Showing posts with label archaeological sites. Show all posts
Showing posts with label archaeological sites. Show all posts

June 5, 2014

Sofia Cecchi Interviews Ricardo J. Elia in the Spring 2014 issue of ARCA's Journal of Art Crime

Ricardo J. Elia is Associate Professor of Archaeology at Boston University. He has published extensively about archaeological ethics, law and heritage management, policy and the antiquities market. As the author of some of the most influential works in the history of illicit antiquities research, he generously answered our questions on this topic.

Sofia Cecchi is an archaeologist specializing in cultural heritage management and museology. Originally from Italy and Chile, she studied at Columbia University (BA) and the University of Cambridge (MPhil), where she analyzed the relationship between museums and the illicit antiquities market. Sofia currently works as a researcher for a global heritage consultancy that plans and develops projects across the cultural sector. Her other interests have taken her all over the world, from archaeological fieldwork in Latin America to exhibition development at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Here's the beginning of the interview as published in the Spring 2014 issue of The Journal of Art Crime:
Sofia Cecchi: What was the initial spark that made you want to study the ethics of collecting and the trade in illicit antiquities? 
Professor Elia: While a grad student digging at Stobi (then Yugoslavia, now the Republic of Macedonia) in the late 1970s, my mentor, James R. Wiseman, showed me how looters were destroying archaeological sites in the search for marketable antiquities. Prof. Wiseman also created an innovative section of the new Journal of Field Archaeology, called “The Antiquities Market,” which featured articles about the topic. I also learned a lot from the writings of Oscar White Muscarella, who among other things destroyed the myth of the "reputable dealer" in the antiquities market. 
Sofia Cecchi: “Collectors are the real looters.” More than twenty years have passed since you made this memorable statement. Have any positive changes occurred in the past decade? 
Professor Elia: There is definitely more public awareness than ever about the problem of looting and the fact that collectors, both private and institutional, are driving the market by creating the demand for antiquities. Looters, of course, are the ones doing the looting, but they are operating in a supply-and-demand economic system that starts with the creation of demand for cultural objects. So collectors, whether they are private individuals or museums are, indeed, the real looters and in the last two decades there has been a huge growth in public awareness of this fact. This comes from several sources: increased media attention; more aggressive legal actions by source countries; and a depressing spate of armed conflicts in the world that have resulted in both destruction looting of archaeological sites.
You may finish reading this interview by subscribing to the Spring 2014 issue of The Journal of Art Crime or ordering it at

December 31, 2013

Tuesday, December 31, 2013 - ,, No comments

Postcard from Turkey: The Archaeological Museum in Boğazkale

by Aaron Haines

After my visit in Uşak, I took a four hour bus ride to Ankara where I spent the night and then left early the next morning for Boğazkale. After sitting on a hot bus for three hours watching daytime Turkish TV (the bus driver was a fan of soap operas), I arrived in Sungurlu, the closest major town to Boğazkale. Upon stepping off the bus, I was immediately befriended by a nice Turkish taxi driver who offered to take me to Boğazkale for an exorbitant fare. I politely declined and started the one mile trek towards the town center of Sungurlu in hopes that I could find a minibus headed for Boğazkale. I eventually located the minibus station and sat down to wait. In Turkey, the minibus drivers don’t drive anywhere until their vehicle is full and unfortunately for me, it was noon and no one was interested in going to Boğazkale except for me. After waiting for a half hour, I decided that the 15 seater minivan was never going to fill up and decided to take a taxi.
Yard of Boğazkale museum (AH)

I finally arrived in the small town of Boğazkale and had the taxi drop me off outside the archaeology museum. It had a sizeable lawn and pavement area with a tall wrought iron fence surrounding the lot. Various archaeological artifacts were in the yard, but unlike the Uşak museum, these pieces were carefully displayed and labeled. A few of the larger pieces were even placed under wooden shelters to protect them from the elements.

Disputed sphinx (AH)
As I stepped into the museum, the first thing that caught my eye was the large pair of sphinxes flanking the doorway to the central gallery. The left sphinx had been the center of a heated debate between Turkey and Germany ever since the beginning of the 20th century when the statues had been discovered and sent to Berlin for repairs. Germany only sent back one of the sphinxes and the other remained in Berlin where it was built into the wall of the Pergamon Museum. Germany did not return the sphinx until 2011 after Turkey threatened to revoke Germany’s dig permit at Hattusha. The museum consisted of a couple of small rooms preceding a much larger central gallery. There were many text panels explaining the works displayed as well as information about the Hittites and other civilizations that inhabited the surrounding region. All of the works were well lit and beautifully displayed.

Main gallery (AH)
After passing between the sphinxes, I entered the main gallery which consisted of a ground floor and a second story balcony area. More archeological artifacts were displayed as well as replicas and explanations of the ancient city of Hattusha. The most arresting works on the ground floor were two tall ceremonial bull vases. There were fewer cameras than at Uşak, but the display cases appeared to be much more modern and secure than those at Uşak. Also, the visibility in the main gallery was excellent since it was just one main room and the guard had complete visibility of both the ground floor and the balcony level.

The bench outside the museum (AH)
After visiting the galleries, I sat on a bench outside the museum and chatted with the security guard. He spoke almost no English so we talked in Turkish. He told me that a guard was present at the museum 24/7 and that the cameras monitored both the interior of the museum as well as the surrounding yard. Each night, the fence gate as well as the main door’s outer iron grate are locked. There were also powerful motion detection lights on the exterior of the building that would turn on if a person approached the building at night.

Hattusha site (AH)
I left the museum and walked about twenty minutes to the Hattusha archaeological site where the ancient capital of the Hittites once stood. Near the entrance is a reconstruction of the city walls to give visitors an idea of how massive the walls and towers of the city were. I then spent the next three hours hiking around the ancient ruins by following the wide road that snakes its way throughout the ruined city. Except for the occasional Turkish family or group of backpackers, I had the place to myself. At the very top I found the gate where the two sphinxes had been originally discovered where a replica now stands. From the gate there was a spectacular view of the ruins and surrounding landscape.

Original site of sphinxes with replica
As the sun began to set, I made my way back into the town center of Boğazkale. On my way down the country road, I ran into the museum security guard taking an evening stroll with his family. He introduced me to his wife and young daughter and asked how I liked Hattusha. I told him that I was on my way back to Sungurlu and he warned me that it might be too late to take a taxi. I thanked him and we parted ways. As I continued walking, I thought about my chances of finding a taxi and decided that the odds were slim. So I stuck out my thumb and hitchhiked back to Sungurlu with a nice Turkish gentleman driving home from work. From there, I caught one of the last buses going back to Ankara where I wearily walked back to my hostel at midnight.

All photos taken by Aaron Haines.

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.

August 15, 2013

Postcard from Istanbul: Sultanahmet Archaeology Park (Sultanahmet Arkeolojik Parki)

Sign for Sultanahmet Archaeology Park
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Across from the Haghia Sophia Museum and the Mausoleums of the Sultans is the Sultanahmet Archaeology Park, a fenced off area under excavation and part of the overall plan to preserve Istanbul's historical area as a World Heritage Site. In case you're curious (as I was) and can't walk over to the sign yourself (as I did), here's what the sign says and this is what you will see if you peer behind the fence:

"The lot is situated in one of the oldest and most renowned settlements of Istanbul. The perimeter of the area is closed off due to security reasons. 

"There is little information available on the city’s geographical position during Antiquity. However, it is known that the city entered PERSIAN rule in 512 BC, become part of ROME in 146 BC, and was eventually declared as the second capital of the Roman Empire by Constantine I in 330.

'The lot included the initial structures of the GREAT PALACE (Palatium Magnum), whose construction began during the reign of Constantine I. Between the 4th and 11th centuries, the palace continued to expand, spreading across nearly 100,000 square meters. It was burnt down, demolished and ransacked during the LATIN INVASION (1202-1261).

"Following the Ottoman conquest of the city, various wooden dwellings were constructed on the lot and its environs. The largest structure built upon the property during the Ottoman period was the Darülfünun (University) building.

"Commissioned by Sultan Abdülmecit in 1846, Darülfünun was designed and built by Swiss architects Gaspare and Guiseppe Fossati.

Excavation site (Sultanhamet)
"The Building was completed in 1863 and was later used as a hospital for French soldiers during the Crimean War in 1877, it was reopened as MECLIS-I MEBUSAN (Ottoman Parliament). In the ensuing years, it was allocated to the Ministeries of Treasury, Mortmain Estates and Justice, was eventually converted into ADLIYE SARAYI (Palace of Justice). 

"The entire building burned down in December 1933. Initiated in 1997 by the Istanbul Directorate of Archaeology, ARCHAEOLOGICAL EXCAVATIONS are currently in progress on the 17,000 square-meter lot.

"In the course of excavations, apart from remains of ROMAN, BYZANTINE and OTTOMAN structures, MOVABLE CULTURAL ASSETS such as the BYZANTINE BATH RUINS are cleaned, reinforced and reconstructed in part, to be preserved in situ. These cultural and historic assets are also protected against natural hazards.

"Apart from the works in progress with respect to the site’s function as an Archaeological Park and Museum, a Hotel Annex construction is presently underway in the area. The project of the Hotel Annex has been approved by the Istanbul NATURAL ASSET and CULTURAL HERITAGE BOARD. "

July 9, 2013

Tuesday, July 09, 2013 - ,, No comments

Northern Israeli archaeological site unveils granite fragment of Egyptian sphinx -- ancient plunder or gift?

Archaeologist Shlomit Blecher discovered part of a granite Egyptian sphynx in Israel in August 2012, raising the question of plunder or gift?

Dr. Blecher, who manages the The Selz Foundation Hazor Excavations in Memory of Yigael Yadin, works at Tel Hazor, the ancient Canaanite and Israelite city located in modern Northern Israel.

Here's a YouTube Video from the AFP news agency showing the site and the size of the fragment in comparison to the person holding the granite claws, forearms and hieroglyphics.
Its discovery also marks the first time ever that researchers have found a statue dedicated to Egyptian ruler Mycerinus who ruled circa 2,500 BC and was builder of one of the three Giza pyramids, an expert said.
How did this object travel north? The AFP offers options:
How, when and why it reached Tel Hazor remains a mystery.
"That it arrived in the days of Mycerinus himself is unlikely, since there were absolutely no relations between Egypt and this part of the world then," said Ben-Tor.
"Egypt maintained relations with Lebanon, especially via the ancient port of Byblos, to import cedar wood via the Mediterranean, so they skipped" today's northern Israel, he said.
Another option is that the statue was part of the plunders of the Canaanites, who in the late 17th and early 16th century BC ruled lower Egypt, the expert said.
"Egyptian records tell us that those foreign rulers... plundered and desecrated the local temples and did all kinds of terrible things, and it is possible that some of this looting included a statue like this one".
But to Ben-Tor the most likely way the sphinx reached Tel Hazor is in the form of a gift sent by a later Egyptian ruler.
"The third option is that it arrived in Hazor some time after the New Kingdom started in 1,550 BC, during which Egypt ruled Canaan, and maintained close relations with the local rulers, who were left on their thrones," he said.
"In such a case it's possible the statue was sent by the Egyptian ruler to king of Hazor, the most important ruler in this region." 

January 16, 2013

Lecture booked at the Getty Villa tonight: "Saving Herculaneum: The Challenges of Archaeological Conservation"

As of noon today, all seats are taken for the free lecture at the Getty Villa tonight: Herculaneum Conservation Project director Andrew Wallace-Hadrill will speak of the archaeological work at the ancient sister city of Pompeii.
From 1995 to 2009 [Andrew Wallace-Hadrill] served as director of the British School at Rome and is currently director of research of the faculty of Classics at the University of Cambridge. An expert on the archaeology of the Vesuvian cities, he was awarded the Archaeological Institute of America's James R. Wiseman Award in 1995 for his book Houses and Society in Pompeii and Herculaneum (1994). He has written several other books, including Rome's Cultural Revolution (2008), Augustan Rome (1993), Suetonius: The Scholar and His Caesars (1985), and most recently Herculaneum: Past and Future (2011). He has held visiting fellowships at Princeton University and the J. Paul Getty Museum, and is a frequent contributor to radio and television broadcasts. 
The Herculaneum Conservation Project is funded by The Packard Humanities Institute which also supports conservation efforts of the removal of the mosaics from the ancient Roman town of Zeugma in eastern Turkey before the area was flooded for a dam.

August 30, 2012

How Playing Cards Protect Archaeological Sites in Combat Zones

This summer 'Voice of America' reporter Nancy Greenleese discussed with ARCA's Writer in Residence Laurie Rush ("It's all in the cards Inside Europe") how the military uses images on the back of playing cards to protect archaeological sites located in combat zones. Here's a link to the radio broadcast and here's a link to the printed interview.

June 13, 2012

Wednesday, June 13, 2012 - ,, No comments

The New York Times' Randy Kennedy Reports on how austerity measures in Greece is affecting state archaeologists and the country's heritage

Minoan Marine Style Pottery/NMAA
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Turkish journalist Özgen Açar sent out a link to June 11 article in the New York Times, "Archaeologists Say Greece Threatened by Austerity".  When the man who tracked down the stolen Lydian Hoard from Turkey to New York City sends out an email, I pay attention, very close attention.

Açar is pointing out an article written by Randy Kennedy that shows how more than a 10% reduction in Greece's state archaeologists is limiting access to artifacts in museums and reducing the country's ability to protect its cultural heritage.  The Association for Greek Archaeologists has created a television commercial to create public awareness.

In Kennedy's article, Minoan vases are being washed away and bulldozers are paving roads to ancient sites while fewer archaeologists can respond to the problems of securing Greece's culture and history.

The Artemision Bronze/NMAA
Many schoolchildren must be disappointed to have access limited to the symbols of Greek mythology as bestselling books such as those by Rick Riordan have reignited popular reading about the gods and the humans who interact with them. Aren't we trying to encourage the younger generation to take an interest in cultural institutions? My 12-year-old daughter volunteered to spend the day at Istanbul's Archaeology Museum and walked through all the exhibits looking for Greek and Roman gods -- only to find out that that section was closed for renovation last winter.

YouTube has a 14-minute video which is a walking tour through the National Archaeology Museum of Athens, including a view of the impressive 2,500 year old Artemision Bronze.

What happens when a source country of ancient objects cannot protect its patrimony and needs funds? What would you do living and working in a country with 21% unemployment? You might not loot antiquities but would someone more desperate with family obligations or someone less scrupulous be able to resist the temptation of taking one of the many pieces that just lie underneath the dirt?

October 25, 2011

Virginia Curry: From the FBI to Etruscan archaeological sites

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

by Virginia Curry

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 25, 2011

Public-Private Partnership Created Between Egyptian Government and International Coalition to Protect Egyptian Antiquities

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Egypt (representing the Egyptian side and acting as coordinator between parties) and the International Coalition to Protect Egyptian Antiquities (the Coalition) today announced they have reached mutual agreement to cooperate on a comprehensive plan to protect Egypt's archaeological and cultural heritage sites and artifacts, which will be a cornerstone in the basis for tourism revenue as Egypt builds a successful economy.

Press Release from the Capitol Archaeological Institute, George Washington University

WASHINGTON AND CAIRO – The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Egypt (representing the Egyptian side and acting as coordinator between parties) and the International Coalition to Protect Egyptian Antiquities (the Coalition) today announced they have reached mutual agreement to cooperate on a comprehensive plan to protect Egypt's archaeological and cultural heritage sites and artifacts, which will be a cornerstone in the basis for tourism revenue as Egypt builds a successful economy.

The Coalition, led by the George Washington University Capitol Archaeological Institute, the Archaeological Institute of America, the American Schools of Oriental Research, and the National Geographic Society, was in Cairo May 16-18 at the invitation of the Egyptian government for a series of meetings with senior Egyptian government officials, private sector and archaeological experts.

The Ministry and the Coalition formed a Public-Private Partnership, agreeing to develop a framework that commits resources to site protection, including protective walls at archaeological sites and increased training of law enforcement personnel; a nationwide satellite imagery analysis initiative; a complete database of Egypt's antiquities based on inventories of Egypt's museums and storage facilities; an education and awareness campaign; and longer term small business and green archaeological site programs.

"Egyptian antiquities and sites are among the most historically significant and important in the world. In times of political transition, ancient sites and artifacts are often targets of international crime and illicit activity," said Deborah Lehr, Capitol Archaeological Institute Chairman. "We commend the Government of Egypt for its efforts and are delighted to be working together to develop and implement short and long term solutions to ensure protection of Egypt's invaluable cultural heritage."

“The protection of monuments and sites by the Egyptian authorities during and after the revolution differs completely from other such situations like for example what took place in Iraq. We would like to develop and increase our capacity to protect those sites and monuments,” said Egyptian Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs Sherif Elkholi.

Ambassador Iman el Farr, Egyptian Deputy Assistant Minister for Cultural Agreement and Protocol Affairs, stressed the importance of finalizing the framework agreement to be signed by the two parties in order to begin delivering on agreed upon initiatives and raising the funds needed for implementation.

"This is a landmark agreement and establishes a new system for all of us to work on our mutual goal of protecting Egypt’s archaeological sites," said Peter Herdrich, Chief Executive Officer of the Archaeological Institute of America. "It's a great day for archaeology in Egypt."

Further information may be obtained by contacting Claire Buchan at

February 14, 2011

The Journal of Art Crime: Essayist Kim Alderman on "The Ethics of Context"

In an essay titled “The Ethics of Context: Exploring Assumptions in Discussions about the Looting of Archaeological Sites,” Kim Alderman explores “underlying assumptions in arguments that increased regulation of the antiquities trade will combat the looting crisis, thereby preserving archaeological context:”

“The essay first distinguishes between ethical and legal arguments regarding illicit excavation of archaeological materials. The essay next considers whether archaeological context is “ethically worthy” because it helps people discover their past, or whether it is simple information to be commodified. Finally, the essay compares the ethical worth of context versus the immediate, palpable needs of subsistence looters.”

Kimberly Alderman is a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School. She recently completed the ARCA Postgraduate Program, and writes a blog:

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