What do you think: “Gleaming in the Dust” by George Richards and Tristan Summerscale

Following up with the previous blog post, “What do you think?”, this blog post introduces another cultural heritage protection project that reached out to SAFE for suggestions and advice.

George Richards and Tristan Summerscale from London, England, have recently published an audio documentary titled, “Gleaming in the Dust.” It focuses on exposing the deep-rooted problems of illicit antiquities trade and looting of Egyptian archaeological sites. Through interviews with archaeologists (including Dr. Monica Hanna), the Egyptian government, the British Museum, and many other experts, Richards and Summerscale hope to raise public awareness on Egyptian cultural heritage protection. You can view the documentary here, and learn more about the documentary project at gleaminginthedust.com.

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


Featured image: Square Bracket featured image for the audio documentary at https://soundcloud.com/square-bracket-production/gleaming-in-the-dust-the-looting-of-egypts-ancient-heritage.

What do you think: “Remembering the Lost Sculptures of Kathmandu” by Joy Lynn Davis

Following up with the previous blog post, “What do you think?”, this blog post introduces another cultural heritage protection project that reached out to SAFE for suggestions and advice.

Joy Lynn Davis leads a public-awareness and art production project, “Remembering the Lost Sculptures of Kathmandu.” It started in 2010 as a response to the illicit smuggling of sacred stone sculptures in Nepal. She has created paintings with 23 karat gold that emphasize the absence of the stolen sculptures

She has organized community outreach activities and an exhibition, which was sponsored by UNESCO. To learn more about Davis’ projects, visit http://rememberingthelost.com/.

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


Featured Image: Joy Lynn Davis. 15th Century Lakshmi Narayan, Patan, Nepal. Acrylic with 23 kt. gold on cotton rag paper, 40 x 30”, 2013. http://rememberingthelost.com/paintings/

Help SAFE serve you better

SAFE is working on a planning initiative to better the organization and help achieve its mission. We have designed a survey to measure readers’ opinions of SAFE and its programs, mission, strengths, and weaknesses. We would appreciate if you could take a couple minutes of your time to participate in this survey. Please follow the instructions, and where appropriate, add in your comments. Thank you for your time.

The best ways to share your projects and ideas with SAFE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

How the Ka-Nefer-Nefer/SLAM case could finally be put to rest

After more than three years of legal battle, the curious case of U.S. v. Mask of Ka Nefer Nefer finally came to a denouement. On June 12, Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decided that the 3,200-year-old mummy mask of an Egyptian noblewoman should stay at St Louis Art Museum (SLAM). To the frustration of many who have been following the case, it was closed because of the attorney’s office’s administrative blunder—it failed to timely file a request to extend the deadline to amend its case. Consequently, the court affirmed the April 2012 decision by the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Missouri, which stated that the government failed to articulate exactly how the mask was brought to the U.S. “contrary to law.” So Ka-Nefer-Nefer is still on view at SLAM.

But is this really the end of this story?

Maybe there could be a different ending to this story. What if SLAM simply offers Ka-Nefer-Nefer back to Egypt? For the past few years, the antiquities world has seen a tremendous shift in major museums’ and auction houses’ attitude toward repatriation. Recently, for example, the Metropolitan Museum of ArtSotheby’sNorton Simon Museum, and Christie’s all returned tenth-century sculptures looted from the Khmer temple of Prasat Chen in Koh Ker. These repatriation cases were all enthusiastically welcomed by Cambodia, with promises of future collaborations and loans for exhibitions.

SLAM, too, can turn this into a golden opportunity. This does not have to be a contentious and costly fight, but an opportunity for a demonstration of good will. Although the cases of Koh Ker sculptures had more obvious evidence that they had been looted (including the feet and bases of the sculptures left in Koh Ker), it is also true that Ka-Nefer-Nefer’s journey to the U.S. has many unanswered questions. For example, Malcolm Gay, a reporter of St. Louis’s Riverfront Times, writes that “an anonymous Swiss collector” in SLAM’s provenance cannot be convincingly identified. David Gill, 2012 Beacon Award Recipient and Professor of Archaeological Heritage at University Campus Suffolk, points out that the mask could not have possibly been in Cairo and the Kaloterna collection at the same time. Paul Barford, in responding to David Gill, rightly claims that even after the court ruling, SLAM still has ethical and moral obligation to fulfill.

SLAM’s insistence on keeping the object, therefore, seems rather outdated.

Right now, SLAM is swimming against the tide. Just to mention a few more well-known examples, the Met returned the famous Euphronios Krater in 2006; the Cleveland Museum of Art returned fourteen Italian antiquities in 2008; MFA Boston returned Weary Herakles in 2011 to Turkey, as well as eight antiquities to Nigeria last June. All cases included an agreement that the source countries recognized that the museums had acquired the objects in good faith without knowing their questionable ownership history.

SLAM’s insistence on keeping the object, therefore, seems rather outdated. The twenty-first century is finally moving away from the dark shadows of colonialism. The old guards of the museum world who once put up a fight for retentionism are losing their voices. As a college student, I admit that I do not know all the nuances and intricacies of the cultural heritage law and precedents. What I do know is this: ethics, morality, and good will are more important than retaining an Egyptian mask. SLAM already has the fabulous mummy case of Amen-Nestawy-Nakht and many other important Egyptian antiquities, whose ownership is not in question as far as I know.

Perhaps SLAM can consider returning the beautiful noblewoman’s mask back to her home in Egypt, maybe with a condition that Egypt recognizes that SLAM purchased the object in good faith under the limited information available to it in 1998? The Egyptian government has been very appreciative of all the recent repatriations, but has not been afraid to retaliate if agreements were not reached. Look at the case of this German couple, who was honored in a gala at the Egyptian Embassy in Germany for their return of a smuggled relief. But Egypt temporarily severed its tie with the Louvre and refused to permit French excavations on its land in 2009 when the Louvre did not return four wall reliefs stolen in Egypt in the 1980s.

For the Egyptians, repatriation is a question of pride. Former Egyptian Minister of Antiquities Mohamed Ibrahim said that Egypt “will not abandon its right to Ka-Nefer-Nefer mask.” SLAM could use this opportunity to establish renewed friendship with Egypt. Who knows, Egypt might loan invaluable treasures for future exhibitions at SLAM, just like Cambodia has done for the “Lost Kingdoms” exhibition currently on view at the Met.

If SLAM wants “to continue to provide all visitors to the museum, and the citizens we serve, this rich experience in the ancient art,” as SLAM director Brent R. Benjamin claims, then returning the mask to Egypt would truly serve these purposes.

What do you think?

Do you think all nations should help protect one another’s cultural heritage?

On June 2, 2014, the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) will begin its review of Egypt’s request that the US impose import restrictions on Egyptian antiquities in a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), made under Article 9 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (UNESCO Convention). Written public comments submitted earlier are posted here. (We urge our readers to take the time and read some of the longer submissions where the most reasoned, fact-based arguments are made. To us, substance is a clear winner here, not circular reasoning.)

SAFE has been a proponent of import restrictions as an effect deterrent to stem the trade of illicit antiquities. In Egypt’s case, we wrote on February 1, 2011, “Whether or not legislation is required, until order is restored, we believe that if the demand for Egyptian antiquities is curtailed, if not stopped, the loss of Egypt’s cultural patrimony during this tumultuous time would be curbed.” Earlier this year, we urged the Egyptian authorities to use all legal mechanisms to discourage looting, prevent smuggling, preserve and protect the most precious part of Egypt’s vast cultural patrimony by seeking an MoU with the U.S. 


Both the United States and Egypt are both states parties to the UNESCO Convention which obliges States Parties to restrict the importation of cultural property stolen from a museum or monument in another participating country (Article 7b), and allows States Parties whose archaeological or ethnological patrimony is in jeopardy from pillage to ask other States Parties for help in protecting the affected categories of materials, through measures that may include restrictions on imports and exports (Article 9). In other words, both nations have, for some decades, already decided to join with the international response to curbing looting and the illicit antiquities trade by being a part of the Convention. By imposing import restrictions on Egyptian antiquities, the US would simply be fulfilling its obligations under the Convention, as it has done since the signing of the first MoU with El Salvador in 1987.

SAFE believes that ALL nations should help protect one another’s cultural heritage. 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 joined by more than 120 countries around the world, has been proposed.

Helping to protect another nation’s cultural patrimony by temporarily limiting the importation of its cultural property is the least that any right-thinking nation can do to safeguard one of humanity’s greatest legacies.

What do you think?


Modern Day Monuments Men and Women?

With today’s national release of the George Clooney’s The Monuments Men, it is only appropriate to discuss the heroic men and women portrayed by the film’s all-star cast and to ask: Where are today’s Monuments Men and Women?

I attended a conference this fall hosted by The Lawyer’s Committee for Cultural Heritage PreservationFordham Law School, and the American Society of International Law (ASIL) entitled “The Monuments Men, Social Media, the Law and Cultural Heritage.” I had seen a trailer for the movie and was excited to see it in theaters, but I had managed to fail to make the connection between the conference’s title and the film’s. Not only was Robert Edsel, the author of the book The Monuments Men and the founder of the Monuments Men Foundation, in attendance, but numerous experts in all fields relating to looting were present as well. I was enlightened on both the World War II initiatives against looting and on modern day efforts to continue the same line of work as those heroes. So before you see the film, or don’t, here are a few reflections on its tale and others that are similar.

While the film focuses on a handful of key figures of the operation, the Monuments Men were actually a group of approximately 345 men and women from 13 different nations. They were experts in the arts and volunteered their services to protect cultural heritage from the destruction of World War II, but they did not act alone. Behind these heroes was The Roberts Commission that reported the invaluable lists and maps on the location of heritage sites and artwork across Europe that were prepared by the American Council of Learned Societies and The Harvard Group to military units. As a collective unit they were able to return more than five million cultural pieces that had been seized by the Nazi regime.

The members of this task force, officially known as the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Section (MFAA), performed an unprecedented and overwhelming task, but the memory of their acts drifted from people’s memories. Until, that is, Robert M. Edsel took interest in the subject and created the Monuments Men Foundation For the Preservation of Art to unearth the stories of the individuals who saved masterpieces whose existence we now take for granted. Despite the title of his foundation and book, and Clooney’s adaptation, the “Monuments Men” were, as mentioned, also women. While they were far fewer in number, they were vital to MFAA’s efforts. As Tom Mashberg states in his article “Not all Monuments Men Were Men,” these women “were dedicated scholars and at times notable heroes.”

Monica Hanna save the dateThat description is most apt for Dr. Monica Hanna, who is a truly a modern day Monuments Woman and winner of the SAFE Beacon Award. Like most of the men and women who served in the MFAA section, Dr. Hanna does not have military training, but that hasn’t stop her from putting her life on the line for her work. It is not likely that Dr. Hanna’s efforts will be forgotten due to her strong social media presence on FacebookTwitter, and in the news, but it is important to help share as many stories as possible. Cultural heritage cannot afford to wait another fifty years before someone else is inspired to take interest.

Along with Dr. Hanna, other modern day Monuments Men and Women include anthropologists and cultural resource managers employed by the U.S. Army to enter into war zones and protect or recover pieces from institutions like the National Museum of Iraq. The Smithsonian Institution experts who train the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on identifying looted cultural heritage items should also be included. The stories of these men and women, unfortunately, go largely unreported. It is important for other advocates of the protection of cultural heritage to call attention to their efforts and give them the recognition they deserve.

Who do you nominate as your global Monuments Men and Women?

Confrontations: “Looting????”

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










Trying to "put Humpty Dumpty back together again"

Watch the full episode. See more PBS NewsHour.

This post, originally published by SAFE on July 25, 2011, is reposted here as the exhibition is now on view through Jan. 6 2012 at New York’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World.

In a PBS report by Jeffrey Brown which aired on July 11, 2011, Keith Wilson, Curator of Ancient Chinese Art at the Freer and Sackler Galleries, said that during the 19th century when Chinese sculptures, created as religious icons, were first introduced to the West and became fine art. This created a demand from dealers, who then sold the objects to collectors and museums around the world, before laws were in place to prohibit such practice. This led to rampant looting of Buddhist caves and ancient sites.

One such site is Xiangtangshan (響堂山), the sixth-century group of caves, carved into the mountains in northern China. Although the limestone caves are still visited by worshipers as temples, they are now emptied of their original contents by looters to feed the international market demand.

Now, the exhibition “Echoes of the Past,” which originated from the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago, has gathered together these objects that are now scattered around the world. Working with colleagues in China, experts have used virtual rendering to put back the sculptures in the caves where they originally belonged. Using “old-fashioned connoisseurship” and digitization which records very fine details correctly, it is now possible to “physically prove that a piece had been removed from the site.”

Why not recreate the cave and send everything back to China? According to Correspondent Jeffrey Brown, Wilson says, “the Chinese…haven’t made such a request.” Wilson also thinks that by allowing us to “see these elements back in place” the digital caves would offer an alternative to repatriation.

What do you think? The exhibition will travel to Dallas and San Diego next. The Sackler web site offers more information about the project and “Promoting the protection of Chinese cultural heritage.”

Photo: Jason Salavon and Travis Saul

Experts lend opinions to the discussion of unprovenanced antiquities

The New York Times reported on Tuesday, July 10 about the growing tension over new guidelines “making it more difficult for collectors of antiquities to donate, or sell, the cultural treasures that fill their homes, display cases and storage units.” As museums and auction houses react to recent measures taken by the U.S. to stem the illicit antiquities trade, they are increasingly reluctant to acquire items with no documented provenance prior to 1970, the benchmark year the international community adopted in the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

Neil Brodie Neil Brodie

Many collectors claim they are being treated unfairly and are increasingly depicted “as the beneficiaries of a villainous trade.” However, SAFE Beacon Award winner and former Director of the Illicit Antiquities Research Centre at the University of Cambridge, Neil Brodie, dismisses these claims saying, “Collectors know that without provenance it is impossible to know whether an object was first acquired by illegal or destructive means.” Dr. Brodie is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Glasgow and was instrumental in the formation of a new team that will study the illegal trade in antiquities. The team was recently awarded a £1m grant by the European Research Council.

Larry Rothfield, SAFE blog contributor and founder of the Cultural Policy Center at the University of Chicago, pointed out that lack of provenance is not necessarily the only reason these items cannot be sold. Their historical or aesthetic value can affect their sale for any number of reasons. “Even if the objects in question were not excluded from acquisition,” he said, “most of them would not be acquired anyway.”

The article further poses that the price of protecting the world’s cultural heritage may very well be that some items without provenance will remain in the hands of collectors who may be unable to sell or donate their treasures.

Larry Rothfield Larry Rothfield

SAFE appreciates our supporters for lending their voices to our anti-looting mission in so many ways. Read more articles by Larry on the SAFE blog.

What do you think? Should the US relax its guidelines and laws on provenance or is it more important to keep tightening the noose around the illicit antiquities trade? Is there a solution that allows objects to be donated to museums without encouraging looting and black market trade in the process? Join the discussion by commenting below or contacting us at info@savingantiquities.org.

“Why is it even showing them?” Roger Atwood on the Bourne collection’s fakes and undocumented objects

What do fakes have to do with the problem of looting? Fakes and unprovenanced, authentic antiquities often turn up together in collections because neither was found through the transparent process of archaeological excavation. They flock together.  Collectors might think their connoisseurship protects them from fakes, but they get hoodwinked all the time. This is not a sign of denseness or gullibility, necessarily; it just comes with the territory if you’re in the business of acquiring undocumented antiquities….

Has the collector gained a tax benefit for the donation of what are quite possibly, if the Walters’ analysis is correct, worthless fakes?  Why is it even showing them?

Roger Atwood, author of Stealing History: Tomb Raiders, Smugglers, and the Looting of the Ancient World questions the integrity of Walters Art Museum’s Bourne Collection in a Chasing Aphrodite post. Atwood is also critical of the exhibit’s lack of information, presumably, because the objects were:

all purchased from the cast of looters, dealers and assorted hoodlums that make up the supply end of the Latin American antiquities market. Whatever information those sellers claim to have on the origin of the artifacts they sell is usually conjecture or lies.

The Baltimore museum’s web site states:

The Walters Art Museum preserves and develops in the public trust a distinguished collection of world art from antiquity to the 20th century….Since its opening, the Walters has been a national leader in scholarship, conservation, and education.

Mission Statement
The Walters Art Museum brings art and people together for enjoyment, discovery, and learning. We strive to create a place where people of every background can be touched by art. We are committed to exhibitions and programs that will strengthen and sustain our community.

How well does the Maryland museum serve its stated mission with the Bourne collection?

Indeed, the Walters is not alone in what amounts to a breach of public trust, as Atwood reveals in his 2004 Stealing History which “contributes more than any other publication in more than 30 years to an understanding of the devastation to cultural heritage caused by site looting and to the search for solutions.” Patty Gerstenblith writes in an American Journal of Archaeology review. Atwood was awarded a SAFE Beacon Award for Stealing History.

Egypt’s ownership claim of Ka-Nefer-Nefer slammed, or may be not…

The St. Louis Museum of Art (SLAM) filed a complaint in federal district court on February 15, 2011 asking for a declaratory judgment to prevent federal authorities from seizing a 19th Dynasty Egyptian mask popularly known as Ka-Nefer-Nefer.

The mask, excavated at Saqqara in 1952 by Mohammed Zakaria Goneim, was sold to SLAM in 1998 by Phoenix Ancient Art in Geneva. According to the New York Times, in 2006 Egypt first claimed that the mask was stolen and asked the museum to return it; and in 2008, U.S. Department of Homeland Security was “looking into the case.” While the museum insists that there is no documentation to prove that Ka-Nefer-Nefer is Egyptian property, stolen, or smuggled, many think otherwise. In a comment to our post, Dr. Peter Lacovara wrote:

The St. Louis Art Museum was informed by me soon after the purchase of that Mask that it came from Goneim’s excavations, was published and where, and that although it was not registered in the Cairo Museums’ inventory, the only means by which it could have legally left Egypt was if it had been retained by Goniem and later legally sold by him or his heirs and they would need to investigate this. They did not.

Another telling fact is that the name of the owner of the mask Ka-nefer-nefer was written in hieratic on the hand of mask and was scratched out and over painted to disguise its identity. If this were a painting published in a European catalog no one would dream of trying to justify keeping it without a clear and legitimate history. The Museum never undertook due diligence in trying to determine the provenance of this piece despite being told there was a cloud over it from the beginning.

They have no justification in retaining this mask and it should be returned to Egypt and the Museum should underwrite the cost of a conservator removing the over paint and restoring the inscription on the hand.

When SAFECORNER asked in an informal poll last March what should happen with the lawsuit, the results were:

  • 26% said “SLAM should continue legal action in federal court.”
  • 46% said “SLAM should produce documentation proving that the mask was legally exported from Egypt.”
  • 45% said “SLAM should acknowledge Egypt’s claim of ownership.”
  • 25% said “SLAM should drop the lawsuit.”

The curious case of St Louis Art Museum vs the United States may have just become “curiouser and curiouser” with the U.S. District Court’s dismissal of the government’s effort to forfeit the disputed Ka Nefer Nefer mask, but what about the case of St. Louis Art Museum vs public opinion?

According to Associated Press,

U.S. Attorney Richard Callahan said a decision on whether to appeal has not been made.

“We’re just looking to make sure we haven’t missed the tiniest bit of circumstantial evidence,” Callahan said. “We’re back to the drawing board and studying it.”

Meanwhile, the SLAM Attorney Linenbroker is said to be confident “we’re the rightful owner.”

The American Association of Museum (AAM) Code of Ethics for Museums says that a museum must make a “unique contribution to the public by collecting, preserving, and interpreting the things of this world.” How is the public served in the case of Ka-Nefer-Nefer? What do you think?

Add your voice to our latest poll: Should the St. Louis Art Museum return the disputed Ka-Nefer-Nefer funeral mask to Egypt?

Photo: AP

SAFECORNER’s Top Ten of 2011

2011 was a great year for SAFECORNER! We published many thought-provoking posts, welcomed new writers to the blog, and sparked some fascinating discussion. We’d like to thank all of our readers, especially those of you who took the time to comment and to share the blog with others.

2012 promises to be just as exciting. But before we get too far into this new year, let’s take a look back at the Top Ten Most Popular SAFECORNER posts of 2011. These are the posts that received the most views during the past year. Enjoy!

1. The curious case of St. Louis Art Museum vs. United States

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

3. Museum collections no better off in developed countries, international survey says

4. The right to rest in peace: Native American human remains and NAGPRA final rule

5. A Tribute to Dr. Donny George Youkhanna: October 23, 1950-March 11, 2011

6. The importance of documenting cultural heritage

7. Two halves of “The Weary Herakles” reunite, but…

8. Colin Renfrew on unprovenanced antiquities: challenges, scandals and responsibilities

9. Aphrodite of the Muckrakers

10. Returning archaeological artifacts to local communities: the example of Morgantina Aphrodite

Should genuine ancient archaeological materials such as coins and pottery shards be repurposed and sold as jewelry?

“Should genuine ancient archaeological materials such as coins and pottery shards be repurposed and sold as jewelry?” reads the poll currently displayed in the right hand margin. Until yesterday there were 20 votes for no, 2 for yes. Then on the US ancient coin collector’s forum “Moneta-L” this post appeared yesterday:

Safecorner — the anti-collecting organization has a new poll (anonymous – one click): “Should genuine ancient archaeological materials such as coins and
pottery shards be repurposed and sold as jewelry?” So far, only 31 people have responded. How sad! Why not head over to:http://safecorner.savingantiquities.org/ and register your vote. It will be fun ;-)

The poll results have now taken on a wholly different character with the inflow of new readers as a consequence.

SAFECorner is of course NOT “anti-collecting”, but some of us might feel that turning numismatic research material into wearable geegaws certainly IS.

In their public pronouncements, US collectors of dug-up ancient coins steadfastly claim to be researchers and numismatic scholars (and thus – they argue – introducing import controls on the US market is in some way damaging their scholarship). Their apparent united support for turning archaeological evidence into ornamental geegaws and cocktail party conversation pieces expressed in their participation in our poll certainly seems to cast doubt on that claim to pure scholarship. Another reason why coin collectors might think this a good idea is wearing them as jewellery is a good way to escape detection when bringing such items across international borders. As dealer Dave Welsh reminds us, wearable coin jewellery can be used to smuggle coins.

For some rather tacky examples of the sort of thing we are talking about, see those listed in my blog post on the topic.

By the way, the question is “should” and the coin collectors from Moneta-L are giving the answer “yes, they should“. Is that the voice of this discipline called “numismatics”? Is this what the American Numismatic Association and affiliated bodies would say?

Still, if it gets coin collectors over onto a heritage protection website and perhaps provokes some of them into reading a little of what is here, the poll cannot be a bad thing.

Do Bulgarians want import restrictions on antiquities into the US?

Secretary of State Hilary Clinton at the signing of the US-Greece MOU

SAFE received the following letter written by the Chairman of Buditel Circle, a non-governmental organization, to US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton in support of Bulgaria’s request for a bilateral agreement with the US to protect its cultural heritage.

SAFE, a US based non-governmental and nonprofit organization which advocates for these bilateral agreements as a deterrent to looting (under article 9 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Cultural Property to which both Bulgaria and the US are state party) is pleased to share the letter with our readers:

София 1303,
ул.  “Опълченска” № 66
тел.:, 0886339909

Hon. Hilary R. Clinton, Secretary
United States Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20520

2 November 2011

Dear Madam Secretary:

We would like to take this opportunity and strongly support the request submitted by the Government of the Republic of Bulgaria to the Government of the United States of America to sign a Memorandum of Understanding between our two countries that aims at conserving the Bulgarian cultural heritage from theft. The United States is the most prominent champion of upholding international law, conventions, and norms, principles about which you have spoken with much elegance, eloquence and passion. Having this in mind we hopeful that your Government will grant this request.

Our organization, Buditel Circle, is a Bulgarian NGO dedicated to the preservation, development, promotion and research of the culture, history and intellectual achievements of the Bulgarian lands. Initially created around the Buditel magazine, Buditel Circle today includes prominent scholars, celebrities in the field of arts and culture, intellectuals and businessmen from around the world.

Buditel Circle is also very pleased to inform you that starting November 2011, we will have a representative in the United States. Mr. Dimitar Georgiev will serve as a liaison between the organization’s board and Washington. He may be reached at dg343@georgetown.edu or (646) 275-4685. We look forward to a friendly and constructive partnership.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Most Respectfully,

Plamen Georgiev – Kraisky
Honorary Chairman

This letter is supported by a myriad of individuals and organizations. The most prominent of those include:


Prof. Andrey Pantev
Ms. Albena Taneva, Ph.D.
Mr. Alexander Vulchev
Prof. Bojirad Dimitrov, Director of the National Museum of History
Mr. Atanas Orachev, Ph.D.
Prof. Valeria Fol, Cultural Anthropologist, specialist in the Thracian Civilization
Ms. Valeria Sarieva
Mr. Vassil Gyuselev, Member of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences
Ms. Galya Pindikova
Prof. Georgui Bakalov
Prof. Georgy Markov, Member of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences
Ms. Gergana Yordanova
Ms. Daniela Agre, Archaeologist
Prof. Evgueny Sachev, Head of Department in the University for Library and Information Sciences
Mr. Ivan Hristov, Ph.D.
Mr. Ilya Prokopov, Ph.D.
Ms. Irena Aleksandrova
Ms. Malvina Ruseva, Ph.D.
Mr. Yordan Vassilev, Ph.D.
Ms. Katya Tzekova, Ph.D, Director of National Polytechnic Museum
Prof. Kalin Porojanov, Scientific Secretary, the Institute for Thracology: “Alexander Fol,” Bulgarian Academy of Sciences
Mr. Krassimir Nikolov
Mr. Kamen Velkov
Prof. Kiril Yordanov, Director of the Institute for Thracology: “Alexander Fol,” Bulgarian Academy of Sciences
Mr. Krum Kasabov, Ph.D.
Mr. Ludmil Stanchev
Prof. Mila Santova
Prof. Margarita Vaklinova
Mr. Nikolay Markov, Ph.D.
Mr. Pavel Petkov
Mr. Petar Garena, Ph.D.
Mr. Petur Kunev
Mr. Plamen Kraisky, Founder of Buditel
Ms. Rossitza Ohridska-Olson, Cultural Heritage and Tourism Consultant
Ms. Roumiana Pashalyiska, Ph.D
Mr. Stoyan Prodanov, Ph.D.
Ms. Svetlana Leneva
Prof. Serguey Ignatov
Prof. Simeon Nedkov
Prof. Stoyan Denchev, Dean of the University for Library and Information Sciences
Ms. Sonya Purvanova, Literary Eidtor of Buditel Magazine
Ms. Teophana Matakieva, Ph.D.
Prof. Christo Haralampiev
Mr. Hristo Temelski, Ph.D.
Mr. Hristo Drumev
Mr. Dimitar Georgiev, Representative of Buditel Circle to the United States


The Institute for Thracology “Alexander Fol”
The Bulgarian Academy of Sciences
The Bulgarian National Museum of History
The National Polytechnic Museum
The Bulgarian National Museum of Literature
The Regional Museum of History in the city of Kurdjaly
STS Print Inc.
3M Bulgaria.

Good Guy or Bad Guy?

A European art and antiquities collector recently opened a museum of his collection in France. His action to share the collection with the public is perhaps more admirable than hoarding it all in a private home. But it is the “compulsive collecting” in the first place that causes so many problems, and this article in particular glorifies his “philanthropy” while neglecting any realities about how these antiquities were brought to the market and acquired.

Is this a $4 million fake?

As Mexico’s struggle to stem looting of historic sites was reported last month, the auctioning of the allegedly fake Mayan statue sold for $4 million (2.9 million euros) at the Paris auction house Binoche et Giquello a few days ago. Arguing for its authenticity, the auctioneers date the object between A.D. 550 and 950 while Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History considers it “a recently manufactured piece that does not belong to any of Mexico’s pre-Hispanic cultures.”

Mexico, a party to the 1970 UNESCO Convention since 1972, has strict laws against the illicit excavation and export of pre-Hispanic artifacts. Still, as reported, “the demand from abroad for pre-Hispanic pieces, especially the US, shows no signs of abating.” The example of the Mayan statue suggests that this demand is giving rise to the manufacturing and the sale of fakes.

The International Council of Museums (ICOM) acknowledges that the pre-Hispanic and colonial cultural heritage of Mexico and Central America as “severely endangered”. We do not know whether the contested object is a fake. We do know that this is real: As long as the market hungers for these items, ancient sites remain vulnerable to looting. Not only in Mexico, but around the world.

Photo: Binoche et Giquello

Should museums sell objects to cover operating costs? An additional choice

The choices offered as possible answers to the SAFE poll question, “Should museums sell objects to cover operating costs?” are “Yes,” “It doesn’t matter to me,” “Museums should sell objects for acquisitions only,” and “Only if there is a publicly disclosed policy.” These choices reflect the general perception of what the options are for museums. But there is another option that should be on the table: “Yes, but only if the objects are sold to another museum, or at least offered up for auction to museums.” Whether a museum engages in deaccessioning to raise operating cash or cash for acquisitions, the real issue is whether or not the public is going to lose access to an artwork worthy of remaining in a museum. Of course, residents of Buffalo may no longer be able to see Artemis and the Stag without traveling to New York, but the opposite was true beforehand, and the general public has not been impoverished. 

Should market countries stop buying antiquities from Egypt until order is restored?

In response to the looting which took place in the aftermath of the invasion of Baghdad in 2003, the United States House of Representatives proposed HR 2009 (initiated by Congressmen Phil English and James Leach and later implemented as S. 671), to prohibit the importation into the United States of any archaeological or cultural material removed from Iraq without appropriate documentation. This law works to keep the cultural heritage of Iraq in Iraq, and seeks to eliminate the supply of freshly looted or stolen materials to the antiquities trade. Will similar legislative actions be taken given the current situation in Egypt?

The circumstances in Egypt are different in many regards from that which existed in Iraq in 2003. Absent the sense of responsibility which came from an overt US presence on the ground and a UN Security Council Resolution, where is the political will to back up the need for such legislation? Congressmen Phil English and James Leach are no longer in office; who might sponsor such a bill?

Are emergency legislative reactions necessary? Given the Schultz decision clarifying Egypt’s national ownership law, there already exists the legal basis for seizing looted Egyptian antiquities in the US.

Whether or not legislation is required, until order is restored, we believe that if the demand for Egyptian antiquities is curtailed, if not stopped, the loss of Egypt’s cultural patrimony during this tumultuous time would be curbed. We are happy to see that Salima Ikram, professor of Egyptology at The American University in Cairo, agrees.

Also, we hope that Egypt (as of 1973, party to the 1970 UNESCO Convention) would make a request for a bilateral agreement to restrict importation of antiquities into the US.

What do you think? Please cast your vote.