• What does the law say about cultural heritage?

    We are pleased to call attention to a helpful document by Christina Luke, entitled “Understanding the U.S. Border: Archaeologists, Law Enforcement, and the Preservation of Cultural Heritage”, aimed “to provide the archaeological community and others with an overview of how law enforcement works to protect cultural heritage; to outline the safeguards offered by cultural heritage law; and to suggest ways that archaeologists may contribute their expertise to this process.”

    This well-organized and clearly written document contains very helpful information, from an overview to deep content accessible through links provided throughout. It also includes Q and A section, as well as organizational flow charts. For example, it warns that under bilateral agreements (see SAFE’s page about this here) that impose import restrictions upon certain classes of archaeological and/or ethnologic material between the U.S. and more than a dozen foreign countries, restricted material may be forfeited and returned to their countries of origin.

    SAFE believes that combating cultural property crime (as with other crimes) begins with greater public awareness. Does a typical tourist who purchases an ancient artifact while visiting Peru know that their new-found treasure could be confiscated by the authorities? Does that same tourist know that importing such material into the United States without full disclosure on a customs declaration form may be a violation of law? SAFE applauds Christina Luke’s effort to educate the general public about these issues by describing the laws and enforcement measures that help to preserve cultural property around the world.

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  • Bush’s ghostwriters on the looting of the Iraq National Museum

    George W. Bush’s utterly mendacious ghostwritten memoir contains only one mention of the looting of the Iraq National Museum. It comes in the context of a rare admission that “there was one important contingency for which we had not adequately prepared”….

    For full post, go to The Punching Bag.

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  • Bernard Frischer proposes a solution to looting

    In a December 22 New York Times op-ed piece “Museums Should Dig In,” Bernard Frischer, archaeologist and director of the Virtual World Heritage Laboratory at the University of Virginia, proposed a solution that “would put looters and smugglers out of business while uncovering more of the world’s cultural treasures at far lower cost: excavate archaeological sites themselves.” Frischer previously authored “The Grand Compromise: A Hybrid Approach to Solving the Problem of Looted Art,” presented at an international conference in 2006.

    Frischer’s op-ed suggests that museums excavate archaeological sites in partnership with source countries which would in turn own the excavated finds but allow the partner museums to borrow a percentage of the finds and exhibit them on a rotating exchange. Ancient sites in Turkey, China and Italy are cited as potential examples for such partnerships. “It’s not too late for museums to start digging.” Frischer concludes.

    Paul Barford has responded to the proposal with thought-provoking questions. What is your opinion? Would Frischer’s suggested solution work? More importantly, would source countries agree?

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  • Rock Art Vandal Caught

    Just in time for the holiday season, I can report that it appears the individual behind the recent graffitti vandalism of rock art panels within Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, east of Las Vegas, has been apprehended. According to another article from the Las Vegas Sun (brought to my attention by Paul Barford), the chief suspect is a 17 year old member of the “Nasty Habits Crew” gang of graffitti vandals, with the local moniker of “Pee Wee,” said Detective Scott Black, of the gang crimes bureau. Police were able to connect the various symbols and insignia used in the rock art grafitti to other known, less ‘high-profile,’ urban cases for which Nasty Habits Crew has been held resposible for, and the suspect himself had apparently gone into hiding once word spread that he was wanted.

    He has been charged with ...

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  • "Value of Amateurs" and Heritage Protection

    An ACCG-sponsored PR Newswire press release proclaims that the: ‘Value of Amateurs Is Evident as Financial Woes Cripple Heritage Preservation‘. While there is no doubt that the volunteer sector has never been more active and welcome in heritage preservation initiatives than today, there are dangers inherent in states relying more explicitly upon it (see Heritage Action’s ‘Opposing certain heritage threats now “unaffordable”‘ about the situation in the UK).

    Sadly the coin-dealing author of the text under discussion takes the subject “preservation of the heritage” to be a narrow artefact-centred issue. What, however, is of more general concern is the broader issue of protection of sites and monuments from erosion and destruction. Among the agents of that destruction is the looting of those sites and monuments that produces the loose objects that US collectors and dealers do not want to see in the hands of the countries from which they were taken because they allegedly are “unable or unwilling to ...

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  • Spanish Illicit Antiquities Investigation

    In Spain a series of arrests and searches of premises have been carried out aimed at smashing a ring that operated in several Spanish provinces allegedly dealing in illicit antiquities looted from archaeological sites. The ring had clients in the United States, Britain and Germany. There have been 81 arrests and 115 searches so far and thousands of Roman, Medieval and Islamic as well as some prehistoric artefacts have been seized. The artefacts seized include many coins. The investigation also reveals some of the less savoury aspects of the Spanish trade in dugup ancient antiquities. In the modern trade as a whole both deception through fakes as well as dubious auction practices (shill bidding) are endemic. Very often those involved in the trade are also involved in other illegal activities run by criminal organizations. The breaking up of this ring shows clearly that the Spanish market is no exception. Police found a sophisticated workshop that faked archaeological items that they sold as genuine on Internet auction sites or sold directly.

    Spanish police connect the dismantled organization’s kingpin with a network that launders money through illegal sales of precious metals such as silver and gold.Cops have seized more than 120 kilos of gold and silver, 900,000 euros ($1.2 million) in cash, equipment for smelting metal as well as a machine gun and six other firearms. Meanwhile, around a hundred bank accounts have been frozen in a score of banks, one of them in Switzerland.

    For further discussion of these ongoing investigations and their implications see here and here.

    Source: EFE, ‘Spanish Cops Bring Down Ring That Sold Looted Antiquities‘ Latin American Herald Tribune, December 11,2010.

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  • Vegas Vandalism

    In light of the ongoing Blanding, Utah looting trials and the archaeological damage detection classes offered by ADIA discussed in my last post, I wanted to share two links that serve as an example of one kind of archaeological crime frequently encountered in the western US. Both of these related stories (here and here) were first aired by Las Vegas area newspapers and local television news stations, but brought to my attention through Southwest Archaeology Today, an online weekly newsletter put out by the Centre for Desert Archaeology in Tucson, Arizona.

    The stories consern the recent spray-paint grafitti vandalism of an important c. AD 1,000 ‘Virgin Anasazi’ or Paiute affiliated petroglyph site, located on the inner wall of a rock shelter (cave) in the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation area, within the Willow Springs/Lost Creek sector, 17 miles east of the Vegas strip (see photo above, courtesy of “Friends of Red Rock Canyon”). Estimates of damage repair stand at $10,000 dollars at least (if it’s even possible to remove the thick red and maroon paint without chemically corroding the glyphs). A $2,500 reward for information is being offered, and numerous tips have already come in to local police and Bureau of Land Management officials, but I’m sure they’ll have difficulty confirming the truth of any leads in this case. A $100,000 fine and five years in jail is the likely penalty if perpetrators are brought to justice, but as with most archaeologically rich areas of the US/world these days, monitors on the ground to detect vandalism or looting in the act are still scarse. Thankfully, the hundreds-strong “Friends of Red Rock Canyon” organization, local Native American organizations, and the Sloan Field office of the BLM itself are committed to better monitoring and as much restoration as possible. Only time will tell whether or not this site can be salvaged.

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