Saturday, 18 November 2017

Networking with Cultural Criminals

News from China:
Chinese police have caught 91 suspected tomb raiders and antique smugglers, and retrieved more than 1,100 cultural relics, the Ministry of Public Security announced Friday. The investigation lasted over a year, with arrests made in Shaanxi, Shanxi, Gansu, and Henan province, said the police. The operation started July 2016 after police in Chunhua county, northwest China's Shaanxi Province, were alerted that the tomb of Lady Gouyi, a concubine of Emperor Wu (141 B.C.- 87 B.C.) and the mother of Emperor Zhao (87 B.C.- 74 B.C.) of the Han Dynasty (202 B.C.-A.D.220 ), had been raided.
There is a gallery of photos of the antiquities seized, mostly the sort of stuff that comes onto the international market from Chinese sources.

This case is a reminder that rarely do antiquities 'surface' on the market (from 'underground') due to the activities of a single individual (the nominal starving father digging to 'feed his children' beloved of dealer folklore), but is the product of an organized network of people  having the means to sidestep the checks and regulations that are supposed to stop criminal activity such as antiquities trafficking.

Dealers and collectors of antiquities which are bought in a non-transparent and no-questions-asked manner seem to regard these 'systemic leaks' that escaped the notice of the authorities of the source countries to be fair game, the results of a game of luck, but by putting money into the pockets of those at one end of the established supply chain and counting on doing further business with these suppliers, they are providing the motor for the continued functioning of that chain, they are investing in fact in organized crime. They become part of the network. 

Thursday, 16 November 2017

House Fire in Sicily

It seemed yesterday that Sicilian firefighters had not completely extinguished a fire that broke out earlier this week at the home of an antiquities dealer (Palazzo Pignatelli in Castelvetrano on the western tip of the island), and it is reported to have flared up again. In fact, that seems not to be true. True or not, bad luck never strikes three times in the same place it seems, so any documents providing details of transactions carried out by Sicilian antiquities dealer Gianfranco Becchina that survived the fire will presumably be secured and available to investigators looking into collecting histories of items bought from him in the past. I'm off this morning to see if I can get a bottle of his olive oil as a souvenir.

Artefact Hunting in USA: 'Over 90% Sites Destroyed or Degraded by Looters'

Over in Donald Trump's USA, it is a constant mantra of antiquities dealers and their lobbyists and supporters to insist that instead of their own industry functioning through a clean and transparent market, the way to cut down on antiquities trafficking is for the authorities of all source countries for the antiquities that surface (from underground) on the US market to guard all the exploitable sites. One might therefore be forgiven for asking how well that solution works in their own country. An article in the Pacific Standard (Kathleen Sharp, 'The Theft of the Gods: On the trail of looters and crooks who traffic in Hopi ceremonial objects', 16th November 2017) supplies a disturbingly pot-calling-kettle-black answer:
America's ancient heritage is disappearing at an alarming rate. Some archaeologists estimate that more than half of America's historic sites have been vandalized or looted. According to the non-profit Saving Antiquities for Everyone, over 90 percent of known American Indian archaeological sites have been destroyed or degraded by looters. As the cultural legacy of Native American tribes has vanished, the demand for genuine U.S. antiquities has exploded.
The problem is, this is not the American Way of doing things:
"We have a huge problem in the U.S. because we don't protect our country's artifacts," says Martin McAllister, a forensic archaeologist. Art collectors from Dubai and Beijing can purchase an exceptional Native American item at auction in London, Brussels, and Paris—and the tribe from which it came will probably never see it again. "It's not just the legacy of Native Americans that we're losing," says Marietta Eaton, director of the Anasazi Heritage Center. "It's all of ours."
I suggest the US first set up systems to guard their own heritage before attempting to dictate to foreign sovereign nations hosw they should run their country. In the meanwhile, let us clean up that dodgy international market and make it transparent, so we can all see where those artefacts are 'surfacing' from.

Sick and Disgusting

All-American kids enjoying themselves abroad

16th November, 2017 Today the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service confirmed that the American government has reversed a ban on trophies from elephants killed in Zimbabwe and Zambia.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Two Palmyra Busts in ISIL Hideout [UPDATED]

Two stolen statues found in Daesh hideout near Palmyra 15th November، 2017
The authorities on Wednesday found two stolen statues in a hideout of Daesh (ISIS) terrorists on the southern outskirt of ancient Palmyra city in the eastern countryside of Homs. SANA reporter in the central province said that two stolen statues were found in one of Daesh hideouts in al-Sawwana area to the south of Palmyra city, adding that the statues were handed to Homs Antiquities Department.  

Dorothy King adds: 'if they're real: hard to tell from photo'. Certainly the photo on the webpage is taken from a bad angle, and is formatted weirdly. The surfaces of the object do look smoother (the bloke's cheeks for example, the edges of that broken nose) and I was wondering too about these ones. Could one or both be plaster casts? Even if the latter were the case and some ISIL guy rummaging around abandoned buildings found them and took them to hiding elsewhere, from one point of view (what ISIL was up to) it is not important if he'd found real ones or was misled by fake ones, he/they still saw some value in hiding them for later use - though whether that was for sale or another smashing-antiquities-propaganda film, we will never know.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Iraq: Death Sentence for Museum Destruction?

As much as I loathe what he is convicted (I hope fairly) of doing, and rejoice that he has been found, I cannot condone this if this is all they've got on him: Nehal Mostafa, 'Islamic State militant sentenced to death for smashing monuments in Mosul', Iraqi News Nov 13, 2017).
The Central Criminal Court in Baghdad has sentenced an Islamic State member to death over taking part in several crimes including smashing and stealing of monuments in Mosul. Abdul Sattar Bir Qadar, spokesperson for the High Judicial Council, said in a statement that the court sentenced the suspect to death “Over conviction for taking part in terrorist crimes including the smashing of monuments in Mosul .” He added that the suspect admitted to affiliation to the group’s State of the North. “He took part in smashing and stealing of monuments from Mosul museum.” “The court found enough evidence and decreed the death sentence against the suspect in accordance with the fourth article of countering terrorism law,” he said. The group, which considered sculptures as symbols of infidelity, posted footage showing its members axing down priceless Assyrian, Akkadian, Babylonian, Persian and Roman artifacts, many of them two millennia old or older, drawing international condemnation. Reports later showed that some antiquities were sold out in online auctions.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Iraq investigating 'stolen artifacts' at the Louvre Abu Dhabi

The Iraqi government is investigating reports claiming stolen Iraqi antiquities are on display at the newly opened Louvre Abu Dhabi museum, a high-level official in Baghdad said on Monday (' Iraq investigating 'stolen artifacts' at the Louvre Abu Dhabi' The New Arab 13 November, 2017)
The alleged stolen artefacts date back to various historical periods in Iraq and were reportedly looted in the chaos that followed the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. "Parliament will file a motion with the government to form a committee to investigate how they reached the UAE and take legal action to repatriate them to Iraq," MP Sadeq Rassoul of the ruling National Alliance told The New Arab.An official at the office of Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, however, said Baghdad cannot be sure whether the Iraqi antiquities in Abu Dhabi were looted during the invasion or were replicas. "A committee has been formed to follow up the subject, and verify the reports claiming Babylonian, Assyrian, Akkadian and Ottoman-era artefacts are being shown at the museum," he said. The reports first circulated on social media, showing snaps of what were claimed to be stolen Iraqi historical artefacts. The International Campaign to Boycott UAE, a newly formed group, claimed on Sunday the Louvre Abu Dhabi was displaying stolen Iraqi, Syrian, and Egyptian artefacts, obtained via criminal gangs linked to terrorists.
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