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.”

 

The vote is in: We want international cooperation for cultural heritage protection

On May 29, SAFE opened up an informal poll to gauge public opinion on the issue of international cooperation on cultural heritage protection. This was inspired by Egypt’s request for a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to restrict imports of Egyptian archaeological and ethnological material into the United States. The goal was to raise public awareness, a core mission of SAFE.

In fact, the poll did an excellent job—it got people talking. A total of 142 people voted on the poll, and more than twenty-five experts and concerned public took the trouble to put thoughtful comments on the SAFE webpage, the poll website, and LinkedIn group pages.

An overwhelming majority of the voters (89.44%) voted for the first choice—a simple “Yes,” that all nations should help protect each other’s cultural heritage.

It seemed that many people who responded YES saw the international cooperation on protecting cultural heritage as an obvious, basic moral duty. But what intrigued me the most was that some people have voted for the runner-up choice (albeit only with 5.63% support): “No, a nation only deserves assistance if it has a stable government, incorruptible officials and adequate museum facilities in which to preserve the protected materials.”

This was a kind of argument that the stubborn retentionists of the 80s and 90s often used to undermine source countries’ ability to take care of their cultural heritage.

One of the commenters on the SAFE website, Nigel Sadler, perhaps provides an insight into why some people might prefer partial or limited repatriation. First, Sadler reasoned that his understanding of this answer choice was not that objects should never be returned to politically unstable countries, but that they should ultimately be at some point. Then he said,

“there has to be a degree of stability in the government and there must be museums or organisations that can house, safeguard, and even display the items in a secure environment.”

This view suggests that some people might think temporary retentionism is permissible. However, Ian MacLeod, Executive Director at Western Australian Maritime Museum, seems to disagree, for he wrote,

“All nations deserve support regardless of the stability of the country—it is a shared cultural resource we protect.”

<caption>Results of the poll</caption> Results of the poll

Another idea that was echoed in several comments was that cultural heritage belongs to all humans regardless of nationality and cultural affinity. Christ Durham wrote:

“It is the heritage of all humans no matter which country it resides in.”

As a college student who has studied both the retentionism and restitutionism arguments, I personally thought that this idea could go either way. That is, if cultural heritage belongs to all mankind, you can argue that the museums with the highest number of visitors and the best conservation resources should keep the objects—a classic retentionism argument. But you can also make an opposite argument for repatriation: because cultural objects belong to all people, the objects should be placed within their source countries’ cultural context, where they can be best understood for the benefit of the entire world.

This is why I thought that Shruti Das raised an interesting point—she broke away from the dichotomy of retentionism and restitutionism. She wrote that there is the

“need to create a common platform for all the nations, where they can stand for the preservation of cultural heritage irrespective of national bias or discrimination.”

Therefore, she is talking not from the point of view of ownership, but from the point of view of shared efforts and shared knowledge. Sachin Bansal chimed in, writing,

“we should have a knowledge transfer exercises [sic] on the heritage preservations as ‘one world’ concept. People should share insights . . .”

Despite some disagreements, it was apparent that everyone wanted to advocate for more action to establish a worldwide culture of respect for every culture’s heritage. Jack Rollins’s eloquent comment might be a nice point to wrap up this summary. He commented on June 21:

“However tragic these losses are, the fact is that if someone has the power to do something, he also has the power not to do it. If the world sits by watching one minimally civilized group destroy—forever—any part of the world’s culture, how unendurably self-absorbed are we; a shiftless, spoilt, selfish, coarse citizens of the world we must see ourselves as ‘rudely stamp’d.’”

That is, apathy, laziness, and neglect are the worst enemies of safeguarding the heritage of all cultures.

Let SAFE know about your thoughts on another important issue on cultural heritage protection: Should the St. Louis Art Museum voluntarily return the mummy mask of Ka-Nefer-Nefer to Egypt? Vote here.

SAFE recognized in a landmark archaeology encyclopedia

SAFE is proud to announce its contribution to the publication of the landmark Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology.

This eleven-volume compendium, published April of this year, is unprecedented in its comprehensiveness. It contains more than 8,000 pages, 2,600 figures, and 100 tables, which cover international and interdisciplinary issues on archaeology. Edited by Claire Smith, professor in the Department of Archaeology at Flinders University, Australia, this encyclopedia “includes the knowledge of leading scholars from around the world” and encompasses the breadth of archaeology – “a much broader subject than its public image”- with contributions tapped from other disciplines.

One such contribution is the entry for SAFE/Saving Antiquities for Everyone, listed among a handful of others specifically addressing cultural heritage protection. The text begins with SAFE’s core mission: to increase public awareness on looting prevention and cultural heritage protection, by using advertising and marketing techniques. How has SAFE stepped closer to achieving this goal? Various examples of past campaign cards and photos answer this question by vividly illustrating past projects and successes. Perhaps most importantly, however, the entry stresses the fact that increased public awareness has brought changes.

“The editors of the encyclopedia invited SAFE to submit an entry in 2011,” SAFE’s founder Cindy Ho said. “SAFE is honored to have been asked to participate in this important project.” She also explained that since the entry was finalized in 2013, “the damaging effects of political turmoil and armed conflicts on cultural heritage have come into sharp focus. Look at Libya, Mali, Syria, Egypt, and most recently, Iraq.”

The entry also discusses current debates:

While some stakeholders – such as those who advocate for the unregulated acquisition and trade of cultural property – may question the validity of other countries’ cultural patrimony laws and criticize the effectiveness of their enforcement, no meaningful alternative to the 1970 UNESCO Convention, now ratified by more than 120 countries around the world, has been proposed.

With the widely publicized repatriation of antiquities and a general increase in public awareness surrounding these issues, failure to respect national and international laws makes the acquisition of dubious artifacts a high-risk venture. This fact, plus the increasing willingness of source countries to sign long-term reciprocal loan agreements with foreign museums, are bringing decades of pushback to an end.

Criticism of source countries as ‘retentionist’; legal actions to impede the implementation of the 1970 UNESCO Convention in the United States by CPAC; calls for fewer restraints on the importation of artifacts to benefit ‘hobbyist’ collectors and ‘world museums’ to stock their galleries with ‘artistic creations that transcend national boundaries’ are being replaced by a new question in the cultural property debate. The question today is: how to reconcile the growing claims made by source countries in Asia, Africa, South America and the Middle East, on cultural property in museum collections outside the countries of origin?

However, repatriation per se does not compensate for the damage looting does.

[I]n SAFE’s view, the issue is not who owns cultural property and where it can be traded, but what we are able to learn from these relics of our shared global heritage – and what we are willing to do to protect it. Whether antiquities are bought and sold in or out of their countries of origin, archaeological record is irreparably destroyed if they are looted.

Regarding public awareness, SAFE writes:

…the debate about the future of our shared cultural heritage is no longer the exclusive domain of academics, museum professionals, dealers and collectors. Members of the general public are becoming aware. They also demand to be heard.

Thanks to the far-reaching scope of this encyclopedia, readers can cross-refer to related entries. Colin Renfrew, Senior Fellow at the University of Cambridge and also 2009 SAFE Beacon Award Recipient, has written an insightful entry on the state and preventions of looting and vandalism in “Looting and Vandalism (Cultural Heritage Management)” (pp. 4552-4554). Another SAFE Beacon Award Recipient, Neil Brodie, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Glasgow, explains the importance of placing objects in their rightful cultural framework in his entry, “Cultural Heritage Objects and Their Contexts” (pp. 1960-1966). As all the entries include lists of references and further reading, students and researchers can utilize this book as the go-to reference book for all matters related to archaeology, from heritage management to conservation and preservation.

Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology is fully available online here, and for purchase here. If you library does not have a copy, ask for it!

Intern with SAFE and become part of the family

When I started my internship at SAFE I only had a vague idea of what I was getting myself into. I had seen the post written by SAFE’s previous intern Beatrice Kelly about her time at the organization and I knew that there were numerous ways to be involved. It was a daunting but exciting prospect. It did not take long to be put to work in a meaningful and educating way.

One of my first projects at SAFE was to write a blog about Modern Day Monuments Men and Women in the wake of the release of the star-studded film The Monuments Men. Not only was it an opportunity to learn more about the history behind the Monuments Men but it was also an introduction to the work of Dr. Monica Hanna, the 2014 SAFE Beacon Award Winner. (Later on in my internship I had the chance to meet Dr. Hanna and live tweet her lecture). In the following weeks I was taught how to effectively promote an event via several platforms including Facebook and LinkedIn. With my second blog post,  I provoked thoughtful reflection on the effectiveness of using Twitter and other social media platforms as a means of raising awareness on the issues of looting. The LinkedIn groups of Cultural Heritage Connections, UNESCO’s Friends, and the Society for American Archaeology provided great forums for discussion among professionals in the field. I was also given the opportunity to work on SAFE’s monthly curated list of news articles, which ensured that I and our subscribers were up-to-date on the current events related to antiquities looting.

These are only some of the projects I had the chance to work on while interning with SAFE. Perhaps the best part of working with SAFE was that I was immediately treated as an equal whose opinions and ideas were valued and heard. The breadth of assignments that one can do at SAFE is reflective of their mission to spread awareness of the destruction caused by looting that is happening around the world. I am extremely grateful for my time at SAFE as it allowed me to grow as a writer and it broadened my understanding of and appreciation for the effort and dedication it takes to raise public awareness of these issues. It is truly a mission that will not stop until looting comes to an end, but being a part of an organization like SAFE instills hope that change can happen.

If you are interested in interning at SAFE, contact us now for the next cycle of internships. You need to be deeply passionate about heritage and a self-starter when it comes to tackling new projects, but with those two qualities, your internship will not only be a fantastic experience for you, but an incredible contribution to saving antiquities – for everyone!

2014 SAFE Beacon Award raises public awareness

Monica Hanna and Leonard Lopate Monica Hanna after interview with radio talk show host Leonard Lopate at WNYC.
Cindy Ho

True to its mission, SAFE accomplished its goal to help maximize the impact of Dr. Monica Hanna’s message in the United States — a major market country for Egyptian antiquities — by honoring her with the 2014 SAFE Beacon Award on April 10, 2014. The SAFE team’s months of preparation paid off handsomely with featured coverage in the New York Times, the PBS “NewsHour” and on live radio with WNYC, the New York City affiliate of National Public Radio, CBC Radio in Toronto, and BBC, to name a few.

The success of this year’s Beacon Award marks an achievement for not only Dr. Monica Hanna, but also host organization, SAFE. The long and careful planning of this year’s event offered a special opportunity to lend support to one of the field’s most vocal and inspiring figures, and introduce her to a new audience in the United States. Dr. Hanna’s unique affinity for the media combined with her depth of knowledge proved SAFE’s decision to focus on reaching out to members of the press with this year’s Award events. Most important, it was Dr. Hanna’s compelling story that members of the public are clearly interested in.

Thanks to the diligent work of SAFE members and volunteers, as well as the Beacon Award Hosting Committee and donors, both Dr. Hanna and SAFE were able to achieve the common goal of raising public awareness surrounding the destruction of our shared cultural heritage. Read a recap of the evening’s events here.


Monica Hanna, New York Times Click to read Tom Mashberg’s New York Times article “Taking on Egypt’s looters of antiquities using Twitter
Karsten Moran/The new York Times

We thank members of our Hosting Committee

and the following for sponsoring the 2014 SAFE Beacon Award:

  • Lucille Roussin
  • Rebecca Rushfield
  • Elizabeth Simpson
  • Marina Papa-Sokal

SAFE is grateful to the following for their skills, care, hard work and kind support that made the 2014 SAFE Beacon Award a reality:

Betsy Hiel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review whose articles introduced SAFE to Dr. Monica Hanna

Shawn Baldwin for his portrait of Dr. Hanna, which no one can ignore

Quicksilver Media and Unreported World for their documentary “Egypt’s Tomb Raiders”

SAFE’s volunteers and interns without whom the SAFE Beacon Award would not have been possible: Elizabeth Gilgan, Alyssa Gregory, Damien Huffer, Mary Montgomery, Sandra Roorda, Rebecca Rushfield, Michael Shamah, Tessa Varner, Marni Blake Walter

And to Monica, for inspiring us all.

The Front Line in the Battle for Egypt’s Heritage

On Monday the 14th April I was fortunate enough to attend the Washington, DC, lecture featuring Dr. Monica Hanna entitled “The Arab Spring and the State of Egypt’s Antiquities,” which was held at the Woodrow Wilson Center and co-hosted by The Antiquities Coalition.

Monica Hanna at the Wilson Center Archaeologist and SAFE Beacon Award Winner Monica Hanna discussed the impact of the current instability in Egypt on the desecration and looting of archaeological sites and artifacts.
The Wilson Center

From Dr. Hanna’s presentation, there seems to be very few sites in Egypt left that have not been dug up by a looter’s spade. Even museums and antiquities storehouses aren’t safe, as the well-publicized sacking of the Malawi Museum attests to.

Illicit digging, unplanned urban expansion, the rampant dumping of garbage, or even the “quiet” altering of the cultural memory of archaeological sites into, say, parking lots all continue apace! Further examples of rare Hyksos Period burials scattered across the landscape (thus stripped of all archaeological context), mummies destroyed (reburied in pieces when possible), pieces of ornate sarcophagi left lying on the ground (sometimes used as kindling!); all drove home how serious things have become since the initial 2011 revolution.

While the talk itself was delivered more as a quick succession of visual examples from numerous sites, coupled with anecdotes drawn from Hanna’s extensive experience “on the front lines,” plenty of time was devoted to a question-and-answer session afterwards. While most of those of us who asked questions were after further information on, for example, what is known about the inner workings of current smuggling networks, whether or not a “fatwa” had been issued against looting (as was the case for Iraq immediately after the 2003 invasion), what role the Mubarak regime had in fostering the oft-mentioned “land grab mafia,” etc. Dr. Hanna fielded all such questions with aplomb. However, one inquisitive mind in particular stood out.

Towards the end of the evening, a gentleman stood up and asked point blank what Dr. Hanna’s thoughts were on collecting; was she at all in favor or permissive? With little hesitation, a response of “yes” was offered…with one crucial caveat: full compliance by seller and buyer with all relevant international treaties, State-level vested ownership laws, and obligations governing cultural property.

Allow me to be blunt: Making any allowance for collecting at all, regardless of final destination, and especially of antiquities from a country whose past is so threatened by present conditions as Egypt’s, MUST require the strictest standards of documentation. No forged documents, no “taking the dealer’s word for it,” no vague, voluntary Codes of Ethics that allow business as usual. We’ve heard it all before, and enough is enough; no one benefits, everyone along the paper trail is culpable, and at the end of the day, new sites are destroyed before they are known. The destruction that Dr. Hanna so clearly outlined make it clear that time is of the essence.

As a call to action, the presentation succeeded immensely, especially given the “social media as lightening rod” theme that offered glimmers of hope to the audience in the face of such destruction. With over 30,000 followers on Twitter, Monica (@monznomad) excels at bringing a voice to local media-savvy concerned citizens and youth, inspiring them to protect and clean up sites. I left feeling that, in today’s uncertain political climate (hopefully soon to be more stable after upcoming elections), “turning the tide” on the ground must be a grassroots effort first and foremost.

However, national legal efforts to create and enforce international agreements can certainly aid the local struggle. I can’t conclude a discussion about the exemplary work of this well-deserved SAFE Beacon Award winner without also mentioning a forthcoming event of great potential significance. On the 2nd June, here in Washington, DC, the CPAC (Cultural Property Advisory Committee) will officially hold a hearing to decide whether or not to pass an MoU between Egypt and the US.

A long time coming, it is hoped that as many people as possible will submit comments or even attend (as I will be, awaiting a positive outcome with baited breath). Certain lobbies will fight hard for certain categories of artifact to be exempt…but to no avail, I believe. It’s not a panacea, but as every scattered bone and broken sarcophagus positively shouted to the audience, there is no time to waste.

Photo: Betsy Hiel-Tribute Review

 

Oscar Muscarella’s "mixed…mostly negative" review: "Archaeologists and Acquisitionists"

Oscar Muscarella, the outspoken critic of the antiquities trade and the plunder of cultural heritage reviews The Acquisition and Exhibition of Classical Antiquities: Professional, Legal, and Ethical Perspectives, a collection of eight published papers presented at a symposium held at the University of Notre Dame on February 24, 2007, organized by Robin F. Rhodes and Charles R. Loving. The review, entitled “Archaeologists and Acquisitionists,” was published in International Journal of the Classical Tradition, September 2011. We are pleased to share the review with our readers, particularly members of the public, whose exposure to this kind of discussion remains limited. Each of the volume’s contributions from the following is reviewed:

- James Cuno (former President and Director, Art Institute of Chicago and current president and CEO, the J. Paul Getty Trust)

- Malcolm M. Bell III (Professor, Greek Art and Archaeology, University of Virginia)

- Patty Gerstenblith (Professor of Law, DePaul University)

- Kimberly Rorschach (Director, Nasher Museum of Art, Duke University)

- Stefano Vassallo (Head Archaeologist, Service of the Cultural Heritage and Environment of Palermo)

- Mary Ellen O’Connell (Professor of Law, Notre Dame)

- Nancy Bookidis (archeologist, Corinth excavations, Greece)

- C. Brian Rose (Professor of Archaeology and Curator-in-Charge, the Mediterranean Section of the University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania)

Aphrodite of the Muckrakers

Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World’s Richest Museum is the story of how the J. P. Getty Museum has collected Greek and Roman antiquities since its inception in 1953, told from the inside out. The authors, Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino, both reporters from the Los Angeles Times (Frammolino has since moved on), have assembled an extraordinary array of sources with which they tell a story the Getty wants no one to know: how the museum knowingly purchased looted and fake antiquities, misled foreign governments in their attempts to reclaim stolen property, laundered stolen antiquities through an illegal tax scheme and adopted extraordinarily conservative acquisitions policies while at the same time actively buying from the illicit antiquities market. It is a story of the astounding mismanagement of opportunities, resources, human capital and global reputation. Put one way, it is confirmation of the worst many suspected about curatorial caprice and institutional duplicity. Put another way, if you’re interested in issues surrounding the illicit antiquities trade, collectors and the Classical world, you can’t put the book down.

First of all, it is the materials with which this story has been put together that are significant. In the Notes section at the end of the book, Felch and Frammolino describe these:

The backbone of this account is a trove of thousands of pages of confidential Getty records provided by half of dozen key sources at various levels of the institution. They include a confidential institutional history of the Getty as narrated by two generations of its leaders; a complete list of art purchased by the museum from 1954 to 2004, with the price paid for each piece; the private correspondence and contemporaneous handwritten notes of several top Getty officials; museum files on the contested antiquities and suspect dealers; and records detailing several internal investigations conducted over the years by various teams of Getty lawyers (319).

These were compiled, acquired and collected over the several years Felch and Frammolino worked the Getty Museum beat for the LA Times, for which they were finalists for the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. Chasing Aphrodite thus is the conclusion of their efforts on the case and reflects the authors’ depth of knowledge and considerable analytical skill.

Felch and Frammolino begin at the beginning, with the foundation of the Getty and it is an unexpected story. The John Paul Getty Museum, unlike other major American collecting institutions which include a considerable amount of antiquities, was founded by one individual and with the sole purpose of affording this one man a tax write off. Its domestic peer institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the University of Pennsylvania Museum, and the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, all begun in the decade of the 1870s, were founded directly in association with an educational institution or explicitly aimed at public consumption in the nineteenth century tradition of civic education. Unlike these quasi-academic institutions, the Getty, from its beginning, was run not by scholars of art, those with experience administering cultural institutions or people familiar with non-profit work. Rather, from its inception, the Getty was run by businessmen, mostly from Wall Street and the energy industries. Indeed, John Paul Getty himself ran the museum until his death in 1976, at which point it was overseen by a board he had stacked with his accountant, a Getty Oil executive, Harold Berg, Getty Oil’s outside attorney, his two sons Ronald and Gordon and his Italian art advisor, Frederico Zeri. To say that the culture of for-profit, big-game, arrogant corporate leadership pervaded the museum for it first decades would be an understatement. This management style, as the authors illustrate, fostered, among other things, extravagant acquisitions regardless of the liability of such and ineffectual curatorial oversight.

Indeed, the corporate and decidedly un-academic flavor of the Getty was heightened after the death of its founder through the reorganization of the Getty museum into the Getty Trust, an umbrella organization for the museum but also other arts-related institutions. Who was hand-picked for the development of this bold new vision? The just retired chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission (not a body known for its work in the arts), Harold M. Williams. Under Williams, Jiri Frel served as the first curator of antiquities, hired away from the Greek and Roman department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Frel was academic enough, for sure, having studied at the Sorbonne and taught at Charles University in his native Czechoslovakia as well as Princeton University. But, as Felch and Frammolino describe, Frel’s knowledge of ancient art was far outweighed by his breathtaking corruption.

During Frel’s eleven year tenure at the Getty he instigated a massive tax fraud scheme which was hatched together with the antiquities dealer Bruce McNall, whose silent partner and supplier was Robert Hecht (currently under indictment in Italy for conspiracy to traffic stolen antiquities). The scheme would run like this: those on McNall’s rich and famous client list interested in tax deductions would “buy” an antiquity from McNall, supplied by Hecht. The buyer would then turn around and donate the piece to the Getty at a greatly inflated value, thanks to the appraisals of Frel’s friend Jerome Eisenberg, owner of Royal Athena Gallery. The Getty received a steady stream of smaller antiquities to “round out” the collection, pieces which the board would likely not have approved for purchase (as they were desirous of larger and more impressive acquisition) and the donors received a tax write off. The numbers on this scheme are staggering; for four years, over one hundred donors gave six thousand antiquities to the J. Paul Getty Museum, the wealthiest museum in the world, at a value of $14.7 million dollars (36).

A win/win; a victimless crime. No harm, no foul. No doubt this is how Frel figured it. But there is harm here, and plenty of it. Never mind good old-fashioned tax fraud, which bilks the US government and puts a greater tax burden on those who actually pay taxes. The harm here is in the source of these antiquities. Hecht, as illustrated in Peter Watson and Cecellia Todeschini’s The Medici Conspiracy and evidenced by his indictment, was supplied by tombaroli. Six thousand small pieces over four years are no doubt the yield of tens of thousands of plundered tombs and villas, illegally dug trenches and holes. What was lost to “fund” this tax scheme and the “rounding out” of the Getty’s collection? We will never know.

One wonders what Frel’s intentions really were with this scheme. The authors argue that Frel’s interest was scholarly, and to grow a study collection for the museum. Yet, when Frel is asked to leave in 1984 after the tax scheme and other equally radical improprieties are revealed to upper management, the authors report that some 800 objects were found with little or no documentation (55). As part of his scheme, Frel would regularly falsify the ownership histories of the “donated” objects, which corrupted the academic record. If Frel’s aims at the Getty were scholarly, how can this be accounted for? The authors attribute Frel’s behavior to his status as a political refugee from the Eastern block (26). This may or may not be true but certainly his dishonesty and vice found a unique level of tolerance (or willful ignorance) within the particularly corporate management environment of the Getty.

But, corporate style, poor oversight and shenanigans in the antiquities department didn’t end with Frel. Harold Williams’ retirement from the Getty Trust in 1998 brought in Barry Munitz as President and CEO. Indeed, Munitz has an academic background, a PhD in comparative literature from Princeton but, instead of teaching or research, he almost immediately began working in university administration, becoming chancellor of the University of Houston’s Main Campus at a sage 35 years old. He then left academia for real estate and forestry speculation as well as serving as chairman of the Texas Savings and Loan Association. The Texas Savings and Loan Association was seized by federal regulators in 1988, the fifth largest bank failure in American history at the time. From there Munitz had moved on to Chancellor of the California State University system, the largest higher education system in the country. In this position, Munitz was one of the most influential leaders in employing a for-profit model to higher education, viewing students as customers. When Munitz replaced Williams as the head of the Getty Trust, its valuation was $4.3 billion. Interestingly, not long after his appointment he settled his savings and loan suit and, stemming from the charges of enriching himself with improper and excessive compensation and irresponsible allocation of assets on junk bonds and loss real estate, he was barred from working at a bank or similar business for three years. As the Felch and Frammolino point out, curiously, this did not bar him from directing one of the largest public trusts in the world.

It was under Munitz that Marion True flourished as curator of antiquities and it was her exploits which occupy much of Chasing Aphrodite. True has left an indelible mark on the Getty Villa, the stand-alone collection of antiquities of the Getty Museum; three quarters of the materials on display were acquired under her era. Indeed, True emerges as a genuinely fascinating character in the book, from her working-class, grasping mid-western beginnings to her schizophrenic behavior at the Getty during which she simultaneously championed the rights of source countries to fight the illicit antiquities trade, crafting a uniquely conservative museum acquisitions policy while at the same time actively buying looted antiquities from notorious dealers like Hecht and Medici. There are at least a couple of ways to understand how this was tolerated. One is yet again an example of the sort of corporate hands-off, or just plain incompetent, management style that allowed a tax scheme such as Frel’s to thrive. The other is more nefarious, which is that this behavior was known and condoned.

As Felch and Frammolino describe, True was hired at the Getty by Frel as an assistant in the antiquities department, not yet having finished her Harvard PhD. Before the Getty, True had not only worked for a corrupt Newburyport art dealer Steven Straw, but engaged in an unsuccessful and badly ended business venture with Bruce and Ingrid McAlpine, two of London’s most prominent antiquities dealers. But, with Frel’s departure from the Getty in 1985, True’s star soon rose, being promoted to associate antiquities curator. It was at this point that the Getty experienced its first public scandal involving an antiquities purchase, that of an Archaic Greek Kouros statue.

The story of the Getty Kouros is well known but what Felch and Frammolino add is the inside dope. We learn how Federico Zeri vocally denounced the Kouros a fake and within the institution there was a vigorous debate about its purchase. As a part of this debate, the authors’ research reveals that the curators and managers at the Getty were well aware of the illicit nature of many antiquities on the market. It is made clear from internal documents that Arthur Houghton, associate antiquities curator, had warned Getty management about the questionable origins of the Kouros, a purchase Frel had initiated and for which he provided forged provenance documents.

Indeed, the documentation Chasing Aphrodite presents regarding just how much curators, general counsel, the museum director and CEO of the Getty trust knew about antiquities purchases is one of the most significant aspects of the book. For instance, the authors reveal that during the internal machinations over the purchase of the Kouros, CEO Williams complained to John Walsh, the director of the museum, that “much of the conversation [regarding the liability of purchasing the Kouros] is to the effect that 90% of the objects on the market are presumed to have recently come out of Italy or Greece.” (58) Moreover, Houghton, in conversation with Getty attorney Bruce Bevan (quoted in Houghton’s notes) stated “the reality is that 95% of the antiquities on the market have been found in the last three years.” (61) The Kouros was purchased in 1985 for $7million.

Another example of the knowledge insiders at the Getty had about the illicit antiquities market shown in the book is when, in 1985, Maurice Tempelsman, an art collector, sold eleven of his best pieces from his antiquities collection to the Getty for $16 million, including a spectacular marble group depicting two griffins ripping into a fallen doe, complete with ancient paint still visible. Because of the importance of this and two other pieces, the Getty commissioned Cornelius Vermeule of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston to write a study of them to accompany their debut at the museum. In the piece Vermeule argued that the stylistic similarity of the three objects indicated that they were from the same workshop. Being the case that these objects were bought from the market and no information as to their archaeological provenience existed, this was an argument made purely on visual examination. Houghton contacted Medici, from whom Tempelsman originally bought the pieces, to ask what he knew about where they came from. What he gets back from Medici, which he documents in an internal Getty memo, in part refutes Vermeule’s professional opinion but, amazingly, documents the dirty story of the looting of the pieces. “Medici said that he had purchased all three from Italian looters in 1975 or 1976. Two of the objects had indeed been found in the same tomb (which add strength to a same-workshop theory), in some ruins just outside Taranto, a thriving center of art in ancient times. The griffins had been found in the ruins of a villa some 150 to 200 meters away.” (66)

And as another example, among the evidence sized in the Giacomo Medici trial, prosecutor Paolo Ferri finds a letter True had written to Medici asking for information about a group of Greek olpae the Getty had bought from him. Apparently an assistant curator was writing a PhD dissertation on the pieces and True wanted to know where they were from. Medici had written back with helpful details, informing True that the pieces had been found in Monte Abatone , a necropolis in Cerveteri, even describing the tomb itself and offered her other objects that had been found there (212).

These three examples illustrate that those at all levels at the Getty knew that the antiquities they were acquiring were looted. As the authors state in a footnote (331), “from as early as April 1984,….American museum officials were well aware that they were buying recently looted objects, a charge they vehemently deny to this day.”

The story above involving Marion True and her inquiry to Medici about the olpae is one of many which serve to show the duplicity of her character. What is compelling about True isn’t so much the sad story of an individual who knowingly did what she knew was illegal, immoral and harmful to her profession in order to further herself personally; indeed, this is an old story. What is compelling is that this duplicity, ironically, help forge some of the strictest acquisition policies of any US museum.

True and her care for the Getty’s antiquities collection policies began in 1986 when Robin Symes, notorious antiquities dealer, offered her a spectacular, slightly larger than life-sized, extremely rare, limestone and marble acrolith sculpture representing Aphrodite. A sculpture of such type, size and quality would have been known if had been discovered either in the distant past or more recently in legal excavation. It was still encrusted with soil and had fresh breaks which divided it into three equal parts, a classic smuggler’s trick. The sculpture was clearly looted but True was determined to have it despite the recent Kouros scandal. As the Getty’s acquisition policy stood, the purchase of suspect objects was prohibited; it obliged the museum to abide by US and international laws and required inquires with presumed source countries. The director of the Getty Museum, Walsh, who was bent on acquisitions regardless of the law or loss of knowledge, sought to adopt more liberal guidelines, especially those which would accommodate the purchase of the Aphrodite. A new policy, approved by the Getty board in 1987, crafted by Walsh, True and Getty counsel Bevan was trumpeted by True in internal documents as going “beyond what is demanded by the law….and abid[ing] by the highest possible ethical standards.”(91). It in fact made ignoring antiquities laws museum policy; it put the burden of proof on the dealers who offered the pieces for sale and made necessary inquiries to source countries only if there was evidence of looting of such object that the Getty wanted to buy. The first requirement was a joke, given how those at the Getty knew that the dealers from whom they bought antiquities were highly immoral and the second requirement was toothless as most source countries do not have the resources to prevent or even be fully informed about what pieces are being looted and taken across their borders. The Aphrodite would be purchased and the museum would effectively institutionalize its ability to acquire any antiquity it wanted.

Indeed, this would seem to support the notion that True was keen to collect and had little problem with depleting the cultural resources of source countries. However, Felch and Frammolino then describe a curious course of events. True and her associate curator, John Papadopolous, were contacted by an Italian archaeologist working at the site of Francavilla Maritima, who told them that several objects donated under Frel and his tax write-off scams had almost certainly been looted from an area of the site. Papadopolous, working in the archives, established that the pieces had been purchased by Frel with full knowledge that they had been looted from that exact site. The Italian authorities were notified and the Getty laboriously documented the pieces before they were returned. True’s efforts to make right the wrong of her predecessor Frel, won her glowing comments from the Italian Carabinieri and fame for her boldness and forward thinking. Where is True’s acquisitive nature here? How did she square this return with the purchase of the Aphrodite?

Not even ten years later, in 1995, True and Papadopoulos proposed a new and truly stringent acquisition policy for the Getty, far more stringent than any other American museum. No object could be acquired by the Getty, by purchase or donation, which lacked documented ownership prior to the year of the adoption of the policy. But, only the next year, in 1996, the Getty agreed to accept a gift of most of the impressive Fleischman collection of antiquities, many of which were of highly questionable origins. The Getty itself had published the collection (in hopeful anticipation of receiving it later) in 1994 and this was offered by True as sufficient to meet the requirements of the new acquisition policy. Despite this double-dealing, True continued to tout the Getty’s new policy widely. At a 1998 conference at Rutgers University on art, antiquity and the law, she signed a resolution calling for long-term loans of ancient art from source countries and declared she was looking forward to a new era of the “sharing of cultural properties rather than their exploitation as commodities.” Six months later, she appeared at a National Arts Journalism Program event at Columbia University, at which she expressed “serious reservations” about the curatorial activities of museums that kept buying “simply to put material in the basement.” (164)

With this all behind her, in March of 2002, True proposed the purchase of a half life-sized, 3rd century bronze figure of Poseidon. Although it appeared to meet the new 1995 strict Getty acquisition policy (it had been known of since the late 1970’s and its ownership history was clear since then), it was being offered for sale by Robin Symes. As Felch and Frammolino’s sources show, this fact sent up alarm bells in the deputy director’s office and with further investigation by Colby in the General Counsel’s office it was discovered that the import paperwork on the statue had been forged and that in the late 1970’s the piece had been the subject of a major controversy after the Carabinieri told the British media that the statue had been found in the Bay of Naples and smuggled out of Italy. That True could have trusted Symes is unbelievable and that she would have been ignorant of the questionable background of the piece is unbelievable as well. As Ludovic de Walden, an outside counsel hired by the Getty to vet the proposed purchase of the piece is quoted as saying, True would have had to be “insane” to propose buying the Poseidon (221) – that is to say insane given what she had been saying all over the place about how above-board the Getty’s acquisitions would now be.

But, the downfall of Marion True had already begun and was intimately connected to the Italian investigation into the Giacomo Medici illicit antiquities cordata explain?, best described in The Medici Conspiracy. To make a long story short, during the course of the investigation two spectacular pieces of evidence were uncovered. The first is a written organizational chart, an organogram, which illustrated the supply and demand structure of Medici’s market. At the top of the chart, chief among the demand-side players, was listed the J. Paul Getty Museum. The other spectacular piece of evidence was a stash of Polaroids of hundreds of objects freshly looted, several which ended up in American public and private collections, including the Getty. The Getty became a focal point of two separate prosecutions, not only against the museum per se, but against Marion True herself.

The inside perspective which Felch and Frammolino provide on the Italian case against True shows a few things. One is that, indeed, as True has alleged (most recently in LA Times in January, the Getty was more than willing to throw her under the bus despite her years of obsequious service. Already in January of 2001, an internal memo from Getty counsel Richard Martin advised Getty CEO Munitz that True might have to suffer as collateral damage in the fight with the Italians. Then in early 2002, Frieda Tchacos, a long-time antiquities dealer, was arrested on a warrant for her involvement in an Italian looting case. In Ferri’s interrogation of her, she confirmed suspicions that True had helped build the Fleischman collection with the intention of eventually receiving it at the Getty. This gave Ferri enough for conspiracy charges against True and would become central to the Italian case against her. In late 2002 the Frederick Schultz case ends in a conviction on one felony count of violating the National Stolen Property Act for trafficking in illicit Egyptian antiquities in the US. This sent out shock waves and Felch and Frammolino describe a confidential meeting among the directors of select American museums (the MMA, Cleveland, Chicago and the Getty) at which it was determined that the requests and legal actions from source countries were a genuine problem. The conclusions of the meeting were only made more urgent for the Getty as at the end of 2003, the Medici trial began, featuring much damning evidence involving the institution. In December of 2004 Medici was found guilty of trafficking stolen Italian antiquities (a decision which was upheld on appeal in 2009) and Marion True was next in the crosshairs of the Italian court.

Judge Guglielmo Muntoni, who had presided over the Medici trial, was assigned to the preliminary hearing of the True case. The authors’ interviews with Muntoni reveal that he had sympathy with True, believing that she wanted to change things in American museums but her job required her to acquire looted antiquities. Be that as it may, Muntoni saw his way clear in April of 2005 to hand down an indictment ordering True to stand trial.

Back Stateside, the investigations and secretly leaked documents upon which Chasing Aphrodite are based began to be revealed in a string of articles in the LA Times and, at the end of 2005, the most damning revelation about True hit the presses: she had accepted a personal loan from the antiquities dealer Christos Michaelides and repaid that with another personal loan, this from the Fleischmans, both people from whom the Getty has purchased antiquities. This was the final straw which led the Getty board to ask for True’s resignation. (266) The balance of Chasing Aphrodite follows the shuttle diplomacy between the Getty and Italy, instigated in January 2006 by the new CEO Michael Brand, which results in an agreement in August of 2007 for the return of forty objects, including the Aphrodite acrolith. The removal from the Getty Villa galleries of the materials returned to Italy marks the close of Chasing Aphrodite. As the authors briefly note, in November of 2010 the case against the former Getty antiquities curator was dropped due to the statue of limitations on the case having been reached. This was an expected outcome; it was understood that the indictment was enough, to send a message to American museums. As reported on a New York Times blog at the time, Ferri was quoted as saying that the trial had worked as a signal to museums; with the trial, he said, “Italy showed that it wanted to break with past practices.” True was collateral damage, indeed.

Felch and Frammolino, at the very end of their Epilogue, look back at the era of Marion True at the Getty and surmise that it is a thing of the past; that the fall of Marion True has forged “a peace between collectors and archaeologists, museums and source countries.” (312) This is a desirable sentiment and indeed a fine way to end a book the likes of which they have so aptly written. It is, unfortunately, not particularly true. One need merely browse through, for instance, the postings on David Gill’s blog Looting Matters to see the activities of institutions such as the Mougins Museum of Classical Art in France, the Miho Museum in Japan, the National Archaeological Museum in Madrid, Spain, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, or the Princeton University Art Museum to ascertain that there is little peace. And, these examples include only works of art from the ancient Classical world. Indeed, there is also little peace between the museums and collectors all over the world who are quietly amassing collections of African, Southeast Asian, Far Eastern and South and Central American art and the pillaged and often indigent and politically unstable regions from which these objects come.

If only a peace could be forged without an end to the demand side of the illicit antiquities trade. But, it cannot; as long as there is a robust demand for antiquities they will be looted. As long as any archaeological site is violated, historical monument is compromised or museum is broken into in order to feed the demand for the purchase of antiquities regardless of the loss of knowledge, we all, as inheritors of the earth’s (not just the Classical world’s) cultural heritage, must strive to bring this filthy, dark, destructive market to public attention. Chasing Aphrodite is a work in this vein and this author is grateful for it.

"Egypt’s Antiquities Fall Victim to the Mob": A Response

Alexander Joffe’s article (Feb. 2) on the, fortunately minor, looting of the Cairo Museum is misleading and, indeed, paradoxical for an archaeologist, omits to mention, let alone discuss, the sole cause for this and all other looting and worldwide plunder. It exists to acquire “treasures” to be sold to customers: no customers, no looting or plunder. This reality is the beginning and end of all discussions on local plunder and looting. Such actions are initially conducted by thieves, not the “people” (“Iraqis,” “Egyptians”), who, as Joffe unfortunately claims, should “decide whether to preserve or destroy” their heritage. Both the thieves and local plunderers (who often commit violence in their activities), are employed by antiquity dealers, who arrange the smuggling abroad, and in turn sell their goodies to, museums and private collectors worldwide. The former purchase the plunder seeking to be labeled “encyclopaedic museums,” and “Guardians of the Past,” which goal in the United states is unknowingly and unwittingly paid for (many millions of dollars a year) by taxpayers; the later for social, prestige reasons. These are the plunderer’s employers, the very sponsors of all looting and plundering. Joffe mentions the looting of the Baghdad and Kabul museums, but not the five museums looted in 1991 under Saddam Husseins’ reign, or that at Corinth: all sold to their sponsors abroad.

Joffee and I agree that plundered artifacts “must be returned,” but clearly, if inadvertently, seems to support plunder in general by assuming they will be “safer in Europe or America,” again omitting to mention how the countless thousands of plundered antiquities reached Europe and America in the first place. Joffe’s attacks on Egypt’s Zahi Hawass conflate his justified claims for return (yes, the Nefertiti head was stolen from Egypt by the German archaeologist Ludwig Burchardt) with his flamboyant claims, and, crucially, does not mention that Hawass’ demands for return were made before the present chaos in Egypt, and were in some cases not “misguided.”

Oscar White Muscarella,
Archaeologst
New York City


Photo: Associated Press

What does the law say about cultural heritage?

We are pleased to call attention to a helpful document by Christina Luke, entitled “Understanding the U.S. Border: Archaeologists, Law Enforcement, and the Preservation of Cultural Heritage”, aimed “to provide the archaeological community and others with an overview of how law enforcement works to protect cultural heritage; to outline the safeguards offered by cultural heritage law; and to suggest ways that archaeologists may contribute their expertise to this process.”

This well-organized and clearly written document contains very helpful information, from an overview to deep content accessible through links provided throughout. It also includes Q and A section, as well as organizational flow charts. For example, it warns that under bilateral agreements (see SAFE’s page about this here) that impose import restrictions upon certain classes of archaeological and/or ethnologic material between the U.S. and more than a dozen foreign countries, restricted material may be forfeited and returned to their countries of origin.

SAFE believes that combating cultural property crime (as with other crimes) begins with greater public awareness. Does a typical tourist who purchases an ancient artifact while visiting Peru know that their new-found treasure could be confiscated by the authorities? Does that same tourist know that importing such material into the United States without full disclosure on a customs declaration form may be a violation of law? SAFE applauds Christina Luke’s effort to educate the general public about these issues by describing the laws and enforcement measures that help to preserve cultural property around the world.

Britain’s Portable Antiquities Scheme Debated in Archaeological Journal

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The latest edition (volume 20) of the Papers of the Institute of Archaeology has a timely debate, with a typically thought-provoking and balanced keynote paper by David Gill which asks the fundamental question: “The Portable Antiquities Scheme and the Treasure Act: Protecting the Archaeology of England and Wales?“. This follows the usual format of academic debate in a printed journal, the keynote article is followed by five independently written invited responses, to which the original author then replies. Although a normal printed peer-reviewed journal, PIA also has an open access policy and the texts are available in full online:

Keynote text by David W. J. Gill: The Portable Antiquities Scheme and the Treasure Act: Protecting the Archaeology of England and Wales?

Trevor Austin: The Portable Antiquities Scheme and the Treasure Act: Protecting the Archaeology of England and Wales? A Response.

Paul Barford: Archaeology, Collectors and Preservation: a Reply to David Gill

Gabriel Moshenska: Portable Antiquities, Pragmatism and the ‘Precious Things’

Colin Renfrew: Comment on the Paper by David Gill

Sally Worrell: The Crosby Garrett Helmet

David W. J. Gill: Reply to Austin, Barford, Moshenska, Renfrew and Worrell

Apparently Roger Bland, head of the PAS, was – as the editor put it – “less willing to contribute” a response to what Gill had written, which in the circumstances is a great pity.

The five comments are notable for their varied approach. Renfrew’s was quite short but raised a few cogent points in connection with what Gill had written, Worrell’s concentrated on a single aspect and does not add much to what Gill had said. Austin, representing UK metal detectorists (as head of the National Council for Metal Detectorists) does his hobby no favours by an aggressive attack on the British archaeological establishment, but simply ignoring most of the points Gill made. Moshenska also tries to defend artefact hunters against straw men. Barford is typically long-winded, but identifies part of the problem raised by Gill in the current weakness of position of the PAS and postulates strengthening it by embodying it more firmly in legislation.

I discuss some of the contributions at more length on my blog.
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Forensics, looting, and the law: The view from Ohio

An article I first encountered in the online version of the newspaper The Columbus Dispatch, out of Columbus, Ohio, caught my eye awhile ago when searching for current news to discuss, but then things got busy and it slipped my mind. Rediscovering it now, I realise that the innovative project it describes is worthy of dissemination here. The article describes a course held last August to provide archaeologists and law-enforcement officials/investigators from around the region, and from across the US, the tools, on-the-ground training, and ‘forensic’ perspective they need to investigate cases of prehistoric and historic site looting (see photo at left). For the 4th time, this course was held within Wayne National Forest near Nelsonville, Ohio, an area containing a variety of archaeological sites spanning 12,000 years of occupation, and including Hopewell-culture burial grounds significant to several Native American descendant tribes. Both an introductory and advanced course are offered, with the advanced course geared more towards professional practicing archaeologists employed by National Parks or Forestry departments around the country; often the first individual to stumble on cases on fresh looting.

Mock ‘crime-scenes’ illustrating several illicit surface collection and excavation scenarios were set up and then utilized, most illustrating evidence for the looting of small, portable prehistoric artifacts such as arrowheads. Field training went hand-in-hand with workshops on the finer points of local and national laws that permit the arrest and trial of looters caught in the act-an outcome which happens far too infrequently, even in the US, according to course instructor Martin McAllister, founder of the cultural resources management firm Archaeological Damage Investigation & Assessment (ADIA), and Wayne Forest chief archaeologist Ann Cramer. Rick Perkins, chief ranger of the nearby Hopewell Culture National Historical Park, and Steve Vance, tribal historic-preservation officer for the Cheyenne River Sioux of South Dakota (and an attendant), both attested to the importance of a course that provides field investigators the skills with which to record burial looting events, evidence for which can be subtle or deliberately concealed. Legal fines can be as steep as $250,000 and five years in prison for deliberate removal of artifacts more than 100 yrs old (error in original article corrected, McAllister, pers. comm.) and additional penalties are in place for damage to burials under NAGPRA (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act), as well as lesser fines for damaging historic period sites. Therefore, one would think that casual visitors and locals would have every incentive to leave the past alone, and yet looting continues apace.

Although the article does not report whether or not participants or course conveners deemed the class a success, the continued offering of such classes by ADIA (above), sometimes within western US states (such as McAllister’s native Montana) suggests that all involved come away much more informed. Comparative international examples exist, such as the village workshops conducted by Heritage Watch within communities near threatened sites in Cambodia, but these tend to be more focused on the value of intact sites themselves (a crucial educational message regardless), and less about training authorities to recognize and document looting ex post facto. If any readers of this blog know about current workshops or classes in their area of the world that are comparable to this, I’d love to hear about them. I suspect, however, that such training efforts are rare internationally due to monetary or staff constraints-making this innovative project a model to be followed in future wherever possible.

Finders Keepers – Craig Childs

As it turns out, the author’s title is unbelievably appropriate as it describes the essence of the entirety of the book – a personal reaction to the discovery of artifacts.

Childs sets out to describe the history behind humanity’s need to understand its past. He artfully crafts a story based in part on his own personal, and very diverse, travels about the globe. He tells of grand discoveries as often as simple broken pots. Childs successfully creates a sense that each item has a tale to tell and is valuable for that alone, if nothing else. He also notes the vast disparity between people of all walks of life in terms of how they interact with, and understand, the past as embodied in ruins and artifacts. Archaeologists, collectors, looters, and families all make their appearances; all lending their views on the issues and all are given due consideration by Childs.

Perhaps comprising the central theme of the book, Childs effectively engenders an appreciation for the natural beauty of not only artifacts, but also of their settings. In this simple observation, he draws attention to perhaps the thorniest issue surrounding many of the artifacts of the world, whether in private collections, museums, or still in the ground: are artifacts art or information? Do they have value on their own or do they require provenance and detailed records of discovery? Who should properly care for them – individuals, museums, or the sands of time?

Childs wavers back and forth throughout the book, between his opinion that humanity’s need to possess items from its past is natural and his personal feeling that artifacts should remain where we find them, left to become one with the earth again in time. For him, the answer is personal and simple, our museums and collections are full to bursting already – we ought to let our discoveries lie in peace to be observed and appreciated in their “natural” state by the next passerby.

However, this is where one comes against at least two main problems with Childs’ conclusions. First, his premise is based on an entirely personal feeling. Such a feeling is obviously difficult to define, as Childs doesn’t fully succeed in convincing the reader that his position is the right one. As such, his position is not particularly helpful in defining how we ought to interact with our past, or how we ought to govern our behavior. Of course, if his goal was to start the discussion surrounding the treatment of cultural sites and artifacts on an entirely new path, Childs could be successful.

Second, the ultimate result of Childs’ “let it lie” mentality is often bound to be precisely the same result as if nothing had been found at all. For all intents and purposes the artifact — all its uniqueness, history, and information – will be lost to humanity. Perhaps this is preferable to the destruction of innumerable sites from the greed or nonchalance of looters and others, but perhaps not. What value has history if no one knows it? Childs tells of several finds he uncovered in his travels, only to leave them to chance thereafter. He argues that our museums and collections are overflowing with artifacts and that we cannot properly care for the ones we already have. Why continue to dig up new artifacts which might not even be seen in a museum, instead languishing away in a climate-controlled basement? One has to admit, Childs has a valid point.

Even so, is there not a value in facilitating the sharing of knowledge and engendering an appreciation for humanity’s past? Who is to say when a new discovery is more than just another pot, and is, in fact, new evidence never before seen? Provided we continue to legitimize the process surrounding digs and the acquisition of artifacts, it seems almost silly to argue that we’re better off leaving things in the dirt. Childs’s personal, almost spiritual, relationship with his process of hiking and discovery is just that – personal. It is not immediately translatable to anyone else.

While Childs himself does not truly reach a firm conclusion, he certainly generates the impression that if he had his way, all the world’s remaining undiscovered ruins and artifacts would remain as they are – unknown to anyone unwilling to backpack for days in the remaining wilderness areas of our world. At the same time, Childs does agree that the work of archeologists is preferable to that of looters, even though he often equates the two in many ways.

His final three examples demonstrating his ethic when making a new find illustrate all the above criticisms. He tells of returning to the site of a long ago discovered basket, an arrowhead on the side of the road, and a prayer stone in Tibet. He again wavers between his natural desire to possess each of these finds, to take them to show others. In the end, his conscience wins the day and he leaves each where he found them — in an important way, treating them as the bits of plant matter and rocks they will soon become.

Childs doesn’t seem to see the problem that strikes the reader in these actions. For example, he states that the basket was clearly purposefully placed where he found it. However, his discovery came on the heels of an arduous and dangerous trek to find a tiny crack where if he poked his head in he could just discern the shadowy form of the basket. Everything about his lengthy description speaks to the probability that the basket merely fell into the crack some hundreds or thousands of years ago.

The arrowhead he leaves behind instead of sharing with his son because he knows it will merely become a dusty member of his own cardboard box collection. Because of this, he opts instead to leave the artifact by the road for someone else to discover. Is it really better than teaching his son about the history that fragment represents? With his decision, this piece of history will likely remain nothing more than roadside gravel. Even though the sentiment is a noble one, perhaps it is too simplistic.

In final example of the prayer stone, the reader feels Childs’s ethic is the most appropriate. These stones were placed for a specific and important purpose. It is an inherently different idea to protect the placement of something placed for a firm purpose.

Of course, it is never that simple. Who is to say what a culture from the past (or even the present) holds sacred? Who gets to decide, particularly if the item is old enough that we don’t rightly know to whom it can be said to “belong?” Even though the questions are difficult, the reader almost feels as though Childs’s approach ignores them rather than answers them.

Even though he acknowledges that there are places where one can hardly walk without crunching artifacts underfoot, Childs also seems to ignore the reality that over time, we can expect humans to continue to grow across much of the land that is currently “undeveloped.” If the best policy were truly to simply leave things as they are, anything we might gain from undiscovered sites or artifacts will be lost to us as we cover the earth with our buildings. Childs seems to believe that this is simply the way it ought to be, that artifacts and ruins should just be reclaimed by the earth. The reader feels this attitude is too simplistic or perhaps simply oblivious.

All in all, Childs’s heart is in the right place and he tells an interesting story of a personal journey across the face of archaeology and collecting. However, in terms of the world at large, the reader feels we should focus on creating better incentives to properly study the artifacts we have, allowing for as much preservation of their context as possible. In many cases, this may mean leaving the items where they were found. But is it really wrong to say that if someone thinks the find is of interest, for knowledge and understanding or simply for aesthetics, that they should be barred from a thoughtful study of them?

Humanity as a whole should be allowed to care about its past, to want to touch it, to understand it – in fact, it should be encouraged to do so. Not all of us can make treks through the wilderness to find these relics from the past – but many of us can make a trip to a museum or follow a designated path to a protected site.

Artifacts are both a part of us and the earth’s history. The fact that each person has different ideas about how we ought to deal with them is what makes the topic so difficult and yet so compelling. Hopefully, opinions like those of Childs will continue to move that discussion along to fruitful outcomes.

Cradle of Gold – Christopher Heaney

(Review by Andrew Vasicek)

In his book, Heaney utilizes an easy, conversational style to tell an interesting and surprising tale of the life and adventures of Hiram Bingham. The reader is treated to Indiana Jones-like stories of the explorer’s travels throughout Peru and of the wonderful discoveries he made. Heaney’s use of original sources is at times inspired and always appropriate. The little tidbits about Bingham and his family are often poignant and truly create a feeling in the reader that one knows the man himself.

At the same time, the reader is shown the sometimes shady underbelly of the profession of archaeology (or perhaps just “exploring”) and its connections to the mistreatment of indigenous people, the illicit artifact trade, and much more. Sadly, these practices date back hundreds or thousands of years, perhaps as far back as humanity has existed in a form resembling that of today.

In many cases, Bingham represents a sort of “renaissance man” that belongs to a different era. He lived a highly varied life, spending time on isolated islands — at sea and in the jungle. He met a great number of people from all walks of life and from all over the world. However, as Heaney writes, Bingham was the hero of his own life.

Bingham treated the world almost as his personal plaything; he expected to get what he wanted and to make use of it as he saw fit. He ostensibly followed the rules, but felt few qualms about bending them as it suited his needs. When the rules became too strong to bend to his will, he simply changed games, moving into politics instead. As a man of experience and pedigree, he found early success in this venture as well. It is this sense of “easy” success and entitlement that shines through the story most of all, not merely of Bingham personally, but also of the “civilized” world in general. For much of human history (including perhaps our own current time), humanity has divided itself into segments. To the extent that they are aware of each other, each segment feels free to judge and place a value on the others.

It is this sense of “easy” success and entitlement that shines through the story most of all, not merely of Bingham personally, but also of the “civilized” world in general. For much of human history (including perhaps our own current time), humanity has divided itself into segments. To the extent that they are aware of each other, each segment feels free to judge and place a value on the others.

In Bingham’s time, this was most definitely the case. Theories such as Social Darwinism and Eugenics came and went, but always the “civilized” nations felt they were the best qualified to care for humanity’s history. In fact, they often felt that they needed to care for humanity’s history. This feeling extended even over artifacts and locations where the local countries were actively fighting for their right to control their own cultural discoveries. Thus, the people with sufficient power and motivation felt they were the only ones who cared enough — the only ones who could care enough — to properly preserve historical items. Unfortunately, this attitude led to the widespread removal of artifacts from their homelands to be displayed (or hidden in storage) in far-flung museums and galleries. This practice became something of a competition amongst the wealthier nations of the world. In one sense, the reader sides with the explorers and researchers as they are at least preferable to unsupervised and rampant looting simply for personal gain. We want to see the museums of the world display artifacts and sites in such a way that the viewer can truly gain an understanding and appreciation for all that has come before.

However, as Heaney points out, this viewing need not take place in Bingham’s New Haven, CT. In fact, many times, such a viewing might be more effective if the items could be studied closer to home, providing the opportunity for the most interested parties to see and appreciate them. Sometimes this might even include people who can trace their remote ancestry directly to those who hail from the era of a cultural site. In the end, the book represents a fascinating and at times gripping story of Bingham’s life. In terms of what this amazing man’s experiences can teach us about the discovery and study of antiquities today, Heaney only touches briefly upon the topic, picking up the theme throughout the overarching narrative of Bingham’s movie-script of a life. He helps the reader understand what it is about humanity that might make us seek to make discoveries, to possess ancient objects at whatever the cost. Heaney does not, however, go far enough in elucidating ways to reign in these exuberances. In fairness, this was not the focus of the book, but Bingham provides such fertile soil, that the reader justifiably might expect more.

Finders Keepers v. Finders Keepers

Two weeks ago, a forthcoming TV series with the working title “Finders Keepers” announced a call for backyards. Tomorrow, desert ecologist and writer Craig Childs will release his new book of the same name — no relation.
“Finders Keepers,” the TV show, one-ups programs like “Antiques Roadshow” and “Pawn Stars.” Not only are the producers interested in objects collecting dust in attics, but they also promise to uncover historic valuables that participants never knew they had.
The producers are looking for Americans who have “found or dug up an antique, artifact or relic” or “think they have an important and valuable artifact buried on their property or at a site they have discovered.” Allegedly, their team of archaeologists will then excavate and appraise, but thus far, it is unclear who the keepers will be.

Meanwhile, in Finders Keepers: A Tale of Archaeological Plunder and Obsession, Craig Childs inserts himself into the polarizing debate over who owns the past– a topic he has previously discussed. He recounts his own dilemmas over artifacts and ownership, and confronts his desires to open ancient doors, to pick up arrowheads, and to get closer, through possession, to the Native American past that he studies.
Those desires are ultimately trumped by Childs’ view that the integrity of objects is best preserved in their natural environment, left untouched by “pothunter” and archaeologist alike. Childs, as Paul Barford rightly pointed out last year, seems to believe the past belongs to no one. In Finders Keepers, he even claims to have freed an ancient pot from a glass case in an anonymous building to return it to the desert, though a reviewer from the L.A. Times says Childs “did not feel entirely good about that.”
At the heart of both Finders Keepers is a lust for uncovering the past in a physical way, but Childs endorses a suppression of that impulse, and the TV show encourages a full exploitation of it, which certainly raises several questions from the middle ground.
Image: Regan Choi/Little, Brown & Co.

SAFE congratulates Bob Wittman on "Priceless"

Robert K. Wittman, who recently retired as Senior Investigator and Founder of FBI’s Art Crime Team, has given us decades of service recovering stolen art and antiquities. He has now also told his story.

The new book takes the reader away from Hollywood fantasies and academic theories to the harsh, gritty reality of art crime. Described by Wittman as “a memoir, not an autobiography or exposé”, Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures highlights the fact that the theft of cultural property is anything but a victimless crime. And Wittman’s book recounts them all: from individuals, institutions, states, governments, countries, to history, memory and identity.

Deftly written by Wittman with John Shiffman, the book offers case studies of successful recoveries. And like every human story, it also includes disappointments and regrets. The trials and tribulations of undercover work are portrayed in a matter-of-fact style that is all the more remarkable given the accolades Wittman has received. The Wall Street Journal called him “a living legend.” The London Times dubbed him “the most famous art detective in the world.” But don’t let the self-effacing style fool you. Priceless is full of valuable information rarely known outside the field, and insights only someone who has “been there and done that” could offer.

No wonder AP calls Priceless “absolutely, hands down, the best book ever written on art crime.”

"Illicit Antiquities: Scandal of Our Age" – Dr. Christopher Chippindale at the Australian National University

Recently, I was fortunate enough to witness a special guest lecture by Dr. Christopher Chippindale that took place as part of the Centre for Archaeological Research’s annual lecture series, in the School of Archaeology and Anthropology at the Australian National University, Canberra, my current affiliation. Dr. Chippindale has long been affiliated with Cambridge University, specifically with the McDonald Institute of Archaeological Research, and also serves as curator of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. In addition to his robust research on antiquities smuggling, he is also prominent in the field of northern Australian rock art archaeology. I will discuss the content of this guest lecture below, as his insights are profound, current, and worth wide dissemination.

The presentation centred around three pertinent, but general, questions: What is the current situation regarding worldwide acquisition of antiquities by museums, especially Classical antiquities? Why is the situation the way it is? What are museums doing to help or hinder their part in it? At its heart, he argues, the modern antiquities trade revolves around the boost to one’s appearance of wealth, prestige, status, and power that the ownership and display of antiquities is deemed to convey, especially amongst the collecting and dealing ‘elite.’ Underpinning this stance is what Chippindale has dubbed the “Connoisseur’s view,” defined as the idea that things (objects) have intrinsic merit and can reflect ‘cultural universals,’ or ‘eternal values,’ as tangible to the ancient people who made the object as to any living person today. Holding this view would then lend the collection of antiquities much “sophistication.” This can be directly contrasted to the “Archaeologist’s View,” which defines artifacts as sources of information in context first and foremost, “worthy of celebration and care.”

Connoisseurs and collectors might view, for example, a rare piece of gold jewelry from the Bush Barrow site in Wiltshire, England (the first ‘case study’ example discussed…bought for 5,000 pounds), as “inspiring,” with the “enjoyment” they feel from it being enhanced if specific details are known, but holding aesthetic appreciation as paramount. Those taking the archaeologist’s view, on the other hand, can acknowledge that, while some meaningful information is inherent in the object itself, it is outweighed by contextual details, and is greatly diminished without them. Context, then, is what prevents one from viewing ancient (or historic) artifacts through the lens of “ordinary daily experience,” i.e. as just another object, even if an artifact holds clear aesthetic appeal due to intricate details of its design. As a summation of this introductory portion of the talk, he states that “these attitudes are not opposed, but the loss of context leaves the connoisseur’s view intact, but ‘wrecks’ the archaeologist’s view.” To Chippindale, this exposes the fundamental self-centredness of the connoisseurs view from its inception, but especially after, World War II, when looting and modern, global, collecting really began to flourish. As he then goes on to show, the misconceptions of connoisseurs and the demand they create continues to profoundly affect the Classical archaeological world.

The case of the “Lansdowne Herakles” serves as a good lead-in example. A Roman copy of the Greek original, it was first discovered in 1791, and came to London in 1792 (into the hands of a British aristocratic family who were later reduced to penury). In 1951, it was purchased by Getty as one of the future Getty Museum’s first acquisitions. Today, Greece has export bans in place that would have prevented this, as do Turkey and Italy, two other prime source countries for Classical loot. “95% of artifacts on the market today just “surface,” with no known provenience” Dr. Chippindale reported. Because it is much more difficult to openly sell stolen art (for example, of the 59 known paintings by the German Impressionist Albrecht Altdorfer, all but one are owned by museums and securely loaned under partage agreements), collectors have been turning to easily transportable small items; both recent and ancient, especially since the 1980s when looting increased world-wide.

Two archetypal examples from the Classical world were provided to illustrate this crisis; Cycladic figurines and south Italian ceramics. Cycladic figurines comprise a corpus of small, stone figurines primarily used as grave goods in pre-Roman cemeteries throughout the Cyclades Islands, although two major non-mortuary sources are known (chief amongst them is the site of Karos, which produced a collection of fragments known as the “Karos Horde”). Very few exist in early 20th century collections, but their stylistic influence on certain European sculptural traditions from 1950-present has resulted in very high demand, with only looting and increasingly fanciful forgeries in “reclining” positions (as opposed to authentic standing postures) left to fill the demand. It is unknown to what extent this looting has damaged the Cyclades overall archaeological record, but of the 1,369 artifacts assessed for provenance history in Gill and Chippindale (2000), only 39 were traceable…the rest just “surfaced” during the 1980s or 1990s! Two recent sales via Christie’s Auction House as late as December, 2009, illustrated this alarming point. A Cycladic figurine sold for $122,500, while a Romano-British bronze ‘fibula’ sold for even more. Neither had provenance listings more specific than a “Japanese private collection,” or “Anonymous sale.” When dealing with or tracking what Chippindale termed “toxic” antiquities (with sources and markets all over the world these days), it is important to pay attention to the phrase “said to be.” A common explanation offered by those found guilty of trading in loot, reading between the lines can prove crucial to subsequent investigations. Said “by whom, to whom, under what circumstances, and with what intentions?”

In the case of the recent looting and smuggling of the ornate red on black pottery of southern Italy, one specific instance was highlighted. What later became known as the “Medici affair” involved the illicit trading of one Giacomo Medici who, through his warehouse in Geneva, was able to legally ship thousands of artifacts, in direct collaboration with numerous museums, galleries, and dealers, until his arrest and trial in 2004. This case mirrors in many ways the more recent “Symes affair,” in which the 17,000+ pieces of art and looted antiquities amassed by Robert Symes and Christo Michaelides while in business together are now being dispersed or sold off with minimal acknowledgment of provenance. It is by now well known that these pieces only appeared on the market en masse in the late 20th century, and that Swiss law’s “good faith” statutes have made it an exceptionally easy country to smuggle from, even with changes that bring Switzerland into minimal compliance with the UNESCO 1970 convention. What surprised me in this portion of the talk was the display of an “organigram” that clearly indicated how wide the conspiratorial net stretched. With the artifacts, immense photographic archive, and organigram recovered from the warehouse, the smuggling ring was busted, but this case remains one of the best examples of the “power, deference, and rule of seniority” that underpin so much international antiquities crime (see also e.g. Bowman 2008).

The natures and global distributions of two other large collections discussed; namely the ‘Barakat Gallery,’ and ‘Yves Saint Laurent & Pierre Berge’ collections, would suggest similar histories. The Yves Saint Laurant contains fourteen artifacts, but only one has an acquisition history pre-1914, Most post-date 1970, two come directly from the now-defunct Symes collection, and none state archaeological context. The 7,000+ antiquities in the Barakat collection (mostly housed in the United Arab Emirates palace, Abu Dhabi, London and Dubai) span the globe in their source countries, but the majority of artifacts come from the Middle East, said to be (there’s that phrase again) from locations whose place names can be tied to Biblical stories. What is the likelihood that stated provenance matches real provenance? Very slim, according to Dr. Chippindale, who is in the process of archiving and researching it. While this work continues, the gallery continues its worldwide sale of worldwide plunder.

Of course, fakes are something that archaeologists and unscrupulous dealers and curators both have to deal with. The most famous case mentioned during the lecture is that of the “Kouros” figure housed at the Getty (see image above left). Although it represents a ‘surfaced’ find, it came with supposedly authentic documents (until discovery of a listed postal code on a form placing the Kouros in Switzerland in 1951-long before postal codes existed in Switzerland, called the entire case history into question). Furthermore, it appears “neither Athenian or Corinthian” in its typology and design motifs. While authenticity remains “undecided,” but highly suspect, it continues to stand in the Getti Villa, further testimony to the embarrassing curatorship of Marion True.

What really surprised me in this lecture, however, was the lengths of deception that some curators were willing to go to display new Classic (Attic) Greek “vases” to the public. Making clear the fact that “there remain no large stockpiles of authentic Classical antiquities available for the market and museums, outside of forgeries and newly looted pieces,” he then provides case studies of museums, mostly in the US, receiving nearly untraceable “gifts” of ceramic sherds, freshly broken from several different vessels both old and new, then reassembled as cleanly as possible into a new, whole “vase!”. Where does this demand come from? In regards to southern Italian ceramics, I learned that it can be partially explained by the thorough, if unfortunately short-sighted, work of Dr. A.D. Trendall (1909-1995), who, by conflating these ceramics with Classical Greek “vases,” gave them the extra significance needed for them to replace gold and silver objects as worthy heirlooms. Although Trendall was known for respecting the intrinsic value of the ceramics in their archaeological context, and for providing order to their classification, his attaching of aesthetic and cash values to them in his published works certainly helped to create a market fed by looting.

I will conclude this post with a citing of what has become known (somewhat in jest) as “Chippindale’s Law”: “Whenever one takes an interest in anything to do with illicit antiquities, reality is always worse that what was expected” (pers. comm., February 2010). The loss of archaeological data when skeletons and their larger burial contexts are destroyed in the search for artifacts to sell, something that prehistorians in most areas of the world will encounter first hand eventually, is just one example of the compounding of this problem. For those of us working as practicing archaeologists or physical anthropologists, the loss of this information, above and beyond the damage to the landscape and those broken artifacts left behind, drives the looting problem home. From the lecture itself, and one-on-one discussion afterwards, I could walk away with the following take home messages. For archaeologists, we must urgently continue, and in fact ‘step up,’ our “watch dog” roles in this crisis; we who discover, analyse, and disseminate new archaeological knowledge about humanity’s collective past through our training. Activists in general must continue to find ways to take the “hip” and “chic” (if you will) out of antiquities collecting. Easier said than done, but only further education will continue to make a dent. Finally, and most succinctly, the lecture closed thusly: “We must continue to learn from the past, not consume it.” Sage advice indeed.

Italy’s Art Squad Celebrates 40 Years of Success

On 3 May 1969, the Carabinieri (Italian National Police) instituted a 16-member unit within the Ministry of Public Education with the purpose of protecting cultural heritage. Predating the UNESCO 1970 treaty by a year, Italy became an early leader in the protection of cultural heritage and has since dedicated unprecedented effort to keeping Italy’s myriad artistic treasures safe.

40 years later, Rome’s Castel Sant’Angelo is host to the exhibition “L’Arma per l’Arte – Antologia di Meraviglie,” or “Armed Forces for Art: Anthology of Wonders,” which highlights the growth and success of the now-called Comando Carabinieri per la Tutela Patrimonio Culturale – or division for the protection of cultural patrimony – by telling the stories of embattled masterpieces that have been looted, stolen, trafficked, or otherwise put at risk, and finally, through the investigative and legal efforts of the TPC, have made a homecoming back in Italy.

The show is organized into three sections: works recovered from abroad by means of legal action, works recovered from abroad by means of letters of request and cooperation, and works recovered within the Republic of Italy. The pieces range from paintings, spirited away from unprotected churches or museums in the Italian countryside and smuggled far from their homes, to ancient pieces that ended up in prominent foreign collections after being taken in illegal digs by tombaroli (tomb raiders) and smuggled out of Italy after the UNESCO treaty of 1970. Each piece on display has a narrative of the theft and recovery, highlighting the often long and complicated process of tracking down a painting after it disappears into thin air, or finding an artifact that was never even known to exist before being dug up by a tombarolo.

The exhibit also features a tour of the Carabinieri TPC’s online resources, where visitors can research a database of over 12,500 stolen works of art and also find advice about what to do in case of a discovered object of suspicious provenance or clandestine dig.

The most famous piece on display is the Sarpedon krater attributed to Euphronios, which was returned from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2008 after some 35 years out of Italy. Other notable works include paintings by Raphael, Bellini and Van Gogh, and a marble statue of Hadrian’s wife Sabina, which the Boston Museum of Fine Arts agreed to return in 2006.

“L’Arma per L’Arte 1969-2009″ continues through 30 January 2010, at Castel Sant’Angelo, in Rome.

Oscar Muscarella on "Rogues Gallery"

Archaeologist Oscar Muscarella reviews Rogues’ Gallery: The Secret History of the Moguls and the Money That Made the Metropolitan Museum by Michael Gross in Scoop. As we have come to expect from the outspoken critic of the illicit antiquities trade and the plunder of artifacts, the review is filled with details and stories only a true insider could tell.

Dr. Muscarella is the author of The Lie Became Great: The Forgery of Near Eastern Cultures and recently, The Veracity of “Scientific” Testing by Conservators.

After 45 years, Dr. Muscarella recently retired from the Met. He will continue to conduct SAFE Tours. Look out for upcoming schedule on the SAFE web site.

The Lost Chalice: A review

The book’s cover promises a thrilling and true story surrounding the shady deals of the underground. However, the author only partly delivers on this promise. The Lost Chalice follows the history of several key players in the drama that surrounded one of the more famous pieces of ancient craftsmanship to be discovered in recent times. This piece is none other than a spectacular red-figure Attic krater (something like a broad vase) created by a preeminent Greek painter and potter by the name of Euphronios. The book provides an admirable level of information about the history of this and other related works, and the methods by which they were created. Silver does not bore with too much detail, but suceeds in making his descriptions of the works, their subject matter, and the period in which they were created interesting and helpful.

Unfortunately, once the story began to dive deep into the complex world of tomb raiding, it also began to become less clear. To some degree this effect may simply be due to the reviewer’s relative lack of experience with the world of antiquities. However, the convoluted relationships between tomb raiders, art dealers, collectors, and museum staff often remained just so. It was also sometimes difficult to keep track of which artifact was being followed and described at a given moment due to the fact that the story followed additional ancient works (such as the chalice of the title, also referred to as a “kylix”), some made by Euphronios and some by others, but all of which (to a novice) sometimes seem very similar. All of this added to the mystery surrounding the pieces and the process, but it also sadly made the action somewhat difficult to keep straight at times.

Even so, Silver provides stunning amounts of detail, sometimes even for items quite unrelated to the plotline. This attention to specifics effectively put the reader in the moment, and demonstrated the author’s dedication to uncovering all the information he possibly could about the pieces and the players (both reputable and less so) involved in the artifact deals.

This is the book’s true focus: on the winding and sometimes mysterious path of Euphronios’ priceless work(s). The krater was unearthed in the 1970s in Italy, after about 2,400 years of undisturbed rest. From there it began its new life in the underground network of tomb raiders and art dealers. Kept often in hiding, smuggled into other countries, bought and sold, and eventually prominently displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the piece was eventually returned to Italy in 2008 under a landmark arrangement that helped set the stage for more judicious treatment of ancient artifacts. This unprecedented event was forcibly caused by the dogged determination of a few groups of investigators and officials (who themselves were not always spotless in behavior). This relatively new development will hopefully further decrease the incentive to conduct illegal digs that disrupt the ability of researchers to fully grasp the meaning and importance of historical finds.

It is here, that the story could have done more than simply create an entertaining crime drama. While noting the importance of “proper” archaeology to uncovering critical details about archaeological finds, the style of the book causes this to feel like mere lip service to the idea. Silver generally appears to be more interested in telling a thrilling adventure story that surrounds the acquisition of artifacts than anything else. Indeed, in many instances throughout the book, one may find oneself “rooting” for the underworld characters – those people robbing the world of the opportunity to fully appreciate the heritage and knowledge that might be found in an archaeological site.

The police and other representatives of “the law” come off as the oppressors in many instances (or even simply co-conspirators who turn a blind eye). Even the mediocre application of these laws intended to prevent looting is portrayed as more of an impediment to be overcome, than a guide for the proper course of action. Silver does note that most countries have had laws respecting the discovery of ancient artifacts, but that until recent decades these were only inconsistenly enforced, and with moderate success. The adventure surrounding the “lost chalice” and it’s relatives may shed additional light upon the problems that are associated with tomb raiding and illicit artifact dealing, but the message certainly could have been more strongly conveyed.

The people associated with the clearly illegal elements of the story were not necessarily portrayed in a positive light, but they did often make sympathetic characters (particularly the principal raider – Giacomo Medici). Silver did leave one with the feeling that the times have changed, and that the pool for illicit deals is drying up. Many (if not most) of the items discussed in The Lost Chalice have, in fact, been repatriated to their countries of discovery, or are still the subject of legal battles and negotiations to do so. In that way, perhaps this story will continue to help spur awareness of these issues and encourage people to think twice about engaging in the purchase of items with questionable provenance. Unfortunately for the artifacts that have already been the subject of looting, there is no way of knowing what information has been forever lost as a result.

(Note: Medici has been sentenced to 10 years in jail with a $14 million fine. Other players on trial still await final verdicts.)