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September 18, 2011

Sunday, September 18, 2011 - No comments

Vernon Silver Presented "Crime Scenes as Archaeological Sites" at ARCA's International Art Crime Conference

Silver discusses Euphronio's Krater
 (Photo by Urska Charney)
"Crime Scenes as Archaeological Sites"
Vernon Silver
School of Archaeology, University of Oxford

Vernon Silver, senior writer at Bloomberg News in Rome and author of "The Lost Chalice" (Harper Paperbacks, 2010), presented his paper, "Crimes Scenes as Archaeological Sites" at ARCA's third annual International Art Crime Conference in Amelia in July 2011.

"The Lost Chalice" is a nonfiction thriller about the oldest known work by ancient Greek artist Eurphronio's $1 million pot that formerly resided at The Met and its lost twin that traveled through the hands of Bruce McNall and the Hunt Brothers then was sold at auction through Sotheby's in 1990.

Here Silver describes his work:
Italy's criminal investigations of the illicit antiquities trade have largely ignored the archaeological sites from which artifacts have been removed. Greater attention to these crime scenes -- which double as archaeological sites -- can help restore some of the archaeological context lost in the process of looting objects. 
This paper uses the example of the 1971 illicit dig at Greppe Sant'Angelo in Cerveteri, Italy, in which tomb robbers uncovered a previously unknown complex of Etruscan tombs, removing sellable artifacts that included a red-figure Attic vase that became known as the Euphronios krater. The recent trials in Rome that led the Metropolitan Museum of Art to return the vase to Italy did not address the archaeological origins of the object. Although Italy's requests for its return drew on the moral argument that the nation's archaeological heritage had been harmed, the lack of crime-scene analysis was a lost opportunity to rebuild a record of the vase's history, including the other objects with which it was buried, and details of the necropolis where it was found. 
Drawing on research for the author's doctoral thesis ("The Antiquities Trade: Object Biographies of Euphronios vases looted from Etruria") and his related book, "The Lost Chalice" (2009, 2010) this paper presents examples of the rich selection of untapped data about the site: photos from the early 1970s in the archive of the Villa Giulia museum; interviews with a surviving tomb robber; contemporary visits to the site itself and objects in the Cerveteri archaeology museum that were also found at the site but never labeled as such. All can help rebuild the lost context. 
From a policing view, an eye for archaeology would enhance the collection of such records. (Fans of one crime-scene television show might think of this approach as "CSI: Ancient Victims Unit.") For the sake of archaeology, there is more to investigate than just the buyers and sellers. 
In the future, greater police and prosecutor attention to developing and publishing crime-scene data on illicit excavations, and involving archaeologists in the process, would be a step to restoring damage to the archaeological record. Outside Italy and other source countries such as Greece and Egypt, scholarly attention to police evidence should also help meet those ends.