The best ways to share your projects and ideas with SAFE

SAFE provides several platforms for raising awareness about our concerns for cultural heritage. We also encourage public engagement.

SAFECONNECT – The Cultural Heritage Network and our Facebook group were created to enable all those interested in concrete ways to save the past for our future to share their projects and ideas. “What Do You Think?” on this blog offers another open forum.

We welcome your submissions here as a SAFE environment to introduce new work, and to solicit feedback and comments. No ideas are too big or projects too small. Feel free to share work at levels of completion. Creative thinking is what SAFE aims to encourage and showcase.

Last month, SAFE interns reviewed Samantha Sutton’s Archaeological Adventures, two books recommended for middle school students. We now want to know what you think of the following project submitted by Apsara Iyer:

A student at Yale, Iyer has been “researching the formation and persistence of antiquities trafficking markets in Peru and India.” Her Visual Heritage Project crowd sources images of archaeological sites to create a visual record to see how that location has changed over time. According to Iyer, the project aims to be used as a tool to see the destruction and looting of a site over time:

“The site could serve as a medium of raising awareness about saving antiquities while also help protecting them.”

Now SAFE is bringing the Visual Heritage Project to you. Check it out and let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.

Join the conversation of raising awareness by either adding your own projects and ideas to “What Do You Think?” or discussing the ideas in the forum provided: Post your project ideas to our SAFECONNECT and Facebook group, which we created for members of our community to share their work. While SAFE is not able to endorse all submissions, we are delighted to provide the public forum.

People around the world are not only interested in the subject, but are also actively engaged in taking action to raise public awareness.

Thank you again for your sharing your projects and comments with us.

UK adopts resolution prohibiting the import of antiquities from Syria

SAFE applauds this tangible act from the UK in response to the disorder in Syria and the threats to its heritage.

The Export Control Syria Sanctions Amendment Order 2014 SI 2014 1896 (the Order) was made on July 16, 2014, laid before the Parliament on July 18, 2014, and came into force on August 8, 2014.

It “provides for the enforcement of trade sanctions relating to Syrian cultural property specified in Article 11c of Council Regulation (EU) No 36/2012 as amended (the Regulation) . . . The Regulation prohibits throughout the EU the import, export, transfer, or provision of brokering services for the import, export or transfer, of Syrian cultural property and other goods described in it, where there are reasonable grounds to suspect they have been removed illegally or without the consent of their owner.”

  • Article 11c of Council Regulation (EU) No 36/2012 (the Regulation) reads:

It shall be prohibited to import, export, transfer, or provide brokering services related to the import, export or transfer of, Syrian cultural property goods and other goods of archaeological, historical, cultural, rare scientific or religious importance, including those listed in Annex XI, where there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the goods have been removed from Syria without the consent of their legitimate owner or have been removed in breach of Syrian law or international law, in particular if the goods form an integral part of either the public collections listed in the inventories of the conservation collections of Syrian museums, archives or libraries, or the inventories of Syrian religious institutions.

  • The prohibition in paragraph 1 shall not apply if it is demonstrated that:

(a) the goods were exported from Syria prior to 9 May 2011; or

(b) the goods are being safely returned to their legitimate owners in Syria.

Question: will the US, and other countries, follow suit?


Stop the plunder: archaeologist calls for more pressure on Egyptian government

The plunder of Egypt’s cultural heritage has again come to a boiling point in the last several days. Increased incidents of looting continue to exacerbate a situation already at great risk since the political turmoil. While little has been reported about the devastation in the press; thanks to Dr. Monica Hanna and her colleagues, the Egypt’s Heritage Task Force: الحملة المجتمعية للرقابة على التراث والأثار is keeping us updated on what’s going on. Still, much more needs to be done.

“We are losing a lot of the monastic graffiti (Coptic, Syriac, Ethiopian and Demotic) and several other archaeological features. Egyptian history is being destroyed…The Egyptian government should take concrete steps to stop the looting and vandalism.” Dr. Hanna told SAFE.

We join Dr. Hanna to call on journalists and bloggers who write about these issues to keep their attention on Egypt. Spread the message that destruction of cultural heritage is a nonrenewable loss to us all that no one should tolerate, regardless of who one is or where one lives.

Looting at Ansina About the looting going on in Ansina, Egypt’s Heritage Task Force posted earlier today, “thugs today worked on destroying the main basilica of the site with the use of a bulldozer while the rest of the gang worked on dismantling the columns capitals to sell them. It is worth mentioning that The Italian mission has discovered a lot of manuscripts where looting happened today.

This alarming photo is only one of many from Egypt’s Heritage Task Force. Contact Dr. Hanna at for more on-the-ground and up-to-date information.

Confrontations: “Looting????”

SAFE received an email with the subject line “Looting????” and the following links to Facebook images along with the question “What we can do about this ?????” We are grateful to be alerted, but regardless of what we might all be thinking, there are many more questions raised here than there are answers. In keeping with our mission, SAFE will be sharing this type of alerts on this blog under Confrontations when we receive such communications. We invite our readers to share their thoughts here” What do you think? Next time you wonder about something you come across, send it to us.










Egyptian Ambassador: A critical challenge for cultural preservation

The following is posted at the request of the Egyptian Ambassador Mohamed Tawfik. 

Dear friend,

Many of you have been instrumental in launching unforgettable exhibitions that explored Egypt’s rich history. Thanks to you, millions of Americans have a special relationship with and fascination for my country’s unique contribution to human civilization, shaped over the course of generations. So many young minds have been stimulated by these exhibits with questions of who are these people and how did they create this? For our children’s sake, we need to keep these experiences and opportunities accessible to everyone.

Considering your interest in preserving and promoting Egypt’s cultural heritage, I wanted to share with you a recent article written for the Washington Post by Egypt’s Minister for Antiquities Mohamed Ibrahim. In it, he called on the United States and its citizens to help Egypt combat theft of historical and archaeological treasures, a worrisome trend exacerbated by Egypt’s current security situation. He also requests vigilance from auction houses and other cultural institutions that may come across suspect items. Minister Ibrahim reminds us all that, “It is our common duty, in Egypt and around the world, to defend our shared heritage.”

I would welcome your thoughts on how we, as a community that cares about Egypt’s treasures, can raise awareness of these tragic incidents and prevent further harm.  I would also encourage you to spread the word about antiquities thefts through social media. As popular institutions, simply engaging your audience can be a first step to help stop the theft of Egyptian antiquities.

Should you have any questions in this matter, don’t hesitate to email the embassy at

Thank you again for your dedication to the people, history and culture of Egypt at this especially sensitive moment.

Mohamed Tawfik
Ambassador of the Arab Republic of Egypt
Washington DC

Why we care about the cultural heritage of Egypt – now.

Originally posted on February 6, 2011, the following is reposted as a reminder of why we Say YES to Egypt’s Heritage! (Photo: Egypt’s Heritage Task Force: الحملة المجتمعية للرقابة على التراث والأثار )

No one knows what the future holds for Egypt. Our hearts and hopes are with the Egyptian people as they struggle toward genuine democracy. The first priority now must be the country’s stability, its citizens, their safety, their dignity.

While politicians work out ways to address the demands of the people, attention must also be focused on efforts to protect Egypt’s ancient cultural heritage, out of respect for the Egyptian people and all citizens around the world. Some may think this premature, even insensitive. We don’t. Here’s why:

– As the current government in Cairo gives way to a new political regime, and Egypt begins the process of renewal, it is essential that cultural heritage of the people – the touchstone of their cultural memory and identity – remains intact. We must work together to ensure that the new Egypt is not built on the rubble of robbed museums and plundered tombs.

– Also, protecting and preserving cultural heritage is now recognized as a key development priority for all nations: If we are truly concerned about Egypt’s social, political and economic future, we should strongly support the protection of their museums and heritage sites.

– The ancient and sacred structures and artifacts that make up the cultural heritage of Egypt represent the ultimate non-renewable resource. The world community must do everything it can to protect these treasures for all humanity and prevent irreparable damage that may that result in the destruction of ancient sites and loss of materials.

Join SAFE in solidarity for the people of Egypt and their cultural heritage.


Say YES to Egypt’s Heritage!

Egypt is in a state of turmoil. Life is lost while the people of Egypt continue to fight for democracy and freedom. But while the safety of human life is our first priority, there is another aspect of humanity that we must not forget: Egypt’s cultural heritage. Why? Because “wars end, and shattered lives, communities and societies must be rebuilt.” (Nature, Vol 423, 29 May 2003). In the last few days, the situation has drastically worsened: the Mallawi Museum has been looted, churches are being burned, archaeological sites and museums have been closed indefinitely and the lands surrounding the pyramids at Giza and Dahshur remains peppered with holes dug by looters.

Looted burial tombs beside Dahshur's Black Pyramid, from Der Spiegel. Looted burial tombs beside Dahshur’s Black Pyramid, from Der Spiegel.
While the situation remains chaotic, what can we do? 

SAFE has launched its “Say YES to Egypt’s Heritage” campaign, and I invite you to join us, right now.

Here’s how:

  1. Set and share your Facebook profile image with the “Say YES to Egypt’s Heritage” image at the top left corner.
  2. Set and share your Facebook cover photo with the “I Say YES to Egypt’s Heritage, Our Heritage” banner at the bottom of this post. (Please be patient, Facebook servers are busy.)
  3. Tweet the message “I Say YES to Egypt’s Heritage, Our Heritage” with #sayyestoegypt! (Don’t forget to tweet us at @saveantiquities)
  4. Join the Say YES to Egypt Cause page here and stand with  thousands of other individuals pledging their support of Egypt’s cultural heritage
  5. Spread the news about this campaign, like and share this post

Let’s come together and do something to show solidarity for the people of Egypt. Raise awareness about the urgent risks to one of humanity’s greatest legacies. So please join me and SAFE to show the world that we are all saying yes to Egypt’s heritage because it is our heritage.

The 3rd millenium BC Citadel of Aleppo faces serious risk in Syria

The Citadel of Aleppo, dating back to the 3rd millennium BC, is now caught in the fighting between President Basher al-Assad’s military and the Free Rebel Army.  The Citadel has a elaborate history: it was occupied by the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Mongols, Ottomans, Ayyubis, Mamluks, and unsuccessfully besieged by Crusaders in 1098 and 1124.  It is home of the Aleppo Codex, a medieval bound manuscript of the Hebrew Bible written in the 10th Century A.D.  It is identified in the Bible as Elijah’s cave and as a stopping point of Abram during his journey to Canaan and Egypt.  It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986 (“Ancient City of Aleppo,” UNESCO).

As early as May 21, Interpol requested vigilance in Syria to preserve ancient sites, citing that Roman mosaics in the city of Hama were missing and there was a high possibility for irreversible damage.  Their press release stated: “The on-going armed conflict in Syria is increasingly threatening a significant part of the cultural heritage of mankind. Roman ruins, archaeological sites, historic premises and places of worship are particularly vulnerable to destruction, damages, theft and looting during this period of turmoil” (“Interpol Calls for Vigilance on Looting of Ancient Mosaics in Syria,” Interpol, May 21, 2012).

Citadel of Aleppo
The Citadel of Aleppo now caught in the fight between Basher al-Assad and the Free Rebel Army in Syria.

On July 31, UNESCO issued a plea to preserve the Citadel of Aleppo.  They asked Secretary-General Ban-ki Moon to employ international agreements which protect cultural property (“UNESCO Pleads with Syrian Secretary-General to Preserve Citadel of Aleppo,” UNESCO, July 30, 2012).  No action was taken.

In modern day Syria, the city of Aleppo is a commercial center and home to 2.5 million people.  New reports claim that if al-Assad’s forces lose control of Aleppo, the country will fall into Rebel hands. Aleppo has been a war zone for the past four weeks (“Syrian Army Moves on Rebels in Aleppo, Damascus,” Hadeel Al Shalchi, Reuters, August 3, 2012).

The Free Rebel Army made a major push to take the Citadel.  Ahmed, a young rebel fighter stated: “One day soon, we’re going to march inside.  We will make it to the heart of city.”  Muhammad, another rebel, boasted: “Soon you will see us in the Citadel.  And from there, you will see a liberated Aleppo” (“Syrian Rebels Edge Towards Aleppo’s Ancient Heart,” Erika Solomon, Reuters, August 2, 2012).

Last week NBC reported that the Free Rebel Army had taken control of Citadel and using it as a stronghold.  Without any anti-aircraft defense, the Citadel immediately became a major target for al-Assad’s military forces.  Reports also stated that the Free Rebel Forces began taking shelter in a hidden wall behind the outer wall of the Citadel.  Syrian tanks easily broke through the walls, killing the Rebels, and decimating the Citadel’s medieval walls.

Citadel at Aleppo burning Image shot by amateur videographer posted on Youtube shows fire raging through the city around the Citadel at Aleppo

On August 11, The Daily Star of Lebanon reported that the Citadel was being shelled and that the main damage was at the entrance gate.  The New Zealand Herald stated: “One shell demolished the front of the house, leaving a gaping hole where the arched gateway once stood. A second gouged out a crater 3 meter wide in the walled garden and a third smashed into bedrooms and the library”  (“Citadel at Risk as Modern War Rages in Aleppo,” Kim Sengupta, New Zealand Herald, August 14, 2012).

While this article focuses on the Citadel as an important world heritage site, we cannot overlook the deaths in Syria.  The Huffington Post estimates that about 17,000 people have died in fighting– 11,897 civilians, 4,348 soldiers and 884 military defectors.  In addition, the UN reports that as many as 1.5 million people have been displaced by the fighting (“Syrian Refugee Numbers Surge Again Amid Aleppo Clashes,” Los Angeles Times, August 10, 2012).  We hope that when the fighting does conclude, the Aleppo Citadel will become a unifying symbol.  It will remind modern, war torn Syrians to be proud of their common historic past and national heritage.

As of today, August 15, the present condition of the Aleppo Citadel is unknown.

For more information please visit:
Al Jazeera August 4, 2012 coverage “Syria Rebels Converge on Aleppo Citadel”
Aleppo Citadel Friends
Wall Street Journal Update on Fighting
UNESCO’s Site on the Ancient City of Aleppo 

Prominent coin dealer and hand surgeon thought he was selling real stolen coins

Dr. Arnold-Peter Weiss, a prominent Rhode Island hand surgeon, a professor of orthopedics at Brown University School of Medicine, and a dealer in ancient coins, pleaded guilty on July 3, to attempted criminal possession of stolen property, a misdemeanor offense, for trying to sell what he thought were authentic ancient Greek coins that he believed had been looted from Sicily. But the coins are, in fact, forgeries. Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos told the court, the coins are “exquisite, extraordinary, but forgeries nonetheless.”

Dr. Weiss was arrested on January 3 during the 40th Annual New York International Numismatic Convention at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, in possession of a silver coin that purported to be an early 4th century BC Greek type known as a Katane Tetradrachm, which he valued at $300,000-350,000. According to the criminal complaint, Dr. Weiss told a confidential informant: “there’s no paperwork. I know this is a fresh coin, this was dug up a few years ago…. I know where this came from.”

Authorities seized the coin, having been informed by Captain Massimo Maresca, of the Italian Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale, that “Italian law, namely the Code of Cultural and Landscape Heritage, has vested absolute and true ownership of all antiquities found in Italy after 1909 in the Italian government, and that the Italian government never gave Dr. Weiss or anyone permission, consent or authority to remove said coin from the ground or removed it from Italy,” according to the criminal complaint.

Investigators soon discovered that Dr. Weiss was also trying to sell another coin, an Akragas Dekadrachm, purportedly dating from 409-406 BC, which Dr. Weiss valued at upwards of $2.5 million, and a third coin, which were soon to be auctioned by Nomos AG, which is co-owned by Dr. Weiss, as part of a collection dubbed “Selections from Cabinet W.” At the request of the NY District Attorney’s office, the three coins were examined by academic experts, who considered the coins to be genuine. To be certain, Assistant District Attorney Bogdanos had the coins analyzed using an scanning electron microscope, which revealed them to be modern forgeries.

News that the Weiss coins are forgeries — and so well made that even leading experts could not detect them — has the close-knit fraternity of high-end coin collectors abuzz. Surely coin collectors must be asking:

1. Where did these top-quality forgeries come from? How were they made (pressure molded or struck)? How many more examples by the same forger have circulated, and when did they first appear?

2. If experts who examined the coins at the request of the NYDA’s office were unable to determine the Weiss coins are forgeries, what hope do dealers, auctioneers, and collectors have when the next undocumented Greek or Roman coin with scant provenance and a six-figure price tag appears on the market? Will this case prompt coin dealers, auctioneers and collectors to agree that verifiable provenances and scientific testing are necessary for all coins above a certain price level.

Dr. Weiss was sentenced to 70 hours of community service (providing medical care to disadvantaged patients in Rhode Island), was ordered to pay a $1,000 fine for each of the three coins in the case, and forfeited another 20 ancient coins that were seized from him at the time of his arrest. The judge also ordered Dr. Weiss to write an article for publication in a coin collecting magazine or journal warning of the risks of dealing in coins of unknown or looted provenance. The awareness raising impact of that article should be significant.

Contrary to a report on the case published in the July 3 New York Post, no order has been issued by the Court for the forgeries to be destroyed.

Cultural heritage attorney Rick St. Hilaire provides a cogent legal analysis of the Weiss case here.

Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos is a 2006 SAFE Beacon Award recipient and the author of “The Thieves of Baghdad,” about the looting of the Iraq Museum and resulting exploding black market in its antiquities in the wake of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Read more about the case and Dr. Arnold-Peter Weiss here.

Say NO to “American Diggers”

Explosions abound and dirt flies in the opening credits of Spike TV’s “American Digger”, but explosions and dirt thrown from backhoes are typically not what you see in a properly executed scientific excavation. Amid numerous protests, this show continues to present “digging” as an exciting pass time that anyone can participate in. The dangers to our cultural heritage mount as viewers are encouraged to “dig, baby, dig”.

What can we do to stop it? First, sign the petition asking Spike to “stop looting our collective past”. Second, go to People against Spike TV’s “American Digger” on Facebook and email the form letter to at least one of the sponsors listed on the page. All of the contact information is there, the letter is already written, you just need to add your name and send it out. Also, you can use the contact information to call the sponsors, email them in your own words, or write them a letter. Join the thousands of voices asking Spike and its sponsors to end this show today.

Read these other SAFE blog posts for more information about the show.

Alert: SAFE still says NO to S. 2212

It has come to our attention that, a site which obtains information from, 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 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, 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.

Sad news out of Iran…

This link takes you to a Tehran Times article (brought to my attention by Museum Security Network) discussing the on-the-ground looting situation at the ancient city of Dastvar, Khuzestan Province, Iran. After five excavation seasons spanning the 1960s-1990s, it appears that what’s left of the city and its cemeteries are being looted away at a frightening pace. Part of the Elymais (Elam) city-state east of the Tigris, historical and numismatic records have illuminated the reigns of at least 27 Greek and/or locally born kings spanning c. 147BC-224AD, and a few key events reported by scribes of later (or successive) Empires, after the fact. As always with large sites such as these, much remains unexcavated and/or not fully understood, especially in regards to daily life and deathways for non-elite individuals.

With each hole dug by a looter’s spade as opposed to an archaeologist’s trowel, another piece of what’s knowable about the city’s rise and fall is erased forever. Every burial recklessly opened represents another individual life that archaeological science will never be able to bring to light. This has all been explained before, and yet such blatant looting to feed the international trade continues, with local and foreign professionals feeling powerless to stop it. Are we? As this example of Parthian artifacts for sale attests to (also here…note the VCoins connection), it is arguable that dealers and buyers in demand-side countries have yet to accept full responsibility for their part in this vicious cycle. We’re waiting…

The Brazen Destruction of an Ongoing Dig

I’m sure this is all over the blogosphere by now, but I wanted to continue to pass it on. Here we have yet more evidence that looting, thievery, and general archaeological vandalism is not contained to the “third world,” and need not even target sites, features or locations known to produce “valuable” antiquities for the market. Here these students were, working at a new excavation near their campus, in semi-urban Illinois, on a field school designed more to teach technique than with the expectation that earth-shattering discoveries would be made. And yet, vandals and looters struck, nearly irreperably damaging the site and most revealed contexts, making off with neccessary equipment, etc! From my own experience digging on various “contract” (Cultural Resource Management) projects for archaeological companies working in southern Arizona, I can attest that cases of urban vandalism or looting of active dig sites are more common than they should be. Popularization of the “glory” of archaeology far oustrips that of the “science.” In my opinion, as long as the “Indiana Jones/Laura Croft” stereotype continues to foster disconnect between public perception and actual practice, this mentality, combined with the still-active market, will continue to lead to incidents like this. Constant vigilance against the global scourge that is looting!

New Zealand’s built history, cultural heritage suffer losses after massive quake

Recovery operations are still underway and looking increasingly grim in Christchurch, New Zealand, after the city’s second major earthquake in six months left over 140 dead and scores more wounded and missing. As always, people remain SAFE’s first concern and our condolences go out to those who have lost their loved ones, colleagues and homes.

But as the dust settles in New Zealand’s second largest city, we will also get a clearer picture of the toll on its built history and cultural heritage. As Prime Minister John Key said in an interview with TV3 News just a day after the 6.3-magnitude tremor hit, Christchurch will be “a very different city” once rebuilding efforts begin.

Museums Aotearoa has been updating their blog with word from museums across Canterbury and they have relayed some good news. Firstly, they have not reported any museum staff or volunteers lost. They have also reported that the Canterbury Museum, which was feared to have suffered damage, has been declared “structurally sound.” It houses, among other things, a 130-year-old collection of natural history specimens and artifacts from Antarctic expeditions. It also lies in one of the worst-hit areas, Christchurch’s central business district (CBD).

Other museums and historic places have not fared so well. The former municipal chambers building, which opened in 1887 and has housed exhibitions for the past decade, had been closed to the public after suffering major damage during September’s even bigger, but far less violent quake. Museums Aotearoa reported that the building has now been completely ruined.

Major cultural landmarks, including the city’s provincial chambers (built in 1865), The Press building and the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament have also suffered significant damage. And images of the century-old Anglican cathedral, pictured above, have circulated widely, showing how the church has lost its iconic spire and part of its tower – not to mention that authorities fear up to 22 people have been lost in its rubble.

As the New Zealand Herald reported, the cathedral “has become a symbol of the city’s anguish,” but Mayor Bob Parker is confident that the massive stone church will be rebuilt and that its restoration will become an important symbol of the city’s resilience. “There is some discussion that that is a building we could rebuild brick by brick, stone by stone. We need to find some symbols like that,” he told reporters this week.

Lyttelton, a colonial harbor town just 12 km southeast of Christchurch, was devastated by the Feb. 22 earthquake and its 1876 Timeball Station – one of just five working timeball stations in the world – was among the many historic buildings laid to waste.

Architect and conservator Ian Bowman, who will travel to Christchurch next week for several restoration projects, has told me that he heard the storage facility for the Timeball Station museum was flattened. It housed all display material and collection items that were moved from the main museum after the September earthquake damaged the station. It remains unclear if anything has been or can be salvaged.

Meanwhile, the New Zealand Historic Places Trust is working to provide advice on how to approach historic buildings damaged by the quake, according to its website, and it has urged against the “unnecessary clearing or removal of heritage buildings or structures.” NZHPT chief executive, Bruce Chapman, had this to say about Christchurch’s damaged cultural sites in a statement released Friday

These buildings are much-loved, iconic landmarks that helped to tell Christchurch’s story and have made the city the special place that it is and what locals and visitors readily identify with.

There is no easy answer to whether Christchurch can rebuild its damaged historic buildings. Once the full extent of damage is known then discussions can begin on how Christchurch can rebuild, what buildings it can retain and the costs involved.

But that’s a conversation that no one is having right now. Like everyone else our thoughts are firmly on the safety of people in the city, and with the remaining rescue and recovery work.

Photo courtesy:, AFP

Why we care about the cultural heritage of Egypt – now.

No one knows what the future holds for Egypt. Our hearts and hopes are with the Egyptian people as they struggle toward genuine democracy. The first priority now must be the country’s stability, its citizens, their safety, their dignity.

While politicians work out ways to address the demands of the people, attention must also be focused on efforts to protect Egypt’s ancient cultural heritage, out of respect for the Egyptian people and all citizens around the world. Some may think this premature, even insensitive. We don’t. Here’s why:

– As the current government in Cairo gives way to a new political regime, and Egypt begins the process of renewal, it is essential that cultural heritage of the people – the touchstone of their cultural memory and identity – remains intact. We must work together to ensure that the new Egypt is not built on the rubble of robbed museums and plundered tombs. 

– Also, protecting and preserving cultural heritage is now recognized as a key development priority for all nations: If we are truly concerned about Egypt’s social, political and economic future, we should strongly support the protection of their museums and heritage sites.

– The ancient and sacred structures and artifacts that make up the cultural heritage of Egypt represent the ultimate non-renewable resource. The world community must do everything it can to protect these treasures for all humanity and prevent irreparable damage that may that result in the destruction of ancient sites and loss of materials.

Join SAFE in solidarity for the people of Egypt and their cultural heritage.

Threats to Egypt’s cultural heritage: How will we respond?

The many accounts of looting and destruction in Egypt in the last few days have been alarming and at times, confusing. Reports about the nature and extent of the damage – and who caused the damage – have been numerous and sometimes conflicting. What are rumors? What are facts?

One recalls a similar situation in 2003 when the Iraq Museum was looted, and the number of objects became a source of confusion. Matthew Bogdanos’s article in The American Journal of ArchaeologyThe Casualties of War: The Truth About the Iraq Museum” (and the 2005 book Thieves of Baghdad) recounts that situation in great detail, and goes a long way to dispel early misconceptions.

As with the Iraq situation, we will probably not know all the facts for some time. But while information about the exact scope of the destruction – and who did what – is still being assessed, what we do know for certain is that one of the world’s richest and oldest cultural heritages is at risk. One artifact looted or destroyed is one too many.

We also know this: Egyptian antiquities can fetch huge sums. In December, 2010 alone, 13 artifacts reportedly sold at Sotheby’s for a total of $9,789,500.

So how will we respond?

A number of organizations have issued a statement that includes a “call on United States and European law enforcement agencies to be on the alert over the next several months for the possible appearance of looted Egyptian antiquities at their borders.” SAFE believes that we should also alert dealers, collectors, conservators, auction houses, museums, antique galleries. Any artifacts looted from Egypt during this tumultuous time will presumably end up on the antiquities market outside the country.

Will the trade exercise restraint or curtail its appetite for Egyptian collectibles during this time? Will it perform special due diligence? We hope it will.

Rock Art Vandalism…Again!

Another incidence of rock art vandalism has been recorded in Arizona, this time at the Glen Canyon Dam, where the “Descending Sheep” rock art panel was damaged. An example of similar rock art can be seen at left (from A National Park Service employee reported that someone has scratched their name, “Trent,” onto the surface of the panel during a recent fishing trip he (the vandal) attended. Fortunately, the Park Service employee had stopped by to visit and document the rock art not 1 hr prior to the vandalism, so the passengers on the fishing trip were quickly located and one Trenton Gainey was pointed out and arrested. As this attack was just a quick scratching, it should be easy(er) to repair than intensive paint graffiti, although it will still cost the perpetrator $10,000 towards the repair effort, as it should! He will be sentenced on the 14th March. Constant vigilance!

Yet another one…

This morning, while browsing the web for current Southern Hemisphere antiquities trade news to blog about, I came across the webpage of a company/auction house that, to me, seems as brazen in their sale of unprovenanced and/or recently surfaced artifacts as the world’s largest wholesale auction houses. Indeed, they occasionally have their own auctions! This time I’m talking about Arte Mission (or, based out of South Kensington, London, and specializing in “ancient art from Egypt, the Mediterranean and Mesopotamia, in Islamic Art and Ancient Coins.” With apparently 40+ years in the business, and with “major galleries and museums” as both recipients and guest appraisers of artifacts, their website provides prospective buyers with everything from a Membership list, a searchable database, website translation into a number of different languages, a recommended reading list of books and articles at a “Reader’s corner,” two-day item reservation, and email contact.

If you’ll allow me a brief segue, there’s even a link to an online store called “Ancienne Ambiance,” with the express purpose of fostering one’s inner “antiquity sensibility.” In the words of company founder Adriana Carlucci, after “having helped customers step back in time through the use of fragrance, extensive customer feedback to the site indicated a strong interest in even more luxury consumer products reflecting an ancient theme.” She then teamed up with and jewellery designer Claire van Holthe to offer jewellery “made using authentic beads, stones, amulets and pendants from different ancient civilizations and modern gold.” Ironically, some of the proceeds of these sales are given to the charity PACT (diligently fighting against child abduction), but the “abduction” and reuse of the world’s archaeological heritage is perfectly ok? As an archaeologist myself, I can assure readers that “antiquity” as I’ve experienced it (i.e. in graves, historic period privies, wells, ancient houses, research laboratories) certainly DOES NOT smell like lavender! In the end, the commercialization of products based on the smell of antiquitiy (whatever that is) is irrelevant, and there is honest disclosure that the use of the antiquities is to enhance the appeal of the jewellry, the end result is still the reuse of archaeological artifacts ripped from context so as to appease/enhance the status of the wealthy.

Returning to my original discussion of itself, one can see that their catalog contains quite the diversity of artifacts within their stated geographic area of expertise. These range from cuneiform tablets, to Egyptian faience, shabtis, and scarabs, cylinder seals, numerous artifacts from various European cultures, plenty of jewellery, glass artifacts (primarily Roman), coins (Roman and Greek), weapons, manuscripts, and a separate category of “Under $400” miscellanea; “excellent to start or complement a collection, ideal as an interesting and unique gift.” Besides the usual promise to include a “certificate of authenticity” with each purchase, two other aspects of’s “code of ethics;” namely, “we undertake to the best of our ability to make our purchases in good faith,” and “we undertake not to knowingly deal in any cultural objects that have left Iraq after 6/8/90, in compliance with The Iraq (U.N. Sanctions) Order 2003 (S.I. 2003/1519).”

“Good Faith” implies trust that the middlemen providing the dealers with antiquities (or the dealers providing the customers) have done their part to double check the veracity of what they purport to sell. However, it seems that in this case “good faith” applies merely to questions of authenticity, as very few examples of past-provenance information was observed attached to online catalog entries for any item, and those that did once again derived “from an old collection,” “private collection,” or a different auction house, frequently post 1980s. However, to be completely honest, I must point out that a few items, such as a few cuneiform tablets, provide the name of the individual person who assembled the collection the item came from, and suggested pre-1970s surfacing. The catalog overall, however, suggests that secure provenance is more or less irrelevant to the modern trade, especially online. In strange contrast to that, they swear to uphold the recent U.N. sanction on the trade in looted antiquities from Iraq, probably due to fear of bad press over perceived “war profiteering.” As this cylinder seal shows, for example, readily acquired Iraqi (Mesopotamian) artifacts from the 1990s-present as long as they were said to have surfaced before then. To quote Dr. Chippindale from an earlier post of mine, “said by whom, to whom, under what circumstances, and with what intentions?” The separate coins webpage demonstrates that this dealer, like others, exhibits the cognitive dissonance required to not view ancient coins as “antiquities,” let alone artifacts that once had their own unique contexts.

Discussion of a short article by Peter A. Clayton, FSA (Founding Chairman of the Antiquities Dealer’s Association, 1982) is also relevant here; made available to all potential customers in the “Reader’s corner,” for purposes of “education” and encouragement. It is important that this rhetoric be further exposed, as it is geared primarily towards those who might stumble onto their website (and into collecting) by accident, or with previous reticence to buy. The article primarily centers around the opinion that “it is often not realized that just because an object may be centuries, or even several thousand years old it does not have to be financially inaccessible;” stressing that recent very expensive auction sales only represent the “extreme end” of the market. If an amateur collector is willing to take on the “high degree of specialist approach” and “get to know dealers who stock items that interest them” (so that the dealer “can get to know his clients requirements and keep an eye on the market for available pieces”), then both parties can “enjoy and learn from the contact.” Clayton distills the entire purpose of the trade thusly: “The point about collecting antiquities is that they provide the opportunity to reach back across the centuries and actually handle the past to, if you like, feel a rapport with the original ancient owner.” Textbook summation of the “Connoisseur’s View,” is it not? To archaeologists and heritage professionals who monitor the trade, this is familiar rhetoric…but documents such as these in the hands of potential new buyers AND with a major catalog provided, is fuel for the fire.

What to do? I like to think of the multi-pronged response that S.A.F.E. and others are taking as the “Triple E” model: “Education, Exposure, Enforcement.” This corresponds to education at the local supply level, education and exposure BEFORE new “customers” make that first purchase, and enforcement intervening at the local in-country level whenever possible, but at the very least BEFORE the artifact enters the (online) market place, where dispersal becomes very easy. I know, I know…easier said than done…but the more that major dealers/smuggling rings are either shut down, or brought into compliance with ALL global heritage laws, the greater the repercussions down the entire supply line. Constant vigilance!

More from BC Galleries

Just a few moments ago, while writing the 2nd entry ever for my new blog (which will assist in detailing and tracking the Southern Hemisphere antiquities trade), I came across further evidence that BC Galleries is still attempting to sell Southeast Asian artifacts (specifically deriving from northern Vietnamese “Dong Son” burial sites) with human bones inside them! Not only that, but they are not trying to hide this fact or disguise it in anyway…it is still out there for all potential customers to see. Indeed, it might even be viewed as a selling point. This time, the objects in question are ‘armlets,’ similar to those recently removed from sale within the eBay store of “The Unique Things Gallery,” detailed in my last post. I feel less and less certain that this is a coincidence, and more certain that it represents the distribution of a bulk shipment that came into the country in one go. Only further monitoring and investigation will tell…

BC Galleries: The Antiquities Trade Down Under

A few days ago, a very shocking and depressing addition to my personal monitoring of the global antiquities trade, especially in regards to Southeast Asian artifacts, was brought to my attention. I’m talking about a distributor called BC Galleries ( Formerly a member of, and with clients ranging from individuals, to museums, to other galleries, they have operated out of Melbourne, Australia, since 1976 (with a website for international transactions online since 1999). The company has two major financial associates that lend their operations the air of legitimacy. CINOA (Confederation Internationale des Negociants en Oeuvre d’Art, or International Confederation of Art and Antiquities Dealers Associations) is based out of Brussels, a city notorious for antiquities trafficking in its own right. It represents over 5,000 dealer organizations in 22 countries, all of whom must sign the membership charter to be legally allowed to use the CINOA logo for marketing. Within Australia itself, BC Galleries is also a prominent member of the Australian Association of Art and Antiquities Dealers (AADA). This nation-wide confederation of dealers allows those interested to browse affiliated galleries by State/Territory, or by primary category of antiquities for sale. Their website even contains a message board on which exclusive viewings of specific collections are advertised to the well-to-do visitor or local of the major Australian cities (Sydney, Melbourne, etc.), with the rare objects on view described with the same “hidden jewel,” and “National treasure” language that galleries catering to the super-rich tend to employ world-wide. Although, admittedly, much of what is offered for sale by most listed dealers will have nothing to do with the looting of ancient archaeological sites, what I uncovered in my perusal of the BC Galleries’ website and on-line catalogues demonstrates that BC Galleries isn’t one of them. One can only assume, then, that the stated “goal” of CINOA to “encourage high ethical standards within the trade” must only apply to the aggressive and concentrated use of expert appraisers to remove forgeries from the collections of signatory galleries. It appears that this “ethical concern” does not, howerver, cover the very brazen sale of recently looted antiquities.

The site is organized into two major catalogues; one for “Antiquities,” and the other for “Tribal Art,” both of which contain artifacts from around the world. The “Tribal Art” catalogue consists solely of artifacts of ethnographic, or relatively recent ethnohistoric, provenance (with “provenance” in this case usually being the name of the ethnic group from which the crafts-person derives, or at the very least, the region/country where the object was acquired from). Importantly, no ‘paper trail’ is provided up front to explain how these often rare or bulky items came to be for sale through BC Galleries (with a few exceptions being objects that are stated to come from “old collections”). Although a potential buyer can fill out a form to “request more information,” what certainty is there that the information provided will be accurate? This problem is even more severe in the case of the “Antiquities” offered for sale, which also span the globe in their source locations. They range in listed date from late 19th/early 20th centuries backwards (to the inclusion of a few mounted collections of European Palaeolithic stone tools), and even include 185 items under the category of “natural history” (fossils, insect specimens in amber, meteorite fragments etc.; all of which have their own illegal harvesting problems).

A basic tabulation of the raw numbers of artifacts for sale (determined from the number of individual entries in each section of the “Antiquities” catalog, segregated by general geographic region and/or time period) reveals some interesting, but unsurprising, patterns. The most obvious pattern is that specific regions of the world currently undergoing conflict, instability, or just generally suffering from insufficient monitoring of the antiquities trade comprise the largest categories of artifacts for sale. For example, “Southeast Asia” as a whole produced 325 entries on the days I monitored the website, while 250 entries come from “South Asia,” 193 entries derive from “Bactria” (read Afghanistan), 147 under “Pre-Islamic Iran” and 257 items under the very broad category of “Islamic Art.” Rather high tallies under the categories of “New Kindom” and “Late Period” Egypt, “Neolithic” and “Shang-Han Dynasties” China, and “Mesopotamia” might be partially due to “accidental finds” entering the market after, say, a farmer, discovers small artifacts in his fields and sells them to a middleman. Some of them also derive from the decommissioning of old museum collections or auction house lots (Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Mossgreen Auctions being just three examples listed on catalog records), but certainly not all of them. Even if a particular artifact can be shown to have passed through a different auction house before it was offered for sale again through BC Galleries, this says nothing about the conditions under which that artifact initially arrived on the market.

Very importantly, no distinction whatsoever is provided to the website viewer/potential buyer to discern how and when an artifact entered BC Gallerie’s possession. Granted, some of the artifacts in the larger categories, especially “Islamic Art,” are ethnohistoric pieces dating (reportedly) from the 19th-20th centuries, but the diversity, and occasional rarity, of objects for sale, especially those small and easily transportable artifacts coming out of currently “hot” areas like Southeast Asia and Afghanistan, practically guarantees that recent loot is being sold. I suspect that there’s no section of the catalog specifically labeled “Iraq” because, with so much attention focused on the high profile artifacts looted from new sites, old sites, and the National Museum of that country, the perceived risk was just too great. This is in opposition to the very small item counts for every other category, especially those archaeological cultures and countries in the Classical World for which the looting problem has been much more publicised and actively pursued, such as Greece, Turkey, and Italy. This is not to say that looting has been stamped out in those locations (far from it), nor that low tallies for a specific category (e.g. “Pre-Columbian”) on the days I devoted to searching the website should be viewed as reflecting the permanent state of the market. Indeed, the dealers that supply the global antiquities trade would always have to contend with fluctuations in “product” availability.

Through whose hands are these artifacts passing before arriving at the warehouse? A perusal of those very few individual catalog entries with a previous source listed (no more than 2-3%, by my estimate), reveals a diversity of network contacts, some from decommissioned collections, and others from active dealers elsewhere. Some are based in Australia (e.g., East Australia Trading, Sydney; the Buttonshaw collection, Melbourne; the Whitbourne collection, Melbourne), and some come from overseas (e.g., the Howard Rose Gallery, New York City; the Dr. Giuliana Zanetti collection, Bologna, Italy; the Mohit Collection, out of an undisclosed location in India, and the “private” collection of one Virginia Williamson, out of New Hampshire, USA). The few other collections I found record of did not state any specific location or time period, especially pre-1970s, during which the collection was supposedly amassed. Perhaps this information is only available upon request? It seems more likely that its not offered because its not known. What is apparent, however, is that BC Galleries is one of the better connected wholesale dealers of looted antiquities in Australia today.

Most unfortunately, as suggested above, the vast majority of items for sale only give rough temporal and geographic information by way of “provenance,” and the genuine antiquity of most looted artifacts for sale (whether recently ‘surfaced’, or brought to market many decades ago), is highlighted to reassure buyers’ of authenticity. Many artifacts have their usewear, repair, soil accretions, ‘verdigris patina,’ or chipping emphasized as clear signs that the purchase is authentic. Not to mention the occasional item with thermo-luminescence (T-L) dating paperwork provided! I wonder if the T-L laboratory workers (at Oxford or the University of Wollongong by my observation) had any idea that the artifacts they dated for their clients were looted, and/or were soon to enter the global antiquities market?

Further insult to injury is added via another disturbing, but perhaps inevitable, phenomena that many international antiquities dealers (including BC Galleries) engage in; the use of published academic archaeological references to bolster their authenticity claims. For example, the thorough and relatively current textbook Early Cultures of Mainland Southeast Asia, a c. 2002 overview of Southeast Asian prehistory, was consulted by the writer of the catalog entry for this clay bull figurine (with the atypical inclusion of iron horns). To an archaeologist, this is a characteristic artifact of the late Bronze Age archaeological sites on the Khorat Plateau, northeast Thailand, most commonly found as a grave good. The first such site to be discovered was the eponymous site of Ban Chiang, but several other contemporaneous sites in the vicinity are known to share artifact types and mortuary customs (thought of collectively as the “Ban Chiang Culture”), while even more sites remain to be found, or have already been lost to looting. What is the archaeological community to do? On the one hand, we must be responsible and ethical in publishing site reports and data in as timely a manner as possible. On the other, the last thing we hope to see is our work “used against us” to further the demand for and selling of genuine artifacts… A real catch-22…

I will close with a discussion of a specific photograph from the “new acquisitions” portion of BC Gallerie’s catalog which serves as a great example of how the very unscrupulous antiquities trade can come “full circle.” The photo (and see above left) is of a segment of a bronze spiral bangle, still containing a concreted section of the original grave fill soil and substantial pieces of the forearm of the person interred with it perhaps as much as 2,500 years ago! Although a “Dong Son” (northern Vietnamese Iron Age) affiliation is listed for it, I myself saw identical examples in central and southern Vietnam, and they have also been recovered from salvaged sites in Cambodia. According to the owner of a “souvenir” shop in Hoi An whom I spoke to when last there in January (documented in an earlier post), the most detailed provenance he could recall for a similar, but cleaned-up, bangle (one of many late prehistoric artifacts for sale, including bells and beads) was “from the My Son area.” Most famous for its large complex of Chamic temples, the surrounding area was inhabited for centuries before that, but the late prehistory of Central and Southern Vietnam is very poorly known, meaning that there are undoubtedly many undiscovered domestic and cemetery sites from which artifacts can be accidentally or deliberately removed. As documented, small-ish items at that shop like bangles, small bells, rings etc. would sell for no more than $200USD…and only $650AUD will net you the gruesome “antiquity” in the photo above.

Torn from context, we’ll never know exactly where this came from, nor anything about the person wearing it…and that’s not even mentioning the ethics of having a section of someone’s arm on your mantelpiece! In the 30+ years that BC Galleries has been operating, who knows how many other one-of-a-kind, or equally macabre, artifacts or “specimens” have passed through their doors? What seems clear, however, is that the big names in global antiquities dealing don’t just come from the northern hemisphere. Constant vigilance remains a necessity everywhere.