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

December 25, 2016

How long does it take looted antiquities from the middle east to resurface? A heck of a long time.

When people query ARCA about why the world is not seeing more looted Syrian, Iraqi, Yemeni, and  Libyan antiquities on the market, given the continued unrest and looting in these countries, I usually respond resolutely with "it's just too soon."  I underscore this because I know there is a lot at stake, and I know that governments and the media want to be able to draw clearer lines between the world's current terrorist groups, organised crime and heritage looting.

Art can disappear and not resurface for decades after it was stolen and most art crime scholars will agree that the most valuable pieces are kept off the licit market by savvy traffickers and generally don't resurface until the world's interest is diverted, sometimes decades later.  

Case in point, this gazelle-skinned Kuwaiti manuscript.  Time to market? 26 years. 


Acting upon accurate information received by Iraqi security forces concerning a dealer of ancient manuscripts believed to be plying his clandestine trade in the Babil Governorate (also known as the Babylon Province ), law enforcement authorities formed a crime-fighting task force in the region south of Baghdad, hoping to catch the art criminal in the act. 

Under the command of Colonel Adham al-Salihi, director of the anticrime team in Babylon and in coordination with the National Security Directorate and the region's Economic Crimes Department, authorities subsequently arrested three people this week, both buyers and sellers, at a cafe in the city of Hilla.  Each has been accused of furthering the smuggling of antiquities.  In their possession was a historic manuscript, complete with the National Museum of Kuwait's seal on its reverse side.  Kuwaiti news reports state the object was stolen by a former soldier in the Iraqi army during the 1990 invasion of Kuwait, also known as the Iraq–Kuwait War.


Kuwaiti museum authorities are still looking for more than 450 objects looted during the conflict between Saddam Hussein’s Ba'athist government and the Emirate of Kuwait, objects that went missing during the seven-month-long Iraqi occupation of Kuwait. Many of these antiquities are feared lost forever, most likely sold illicitly, like the one recovered this week, when sold to private individuals in post-Saddam Iraq and elsewhere in the nearby Arab world. 

Rarely, do pieces like these turn up early on the Western powerhouse art markets, though in 1996, a 16th century emerald, ruby and turquoise-encrusted Moghul dagger was spotted on the cover of a Sotheby's auction catalogue.  With supporting identification documents from the Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah (DAI) at Kuwait National Museum (KNM), the country's museum authorities were able to stop the sale and the dagger was eventually reliquished to the museum's collection. 

Pending completion of the investigation, the parchment seized this week will remain with the Iraqi authorities for safekeeping and further identification before being eventually returned to the Kuwait museum.

By: Lynda Albertson

December 20, 2016

Recovered: 9 Illicit antiquities from Puglia, Italy

Nine archaeological objects from clandestine excavations conducted in northern Puglia have been recovered as the result of two separate investigations led by Italy’s art crime police, the Carabinieri del Comando Tutela Patrimonio Culturale and are now on temporary display at the Museo dei Vescovi di Canosa in Puglia.

Among the objects recovered are two Apulian polychrome craters dating back to IV-III century. BCE, which had been illegally exported to the United States and placed up for auction. 


Among the other finds are two Kylix wine goblets, a bell crater with floral and geometric decorations and a Roman-era aphora found during a routine check in an antique store. At the end of the exhibition the objects will be turned over to the archaeological superintendency responsible for the areas of Barletta, Andria, Trani and Foggia.

The artifacts recovered are pictured below. 





December 6, 2016

Recovered: Two stolen Roman leaden coffins, one recovered from an auction house in Cirencester, UK

Looted from a 2004 excavation at a building site off Napier Road in Colchester, UK, two Roman-era decorative leaden coffin lids have been recovered by PC Andy Long, the Wildlife, Heritage and Environmental Crime Officer for the Essex Police. 

According to UK news website The Daily Gazette one coffin had been placed up for sale at an unnamed auction house in Cirencester.  The second was found at the house of the consignor, 140 km away near Melton Mowbray.  The news website states that the would-be seller, who reportedly has dementia, told law enforcement authorities that he was unaware of the fact that the two coffins had been stolen from an archaeological site.  Quoting a statement made by PC Long the gazette wrote “He bought them from a digger driver who was working on a building site in Colchester in 2004. He was told they had been offered to the museum and they didn’t want them.”

A quick search of auction houses in Cirencester, who happen to be selling Roman coffin lids, revealed just one: Dominic Winter Auctions.  The item once listed on their October 06, 2016 auction has had all of its details deleted,  leaving only a simple notice saying "withdrawn".

A quick check using Google's cache gives us the missing auction listing whose photos match the image appearing in the Gazette with Officer Long and Emma Holloway of the Colchester Archaeological Trust.



Interestingly the provenance details supplied by the auction house (see screen shot below) differ considerably from the details given by the consignor in the news article.  The Lot details at the Dominic Winter Auction states:

Roman Coffin. A museum quality Roman lead tapering coffin lid, probably 4th century, wet sand-cast lead with cast decoration comprising bead and reel borders dividing into three sections, central section with scroll pattern, end sections divided with saltire cross of bead and reel, three of the quadrants filled with scallop shell (pecten), the last with a circle, sometime broken into three sections, 119 x 34 cm (47 x 13 ins) Rare. Purchased by the present owner from metal detectorist Alan Pickering who discovered the piece together with another similar in Suffolk in the 1970s. In 1977 Toller recorded just 243 Roman lead coffins in Britain and only a handful more have been discovered since. (1)


So who misled who?  Did the consignor give the law enforcement officer one story in a forgetful state and the auction house another?  A find spot in Suffolk around 1970 is quite a contrast to 2004 Colchester when the objects had been left in situ ahead of the redevelopment of the site. 

Or was Alan Pickering nighthawking? 

According to visitor guides produced by the friends of the Colchester Archaeological Trust 



As Hugh Toller noted in his 1977 catalog of lead coffins of Roman Britain that the distribution of lead coffins was likely reflective less of the location of lead resources of a given geographical area, than it was of the ‘wealth in Roman Britain’.  According to this researcher, the majority of the 243 lead coffin pieces found leading up to the writing of his book were found in graves located in south-eastern and southern Britain, with nearly 55% of these coming from cemeteries directly associated with major urban centers, particularly Colchester, Dorchester, London, and York.

To more closely identify the find spot of the object once on auction, let's compare the decorative details on the leaden lid pictured in the Gazette's tweet with Officer Long and Emma Holloway of the Colchester Archaeological Trust.  This object's relief illustrates beading layed out in a "X" motif alongside a scallop shell.
The design work matches similarly with artwork appearing on another leaden coffin excavated from the historically rich St. Mary's area in Colchester. 

Colchester garrison site excavated by Colchester Archaeological Trust
Given the closely matching decoration of the seized objects to those previously studied by archaeologists, it is possible to assume that both objects may have been designed by the same craftsman.  But to know for sure, one would need to try and date both objects.   To do so with accuracy would require a find spot and an osteoarchaeologist familiar with bones and human remains who could help us build a picture of the person once buried inside the ancient coffin.

But then again, we have no idea where the human remains once held in the looted coffins were dumped.  When archaeologists argue about the importance of context and why looting is detrimental this is a powerful example.

Was it really worth £1000-£1500 to disturb someone's final resting place?

Sometimes in archaeology, the truth is found in our bones, and either out of respect for the dead or respect for the culture of Roman Britain, these coffins, and the persons once buried inside them, deserved more care and respect. 

________________________________

Toller, Hugh, 1977. Roman Lead Coffins and Ossuaria in Britain. BAR British Series 38. Oxford.

Russell, Benjamin, 2010. Sarcophagi in Roman Britain. In: Bollettino di Archeologia On Line, Vol. Special Volume.

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

May 28, 2015

Associated Press: Rome ceremony welcomes return of looted art recovered from museums and auction houses in the United States

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Nicole Winfield reported for The Associated Press on May 26th about the ceremony in Rome where American officials returned stolen art to Carabinieri officials (Rome: US returns 25 looted artifacts to Italy; Vases, frescoes):
The items returned Tuesday were either spontaneously turned over to U.S. authorities or seized by police after investigators noticed them in Christie's and Sotheby's auction catalogues, gallery listings, or as a result of customs searches, court cases or tips. One 17th-century Venetian cannon was seized by Boston border patrol agents as it was being smuggled from Egypt to the U.S. inside construction equipment, police said. 
U.S. Ambassador John Phillips joined Italy's carabinieri art police to show off the haul. It included Etruscan vases from the Toledo Museum of Art and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 17th-century botany books from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and a manuscript from the 1500s stolen from the Turin archdiocese in 1990 that ended up listed in the University of South Florida's special collections. 
Winfield reported police assertions that many of the objects had allegedly reached the market through  "Italian dealers Giacomo Medici and Gianfranco Becchina, both convicted of trafficking in plundered Roman artifacts." You may read more about Medici's activities in the 2007 nonfiction book, The Medici Conspiracy by Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini. (Watson spoke at ARCA's art crime conference in Amelia in 2011).

Here's a link to a 2012 ARCA Blog post by ARCA CEO Lynda Albertson on the 90 formerly looted objects displayed at the Villa Giulia in Rome that had also been returned (with an explanation about the history of the Etruscan black-figure kelps attributed to the Micali painter or his workshop).




Read more here: http://www.thenewstribune.com/2015/05/26/3809612_us-returns-25-looted-artifacts.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy

April 2, 2015

Honolulu Museum of Art and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agents Collaborate: A model for the Repatriation of Looted Art

By Lynda Albertson

In 2014 Homeland Security Special Agent Brenton Easter, part of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, contacted the Honolulu Museum of Art having determined that a 2000-year-old terra cotta rattle may have been looted and tied to the antiquities looting case against New York art dealer Subhash Kapoor.  

Kapoor has long been suspected of being
at the heart of an international antiquities smuggling operation which allegedly has sold illicit artifacts, either directly to or through donors, to major museums around the world.  The effect of this one trafficking network has had long-reaching impact to collections at some of the worlds greatest art museums including the Art Institute of Chicago, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art in Australia, the Norton Simon Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Toledo Museum of Art, and now the Honolulu Museum of Art.
Proactive in his approach Honolulu Museum of Art Director Stephan Jost and his staff worked to identify seven suspect works of art from within the Hawaiian museum’s collection.  Five objects were purchased directly from Subhash Kapoor, one was given to the museum by the dealer as a gift, and the seventh piece was sold by Kapoor to a private investor who subsequently donated it to the museum's collection. 
In a taped video interview on KITV which can be found here Director Stephan Jost is heard to say They don't belong here. They're stolen,"  "On one hand I hope they find a great home someplace. On the other hand, we've had them on view here almost 25 years. Lots of people loved them. The bottom line is they don't belong here."
This quote from a museum head stands in stark contrast to recent remarks made by James Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust, which operates the Getty Museum.  Cuno has made strong statements in both the New York Times and the quarterly magazine Foreign Affairs arguing that wholesale repatriation to source countries who cannot adequately protect their heritage is not in the best interest of the public as a whole.   In the FA article Cuno stated that "Cultural property should be recognized for what it is: the legacy of humankind and not of the modern nation-state, subject to the political agenda of its current ruling elite."

In the New York Times article Mr. Cuno was interviewed to have said “Calamity can happen anywhere, but it is unlikely to happen everywhere at the same time,” “I say ‘distribute the risk,’ not ‘concentrate it.’ ” when referring to recent issues in areas impacted by Da'ish and other profiteering looters in countries plagued by civil unrest and war.

Gary Vikan, former director of the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, told the New York Times journalists that given the extent of the conflicts in places like Syria, Iraq and northern Africa museums should take on a conservative stance on repatriation, stating  “I think this will put an end to the excess piety in favor of the repatriation model.”

While the ultimate repatriation of the objects photographed here, taken by AP photographer and journalist Jennifer Sinco Kelleherbeing packed up for their departure from the Honolulu Museum of Art, are not headed to countries currently embroiled in civil war, the contrast between each of these museum director's stance on their collections is something worth underscoreing.

Should museums ethically stand behind the return of looted antiquities in their collections on a county conflict case by case basis as Mr. Cuno and Mr. Vikan believe?  

In on Op/Ed piece this week Franklin Lamb, author of "Syria's Endangered Heritage, An international Responsibility to Protect and Preserve" has said he has not seen widespread support for the delay of repatriation in cases in Syria.  He has stated that  "Syrian officials and scholars interviewed [by] me overwhelming reject this point of view as does the Syrian public. Some have noted that using the destructive frenzy by Islamic State extremists to lobby against repatriation seeks to justify discredited practices and reeks of neo-colonialism."

February 26, 2015

Pompeii frescos found in garage in Southern California to be returned to Italy

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Editor

San Diego, California - The 10News Digital Team for ABC's 10 News reported yesterday "Stolen art recovered in Del Mar among objects being returned to Italian government". Three frescos and an asks from a private collector (the Allen E. Paulson Trust" were discovered by the U.S. Immigration and Custom's Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations in 2012: the current owner "forfeited the items" to the US government to be returned to the Italian government, Channel 10 reported. The items were likely illegally dug up in Pompeii and then sold to an American buyer, according to the US government.


June 30, 2014

His Highness Sisowath Ravivaddhana Monipong presented "The Duryodhana, the Balarama and the Bhima: a Cambodian perspective on the return of three pre-Angkorian sandstone statues from Prasat Chen at the Koh Ker temple complex" at ARCA's Sixth Annual Interdisciplinary Art Crime Conference

These photos were provided by M. Bertrand Porte, French
School for Asian Arts (EFEO), who is the head of the
restoration workshop of the National Museum in
Phnom Penh.
His Highness Sisowath Ravivaddhana Monipong of Cambodia presented "The Duryodhana, the Balarama and the Bhima: a Cambodian perspective on the return of three pre-Angkorian sandstone statues from Prasat Chen at the Koh Ker temple complex" at ARCA's Sixth Annual Interdisciplinary Art Crime Conference.

After apologizing for his accented English (he explained that he usually delivers his talks in French or Italian), he showed a video of archaeologist and cultural property lawyer Tess Davis who for the last decade has documented the plunder of Cambodia's ancient temples and worked for the return of the country's looted antiquities.

The Prince told the audience:
In Cambodia the preservation of the archeological patrimony has become one of the main topics discussed among members of the local intelligensia, but it is a recent phenomenon and it occurs mostly in western-influenced environments. The will of the Royal Governement is to educate in the most accessible way, to make people understand how sacred and holy these artcrafts are in our patrimony as Cambodians, and moreover, as survivors of a genocide, during which art and culture were cancelled. Sculpture schools, archeological trainings and preservation technique lessons are improving in quality and quantity all over the Kingdom. Little by little, more and more people are being educated to the duty to preserve and defend our cultural patrimony. Nevertheless, the wounds of war, poverty and the powerful groups sponsoring lootings and international art traffic are still prevailing and as long as there will be such a taste for Khmer Antiques, we will not be able to eradicate this sadly human lust for money.
Here's a link to Tess Davis' project at Trafficking Culture and another link to an article, "Temple Looting in Cambodia: Anatomy of a Statue Trafficking Network", co-written with Simon Mackenzie and published in the British Journal of Criminology.

His Highness Prince Sisowath Ravivaddhana Monipong, was born in Phnom Penh in 1970; has been living mainly in Italy, in Rome, since 1997. Educated in France, holds a Master of Arts in Contemporary British Literature; founded in 1992 the Institute of the Royal Household of Cambodia with Professor Jacques Népote (CNRS). Recognised specialist of the history and the culture of Cambodia, has published books and articles regarding the social structures of Cambodia and the genealogy of the Khmer Royal Family. After a career as sales officer in various multinational private companies such as IBM and ACCOR, has collaborated as a Programme Officer and Consultant for many years with the United Nations (WFP, FAO & IFAD) and private sector with interests in Southeast Asia; has been for many years representative of the Cambodian Ministry of Tourism for Italy. You may follow him at his blog here: "Ravivaddhana Sisowath: Never Complain, Never Explain".

April 17, 2014

Cyprus: Antiquities bust in Aphrodite’s city

Hoard found in Mr. X's house (Photo from Alithia Online)
by Christiana O'Connell-Schizas

On Thursday, February 27th, a 58-year old Cypriot man (Mr X) was arrested in Cyprus for illegal possession of ancient artefacts. The Paphos CID detectives, acting on a tip, raided Mr X’s house in Peyia where they found [1]: 58 amphorae, 20 golden artefacts and six bayonets from the Hellenistic period (323-31BC).  These items were confiscated, along with five firearms dating to the early 20th century, a Russian AK-47, a metal detector, coins, jewellery, gold chalices and €9.411 in cash. Mr. X could not provide convincing explanations as to the provenance of any of the objects.[2] The Department of Antiquities is inspecting the artefacts collected as evidence from Mr X's house in anticipation of his trial before the Paphos District Court.

Another view of Mr. X's stash
According to Cypriot Antiquity Law, any antiquity that remains undiscovered as of 1935 is the property of the Government. Antiquities accidentally discovered by unlicensed persons (whether found on their land or not) must be delivered to the mukhtar or other authorised persons, such as the police or a museum. To be in compliance for the law, Mr. X would have had to acquire the item before 1935 and have registered it with the Director of Antiquities by 1 January 1974.[3] In practice today, chance finders are often granted a license to possess (and sell) antiquities so long as the Department of Antiquities does not want them. Following Mr X's arrest on suspicion of illegal possession of antiquities, it is not clear whether or not he approached such authorities, whether he knew or reasonably believed the antiquities to be illicitly excavated, or whether he may have dug them up himself. If this is the case, the court will most likely confiscate the artefacts and deliver them to the Director of Antiquities. Mr X could face imprisonment up to three years and/or a fine.

Blank form to operate metal detector
Any person in possession of a metal detector must complete and submit a form to the Director of Antiquities (a blank copy of the said form can be found to the right.) If an individual is successful in obtaining this license, they can only metal-detect in areas specified by the Minister by a notice in the Republic’s Official Gazette. There have been no recent notices designating metal-detecting areas. If Mr X is found to not possess the requisite metal-detector license he could be found liable to imprisonment not exceeding three years and/or to a fine not exceeding €30.000.

In my discussion with an individual from Department of Antiquities, finding looted antiquities in Cypriot houses, particularly in more remote areas of the island, is very common. The day Mr. X was arrested, gun shots were heard in Peristerona.[4] Two days later, four men -- two with gunshots wounds -- were arrested and the incident was attributed to an attempt to settle a score between rival gangs. According to a person working in the Department of Antiquities, upon inspection of one of the men's houses, illicitly excavated antiquities were found. No newspaper published this event and I only came to know about it from a discussion with the unnamed individual working in the Department of Antiquities.[5]

Are all these busts related to one another? Is each individual smuggling their contraband abroad and selling it themselves on the grey market[6] or is there a 'Medici/Becchina' figure who is facilitating the sale of antiquities? In 2010, police caught a cartel of ten smugglers that were attempting to sell 4,000-year old urns, silver coins and figurines, worth an estimate of €11 million (approximately $15 million)[7]. Could their associates still be in 'business'? How large and how far does this ring of organised crime[8] extend in Cyprus?

[1] "Stolen Relics Arrest." InCyprus.com. Philenews. 28 Feb. 2014.
[3] There is a lot of criticism of this 1973 amendment to the Antiquities Law. The illicit trade in antiquities flourished in Cyprus in the 1960s. The Department of Antiquities tried to control it by imposing the six-month registration period (the amendment in June 1973 allowed collectors until 31 December 1973 to register their collections). This however had the adverse effect of intensifying looting and illicit trade - private collectors became greedy and wanted to acquire as many artefacts as possible so as they could register them by the deadline. More than 1250 new private collections appeared during this period, many of which purchased artefacts directly from looters. (See Hardy, Sam A. "Cypriot Antiquities Law on Looted Artefacts and Private Collections." Web log post. Human Rights Archaeology: Cultural Heritage in Conflict., 11 Jan. 2011.) 
[4] Psillides, Constantinos. "New Arrest in Case of Peristerona Shoot-out." 
[5] The Director of Antiquities (who is responsible for press releases) failed to respond to my telephone calls or e-mails in regards to this article. 
[6] Illicit antiquities are frequently sold on the open market. McKenzie argues that, because the trade in antiquities is legal, it turns the issue from black and white to an ambiguous shade of grey. See Mackenzie, Simon, 'The Market as Criminal and Criminals in the Market: Reducing Opportunities for Organised Crime in the International Antiquities Market'. 
[8] Vulnerabilities in the antiquities trade have presented the opportunity to make a profit through organised crime. Art. 2(a) of the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime 2000 defines organised crime as being: “[a] structured group of three or more persons... acting in concert with the aim of committing one or more serious crimes or offences... to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit.” The following subsections go on to define 'serious crimes' and 'structured group', but it is evident that the group arrested in 2010 fits the UN definition. Although there are various definitions for organised crime, the UN's definition is broader than say that of the FBI's to include crimes such as antiquities, which are not necessarily motivated by money; they also do not need to be in a formal organisation but must have committed criminal not civil offences.

References:


Cyprus Antiquities Law.

"Cyprus Antiquities Smuggling Ring Broken up." BBC News. BBC, 25 Jan. 2010.

Brief Telephone Discussion with an unnamed individual working in the Department of Antiquities. 

Hardy, Sam A. "Cypriot Antiquities Law on Looted Artefacts and Private Collections." Web log post. Human Rights Archaeology: Cultural Heritage in Conflict., 11 Jan. 2011. Web. 

Mackenzie, Simon. 2011: 'The Market as Criminal and Criminals in the Market: Reducing Opportunities for Organised Crime in the International Antiquities Market'. in: S. Manacorda and D. Chappell, (eds) Crime in the Art and Antiquities World: Illegal Trafficking in Cultural Property. New York: Springer, New York; 69 - 86.

Psillides, Constantinos. "New Arrest in Case of Peristerona Shoot-out." Cyprus Mail. N.p., 15 Mar. 2014.

"Stolen Relics Arrest." InCyprus.com. Philenews. 28 Feb. 2014.

"Αυτό δεν ήταν σπίτι αλλά…μουσείο." Alithia Online. Aλήθεια, 28 Feb. 2014. Web.

December 30, 2013

Postcard from Turkey: The Archaeological Museum at Uşak, The Lydian Hoard and Two Hippocampuses

by Aaron Haines

I rubbed my sleep-deprived eyes and stared across the abandoned parking lot at the rusty minivan that was supposedly my “shuttle” into town. It was six in the morning and the sun was just beginning to peek over the horizon of Uşak, a small city in the center of western Turkey. Most bus companies don’t travel to Uşak and the few that do only offer one or two bus rides from Istanbul each day. I had left Istanbul the previous night at eight and spent the next ten hours on a bus in order to see Uşak’s most famous possession: the Lydian Hoard. I walked up to the minivan, squeezed onto the front bench, and told the driver I needed to go the archaeology museum. The rest of the passengers stared me as if wondering what a young American backpacker was doing so far from any of Turkey’s usual tourist destinations. We soon reached the city center and the driver told me in Turkish that the museum was just down the street.

Photo by A. Haines
The museum did not open for another couple of hours so I took my time observing the building’s exterior. It was a small building situated on an awkward triangular corner plot of land where two streets merged. It was surrounded by a low wrought iron fence that was about three to four feet in height. The building’s small yard was littered with archaeological artifacts from various civilizations and time periods; Byzantine, Hittite, Roman, and others. The placement of these objects was haphazard, but it was clear every square inch of the yard could be surveyed by the small army of security cameras that pointed in every direction. Also, none of the objects were small enough to be lifted by hand and would have required either machinery or several people to move them. There was an abundance of exterior lighting indicating that the museum and archaeological artifacts could be sufficiently monitored at night. The museum was an older building, but fulfilled its intended purpose. The windows were single paned and old, but all well protected by the iron bars covering them. Despite the early hour, I noticed a man standing inside the museum watching me, indicating that a security guard was present at the museum both day and night.

At eight when the museum opened, I stepped inside and was greeted by the security guard. I pulled out my wallet to purchase a ticket, but the guard was already leaving his desk and leading me into the museum’s only gallery. I expected him to then return to his desk while I toured the small collection, but instead he simply followed me around. I got the feeling that not many people came into the museum. The lighting and presentation of the museum’s collection were excellent and there were many text panels explaining the significance of the objects as well as where they had been found in the surrounding countryside.

Photo of Lydian Hoard by A. Haines
I was eager to see the Lydian Hoard and quickly found it in a room in the very back of the gallery. The pieces of the collection were displayed on simple but elegant cloth with good lighting. The hippocampus still occupied its own display case, but the text panel gave no indication that the original had been stolen or that the current piece on display was a copy of the original. I noticed that the previous simple lock had been replaced by a lock, seal, and slip of paper. On this slip of paper were the signatures of four different archaeologists indicating that each had verified that the work was the legitimate original.

Photo of documented lock by A. Haines
The museum guard was still shadowing me so I decided to strike up a conversation with him. He did not speak much English so we conversed in Turkish. He explained to me that a guard was at the museum twenty four hours a day and that there was video surveillance of the entire building and the surrounding yard of antiquities. When I asked him how many patrons visited the museum, he told me that during the summer, they averaged about one hundred every day. This surprised since Uşak is a smaller city and quite far from any major tourist attractions. I asked again about the museum attendance and he repeated that they indeed averaged around one hundred patrons a day during the summer time. He explained that during the winter, attendance drops due to the decrease in tourism. He went on to explain that the city was currently constructing a new museum that is supposed to be completed next year. The new three story building will have much more storage and administration space as well as an upgraded security system.


Copy of  hippocampus in Uşak (A. Haines) 
We returned to the subject of the Lydian Hoard and after I asked a couple of questions about the hippocampus, he stopped and stared at me for a couple of seconds. He then asked if I wanted to know something and leaned in to quietly tell me that the original work had been stolen. I feigned surprise and he motioned for me to walk back over to the display case. He then told me the story about the hippocampus and confided in me that the brooch in the case was actually a fake. Thanks to Sharon Waxman’s 2008 book Loot: The Battle Over the Stolen Treasures of the Ancient World (Times Books), I already knew this, but I doubted that most patrons to the museum did. There was no explanation of it in the text panels or in any of the other materials on display. Most patrons assumed that they were viewing the original.

Imagine my surprise when I arrived in Ankara, the capitol of Turkey, just a couple of days later and saw the same hippocampus on display in the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations. My immediate thought was that I had now seen two copies of the same stolen work.

Recovered hippocampus temporarily
housed in Ankara (Photo by A. Haines)
I approached two security guards chatting nearby and explained to them that I had just seen this same work in Uşak. They replied that I had seen a copy in Uşak and that the object in Ankara was the original brooch. I asked them how this could be since the work had been stolen and they explained that it had been recently recovered. Supposedly it was only on temporary display in Ankara and will be moved to Uşak next year when the new Uşak museum is complete.

Aaron Haines is a senior majoring in art history at Brigham Young University and traveled to Turkey this summer using grant moneys from the BYU Office of Research and Creative Activities to observe the security of four archaeology museums. He visited the archaeology museums in Uşak, Boğazkale, Ankara, and Istanbul each of which houses artifacts that have been recently repatriated by Turkey from other countries. Aaron has a special interest in cultural property law and preservation as it applies to Italy and Turkey and speaks Italian and some Turkish. He recently returned from an internship at the American Embassy in Rome and is currently interning with the U.S. State Department’s Cultural Heritage Center.

Stolen and Recovered Antiquity: The Hippocampus brooch of the Lydian Hoard ("Karun Treasure") recovered in 2012 in Germany

Constanze Letsche in Istanbul reported for The Guardian in "King Croesus' golden brooch to be returned to Turkey" that German government officials have agreed to return the Hippocampus brooch of the Lydian Hoard ("Karun Treasure"), allegedly sold by the director of the museum in Uşak and replaced with a copy sometime between 1993 and 2006.
Although details of the brooch's latest recovery are unclear, Turkish officials are delighted. "I am very happy to hear that the piece will finally return home," said a culture and tourism official, Serif Aritürk, who is responsible for the museum in Usak. "Since I was in office in 2005 and 2006 I felt personally responsible for the theft; our directorate came under a lot of pressure." He added that he had never doubted the brooch would reappear. "No collector would have dared to acquire such a well-known artefact, it was clear that the thieves would not find a buyer easily."
The Hippocampus brooch was found in Germany.

Here The History Blog provides backstory on the recovery and theft of this object.

August 26, 2013

Nevine El-Aref of Ahram.org reports the recovery of 16 objects looted from the Malawi National Museum (Update: Gold Coins Recovered)

Statues recovered from Malawi National Museum (ahram.org)
Nevine El-Aref reported in the English version of Ahram.org that 16 items have been recovered from the objects looted from the Malawi National Museum in Egypt:
On Saturday night, 24 August, five ancient Egyptian and Graeco-Roman artefacts were recovered by police. The objects include three Graeco-Roman reliefs made of marble and limestone. The first is broken into two parts and features a painting of a rabbit. The second has Graeco-Roman text while the third bears a deep engraving of two rabbits — the sign of Al-Minya in Graeco-Roman times. 
The other two artefacts are carved in bronze, featuring Djehuti, the goddess of wisdom.
On Friday, 11 objects were recovered, among them two Graeco-Roman papyri found by chance in a corner of the museum’s garden. Ahmed Sharaf, head of the museum section at the Ministry of State for Antiquities, explained that one of the papyri bears 23 lines written in Demotic while the second bears seven lines written in Demotic. 
The rescued objects include three clay pots, a limestone statue of the god Thot in the shape of a sitting baboon, two bronze statues of the god Osiris and a rectangular relief bearing a drawing of an Ibis bird and the palm of goddess Maat. 
Minister of State of Antiquities Mohamed Ibrahim is happy for the return of some of the museum’s collection, he told Ahram Online. The objects were restituted after the ministry promised Al-Minya inhabitants that no legal procedures would be taken against anyone returning a looted artefact. 
Ibrahim asserted that security has been tightened at Al-Ashmounein archaeological site and galleries, to stop any illicit excavations there.
UPDATE:  The Tourism and Antiquities Police recovered a collection of 25 cold coins looted from Malawai National Museum, reports Nevine El-Aref for Ahram.org. 'Ministry of State for Antiquities (MSA) Minister Mohamed Ibrahim told Ahram Online that with the return of these coins, 125 objects reporting missing from the Malawi Museums are now restituted'.
Ahmed Sharaf, head of the museum section at the MSA explained that the coins all depict the features of a Roman emperor called Valdese in his battle suit, left hand clutching a bunch of flowers while the right one holds a cross.

July 15, 2013

BBC's Amanda Ruggeri: Exhibit in Rome showing recovered objects of stolen cultural property on display at Castel Sant'Angelo until November 5

Exhibition banner outside Castel Sant'Angelo
(Photo by Catherine Sezgin)
Here's a link to a BBC article by Amanda Ruggeri ("See the story behind the stolen treasures") on the exhibit at the National Museum of Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome exhibiting objects of stolen cultural property recovered by Italy. Capolavori dell'archaeologia: Recuperi, ritrovamenti, confronti (Masterpieces of archaeology: Recovery, findings, comparisons) will be open until November 5, 2013 (closed every Monday).

Items include large pieces of a 1st Century BC Pompei villa fresco recovered from the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu; the head and extremities of a Morgantina acrolith recovered from the University of Virginia's Art Museum; and the Euphronios krater recovered from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Ms. Ruggeri writes:
The exhibition, which includes dozens of works of art, serves as a sobering reminder of how widespread and damaging looting in Italy has been. One display points out that when an item is looted, the problem isn’t just that it risks disappearing into the hands of a private collector, winding up abroad or being damaged. (One popular way to transport looted vases, for example, is to deliberately break them into shards and reconstruct them later, as fragments are easier to hide and move.) The irreversible loss is the item’s context. Without knowing where the piece was found, at what depth, or near which other objects, it is all but impossible to fully reconstruct the piece’s history, use and meaning.

October 3, 2012

One Step up the Looting Pyramid

by Lynda Albertson, Chief Executive Officer, ARCA

To some individuals, the scandal surrounding the Met’s 1972 purchase of the Euphronios krater and similarly shady procurements by some US and European museums seems like old news.  For others, like Italy’s Soprintendente per I Beni Archaelogici dell’Etruria meridionale, Alfosina Russo Tegliente and the Villa Giulia’s scientific experts Daniela Rizzo and Marizio Pelligrini, the watershed accord signed in February 2006 between the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Italian government, which returned this spectacular vase to Italy, was just the tip of a very large iceberg.

Returned to Rome in 2008 after a protracted return-plus-loans agreement, the Euphronios krater, with its delicate images of the dying Lycian king, Sarpedon, leader of the Trojans' allies and offspring of the god Zeus and the mortal Laodamia, has become the poster-child example of bad museum acquisition practices.


I visited the Musei Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia on the opening day of their new exhibition, I Preditori dell’Arte e Il Patrimonio Ritrovato…le Storia del Recupero (The Predators of Art and Rediscovered Heritage - The History of Recovery), running in Rome from September 29th through December 15, 2012.

I didn’t come to see the Euphronios krater.   Near perfect in its restoration, it is housed in a discreetly simple glass case, approachable on four sides, located on the second floor of the villa in a section reserved geographically for artifacts from Cerveteri.

I didn’t come to see the Fifth-century BC Attic red-figure kylix, a cup also signed by Euphronios as potter and painted by Onesimos with scenes of the Trojan War.  This fragmented cup sits in its own glass case, alongside the krater.  It too was surrendered by a US museum -- the J. Paul Getty Museum in 1999.

I came to see the new exhibit, one that follows the “long and silent journey” to use the words of the curators, of not just these two objects but approximately ninety others on exhibition at the museum, which have been returned to Italy, due in a large part to the doggedly difficult work of Daniela Rizzo and Marizio Pelligrini, Villa Giulia’s scientific experts.  Their work and the work of the staff of the Soprintendente per I Beni Archaelogici dell’Etruria meridionale, Italy’s public prosecutors, and the Italian Carabinieri along with collaboration from the Swiss judiciary helped reconstruct the chain that created a buyer’s market for looting of archaeological sites, in Italy and elsewhere. This exhibition is the fruit of their labor and underscores the material and intellectual consequences of contemporary collecting.

Tracing the collection life of these objects, from tomborolo to trafficante (tomb raider to trafficker) the exhibit shows not only the route these objects took before arriving in some of the world’s finest museums but also examines some of the methods used by traffickers to launder looted antiquities through the world’s most important auction houses.   


Included in the exhibition is an Etruscan antefix in the form of a Maenad and Silenos dancing.  An anteflix is an upright ornament used by builders along the eaves of a tiled roof to conceal tile joints. This particular anteflex, pictured on a now famous Medici polaroid, was acquired by Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman through Robin Symes and then acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum in 1996.

Once it even graced the cover of an exhibition catalog highlighting the Fleischman’s collection.  The presence of the anteflix in The Villa Giulia exhibit serves to illustrate how museums, private collectors and auction houses have allowed themselves to be links in the looting chain.

To many of the exhibit attendees in Rome, seeing this simple household decoration as part of this exhibition is equal parts joyous victory and painful reminder.  As I mentioned in the start of this article, having these objects come home is just the tip of the iceburg, or to use Daniela Rizzo’s words who spoke with the visitors about her work, “the first step of the Pyramid”.

When the Italian Carabinieri raided Giacomo Medici’s warehouse in the Geneva Freeport they recovered 3,800 objects and more than 4,000 photographs of objects that had previously passed through Medici’s hands. (Watson and Todeschini 2007, 19-24, 48-79, 363-83).  The recovered items in this exhibition represent only a small fraction of the objects looted by just one organization of traffickers.  Imagine how many more are out there.

Some museums, through cooperative agreements with Italy and or law enforcement organizations in their own countries, readily relinquish artifacts whose origins can be traced back to the looters through the documentation of the Medici and Becchina dossiers.  Others take more insistent prodding.

It wasn’t until June 20th of this year that the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio issued a press release stating that an agreement had finally been made with the Toledo Museum of Art in conjunction with a Federal Verified Complaint in Forfeiture to return a 510 B.C. Etruscan black-figure kalpis attributed to the Micali painter or his workshop.  This despite being presented with a copy of an incriminating polaroid, seized from Medici during the 1995 raid showing the still mud-encrusted pot and another polaroid from a separate raid in Basel 2002 proving that  the kalpis had also passed through the hands of Gianfranco Becchina.

One more step up the pyramid.  One more long and necessary step.


Photos contributed by Soprintendente per I Beni Archaelogici dell’Etruria meridionale, Musei Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia