In the news
McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research
Trial of Frederick Schultz
The high-profile New York trial of Frederick Schultz (see In The News, CWC issue 9), former president of NADAOPA (National Association of Dealers in Ancient Oriental and Primitive Art) ended on 12 February with his conviction. The jury deliberated for four hours before finding Schultz guilty of conspiring to smuggle and possess looted Egyptian artefacts (see Gerstenblith and Watson articles this issue.)
On 11 June Judge Jed Rakoff sentenced Schultz to 33 months imprisonment. The judge explained an additional fine of $50,000 was remarkably lower than the pre-sentencing recommendation of $575,000 because jail sentences are more of a deterrent for white-collar criminals. There had been some debate over the value of economic damage the case entailed, revolving around the value of the smuggled head of Amenhotep, estimated by the US Government at $2 million and Schultz at $70,000, even though he had sold it for $1.2 million. Judge Rakoff decreed the value to be clearly in the $1.52.5 million range but, to the dismay of archaeologists, took no account of anything other than the monetary value of the smuggled objects. Schultz is now expected to appeal.
Celestial disc retrieved
A looted bronze disc, with gold depictions of the sun, moon and stars, has gone on display at the State Museum of Prehistory in Halle, Germany. Believed to date from the Bronze Age, it was stolen in 1998 from a site at Sangerhausen, in Saxony Anhalt. Two thieves sold the artefact for 15,000 euros (US$13,000) to a dealer who then unsuccessfully attempted to sell it to Berlin Museum. Police finally retrieved the disc in February 2002 when a middleman and Düsseldorf teacher who had purchased the piece (which under German law belongs to the State) met Saxony Anhalt archaeologist, Harald Meller, to negotiate a sale. Both teacher and go-between were arrested, but not yet charged.
Status of international conventions
At the end of January, the French government made moves towards adopting the 1995 Unidroit Convention when an initial reading of the bill to ratify was adopted by the Assemblée Nationale (lower-house). It was noted that any ratification (not expected until autumn at the earliest) would have to be accompanied by legislation to ensure that the terms of the Convention do not contradict Frances constitution. At a Press Conference on 3 October 2001, the Syndicat National des Antiquaires (National Dealers Association of France) had already pointed out that Chapter 3 of the convention contravened the European Convention of Human Rights and the French Constitution. President and Oriental dealer Dominique Chevalier also noted that, should the Unidroit Convention become law, museum curators fear that collectors will be too scared to lend objects to French museums, and said that major donations to the Musée Guimet had been suspended while donors awaited the governments decision. The Syndicat, which has signed recent agreements with TEFAF and the British Art Market Federation to fight ratification of the Convention in its present form and vowed that if it were to become law in France they would support and encourage challenges to its legality in the courts, announced themselves very satisfied that the government had noted problems they felt to be inherent in the Unidroit text.
January: The Cambodian government announced that it has ratified the 1995 Unidroit Convention following a unanimous vote in favour in the national assembly.
According to reports in the Japanese press, the Japanese government is making moves towards signing the 1970 UNESCO Convention. Some changes in Japanese law and other amendments must first be completed before the terms of the Convention could be met, including a change in the statute of limitation on claiming return of stolen property (from 2 years to 10 years), stricter import and export controls, and the creation of a list of cultural heritage. Japanese diplomats have indicated that the issue is a top priority and it is hoped the ratification will be approved during the current session of the Japanese parliament.
In March, Tessa Blackstone, UK Arts Minister, announced that the UK government will sign up to the 1970 UNESCO Convention by July. Legal issues relating to the form of UK accession to the Convention have now been resolved.
During the November 2001 World Trade Organization Ministerial Summit, in Doha, Qatar, at which countries agreed a working agenda on trade negotiations which will be negotiated over coming years, the notion of cultural exception was upheld in principle. Under the terms of the first General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) 1948, indirect restriction or discrimination in international trade is not permitted, but special exceptions have been allowed regarding measures intended to promote or protect national cultural interests and values.
Hershel Shanks, writing in Biblical Archaeology Review (September/October 2001), reflects sadly that stricter museum policies are causing loss of knowledge, because artefacts of scholarly importance are now more likely to be sold to a collector who would keep them a secret lest he be vilified by the archaeological establishment. He cites as an example one of two collections of eulogiai (enigmatic ancient Greek-inscribed tokens associated with early Christian pilgrim shrines) which was purchased on the antiquities market by the British Museum in 1973 a purchase which the Museum confirmed would no longer be possible as their acquisition policy now requires that, except in exceptional circumstances, that unprovenanced antiquities must have documentation to show they left their country of origin before 1970.
Geffrey Lewis, Chair of the Ethics Committee of ICOM (International Council of Museums) reports that six alleged violations of the ICOM Code of Ethics were discussed during between 19982001, including acquisition or display by museums of allegedly illicitly exported material, a senior museum worker contributing to the catalogue of an exhibition which contained stolen artefacts, and issues surrounding public valuation services by an art dealer at a major museum event. ICOMs Code of Ethics has, after consultation with the membership, been thoroughly revised and is available on ICOMs WWW site at http://icom.museum/.
The National Museum of Taiwan, Taipei faced criticism from national legislator Chen Chin-jun, who declared it a disgrace that in 50 years the museum still hasnt finished inventorying its collection, and made public his belief that some museum staff had been working with antiquities traders to steal and sell museum pieces. Chen said that, based on current museum lists, at least a thousand objects are missing from storerooms and checks indicated that some had been substituted by modern reproductions. A representative from the Council for Cultural Affairs announced that a working group would be assigned to look into the matter, while museum director James An added that inventory work should be complete within the next two years, which could confirm whether or not museum workers have been involved in any illegality.
January: French Minister for European Affairs, Pierre Moscovici, announced that
under the terms of an agreement between the
Latin American meeting
In April 2002 the Ministry for Culture of Colombia hosted the Third Regional Workshop Against Illicit Traffic of Cultural Heritage. As part of the four-day meeting, archaeologists, museum and heritage professionals from around the world began the process of developing an ICOM Red List for Latin America, using as an inspiration the highly effective format of the Red List for Africa produced in 2000.
Looting in Java
According to The Art Newspaper (April 2002), Javanese cultural heritage is under increasing threat, especially since the fall of the Suharto government in Indonesia in 1998.
Begram ivories adventure
Oriental dealer Johnny Eskenazi describes in The Art Newspaper (January 2002) how, following a two-year search and a tip-off from one his regular middlemen in Peshawar, he finally located 107 Begram ivories in 1996 in the possession of a powerful Pakistani official. The ivories, looted from Kabul Museum when it was destroyed during the Afghan civil war in the early 1990s, had apparently been smuggled into Pakistan by mujaheddin commanders and sold, probably for not very much to Pakistani politicians who then found the pieces too hot to tempt Western collectors. Eskenazi describes how he was taken in disguise and at dead of night to a rich house and the treasures were presented to him in three large suitcases, wrapped in pink toilet paper. The ivories were apparently beginning to crumble. Eskenazi laments that political correctness (or a general unwillingness in the West to sponsor looting by buying looted antiquities) prevented him from saving them, and concludes that they should belong to anyone willing to look after them for future generations.
Tales from USA
Archaeologists in Utah, USA reacted angrily to a scheme run by a San Juan County landowner which, for $2500 per day, offers members of the public the chance to dig for relics at the 1000-year-old, Anasazi site of Montezuma Village which contains nearly 100 house mounds. The business, called Anasazi Digs, is legal, since state antiquities laws do not apply to private land with the exception of burials. Howard Ransdell, whose family have owned the property since the 1950s, said that only areas in danger from erosion would be offered for commercial excavation, under the supervision of anthropology graduate Daniel Thomas, and that the idea was to give people the opportunity to dig in an undisturbed site.
Archaeologists in Texas continue to push for stronger grave protection laws and better enforcement in the light of extensive pot-hunting for prized Caddo ceramics in the State. But opposition from amateur archaeologists and private landowners is strong: Bob McWilliams, founder of Texas Amateur Archaeological Association, quoted in The Knight Ridder Tribune, argues that private citizens have the right to use private property as they see fit.
Concerns that widespread looting was destroying an unexcavated ancient shell mound at Hooker Key in Pine Island Sound, Florida, led to archaeological rescue excavations at the site in 2000. Artefacts and radiocarbon dates from samples taken from areas damaged by looters holes up to 9-feet deep, have proved that the midden was occupied from 500 bc to ad 100 much earlier than archaeologists previously believed. A two-year restoration project has now been completed to restore the gaping pits in the sides of the mound.
Robert Hicks of the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services (see Time Crime: Looting in the USA, CWC issue 9) told a conference on Indian Affairs that, when a sheriff organized members of a local Cherokee tribe to patrol a Native American cemetery in Tennessee which was frequently targeted by grave robbers, looting there stopped.
Austrian antiquity decision
The Austrian Supreme Court ended a lengthy legal dispute when it awarded ownership of a 2000-year-old statue of the Greek goddess Hekate to a kebab shop owner who purchased it from a German customer in 1980 for £1000. In 1997, the Turkish Embassy had obtained an injunction to stop the piece being auctioned for more than a million pounds at the Dorotheum auction house in Vienna, claiming that it must have been looted and smuggled from eastern Anatolia. The kebab shop owner proved good faith with a written purchase agreement.
Archaeologists continue debating the wisdom of opening the 1200-year-old mausoleum of Qianling, tomb of Empress Wu Zetian and her husband Emperor Li Zhi, the only Tang dynasty tomb not to have been looted. Authorities say they have found evidence of eight recent failed robberies there.
December 2001: Officials of the Israeli Antiquities Authority, acting on a tip-off, detained a group of scuba divers from coastal kibbutz Neveh Yam, on suspicion of stealing artefacts including amphorae, coins and architectural pieces from the sea near the Roman port of Caesarea. The alleged thieves face up to three-year prison sentences.
Officials in the Antiquities Authoritys Unit for the Prevention of Antiquity Theft warn that probable budget cuts will hamper their ability to protect the estimated 30,000 ancient sites under their jurisdiction in the country.
Three young Palestinians were caught in February attempting to break into an ancient tomb in Gai Ben-Hinnom, a steep ravine circling the west and south of the Old City of Jerusalem and the site of a wealth of unexcavated caves in which high-ranking ancient citizens were buried. Amir Ganor head of the Unit for the Prevention of Theft of Antiquities blames economic suffering caused by the unrest for the recent rise in grave robbing and antiquities thefts by Palestinians, particularly along the Green Line.
December 2001: French museum authorities took possession of a selection of more than 100 Italian antiquities, which had originally been confiscated in 1992 by French customs officials at Thionville, in eastern France. The objects, worth as much as $11,000 each, included bronze necklaces, bracelets (some with fragments of ancient bone inside), spearheads, and pins, along with Etruscan busts and Roman vases, and dated between the seventh and eighth centuries bc. They were found roughly packed in newspaper at the bottom of large suitcases carried by two train passengers en route from Milan to Brussels. The bronzes were looted from tombs in the Basilicata region. According to the Louvre, which will add some of the pieces to its permanent collection, Italian authorities declined to take steps to recover the artefacts, probably because of a surplus of similar objects within Italy and the complicated legal process repatriation would have entailed.
Sybaris antiquities returned
November 2001: About 500 antiquities were returned to the Museum of the Archaeological Park in Sibari, Southern Italy from the J P Getty Museum in California and the Institute for Classical Archaeology at the University of Bern, Switzerland. The terracotta and bronze pieces had been acquired as donations between 1976 and 1983 but have been the subject of negotiations since 1993, when an archaeologist recognized them as having come from the ancient Greek city of Sybaris.
274 artefacts stolen from Corinth Museum in Greece in 1990, and recovered by the FBI in Miami in 1999 (see In The News, CWC issues 5, 6, 7 & 8) were due to be returned to display once more at the museum on December 1. Security at the site has been improved.
In September 2001, archaeologists investigating illegal excavations in Macedonia, Northern Greece found a previously unknown, archaeologically significant 2300-year-old tomb near the ancient route to the oracle of Zeus at Dodona.
More than 100 ancient vases, vessels, pottery fragments and statues were confiscated in January from the Athens home of retired economist George Gerogiannis. Gerogiannis was arrest for illegal possession of the antiquities, which date from early prehistoric to late Byzantine eras.
January 2002: Argiris Argiriou was arrested in Thessaloniki after police found in his possession around 1000 allegedly illegal antiquities. The objects, including gold coins, statuettes, amphorae, belt buckles and swords, mostly from burial sites are believed to have been obtained from black market dealers in Greece, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Turkey. Argiriou produced Greek owners permits for some of the objects.
February 2002: Hundreds of ancient Egyptian and Greek artefacts including an Egyptian necklace, 411 bronze and silver coins, 200 Archaic, Classical and Hellenistic period bronze amphorae, clay lamps, statuettes, swords, jewellery items, arrowheads and belt buckles were found and seized during a search of a house in Serres. Nikolas Laoutidis will be charged with theft of antiquities.
February 2002: Athenian police intercepted 5 men negotiating the sale to a foreign buyer of 19 illicit antiquities for 440,000 euros. The collection of Classical period pieces included terracotta, bronze and marble artefacts and a 20-cm-wide golden wreath in the shape of a bent oak twig with leaves and acorns.
In February 2002, police in the Southern Greek town of Kalamata confiscated two ancient statues and 16 Byzantine coins from the home of Pandelis Semertzidis, who they believe intended to sell them.
In February 2002 Michalis Halkitis, a goatherd from the Greek island of Kalymnos, his family and three neighbours, were given a 294,000 euro reward for reporting to the Central Archaeological Council the discovery of 37 marble statues and fragments in a field near the early Christian basilica of the Jerusalem Christ. The statues, found when a cistern was being dug, date between the third and first centuries bc and may have been connected with a nearby temple of Apollo.
March 2002: Giorgos Krambokoupis, owner of a bulldozing firm in Agrinio, was arrested following the discovery by police of 17 Archaic, Classical and Roman bronze, marble and clay antiquities in his home in Neapolis. He had attempted to negotiate a sale and was charged with illegal trading in antiquities.
News from Egypt
An Egyptian citizen ceded a collection of 17,000 antiquities to the Egyptian Culture Ministry. Officials said that the pieces, of Pharaonic, Graeco-Roman, Coptic and Islamic date, were assessed and moved into official stores.
Five inscribed-stone architectural elements stolen by night from the Ramses II fort at Om El Rakhm in Mersa Matrouh, have been recovered by the Supreme Council of Antiquities. The identity of the thieves was not revealed.
A steel box containing 18 second-century ad Buddha statues, destined for Dubai, was seized by Pakistani officials at Peshawar airport, close to the Afghan border.
Puglia artefacts recovered
February 2002: Italian police filed complaints to magistrates against 21 people in connection with a crime ring alleged to have been stealing archaeological artefacts to order for Italian collectors. During a three-month operation, about 500 items looted from Puglia, southern Italy and dating from 400 bc to ad 200 were recovered (including black figure vases and ancient helmets) often from open display in peoples homes. The pieces were sold via a middleman in Milan to well-to-do clients, like medics, architects and lawyers, who had commissioned the thefts and, according to police chief Sergio Banchellini, knew perfectly well that what they were buying was illegal.
Bond Street raid
A Bond Street, London antiquities dealer offered a £22,000 reward for information leading to the safe recovery of Cambodian, Indian and Tibetan artefacts worth up to £250,000 stolen from his shop in December 2001. Half of the foot of a 6-foot tall, £110,000, thirteenth-century wooden Buddha had apparently been broken off during the robbery and was found near a window on a fire escape the thieves used to make their getaway. Many even more valuable pieces were ignored by the robbers during the raid, leading police to believe they were disturbed or ignorant of the value of the objects and probably sold them on for a pittance.
Indian discovery and arrest
January 2002: A stunning 800-year-old statue of the Hindu god Vishnu, weighing over 50 kilograms and decorated with gold alloy, was discovered in a police stolen property store in Roop Nagar, New Delhi during a routine stock check. A police officer unaware of its worth seized the piece five years ago from a man named Bhatti, who had tried to sell it in a central Delhi restaurant. The sculpture, worth £2.8 million, will now go on display in a museum.
A long police investigation in Bangalore, Mangalore and Nellore, India led to the arrest in May 2001 of two men for alleged involvement in the theft of three valuable idols from the Sri Chanakeshvaswami temple in Chitlure village, Nellore, Andhra Pradesh, Southern India. The pieces Vijaynagar period sculptures of Hindu deities Vishnu, Sridevi and Bhudevi, which had been stolen at the end of September 1999 were seized at the Ardarsh Hotel, Mangalore in February 2000. It is alleged that M Jagdish Rao, who owns the hotel, was in regular contact with Rakesh Dhiman who procured antiquities for him from a thief and a middleman, both of whom remain at large. Delhis Central Bureau of Investigation are awaiting clearance from local government to catch the other members of the a Nellore-based gang involved in stealing antiquities.
Responding to a question by a Greek Euro-deputy, the European Commission said they will call on the Turkish authorities to adopt the EU Council of Ministers Regulation on the export of cultural good and respect the Directive for the return of cultural goods that have been removed illegally from an EU member-state.
Illegal metal-detecting in Ireland
Archaeologists excavating at Cullenmore Bends of Ashford in Wicklow, Ireland have had problems with illegal metal-detectorists trespassing on sites in the area following a newspaper article which, according to the archaeologists, falsely stated that a Bronze Age jewellery industry may have been located there.
Gold Museum up-date
The Gold Museum of Lima, Peru is appealing against a government fine of around $17,700, imposed when it was discovered that many of the objects in its collections are modern creations and some not even made from precious metals (see In The News, CWC issue 9). Following scientific investigations, Peruvian consumer protection agency INDECOPI concluded that 27 per cent (about 4200 items) were fakes and these are reported to have removed them from display. Victoria Mujica, daughter of the museums founder, emphasized that the museum has now put the scandal behind it and is now modernizing its presentation and planning a series of international exhibitions.
During a visit to UNESCO headquarters in Paris in March 2002, Hamid Karzai, interim leader of Afghanistan, urged the United Nations and Afghanistans neighbours to help stop widespread smuggling of Afghan cultural heritage. He stressed that his country does not have the resources to prevent looting and smuggling of archaeological material and portable antiquities, and referred to numerous stories of businessmen organizing the looting of archaeological sites and graves for material to sell on the black market.
On the same visit, Afghan Culture Minister Raheen Makhdoom signed an agreement for UNESCO help to reopen, or possibly build anew, Kabuls destroyed National Museum to provide a home for artworks now looted which the nation hopes to retrieve.
IWPR (Institute for War and Peace Reporting) reported on afghanweb.org (17 April 2002) that looting is on the rise in post-Taliban Afghanistan, with authorities powerless to stop or prioritize policing the plunder:
The number of illegal excavations has more than doubled in recent months.
° Best locations for digging are well-known: ancient sites in the Eastern provinces of Nangarhar, Laghman and Kunar. Illegal excavations are also mentioned in the districts of Sherzad, Pacheer and Agam, Surkh Road, Rodat and Haskamina.
° A Pakistani owner of a shop in Andarshar bazaar, Peshawar, who gave his name as Mohammad Zareef, has two ongoing illicit excavations on hills near Wazeer and Zaviee villages which, he believes (having studied maps of ancient Gandhara) will yield Buddhist artefacts. He pays the locals before work begins and does not view the digs as illegal since he says the villagers regard material found on their land as theirs.
° Two 1.5-metre-high Gandharan sculptures are the latest find from unlicensed digging by locals near the villages of Tutu and Nari Taba, Sherzad.
° At Baloch village, Surkh Road, villagers had been digging for 10 days with no major finds, but remained optimistic saying they heard every day of someone who struck lucky, and of the money they made.
° A digger in Laghman said he had made more than 100,000 rupees, adding that although he knew it to be illegal he had no other way to make the money to feed his large family.
° Maulawee Anwar ul-Haq, head of the information and culture department for Hangarhar admitted that although they were informed of illegal excavations it was difficult to act since smugglers had often bribed local armed militia commanders for protection, and authorities are tied up with political matters.
Archaeology magazine devotes much of its May/June 2002 issue to The Race to Save Afghan Culture, reporting the concept and struggles behind the creation of the Afghan Museum in Bubendorf, Switzerland (see In the News, CWC issue 6 and Editorial, issue 8). Founder of the museum, Swiss architect Paul Bucherer-Dietschi:
The museum now houses and displays mainly ethnographic material, often donated by Europeans and Americans who purchased them while working or travelling in Afghanistan, with some donations from antiquities dealers and collectors. The enterprise also stores in safe bank vaults some archaeological items of considerable importance.
ABC Radio Australia News
First posted December 2002; Page design updated September 2006