Thursday, July 17, 2014

Metal Detectorists raid English Heritage site in Kent



The grounds of Eynsford Castle in Kent (not far from Lullingstone Roman Villa) have been pockmarked by what appear to be the telltale signs of metal-detecting. This is a protected site and there can be no excuse for this activity.

Such infringements bring us back to the core issues raised in the forum debate in the Papers of the Institute of Archaeology [link].

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Personal Styles and Cycladic Figures

My review of the (slightly) revised edition of Pat Getz-Gentle's Personal Styles in Early Cycladic Sculpture. Wisconsin Studies in Classics (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2013) has now appeared on BMCR. I consider some of the intellectual issues surrounding this category of material and discuss some of the figures appearing on the market. I remake the case for using the term "Keros Haul" (rather than "hoard") for the fragmentary Cycladic figures.
It is unnecessary to revisit some of the concerns about reconstructing artistic personalities in the third millennium BC. The progression of style is unsupported by any evidence, and relies more on the art historian's perception of how the corpus should be ordered.

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Saturday, July 12, 2014

Greece pursuing war-loot through INTERPOL

The Greek press is reporting that INTERPOL will be working with Greek authorities to recover some 100 objects removed during the occupation of Greece in WW2 ("Ministry to work with Interpol to trace artifacts", Ekathimerini.com July 12, 2014).

This news comes in the wake of the news that over 10,000 objects have been returned to Greece from Germany. They had been excavated in Thessaly in 1941.

One of the first posts on LM was on this very topic and the Greek authorities may like to start in Hannover.

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Sekhemka: Museums Association comment

The Museums Association has updated its comment on the sale of Sekhemka by the Northampton Museum and Art Gallery. This statement includes the very telling section:
... the MA said that Northampton Borough Council has not demonstrated that the sale of Sekhemka is funding of last resort in relation to the development plans for the museum site. In addition, its plans to share the proceeds from the sale indicate that legal title of the object is not resolved.
It will be interesting to see how this is resolved.

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Proceeds from the sale of Sekhemka


Councillor David Mackintosh has announced that Lord Northampton will be donating £1 million from the sale of the Egyptian statue of Sekhemka to community projects.

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Sekhemka: The Art Fund issues a statement

The sale of the the Egyptian statue of Sekhemka at Christie's earlier this week has prompted a statement from the Art Fund (press release, 11 July 2014). The determination by the officers and councillors of Northampton Borough Council to ignore the ethical guidance offered by the Museums Association seems to have prompted the response that any museum professional would have expected.

The satement says:
in line with the Museum Association’s Code of Ethics for museums, we [the Art Fund] remain strongly opposed to deaccessioning any item for financial reasons except in exceptional circumstances, where the funds will directly benefit the museum collection and only after all other options have been explored. 
This is not the case with the sale of Sekhemka and as such, having gone against the sector's ethical guidance, it risks being stripped of its accredited status. This is therefore a financially as well as morally harmful decision for Northampton Borough Council to take. Not only will they receive only 55% of the final hammer price of £15.8m, but Northampton Museum and Art Gallery will no longer be eligible to apply to us and other major funders for funding for acquisitions, capital projects (including the planned £14m extension), and artistic or educational programming.
The statement reminds Northampton, and any local authority planning to follow in that authorty's footsteps:
Selling items from collections, as Northampton and Croydon have both done in recent months, does not just impact on one particular museum and its visitors; it reduces public trust and risks lessening donors’ desire to give items to museums for their long-term safe-keeping.
Democratically elected local councillors seem to have forgotten the public-interest issue.

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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Northampton Borough Council issue a statement over the sale of Sekhemka

Northampton Borough Council (NBC) has issued a statement over the sale of the statue of Sekhemka for over £15 million (Thursday 10 July 2014, press release). NBC hopes to retain c. £8 million for the museum development project that they expect to cost £14 million (see here).

This means that NBC will be needing to attract some £6 million worth of funding. The press release tells us:
"The Borough Council is in the process of developing a funding package to take the extension forward, including putting together a bid for support from the Heritage Lottery Fund."
In other words, NBC are expecting to look to the Heritage Lottery Fund to provide a large portion of the additional funding. But there is a great demand for these funds, and the HLF panel have the potential of not looking too kindly on what has happened in Northampton (and especially against the advice of the Museums Association).

The press release also suggests that the Borough Council has realised that the accreditation of the museum service has been jeopardised by the sale:
The Council is also continuing to talk to the Arts Council about museum accreditation.
If accreditation is suspended it probably means that the museum development project will have to be halted and the sale of Sekhemka will have been for nothing.

And the residents of Northampton will have missed out twice over.

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Implications of the Sekhemka Sale

ICOM has raised the issue that the sale of Sekhemka may have implications for the rise of looting in Egypt.
ICOM is ... concerned that the sale of the statue, estimated between 5 and 7.5 million euros [$27 million], according to the same press release, may result in an increase of illicit excavation and trafficking of antiquities in Egypt, an area already exposed to such risks.
This is not a straightforward issue.

First, the Sekhemka statue has been known (and documented) since the mid-nineteenth century (1849/50) when it was acquired by the Second Marquess of Northampton and left Egypt. In other words, Sekhemka came to England well before the formulation of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property [details]. And in a market where so much of the material on offer has surfaced after (or has no authenticated documentation prior to) 1970, the Sekhemka statue offered a well documented collecting history (or, to use an obsolete and misleading term, "provenance"). Collecting histories can add to the value of an object.

Second, the Sekhemka statue does not come in the category of recently looted objects. However, the unarticulated concern of ICOM is that potential looters (or raiders of archaeological storage facilities) in Egypt will see the sorts of sums that could be raised by a single Egyptian sculpture and will try to benefit by grabbing some material that they will endeavour to get onto the European, Middle Eastern, or North American art markets. I doubt that looter would achieve $27 million for a single object: consider the cut for the trail of people need to move the object out of Egypt, the transport costs, an agent in Europe, fees, etc. But looters could think that they will be able to find another piece. But even if they did, it would not have the documented collecting history of Sekhemka, and would therefore fall under immediate suspicion (thereby lowering its value). And such searching by looters damages previously unknown and unexcavated archaeological contexts, and this leads to a loss of knowledge that can never be replaced.

Separate to these two issues is the one that has given most concern to the residents of Northampton, as well as to museum professionals. Should the Northampton Museum and Art Gallery have deaccessioned this major sculpture in order to obtain funds to do something else with its collections? Have the local politicians of Northampton contravened the ethical framework for the UK museum community? These are issues explored elsewhere on Looting Matters.

And will this lead to the future isolation of the Northampton Museum and Art Gallery? And what will be the implications for potential donations and bequests not just to Northampton, but to every single museum in the UK?

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Reflecting on the price received by Sekhemka

The news that the sale of the Egyptian statue of Sekhemka for £15,762,500 (c. $27 million) needs to be put in perspective.

Looting Matters has been monitoring the sale of Egyptian antiquities at Sotheby's New York since 1998. The total for all Egyptian lots from 1998 to 2013 is just over $77 million (with over $383 million) for antiquities. The highest year for Egyptian lots was in 2010 with a total value of over $12 million.

So a single statue selling for the equivalent of $27 million is a third of the total sales of Egyptian antiquities during a 16 year period.

Christie's New York has sold $225 million worth of antiquities (not just Egyptian) over a 15 year period (from 1999 to 2013). There were only two years when the total sales were worth more than $27 million: 2010 worth over $42 million, and 2011 worth over $38 million.

So this is an exceptional price for a well documented sculpture.

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Sekhemka sold

The Egyptian statue of Sekhemka has just realised £15,762,500 at Christie's this evening. That is the equivalent of just under $27 million.

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