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September 30, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A list of those folks who lent a hand are:

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

by Lynda Albertson

September 29, 2015

While the West Seeks Tighter Curbs on the Trade in Antiquities Looted by ISIS, Italian Suspect Antiquities Continue to Appear at Major Auction Houses

Greek forensic archaeologist Christos Tsirogiannis, has identified another grouping of suspect antiquities set for auction October 1, 2015 at Christie’s in London.  Each of the objects appears to have ties to former Basel-based art dealer, Gianfranco Becchina, who was accused by Italian prosecutors of being part of an antiquities trafficking network that involved tombaroli (tomb raiders) in southern Italy and suspect antiquities dealers and buyers around the globe. Becchina was convicted of antiquities trafficking in 2011.

Since 2007, Dr. Tsirogiannis has actively identified illicit antiquities depicted in the confiscated Medici, Becchina and Symes-Michaelides archives, notifying the relevant government authorities when matches are discovered.  An expert on the illicit antiquities trade, Dr. Tsirogiannis teaches ARCA's illicit antiquities course.  He also serves as Research Assistant to the Trafficking Culture Project at the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research located at the University of Glasgow.

Despite having apparently “clean” collection histories, each of the antiquities listed below (Lots 6, 8 and 16) — or strikingly similar ones — appear in photographic evidence confiscated by the Swiss and Italian authorities in 2002 during their investigation into the network of traffickers affiliated with Gianfranco Becchina.

The three antiquities on offer at the upcoming sale at Christie’s are said to come from Professor Heissmeyer’s antiquities collection; A fourth antiquity (lot 93) was temporarily confiscated by the Swiss authorities in 2008 from the Japanese illicit antiquities dealer Noriyoshi Horiuchi and has now been put back into circulation within the antiquities market. 

Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis has notified Interpol, the Carabinieri Art Squad and Scotland Yard’s Art & Antiques Unit with the evidence for these new identifications.  

In detail, the suspect antiquities are:
Left - The oinochoe depicted in the Becchina archive.
Right - the same oinochoe on exhibition in Christie’s, London,
Image Credit C. Tsirogiannis Saturday 26 September 2015

The oinochoe’s collecting history (Provenance), as it appears in the Christie’s catalogue, is:
Private collection, Germany, acquired prior to 1990.
with Galerie am Museum Jürgen Haering, Freiburg.
Prof. H.-H. Heissmeyer collection, Schwäbisch Hall, acquired from the above in 2005 (inv. no. 32).
Beazley Archive no. 9024860.

The same oenochoe seems to be depicted in a Polaroid image from the Becchina archive. In the archival photo the vase is covered with encrustations, lying on what appears to be a plastic tray, while a handwritten note, also in the archives, states that this antiquity was sent for restoration, among other antiquities, on 1 December 1989 to Sandro Cimicchi, Gianfranco Becchina’s usual restorer.

Left - The cup depicted in the Becchina archive.
Right - The same cup on exhibition in Christie’s, London,
Image Credit C. Tsirogiannis Saturday 26 September 2015
The cup’s collecting history (Provenance), as it appears in the Christie’s catalogue, is:
Private collection, Switzerland, acquired prior to 1980.
with Galerie am Museum Jürgen Haering, Freiburg.
Prof. H.-H. Heissmeyer collection, Schwäbisch Hall, acquired from
the above in 1995 (inv. no. 17).
Beazley Archive no. 9024849.

In the Becchina archive, what appears to be the same cup is depicted in a Polaroid image, upside down and partially covered with encrustations, among three other cups. The similarities can be identified from the position of the panthers painted on the lower portion of the cup's body. A handwritten note states that the cups were bought by the middleman Raffaele Monticelli on 4 March 1993. Another handwritten note on the Polaroid states: ‘V/ Hae CH’ [sold to Hae Swiss Francs]. In 2002 Monticelli was sentenced to 4 years imprisonment for conspiracy related to the trafficking of antiquities. (Isman 2011b: 50; Watson and Todeschini 2007: 292) and as recently as today had 22 million euros worth of his real estate assets confiscated by the state for his alleged involvement as an international antiquities trafficker.    

Left - The lekythos depicted in the Becchina archive.
Right - the same lekythos on exhibition in Christie’s, London,
Image Credit C. Tsirogiannis Saturday 26 September 2015
The lekythos’ collecting history (‘Provenance’), as it appears in the Christie’s catalogue, is:
Private collection, United Kingdom, acquired prior to 1980.
with Galerie am Museum Jürgen Haering, Freiburg.
Prof. H.-H. Heissmeyer collection, Schwäbisch Hall, acquired from
the above in 1992 (inv. no. 23).
Beazley Archive no. 21590.

An object that appears to be the same lekythos is depicted in two professional images from the Becchina archive. A handwritten note states: ‘E Nov 78’.
Left - The lekythos depicted during its confiscation
in a photograph taken by the Italian authorities
 during the raid at Horiuchi’s warehouse in Geneva in 2008.
Right - the same lekythos on exhibition in Christie’s, London,
Image Credit C. Tsirogiannis Saturday 26 September 2015

The lekythos’ collecting history (‘Provenance’), as it appears in the Christie’s catalogue, is:
Anonymous sale; Münzen und Medaillen AG, Basel, 14 November 1986, lot 213.
Formerly private collection, Japan, acquired privately in 1997.

This lekythos was found and confiscated during the raid of the Swiss and Italian authorities at the warehouse of the Japanese dealer Noriyoshi Horiuchi in the Geneva Freeport in 2008. The Italian authorities could not prove the illicit origin of this particular lekythos and
although Horiuchi did not supply any documentation to prove the licit origin of the lekythos, the vase was returned to Horiuchi. 

In total the Italian authorities confiscated 337 antiquities from Horiuchi depicted in the Becchina, Medici and Symes-Michaelides confiscated archives. Horiuchi's name also comes up in a 2014 repatriation case involving another Becchina linked antiquity, a 1,800-year-old sarcophagus lid depicting a sleeping Ariadne.  

It should also be noted that this same lekythos also appeared at one time on offer at ‘Phoenix Ancient Art’ gallery, owned by the Aboutaam brothers, one of whom was convicted in Egypt for antiquities smuggling and the other of whom pleaded guilty to the falsification of at least one customs document. 

In relationship to that listing  the lekythos appeared as ‘SOLD’ on the ‘Phoenix Ancient Art’ gallery website. In the October sale listing Christie’s fails to state the name of the consigner, although they do so in the case of the other three lots (Professor Heissmeyer).

In the three first cases, Christie’s ‘due diligence’ seems to have stopped short of tracing the collecting history back one step further, which would have opened the window on the Becchina transactions.  In the fourth case (lot 93), Christie’s record lists the 1986 and 1997 transaction dates in the lekythos’ collecting history, but completely avoids mentioning the authorities’ raid of Horiuchi’s warehouse in Switzerland or the subsequent passage or ownership of the vase by the convicted Aboutaam brothers, through their ‘Phoenix Ancient Art’ gallery in New York and Geneva.

In total, these are just four objects in a string of tainted auctions with fairly good documentation proving their likelihood that these objects were looted.  If the art market cannot hold itself to task on objects where there is a known and extensive photographic record of illicit activity how will the art market perform its due diligence on antiquities coming from conflict countries like Syria, Iraq and Yemen where no confiscated smuggler dossiers exist?

Due diligence of looted antiquities, be they Italian or conflict-based, has to be meaningful and not merely plausible, in the furtherance of a sale's commission.  Partially-documented histories in an object's collection background, do not necessarily always point to fresh looting or illegal export but when the objects background looks murky, as is the case with these objects, the art market needs to step up its game and voluntarily refuse to participate in the laundering.

UPDATE - October 01, 2015 Christie's has withdrawn the suspect antiquities prior to the auction scheduled today in London.  

Lynda Albertson

Everything You Always Wanted to Know about a Nazi Gold Train But were Afraid to Ask...

For more than a month now ARCA has been fielding requests for interviews on what we think of the mysterious World War II era Nazi gold train.  Rather than try to regurgitate a synopsis of the reporting of 100 plus news agencies, we have decided we would just keep a running tally of what has been reported so far. 

This listing will be in chronological order from most recent to ancient past so please bookmark this page if you want to follow along.

December 23, 2015 06:00 GMT+1 - Professor Janusz Madej from Krakow's AGH University of Science and Technology said its geological survey of the site has found no evidence of a Nazi train rumoured to be carrying gems and gold.   In November, the Krakow AGH University team of geologists and engineers surveyed the site using magnetic and gravitation methods and believe that the anomalies of the ground point to possibly the remnants of a collapsed tunnel, but not a train in and of itself.

October 14, 2015 18:00 GMT+2  Peter Koper and Andreas Richter attended a meeting with Wałbrzych mayor, Romana Szełemeja at the city's town hall regarding an application on finds and mining.  The pair declared that they are ready for "permanent cooperation with the authorities of Walbrzych in all undertakings related to discovery" and suggested that their cooperation could take the form of a public-private partnership. Koper and Richter also proffered to carry out Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) site verification tests at their own expense. The meeting concluded with the mayor assuring the two treasure seekers that the city authorities would review their application carefully, along with the 11 other offers they have received, in furtherance of the exploration.  Both parties agreed to meet again sometime within the next two weeks.

October 05, 2015 09:00 GMT+2  Souvenir sellers have already moved in to cash in on Wałbrzych's sudden fame and tourism gold rush.  Chocolate candy gold bars, and t-shirts featuring a picture of a golden train are selling briskly at Książ castle in the Lower Silesian Voivodeship and a new book has been published highlighting the gold train frenzy.

October 03, 2015 03:00 GMT+2 Responding to journalists Poland’s defense minister, Tomasz Siemoniak, says that army experts have handed over a "safe parcel of land" to Wałbrzych authorities having found no dangerous objects or substances on the surface of the site.  Both  the military and municipal authorities were tight-lipped about whether defence forces had found any hard evidence with which to corroborate treasure hunters' claims that they have located the train.  Siemoniak added "The army's job is done as we're not in the business of treasure hunting."

September 28, 2015 12:00 GMT+2 Twenty Polish sappers in Wałbrzych begin checking the area designated as the potential resting grounds for the train. The soldiers will do safety checks of the earth to ensure there are no mines or other unexploded ordnances from World War II.

September 25, 2015 14:00 GMT+2
One of the area where Nazi gold train is to be hidden in Poland has been cleared of bushes and trees by Polish Military forces.

September 23, 2015 07:00 GMT+2  Trainspotters Andreas Richter and Piotr Koper may face charges and up to 30 days in jail and/or fines for having not obtained permissions to use Ground Penetrating Radar.  “It is all about is to teach a lesson to their followers. We do not want to have a wave of treasure hunters ignore the rules - explains Barbara Nowak-Obelinda, quoted in Gazeta Wyborcza.

September 21, 2015 15:30 GMT+2  Finally a little somber reasoning is being interjected into the train frenzy discourse.  Tomasz Siemoniak, Deputy Prime Minister of Poland and current Minister of National Defence has said that the discovery of new tunnels is not a sensation from the time of Pharaoh, but should be remembered for the death of thousands of people subjected to slave labor to have built it.

Siemoniak also underscored that the Polish military is not interested in finding treasure, but rather protecting human beings from threats.  Speaking to the Polish media he reminded the public that each day, World War II “souvenirs” are found, in the form of unexploded ordinances, which military sappers are then left to dispose of. 

September 19, 2015 21:00 GMT+1 News broke that the ladies have entered the gold rush. Saturday hobby historian Christel Focken (54) threw her own explorer hat into the ring with her male Nazi train hunter counterparts, staking her own claim to any finders fees should the Polish train turn out to be more than the wishful thinking of adventurers.  The Berliner, who according to offers on her website, offers guided visits to former Nazi tunnels and buildings built in the Owl Mountains has informed Polish authorities in Wałbrzych of four blocked up tunnels.

When asked if she believes trainspotters Andreas Richter and Piotr Koper’s hopeful claim that the train might contain the long lost Amber Room of the Russian Czars which was looted from a Russian palace by Nazi troops in 1941.  Ms. Focken laughed.

September 18, 2015  19:00 GMT+2  Treasure Hunters Andreas Richter and Piotr Koper hold a joint press conference with prospector, explorer Tadeusz Słowikowski in Struga near Wałbrzych. They presented another ground-penetrating radar image but not of the acclaimed World War II Nazi train. During the press conference the trio also highlighted a new image of a potential location of the train, this one in a much more industrialised area close to Wałbrzych in south-west Poland near the Czech border.

September 16, 2015 12:20 GMT+2 Polish local authorities and National authorities not seeing eye to eye on who should be involved in the investigation.  Members of the delegation of the Polish Army Museum, along with Adam Sikorski, the author of a TV program and Robert Kmieć, an expert in GPRmwere not given access to the alleged hiding place of the train despite bringing with them their own sophisticated and noninvasive GPR equipment. The MALÅ X3M™ system is one of the most compact GPR system commercially available on the market and used still costs an eye-popping sum usually reserved for professionals.   The fact that the geologists from the museum brought their own equipment corresponds with their skepticism of the GPR images presented by Piotr Koper and genealogist Andreas Richter using the KS ANALYSIS GPR KS700.  Unfortunately, they were not permitted to put their own unit to the test.

September 13, 2015 15:57 GMT+2 Heritage humor on Twitter sardonically changes the hashtag from  #ZłotyPociąg to #SchroedingersTrain.
September 13, 2015 15:35 GMT+2 As Poland's "gold train" frenzy gains momentum city officials, explorers and treasure hunters turn their attention towards a 262 meter crossover railway tunnel in Unisław Silesia built in the mid 1800s. Authorities inspecting the area found an unauthorised hole punched and continue to remind those with gold rush fever that the pursuit of treasures and solving of mysteries can be dangerous and without proper authorisation, it is also illegal.

September 13, 2015 11:11 GMT+2 Military reconnaissance continues.  Polish Armed forces bring in chemical weapons personnel as a precaution.   Areas surrounding the potential train site are to be cleared of trees and shrubs.

September 11, 2015 15:00 GMT+2 Polish explorer, Mirosław Krzysztof Szpakowski and the Włodarz Depozyty III Rzeszy upload a Youtube documentary in Polish reporting on the gold train's developments.  The video has been viewed more than 31,000 times.

September 11, 2015 15:29 GMT+2 - In almost Paul Bunyon-like ever growing tall tale, Polish  TV TVN24 and Wałbrzych regional authorities hold a press conference with a third Polish explorer, Mirosław Krzysztof Szpakowski. Szpakowski believes his research shows that the Nazis built an enormous underground bunker to protect thousands of people in the area. The explorer bases his statement on research he has been gathering for decades elaborating that this research includes witness statements, old documents and an examination of the area by ground-penetrating radar (GPR) and.....dowsers.

Oh, and there might be three trains, instead of just one.

Szpakowski is the president of Poland's Riese Association. The name Riese stems from the Nazi code name for a construction project carried out using forced labourers and prisoners from concentration camps constructed between 1943 and 1945.  These underground structures and tunnels located in the Owl Mountains and Książ Castle in Lower Silesia.  Some of these tunnels have long been explored and documented, others have not as they are blocked with debris.

The Riese association's website says the association supports tourism and the protection of monuments, historical areas, building tunnels and land that form the complex Riese, in the macro-region Municipality of Nowa Ruda. Their website has been active since 2003.

September 10, 2015 19:24 GMT+2 - A image leaked to Polish newspaper Gazeta Wroclawska, which purports to be a radar image of the Nazi gold train appears to show a train with cannons. Academics also question this second image's authenticity. Curator Michal Mackiewicz of the Polish Army Museum says that he was approached by persons with this image in June 2014.  The image was apparently presented in relationship to three persons, not named, but who are not Piotr Koper and Andreas Richter. 

September 09, 2015 23:00 GMT+2 Images of the location where the Gold Train is supposed to be have been posted on Twitter by social media user @Exen.

September 09, 2015 14:25 GMT+2  - According to police in Świebodzice a 39 year old treasure hunter has died after falling several meters off the top of a listed mausoleum which houses members of the wealthy von Kramst family while looking for Nazi treasure.  His two companions have been charged with desecrating a grave.  The tomb is located approximately 5 km from the vicinity of the zone where the Nazi train is reported to be located.

September 09, 2015 13:14 GMT+2 - A World War II-era railway tunnel with a multi-level complex of underground corridors is located near the village of Walim, 19 km (12 miles) from Wałbrzych,  by the same to treasure hunters, Andreas Richter and Piotr Koper. 

Richter and Koper used a 1926 railway map, linked here, that led them to the tunnel near to the former railway station in Walim.

September 06, 2015 - Piotr Koper and Andreas Richter have been expelled from their local history society, the Lower Silesian Study Group.  The South-west Poland study group study the area’s wartime past and archaeology.  Until the expulsion Koper acted as the group’s vice president. Richter writes a blog post calling for a motion of censure against the board of the historical society.  Petre Koper, Andreas Richter’s son Christian and Paul Dill, Peter Koper’s son all withdraw from the group in solidarity.

September 05, 2015 14:59 GMT+1  Edward Zbierański grants an interview to Polish news agency TNV24.  He says that when he was 14 years old he lived and worked on a farm located just outside the railway line.  During the war he recalls his sister telling him that she had heard a German woman said that prisoner of war had pushed part or all of a train into a tunnel and were never seen again. He also said that there were rumours that the train cars where booby-trapped with toxic gas. 

September 05, 2015 - Richter and Koper give credit to retired miner Tadeusz Slowikowski, from whom they first learned of the Nazi train's possible existence. They also say the fury over their claim surrounding the trains discovery was not of their doing, rather the leaking of documents submitted to Polish authorities that found their way into the press. Both claim they have backers to fund the extraction and recovery of the train and the exploration of nearby territories while protecting the nearby environment and want to build a museum to bring tourism to the area. Richter and Koper post a statement to their website reiterating what was read over the polish news service. 

Screen grab of graphic taken with a
GPR KS-700 reportedly showing train and nearby terrain.
September 04, 2015 09:00 GMT+2 - Builder Piotr Koper from Walbrzych, Poland, and genealogist Andreas Richter from Germany, revealed their identities for the first time reading a statement on Polish news service TVP.INFO where they declared “As the finders of a second world war armoured train, we, Andreas Richter and Piotr Koper, declare that we have legally informed state authorities about the find and have precisely indicated the location in the presence of Wałbrzych authorities and the police.” 

After reading their statement, the men released an image purportedly taken with ground-penetrating radar that seemed to show the armoured Nazi train, not in a tunnel, as previously thought, but buried under ground.  The authenticity of the image is greatly debated. 

September 03, 2015, 18:26 GMT+1 - Retired miner Tadeusz Slowikowski, 84, believed to be the main living source of the nazi train legend admits to knowing the two "engineers" who have purportedly found the train but will not release their names. Mr. Slowikowsk says that the two had visited his home to review prewar German maps of the area, current photographs and a model that he built which indicates the spot where he personally believes the train disappeared.  

September 02, 2015 11:03 GMT+2 - Minister of Defence Tomasz Siemoniak says Polish military reconnaissance team will help Nazi train search near Wałbrzych.

September 01, 2015 12:00 GMT+2 Koper and Richter write their first two posts on their website page.  The first is titled "GPS Survey of Tunnel During the Second World War." Post shows a floating image supposedly taken from a Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) test performed using KS ANALYSIS Ground Penetrating Radar KS700 device.  Company website for device says it is commonly used by archaeologists and metal detectors.   Second post states that it is an image of a fifty meter shaft where the Nazi train is located.

September 01, 2015 - Train fever escalates.  Treasure hunters, some equipped with metal detectors, and curious locals have swarmed into the wooded hills and Owl Mountains . Governor Tomasz Smolarz deploys police to block entry points into the woods along a four kilometer-long track of rail so that treasure seekers do not attempt to walk along the still active train tracks where they could be injured.  

August 31, 2015 - World Jewish Congress CEO Robert Singer calls for any Holocaust-related valuables found to be returned to their rightful owners, or their heirs. “To the extent that any items now being discovered in Poland may have been stolen from Jews before they were sent to death.....It is essential that every measure is taken to return the property to its rightful owners or to their heirs.” 

August 30, 2015 - The train is said to be located in an underground tunnel constructed by the Nazis along a 4km stretch of track on the Wroclaw-Wałbrzych line. However, its exact location is still being kept hiddenwhile being investigated through a careful operation conducted by the Army, Police and Fire Brigade.

August 28, 2015 13:50 GMT+  - Piotr Koper from Walbrzych, Poland, and genealogist Andreas Richter from Germany open their "company" website.  

August 28, 2015 15:00 GMT+2  - Deputy Culture Minister of Poland, Piotr Zuchowski says images appeared to definitively show a train equipped with gun turrets. He also states that the two treasure hunters received information about the train’s location in a deathbed confession from a man who reportedly helped hide the train some 70 years ago and wanted to pass on his knowledge before he died.  Deputy Culture Minister Piotr Zuchowski warns of the danger to civilians and amateur cave spelunkers and treasure seekers of entering the disused World War II tunnels around Wałbrzych. Authorities say it will take weeks for the area to be secured and the suspected location explored.

Wałbrzych's deputy mayor, Zygmunt Nowaczyk relays that the train's is located within the his city’s administrative zone but that the location was not being disclosed. Authorities in Poland's cultural ministry continue to state that the site may pose a risk to "foragers" and urges World War II and Train buffs to stear clear of the area as they risk harming themselves.

August 24, 2015 Authorities in the southwestern district of Wałbrzych, where the 495-foot-long train is said to have been found, reportedly hold an emergency meeting and warn treasure hunters that the train is 'probably mined'.

August 21, 2015 - Artnet news speculates that if the contents of the train do prove to include Holocaust art returning the valuables to their rightful owners and heirs will likely be as contentious as the ownership debates surrounding the Cornelius Gurlitt's art hoard, or the dispute over Adele Block-Bauer's, Gustav Klimt collection. 

August 20, 2015 19:42 GMT+2 - Marika Tokarska, an official at the Wałbrzych district council says the two treasure hunters claim they have found a 490-foot (150-meter) train seventy meters below ground which they believe may contain Nazi treasure that could be worth "well over a million dollars.” The pair still won't reveal the train's location without a guarantee of a percentage of the finds. Despite warnings from academics that they may be dealing with a hoax or dangerous chemicals, fortune hunters from Europe begin flocking to Poland.  With stars in their eyes, some begin speculating if the train could contain the 8th wonder of the world, the long-lost Czarist Amber Room from the Catherine Palace of Tsarskoye Selo near Saint Petersburg or if the finds might reconnect Jewish heirs with stolen art never recovered after the war. 

August 19, 2015 15:56 GMT+2 - Reuters breaks the news of the possible Nazi train claim for the first time in English. Interviewing local authorities in Poland’s southwestern district of Wałbrzych, the world learns that city officials had been contacted by a law firm representing two individuals, one Polish, and one German, who claim to have located a German train and who are also seeking 10 percent of the value of any findings.  Under current Polish law, any valuables found from that era would be state property.

August 19, 2015 09:25 GMT+2 - During an interview with Wałbrzych District Head Jacek Cichura, a public official, Polish Radio Wroclaw breaks the news to Polish listeners in its morning audience that a letter of demands has been received at the District Office in Wałbrzych on August 13th informing authorities that individuals have information on a purported armoured Nazi train still loaded with its original cargo. There is no precise indication of the location released during the broadcast.

August 12, 2015 14:01: GMT+2 - In an eery premonition, British newspaper The Daily Mail presents an article titled “Abandoned guns, forgotten munitions carts and peeling paint: Inside the eerie military shelters in Poland where children were forced to dig tunnels to help the Nazi military machine”  No mention is made of a lost Nazi Train or the frenzy that is about to erupt a few days later.

May 2015 - Unauthorised drilling and georadar testing in May leaves six large holes in the ground somewhere near Walim, a village about 12 miles west of Wałbrzych.

Image Credit Reuters -Tadeusz Slowikowski, retired miner 
Date Undetermined-  A second "Nazi Train source, Tadeusz Slowikowski, is cited as a retired miner from Wałbrzych, who said that just after the close of the Second World War a German living in the area had informed him that there was a train hidden near the 13th century Książ Castle.  He has been following up on leads regarding the mystery train's existence for half a century.

Date Undetermined - The train legend can be traced to at least two different Polish sources. The first was reported to be a deceased businessman known only as Mr. Posibirski, who said he saw a document locating the train near Piechowice, a town in Jelenia Góra County, Lower Silesian Voivodeship, located in south-western Poland, 104 km from Warsaw.

Date Undetermined - It is believed that a Nazi train, “went missing” in 1945 as the Red Army closed in during the final days of World War II. Said train was purportedly filled with a variety of contents, possibly gold bullion, originating from the Lower Silesian capital of Breslau (now Wroclaw) then eastern Germany, now Poland.

By Lynda Albertson

September 28, 2015

New Zealand Hosts its First Art Crime Symposium

The inaugural Art Crime Symposium, held at City Gallery in Wellington on 19 September 2015, brought together leading academics and researchers for an innovative and ground-breaking one-day symposium, covering many aspects of art crime, both in New Zealand and beyond.  Organised by the New Zealand Art Crime Research Trust, this one-day event was the first of its kind in New Zealand. The founding trustees of the newly formed trust are Judge Arthur Tompkins, Penelope Jackson, Ngarino Ellis and Louisa Gommans. 

The organisers of the event were inspired after attending the annual conference held by the Association for Research into Crime against Art (ARCA) in Amelia, Italy, to recreate something similar much closer to home.  The Trust’s secretary, Louisa Gommans, says “We thought it likely that people in New Zealand would be interested in the topic of art crime, but we have been absolutely blown away by the number of people who attended and their enthusiasm for the subject!”  The auditorium at City Gallery was nearly at full capacity, with over 70 people in attendance, and the range of backgrounds and professions of those who attended captures the multi-disciplinary background of those interested in art crime.  

The Symposium began with a cocktail function in the foyer of City Gallery on Friday 18 September, which was a great opportunity for attendees and speakers to mix and mingle.  The Symposium commenced at 10 am on Saturday 19 September with a welcome from the Hon. Chris Finlayson Q.C., Attorney General.  This welcome focussed particularly on the Motunui Panels, recently returned home to New Zealand and soon to be unveiled at Puke Ariki Museum and Library in New Plymouth.   

Then followed a fascinating line up of lectures throughout the day.  Many who had registered for the Symposium thought New Zealand probably did not have an art crime problem, but were soon put straight on that score:

Penelope Jackson, an Art Historian with a special interest in NZ art crime, gave an overview of the art crime scene in New Zealand;
Garth Galloway, Partner at Chapman Tripp, discussed immunity from seizure legislation and the fact that New Zealand has not implemented any such legislation to date;
Catherine Gardner, Manager of Case Management for New Zealand Police, talked about the difficulties of recording crimes relating to art and some of the interesting cases the Police have dealt with;
Ngarino Ellis, Senior Lecturer in Art History at the University of Auckland, illustrated art crime in a Maori context, particularly in post-colonial times;
Roger Blackley, Associate Professor in the School of Art History, Classics and Religious Studies at Victoria University, gave a captivating example of connoisseurship in action while discussing two apparently similar paintings, only one of which is thought to be an authentic work by Gottfried Lindauer;
Judge Arthur Tompkins, a Judge in the District Court, delved into the saga surrounding Cornelius Gurlitt and the challenges of dealing with Nazi-looted art works;
Louisa Gommans, a Lawyer with a special interest in art law, discussed the repatriation of Maori and Moriori ancestral remains home to New Zealand.

The Symposium concluded with a highly topical panel discussion, chaired by Kim Hill, featuring Geoffrey Batchen (a teacher, writer and curator, focusing on the history of photography), Jim Barr (art commentator) and Sarah Farrar (Senior Curator of Art at Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand).  The panel considered the issue of selfies in galleries, including the merits – or not – of allowing visitors to take photographs for personal use while viewing art works.  While the panel did not reach a consensus about whether or not selfie-taking was good or bad thing, it did conclude that people are unlikely to stop taking selfies anytime soon. 

The organisers hope to make the Symposium an annual event, and have already confirmed Saturday 15 October 2016 at City Gallery, Wellington for next year’s event.  

For more information please contact the secretary of the New Zealand Art Crime Research Trust, Louisa Gommans, at or follow “New Zealand Art Crime Research Trust: The Symposium” on Facebook.  

Monday, September 28, 2015 - ,,,,, No comments

UNITAR-UNOSAT Damage Assessment of Aden, Aden Governorate, Yemen

This map, produced August 28, 2015 by UNITAR’s Operational Satellite Applications Programme - UNOSAT, a technology-intensive programme delivering imagery analysis and satellite solutions to relief and development organisations within and outside the UN system illustrates satellite-detected damage and analysis of the destruction in the city of Aden, Aden Governorate, Yemen. 

Using satellite imagery acquired 21 August 2015, 10 May 2015, and 31 December 2014, UNITAR-UNOSAT has identified a total of 839 affected structures, a 30 percent increase from the previous 10 May 2015 analysis. Approximately 356 structures were destroyed, 202 severely damaged, and 270 moderately damaged. Additionally, 50 impact craters were found within the city, the majority of which were located in the vicinity of Aden International Airport. A total of 13 medical facilities were identified within 100 meters of damaged and destroyed buildings, and it is possible that these facilities also sustained some damage. 

This is a preliminary analysis and has not yet been validated in the field. If you have further information on the situation in Aden please send ground feedback to UNITAR-UNOSAT by contacting them here. 

UNITAR-UNOSAT has also developed early situation reports and analysis of other Yemen urban areas.  The most recent, completed to date are linked below. 

     Taiz City, At Ta'Ziah District, published July 9, 2015
     Sana'a City, Sana'a Governorate, published June 6, 2015
     Sadah, Saada Governorate, published May 20, 2015

The situation in Yemen is presently considered a complex emergency. 

For further information on UNITAR-UNOSAT's analysis of the situation in Yemen please check the UNITAR page on Yemen frequently. 

To follow citizen and media reporting on the destruction in Yemen via social media, please consider following Archaeology in Yemen, a Facebook page coadministered by the Association for Research into Crimes against Art and Archaeology in Syria Network 

September 26, 2015

Saturday, September 26, 2015 - , No comments

Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi Surrendered to the International Criminal Court at the Hague on Heritage War Crime Charges for Destruction of Historic Monuments in Timbuktu

In a case setting precedence Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi, also known as Abu Tourab, is the first suspect to be charged by the Hague's International Criminal Court, the world's only permanent war crimes court, in relation to offenses involving the destruction of religious and historical monuments. 

During 2012 Azawadi forces seized control of northern Mali and used shovels, axes, and automatic weapons to destroy shrines and pilgrimage sites, tied mostly to Islam’s Sufi religious group. In total, 14 important historical sites were damaged in Timbuktu. 

As an alleged member of the Ansar Dine, a Tuareg Islamic extremist militia in North Africa, Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi, was formally indicted by the International Criminal Court in June 2015 for overseeing the destruction of nine mausoleums and one mosque while heading Hesbah, also referred to as the "Manners' Brigade" which was tasked with carrying out the decisions of the Islamic Court of Timbuktu.

Ruins of the mausoleum of Alfa Moya,
Image Credit 
Eric Feferberg, AFP

The situation in Mali was referred to the Court by the government of Mali on 13 July 2012. On 16 January 2013, the  ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, opened an investigation into alleged crimes committed on the territory of Mali as a result of the 2012 uprising. 

Bensouda has stated that the court has established reasonable grounds to believe that Mr Al Faqi is criminally responsible for having committed, individually and jointly with others, facilitated or otherwise contributed to the commission of war crimes by intentionally directing attacks against the following buildings: 

Mausoleum of Ahamed Fulane
Mausoleum of Alpha Moya
Mausoleum of Bahaber Babadié
Mausoleum of Cheick Abdoul Kassim Attouaty
Mausoleum of Sheikh Mohamed Mahmoud Al Arawani
Mausoleum of Sheikh Muhammad El Micky
Mausoleum of Sheikh Sidi Mokhtar Ben Sidi Muhammad Ben Sheikh Alkabir
Mausoleum of Sidi Mahmoud Ben Amar
Mausoleum of Sidi Mahmoud Ben Omar Mohamed Aquit
Sidi Yahya Mosque

Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi was surrendered to the court by Niger authorities on Saturday September 26, 2015.   No date was immediately set for his arraignment.  

The full ICC statement on this case can be found here. 

A video statement by the ICC Prosecutor - Fatou Bensouda, can be seen below. 

September 23, 2015

Details on the Getty and Armenian Church Agreement Over Stolen Bible Pages

Image Credit: J. Paul Getty Museum
In June 2010 the La Crescenta-based Western Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America, filed a $105-million lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court against the J. Paul Getty Museum in California. Through attorney Vartkes Yeghiayan,  the church's filing claimed that the museum illegally purchased eight detached illustrated pages that were once part of a 750 year old sacred Bible, that had been stolen from its rightful owner, the Catholicosate of Cilicia, during the gravest days of the Armenian Genocide sometime between 1915-1923.

The illustrations, known collectively as the Zet’un Gospels Canon Tables, were loaned anonymously by Gil Atamian to the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York for their exhibition "Treasures in Heaven : Armenian illuminated manuscripts" in 1994 and were acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum, for an undisclosed sum from the same collector, the same year. Gil Atamian is said to have inherited the Canon Tables upon the death of his uncle, Nazareth Atamian in 1980, who in turn had acquired them from his father Melkon Atamian who brought them with him when he emigrated to the United States.

The Zet’un Gospels, of which the Canon Tables are part, were made in 1256 in the scriptorium of Hṙomkla for the Armenian High Patriarch, or Catholicos, Constantine I by T’oros Roslin, an Armenian manuscript illuminator during the High Middle Ages. This illuminated manuscript is one of only seven known manuscripts to have been preserved that bear the accomplished illustrator's signature. Aside from the Canon Table pages, the remaining portion of the Zet'un Gospels form part of the extensive collection at the Matenadaran's Mesrop Mashtots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts in Yerevan, Armenia.

Prior to its disappearance, the Zet'un Gospels had once been housed at the Church in Zeyt’un in eastern Anatolia, what is now also called Süleymanli, Turkey.  The sacred manuscript was believed to symbolically provide the city's Armenian citizens with protection and was exhibited in the Zeyt'un streets during times of unrest.  Unfortunately, in World War I most of the city's inhabitants were ultimately deported and largely exterminated during the genocide of the Ottoman Armenians.

Despite being caught in the vagaries of art provenance during war, the Getty Museum has always maintained that it purchased the Canon Tables legally stating in their answer to the complaint that sometime prior to the early 1920s, the Zet'un Gospels had become the property of Melkon Atamian who, like many Armenians during that period had emigrated to the United States in 1923 and eventually settling in Massachusetts.

The Armenian Bar Association in its Winter 2015 newsletter states that a Turkish man found
the Zeytun Gospels and brought them to Melkon Atamian in Marash for him to sell,   The article states that Atamian cut away eight folios or sixteen pages bearing the Canon Tables and returned the manuscript to the Turkish individual stating that he did not want to handle it.

Court documents filed by the J. Paul Getty Museum collaborate that Melkon Atamian himself removed the Gospel’s Canon Tables from the manuscript but differ in whom he returned the remainder of the manuscript to, stating that he entrusted the remainder of the Gospel to an American missionary by the name of "Lyman".

Examined records researched in relation to the case state that somewhere around 1928 a Dr. Liman (or Lyme or Lyman) reportedly sent word to the "Zeyt’im Companiotio Union" in Aleppo, informing them that he was in possession of the "Zeyt‘un Bible" in Marash and was ready to transfer the text to them. Through a series of complicated passages in or about 1947-1948, Catholicos Karekin who served as the Catholicos of the Armenian Apostolic Church sent the Zeyt’un Gospel to Dr. H. Der Ghazarian in Aleppo to authenticate its provenance.   The Bible - once authenticated was then sent back to the Catholicosate noting that it was minus the illustrated Canon Table pages.

It is interesting to note that the Catholicosate documentation regarding the Zeyt‘un Bible speaks of the missing pages, but makes no mention of Melkon Atamian, "the unnamed Turk" or to whom Dr. Liman, Lyme, Lyman obtained the manuscript from or under what circumstances.  Records note only that the pages had been ripped from the manuscript or stolen from it and that no culprit was ever identified.

The J. Paul Getty page highlighting the Canon Tables which can be viewed here makes no mention of the documents contested collection history.

That being said a settlement between the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Western Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America has been reached and announced with much fanfare on Monday September 21, 2015.

Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum stated in part

"the Getty acknowledges the Armenian Apostolic Church’s ownership of the eight 13th Century manuscript pages. “That the pages were saved from destruction and conserved in a museum all these years means that these irreplaceable representations of Armenia’s rich artistic heritage have been and will be preserved for future generations,”

While the agreement acknowledges the Church’s historical ownership of the Canon Tables, the Armenian Apostolic Church has agreed to donate the pages to the Getty Museum in order to ensure their preservation and widespread exhibition.  In a carefully worded joint statement the Church gives recognition to the Getty’s decades-long stewardship of the Canon Tables and its deep understanding and appreciation of Armenian art.

The agreement between the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Western Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America can be read in its entirety here.

By Lynda Albertson

September 20, 2015

Sunday, September 20, 2015 - ,, No comments

Lest We Forget Yemen - Update on Airstrikes on UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Old City of Sana'a

Smoke billows following airstrikes in the capital of
Sana’a on August 20, 2015.
(Image Credit: AFP / Mohammed Huwais)
In one of the heaviest nights of bombardment in months, aid workers and witnesses report that air raids on Saturday, September 19 led by Saudi-led coalition warplanes,  killed at least 30 in Yemen's capital city of Sana’a.  Ten of the dead were members of the same family, killed in the Al-Falihi neighbourhood in the city's old town. 

The Local Council of Sana’a called on all UN agencies and regional and Arab organizations, as well as UNESCO, to denounce Saudi-led airstrikes against the Old City of Sana’a and to work diligently to find a resolution, condemning the ongoing attacks against the city. 

Oman’s Sultanate, through the Foreign Ministry, also summoned Eid Mohammed Al Thaqafi, the ambassador of Saudi Arabia and handed him a written letter of protest demanding an explanation after an alliance’s air strike targeted the residence of the Omani ambassador yesterday in the southern neighbourhood of Hadda, a southwestern neighbourhood of Sana'a. 

Oman's objection memo read

According to Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awsat, military spokesman, Brigadier-General Ahmed al-Asiri, said the coalition had targeted the Yemeni Interior Ministry building and forces loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh, not the Omani ambassador's residence. In addition to the Omani residence and the Interior Ministry building, the overnight sorties struck a police station, the presidential complex of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, and a party building.  The presidential complex had already been damaged in 2011, injuring Saleh and killing several others.

Oman’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement strongly denouncing Saturday’s incident and requesting that the United Nations undertake measures for ending the war in Yemen before it becomes a serious threat to the security of the region. Oman is the singular Gulf state that does not belong to the Saudi-led coalition and has offered to host planned UN-mediated peace talks between the government and rebels.

Sana'a is the largest city in Yemen and the centre of Sana'a Governorate. Inhabited for more than 2,500 years, Sana'a old city is an UNESCO World Heritage Site noted for its many-storeyed tower-houses built using pisé de terre, an ancient rammed earth method of construction that dates back to at least 7000 BCE in Pakistan.    Prior to becoming the latest victim of unrest the city of Sana'a hosted 103 mosques, 14 hammams and over 6,000 houses, all built before the 11th century. 

Dr. Iris Gerlach, a specialist in the archaeology of southern Arabia and director of the Sana’a Branch of the German Archaeological Institute (DAI) has provided UNESCO with a “no-strike” list of all the important archaeological sites in Yemen to forward on to the Saudi government.  She conceded 

On September 01, 2015, The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) documented 6,631 civilian casualties, including 2,112 civilian deaths, and 4,519 wounded since the start of the conflict in Yemen escalated in March 2015.

Adama Dieng, UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide and Jennifer Welsh, UN Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect, issued a statement September 15th on the situation in Yemen expressing concern at the ever increasing impact on civilians of the ongoing conflict and the virtual silence of the international community about the threat to populations.

As we continue to destroy the past, we are losing the future. 

By: Lynda Albertson,