The campaign’s central message — “Monuments have no voice. They must have yours” — is a reaction to deep cultural budget cuts being made as part of the austerity measures imposed on Greece by the European economic establishment. It is a reminder that the world is full of no-questions-asked collectors willing to give culture criminals considerable sums of money to possess their own private piece of knocked-off “ancient art”. Such buyers are not only a threat to the heritage of today’s citizens but that of their children too. The hands in the video are those of the agents of the collectors and dealers of the international antiquities market.
In the early morning hours of February 17th, two armed men entered the Museum of the History of the Ancient Olympics in the city of Olympia in Greece. After subduing the guard on duty, the thieves broke glass cases and took 77 objects, ranging from small bronze statues to terracotta votive sculptures to a 3500 year old gold ring. These men are still at large. The loss of these objects is incalculable.
The Olympic games, since their inception in the 8th century BC to their revival in the 19th century AD, are, by definition, international. Athletes from various city states, kingdoms, empires and countries have participated in the Olympics over their long history to attain honor, glory and recognition; the Olympics celebrate human achievement, transcending race, nationality or religion. The theft of these artifacts, invaluable witnesses to the beginning of the Olympic tradition, is a devastating loss to all humanity. We must stand together in renouncing this act and ensure that other remains of our common human heritage are kept safe in venues where we all can see, cherish and study them.
Why Did This Happen?
These objects were stolen from the Museum of the History of the Ancient Olympics because they can be sold, illegally, for great sums of money. The global illicit market in antiquities is estimated to be in the multiple billions of dollars, third largest of black markets, behind drugs and weapons. Moreover, objects of ancient Classical antiquity, such as those stolen from Olympia, fetch especially high prices (the New York Market, for instance, is very lucrative). The artifacts stolen from Olympia have now slipped into this black underground world, where they will be traded to the wealthiest client for resale , eventually ending up in private collections, likely never to be seen by the public again.
What Can You Do to Help?
Join Say Yes to Greece’s Heritage, and tell all your friends to do it too. The first step to stopping thefts like that at Olympia is to raise awareness.
Support the special bilateral agreements (MoU’s) between the United States and source countries which fight the importation of antiquities into the US. Thankfully just such an agreement was recently approved between the US and Greece, which will make the importation of the Olympia materials to America very difficult.
Keep an eye on Ebay and other antiquities auction venues for the Olympia materials. A listing, with illustrations, of the materials stolen from Olympia can be found here (the second MSWord icon link). If you find something you think is from this theft, contact the Greek police (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Image: Das Corpus der Minoischen und Mykenischen Siegel, CMS V Supp. 1B Nr. 135
The J. Paul Getty Museum has agreed to return two antiquities to Greece. Both were acquired during the 1970s. Two fragments of a funerary relief have long been known to fit a third fragment in the Kanellopoulos Collection in Athens. The reunification of this monument would justify this return. It should be noted that the source for the fragments was Nikolas Koutoulakis whose name appears in the infamous organigram cited in The Medici Conspiracy. The source of the Athens fragment has not been given.
Source: Hellenic Ministry of Culture
The more intriguing return is the religious calendar from Thorikos in southern Attica that was acquired in 1979 [Getty]. This appears to have been seen in Greece by David F. Ogden, a student at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (1959-61). Ogden was conducting research in the area of Thorikos. The cutting on the block suggested that it had been used in a later building, perhaps a Late Antique Christian basilica.
The usual benchmark for acquisitions is 1970, the date of the UNESCO Convention. So why has the Getty decided to return an inscription that appears to have been known some time before? When did the inscription leave Greece? What is the full collecting history?
While we all revile the looting of archaeological sites and the illicit trade of artifacts, we can now begin to review the effects of the repatriation of ancient material back to the countries of origin.Here I am not referring to Native American remains, but the statues and vases created by the ancient cultures of the Mediterranean.Recently, I visited the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, Greece, which has seen financial and public relations troubles partly due to the national economic crisis.Here, I saw the 2007 repatriated kore from the J.P. Getty Museum standing amongst other statues without any bells or whistles describing its sordid history.Also on display was a bronze athlete, repatriated in 2002, propped in its own corner.I believe that the return of these objects reflect legal and ethical principles, which absolutely must be upheld.
While the national discourse in Greece regarding ancient cultural heritage is strong in its attempts to lure in tourism, I question how the everyday Greek citizen feels toward their ancient heritage. There seems to be a prevalent sense of a general disregard and annoyance bordering on anger regarding the material remains of the past. Rather than culture, most Greeks are focused on making ends meet and finding jobs as well as putting their children through school and hoping that they also will be able to find jobs. Whether or not they visit the multi-million euro, new Acropolis museum if they can afford the entrance fee is one thing, but another is the expense the country has born in order to fight for the repatriation of artifacts on the international stage (ex. The Parthenon Marbles at the British Museum).
In 2010, Greece proposed an MOU with the United States, requesting help to end the international trade in illicit antiquities (CPAC’s decision has still not been made public).Now, reports of further looting are circulating and what little funds that the government has left is being funneled into paying museum and site guards during the summer tourist season as well as other public employees who are still waiting for months and months of back pay.Greece is in an unfortunate position and I do not want to hastily simplify the complicated situation.However, I feel inclined to ask, if the preservation of heritage should be higher on the list of issues to worry about.If this is so, can or should heritage be used to bring about solidarity and social cohesion?Can heritage bring the hope that seems to be in short supply during these trying times in this most magnificent nation?
Photos taken by author July 8, 2011:
Accession #15464: Kore repatriated in 2007 from J.P. Getty Museum. Parian ca. 530 B.C. – Pictures of the specific object are not allowed, but you can attempt to discern which one it is from this gallery view.
Accession #X26087: Classicizing Roman bronze statue of an athlete of unknown provenance confiscated in Germany in 1998 and returned in 2002.
Two pieces from the Shelby White collection went on display at the National Museum, Athens, Greece today (press release, in Greek). One of the pieces, a fragmentary funerary stele, had featured in the Glories of the Past exhibition (1990-91) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The second, a bronze calyx-krater, had been part of a touring exhibition, Greek Bronze Vessels from the Collection of Shelby White & Leon Levy (2005); a detail from the krater appears on the cover of the exhibition catalogue.
Seven other pieces from the Glories of the Past exhibition were returned to Italy earlier this year.