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December 24, 2015

Thursday, December 24, 2015 - No comments

18th Century Artefacts Seized from a Bahamas Flagged Ship

The Odyssey Explorer (midground) in Falmouth Docks, UK.
The salvage vessel belongs to Odyssey Marine Exploration,
and is used in the exploration of underwater wreck sites. 
Authorities in Limassol, Cyprus have confiscated the cargo of a Bahamas-flagged ship which has been moored at Limassol harbour since December 17, after finding evidence of suspected illegal removal of antiquities.  Acting on information provided anonymously to both the Transport and Foreign Ministries of the Cypriot authorities, police on Wednesday secured a seizure warrant for the cargo of the ‘Odyssey Explorer’, a vessel owned by the deep-ocean exploration firm, Odyssey Marine Exploration, Inc., (NasdaqCM: OMEX).  The Florida-based American private treasure hunting firm was founded in 1994 and is known for its underwater recovery of shipwrecks including the HMS Victory, the S Republic, the SS Gairsoppaand the SS Central America, as well as shipwreck salvage operations involving third-century BC Punic sites and recovery of WWII casualties.  

In 2012 Odyssey Marine Exploration set a record for the deepest and heaviest cargo recovery from a shipwreck to date involving the recovery of the SS Gairsoppa.  During that operation, its team retrieved 48 tons of silver from the vessel which sank in 1941 in waters more than 15,000 feet deep. 

Odyssey Marine Exploration currently has several shipwreck projects in various stages of development around the world, including the jurisdictionally disputed Black Swan Project a recovery operation purported to be the richest haul ever retrieved from a shipwreck to date.  Th e value of that recovery has been estimated to value of $500 million (£314 million).   However the rights to the finds of the wrecked 19th Century Spanish vessel, ‘Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes’, are being contested as the Spanish believe the wreck lays within Spanish territorial waters whereas Odyssey contends the shipwreck was recovered in “international waters” west of the Straits of Gibraltar. 

Assisted by the Cypriot antiquities authority and customs officials, Port and Marine police boarded the ‘Odyssey Explorer’ this week in Cyprus and searched the ship's locked hold finding 57 plastic containers, several which contained artefacts dating to approximately to the 18th century.  Some of the objects clearly appeared to have been recently retrieved from an underwater site.   

Many of the objects seized were found submerged in desalinated water, a technique common in the preservation of objects retrieved from underwater archaeological sites as once a submerged artifact leaves its sea water resting place and is exposed to the air, it must undergo an immediate stabilization process to prevent further deterioration.  

Artifacts found submerged in ocean water pose the greatest challenge to preserve and underwater conservators often utilize specially constructed vats for desalination and conservation, using a series of static water baths to lower the salt levels within the encrustation of the objects.   The fact that this technique was being used by the salvage team on the objects confiscated lends evidence that the material retrieved is quite recent. 

As the ship had been out to sea prior to birthing on December 17th, it is not known if any or all of the antiquities discovered on board were of Cypriot origin.   Reports suggest that the most consistent position of the vessel's recovery work was some 60 km due west of Beirut in the Lebanese Economic Zone.   Some have stated that the investigation was initiated by the Cypriot Government at the request of Lebanon authorities.   Some believe the sailing ship being recovered was the "Napreid", which sank to the bottom of the sea near Beirut and contained gold and silver coins, cylinders and sixty cases of other antiquities shipped on an ill-fated Austrian ship which caught fire and sunk 50 miles off of the coast of Syria.

The Eastern Mediterranean and Levant have long been an established maritime highway where ship wrecks of any period might contain cargoes which could be appealing to recovery operations.

As a result of the seizure Odyssey Marine Exploration has issued the following statement.
“Odyssey Marine Exploration has been conducting a deep -ocean archaeological project in the Eastern Mediterranean under contract. The project has been conducted legally and Odyssey has not conducted any operations in Cypriot waters. Any statements to the contrary are false.  The shipwreck on which the company has been conducting an archaeological operation appears to be a cargo vessel dating to the early to mid-17th century (1600-1650) with a primary cargo of agricultural goods, porcelain, glazed pottery and other trade cargo. The site is not identifiable by name nor country of origin. The project design anticipates full publication of the results of the operation and exhibit of the recovered artifacts. 
We understand the actions taken by the local authorities were based on a false report. Odyssey is fully cooperating and the company is confident the authorities will quickly confirm that Odyssey was neither working in Cypriot waters nor recovering ancient artefacts. 
On this project, Odyssey is subject to a non-disclosure agreement under the contract and cannot provide further details.”

December 16, 2015

Meet the 2015 Students of ARCA - Jess Kamphuis

How did you hear about ARCA? What were your motivations behind applying to the post-graduate program?

As an undergrad, I combined security studies and art history; it’s rare to find a program in which I can pursue both of these disciplines. I also spent last summer studying cultural protection in Malta, and visited Amelia to attend ARCA’s annual art crime conference. My experience at the conference this year was actually really different, having also attended the year before: instead of frantically trying to absorb all the knowledge and information being presented on, I found the content this year much more approachable, and could focus on networking.

How does your academic background correlate with the work you are doing in the program?

As a recent graduate, in school I studied cultural discourse and security studies with a minor in art history. After the program, I will leave for England to get my masters in transnational security. I approach cultural discourse as a theoretical construct, as a means of understanding how ideas and people move throughout the world and interact. Security studies is likewise a way of observing how power constructs are formed, how nations and resistance movements are established, and the ways in which people agreeing or not agreeing about things shapes culture, identity, and a subsequent need for varied approaches to security. A lot of my work focuses on subcultures and parallel political systems.

In the program, I have researched and studied cultural heritage trafficking and how the appropriation of someone else’s culture can create funding for criminal activity. This lack of regulation in the art market contributes to self regulation, where individuals or groups of individuals create their own policy. I find this fascinating in relation to resistance movements and the ways in which war and conflict influence art.

Can you briefly describe your understanding of the connection between art and war?

Well art has always been an integral part of war. War is used to define oneself against another, while art is valued reflection of history and culture. Art is at the basis of what war and conflict is aiming to disrupt through the destruction of people and their culture.

What has been your favorite thing about the program? About living in Amelia?

About the program? Definitely everyone that’s here. Professors and students alike are engaging in varied, interdisciplinary fields; not everyone comes from an art history background. I’m used to a competitive honors program, where people were worried about the theft of intellectual property and ensuring they were the most successful student in the course. There’s support here in the ARCA classroom; everyone is coming from different perspectives, wants everyone to succeed, and are happy to be resources in their respective fields.

I think Amelia is a small town that is intimate but dynamic, and definitely conducive to providing an ideal academic environment. It’s easy to slip by as an unnoticed foreigner in a big city, but here people get to know you and give you space to express your own originality.


ARCA is accepting applications for the 2016 Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection.  For more information on how to apply, please click here. 

December 15, 2015

Meet the 2015 Students of ARCA - Ashley Menante

Ashley joins us from the United States where she received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Nevada, Reno in Anthropology with a specialization in Archaeology. She later went on to complete her master’s degree in Biological Anthropology from Cambridge. Prior to starting the ARCA program, she was working as an archaeologist doing contract work in Nevada.

How did you first hear about ARCA and its certificate program?

I had just finished my master’s degree and was investigating different PhD programs in archaeology and cultural heritage management. I was living in Nevada at the time working as a contract archaeologist while interning at the Nevada Museum of Art. I decided that I wanted to gain more experience before started my PhD and I came across ARCA. I felt that the program would be beneficial in giving me experiences and training that would help me with my career and educational goals. I also believed that it would not just change me professionally, but personally as well.

How has the ARCA program measured up to your expectations?

The program has surpassed my expectations. The administrators are very helpful and I have made lifelong contacts and friends with those from the program as well as the conference. The other students come from a diversity of backgrounds, but we all share a common thread of passion for this subject. 

What has been your favorite part of the ARCA program?

My favorite aspect has been the opportunity to explore so many areas of study while in class.

What do you enjoy most about the city of Amelia?
My favorite aspect of Amelia is definitely the people, you feel like you’re home anytime you enter a shop. They know who you are and they are excited that you are here. It is also a good place to relax, be creative, and enjoy the outdoors. 

Where do you see yourself ten years from now?
I plan on exploring further the areas that we have covered during the program. I want to contribute to the field by tackling some of the difficult issues and becoming part of the network of people. I plan on speaking at conferences, becoming involved in underwater archaeology, and participating in international archaeology excavations (including projects here in Italy). I am also planning on earning my PhD in archaeology as well as my law degree.

If someone had one weekend in Amelia, what would you recommend they do?
Wander the city, get lost, grab a sandwich from the local shop, and visit the sunflower fields just outside of the city.


ARCA is accepting applications for the 2016 Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection.  For more information on how to apply, please click here. 

Meet the 2015 Students of ARCA - Samer Abdel Ghafour

Samer Abdel Ghafour is a Syrian cultural heritage specialist whose professional experience includes working both as a museum curator and a field director and chief conservator for archaeological missions in Syria. Samer is currently completing his PhD at Sapienza University of Rome in Philology and History of the Ancient World. 

What were your motivations behind enrolling in the ARCA post-graduate program? What do you value about the program as a whole? 

Each course offered by the ARCA program expands academic knowledge by tackling topics from different angles, while the experience as a whole opens gates and provides networking opportunities. Through the program, I have been introduced to a community of specialists whose work is interrelated with ARCA, its mission, program, academic publications, and journal of art crime. The specialized courses offered develop a platform for engagement that addresses ten different elements, ten domains, ten fields. The specificity of the program supports research and engagement with varied topics that otherwise receive little academic attention and range from sites management, to the conservation of mosaics. 

How does your academic and professional background correlate with the work you are doing in the program?

In 2011, Syria experienced a whirlwind of lawlessness on all levels, including irreversible damage to cultural heritage. Following the looting of open archaeological sites, the illicit trafficking of looted objects, and the destruction of historic monuments and museums, both Syrian and international experts organized several initiatives to mitigate damage to the best of our ability. Improving academic knowledge through participation in this and other programs is an essential part of our commitment to save and protect. In Dick Ellis’ course on Policing, I studied art in the black market and in organized crime, researching methods of tracing illicit trafficking. In Art and Heritage Law with Duncan Chappell, we became better equipped to apply both national and international law, and following Marc Balcells’ Criminology course, I now feel more comfortable addressing organised crime. As crime itself is getting stronger, it is important that we too strengthen ourselves and our knowledge. Amidst the chaos in Syria, we are preparing for the aftermath, trying to maintain stability through networking, documenting damage, and collecting data for analysis.

Networking is a vital component in your current work, correct?

Yes, I use social media as a platform that provides information for the public, not just academics. In July 2011, I attended an international symposium in Berlin in which archaeologists digging in Syria wanted to know whether or not they could continue their work.  Relationships can be ruined by the current inability to dig in Syria, but the loss of these connections can be avoided by communication through a free platform in which awareness is raised and accumulated knowledge is disseminated to whoever is interested. Founding the Archaeology Information Network has not only provided an opportunity to raise cultural heritage awareness, it has also created a space for the collection of data about current damage and has highlighted the good work of others who are invested in cultural heritage protection. I also maintain a Twitter account for those that want to follow my work at @SamAbdelGhafour

What has been your favorite thing about the program? About living in Amelia?

I value the conference itself being held in the middle of the program- it was like a shot of espresso in the middle of the day. The experience solidified and contextualized a lot of the work we were doing in the classroom, providing ARCA students with the opportunity to take the next steps in our respective fields, to network, and to build solid connections and foundations.

As far as Amelia goes, hosting the program here is like combining American academia with an Italian spirit. If our work here is the body and Amelia contributes to the spirit, the two form a living entity, imbued with a depth of historical value from the surrounding environment. The walls of Amelia do not separate it from the natural landscape and cultural heritage surrounding it. These walls, which historically served as means of defence for Amelia, now play the role of  connecting the program to the city and its vivid history. It is a striking example and experience of intercultural engagement. 

Since completing the ARCA summer coursework, what have you been doing this Autumn?

In addition to working on my ARCA thesis I am solidifying the research for my PhD on "Ideologies of the Destruction of Cultural Heritage in the Ancient and Modern Near East" at La Sapienza - Università di Roma with the Facoltà: Dipartimento di Scienze dell'antichità.

I also have a recently updated position with IIMAS – The International Institute for Mesopotamian Area Studies as an Associate Director for Institutional Communications.  Thirdly, I am also working to develop a project a little closer to my home, ARCA in the Levant, a program to bring ARCA's methodology closer to conflict zones.


ARCA is accepting applications for the 2016 Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection.  For more information on how to apply, please click here.

December 9, 2015

Christie's Withdraws Suspect Lot 45 from December 9th Antiquities Auction

ARCA has been informed that Christie's has withdrawn Lot 45: A Celtic bronze dagger and scabbard, 8th C. B.C. from its December 9, 2015 antiquities auction in New York later today.  The potentially looted piece had previously been identified by Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis and was elaborated upon in ARCA's blog here.   Photographs of the specific object, along with lined cards describing the piece as being from the 'Italic, Villanovan period', were found among the confiscated archival records of antiquities dealer Gianfranco Becchina. 

Lot 101, a Canaanite bronze enthroned deity dating between 1550 - 1200 B.C. remains on offer despite Dr. Tsirogiannis' having located 6 professionally taken images from the Symes-Michaelides archive, and despite the fact that neither Symes and Michaelides are not mentioned in the Christie's collecting history. 

Given its less than up to date collection history, it will be interesting to see if potential buyers will bid on the piece or if news notifications will render the piece publicly unsellable. 

December 7, 2015

New Auction House Identifications With Opaque Collection Histories and Image Matches in Known Trafficker Archives

Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis has identified three antiquities related to the upcoming December 9, 2015 Christie's antiquities auction in New York which match with images originating within either the Gianfranco Becchina or Symes-Michaelides confiscated archives.

1. Lot 36: A Canosan terracotta Zeus and Ganymede, from Apulia, 3rd-2nd C. B.C.

Image of 'A Canosan terracotta Zeus and Ganymede
from the Becchina archive (provided by Dr. Tsirogiannis)
This antiquity is depicted in the records of the Becchina archive. Although its collecting history - according to Christie's - starts before 1981 and Becchina is not mentioned, there is a document, in the archival record dated January 17, 1995, from a designer to Becchina, mentioning the object specifically.

The designer, Raoul Allaman, seems to have added the figure's current plexiglass base. This object has subsequently been withdrawn as of November 28, 2016 and the Carabinieri TPC in Italy have  been made aware of the identifying match.
Image of 'A Celtic Bronze Dagger and Scabbard'
from the Becchina archive 

(provided by Dr. Tsirogiannis)

2. Lot 45: A Celtic bronze dagger and scabbard, 8th C. B.C. 

This antiquity is also depicted in the Becchina archive, in two professional images. The Becchina file containing the images and the lined cards on which the images are stuck, state that the object is 'Italic, Villanovan period'. This object has not been previously detected by the Italian authorities and is presently still on offer.

A Canaanite bronze enthroned deity
from the Becchina archive
(provided by Dr. Tsirogiannis)

This object appears in 6 professionally taken images from the Symes-Michaelides archive, without its current base, placed on a white plasteline/clay ball, standing in front of a stone wall, which serves as a background.  This antiquity, too, is still on offer. Symes and Michaelides are not mentioned in the Christie's collecting history. Interpol, the Carabinieri, 2 ICE agents and the Embassy of Israel to the United States have been notified concerning lot nr. 101.

The theft and trafficking of cultural items deliberately stolen from archaeological sites is a practice that is older than history and remains the greatest threat to the global archaeological record. Investigating the looting of antiquities and returning pieces to their countries of origin is a long and often difficult process.   Few of the objects looted and illicitly trafficked from source countries are ever repatriated and those that are, often are a direct the result of the work of a limited number of art crime researchers and law enforcement officers who work with various cultural ministries and law enforcement authorities tracking leads when and where they find them.

Yet the ultimate culpability rests not solely with the auction houses but equally importantly with the illicitly trafficked object's purchaser.  If collectors were unwilling to acquire unprovenanced artefacts, the supply chain would have no demand client buying and the market for illicit antiquities would disintegrate.

But what is the auction house’s own internal investigation of an object’s provenance?  Should auction houses be required to inform the legal authorities when consignors present objects with questionable collection histories? In much the same way nurses and doctors are required by law to report suspect child abuse? And if so, what would the ramifications be if the auction houses started to work WITH law enforcement towards cleaning up the art market?