Monday, 20 November 2017

Illegal antiquities trade Robbing Indonesia of History


The head 'just happened to come off',
and such heads 'just happen'
to be very collectable...
The illegal antiquities trade is robbing Indonesia of its history and millions of dollars ( Adi Renaldi, Indonesia Can't Stop Its Illegal Treasure Hunters', Vice Nov 21 2017) In the Central Java district of Sukoharjo looters are willing to pay local farmers as much as Rp 3 million ($222 USD) a day for the right to dig for buried treasures on the site of a protected ancient Buddhist temple there under the cover of darkness.
The money is a vital windfall for the village's rice farmers, who would typically make nothing off their paddies during the dry season. But it's also proven to be a difficult crime to prosecute. And with little risk of being caught there are few reasons for farmers in Joho village to not offer their fields up to cashed-up treasure hunters. "I know nothing about the heritage," one farmer, a man named Mariman, told the Jakarta Post. "Someone says they want to rent my field... I just allow them."
These looters are of course by no means 'subsistence diggers' but professional culture thieves, corrupting landowners by offering money for loot, no-questions-asked. Dealers and their lobbyists insist that offering landowners subsidies of some kind so they can have what they call 'a living wage' fail to explain how such a system would actually work in practice. A farmer can claim a subsidy by day, and still close his eyes to what happens in his fields at night and get payment for that too. The antiquities vanish into a murky black market with very little chance that they can be successfully  recovered by authorities. The article details other sites where material has been removed, and museum thefts.
Rosinta Hutauruk, the spokesperson for UNESCO's Indonesia office, told VICE. "The illicit trade in cultural objects continues to increase because there's stable demand," she said. [...] These antiquities typically pass through multiple sellers, crossing international borders before then end up in the hands of wealthy private collectors and museums. The Archeological Institute of America estimates that as much as 90 percent of the artifacts sold on the legal market don't have any paperwork listing where, and how, they were discovered. Add in the fact that the black market for stolen antiquities is also full of forgeries and it's easy to see how difficult it is to track down missing artifacts like those that vanished from rice paddies in Joho village. [...] once Indonesia's historical artifacts go missing, they may be lost forever.
What is needed, it is obvious to everyone (including one suspects the dealers and their lobbyists who are opposed to it), is increased transparency of the international antiquities market, and greater accountability on where items are coming from and going.  Only in this way will the gaping jaws of this voracious commerce be closed to the peddlers of illicit and freshly-surfaced (from underground) items.

Egypt retrieves ancient artefacts from Cyprus


ncient Egyptian items due to
return home from Cyprus soon. 
Image Credit: Ministry of Antiquities
Ramadan Al Sherbini, 'Egypt retrieves ancient artifacts from Cyprus' Gulf News November 20, 2017
Ancient Egyptian artifacts, smuggled out of the country more than three decades ago, will soon return home from Cyprus, an official at the Ministry of Antiquities said on Monday. “The ministry has succeeded through diplomatic and legal efforts to prove that these pieces left Egypt illegally and reached Cyprus in 1986,” Shaaban Abdul Jawad, the director of the retrieved antiquities department, added in a press statement. [...] They include an alabaster vase carrying the name of the 19th dynasty Pharaoh Ramses II and 13 amulets of different shapes and sizes including those of sacred emblems and statutes, Abdul Jawad added. “Recovery of these pieces comes as hard evidence that the Ministry of Antiquities spares no efforts in order to restore Egypt’s stolen and smuggled antiquities and protect its cultural possessions,” said Abdul Jawad.
I don't know about that alabaster but that crude ceramic shabti with a large winged scarab on its breast does not look much like the real thing to me. What is the point of gathering all this bazaar archaeology in Egyptian stores? What can be done with it?

Incestual Relations: CCP Welcomes Global Heritage Alliance


American Committee for Cultural Policy welcomes Global Heritage Alliance, a new cultural policy advocacy organization,



but, but... they are basically the same old guys... there's nothing much 'new' in what they are saying and doing. Same old story.

Spot the Difference


Metal detectorist in the UK:

UK detectorist (Rotary International in GB and I)

Collector in Perth:
Joan Howard (The West Australian)
Spot the difference. Both seek publicity and social approval, one wears a pink shirt, the other a turquoise dress, but both are making personal collections of material removed from archaeological sites and contexts, damaging the archaeological record.


Saturday, 18 November 2017

Networking with Cultural Criminals


News from China:
Chinese police have caught 91 suspected tomb raiders and antique smugglers, and retrieved more than 1,100 cultural relics, the Ministry of Public Security announced Friday. The investigation lasted over a year, with arrests made in Shaanxi, Shanxi, Gansu, and Henan province, said the police. The operation started July 2016 after police in Chunhua county, northwest China's Shaanxi Province, were alerted that the tomb of Lady Gouyi, a concubine of Emperor Wu (141 B.C.- 87 B.C.) and the mother of Emperor Zhao (87 B.C.- 74 B.C.) of the Han Dynasty (202 B.C.-A.D.220 ), had been raided.
There is a gallery of photos of the antiquities seized, mostly the sort of stuff that comes onto the international market from Chinese sources.

This case is a reminder that rarely do antiquities 'surface' on the market (from 'underground') due to the activities of a single individual (the nominal starving father digging to 'feed his children' beloved of dealer folklore), but is the product of an organized network of people  having the means to sidestep the checks and regulations that are supposed to stop criminal activity such as antiquities trafficking.

Dealers and collectors of antiquities which are bought in a non-transparent and no-questions-asked manner seem to regard these 'systemic leaks' that escaped the notice of the authorities of the source countries to be fair game, the results of a game of luck, but by putting money into the pockets of those at one end of the established supply chain and counting on doing further business with these suppliers, they are providing the motor for the continued functioning of that chain, they are investing in fact in organized crime. They become part of the network. 

Thursday, 16 November 2017

House Fire in Sicily


It seemed yesterday that Sicilian firefighters had not completely extinguished a fire that broke out earlier this week at the home of an antiquities dealer (Palazzo Pignatelli in Castelvetrano on the western tip of the island), and it is reported to have flared up again. In fact, that seems not to be true. True or not, bad luck never strikes three times in the same place it seems, so any documents providing details of transactions carried out by Sicilian antiquities dealer Gianfranco Becchina that survived the fire will presumably be secured and available to investigators looking into collecting histories of items bought from him in the past. I'm off this morning to see if I can get a bottle of his olive oil as a souvenir.


Artefact Hunting in USA: 'Over 90% Sites Destroyed or Degraded by Looters'


Over in Donald Trump's USA, it is a constant mantra of antiquities dealers and their lobbyists and supporters to insist that instead of their own industry functioning through a clean and transparent market, the way to cut down on antiquities trafficking is for the authorities of all source countries for the antiquities that surface (from underground) on the US market to guard all the exploitable sites. One might therefore be forgiven for asking how well that solution works in their own country. An article in the Pacific Standard (Kathleen Sharp, 'The Theft of the Gods: On the trail of looters and crooks who traffic in Hopi ceremonial objects', 16th November 2017) supplies a disturbingly pot-calling-kettle-black answer:
America's ancient heritage is disappearing at an alarming rate. Some archaeologists estimate that more than half of America's historic sites have been vandalized or looted. According to the non-profit Saving Antiquities for Everyone, over 90 percent of known American Indian archaeological sites have been destroyed or degraded by looters. As the cultural legacy of Native American tribes has vanished, the demand for genuine U.S. antiquities has exploded.
The problem is, this is not the American Way of doing things:
"We have a huge problem in the U.S. because we don't protect our country's artifacts," says Martin McAllister, a forensic archaeologist. Art collectors from Dubai and Beijing can purchase an exceptional Native American item at auction in London, Brussels, and Paris—and the tribe from which it came will probably never see it again. "It's not just the legacy of Native Americans that we're losing," says Marietta Eaton, director of the Anasazi Heritage Center. "It's all of ours."
I suggest the US first set up systems to guard their own heritage before attempting to dictate to foreign sovereign nations hosw they should run their country. In the meanwhile, let us clean up that dodgy international market and make it transparent, so we can all see where those artefacts are 'surfacing' from.


 
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