Saturday, 31 October 2015

Vikan on the Green Collection "ex post facto due diligence"

Teaching collectors respect
On the subject of the problematic provenances of some of the Green Collection items, Gary Vikan former director of the Walters Art Museum writes in the Washington Post's (religion section): "What’s done is done. Now is the time to look toward the future, and to act" (Probe of Steve Green’s antiquities may be inevitable; his response is not (COMMENTARY), October 30). Referring to the story of the impounded cuneiform tablets which has been tossed around the internetosphere all week,and quoting Steve Green as saying, it’s “possible” that some of the artifacts were not properly bought, he discusses the implications of the staggering process of buying some 40,000 works acquired worth tens of millions of dollars - all in just a few years, beginning in late 2009.
Forty thousand works in about 40 months; that rate and scale are unprecedented in the history of American collecting. And given their emphasis on Bible lands, including Iraq and Syria, it is hardly surprising that provenance problems are now beginning to emerge. [...] It is inevitable that the Green Collection will be discovered to contain some unpleasant surprises, including looted and illegally exported antiquities, fakes, and many genuine and legally acquired works that they will discover to be of little value. But in my view, the real question — the one that will reveal Steve Green’s character as a collector in service of the public good — is what next?
Vikan argues apparently seeing here a task for the Green Scholars Initiative, that running a newly-founded private museum based on this accumulation of items entails a set of obligations to bring the Washington Museum of the Bible in line with modern professional museum norms. He postulates that the full inventory should be catalogued, photographed and:
Those photographs, along with as much of each object’s dealership history as the Greens possess, should be posted online, not only for academics, but as a means for governments or individuals from whom some of them may have been looted or stolen to identify them and make appropriate property claims.
and, apparently noting the employment of just one conservator states the obvious other fact about what curation (stewardship) entails:
The collection in its entirety must, of course, be properly conserved and safely preserved — including those works the staff does not plan to exhibit, both for scholars, and in anticipation of possible repatriation claims.
He sees the proper execution of these obligations by the collector as "going a long way toward repairing the Greens’ reputation as responsible stewards". Sadly, Vikan suggests:
there is a place in the profession for ex post facto due diligence on high-speed collecting: if you can’t get it right at first, make sure you do it right later. Full transparency is also the ticket price for membership in the museum and academic worlds to which the Greens aspire. I urge Steve Green to announce that this approach is part of his strategic agenda, that it has his full support, and that its urgency is no less than that of his new museum. Should these efforts reveal specific evidence of illegally excavated and/or exported works from, for example, Iraq, I would urge Green to initiate an open, good-faith dialogue with officials in the country of origin and with the U.S. State Department, with the aim of repatriation.
and turn over to the authorities the full details of from whom he bought it, so the dodgy dealers can also be held to account. No. Mr Vikan is wrong. This is not about that endemic American cardboard cutout notion of  "repatriate and everything will be all right".

In the case of a collection bought 2009-2015 there is no place for any wishy-washy "ex post-facto-due-diligence". Absolutely none, and there is no such thing. As Mr Vikan says, it turns out that the Green collection was (as he put it) "learning as they went on". Frankly, anyone serious about collecting and "learning" about antiquities in 2008/2009 would have come across at the click of a mouse button a whole load of material for guiding thought towards questions like licitness, legitimacy, accountability and warning about dodgy dealers and their methods. There is no shortage (and in 2008/9 was no shortage). From what happened here, it seems clear that nobody connected with the acquisition of this material was a bit interested in "learning" about the issues (one wonders how one can set up a museum to teach, when it is not based on prior learning). What is needed here is naming and shaming to increase public awareness of the issues with portable antiquities collection - that's what this blog is all about.

If a member of the public, who happens to be a billionaire, decides to start collecting something as sensitive as antiquities, let them have their attention directed to the issues not by some pious hopes by hand-wringing jobsworths and sycophants in our profession that "they will learn". They won't. Half the population is average IQ or below. Carrots have been tried, now let's apply the stick. A lot of people in the US would be very happy I am sure to see the state take action here. They'd like to see the Feds search Mr Green's antiquity storeroom, and his 'compound', let them impound anything where the documentation is unclear. It'd be all over the media and the next person who wants to start up a collection will have a cautionary tale to ure him more strongly to think about just how he's going to go about doing that and stay the right side of propiety. That. Mr Vikan is what we need to do to start "to look toward the future, and to act". We do not need a "patch it up" remedy for now, we need to use this case to ensure that we reduce the chances of something like it happening again and again in the future. 

Sadad in Syria threatened by ISIL advance

Sadad between North and South, Palmyra
is just off the map centre right
A few weeks after capturing Al Qaryatain southeast of Homs and destroying the monastery of St Elian there ('Qaryatain August 2015', PACHI 21 August 2015), ISIL are still advancing west [Update see Thomas van Linge's 1st November 2015 map]. They have reportedly taken Mheen and now are headed for Sadad and the highway which is the spine of the government connecting Damascus with Aleppo through Homs and Hama. Just south of Sadad is Qarah which is the regime's bottleneck between North (where the Russians are) and South Syria. There are already ISIL groups established to its west on the Lebanese border. The Americans and Russians are active in other areas, while Assad seems unable to stop this advance - though retaking Palmyra now would isolate this group in the Homs area, and it is possible that Assad may be forced into attempting this now to avoid his shrinking territory being severed into two and his troops around Aleppo cut off from Damascus. Will we see the emergence of a Moscow-controlled 'Novosyriysk' as a result?

Sadad is predominantly Syriac Orthodox, and Christians have been living in the region alongside Moslems for some 1300 years. In October 2013, the town was briefly occupied by the al-Nusra Front. When it was retaken by the end of the month by the Syrian Arab Army, two mass graves were found containing 30 bodies of Assyrian/Syriac civilians, including women and children. Other Christians were killed during the brief rebel occupation, and several churches had also looted. There are several historical churches here, that of Mar Sarkis and the church of Saint Theodore, both of which have elaborate, historical frescoes. Slowly the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is inching towards Lebanon. The town of Sadad is probably the place Zedad mentioned in the Old Testament (Book of Numbers 34:8 and the Book of Ezekiel, 47:15) as marking the northeastern boundary of the biblical land of Canaan, the land promised to the Israelites.

Archaeologist at prominent university wishes to remain nameless when praising the Green collection.

As Lynda Albertson of ARCA cogently notes:
The article concerned suggests that "the world’s foremost collector of rare biblical artifacts, Steven Green" may have "made a deal with the devil"
helping to preserve Iraq’s disappearing Christian heritage by allegedly buying black market items plundered by the Islamic State. 
Cunies as "Christian heritage" is a new one on me.
 one U.S. archaeologist who has worked with the Greens said the family is very meticulous and ethical about acquisitions. "In my opinion the Greens would not have knowingly purchased antiquities from an unknown or suspected source," said the archaeologist, a prominent professor at a respected university who asked not to be identified. "However, the authorities are extremely sensitive about any antiquities coming into the market at this time and are critical of almost any trade or sale between the Middle East and other countries, especially with regard to well-funded private collectors such as the Greens. Therefore, they would be a prime target of investigation."
Especally if the export documents said what they are reported to have said. Would the "prominent" professor at a "respected university" have said the same if he or she had seen those documents and found out that the reports are true? Have they seen the documents in question, and if so, how do they explain them away?
Others called Hobby Lobby’s reported claim that the tablets were hand-crafted “tiles” worth just $300 a piece “ludicrous.” The tablets could be worth anywhere from $2,000 to $30,000 each, according to Amr Al-Azm, an associate professor Middle East History and Anthropology in the Department of Social Sciences at Shawnee State University. And calling the tablets “tiles” is comparable to labeling ancient books as tiles, because they are both square shaped, said Eric Meyers, an archaeologist and director of the graduate program in religion at Duke University. [...] Under Iraqi law, cultural heritage is the property of the state, with antiquities recognized as "national treasures” and anyone who removes them from the country is a thief.

Friday, 30 October 2015

Hobby Lobby owners said to be cooperating with probe

Customers shop at a Hobby Lobby store
in Denver in 2013. (Ed Andrieski/AP)

What is it they put in the water in Washington? Gary Vikan writing of Green's Cuniegate was put by the Washington Post in the "Religion" section of the newspaper. Now look at this headline from a section labelled "Acts of Faith"  Lindsey Bever, ' Hobby Lobby owners said to be cooperating with probe of importation of religious artifacts from Iraq', October 29.
The owners of [...] Hobby Lobby [...] are cooperating with a federal investigation “related to certain biblical artifacts,” the company says. The release of the company statement on Wednesday follows a report this week by the Daily Beast that investigators are looking into whether the owners improperly imported antiquities from Iraq. [...] Hobby Lobby confirmed the investigation but refused to speak further. [...] Steven Bickley, a spokesman for the museum, declined to comment. The Green family has not spoken out personally about the investigation. 
Actually, while the Feds have their cunies, there's not much else they can do but co-operatively wait, well, apart from providing the documentation they no doubt have proving that it's all been a terrible mistake and the objects can be verified as 100% kosher. Why is the case dragging on? Any documents they have could have been in an envelope by courier the same week as the seizure.

Road to Palmyra

RT's Lizzie Phelan and her crew report from Palmyra in direct sight of Islamic State militants, who are holding positions among the ruins of the world heritage site. With the terrorists weakened by Russian airstrikes, the Syrian Army is preparing for an offensive to retake Palmyra.

Bear in mind the source but shows what the terrain looks like.

"The people who argue for rescue-by-purchase know exactly what they are doing"

3 godz.3 godziny temu
Conflict Antiquities Podał dalej Christopher Jones
Their audience may be unaware, but the people who argue for rescue-by-purchase know exactly what they are doing.
Conflict Antiquities dodał,

ADCAEA, are you listening? Deny it.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

BBC Metal Detecting Comedy on Again

The TV comedy series (BBC4 Thursdays at 22:00) "Detectorists" comes back for a second season.
Andy Brockman has reviewed the first episode and given it a good write up highlighting some of the wider aspects and most of what he says matches my own thoughts.

Although he does not make much of it at all, I was pretty appalled by the idea that metal detecting around a standing stone is being depicted at the beginning (though it is a fallen one and there aren’t any to speak of in Essexshire anyway). This is a good illustration of the whole issue of these people irresponsibly targeting known sites in their collecting activities, which is a huge contrast with the official propaganda for their "partners" by the PAS that suggests that this is not happening. Shame on the PAS. But then, as the opening makes clear, while they are hoiking around the stone, their "work" (I use the term loosely) does not actually reflect the archaeology of that site. Artefact hunting with metal detectors on archaeological sites is not ersatz archaeology. It is nothing of the kind.

Regular viewers will know that the leitmotif of the BBC series is that "not finding" the real picture of the areas searched. This is a constant with the activities of the "Danebury Metal Detecting Club" and the series two main heroes. Thus the rather pathetic selection on show in the 'Finds Table scene'.  Mr Brockman write about it, but clearly does not know that the “naked calendar” motif (with the find pouches as modesty covers) which figures large there is actually based on two real instances. A photo exists which Mr Crook has possibly come across – my readers will forgive me for not posting it, it is not a pretty sight (you can try Mr Google). The calendar was actually in the planning, for that you can check out Dick Stout’s blog (in the section “what we are really like”). In the last series, one or two of the gags seemed to suggest a knowledge of some of the themes of this blog, for the second season they’ve obviously gone for the representative crème de la crème of the detecting world, the likes of Dick Stout and John Howland, those stalwart "ambassadors for the hobby". The second season therefore has a bad language warning absent in the first.

It seems from the first episode that there will be a aeroplane crash site hunt.  Mr Brockman shares the same curiosity about the search permit for the project.
As that plotline develops, we may find out just how good Mackenzie Crook's research has been as the DMDC should know that any attempt to dig up a military aircraft in the UK requires a licence from the Ministry of Defence and they are not normally granted where missing aircrew are believed to be present.
Some readers may understand my interest if they recall my comments on the extraordinary behaviour of Roger Bland’s PAS seven years ago when one of their metal detecting “partners” found something on an aeroplane crash site  in Newark for which no search permit was ever issued ('Newark Torc questions', Wednesday, 10 December 2008; 'Newark Aircraft Crash Site Questions', Saturday, 28 March 2009). Online news stories were rewritten overnight. If there is no mention, PAS "outreach" will once again be seen to have been an expensive failure [UPDATE: 5th November 2015, well, there was a mention of a permit in the second episode. Let us see if they get one, so well done PAS (?)].

But most of all, the comedy gains its energy from focussing on the dysfunctionality of the sort of folk who get attracted to metal detecting in the UK and, as Brockman observes, the series explores "the sadness and despair" and "the paranoia, jealousies and feuding, so characteristic of the real world of metal detecting".
For both Andy and Lance, metal detecting is an escape into a world of promise, however distant. The bucolic outdoor version of that other escape route, the lottery ticket and with the odds stacked just as much against a life changing success.
UK metal detectorists did not see it that way at all, having posted 31 pages of comments like "woo hoo, metal detecting's gonna be on TV agin", on watching that first episode comments were rather subdued, and showed that the detectorists really had not got the joke. Member "T2Devon" (Thu Oct 29, 2015 11:25 pm) complained
"Bit of a slow start [...] [I] Just wish they'd find something - something that us detectorists can identify with - and find something maybe a bit more worthwhile so the non-detecting viewers don't think we're all total nuts!
"British Beef" (Sat Oct 31, 2015 8:55 am): "felt it was a bit on the slow side. Not sure why the finds table scene needed to be so long". Duh. 

Green Collection Supporters

7 godz.7 godzin temu
"And yes I appreciate all the supporters of Green who took the time to get in touch and remind me I was Jewish. Phew. Mighta forgotten!"

US Senator targets ISIS antiquities smuggling, calls unscrupulous antiquities buyers 'traitorous'

Sen. Robert Casey, Jr. (D-Pa.), is renewing calls to fight ISIS through its antiquities trafficking.
Casey participated this week in a forum, Death of History: Witnessing Heritage Destruction in Syria and Iraq, in part to promote a bill he introduced that seeks to limit ISIS’s ability to profit off plundered antiquities. “If you’re involved in this in any way, or you’re not doing enough to shut it down, you’re helping ISIS. It’s pretty simple,” he said. In July, Casey and GOP Sens. Chuck Grassley (Iowa) and David Perdue (Ga.) introduced the Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act that gives the State Department authority to impose restrictions on the importation of Syrian antiquities into the United States. Because the United States does not have diplomatic relations with Syria, the typical process of restricting the sale of illicit artifacts — entering into a memorandum of understanding with the other country — doesn’t apply, Casey said.
When questioned, Sen Casey said he did not know any specific cases of U.S. citizens who have bought stolen artefacts from ISIS,
but said it wouldn’t be surprised if it is happening. “Where there’s a profit motive, some people are willing to do things which are odious and objectionable and frankly, I’d say, traitorous,” he said
'Senator targets ISIS antiquities smuggling', The Hill 29th October 2015

Archaeology is not Artefact Hunting: Artefact Hunting is not Archaeology

Mr Hooker promises more posts in his tekkie luv-fest, eulogising his great mate detectorist Dean Crawford who's shown him so many coins from his private stash.

At the end of the rather superficial name-dropping first post in the series ("Dean Crawford — Living among the Dobunni: Throckmorton Airfield and the Time Team"), he promises in future information about: "more archaeological excavations where Dean was contracted to assist" [Update: see here, four sites] . I would like to know who is contracting for archaeological work an artefact hunter who publicly states on forums and discussion lists that he's not going to report "his" sites, because if he does the sensitive ones in them will be taken into protective stewardship and he'll no longer be able to hoik collectables there.

 I am constantly amazed by the fluff-brain reasoning of the supporters of artefact hunting which relies on this leitmotif. Some artefact hunters sometimes use their machines as part of an archaeological project, when they are not using them to clandestinely fill their pockets with unreported artefact (archaeological evidence) from other archaeological sites elsewhere. When they do the latter, I doubt that they are using any of the methodological rigour that they presumably learn when taking part in a project. Yet this is taken to mean that "not all metal detectorists are bad" and therefore "metal detecting is not bad, indeed good for the heritage". That's obviously nonsense, but that is precisely what supporters of artefact hunting like the antiquarian fellow Hooker are proposing. Bonkers.

Archaeologists are perfectly able to operate electronic survey equipment, including metal detectors. I think there is a very strong case for arguing that in terms of archaeological ethics, card-carrying professional archaeologists should not engage in collaboration in their projects with people who themselves engage in artefact hunting and artefact collecting.

Vignette:  Archaeologists systematically probe the terrain of the 1410 Battle of Grunwald in Poland [Credit: PAP/Tomasz Waszczuk]

Did Hobby Lobby Sponsor Terrorism?'.

The hounding of Steve Green continues: Tina Nguyen, 'Did Hobby Lobby’s C.E.O. Unknowingly Sponsor Terrorism?' Vanity Fair:
With nefarious groups raising millions of dollars by looting and selling antiquities, the crafting billionaire and ardent evangelical might have inadvertently financed their activities.
From the amount of attention that the simple seizure of a group of objects at an airport is receiving (quite out of proportion to the coverage of any other seizure made in the same period), one gets the impression that Mr Green has annoyed a lot of folk in the US.
A representative from the Museum of the Bible characterized the investigation as a problem spawned from “incomplete paperwork”. But antiquities experts raise another concern: that by purchasing this art in the first place, the Greens may have unknowingly sponsored military groups and terrorist networks like al-Qaeda, which has sold antiquities for more than a decade. “Anyone who purchases an antiquity without being 100 percent sure it is a legitimate piece is risking funding organized criminals, armed insurgents, and even terrorist networks, whether they be al-Qaeda or ISIS,” says Tess Davis, the executive director of the Antiquities Coalition, an organization devoted to combatting the illegal trading of artifacts.
Please note that whatever dullard antiquities trade lobbyists are insisting in an attempt to create one of their habitual straw man arguments, the article does not link Mr Green's purchase explicitly with "funding ISIL" - which did not exist as such in 2011.


Online info WILL decay.

Online info WILL decay. Archiving ALL that you use is CRITICAL: A "How-To" for researchers

Two Warsaw Chambers of Numismodeath

This is an attempt to duplicate the results of Dean Crawford's coin-colouring experiment which has been bothering me for a few hours (see my text 'Artefact Hunting, the "Lesser of Two Evils"? More on "Fragmentation"'). I really do not see how the chemistry of what he describes works. On my way back from the shops yesterday I put my hand in my pocket and pulled out a handful of loose change and found that some of the coins were almost straight from the mint. That gave me the idea of trying to duplicate the "kitchen sink experiment" which the metal detectorist used to "prove" to Mr Hooker's readers that artefacts will rapidly self destruct in agricultural soil. Readers of my blog will know that I am sceptical of such generalisations. So, willing to put my money where my mouth is, I decided to put it to the test. I have some fertiliser from my vegetable patch which though it is unbranded, so is Mr Crawfords who just used some random material he found. His is white granules, mine is too. His is good for plants, mine is too. On the label, my fertiliser says it is composed primarily of potassium nitrate, urea and has potassium pentaoxide in it, the latter is nasty stuff  - I guess that's why the label says to use gloves (coins beware) it is highly corrosive to metals, maybe we'll get copper phosphate?

All I needed was some dirty dugup coins. Not something I have hanging around at home, but there's a  dealer in coins, medals and other such stuff down the road. I got some cruddy ones. I was charged a lot for them when the guy heard I wanted his dirtiest for "an experiment", the moron (coin dealer) thought I was going to "turn them into gold". Hmmm. I then went to get a vessel that could do as "Gloucestershire" and a bucket of earth from a building site where I'd seen some with anthropogenic stuff in it. OK ready.

Experiment 1:  Warsaw Chamber of Numismodeath

I made my fertiliser up into a solution as for my garden, 3%. I measured the pH, it is 6.8.  A sample of the soil in distilled water tested at 5.6 (this is Mazovia). I assume that Gloucestershire would be more alkaline, but this is what I have. Some soil acids are hostile to buried metals rather than passivating them, and let's give Mr Crawford's idea a chance. 

Here is a photo of the ingredients, on a tekkie-style camo jacket (which I happen to have at home) for authenticity. The vessel representing "Gloucestershire" is rather a nice piece of plastic kitsch. It's All Saints Day coming up and in Poland we buy all sorts of crap to decorate the family graves with on that day, so the supermarkets have a variety of these special candle holders... I thought this was quite suitable for the "Warsaw Chamber of Numismodeath" as I called my experiment.

Above I picture the coins, Mr Crawford had four, I thought I'd be more ambitious (besides which having them touch each in wet soil other gives all sorts of potential for electrochemical cells to be set up). There's a wider range here, from mint fresh to dark brown. I degreased them in ethyl alcohol (which I happen to have hanging round the house).

So first I tipped the soil into "Gloucestershire". This took a bit of time as I wanted to make sure there were no worms in there as they'd drown. I thought a depth of seven centimetres would be adequate.

Then I added the coins. Mr Crawford's photo shows his lying on the soil surface. I cannot see how this would work, at the first rainfall, much of the fertiliser would be washed off the upper surface and the lower face would not be wetted. So I decided (to give the chemicals a chance to work) I'd bury some about a centimetre down, and leave some on the surface (see photos). I had a few qualms about one of them, a French frank which was aesthetically worn and patinated, qquite a nice thing. But then, putting my money where my mouth is, my thesis is that coin is not going to come out of my jar looking anything like Mr Crawford's. Let's see.

Then I poured the fertiliser solution all over Gloucestershire - perhaps a little too much as it is currently inundated, but the soil in contact with the coins has taken up the fertiliser with all those nasty compounds that Mr Crawford says will dissolve them into nothing. Soon the water will evaporate and the solution inside will become more concentrated - so bad luck coins, Doomsday is nigh (well, according to Dean Crawford and Baz Thugwit).

Now I intend to keep an eye on the jar, it is on my windowsill (outdoors in November it could well freeze and chemical reactions would stop), I'll keep it moist and then in three weeks (so about the 26th November we'll open it up and see whether my coins look anything like Dean Crawford's and whether that French frank is still in a collectable condition.

Experiment 2: The Warsaw Dungeon of Numismodeath

The second experiment mirrors more closely what Mr Crawford shows in his photo, where he indicated that he tipped fresh dry fertiliser grains onto dry-looking earth. There does not seem to be much point trying to duplicate the colour changes he documents by doing that, moisture surely has to be present. Again, with winter approaching, in Poland one cannot count on free moisture in November, so I decided to construct a humidity chamber.

A plastic sealable food container doubles for Worcestershire. At its base was placed a dishwasher sponge (which may be assumed for the purposes of the experiment to be chemically inert) soaked in tap water. On top of this was laid a 3cm layer of the same soil as used before and dampened slightly, on top of that were some coins and then a single layer of granules of artificial fertiliser, on top of which some more coins were added and then a sprinkling of fertiliser as in Mr Crawford's photo. In order to keep the atmosphere moist, it was decided to use a second wet (but not saturated) dishwashing sponge  separated from the fertiliser and coin layer with a loose layer 2-3cm thick of plastic cotton wool buds (again assumed to be chemically inert) with plenty of air between them. The box was then sealed and we'll take a look in it in three weeks.

The coins selected fall into two groups, patinated (5gr 2002 - spotty corrosion breakout, five 2 gr coins from 1991-2004 and one grosz of 2002) and freshly minted coins of 2014-5 (4x1 grosz, and 3x 5gr). There were no kopieki or other ground-dug coins in this one. As before the coins were degreased before use.

I decided to buy a more aggressive fertiliser for this experiment. A trip to the garden centre revealed that not all manufacturers tell you what is actually in the box, but of those that did Biopon Autumn grass fertiliser looked to be the nastiest for buried metals (and by all accounts your skin). It's got all sorts of stuff in it, Phosphorus pentoxide, potassium oxide, calcium and magnesium oxide, sulphur trioxide. I reckon if that does not destroy the coins, not much else will.

UPDATE 3rd November 2015
The flood in Gloucestershire (experiment one) has abated, the coins are now clustering in nicely damp soil, Mr Crawford will be glad to hear that there is already a light green powdery efflorescence on the uppermost edge of one of them, and some interesting minute spots of what looks like redeposited copper  where it touches another one below it. I have sealed the top of the vessel off with four layers of polythene and we'll start counting the three weeks for both experiments from today (24th November).

Making the Mummies Talk (without the Soap!)

Roberta Mazza shares her thoughts on "Making the Mummies Talk (without Palmolive soap!)", a project
to investigate how special imaging techniques, such as multispectral technology, can lead to the establishment of non invasive methods for reading papyri encapsulated in mummy masks and other cartonnage objects. [...] we are convinced that the project will be a decisive step forward into finding ways not only to avoid the destruction of ancient artefacts in the future, but also to gather data on their material features.
Sadly, I do not thnk this will solve the issue of the mummy-mask trashers of America. The reason is that these people want trophies, it is holding in their hands - and having in their private collections - these fragments which they find so exciting.

Vignette: Talking head

Conservators warn of threat to "irreplaceable archaeology" after men spotted with metal detectors on Malvern Hills

Lydia Johnson, 'Conservators warn of threat to "irreplaceable archaeology" after men spotted with metal detectors on Malvern Hills'  Malvern Gazette  Wednesday 28 October 2015
The protectors of the Malvern Hills are pleading with people to stop metal detecting on the site before "irreplaceable" archaeology is damaged forever. The plea comes after two men were spotted with metal detectors and shovels on the ancient hills earlier this month. The Malvern Hills Conservators received a report from members of the public of two men roaming on the slopes of Pinnacle Hill on October 12. 
Byelaws state it is illegal to metal detect on the Malvern Hills which are a site of special scientific interest. If someone damages any of the ancient archaeology on the hills, that's irreplaceable. Last year metal detectorists left around 50 holes on the ridge-line between Perseverance Hill and Black Hill. 

The Ethical Pitfalls of Working on "Possibly Illicit Artefacts"

Julia Halperin, 'Bible museum founders may have illicit antiquities from Iraq' Art Newspaper 27 October 2015:
In an interview due to appear in a forthcoming issue of the Atlantic, Steve Green, the chief executive of Hobby Lobby, denied knowingly acquiring illegal antiquities but acknowledged that some could have found their way into the collection. “Is it possible that we have some illicit [artefacts]? That’s possible,” he said.
Were all the Green Scholars appraised of this before they signed their contracts and non-disclosure agreements? Do the latter include a clause which makes them void if the terms of the contract force them to work on "possibly illicit" material - and so go against the code of ethics of their profession?

According to the webpage of the Green Scholars Initiative (formed in summer 2010), there are a lot of people affected by any due diligence fail, some are based in the UK and Germany (it seems no eastern European specialist and few Middle Eastern ones was keen to take up the invitation to join):

Senior Scholars

Distinguished and Research Scholars

  • Christian Askeland, PhD: Distinguished Scholar of Coptic Texts, Münster, Deutschland
  • Michelle Brown, PhD: Distinguished Scholar of Illuminated Manuscripts, University of London, England
  • Robert Duke, PhD: Distinguished Scholar of Hebrew Texts, Azusa Pacific University
  • Jeffrey Fish, PhD: Distinguished Scholar of Greek Texts, Baylor University
  • Peter Head, PhD: Distinguished Scholar of New Testament Textual Criticism, Tyndale House, Cambridge & Fellow of St. Edmunds College, University of Cambridge
  • Marty Michelson, PhD: Distinguished Scholar of Hebrew Texts, Southern Nazarene University
  • Curt Niccum, PhD: Distinguished Scholar of Ethiopic Texts, Abilene Christian University
  • Stephen Pfann, PhD: Research Scholar, Middle East Artifacts, University of the Holy Land, Jerusalem
  • David Riggs, PhD: Distinguished Scholar of Latin Texts, Indiana Wesleyan University
  • Benno van den Toren, PhD: Distinguished Scholar of Dutch Texts, Wycliffe Hall, Oxford Distinguished Scholar, Professor of Intercultural Theology and Head of the Department of Systematic Theology at the Protestant Theological University in Groningen, Netherlands
  • Peter Williams, PhD: Distinguished Scholar of Aramaic Texts, Tyndale House, Cambridge

Regional Directors 

Museum of the Bible Curatorial Staff

  • Michael Holmes, PhD: Executive Director of the Green Scholars Initiative
  • David Trobisch, PhD: Director of the Green Collection
  • Seth Pollinger, PhD: Assistant Director of the Green Collection
  • Karen York, PhD: Head of the Curatorial Department
  • Lance Allred, PhD: Curator of Cuneiform
  • Daniel Arnold: Director of Exhibits
  • Allyson Bold: Associate Registrar
  • Heather Bryant: Assistant Curator of Events
  • Norm Conrad: Curator of Americana and English Bibles
  • Josephine Dru, PhD: Curator of Papyri
  • Amy Van Dyke: Curator of Art and Education
  • Herschel Hepler: Assistant Curator
  • Susan Jones: Curator of Antiquities
  • Sherry Klein: Assistant Curator of Events
  • Francisco Rodriguez: Conservator
 Only one conservator? For 40 000 objects? Are there any "professional numismatists" from the commercial side here?

Vignette, ethics

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Free online course: Antiquities Trafficking and Art Crime

Donna Yates of  The Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research stars (alongside a shady character with sinister ginger eyelashes, Meg Lambert and Jessica Dietzler) in a You Tube video promoting the "Free online course: Antiquities Trafficking and Art Crime" which begins February 2016. 

They seem to have forgotten (so far) to supply the link under the video to the course itself so here it is: 3 weeks, 4 hours pw Certificates available (you have to pay for that).

In Week 1, we will track how ancient artefacts are looted from archaeological sites, trafficked across multiple international borders, and end up in the possession of some of the world’s most respectable museums and collectors.
In Week 2, we will learn about crimes of fine art: heists, fakes, and vandalism.
In Week 3, we will discuss the ethical, legal, and emotional issues associated with the return of stolen cultural objects.
Not much time, then, for a detailed discussion of metal detecting and the effects of the 'Portable Antiquities Scam' on public perceptions or an in-depth exploration of Ms Yates'  views on the misuse of motifs of "cultural destruction" in misdirection and propaganda by the US government in their current involvement in the Middle East. Both of them topics relevant to the Cuno/Fitgibbon-esque questions "Who owns the past? Who owns art? Who owns culture?".

You can also join the conversation about the course on social media using the hashtag #ArtCrimeFL.

Helly Nahmad Gallery and Phoenix Ancient Art Join Forces

According to the press release ("Helly Nahmad Gallery  and Phoenix Ancient Art Join Forces to Create an Art Exhibition that Spans Millennia" PR Newswire Oct. 27, 2015)  New Yorkers can soon see 'Mnemosyne: de Chirico and Antiquity'  at the Helly Nahmad Gallery, 975 Madison Avenue:
"an exhibition juxtaposing twentieth century paintings by Giorgio de Chirico and genuine Greek and Roman antiquities, all sourced from preeminent private collections, and never before seen together in the public eye. Modern painting and antiquity come together in an elegant pairing that will challenge viewers' predispositions on Modern Art. Mnemosyne: de Chirico and Antiquity will reveal the aesthetic impact Classicism had on twentieth century Modernism, exemplified in a body of work done by the Greek-born, Italian master Giorgio de Chirico. Known mostly for his association with the Surrealists, the exhibition focuses on his often-misunderstood series of Neo-classical paintings done after a stylistic shift in the 1920s. The paintings exhibited incorporate the major themes of this period: deserted valleys dotted with classical ruins, figurative works of philosophers and Greek gods, scenes with gladiators clad in armor and heroic horses in windswept landscapes. Illustrating his inspiration, these historic paintings are exhibited alongside a carefully curated selection of precious objects from antiquity, including outstanding Greek and Roman marble statues of gods and muses, mosaics, bronze armor and Greek vases"
.It seems to me Mr Nahmad has landed himself a dead-man's collection of canvases of this artist who turned out rather unattractive paintings and is trying to think of a way of marketing them. Mr Aboutaam is glad of the opportunity to show prospective new buyers wanting to enter the art market how much more aesthetically appealing his stuff is than the modern art shown alongside it. This displaying modern and ancient art together idea is a fad which owes as much to the rather eclectic (or unfocussed) tastes of today's high end collectors investing cash "in art" as the notions of the "universal museum". Bur, if one takes into account the rather restricted range of the oevre of the artist in question, I really do not think it needs any kind of an exhibition to show the "impact" Classicism (sic) had on the artist's choice of subject matter. It seems pretty obvious really. In any case, do not the architecture and broken sculpture in de Chirico's canvases stand for something else? 

I am sure we are all interested in the collecting histories of the  Greek and Roman antiquities,"all sourced from preeminent private collections, and never before seen together in the public eye". Where did they "surface" (from underground) and are the full details given in the glossy catalogue which no doubt accompanies the show? If the antiquities are all genuine period pieces, what about the paintings, are there any of the infamous back-dated copies of the Italian artist's more saleable works in his earlier metaphysical style?

UK Project to Protect Iraq Heritage from IS vandalism

The US has their ASOR project on Syrian antiquities, but the UK has launched its
A £3m ($4.5m) scheme to help Iraq protect its antiquities from war and Islamic State terrorism has been announced by the UK government. The Iraqi emergency heritage management project will use British expertise to help train experts from the country to assess and document threatened sites. The British Museum will run the scheme over the next five years.
I suppose the next question is just how Bloomsbury, taking this money, intend to stop ISIL blowing up or bulldozing just whatsoever takes their fancy? They cannot even get best practice from metal detectorists in the UK, so I do not hold out much hope the ISIL islamists in distant Northwest Iraq are going to listen to them.

Update 28th October 2015

as if in answer to the above question, a later clarification appears from Martin Bailey, 'British Museum helps ‘prepare for aftermath’ of Isil' Art Newspaper 28th Oct 2015. It seems a bit inaccurate to say you're protecting something "from" when what you mean is "after they've gone".
A museum spokeswoman said the programme, which has been awarded a £3m grant fr om the UK government, would help Iraq to document the damage and start the process of reconstruction and preservation.[...] Jonathan Tubb, the keeper of the department of the Middle East at the British Museum, says there has been a feeling of impotence in the face of Isil atrocities at archaeological sites. “We can’t do anything on the ground, so this seems a very positive contribution to prepare for the aftermath,” he says. The museum’s plan is to recruit two international archaeologists to head a training project. Small groups of Iraqi archaeologists will come to London for a three-month course and then return to their home country, where they will receive three further months of training from the two international specialists. The courses in Iraq will take place in the more secure regions of Kurdistan, in the north, and Basra, in the south. Altogether 50 Iraqis will be trained to work on damaged sites over the five-year period. Tubb hopes that the project may ultimately be expanded to include Syria and Yemen, although security conditions there make this impossible at present. John Whittingdale, the culture secretary, is [...] expected to reaffirm the UK government’s commitment to ratifying the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict.
I thought we'd done that? When does the UK stop talking about its "commitment to" doing something and actually goes about doing what it should have done decades ago?

Vignette: Stop the vandalism

Artefact Hunting, the "Lesser of Two Evils"? More on "Fragmentation".

John Hooker, the antiquarian fellow who runs a blog called "Past Times and Present Tensions" is determined to show that artefact hunting, ripping archaeological finds willy-nilly out of a site, is some kind of a "lesser evil". The greater evil is farmers. Farmers farm their land and collectables (their collectables on their land) get damaged.  I queried ('Hypocrisy and twisted Argument in UK metal detecting' 22 October 2015) the "evidence" he had presented to support his thesis that artefact hunting is always a form of "rescue" (a common leitmotif these days). Now, he's decided to come back to the subject: "it has come to my attention that some have misinterpreted the information to the point that one person even imagined that all damage was done in ancient times". It's "come to his attention" because he's been reading my blog, but cannot be bothered to actually discuss it here. Off he goes instead on on another of his pathetic tangents ('Dean Crawford — Living among the Dobunni: more on fragmentation' ) Tuesday, 27 October 2015
This blog post is an image-rich display of the damage done by modern agriculture and is a necessary addendum to the post Fragmentation [...]these are impromptu and/or "kitchen-table experiments" and not "hard-science" laboratory experiments. [then a chip-on-shoulder jab at archaeology and its place in the humanities] Let us call them "an aid to common sense".
The problem here is that it is not clear who is writing what . Mr Hooker says that "Dean [...] has sent me a wealth of material for this series. As editor, I have to sort all of this into various themes and then decide where each should best fit within the sequence". So it is unclear who is responsible here for what, and what modifications have been made to the original material in "editing". Why Dean Crawford cannot just write his own stuff and needs Mr Hooker's help is a conundrum (I'll come back to the significance of that for the 'Hooker paradigm on artefact collecting' in a later post, probably next week). Anyhow here's what Hooker has made of it all. He has six "common sense proofs". I think it can be shown that the majority do not in face bear out the correctness of the metal detectorists' argument. This is not my "imagination" (as Hooker phrases it), it is cold hard logic:

1) Hooker says that "it is magical (sic) thinking to suppose that a field can be ploughed over several seasons without fragmenting metal objects highly crystalized after more than a thousand years in the ground". Well it is not, because as an archaeologist one can meet metal objects in the ploughsoil - in fields that have been ploughed for hundreds of years in a row - which are not overly fragmented. The majority of archaeological and historical metalwork is not freshly fragmented. This is after all (and as I point out time and time again to have it ignored by the hoik-it-out-crowd) what we see on eBay and the PAS database (and the pirate UKDFD frequented by the likes of Mr Crawford). I pointed out earlier that at the Water Newton Rally where this was claimed, publication online of the photos of all the objects recovered showed the converse, very few of them exhibited signs of fresh damage.
Of course buried metal objects do not crystallise (or even "recrystallise'). That's why we can take them, saw them up and do metallographic sections of them. Stuff and nonsense from Mr Hooker.

Nobody is saying that metal objects are not damaged by the plough, what is being said is that artefact hunters and their supporters overemphasise the scale of this effect, pulling out some showy examples (see below) and suggesting they are in some way typical - when they must know that they are not. In my last post I challenged Mr Crawford to show the entire assemblage from the site from which he selected a handful of cruddy bits which he not only says are plough damaged but show the "typical plough damage" seen on his sites. He of course has not yet done so, just produced there other selected cases. Let me guess that the reason he has not done what I asked is because it proves I am right. My common sense tells me that selecting the evidence to suit the thesis you want to prove is not a "kitchen sink experiment", it is quite simply deceitful.

2) John Hooker says: "when I was a child, I frequently saw Roman coins with active (modern) corrosion lying on the surface of ploughed fields. I never collected any of these as most of them consisted, virtually, only of corrosion products". I really do not say how Mr Hooker thinks he can differentiate "Roman" corrosion on a Roman coin from "eighth century corrosion", "fourteenth century corrosion" and "modern corrosion". And when the self-declared polymath was still a child too! Maybe he'd like to give us a rundown how one can do this. How did the child-genius Hooker know that these coins were not ploughed out of an underlying deposit already in that condition?

Interpreting a context in archaeology is a matter of taphonomy. I think both Mr Crawford and Mr Hooker are guilty here of assuming that any changes they can see took place only where they saw them, in the ploughsoil. I think making that assumption is cardboard cut-out thinking.

3) Serendipity: "Dean noticed that a farmer had spilled some of his fertilizer in the farmyard and he gathered some of it to perform the experiment pictured above. It represents the effect of fertilizer in the field over a longer period of time but of course does not include the impact or pressure damage done by farm machinery". The results are pretty. I am sure they'll not mind me publicising their "results" by reproducing the photo. Look at this:

Photo copyright Dean Crawford (reproduced after Hooker)
A "kitchen sink experiment" indeed.  Three weeks it says, that's about it for description of experimental method. We have in the bottom left some British pre-decimal coins which look as if they came from the soil, all greeny they are. Above them we have them half buried in soil on the ground surface, with some identified white granules scattered over them. The soil look pretty dry, we have no data on soil humidity, pH or what that fertiliser is. Over on the right we see the same coins covered in powdery blue green efflorescence. This, we are told is after "three weeks". I suppose we are expected to think, "ah well, if that's what happens to artefacts after three weeks in the fertiliser, then perhaps hoiking them all out onto EBay makes sense".

I really do not understand what this is "proving"  - we all know that you can make copper alloys go interesting colours by putting stuff on them, that's how you get chemical patinas on sculptures and fakes.  No news there. What we need to know (and are not told) is what soil processes are being duplicated here. Nobody would apply fertiliser to anything at the density Mr Crawford has used to force this colourful corrosion. They'd end up criminally polluting the groundwater for a start.

I really do not see how one gets from what we see of the coins in the field to the patterns of corrosion in the final shot. One of the coins has six granules one one edge, but all four coins are shown as evenly covered in corrosion. What does the underside of those coins look like? Can we have the precise experimental methodology please, was the fertiliser reapplied after rain, how did the moisture of the soil change after the in situ photo was taken?

Certainly something has happened to these coins, copper ions have migrated out of the original corrosion layers or the metal to produce those colourful salts, but in what quantities? What is the reaction here? What are those salts? More to the point, just how much is the coin (the collectable) damaged under this powdery efflorescence? If you look, the original green 'patina' (from before the experiment) shows through in places, in other words, it and any underlying cuprite (oxide) layer are not damaged, there is just a localised bloom outside it. On the right of the picture however one can see green powder on Mr Crawford's hands, this bloom is incoherent. I get the feeling that most of it would brush off pretty easily leaving the coin perfectly intact and legible below.

But, in their desperate attempt to use artificially-coloured coins to prove a point, both Mr Hooker and Mr Crawford miss the most obvious fact about the point at which their experiment started. The coins in Mr Crawford's hand before the experiment are green. They have a smooth (and apparently stable)  patina, just like the thousands of pre-decimal coins shown day after day, week after week, month after month in look-what-I-found today postings on detecting forums, websites and You Tube videos. Exactly the same. And almost all of them come from ploughed fields, most of them have been lying constantly in the sort of fertiliser solutions which Messers Crawford and Hooker claim are so damaging and... they are not damaged in the way that Mr Crawford's "experiemnt" says they should be.

I said it in the last post, but will say it again, the archaeological value of the four coins in Mr Crawford's hand after enforced copper salt growth is not in any way diminished by them changing colour. It is their value as  collectable which Crawford and Hooker are concerned about.

4) More serendipity, Mr Crawford found two bits of a broken gold coin which joined:
Dean found these two fragments of a gold noble three years apart and over thirty yards from each other in a ploughed field. The increase in deterioration can be clearly seen. The wear on such high carat gold is not due to the loss of material but due to the redistribution of gold molecules over the surface. If you think of spreading butter on bread you can get an idea of how this works. Soil particles "hammer" the gold. The fragmentation was caused by farming machinery.
Again, the assumption is being made that because they were found in ploughsoil, the only mechanism by which they could have been affected "must" have been there.. I am going to republish the photo from Hooker's blog with one modification. I show where there are clear traces this coin was deliberately cut and snapped.
Photo Copyright Dean Crawford, reproduced
after Hooker
with modifications by the author
The fragmentation was caused, as is shown by a clear burr and cut mark, by human hand, before it got into the ground even, let alone the ploughsoil. The fantasy about soil particles hurtling dynamically towards the gold like a sandblaster or micrometeorites in space is just that, nonsensical fantasy of an antiquarian. If you look at the way the larger fragment undulates, it has been folded and then straightened after it was cut. The relief is flattened because, most likely, it has been hit with a hammer. This is not fantasy plough damage, it is damage caused when somebody treated a gold coin as bullion. I think the reason how when and why that happened is an archaeological problem. But it certainly has nothing to do with plough damage, and certainly nothing to do with policies on artefact hunting.

The Crawford/Hooker Dynamic Particle Ablation theory ("think of spreading butter") seems not to be mentioned in anything I have read on the Staffordshire Hoard (some of which was excavated from active ploughsoil levels, and the pure gold thin cell walls are very fragile), neither does it seem to be much evidenced by other gold finds made by Mr Crawford (here for example). There is not a single mention of it anywhere in any Treasure report of the PAS I have read (and I've read a few). I think we can conclude that this, like much else collectors say,  is a figment of an antiquarian fellow's imagination and the self-serving inventions of a detectorist who fantasises about himself "living among" a long-vanished social group. 

5) Hooker then shows pictures of "two more Dobunni coins, but the fresh fragments all found within ten to fifteen yards of each other, a few inches deep on ploughed land." (Leaving aside the wquestion of whether the depicted fragments really are of the same coins), as I wrote, nobody is denying that tractors (but also hand-hoeing) damage finds. The truth is though that there are far more complete and undamaged Dobunni coins in databases and collections all over the world than there are ones so spectacularly damaged as the two Mr Crawford pulls out for his bragging and our delectation. So if 1% or even 2% et damaged like this but 98% do not, is there any reason to change our minds about artefact hunting? (answer; NO).

6) It goes on... and on: "Anglo-Saxon Great Square-Headed brooch fragments, all found over a thirty square yard area. Ninety percent of the brooch recovered, reconstructed and recorded". No, it has not been properly recorded There is only a record in the private pirate UKDFD "Findspot: Near Worcester Recorded elsewhere: No " but it also says "Associated finds consisting of 7th century strap-end and silver penny of Coenwulf - UKDFD 701" now that in turn says "Findspot Near Evesham Recorded elsewhere: No". So two associated finds recorded as "near" two places 32km apart and neither of them properly reported with the PAS. Scandalous.

This brooch is fragmented in a way which suggests it was lying flat and was squashed by a heavy weight - like a tractor or earthmoving machine driving over it. That is suggested by the crushing of the edges of the break through the headplate. It is still recognizable as a GSHB, it is perfectly possible to fit it in Hines' type series of the class, you can measure it, study the technology of its production and decoration, in short, as an object, it is every bit as valid a piece of archaeological information in its present condition as it was when whole. Its value on the commercial market may be reduced by it being broken and needing gap-filling, and that seems to be what Mr Crawford and Mr Hooker are interested in, and thinks everybody else should be. To the extent that they present pars pro toto selections as "evidence' and make a number of wild assumptions which do not stand up to scrutiny. What we know nothing about is the context of deposition of this loose object, or the context of discovery. Was it recovered from a pipeline wayleave for example? The "record" does not say.

Mr Crawford, please show the whole assemblage from the site from which you selected your handful.What are you hiding?

[A while ago after reading about Mr Crawford's coin-colouring "experiment", I put my hand in my pocket and pulled out a whole lot of copper alloy loose change which contained some pretty cruddy pieces, but also obviously I'd recently been to a shop which had just opened a bag of freshly minted coins. This gave me an idea, half an hour later I was in a local coin shop and bought a couple of dugup Russian kopieki. Tomorrow I am going to try and duplicate Mr Crawford's kitchen sink experiment with the fertiliser: watch this space for the Warsaw Chamber of Numismodeath].

FOOTNOTE 29th October 2015
This post dealing with metal-detecting-misdirection and misinformation is already too long. Mr Hooker imagines he answers one (just one) of my criticisms. He's referring to one sentence in my point 1 about  "metal objects highly crystalized after more than a thousand years in the ground" and I refer him to metallography of ancient objects which indicates that his statement about metal objects crystallising in the soil is an over-generalisation. The reason why metallurgical sections of metal objects is used to determine manufacturing technique is precisely because the metal core of most objects retain more or less unaltered the structure imposed at the time they were made and used. The antiquarian fellow hasapparently not heard of such a thing and writes how a coinshop owner just down the road from him has:
an ancient Greek silver coin which had been broken by someone who had dropped it on a hard floor exposing its crystalline interior. You cannot, of course see such a thing by sawing a coin in half as the surfaces exposed are new and appear quite smooth.
[note the appeal to 'special antiquarian knowledge'] Well, that will be news to anyone who (like the author of this blog) has ever done any of it and polished, etched and examined such a section. There is for example an online book (we know how collectors like Mr Hooker like their books online) by David Scott 1991 'Metallography and Microstructure of Ancient and Historical Metals' with enough pretty pictures to make the point. There are others. Mr Hooker needs to do some reading ... (he might like to start on page 21 of this book for the specific case I suspect has led him to his mistaken over-generalisation. There is other stuff for him to find online about the 'age embrittlement' of silver through discontinuous precipitation of a phase of an alloy and/or differential corrosion from a materials-science/conservation point of view, some of it going back in its printed [paper] form to the 1950s)

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

The Role of Museums in Facilitating Dodgy Antiquities Dealings

"The slack protection of cultural artefacts makes it hard for museums to protect themselves from fraud" says  Ong Sor Fern ('Walking an ethics tightrope: The business of collecting antiquities' Straits Times Oct 27, 2015) on the back of the the recent news about Singapore's Asian Civilisations Museum returning a stolen 11th-century bronze sculpture of the Hindu goddess Uma Parameshvari to India. She sees the "business of antiquities collecting" as a fraught one, museums as "bastions of knowledge" have to acquire objects (citing the recent finding of 20 new lines of the Epic of Gilgamesh on a looted cunie bought for a bargain US$ 800 in 2011 as justification) but she says:
this case is an extreme example of how the preservation of cultural heritage is not just the responsibility of a few hallowed, underfunded, overworked academic institutions. Countries too need to take responsibility for protecting their cultural artefacts and monuments.
I would rather say it is the role of museums to aid states in this rather than replace them. Ms Sor Fern seems not to have heard of "due diligence" and the various mechanisms in place to prohibit and prevent the illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of cultural property and where acquiring institutions fit into that. She does not mention how it is that a museum bought an object for itself (not to "save it" from anything except being stuck in New York) which turns out to be recently stolen.
 India is rich with heritage, but poverty and lack of dedicated enforcement and protection resources mean that its cultural treasures are easy pickings for unscrupulous thieves, or simply poverty-stricken villagers. [...]  This issue especially plagues Third World countries where governments, struggling to deal with more urgent issues, have no resources or the will to tackle the looting of art and history.
Which is precisely why we should be careful in buying objects, no matter how desireable, from these areas. And what if it had not been Mr (now-under-scrutiny)  Kapoor that sold the object, but some other dealer - with exactly the same kind of assurances?  How many objects in these miuseums bought from other dealers would be suspect if they too had been turned-in to the authorities by a jilted lover (as Kapoor's fall from grace began)?
There is no short-term cure for this problem. And the long-term solutions have to be multipronged - from governmental intervention in the form of proper legislation and enforcement to grassroots- level action in terms of educating people about heritage and history.
How about starting with the staff of museums and the other people who buy the stuff?

“Hand-crafted Clay Tiles” Reportedly Seized in Memphis

No direct route from Iraq to Israel
The Daily Beast has an "Exclusive": Candida Moss, Joel Baden, 'Feds Investigate Hobby Lobby Boss for Illicit Artifacts', Daily Beast 26th October 2015. This concerns the origin of some items in the Biblical antiquities collection of the Green family ("one of America’s most famously Christian businesses"). This has the feeling of hearsay at the moment, let us see what emerges in due course. This blog and others have already questioned the stated origins of a number of Green Collection items (papyri) which seem to involve the same sort of  'fishy story' which purport to legitimise dealers' goods in other cases too. If Moss and Baden's story turns out to be true, this really casts some doubt on the origins of a lot of the freshly "surfaced" objects in the collection (and future Museum of the Bible - and the mummy masks they've been dissolving) and I expect Mr Green's lawyers  will be issuing a statement about what it actually did say on that export documentation accompanying the cunies to Memphis. Meanwhile, let's recall this bragging:

 Be it noted that I was querying an earlier batch of cunies (which apparently made it through US Customs) a few months back: 'Green Collection: "We have one of the largest cuneiform collections in the country"...' Maybe we could get a statement on them too.  Anyway, this is part of what Moss and Baden reported:
 In 2011, a shipment of somewhere between 200 to 300 small clay tablets on their way to Oklahoma City from Israel was seized by U.S. Customs agents in Memphis.  [...] Their destination was the compound of the Hobby Lobby corporation, [...]. For the last four years, law enforcement sources tell The Daily Beast, the Greens have been under federal investigation for the illicit importation of cultural heritage from Iraq. [...]  Both the seizure of the cuneiform tablets and the subsequent federal investigation were confirmed to us by Cary Summers, the president of the Museum of the Bible [...] If the investigation ends with a decision to prosecute, on either criminal or civil charges, the Greens may be forced to forfeit the tablets to the government. [...] One source familiar with the Hobby Lobby investigation told us that [...] the tablets were described on their FedEx shipping label as samples of “hand-crafted clay tiles.” This description may have been technically accurate, but the monetary value assigned to them—around $300, we’re told—vastly underestimates their true worth, and, just as important, obscures their identification as the cultural heritage of Iraq. 

Just what was Mr Green doing buying cunies (presumably of mesopotamian origin) in Israel?  With what kind of documentation was their legitimacy supported when he bought them? Who negotiated the sale? Was it Scott Carroll who we know travelled to Israel at least once in 2011 to acquire objects for the Green Collection ('Scott Carroll in Jerusalem and London')? Who packed the cunies and - most importantly - who filled out that customs 'declaration'? How much was the shipment insured for and by whom?  Why (if the dates are correctly reported) have these items not been released from US Customs for four years now?  No doubt the Museum of the Bible will be issuing a full statement this afternoon clarifying any details they say the journalists got wrong.

If this story is true, the Green collection staff have had this issue hanging over them  in all the time discussion has been going on about potentially dodgy papyri and mummy mask trashing. Where does this leave the academics of the 'Green Scholars Initiative'? It is not very "green" to be mixed up in a setup where the collector admits: "Is it possible that we have some illicit [artifacts]? That’s possible”. In fact against many of the codes of ethics that apply. Yes, I think more than one statement is in the offing.

Update 27th October 2015
See now: 'America’s Museum of the Bible - Hobby Lobby Owners under Federal Investigation for Possibly Trafficked Assyrian and Babylonian Cuneiform Tablets' ARCA blog27th Oct 2015.

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