Monthly Archives: April 2009
Druggies Stealing State’s History
The looting of archaeological sites in the USA is seriously damaging our ability to understand the past of the region. A report from Northeastern Arkansas suggests that the area has become a lucrative hunting ground for those interested in archaeological artefacts not for their value for scholarship when interpreted in context, but for black market bucks gained from looting sites in search of valuable antiquities. Dr. Juliet Morrow Jonesboro-based archeologist for the Arkansas Archeological Survey, says, “There are some people who collect artifacts and there’s others who loot them so that they can then sell them to get money to purchase drugs. Especially, methamphetamine that’s popular in this part of the state.” Morrow explains that on the no-questions-asked US collectors’ market, the artefacts these people hunt, “can bring very high dollar figures upwards of 50 thousand dollars for a single pottery vessel, if it’s the right time period, the right style. There are spear points that can go for hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s what the buyers are willing to pay. This is a market that’s been escalating over the last couple of decades”. More here.
Photo: Caddo ‘head pot’ from the Historic Arkansas Museum Collection.(MORE ...)
Brian Rose on looting: "history that’s been murdered"
In an interview with American Public Media’s Dick Gordon, AIA President and Professor at University of Pennsylvania Brian Rose describes his recent first trip to Iraq where he saw ancient sites cratered by looters.
Professor Rose also speaks about the cultural heritage briefings he has been giving to American soldiers on the archaeology of Iraq and Afghanistan, and his visit to the Iraq Museum.
The interview can be heard here in the second part of the broadcast.(MORE ...)
Exhibition Review: "Worshiping Women"Worshiping Women: Ritual and Reality in Classical Athens launched in December 2008 at the Onassis Cultural Center is an exhibition composed primarily of loans from foreign institutions and museums and will be open until May 9, 2009. The introductory plaque at the beginning of the exhibition informs us that “religious rituals defined women.” The visitor is led through galleries focusing on priesthood, the cycle of life, festivals, heroines, and goddesses. Each section looks at the imagery on vases, marble stelai, or statues in order to reveal insights into the world of Classical Athenian women. Particularly intriguing is the realization of how much money it would have cost to ship these priceless artifacts from their museums to mid-town Manhattan. Loans from the British Museum, the Louvre, Italy, Berlin, and Boston among other locations fill the cases in addition to loans from the Metropolitan Museum ...(MORE ...)
EBay: A Solution to the Illicit Antiquities Trade?
A story from the latest Archaeology Magazine (C. Stanish, “Forging Ahead. Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love eBay,” Archaeology Magazine 62.3 (May/June 2009)) has been the subject of some blog discussions lately, e.g.:
Stanish argues that eBay has been flooded with fake antiquities, ultimately making looting less profitable as the prevalence of fakes drives prices down. Like Larry Rothfield, I think the overall point of the article is persuasive, but I do find parts of it too simplistic.
View the full discussion at Numismatics and Archaeology.
"Organizing local people can save knowledge"
In National Geographic’s April 10 story “King of Bling” Tomb Sheds Light on Ancient Peru” the remarkable excavation of Lord of Ucupe was described as “a first”. “This find is particularly important, because it is the first time we have found an individual outside of Sipán that is the same type as some of the leaders found in Sipán,” according to archaeologist Steve Bourget.
This would not have been possible if the site had not been protected from looters by local people. Roger Atwood, author of Stealing History, winner of 2004 SAFE Beacon Award, said in a message to SAFE. “The incredible thing is that this discovery happened right where the anti-looting patrols I describe in Chapter 13 of Stealing History work, in the village of Ucupe. So it’s a really clear example of how organizing local people can save knowledge. Doesn’t get any clearer than this.”
Indeed, on page 230, Atwood writes: “The mission of the ‘archaeological protection group’ is to stop people from occupying the land and plundering what lies beneath it. They scout the land, chase away bands of looters, or they surround them and tie their wrists with rope until the police arrive, and they seize their tools — shovels, poles, buckets. … Despite their success in the Moche heartland, the idea of citizens’ patrols to curb pillage is still in its infancy. Turning poachers into wardens takes time, a thorough knowledge of local customs and sensitivities, cooperation from the police, and roots in the community that not a lot of archaeological researchers have.” (Photograph courtesy Dr. Steve Bourget)(MORE ...)
Chronicle of Higher Education Q and A with Larry Rothfield
From the issue dated April 17, 2009 A Fragile History, Besieged A post-mortem examination of the cultural disaster in Iraq
Six years ago this month, the National Museum of Iraq was extensively looted amid the chaos of the U.S. invasion of Baghdad. Among the stolen objects was the Mask of Warka, a 5,100-year-old Sumerian artifact that is believed to be one of the earliest surviving representations of a human face. The mask was found buried on an Iraqi farm five months later — but thousands of other precious objects were destroyed or disappeared into the black market.
“We do not know, and we may never know, a great many lessons about how human civilization first arose, because of this disaster,” says Lawrence Rothfield, an associate professor of English and comparative literature at the University of Chicago and a former director of the university’s Cultural Policy Center.
In his new book, The Rape of Mesopotamia: Behind the Looting of the Iraq ...(MORE ...)
Earthquake damages Baths of Caracalla
The ancient Roman Baths of Caracalla have been damaged by earthquake on April 5. According to the New York Times, historical monuments have suffered significant damage as well, including the Romanesque basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggi and the National Museum of Abruzzo. The destruction has left more than 200 dead and tens of thousands homeless. SAFE sends condolences to all of us who have been affected. (Photo: www.essential-architecture.com)(MORE ...)
Six years later, memories of the looted Iraq Museum relived
On the eve of the sixth anniversary of the looting of the Iraq Museum which spawned the founding of this organization SAFE/Saving Antiquities for Everyone, we urge individuals around the world to pause in commemoration by joining us in the Global Candlelight Vigil, not only for Iraq, but the world over.
SAFE Member Leila Amineddoleh takes this opportunity to revisit the tragic event with the book Thieves of Baghdad by Matthew Bogdanos, winner of the SAFE 2005 Beacon Award. She shares with our readers her thoughts here:
Thieves of Baghdad begins like an archeological detective mystery, reminiscent of an Indiana Jones movie, with the story’s narrator searching for answers about the fate of ...(MORE ...)
Iraq Welcoming Archaeological Tourism, As Sights Remain Unprotected
The Iraqi Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities continues its public-relations offensive with the announcement that Iraqi archaeologists have uncovered 4,000 Babylonian artifacts. The good news, dutifully splashed across the headlines by Reuters (“Iraqi Archaeologists unearth Babylonian Treasures”), is engineered to support the Ministry’s agenda, as the article notes:
Iraq, which lies in the heart of a region historians call the cradle of civilisation, is hoping a decrease in violence to levels not seen since late 2003 will encourage tourists to visit its ancient sites.
In late 2003, let us recall, looting of Iraq’s archaeological sites was going into overdrive, and there is some reason to believe that despite improvements in security the looting continues. That dark underside of this tourism marketing is missing from the headline, but shows up at the end of the article:
Qais Hussein Rasheed, acting head of the antiquities and heritage committee, told reporters Iraq still had a big problem with looters ransacking archaeological sites.
“These sites are vulnerable to endless robbery by thieves, smugglers and organised gangs because they are not protected,” he said. “We have asked the relevant ministries to allocate policemen but haven’t received very many so far.”