• Oscar Muscarella reviews "Archaeology, Cultural Heritage, and the Antiquities Trade"

    Dr. Oscar Muscarella, expert on the ancient Near East and a tireless, vocal advocate against the looting of antiquities, gave praise to SAFE’s work in a book review published in the International Journal of Classical Tradition. Muscarella reviewed the Archaeology, Cultural Heritage, and the Antiquities Trade, a volume edited by Neil Brodie – winner of the 2008 SAFE Beacon Award – Morag Kersel, Christina Luke, and Kathryn Walker Tubb. In his piece, Muscarella wrote:

    “[Paula Kay] Lazrus is the only author in this volume to cite the organization called Saving Antiquities for Everyone (SAFE; pp. 272-273), created and guided by non-professional-archaeologist citizens…from the beginning they determined that membership is open to all citizens, academics and “lay” people, based on the reality that the plunder problem is a global issue, and not one solely for academics. SAFE is unique in the United States, and indeed, there is no academic organization…that equals their goals of involving the public, as well as their on-going accomplishments.”

    Roger Atwood, author of Stealing History: Tomb Raiders, Smugglers, and the Looting of the Ancient World, told SAFE that in his review, Dr. Muscarella “is spot-on, as usual.”

    Join Muscarella on November 7 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where he will lead a SAFE Tour through the Ancient Near Eastern and other collections. To read Dr. Muscarella’s book review in its entirety, please click here.

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  • Ivory tower passivity

    A week ago there was good news in conservation circles which in the view of some of us has potential significance for the antiquities trade. An announcement was made that since a lot of fresh material was dishonestly being passed off as old ivory, from the new year a major Internet auction portal was banning the sale of objects ivory altogether. This was a recognition that the poaching is directly encouraged by the ease with which illicit products can be misrepresented as legitimate and bought and sold globally. In this the Internet auction and sale sites play a major role – the campaign slogan called it “killing by keystrokes”. The parallels between the unregulated antiquities market and the dismembering of the world’s archaeological record as a source ...

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  • The Met sends off Museum Director with "pieces of history"

    The Metropolitan Museum of Art paid tribute yesterday to its outgoing director Philippe de Montebello with the show “The Philippe de Montebello Years: Curators Celebrate Three Decades of Acquisitions.” which opened with the 16th century tapestry “The Triumph of Fame”.  The exhibition, which Holland Cotter of the New York Times called “A Banquet of World Art, 30 Years in the Making” was described as a “priceless send off” by National Public Radio.

    During his tenure as director De Montebello is known to have acquired 84,000 pieces for the Met, which he calls an “encyclopedic museum.” In recent years, the museum attracted much controversy over the acquisition of artifacts that were shown to have been looted. The objects include:

    • The “Lydian Hoard” (returned to Turkey in 1993)

    • Two Angkor statues (returned to Cambodia in 1997)

    • The “Euphronios Krater” (returned to Italy in 2008)

    and 15 pieces of Hellenistic silver known as The Morgantina Silver, which will remain in the museum until 2010.

    SAFE wishes Philippe de Montebello well as he becomes the first professor to teach the history and culture of museums at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts, and welcomes the museum’s new director, Thomas P. Campbell.

    Photo from from AP Photo by Mary Altaffer: Philippe de Montebello, left, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is joined by James R. Houghton, chairman of the Metropolitan’s board of trustees, January 2008.

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  • ICOM Releases Red List of Looted Afghanistan Antiquities

    The International Council of Museums (ICOM) has released a “Red List of Afghanistan Antiquities at Risk.” ICOM distributes red lists to museums, professionals, law enforcement, and customs to raise awareness about trafficked and looted antiquities. It is well known that the cultural heritage of Iraq and Afghanistan have suffered as results of instability following the respective invasions. Some people have taken advantage of the instability as means to loot historically significant sites and museums and spirit that material out of the country.

    It is hoped that this new red list will promote the return of illicitly removed goods Afghanistan and raise awareness about the problems of looting there. The effectiveness of past red lists is chronicled in the current list of antiquities from Afghanistan. Already there are some optimistic signs coming from the international community following the release of red list on Afghan antiquities since a squad from the Metropolitan Police of London have volunteered to “clamp down” on looted Afghan art (“Police to clamp down on trade in looted Afghan art,” Telegraph, 21 October 2008).

    It is also interesting to note that ICOM named SAFE as one of its partners in the current red list. For a complete list of partners, see page 4 of the red list.

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  • Good news/bad news: New Iraq Cultural Heritage Project

    The good news: in its waning days, the Bush administration seems finally to have ponied up substantial money ($13 million) to assist Iraq in conserving and preserving its cultural heritage. The bad news: the new initiative, the Iraq Cultural Heritage Project, appears at first glance at least to focus solely on professional development for conservators and other museum professionals, rather than also including some funding to improve security on Iraq’s archaeological sites.

    For more, go to The Punching Bag.

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  • Bonhams Withdraws Lots

    Bonhams has withdrawn ten lots from its two sales of antiquities today. One of the lots, an Apulian krater, had formerly formed part of the Robin Symes collection; other piecess were due to be sold as part of the Graham Geddes collection. Many of the objects seem to have surfaced through Sotheby’s in London, a pattern already noted for other items returned to Italy from collections in North America.

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  • Brent Benjamin to join CPAC: "An outrageous appointment…"

    The Museum Security Network has started a discussion over the appointment of St. Louis Art Museum director Brent R. Benjamin as a member of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee. “Doing so the USA will defame itself internationally.” Ton Cremers, one of the Museum Security Network’s moderators and creator of the original Museum Security Network mailing list protests. The St. Louis Art Museum has been criticized by Zahi Hawass, secretary general for the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt, for “not returning the mask and has threatened to turn the dispute over to authorities.”

    Members of the coin collecting and lobbying community have called the appointment “positive news” and “as protecting the rights of collectors.” Are the political powers of lobbying winning out over issues concerning cultural property?

    Read about the controversy here and on the LOOTING MATTERS blog, in which David Gill asks, “Does the Bush administration mean to send out a signal that it does not care about claims on cultural property in North American museums?”

    SAFE hopes this appointment does not represent a change in direction for CPAC. To date, CPAC has not turned down a single MOU request from any country, a laudable record among those of us who are concerned about stopping looting worldwide. Photo: St. Louis Commerce Magazine

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  • The Art of Deception

    This documentary by Al Jazeera (aired March, 2008) tells the tragic story of how the growing demand for Indonesian antiquities caused the disappearance of more than 60% of the collection of Indonesia’s oldest museum’s, and perhaps even death of an archaeologist.

    Read the story here.

    Part 1

    Part 2

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  • Italy Defends Treasures (and Laws) With a Show

    “An exhibition celebrating a century-old piece of legislation may not seem an obvious crowd pleaser. But for the curators, it’s a way of arguing that Italy’s art treasures would be vastly diminished were it not for its strict — some assert, draconian — cultural-heritage laws.

    That’s why every statue, vase and archaeological shard on display in “Ruins and the Rebirth of Art in Italy,” a show that opened last week at the Colosseum in Rome, has a story to tell.”

    Elisabetta Povoledo writes in “Italy Defends Treasures (and Laws) With a Show” in today’s New York Times.

    Photo: Italian Culture Ministry

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  • The Museums Will Be Protected Next Time Round

    The military has just released FM 3.07, its new field manual on Stability Operations.  Those concerned that the lessons of the looting of the Iraq National Museum might not have been learned will be pleased to find that among the “Essential Stability Tasks” is that of protecting key personnel and facilities. The eight tasks under this heading include the requirements to “protect and secure places of religious worship and cultural sites,” and to “protect and secure strategically important institutions (such as government buildings;medical and public health infrastructure; the central bank, national treasury, and integral commercial banks; museums; and religious sites).”

    A bare mention, but nonetheless extremely important, and arguably far more consequential than the ratification of the 1954 Hague Convention….
    For more, hit The Punching Bag.
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