About Sarah Pickman

Sarah Pickman earned a BA from the University of Chicago, an MA from the Bard Graduate Center and a Certificate in Arts Administration from New York University. She is presently an Associate for Administration at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Oscar Muscarella reviews "Archaeology, Cultural Heritage, and the Antiquities Trade"

Dr. Oscar Muscarella, expert on the ancient Near East and a tireless, vocal advocate against the looting of antiquities, gave praise to SAFE’s work in a book review published in the International Journal of Classical Tradition. Muscarella reviewed the Archaeology, Cultural Heritage, and the Antiquities Trade, a volume edited by Neil Brodie – winner of the 2008 SAFE Beacon Award – Morag Kersel, Christina Luke, and Kathryn Walker Tubb. In his piece, Muscarella wrote:

“[Paula Kay] Lazrus is the only author in this volume to cite the organization called Saving Antiquities for Everyone (SAFE; pp. 272-273), created and guided by non-professional-archaeologist citizens…from the beginning they determined that membership is open to all citizens, academics and “lay” people, based on the reality that the plunder problem is a global issue, and not one solely for academics. SAFE is unique in the United States, and indeed, there is no academic organization…that equals their goals of involving the public, as well as their on-going accomplishments.”

Roger Atwood, author of Stealing History: Tomb Raiders, Smugglers, and the Looting of the Ancient World, told SAFE that in his review, Dr. Muscarella “is spot-on, as usual.”

Join Muscarella on November 7 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where he will lead a SAFE Tour through the Ancient Near Eastern and other collections. To read Dr. Muscarella’s book review in its entirety, please click here.

Looted, trafficked, and sold – "Nostoi" gives artifacts a homecoming welcome

Meet 74 cultural treasures that were ripped from their places of origin, without regard for their archaeological or cultural significance, and sent on an illicit journey: sold to private collectors and prestigious museums as mere art objects, before, finally, being recovered and returned home. These are the 74 objects that make up the exhibition “Nostoi: Recovered Masterpieces,” currently on display at the Palazzo Poli in Rome. The exhibit features items previously held by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Getty Museum, and Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, among others. It is designed as a homecoming celebration for artifacts that were looted from Italy, but, following many long legal battles, have been returned from the institutions and individuals that had acquired them illicitly.

SAFE is pleased to see such a landmark exhibit on display, and is proud to offer our own SAFE Tours in both Italian and English of “Nostoi”: our first international SAFE Tours ever. Our tours are led by two experts on Italian art and cultural heritage: Stefano Alessandrini, who has served as an expert witness on several of the court cases surrounding the objects on display in “Nostoi,” and Laura Flusche, an art history professor with an incredible depth and breadth of knowledge on Italian art and history. Both will lead an incredible, one-of-a-kind tour that is not to be missed. However, space is limited, so reservations must be made in advance here.

While the objects on display in the “Nostoi” exhibit represent success stories of looted and recovered artifacts, the tale is bittersweet. These items have been returned to their home country after they were taken illicitly, but most of the knowledge they contained-invaluable knowledge about the past that can only be attained through proper archaeological excavation-is lost forever. At the end of the day, while the object’s return represents the success of legal institutions and international cooperation, the information each object contained was far more valuable than the object as an object alone. Even more knowledge will be lost if action is not taken against looting. And though these 74 pieces have come home, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Hundreds of thousands of antiquities worldwide that have been looted from their homelands have yet to be recovered, or even located.

Perhaps most importantly, will this exhibition help spur a change in attitudes towards the illicit antiquities trade? Museums, art dealers, and auction houses can make a tremendous difference by taking a stand against the black market in antiquities, and the rampant looting that feeds it. Whether they will remains to be seen.

Photos: Andrea D’Achille

Five Years On, SAFE Remembers the Looting of the Iraq Museum

“The way you remember the past depends upon your hope for the future.”-Story Musgrave, astronaut

Five years after the looting of the Iraq Museum, SAFE is still the global leader in commemorating this tragic event and making sure that its lessons are not forgotten. Cultural heritage around the world remains vulnerable to looting and destruction, but sometimes the most powerful gesture of commitment to cultural heritage is a simple gesture.

Between April 10 and 12, 2003, the world watched as the Iraq Museum in Baghdad fell victim to rampant looting and destruction. Despite the efforts of the Museum’s staff-and repeated warnings from international experts that the Museum was vulnerable-the building remained unguarded as looters stole priceless artifacts and destroyed valuable museum archives. The Iraq Museum was the most important repository of artifacts from ancient Mesopotamia, the first civilizations in the world. As thousands of these stolen pieces are still missing, invaluable knowledge about our human past is missing too. Since April of 2003, looting has also been rampant at archaeological sites across Iraq, meaning that the knowledge contained in those sites will never be known. To ensure that the memory of these events is not forgotten, but remains a cautionary tale for the future, SAFE organized the Global Candlelight Vigil for the Iraq Museum.

The first Global Candlelight Vigil was organized in 2007, and we were moved by the response we received. Twenty vigils were held in six different countries, each one a unique memorial to the events of 2003 and a show of support for the protection of cultural heritage. This year, the fifth anniversary of the looting of the Museum, SAFE again gave out the invitation to host vigils, and we were once again inspired by the even greater response we received. Twenty-eight vigils, in six countries on three continents, representing countless supporters, registered with SAFE. To read more about the 2008 vigils, please visit our Candlelight Vigil site.

For SAFE, the second successful year of vigils is a powerful sign that we are not alone; we are joined by countless others across the globe who share our concerns and are not going to forget this tragic event that impacted the heritage of us all.

Photo credits for this post, from top to bottom: Vigil at Worchester Art Museum, Worchester MA-Gary Staab; Wall projection at Reid Hall, Bozeman, MT-Elisa Cooke; Iraq Museum staff with candles-Khalid Al-Timimi.

Hot off the presses! Princeton reaches accord with Italy

Not long after Yale University agreed to return objects originally taken from Machu Picchu to Peru, another of the most prestigious American universities, Princeton, has agreed to return eight ancient pieces to Italy that were illegally excavated and exported. Like the Yale-Peru agreement, the accord between Princeton and Italy will promote scholarly exchange, with Princeton having access to scholarly archaeological digs in Italy and the ability to receive long-terms loans from Italian institutions. By doing the right thing and returning the looted pieces, they benefited ten-fold!

Read the New York Times article about the deal here.

Yale to Return Machu Picchu Artifacts to Peru

Here’s the BBC’s coverage of the major repatriation effort between Yale University and Peru: the return of thousands of artifacts taken from the site of Machu Picchu by Yale professor Hiram Bingham nearly a century ago. I believe this a truly momentous event in the world of cultural heritage repatriation, for it involves both one of the most prestigious academic institutions in the world, and one of the most-visited and most-loved archaeological (and now archaeological-tourist) sites in the world. Hopefully, Yale’s clout will inspire other major Western institutions holding objects of questionable provenience to follow suit.

The details of this agreement show that repatriation can be mutually beneficial for both the home nation and the outside institutions where these objects often end up; there will be a scholarly exchange between Yale-based American and Peruvian academics, as well as a traveling exhibit of the pieces to bring the pieces to an even wider audience than they have encountered by being at the school.

Some might say that keeping objects such as these in American and European museums is more beneficial than sending them home, because it inspires Westerners who see them on display to want to visit the places where they originally came from. In this case, given that Machu Picchu is one of the most famous ancient sites in the world, and has such a strong hold in popular imagination, I can’t imagine that many people need the prompting of a few artifacts in a museum to want to go to Peru and see it for themselves!

Marble sculptures going home

Here is today’s New York Times article on two sculptural heads being returned to Sicily. Like the famous set of silver pieces that are in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, these heads are from the Morgantina site, the remains of an ancient Greek colony in Sicily:


It’s important to point out that these two pieces are not only going back to their place of origin, they are going into a museum there where they will be looked after. It’s not only American or British museums can properly care for and display archaeological treasures.