Showing posts with label Egypt. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Egypt. Show all posts

February 20, 2019

Egypt-Italy Antiquities Smuggling Case: Detention extended for Raouf Boutros Ghali


As reported on February 14, 2019 Egypt's Prosecutor General, Nabil Sadek, previously ordered 15 days of precautionary custody pending an investigation for Raouf Boutros Ghali for his alleged involvement in the trafficking of 23,000 ancient bronze and silver coins and 195 archaeological finds from Egypt to Italy which were seized by Italian authorities in Salerno in 2017. 

Yesterday, the Egyptian government, via the third chamber of the Cairo Criminal Court, led by Counselor Mohamed Mahmoud El Shorbagy met for a preliminary hearing.  During that judicial session the court decided to extended the defendant's detention for 45 days in order to allow more time for a detailed investigation into the alleged offense.   





February 18, 2019

Arrests made in charges of smuggling Egyptian antiquities in diplomatic bags to Italy


On March 14, 2018 Italy's Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, better known as the Carabinieri T.P.C., informed the Egyptian embassy in Rome that during a routine customs inspection in May 2017, law enforcement officials from the TPC, in collaboration with the officials of the Customs Agency and the local Superintendency, had seized a reported 23,700 archaeological finds, all of which were believed to have come from ancient Egypt. The stash had been discovered inside a diplomatic shipping container, sent through the port of Salerno of the type used to transport household goods.


The Italian authorities shared that information with their Egyptian colleagues, including photos of the seized artefacts and promised to provide further clarification regarding the date and place of shipment, as well as details on the sender and the receiver, as soon as it was possible, when the disclosure wouldn't hamper their ongoing investigation.  To determine the objects' authenticity, the Egyptian authorities formed a specialized committee to examine pictures of the seized objects and to ensure that the artifacts were authentic.  If they were, their next step was to try to understand where they came from.


When the news of the antiquities seizure hit the press wires, little information was released to the public.  It was only stated that the haul came from a shipment of items belonging to an unnamed diplomat.  As tensions grew between the two states, on May 24, 2018, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry made a formal announcement,  denying that the seized container belonged to anyone affiliated with the Egyptian embassy or authorities in Italy.

On May 25, 2018 Shaaban Abdel Gawad, who heads up Egypt's antiquities repatriation department within the Ministry of Antiquities, confirmed that the Egyptian authorities had deemed the artifacts to be authentic but the objects did not appear in any of the country's registries.  This meant that the ancient objects, dating from the Predynastic to the Ptolemaic, as well as the Islamic era, had not been stolen from any known museum collection, and likely were the unrecorded finds of clandestine excavations of archaeological sites in Egypt.

The objects were believed to have come from an area on the edge of the western desert in the Minya province, located in central Egypt, 250 km south of Cairo.  This artifact rich area is known to have ancient catacombs that date back to the late pharaonic period, which spans from 664 to 332 BCE.  The area has also been the subject to plunder and looting, which intensified after the country's revolution in 2011.

This confirmation by the Egyptian authorities put to rest early speculation that these objects might have come from the Sinai region, an area where jihadist groups affiliated to ISIS had spread.  After the artefacts' authenticity was confirmed, the General Prosecutor's Office in Cairo sent letters rogatory to Italy requesting formal assistance in early June 2018.


On June 27, 2018 at the headquarters of the Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, the Public Prosecutor at the Court of Salerno, Dr. Corrado Lembo and the Commander of the Carabinieri for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, Brigadier General Fabrizio Parrulli, returned  a total of circa 23,000 ancient bronze and silver coins and 195 archaeological finds, including funerary masks decorated in gold, a sarcophagus, a "Boat of the Dead" with 40 oarsmen, amphorae, pectoral paintings, wooden sculptures, bronzes, and ushabti statuettes.  These items were handed over to Egyptian Ambassador, HE Hesham Badr, Professor Mohamed Ezzat, Senior Coordinator at the International Cooperation Administration of the General Prosecutor's Office, and Professor Moustafa Waziry, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities for the Republic of Egypt.  


On February 14, 2019 Egypt's Prosecutor General, Nabil Sadek, ordered 15 days of precautionary custody pending investigation for Raouf Boutros Ghali for his alleged involvement in the trafficking of the Egyptian artifacts which had been seized in Salerno.  Raouf Boutros Ghali, who holds passports from Italy and San Marino, is the brother of the former Egyptian Minister of Finance, Youssef Botros Ghaly whose served in that role under then President Hosni Mubarak from 2004 to 2011.  He is also the nephew of Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Secretary-General of the United Nations from January 1992 to December 1996 who died in 2016. The Boutros-Ghali family are Coptic Christians with deep roots in Egypt's old aristocracy.


The prosecutor general in Egypt has also ordered the freezing assets attributed to the former honorary consul of Italy in Luxor, Cav. Ladislav Otakar Skakal.  Skakal, who now lives in Rome, is believed to have been the unnamed Italian diplomat whose name was attributed to the seized cargo.  Egyptian authorities have also placed financial constraints on the liquidation of assets on Medhat Michel Girgis Salib, and his wife Sahar Zaki Ragheb. Egyptian news articles state that Salib is the owner of a shipping company.






February 17, 2019

The Metropolitan Museum, Christophe Kunicki and a Luxor dealer names Tawadros: More questions than answers on recent Egyptian acquisitions

In researching details related to the acquisition and current restitution of the 1st century Egyptian B.C.E mummiform coffin, inscribed in the name of Nedjemankh, I came across two other objects which show Christophe Kunicki's relationship as an advisor of ancient art purchases to the Metropolitan Museum in New York.  

One of those objects is:

A Monumental Stela of Kemes , ca. 1750–1720 BCE



The provenance currently listed on the Metropolitan's website for the Monumental Stela of Kemes states:


A check of open source records using the names Ewe Schnell, Heinz Herzer and Pierre Bergé & Associés combined only turns up one other antiquity,  a panel painting of a woman in a blue mantle, which is also an acquisition within the Metropolitan Museum's collection. 


Serop Simonian is an art dealer of Armenian origin, born in Egypt and a resident in Germany.  He's interesting in that he has stirred up quite a bit of controversy regarding his involvement with the disputed Artemidorus papyrus, which he managed to sell in 2004 for €2.75 million to the Compagnia San Paolo Art Foundation notwithstanding that some experts have ascertained that it is a fake.  As the statute of limitations on that piece ran out, Simonian was never charged. 

On April 25, 2016 the Metropolitan's website for the Monumental Stela of Kemes stated the provenance as something quite different:


This earlier collection history mentions a "Todrous Collection" of which there is nothing documented in open source records anywhere on the web for any other ancient objects.  A late antique textile fragment of a tunic with the inventory number T 34, from "the Tamerit collection" is on record at the at the Papyrussammlung der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek at the Austrian National Library though not much else.



Note this Metropolitan Museum record spells the name Todrous, while the recently restituted mummy spells the name Tawadrus, and trade journals spell the name Tawadros.  Later in this post you will also see the name spelled Tadross

Christophe Kunicki's own dealer website listed the provenance as:

Ancient european private collection, 1969.
With Tadross, Luxor, 1960’s

Stepping back even farther, outside of the museum's website, the Monumental Stela of Kemes was published in Volume 25 Number 5 of the journal Minerva: The International Review of Ancient Art & Archaeology.

This trade magazine listed the provenance as follows:

A rare Egyptian limestone chapel-stele of Kemes, superior of musicians (3), from the 13th Dynasty, circa 1770 BC (H. 73cm), in the form of a quadrangular naos resting upon a base carved with façades, was purchased from the Luxor dealer Tawadros during the 1960s. The cover-piece of the sale, it was estimated at €300,000-€400,000, but brought in a hammer price of just €200,00 from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The expert for both sales was Christophe Kunicki.

Screen Shot: Volume 25 Number 5, Page 53
Minerva: The International Review of Ancient Art & Archaeology
Notice that the involvement of the French dealer Christophe Kunicki via Pierre Bergé & Associés in furthering this acquisition transaction does not appear in any of the Metropolitan Museum's provenance records for the 13th Dynasty Egyptian limestone chapel-stele of Kemes.  It only appears in the bimonthly trade rag for antiquities dealers.  Purchased on 21 May 2014 the Met's record also leaves out the "Luxor dealer Tawadros" connection on this object.  The name of that person is also the name associated on the  now restituted 1st century B.C.E mummiform coffin, inscribed in the name of Nedjemankh.

Note: Kunicki's website lists another egyptian object with the name "Habib Tawadros" giving us a another artefact linked to this mysterious Luxor dealer.

ARCA has notified the Egyptian authorities that this piece too may require closer examination. 

By Lynda Albertson

February 16, 2019

Restitution: Met Museum agrees to return its 1st century B.C.E mummiform coffin, inscribed in the name of Nedjemankh, to Egypt

The Metropolitan Museum has agreed to return its 1st century B.C.E gold-sheathed mummiform coffin, inscribed in the name of the high-ranking priest Nedjemankh.  The late Ptolemaic (or Hellenistic) antiquity was purchased via art dealer Christophe Kunicki, who lists himself on his website as a member of the Syndicat Français des Experts Professionnels en Oeuvres d’Art and the Chambre Européenne des Experts d’Art.  

Purchased for €3.5m in 2017, Nedjemankh’s coffin had reportedly been on consignment with the Paris dealer via an unidentified private collector.  Created out of cartonnage in the last century of the Ptolemaic Kingdom, a material used in Ancient Egyptian funerary objects from the First Intermediate Period to the Roman era, the object is made up of layers of linen stiffened with animal glue and layers of gesso. Evidence presented to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and confirmed by the Egyptian Ministry of Culture indicate that the antiquity may have been looted from Egypt in 2011 and exported utilizing fraudulent documents.

Note that the timeframe of the possible plunder, listed by the New York Times, and the Egyptian authorities coincides with the fall of Muhammad Hosni El Sayed Mubarak, Egypt's former military and political leader, who served as president of Egypt from 1981 to 2011.  After the so called Arab Spring, Egyptian authorities reported a significant uptick in heritage looting, exacerbated in part by the country's revolution and subsequent political upheaval.

The spartan collecting history information listed for the artifact on the Metropolitan Museum's website states that the antiquity was "officially exported from Egypt in 1971, the coffin has since resided in a private collection."  A second page on the museum's website, which has since been removed, listed the artifact's provenance as follows:

"The coffin was exported in 1971 from Egypt with an export license granted by the Antiquities Organization / Egyptian Museum, Cairo. It belonged to the stock of Habib Tawadrus, a dealer active since at least 1936, with a shop Habib & Company in Cairo opposite Shepheard’s Hotel, and was exported by the representative of the Tawadrus’ heirs to Switzerland. An official translation of the export license was provided by the German embassy in Cairo in February 1977 for the use of the representative and now owner in Europe. The coffin has remained in the family of that owner until its acquisition by the Metropolitan Museum in 2017."

This spartan amount of information, on an ancient object of this significance, drew the attention of blogger Paul Barford in September 2017 shortly after the purchase was announced.


Christophe Kunicki's relationship as an advisor of ancient art purchases to the Metropolitan Museum in New York goes back at least as far as September/October 2014, when his involvement in two purchases was highlighted in Volume 25 Number 5 of the journal Minerva: The International Review of Ancient Art & Archaeology as having advised the museum on two other purchases. 

Screen Shot: Volume 25 Number 5, Page 53
Minerva: The International Review of Ancient Art & Archaeology
Those objects, memorialized in the screenshot above, were a 26th Dynasty granodiorite head of the Pharaoh Apries, purportedly from the collection of Olivier Cacoub and the 13th Dynasty Egyptian limestone chapel-stele of Kemes in the form of a quadrangular naos resting on a base carved with façades.  The later of these was purportedly from the same "Luxor dealer Tawadros," in the 1960s, whose name is attached to the golden mummiform coffin that has just been repatriated.  It is not known at present if these objects are being given closer examination.

The Met’s management has formally apologized to Dr. Khaled El-Enany, Egypt’s minister of antiquities.

In it's press release the museum added:

 "All of the Museum’s acquisitions of ancient art undergo a rigorous vetting process in recognition of the 1970 UNESCO treaty, in adherence to the Association of Art Museum Director’s Guidelines on the Acquisition of Ancient Art and Archaeological Materials, and in compliance with federal and state laws."

Given that the Met developed a substantial exhibition around this golden-sheathed coffin, one would think that the museum's "rigorous vetting process" would have also included a close analysis of export documentation to check for fabrication and forgery.

A video from the Met Presents series featuring Curator Janice Kamrin and Conservator Anna Serotta talking about the coffin of Nedjemankh can be viewed here.

Upon the artefact's return to Egypt, it has been decided that the repatriated burial coffin will be displayed in the Egyptian Museum of Liberation until the Grand Egyptian Museum opens in 2020.

Notation:  Note this Metropolitan Museum record the name of the Luxor dealer as Tawadrus, while elsewhere in its records it records other objects using the name Todrous.  The trade journal above spelled the name Tawadros.  Another dealer spells the name as Tadross.




By:  Lynda Albertson








June 29, 2018

Italy Returns Trafficked Artifacts to the Archaeological Departments of the Ministry of Antiquities of the Republic of Egypt


In a ceremony held in Rome on June 27, 2018 at the headquarters of the Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, the Public Prosecutor at the Court of Salerno, Dr. Corrado Lembo and the Commander of the Carabinieri for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, Brigadier General Fabrizio Parrulli, returned 23,000 ancient bronze and silver coins and 195 archaeological finds, including funerary masks decorated in gold, a sarcophagus, a "Boat of the Dead" with 40 oarsmen, amphorae, pectoral paintings, wooden sculptures, bronzes, and oshabti statuettes, to the Ministry of Antiquities for the Republic of Egypt.  The objects, dating from the Predynastic to the Ptolemaic period, were believed to have been excavated during clandestine excavations in the south of Egypt.

On hand for the ceremony were Egyptian Ambassador, HE Hesham Badr, Professor Mohamed Ezzat, Senior Coordinator at the International Cooperation Administration of the General Prosecutor's Office, and Professor Moustafa Waziry, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt. 

The pieces were discovered during a seizure which took place in May 2017, at the customs area of ​​the port of Salerno, by the Carabinieri of the Cultural Heritage Protection Center of Naples, in collaboration with the officials of the Customs Agency and the local Superintendency.  The stop, was part of a customs inspection of a container which was marked as being for the transport of only household goods.









January 20, 2018

Only a few clicks away - The adventuresome travels of a deposed King's bedroom

Image Credit: ARCA Screen Capture  - 20 January 2018
Luxist October 12, 2010 edition
Not all contested works of art are fenced in whispered corners or stealthily traded in darkweb alleyways alongside drugs, stolen data and child exploitation content. Some are sold out in the open; as if waiting for law enforcement, or anyone else for that matter, to take notice or object.  

Some contested objects are found hiding in plain sight, in places where the public might least expect them: on internet social media sites like Facebook, Pinterest, Flickr and Youtube.

To give an example, let's take a look at the story of the missing antique bedroom suite once owned by Fārūq ibn Fuʾād, who served as the penultimate king of Egypt and the Sudan until he was overthrown in 1952.

The king's 7-piece mercury-gilded mahogany bedroom ensemble was created by 19th century Parisian ébéniste, Antoine Krieger and inspired by Napoleon's household furnishings at the Parisian palace Malmaison.  This ostentatious furniture was said to have been installed in the royal guest lodge located within the Giza Zoo on the Western bank of the Nile, directly across from Downtown Cairo, in proximity to the Giza pyramids.  According to recent Egyptian newspaper articles, the furnishings were used by the king and visiting dignitaries while staying as guests at the zoo property during his reign. 

Cairo's 126-year-old Giza Zoo, built on the grounds of the summer residence of the Royal Family, was built during the rule of the Viceroy “Khedive Ismail” sometime between 1863 and 1879.  One of the world's foremost zoological gardens, the zoo was once an elegant reminder of days gone past.  In the present it has long since fallen from grace.  

Ravaged by time and neglect, photographs of the Giza Zoo in recent years show the dirtied grounds in disrepair. Animal rights activists cry foul that the animals are neglected by tenders and exploited by zoo visitors taking selfies. At best, it can be said that the animals in the zoo are being cared for by under-qualified keepers and in situations that lack proper security measures.

As if to prove that the Giza Zoo's site security is not up to snuff, the disappearance of the king's set of exquisitely crafted furniture from the royal residence went unreported until a visit to the zoo by Egypt's Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Ayman Abu Hadid on September 1, 2013.  During his visit, the minister recognized that the historic set had been replaced with a much cheaper bedroom suite apparently purchased from Egypt's oldest department store.  

But the theft of Fārūq ibn Fuʾād's missing furniture is not straightforward and if a theft did occur, it did not happen in 2013. 

Background Research

On October 13, 2010 M.S. Rau Antiques, a rare and important antiques and fine art gallery in New Orleans managed by third-generation owner Bill Rau, posted a photo of the king's bedroom on the company's Facebook timeline, happily announcing that his firm (and the king's furniture) had been covered on Luxist.com in connection with their sale of the bedroom suite. The asking price given? $985,000.

Image Credit: ARCA Screen Capture
Google Cache 20 January 2018
M.S. Rau Antiques also listed the furniture openly on the company's website.  That page however has now been taken down. 

Image Credit: ARCA Screen Capture
Google Cache 20 January 2018

That same day, perhaps picking up on the online media, Art Fix Daily also published an article indicating that the furniture was being sold by M.S. Rau Antiques. 

Image Credit: ARCA Screen Capture
Google Cache 20 January 2018
A further check of social media shows that M.S. Rau Antiques also posted the king's bedroom suite on Pinterest. 

Image Credit: ARCA Screen Capture
Google Cache 20 January 2018
And the furniture was blogged about on Blogger on a page called Brands&Luxury.

The king's furniture was again posted publicly on Flickr on March 9, 2013 by a user purportedly in Cairo, Egypt. 

Image Credit: ARCA Screen Capture
Google Cache 20 January 2018
But even with all this digital visibility, the furniture didn't sell.

Fast forward to 2015.  

The furniture turns up again on another public Facebook post by a user named Beachhouse Jim on July 29, 2015. The photo, which includes a woman wearing shorts, seems to indicate that the furniture was still being offered for sale in the United States at M.S. Rau Antiques. 


Fast forward to 2016. 

M.S. Rau Antiques even published a video on Youtube highlighting the sale of the bedroom collection on October 13, 2016. That video can be viewed below, as it too has been removed from Youtube. 


The fact that the furniture was for sale through M.S. Rau Antiques is even cited in the footnotes mentioned on Wikipedia's Farouk of Egypt page, but the page also implies, citing a Sun-Herald (Sydney, NSW) article published on Sunday, 31 Jan. 1954, that in December 1952, a contract was signed placing the cataloguing, classifying and disposal of a substantial portion of the king's treasures in Sotheby's hands.

This alleged sale information is also repeated by news site Al Arabiya, which stated that the Free Officer-led government auctioned off most of the deposed king's possessions in 1954.

How did a King's ransom worth of furniture find its way to a 100-year-old antique dealer operating in New Orleans' French Quarter?

Some Egyptian news sources are stating that Farouk's bedroom set disappeared after the wife of one of the ministers, who later stayed at the ex-royal residence, disliked the bedroom and ordered it to be changed and sometime thereafter the pieces disappeared.  Given the Giza Zoo's more recent precarious state, one can almost imagine how easy it would be for a set of antique furniture, estimated to be worth almost $1 million, to be carted off without someone noticing, but if that story is true or not remains a mystery.  

If the Sotheby's sale of the king's property did take place in the 1950s, as written about in the Australian newspaper, then perhaps Sotheby's may have records to show if the bedroom suite on sale by M.S. Rau Antiques was part of the collection of kingly objects sold.   

The fact that M.S. Rau Antiques has not responded to the now-brewing public outrage to provide evidence of the chain of ownership of the room until it has reached New Orleans and has taken down the sale, leaves the question of how the firm acquired the furnishings in the first place, and from whom, open for further investigation. 

It does seem curious though that despite this material being a Google/Social Media search away, the fact that the furniture appears to have been with M.S. Rau from at least 2010 has not come out in the major news reports so far. 

By:  Lynda Albertson 

March 19, 2017

One well documented theft = three separate seizures - Egypt's successes in curbing the sale of a stolen ancient objects

Image Credit: Antiquities Repatriation Sector of the Ministry of Antiquities, Egypt
Four years after being stolen and then trafficked illegally out of Egypt, a painted wooden New Kingdom mummy mask has been returned to its country of origin this week, after turning up at a French antiquities auction in December 2016.

The mask is just one of 96 artifacts from the Pharaonic, Greek and Roman periods, discovered during foreign archaeological missions which were stolen in 2013, during a break-in of the Museum of Antiquities storage facilities at Elephantine. An archaeologically rich island, Elephantine is the largest island in the Aswan archipelago in Northern Nubia, Egypt. The island lies opposite central Aswan, just north of the First Cataract on the Nile.  


Given that the professionally excavated objects were formal discoveries by authorized archaeological missions, versus illicitly excavated, the stolen antiquities, were well documented.   This gave the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities the necessary evidentiary documentation to list the ancient objects as possibly in circulation with national and international law enforcement authorities.  

One Well Documented Theft = Numerous Separate Seizures

Monitoring the antiquities market closely, Egypt has succeeded in stopping the sale of several stolen objects from this single theft over the last few years. In this most recent incident, once the mummy mask had been spotted, Shabaan Abdel Gawad, the general supervisor of the Antiquities Repatriation Sector of the Ministry of Antiquities, was able to request that the mask's auction be halted, demanding the object's return through formal channels via the Egyptian embassy in Paris.

Image Credit: Antiquities Repatriation
Sector of the Ministry of Antiquities, Egypt
Earlier, on January 29, 2017, the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities announced that a deputy from the British Museum had handed over a 16.5 centimeter tall, carved wooden Ushabti statue with gold inscriptions.  This ancient object, stolen during the same break-in, had been relinquished by a British citizen. The funerary object had been excavated by Spanish archaeologists at the site of the Qubbet al-Hawa Necropolis in Aswan, and dates to ancient Egypt’s Middle Kingdom period (circa 1990 BCE – 1775 BCE). 

Ushabti statues, sometimes called simply "Shabtis" by dealers in the antiquities trade, are very popular with ancient art collectors. These small wooden and stone figurines were once placed in Egyptian tombs, intended to function as the servants of the deceased during their afterlife.

Image Credit: Antiquities Repatriation
Sector of the Ministry of Antiquities, Egypt
On June 14, 2015 a 2,300 year old Ancient Egyptian ivory statuette was identified up for sale at the Aton Gallery of Egyptian Art in Oberhausen, Germany. Stolen during the same 2013 robbery, this 11.5 cm tall, statuette of a man carrying a gazelle over his shoulders, was unearthed in 2008 by a Swiss archaeological mission that had been carrying out excavations at the Khnum Temple at Elephantine.  Once identified at the auction house, the Egyptian Antiquities Ministry reported the auction to INTERPOL.

The statuette is believed to date back to Egypt's Late Period, from 664-332 BCE which ended with the conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great and the establishment of the Ptolemaic Dynasty.

According to a screenshot grabbed by ARCA on June 14, 2015 (and since removed from the dealer's website), the web page depicted the object's upcoming auction and included a reserve price of $5050.  At the time of the auction, Aton Gallery had listed the provenance for the ivory figurine as being part of a German private collection, formed in the 60s and 70s, before being part of an earlier American Collection formed in the 1930s.  Misleading provenance, in this case either by the auction house or the consignor, underscores how easy stolen and looted antiquities can be made to appear part of older more established collections, when in fact they are not. 
ARCA Screenshot capture: June 14, 2015
Piece by priceless piece, Egypt is taking collectors and dealers to task.  And while 93 of the 96 stolen items are still out there, three recoveries are better than none.  

France Desmarais of ICOM’s International Observatory on Illicit Traffic in Cultural Goods has stated 

"Stolen items are not necessarily lost forever because many can be recovered and will inevitably resurface at some point in time, whether in the art market or while crossing borders."

But Egypt’s police force and governmental heritage authorities can only do so much in their protection of the country’s thousands of archaeological sites, museums and historical objects.  This vulnerability is something looters are all too aware of. 

Playing on the limited resources of source countries, especially those suffering from political turmoil, looters, middlemen and traffickers can wait years before floating highly valued pieces onto the licit art market.   In the interim, those dealing in black market sales sustain themselves financially on the proceeds derived from a small but steady trickle of smaller finds, often dribbled out to lesser known dealers and galleries. As the art market is adapting to online sales, some items are not being sold through brick and mortar shops any longer, instead, objects are passing through simple one on one, online or social media transactions. 

But while objects from well documented thefts like the one on the Elephantine storeroom eventually do resurface, the process of identify-seizure-forfeiture, on an object by object basis is a painfully slow, and only moderately successful, road to repatriation.  

To staunch the flow of high demand antiquities for vulnerable source countries collectors must begin to hold themselves more accountable.  Knowing what we know today, collectors should curb their consumerist tendencies of wanting what they want when purchasing ancient art without documentation of legal export. More often than not, antiquities without sound paperwork have a higher probability of having been stolen or looted. 

It's time for collectors to take themselves to task, taking stock in the origins of their past purchases and voluntarily relinquishing items bought in the past without concern for legality, when they have have contributed to the theft and looting of historic sites around the globe.

Doing the Right Thing

If you are a collector and you suspect an antiquity you have purchased may have been looted or stolen, here are some things you can do.


If your object is on one of these lists, consult with your local museum's curatorial staff. 

Lastly, Interpol, National Law Enforcement, UNESCO, ICOM and organizations like ARCA maintain contacts with experts familiar with looted and stolen art.   If you have doubts about a purchase and don't know who to contact or need help with the ancient remains in a specific country, please write to us here

By:  Lynda Albertson

December 7, 2016

Seizure: Cairo International Airport - Islamic-era manuscripts and antiquarian books


On November 28, 2016 customs agents at Cairo International Airport foiled a plot to illegally export a shipment of antique Islamic-era books.  Suspicious of the 43-box shipping documentation on objects destined for Doha, Qatar, the items being exported were flagged for further controls.  Upon examination by customs officials, the shipment was found to contain a large quantity of antiquarian books and manuscripts.  Based on their initial findings, and the markings on some of the books, the shipment was frozen on suspicion that the objects may have been illegally acquired.  

Tawfiq Massad, Director General of Customs, authorized that the shipment be held, pending a comprehensive review.  His office in turn formally notified the antiquities authorities so that they could explore the collection's authenticity and its legal or illegal export status as it relates to Egyptian law. 

Working with Ahmed El-Rawi, head of the Recuperation Antiquities Section of Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities it was decided that a portion of the books and volumes fell under the protection of Egypt's Laws for rare and ancient books, e.g.

To be the product of Egyptian civilization or the successive civilizations or the creation of art, sciences, literature, or religion that took place on the Egyptian lands since the pre-historic ages and during the successive historic ages till before 100 years ago. --Law No. 8 of 2009, as amended in 2014 on the protection of rare and ancient books and manuscripts, 

Sixty-six rare books and volumes were seized in total; some dating back to the early printing age.  The rare Islamic-era books, having been published during the period needed to be considered as a heritage asset, will be sent to the Egyptian National Library and Archives.  Forty-four volumes, that still bore the stamps of the Al-Azhar library, will be returned to the university's library collection.

December 1, 2016

Thursday, December 01, 2016 - ,,, No comments

Just another day, living in gangsta...I mean art market...paradise...

“History is subjective. History is alterable. History is, finally, little more than modeling clay in a very warm room.” ― Bradford Morrow, The Forgers

Papyrologist and ancient historian Dr. Roberta Mazza once coined a phrase to describe the world in general, but which also aptly applies to how the art market sometimes moves and acts....“absurdistan”

Chiming in with her very own “prestigious auction alert” on her spot-on blog Faces & Voices earlier this week, Mazza then drew our attention to an upcoming New York auction we may not want to miss.  In addition to auctioning six, six-figure bibles from the Dr. Charles Caldwell Ryrie collection, auction powerhouse Sotheby's is also offering a “Souvenir Facsimile” of the Rylands Library Papyrus P52, also known as the St John's fragment. 

But who recreates a Canonical gospel as a souvenir? And more importantly, who buys one?  Does its ownership by a famous theologian make the counterfeit knock-off the Bible-nerds equivalent to a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle baseball card?

If reading about a certified fake on auction wasn't enough to make me think people will buy just about anything, the auction house news reminded me of this list-serv posting from 2014.  It is from an antiquities collector forum and was posted by a well known dealer.  Its title...

A journey in the life of a looted antiquity...

I'm sure this lovely step-by-step guide was merely an illustration, mind you. Surely the um.... the respectable dealer himself wasn't speaking from any first-hand experience?

“Hello to you all.

I would like to share with you my thoughts regarding how a piece you end up buying in auction at Bonhams or Christies is actually looted.

- A poor farmer in Egypt finds it while ploughing [sic] his land.

- He is scared to report it considering the hell he will go through, confiscating his land, ending up in jail, family dying from hunger etc... so he sells it to the local dealer in the village.

- Local dealer sells it to the middle man in Cairo.

- Middle man sells it to the big boss in Cairo.

- Big boss smuggles it to an Arabian gulf country, e.g. Qatar, Dubai, Bahrain.

- Piece then shipped to a stupid European country, e.g. Portugal.  sorry, stupid meaning = level of  customs awareness.

- Then an invoice is made from a dealer in another European country e.g. Belgium, to this Portuguese dealer for the piece, of course no body [sic] checks, it's an EU transaction, no tax, no customs.

- Based on the Belgian invoice, the Portuguese dealer make an export licence [sic] to U.S.A from ministry of culture, piece origin from Belgium, this totally cancels the fact that the piece came from the Arabian gulf.

- Item received in the U.S , no trouble, legal,

- Item sold in auction + old European collection, legally entered to U.S, customs paid.” 

Dealer name withheld  
Location: somewhere in “absurdistan”

NB:  ARCA has screenshots of the conversation with said dealer in question, but based on the above, we are super happy that US Secretary of State John Kerry has signed off this week on the U.S.-Egypt cultural property Memorandum of Understanding with Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.

by: Lynda Albertson

February 22, 2016

Second Sentry guard shot at incident at the Deir el-Bersha archaeological site has died

Egyptian news wires have reported that Ali Khalaf Shāker, (علي خلف شاكر), the second site guard protecting the Deir el-Bersha archaeological site, has apparently died on Sunday, February 21, 2016 of his injuries. Mr. Khalaf Shāker was shot during a gun battle with unidentified archaeological site looters along with his colleague and fellow guard A'srāwy Kāmel Jād. 

Information in Arabic on this updated situation can be found here.

Respecting the loss to these two families and their archaeological teammates, ARCA has elected to not post pictures taken of the crime scene. 

For further details on this incident in English please see our earlier two posts here and here. 

The team of the Dayr al-Barsha project, KU Leuven, Belgium has established a Go Fund Me page for A'srāwy's and Ali's family, in order to cover, or partially cover some portion of the loss of his wages. Those who would like to contribute can follow this link

ARCA strongly discourages the purchase of antiquities without a solid collection history; this includes anything made of stone or pottery likely to be more than 100 years old.  We urge collectors to buy the work of contemporary artisans using traditional methods and materials, and to not promote the trade in blood antiquities. 





February 21, 2016

Sentry guards killed at Deir el-Bersha archaeological site identified, Fundraiser established for their families.



In a notice on the university team's webpage the Deir el-Barsha Project has released the following statement.


As the Project's statement might be confusing to blog readers who do not read Arabic, ARCA would like to add some clarifications.  Ghafir (arabic خفير)in this case means site guard or site sentry and is not the guard's first name.

According to Arabic language newspaper Masr al-Arabia, the guard killed in the exchange of gunfire has been:

عسراوي كامل جاد، الشهير بـ "واعر"، المقيم  بقرية دير أبو حنس بملوي

A'srāwy Kāmel Jād, alternatively known as "Wāa'r" who was a resident in the village of Deir Abu Hanas in Mālwi.

Masr al-Arabia lists the guard wounded in the exchange of gunfire as:

علي خلف شاكر، المقيم  بقرية دير أبو حنس بملوي

Ali Khalaf Shāker who is a resident in the village of Deir Abu Hanas in Mālwi.

Shāker passed away on Sunday as a result of his injuries.  

The team of the Dayr al-Barsha project, KU Leuven, Belgium has established a Go Fund Me page for A'srāwy's and Ali's family, in order to cover, or partially cover some portion of the loss of his wages. Those who would like to contribute can follow this link.











October 27, 2015

America’s Museum of the Bible - Hobby Lobby Owners Under Federal Investigation for Possibly Trafficked Assyrian and Babylonian Cuneiform Tablets

For years various academics have questioned the collecting and conservation practices of billionaire collector Steve Green, the philanthropist behind the $800 million, eight-story Museum of the Bible.  Slated to open in 2017, the museum will occupy a historically protected warehouse built in 1923 just minutes away from the National Mall and the US Capitol in Washington DC.  But Green's collection raises more questions than it answers.

Where are the thousands of antiquities coming from that have been purchased to supply this expansive museum?   And as a private museum, has the largest evangelical benefactor in the world cut corners in formulating his museum's acquisition policy, forgoing the standards propounded by museum associations and those dictated by international treaties?

Most of the general public are more familiar with the Green family via their landmark case against the US government objecting to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act which required that corporations above a certain size provide medical insurance benefits to their employees, including coverage for certain contraceptive methods.  In approving an exemption as a result of the case, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, 573 U.S. (2014), the US Supreme Court decided in Hobby Lobby's favour stating that the Affordable Care Act's mandate requiring that for-profit corporations supply their employees with access to contraceptives at no cost to the insured employee could be opted out of by commercial enterprise owners who are opposed to contraceptive coverage based upon their religious beliefs.

GC.MS.000462, a papyrus fragment sold
on eBay in 2012 which has a text from
Galatians 2:2-4, 5-6 in the New Testament
But the Green's success in rulings over contraception has now been overshadowed by a federal investigation into the museum's collection practices regarding antiquities from ancient Assyria and Babylonia, what is now Iraq.

According to the Museum of the Bible website, the Green's purchased their first biblical object in November 2009.   Since that time, their collection has grown to an estimated 40,000 objects including Dead Sea Scroll fragments, biblical papyri, rare biblical texts and manuscripts, cuneiform tablets, Torah scrolls, and rare printed Bibles.   That's 6,666 objects per year or a whopping 18 objects purchased per day. Compare that to the number of employees currently working for the Greens in relation to their new museum and one can surmise that an object's collection history has not been a principle concern among the staff or consultants vetting historic items for inclusion in the museum's collection.

In April of 2014 Italian papyrologist Roberta Mazza, a lecturer in Classics and Ancient History at University of Manchester, pointed out her concerns surrounding a papyri fragment in the Green's collection. Mazza identified a small papyrus codex page containing lines from Galatians 2 in Sahidic Coptic during a visit to the exhibition, Verbum Domini II, organized by the Green Collection in Vatican City, Rome.  As might be expected, the fragment had a less than stellar collection history.

Belonging to the Green Collection, the fragment was first identified back in October 2012 by Dr. Bryce C. Jones, then a PhD student at Concordia University's Department of Religion.  The Galatians 2 papyrus had previously been listed for sale on the online auction site eBay that same year through an irreputable dealer using the name “mixantik”.  “Mixantik”, who also has used the names "ebuyerrrrr" and "Yasasgroup", is/was an Istanbul-based trader with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of ancient Coptic and Greek papyrus fragments from Egypt, all with little or no provenance.  This seller was also someone whom academics like Dr. Dorothy King and archaeologist Paul Barford had openly reported for trading contrary to Turkish and International law.

Concerned about the provenance of this piece of papyrus as well as other Green Collection practices, Roberta Mazza asked David Trobisch, the current director of the Museum of the Bible, both publicly and privately for more information on the acquisition circumstances of two specific pieces in the family's collection, GC.MS.000462 (Galatians 2) and P. GC. inv. 105 (the Sappho fragments). 

From the Green's employee she learned that the Galatians 2 Coptic fragment was purchased in 2013 by Steve Green from someone referred to as "a trusted dealer".   Records in the Museum of the Bible/Green Collection archives attest that the papyrus was part of the David M. Robinson collection which was sold at a Christie’s auction in London in November 2011.   

The fact that the auction sale records give no mention of the eBay seller, and conveniently does not contain a photographic record or detailed description of what the 59 packets of papyri fragments contain is suspect to say the least.  This lack of detailed documentation on auction sales involving antiquities makes it difficult to ascertain if any given object's origin is either licit or illicit.  This easy loophole leaves the door open for both buyers and sellers to slide suspect objects into the stream of international commerce undetected.  In a nutshell this method may be used to effectively launders smuggled cultural contraband and give an illegitimate object a plausibly legitimate collection history. 

Speeding forward to today, The Daily Beast has reported that the Greens have been under federal investigation for the illicit importation of cultural heritage from Iraq over import irregularities related to 200 to 300 clay cuneiform tablets seized by U.S. Customs agents in Memphis on their way to Oklahoma City from Israel.  The jointly-written article was written by Biblical scholars Joel Baden, professor of Hebrew Bible at Yale University and Candida Moss, professor of New Testament and early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame.

Cary Summers, president of the Museum of the Bible, spoke with Daily Beast reporters exclusively on Monday and stated that a federal investigation was ongoing and that “There was a shipment and it had improper paperwork—incomplete paperwork that was attached to it.” 

In 2008, the U.S. imposed an emergency import restriction on any archaeological and ethnological materials defined as "cultural property of Iraq. This import restriction was imposed to protect items of archaeological, historical, cultural, rare scientific or religious importance at risk of trafficking as the result of unrest in the country.  This import restriction continues additional restrictions already in effect continuously since August 6, 1990.

The selling of ancient Iraqi artifacts is absolutely prohibited under UN resolution 1483 from 2003, as you may find in paragraph 7 of the link here. 

A source familiar with the Hobby Lobby investigation told reporters at the Daily Beast that the cuneiform tablets were described as samples of “hand-crafted clay tiles” on their FedEx shipping label and were valued at under $300.   If true, this seems less like an simple oversight on the part of the shipper and more like direct falsification, not just of these objects' value but of their historic significance and origin as its doubtful that cuneiform tablets will be showing up in the Wall Decor section of Hobby Lobby anytime soon. 

American imports of art, collections and collectors' pieces, and antiques from Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria increased sharply between 2011 and 2013. Is a pattern developing?  Is this how heritage artifacts from source countries plagued by conflict are being folded into legitimate museum and private collections?

David Trobisch has stated that the Green Collection has one of the largest cuneiform tablet collections in the country.

In selecting antiquities, individual collectors and museums have choices. They can choose to focus exclusively on the historic, aesthetic and economic benefits of their acquisitions in formulating their collections or they can add ethical and moral criteria to their purchase considerations and not purchase conflict or blood antiquities.

By Lynda Albertson 

Excerpt from ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums
©2013