About David Gill

David Gill is Professor of Archaeological Heritage and Head of the Division of Humanities at University Campus Suffolk. He was a Rome Scholar at the British School at Rome and a Sir James Knott Fellow at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. He was subsequently part of the Department of Antiquities at the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge, and Reader in Mediterranean Archaeology, Swansea University.

Returns to Italy from North America


Various antiquities from Princeton University Art Museum, a healthcare company, a New York gallery, and a New York private collector linked to the Metropolitan Museum of Art have been returned to Italy.

It is hoped that a more detailed list will appear shortly.

The museum and gallery have already returned items to Italy.

What is meant by a "private collection"?

Heads from the Schinoussa Archive

A pair of Greek terracotta protomai are due to be sold at Christie’s (London) this week (lot 69). They are said to have been in a London private collection. Yet the pair of heads appear to be the same as those featured in the Schinoussa Archive seized in Greece. If so, the “private collection” is likely to be the stock of London-based dealer Robin Symes.

The Attic krater that is due to be handed back to Italy by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts was also said to have resided in a UK private collection as well as a Swiss one.

Earlier this year an object due to be auctioned at London was described as coming from a Swiss “private collection”. Seized photographic archives show the real nature of that “private collection”.

So should auction houses stop using the description of “private collection” if they really mean “dealer’s stock”?

Getty to return two antiquities to Greece

Source: Hellenic Ministry of Culture

The J. Paul Getty Museum has agreed to return two antiquities to Greece. Both were acquired during the 1970s. Two fragments of a funerary relief have long been known to fit a third fragment in the Kanellopoulos Collection in Athens. The reunification of this monument would justify this return. It should be noted that the source for the fragments was Nikolas Koutoulakis whose name appears in the infamous organigram cited in The Medici Conspiracy. The source of the Athens fragment has not been given.

Source: Hellenic Ministry of Culture

The more intriguing return is the religious calendar from Thorikos in southern Attica that was acquired in 1979 [Getty]. This appears to have been seen in Greece by David F. Ogden, a student at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (1959-61). Ogden was conducting research in the area of Thorikos. The cutting on the block suggested that it had been used in a later building, perhaps a Late Antique Christian basilica.

The usual benchmark for acquisitions is 1970, the date of the UNESCO Convention. So why has the Getty decided to return an inscription that appears to have been known some time before? When did the inscription leave Greece? What is the full collecting history?

Research Publications on the Antiquities Trade

The basis of my research on the antiquities trade has been based on a series of publications (many with my colleague Christopher Chippindale).  I published the list on Looting Matters and reproduce it here for convenience.

  • (with K. Butcher) ‘Mischievous pastime or historical science?’, review article of Minerva, in Antiquity 64 (1990), 946-50. [ISSN 0003-598X] [online]
  • (with Christopher Chippindale) ‘Material and intellectual consequences of esteem for Cycladic figures’, American Journal of Archaeology 97 (1993), 601-59. [ISSN 0002-9114] [online]
  • Commentary (with C. Chippindale) on C. Morris, ‘Hands up for the individual! The role of attribution studies in Aegean prehistory’, Cambridge Archaeological Journal 3 (1993), 57-58 (pp. 41-66). [ISSN 0959-7743]
  • (with Kevin Butcher) ‘The Director, the Dealer, the Goddess and her Champions: the Acquisition of the Fitzwilliam Goddess’, American Journal of Archaeology 97 (1993), 383-401. [ISSN 0002-9114] [online]
  • ‘Publishing unprovenanced artifacts: further observations’, Electronic Antiquity 2.2 (1994). [online]
  • ‘Sotheby’s, sleaze and subterfuge: inside the antiquities trade’, review article of P. Watson, Sotheby’s: inside story (London: Bloomsbury, 1997), in Antiquity 71 (1997), 468-71. [ISSN 0003-598X] [online]
  • Review article of Masterpieces of the J. Paul Getty Museum: Antiquities (Los Angeles 1997), in Bryn Mawr Classical Review (1998). [ISSN 1055-7660] [online]
  • (with C. Chippindale) ‘Material consequences of contemporary collecting’, American Journal of Archaeology 104.3 (2000), 463-511. [ISSN 0002-9114] [online] Supplementary tables available on-line at http://www.ajaonline.org
  • (with Christopher Chippindale, Emily Salter, and Christian Hamilton) ‘Collecting the classical world: first steps in a quantitative history’, International Journal of Cultural Property 10 .1 (2001), 1-31. [ISSN 0940-7391] [online]
  • (with Christopher Chippindale) ‘On-line auctions: a new venue for the antiquities market’, Culture Without Context 9 (2001), 4-13. [online]
  • (with Christopher Chippindale) ‘The trade in looted antiquities and the return of cultural property: a British parliamentary inquiry’, International Journal of Cultural Property 11.1 (2002), 50-64. [ISSN 0940-7391] [online]
  • Review article of Pat Getz-Gentle, Personal Styles in Early Cycladic Sculpture (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2001), in Bryn Mawr Classical Review (2002). [ISSN 1055-7660] [online]
  • (and Neil Brodie) ‘Looting: an international view’, in L. J. Zimmerman, K. D. Vitelli, and J. Hollowell-Zimmer (eds.), Ethical Issues in Archaeology (Walnut Creek: AltaMira; Society for American Archaeology, 2003), 31-44.
  • Review of Oscar White Muscarella, The Lie Became Great: The Forgery of Ancient Near Eastern Cultures (Studies in the Art and Archaeology of Antiquity vol. 1; Groningen: Styx, 2000), in American Journal of Archaeology 107, 2 (2003), 285-86. [online]
  • Review of Vinnie Nørskov, Greek Vases in New Contexts. The Collecting and Trading of Greek Vases – An Aspect of the Modern Reception of Antiquity (Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 2002), in Culture Without Context 12 (Spring 2003), 21-23. [online]
  • (with Joan Padgham) ‘”One Find of Capital Importance”: a reassessment of the statue of User from Knossos’, Annual of the British School at Athens 100 (2005), 41-59.
  • (with Christopher Chippindale) ‘From Boston to Rome: reflections on returning antiquities’, International Journal of Cultural Property 13 (2006), 311-31. [online]
  • (with Christopher Chippindale) ‘From Malibu to Rome: further developments on the return of antiquities’, International Journal of Cultural Property 14 (2007), 205-40. [online]
  • Review article of Stephen L. Dyson, In Pursuit of Ancient Pasts: a History of Classical Archaeology in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (New Haven, Conn.; London: Yale University Press, 2006), in Bryn Mawr Classical Review (2007). [ISSN 1055-7660] [online]
  • (with Christopher Chippindale) ‘The illicit antiquities scandal: what it has done to classical archaeology collections’, review article of P. Watson and C. Todeschini, The Medici conspiracy: the illicit journey of looted antiquities from Italy’s tomb raiders to the world’s great museums (New York: Public Affairs, 2006), in American Journal of Archaeology 111 (2007), 571-74.
  • Review of Peggy Sotirakopoulou, The “Keros Hoard”: myth or reality? Searching for the lost pieces of a puzzle (Athens: N.P. Goulandris Foundation – Museum of Cycladic Art, 2005), in American Journal of Archaeology 111, 1 (2007), 163-65.
  • Review of E. Robson, L. Treadwell, and L. Gosden (eds.), Who owns objects? The ethics and politics of collecting cultural artefacts (Oxford: Oxbow, 2006); and N. Brodie, M. M. Kersel, C. Luke, and K. W. Tubb (eds.), 2006. Archaeology, cultural heritage, and the antiquities trade (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2006), in Journal of Field Archaeology 32.1 (2007), 103-06.
  • (with Christopher Chippindale) ‘South Italian pottery in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston acquired since 1983’, Journal of Field Archaeology 33, 4 (2008), 462-72.
  • ‘Homecomings: learning from the return of antiquities to Italy’, in Noah Charney (ed.), Art and crime: exploring the dark side of the art world (Santa Barbara: Praeger Press, 2009), 13-25.
  • ‘Context matters: archaeological and antiquities crime’, The Journal of Art Crime 1, 1 (Spring 2009), 43-46. [ISSN 1947-5934 / 1947-5926]
  • ‘Context matters: Looting in the Balkans’, The Journal of Art Crime 2, 1 (Fall 2009), 63-66. [ISSN 1947-5934 / 1947-5926]
  • ‘Looting matters for classical antiquities: contemporary issues in archaeological ethics’, Present Pasts 1 (2009), 77-104. [ISSN 1759-2941] [online]
  • Review article of James B. Cuno, Who owns antiquity? Museums and the battle over our ancient heritage (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2008), in American Journal of Archaeology 113, 1 (January 2009). [online]
  • Review of James Cuno, Who Owns Antiquity? Museums and the battle over our ancient heritage (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008) and Sharon Waxman, Loot: The battle over the stolen treasures of the ancient world (Times Books, 2008), in The Journal of Art Crime 1, 1 (Spring 2009), 65-66. [ISSN 1947-5934 / 1947-5926]
  • Exhibition review: ‘Nostoi: December 2007, Palazzo del Quirinale, Rome’, in The Journal of Art Crime 1, 1 (Spring 2009), 70-71. [ISSN 1947-5934 / 1947-5926]
  • Exhibition review: ‘L’Arma per l’Arte. Antologia di Meraviglie, September 2009, Castel Sant’Angelo, Rome’, in The Journal of Art Crime 2, 1 (Fall 2009), 95-96. [ISSN 1947-5934 / 1947-5926]
  • Review of James Cuno (ed.), Whose Culture? The Promise of Museums and the Debate Over Antiquities (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009), in The Journal of Art Crime 2, 1 (Fall 2009), 99-100. [ISSN 1947-5934 / 1947-5926]
  • ‘Collecting Histories and the Market for Classical Antiquities’, The Journal of Art Crime 3, 1 (2010) 3-10. [ISSN 1947-5934 / 1947-5926]
  • ‘Context matters: Italy and the US: Reviewing Cultural Property Agreements’, The Journal of Art Crime 3, 1 (2010) 81-85. [ISSN 1947-5934 / 1947-5926]
  • ‘The Returns to Italy from North America: An Overview’, The Journal of Art Crime 3, 1 (2010) 105-09. [ISSN 1947-5934 / 1947-5926]
  • ‘The Portable Antiquities Scheme and the Treasure Act: Protecting the archaeology of England and Wales?’, Papers from the Institute of Archaeology 20 (2010) 1-11. [ISSN 0965-9315] [online] With responses from: Trevor Austin (‘The Portable Antiquities Scheme and the Treasure Act: Protecting the Archaeology of England and Wales? A Response’, 12-15), Paul Barford (‘Archaeology, Collectors and Preservation: a Reply to David Gill’, 16-23), Gabriel Moshenska (‘Portable Antiquities, Pragmatism and the “Precious Things”’, 24-27), Colin Renfrew (‘Comment on the Paper by David Gill’, 28-29), and Sally Worrell (‘The Crosby Garrett Helmet’, 30-32).
  • ‘The Portable Antiquities Scheme and the Treasure Act: Protecting the archaeology of England and Wales? Reply to Austin, Barford, Moshenska, Renfrew and Worrell’, Papers from the Institute of Archaeology 20 (2010) 33-40. [ISSN 0965-9315] [online]
  • ‘Context matters. Greece and the U.S.: reviewing cultural property agreements’, The Journal of Art Crime 4 (2010) 73-76.

A full bibliography is available via here.

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Towards a Bibliography for Looted Antiquities

One of the long established on-line bibliographies on looted antiquities was created by Hugh Jarvis at Buffalo (“Looting Question“).

This resource is intended to be provide a comprehensive overview of what is often a controversial topic, for scholarly and classroom use. Coverage is intended to include extreme perspectives as well as more neutral or consensus-seeking views. The list is extensive, with the hope that users will be able to find a range of these items close to hand. While the main focus is on North America, materials from around the world are noted whenever possible (and certainly encouraged). Items are added as they come to my attention or are contributed by others. Annotations are mine except as noted, and are NOT intended to be incendiary. Comments and additions are most welcome!

Such a bibliography is helpful and is a useful starting point. There are bound to be some missing items. Among them various works by James Cuno, Peter Watson’s Sotheby’s: Inside Story and The Medici Conspiracy, or Sharon Waxman’s Loot!

I have tried to note some key works on a public list (“Archaeological Ethics“) through WorldCat. This list is ongoing and does not pretend to be complete – and tends to relate to books (the purpose of WorldCat). I would welcome further suggestions.

Kimberly Alderman noted Jarvis’ list on her Cultural Property and Archaeology Law blog. What has surprised me is the reaction from some: “this site and its bibliography are a disgrace to academic research”; “This is a selective bibliography that leaves out opposing views”.

Another bibliography (“Readings“) has been posted by the Cultural Property Research Institute (CPRI). The emphasis is different though there is an unevenness. Again where is Peter Watson’s Sotheby’s: Inside Story and The Medici Conspiracy?

Readers are invited to add other online lists as a comment below.

Culture Beyond Oil: BP and Museum Sponsorship

There is a short video on a protest in the Great Court of the British Museum over BP’s sponsorship of museum exhibitions. This is in connection with the ongoing oil ‘gush’ in the Gulf of Mexico.

Christie’s: "we plan to proceed with the sale of these lots"

Dalya Alberge has written about the forthcoming antiquities sale at Christie’s New York for the Wall Street Journal (June 3, 2010). She quotes Paolo Ferri, the Italian prosecutor, on the three lots that appear to have similarities with objects featured in the Medici Dossier.

Reflecting on Seized Antiquities from 2009

In 2009 three antiquities were seized from a single New York auction-house: one just prior to the sale, and two subsequent to it (after being sold for c. $120,000). The auction-house co-operated fully in 2009 and subsequently stated (over the later seizure) that “the transparency of the public auction system combined with the efforts from the U.S. ICE and foreign governments, in this matter, led to the identification of two stolen artifacts”.

Earlier this month (May 2010) the same spokeswoman stated that “we do not sell works that we have reason to believe are stolen”.

Presumably any objects that have parallel collecting histories (“provenances”) to those seized in 2009 will be dealt with in a similar fashion.

Two of the pieces reported to have been seized in New York during 2009 [ICE].

Due Diligence, Antiquities and Auction-houses

The decision by Bonhams (London) to withdraw a Roman statue from its sale of antiquities this month has reminded us that auction-houses have yet to take the problem of newly surfaced antiquities seriously. The marble youth featured in the dossier of Polaroids seized from the premises of Giacomo Medici in the Geneva Freeport. Its collecting history (misleadingly termed as “provenance”) showed that it had surfaced at a Sothebys London auction in December 1986. 

Last year three antiquities were seized from Christies in New York. They too are reported to have featured in the Medici “archive”.

Has the time come for auction-houses to adopt 1970 as the benchmark for collecting histories? It would certainly avoid the bad publicity generated by the withdrawals.

Looting Matters: Protecting the Cultural Heritage of Italy

Looting Matters: Protecting the Cultural Heritage of Italy — SWANSEA, Wales, April 16 /PRNewswire/ –

Swansea, April 16.

The MOU with Italy including a quote from Sebastian Heath, Vice President for Professional Responsibilities at the AIA: “The MOU between the US and Italy serves the interests of the international community by reducing looting and preserving information about the Ancient World”.

"Wonderful objects with clear provenance continue to perform exceedingly well at auction"

In June this year G. Max Bernheimer, Christie’s International Department Head of Antiquities, commented on the June 3 sale of antiquities that raised $3.4 million. He spoke positively about the sale:

“Today’s strong results show that wonderful objects with clear provenance continue to perform exceedingly well at auction.”

It now appears that two of the lots have been seized by agents of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). [For initial story with pictures see here.] The Public Relations section of Christie’s has confirmed the “identification” of “two stolen artifacts”.

The seizures appear to point back to the Summa Gallery, the source for the Kyknos calyx-krater that is due to be handed back to Italy from a New York private collector.

The seizures additionally raise a major issue of what can be termed “clear provenance” (or in some circles “good provenance” and even occasionally “fully provenanced“).

Provenance is a much misunderstood word. What I suspect is meant by the term is “collecting history”.

So what gives an archaeological object a “clear” or “good” collecting history? One answer is that it can be traced back to the period before the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

Looting Matters: Egypt Puts Pressure on French Museum

Zahi Hawass put pressure on the Louvre to return fragments from a tomb at Thebes.  The items had been acquired in 2000 and 2003. An expert panel recommended their return this week.

Looting Matters: Egypt Puts Pressure on French Museum

New Exhibition of Recovered Antiquities in Rome

A new exhibition of recovered antiquities and works of art opened in Rome last week. Further details are available from here.

The show includes the Sarpedon krater once owned by New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. There are also pieces returned from other North American collections.

The New Acropolis Museum opens in Greece

The New Acropolis Museum will open in Athens, Greece on Saturday June 20, 2009. This will display archaeological finds from the area of the Athenian Acropolis.

The top floor, with views towards the Acropolis, will display the architectural sculptures from the Parthenon.

Image © David Gill

New Reviews of Books on Cultural Property

On-line reviews for the American Journal of Archaeology 113.1 (2009) are now available. These include four books relating to cultural property:

  • Art as Plunder: The Ancient Origins of Debate about Cultural Property. By Margaret M. Miles. Reviewed by Molly Swetnam-Burland.
  • Who Owns Antiquity? Museums and the Battle Over Our Ancient Heritage. By James Cuno. Reviewed by David W.J. Gill.
  • The Acquisition and Exhibition of Classical Antiquities: Professional, Legal, and Ethical Perspectives (A Symposium Held at the Snite Museum of Art, University of Notre Dame, February 24, 2007). By Robin F. Rhodes. Reviewed by Neil Brodie.
  • The Return of Cultural Treasures. By Jeanette Greenfield. Reviewed by Julie Hollowell.

Selling Egyptian Antiquities

In August 2007 I speculated about the scale of the market in antiquities. I have now posted some analyses of the scale of the market based on Sotheby’s New York:

Cleveland Museum of Art: Returns Announced

The Cleveland Museum of Art announced today that it would be returning 14 items to Italy. Many of the items were from Apulia, Campania, Sicily, Etruria and Sardinia. One of the more important pieces was an Apulian volute-krater attributed to the Darius painter.


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.

Two Pieces from the Shelby White Collection in Athens

Two pieces from the Shelby White collection went on display at the National Museum, Athens, Greece today (press release, in Greek). One of the pieces, a fragmentary funerary stele, had featured in the Glories of the Past exhibition (1990-91) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The second, a bronze calyx-krater, had been part of a touring exhibition, Greek Bronze Vessels from the Collection of Shelby White & Leon Levy (2005); a detail from the krater appears on the cover of the exhibition catalogue.

Seven other pieces from the Glories of the Past exhibition were returned to Italy earlier this year.

Shelby White and Greece: Further Details

Earlier this month it was announced that Shelby White would be returning two pieces from her collection to Greece.

For further details see:

This return is in addition to the nine objects returned to Italy by Shelby White earlier in the year; one more will follow at a later date.

Bronze calyx krater.