• "Wait a moment, this is a person … not a thing"

    Charles Q. Choi of LiveScience tells the story of illegal smuggling of mummies – a practice with a long history – which is a growing segment in the worldwide black market trade in illicit antiquities worth “billions of dollars” today. In “NY Mummy Smugglers Reveal Vast Antiquities Black Market” Choi showcases the July 13 announcement from Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) about the dismantling of the first international smuggling ring of this type to reach the U.S.

    In the informative story, Egyptologist Regine Schulz, curator of ancient art at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore talks about the history of mummification and how “mummies were seen as objects back then, not people,” until “[p]eople began to say, ‘Wait a moment, this is a person that should be treated in a respectful way, not a thing[.]‘” ...

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  • Launch of "Mortimer" Website

    .Launch of Mortimer Website Jul 25, 2011

    “Mortimer” is proud to announce the launch of the new Mortimer Petition website. Mortimer is named in honour of the great pioneer of popular, public archaeology, and TV Personality of the Year two years running, Sir Mortimer Wheeler. Mortimer is not affiliated to any political party, commercial company or existing archaeological organisation. It is membership led and volunteer driven and has three simple principles…

    1) People of the past shaped our environment of today and are shaping the environment of the future. Therefore we all have a duty to preserve and enhance the quality of our environment because, once our natural and historic treasures are lost, they are lost to everyone and lost forever.

    2) We best preserve and enhance our environment by working in an inclusive, sustainable partnership with all members of our communities, to value our past histories, heritage and the environment within which they are found and by promoting the study of the science, history, natural history and archaeology which help us explore, understand and enjoy them.

    3) We also believe that everyone who takes part in this journey of shared discovery and who is passionate about it, deserves a single clear voice which isn’t afraid to tell those in power how important Our Past is to Our Future.

    Mortimer is that voice.

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  • Two halves of "The Weary Herakles" to reunite, but…

    For those concerned about doing the right thing about cultural heritage, the case of the “Weary Herakles” has awaited resolution for the past three decades. Naturally, there is a sense of relief when Geoff Edgers reported that the statue will be “made whole” after all this time, referring to the apparent agreement to return the top part of the statue to Turkey and the rejoining of its two halves. Yet, many questions remain unanswered: When will it return to Turkey? Why now? What about other objects at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts? What about other museums?

    This statue of Herakles (who leans wearily against his club after performing his Labors) is a textbook illustration of dubious provenance: ownership attributed to the dealer’s mother ...

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  • Embracing cultural and natural heritage – one site at a time

    A workshop on Management and Conservation of World Heritage Sites at the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) in Hiroshima in July illustrated the power of protecting spaces of cultural and natural uniqueness.

    Do you remember the video game Pac-Man? Pac-Man busily eats up as many dots as possible. Don’t we humans tend to act quite similarly in regards to our environment, natural resources, ecosystem, wildlife and cultural phenomena? Pac-Man, oil drillers, hotel developers, tiger hunters and ethnic conflict initiators would be well advised to slow down. Another successful approach is to border endangered areas, monuments, and cultural traditions through invisible yet effective systems, agreements and regulations.

    Both actions are crucial to keep man-made corrupting influences at bay and guard and respect ...

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  • Alleged Smuggling Ring Investigated

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    U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agents claim to have dismantled an organization responsible for conspiring to smuggle Egyptian Middle Eastern and Asian antiquities into the United States and conspiring to launder money in furtherance of smuggling. Three people were arrested, two antiquities dealers and a collector, while a fourth person, a Jordanian antiquities dealer is considered a “fugitive”.

    Most of the antiquities concerned apparently originated in Egypt, but they were reportedly smuggled into the United States from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The objects were allegedly provided with false provenances, which stated that the Egyptian antiquities were part of an old collection dating back to the 1960s.

    “This is a ground breaking case for Homeland Security Investigations. It is the first time a cultural property network is dismantled within the United States,” said Special Agent in Charge [James T.] Hayes. “In addition to smuggling cultural property this case also focuses on money laundering. This is notable because the illicit sale of cultural property is the third most profitable black market industry following narcotics, and weapons.”“This office will continue to vigorously enforce cultural property laws that restrict the unauthorized movement of antiquities,” said U.S. Attorney [Loretta E.] Lynch. “Antiquities dealers and collectors are on notice that the smuggling of cultural patrimony will not be tolerated.”

    Articles seized include a sarcophagus, a mummy case, several tomb models of boats, but also many ‘minor artefacts’ such as glass vessels and thousands of ancient coins.

    More information: ICE News Release: ‘ICE makes arrests and seizes cultural artifacts stolen from Egypt‘, July 14, 2011;Paul Barford blog: Egyptian Antiquities Allegedly Smuggled From Dubai to US, 14 July 2011;Looting Matters: Dealers Charged Following Egyptian Seizures, 14 July 2011.

    Vignette: watching the dealers (Holyland Numismatics)

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  • Repatriation Effects: Greece’s National Archaeological Museum

    In the Galleries:

    While we all revile the looting of archaeological sites and the illicit trade of artifacts, we can now begin to review the effects of the repatriation of ancient material back to the countries of origin. Here I am not referring to Native American remains, but the statues and vases created by the ancient cultures of the Mediterranean. Recently, I visited the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, Greece, which has seen financial and public relations troubles partly due to the national economic crisis. Here, I saw the 2007 repatriated kore from the J.P. Getty Museum standing amongst other statues without any bells or whistles describing its sordid history. Also on display was a bronze athlete, repatriated in 2002, propped in its own corner. I believe that the return of these objects reflect legal ...

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  • Terrorism and the illicit antiquities trade: A new documentary

    Romain Bolzinger’s documentary film about the looting, trading of illicit antiquities and the role of terrorism “Trafic d’art: le trésor de guerre du terrorisme” has been now released as a Canal+ Spécial Investigation program. Among experts interviewed in the US for the film are archaeologist Abdulamir Hamdani and Col. Matthew Bogdanos. Dr. Donny George, who had a prominent role in the original script, had suddenly passed away just as the film crew arrived to interview him. The 53-minute documentary, which focuses on Iraq and Lebanon, includes footage from around the world, as well as interviews with UNESCO officials, dealers, collectors, some of whom were filmed clandestinely. Given SAFE’s mission, we congratulate Bolzinger’s new effort to raise public awareness about these issues and look forward to the upcoming English version.

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  • Antiques vs. Antiquities: A Case Study from Malta

    In advance of a longer, more detailed post that I am currently researching regarding the legal and contextual differences inherent in the selling of archaeological “antiquities” vs. ethnographic/historic “antiques,” let me present a case study that has just come to my attention. According to an article in The Times of Malta, a private seller has attempted to list an “antique” amphora (photo at left) recovered from a shipwreck, age and exact cultural provenance unspecified, on the local all-purposes classifieds website maltapark.com. A local diver and “marine activist,” one Antonio Anastasi, expressed outrage at this theft of perceived ‘national heritage,’ and seemed readily able to cite local law dictating that nothing over 50yrs old (i.e. “antiques,” including more ancient antiquities) could be privately claimed or sold in Malta. Apparently, police and the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage have been ...

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