to Protect Cultural heritage Under Threat.

17.45 – 18.30 Plenary Discussion

18.30 Reception

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. 





November 6, 2015

The Good the Bad and the Ugly in Crowdfunding: How Two Museum Projects Measure Up Differently.... Featuring The Tesla Science Center and the Museum of the Bible

Abdul Halim Attar with daughter, Reem
Image Credit: Joshua Abu al-Homsi/Twitter
Most people who have spent any time surfing the web in the last few years have heard about crowdfunding.   Newspapers are full of feel-good stories of individuals raising thousands of dollars for uplifting causes.  Some, like last summer's campaign, which raised $130,000 for the family of Abdul Halim Attar -- a displaced pen-selling Palestinian-Syrian refugee from Yarmouk in Syria, help struggling families when life throws them a curve ball.  Others give inventors much-needed start-up capital to carry a drawing board concept through to market fruition. 

Donation-based crowdfunding is pretty self-explanatory. Almost anyone can post a cause or an idea on a relevant crowdfunding platform and ask for donations to help make something happen.  Sometimes, but not always, those who donate receive a special perk in exchange.  In the case of start-up companies, project backers sometimes receive beta-release versions of the product under development; an incentive that works well for cash-strapped technology-entrepreneurs. 

With the onset of internet based crowd funding its now easier and relatively hassle-free for anyone to ask a large number of people each for a small amount of money.  That in turn has made crowdsourcing an appealing tool for museum organizations.  Instead of writing a lengthy 100 page grant proposal or fronting the money for expensive charity dinners in the hopes of attracting wealthy philanthropists, art and museum administrators and fundraisers can now turn to crowdsourcing as a means of generating much-needed cash to carry out missions and projects. 

The Power of the Crowd

Turning to the internet, flamboyant cartoonist Matthew Inman launched a crowd-funding campaign via the Oatmeal to buy the property of Nikola Tesla’s former laboratory, located in Shoreham, New York.  His campaign needed $850,000 and raised $1.37 million in six days with the help of 33,000 Tesla-loving backers.   Further assisted by a grant approved by the state of New York for an additional $850,000 the fundraisers were able purchase the inventor's lab property, yet still needed more capital to accomplish their goal of building the museum in honor of the savvy engineer.

Not to be discouraged, Inman publicly asked Canadian-American business magnate Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla Motors, to donate one million dollars in a Tweet.  Accepting the gauntlet thrown down, Musk accepted and challenged Tesla-loving Oatmeal followers to again dig into their own pockets to raise the difference needed in order to make the museum a reality. 

Using the Indiegogo platform Inman started a Buy a Brick, Build a Museum campaign spurring internet-savvy donors to come up with the additional funds.  The result?  He raised a whopping $518,566 towards the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe, a sum more than two and a half times his original goal.

The power and value of crowdfunding, as these examples clearly illustrate, has changed the speed as well as the way individuals charitable contributions can be accessed.  

Organizations now have the ability to quickly and easily raise necessary funding in safe, secure crowdsourcing portals and at nominal costs to the fundraiser.   Some organizations have even gone so far as to build professional grade crowdfunding platforms into their own websites circumventing the overhead fees charged by most crowdsourcing portals.   

Anyone and virtually any cause, anywhere, can now tap into this type of funding.  No project is too big or too small.

But while giving small dollops of money to help someone who is less fortunate or to a good cause, like the development of a new museum, is commendable, people should carefully consider who they are funding and make sure that they donate responsibly to reputable persons and organizations so as not to fall prey to fraudulent or irresponsible fundraisers.


Just because a group is a bona fide charity doesn't always mean that a contributors' funding will be used wisely or in line with the donor's wishes or ethics. 

On October 7, 2015 the Museum of the Bible started its own in-house “One Million Names, Be One in a Million” campaign asking one million donors from around the globe to declare their belief that the bible should be celebrated by contributing to the funding of the yet-to-open Washington DC museum. With a crowdfunding campaign embedded into the Museum's own website with a matching video campaign on Youtube donors are being asked to contribute $20, $50, or $100 to the museum "where needed most."  

The Museum of the Bible's fundraising webpage states that donations "will become part of your personal legacy … a perpetual testimony of your commitment to this great Book." In appreciation, the fundraiser declares that the museum will permanently memorialize the donor's name on a wall in the museum, which is scheduled to open to the public in 2017. 

What is missing on the fundraising page though is a statement on just how the Museum of the Bible's "where needed most" funds might be utilized.   Will they go towards building the museum itself? Will they fund the employment of highly trained museum staff so that the MoB can avoid any more unpleasant surprises when importing antiquities without proper import documentation for the museum's collection?  Or will "One Million Names" donors contribute to sponsoring "hundreds of Christian student leaders to Israel" as part of the Covenant Journey project Tim Smith, the Museum of the Bible's Chief Development Officer, writes about here.    

Smith's blog post says, in part, that (the)

"Museum of the Bible is a founding sponsor of Covenant Journey because it furthers the Museum’s goal of inviting all people from across the world, from all backgrounds and religious affiliations, to engage with the Bible."    

What exactly does being a founding sponsorship entail?  

If one looks a little closely, Covenant Journey seems to be established and run through Liberty Counsel or at least the website URL registration and contact telephone numbers are the same for both groups.  Liberty Counsel is managed by Mathew Staver and the business in Florida is listed as "a legal organization that specializes in evangelical Christian litigation and public relations."  In contrast, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has listed Liberty Counsel as an anti-LGBT and hate group.  How does the Museum of the Bible relationship with the founders of Liberty Counsel support Covenant Journey's own mission?

In the last three years, the Museum of the Bible is reported to have received more than $230 million in tax-deductible donations.

The ethics of charitable giving in a time of crowdsourcing

The NonProfit Times, a business publication for nonprofit management has reported that crowdfunding has hit $5 billion US dollars annually, with close to a third of that funding going towards potentially worthy charitable causes.  According to their estimate, that's a substantial $1.5 billion per year, much of it managed through major portals like Causes, Kickstarter, Razoo and Indiegogo. 

As crowdsourcing gains traction the benefits of reaching individuals via the internet as a tool for funding in art and heritage projects are easy to see.  But before hitting the donate button, contributors should be sure that the organization they intend to contribute to actually does the things that it tells its supporters it does in its donation solicitation. 

By adopting a “truth in advertising” approach, potential donors who love science and modern alternating current electricity or religion and the bible should not be afraid to demand a breakout of how their donations will being put to use.  Charitable organizations have administrative costs, but those who subscribe to the basic tenet of ethical fundraising and accountability should be willing to provide their donors with a breakdown of how much of their donation will be used for the specific cause advertised and how much will be used for other ancillary things. 

Before giving even small sums, donors should start out with a healthy dose of skepticism and look for signs that the organization dedicates its funding in ways that are consistent not just with the museum's fiscal needs but with the donor's own ascribed ethics.  If a donation request comes from a group claiming to care about heritage or the world’s cultural history, a first and simple step might be to spend some time searching the internet to see what the group represents itself to be and who it is affiliated with.  

If your search turns up concerns or questionable ties, and if there is a chorus of people saying there are problems with the organization that need to be addressed then it's probably best for the donor to give his or her $10 to someone they know is truly needy and not just harnessing the potential of the web.