McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research
The illicit trade is a dying dinosaur issue said New York dealer Frederick Schultz described as one who ensures that his examples do not have a dubious past when quizzed by the Art Newspaper in January 2000 (p. 65). But even dying dinosaurs can bite, and in February this year Schultz was bitten badly in a New York court when he was convicted of handling archaeological material stolen from Egypt. In this issue Peter Watson provides a colourful account of the investigation and events that led up to the trial, and Patty Gerstenblith discusses its legal ramifications. Schultz was sentenced to 33 months imprisonment and fined $50,000.
The Art Fund is the United Kingdoms leading art charity with over 90,000 members. It raises money from membership subscriptions, donations and legacies and in 2001 was able to offer £5.8 million to museums and galleries across the country for the purchase of works of art, including archaeological objects. It has long been the policy of the Art Fund not to support the purchase of archaeological or ethnographic objects that were not known before 1970, and on 1 May this policy received formal definition. In future, the Art Fund will not support a museum purchase unless there is documentary evidence to show that the object in question was in circulation before 1970, or, in the absence of any documentation, a signed personal declaration to that effect by the vendor.
This new requirement for a signed declaration is a significant move on the part of the Art Fund as it meets head-on the dealers complaint that it is unrealistic to expect documentary evidence of provenance to survive when an object has been moved out of its country of origin decades or even centuries ago. Perhaps not, but now that written testimony will suffice there is one less reason for ownership histories to be suppressed.
The Art Funds announcement was made at the launch by the Museums Association of a new Code of Ethics for Museums. The Code requires that museums should only acquire archaeological and ethnographic objects which have a secure documented ownership history that can be traced back to before 1970, unless they are judged by experts in the field involved to be of minor importance and not illicitly traded.
This collaborative launch took place at a press conference held on 1 May in London and highlights the determination of the museums community in Britain to stamp out the illicit trade. It followed closely on the heels of a Ministerial announcement that the UK Government intends to accede to the 1970 UNESCO Convention by July.
In the January/February 2002 issue of Minerva magazine its editor Dr Jerome Eisenberg drew attention to the fact that a conversation he had taken part in had been secretly recorded and published on a web site. The same web page also shows e-mails allegedly written by Dr Eisenberg where he calls into question the work of Dr Peter Northover, a leading archaeo-metallurgist (http://www.michelvanrijn.com/artnews/artnws-eisenberg.htm). Dr Northover, who has published widely on the subject of archaeometallurgy, is a Senior Research Fellow at the Department of Materials, University of Oxford. His own web site is at http://www. materials.ox.ac.uk/peoplepages/northover.html although it makes no mention of authentication work carried out for the antiquities trade.
These e-mails prompt a number of questions. First, are they genuine? Dr Eisenberg has admitted that other material attributed to him on the web page is genuine, so there is no reason to think that the e-mails arent, particularly as the page was concerned with the suspect provenance of an Italian sculpture and the references to Dr Northover were incidental and unnecessary.
Even if the e-mails were not written by Dr Eisenberg, the allegations they contain are still serious. They either cast doubt upon the work of Peter Northover or call into question Jerome Eisenbergs credentials as a fake-buster.
Finally, they imply that Oxford Universitys Department of Materials is housing a commercial authentication service. If this is the case it is a shame. The Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art at Oxford has long since stopped offering such a service because of the role it plays in underpinning the market for looted objects. The staff of the Institute of Archaeology in London, too, in 1999 adopted a Policy Statement which forbids the commercial valuation or authentication of archaeological objects of unknown provenance.
The issues raised by the Northover e-mails are serious ones and it is to be hoped that the individuals involved will come forward and give a full and satisfactory account of the statements made.
In this issue is an account of the long though sometimes misreported history of looting at the site of Butrint, in Albania, which was occupied from the late Bronze Age through to the sixteenth century ad. Oliver Gilkes directs excavations there for the Butrint Foundation, which was established in 1993 to support archaeological research and promote public awareness of the site. The Foundation is a British charitable trust which works in collaboration with the Albanian Institute of Archaeology and Ministry of Culture with the participation of Albanian archaeologists and students. While presently engaged upon a continuing campaign of excavation, it is also collating the archives of previous Italian and Albanian expeditions to create a virtual resource and is preparing a plan for the future management of the site, which was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1992 and is presently encompassed by a protected area of 29 km2. The Butrint Foundation aims to resolve the tension that exists between the local need for economic development and the desire to conserve an important part of Albanias natural and cultural heritage, while at the same time continuing archaeological investigations at the site. Further information about the work of the Foundation can be found at: http://www.butrintfound.dial.pipex.com/.
In the past, archaeologists working in foreign countries have been concerned primarily with the academic consequences of their work, the contribution it might make to the understanding of past societies, and have paid little attention to the future prospects of an excavated site beyond its immediate physical consolidation. The long-term presentation, protection or development of sites have been tasks beyond the responsibility competence even of excavators, and with an academic status much inferior to the intellectual process of interpretation and exposition. Times are changing though. In going beyond the ethic of pure research by responding to local concerns while at the same time ensuring the future survival of the site, the Butrint Foundation serves very much as a twenty-first-century paradigm for archaeological research. What might be characterized as dig and run projects should now be a thing of the past.
First posted December 2002; Page design updated September 2006