July-August 2009

 

Black Swan/Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes
 
On July 22, Odyssey Marine announced that it had filed its objections to a federal court ruling that the cargo of the “Black Swan” is the property of Spain (see Chronicle, May-June 2009). Odyssey argued that the ship had been carrying a commercial cargo when it was sunk, and thus the cargo should not be considered to be the property of Spain (Odyssey Marine Exploration, “Odyssey files objections to report and recommendation in ‘Black Swan’ Admiralty case,” press release, July 22). The Peruvian government also lodged an objection, claiming that the gold comprising the cargo was mined in Peru and therefore should belong to Peru, not Spain (B. Reyes, “Odyssey in new bid to keep Mercedes treasure,” Gibraltar Chronicle, July 23. http://www.chronicle.gi/).
 
Bulgaria
 
In July, Bulgarian journalist Ivan Dikov wrote about his experiences while accompanying Australian film-maker David O’Shea who was making a television documentary about treasure hunting in Bulgaria (I. Dikov, “Bulgaria: an archaeology and treasure hunting paradise. Or hell,” Novinite.com, July 31. http://www.novinite.com/). Dikov suggested that illegal digging in Bulgaria started in earnest in the 1990s as the Bulgarian economy collapsed along with the communist system, and the country opened up to foreign trade. Metal detectors also made their appearance. According to a Bulgarian Interior Ministry official, in 2006 there were estimated to be between 30,000 and 33,000 people involved in illegal digging. One archaeologist complained of “higher-level” diggers, who arrived on his site one day in a luxury jeep. The same archaeologist claimed to have been harassed by a corrupt public prosecutor in the pay of a treasure hunting “mafia”.
Dikov also reported on his visit with O’Shea to the site of the Roman city of Ratiaria, which has been largely destroyed (c. 20 hectares) by illegal digging since 1990. He claimed that the local community, including the village mayor and the police, were responsible, and that at one time there had been 17 bulldozers in action. Dikov and O’Shea tried to interview 12 diggers they had discovered at work on Ratiaria, but were attacked. They did, however, report holes some 2-3 meters deep. Dikov also published an interview with O’Shea (“Australian journalist David O’Shea: treasure hunting is national tragedy for Bulgaria,” Novinite.com, July 31. http://www.novinite.com/). The website of an organization dedicated to the protection of Ratiaria can be found here: http://archaeology.archbg.net/fs_excavations_ratiaria.html#news.
 
Iraq
 
                                           
 
       Cuneiform cone returned on July 9 (Photo: Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science/AP)
 
The Netherlands returned 69 artifacts to the custody of Iraq in July. They had been handed over by Dutch dealers after Interpol had exposed their illegal origin. The artifacts are to be placed on display in the Dutch National Museum until they can be returned to Baghdad (“Dutch hand back looted Iraqi art,” BBC News, July 9. http://news.bbc.co.uk/).
 
Israel
 
The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced in July that it would be implementing a law passed in 2002 requiring all private collectors of antiquities within Israel to be registered. Each collector will receive a certificate recognizing his or her status as a collector (as opposed to a dealer), and a record of the antiquities collection will be kept by the IAA. The IAA estimates that there are more than 100,000 people in Israel who are antiquities collectors (defined as someone who owns 15 antiquities or more). The antiquities will be recognized as the property of the registered collector, though the collector will need to acquire permission from the IAA before selling anything. The idea is that the IAA will be able to keep track of material (IAA, “The IAA is embarking on a first of its kind campaign to register the antiquities collections that are held by the general public in Israel”, press release, no date; J. Newman, “Antiquities Authority begins to register private collectors,” Jerusalem Post, August 4. http://www.jpost.com/).
The IAA also announced plans to work with the Israel Defence Force (IDF) towards protecting archaeological sites during military exercises, mainly in the Negev (S. Rubenstein, “Military works with Antiquity Authority to save ruins,” Jerusalem Post, June 29. http://www.jpost.com/).
 
Italy
 
On July 2, Italy placed on display 14 artifacts returned by the Cleveland Museum of Art in November 2008 (see Chronicle, November-December 2008). Negotiations over the Apollo Sauroktonos and a Roman chariot fitting are ongoing (“Italy unveils 14 artifacts returned by Cleveland Museum,” CBC News, July 2. http://www.cbc.ca/news/).
 
On July 15, an appeals court in Rome upheld the December 2004 conviction of Giacomo Medici for conspiracy and receiving stolen antiquities, but dismissed the smuggling conviction (S. Scherer, “Rome court upholds conviction of antiquities dealer,” Bloomberg.com, July 15. http://www.bloomberg.com/).
Two weeks later, Suzan Mazur reported that Italy is asking for the return of 1,000 objects from Robin Symes’s trustees (“Italy seeks ancient loot from Symes trustees,” Scoop, July 28. http://www.scoop.co.nz/). She published several photographs of objects in the possession of Symes that had also appeared in Polaroid photographs seized from Medici.
 
Pakistan
 
Pakistani authorities reported evidence of illegal digging and theft at the Buddhist stupa and monastery of Taxila. Fifteen illegal diggers had been arrested but released after two hours, leading to accusations of official collusion (A. Iqbal, “UNESCO, archaeology dept urged to save Buddhist stupa,” Dawn.com, July 30. http://www.dawn.com/).
 
United Kingdom
 
The Guardian reported on the work of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) (M. Kennedy, “An army of amateur archaeologists is rewriting British history,” Guardian, August 28). PAS staff spoke enthusiastically about the number of finds now being reported by metal detectorists, and the potential of these finds for advancing archaeological knowledge. On a more downbeat note, however, the article also reported on the contraction of the professional archaeological sector as developer funding has dried up during the recession.
 
USA
 
The San Juan County sheriff spoke out against the tactics used by Bureau of Land Management agents during their arrests of 24 people on June 10 (see Chronicle, May-June 2009). Eighteen were San Juan County residents. The sheriff (whose brother is one of the defendants) complained that too much force had been used against what were at the time alleged to be non-violent offenders. Something like 150 agents took part in the raids, and the sheriff claimed that guns had been pointed at 14 people. An FBI spokesman stated in defense of the tactics that one of the suspects had claimed that he would shoot it out with police (N. Carlisle, “BLM agents pulled guns on artifacts suspects, sheriff says,” Salt Lake Tribune, July 2. http://www.sltrib.com/; P. Henetz, “Artifact-theft suspect to change plea,” Salt Lake Tribune, July 3. http://www.sltrib.com/).
            The trials of people charged after the raids continued through July and August. On July 6, Jeanne Redd and her daughter Jericca Redd pleaded guilty under the Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA) to illegal trafficking in Native American artifacts. Jeanne Redd’s husband James Redd, who had also been arrested on June 10, had committed suicide on June 11.
More information about the investigation that prompted the raids was revealed from court documents. A male undercover agent known as the “Source” was an artifacts dealer who had collaborated voluntarily with federal authorities. From December 1, 2006 to June 9, 2009, he bought and sold more than 250 Puebloan artifacts and made about 130 recordings of telephone and face-to-face conversations. He was paid $224,000 (P. Henetz, “Redd, daughter admit to looting, selling ancient Indian artifacts,” Salt Lake Tribune, July 7. http://www.sltrib.com/).
            Charles Denton Armstrong appeared in court on July 13, and was charged with threatening to assault the Source with a baseball bat after he heard about Redd’s suicide (C. Smart, “Blanding man accused of threatening to beat up informant in artifacts case,” Salt Lake Tribune, July 14. http://www.sltrib.com/).
            In August, Durango (Colorado) residents Vern and Marie Crites voluntarily surrendered to federal authorities a large collection of artifacts, which they claim to have assembled over the past 50 years. The Source had been shown the collection during a visit to the Criteses’ home in September 2007. During the visit, Vern Crites told the Source that he had in the past made two half-a-million dollar sales to separate artifact collectors, and that his home had been raided previously in 1985 by federal agents. Crites also took the Source to dig an archaeological site on public land in San Juan County (P. Henetz, “Feds haul off more seized artifacts,” Salt Lake Tribune, August 19. http://www.sltrib.com/).  
The investigation continued beyond the initial June 10 arrests and more people were interviewed or arrested. In August, it was revealed from court documents that one of the defendants, Steven Shrader, who killed himself in June after turning himself in to the FBI two days after the Utah arrests, had introduced the Source to New Mexico resident Thomas Cavaliere, who is of Native American descent and who was said by Shrader to have “connections in the pueblos.” Cavaliere then introduced the Source to Santa Fe tribal art dealer Christopher Selser and Santa Fe artist William Schenck. Schenck in turn introduced the Source to Forrest Fenn, another Santa Fe dealer (and author). Although federal agents have searched the properties of these individuals, none has been charged (P. Henetz, “American Indian linked to federal artifacts looting case,” Salt Lake Tribune, August 7. http://www.sltrib.com/). Santa Fe is generally regarded as a “hub” of the illegal artifacts’ trade (L. Paskus, “Stealing the past,” Santa Fe Reporter, August 19. http://www.sfreporter.com/).
On August 25, Colorado resident Robert Knowlton was charged with selling artifacts removed illegally from public land. According to the affidavit, Knowlton claimed to be in possession of 3,700 artifacts worth more than $500,000. He operated from an Internet site called Bob’s Flint Shop (P. Manson, “Widening artifact probe snags another defendant,” Salt Lake Tribune, August 26. http://www.sltrib.com/). 
            On the ground, public reaction to the raids was mixed. In Blanding, where the economy is depressed and there is a tradition of artifact collecting stretching back generations, many residents were sympathetic towards the defendants (N. Lofholm, “Emotions run hot over artifacts raids in Utah,” Denver Post, July 7. http://www.denverpost.com/). Outside Blanding, not everyone agrees (T. Griego, “Griego: Steal a relic, shatter a history,” Denver Post, July 9. http://www.denverpost.com/).
 
In an unrelated case, Misty and William Graves of north Arkansas were sentenced under ARPA in July for illegally excavating artifacts from the Buffalo River National Park (“Couple sentenced for looting Buffalo River archaeological site,” ArkansasMatters.com, July 20. http://arkansasmatters.com/).
 
The US government agreed in July to pay $880,000 to the estate of Roxanna Brown. Brown was arrested in May 2008 as part of a federal enquiry into tax fraud involving the acquisition by four south California museums of smuggled artifacts (see Chronicle, January-February 2008). She died in custody (J. Felch, “US settles with family of Southeast Asia scholar,” Los Angeles Times, July 8).
 
Yemen
 
The General Organization for Antiquities and Museums announced that 200 artifacts had been recovered since the beginning of 2009. Most were seized at Sana’a International Airport. Six suspects, all Yemenis, had appeared in court on smuggling-related charges (Yemen News Agency (SABA), “Nearly 200 pieces of antiquity recovered,” July 28).