Samantha Sutton’s Archaeological Adventures

I want to thank Jordan Jacobs for sending SAFE his “Samantha Sutton Series.” As a part of my summer internship at SAFE, I was given the first novel of the series to review. Kayla Schweitzer, another SAFE intern, reviewed the second. Reading this book made my summer that much more fun! The two of us were excited to learn about the novels which are great education materials for introducing students to topics that are important to SAFE’s mission.

Archaeologist Jordan Jacobs brings his real-life knowledge and experience to young-adult fiction, making very realistic adventure novels about the world of archaeology and the damages looting of archaeological sites can cause. His “Samantha Sutton Series,” which includes the books Samantha Sutton and the Labyrinth of Lies and Samantha Sutton and the Winter of the Warrior Queen, is written from the perspective of Sam, an aspiring archaeologist and tells of her adventures at archaeological digs around the world. We can’t wait to see what Jacobs does next – the third book in the series, Samantha Sutton and the Temple of Traitorswill be available in March of 2015.

If you have read the books, tell us what you think! And if you know of other good reading materials, we appreciate your suggestions!

Watch our reviews below:

First, Samantha Sutton and the Labyrinth of Lies reviewed by me, Elizabeth (Lizzy) (View the transcript here)

“We see that looting not only damages the site but also can destroy an archeologist’s reputation and can reek havoc for the community where looting is happening.”

 

Second in the series, Samantha Sutton and the Winter of the Warrior Queen reviewed by Kayla Schweitzer (View the transcript here)

“[Jacobs shows] the confrontations between the archaeologists and the so-called amateur archaeologists who are armed with metal detectors.”

 

Bones of contention: The global trade in archaeological and ethnographic human remains

These days, research on the depth and breadth of the global illicit antiquities trade, and how best to dismantle and prevent it, grows ever-more diverse. One particularly under-studied aspect continues to fascinate me: the trade in archaeological and ethnographic human remains. With licit and clearly illicit faces, deals conducted online (but most likely primarily off-line), this trade forms but one component of a vast global “red market“- the vast, legal and illegal trade in organs, tissues, eggs, blood, even children.

The existence of this trade is especially poignant given the affront to human dignity it represents, as portions of once-living people, with added significance as objects of cultural heritage, are reduced to commodities to buy and sell on the “open” market, not to mention the damage caused to ancient and recent burial sites to provide some of this “merchandise.”

A new paper just published by myself and my colleague Prof. Duncan Chappell from the University of Sydney, Australia, presents the first attempt to update, and provide a snapshot, of the online portion of this trade. It is the first relevant attempt, by our reckoning, in more than 10 years. It has been released early-view online in the Journal of Crime, Law, and Social Change (DOI # 10.1007/s10611-014-9528-4), and is now available in the SAFE resources section. In it, we provide an overview and an update, from legal, criminological and archaeological perspectives, of the current scope of the (predominately) online trade in human remains.

Given that this research was conducted on our own time, by necessity we focused on that component of the trade we could actually access-online markets from eBay to private galleries to auction houses. Given that very little published research of this nature has been conducted, and the most prominent examples of what exists focus on such specific contexts as the eBay sale of specimens with potential medico-legal import (e.g. Huxley and Finnegan 2004), we figured it was about time to rectify this.

Our search for archaeological and ethnographic human remains includes everything from mummies to trophy skulls, Tibetan skull-cap “damaru” drums and “kangling” flutes made from human femora and tibiae, to all manner of items marketed as “curios,” as well as primarily cranial specimens allegedly bought and sold for medical research only. Using key word and phrase searches on common search engines as well as mining public-access collector and dealer fora, we created a database that allowed us to quantify this ‘snapshot’ of what is being sold where, and by which kind of dealer (auction house vs. online gallery vs. private, usually anonymous, sellers). This information should provide a baseline for future studies to keep tracking the trade over time, especially when/if laws change in source or demand countries.

Without rehashing all the results in advance of publication, the data in general suggests a small but persistent global trade still exists, primarily conducted by European and North American based dealers selling items (primarily trophy skulls) from as far away as Peru, New Guinea, Vanuatu, West Africa, Naga land in India, and Borneo. More surprising were at least one example of an Egyptian mummy head recently and unsuccessfully offered for sale, with records still available online if one searched the darker corners of the internet. Although the dealer or auction websites that our searches turned up quickly became repetitive, in time, new examples will continuously come to light.

Unsurprisingly, the data suggests that auction houses, smaller online galleries and private (usually anonymous) sellers target different markets (“tribal art” enthusiasts vs. seekers of curios and “oddities” vs. seekers of oft-times professionally prepared medical specimens, allegedly for continued teaching purposes). Substantial overlap occurs. Although rare instance of the altruistic “sale” of human remains can occur, as the photo below from the Mütter Museum “Save Our Skulls” adoption program attests to, usually the exchange of money for human remains is purely profit driven. 

hyrtl skull collection Hyrtl skull collection, Mutter Museum College of Physicians, Philadelphia.

Different marketing tactics were also employed, with the majority of online galleries and some auction houses presenting “back stories” of old collections or collecting trips, occasional reference literature, and dealer biographies to entice potential customers and convince them of the “authenticity” of what they seek to buy. Sadly, the same care was not taken to ensure potential customers of the legality (for transfer of ownership, import or export) of the sale. Indeed, the overall impression gained from our research is that most dealers in such material are more than happy to operate by “caveat emptor” and abdicate responsibility once payment occurs, and (for this trade to exist) it appears that many buyers are willing to play along. Perhaps any sales conducted one-on-one off line are even less transparent?

With the majority of ongoing or recent sales recorded at the time of writing via small, semi-anonymous galleries or private dealers hiding behind eBay handles, this is not surprising. Despite clear policy, our research suggests that enforcement continues to rely too heavily on self-policing or reports from concerned citizens when news of suspicious auctions “go viral.” Although the rules state that only non-Native American remains used/to be used specifically for medical research purposes can be listed, we could detect no evidence whatsoever that any kind of due diligence or proof is required by either buyer or seller. Examples such as this demonstrate this clearly.

Even in the short amount of time between online release last month and now, I’ve discovered or heard about several more examples of ongoing or halted sales of human remains. Ranging from the attempted, but halted sale of an autopsied medical specimen as a raffle prize (thanks be to the astute blogger and animal bone enthusiast Jake of “Jake’s Bones”), to the unexpected donation of three skulls; two likely Caucasian former medical specimens, one a Native American child of unknown context, to a Seattle Goodwill. Fortunately, this donation has inspired others to turn in human remains in their possession to the local Medical Examiner’s office, as opposed to anonymous sale to the highest bidder or being throwing away.

Other examples of dealers in human remains as ‘curios’ have been uncovered, and will be added to a greatly expanded database as we take this research further and reassess motivations for buying and selling in more detail. Our long term goal is to document and publicize as many case studies as possible so as to both raise awareness and help affect legal reform. It is my firm belief that research on any form of illicit or questionably legal activity must also go hand in hand with public awareness.

Deliberate sale of freshly surfaced remains destroys archaeological context, while the sale and seemingly no-questions-asked purchasing of even old medical specimens and ethnographica not only risks breaking local or international law, but also robs a people of unique cultural heritage and, as importantly, steals the dignity of respect in death from the person being sold.

At the end of the day, we must remember that even if only a small component of the global trade in antiquities or ethnographica, the trade in human remains uniquely cross-cuts both the “red” and “grey” market (illicit made licit).

With undoubtedly much occurring off-line and policing of the online trade apparently largely voluntary, much remains to be done to expose those who put profit above all other concerns when handling these “bones of contention.”

Meet the Interns

Meet the Folks who are helping make SAFE happen this summer!

I (Elizabeth Markman) am a rising junior at Barnard College with a joint major in Archaeology and Art History. I have just returned from an archeological survey in New Mexico, where I spent my time looking for projectile points and potsherds. At SAFE, I am working on new educational initiatives and outreach. I am also tweeting and organizing the SAFE newsletter. Though I love working at my SAFE internship from New York City, I enjoy even more learning from SAFE’s global outreach.

“I love working with people who are truly knowledgeable and passionate about the cause! They are excited to be doing their work and excited for us (the interns) to be doing ours.”

Learn more about my colleagues  and fellow interns below!

Heather Lee  is a rising senior at Amherst College with a double major in Art History and European Studies. She is currently interning at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Her SAFE internship has helped her explore the questions that art museums usually do not always consider: what is going on in the original sites that the objects came from, and are we dealing with the problems with proper ethical and legal standards? This summer Heather has been working on the SAFE blog – See her work here!

At SAFE, Heather has learned:

“As much as I love pristine galleries with perfect temperature control, I realize that objects are better understood in their original contexts, rather than in glass cases.”

Kayla Schweitzer is from Manheim, PA, where she is currently working during her Summer SAFE internship. She is helping to coordinate a new project to raise awareness of heritage protection at a local level. (Stay tuned for more exciting news on this!) She is a graduate student in the masters program of Cultural Heritage and Preservation Studies at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Her research interests include cultural heritage loss and prevention, the protection of heritage during times of conflict and natural disasters, and the relationship between sustainability and cultural heritage.

Kayla’s favorite thing about her SAFE internship:

“I enjoy that as interns we are able to be creative with our projects and really cater what we are working on to our interests.”

Interns pictured in photo above from left to right: Heather Lee, Elizabeth Markman, Kayla Schweitzer

The thorny issue of deaccession

On July 10, 2014, at Christie’s in London, a 4,000-year-old Egyptian limestone statue of an official named Sekhemka was sold to a telephone bidder for £15,762,500 (or $27,001,163, with the buyer’s premium). This sale was strongly opposed by several groups, including the UK Museums Association (MA), the Save Sekhemka Action Group, and Egypt’s Antiquities Ministry.

Why the controversy? It is because the sale violated the general deaccessioning policies of museums. Deaccession—a permanent removal of an object from a museum’s collection, usually through sale—is not undertaken lightly by museum curators. It is usually done only with artworks that are duplicated in the collection or that are too damaged for conservation or display. In good museum practice, the funds generated from the sale are used only for the improvement of the collection.

The UK Museums Association stipulates that the money raised from deaccession should only be used to improve the existing collection. In the United States, the Association of American Museum Directors’ usual standard is that artworks cannot be sold just to fix a leaky roof. The AAMD Policy on Deaccessioning, amended on October 4, 2010, specifies that “funds received from the disposal of a deaccessioned work shall not be used for operations or capital expenses. Such funds, including any earnings and appreciation thereon, may be used only for the acquisition of works . . .”

Cultural heritage is not an asset to be liquidized and monetized. Nor is deaccessioning a sustainable way of generating funds.

Does the Northampton Museum’s expansion of gallery space meet these stipulations? Probably not, as 55% of the proceeds (about £8m) will be used for a major extension project, which will double the size of the exhibition space and create new education and commercial facilities. But this is not a collection improvement project.

What is more alarming is that the Northampton Museum is only one of the many deaccession cases. In 2013, the Croydon Council was criticized for selling twenty-four pieces from the Riesco Collection of Chinese porcelain to raise £8m for refurbishing Fairfield Halls, its local arts center. This sale prompted the Arts Council England’s (ACE) Accreditation panel to remove the Croydon Museum’s accreditation status. Similar issues surrounded the attempt by the Tower Hamlets Council in East London to sell a Henry Moore sculpture in order to ease the financial problems it faced following massive government funding cuts.

The Northampton statue of Sekhemka The Northampton statue of Sekhemka
Mike Pitts from http://mikepitts.wordpress.com

In the United States, in February 2014, the Maier Museum at Randolph College in Lynchburg, VA, was sanctioned by the AAMD for selling George Bellows’ painting Men of the Docks (1912) to the National Gallery of Art in London for $25.5 million for the purpose of easing the college’s financial difficulties. The American Alliance of Museums criticized the sale as “a flagrant, egregious violation of our Code of Ethics for Museums, showing total disregard of an important tenet common to the charter of all museums . . .” Similarly, in June, the Delaware Art Museum auctioned off a William Holman Hunt painting, Isabella and the Pot of Basil (1868), for $4.25 million which it used to pay outstanding debt and build its operating endowment. The museum was subsequently sanctioned by the AAMD, which means that no AAMD member museums will loan works of art or collaborate on exhibitions with the Delaware Art Museum.

It is my understanding that there were no legal issues in all of these sales. The objects were not bound to any donor stipulation that the museum never sell the object. The issue here is not one of legality, but one of public trust. Public museums are stewards of cultural heritage. Their mission is to protect and preserve the cultural artifacts with which they are entrusted.

Cultural heritage is not an asset to be liquidized and monetized. Nor is deaccessioning a sustainable way of generating funds. Although the sale of the Sekhemka statue brought $27 million, it is probably a short-term financial gain. If the Arts Council England (ACE) revokes the accreditation status of the Northampton Museum and it loses ACE funding, this sale might prove to be costly in the long run. According to BBC, the ACE granted the museum £166,000 in 2012 and £69,000 in 2014. This is probably why the Art Fund, a charitable supporter of art institutions, decried Northampton’s decision as “financially as well as morally harmful.”

I imagine how heartbroken the New Yorkers were when Asher Durand’s Kindred Spirits (1849) left the city for Arkansas’s Crystal Bridges. For those who long loved looking at the masterpiece before entering the Edna Barnes Salomon Room on the third floor at the New York Public Library, the deaccession of the Durand painting must have been like losing a family treasure.

Perhaps that was the sentiment that Andy Brockman, an archaeologist working with the Save Sekhemka Group, felt, when he said that the Sekhemka statue “was gifted for the enjoyment and education of the people. It is held in trust for the future. This is selling the family silver.”

What can the public do to prevent the museums from deaccessioning public treasures? Please let SAFE know by commenting below.

(Featured image from Getty Images GB).

 

UPDATE: Arts Council England strips Northampton of accreditation

On Friday, August 1, the Arts Council England revoked the accreditation of the Northampton Museum and Art Gallery, as well as the Abington Park Museum, as a result of the sale of the Sekhemka statue.  

This sanction speaks much louder than any commentary on the sale: the Northampton Museum has violated the code of ethics of deaccession. Scott Furlong, director of acquisitions, exports, and loans unit at the Arts Council said, “I am confident that the museums sector and wider community will share our dismay at the way this sale has been conducted and support the decision to remove Northampton Museums Service from the scheme.”

The annulment of the accreditation status is a drastic measure. The last time ACE took such action was in May 2013, when Croydon Museum was removed from the Accreditation Scheme.

The Northampton Council is now illegible for a range of grants and funding, and excluded from future participation with the rest of the accredited museums until August 2019.

I join SAFE in applauding the Arts Council’s ruling.

What can you do? Sharing knowledge about Iraq’s vanishing cultural heritage

A public panel, “The Implications of the Current Fighting for Iraq’s Cultural Heritage” was held on Friday evening, July 18, 2014 in Washington, DC. The panel was organized by the Iraqi Cultural Center (ICC), the Iraqi Ministry of Culture and The American Academic Research Institute in Iraq (TAARII). The following is a report of the presentations.

The goal of this panel was to focus on the current situation in Iraq, particularly on the cultural impact of the fighting which broke out in the beginning of 2014. From the beginning it was clear that the implications for the future of Iraq’s cultural heritage are a major concern. In a packed room of approximately 80 people, Jabbar Jaffar (ICC) moderated the panel discussion.

The first speaker was Abdulameer Al-Dafar al-Hamdani, a member of the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage. ISIS has been gaining control over much of the north-western and western parts of Iraq, an area that includes approximately 4,000 important cultural heritage sites that are in immediate danger of being lost. In the Nineveh province these include the important sites of Ashur and Nimrud, Nineveh in Mosul, and the Mosul Museum. According to his information, because of security concerns and lack of guards, staff cannot check in on the sites, leaving many of the sites and institutions open for looters. We should be deeply concerned about Hatra, because of its isolation, and because the area has been used as a camp for ISIS training.

ISIS destroyed shrines 5 Beautiful Historic Shrines Destroyed Forever by Militants in Iraq
AP

The al-Askari shrine in Samarra, which was attacked in 2006, has become a target again. Among the shrines and tombs that have been destroyed (partly by bulldozers), are the tomb of the Mosul scholar and historian al-Jazari (1160-1233), the Tomb of Jonah on the Eastern side of Mosul, the shrine of Sheikh Fathi, the golden dome of the Shiite’s Saad bin Aqeel Husseiniya shrine, and the shrine of Imam Sultan bin Asim Abdullah ibn Umar, southeast of Mosul. Yesterday, two shrines in the Basheer village, some 15km south of Kirkuk were destroyed. Destruction is not limited to sites of Sunnite or Shiite worship.

Modern statues that have been targeted or destroyed include the statue of the poet Abu Tamman (c. 788-845) and the statue of the 19th century composer Othman al-Mousuli. Among other places of worship already destroyed are the Al-Jawad Husseiniya mosque in Tal Afar and the Al-Qubba Husseiniya mosque in Mosul, both important sites for Shiites. Eleven sites of Christian worship have been destroyed including the Chaldean archdiocese. A statue of the Virgin Mary in a church in Mosul was also destroyed. There are expectations that more is to come. Among the libraries lost is the Diyala Province Library where some 1,500 books were burned.

Mr. al-Hamdani ended his presentation with a call for cooperation from the international community. There are many legal frameworks and international protocols that prevent stolen artefacts from leaving the country. Iraq needs support from the surrounding countries including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey, but it also needs the help of dealers, collectors, and museums .They must pay particular attention to stopping the illicit trade in materials. We all must work together, as protecting Iraqi cultural heritage– the memory of humankind– is a global issue. On Wednesday, an official Iraq delegation asked UNESCO for immediate help.

The second speaker was Dr. Katharyn Hanson, Program Director for the Archaeological Site Preservation Program at the Iraqi Institute for the Conservation of Antiquities and Heritage in Erbil, Iraq. In her work, Dr. Hanson combines archaeology, remote sensing, and cultural heritage policy. Throughout her presentation, Dr. Hanson stressed the role of satellite images in documenting the ongoing looting of sites.  Dr. Hanson focused on the risks of (1) unregulated building activities, (2) damage caused by armed conflict, (3) targeted destruction and intentional damage, and (4) looting. Unregulated building activities were witnessed at Nineveh in 2005 and in Syria’s Dead Cities, which became a refugee crisis camp. Dr. Hanson spoke of other sites in Syria, including Palmyra, the crusader castle of Crac de Chevaliers in the western part of the nation, and Aleppo where damage was witnessed on a weekly basis in March 2013. Via the website of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) it is possible to assess images of the destruction. She addressed the situation at Tel Jifar, east of Apamea in Syria, which is now topped with a military garrison and where images show looting holes on the site.

In her report on looting, Dr. Hanson began with the looting of the Iraq Museum on April 10, 2003 and introduced the site of Umma, where some 18,000 looting pits have been identified via satellite imagery since 2003. Turning again to Syria, Dr. Hanson spoke about Apamea, where more than 15,000 looting pits have been identified. At this point, Dr. Hanson referred to the important role of the public media, which can help connect the links between looting and terrorism. The International Business Times and The Guardian reported on “How an arrest in Iraq revealed ISIS’s $2billion network.” Dr. Hanson stressed that the media has the power to reveal the fact that stolen artifacts are used to raise money for terrorist organizations.

The vast amount of money that can be raised through selling antiquities was illustrated by the case of the notorious Elamite lion goddess, which sold for $57.2 million at Sotheby’s auction house in December 2007.

Dr. Hanson then asked “What can we do?” Much of the looted material is still hidden at this point, but collections, dealers, and museums will eventually acquire these objects.

ISIS destroying mosques Destruction of places of worship across northern Iraq, in areas recently taken over by extremist militants.
AP

Therefore, Dr. Hanson stated, “Go to museums and private collectors, and ask – if the label does not say so—where an object is from! We need to decrease the demand in museums.”

Finally, Dr. Hanson stressed the role of the Blue Shield Organization, and mentioned current initiatives directed by the Penn Cultural Heritage Centre and the Smithsonian Institution, working in collaboration with the American Association for the Advancement of Science and other institutions. She also mentioned the effectiveness of the implementation of the UN Resolution 1483. Regarding Iraq’s antiquities laws, in 1926, it passed one of the best laws safeguarding antiquities (No. 40), and more recently in 2001, it added Law No. 55. The 1954 Hague convention addresses the protection of cultural, scientific, and artistic works during warfare. Iraq became a signatory in 1967. There are also US laws that specifically ban the import of such works.

The final speaker was Brian Michael Lione, Executive Director of University of Delaware Programs at the Iraqi Institute for the Conservation of Antiquities and Heritage (IICAH) in Erbil, Iraq which was first funded by the U.S. government and officially opened in 2010. Mr. Lione introduced the IICAH and provided a brief history of its activities. He focused on the collaboration of people and networks  and asked the audience to spread information about the Institute. The students at the Iraqi Institute at Erbil are diverse and represent all of Iraq. Typically, there are about 10 students per class. The first classes took place before the official opening in 2009. Approximately 200 students have attended the program since its opening. Courses focus on (1) archaeological site protection, (2) architectural site preservation and conservation of built heritage, and (3) collections care and conservation. Students also have the chance to study English. Outreach and expansion are major components, and several international institutions have become partners. A new course “Skills for Heritage Preservation” is planned for the fall 2014.

The panel presentations were followed by a Q&A session. Mr. Jaffar opened with questions to the panelists. “What have you as subject matter experts done to help?” Dr. Hanson was quick in replying. “Not enough!” The global scholarly community needs to be involved. Mr. Jaffar then asked, “With the military might of international community, why didn’t you stop ISIS before it started?” Questions from the audience addressed the role of the media and provided suggestions on how these reports of destruction might reach the press more easily as conflicts involving the protection of cultural heritage are still only marginally covered in international media.

One member of the audience asked about the particular role of the media in boosting ISIS. Recent reports have expressed doubt about the true extent of destruction. Mr. al-Hamdani said that he is in touch with colleagues in Mosul on a daily basis. Another audience member referred to the inspirational role of the “Monuments Men”. Dr. Hanson noted that while she understands the aesthetic appeal of many of the objects that are being looted, it is the context that we need to care about first, as looting destroys the only information we have about the origin of these works. According to Mr. al-Hamdani, it is clear that those who demand these artifacts share equal blame with ISIS which profits from their sale. Mr. al-Hamdani therefore asked Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey– the countries surrounding Iraq– to help with the problems, and noted the responsibility of the international community, particular dealers, collectors and museums.

The evening panel was a reminder for all of us to think about how we as individuals can help. The main task is to increase public awareness of the situation. The Iraqi State Board of Antiquities is in a difficult situation and needs your help spreading the word out about a growing disaster. Time is crucial as there is new damage every day. Our world cultural heritage is at stake.


Note: Please also view the discussion on twitter: #ICHP and 2009 report on the Mosul Museum

Special investigative techniques in contrasting trafficking and related offences against cultural property

The struggle against the illegal traffic in cultural goods would be more penetrating and successful if the issue was pursued by a “roving public prosecutor” — a role that I managed to perform with some success in the past. This prosecutor, in compliance with the laws of the requested1 country, and following standard forms of acquisition, should go into the places for the taking of the evidence and making investigations directly in the most important cases. This method has already been taken into account for the investigation of certain types of crime that would otherwise strain the budget of the European Union.2 I hope that in the nearest future the EPPO will be permitted to extend the public prosecutors competence to include offences relating to cultural goods: (a) to counteract the de-contextualization of cultural goods, especially those of “outstanding cultural importance”; (b) to eliminate the economic advantages that criminals seek through their traffic; and (c) investigating agencies should not exist only at customs barriers while criminality is free to move without borders or controls.

It should also be emphasized that investigations within the cultural sector are very peculiar and connected to larger criminal issues within communities3; and the transnational nature of organized crime offences against cultural goods requires — at least in the most complex cases — a quite new concept of co-management of investigation and prosecution: The so called “prolonged international coordination”, along with the contemporary use of special investigative powers. In other words, an international law enforcement structure must be organized in regional areas, especially when they have homogenous problems in fighting illicit cultural goods trafficking. And the countries composing those regional areas should create a co-management of entire investigative and prosecutorial process — for border countries at the very least — in order to analyse, compare and contrast trans-national offences within the cultural goods sector. Through these regional agreements, nations that are most affected by cultural goods crime can better exercise and coordinate juridical options and targets, and exert pressure from diplomatic, cultural and political leaders on nations that refuse to return objects that have been tainted by illegal dealings.

The struggle against the illegal traffic in cultural goods would be more penetrating and successful if the issue was pursued by a “roving public prosecutor”

International law enforcement structures should be characterized by the continuous and expanded exchange of intelligence and prolonged coordination or co-sharing of investigative activities4; thus creating and benefiting from a permanently established structure, both at the bilateral and multilateral level, to assist in specific investigations and, at the same time, assure a permanent channel of communication, will prove highly useful for information on operative modalities, to those who combat the trafficking in cultural goods’ and study these trends.

Adopting general agreements to establish joint investigative teams (JITs) is a privileged operative choice. In fact, a team of investigators and judicial authorities from two or more States, working together, have a better opportunity to defeat criminal organizations, as the establishment of a joint investigative team transforms bi-multilateral coordinated investigations into a single investigation. Obviously, a joint team implies the creation of a new international and official body and entails the existence of a national and international framework of norms5.

Generally speaking, provisions for simplifying the exchange of information and intelligence between law enforcement authorities must be implemented to prevent and combat crime “through closer cooperation between law enforcement authorities, while fully respecting the principles and rules relating to human rights and fundamental freedoms…..The exchange of information and intelligence on crime and criminal activities is the basis for law enforcement cooperation….”, and “the timely access to accurate and up to date information and intelligence is a crucial element for the possibility of law enforcement authorities to successfully detect, prevent and investigate crime or criminal activity” when they have a transnational dimension, as it often happens in cultural properties trafficking. As the activities of criminals in the art field are carried out clandestinely, they need to be controlled, and “information relating to them needs to be exchanged particularly expeditiously”6. Therefore, “it is necessary for law enforcement authorities to be able to request and obtain information and intelligence from other legal systems at different stages of investigation, from the phase of gathering criminal intelligence to the phase of criminal investigation”. In other words, law enforcement authorities should exchange “existing information and intelligence effectively and expeditiously for the purpose of conducting criminal investigations or criminal intelligence operations”. Therefore, “the conditions should not be stricter than those applicable at national level for providing and requesting information and intelligence”, and “the competent judicial authority of the requested State should apply the same rules for its decision, as in a purely internal case”7.

Joint investigative teams — compared to traditional forms of international assistance — can much improve the sharing of information and the coordination of investigative calibrated measures directly between JIT members without the need to resort to formal cumbersome rogatory letters8, and can be also be applied to more coercive measures, such as search and seizure orders. In brief, a JIT helps to overcome gaps and delays in the investigative phase, avoiding language barriers, facilitating exchange of specialized knowledge which is essential when combatting art crimes. Such a structure will build mutual trust, maintain a uniform level of attention to cultural offences, and create common targets between practitioners from different jurisdictions.

It should be stressed that the members of a joint team can be law enforcement officers as well as prosecutors or members of the judiciary. But, in art crimes investigations, subject matter experts must also be included, as their expertise facilitates prompt and in-depth analyses both of the cultural items as soon as they are recovered, and of the criminal phenomenon under investigation. In summary, even if JITs do not prove to be the most effective or appropriate tool in every transnational investigation, practitioners should be aware of their considerable benefits in any case.

At times joint investigations are conducted without the creation of a new body, and they consist in coordinated efforts with a common target. In this regard Article 19 to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime refers to joint investigations, not to joint teams, and seems to encourage the lesser measure of coordinated investigations whenever the institution of a new entity is not possible or necessary. Therefore, various international cooperation models for investigations and joint investigations could be envisaged, that is: (a) units randomly sharing common knowledge [as, for instance, in the so called police to police channels through which much essential information has been and continues to be shared]; (b) coordinated investigations by the Police which can involve also Judges and/or Public Prosecutors, either for a single criminal case, or for many, similar cases and/or even for a criminal phenomenon; and (c) joint investigation team, a choice priviliged by the above mentioned Article 19.

The Convention against Transnational Organized Crime also requires that “States Parties shall endeavor to cooperate within their means to respond to transnational organized crime committed through the use of modern technology”9. In particular, other investigative measures10 that could be useful to fight art crimes may consist of:

  • Verifying simulated acquisitions or sales. To allow investigators to constantly monitor the market and sometimes to act as a potential buyer is a useful tool, especially when controlling internet sales and localizing web sites and providers, realizing the availability of privileged access to law enforcement agencies;
  • Delaying the police intervention even in the face of crimes that have already been committed and arranging controlled deliveries, which ought to be allowed even abroad in the framework not only of a JIT but also of an international criminal investigations into cultural offences;
  • Covert investigations to be simultaneously accomplished in different States, and the countries involved should coordinate their efforts (for instance, setting up a JIT) and should make precise arrangements for the security of the undercover officers;
  • Allowing cross border surveillance even with the use of electronic devices. It is generally understood that police officers of one State who, within the framework of an international criminal investigation, are keeping under surveillance in their country a person who is presumed to have taken part in an art-crime, or a person who is strongly believed will lead them to the identification or location of the above-mentioned person and/or of his/her accomplices, of his/her criminal proceeds and/or of cultural objects illegally dealt, should be authorized to continue their surveillance in the territory of another State.

Obviously, the setting up of a JIT can facilitate the use of these operative tools, and it is understood that the officers conducting special investigative techniques must comply with the instructions of the authorities and with the laws of the State in whose territory they are performing their activities.

In brief, only through the creation of various cooperation models and the use of special investigative techniques can effective results be achieved to fight cultural illicit trafficking, especially with reference to the creation of common data banks and knowledge of the operative modalities adopted by criminals in the sector, with a response by way of internal and international investigatory activities.

The most important step in counteracting the illicit trafficking in cultural items will be made through efficient cooperation between all national and international institutions of the States.

As cultural items trafficking is mainly developed in foreign territories, a coordinated international effort to fight this phenomenon has become necessary and can be better achieved through coordinated investigations, exploiting the above mentioned models and measures. In fact, these models and special investigative techniques can improve investigators’ focus on:

(a) People and companies involved in cultural goods trafficking. Eventually a typology or net diagram or map will be drawn up of crime and criminals in this sector, as one consistent characteristic of the criminals involved in trafficking cultural items is that the individuals involved (at least at a certain level) are the same personages, are highly specialized and possess economic resources;

(b) The modus operandi, program and routes used by criminals, tracing the flow of illicit trafficking in cultural property. Case analysis and information on means of transport, methods of concealment used and links to other criminal activities and networks should also be provided; and

(c) Cultural items provenance and context, especially through the expertise of origin country’s experts. In this regard, it is important, when requiring international assistance trough rogatory letters or when setting up JITs or other model for joint investigations, to ask for and/or agree with the other States the origin country experts’ attendance, at least whenever a search warrant will have as its target the seizure of cultural goods11.

In conclusion, the most important step in counteracting the illicit trafficking in cultural items will be made through efficient cooperation between all national and international institutions of the States. A national prosecution service or — at the very least — a pool of prosecutors devoted to art crime investigations will greatly enhance such national and international cooperation. This specialized body should be preferably organized with national competences since illegal trade in cultural heritage often extends beyond regional and even national borders. A prosecution service acting on a national (or international) scale is better prepared to combat such wide-spreading crime.

The proposed national prosecution service will provide a comprehensive analysis of the art crime phenomena. It will make best use and provide a deeper understanding of the complex national and international legal regime that governs cultural property crime, which can involve many different disciplines, from international to constitutional law, and ecclesiastic, administrative, penal, and private law. Such a service would give law enforcement agencies a better knowledge of cultural property crimes and criminals and their highly sophisticated operative modalities, to provide better coordination with other, national and international law enforcement. This type of service could also be supportive of a permanent forum in developing policies specifically targeted at fighting criminal associations and facilitating repatriation claims. The benefits are many. The only unanswered question: does the will exist to make a national art crime prosecution service a reality?

Edited by Paul Kunkel, SAFE/Saving Antiquities for Everyone.

Graphic from “How to steal history?”

  1. Requested country is the State addressed usually by a rogatory letter, and it is tasked to perform investigatory activities proposed by the requesting country. []
  2. Article 86 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union provides for the possibility of establishing an European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) from Eurojust in order to combat crimes affecting the financial interests of the Union. []
  3. The individual targets of investigations and their final outcomes are often connected to collection of evidence used to defeat criminal organizations with a strong sense of belonging, which are usually deeply rooted into a given community. The “omertà” is increasing its involvement in these areas of criminal activity. Confidential tips from informants to the authorities are immediately rewarded by expulsion from the criminal group and exclusion from the benefits of its lucrative traffic. In addition, criminal organizations are often acting through many companies, well articulated in foreign territories and composed of multi-off-shore firms. At the same time, investigations in the cultural field have a wider spectrum, because the ordinary police activities must take into account other contradictory and conflicting aspects. Thus, the recovery of cultural goods could sometimes hinder the efforts to defeat and punish criminals, when, for instance, they make reprisals on cultural items to obtain impunity. []
  4. In this regard, under the auspices of U.N. (UNODC) Guidelines for crime prevention and criminal justice responses with respect to trafficking in cultural property and related offences, have been approved by the open-ended intergovernmental expert group meeting held in Vienna on 15-17th of January 2014. These Guidelines have been developed in recognition of the necessity to create law enforcement entities more complex than liaison officers. Such structures may offer to the officers of different States the possibility of working permanently in close cooperation. In particular: Guideline 30 requires that “States should consider enhancing coordination, both at national and international level, among law enforcement bodies in order to increase the probability of discovering and successfully investigating trafficking in cultural property and related offences”; Guideline 31 requires that “States may consider, in the investigation of the aforementioned offences, especially if related to organized crime, to allow for the appropriate use by their competent authorities of controlled delivery and other special investigative techniques, such as electronic or other forms of surveillance and undercover operations within their territory, and to allow for the admissibility in court of evidence derived therefrom”; Guideline 42 requires that “States should consider, where appropriate, in the framework of international judicial cooperation, enhancing exchange of information on previous convictions and ongoing investigations of trafficking in cultural property and related offences”; and Guideline 45 requires that “States should consider enhancing or establishing privileged channels of communication between their law enforcement agencies”. []
  5. In this regard, Article 19 to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime of 2000 (known as the Palermo Convention) should be fully considered. Joint investigation teams are also contemplated by Article 9 to the United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Vienna 1988) and by many treaties such as the Agreement on mutual legal assistance between the European Union and the United States of America (Washington D.C., 2003). At regional level, Article 20 to the Second Additional Protocol of the 2000 European Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters is the European legal framework for JITs. Other legislative and soft law interventions are the European Recommendation of 8 May 2003, as amended by the Council Resolution of 26 February 2010 on an E.U. Model Agreement for setting up a Joint Investigation Team, and the Joint Investigation Teams (JITs) Manual. []
  6. For instance, there should be common provisions on the fast execution of search, seizure and/or confiscation orders, thus avoiding difficulties and restrains which occur especially when the object is learned to disappear or after a few days to go up for auction; and bilateral or multilateral agreements for a model for search, seizure and confiscation requests should be encouraged. []
  7. See, the European Council Framework Decision 2006/960/JHA of 18 December 2006. []
  8. International cooperation through rogatory letters is a mechanism which allows for a wide range of assistance between States in the production of evidence. The assistance is generally rendered on the basis of bilateral or multilateral conventions that often require the fulfillment of the dual criminality or reciprocity requirement if the granting of assistance entails coercive or invasive measures, such as search and/or seizure orders. The point is to evaluate if the legal systems in question (the requesting and the requested ones) are compatible, and if, in particular, the rights of the fellow-citizens are not repressed in a way contrary to the public order of the requested system. []
  9. See, Article 27 to the Palermo Convention. See also Guidelines for crime prevention and criminal justice responses with respect to trafficking in cultural property and related offences, as previously reported. []
  10. Into the European Schengen area the Schengen acquis-Convention implementing the Schengen Agreement of 14 June 1985 envisages similar measures. In particular, Article 44 requires that: “In accordance with the relevant international agreements and account being taken of local circumstances and technical possibilities, the Contracting Parties shall install, in particular in border areas, telephone, radio, and telex lines and other direct links to facilitate police and customs cooperation, in particular for the timely transmission of information for the purposes of cross-border surveillance and hot pursuit. In addition to these short-term measures, they will in particular consider the following options: (a) exchanging equipment or posting liaison offers provided with appropriate radio equipment; (b) widening the frequency bands used in border areas; (c) establishing common links for police and customs service operating in these same areas; (d) coordinating their programs for the procurement of communications equipment, with a view to installing standardized and compatible communications systems”; and Article 46 states that: “In specific cases, each Contracting Party may, in compliance with its national law and without being so requested, send the Contracting Party concerned any information which may be important in helping it combat future crime and prevent offences against or threats to public policy and public security. Information shall be exchanged, without prejudice to the arrangements for cooperation in border areas…, via a central body to be designated. In particularly urgent cases, the exchange of information within the meaning of this Article may take place directly between the police authorities concerned, unless national provisions stipulate otherwise. The central body shall be informed of this as soon as possible.” []
  11. It happens that often the first but decisive appraisal of cultural items is made by foreign experts, whereas those coming by the origin country are obviously much more reliable, either in relation to such things as authenticity, rarity and historical or artistic importance, or in relation to the location of sites much exposed to grave robbing. Origin country experts are even able at rebuilding the specific context of the seized object as they can compare all its features (for instance, terrain encrustation, fractures in relation to different type of graves, etc.). They are also able at joining fragments of a cultural object (the so called orphans) found or separately seized with respect to their main part or core (the “mother”). In this respect, the criminal links of a conspiracy can sometimes be traced through the fragments of the object, analyzing the subdivision of the archaeological item amongst the various criminal associates. []

Cultural goods’ damage and related offences

The crime of damage is generally acknowledged as an important offence from the criminal point of view, and often is seriously punished.1 Consequently, this crime can be instrumental in gaining access to many legal systems to ask for “effective” international assistance.2

When an act of damage is committed against a cultural item, such an act has a degree of gravity that is limited not only to the economic value of the item concerned3. This damage also acquires a spiritual dimension whenever an irretrievable destruction of scientific, cultural, and historical knowledge occurs. In this respect, one should bear in mind that in order to find one important object in clandestine circumstances, it is often necessary for the looter to excavate ten or more tombs or as many archaeological sites. In the process, these sites are altered or destroyed. The sites and artefacts they contain are taken out of their archaeological context and definitively lost to scientific research. This results in irreparable cultural damage, because, as we know, every ancient site is unique. No two sites are the same. The knowledge of human history that can be gained from these sites is beyond calculation. And the number of intact archaeological sites in the world that can be scientifically researched is declining rapidly. For this reason, archaeological sites and artefacts constitute the ultimate non-renewable resource.

Often the symbolic significance of a cultural property transcends its economic value. This makes the damage that results from looting particularly serious and odious. It is nothing less than an attack on the identity and spiritual values that people entrust in their cultural property.

Often the symbolic significance of a cultural property transcends its economic value. This makes the damage that results from looting particularly serious and odious. It is nothing less than an attack on the identity and spiritual values that people entrust in their cultural property4. For this reason, the Recommendation for the Protection of Movable Cultural Property, adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO at its twentieth session held in Paris, 28 November 1978, should be recalled. In particular, this Recommendation states that “protection and the prevention of risks are much more important than compensation in the event of damage or loss, since the essential purpose is to preserve the cultural heritage, not to replace by sums of money objects which are irreplaceable”.

The removal of cultural goods from their original places leads to the loss of identity of roots, resulting in the loss of friendship amongst peoples, who today have the same dignity. Removal also causes loss of value for the objects themselves. We should stress that the value of cultural goods increases not merely because of their aesthetic qualities; their intrinsic value (in beauty and truth) increases even when they remain in their own natural (the so-called “soil archives”) and social environment((In other words, the return of a cultural good in its place of origin enhances the tangible and intangible heritage as well. In this respect, the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, adopted on 17 October, 2003, is relevant to the prevention of illicit traffic in cultural goods insofar this Convention aims to protecting the context and consequent damage that may result to it.)). Indeed when cultural goods are out of context, they lose their “soul”, both objectively and in the eyes of viewers. Even more so, they lose significance in the eyes of experts, who can very well satisfy their legitimate cultural and research interests by being able to have them on loan.

It should be noted that international jurisprudence has become more and more sensitive to these problems. Indeed some legal systems often give importance to damage of this nature: In particular, that resulting from the removal of the artifacts from their original place, thus destroying their intangible value. In this regard, the decision of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeal of Utah, in the trial against Earl Shumway5 seems to attach importance to any sort of damage caused by de-contextualization6. In fact, the Court — stressing how U.S. “Congress enacted the Archaeological Resources Protection Act to ensure for the present and future benefit of the American people, irreplaceable aspects of Native American history and culture” — states: “We agree with the district court that the paltry sum of $9,122, the asserted cost of the artifact’s fair market value and cost of restoration and repair fail to reflect adequately the extent of damage Mr. Shumway inflicted. The fair market value and cost of repair calculation were grossly insufficient to quantify the devastating and irremediable cultural, scientific and spiritual damage Mr. Shumway caused to the American people in general and to the Native American community in particular”.

The intangible value of an archaeological item also has significant economic ramifications, because an object without context is, obviously, less valuable than other items having a precise provenance and origin; verified provenance confirms the authenticity of a cultural item. which which increases the artifact’s monetary value.

The intangible value of an archaeological item also has significant economic ramifications, because an object without context is, obviously, less valuable than other items having a precise provenance and origin7; verified provenance confirms the authenticity of a cultural item (especially when published in an exhibition catalogue or magazine), which increases the artifact’s monetary value. Therefore, a cultural item without context because of looting activities8 is damaged for good, and the conduct that causes such damage should be everywhere considered and seriously punished. These aspects are fully considered by the Guidelines for crime prevention and criminal justice responses with respect to trafficking in cultural property and related offences, approved by the open-ended intergovernmental expert group meeting held in Vienna on 15-17th of January 2014, under the auspices of U.N. (UNODC). These Guidelines have been developed in recognition of the criminal character of the damage as offence and of its devastating consequences for the cultural heritage of humankind. In particular, according to Guideline 17, “States should consider introducing in their criminal legislation other offences….such as: damaging or vandalizing of cultural property”.

The crime of damage can be an indictable offence along with the offence of unauthorized excavation, very often being the cause of damage; and the context’s damage may trigger those legal measures otherwise not available to the requested9 country for the offence of illegal excavation, which is currently not punished in all legal systems.

Another crime in this sector is the illegal removal of archaeological items (known as looting) being this conduct very similar to theft. Both illegal excavation and looting activities are banned by the above mentioned Guidelines for crime prevention and criminal justice responses, and according to Guideline 16: “States should consider criminalizing, as serious offences, acts, such as, inter alia: …. looting of archaeological and cultural sites, and/or a criminal offence of illicit excavation”.

As stated, The removal of archaeological items not only has negative effects on the archaeological context and integrity of the site, which is often damaged for good, archaeological looting damages the object as well. For example, when a funerary object is stolen from a tomb in pristine condition, the object is damaged scientifically by being uprooted and separated from its setting; thus, it loses its identity and often its real significance. Also the other objects found in the same setting, left behind the looters, lose their value and importance. It is no longer possible to rebuild the whole that has been forever altered by the illegal excavation. So the damaging of a tomb involves not only the archaeological site, but also the object itself, as well as the remained objects that have not been uprooted from their environment.

No relevance should be given to the fact that in many legal systems a person cannot be prosecuted for damaging one’s own property. In fact, whether the country of origin vests true ownership of the site and of the items included in it, the juridical appraisal and entitlement must be effected and attributed according to the lex loci of the origin country where the acquisition relationship started. There is more. Even if the looting of archaeological sites is not a crime that is common to all legal systems, many legal systems do have an expansive meaning of the term “stolen”10, and in such cases, it does not seem fair to refuse “effective” international assistance, the requirement of reciprocity being fulfilled.

Indeed if the requested legal system evaluates the patrimony law of other countries, vesting true ownership of archaeological goods with the country of origin, the legal status of archaeological artefacts established as private property in the requested system, must be deemed without any relevance if the legislation of the goods’ country of origin asserts public ownership. This is especially true as the juridical appraisal and entitlement must be effected and attributed according to the lex loci of origin, that is the country of origin where the acquisition relationship started. Thus, any taking of the goods is made against the owner’s will (the State of origin) and constitutes theft or an act equivalent to this.

All the transactions related to illegally excavated archaeological objects are void as they have directly or indirectly infringed the international rules on this matter, as set by various international Conventions, recommendations and codes of behavior, which comprise the international public order or policy that has indisputably been drawn up in this field.

In addition, in a civil context, the transactions related to the objects appear vitiated as the goods in question come from an illicit act, at least from conducts causing damage to archaeological sites of the origin country, sites often belonging ex lege to the State. Therefore, all the transactions related to illegally excavated archaeological objects are void as they have directly or indirectly infringed the international rules on this matter, as set by various international Conventions, recommendations and codes of behavior, which comprise the international public order or policy that has indisputably been drawn up in this field.

In line with this opinion, the U.S. jurisprudence of the Schultz case11 and the U.K. jurisprudence of the case Republic of Iran v. Barakat Galleries Ltd12 should be recalled, as for many aspects these decisions constitute a breakthrough in common law legal systems and might have relevance in a civil and in a penal context as well.

Returning to the issue of international assistance, it should be stressed that, according to 16 U.S.C. Section 470ee (“prohibited acts and criminal penalties”) of the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979,13 the U.S. legal system shall punish (with a fine up to $100,000 or with imprisonment not more than five years, or both) any: “(a) Unauthorized excavation, removal, damage, alteration, or defacement of archaeological resources; (b) Trafficking in archeological resources the excavation or removal of which was wrongful under Federal law; (c) Trafficking in interstate or foreign commerce in archaeological resources the excavation, removal, sale, purchase, exchange, transportation or receipt of which was wrongful under State or local law”. In this respect, it seems fruitful to fully report the paragraph (c) of this Section 470ee, and “no person may sell, purchase, exchange, transport, receive, or offer to sell, purchase, or exchange, in interstate or foreign commerce, any archaeological resource excavated, removed, sold, purchased, exchanged, transported, or received in violation of any provision14, rule, regulation, ordinance, or permit in effect under State or local law”. And according to 16 U.S.C. Section 470bb “the term archaeological resource means any material remains of past human life or activities which are of archaeological interest, as determined under uniform regulations promulgated pursuant to this chapter. Such regulations containing such determination shall include, but not be limited to: Pottery, basketry, bottles, weapons, weapon projectiles, tools, structures or portions of structures, pit houses, rock paintings, rock carvings, intaglios, graves, human skeletal materials, or any portion or piece of any of the foregoing items. Non-fossilized and fossilized paleontological specimens, or any portion or piece thereof, shall not be considered archaeological resources, under the regulations under this paragraph, unless found in archaeological context. No item shall be treated as an archaeological resource under regulations under this paragraph unless such item is at least 100 years of age”15.

Moreover, according to 16 U.S.C. Section 470gg, rewards are to be allotted to any person who furnishes information that leads to the finding of a civil or criminal violation. In addition, “all archaeological resources with respect to which a violation of subsection (a), (b), or (c) of section 470ee of this title (16 U.S.C.A.) and which are in the possession of any person, and all vehicles and equipment of any person which were used in connection with such violation, may be subject to forfeiture”16 (anyway, honoring the 1970 UNESCO Convention, U.S. Authorities have always repatriated cultural items they have forfeited).

The United Kingdom system has recently introduced similar crimes thanks to the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 200317, and according to Section 1, “a person is guilty of an offence if he dishonestly deals in a cultural object that is tainted, knowing or believing that the object is tainted. It is immaterial whether he knows or believes that the object is a cultural object. A person guilty of the offence is liable on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding seven years or a fine (or both), on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum (or both)”.

This offence is designed to combat traffic in unlawfully removed cultural objects and, according to Section 2, a “Cultural object means an object of historical, architectural or archaeological interest. A cultural object is tainted if, after the commencement of this Act a person removes the object or he excavates the object, and the removal or excavation constitutes an offence. It is immaterial whether: (a) the removal or excavation was done in the United Kingdom or elsewhere; (b) the offence is committed under the law of a part of the United Kingdom or under the law of any other country or territory. Monument means: (a) any work, cave or excavation; (b) any site comprising the remains of any building or structure or of any work, cave or excavation; or (c) any site comprising, or comprising the remains of, any vehicle, vessel, aircraft or other movable structure, or part of any such thing. Remains include any trace or sign of the previous existence of the thing in question. It is immaterial whether: (a) a building, structure or work is above or below the surface of the land; or (b) a site is above or below water”. Therefore, this crime will be prosecuted and punished even if the cultural item has been plundered outside the U.K., and it will not be an obstacle that the law of other country or territory is contravened, provided an offence has been committed, even abroad. These provisions are also relevant to wrecks in international waters and criminal conducts made over the internet may also be caught by them. Moreover, there is no age threshold for cultural objects: But, in order to establish English jurisdiction, it is necessary that the act be agreed to or committed in the U.K., taking into consideration that inciting the commission of, or attempting or conspiring to commit will be sufficient to trigger prosecution for the offence in question.

According to Sections 3 and 4 to the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003, a “person deals in an object if (and only if) he or she: (a) acquires, disposes of, imports or exports it; (b) agrees with another to do an act mentioned in paragraph (a); or (c) makes arrangements under which another person does such an act or under which another person agrees with a third person to do such an act. Acquires means buys, hires, borrows or accepts. Disposes of means sells, lets on hire, lends or gives. In relation to agreeing or arranging to do an act, it is immaterial whether the act is agreed or arranged to take place in the United Kingdom or elsewhere”. Proceedings for an offence relating to the dealing in a tainted cultural object “may be instituted by order of the Commissioners of Customs and Excise, if it appears to them that the offence has involved the importation or exportation of such an object”.

The provisions of the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003 may also be applied to the offences committed by bodies corporate, and according to Section 5, “if an offence under section 1 committed by a body corporate is proved: (a) to have been committed with the consent or connivance of an officer; or (b) to be attributable to any neglect on his part, he (as well as the body corporate) is guilty of the offence and liable to be proceeded against and punished accordingly. Officer, in relation to a body corporate, means: (a) a director, manager, secretary or other similar officer of the body: (b) a person purporting to act in any such capacity”. Obviously, this Section is very important to fight auction houses’ insalubrious practices, encouraging transparency in the art trade.

In conclusion, it follows that all the aforementioned provisions allow a requesting authority to assert the reciprocity (that is the dual criminality requirement) that U.S.18 and U.K legal systems require in order to give “effective” international assistance, thus profitably investigating recurrent looting of archaeological objects and consequent damage that may result. Therefore, two of the major art market nations (U.S. and UK legal systems) should currently allow “effective” assistance, and their authorities, when requested, are obliged to answer positively to the investigations elicited by the requesting State, even if prosecution and/or assistance were not allowed before. In fact, the reciprocity requirement is to be valued at the time when the requesting authority asks for assistance, and not in relation to the time when the offences were committed.

Edited by Paul Kunkel, SAFE/Saving Antiquities for Everyone.

  1. For instance, in the English legal system causing criminal damage was originally a common law offence. Today criminal damage is contained in the Criminal Damage Act 1971, and punishment varies from a fixed penalty to life imprisonment. []
  2. The fulfillment of the dual criminality or reciprocity requirement is often prescribed if the granting of assistance entails coercive or invasive measures, such as search and/or seizure orders. In fact, the point is to evaluate if the legal systems in question (the requesting and the requested ones) are compatible, and if, in particular, the rights of the fellow-citizens are not repressed in a way contrary to the public order of the requested system. []
  3. At times the economic value of a cultural good can be increased by criminal conducts even when these acts result in its damaging. For instance, criminality earns greater profits in economic terms when illicitly excavated archeological objects, even when found intact, are deliberately fragmented. This practice reveals a studied and intentional sales policy on the part of mediators and traffickers, who put only a part of the vase on the market, thus increasing the price of the fragments with each sale. A similar case of criminal conduct is that in which a stolen painting is cut up so as to create different and apparently distinct works of art. This happens when the dimensions of the painting are large, as for example, in the case of a triptych or an altarpiece. When the object is composed of several lots, it is easier to sell and it also produces greater profits. []
  4. The International Criminal Tribunal on the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has followed this rationale in its decisions. []
  5. See United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit – 112 F.3d 1413, May 6, 1997. However, in a more general approach, UK jurisprudence upholds that “the damage need not be tangible or visible if it affects the value or performance of the property” (see, Cox v. Riley, 1986, 83 Cr App R 54); and when a “machine is damaged by removal of essential part, although if the constituent parts are not themselves damaged, it is important to charge damage to the machine” (see, Tacey -1821- Russ & Ry 452). []
  6. But damage can be also caused in the restoration process whenever the alterations are so great that they bring about changes into the essence of an original work by tampering with it trough, for instance, sectioning or adding or removing. []
  7. At times very famous archaeologists have made their appraisals even when the illicit provenance of the inspected items was evident. Moreover, traffickers were often requested to give information on sites’ provenance of the items they were about to sell, and at the disposal of criminals a huge photographic archive of archaeological objects was available, in order to prove context, site of origin and authenticity of the object. Further, archaeological items were frequently documented in Polaroid pictures depicting them just after excavation, and the Polaroid-type photos were taken to show the dig in process, thus presenting evidence of plunder and assuring the authenticity of the merchandise. []
  8. A cultural item is highly suspicious if dealers and/or professionals know very little about its provenance, place of origin, context and dating, that is the so called “clean bill of health” for cultural items. []
  9. The requested country is the State addressed usually by a rogatory letter, and it is tasked to perform investigatory activities proposed by the requesting country. []
  10. For instance, the U.S. jurisprudence held that even embezzled property is stolen within the NSPA (see, United States v. Handler, 142 F. 2d 351, 353, 2d Cir. 1944); and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in the Schultz decision (See, U.S. v. Frederick Schultz, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit 333 F. 3d 393; 2003 U.S. App. LEXIS 12834) stated that there is “an expansive meaning to the term stolen in the NSPA because the term stolen includes all felonious takings regardless of whether or not the theft constitutes common-law larceny”. Moreover, the fact that the antiquities were never possessed by the original owner should be deemed immaterial. []
  11. See, the previous note. []
  12. See, EWCA Civ. 1374, Case No: A2/2007/0902/QBENF, A2/2007/0902(A)/FC3; decision that harmonizes the UK to the U.S. judicial approaches, both system being oriented towards the status of national ownership of looted antiquities and towards the judicial recognition that illegal exportation clouds the title of the purchaser. []
  13. http://www.cr.nps.gov/local-law/fhpl_archrsrcsprot.pdf []
  14. That is, literally, even contrary to the UNESCO Conventions and/or the normative acts implementing these treaties. []
  15. This time limit of 100 years is the same as established by European Council Regulation (EEC) N° 3911/92 of 9 December 1992 on the export of cultural goods, and by European Council Directive 93/7/EEC of 15 March 1993 on the return of cultural objects unlawfully removed from the territory of a Member State. []
  16. Other statutes may be cited. For instance: The 18 U.S.C.A., Section 668 (Theft of Major Artwork); the 18 U.S.C.A., Sections 641 e 1361 (Theft and Injuring Government Property); the 16 U.S.C.A., Section 433 (Criminal punishment for persons who appropriate, excavate, injure or destroy any historic or prehistoric ruin or monument, or any object of antiquity, situated on lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States, without the permission); the 18 U.S.C.A., Section 1924 (Unauthorized Removal or Retention of Classified Documents). []
  17. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2003/27/contents. Other English provisions which make excavation, removal or other conducts unlawful are: 1) Removing part of a vessel or objects from a vessel in a restricted area, Section 1(3), Protection of Wrecks Act 1973; 2) Works affecting a scheduled monument, Section 2, Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979; 3) Destroying or damaging a protected monument, Section 28, Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979; 4) Operations in an area of archaeological importance, Section 35, Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979; 5) Removal of an object discovered with a metal detector in a protected place, Section 42, Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979; 6) Removal of remains of military vessels or aircraft, Section 2, Protection of Military Remains Act 1986; 7) Demolition or alteration of a listed building, Section 9, Planning Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas Act 1990; 8) Removal of part of a Wreck, Section 246 (3), Merchant Shipping Act 1995; 9) Removal of treasure finds, Section 8, Treasure Act 1996. However, these provisions (as indicated from point 1 to point 9) do not consider those illegal conducts serious arrestable offences, often the only crimes that could trigger a search warrant on the basis of an international request for assistance. Differently, a search warrant may be requested if the assistance is asked for criminal conducts similar to those punished by the Dealing in Cultural Objects -Offences- Act 2003. []
  18. As well as other legal systems, U.S. authorities require additional condition as for searches, that is: (a) a “probable cause to believe” the offence has been perpetrated; (b) That the goods constituting the evidence for which the requesting authority is proceeding may be found in the premises to be searched (other artworks having similar illicit provenance can be seized, resorting to the “plain view doctrine” of the U.S. jurisprudence,); (c) That the requested seizure is well-timed and is not likely that the cultural objects were taken away from the premises to be searched (that is, the “timeliness requirement” or “need of fresh evidence”). []

Why I would attend a SAFE Tour

On April 11, 12 and 13, 2014 SAFE Beacon Award winner, Dr. Monica Hanna will be giving guided museum tours of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Museum, focusing specifically on the Egyptian collections at both museums. 

Dr. Hanna will be joining the ranks of the various journalists, archeologists, museum specialists, and art historians who, since 2004, have been giving SAFE Tours and sharing their expert knowledge about different aspects of ancient objects and their greater context within the field of cultural heritage. As always, with each SAFE Tour, visitors are guaranteed a unique and engaging experience. You will find yourself delving into issues not covered by typical tour guides, such as those dealing with source countries and—potentially debatable—provenances of these ancient artifacts.

Now, I’m not sure how many of you are experts in Egyptian antiquities, but I know that I most certainly am not. Luckily for us though, Dr. Hanna’s expertise can provide a thorough and enriching take on Egypt’s cultural heritage. I myself have seen these collections before and I thought they were both amazing. Indeed, with the Met’s collection of 6,400 objects on view that date from the Paleolithic to the Roman period (ca. 300,000 B.C. – C.E. 4th century) and the Brooklyn Museum’s collection of over 1,000 objects on view that date from the Bronze Age to the Roman Period (ca. 4,000 B.C.E. – C.E. 4th century) I found myself thinking that I could spend an entire day at either location.

However, like any museum exhibit that I visit without much prior knowledge of the subject, there was only so much information that I was able to absorb by reading the information plaques. To be truthful, my main take away from each visit was more of an appreciation of the artifacts than an increase in my actual understanding of them. This is often why I try to take a friend who not only shares my passion for art and archaeology, but who also knows more than I do (or simply has a different area of expertise). If you’ve ever listened to someone who’s passionate about a piece or an artist while at a gallery, then you probably already know how infectious that enthusiasm is. Moreover, you know that you find yourself recalling tidbits about artworks or artifacts that would have otherwise been lost among the hundreds of other facts you read that day.

Brooklyn Museum of Art Brooklyn Museum
Richard Barnes/Polshek Partnership Architects

Thanks to Dr. Hanna, we now have the opportunity to have that very friend with us at the museum. A rising star in the field, Dr. Hanna received her Bachelor’s degree in Egyptology and Archaeological Chemistry from the American University in Cairo. She then went on to earn her Master’s in teaching English as a foreign language and later received her PhD in Archaeological Sciences from the University of Pisa in Italy. Furthermore, Dr. Hanna has been spearheading current efforts to safeguard Egypt’s heritage, with Betsy Hiel of the Tribune-Review hailing her as “a leader in exposing the looting of Egyptian antiquities.” The young archaeologist was also recently featured in Channel 4’s 2013 documentary, Unreported World: Egypt’s Tomb Raiders.

As both an Egyptologist and a native of Egypt, Dr. Hanna will bring the collections of the Met and the Brooklyn Museum to life as she gives a story-filled and enlightening tour of each collection. You will leave not only with a greater appreciation of these collections, but also a deeper understanding of these artifacts and the dangers they face within the greater context of Egypt’s cultural heritage.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art The Metropolitan Museum of Art
FindTheBest

Dr. Hanna will pose questions that we, ourselves, may not normally ask such as: from where have these ancient objects come? How did they get here? Who donated them or were they acquired by the museum? What was the expense? From her firsthand experience with looting and tomb raiders, Dr. Hanna knows all too well that not every artifact comes into a collection through expected means. She will be able to share her tales on how artifacts similar to the ones on display in these museums fall into the black market. As these are tours unlike any other, don’t miss your opportunity to be a part of this unique experience and reserve your tickets today.

 

Past and Present Working Together

Thanks to our sponsor Yadaweya, guests to the 2014 SAFE Beacon Award Dinner will be treated to a gift from the Egyptian online fair trade marketplace. This collaboration with SAFE provides the perfect opportunity to reflect on where the past and present cross paths and how this intersection can help preserve heritage of all kinds. To quote their website, Yadaweya “serves as a platform for those interested in discovering Egypt and its cultural heritage.” So not only does it provide artisans the opportunity to continue making their traditional crafts and preserve a skill set that has been passed down through the generations (such as the loom work in this video), it also educates consumers about the historical sites that are home to these artisan communities.

 

SAFE gift courtesy of Yadaweya Attendees to the SAFE Beacon Award Dinner were presented with a gift from Yadaweya

Twelve Egyptian heritage sites are featured on their web site, providing background information about the sites and the artisans that work in the area. By adding this human connection to the heritage sites, Yadaweya emphasizes a point that is sometimes forgotten: heritage sites are not only isolated structures in uninhabited lands.

Yadaweya has previously participated in SAFE Beacon Award Winner Monica Hanna’s campaign to protect the Dahshour site. To them, keeping history alive is vital to its survival. SAFE is pleased to collaborate with Yadaweya in our common cause of preserving heritage for all.

A Treasure Found … and Lost

The recently announced discovery of a hoard of late Roman (circa 407-406 AD) gold and silver objects — dug up by an unnamed metal detectorist in the forest near Ruelzheim, in Germany’s southwestern Rhineland-Palatinate state — is both thrilling and appalling.

The news is thrilling due to the nature of the hoard. The date of the objects makes the discovery unique in Germany. The importance of the objects in the hoard is second only to the 1868 discovery of a 1st century AD imperial Roman silver hoard known as the Hildesheim Treasure.

German-silver-bowl Silver bowl with stones set in gold, part of the “Ruelzheim Treasure”
DPA

The “Ruelzheim Treasure” reportedly consists of: three dozen solid gold pendants shaped like leaves (each with seven points); a large quantity of square pyramidal shaped gold buttons, which probably adorned a ceremonial tunic of Roman design; a silver-gilt dish cut into pieces in ancient times (probably to be sold as bullion); a solid silver bowl inlaid with semi-precious stones; a crumpled silver chest plate (probably used as decorative armor); several gold and silver statuettes; and — the most amazing survivor of all — a folding silver bench, known as a curule seat, which reportedly survived intact … that is, until the untrained individual with the metal detector tried to remove it from the ground and broke it into pieces.

News of the discovery is also appalling, not only due to the destroyed silver curule seat, but, more importantly, because the priceless information contained at the archeological site where the hoard was buried has been ruined by the metal detectorist, who removed everything of value that he could find. Soon the amateur was visited by German authorities after they learned that attempts were being made to sell the objects on the black market.

The objects were buried near an old Roman road at the time of an epic encounter known as the Battle of Mainz — which pitted the Franks against an alliance of Vandals, Suevi and Alans near the banks of the Rhine River. Thirty thousand Vandals were said to have been killed during the battle, which culminated on December 31, 406 when the Vandal alliance crossed the Rhine westward into Gaul, forever ending Roman military and political control in that part of Europe. Little wonder that someone—a fleeing Roman magistrate, petit royalty, or bandits perhaps?—would bury a gold and silver treasure near the side of a road but not survive long enough to retrieve it.

As valuable as the “Ruelzheim Treasure” may be in merchant circles, its archaeological and historical value would have been much greater if the integrity of the site had been maintained so that it could be scientifically excavated.

How much damage was done by the amateur with the metal detector? The importance of the various objects in relationship to one another may have been indicated by the burial arrangement. But the site has been destroyed, so that information is lost. Clues to the identity, rank  or status of its late 4th – early 5th century AD owner may have been deduced by archaeologists at the burial site. But the site has been destroyed, so that information is lost. Other items that may have existed at the burial site, such as ceremonial clothing and jewelry, have not been reported. The looter may have discarded or sold these items before the authorities found him.

The very idea that an amateur would discover a 5th century Roman silver curule seat, then destroy it by trying to pull it from a burial spot, boggles the mind.

As the History Blog tartly observes: “The site itself was deliberately damaged. Boy, would I love to see this thief prosecuted just for doing that.” Would anyone disagree?

Meanwhile, the search for artifacts and relics in German forests and fields by clandestine metal detectorists continues. More than 21,400 videos of these activities can be viewed on YouTube. Soon, the number of videos will equal the number of Vandals who died at the Battle of Mainz on the last day of December in the year 406 AD.

Curtailing the loss of cultural patrimony by curtailing demand

Three years ago, we made this appeal to the trade: [U]ntil order is restored, we believe that if the demand for Egyptian antiquities is curtailed, if not stopped, the loss of Egypt’s cultural patrimony during this tumultuous time would be curbed. We then conducted a poll on the question: “Should market countries stop buying antiquities from Egypt until order is restored?” Seventy-six percent responded “Yes”; and thirty-six percent went further by responding “Yes. Antiquities trade should stop, period.” What this informal poll shows is unequivocal.

Should market countries stop buying antiquities from Egypt survey results

The US remains a leading market for antiquities. A quick search for “Egyptian antiquities” on the eBay site at the time of this writing yielded more than 180 results, ranging from an “ancient silver pendant” selling for $5 to a “wooden sarcophagus” in a three-day auction with an opening price of $12,665.00, marked down from $14,000, available within 5 miles from midtown Manhattan zip code 10019. It is therefore welcome news to see that, according to this report in the Cairo Times, the world’s largest online auction site eBay has agreed with the US Egyptian Embassy to stop the sale of Egyptian antiquities. While it is unclear from the Cairo Times article if this agreement only applies to eBay in the US (what about eBay in Germany, Japan, etc.?) or when the sales ban will take effect, this is a significant move.

It is encouraging to see Egyptian authorities recognize that putting heat on major market players such as eBay is one way to curtail the loss of the world’s most precious nonrenewable resource.

SAFECORNER has addressed the concern regarding online auctions of antiquities for some time. We therefore applaud eBay for setting aside profit-making and joining the effort to save Egypt’s cultural patrimony, and our shared cultural heritage. We can only hope that eBay affiliates outside the U.S. will follow suit, e.g., by limiting or banning the sale of Cypriot artifacts on eBay Cyprus.

Khachkars and Icons: Looting in pre- and post-Soviet Armenia

Located on the piedmont of the Caucasus mountain range, the country of Armenia illustrates an interesting paradox. It is, on one hand, a nation-state born out of, and partly modeled by, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. However, it is also a country that dogmatically identifies itself with civilizations more than 2000 years-old, and defends the idea of an evolving yet continuous Armenian identity.

Armenia is a country with changing borders as it underwent several episodes of invasions by Ottomans, Russians, Persians. Overall, its modern situation is structured around several antagonistic claims with neighboring countries that have their roots both in long-term historical processes and recent geopolitical development. A recent war and conflicting territorial claims with Azerbaijan, political unrest with Turkey over the recognition of the 1915 Genocide and its support of the Azerbaijan as well as the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, and, despite, an exit from the Soviet Union more than 20 years ago, a complex and ambiguous relationship with Russia, are all factors that impacted Armenia’s cultural identity and heritage management.

Landlocked Armenia Landlocked Armenia
Google Earth

Amidst those invasions and torn territories, the Armenian identity was created and preserved through the development of specific features, i.e., religion and script. In 301 AD, Grigor Lusarovich (the “Illuminator”) made Christianity Armenia’s official state religion. This historical event placed Armenia at the heart of Christendom’s history, and the Christian religion at the core of Armenian identity. Consequently, increased religiosity following the collapse of the Soviet Union is a known and widespread phenomenon with particular meaning in Armenia as its Christian heritage has been predominantly emphasized, and, as such, the target of specific attacks.

More generally, changes in regime and social structure impacted the safeguard of cultural and historical objects, either because of their association with a particular ethnic/religious group, or simply as the object of international antiquities trade (and the ensuing looting activities), both aspects that have been going on for almost a century.

Destructive Ideologies

A particularly telling example is the fate of Armenia’s cultural heritage during the 1915 Genocide in modern Turkish territories. If the cost of the cultural destruction that occurred is still unknown several sources report destruction of books, and religious artifacts, using the term “cultural genocide”. Beyond such an expression is a desire to express a large-scale and institutionalized effort to erase Armenia’s presence from a given geographical space. Today, some websites (and even a youtube channel ) specialize in finding “treasures” in Armenian houses on Turkish territory that Armenians supposedly left while fleeing the country .

During the Nagorno-Karabakh war, damages occurring to cultural heritage, and looting/destruction of cultural artifacts were reported by both sides of the conflict. When Armenian news media described the looting of Armenian museums during the pogrom of Sumgait, Azerbaidjan media were denouncing the destruction of Azerii-associated heritage, archaeological artefacts, historical monuments, libraries, and even suggesting the organization of large-scale non-professional excavation of graves and burial mounds throughout Karabakh, and particularly Shusha. However, both sides widely publicize efforts to preserve any type of cultural heritage, although sometimes while modifying slightly the identity of the creator. Thus, the destructions occurring are a bilateral process, and both individual actions and institutionalized programs have been involved in destruction and preservation of South Caucasus heritage.

A Khachkar from Etchmiadzin A Khachkar from Etchmiadzin
armenica.org

The destruction of Khachkar in Nakhitchevan exemplifies a large-scale, institutionalized case of destruction. While not objects subject to the international antiquities market, the destruction and looting of those sculptures in Djulfa (or Jugha) calls for public awareness. Khachkars are situated at the border between artifact and monument. Part of the UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list since 2010, khachkars are carved stone steles representing crosses and closely associated with Armenian communities. In Armenia itself, there are more than 50,000 of those steles , bearing witness to more than 1500 years of transmitted traditions and know-how. The cemetery of Djulfa in the Autonomous Republic of Nakhitchevan was a medieval site with more than a thousand khachkars (up to 10,000 thousands). Despite denials by the Azerbaijani authorities, this destruction has been documented through testimonies, videos, and satellite imagery, as a recent study carried out by the AAAS showed the deliberate progressive destruction of the site since the early 2000s . The study was supported by amateur videos showing soldiers destroying the steles with a sledge-hammer. Despite support from the ICOMOS, the position adopted by UNESCO is unclear at best, and the Azerbaijan authorities have not only made any fact-finding mission in the area impossible, they’ve also denied the very existence of Armenian cultural heritage in this area which was, following their version, previously inhabited by Caucasian Albanians.

These examples illustrate one aspect of the looting and destruction of Armenian (and non-Armenian goods on Armenian territory) that took place during several episodes of unrest in the region. They resulted from the ideological struggle of conflicting nationalisms. However, other sources mention the existence of a different type of looting and destruction– one motivated by economic, financial imperatives, and aimed at providing Armenian cultural artifacts to the international antiquities market.

Icons for sale

The most prominent aspect is the traffic of religious icons that has been taking place for at least 40 years. Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, several sources revealed the existence of an almost institutionalized traffic, connecting western art dealers with local mafia across the USSR.

Michel van Rijn makes mention of this system in his autobiography, that stands out for its absolute lack of remorse, and by its insights into the world of the international antiquities market. That market relied both on the structures developed by the USSR to acquire some currency, and on the fate of church property during the XXth century in this part of the world.

Novoexport (Новоэкспорт) was an enterprise set up by the government to sell goods from the Union to foreign visitors. This initiative was developed during the Perestroïka in order to keep the state reserves afloat by selling “overpriced rubbish” (Van Rijn 1991) to westerners. As with most other Soviet institutions, Novoexport shops were accompanied by a tedious bureaucratic system that provided each item with excessively stamped paperwork certifying its origin, authenticity, mode of acquisition, etc… Art dealers who bought the worthless items sold by Novoexport were provided with valid documentation to carry objects out of the Soviet Union.

Virgin and Child Icon, Naghash Hovnat'an The Virgin and Child Icon, Naghash Hovnat’an, 17th century
Melkianicollection.com

Van Rijn met Dergazarian, an icon dealer in Beirut, Lebanon, at some point in the 1980s. Dergarzarian, an Armenian, introduced to the art dealer the infinite business possibilities offered by the “treasure trove” Armenia was, both in terms of its cultural wealth and the ease with which they could be smuggled out of the country. Soon, the two collaborators flew to Yerevan in order to meet with the local intelligentsia, diplomats, and local KGB agents largely involved in the traffic. Business, it seems, was done with “rubles and French brandy”. At this point van Rijn not only realized the potential for business, but also the scale of the traffic. The scheme was fairly simple. First, van Rijn needed to acquire a valuable icon. This was done through his contact with the Armenian mafia whose members he met through Dergazarian. In order to gain their trust, van Rijn also starts dealing with human trafficking, smuggling people out of the Soviet Union. Let’s note here that it is not unexpected to see antiquities associated with other “items”like (as it is the case in Cyprus) heroin. In Armenia, this dual trade was managed by the local mafia. Through them by the time of the Perestroika, van Rijn had access to an extensive and efficient network and stock of different types of artefacts, mostly icons. He would find an icon with equivalent features (size, theme) in one of the Novoexport shops and simply use the official license to launder and export the illicit goods to Europe (another technique consisted in modifying custom declaration forms in Poland)

This was far from being an isolated case. During the economic reforms of the 80s, dealers bought private antiquities that they exported through diverse methods in western countries, as people seemed willing to sell their family treasures– mostly 18th- 19th century icons– on the black market. Officials at all levels of the hierarchy were involved in this trade including Russian administrators and foreign diplomats. Van Rijn mentions the case of a Finnish diplomat stopped at the border where Russian customs, neglecting the diplomatic status of the suspect, found undeclared antique goods in his luggage. In Russia, the smuggling of cultural contraband is a criminal offense under the Part 2 of Art. 188 of the Criminal Code.

Religious icons are still the object of an intense traffic– especially from the Caucasus region. Last year, an Israeli citizen was caught at the Armenian-Georgian border , trying to smuggle out eighteen undeclared, unlicensed icons. A few years earlier Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev gave to visiting President Medvedev five russian icons confiscated by the customs. In 2009, in the region of Krasnodar, the customs police arrested an Armenian citizen who was trying to smuggle two “ancient icons” into  Ukraine after covering them with a layer of mastic .

These are only a few examples of a long-lasting traffic. If national and international regulations have improved the situation, much is left to be done, both at the level of local protection and on the international antiquities market. Furthermore, this market creates a demand for Armenian antiquities, and a structure for its illicit exportation, thus encouraging destructive behaviors in museums and archaeological sites.

Treasure hunt

Indeed these institutional issues have an impact at another level. In parallel to the smuggling of religious art, other types of destruction take place resulting in damages to the archaeological sites themselves.

The development of archaeological projects in Armenia led to the emergence of treasure hunting. A UCLA news report noted that, after the discovery in Areni cave of the world’s “oldest shoe”, some reporters said that they were looking for shoes filled with gold, “which sparkled a wild looting spree throughout the country” . Indeed, whether related to this particular case or not, several cases of looting of archaeological sites have been witnessed in Areni by the project team and at least at two other locations by the author. At one of those sites, a group of people from the neighboring village explained that they were looking for burial, gold, and old objects in order to sell them. On two occasions, archaeological artifacts (bronze daggers, prehistoric pottery) were identified on the stands of the “Vernissage”, the flee market of Yerevan.

In any country this phenomenon would be an unfortunate yet possible outcome of the development of archaeology and broader access by the public to its results. However, the UCLA news highlights some of the outreach projects planned by the international team in Areni to sensitize the local communities to the value of their heritage.

Several types of destruction have been presented here. Some are the result of nationalism and ideological struggle, while others answer to an international demand for antiquities. In parallel with a more systematic enforcement of international laws and an adaptation of legislation regulating existing loopholes in local criminal codes, cultural heritage professionals, art historians, and archaeologists need to keep developing projects which integrate local communities in their research and encourage an ever-increasing commitment of the public to the protection of its history.

Laundering phenomena in cultural goods trafficking

The laundering of cultural goods has become such a widespread and insidious phenomenon that it should be a separate discipline unto itself, if only to resolve certain jurisdictional problems. Indeed, cultural goods are often subject to real or fictitious manipulations aimed either at removing or hiding their true origin and provenance or obscuring their illicit exportation to a foreign territory. Both of these actions usually constitute the crime of laundering.

Laundering has recently been sanctioned in many legal systems as a form of criminal conduct, and in the near future these sanctions may receive wider application with respect to cultural property. This application will also be of more practical use to combat the offense of handling (from which laundering most certainly derives), because in many legal systems, the knowledge of the criminal provenance of the received good is required in order to prove the offense of handling. Therefore, it follows that “to turn a blind eye” is not always sufficient to assert a defendant’s criminal responsibility, on the basis of the title of the offense of handling. On the other hand, in order to charge the offense of laundering, it is often sufficient that the defendant have “reasonable grounds to suspect” the illegal provenance of the goods, and that he/she strives to conceal this provenance. Thus, the mens rea (intent) of the offenses in question (handling and laundering) may be different; but the required intent is easier to demonstrate in cases that involve laundering.

Moreover, while in many legal systems the offense of handling can exist only if this crime has a specific crime as its base offense[1]; on the contrary, laundering can be indicted insofar as it is proven that the provenance of the goods is illegal.[2]

Laundering is a useful crime to prosecute, both because, at both a global and European level, many legal instruments such as the 2000 United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (see list of states party) and the 1990 Strasbourg Convention on Laundering, Search, Seizure and Confiscation of the Proceeds from Crime (see list of states party) offer a series of very strong powers, up to and including the confiscation of the property and/or profits[3]. In addition, due to the exact definition of what constitutes the offense of laundering, the cases in which this offense is perpetrated will be more and more frequent in the future.

In particular, the U.N. Convention’s provisions may prove useful if they are applied to the laundering operations that exist in the antiquities trade. As observed, where cultural property is looted in a source State, stolen, illegally exported abroad or imported using some of the techniques that are described below: the cultural artifact may be defined as property which constitutes the proceeds of a crime, and the Convention requires States Party to establish criminal offenses that penalize the intentional transfer of ownership or concealment of origin of such property (Article 6).[4] States Party are also required to establish measures to enable the seizure of such proceeds of crime, identify and trace property which may qualify as such proceeds (Article 12); respond to requests for confiscation by other State Parties (Article 13); and extradite suspected offenders (Article 16), even where the organized transnational character has not yet been completely established or the defendant has a marginal involvement into a criminal transnational organization. Moreover, according to this Convention, States Party should engage in the widest measures of mutual legal assistance (Article 18), consider conducting joint investigations (Article 19) and other measures of law enforcement cooperation (Article 27), and develop specialist training for law enforcement personnel (Article 29).

Antiquities laundering Laundering, as a crime, should occur not only in the light of monetary circumstances, but also when the nature and/or the provenance of a cultural object of illicit acquisition are altered
SAFE

It now behooves me to underline that, according to a shared experience, antiquities are often chosen by criminals in order to launder the proceeds of their crimes. In fact, there is increasing evidence that drugs barons and other offenders are able to launder their money by taking advantage of the ethical and legal twilight in which the international illicit trade in antiquities operates.[5]

Illicitly acquired cultural goods have even been used in a number of cases to obtain loans. When the loans are not repaid, the works of art end up in the vaults of the lending institution. Thus the objects are not only laundered; they lose their educational-cultural values as well.

In many cases, as Simon Mackenzie has observed, “the illicit market for antiquities operates hand in hand with a perfectly licit market. And traffickers in antiquities often find an established open and legal structure in market countries for selling those goods, which through chains of dealers and action houses operates very effectively to maximize the price which can be obtained for art and antiquities.”[6] This is in sharp contrast with the illicit trade in drugs, where the products for sale and market structures are almost always tainted with illegality. In other words, in the illicit drug trade, there is no need for a process of obscuring the drugs’ country of origin and no need to transform the goods’ ownership history, because the goods themselves are illegal on the supply side, on the demand side, and at every point in between. The same is not necessarily true for the illicit traffic in antiquities, which is handled in ways that are similar to the weapons’ trade, where lawful structures and transactions may be used to clothe illegal dealing. Obviously, as the co-mingling between illicit and licit markets becomes more sophisticated and intertwined, the more difficult will be the investigations that are necessary to prosecute these crimes.

Laundering, as a crime, should occur not only in the light of monetary circumstances, but also when the nature and/or the provenance of a cultural object of illicit acquisition are altered[7]. Let me explain this. Many of the triangulations by which cultural goods are physically transferred abroad[8] (exclusively for the purpose of hiding their true provenance), should be re-examined and condemned in view of the issue under discussion. That is: Laundering. Generally, such triangulations are carried out for the purpose of hiding the illegal provenance and relocating the artistic objects to a foreign jurisdiction, especially where the norms are more permissive, thus permitting the eventual marketing and sale of these objects in markets that offer the highest profits[9].

In fact, cultural goods are often exported to those countries which have not ratified the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (see list of states party)[10]. These countries are chosen precisely because, from that location, the goods can be transported again and resurface in States that have ratified the 1970 UNESCO Convention, with the obvious advantage that the cultural goods will not be subject to the controls and limitations in force in cases of import-export between two countries which have both signed these agreements[11].

As Stefano Manacorda has suggested, a multi-national response must be implemented to prevent cultural goods in countries with a stringent export regime from being transported to more liberal regimes, where it is very easy to obtain the required licenses, with few formal checks in place.

Most countries, acting alone, cannot tackle all the triangulations. And according to the shared experience of those who have tackled this problem in recent years, it is pointless for market countries to impose restrictions if source countries and intermediary countries do not impose similar restrictions, because the market will simply shift from one location to another, and the problem will not be solved.

As Stefano Manacorda has suggested, a multi-national response must be implemented to prevent cultural goods in countries with a stringent export regime from being transported to more liberal regimes, where it is very easy to obtain the required licenses, with few formal checks in place[12].

As Neil Brodie has observed, “on occasion, the licensing system in nations such as the UK has been abused in a different way, when for instance exporters have submitted recently imported antiquities for Waverley judgment,”[13] [14]—in effect, submitting to a more stringent process, with the intention to acquire a false provenance (i.e., to locate the cultural items in Britain for more than 50 years).

In addition, these cultural goods are often illicitly exported to another country that is less interested in such items because of their different cultural significance. Indeed, in the importer country those cultural goods often don’t satisfy the artistic criteria as prescribed by its department of national heritage and the export licensing unit will not object to the granting of a license, which would not be granted by the country of provenance[15].

Obviously, all the licenses so obtained serve to bolster the provenance of cultural items that the criminals know full well to be of illegitimate exportation. In this respect, it has been stressed that government department concerned with export licenses or even tax concessions should check provenance of cultural goods which are submitted to them, therefore informing the country of origin whenever appropriate. While this does happen sometimes, this practice should be implemented internationally.

We must also point out that the laundering process adopted by criminals does not only include concealing or disguising the source, location or movement of cultural property. In fact, another particularly insidious form of conduct has unfortunately become widespread within this sector of criminality.

At times, illicitly excavated archeological objects, even when found intact, are deliberately fragmented, or, if found in fragments, are deliberately not restored. Such conduct, which might at first appear to be against the interests of those who commercialize archeological artifacts, is instead useful to criminals who operate in this field. The exportation is, in fact, easier, because a fragmented object can be hidden more easily; and in general, fragments do not attract attention at customs controls, because little value is attributed to them. Usually, customs officials are not experts and do not appreciate the importance of the artifact fragment, which can be underestimated even by experts[16].

Frequently the fragments are subdivided amongst the various participants of a criminal group. By so doing, the group achieves three results: They split the loot of the illicit activity, and they reinforce the ties that link the members of the conspiracy[17]. On top of that, paradoxically, the criminal organization earns greater profits in economic terms, thereby creating a strong and often extortionist bond with the buyers.

Thus, the purchaser becomes part of a dangerous system of sales of fragments, mostly of vases. Generally the vases are of the highest quality and destined to be recomposed, in part or entirely, within a matter of years. This practice reveals a studied and intentional sales policy on the part of mediators and traffickers, who put only a part of the vase on the market, thus increasing the price of each new fragment that appears, making the piece more complete. At times they are used as promotion for other sales.

The purchase of these fragments, (in tomb-robber’s jargon, the so-called “orphans”[18]) which are re-assembled to complete an object of which the principal part is already in someone’s possession, enables the seller to sell, and the purchaser to acquire, as much of the object as much possible.

In this scenario, the purchaser of such fragmented objects not only avoids suspicion, and resulting criticism that comes from acquiring an important object with an illicit provenance, the purchaser even appears to be meritorious, for contributing to the “rescue” of a cultural object that would otherwise be condemned to disappear. According to this often-repeated justification, such purchasers serve as “repositories of last resort”. But this scenario also involves risk. For one thing, when purchasing cultural artifacts in fragments, it is impossible to know the total price of the object until the final fragment that completes the piece changes hands, at which point the price may be very high indeed. And if the seller is apprehended and a fragment is discovered in the seller’s possession that matches other recently sold fragments, the buyer may be forced to return the still-incomplete item.

It is both obvious and significant that the purchasers of these fragmented objects are not immune to censure[19], since the acquisition of artifact fragments without clear provenance can only come from clandestine excavation. Indeed, the market for legitimate acquisitions offers artifacts that for the most part are complete, with accompanying certification and research.

A similar case of criminal conduct is that in which a stolen painting is cut up so as to create different and apparently distinct works of art. This happens when the dimensions of the painting are large, as for example, in the case of a triptych or an altarpiece.  When the object is composed of several lots, it is easier to sell and produces greater profits. In addition, the different compositions thus created, become an obstacle for the research of the goods, precisely because it is not easy to compare the objects that finally reappear, with photographs of the originals. And it is even more difficult if, as is usually the case, the object has been touched up and restored, thus obscuring the illicit provenance of each portion (experts are at times helped in their investigative research by posture and orientation, in appearance, faces, etc. of the figures depicted, and thereby get an indication of the dismembering of the object).

Another expedient, used by criminals who operate in this field, is to touch up or otherwise disguise a cultural good over certain age and/or monetary limits, thus obscuring its national importance.  In this situation, when the dishonest dealer applies for an export license, the export adviser for the export licensing unit does not object to the granting of a license, because he or she does not believe that the cultural good satisfies one or more of the artistic and/or economic criteria as prescribed by the exporter country or by its department of national heritage.

Amenhotep III dipped in clear plastic and painted to look like tourist souvenir
Archaeology Magazine
(Left) sculptured head of 18th Dynasty pharaoh Amenhotep III was dipped in clear plastic and painted to look like tourist souvenir (right) by Tokeley-Parry, and sold in 1993 for $1.2 million

In this regard, we can remember the Schultz’s case discussed before the Southern District Court of New York[20]. The facts of this case are quite interesting[21]. As Ildiko Pogany DeAngelis has noted, “Frederick Schultz, a New York dealer and president of an ancient art gallery, arranged to purchase smuggled antiquities from a British restorer by the name of Jonathan Tokeley-Parry who reportedly smuggled more than 3,000 antiquities out of Egypt during the early 1990’s. His method was to make the objects look like cheap reproductions by covering them in plastic and then applying gold leaf and black paint.”[22]

After the cultural objects cleared British customs, Tokeley-Parry restored and sold them on the international art market with Schultz’s help. Furthermore, the Tokeley-Parry/Schultz team created fake documentation for the objects in order to have them as originating from an old collection, called the Thomas Alcock Collection, dating from the 1920’s. Labels for the collection were dipped in tea to give them an aged appearance, and Tokeley-Parry also restored some of the items using a method popular in the 1920’s.

These are the facts, and according to U.S. experts the Schultz’s case is important because after this case there seems to be little doubt that ignoring or dismissing patrimony laws of foreign country has to be deemed reckless and information about where and when the object originated, knowledge of the scope, effective dates and enforcement history of applicable foreign patrimony laws are no longer optional but necessary to avoid U.S. federal criminal liability.

In the civil context, the Schultz case has additional implications. According to a shared opinion, “title to undocumented antiquities can be subject to challenge by countries of origin in civil cases brought in the United States basing ownership on patrimony laws: The burden on a source country will be to prove ownership via the patrimony law and removal of the State owned object across its border after the ownership vesting statute was enacted. No proof of guilty knowledge of the law will be required.”[23], [24]

Thus, as assessed, countries of origin will now have ample incentive to quickly pass or amend and effectively enforce patrimony laws to ensure that they will be recognized by U.S. courts. In fact, as the Schultz case indicates, the U.S. Court will not consider foreign ownership laws to be enforceable if the laws are judged to be void due to vagueness, i.e. confusing, unclear and ineffective[25].

As Ildiko Pogany DeAngelis has observed, “source countries should be increasing their efforts to document antiquities within their borders, including those legally excavated, in private hands, and in public collections, so that every undocumented object removed after the enactment of the patrimony law may be identified by default to have been looted from an unexcavated site”. In addition, the problem of tracing cultural items to the modern day borders of a source country for civil restitution (generally speaking, it is not sufficient to say that they are State-owned because they come, for instance, from the Mediterranean area) can be successfully overcome, says DeAngelis, “if bordering countries agree to cooperate on such recovery efforts and seek return of objects as joint plaintiff.”[26]

Summing up, in the Schultz case, the U.S. Court believes that, when necessary, their Courts can evaluate foreign patrimony laws to determine whether their language and enforcement indicate they are intended to assert true ownership of certain cultural property, and thus create a barrier to the importation of cultural goods owned by a foreign government: Because there is no reason that property stolen from a foreign country should be treated any differently from property stolen from a foreign museum or private home[27].

In other words, in the Schultz case the U.S. Court applied the same principles as established by Allstate Ins. Co. v. Hague, 449 U.S. 302 (1980) decision, which says “for a State’s substantive law to be selected in a constitutionally permissible manner, that State must have a significant contact or significant aggregation of contacts, creating State interests, such that choice of its law is neither arbitrary nor fundamentally unfair”. Obviously, the cultural heritage of a given nation involves contacts that are as strong and significant to the State of origin as required by this case law. Recently, these same principles have been asserted by the Supreme Court of Appeal of England and Wales in the case Republic of Iran v. Barakat Galleries Ltd.

Let’s take a moment to look at other types of laundering operations. One example involves the export of cultural goods, hiding their true context, by belonging to a collection[28]. In many jurisdictions, the export licensing unit will deny a license, regardless of the importance of a particular item, if the artifact is presented as having a relationship with other goods.

Another type of laundering occurs when a cultural item is fictitiously exported in place of a similar object for which export license was obtained. This activity is especially common with respect to serial goods, such as coins or prints.

Other times, to bolster the legitimate provenance of a cultural item which the criminals know full well to be of illegitimate acquisition, the owner may request notification from data banks, such as IFAR (International Foundation for Art Research) in New York, or the ALR (Art Loss Register) in London, which document stolen works of art in their archives. Obviously, if an archaeological artifact is the fruit of clandestine excavations, the resulting research on its criminal provenance will be negative, since it can never have been registered as a stolen object. Even so, by obtaining an IFAR or ALR report, the dishonest dealer (including those who have been found to be in possession of photographs of the excavation[29]), can always show his/her buyer[30] the certificate. And should he/she be questioned, he will have the excuse and documents to sustain his good faith, since he/she had done all that was apparently “possible” to certify the licit provenance of the cultural object. In addition, the notification from data banks will report all the details given by the criminals and, as a result, the forged provenance of the artifact will appear to have been validated.

As Ildiko Pogany DeAngelis has observed, “source countries should be increasing their efforts to document antiquities within their borders, including those legally excavated, in private hands, and in public collections, so that every undocumented object removed after the enactment of the patrimony law may be identified by default to have been looted from an unexcavated site.”

Frequently, that same delinquency “introduces” a cultural good fictitiously into a private collection in order to confer upon it a legitimate provenance and thereby conceal its recent discovery in a clandestine excavation. This occurs especially with respect to serial goods (such as coins), or with collections that are not entirely documented. And one cannot forget that authentic artifacts can be substituted by fake ones, and that such collections can be quickly dismembered following the sale of the most valuable pieces. One should also not underestimate how large these collections can become during the very short time before the selling begins.

This form of laundering is the direct result of past museum policies. For instance, in 1996, shortly after the J. Paul Getty Museum passed a new policy, it acquired a large collection of more than 300 objects of Greek, Roman, and Etruscan origin from a private collector, and as Ildiko Pogany DeAngelis observed, “provenience for 90 percent of these objects was unknown. The documentation relied upon by the Getty was the museum’s own catalog from a loaned exhibition that it held a few years earlier.”[31]

As assessed, critics (and a penal prosecution in Italy) accused the Getty of manufacturing documentation to satisfy its own requirements for provenance and thereby tacitly condoning the flow of illegal antiquities[32].

However, in the penal context to maintain that the cultural goods themselves come from that collection, whereas they in fact never belonged to that universitas,[33] can in itself be considered and punished as an act of laundering.

Another safety measure that the dealer takes is that he/she loans the item to a museum, for a certain period of time. Once the loan period is over, the dealer can say that no claims have been raised by any third party during that time (the statute of limitation is usually very short because the item has been on public exhibition). This type of “ancient art laundering” was a successful practice among museums for many years, and criminals on purpose loaned the items in favour of less-known museums, before selling them to major museums.

To put an object up for auction for the purpose of selling it and repurchasing it through a front[34] or through a company of convenience is a fictitious act, aimed exclusively at “laundering” the object – the primary objective[35]- and thus attributing to it a value that is inherently false and arbitrary. Such conduct is particularly insidious, because it can alter the market value of an entire class of objects[36] (values of individual objects are often uncertain and are often determined by comparison with other works of equal cultural interest), or because, for acquisitions made on the “overt market”, the so called time limit (that is, the time one has to take action to claim the object) is very short.

In this respect, it must be stressed that the most important auctioneers currently have due diligence programs in place that should minimize the risk of selling looted art. As Thomas Kline and L. Eden Burgess have observed, “Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Austria’s Dorotheum have adopted such procedures, at least formally. But these firms remain the exception in the art market. Many smaller houses and private dealers, lacking either interest or resources, have yet to implement such checks on provenance. How to close the ‘due diligence gap’ remains an important question for art market professionals, governments and others, since many cultural items are not of high value and thus do not necessarily move through Sotheby’s, Christie’s or other premier auctioneers or dealers.”[37]

We must also stress that, at present, many of the codes of conduct concerning auction houses’ dealings require them to establish “to the best of their ability, that the objects they are dealing with or putting on sale are not stolen from excavations”. Obviously it is not possible to make good on this pledge: (a) when their sale catalogs provide no certain provenance, and only vague indications of ownership for many pieces; (b) when the items appear documented in Polaroids or other pictures depicting them just after excavation and, anyway, neither in scientific contexts nor referable to reputable collectors contexts; (c) when the same goods have never been ever studied, catalogued and inventoried by competent Authorities in their country of origin, which should be the case for objects discovered at authorized excavations, and (d) when their export has never been authorized by the Authorities of the country of origin (in this respect, the lack of suitable certification adds argument to their illicit trading).

Abiding by these codes of conduct, the dealers and/or auction house staff should be certain of the licit circulation and have no doubt about provenance: Indeed, according to their own ethical codes, these firms must have positive evidence of clear, genuine and licit provenance in order to vaunt good faith that is necessary to proper dealing. Yet this is frequently not taken into consideration by dealers and staff of many important and/or small auction’s houses. With proper international checks, the required information could be verified and “bad actors” prohibited and punished.

All the above leads us to conclude, without hesitation, that targeted regulation of the crime of laundering is indispensable, particularly when such criminal conduct trades in cultural goods, where laundering mechanisms and maneuvers are so numerous and the profit potential is so high, The establishment of an independent, international anti-laundering agency to monitor the art trade is a method that national and international law enforcement agencies would do well to consider.

Finally, as noted in the preparatory agenda proposing a model law for the protection cultural property to the UNIDROIT Governing Council, “many of the above mentioned laundering maneuvers and mechanisms take place thanks to the permeability of inter-state borders, to the greater fluidity of communications and to the emergence of new markets and purchasers.”[38] In other words, among the many costs and benefits of globalization and trade liberalization, we should count the global trade in cultural goods, i.e., an issue of ever increasing proportion.


[1] For instance, the English legal system acknowledges the offense of handling only if the provisions of the Theft Act are infringed.

[2] Both laundering and handling require that a crime be committed before receiving the goods. But the base or predicate offense (i.e., the crime committed prior) can vary. For example, in order to commit the crime of handling, the goods must come from theft (predicate offense); but in order to commit the crime of laundering, the predicate or base offense can involve any one of variety of crimes. One thing that laundering and handling have in common: both crimes are committed only when a person deals with goods that are the proceeds of other crimes.

[3]Often the cultural object is the profit of other crimes. In fact, they may, for instance, come from illegal excavation, clandestine exportation and so on.

[5] See the introduction by Stefano Manacorda to “Organized Crime in Art and Antiquities, edited by Stefano Manacorda. Selected papers and contributions from the International Conference on “Organized crime in art and antiquities” Courmayeur Mont Blanc, Italy — 12-14 December 2008″ See also “The Eleventh United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, Bangkok, 18-25 April 2005: report prepared by the Secretariat (United Nations publication, Sales No.E.05.IV.7),” chap.1, resolution 1; endorsed by the General Assembly in its Resolution 60/177 of 16th December 2005. 

[7] In this regard, many countries seem to punish every laundering manoeuvre.

[8] I have been investigating a case in which a statue of an Artemis was first exported from Italy towards Japan; then this same statue resurfaced in Switzerland where a very well-known dealer sent this archaeological item to the U.S. market. Asked to return the object, the Swiss dealer was so bold that he/she firstly surrendered a fake, but in the end he/she contributed to return the object.

[9] Up until recently, customary routes for Italian cultural goods have been Italy-Switzerland, Switzerland-London and London-U.S.-Japan-Australia or elsewhere.   

[10] As in the past Switzerland, Germany, the United Kingdom and Japan.

[11] The red flag theory discussed in the Michael H. Steinardt case, before the U.S. Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York. See the facts, procedural history and decision of the United States v. An Antique Platter of Gold 991 F. Supp. 222 of November 11, 1997; decision upheld and reasoning substantially affirmed (184 F. 3d 131 -2nd Cir. 1999) by U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The defendant in-rem in this case, the “antique platter of gold,” was a circa 400 BC libation bowl of Sicilian origin known as a phiale mesomphalos. In its decision, the U.S. Court stressed that concealment or misrepresentation is material if it has a natural tendency to influence or was capable of influencing the decision of the decision-making body to which it was addressed. In other words, “a false statement is material if it has the potential significantly to affect the integrity of operation of the importation process as a whole, and neither actual causation nor harm to the government need to be demonstrated. For a trier of fact to determine whether a statement can significantly affect the importation process, it need ask only whether a reasonable customs official would consider the statements to be significant to the exercise of his/her official duties”. For instance, the designation of Switzerland as the phiale’s country of origin and the listing of its value of $ 250,000 were objectively false and relevant. 

[12] As Stefano Manacorda has observed, “the diversity of penalties applied between authorities and jurisdictions can lead to ‘forum shopping’ among the most cunning criminals, who adopt strategies to avoid prosecution and administrative entanglements in those States and jurisdictions known for the severity of their penal responses.” See Stefano Manacorda, “Criminal Law Protection of Cultural Heritage: An International Perspective,” in Crime in the Art and Antiquities World: Illegal Trafficking in Cultural Property, edited by Stefano Manacorda and Duncan Chappell, page 23.

[13] See “The Licensing of Archaeological Material for Export from the United Kingdom,” a memorandum submitted by Dr. Neil Brodie to the UK Parliament, 16 May 2000.

[14] A Waverley judgment is named after Viscount Waverley, who served as Chairman of a 1950 Committee that was appointed to consider and advise on export policy. As result of the Waverley Report published in 1952, two separate categories of material are recognised by the licensing system: Material which has been in the UK for over 50 years and material imported within that time. Thus, according to UK experts, a distinction is drawn between what is considered to be part of the national heritage (material in Britain for more than 50 years) and what is considered to be traded material (in Britain for less than 50 years). The operation of the licensing system pays great attention to the first category. Indeed, the system is designed specifically to protect the national heritage so that many objects will be reviewed individually. Vice versa, for the second category, the traded material, the requirements are less stringent and licenses are granted more or less automatically. A commentator has observed that the system functions to protect the heritage of the United Kingdom while at the same time allowing the British economy to benefit from marketing the heritage of others.     

[15] During my investigations I also ascertained that criminals import into another country a fake work of art they want to pass as genuine. In these cases criminals are relying on the inexperience of the persons deputed to the checks, as their field of expertise is often only on national works of art.

[16] According to a shared experience, customs officers are estimated to lack professional training in art history, being often unable to identify an ancient artifact and, particularly, to indicate the limit of the legal age of artifacts, as compared to an obviously precarious artistic value. On the contrary, criminals are fully aware of the cultural good values in their possession, and during a search done in Paris in the apartment of a famous dealer I have found a fragment well wrapped in a little leather bag, purpose-built for this fragment.

[17] I and my experts have been able at tracing the criminal links of a conspiracy thanks to the documents collected, and through the fragments and their sub-division amongst the various participants.

[18] The main part or core of an archaeological good (the “mother”) is elsewhere and the fragments are orphans of it. In the past this jargon has been so common that during my investigation I had the chance to see that this same expression had been used in a letter written by a famous U.S. museum curator to a colleague of him/her. He/she claimed that, having firstly acquired a part of a kilix, he/she was the only one entitled to buy all the other orphans (fragments) that were about to appear on the market. 

[19] Once, a curator of a museum said to me and I quote verbatim: “… It is true that I come to realize that we were blackmailed, I mean people knew they had a fragment, and that was an extremely unpleasant part”. However, the curator could have broken his or her ties with criminality denouncing the illicit affairs. In this regard, “… no effort should be spared to avoid giving in to ransom demands, so as to discourage the theft or illegal appropriation of movable cultural property carried out for that purpose. The persons or institutions concerned should consider ways and means of making this policy known” (see, the UNESCO Recommendation adopted in Paris on 28 November 1978).  

[20] See, U.S. v. Frederick Schultz, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit 333 F. 3d 393; 2003 U.S. App. LEXIS 12834.

[21] However, the facts of this case are not unusual. In fact, I have recently ascertained that two paintings of a famous Maestro had been covered with a yellowish patina, in order to deceive the Officials for the Italian export licensing unit.

[23] Ildiko Pogany DeAngelis, ibid, pages 6 and 7.

[24] In Ratzlaf v. United States (510 U.S. 135, 149, 126 L. Ed. 2d 615, 114 S. Ct. 655, 1994) the U.S. Court relied on the venerable principle that ignorance of the law is no defence to a criminal charge. 

[25] See, the case of Government of Peru v. Benjamin Johnson. In this case, as said, the Court suggested that Peru’s statutes could be interpreted to be export restrictions, not assertions of title.

[26] Ildiko Pogany DeAngelis, ibid, page 7

[27] As assessed by presiding U.S. district judge Jed S. Rakoff in his ruling of the Schultz’s case: “If an American conspired to steal the Liberty Bell and sell it to a foreign collector of artifacts, there is no question he could be prosecuted … the same is true when … a United States resident conspires to steal Egypt’s antiquities”.   

[28] If a cultural good is presented at the export control hiding such a provenance (for instance, from a collection), and then this good is found in another country, there are some who do not see this object as being illicitly traded, and restrictions such as non-alienability or trust have often not been enforced in a foreign jurisdiction.   

[29] Once, I seized some frescos and their photos which show two walls of a room pertaining to a rich Roman villa of the Vesuvian areas, of Pompei or Herculaneum, or of those sites which disappeared with the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. According to the opinion of my experts, they were undoubtedly photographed during a phase of the clandestine dig. That we are looking at an illegal dig is obvious from an examination of the photos which show the conditions of the dig itself: The site of an archaeological excavation carried out by specialist technicians has very different characteristics from those shown in the photographs in question, in which the removal of the earth to free the frescoes is being conducted without any scientific criterion whatsoever, but instead with the one and only aim of being able to remove the paintings as quickly as possible. The photographs themselves also show beyond doubt that we are dealing with a room of a Vesuvian villa; the typology of the frescoes themselves is indisputably Campanian, but also because the pile of earth mixed with lapillae (clearly visible in the photos) is exclusively typical of the Vesuvian areas. Accordingly, the request to the Art Loss Register with regard to the frescoes in question was fictitiously submitted by the dealers; since these came from an illegal dig (circumstance of which all the players were well aware thanks to the photographs), they could never have been amongst listed stolen art works.

[30] Often museums, especially if one considers their past policies.

[31] See Ildiko Pogany DeAngelis, ibid, page 15. 

[32] As observed, at the end, the Getty Museum suffered not only a moral loss, but a financial one, even if the objects had not been totally purchased but partially donated, due to the costs expended to acquire, curate, conserve, and maintain objects in its collection.

[33] Universitas, meaning “a collection of goods.

[34] As assessed, traders often try to take lower risks and they do not buy the item from the liaison dealer but they take it on consignment.         

[35] During my investigations I have found a little page in the premises of a well-known dealer I searched. It reads: “The amphora we bought at auction is not ours!” (the word “ours” was underlined).

[36] The high market value of looted art can induce the criminality to do their “best” in order to excavate more and more archaeological items. In this regard, the museum curators have been the purchasers who often paid more, either because sometimes they split with dealers the illicit gain; or because they had to pay the silence of dishonest dealers; or because the laundering operations called more and more intermediaries into the affairs, thus increasing the prices.

[37] See Thomas Kline and L. Eden Burgess, “Art Market,” in The 2010 Yearbook of Cultural Property Law, page 120.

[38] See “Item No. 9 on the agenda: Triennial Work Programme 2009-2011; Proposal for a Model Law on the Protection of Cultural Property (submitted by the Secretariat)” at the 88th session of the UNIDROIT Governing Council in Rome, 2-23 April 2009, page 6.


Edited by Paul Kunkel, SAFE/Saving Antiquities for Everyone.

Monica Hanna to receive 2014 SAFE Beacon Award

The archaeologist Dr. Monica Hanna will be the next recipient of the SAFE Beacon Award for her exemplary efforts in shedding light on the looting situation in Egypt.

Home to some of the world’s oldest civilizations, Egypt has had a profound influence on the cultures of Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. For centuries, Egyptian archaeological sites have been looted – most recently to feed the black market trade of antiquities. Despite valiant calls for recovery, invaluable information about Egypt’s ancient past – and our shared history – has been irretrievably lost. Since the 2011 revolution, this situation has become increasingly acute.

While mainstream media reports about the nature and extent of the damage – and those responsible for the damage – have been numerous and sometimes conflicting, we can be thankful for the efforts of “ordinary” Egyptians who have joined together to use social media to keep the rest of the world informed about what is happening to Egypt’s heritage, our shared heritage.

Using social media tools to their fullest potential, Dr. Hanna created and steadfastly maintains Egypt’s Heritage Task Force, while also contributing to other social media platforms. She continues to inform us in lectures and interviews, and she mobilizes others to do the same. In fact, it is impossible for anyone truly concerned about the critical situation in Egypt not to be informed by Dr. Hanna’s dedicated and diligent reporting. This past August, SAFE intern Beatrice Kelly included a small part of Dr. Hanna’s documentation in “How much looting needs to happen before we start to think twice?” and noted:

Indefatigable Egyptian archaeologist Monica Hanna has been single-handedly exposing an incredible amount of looting in Egypt, even going so far as to confront some of the armed looters herself.

And we are paying attention.

With more than than 20,000 followers on Twitter, Dr. Hanna is an inspiration. No wonder Betsy Hiel of the Tribune-Review writes, “Hanna is a leader in exposing the looting of Egyptian antiquities.” Nigel Hetherington of Past Preservers describes her as, “amazing …a revolutionary in the true sense of the word.”

SAFE is honored to present the 2014 Beacon Award to Monica Hanna. In the coming months, we will continue to highlight Dr. Hanna’s important work and roll out our plans for celebration. Please follow us on Facebook and subscribe to our newsletter for the latest updates.

March 21, 2014 UPDATE: Information about the 2014 SAFE Beacon Award can be found here. Dr Hanna’s Twitter followers number more than 28,000.


The SAFE Beacon Awards recognizes outstanding achievement in raising public awareness about our endangered cultural heritage and the devastating consequences of the illicit antiquities trade. Since 2004, awards have been presented to authors, journalists, professors, law enforcement professionals, and archaeologists:

2004 – Roger Atwood

2005 – Matthew Bogdanos 

2006 – Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini

2008 – Neil Brodie and Donny George

2009 – Colin Renfrew

2010 – Robert Goldman, David Hall, James McAndrew, and Robert Wittman

2011 - Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino

2012 – David Gill

Archaeology for non-archaeologists (like myself)

Recently I had the challenge of talking about the damage of tomb raiding upon cultural heritage to a general audience. In order to present my ideas in a clear, concise and didactic way, I used a particular comparison which comes out of my work as a criminologist and a criminal defense attorney: in a nutshell, how an archaeological dig is comparable to a crime scene.

When introducing the risks of archaeological looting to a general audience, one first must understand the conception people have about archaeology and archaeologists. Sometimes, this mental image can be an authentic misconception. This also happens with criminologists –if you knew how many times, after telling someone I do not know that I am a criminologist to I get the “So you are a CSI, huh?”– or other professions where media images have distorted the reality.

Police (Mossos d'Esquadra) investigation of a crime scene in Catalonia Police (Mossos d’Esquadra) investigation of a crime scene in Catalonia
ACN

In that sense, people who still have an idea of the archaeologist wearing a fedora hat and holding a whip, usually have a more Hollywood-style conception of archaeology, in which not only is the archaeologist a valiant athlete who fights tribes, traps and tribulations, but someone who embarks on a treasure hunt in order to get a one-of-a-kind artifact which will (no doubt) be labeled as a spectacular find. In sum, an archaeology which is object driven and in which the archaeologist is a collector him/herself.

Nothing further than the truth. Real archaeology is not so much object-driven as information-driven. Archaeology is a science that has the goal of enriching the knowledge of our past through the study of remnants, whatever these may be: skeletons, coins, textile, jewelry, architectural remnants…

Archaeologists working in a dig in Catalonia, Spain Archaeologists working in a dig in Catalonia, Spain
D.G. Patrimoni Cultural – Jordi Play

In real archaeology, there are three very important elements that are essentially interconnected: the find, its context and its sense. In other words, the site of the find is at least as important as the find itself. For an archaeologist, therefore, it is essential not only to assess what object has been found but also what has been moved or taken.

In that sense, it is very easy to draw parallels between an archaeological dig and a crime scene investigation where the haste is not welcomed. Just imagine a detective à la Indiana Jones, touching everything and leaving his fingerprints everywhere. The ‘good’ detective, like the real archaeologist, looks for information about what happened at the crime scene by studying what remains behind in the crime scene and how those remains are placed –again, the importance of the context.

However, every day, looters in different parts of the world ignore that very easy to grasp comparison and destroy the remnants of our shared past at an alarming pace. Of course, their motivations are radically different from those of archaeologists and seem very hard to change. But, people from different fields and organizations like SAFE, in raising awareness of this issue, try to inform a wider audience of the perils of the destruction of the non-replaceable cultural heritage. Many people are still not aware of the risks facing our cultural heritage. If simple comparisons like the one I presented here help more people understand the work of real archaeologists and bring attention to this problem, so much the better!

Confrontations: A Young Boy’s Temptation

SAFE blog’s new series “Confrontations” invites everyone to share firsthand experiences with looting and the illicit antiquities trade. These personal accounts will illustrate the on-going problems of these issues within a global context. 


When I was young, before I gained an interest in archaeology and the ancient world, my knowledge of artefacts was merely limited to the Indiana Jones Trilogy. Though having such knowledge at a young age was purely overwhelming, especially for a young boy like myself in a country enriched with an ancient past spanning over thousands of years, it understandably got me into a lot of trouble.

Till this day, I still look back to the 1990s, when I nearly ventured into the sinister world of the illicit antiquities trade, with conflicting thoughts of morality. For a person trying to feed his or her family, on one side, there is sympathy for the person’s actions. However, on the other, there is real pent-up anger towards that person as he or she is either destroying or illegally selling what represents a valuable past that we can truly learn from.

Now, you are wondering what happened to me back in the 90s…? How did I nearly enter the uncharted waters of such illicitness that has haunted me to this present day?

It all happened during the summer holidays, when my family decided to travel to Egypt for two weeks. Unlike being expected to visit Cairo, explore the pyramids of Giza and the Valley of the Kings, and perhaps take a relaxing boat ride down the Nile river, we ended up in Sharm el-Sheikh that, for us Brits, was a stereotypically ideal place for a family vacation.

A recent photography of the entrance to Sharm el-Sheikh's Old Market, Egypt A recent photography of the entrance to Sharm el-Sheikh’s Old Market, Egypt
Flickr user Kareny13 (taken: 25/11/2010)

During our time, we went to Sharm el-Sheikh’s infamous old market on numerous occasions. The market was infused with a magical eastern vibe, various smells of spices and incense, Arabic music, and the haggling of goods, and it made me feel like I was in sheer heaven. With the exception of seeing dead carcasses dangling on every rack, there was one particular part of the market that ended my blissful experience.

Hidden away in the distance, I remember seeing an outline of this rugged man standing next to a stall with a large quantity of ancient coins. These coins looked as if though they had been recently removed from the ground… Though my Indiana Jones knowledge of artefacts proved to be limited, all I saw were these coins being beautifully displayed on this decaying wooden table.

Immediately, my whole body froze. Alarm bells were ringing. Warning signs were gathering in my head, trying to pull me away from the absolute power of these coins that continuously sparkled in my day-dreamt eyes. Yet like a child being let loose in a sweet shop, there was an irresistible urge to personally own such artefacts. This desire also lifted me off my feet, like a person floating off towards the mouth-watering smell of a delicious meal, and, within a matter of seconds, I found myself face to face with the very man who was standing right next to this collection of coins.

He appeared to be frail looking– shabbily dressed but presentable enough to look like a respectable business man. Suddenly, this man began to talk. At first, it was very unclear as to what exactly he was saying. He spoke in a mixture of Arabic and broken English, asking me if I wanted to buy priceless coins that had historical and archaeological significance.

“Hlan wa sahlan! Kayfa Halak? Taf-fadal! Special price! Coins came earlier today for you my friend. What do you want?”

At this time, I was gob-smacked.  Was this man talking to me? Was I that special someone to whom he was offering a special price…? I looked around and saw that I was the only bystander facing his direction. How could this be? Why were other people purposely avoiding this man?

Obviously, there were many reasons behind this. One could have been that that he was coming from outside the city, and therefore the locals did not know him. Another reason could have been that he was a dodgy character selling illegal artefacts, and it was thus unwise to get involved in his business.

As a young boy, it was likely that my understanding of the illicit antiquities trade was non-existent. I had never had a confrontation like that before in my life– not until that day. If I had bought a coin from that man, who knows what could have happened to me. According to Egyptian law (1983 LPA), all antiquities – be they cultural, historical or archaeological – are strictly regulated and actually owned by the State; and if  I was caught red-handed by a police officer, I could have gone to prison for my involvement, and I would not have a great life ahead of me.

While those very thoughts were in my mind, I felt a heavy hand placed on my right shoulder. My shadow began to amplify, and a low voice began to speak out from nowhere.

“Michael!…Stop what you are doing Shamah Junior! You are meddling with powers you cannot possibly comprehend!”

Without a doubt, I recognised that quote from one of the Indiana Jones Trilogies, The Raiders of the Lost Ark… (The best Indian Jones film that was ever made, I must say), and I knew exactly who it was.

I looked round and saw my father, looking stereotypically Middle Eastern with an Arab moustache, his big body with broad shoulders, and with very tanned skin; indeed, he was known for using film quotes in his sentences.

Without a word, I was tugged away, leaving this unfortunate man behind, not knowing where he would be in the course of time.

Me at a young age, back in the 1990s Me at a young age, back in the 1990s
Michael Shamah

As stated earlier, I still look back to that exact scene in Sharm el-Sheikh’s old market. In addition, you will find me exploring and dealing with similar confrontations in the upcoming blogs– especially those regarding the desecrations of various sites, or, as in this particular instance, a confrontation with a person selling a priceless artefact which has “illegal” written all over it.

Since this first experience, I have had conflicting thoughts, a broader understanding of the illicit world, and I am better at recognising potential signs of looting or at least something illicit. As an archaeologist, I have begun to care more about the preservation of cultural heritage, and it has been rather upsetting to think of how sites which convey significant cultural and historical meaning, have been affected by human activity. Although in the eyes of some, these actions might be considered as a good thing… It is now understandable why these motives take place.

Especially in an unstable Middle East – which I am quite familiar with, due to my heritage and the focusing of my speciality in this specific region – and for sectarian, political or economic reasons, countless sites have, unfortunately, been targeted. Nevertheless, as seen from my first encounter, there are some sheer beauties of the past that attract potentially irrational visitors who may just want to fill their pockets.

From what consequently ends up in the illicit antiquities trade, this beautiful memorabilia of the past has become absorbed into a sinister world which is loathed by most of us.

Thus, I would like to end this blog with the very questions that hang in the back of my mind.
What were the motives behind the act? Were they rational?

But also, what may be seen as an act for survival or greed and is believed by some as a person’s worst nightmare,  it may sequentially be seen by others as a heavenly treasure trove.

If you have had similar experiences that you would like to share, it would be great to hear from you; and for my next shareable experience…Stay tuned. 

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 Culturalheritage@egyptembassy.net

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

Syria’s cultural heritage in danger: What can we do?

SAFE Volunteer Sandra Roorda observes the 2013 Donny George Candlelight Vigil for Global Heritage with a reflection on the situation in Syria.


Amidst the public and political clamor surrounding the current conflict in Syria, and as many argue over how to prevent further civilian casualties, a wide swathe of cultural institutions and organizations from both diplomatic and NGO communities has stepped forward to warn that, in addition, the country’s rich cultural heritage is being looted and destroyed. As Bonnie Burnham, President of the World Monuments Fund states, “The evolving tragedy in Syria has a deep cultural, as well as a humanitarian, dimension.” To be sure, the conflict in Syria is destroying not only the lives of the Syrian people, but it is also stripping them of their cultural identity and their cultural heritage, resulting in a loss felt not only by the Syrian people, but also by the world at large.

World Heritage Sites in Danger

The conflict in Syria, now in its third year, has devastated the country’s cultural heritage, with UNESCO reporting that 93% of the country’s total cultural sites are currently within areas of conflict and displacement. Furthermore, of Syria’s 46 primary heritage sites, six have been categorized as World Heritage in Danger sites, with some structures already destroyed or seriously damaged by shelling or looting. Indeed, recent aerial footage also reveals several of these sites to be pockmarked with holesthe token remnants of looters excavating cultural objects and antiquities.

Damage caused by looting and vandalism at a museum in Aleppo Damage caused by looting and vandalism at a museum in Aleppo.
UNESCO and Professor Abdulkarim

Currently listed as in danger by UNESCO are the Ancient City of Aleppo, the Ancient City of Bosra, the Ancient City of Damascus, the site of Palmyra, Cracs des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El-Din, and the Ancient Villages of Northern Syria. Of course, countless other sites and structures that lend to Syria’s rich cultural heritage have also been damaged and are further threatened by continued fighting—the breadth of which is perhaps demonstrated by the World Monument Fund’s recent decision to list all of the cultural heritage sites within the entire country of Syria as part of its 2014 World Monuments Watch.

The Emergency Red List of Syrian Cultural Objects at Risk

ICOM's Emergency Red List of Syrian Cultural Objects at Risk. ICOM’s Emergency Red List of Syrian Cultural Objects at Risk.
ICOM

UNESCO and the World Monument Fund are hardly the only organizations—cultural or otherwise—adding or connecting Syria to an endangered list. In an event last month at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the International Council of Museums (ICOM) officially released The Emergency Red List of Syrian Cultural Objects at Risk.

Held during the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly and attended by members of both diplomatic and NGO communities, the event served to raise awareness surrounding the issues of preserving Syria’s cultural heritage by specifically outlining the categories and typologies of cultural artifacts and goods most vulnerable to illicit trafficking during the conflict. Indeed, the Syrian Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM) has reported a dramatic increase of illegal excavations of archeological sites and increased looting of museums in Syria, with the threat of illicit trafficking and trade of cultural property on the rise. As Anna Paolini, head of the Jordan office of UNESCO states, “In light of previous experiences in situations of conflict, with respect to cultural heritage, the risk of looting and illicit trafficking of Syrian cultural objects appears to be high.”

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and supported by UNESCO, ICOM’s Emergency Red List aims to help counteract illicit trafficking by not only categorizing the types of objects most at risk, but by also providing a succinct guide for museums, auction houses, art dealers, and collectors on how to facilitate the identification of potentially stolen or looted items, and which subsequent authorities to inform. The publication covers a wide spectrum of artifacts and antiquities, categorizing writing, figural sculpture, vessels, architectural elements, accessories and instruments, stamps and cylinder seals, and tessera and coins.

Joining in the announcement of the Emergency Red List, Assistant Secretary of States for Population, Refugees, and Migrations, Anne Richard, stated:

“The situation, clearly, is critical, not only for the survival of the Syrian people, but the heritage they cherish. Wherever one goes in Syria, one finds monuments from the past around every corner. Ancient religious edifices are still in use for daily observances. Historic homes provide shelter. Archaeological sites were—in better times—a place to visit, appreciate, and even have picnics. They are part of the fabric of Syrian life—a source of pride and self-definition for their present and future. Today, with the release of the Red list, we take an important step in helping Syrians preserve this unique and priceless cultural heritage. We are monitoring the situation there closely. And we are engaging internationally with national police, customs officials, ministries of culture, and other relevant entities in countries where Syrian cultural objects might transit and where these objects might find a market.”

Richard goes on to call on the international community to remain vigilant for looted and trafficked Syrian cultural objects and to refrain from purchasing or acquiring such objects.

Syrian volunteer networks mobilize and come together to help safeguard the country's heritage. UNESCO reports that, “Volunteer networks from local communities all over the country have mobilized themselves and come together with a common objective to protect their cultural heritage. These networks provide additional security in protecting archaeological sites from illegal excavations, and safeguarding museums from looters.
Photo via UNESCO and ICOM

Further attempts to counteract the illicit traffic and trade of Syria’s cultural heritage include the digitization of the remaining inventory and archives of cultural property in Syrian museums, in order to simplify the identification and the registration of any missing artifacts. Additional testimonies, images, and videos from the public, as well as from various national and international archaeological and heritage-based initiatives, are assisting in these digitized databases. As UNESCO states, “All this collated information will facilitate a more effective response against the illicit trafficking of cultural property out of Syria, and help potential restitution cases in the future.”

A Call to Action: Syria and the International Community

Attempts to combat the looting of Syrian antiquities and counteract their illicit trade are made difficult and further complicated for a variety of reasons, not least of which are due to the literal combat taking place on the ground.

That the continual fighting of the ongoing conflict in Syria renders site protection on the ground difficult and often thwarts attempts to protect the country’s cultural heritage brings to light what some may view as the apparent limitations of such international agreements as the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and the 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export, and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.

Participants at the Damascus National Museum, involved in ICCROM's e-learning course Participants at the Damascus National Museum, involved in the e-learning course, Protection of Syria’s Cultural Heritage in Times of Armed Conflict.
ICCROM and Lina Kutifan, DGAM

That being said, there are a number of efforts—both coordinated and individual, and implemented by both diplomatic and NGO communities—that are taking place to address the looting and the subsequent potential for the illicit sale of Syrian antiquities. While fighting and shelling proves an obstacle for on-the-ground site protection, effective monitoring of the situation and statuses of these sites, combined with the methodical documentation of antiquities and cultural property still accessible to archaeologists and members of the cultural heritage community, is of the utmost importance. As previously mentioned, the digitized documentation of the archival inventory of Syrian museums, for example, could be instrumental in potential restitution cases in the future.

Additionally, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), in association with the International Center for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM) has partnered with the DGAM, in coordination with UNESCO, to hold several e-learning courses for Syrian cultural heritage professionals. The first of such courses, Protection of Syria’s Cultural Heritage in Times of Armed Conflict, took place at the beginning of this year at the Damascus National Museum and provided around 75 DGAM managers, directors, curators, architects, and staff—not to mention Syrian cultural heritage researchers and conservation experts—with some of the necessary knowledge and training materials to build their capacities in helping preserve the country’s cultural heritage.

The Syrian audience welcomed this show of professional solidarity from the international heritage community, the success of which prompted the next e-learning course and video conference, which took place last month. Says ICCROM of the initiative:

“In organizing the course, ICOMOS and ICCROM call on all parties associated with the situation in Syria to fulfill their obligations under international law to protect Syria’s precious cultural heritage sites and institutions. A call was repeated at the beginning of the course to abide by the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, and to respect museums, monuments, and historic cities.”

Further seminars and courses are envisaged as part of a long-term effort, in addition to further knowledge, experience, and advice, which may be offered during Syria’s recovery phase. Certainly, preserving Syria’s cultural heritage can serve as not only an anchor for promoting social cohesion and national unity during the recovery phase, but it may potentially aid in promoting economic stability based on tourism, which, before the conflict, accounted for 12% of Syria’s GDP and generated more than 6.5 billion dollars a year.

Participants and trainers in ICCROM's e-learning course, via video conference Participants and trainers in ICCROM’s e-learning course, via video conference.
ICCROM and Rohit Jigyasu

As one of the trainers for the initiative, Rohit Jigyasu, President of the International Scientific Committee on Risk Preparedness (ICORP) states, such endeavors could effectively become a benchmark for a “paradigm shift in how we can build capacity and promote awareness for heritage conservation using new information technology.”

Our Public Responsibility

Given the situation and the myriad of associated issues, many of us may ask ourselves, “Well, what can we do to help?” As members of the public, we too can play our part, by not only making ourselves and others aware of such issues, but also by simply refraining from buying cultural goods and antiquities from conflict zones—Syrian or otherwise. After all, supply must meet demand, and a collective decision to stop buying these antiquities may go a long way to curb theft and looting. In the end, this combination of action—raising awareness surrounding the issues of looting and illicit trafficking—combined with inaction—refusing to engage in the purchase and trade of antiquities from conflict zones—may prove essential to preserving what remains of Syria’s rich cultural heritage.

Drawing Parallels: SAFE and the National Museum of Iraq

In light of such issues, it is hard not to draw the comparison between the current crisis in Syria and the conflict in Iraq, following the collapse of the Saddam regime. While the various circumstances and the context for each situation differs, many of the issues and the challenges facing Syria’s cultural heritage and archeological sites are, in many ways, similar to those in Iraq during the 2003 US-led invasion.

Indeed, many of our SAFE readers and contributors have similarly commented on this parallel during our 2013 Donny George Candlelight Vigil for Global Heritage. SAFE was borne out of the travesty surrounding the looting of the National Museum of Iraq and now, during the tenth anniversary of both the looting of the museum and the founding of this organization, it seems particularly poignant to warn of the similar dangers affecting not only Syria’s cultural heritage, but of heritage sites across the globe. The memory of what happened in Baghdad serves as a perpetual reminder, wherein circumstances of the past can hopefully manifest as lessons for the future.

Additional Information and Further Resources

 The Emergency Red List of Syrian Cultural Objects at Risk can be found here.

The link for UNESCO’s website, Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Property in Syria, can be found here.

Updates on the situation of Syria’s cultural heritage on the ground can be found through DGAM’s website—in both Arabic and English—here.

For previous SAFE articles and information regarding the conflict in Syria and the destruction of its cultural heritage, please click here.

Preserving cultural heritage in the United States

We thank SAFE Volunteer Melissa Halverson for her contribution to the 2013 Donny George Candlelight Vigil for Global Heritage.


One of my favorite stories stemming from a career as an anthropologist and museum professional lies in what is right in our efforts to preserve cultural heritage.

Looting affects all geographic areas of the United States and an estimated 90% of known archaeological sites in New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado (US Congress, 1988).  A major issue with looting in the U.S. lies in the fact that objects become the property of whoever owns the land in which they were found. The Native American Graves and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) was passed in 1990 to reduce illegal looting and trafficking. It also attempts to reconcile American Indians with human remains and sacred and ceremonial objects that had been taken from them and found their way to museum collections around the country.  In the majority of cases, NAGPRA has helped to solidify trust and good relationships between local American Indian tribes and museums.

Melissa Halverson at museum The author posing with some arctic artwork at the Mitchell Museum of the American Indian

During my undergraduate and graduate research, I worked with NAGPRA compliance by gaining tribal approval to amplify ancient DNA and to study some skeletal samples that had not yet been returned to the tribe.  A few years ago, I interned at Washington state agency and got to see how meaningful our efforts to curb looting really can be.  An American Indian burial had been discovered in someone’s front yard during a routine water line inspection and I got to assist with the excavation.  Local tribal representatives came out to the site and shared the day with us.  At the end of the experience, the human remains and burial objects were returned to the tribe for proper burial. This individual was a tribal member. Anti-looting laws helped bring him back home where he can rest with his ancestors.  He is no longer in any danger of ending up on a museum shelf or being traded on the black market (learn more about Washington State American Indian tribes here).

I am proud to have collaborated on such a wonderful project and it was an amazing feeling to use my skills in archaeological excavation to make a small difference for the American Indian tribe, the safety of the human remains and archaeological materials, and the stability of local cultural heritage.

Looting is everyone’s concern

SAFE is grateful to Marni Walter for sharing this reflection with us in observance of the 2013 Donny George Candlelight Vigil for Global Heritage.


During the early years of the new millennium, the scope of antiquities looting and destruction of cultural heritage seemed to drastically expand. To all the archaeological damage done for profit to feed the demands of various art markets, we were forced to add incalculable threats from political unrest and wartime conflict.

At that time I was working as an editor at the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) for the American Journal of Archaeology, while also enrolled as a graduate student in archaeology at Boston University. In heritage management courses, we would compile statistics on the unprovenanced antiquities (most of them!) in the high-end auction catalogs, scrutinize the collections of prominent collectors, and report on the imbalances in wealth of the “source” countries versus the places of import. At the AIA, we debated about whether we should continue to publish using the longstanding von Bothmer publication fund (as Dietrich von Bothmer, a former curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, became increasingly criticized for acquisitions, such as the Euphronios krater, in an earlier era of museum practices).

Marni Walter at prehistoric site The author recording excavation details at a prehistoric site in New Hampshire, U.S.A.

We were thrilled when a hefty manuscript by Christopher Chippendale and David Gill landed on the AJA editorial desks: this important and thorough study was published in July 2000 as “Material Consequences of Contemporary Classical Collecting” (AJA 104:463–511). In fact many excellent studies were published in the early 2000s onward that showed the cold hard numbers on archaeological losses. It has been gratifying to see the growth in academic attention to many aspects of cultural heritage protection, with entire conferences (like the subject of my last post) dedicated to the subject. Sharing research among specialists is vital to moving forward, but we also need to talk to everyone else, and gain the support of the widest possible range of people.

When in 2001 the Taliban destroyed the giant Buddha statues at Bamiyan and many others throughout Afghanistan, and in 2003 thieves looted and vandalized the Iraq Museum in Baghdad, the need for broad support (including military personnel among many others) was suddenly more obvious. These events were not at all accidental or collateral war damage, but deliberate actions of hostility. Of course war, and its spoils, have been around since antiquity itself, but now unprecedented levels of media attention followed. Ten years later the reports and the images from the ransacked museum are still vivid. Many people recognized—even in the midst of the human tragedies of war—the dramatic loss of knowledge and spirit of the “cradle of civilization,” and the senseless, destructive impulses that caused it.

As archaeologists, art historians, or other related scholars, we cannot dismiss the issues by saying “looting is not my specialty.” If we believe that our research is important enough or inspiring enough to do in the first place, then doing something about destruction of cultural heritage is simply a fundamental part of our work.

We are fortunate that SAFE was borne out of these circumstances, founded as a response to a dramatic event, but recognizing that the problems would require more ongoing and widespread attention. No single solution will stop or curb looting to any significant degree, but one common thread will help greatly: the public, anyone with any interest in archaeology, history, art history, cultural diversity, etc. So many people are just as fascinated, if not more so, after learning how we gleaned a whole story, an entire village or camp scenario, from mapping the locations of all the stone tools, or bits of ceramics, and whatever small puzzle pieces we found. Many of them will sympathize, and help, if they are aware of the issues.

As archaeologists, art historians, or other related scholars, we cannot dismiss the issues by saying “looting is not my specialty.” If we believe that our research is important enough or inspiring enough to do in the first place, then doing something about destruction of cultural heritage is simply a fundamental part of our work. It could be showing a community the importance of context for what local excavations revealed, or writing in support of a bilateral agreement, or contributing stories or research summaries to SAFE. Whether working on public awareness and action, legislative and policy changes, improved security, or research on causes and effects, SAFE, for ten years running, is an ideal venue to bring all these approaches together.

We can hope that all our efforts will add up to a broad change of public attitude. Convince the next generation of would-be collectors that it’s so old school to hoard priceless artifacts in their houses as knick-knacks on the mantle. Modern “collectors” would rather support an excavation and its related museum displays or public programs. These collectors will find it so much more satisfying to potentially have an excavation or museum display in their name, along with all the information and discoveries that were revealed from it. Future vandals will know that plundering their country’s museums will only rob themselves and their own people of a collective source of wealth. It’s an ideal world, but one worth working toward.

Ultimately, it’s not about saving every individual artifact on the planet. It’s about cultures of all varieties and sizes flourishing and retaining their uniqueness, the pieces that tell their story. It’s about respecting cultures and environments that are not our own, and, to paraphrase SAFE founder Cindy Ho, choosing to live in a world with a rich cultural heritage.

Photo: “The opposite of looters’ pits. Scientific excavation is key to a wealth of information about the past,” by Marni Walter