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

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


February 20, 2015

Where Did Kitty and Mummy Go? - British Collecting Past and Present

Photo Credit: David Lay Auctioneers
Everyone likes a one man's trash is another man's treasure story.  But what can these stories tell us about collectors, collecting habits and the art market in antiquities in the 20th century in  the UK?

In November 2014, the family of a deceased elderly woman, Doreen Liddell, hired the services of an estate sale company, Penzance Auction House to go through the painful disposal of unwanted things us humans tend to accumulate over our lifetimes and that relatives frequently don't have the place for, or the emotional strength to actively sift through.  

Companies like these sort through a deceased person's household belongings, usually after the surviving family members have made a first-pass, marking or removing what they want to keep. The auctioneer's team, familiar with the mechanization of dealing with the property of the deceased,  pack up the momentos the family wants to keep preparing them for delivery to various destinations.  They then set to work valuating the remaining items the heirs aren't interested in retaining, preparing them for auction.  The last two steps usually involve donating the low value items to charities and chucking out the bitts and bobbs that remain.  In quick work company's like this one in Cornwall can clear the house of all evidence that was once a person's life. 

Photo Credit: David Lay Auctioneers
One item in this clean-out, a 7-inch tall bronze statuette of a cat, seemed destined for the trash dumpster parked on the driveway of Mrs. Liddell's cottage in Penzance, until auctioneer David Lay intervened.  Lay had a hunch that the regal looking cat with golden earrings set up near the fireplace was not a simple tourist trinket, but might be something special.  Following his instincts, he took the statue to specialists in Egyptian art at the British Museum. They identified the feline as a 26th Dynasty (672-525 BCE) Egyptian bronze.  

Statuettes symbolizing cats often served as votive offerings in Egyptian temples, and were frequently placed in tombs.  Almost all Egyptian gods were associated with some animal and assumed the form of a particular beast in Egyptian sculpture.  In this case the goddess, Bast, written as 'Bastet' by scribes to emphasis that the 't' was to be pronounced, is symbolized in the form of a feline.  In writing, her name has the hieroglyph of a 'bas'-jar with the feminine ending of 't' and during the Old Kingdom she was considered to be the daughter of Atum in Heliopolis.  She first appeared in animal form bearing the head of a lion.  Later,  in the New Kingdom, she took on the form of a domestic house cat like the animal bust found in the cottage.

Up for auction yesterday, the Bast statuette expected to sell for a conservative £5,000 to £10,000 GBP but instead sold for £52,000.  

But how did this ancient object find its way from an Egyptian tomb to a house in Western Cornwall?

It seems Doreen Liddell was the widow of Douglas Liddell, who, before his death was one of the biggest influences in British Numismatics. Liddell worked for Spink and Son Ltd, the prestigious auction house founded in London in 1666.   Starting out in their coin department just after the Second World War he would remain with the collecting firm through his retirement in December 1987.  He worked first in Spink's coin department, moving on to director of the company on the 1st June 1965, followed by a promotion to Managing Director in 1977, a post he retained until he retirement to Cornwall. 
 
Spink's has long been famous not only for its for its sales of Ancient Egyptian artefacts and in 1939 was tasked with selling the estate of archaeologist Howard Carter, the discoverer of Tutankhamen's tomb, three months after Carter's death. 

Photo Credit: Harry Burton/Rue des Archives/ Getty
It is likely that Douglas Liddell purchased the 2,500-year-old Egyptian bronze at one of Spink's many antiquities sales, but unfortunately like is true in many, many cases during the 1900s, collection histories weren't prized, even as is the case with this collector, by those in the biz.  The family has no recollection of, or record for the purchase of the Bast statue so the context of this piece; where it came from and who it belongs to before it was purchased by Liddell has sadly been lost.

In fairness to Mr. Liddell and collectors in general, even Howard Carter, methodical man though he was, kept no systematic record of the antiquities in his personal collection.   The closest thing researchers have to a record of his significant collection is the valuation of Carter's property for probate prepared by Spink and Son on 1 June 1939.

It is not publicly known yet, if this feline statue has a similar record of valuation by Spink, but it is possible that it has.

Can we estimate the purchase price?

Not exactly, but an early Spink and Son catalog from 1924 has been digitized so we have an idea of how antiquities increase their value over time. 

This catalog features objects from the MacGregor, Hilton Price, Amherst, Meux & Carnarvon collections and on page twelve pictures a larger Egyptian bronze cat, almost twice as tall as the one in Mrs. Liddell's cottage.  This one was estimated at auction at £400, a healthy sum relative the other items in the catalog and one that included delivery anywhere in the world.
Photo Credit: Spink and Son Auction Catalog, 1924

Reproduced using an online inflation calculator that compares collector's prices in 1924 with the value of the British Pound in 2011, the scanned catalog illustrates the comparative values that continue to drive individuals to collect antiquities as financial investments.   Not only do these figures show that antiquities were worthwhile investments but their pricing gives ARCA's blog readers insight into how relatively easy it was for collectors to assemble large and diverse collections in the early years of the 20th Century with cheaply priced antiquities.

Back then you could even bring your mummy home for a simple £16  (See page 8).

While collectors are finding bargains today, which will appreciate in value just like this cat and this mummy did, we hope that today's contemporary collectors will begin to place greater importance on where an object comes from as well as better care of maintaining a collection history outlining their purchases.  That way the next generation of heirs don't toss grandpa's beloved kitty in the trash heap.

By Lynda Albertson


References Used in This Article

http://www.ancientegyptonline.co.uk/bast.html
http://www.antiquitiesonline.co.uk/A-catalogue-from-the-golden-age-of-collecting_A10JF1.aspx
http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-cornwall-31524625
http://www.davidlay.co.uk/?_ga=1.59733733.991253984.1423311544
http://www.nicholasreeves.com/item.aspx?category=Writing&id=69
https://penzanceauctionhouse.wordpress.com/2015/02/01/something-quite-spectacular/
http://www.spink.com/news/newsletters/2003/200305coin_news.asp

December 5, 2014

Opinion: More Questions Than Solutions from the Auction Houses

By Lynda Albertson

Following the successful identification and the subsequent withdrawal of the Sardinian idol, Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis, a forensic archaeologist and Research Assistant with the Trafficking Culture Project has forwarded ARCA four additional images of antiquities that match photos from the Symes-Michaelides archive.  

Tsirogiannis and Italian heritage professionals have been working diligently for years to make sense of a lengthy catalog photo and forensic documentation, that paint a vivid picture of the complexity of the network of dealers, middlemen, and tombaroli involved in the looting and smuggling of antiquities.

These four identified objects match auction items that are to be included in two December sales events; one held by Christie's New York scheduled for December 11, 2014 and another with Sotheby's New York to be held the following day.

Christies LOT 51: AN EGYPTIAN ALABASTER FIGURAL JUG, estimated at $150,000 -$250,000


 




The object appears in the same condition in the Symes-Michaelides archive. The dealers are not mentioned in the collecting history supplied by the auction house.









Christies LOT 95: AN ATTIC RED-FIGURED COLUMN KRATER, estimated at $60,000 -$90,000





The object is depicted in the same condition in the images that have been confiscated by the American authorities from the antiquities dealer David Swingler, among hundreds of antiquities which were repatriated to Italy after it was found that they were smuggled. Swingler's name is not included in the collecting history supplied by the auction house.


The object appears in the auction catalog with its surface cleaned, unlike its appearance in the Symes-Michaelides archive. The dealers are not mentioned in the collecting history supplied by auction house.






Sotheby's: LOT 6: An Egyptian Diorite Figure of a Priest of the Temple of Mut, late 25th/early 26th Dynasty, circa 670-610 B.C., estimated at $400,000 - 600,000






The object appears in the same condition in the Symes-Michaelides archive.  The dealers are not mentioned in the collecting history supplied by the auction house.








Note: These suspect objects have been brought to the attention of authorities in the United States, Italy and Egypt.

More than  four decades have passed since the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. Despite greater public awareness of the problems posed by looting, suspect antiquities are still finding their way into auction houses through methods embedded within the licit antiquities trade.  By whitening a tainted object's illicit background through legitimate or contrived collection histories, laundered objects, be they from Italy, Egypt, Iraq or Syria, will continue to find their way into the glassy catalogs of licit objects being sold on the art market.

Unless tighter sanctions are imposed by governments or unless the art market itself voluntarily polices itself better, at the behest of culturally aware collectors or the general public, the problem will continue.  Predatory and subsistence looters will continue to supply the demand for materials needed and by proxy encourage the parasitical relationship between them, the middlemen suppliers and the auction houses.

July 12, 2014

Who bought Northampton's Sekhemka at Christie's in London this week? Will researchers or Egyptians ever see this piece of cultural property again in public?

Sekhemka, front (Christie's)
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

BBC News reported July 10 about the controversy surrounding the £15.76m sale at Christie's Auction house in London of The Northampton Sekhemka, a 4,000 year old sandstone statue of an Egyptian scribe, sold to raise funds to expand the regional museum:
Northampton Borough Council auctioned the Sekhemka limestone statue to help fund a £14m extension to Northampton Museum and Art Gallery. However, Arts Council England had warned the council its museum could lose its accreditation status. The Egyptian ambassador to Britain said the council should have handed the statue back if it did not want it.
Mirror Online described reaction to the sale as "fury":
Sue Edwards, from the Save Sekhemka Action Group, who travelled from Northampton to the auction, said: "This is the darkest cultural day in the town's history. The local authority has made a huge mistake but we will continue our fight to save Sekhemka."
Sekhemka, side (Christie's)
Here's a link to a 1963 academic paper by T. J. H. James published in The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, "The Northhampton Statue of Sekhemka", describing the statue as having entered a museum collection in England about 1870.

Christie's sales catalogue described the Northampton Sekhemka as "AN EXCEPTIONAL EGYPTIAN PAINTED LIMESTONE STATUE FOR THE INSPECTOR OF THE SCRIBES SEKHEMKA, OLD KINGDOM, DYNASTY 5, CIRCA 2400-2300 B.C." The statue sold for almost three times the catalogue estimate. In Christie's notes on the statue, the piece is described as belonging to the tomb of the deceased; the scroll lists 'offerings that Sekhemka needs to subsist comfortably in the afterlife.' As for the portrait of Sekhemka's wife Sitmerit:
Here, the position of Sitmerit’s body, as well as her composed expression are perhaps what gives peacefulness and harmony to this family portrait. It shows the close link between husband and wife, and their attachment to their family. The smaller scale should not be interpreted as a symbol of womens' place in society; rather, it is an artistic choice, for women had an equal status with men. She provides the love and support that her family needs. She prompts desire, gives life, and watches over her loved ones. She has a protective role and is the grounding force for the family.
Sekhemka, detail of wife (Christie's)
Christie's writes that a similar statue resides at the Brooklyn Museum:
Only one other statue is attributed to Sekhemka, Inspector of the Scribes, now in the Brooklyn Museum. The kneeling figure is made of diorite, the base is in limestone, painted to imitate diorite and is decorated as an offering table. It is suggested that Sekhemka may have had a discarded royal sculpture repaired and a base added to it. The similar quality of the carving between this and the present lot certainly serves to link the two pieces. Moreover, both statues were brought out of Egypt at around the same time; Dr. Henry Abbott, the original owner of the Brooklyn Sekhemka, returned with his collection in 1851.
The group interested in preventing Sekhemka's sale at Christie's created a Facebook page, "Save Sekhemka Action Group community", and a blog by Ruth Thomas, Chair of Northamptonshire Ancient Egyptian Society, who wrote in late 2012:
Sekhemka, the scroll (Christie's)
Northampton is one of the largest towns in the UK and has a diverse and cosmopolitan population. We are proud of this diversity and keen to celebrate it. In fact, even when the town itself shied away from promoting ethnic groups other than its own host population Northampton Museum collected widely from across the world and was at the forefront in providing expression to this multi-ethnicity. Our collections have been drawn from the four corners of the earth, whether it be the superb Chinese pottery horse of the Tang dynasty, the Hindu sculpture of Devi or the Italian renaissance paintings. For over a century the museum has not been small-minded and parochial in its collecting policy but aware of its role in promoting Northampton’s multi-cultural approach in a multi-cultural town. And this is why the sale of the ancient Egyptian scribe Sekhemka is such a retrograde step. 
Sekhemka, back (Christie's)
Sekhemka stands alone in its quality, antiquity and craftsmanship. It is part of a civilisation which existed on the continent of Africa for over two thousand years. For children of African and African Caribbean heritage this is unique opportunity to reconnect with their own roots and to understand that Northampton Museum has something which represents not only British history but encompasses the achievements of people from across the world. It also gives the message that Northampton Museum is aware of its role in educating and inspiring all the people of the town – as one school pupil said to me as he admired Sekhemka on a group trip for the National Curriculum “Oh I didn’t know you did Egypt”. Well, we should do Egypt and a whole lot more. The removal of Sekhemka from the museum is a dramatic and signal move away from a world view of our history to a small-minded and elitist approach which will inevitably alienate our visitors and supporters in the years to come.

February 1, 2014

Associated Press' Mariam Rizk reports on UNESCO's shock at Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo

Mariam Rizk for the Associated Press reported yesterday from a news conference that "UNESCO team 'shocked' at Egypt Islamic Museum Loss":
CAIRO (AP) — UNESCO pledged Friday to help restore a renowned museum dedicated to Islamic history in Cairo that was devastated by a bomb last week, with officials expressing "shock" at the scale of the damage. [...] Egypt's Antiquities Minister Mohammed Ibrahim said that 164 of the 1,471 items on display were damaged, of which 90 could be reassembled or restored. Most of the 74 irreparably damaged items were glass and porcelain, smashed to powder. On a tour of the building on Friday, shattered glass littered the floor while fragments and steel slabs from the broken windows lay all over. 
"It was an outstanding museum and to see it now, inside at least, totally destroyed is a big shock for us," Christian Manhart, head of UNESCO's museums sections, said at a news conference. The U.N. cultural agency had already set aside emergency funds of $100,000 on the same day of the blast and said further technical and financial help would follow after detailed reports were filed. Ibrahim said the American government would provide 1 million Egyptian pounds (about $150,000) while a well-known actor, Mohammed Sobhy, said he was giving 50,000 pounds (around $7,200).
Ibrahim said Egypt's National Library and Archives in the same building with the museum was also damaged. In addition, the blast smashed windows and caused other damage to historic mosques in the neighborhood. [...] Friday's visit to the museum was by a joint mission involving UNESCO and two protection and conservation groups, the International Council on Monuments and Sites and the International Committee of the Blue Shield. Manhart said the team will also prepare documents and figures to be presented to potential donors, which he was not authorized to name immediately. [...] Three years of unrest has devastated Egypt's economy, including the vital tourism industry, and the security vacuum has taken a heavy toll on the country's monuments. In one of the worst incidents, looters made away with more than 1,000 artifacts from a museum in the southern city of Malawi as violent clashes roiled the country in August. Ibrahim said Friday that the restoration of the Malawi Museum will be done in six months.
Other museums have also been hit, including the famed Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square that holds Pharaonic antiquities including the treasures of King Tut. During the 2011 uprising would-be looters damaged mummies and other artifacts before being caught by army soldiers. Some items stolen from museums or archaeological sites have been recovered. The ministry said Friday that 935 stolen Pharaonic artifacts were found in a house in Cairo's twin city of Giza. The pieces included masks, pots, and statues. Security forces said they also confiscated guns and ammunition.
Here's a link to Lynda Albertson's post on the initial reports of damage to the Museum of Islamic Art. 

On January 24, the UNESCO World Heritage website had reported "Director-General Condemns Destruction to the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo, Egypt":
The Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, today expressed grave concern about the damage to Egypt’s Museum of Islamic Art, following the reported explosion of a car near the Police Security Directorate, which is located at Port Said Street in Cairo, in front of the main entrance of the Museum. “I firmly condemn this attack and the destruction it has caused to the world-renowned Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo, which hosts thousands of invaluable artefacts,” said Irina Bokova. “This raises the danger of irreversible damage to the history and identity of the Egyptian people.” 
The Director-General applauded the Ministry of State for Antiquities, as well as representatives from civil society in Cairo, for their immediate action and efforts to rescue damaged artefacts and take first measures for their conservation. “In the spirit of solidarity, I appeal today to all Member States to support action to rehabilitate the Museum, the galleries and displays,” concluded Irina Bokova. “I pledge today that I will mobilise all of UNESCO’s experience and expertise to rebuilding the Museum and restoring the damage – this is as essential for the people of Egypt as it is for women and men across the world,” declared the Director-General. “This heritage is part of the universal story of humanity, shared by all and we must all do everything to safeguard it.”

January 25, 2014

Damage to Cairo's Museum of Islamic Art: Why Does Art Always Take in on the Chin?


By Lynda Albertson, ARCA's CEO

As news of the explosion affecting Cairo’s Museum of Islamic Art has spread and images of the destruction were replicated across social media sites few people or news agencies paused to mention what objects were actually inside one of Egypt’s spectacular museums or talk about the heart of Islam the collection represents. 

Started in 1881, the Museum of Islamic Art initially was housed within the arcades of the mosque of the Fatimid caliph Al-HakimBi-Amr Allah. Commencing with 111 objects, gathered from mausoleums and mosques throughout Egypt, the original collection has grown substantially over the last 130 years. 

Today the objects in the Cairo museum represent one of the most comprehensive collections of Islamic art in the world. With more than 103,000 artifacts housed in 24 halls, its collection celebrates every Islamic period in Egypt covering the Fatimids, the Mamluks, the Abbasids, the Ummayads, the Tulunids, the Ottomans, and the Ayyubids dynasties.

Photo Credit: http://www.discoverislamicart.org
The museum’s glass collection alone counts 5,715 pieces in its inventory.  Some are very rare, others, like this glass vessel fragment, are more commonplace. Notwithstanding, each piece helps visitors and scholars embrace and understand the history of the region and its people.

Some of the glass enameled lamps in the museum come from the mosque of Sultan Hassan who ruled Egypt twice, the first time in 1347 when he was only 13 years old.  One of the most outstanding of these glass pieces is an eight-sided chandelier made up of three layers with a dome-shaped cap and detailed Islamic decorations imprinted on its glass.

Some of the museum’s glass comes from excavations undertaken at Al-Fusṭāṭ, on the east bank of the Nile River, south of modern Cairo.  As the first Muslim capital of Egypt, Al-Fusṭāṭ, was established by general ʿAmr ibn al-ʿĀṣ in AD 641 and was the location of the province’s first mosque, Jāmiʿ ʿAmr.

Glass vessels, phials and fragments excavated from the former capital and on display at the museum give the world an understanding of the chronology and origin of the Islamic glass industry as well as the history of Islam during the Umayyad and ʿAbbāsid caliphates and under succeeding dynasties.

Until the 9th century Islamic glass artisans used the Roman technique of making glass mixing calcium-rich sand and Natron, a salt substance used in Egypt to preserve mummies.  At the turn of the millennium, they opted to use plant ash for the soda component in their formula for glass making and experimented with colors, shapes, techniques, and surface decoration. 

From the piles of shattered glass, pieces of bricks and smashed cases seen in the first images released by Monica Hanna after the bombing it seems that the damage to the museum’s collection may be significant, though for now how significant has yet to be established with detailed clarity.  Talking heads on news sites triage the damage from horrifying to optimistic though without any formal inventory of which rooms were damaged and the objects purportedly on display in that room, it’s hard to know if the pulverized glass we see in initial photos comes from broken windows and collection storage cases or damaged artifacts. 

To rectify that gap in knowledge, museum staff and volunteers worked under difficult conditions and despite safety hazards from a partially collapsed roof before sealing the museum as per security directives.  Their goal: provide an initial assessment and to secure the collection to prevent further damage or possible theft.  Until a formal reporting is given, all we can do is hope that things remain calmer so that the Ministry of Antiquities can salvage as many of the museum's artifacts as possible.

August 26, 2013

Nevine El-Aref of Ahram.org reports the recovery of 16 objects looted from the Malawi National Museum (Update: Gold Coins Recovered)

Statues recovered from Malawi National Museum (ahram.org)
Nevine El-Aref reported in the English version of Ahram.org that 16 items have been recovered from the objects looted from the Malawi National Museum in Egypt:
On Saturday night, 24 August, five ancient Egyptian and Graeco-Roman artefacts were recovered by police. The objects include three Graeco-Roman reliefs made of marble and limestone. The first is broken into two parts and features a painting of a rabbit. The second has Graeco-Roman text while the third bears a deep engraving of two rabbits — the sign of Al-Minya in Graeco-Roman times. 
The other two artefacts are carved in bronze, featuring Djehuti, the goddess of wisdom.
On Friday, 11 objects were recovered, among them two Graeco-Roman papyri found by chance in a corner of the museum’s garden. Ahmed Sharaf, head of the museum section at the Ministry of State for Antiquities, explained that one of the papyri bears 23 lines written in Demotic while the second bears seven lines written in Demotic. 
The rescued objects include three clay pots, a limestone statue of the god Thot in the shape of a sitting baboon, two bronze statues of the god Osiris and a rectangular relief bearing a drawing of an Ibis bird and the palm of goddess Maat. 
Minister of State of Antiquities Mohamed Ibrahim is happy for the return of some of the museum’s collection, he told Ahram Online. The objects were restituted after the ministry promised Al-Minya inhabitants that no legal procedures would be taken against anyone returning a looted artefact. 
Ibrahim asserted that security has been tightened at Al-Ashmounein archaeological site and galleries, to stop any illicit excavations there.
UPDATE:  The Tourism and Antiquities Police recovered a collection of 25 cold coins looted from Malawai National Museum, reports Nevine El-Aref for Ahram.org. 'Ministry of State for Antiquities (MSA) Minister Mohamed Ibrahim told Ahram Online that with the return of these coins, 125 objects reporting missing from the Malawi Museums are now restituted'.
Ahmed Sharaf, head of the museum section at the MSA explained that the coins all depict the features of a Roman emperor called Valdese in his battle suit, left hand clutching a bunch of flowers while the right one holds a cross.

August 25, 2013

UNESCO posts listing of looted objects from the Malawi National Museum in the Upper Egypt city of Minya

'The Egyptian Ministry of State for Antiquities informed UNESCO of the looting of the Malawi National Museum on August 14, 2013,' UNESCO reports on its website:
The damages caused by the looters are catastrophic. Most of the artefacts have been stolen, destroyed or burned. Around one thousand cultural objects, dated from the beginning of the Egyptian history to the Islamic period, have disappeared (coins, jewels, statues, etc).
UNESCO has posted a list of stolen objects in Arabic from the Malawi National Museum in Minya, about 150 miles south of Cairo.  Minya is the birthplace of Suzanne Mubarak, the former First Lady of Egypt (1981 - 2011). A copy of this listing, including photos of the looted objects can be downloaded from the ARCA website here.

Egyptian cultural heritage professionals are using social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to bring public awareness to the damages that have occurred during this recent period of unrest.   Because of awareness antiquities police have succeeded in returning 71 stolen objects from the museum in addition to the 19 returned shortly after the initial looting.

The Supreme Council of Antiquities has a list of museums in Egypt. The only institution with the name 'Malawi' is the Malawi Monuments Museum:
The Malawi Monuments Museum houses a collection of artefacts from the nearby sites of Tuna al-Gebel and Hermopolis. Among the objects on display are a number of animal mummies and statues associated with the worship of the god Thoth.
Tuna al-Gebel (Supreme Council of Antiquities):
Hermopolis West, on the modern site of Tuna al-Gebel near Minya, was the necropolis of the city of Hermopolis, sacred to the Greek god Hermes and his Egyptian counterpart Thoth. It is best known for the sprawling catacombs at the foot of the western cliffs, where thousands of ibises (dedicated to Thoth) and other sacred animals were buried from the New Kingdom through Roman times. Besides multitudes of ibises and baboons, the galleries were also used for the burials of fish, pigs, dogs, cats, goats, pelicans, monkeys, falcons, larks, and kestrels, all mummified and placed into pottery jars. Potsherds and torn and broken mummies are still strewn in the passages today.
Another major attraction of the site is the early Ptolemaic tomb of a high priest of Thoth named Petosiris, decorated with reliefs in a blend of Greek and Egyptian styles. Petosiris's wooden coffin, exquisitely inlaid with colored glass hieroglyphs, can be seen in the Egyptian Museum.
A number of Roman-era tombs lie to the south. The most famous of these belongs to Isadora, a young woman who drowned in the second century BC. Her mummy lies in a glass case in her tomb.
The oldest monument at Tuna al-Gebel is a stele marking the northwest boundary of Akhenaten’s city at Amarna, partway up a slope north of Hermopolis West. It bears scenes of Akhenaten and Nefertiti worshipping the sun disk (the Aten) and is carved with an extensive text describing the founding of the city.