Chronicle

November-December 2008

 

Christie’s Nimrud earrings
 
On December 5, Christie’s withdrew from auction a pair of Neoassyrian gold earrings. The earrings had originally been offered as lot 215 in the December 9 New York sale of ancient jewelry, but were identified by Iraqi archaeologists as belonging to the “Nimrud treasure”, which was discovered in Iraq in 1989. Christie’s said it was “cooperating with an investigation into whether the earrings were in fact stolen from Iraq” (J. Arraf, “Christie’s takes disputed earrings off auction block”, Christian Science Monitor, December 5).
 
Cleveland museum returns artifacts to Italy
 
On November 19, the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Italian Ministry of Cultural Assets and Activities announced in a joint press release that the museum had agreed to return 14 antiquities to Italy. The pieces in question are:
 
1975.91. Sicilian plastic vase in the form of a pig, Sicily, provincial Greece, 5th century BC c. 425 BC. Gift of Leo Mildenberg.
 
1977.92. Donkey-head rhyton, Greece, 5th century BC c. 475 BC. Purchase.
 
1990.1. Warrior, Sardinia, 9th-8th century BC 900-700 BC. Purchase.
 
1988.41. Apulian volute-krater, Darius Painter (Italian) c. 330 BC. Purchase.
 
1975.23. Red-figure duck askos, Italy, probably Chiusi (ancient Clusium), Etruscan, 4th century BC c. 350 BC. Purchase.
 
1987.209. Campanian bird askos, South Italy, northern Campania, late 4th-early 3rd century BC c. 310-280 BC. Gift of Mr and Mrs L.A. Fleischman.
 
1986.200. Apulian or Campanian red-figure lid with bowl, South Italy, Apulia, 4th century BC. Gift of Jonathan P. Rosen.
 
1986.201. Apulian Gnathia Flat-Bodied Epichysis, Italy, Middle Gnathia, 4th century BC 340-320 BC. Gift of Jonathan P. Rosen.
 
1986.202. Apulian Gnathia round-bellied epichysis, Italy, Middle Gnathia, 4th century BC c. 340-320 BC. Gift of Jonathan P. Rosen.
 
1986.203. Apulian Gnathia lekythos, Italy, Middle Gnathia, 4th century BC 340-330 BC. Gift of Jonathan P. Rosen.
 
1986.204. Campanian red-figure acorn lekythos, South Italy, Campania, 4th century BC c. 350-320 BC. Gift of Jonathan P. Rosen.
 
1990.81. Column krater, Greece, late Early Corinthian-early Middle Corinthian c. 600-590 BC. Purchase.
 
1996.16-17. Bracelet, pair, Italy, Etruscan, 6th Century BC 6th century BC. Gift of E. Almagia and C. Keep in honor of Arielle P. Kozloff.
 
1977.75. Processional Cross, Italian, 14th century AD.
 
The processional cross (1977.75) was stolen from an Italian church after World War Two. The return of the other objects was forced by evidence recovered during the Italian investigations of Giacomo Medici and Robert Hecht. Jonathan Rosen was joint owner with Robert Hecht of Atlantis Antiquities of New York during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Hecht is currently on trial in Rome, charged with conspiring to receive stolen art and the illegal export of antiquities. Italy has agreed to loan Cleveland a similar number of equivalent quality pieces, and to organize a close association between Cleveland and an Italian institution for future collaborations.
The number of pieces returned was smaller than expected. In April 2007, Suzan Mazur reported that representatives of Cleveland Museum had met with Italian officials to discuss the return of “dozens” of artifacts, including a Lucanian calyx krater (1991.1), sourced by Mazur back to Hecht, and the bronze statue of Apollo Sauroktonos (2004.30) bought in 2004 from Phoenix Ancient Art (“Mazur: Italy’s list of ancient treasures at Cleveland”, Scoop.nz, April 22).
 
 
Reporting on Cleveland.com about the agreement, Steven Litt quoted the museum director Timothy Rub as saying that the agreement absolved the museum of any intentional wrongdoing, though Rub refused to name any dealers involved in the purchases (“Cleveland Museum of Art strikes deal with Italy to return 14 ancient artworks”, Cleveland.com, November 19). Litt also reported that Cleveland and Italy had agreed to form a joint scientific commission to research the provenance of the Apollo Sauroktonos, and also of a Roman chariot attachment depicting Victory with Cornucopia (1984.25).
 
Egypt
 
In November, Associated Press published an interview with Zahi Hawass, who is secretary-general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities (M. Olster, “Egypt faces obstacles in recovering antiquities”, November 23). Hawass called upon the St Louis Art Museum to return the funerary mask of Ka-Nefer-Nefer, which he believes was stolen from storage sometime after 1959. The museum, which acquired the mask in 1998, has consistently denied that the mask is stolen and refuses to return it to Egypt. 
 
On December 3, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) returned 79 artifacts to Egypt (US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, “ICE returns stolen antiquities to Egypt”, press release, December 3). They were among 370 artifacts stolen from a museum in Cairo, where they had been stored after their excavation from the Predynastic site of Ma’adi. The press release reveals more details of the investigation. Acting on information received from the Art Loss Register, the artifacts were seized in 2006. ICE discovered that the artifacts had been smuggled out of Egypt by US Army warrant officer Edward George Johnson, who was assigned to the US Embassy in Cairo. He had used his diplomatic status to facilitate transport, in violation of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (as well as US and Egyptian domestic laws). In July 2008, Johnson pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of possession and selling of stolen antiquities. In 2003, Sue McGovern of Sands of Time Antiquities bought approximately 100 artifacts from Johnson, and in 2004 sold them on to dealers in New York, London and the Netherlands. The ICE press release states that only 79 artifacts have been returned, which suggests that something like 300 are still missing.
 
On December 19, the British law firm Mishcon de Reya announced the return to Egypt of a stone head of the 14th century BC pharaoh Amenhotep III (Mishcon de Reya, “Art law: priceless Egyptian sculpture to be returned home after 18 year absence”, news release, December 19). The head was recovered during the investigation of Jonathan Tokeley-Parry, who was convicted in a British court in 1997 of handling stolen artifacts, and of his accomplice Frederick Schultz, who was convicted in New York in 2002 of conspiring to receive stolen artifacts (P. Watson, 2002, “The investigation of Frederick Schultz”, Culture Without Context no. 10, 21-26; P. Gerstenblith, 2002, “United States v. Schultz”, Culture Without Context no. 10, 27-31). An appeal by Schultz was rejected in 2003 (P. Gerstenblith, 2003, “The McClain/Schultz doctrine: another step against trade in stolen antiquities”, Culture Without Context no. 13, 5-8).
 
   
Painted head                 Restored head
 
Tokeley-Parry admitted to having smuggled something like 2,000 artifacts out of Egypt, and passed at least eight on to Schultz. He claimed that the head of Amenhotep had been discovered on a building site in Cairo, and that he had coated the head with liquid plastic and painted it to look like a tourist souvenir before smuggling it out of Egypt himself. Back in Britain, he removed the paint and plastic, and attached an artificially-aged label suggesting it had been part of the fictitious “Thomas Alcock collection”, and in Britain since the 1920s. Tokeley-Parry then sold the head to Schultz for $900,000, who sold it in turn to South African dealer Gawain MacKinley, who sold it to London dealer Robin Symes for $1.4 million. Tokeley-Parry later claimed to have paid $6,000 for the piece (J. Tokeley, 2006, Rescuing the Past, Exeter: Imprint Academic, 202), highlighting once again the profits that can be made by ambitious traders, and particularly by those who risk the actual smuggling.
 
On December 23, Australian antiquities dealer Frank Bottaro was arrested at Cairo International Airport. Egyptian authorities announced that Bottaro, who is proprietor of Melbourne-based BC Galleries, was arrested on suspicion of smuggling antiquities, but was not charged. He reportedly had in his possession two animal mummies and 19 figurines of the ancient Egyptian gods Horus and Thoth, all wrapped as gifts (S. Milovanovic, “Egypt could jail Australian dealer for 15 years”, December 26).
On January 29, the BC Galleries website listed 384 Egyptian artifacts for sale, with a total asking price of $89,876, and mean price of $234 per object. This figure is small compared to the $7.16 million worth of Egyptian sales recorded for Sotheby’s New York in 2008 by David Gill on his Looting Matters website, but confirms that there is a healthy Internet market for small objects.  
 
Iraq
 
On October 28, Lebanese customs officers seized 57 Iraqi artifacts and arrested two men for smuggling on the Syrian border (AFP, “Iraqi antiquities seized in Lebanon: customs”, October 28).
 
Seized artifacts in Lebanon
(Photo: Joanne Farchakh)
 
In late December, Iraqi soldiers recovered about 230 artifacts during a sting operation in Basra (“Looted ancient treasures recovered in Basra ‘sting’”, Independent, December 23). Seven people were arrested. It is believed the material was destined for Kuwait.
 
Also in Basra, British and Iraqi authorities announced plans for restoring Saddam Hussein’s former palace as a museum (M. Kennedy, “Saddam’s palace may help restore civic pride to Basra”, Guardian, December 1). It would replace the old Basra museum that was looted and abandoned in the early 1990s. Since then, what is left of the museum’s collection has been in safe storage in Baghdad.
 
Italy
 
Swiss authorities announced in November that 4,400 artifacts seized in Basel in 2001 are to be returned to Italy (CBC News, “Swiss return 4,400 stolen antiquities to Egypt”, November 6).
 
Financial Innovations Lab of the Milken Institute
 
In January 2008 the Financial Innovations Lab of the Milken Institute convened a meeting of archaeologists, economists, antiquities dealers and lawyers to consider possible market-based solutions to the market-led looting and vandalism of archaeological sites and monuments. The report of the meeting was published in November, and suggested three possible solutions: (1) to promote long-term museum and exhibit leases; (2) to develop museum/collector partnerships to sponsor archaeological digs; and (3) to introduce archaeological development bonds (Financial Innovations for Developing Archaeological Discovery and Conservation, Milken Institute, November 2008). The report stressed that these proposed solutions remain hypothetical, and recommended in a series of “action items" the need to investigate the financial feasibility and possible logistics of each solution. The report suggested that small working groups should work on action items and report at a future meeting, though no concrete plans were outlined.
 
Peru
 
On December 5, Peru filed suit against Yale University for the return of artifacts that Peru maintains are being held illegally by Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History (P. Needham, “Peru sues for artifacts”, Yale Daily News, December 10). The artifacts were taken from Machu Picchu by Hiram Bingham in 1912. Peru took action after a possible settlement failed to materialize.
 
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
 
On November 12, the Metropolitan announced a new collections management policy. Chapter IV.3 (Archaeological Materials and Ancient Art) sets out guidelines for the future acquisition of archaeological objects, with reference to the recent policy documents of the American Association of Museums (AAM) and the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD).
 
Paragraph IV.3a states that:
 
The Museum normally shall not acquire a work unless provenance research substantiates that the work was outside its country of probable modern discovery before 1970 or was legally exported from its probable country of modern discovery after 1970.
 
This requirement seems straightforward, though a large loophole is introduced in the following paragraph IV.3b, which states that:
 
The Museum recognizes that even after the most extensive research, some works will lack a complete documented ownership history. In some instances, the Museum may make an informed judgment that the work was outside its probable country of modern discovery before 1970 or legally exported from its probable country of modern discovery after 1970, and therefore may acquire the work.
 
Thus the Metropolitan’s new collecting policy seems to be saying that if there is nothing to show that an object was outside its country of probable modern discovery before 1970 or legally exported after that date, then the museum may make an informed decision to acquire the piece. The policy compares unfavorably with that of the J. Paul Getty Museum, announced on October 23, 2006, which adheres to a strict November 17, 1970 cut-off for provenance, without any obfuscations introduced by concepts such as “extensive research” and “informed judgment” (both borrowed from paragraph II.E of the AAMD guidelines). Paragraph IV.3b of the Metropolitan’s policy does go on to say, however, that for such pieces:
 
… the Museum shall post identifying information, an image and all facts relevant to the decision to acquire it, including its known provenance, on the Association of Art Museum Directors’ website, as well as the museum’s website.
 
It is interesting to speculate how this new policy will work in practice. The announcement of the new policy coincided with the exhibition “The Phillipe de Montebello Years: Curators Celebrate Three Decades of Acquisitions”, in honor of Phillipe de Montebello’s 31 years as director. The on-line catalogue of the exhibition lists at least 42 archaeological pieces, but only 24 with a provenance that can be traced back to before 1970. More patterning becomes apparent when the material is broken down by region. Ancient Egyptian pieces have the most secure provenances, with 8 out of 10 having a pre-1970 provenance. For ancient Greece and Rome, only 6 out of 13 pieces had a pre-1970 provenance. Nevertheless, Greece and Rome compare favorably with South and Southeast Asia, where only 1 out of a total of 8 pieces had a pre-1970 provenance. Thus if the pattern manifest in the Montebello exhibition repeats itself in years to come, the Metropolitan may well be placing many South or Southeast Asian acquisitions with a post-1970 provenance on the AAMD website, but fewer ancient Egyptian pieces.
The on-line catalogue is interesting in another respect. The Metropolitan’s new policy states that the Museum will conduct “extensive research” into the provenance of a piece before deciding upon its acquisition. But it does not make clear just who, exactly, will be conducting this research. Presumably, it will be the responsible curator. But do curators have the expertise necessary to conduct such research? They are experts in their own fields, but their fields do not encompass the antiquities market. This much is clear from the object provenances included in the on-line catalogue, which include several that contain “suspect” names – the name of a dealer that should immediately raise a red flag about the legitimacy of a piece. In future, will curators necessarily recognize the significance of such names? Or will their “informed judgment” be made in ignorance of them? The Metropolitan would do well to support its new policy by appointing an expert in provenance research.  
 
West Bank
 
The National Geographic ran a feature in December reporting upon the state of the archaeological heritage of the West Bank, where there are about 2,000 major archaeological sites (K. Lange, “The stolen past”, 60-65). Looting has been going on there since at least 1967, but increased markedly after the onset of the second intifada in 2000, when many Palestinians lost their jobs in Israel. Sites such as Khirbet Tawas have been ransacked, with everything from backhoes to small bulldozers, often guided by metal detectors. Artifacts are traded onto to the international market through Israel and Jordan.