Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Hawass appointed minister

It appears that Zahi Hawass has been appointed Minister of Antiquities ("Egypt antiquities chief becomes minister", AFP March 30, 2010).

Kate Taylor has also commented on the story ("Egyptian Antiquities Minister Returns Less Than a Month After Quitting", New York Times March 30, 2010).
His departure had left a power vacuum at the antiquities ministry, according to Christian Manhart, the chief of the museums and cultural objects section of Unesco, who led a delegation to Egypt last week. Mr. Manhart said he was not surprised that Mr. Hawass had been reinstated, only that it had happened so quickly.

Mr. Hawass, who has never been accused of being humble, said on Wednesday that he did not ask to come back, but that there was no one else who could do the job. “I cannot live without antiquities, and antiquities cannot live without me,” he said.

Top of the agenda will be the recovery of the outstanding looted items from the Cairo Museum and other archaeological stores in Egypt. However attention is likely to turn to negotiations for the return of Saqqara material from a Barcelona galerista, and the mummy mask from the St Louis Art Museum (SLAM).

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Monday, March 28, 2011

Learning from the Polaroids

Looting Matters has been quieter than normal due to other commitments. However research has continued.

It strikes me that one of the lessons of the Polaroids is that museums (especially in North America) have been more careful over their acquisitions. Who would want a repeat of the bad publicity relating the return of objects to Italy (and Greece)?

Yet is the same true for those selling archaeological material that has no documented collecting history? Are some of those involved in the market pressing ahead with the sale of material that they perhaps suspect (and, I hope, not know) was handled by certain Swiss-based middlemen whose images have been seized in Geneva and Basel?

A number of sales are forthcoming. What will emerge?

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Aphrodite returns to Sicily




The Aphrodite has been returned from the J. Paul Getty Museum to Aidone in Sicily.

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Monday, March 21, 2011

Staffordshire Hoard: "I wish I'd never let him on my land in the first place"

A rift seems to have developed between farmer Fred Johnnson and detectorist Terry Herbert ("Sometimes I wish I'd never found that Hoard': How sharing £3m find of Saxon gold led to a bitter feud", Daily Mail March 21, 2011). There has been a frank exchange about access to land and the sharing of the "reward".

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Frome Hoard Saved

The National Heritage Memorial Fund (with the Art Fund) has announced that it has saved the Frome Hoard for the nation.
The Museum of Somerset takes possession of the £320,250 Frome Hoard and further funds of over £100,000 towards its conservation following the announcement of a £294,026 grant from the NHMF. The good news follows an intensive fundraising campaign kick-started by the Art Fund, the national fundraising charity for works of art, with a grant of £40,250, to help raise the funds needed for the extraordinary find of over 52,000 silver and bronze coins found last year by metal-detectorist Dave Crisp. Members of the public generously donated £13,657 towards the appeal, which the Art Fund match-funded with a further £10,000. The acquisition was also made possible thanks to funding from the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society, the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund, the Headley Trust and other generous donations.
I note that Dame Jenny Abramsky, Chair of NHMF, noted the way that the Frome Hoard "provide[s] true insight into Britain’s rich and diverse history". The Hoard was reported in a timely and responsible manner but this is not apparently typical of all treasure hunters.


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Friday, March 18, 2011

St Louis Art Museum: another legal development

I have made several comments about the Egyptian mummy mask in the St Louis Art Museum (SLAM) (most recently here). Ricardo A. St Hilaire has commented on the legal action taken by the US authorities (and full text here).

There are two sections that will be of particular interest:
14. In 1966, the Mask and other objects from the same burial assemblage were removed from packaging in Saqqara and given to the Egyptian Antiquities Organization Restoration Lab located in Cairo in preparation for future display.
15. The Mask traveled to Cairo from Saqqara in box number fifty-four. This was the last documented location of the Mask in Egypt.
The fact that the mask was record in 1966 is significant. (It is also apparently recorded in July 1959 and in 1962 (sections 12 and 13).

I have rehearsed the alleged collecting histories before here.

It is important to realise that the mask's excavator, Mohammed Zakaria Goneim, died in 1959.

Yet, although the mask was apparently still known in Egypt at late as 1966, it is claimed by Swiss national Charly Mathez that the mask was seen in 1952 at the premises of an antiquities dealer in Brussels. Indeed it has been suggested that it was given to an Egyptian official shortly after its discovery in 1952.

Moreover, it is reported that in 1962 (or thereabouts) the mask was acquired by the "Kaloterna Collection".

It is then claimed that around 1967 it was acquired by "an unnamed Swiss citizen". This person, a resident of Geneva, has been identified.

The collecting history as it was supplied to SLAM now looks less secure. Is it time for a thorough review of the due diligence process?


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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Looting in Cairo: List Published

The Press Office of what was Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) has now posted a list of objects that had been stolen from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. The quality of the illustrations are not brilliant and the descriptions are less than full.

Museums, collectors and those involved in the trade need to be watchful for this material and indeed for other unrecorded items that may have been looted from archaeological sites or removed from excavation stores.

I am grateful to Lee Rosenbaum for the prompt on this and see her comment.

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Monday, March 14, 2011

"Buyers have had their fingers burned": antiquities as investments

Tara Loader Wilkinson was written a piece on antiquities as investments for the Wall Street Journal ("Pricing the Priceless", March 14, 2011). The article asserts that the value of antiquities has soared after talking to G. Max Bernheimer.
Since 2006, sales at the privately-owned auction house have quadrupled from $10.2 million (€7.5 million) to $42.7 million. What is more, unlike other parts of the art market, sales have steadily increased throughout the recession.
My own research suggests that Christie's New York auctioned $9.6 million worth of antiquities in 2006, and £4.1 million in London. By 2010 this had grown to $42.7 million in New York, and £7.8 million in London. This is indeed a quadrupling (at least in New York, but not in London), but the rate has not been steady and it is unclear if 2010 was an unusual year. An overview of the market suggests that 2008 and 2009 were lean years (together worth $22 million in New York). And it needs to be remembered that $16.8 million from 2010 was from a single Cycladic figure; the Crosby Garrett helmet sold for £2.2 million in London.

There is no detailed discussion of Sotheby's that auctioned $91 million worth of antiquities in 2010 (and $10.2 million in 2006). By this standard Christie's has rather lagged behind its rival.

The area of investment is a topic that I have addressed before, specifically in a discussion of a youth with cockerel that was offered at Christie's in June 2010. Indeed over a six year period the sculpture lost $2705 in value. A similar pattern emerged from the sale of an Australian private collection in London.

The issue of recently surfaced antiquities is raised by Philip Hoffman, a former finance director at Christie's.
Buyers have had their fingers burned acquiring pieces which later turned out to be illegally excavated. Many were forced to return them and lost millions.
The article then alludes to the Dekadrachm Hoard that had been purchased for some $3.5 million.

The article closes with a quote from Bernheimer:
"Buying through an auction house, where due diligence is incredibly thorough and everything is openly published in the catalogue, limits the possibilities over ownership and repatriation issues later on."
This does explain why Loader Wilkinson did not refer to another article in the Wall Street Journal from June 2010 or indeed review some other related stories.

Has the Wall Street Journal failed to give a rigorous assessment of the situation?


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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Shipwrecked: Ethical Issues

I note that there has been some frank discussion over the Smithsonian's decision to exhibit finds from a 9th century wrecked Arab dhow.



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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Egyptian antiquities: "a smoke screen"?

Vernon Silver has published a reflective piece on the recent looting of antiquities and the debate about cultural property ("Looting in Egypt Arms Critics of Sending Antiquities Back Home", Bloomberg.com March 9, 2011). Has the looting of the Cairo Museum during the recent political upheavals changed the nature of the debate?

Silver has interviewed William Pearlstein who is seen as opposing claims by Egypt: "My clients will have an easier time against retention laws”. Silver also quotes Ursula Kampmann, the press officer for the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA): “The incidents during the Egyptian revolution could be taken as basis for a change of discussion ... It comes to the question, what is the best way to protect our world’s cultural heritage?”

Hawass also makes the point:

“Arguments against repatriation because of the current situation in Egypt are completely wrong ... If the police left the streets of New York City, London, or Tokyo, the criminals of those cities would smash the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the British Museum, or any other museums in those cities.”
Thomas Campbell, director of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, has wisely stated that the museum will return the objects relating to Tutankhamun once the political situation has stablised.

I was interviewed for the piece. Instead of rejecting claims on cultural property, museums and those involved in the antiquities market need to be conducting more thorough due diligence checks. Will members of the IADAA ensure that they have full collecting histories of all Egyptian material that they handle? Will the Barcelona Galerista return the material from Saqqara? Will the St Louis Art Museum (SLAM) produce the full authenticated documention relating to the mummy mask that it acquired?

Why does this matter? If we believe in Cosmopolitanism, like Kwame Anthony Appiah and James Cuno, these objects belong to world culture. They are our shared heritage.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Zahi Hawass Resigns: Statement

Zahi Hawass has made a full statement about his resignation. He specifically states why he has chosen this moment to resign:
I am leaving because of a variety of important reasons. The first reason is that, during the Revolution of January 25th, the Egyptian Army protected our heritage sites and the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. However, in the last 10 days the army has left these posts because it has other tasks to do. The group now in charge of the protection of these sites is the Tourist Police, but there are no Tourist Police to do this either. Therefore, what happens? Egyptian criminals, thieves (you know, in every revolution bad people always appear…), have begun to destroy tombs. They damaged the tomb of Hetep-ka at Saqqara, the tomb of Petah-Shepses at Abu Sir and the tomb of a person called Em-pi at Giza. They attacked a storage magazine at Saqqara and we do not yet know how many artifacts are missing; they opened two storage magazines at Giza; one tomb dated to the 19th Dynasty, the only one in the Delta in fact, was damaged at Ismaïlia; and a store at El-Qantara East has been broken into and looted for antiquities. People have begun to build houses and to excavate at night, everywhere, putting heritage sites all over the country at risk. I had to write a report and I sent it to the Director of UNESCO. That is why at the meeting of the Egyptian cabinet yesterday I had my speech prepared already and I said: “I cannot stay in Egypt and see antiquities being stolen when I cannot do anything to stop it!” This situation is not for me! I have always fought to return stolen artifacts to Egypt. I did fight Ahmed Ezz as well, the man in the Parliament, who was the most powerful man, because he wanted to allow antiquities to be sold in Egypt again.
It is now clear that Hawass has acknowledged that damage has been sustained to a number of sites and storage locations.

At the same time Hawass' resignation should not be seen as an excuse for museums and collectors to retain recently-surfaced antiquities listed by the (former) SCA.

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Friday, March 4, 2011

Has Hawass resigned?

Lee Rosenbaum on Culturegrrl has presented evidence that Zahi Hawass may not have resigned.

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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Zahi Hawass Resigns

My Twitter feed first brought me indications that Zahi Hawass had resigned ... and then there was Kate Taylor's piece for the New York Times ("Egyptian Antiquities Chief Resigns", March 3, 2011).
Reached by telephone, Mr. Hawass said he was happy that he had made the “right decision” in resigning and lashed out at colleagues who have criticized him, including one who has accused him of smuggling antiquities.
Lee Rosenbaum has a good overview of the resignation ("End of an Egyptology Era: Zahi Hawass Resigns", CultureGrrl March 3, 2011). This came in the wake of Hawass listing of what appears to have been stolen from archaeological stores and sites during the recent unrest ("The status of Egyptian antiquities today, 3 March, 2011").

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Cairo Museum: Paul Barford reports

Paul Barford has been inside the Cairo Museum and has written a helpful reflection on the issues since the political upheavals as well as the break-in.

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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The St Louis Art Museum Mummy Mask: Poll

The mask photographed just after its discovery.
SAFE is running a poll during March. It has been prompted by the recent decision of the St Louis Art Museum (SLAM) to take pre-emptive legal action in case Egypt makes a formal claim on a mummy mask acquired by the museum in 1998.

SAFE concludes:
We feel strongly that SLAM has not undertaken a full, rigorous and systematic due diligence procedure to exclude the possibility that the mask was not removed illegally from the Saqqara store. In addition, SLAM has so far been unable to present authenticated documentation to demonstrate that the mask did leave Egypt in the 1950s as has been suggested.
Why not give your electronic opinion through the online poll?

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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The scale of the market: a London perspective

© David Gill 
I have been charting the fluctuations in the New York market (see latest comments). I have been working with my project officer Kate Spiller on the scale of the London market and here are some of the preliminary findings.

Christie's in London offered some 5962 lots that sold for just under £40 million in the period from 1998 to 2010. The average value per lot was around £6700.

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