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.

A)https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1426286677601370&set=a.1402020070028031.1073741827.100006601542674&type=1&theater

B)https://www.facebook.com/arkeolok.vural?sk=photos#!/photo.php?fbid=1426286677601370&set=a.1402020070028031.1073741827.100006601542674&type=1&theater

C)https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1426286677601370&set=a.1402020070028031.1073741827.100006601542674&type=1&theater#!/photo.php?fbid=1385801228335939&set=a.1385543501695045.1073741828.100007182253540&type=1&theater

D)https://www.facebook.com/arkeolok.vural?sk=photos#!/photo.php?fbid=1383940251853433&set=pb.100007124141060.-2207520000.1387032244.&type=3&theater

D)https://www.facebook.com/arkeolok.vural?sk=photos#!/photo.php?fbid=1383939758520149&set=pb.100007124141060.-2207520000.1387032244.&type=3&theater

E)https://www.facebook.com/arkeolok.vural?sk=photos#!/photo.php?fbid=1383939478520177&set=pb.100007124141060.-2207520000.1387032244.&type=3&theater

F)https://www.facebook.com/arkeolok.vural?sk=photos#!/photo.php?fbid=1383896745191117&set=pb.100007124141060.-2207520000.1387032244.&type=3&theater

G)https://www.facebook.com/arkeolok.vural?sk=photos#!/photo.php?fbid=1383890535191738&set=pb.100007124141060.-2207520000.1387032244.&type=3&theater

 

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
buditel@mail.bg

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:

Individuals:

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

Organizations:

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
ELCO Inc.
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.

The Penn Museum & Robert Hecht Jr.

Tom Avril, of the Philadelphia Inquirer, reports this month on 24 pieces of gold from the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. The items in question, including ear rings, neck laces and brooches, were purchased over 40 years ago by the museum from a Philadelphia antiquities dealer; they were not accompanied by any documentation of their origin and it seemed likely the gold had been looted.
The Penn Museum was founded in 1887 and most of its collection was acquired through archaeological expeditions. In 1966 George Allen, of Hesperia Art, approached the museum with an opportunity to purchase a collection of gold that he said was most likely from ancient Troy. The items were similar in style to gold found by Heinrich Schliemann in 1873, in Turkey, at a site he believed to be Homer’s Troy. However, this collection had disappeared during WW II. The Penn Museum agreed to buy the treasures despite having misgivings; Penn curator Rodney Young acknowledged that the items had probably been looted. The items went on display in the museum with no information about them available until 1993, when Schliemann’s collection suddenly resurfaced. Russian officials announced that the gold was in the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow; it had been taken from Germany by the Soviet army as war booty.
This announcement renewed interest in the Penn Museum’s Trojan gold. Ernst Pernicka and Hermann Born set about examining both collections to determine where the gold had been mined and whether the two collections belonged together.
Meanwhile, C. Brian Rose, a curator at the Penn, searched the museum’s archives for more information about the golds purchase. George Allen was the antiquities dealer who had sold the museum the gold but he died in 1998. His son remembered that he had an associate named Hecht. Robert E. Hecht Jr. is an antiquities dealer who has been periodically, though never convicted, of selling looted artifacts. He is now 90 years of age and on trial in Rome on charges related to looting. Hecht confirmed that he was the source of the Penn’s Trojan gold; he had purchased the collection from another dealer, George Zakos, who is now dead. Hecht said he did not know if the items had been looted or where they came from.
The analysis of the Penn Museum’s and Schliemann’s gold revealed that both collections did in fact come from the same source. Moreover, a spec of soil on one of the Penn’s pieces revealed it had been buried somewhere under Trojan influence (Turkey, Greece or southeast Europe). Science had provided us with new information despite the fact that the gold had not been properly excavated. This emphasizes how much more could of been learnt if the archaeological context had been in tact.
This story is interesting as it claims the gold collection bought by the Penn Museum came from Robert E. Hecht Jr., a suspected dealer of illicit antiquities. Did the Penn know that the artifacts came from Hecht and that he was believed to have dealt with looted items? Hecht claimed that he had no idea if the gold purchased by the Penn had been illegally excavated. He also claimed the lack of documentation did not deprive the artifacts of important context adding that “the main thing is the beauty of the thing…the Venus de Milo, whether it came from the east side or the west side of the island, doesn’t really change its appeal to the modern world, I think”.
In 2006 the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, under pressure from Italian authorities, was forced to return an item it had purchased from Hecht in 1972; a painted vessel known as the Euphronios krater. Evidence had been found that it had been looted from a tomb in Italy and through another dealer’s hands before Hecht’s.
Nonetheless, it is important to note the historical context of this purchase by the Penn Museum. The UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property 1970 had not yet been drafted. Indeed, the Penn Museum was the first museum to announce in 1970 that it would no longer acquire undocumented objects, arguing that such acquisitions encouraged the “wholesale destruction of archaeological sites”. Did the Penn Museum sense trouble after dealing with Hecht? Was the museum trying to do the right thing? Or did the Penn realise that displaying artifacts with no genuine provenance would tarnish the museum’s reputation ?
Post your thoughts below…

Why should we care?

In response to the seemingly imminent destruction of burial mounds in Bahrain, Gillian Abbas wrote a letter to the Gulf Daily News addressing the essential question, “Why should we care?” She writes:

“Any artefacts or intact burial mounds, no matter how small or insignificant, in their original background, offer us insight into the way our ancestors lived, their societies and their environments.

They complete our view of ancient life and enrich our understanding on many levels and as such, these burial sites and antiquities embrace an essential part of the Gulf and our global cultural heritage.

And why should we care about culture and antiquities?

Simply because the physical fabric of the past is fundamental to the moral and spiritual foundation of our present and future.”

This editorial echoes SAFE’s own Why should we care? segment and offers additional insight about why we must safeguard information that only antiquities and ancient sites can tell us about our past.

Your Opinion about Antiquities

Greetings! I am a New York University Graduate student in the Program in Museum Studies requesting your participation in a unique survey conducted as research for my Master’s thesis. The survey should take less than 15 minutes and is completely anonymous. Your participation could affect the understanding of public perceptions of museum collecting practices and the display of antiquities. Are you aware of the issues or hold museums accountable for their acquisition policies?

Please take your time to answer each question honestly and thoughtfully. The following link will take you to the survey, “Informing Audiences: Public Perceptions of Illicit Antiquities.”

The results will be posted on my NYU web blog or possibly published as an article at a later date.

If you have any questions or would like to know more, please feel free to e-mail Cherkea_Howery@yahoo.com

Thank you for your participation and remember your opinion matters!

Sincerely,
Cherkea Howery, NYU Museum Studies

New books: "Loot" and "Unholy Business" reviewed

In the November 16 edition of the Washington Post, author of “Stealing History” and SAFE Beacon Award Winner Roger Atwood reviews two new books about stolen ancient artifacts and their journeys to museums around the world.

“Loot” has also been reviewed by journalist Hugh Eakin, Karl Meyer (“The Plundered Past”)

Other reviews of “Unholy Business” have been written by Johathan Lopez (AP), Tim McGirk (Time)

Have you read these books? Tell us what you think.

Should ransom be paid for stolen art?

In Stop the appeasement of art and antiquities thieves (Globe and Mail, July 5, 2008) Geoffrey Clarfield, former curator of ethnography at the National Museums of Kenya, writes “art theft seems to have become a form of proxy kidnapping.”

Clarfield continues: “Our publicly funded museums and private auction houses have encouraged the illegal trade in antiquities by buying imported antiquities and muddling their provenance. Anyone who buys antiquities smuggled out of Iraq is indirectly financing the civil war there.”

Clarfield concludes: “If we continue to appease thieves, smugglers and terrorists, we can be sure that more of our museums and galleries will be plundered and held for ransom. By doing nothing we will be giving a free hand to organized crime in our own and other countries.”

What do YOU think?

"Indiana Jones is a plunderer." What do you think?

Dr. Oscar Muscarella, outspoken critic of the antiquities trade and the plunder of artifacts from archaeological sites, sent us the following:

“Brian Rose has stated that the movie character Indiana Jones ‘has played a significant role in stimulating the public’s interest in archaeological exploration,’ …{but] Jones is the very antithesis of an archaeologist. In fact, he has played a significant role in stimulating the destroyers of sites, the plunderers who supply ‘antiquities’ to a museum.

Indeed, let me say loud and clear: the AIA President has made a serious and very unfortunate blunder. He has publicly proclaimed that he has no idea what archaeology is, what it is not, and he has thereby compromised the AIA and its membership, which includes me, and thousands of others.”

Dr. Muscarella leads SAFE Tours at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Tell us what YOU think.

To own or not to own: Is that the question?

“Who Owns the Past?” “Who Owns Antiquity?” “Who Owns Culture?” “Who Owns Art?” “Who Owns Objects?” “Who Owns History?” A flurry of similar-sounding questions has been circulating in the media for some time now. Varying on the same theme, they are used as headlines in an array of formats: books, articles, lectures, panel discussions, etc.

While these questions raise some interesting points, we would like to ask some of our own:

1. “Who Owns __?” advocates imply: The right to ownership and possession of artifacts trumps all other considerations.

SAFECORNER asks: By focusing on ownership, are we neglecting the single most important point: the discovery of our yet-unknown past through protection, and the proper excavation of, ancient sites and tombs and burial grounds? What about the “past” / “antiquity” / “culture” / “art” / “objects” / “history” that remains underground? What part do these arguments have in stemming the plunder of cultural heritage caused by looting and the illicit antiquities trade?

2. “Who Owns __?” advocates contend: International conventions and national laws have failed because looting persists.

SAFECORNER asks: Instead of challenging the best legal mechanisms we have, should not more effort be made to observe and respect them? We don’t throw away the criminal justice system because crimes are committed, do we?

3. “Who Owns __?” advocates insist: The importance of archaeological context is overstated, because virtually everything we need to know is inherent in the object.

SAFECORNER asks: If not found in graves, or in context, what could the Tilya Tepe hoard tell us about ancient Bactria if it had been discovered as loose pieces of beautiful gold jewelry? One doesn’t need to be an Afghan to appreciate the value inherent in discovering an untouched ancient site. Conversely, aside from speculations, what do we know about who was buried in the now-looted tombs of Cerveteri? What do we really know about the Vicús culture, which has been looted to near-extinction, or the civilization that created the artifacts looted from Batán Grande, now on display at the Met?

4. “Who Owns __?” advocates suggest: The stakeholders in these debates are archaeologists versus acquirers: museums, dealers, and private collectors.

SAFECORNER asks: What about the rest of us? Many people from all walks of life who are not archaeologists, collectors, museum curators, dealers, nationalists, or socialists also feel very strongly about these issues. Our opinions also matter. After all, it is public opinion that shapes politics and policies and the politicians who create them. UNESCO is an organization of member nations that choose to join. And sovereign nations are governed by politicians who exercise power on behalf of the public, for the most part.

5. “Who Owns __?” advocates argue: Nations that did not exist in ancient times have no inherent right to ancient artifacts found within their territories. For example, does Italy really have the right to claim objects taken from institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of New York, which was actually built before the Italian state was formed?

SAFECORNER asks: Is a nation ever too young to assert its sovereignty or jurisdiction? What about the United States? Barely over a couple hundred years old since our founding fathers created the nation, should we give up all claims to Native American artifacts? Revoke the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA)?

Finally, we recommend that ALL stakeholders ask themselves this question: what are we going to do to stop the continued destruction of our “past” / “antiquity” / “culture” / “art” / “objects” / “history”?