• “Retentionist” or just doing the right thing?

    {credit}AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin{/credit}Click to view objects returned to Italy

    According to KVAL.com article “Stolen Italian antiquities recovered from Oregon home” Phillip Pirages, the book dealer whose manuscript pages were forfeited by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement “was very impressed with how serious the (Italian) government was about reclaiming these[.]”

    AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
    A Roman Marble Janiform Herm, circa first century, showing a depiction of an old and young satyr, is one of several cultural artifacts taken from Italy that are being returned to Italy, seen during a repatriation ceremony at the Italian Embassy in Washington, Thursday, April 26, 2012. The objects were seized by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and Italy's Carabinieri.

    Indeed, Italy is not alone in its determination to reclaim its cultural patrimony. In recent years, many culturally rich “source” countries are quite serious as well in their call for repatriation. ...

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  • Alert: SAFE still says NO to S. 2212


    It has come to our attention that opencongress.org, a site which obtains information from maplight.org, is listing SAFE as a supporter of Senate Bill 2212 (United States Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional Immunity Clarification Act). This is clearly incorrect. SAFE objects to this bill for reasons explained in our recent blog post and web page.

    SAFE contacted OpenCongress and MapLight.org and we were told that our name would be removed from the list within the hour. Unfortunately, several hours later it has not been removed and so we feel it is necessary to clarify our position.

    This situation definitely raises questions about the validity of the information on these sites. For example, the citation given by MapLight to justify SAFE’s presence on the list of supporters is our post entitled “Say NO to Senate Bill 2212″. How does that make us a supporter? And the citation given for the museums on the list is a single press release released by Dianne Feinstein announcing the bill. This is hardly reason to call these institutions “supporters”. Also, heritagepreservation.org is incorrectly listed as “Cultural Heritage Preservation” and the citation leads to the organization’s home page where there is no mention of the bill. A search of the site for anything mentioning S. 2212 returned no results. Finally, there are several organizations such as LCCHP that have openly opposed the bill and yet according to MapLight there are “0 organizations opposed”.

    The mission of both OpenCongress and MapLight is to allow the public access to information. SAFE knows the importance of public awareness and we support it, we simply ask that these sites ensure their information is accurate and unbiased.

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  • Say NO to Senate Bill 2212


    On March 20th, the United States Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional Immunity Clarification Act (S. 2212) was introduced by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT). It was read twice and then referred to the Committee on the Judiciary, chaired by Senator Patrick Leahy(D-VT). It is the counterpart to House Bill 4086 (H.R. 4086), which had been introduced in the House of Representatives on February 24, 2012 and subsequently passed by voice vote.

    If passed, it would allow foreign governments to immunize themselves from U.S. lawsuits when loaning art and antiquities to American museums. This means American museums would be able to knowingly exhibit looted antiquities and artwork. The countries of origin would have no legal recourse to recover these items as long as the U.S. State Department first granted the U.S. museum immunity from seizure for exhibition of the object and posted the grant in the Federal Register.

    Congress needs to stop and think about what this legislation truly means and the message it is sending to the public. The United States should be a leader in the protection of the world’s cultural heritage and this law, as it stands now, is a step backwards. America would be sending the message that it is acceptable to exhibit stolen items.

    Visit our page about S. 2212 to read more about the bill and what you can do to stop it and sign the petition asking Congress to abandon the bill.

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  • Say YES to Turkey?

    Mosaic from Bowling Green University

    Recently, the government of Turkey requested the return of dozens of allegedly looted antiquities from American museums. The items being sought currently reside in museums all over the country, including the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, Bowling Green State University, the Dumbarton Oaks Institute in Washington, D.C., and the Cleveland Museum of Art. You can view a complete list of the Cleveland objects and read more about the situation at Chasing Aphrodite.

    Portrait of a Man, Bronze headOne of the items Turkey has requested is this bronze head currently on view at the Getty Villa. Portrait of a Man. (73.AB.8)

    The Republic of Turkey is the home of cultural resources of extraordinary historical breadth and significance.  Catal Huyuk, Troy, Ephesus, Pergamum, Didyma, Halicarnassus, Priene, Sardis, Hattusas-Bogazkoy, Aphrodisias, Antioch, Beycesultan, the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia in Istanbul and the underwater Uluburun shipwreck are only a handful of the significant sites in Turkey that hold singular importance to the cultures of the Neolithic, Anatolian Bronze Age, Hittites, Phrygians, Lydians, Ionian Greeks and the Eastern Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires.  Turkey contains more ancient Greek sites than Greece, more Roman sites than Italy and, most importantly, a vast number of undiscovered sites dating to its 10,000 years of history.

    Because of a consistent demand for the types of antiquities that can be found among its stunning cultural wealth, Turkey is continuously victim to the looting and destruction of its archaeological and historic sites.  In 2010 alone, some 68,000 stolen artifacts were seized from nearly 5000 people involved in smuggling rings.  The number of objects that were not rescued and flowed into the illicit international antiquities market is unknown.

    For more information on the protection of Turkey’s cultural heritage visit the SAFE resources section.

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  • Egypt’s ownership claim of Ka-Nefer-Nefer slammed, or may be not…


    The St. Louis Museum of Art (SLAM) filed a complaint in federal district court on February 15, 2011 asking for a declaratory judgment to prevent federal authorities from seizing a 19th Dynasty Egyptian mask popularly known as Ka-Nefer-Nefer.

    The mask, excavated at Saqqara in 1952 by Mohammed Zakaria Goneim, was sold to SLAM in 1998 by Phoenix Ancient Art in Geneva. According to the New York Times, in 2006 Egypt first claimed that the mask was stolen and asked the museum to return it; and in 2008, U.S. Department of Homeland Security was “looking into the case.” While the museum insists that there is no documentation to prove that Ka-Nefer-Nefer is Egyptian property, stolen, or smuggled, many think otherwise. In a comment to our post, Dr. Peter Lacovara wrote:

    The St. Louis Art Museum was informed by me soon ...

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