• Heritage Action, a British grass roots heritage protection organization

    Heritage Action is a British grassroots organization concerned about the protection of the cultural heritage. It describes itself as a group of ordinary people standing firm and taking ethical, responsible action to defend extraordinary places. These extraordinary places are the historic landscapes of various regions of Britain, with their numerous traces and monuments left by the ancient inhabitants who had lived there before. This is the common cultural heritage and yet sorely threatened by numerous agencies and elements of the modern way of life. They say: “We believe that this generation holds its heritage in trust for future generations and we should never break this trust. From this comes our single purpose — to build a powerful voice for action on all threatened heritage places”.

    Heritage Action is a rallying point for anyone who feels that society is deaf to the threats to heritage places and aims to help individual voices to be heard loud and clear by the public, the media ...

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  • Patterns of looting in southern Iraq

    Adapted with permission from “Patterns of Looting in Southern Iraq” in Antiquity, vol. 82, no. 315, 2008: 125-138. Received: 28 June 2007; Accepted: 13 September 2007; Revised: 24 September 2007.

    Abstract: The archaeological sites of Iraq, precious for their bearing on human history, became especially vulnerable to looters during two wars. Much of the looting evidence has been anecdotal up to now, but here satellite imagery has been employed to show which sites were looted and when. Sites of all sizes from late Uruk to early Islamic were targeted for their high value artifacts, particularly just before and after the 2003 invasion. The author comments that the “total area looted was many times greater than all the archaeological investigations ever conducted in southern Iraq and must have yielded tablets, coins, cylinder seals, statues, terracottas, bronzes and other ...

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  • NY Review of Books Weighs In: The Looting Happened

    Hugh Eakin has a long review article in this week’s New York Review of Books. The kicker is in footnote one:

    Citing the June survey, recent reports in the Art Newspaper and The Wall Street Journal have somewhat breathlessly suggested that little or no looting in southern Iraq actually occurred. To the contrary, the findings provide further evidence that organized plunder was both extensive and selective, bearing out earlier indications that some large sites were not affected.

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  • "Patterns of looting in southern Iraq" by Elizabeth Stone

    “The archaeological sites of Iraq, precious for their bearing on human history, became especially vulnerable to looters during two wars. Much of the looting evidence has been anecdotal up to now, but here satellite imagery has been employed to show which sites were looted and when. Sites of all sizes from late Uruk to early Islamic were targeted for their high value artifacts, particularly just before and after the 2003 invasion.”

    Archaeologist Elizabeth Stone comments in her much-discussed article adapted on the SAFE website from the journal Antiquity. that the “total area looted was many times greater than all the archaeological investigations ever conducted in southern Iraq and must have yielded tablets, coins, cylinder seals, statues, terracottas, bronzes and other objects in the hundreds of thousands.”

    Read the adaptation and view satellite images in a video of the presentation delivered by Dr. Elizabeth Stone at the symposium “Looting the Cradle of Civilization: The Loss of History in Iraq,” held at The Oriental Institute, University of Chicago, April 12, 2008. (Photo: Stony Brook University)

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  • Report on Iraq inspection

    The report of the recent Iraq inspection which was the subject of the Arts Newspaper and Wall Street Journal articles has now appeared on the British Museum website. It makes instructive reading in the contexct of the sensationalist journalism, and resolves a couple of questions raised by the articles.

    I wonder whether it will be noticed by those in the portable antiquity collecting milieu who are now rhetorically asking whether the looting was a fiction? They seem to be basing their judgements on superficial news items culled from the Internet. In the past few days, despite the appearance of the full report of the mission, the number of Internet articles proclaiming that the “looting of sites never happened” or that “archaeologists misled the public” over this has proliferated quite noticeably. Obviously this is a far more attractive picture of events for some elements of the public than the brutal truth, that the degree of damage has been unacceptably high. ...

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  • World Archaeological Congress resolution — followup

    Leif Isaksen blogs expressing concern that “the World Archaeological Congress’s voice with regard to archaeological ethics in conflict situations has been undermined by those whose task it is to support it.” Isaksen adds more detail to the kerfuffle over what exactly was passed by whom at the WAC congress and whether this represents official WAC policy. WAC’s website clarifies as well:

    A resolution suggesting that no archaeologists or cultural heritage specialists assist the military in planning to protect the cultural heritage was passed by the Plenary session of the WAC-6 Congress for consideration by the World Archaeological Congress Assembly, Council and Executive but was not approved as a formal statement of the position of the organisation as a whole.

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  • Ebay.de (Germany): New Rules on the Selling of Archaeological Materials

    A new policy for the selling of archaeological materials on ebay.de (Germany) went into effect on July 1, 2008 (Press Release from eBay.de: “Neuer eBay-Grundsatz zum Handel mit archäologischen Funden,” 1 July 2008). A link in the press release provides full details on the new rules (“Grundsatz zu archäologischen Funden“).

    The new policy defines “archaeological finds” as follows:

    “An archaeological find is an object of historical, artistic or scientific importance, which laid for a time in the ground or under water.”

    “Ein archäologischer Fund ist ein Objekt von geschichtlicher, künstlerischer oder wissenschaftlicher Bedeutung, der vorübergehend im Boden oder unter Wasser ruhte.”

    It continues in providing non-exclusive examples of certain objects covered by the new policy, which include:

    • coins (Münzen)
    • weapons (Waffen)
    • grave goods (Grabbeigaben)
    • ceramics (Keramik)
    • jewelry (Schmuck)
    • tools (Werkzeuge)
    • sacral objects (sakrale Gegenstände).

    Appended to the ...

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  • Response to “Cultural Property Observer” July 9 2008 blog post

    On July 9 2008, a post entitled “Saving Antiquities for Everyone: Grassroots or Astro Turf?” appeared on the blog “Cultural Property Observer” which raised questions about SAFE’s membership, funding sources, position on the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild and coin collecting, as well as SAFECORNER’s support “for Iraqi Government control over Jewish holy books” and “SAFE members’ kudos for China’s treatment of Tibet’s cultural heritage at the CPAC hearing on the Chinese request for import restrictions.”

    We think that this is a good opportunity for SAFE, who runs SAFECORNER, to bring our readers’ attention to the information on the SAFE website, which also answer these questions raised by “Cultural Property Observer”.

    SAFE’s membership: Please read “Who is SAFE?” to learn about the people who keep SAFE going.

    Funding sources: Please see here. Additional funding comes from fundraising activities listed here We also solicit private donations via the ...

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  • World Archaeological Congress weighs in on archaeologists’ advising war planners

    The recent meeting of the World Archaeological Congress in Dublin, from what I hear, included a rather raucous debate about the proper relations between archaeologists and the military. Here’s the resolution they passed, preceded by a press release. I have a more detailed preliminary response on my blogsite, but suffice it to say that I think the point of view expressed by the WAC is misguided and naive. Had this policy been followed in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq invasion, the loss of archaeological heritage would have been even worse than it has been.

    PRESS RELEASE Archaeologists urged not to become part of the war planning against Iran

    More than a thousand archaeologists from all over the world gathered in Dublin at the end of June to attend the 6th World Archaeological Congress (WAC). WAC is the only archaeological organisation with global elected representation, and one which places particular emphasis on archaeological ethics. (www.worldarchaeologicalcongress.org).

    In the final plenary session on Friday ...

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  • The ACCG "Benefit Auction"

    I have critiqued the goals, motives, and tactics of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG) several times (those unfamiliar with the ACCG are urged to consult a list of some relevant web-postings at the end of this discussion). For those who do not know, the ACCG is a 501 (c) 4 organization to which financial contributions are not normally tax deductible since up to 100% of its funds can be used for the purposes of political lobbying. According to its website, the goal of of the ACCG is to maintain a “free-market” in all coins. It has lobbied against legislative measures designed to protect archaeological and historical sites from destruction. A possible financial motive for its activities may be apparent in the fact that its founder and most of its officers are ancient coin dealers, and the majority of its financial contributors (especially the larger contributors) are ancient coin and antiquities dealers and auction houses.

    In November of last year, the ACCG announced it was suing the U.S. Department of State under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for more transparency on the process under which it decided to impose import restrictions, at the request of Cyprus, on certain ancient coins of Cypriot type. Many who are familiar with the “blogstorm” last fall about these issues will recall that several vocal ACCG members and dealers were alleging various conspiracies between archaeologists and State Department officials( links here and here to relevant posts, some of which reference dealer accusations). A “benefit auction” for which the ACCG has been soliciting donations, which it will auction on August 17, 2008, has now sparked my interest.

    …Read the rest of the post at Numismatics and Archaeology: “The ‘ACCG Benefit Auction’ and Intrinsic Interests.”

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  • Should ransom be paid for stolen art?

    In Stop the appeasement of art and antiquities thieves (Globe and Mail, July 5, 2008) Geoffrey Clarfield, former curator of ethnography at the National Museums of Kenya, writes “art theft seems to have become a form of proxy kidnapping.”

    Clarfield continues: “Our publicly funded museums and private auction houses have encouraged the illegal trade in antiquities by buying imported antiquities and muddling their provenance. Anyone who buys antiquities smuggled out of Iraq is indirectly financing the civil war there.”

    Clarfield concludes: “If we continue to appease thieves, smugglers and terrorists, we can be sure that more of our museums and galleries will be plundered and held for ransom. By doing nothing we will be giving a free hand to organized crime in our own and other countries.”

    What do YOU think?

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  • Holland Cotter: Chinese museums set a model the West can learn from

    Photo: Shiho Fukada for The New York Times

    In the July 4 New York Times, art critic Holland Cotter offers his impressions of museums in China, which recently adopted a nationwide free-admission policy. The article, first in a series entitled Civilization on Display, discusses the different approaches to museum displays, and contrasts them to those in the West.

    The article includes a multimedia presentation narrated by Cotter in which he said, “In the West we have an idea of the art object as a discreet thing that should be seen by itself, speaks for itself, and should be enjoyed for aesthetic reasons, whereas in China, frequently, the same kind of object is considered to be a cultural relic…and the stories are more important than the individual object itself.” Chinese museums, Cotter concludes, “set a different model for a museum, and it’s one that the west has a lot to learn from.”

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  • Egypt: The Scale of the Returns

    The Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) has been active in seeking returns of looted antiquities (“Wrapping up smuggled goods“, Al-Ahram, 3-9 July 2008). Some 3000 antiquities have been seized in the last six years. Locations include Heathrow Airport and Geneva – but these only account for some 1000 pieces. Where were the other 2000 seized? (See also the relief from Bonhams; two Middle Kingdom ducks at Christie’s (New York) and with Rupert Wace.) Were these 3000 antiquities destined for the antiquities market? Had they been purchased? Who was handling them?

    These figures suggest that looting in Egypt is far from over. This area will be looked after by a new department at the SCA, the National Committee to Return Smuggled Antiquities (NCRSA).

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  • Looting on the Scale of the Mongol Invasion

    I have been searching for reactions to the situation in Iraq and came across this dated but timeless quote from Eleanor Robson (All Souls College, Oxford) about the tragedy of the Baghdad Museum (Frank Rich, “And Now: ‘Operation Iraqi Looting'”, New York Times April 27, 2003):

    You’d have to go back centuries, to the Mongol invasion of Baghdad in 1258, to find looting on this scale.

    Is the same also true for the archaeological sites in Iraq?


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  • Firsthand account of looting in southern Iraq

    On July 1, 2008 The Art Newspaper reported “Archaeological sites in south Iraq have not been looted, say experts”(See Larry Rothfield’s response here).

    Video here shows images presented on April 12, 2008, at the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute Symposium Looting the Cradle of Civilization: The Loss of History in Iraq by Abdulamir Hamdani, Director of Antiquities in Nasiriya Province in southern Iraq, in his first hand account of the situation there. (Courtesy: Abdulamir Hamdani)

    To view in higher resolution, click here for Quicktime 7 and here for Windows Media Player

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  • ICOM paper denounces practice of art-for-rent

    A story in The Art Newspaper by Anna Somers Cocks (July 1, 2008) Loan fees risk killing the goose that lays the golden eggs raises interesting questions about museum collections for rent. It reports on a paper issued by the Italian branch of the International Council of Museums (ICOM), reminding “everybody that the 1986 ethical code of ICOM states that museum collections are for the benefit of the public and should never be considered financial assets. The great lending museums and their boards should remember this, not least because they risk killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. After all, why should they be deserving of tax-free status, of donations from business and the rich, of being considered superior to ordinary commercial life if they themselves become so commercial as to rent our their collections? Have your fundraising parties, your glitzy tours for billionaires, your exquisite restaurants and your boutiques, but don’t forget what you are really there for, which is to spread knowledge and understanding through your art, an objective too noble to be sold off to the highest bidder. Loan fees are bad, as ICOM Italia has spelled out.”

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  • No Recent Looting on 8 Sites in Southern Iraq: What does it show us? Not what the Art Newspaper thinks it does

    The Art Newspaper makes too much hay out of a new report by highly reputable archaeologists who visited 8 major sites in southern Iraq. (The article is at http://www.theartnewspaper.com/article.asp?id=8066.) The lede is in-your-face (or at least in mine):

    “An international team of archaeologists which made an unpublicised visit to southern Iraq last month found no evidence of recent looting—contrary to long-expressed claims about sustained illegal digging at major sites.”

    Who has been making these now-contradicted claims? Well, among others, me, supposedly:

    “We reported last month, in a review of a new scholarly book on Iraq’s cultural heritage, that Professor Lawrence Rothfield of the University of Chicago claims that sites are being “destroyed at the rate of roughly 10% a year”.

    One problem: there is no contradiction here. Archaeologists have been claiming that sustained digging has taken place at sites both major and minor, but that is not the same thing as claiming that every site in the country has been looted, or ...

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  • Good Faith, Due Diligence, and Market Activities

    Recently, I have been taking note of the use of the term “good faith” and particularly how the term is used by opponents of import restrictions on antiquities that do not have proper documentation, repatriations of looted material, and advocates of a “free-market” in ancient objects.

    Yesterday, David Gill reported that a relief fragment from an Egyptian tomb was repatriated to Egypt after it had been withdrawn from a sale at Bonhams (London) earlier this year, when someone from the Metropolitan Museum of Art recognized it from an Egyptian tomb, where it was once in situ (“Tomb of Mutirdis (TT410): Update,” Looting Matters, 30 June 2008). A spokesperson for Bonhams would not identify the individual or dealership from whom they acquired the object, but stated that it appeared to have been acquired in “good faith.”

    Also on David Gill’s weblog, and ...

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