July-August 2008


Brooklyn Museum fakes
Brooklyn Museum announced in July that it is planning to display a group of forged Coptic sculptures (M. Bailey, “Revealed; one third of Brooklyn Museum’s Coptic collection is fake”, Art Newspaper no. 193, July-August, 1, 3). The museum owns about 30 Coptic (fourth-seventh century AD) sculptures, acquired between the late 1950s and early 1970s, and about a third of them are thought to be fake. Their authenticity was first questioned in 1977 by Gary Vikan, who is now director of Baltimore’s Walters Art Museum, and they were the subject of an academic study in 2001 (D.B. Spanel, “Two groups of ‘Coptic’ sculpture and relief in the Brooklyn Museum of Art”, Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt 38, 89-113). The forged pieces have been dubbed the “Sheikh Ibada group”, after the town of Sheikh Ibada (ancient Antinoë/Antinopoulos), where it is thought they might have been made. When interviewed by the Art Newspaper, Vikan suggested that hundreds may have been purchased by museums in the United States and Europe. Spanel (2001, 91 n. 15) listed the following sales catalogues as containing examples: Ars Antiqua (1959, 1960) and Galerie Motte (1961), both in Switzerland, and Eisenberg (1960) and Andre Emmerich Gallery (1962), both in the USA. New York dealer Jerome Eisenberg was quoted as admitting that he had sold Brooklyn one of the fake pieces in 1960, and that he had bought it in Cairo from a Copt named Kamel Hammouda (K. Taylor, “Brooklyn to exhibit fake art”, New York Sun, July 15). Many of the forgeries foreground Christian iconography, probably with the intention of pandering to the mid-twentieth century scholarly belief that Coptic sculpture was a Christian art form. Spanel suggested that in relative terms the price of Coptic sculpture was higher in the 1940s-1970s than it is today.
In late June, Thai protestors gathered on the Thai side of the Thailand-Cambodia border, across from the eleventh-century AD Cambodian temple of Preah Vihear, to claim the temple and its immediate territory as Thai (T. Sambath & K. Sophakchakrya, “Temple troubles”, Phnom Penh Post, July 3, 2008). The Thai protests appear to have been triggered by a meeting of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in Montreal, which was considering a Cambodian application for Preah Vihear to be made a World Heritage site.
The dispute dates back to 1904, when a Franco-Siamese boundary commission was convened to determine the border between what are today Thailand and Cambodia. A map drawn up in 1907 by a French surveyor acting on behalf of the commission designated a 4.6 km2 area around Preah Vihear as Cambodian territory, in apparent contradiction of the commission’s brief that the border should follow the watershed line separating the two countries. Preah Vihear is on the northern, Thai side of the watershed, though the 1907 map includes it in Cambodia. The map was never approved by the commission, which had by that time dissolved, though the border as drawn enjoyed de facto recognition. Thailand took possession of the disputed territory in 1941, and did not relinquish control after World War Two. In 1959, Cambodia approached the United Nations International Court of Justice for adjudication. The court found in favor of Cambodia, arguing that the Thai government had made no official or material protest against the border drawn on the 1907 map until 1941, and that its acquiescence indicated tacit acceptance (International Court of Justice, Communiqué No. 62/16, June 15 1962; International Court of Justice, Case Concerning the Temple of Preah Vihear (Merits); O. Covey, 1962, “Case concerning the Temple of Preah Vihear (Cambodia v. Thailand)”, American Journal of International Law 56, 1033-53).
On July 8, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee agreed that the temple should be added to the World Heritage List. One week later, on July 15, Thai troops entered the temple compound. Cambodian troops sent to evict them on July 17 avoided direct confrontation but remained in the area. On July 31, Cambodian sources reported that Thai troops had occupied the eleventh-century AD temple of Ta Moan Thom, several hundred km west of Preah Vihear (BBC News, “Thais accused over new temple row”, August 3). Thailand denied this report, though a Thai newspaper claimed that Thai troops had been stationed at Ta Moan Thom “for years” (“Another temple row heats up”, Bangkok Post, August 25).
In August, the US Department of State announced the extension of a “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU) between the USA and Cambodia concerning the imposition of import restrictions on archaeological material from Cambodia (http://culturalheritage.state.gov/cbfact.html). The MOU first entered effect on September 19, 2003, applying to stone, metal and ceramic archaeological artifacts of Khmer date (sixth to sixteenth century AD). The extension will take effect on September 19, 2008 and last for five years. The MOU now includes artifacts of bronze and iron age date dating back to 1500 BC. The designated list of protected categories of artifacts was published in the Federal Register (Vol. 73, no. 183, September 19, 54309-13). The MOU prohibits the import into the US of any designated Cambodian artifact unless accompanied by a Cambodian export permit or verifiable documentation that it left Cambodia prior to the effective date of the restriction.
            The U.S. Department of State also awarded $1 million to the World Monument Fund for conservation work at the tenth-century AD temple of Phnom Bakheng, part of the Angkor Wat complex. The money will be used to repair the temple, which was damaged by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s, and establish a protective regime against environmental decay (J.E. Kaufman, “US gives $1m to repair home of the Hindu gods”, Art Newspaper no. 193, July-August, 29).
On July 16, an amended MOU with Cyprus came into force (http://culturalheritage.state.gov/cyfactpc.html). It maintains import restrictions placed on Byzantine ethnological material and pre-Classical and Classical archaeological objects by an MOU agreed in July 2002, but extends them to include Cypriot coins. Designated categories of artifacts and coins to which restrictions apply are listed in the Federal Register (http://culturalheritage.state.gov/CyprusAmendExt2007FRN.pdf).  
Al-Ahram Weekly reported on the first meeting of the National Committee to Return Smuggled Antiquities (NCRSA), set-up in December 2007 by the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) to monitor the international market in stolen Egyptian antiquities and to take appropriate diplomatic action. (N. El-Aref, “Wrapping up smuggled goods”, July 3-9). Over the past six years the SCA has recovered 3000 artifacts: 619 from London’s Heathrow airport, 398 from Geneva, and others from Italy, Belgium, the United States, Holland, Germany, France and Canada. Egypt has also made bi-lateral agreements aimed at sharing information about smuggled artifacts and securing their return with Italy, Cyprus, Denmark, Cuba, Kazakhstan, Jordan, Peru and Switzerland. The NCRSA is a cross-departmental government body, including senior lawyers and archaeologists, and is intended to focus Egyptian efforts in this area.
On July 11, the Hellenic Ministry of Culture announced that it had reached agreement with US collector Shelby White for the return of two artifacts she had acquired in good faith. The artifacts were duly returned in August.
Photo: Hellenic Ministry of Culture
One is the upper part of a marble stele decorated with a warrior and a youth dating to about 400 BC. It was published by Elizabeth Milleker as no. 97 in the catalogue of the Leon Levy Shelby White collection (D. von Bothmer (ed.), 1990, Glories of the Past: Ancient Art from the Leon Levy and Shelby White Collection), and is now recognized to join the lower part of the same stele excavated near Porto Rafti in Attica in the 1960s.
Photo: Hellenic Ministry of Culture
The second is a bronze calyx krater dating to about 330 BC thought to have been taken from the site of Pieria in north Greece. It was recognized on display at the University of Tennessee’s Frank H. McClung Museum September–December 2005 exhibition “History Contained: Ancient Greek Bronze and Ceramic Vessels From the collections of Shelby White and Leon Levy and Judy and Michael Steinhardt
ICE returns
On July 8, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) returned 66 Precolumbian artifacts to the government of Colombia. The artifacts had been seized in 2005 during three raids in Florida, when ICE agents arrested and charged Italian national Ugo Bagnato. He pleaded guilty to the sale and receipt of stolen goods and was sentenced to 17 months imprisonment. In July 2007 he was deported to Italy (US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, “ICE Returns more than 60 pre-Columbian artifacts, gold pieces and emeralds to Colombian government”, News release, July 8).
In July, the British Museum released the report of an Iraqi-British investigation into the state of archaeological sites in Iraq (J. Curtis et al., “An assessment of archaeological sites in June 2008: an Iraqi-British project”). A multinational team, composed of Iraqi, British, American and German archaeologists, together with British military personnel, visited the sites of Ur, Ubaid, Eridu, Warka, Larsa,’Oueili, Lagash and Tell Lahm during the period 5-7 June 2008. The report presented four main conclusions:
  • Tell Lahm and Ubaid had been damaged by the construction of military emplacements, probably the work of Iraqi forces during the run-up to the Coaltion invasion of 2003.
  • The influx of off-duty military personnel as visitors at Ur has caused some probably unintentional damage.
  • There was clear evidence of looting at Larsa, Tell el-Oueili, Tell Lahm and Lagash, but nothing obvious from the last few years. There were no signs of looting at Ur, Ubaid or Warka.
  • Damage caused by weathering was noted at Ur, Eridu and Tell Lahm.
The report cautioned that the team had only been able to visit eight sites in the southern part of the southern Dhi Qar province, and the situation might not be typical of the rest of Iraq. Nevertheless, articles began to appear in the media arguing from the report that claims of massive looting since the Coalition invasion had been overblown (M. Bailey, “Archaeological sites in south Iraq have not been looted, say experts”, Art Newspaper no. 193, July-August, 4; M. Kaylan, “So much for the ‘looted sites’”, Wall Street Journal, July 15). Other commentators pointed out that most authorities had claimed a period of intense looting during the spring and summer of 2003 (A. Lawler, “Preserving Iraq’s battered heritage”, Science 321, 28-30; H. Eakin, “The devastation of Iraq’s past”, New York Review of Books 55(13), August 14), a claim that was not contradicted by the report.
The scale of looting may have reduced since 2003, but recent research shows the size of the market is growing. There are more artifacts for sale now than there were two years ago, and some show obvious signs of destructive removal from a Neo-Babylonian temple (N. Brodie, 2008, “The market in Iraqi antiquities 1980–2008”).
Archaeology has published further information on the artifacts returned to Iraq by Syria in May 2008. Some of the artifacts did bear museum numbers, and there were “dozens” of Aramaic inscribed incantation bowls (“Seized artifacts back in Iraq”, Archaeology July/August, 9).
On July 24, Italy returned 13 artifacts to Iraq that had been removed since the 2003 Coalition invasion (“Italy returns antiquities looted from Iraq”, Reuters, July 24).
On August 19, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced the arrest in east Jerusalem of a man for selling ancient coins to tourists. He had in his possession about 100 coins from the Hellenistic through Roman periods, with more coins in his car (E. Lefkovits, “Man posing as J’lem tour guide nabbed for selling ancient coins to tourists”, Jerusalem Post, August 19).
In July, the Italian government declared that Pompeii was in a “state of emergency” due to the corrosive action of 2.6 million visitors per year. Tourists damage the fabric of the site by removing pieces as souvenirs, adding graffiti to what is left, and ignoring restrictions on flash photography (A.L. Freeman, “Pompeii theft, trash may destroy what Vesuvius saved”, Bloomberg.com, July 18). Pompeii shares its security guards with four neighboring sites and since 2001 their number has fallen 19 percent, to 349. In 2007 Pompeii’s income was €33 million, 82 percent derived from entrance fees and the remaining 18 percent from the culture ministry. The government’s contribution is not secure, however, as the government has been cutting the budget available for heritage protection, and further cuts look imminent.
The budget cuts affect sites throughout Italy, and Antonello Antinoro, Sicilian regional councilor responsible for culture, has suggested that one solution would be to move site management into the private sector, pointing in particular to the Valley of Temples, a group of seven sixth-fifth century BC Greek temples (“Tempest over Valley of the Temples”, Ansa.it, July 3). His plan is that private managers could charge entrance fees and increase entrance income by upgrading tourist facilities to attract more visitors. The revenue would pay for site management. Antinoro’s plan has been criticized by opposition politicians.
In July, a new inscribed tablet came to light, thought to date from the late first century BC (E. Bronner, “Ancient tablet’s text triggers a debate”, New York Times, July 5). Made of stone, it is about 1 m tall and bears 87 lines of Hebrew text written in ink. It was bought about 10 years ago by collector David Jeselsohn from a Jordanian antiquities dealer and has recently been translated by Ada Yardeni (“A new Dead Sea scroll in stone?”, Biblical Archaeological Review, Jan/Feb, 60–61). Its findspot is unknown.
New AAM guidelines on museum acquisitions
The American Association of Museums (AAM) has announced its new Standards Regarding Archaeological Material and Ancient Art (“AAM establishes new standards on collecting of archaeological material and ancient art” AAM press release, August 13). The new standards bring the AAM into line with the AAMD guidelines announced in June 2008 recommending that all acquisitions should have a provenance documented back to November 17, 1970, the date the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property was signed, and that museums should make publicly available provenance-related information for all objects in their collections.
Police raids in Lima’s outdoor Indian Market carried out on June 27 recovered swatches of Chancay period textiles taken from archaeological sites (“Peru officials find pre-Hispanic textiles on sale in Lima tourist market”, Associated Press, July 5). Some small pieces were attached to dolls selling for as little as US$6.50, or ornamental boxes that were on sale for US$50. The police have recently seized about 620 objects augmented with ancient textiles in three separate raids.
Romanian prosecutors announced in August that 10 people will be tried for allegedly smuggling ancient coins and artifacts out of Romania (A. Wolfe Murray, “Alleged smugglers of ancient artifacts to be tried”, Associated Press, August 7). The material is said to have been excavated illegally between 1996 and 2005 in the area of the Dacian Fortresses of the Orastie Mountains, which is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The defendants include a French-Romanian, Ovidiu Laszlo Olah, a Serb, Ilic Ljubisa, and a British-Romanian, Horia Camil Radu. Radu is charged as ringleader but will stand trial in absentia, having moved to Britain. He is proprietor of two companies, Samus Numismatics in the USA and Ulpia Numismatics in the UK. He has denied the charges.
A report in the New York Times drew attention to the threats posed to archaeological sites throughout the western USA by proposed plans to develop energy resources (K. Johnson, “Energy boom in West threatens Indian artifacts”, August 2).
Security at Yemen’s Sana’a International Airport seized 171 coins and artifacts during the first half of 2008 (“171 antique pieces foiled to be smuggled via Sana’a airport”, SABA: Yemen News Agency, August 25).