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.

New legislation introduced to protect international cultural property

SAFE applauds the introduction of a new legislation aiming to improve the efficiency of the U.S. federal efforts to protect international cultural property. On November 13, Representatives Eliot L. Engel (D-NY) and Christ Smith (R-NJ) proposed the Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act (H.R. 5703) in response to the terrible state of affairs brought by ISIL/ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

The legislation aims to appoint a White House Coordinator for International Cultural Property Protection, a position that will be responsible for amassing all the federal efforts to address cultural heritage protection issues by coordinating diplomatic, military, and law enforcement efforts.

Representative Smith said, “Our global cultural patrimony has all too often been targeted by extremists who want to wipe out the collective memories of ethnic and religious minorities from lands they seek to control and conquer . . . The fight to preserve our common cultural heritage, as well as to deny extremists such as ISIL resources from the sale of blood antiquities, is yet another front on the global war against terror.”

The legislation is admirable for its attempt to encompass all the major countries suffering from cultural heritage destruction. Section 3, Findings and Statement of Policy, lists major Middle Eastern countries (Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan), as well as Mali, Cambodia, China, and Haiti. It also proposes federal agencies to liaise with the Smithsonian Institution, which has been an integral part of the protection efforts in the Middle East, as SAFE previously reported here.

But those who have followed the legislative efforts for cultural heritage protection might remember what happened a little more than a decade ago. In 2003, the Iraq Cultural Heritage Protection Act (H.R. 3497/H.R.2009) ended up not being enacted and replaced by a lesser resolution.

So the question for H.R.5703 is, will this bill see a swifter resolution?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The thorny issue of deaccession

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Featured image from Getty Images GB).

 

UPDATE: Arts Council England strips Northampton of accreditation

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

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

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

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

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

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?

Public hearing on Egypt’s request for import restrictions of antiquities into the US

On June 2, 2014 the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) held a public session in consideration of Egypt’s request for a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to impose import restrictions on certain categories of archaeological artifacts into the US.

There were approximately 40 attendees in addition to the members of the Committee and Cultural Heritage Center personnel. Of the 11 presenters, eight spoke in support of the MoU, a ninth speaker found it redundant, two opposed the inclusion of coins.

The CPAC Chair Patty Gerstenblith began by asking speakers not to read their comments already submitted in writing and to focus their five-minute presentations on the four determinations in question.

Presenters supporting the US-Egypt MoU Presenters supporting the US-Egypt MoU, from left to right: Douglas Boin, Elizabeth Varner, Monica Hanna, Brian Daniels, Carmen Arnold-Biucchi, Sarah Parcak. Not in photo: David O’Connor, Laurel Bestock
Cindy Ho

A common sentiment expressed by the supporters of the MoU request throughout the hearing is that the implementation of US import restrictions would create a ripple effect that would lower market demand and thereby reduce the incentive to loot. An MoU with the United States will stimulate engagement among local communities and public educational programs in Egypt and support important long-term foreign policy goals over a broad range of issues between the US and Egypt. While Egypt is doing its best with limited resources to protect its cultural patrimony, assistance via an MoU with the US is urgently needed. By providing such assistance to Egypt, the US would join a growing number of States Parties to the Convention who have given similar assistance, a necessary prerequisite to approving an MoU.

The speakers who opposed import restrictions argued that since Egypt’s problems are internal, and the will of the Egyptian people to solve this problem without foreign assistance is uncertain, it is unfair for US collectors and to dealers to be asked to curb their activities. While the MoU requires documentation and export permits in order for material to be imported into the US, opponents argued that it is unrealistic to expect small businesses to do this work. Since documentation is not required in EU countries, collecting and trading will simply bypass the US to avoid the restrictions, thereby hurting business.

Since the two representatives on the opposing side were only interested in excluding coins and not import restrictions per se, it suggests that if there are any others outside of the coin trade who are against the proposed MoU, they chose not to have their voices heard. This is further confirmed by the 352 comments submitted online.

The following summary is a recap of the points that were made by the speakers (in order of appearance), not quotes. We thank Damien Huffer and Elizabeth Kiggs for their contribution of notes:

Dr. David O’Connor, Lila Acheson Wallace Professor of Ancient Egyptian Art, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, American Research Centre in Egypt:

  • supports MoU—an important step in furthering US-Egypt cultural and scientific exchange and collaboration
  • is aware of the severity of unprecedented looting in Egypt since 2011
  • ARCE dedicated to supporting research Egyptian history and culture, fostering broader public knowledge about Egypt, strengthening American-Egyptian cultural ties
  • ARCE supports 15-20 excavations per year, about 500 American scholars and 6-12 fellows in Egypt
  • Most ARCE-trained Egyptians continue work in the public sector in site management and site security
  • Egypt has reasonably successful record in protecting sites
  • when one of the sites at Abydos was hit hard by looters, Egyptian government provided additional guards and looting stopped

Dr. Laurel Bestock, Vartan Gregorian Assistant Professor of Archaeology and the Ancient World and Egyptology and Ancient Western Asian Studies, American Research Centre in Egypt:

  • supports MoU, including coins
  • has been working in Egypt for many years, hiring and training local workers, working with local specialists and conservators
  • reported finding a cache of 300 Ptolemaic III-IV era coins in January, 2011. Buried and taken out of circulation, find allows team to date site and shed light on the use of money in ritual donations, providing leap in understanding religious practices. Egyptian government instrumental in protecting the cache and site from looters, whose attempts were successfully deterred.
  • archaeological information from coin cache could not be gained from a single coin found in the same context. These coins are common issues, of multiple denominations, some with mint information, all from Egypt.
  • Egypt’s Antiquities Ministry is doing what it can under difficult circumstances
  • MoU would strengthen respect and emotional bond between US and Egypt

Dr. Douglas Boin, Assistant Professor, St. Louis University History Department:

  • supports MoU
  • protection for papyri and ancient manuscripts needed
  • some scholars, blinded by the hope of discovering the next great ancient or biblical text, will destroy Egyptian mummy masks to extract the papyri (all of which is legal today)
  • trade in ancient texts big business
  • MoU must include ancient texts, papyri, and mummy masks
  • MoU would compel researchers to be more diligent and to only publish finds with full provenance
  • MoU would lead to proper presentation of papyrus finds by professional associations

Elizabeth Varner, President-Elect, Board of Directors, Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation, Executive Director, National Art Museum of Sport:

  • supports MoU
  • if we don’t help Egypt now, when do we?
  • ICOM Red List confirms Egypt’s looting problem
  • increased number of market countries are states parties to 1970 UNESCO, showing increased international effort
  • Egypt has met all four of the criteria required for an MOU set forth by CPIA
  • Egypt has had legislation protecting its cultural patrimony for two centuries
  • Egypt party to international treaties and conventions
  • Egypt is doing its best given the vastness of sites

Peter Tompa, Lobbyist, International Association of Professional Numismatists (“IAPN”) and the Professional Numismatists Guild:

  • objects to the MOU a “done deal” as suggested by New York Times editorial, goes against American democracy
  • OK with the MoU as long as it is limited to large, obvious, Pharaonic period objects, not coins
  • Is request of MoU timed to glorify the new Egyptian government? (Note: Egypt presidential election took place between 26 and 28 May 2014)
  • corruption and oversight along with rebellion against symbols of the former ruling regime are reasons Egyptians loot
  • CPAC should take into account the 91% of public comments requesting that coins be exempted from designated list
  • Egypt is a mess
  • coins should be exempt
  • MoU unfairly burdens private citizens who wish to collect
  • coins are too small and widespread during the reign of any given empire to matter
  • cites Portable Antiquities Scheme (UK) as great model to follow instead
  • no documentation for coins, no database
  • did not answer question why coin collections cannot be inventoried
  • money should go towards security not legal efforts to draft MoUs
  • no similar international effort; EU does not require documentation for antiquities trade between EU borders
  • EU traders will just keep Egyptian material to themselves to avoid strict US customs if MoU is passed
  • what about orphans? (Note: An “orphan” is an unexcavated, ie. likely plundered, object that left its country of origin without an export permit)

Mr. Wayne Sayles, Founder, Ancient Coin Collectors Guild:

  • does not oppose MoU as long as coins are excluded
  • coin collector for 50 years
  • does not deal in fresh dug-ups
  • MoU hurts business
  • MoU will push out avocation of 50,000 collectors and many clubs
  • we all need to follow the law
  • we are not evil people
  • Italians are openly selling coins without export permits despite the MoU because they are not considered culturally important
  • Egypt does not have the will to do anything about looting (qualifies comment as merely subjective perception)
  • collectors and small business owners have no time to inventory coins
  • coins don’t have provenance
  • Egyptian coins found in 16 countries
  • keeping inventory and documentation should be matter of law; if legislated, will follow
  • property rights issue
  • has not fully inventoried his own collection (Note: CPAC has made it clear for years that coins outside the country of origin that are documented,or inventoried, prior to the signing of the MOU are exempt to the provisions of the proposed MoU)

Dr. Carmen Arnold-Biucchi, Ancient Coins Curator, Harvard Art Museums:

  • supports MoU, coins included
  • coins should not be treated separately from other archaeological material because they are an essential part of almost any excavation
  • coinage only exists in Egypt since the Ptolemaic period, through the Ottoman period
  • the multiple-object argument against inclusion of coins does not hold water, it also applies to ceramics, glass, etc.
  • coins of all types were minted by specific ancient governments; thus valuable to the study of ancient government structure
  • coins are not just made for export as some have claimed…but exchangeable for goods and services and other currencies
  • even small, ugly coins can give us much information
  • to document a coin not a question of law, reputable dealers do document, but duty to document and record provenance
  • not only Custom’s responsibility to catch illegal exports at the border, experts called upon to identify coins. Task difficult, but not insurmountable
  • foreign coins are known to have been present in Egypt in multiple periods
  • without inventory and documentation, museums would not accept donations of disassembled coin collections

Alan Safani, Art Dealer, International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA):

  • publicly supports the MoU but only for newly surfaced loot
  • alarmed at current Egyptian situation
  • real distinction between licit and illicit markets; he and IADAA members deal with the former strictly
  • blanket ban on the importation of artifacts of Egyptian origin would not follow intent of the law which was only to restrict those of “cultural significance and importance”
  • MoU import restrictions are redundant because reputable dealers already follow the 1983 Egyptian law restricting the exportation of artifacts out of Egypt
  • what date should we follow? 1970 Convention? 1983 Egyptian exportation law? Hypothetical date of the signing of an MoU?
  • uninformed collectors may abuse the pre-MoU timeframe and disregard the 1983 law, causing more harm than good in regulating the antiquities market
  • issue is internal
  • Egypt disregards its own heritage
  • Egypt’s preference for developing tourism over site protection further encourages looting
  • Egypt has more than 100 years’ history of antiquities dealing, plus looting in antiquity
  • Cairo Museum used to have a shop selling antiquities
  • questions if looting frequency is actually getting worse, or we’re just more aware now
  • MoU would not impede practice of IADA, would have insignificant effect

Dr. Monica Hanna, Archaeologist, Egypt’s Heritage Task Force:

  • looters armed with guns and geo-sonar equipment
  • exponential increase of looting since 2011 affecting all artifacts
  • unregistered and unexcavated sites looted
  • foreign excavations need to do much more to build capacity and leave behind skills and economic incentive to not loot between seasons, Valley of the Kings a good example of success
  • antiquities smuggled out of Egypt use same channels as drugs and arms, eg. through the Sinai into Israel
  • drug bust three weeks ago also recovered smuggled statuary
  • human traffickers also move antiquities, smuggled in building supply shipments to Gaza, via ports with migrants to Europe
  • huge online market for prehistoric, Pharoanic, Coptic, Islamic and more recent antiquities
  • use of bulldozers obvious sign of organized activity. Eg. in Antinopolis, looters destroy conservation work to go after coins and mummies
  • guards, archaeologists, and individual citizens are being shot at, and risking their lives to protect their cultural heritage
  • children used to dive into tunnels get sanded over and killed
  • villagers targeting Luxor
  • the market should stop entirely until we get it under control
  • to a poor Egyptian farmer with 2-3000 objects, selling antiquities for $15 on eBay is worth the effort
  • usually what sells on eBay not saleable on the black market
  • every archaeologist should think about community development and promoting local people’s connection to the past
  • American archaeological teams should publish in Arabic
  • MoU a start to fostering economic connection between the local populations and archaeological sites
  • not enough policing before, getting better
  • objects coming to the US
  • US scholars buying looted material
  • new Parliament will have strict laws, wrote to both presidential candidates
  • MoU would help train 12,000 guards
  • will meet with EU and UAE representatives to discuss bilateral agreements similar to MoU with US

Dr. Sarah Parcak, Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Society for American Archaeology:

  • supports MoU
  • expert in GPS remote sensing use for archaeological survey and looting patrol
  • satellite imagery only way to show evidence, location, extent, time of looting, also provides helpful information into what objects to look for on the market – i.e. 26th dynasty shabtis that were looted from a specific location
  • looting increased significantly since 2011
  • government acknowledges looting problem
  • job and research changed dramatically since 2011 Arab Spring from general study and research to establishing a methodology to document looting of known and unknown sites
  • satellite imagery cannot provide evidence or data for looting under houses and in tombs

Dr. Brian Daniels, Director of Research and Programs, Penn Cultural Heritage Center:

  • maintains a database of 900+ records regarding Egyptian and Syrian cultural property “events”
  • since 2011, increased effectiveness in Egyptian law enforcemens with help from Customs and Border Patrol, Department of Homeland Security, Carabinieri
  • Egyptians interested in protecting cultural sites
  • 12,000 site guards is not insignificant number
  • site guards only get paid $500 a year, foreign excavation teams should help pay for them
  • increase in volunteer groups and citizens efforts
  • some low-end items seen on eBay, but most artifacts likely sitting in warehouses at present
  • foreign archaeological teams should publish in Arabic
  • appears to support the hypothesis that some looting is performed on commission
  • 3-5 year lag between looting of objects and appearance on the market. Examples: 10 year lapse in the Robert Hecht/Giacomo Medici items;10 years after looting of the Iraq Museum, objects still not surfacing

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. 

Why?

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?

 

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

 

Why I would attend a SAFE Tour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Metropolitan Museum of Art The Metropolitan Museum of Art
FindTheBest

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

 

April 10: An important day for cultural heritage

For those concerned about the preservation and protection of our shared cultural heritage, April 10 is our day. Here’s why:

Monica Hanna Cooper Union posterDr. Monica Hanna will deliver her 2014 SAFE Beacon Award Lecture “Saving Ancient Egypt, One Tweet at a Time: How Social Media is Saving One of the World’s Oldest Civilizations” at the The Frederick P. Rose Auditorium (41 Cooper Square, Third Avenue between 6th and 7th Streets, from 
6:30 – 8:00PM. 
Please register here.) In Dr. Hanna’s first public lecture in the US, she will share firsthand accounts of the risks she takes to expose the looting problem in Egypt. She will tell us how looting feeds the black market trade of antiquities and destroys ancient sites, forever damaging our ability to learn from Egypt’s undiscovered ancient past, our shared heritage. She will describe what she, along with a group of volunteers have been doing about the situation, and how their efforts using social media have led to actual recovery of stolen objects. Perhaps most important, she will suggest what we can all do to help. The Beacon Award ceremony will follow.

Earlier the same day, the symposium Reform of Cultural Property Policy: Accountability, Transparency, and Legal Certainty will take place at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law (55 Fifth Avenue, 1:30 – 5:30PM. Please register here.) Presented by the Committee for Cultural Policy, Inc. and the Cardozo Arts & Entertainment Law Journal (AELJ), the half-day symposium will feature legal scholars, museum directors, and cultural policy specialists and explore whether current US law and policy be changed to better serve the interests of museums, the antiquities trade and preservation. Representing the views of various stakeholders, the discussions promise to be lively.

Will Dr. Hanna’s perspectives and firsthand experiences inform the conclusions from the earlier symposium? The answer is: YES.

SAFE is proud to collaborate with the Cardozo Arts & Entertainment Law Journal and we invite all symposium attendees to join us to the SAFE Beacon Award Lecture at the Cooper Union Rose Auditorium, a few minutes’ walk away. Will Dr. Hanna’s perspectives and firsthand experiences inform the conclusions from the earlier symposium? The answer is: YES. For those who wish to sample Dr. Hanna’s point of view, tune into her highly anticipated April 9 appearance on “The Leonard Lopate Show” which will be broadcast over WNYC-AM radio and over the internet, between 12:40 PM.

April 10 is a day of special significance for SAFE. On this day, news about the looting of the Iraq Museum broke and planted the seed for our organization, founded to mobilize all citizens to take part in the stewardship of our shared cultural heritage.

Past and Present Working Together

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

 

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

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

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

Egypt’s heritage: a global concern

SAFE has added Egypt to the “A Global Concern” section of our web site. With recent updates on the dangers to cultural heritage resulting from political unrest, looting, and encroaching civilization, these pages aim to create an overview of what Egypt stands to lose, how cultural heritage is endangered, the market demand for Egyptian antiquities, what Egypt is doing to safeguard its own heritage, and what others are doing and how YOU can help protect Egypt’s heritage.

These pages were written and researched by Beatrice Kelly, with additional research by Tessa Varner. They exemplify the kind the work interns produce at SAFE.

Photo: Mallawi Museum

SAFE takes “Say YES to Egypt’s Heritage” buttons to Egypt

SAFE launched “Say YES to Egypt” campaign three years ago in response to the frightening news about the looting and destruction of Egypt’s cultural heritage. Our goal was to raise awareness about the situation and show solidarity for the people in Egypt. Thanks to your enthusiastic response, buttons were distributed around the globe, from Greece to Australia to Sweden to Canada - check out our Flickr page to see pictures posted by supporters showing off their buttons.

Screen Shot 2014-03-21 at 9.20.17 AMThis April, in honor of our 2014 Beacon Award Winner Monica Hanna, SAFE will relaunch this awareness campaign and distribute “Say YES to Egypt’s Heritage” buttons in  Egypt. The Egypt-based media agency Past Preservers will kick off our campaign in Egypt by sponsoring the production of the first 500 buttons there. Dr. Hanna and Professor Salima Ikram of the American University in Cairo will help give them out. Wearers are asked to have their photos taken with the buttons (selfies are perfect!) Their photos will join these to make a statement to the world that we all stand together to save the past for our future.

With these buttons, not only will Egyptians wear their pride for their heritage on their sleeves (or lapels, shirts, bags, anywhere…) they will also send a clear message to others to also say “YES” to Egypt’s heritage, our shared heritage.

Join Past Preservers and sponsor SAFE’s “Say YES to Egypt’s Heritage” with a donation of $100 for 500 buttons. Help spread the word. Each campaign donor will be acknowledged on our “Say YES” campaign page and on our cause page. Campaign ends April 30.

Who is Monica Hanna?

If you’re not already one of Monica Hanna’s rapidly-growing followers: more than 25,000 on Twitter—and add another 2,500 if you’re also following her on Facebook—or if you’re not one of the 6,500 fans of Egypt’s Heritage Task Force, you may not be familiar yet with the winner of SAFE’s 2014 Beacon Award. Lauded within the field of cultural heritage, the Egyptian archaeologist is proving herself a force to be reckoned with when it comes to the illegal excavation and looting of ancient artifacts. We’ve written about Dr. Hanna before, but we’d like to take a moment to fully introduce the woman who is arguably changing the way we approach looting, vandalism, and the destruction of cultural heritage by introducing Monica Hanna through our “Who Is…?” campaign.

In 2009, SAFE started a “Who Is…?” campaign to introduce important individuals working on the front lines to protect the past for the future. Each “Who Is…?” profile includes statements by these individuals, excerpts from their writings, comments and reviews from others in the world of cultural preservation.

By highlighting the work of these individuals who may not be widely known yet, we invite any member of the general public to learn about the issues by finding out about the efforts of others who have made a difference. It also aims to inspire all of us to think of ways they too can contribute to the preservation of our heritage.

Stay tuned as we prepare for the upcoming award and check back here often for news and updates regarding Monica Hanna. In the meantime, take a further look at our campaign, Who is Monica Hanna?” and see what others are saying about how Monica defends and protects our shared cultural heritage.

Curtailing the loss of cultural patrimony by curtailing demand

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

Should market countries stop buying antiquities from Egypt survey results

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

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

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

Protecting Egypt’s cultural heritage – repatriation efforts alone will not suffice

Given the well documented role of auction sales in the legitimization of unprovenanced artifacts, which translates as “no questions asked,” or possibly looted or looted, should anyone be surprised that a major source country such as Egypt would follow the examples set by Italy, Cambodia, Iran, and non-state actors such as Native American tribes in the United States, to stop the impending sale of artifacts that departed its country of origin without the benefit of a valid export certificate? The answer is: no.

The Egyptian Antiquities Ministry has made a concerted effort in recent months to pour over auction house catalogs in a global search for stolen antiquities and is pursuing in “all legal and diplomatic means to recover smuggled artifacts,” according to a story published in the online journal Al Monitor.

Egypt’s decision is understandable. Pressuring auctioneers to withdraw undocumented artifacts from sale sends an unambiguous message to would-be consignors that the risk of offering such material at public auction is rising. This, in turn, reduces the incentive to dig up and smuggle these items in the first place.

One would hope that the authorities concerned with antiquities in Egypt would further reduce the incentive to loot artifacts by paying more attention to prevention and enforcement efforts before these treasures appear for sale at auction houses.

To date, the most effective mechanism is found in 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).

As a state party to the Convention, Egypt can request the United States to impose temporary restrictions of the importation of the most endangered categories of Egyptian archaeological and ethnographic material into the largest market for such material in the world, the United States, by requesting the U.S. to enter into a bilateral agreement (Memorandum of Understanding or MOU), under Title 19 U.S.C. 2600 et seq, known as the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CCPIA) enacted in 1983.

Given the deteriorating situation on the ground in Egypt, it is likely that Egypt will qualify for emergency import restrictions under CCPIA, which the Government of Mali received from the U.S. in September 1993.

Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities Mustafa Amin recently told Al-Monitor, “All international laws and conventions grant the competent authorities concerned with antiquities in Egypt the right to preserve the artifacts and to track [the pieces] illegally smuggled outside the country.”

We urge the Egyptian authorities to follow through and use all legal mechanisms to discourage looting, prevent smuggling, preserve and protect the most precious part of Egypt’s vast cultural patrimony: the still-intact evidence of its undiscovered past that remains in the ground. Repatriation efforts alone will not suffice. Efforts to encourage Egyptian authorities to seek an MOU with the U.S. are underway. The decision that Egyptian officials must make is clear.

Photo: Pharaonic artifacts are seen on display at the Egyptian Museum, Cairo, Sept. 30, 2013. (photo by REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monica Hanna to receive 2014 SAFE Beacon Award

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

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

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

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

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

And we are paying attention.

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

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

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


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

2004 – Roger Atwood

2005 – Matthew Bogdanos 

2006 – Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini

2008 – Neil Brodie and Donny George

2009 – Colin Renfrew

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

2011 – Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino

2012 – David Gill

Confrontations: A Young Boy’s Temptation

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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