Friday, 15 December 2017

Eshamun Sculptures Return to Lebanon

Antiquities and diplomacy, getting the special tablecloths out, the Office of the District Attorney of New York sent back to Lebanon and its citizens three looted artefacts that had turned up in New York. At the Repatriation Ceremony earlier this week, Majdi Ramadan, the Consul General of Lebanon in New York expressed his appreciation for the efforts of the Office 'to enforce the rule of law, to eliminate the illicit trafficking of antiquities', Angel M. Melendez, Special Agent-in-Charge of HSI New York, said:
“These three pieces have travelled through the underworld of art, being recovered here in New York. Now it is time that they are returned to Lebanon, their rightful home. The trafficking of cultural property and art is a lucrative criminal enterprise that transnational criminal organizations seek to partake of to make a profit; nonetheless, the cultural significance and worth of these returned treasures is beyond any monetary value.”

The three pieces that had travelled through that arty underworld to New York were all sculptures, and notably, all from the temple of Eshamun an ancient place of worship near Sidon in southwestern Lebanon excavated in the 1970s. They were probably part of the group of 600 items that had been stolen from a storeroom to which they had been evacuated on the outbreak of war. So far relatively few of this group have been recovered. The three concerned now are:

1) Marble bull’s head, circa 360 BC looted during the Civil War. This was recovered from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where it was on loan for display by a private collector who acquired the statue after it was somehow sold to private collectors. Nobody was arrested. (Value to the market approximately $1.2 million). [For some reason, the photo shows that this was going back to Lebanon without the mount on which it was displayed - maybe the collector claimed it back to use again?]

2)  'The Calf Bearer': In October, a marble torso, circa the 6th century BC. was recovered from a private owner who acquired the artifact after it too was 'stolen during the Lebanese Civil War, and sold to private collectors'. Nobody is on record as having been arrested. The value of the object to the market was approximately $4.5 million.

3) 'Torso E1912: In November, a marble torso, circa the 4th century B.C.E., was recovered from a private owner who acquired it after the statue was 'stolen during the Lebanese Civil War and sold by an antiquities dealer before being shipped to New York.' Nobody is on record as having been arrested. The value of the object to the market was not stated.

Pictured (from l-r): Torso E1912; the Bull’s Head; and the Calf Bearer.

Note here totally missing are any of the names of the three collectors involved in buying artefacts with unverified licit origins. We know the name of the owner who lost his bull head (but seems to have kept the stand) but the October and November seizures seem to have gone relatively untrumpeted - why?

One may speculate whether or not the fact that these three items were found and seized so close together in time indicates that somebody implicated in their trafficking was induced to 'talk' about their clients. The Sidon head was the one seized first and interestingly, had been 'bought from a dealer in London in 1996 for more than $1 million and then sold it to another collector'. The dealer is unnamed. Can one speculate that this hypothetical London dealer had pressure put upon him or her somehow and revealed the name of a client in New York who'd bought 'the calf Bearer' and who maybe had just shipped a third piece (torso E1912) to New York where the DA could seize it? That is an interesting possibility, especially when one would consider how a New York DA would pressurize a hypothetical British dealer to do anything at all... also it raises the question what else such a hypothetical dealer might have shipped out to places where the Manhattan DA cannot touch him?

I rather think there was a message being sent out by the display and repatriation of these three objects together.  I think we might watch the doings of the reformed Scotland Yard Art and Antiquities Squad with some interest.

And a final thought for collectors: You may think you can 'trust' the 'reputable' dealer in the shiny shop who has a trophy antiquity that you covet but - he regrets - somebody has mislaid the paperwork for. But the moment American (let's say) investigators get him or her in their sights and make them 'an offer they cannot refuse'  (like not go to jail if you co-operate), they'll have no compunction about dredging their business records for the names and addresses of people that have bought dodgy items from them, no-questions-asked. No compunction.

Terminological Vaseline from the British Museum

“Metal-detecting can make an immense contribution to archaeological knowledge, if practised responsibly, and the vast majority of people are keen that their hobby has a positive impact.”
(Michael Lewis, head of portable antiquities and treasure at the British Museum, following the announcement that a record amount of ‘treasure’ was found in Britain’s fields and ditches by member of the public during the past year). The point about this is that the metal detector as a tool can make a contribution, but collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record, as its name implies, can only be exploitive and erosive. Which is probably why Mike Lewis does not call a spade a spade.

Manhattan DA now has Antiquities Trafficking Unit

The Manhattan District Attorney's office is opening an Antiquities Trafficking Unit to bring increased focus on suspiciously unpapered artefacts in the trade passing through the region and prosecute criminal offenders. This is obviously a good step forward in fight against dodgy antiquities on US market. This has the potentiate of affecting dodgy dealers outside the jurisdiction;
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., today announced the formation of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office’s first-ever Antiquities Trafficking Unit [...] When a new matter is brought to the attention of the assistant district attorneys, analysts, and paralegal who staff the unit, a team is assigned to collect information about the origin of the item in question, potential criminality with respect to its possession, and the trafficking network, where applicable, associated with the movement of the artifact. From there on, members of the unit work closely with partners in law enforcement and foreign governments to gather the evidence needed to seize the item, prosecute criminal offenders, and return the artifact to the rightful owner. 
This unit will formalize the collaborative processes and partnerships that led to the previous successful recoveries proudly listed in the press release. It is time London got one, focussing specifically on the massive antiquities trade which passes through it, rather than one that treats the issue as just part of the wider 'art and antiques' market.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Sophie Flynn (Essex FLO) is Invited to Tell me What's What...

☺️Here, Sophie, is a space for you. Send me your comments and I will publish them in full. [emoticon]

Yesterday, Ms Flynn posted on Twitter some fluff about the TV series 'Detectorists' suggesting that the 'star', McKenzie Crook should mention the PAS and how they are there to 'help',

Given that most of the objects they record now come from Collection Driven Exploitation of the finite and fragile archaeological record by artefact hunting metal detectorists, I tweeted her with a perfectly valid question:
19 godzin temu
W odpowiedzi do
"help" who do what Sophie?
Now, I'll give her her dues. Most FLOs would run a mile from such a question from me. They prefer patting tekkies on the head and posting their finds up on Twitter with cutesey texts (any day now we'll have the 'Twelve days of Christmas' finds going up - HOW many "gold rings"?). Anyway, she tried:
19 godzin temu
‘Help’ with the admistration of the Act, ‘help’ people discover more about their local history and heritage, ‘help’ responsible detectorisrs understand the opportunities they can bring to the study of archaeology... the list goes on Paul, but I shan’t bore you [smiley emoticon]
FLOs do not read this blog, so they do not know what position I occupy on precisely these issues. That would explain why an otherwise intelligent girl (I trust) gave such a dumbdown answer. So what is she trying to say...  and does not what she said raise more questions than she answered? I replied in several tweets:
23 minuty temu
Forgive me if I am wrong, but surely the PAS was set up 20 years ago not to deal with Treasure, which the Act establishes goes through other channels, but to deal with NON-Treasure material. Somehow that distinction seems to be lost - with Treasure now being reported twice
Meaning in the Treasure Reports (which is what the Treasure Act requires) and the PAS database, which is extralegal, not in the Act, duplicates effort and information and merely serves to bulk out 'finds reported' numbers. As for her second point...
38 minut temu
W odpowiedzi do
There's more to "local heritage and heritage" than a few loose coins pulled out of a field somewhere. We left the object-centric view of the past in about 1870 - PAS promotes a very atavistic 'view of the past', don't you think? Not a boring question - quite a fundamental one.
The third issue is indeed a pretty fundamental one, not only about the terminology, but the loopy ideas hiding behind it...
36 minut temu
W odpowiedzi do
What is "responsible", please, about any form of *Collection Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record*? Can looting in Syria, Egypt etc be made "responsible' by installing a PAS-clone in Damascus or Edfu? Or Central America? Fundamental question, have you an answer?
I think she must have, as she apparently has no qualms about working with these people (because she took the job). Will she be bold enough to share it with us?  Then those alleged opportunities which supposedly mitigate the huge damage done:
37 minut temu
W odpowiedzi do
What "opportunities" does Collection-Driven Exploitation of the basic body of evidence by rough and ready means (eg carrier bags and wallpaper scrapers in fading light at Lenborough) "bring to the study of" real archaeology? Most metal detected finds are NOT reported, as we all know
So, even the 'opportunities' she (apparently) sees have been offset by a far larger number of missed 'opportunities' and this has been going on for twenty years.  And to conclude, her parting comment
37 minut temu
W odpowiedzi do
" I shan’t bore you [emoticon]".
I assure you, you will not bore me if you give proper answers to my questions, its the superficial ones which we've all heard mindlessly chanted like a mantra so many times before that are the boring and intellectually bankrupt ones.

36 minut temu
W odpowiedzi do
I invite you to make use of my blog's comments section for a proper reply, no space on Tewitter:
Right, start holding your breath... now. No, don't. She's probably awaiting instructions from Bloomsbury.

Looted Artefacts Represent the Destruction of the Past

A rather pedestrian article which reproduces what has been said before and adds little new, but useful to keep the issue in the public eye: Lexi Churchill and Jiwon Choi, 'In looted artifacts, archaeologist sees destruction of past' global  journalist 14 December 2017.No doubt the antiquities trade lobby will again want to dismiss all this as (quote) 'loud-mouthed propagandists' and
'peddlers of heritage fake news, mostly academic grant-grabbers (with a smattering of pig-ignorant camp followers) having an axe to grind, or, working to private agendas, [...] street-corner rabble-rousers [...] with their fingers in the propaganda cookie jar.
but I think there is a case to answer, and instead of insults the antiquities market (all of it) should strive to clean up their act.

The antiquities trade always destroys knowledge.

A Smithsonian Magazine article is misleadingly called 'Archaeologists Are Only Just Beginning to Reveal the Secrets Hidden in These Ancient Manuscripts' (palaeography probably would be a better description) but there is another point here.

Imagine if these had been found by an artefact hunter, divided up into little bits like the recent Dead Sea Scroll fragments and sold off piecemeal to greedy collectors. We'd know none of this. The antiquities trade always destroys knowledge. Even when its supporters claim it is in some way creating knowledge, the wrenching of the artefacts out of their context of deposition and discovery and putting them, decontextualised, in collections (or on the market) is always destructive. Discuss. 

Antiquities trade: Is it any wonder we are where we are?

A few days ago, a lobbyist for the no-questions-asked antiquities trade Peter Tompa published an article on his 'Cultural Property Obfuscator' blog called 'Hipster Internet Art Newsletter Raises Alarm About Antiquities being "Weaponized" for Political Purposes' which aims to discuss the text by Professor Michael Press ('How Antiquities Have Been Weaponized in the Struggle to Preserve Culture' discussed by me here). Rather than addressing the issue discussed, that is the weaponisation of cultural heritage by the US government (and the fact that in order to do that, the state has been lying to its citizens) we find the tenor of the ensuing discussion rather telling. One collector wrote somewhat emotionally but apparently in all seriousness (December 9, 2017 at 1:49 AM):
Hello Peter: These peddlers of heritage fake news, mostly academic grant-grabbers (with a smattering of pig-ignorant camp followers) having an axe to grind, or, working to private agendas, rightly deserve censure. The street-corner rabble-rousers have been caught bang to rights with their fingers in the propaganda cookie jar. I'm sure many loud-mouthed propagandists know the game is up and will be running for cover to both protect their backsides and what’s left of their reputations. Happy days ahead perhaps.
Here we see the tendency prevalent in the political right to reduce any political issue to the personal level, and then by overloading their text with epithets and derogatory adjectives to demonise those implicated. Another feature is the implication that when thus-demonised opposing views are silenced, some form of social utopia will emerge. Senior coin dealer Wayne Sayles (December 11, 2017 AT 4:24 PM) goes down the same road, blaming anything and everything on his own private bugbear, archaeologists. He has his own views about what needs to go to bring about a pie-in-the-sky  'Fel Temp Reparatio'.
Fact #1: Ancient coins have been collected and traded from literally the beginning of their existence in the 7th century BC.

Fact #2: No culture on earth ever considered, much less imposed, trade controls on ancient coins before the rise of archaeology as a "science" and the acceptance of these scientists as "experts".

Fact #3: Many millions, if not billions, of ancient coins legally crossed national boundaries without controls of any kind as late as the early 20th century when archaeology (once a hobby itself) started to achieve some recognition as an academic subject of interest. There is literally no way to determine modern ownership of ancient coins based on point of origin.

Fact #4: Between 1970 and 2017 the archaeological community has aligned itself with a progressive socialist ideology that radically opposes private ownership.

Fact #5: Radicals never let truth prevail and readily pervert truth for the "greater good".

Is it any wonder we are where we are?
No, with this kind of reasoning, it is no wonder that we are where we are.  So-called 'facts 1-3' are a smokescreen, if antiquities (this is not just about coins) have a collecting history that allows them to be shown to be part of that earlier phase of the circulation of collectables, then there is no problem. The problem is that dealers like Mr Sayles consider it perfectly acceptable to move large numbers of antiquities around the market he inhabits without any documentation of licit orgins and no-questions-asked. His problem is that opinion is shifting away from acceptance of such a state of affairs, nineteenth century trade models based on anonymous and colonialist exploitation no longer look, in the twenty-first century, as 'acceptable' and moods are beginning to swing away from the free-for-all/anything-goes' trade model favoured by many of the dealers in operation today who, for the most part, demonstrably pay only lip service to the concerns. 

So-called fact #4 is an egregious example of the sort of weasel wording these people use. The issue is not 'private ownership' (as Mr Sayles, slow to learn, obviously has been told many times). There is nothing 'radical' about accepting that - given the realities of the day -  if one wants to buy certain commodities, then there are requirements to ensure they are of licit origins, and to be able to demonstrate that when they are passed on to  new owner. Like a second-hand car, or a venus fly-trap (protected species in the wild).  Once again we see the political right in action, anything even vaguely relatable to 'communism' is automatically demonised in their minds, even if the actual accusation is so entirely in the face of logic it leaves normal folk scratching their heads in bewilderment at such a logic-lapse. Sayles' Fact five I would apply to antiquities dealers.

 Is it any wonder we are where we are?
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