Nov 26, 2008

Looted Matisse Handed Over to Charity

The AP reports this work, Le Mur Rose, a work by Matisse which was stolen from a Jewish family some time after 1937 by a Nazi officer has been given to a charity:




The story of how "Le Mur Rose," or "The Pink Wall," made its way through the war to France is as surprising as the colorful painting itself, and steeped with death, mystery and injustice. Stolen from Jews, proceeds from the expected sale of the painting will go toward the Magen David Adom network of ambulances, paramedics and emergency treatment centers in Israel.  "It's a remarkable and in some ways slightly creepy story," said Stuart Glyn, chairman of the British charity Magen David Adom UK. He will take delivery of the artwork at the French Culture Ministry in Paris.  The painting belonged to Harry Fuld, a German Jew who made his fortune in telephones, founding the H. Fuld & Co. Telefon und Telegraphenwerke AG in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1899, the charity says.
"The Fuld family were almost manic collectors, with the broadest of tastes," Glyn said in a phone interview...
Harry Fuld Jr. died in 1963 and for reasons unknown willed his estate to Gisela Martin, a woman who has remained something of a mystery in this saga. She in turn left her estate to the British charity when she died in Switzerland in 1992, which explains why Magen David Adom UK is now getting the Matisse.  Glyn said they have not been able to determine the nature of the relationship between Fuld and Martin, why he left her his estate or why Martin in turn made Magen David Adom the beneficiary of her will.  The Matisse is worth a "a good six-figure sum," but will first be displayed in a museum, said Glyn. He said he's in discussions with museums in Germany and Israel.  The charity is also trying to recover other parts of the Fuld collection, which included 12th-century Buddha statues, 16th-century Italian masters, furniture and other art, Glyn said."There are pieces in the Hermitage (museum in Russia), there are pieces in museums in Germany, there are pieces believe it or not in Israel," he said.
 The work had been displayed in France since 1949. 

Terrorism and Antiquities

Last week Lee Rosenbaum noted the Met's "Beyond Babylon" show was unable to exhibit 55 planned objects from Syria because of the possibility that victims of terrorism might attempt to seize the objects to satisfy judgments. This is the predicted outflow of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act provision and another ongoing dispute over the Persepolis Fortification Tablets, briefly discussed here. A group of plaintiffs has sued Iran for a terrorist bombing which took place in Jerusalem in 1997. Iran did not defend the suit, so the defendants have attempted to satisfy the judgment by using

Judith Weingarten, an archaeologist, has a very good extended discussion of the Met's difficulty, and a great rundown with links of the ongoing tablets dispute over at IntLawGrrls:

The tablets are not commercial assets like oil wells, tankers, or houses. Instead, these types of culturally unique and important materials fall within a special protected category and are not subject to seizure. This trove of tablets has never been a commercial item to be bought or sold. The tablets have never been a source of profit either to Iran or to the Oriental Institute. They are non-commercial items of cultural heritage, every bit as unique and important as the original document of the Constitution of the United States. (Imagine if a future Iraqi government were to put a lien on that document.) The stakes are enormous. If the lawsuit prevails, this would do irrevocable harm to scholarly cooperation and cultural exchanges throughout the world.
That is already starting to happen. The Syrian government had offered to lend the Met invaluable parts of their cultural heritage: many of these objects that had never left the country before. Of American institutions, only the Met has the resources to pull off such a project, which depends as much on personal contacts as on cash. That little card on the wall doesn’t say it all.
The Met submitted applications for immunity from seizure for all the borrowed foreign works — including pieces from Armenia, Georgia, Greece, Lebanon and Turkey, as well as Syria — but finally decided that the FSIA amendment jeopardized the Syrian loans. Though not on display, the 55 Syrian objects are in the catalog. There you can see how important a role they played in the internationalist narrative conceived by Joan Aruz (right), the curator in charge of the Met’s department of ancient Near Eastern art.
Interesting points. As museums continue to find it harder and harder to acquire new objects, loans are a great substitute which alleviates pressure on the existing regulatory framework. When leases become difficult as well, American courts and lawmakers ought to seriously consider whether the attachment of these antiquities really is the best way to proceed.

Hawass Elevates Rhetoric

Earlier this week Zahi Hawass made some really over-the-top statements with respect to this object, the Ka-nefer-nefer mask which was purchased from Phoenix Ancient Art in 1998.  Some have noted this is an attempt to "Marion True-ize" Benjamin.    I've discussed in-depth the history of this mask before.  Neither Egypt nor the St. Louis Art Museum have been able to give us a complete and definite story of the mask, but I certainly don't think it is a case where repatriation is called for, even if we accept Egypt's version of events.  Part of the reason for that, is the Egyptian government is either unable or unwilling to adequately document its existing stores of antiquities.  If we adopt Egypt's version of events, the mask was stolen from a storehouse.  If so, a properly documented collection register could have been submitted to the Art Loss Register, and when the SLAM considered purchasing the object in 1998, the acquisition wouyld have been halted.  

Some commenters have even labelled the SLAM director, Brent Benjamin "controversial" because of the dispute.  I think those accusations are over the line, and very unhelpful.  Benjamin has done the right thing in this case, and it should be noted the mask was acquired before he took his post at SLAM.  Earlier  this week in an AP article Hawass called him a "stupid man" who "doesn't understand the rules here".  I'd like to suggest that Hawass -- who perhaps does a lot of great things for Egyptian heritage -- has a clouded view of the legal rules in this case.  An unhelpful mistake made worse by a proposed Egyptian law which may "give [Egypt] the power to take people to court in Egypt ... (Benjamin) will be wanted in Egypt."  Is this the way to conduct international negotiations?  What's more, if the mask had been in an Egyptian storehouse, and it is so important as to warrant this level of rhetoric, why wasn't it documented by Egypt? 

Nov 20, 2008

First Circuit Court Swats Away "Cardboard Sword"

A de facto confiscation of a work of art that arose out of a notorious exercise of man's inhumanity to man now ends with the righting of that wrong through the mundane application of common law principles. The mills of justice grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine.

So concluded the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Vineberg v. Bissonnette.  It affirmed summary judgment for successors of an art dealer who lost this work to Nazi Spoliation.  The dispute was an appeal of Vineberg v. Bissonnette, 529 F. Supp. 2d 300 (D.R.I. 2007).  I briefly commented on the earlier district court ruling here

The work is a 19th-century painting by Franz Xaver Winterhalter titled Girl from the Sabine Mountains.  It is valued at roughly $70,000 - $94,000 USD according to Ray Henry in brief AP story.  Katie Mulvaney also has a very fine overview for the Providence Journal

The current possessor based her defense on laches, an equitable doctrine which essentially posits that it wouldn't be fair to allow the claimant to regain title to the work.  No luck for the current possessor however.  The opinion was not particularly kind to Bissonnette, perhaps because the appeal seemed thin on the merits.  In one passage Senior Circuit Judge Bruce M. Selya admonished the appellant "Proving prejudice requires more than the frenzied brandishing of a cardboard sword; it requires at least a hint of what witnesses or evidence a timeous investigation might have yielded" (emphasis added).  I must find a way to use that in conversation soon.   

Greek Icon Returned

This 14th century icon was returned to Greece this week, 30 years after it was stolen from a monastary in Serres, Northern Greece.  The work was recovered by the Art and Antiques Squad in 2002. 

From Helena Smith's piece in the Guardian:


It emerged in London in 1980 when a British Byzantinist, Professor Robin Cormack, spotted it in a suitcase in a restorer's atelier. It had been touched up by the looters to make it more saleable in the underground art market.
"It had been cut in two by the looters. Seeing what it was, Robin realised it must have been stolen and advised them to return it to Greece," said the cultural attache at the Greek embassy in London, Victoria Solomonides, who travelled with the icon to Greece.
"That did not happen and 10 years later the plot thickened when he was called by the British Museum to value an icon. It was the same one."
On the advice of Cormack, curator of the Byzantium exhibition currently on at the Royal Academy of Arts, the British Museum decided not to buy the icon.

It seems then in 2002 a Greek art dealer offered to sell the work to the Benakis Museum in Athens for  £500,000.  It seems the High Court has ordered the return of the work in a proceeding "Six weeks ago".  I've attempted to track donw the ruling this morning on baili.org, but I suspect the ruling is unpublished.  If any of my kind UK readers could confirm this, I would be most grateful. 

Nov 19, 2008

Cleveland Museum of Art and Italy Reach Repatriation Agreement

The Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) and the Italian Culture Ministry announced today an agreement which will return 14 objects to Italy in exchange for loans of "a similar number of works of equal aesthetic and historical significance". The loans will be for a "renewable" 25-year period. The objects are going back to Italy because they have been looted, stolen or illegally exported.

David Gill has compiled a list of the objects, and provided links to their description on the CMA website.


Here is the list:

1) Pig-shaped Feeding Vessel/Vaso plastico a porcellino.
2) Mule Head Rhyton/Rython a testa di mulo. (Pictured here).
3) Sardinian Warrior/Bronzetto nuragico.
4) Apulian Volute Krater by the Darius Painter; Departure of Anphiaros/Cratere a volute a figure rosse.
5) Etruscan Red-figure Duck Askos/Askos ad anatra a figure rosse.
6) Bird Askos/Askos campano ad uccello.
7) Dog “Lekanis” Bowl with Lid/Coppa e coperchio a figure rosse.
8) Apulian Gnathia Flat-Bodied Epichysis/Epichysis tipo Gnathia.
9) Apulian Gnathia Round-Bellied Epichysis/Epichysis tipo Gnathia.
10) Apulian Gnathia Lekythos/Lekythos tipo Gnathia.
11) Acorn Lekythos: An Eros Serving a Lady/Lekythos campana a figure rosse.
12) Corinthian Krater/Cratere a colonnette corinzio.
13) Pair of Bracelets/Due coppie di armille in argento.
14) 14th Century Italian Processional Cross/croce processionale in rame dorato del sec. XIV.

The announcement is not really a surprise. The former Culture Minister, Francesco Rutelli, had hinted at this deal for months. The deal is the result of a "friendly and collaborative 18-month negotiation" as reported by Steven Litt, the Cleveland Plain Dealer Art Critic. That's the way both sides are describing the negotiations. Timothy Rub, director of the CMA told Litt "I think it's always difficult when adverse claims are made against an object or objects in a museum's collection, but the most important thing to do is to first of all determine if these claims have any merit, and if they do, to deal with them as transparently and as thoroughly as possible. This has been a very open and thoughtful discussion."

Likewise, Maurizio Fiorilli, said "The director is an exquisite person, this was a negotiation among gentlemen. They always collaborated and exhibited great openness, therefore, I am content." High praise indeed.

The crucial point to pick up on here is these objects were connected with Giacomo de Medici, which Italian and Swiss authorities raided in 1995. The polaroids they seized are the engine driving nearly all of these repatriations. Without that solid evidence, the chances are that these objects would not be returned. The restitution of these works is a positive developmetn to be sure, but will they continue? Has the antiquities trade learned its lesson? What about institutions who want to make further acquisitions? Are further acquisitions possible? Can we be sure they are legally excavated? Are the fundamental legal mechanics of the purchase and sale of antiquities different now than they were in the 70s, 80s and 90s? I don't think so. The underlying problems persist, though at least public perception has changed markedly. On that front, perhaps judges will be more inclined to adopt more encompassing views of the foundational international legal agreements such as the 1970 UNESCO Convention, but the antiquities trade can still effectively evade legal safeguards.

To see how let's contrast these returns with the CMA's recently-acquired bronze Apollo, pictured here. Not being an art historian nor an archaeologist, I still think this Apollo is a much more interesting and valuable antiquity than most of the objects being returned. In fact it is slated to be the centerpiece of the CMA's renovated classical exhibition. Litt reported today that there will be a joint scientific study of the statute which was acquired by the museum in 2004. The Apollo was the subject of another article by Litt in the Plain Dealer back in February. Evidence suggests the sculpture has been excavated for perhaps 100 years, though Italy has argued it was salvaged from the Adriatic in the 1990s and then illegally sold. The publicly-released provenance of the object seems a bit suspect. Its recent history stems from Ernst-Ulrich Walter, a retired German lawyer who said he foudn the statue lying in pieces when he recovered his family's estate in the former East Germany.

It was then sold to a Dutch art dealer (Michael van Rijn perhaps?), then sold to the Phoenix Ancient art gallery. We have no idea where or how this stunning statue was found. There is no contextual information. Was it really in pieces for 100 years? The discussion and feeling from the CMA and Italy definitely don't seem to indicate there will be a much in the way of a continued dispute over the object. And that's because there is no evidence it was stolen, looted or illegally exported. Rather, there exists a paucity of information about its origins. That is not enough to base a legal claim.

Portable Antiquities Scheme Review and Treasure Report

A flurry of new information on the Portable Antiquities Scheme has been released today. The PAS is the voluntary program which records objects found by members of the public in England and Wales, some of these objects may qualify as treasure as defined under the Treasure Act, in which case finders are entitled to the full market price of the object while the Crown holds title.

First, the Review of the Portable Antiquities Scheme was released today (commissioned by the Museums Library and Archives Council with the British Museum and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport). The very positive review notes the PAS is under-resourced and yet "still well-liked, delivering genuine partnership and good value for money. Having reviewed budgets and operations, it is clear that with no increase in resources, posts must be cut and the scheme will not deliver regional equity." The report recommends an increase in funding of just over 9% next year. This appears to be very good news for the scheme in the short-term as the cuts made this year can be reversed.

Second, the Treasure Annual Report was released today. A few highlights:
  • "Treasure" reporting increased again, with 749 objects qualifying as treasure reported, up from 665 in 2006. One of which was this Iron Age torc, made of gold and silver and found near Newark in 2005.
  • In 2007, 77,606 objects were recorded on the PAS database, now totaling 360,000 objects.
  • Since 2003, the date at which the PAS was extended throughout England and Wales, treasure reporting has increased nearly 200%.
The release is featured in a brief BBC story today "Treasure Hunters Boost Gold Finds". To read my thoughts on the PAS, and what it means for other nations of origin, see here; Kimberley Alderman has a kind summary of it today. The biggest success of the PAS has been its inclusion of a variety of disparate interests from coin collectors to archaeologists. Such compromise is exceedingly rare in heritage policy.

It has also included social groups which aren't always typical museum-visitors -- a very good thing in my view. This happens in two ways. First, finders are encouraged to report and record the objects they find. Second, anyone can access the database and use the data. This may include people ranging from schoolchildren to doctoral candidates to established academics.


The images of the finds are stunning. Below is a slideshow from the PAS on flickr.




Nov 18, 2008

Antiquities Looting in the West Bank

Karen Lange reports on the problem of antiquities looting in the West Bank for the December issue of National Geographic (via). Preventing looting of sites is a pressing problem everywhere, but these difficulties are more acute on the West Bank because of the ragged borders, dueling legal regimes of Israel and Palestine, and the lack of economic opportunity. Morag Kersel argues the demand for artifacts in Israel have helped fuel the demand for looting as well.

One Palestinian, Abu Mohrez, decried the damage done to Khirbet Tawas a Byzantine basilica "They wrecked the place, and it used to be beautiful." Lange reports:

With ruthless efficiency the looters dug beneath each foundation and into every well and cistern, searching for anything they could sell: Byzantine coins, clay lamps, glass bracelets. In the process they toppled columns and riddled the site with holes, erasing the outlines of walls and doorways—and the only surviving record of thousands of ancient lives.
The scene is a familiar one. Looters use backhoes, bulldozers and metal detectors to find coins and other metal objects. Graves are desecrated as well. How can these looters do such damage? One anonymous looter argues "We need to feed our families." The legal framework does not appear to be the problem. Palestinian law forbids looting, as well as the possession and trade of antiquities. As one might imagine, Israeli soldiers aren't a popular bunch in the Palestinian territories, and are unable to effectively police the ancient sites.

Once again there are a number of familiar culprits. The inability to police and guard sites, economic hardship, an antiquities trade which avoids detailed provenance, and a paucity of licitly excavated objects on the market.

Nov 17, 2008

The Long Shadow of Ancient Cultures

Two stories caught my eye today, both of which examine the interplay between ancient heritage and modern identity.

First is an article in the Guardian which details the plans to build a new "Colossus" in Rhodes. The new Colossus will cost an estimated 200 million euros, and will be designed by Gert Hof. It has been imagined as "a highly innovative light sculpture, a work of art that will allow visitors to physically inspect it by day as well as enjoy - through light shows - a variety of stories it will "tell" by night." In a nod to history, there are plans that at least part of the new project will be created from melted down weapons.

There have been periodic plans to rebuild the Colossus since 1970 which have been delayed by "Greece's powerful lobby of archaeologists". I can see arguments both for and against the new Colossus. The new projects seems aimed squarely at passing Mediterranean cruise ships. But a new project like this will surely boost tourism and provide a powerful national symbol for Greeks as well as the inhabitants of the island. Dr. Dimitris Koutoulas who is heading the project in Greece argues "We are talking about a highly, highly innovative light sculpture, one that will stand between 60 and 100 metres tall so that people can physically enter it".  The original Colossus (imagined here in a 16th-century engraving by Martin Heemskrerck) was completed in 280 BC, financed in part by salvaging abandoned siege equipment left behind by failed invaders. Students of history will remember the Colossus stood for only 56 years. It is amazing that a monument which stood for only a short time has captured imagination for centuries. One wonders how much the island's ancient past means to present inhabitants of the island. The new project seems an effort to recapture the magnificence of the ancient monument.

Michael Slackman in an article in the New York Times explores this issue in Egypt. He quotes Ahmed Sayed Baghali a man selling tourist trinkets outside the Egyptian Museum, "Can you believe our government can do nothing for us, and this thing that was built thousands of years ago is still helping me feed my family? Who would buy my things if they were not about the pharaohs? People come here from very far to see the pyramids, not to see Cairo." Slackman notes that many modern-day Egyptians may not be invested in the remains of this ancient culture, unless they work in the tourism industry. It's easy to see why, when "40 percent of the population lives on $2 a day." This begs the question, is heritage and preservation a luxury? I certainly hope not, but given this tremendous hardship where the men who cart debris away from Egypt's newest discovered pyramid are payed $2 -- and grateful for the work. Can we blame them if they might be tempted to sell antiquities on the black market?

The challenge is to preserve this heritage, safeguard it, and ensure our cultural institutions, universities and museums are working cooperatively with these nations of origin to offer these locals the best chance at economic growth and a respect and appreciation for their cultural heritage.

UK Government Loses Art

Roya Nikkhah has an article in the Telegraph which details five works of art which have gone missing from the UK Government art collection in the past year:

Details of the missing artworks came from a response to a parliamentary question from Andrew Rosindell, the shadow home affairs minister.

Originally the Government said it had lost eight works between 1 November 2007 and 31 October 2008.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said that three of the missing works, by the British artists Julian Trevelyan and John Brunsdon, had since been recovered, but that the whereabouts of five were still unknown.

Jeremy Hunt, the shadow culture secretary, said: "It looks like the Government's inability to keep things safe is catching. We've had missing computer discs and missing laptops – now we've got missing art.

"It is staggering that eight works can go missing and that five are still lost. Given that the DCMS spends nearly £1 million a year on this collection the least they could do was keep it safe."


This would seem to be a fairly common occurrence. Is the loss of 5 works out of a total of 13,500 a 'good' year? Any missing art is unfortunate, but I wonder how common these losses are, especially given a government collection partially displayed in embassies all over the world. I suppose the Government should at least get some credit for owning up to the losses. Here is a list of the missing works:

  • Horse Guards from the Old Entrance, Scotland Yard, 1768, print by Michael Angelo Rooker, In British Embassy, Washington DC, reported missing November 2007
  • Monument to Balance print by Ernest Alfred Dunn, In British Consulate-General, Sao Paulo, reported missing July 2008
  • The Wording of Police Charges, 1970, print by R. B. Kitaj and Plague, 1970, print by R. B. Kitaj, In British Embassy, Baku, reported missing July 2008
  • Yellow Square plus Quarter Blue, 1972, print by William Scott, In Foreign & Commonwealth Office, London, reported missing September 2008

Nov 14, 2008

An Unkind Response to my PAS Article (LATE UPDATE)

I have just noticed that Paul Barford has produced a very long response to my article on the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Initially I was pleased that my article had gained some notice. Imagine my dismay then when Barford accuses me of producing, 'glib spin', bad writing, claims I'm ignorant, and even hints that I've committed plagiarism. And he didn't even do me the courtesy of sending an email.

I hope there might be a serious scholarly response to the article at some point, and I look forward to reading it. At present I'm not aware of any thoughtful scholarly work (peer-reviewed for example) which criticizes the PAS. Perhaps Barford would be inclined to produce something like this? Given the tenor of his blog though, I wonder if he is capable of passing peer-review.

I don't really have a lot to say about the points he raises, because there aren't any intellectually honest arguments. Rather he's displayed an unfortunate tendency to produce Rovian and Hannity-style discourse. He takes my arguments out of context, wilfully twisting them in a way which indicates an inability to conduct any kind of meaningful discourse.

To take one example, he writes:

[T]he PAS allegedly represents a policy that: “sharply contrasts with the context-focused narrative found in most culture heritage scholarship”. This gives a totally false impression of the PAS and its aims… It is all about context of the finds in its database.


Right, well here's what the article states:

The PAS is the voluntary system created to record and document objects that are not encompassed by the Treasure Act and are unearthed legally. The PAS is a novel approach to undiscovered antiquities, which rests on a legal framework that essentially allows amateur and unprofessional digging. This policy cuts against the overriding policy choices of most nations of origin and sharply contrasts with the context-focused narrative found in most cultural heritage scholarship.

He also accuses me of stating the PAS pays finders and detectorists. No. I state very clearly "If the object is deemed treasure, the finder is entitled to a reward based on the market price of the object." One of the main reasons I wrote the piece was to make clear that the PAS does not pay finders of non-treasure objects! Finders of treasure recieve a reward, and have since the 19th century; the PAS works in conjunction with this legal framework to encourage voluntary reporting of objects the Crown has no legal claim to.

I don't expect everyone will agree with my perspective, but at the very least an individual who claims to be an academic would be able to respond in an honest and thoughtful way. I'd encourage Barford to adopt the perspective of Kimberley Alderman, who has recently started a very nice blog:

Here are the things I think would promote more meaningful discourse:

1. Less polarization between what have been characterized as competing "sides" of the argument.

2. Less emphasis on doctrinal positions (on both sides) and more emphasis on solving the mutual goal of cultural preservation.

3. More emphasis on what is working as opposed to what is not.

4. Less emphasis on what positions people have espoused in the past (too often used as a means to unproductively attack).

5. More precision in language used ...
That's very good advice I think. It's a brief statement of a similar kind of argument made by Alexander Bauer recently. A. A. Bauer (2008). "New Ways of Thinking About Cultural Property," Fordham International Law Journal 31:690-724.

I'm happy to accept legitimate criticism. Petty attacks aren't doing anyone any favors though. Barford is not a fan of the PAS. He's entitled to that opinion, but give me some clear reasons why the current system is harmful, and provide a better legal or policy framework. If you've got a better 'mousetrap', tell us about it -- if you can do so respectfully.

LATE UPDATE:

I see Barford has responded here. Regrettably the newer post is only slightly less strident.

As he rightly points out, I neglected to include a link to his extended response to the article which is here. He claims to have pointed out "serious problems" with the article. I'm afraid we will have to agree to disagree on that point. I'm happy to have a spirited debate on the PAS, but mis-characterizing my position and taking statements out of context makes such a productive discussion impossible, and he has yet to correct these errors. When my first year law students make these kind of analytical mistakes its an indication of weak analysis and insufficient research.

At its core, I argue in the article that a national ownership declaration is an important legal strategy; but this declaration in isolation does not necessarily create the best cultural heritage policy. In fact there's legal precedent which makes this very point (see US v. Johnson 720 F.Supp. 810, 811 (C.D.Cal.1989)) and the US accession to the UNESCO Convention via the CPIA takes the efforts of nations of origin into account when the CPAC considers export restriction requests.

I assume that effectively guarding every archaeological site is impossible given limited resources. Even in the US, a wealthy nation, there is widespread looting of Native American sites. A nation like Peru has even more difficulty given its developing economy and the remote location of many sites. The looting of these sites in North and South America is a travesty. This is a foudational problem with heritage policy. One potential solution is a policy framework and network of PAS-style liason officers. But that's not to say that these states should encourage metal-detecting or the like.

Rather I think outreach and education is badly needed. Barford argues this exists in many nations of origin already. Perhaps he is right, but we are merely talking speculatively. Where is the evidence? I'd be delighted to read some thoughts on this. The PAS works in conjunction with the law, which was of course a compromise postion between heritage advocates and landowners. A very strong legal regime may in a perfect world be the best policy. But what good are they if they aren't meaningfully enforced? These laws can be compared with abstinence only sex education or America's ill-advised "War on Drugs". When it comes to practice, they aren't producing the desired results -- less teen pregnancy or drug abuse for example. In the heritage context, the PAS and metal detectorists are producing contextual information. It's a different kind of information, which we can characterize as shallow but extremely broad; rather than a thorough documentation of sites which might be narrow but very deep.

This more permissive legal regime has actually produced important contextual information, which historians, researchers and archaeologists are using to write scholarship. Research is being produced with the PAS and its database, and it is including the broader public in heritage and archaeology, which will ideally bring more attention to heritage issues generally. Did Hiram Bingham include locals in his efforts to excavate Macchu Picchu? Modern-day Peruvians think not, which has led to a host of very public disagreements between Yale and Peru.

The PAS policy unquestionably sacrifices some archaeological context, but is there any nation of origin which is able to ensure all of its sites are professionally excavated or remain untouched? Is some contextual information better than none?

Nov 12, 2008

Preserving Babylon

Christopher Torchia and Ammar Al-Musawi have an interesting article for the AP on UNESCO efforts to rescue the ancient city of Babylon.

Now, for the first time, global institutions led by the U.N. are thoroughly documenting the damage and how to fix it. A UNESCO report due out early next year will cite Saddam's construction but focus, at the Iraqi government's request, on damage done by U.S. forces from April to September 2003, and the Polish troops deployed there for more than a year afterward.

The U.S., which turned Babylon into a military base, says the looting would have been worse but for the troops' presence. The U.S. also says it will help rehabilitate Babylon, funding an effort by the World Monuments Fund and Iraq's State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, but has yet to release precise funding figures.

Archaeologists hope the effort will lead someday to new digging to follow up on the excavations done by a German team in the early 1900s.

"The site is tremendously important," said Gaetano Palumbo of the New York City-based World Monuments Fund. Yet in its present state, Babylon is "hardly understandable, as a place where so much happened in history."

The damage at Babylon is a tragedy, but hopefully the damage done can be reversed and the site can be protected and preserved for enjoyment and study. Perhaps the slew of Babylon-centered exhibits and books detailed by the Art Newspaper will help to raise awareness.

Germany and the UNESCO Convention

David Gill speculates today that Germany may be a hub of the antiquities trade after recent reforms in Switzerland. That may be possible, or perhaps even likely, but he provides little empirical evidence, and merely some offers speculation. He does not consider for example the very useful EU restrictions on cultural objects which effectively prevent the trade in objects originating from EU member nations.

In the post he references an article by Andrew Curry ($), a journalist. Journalists do a lot of good reporting, and Curry may be a great one. Journalists who report on the law, particularly one as malleable as the UNESCO Convention often miss the mark however. Curry's summary of the UNESCO Convention, and the arguments Gill makes are very misleading.

Curry's piece states:

Whereas the United States and many of the other 112 signatories to the convention restrict or prohibit trade in broad categories of artifacts, the German law passed last Friday requires countries to publish lists of specific items they consider valuable to their cultural heritage. Only those items will be protected under German law, which means trade in undocumented artifacts, such as those looted from archaeological sites, will be difficult to restrict. “This is a bad signal,” says Michael Mueller-Karpe, an archaeologist at the Roman-German Central Museum in Mainz. “It tells the world that whatever isn’t published isn’t worth protecting.”


This is wrong on at least two accounts. First, both the United States and Switzerland do not prohibit broad categories of objects. They must be subject to ownership declarations. The real important issue here is the enforcement and recognition of foreign export restrictions. To recognize these both the US and Switzerland require individual nations to make a request and require bilateral agreements to implement the heightened restrictions. This is the province of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee in the United States.

Second, Germany requires nations to publish lists of specific items they consider valuable because this is what the Convention requires. Article 5 of the Convention states,

To ensure the protection of their cultural property against illicit import; export and transfer of ownership, the States Parties to this Convention undertake, as appropriate for each country, to set up within their territories one or more national services, where such services do not already exist, for the protection of the cultural heritage, with a qualified staff sufficient in number for the effective carrying out of the following functions:

(a) contributing to the formation of draft laws and regulations designed to secure the protection of the cultural heritage and particularly prevention of the illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of important cultural property;

(b) establishing and keeping up to date, on the basis of a national inventory of protected property, a list of important public and private cultural property whose export would constitute an appreciable impoverishment of the national cultural heritage;

(c) promoting the development or the establishment of scientific and technical institutions (museums, libraries, archives, laboratories, workshops . . . ) required to ensure the preservation and presentation of cultural property;

(d) organizing the supervision of archaeological excavations, ensuring the preservation `in situation' of certain cultural property, and protecting certain areas reserved for future archaeological research;

(e) establishing, for the benefit of those concerned (curators, collectors, antique dealers, etc.) rules in conformity with the ethical principles set forth in this Convention; and taking steps to ensure the observance of those rules;

(f) taking educational measures to stimulate and develop respect for the cultural heritage of all States, and spreading knowledge of the provisions of this Convention;

(g) seeing that appropriate publicity is given to the disappearance of any items of cultural property.
Note that article 5(b) requires a register and specific definition, the very thing Gill criticizes Germany for doing. This actually strikes me as a very good policy idea. Cultural heritage can mean lots of things to lots of people. I don't see how its an onerous task for nations of origin at minimum to broadly define categories of objects which should be It should be noted that very few nations have successfully completed this task. This is one flaw, among many, of the UNESCO Convention.

The Convention is an important foundational document, but as a legal instrument leaves a great deal to be desired. Article 2, which can be read more broadly imposes vague requirements on States Party, but States are free to implement the Convention with a great deal of discretion.


Nov 10, 2008

Peru to Lawyer Up?


Apparently the Peruvian government has again decided to take legal action against Yale. Peruvian state media may be planning to litigate in its ongoing effort to recover thousands of Incan relics excavated in the early part of the 20th century by Hiram Bingham. Paul Needham continues his outstanding reporting on the dispute for the Yale Daily News (BBC)(AP)(via).

Needham reports:

While Peruvian officials have threatened a lawsuit since April, Yale officials said earlier this fall that they were hopeful the parties might be able to avoid legal action. Much of this optimism was the result of a meeting in late September that included, for the first time, Jose Antonio Garcia Belaunde, the Peruvian foreign minister. Belaunde had never before been involved in the negotiations, and some at Yale saw his presence at the meeting in an optimistic light.

“The fact that the minister feels that it’s appropriate for him to intervene suggests that there is a desire to reach an understanding,” Richard Burger, the Yale archaeologist most closely associated with the artifacts, said last month. “Because if [Peruvian officials] wanted to go to court, they could have just left things as they were.”

But Belaunde’s involvement with the negotiations was brief; Peru’s new minister of labor and employment promotion, Jorge Villasante, has now been charged with overseeing the selection of a lawyer and the potential filing of a suit.

I think this is an unfortunate decision. Yale had seemingly agreed to a very fair settlement with Peru, but that tentative deal fell through. In a Memorandum of Understanding with Peru Yale had agreed to build a museum and research center, would help sponsor an international travelling exhibition and return the objects after the expiration of a new 99-year lease.

I wonder what the chances of this potential suit would be. This would seem to push the envelope for repatriation litigation . Just thinking speculatively, the statute of limitation problem would be a tricky hurdle for Peru. It could perhaps bring suit in New York and argue the limitations period did not begin to run until a demand and refusal by Yale, however one wonders if Yale could successfully defend by essentially arguing it has held the objects in a transparent way, and Peru should have long ago made its legal claim.

Or perhaps they might bring suit in a discovery rule jurisdiction, arguing the recent revelation that there are in fact 45,000 objects is a new triggering event which would make the action timely.

However even if they succeed on the limitations issue, it remains very much in question whether Bingham's agreement gives Peru title to the objects (though apparently Bingham's actions were controversial in Peru at the time). US courts have not always looked favorably on Peru's vesting legislation (see Peru v. Johnson), and I'm not sure what provisions were in place when Bingham was re-discovering Machu Pichu. This has been a fascinating dispute, in chief part because Yale has seemingly been very open, and has offered a great deal to Peru. Perhaps I'm missing something here, but I wonder if Peru's indigenous rights movement might have its priorities the wrong way around in this case.


Chicago, Cuno and Iraq


Tom Hundley has a very long piece in yesterday's Chicago Tribune on antiquities looting, Iraq, and Jim Cuno's arguments (with slideshow). It's an interesting read, as it summarizes nicely some of the problems with antiquities looting in Iraq, which he argues began in the difficult economic times after the first Iraq War.

At the close of the war in 1991, as Saddam fought off insurrections from the Kurds in the north and the Shiites in the south, the U.S. government imposed a no-fly zone over large swaths of Iraq. This, along with strict UN trade sanctions, created a kind of perfect storm. With the weakened Baghdad regime unable to control large parts of the country, impoverished Iraqi villagers—often with the blessing of village elders—turned to the only source of income available to them: scavenging the hundreds of archeological sites that dot the landscape between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

In some areas, the trade in looted antiquities accounted for almost 85 percent of local economic activity. Meanwhile, a weak U.S. economy at the end of George H. W. Bush's presidency was encouraging the truly rich to look for alternatives to stocks and bonds. Art and antiquities fit the bill. As supply obligingly met demand, the market for Mesopotamian antiquities blossomed. Within months of the war's end, a treasure trove of Mesopotamian antiquities began to show up in the gilded display rooms of auction houses in London and New York, no questions asked.

The article then goes on to summarize James Cuno's views, and gives a very superficial discussion of national patrimony laws. He writes incorrectly I think that the Hague and UNESCO Conventions are the foundation for national patrimony laws. I think that's a questionable assertion, as many patrimony laws were established long before these.

It is worth noting that there is a gross factual inaccuracy in the piece. Despite what the article says, the U.S. has ratified the 1954 Hague Convention. Perhaps Hundley should have spent a bit more time talking with Patty Gerstenblith, whom he quotes in the piece, or even Larry Rothfield -- another Chicagoan -- who has written a recent work on the looting in Iraq.

Nov 7, 2008

Meaningful Discourse

There is a core of agreement even among the most diametrically opposed heritage advocates.

For example on Wednesday of this week the BBC program Today featured a brief piece with James Cuno and Colin Renfrew debating some of the foundational issues of heritage policy. What I find striking, is how to the casual observer much of what Cuno and Renfrew are discussing would appear to not be too far apart. They'll both agree I think that the looting of sites is a problem, and museums should not acquire stolen or looted antiquities and works of art. They will disagree vigorously on what exactly constitutes 'stolen' or 'looted'.

I'd argue that the disagreement, and much of the petty argument which takes place on the nets and at conferences actually makes the task of all sides more difficult, and is counterproductive. I'd like to see some real meaningful discourse, and a lot less sniping and unproductive exaggerations on both sides. Sadly all too often the disagreements make the american electoral process look sane and measured in comparison, not an easy task. The end result is a situation where the public often does not know how or why these issues matter.

Take for example the recent Interpol Symposium on the Theft of and Illicit Traffic in Works of Art,Cultural Property and Antiques in which a "lack of awareness among the general public of the importance of cultural heritage and the need for it to be protected," and recommend that "INTERPOL, UNESCO and ICOM: Jointly seek ways of raising awareness among law-enforcement services, those responsible for safeguarding religious heritage, the major players in the art market and the conservation world, and the general public, with regard to protecting cultural property and combating illegal trafficking." (via).

Nov 6, 2008

3 Trucks Worth of Antiquities

The AP is reporting this afternoon that Switzerland is returning 4,400 objects to Italy, three trucks worth:

GENEVA (AP) — Switzerland is returning 4,400 ancient artifacts stolen from archaeological sites in Italy, including ceramics, figurines and bronze daggers dating as far back as 2,000 B.C., prosecutors said Thursday.

The transfer will require three tractor-trailers and all but end a seven-year legal battle over the antiquities.

They were seized in 2001 in storage rooms belonging to two Basel-based art dealers after a tip-off from Italy, said Markus Melzl, a spokesman for city prosecutors. The couple have since lost several court battles to prevent the antiquities from being returned to Italy, Melzl said.

More than half the objects were from the eastern Italian region of Apulia, an area that was heavily influenced by ancient Greek culture, said Guido Lassau, a Swiss archaeologist who worked on the case.

They include richly decorated vases and so-called kraters, large vessels that were used for mixing wine with water. The objects were stolen from upper-class tombs dating from the fifth to third centuries B.C., according to Lassau.

That's a lot of lost context.

Nov 5, 2008

Trump Prevails in NE Scotland


Officials in Aberdeen, Scotland have made the decision to sacrifice some of the World's most beautiful and untouched coastal dunes for Europe's largest golf complex. Trump calls his project "the greatest golf course in the world." One wonders if he's setting the bar a little high, particularly as there are already some amazing golf courses just on the 30-mile stretch of coastline near the proposed project. The decision is not that surprising given the bad economic news in the UK.

Jobs and economic growth will often take precence over environmental or heritage concerns. As Severin Carrell notes in the Guardian this morning, "the habitat supports wildlife such as skylarks, otters, pipistrelle bats, badgers and toads. The dunes are also periodic nesting sites for migratory pink-footed geese using the Ythan estuary, Sands of Forvie and Meikle Loch 3km to the north." It should be noted that our electioneering French Spaniel enjoyed walking those dunes the last few years (on his leash of course).

This has been a long approval process. I wrote nearly two years ago about the initial stages of the planning permission process. These dunes are important environmental areas and also contain stone age relics. Of course balancing those concerns against the jobs and economic impact the golf complex could foster may have been too tempting for the local officials. The complex will be 1,400 acres, costing $1.6 billion, with two championship courses, a hotel, time-share condos, and private homes. It helped of course that the Scottish Prime Minister Alex Salmond was eager to force the project to go ahead.

At a practical level, I'm not sure that kind of resort compound will fit well with NE Scotland. Trump won't be able to wall off his complex in Scotland, as is the unfortunate tendency in many American complexes like this. You can walk everywhere Scotland. Also, though it is very beautiful, the NE of Scotland is not endowed with hospitable weather. Fog, rain, bitter cold and wind are common -- even in the height of summer in July and August.

Trump might do well to bear in mind the history of Cruden Bay to the North. It is an exceedingly beautiful course. In 1899, a 55-room hotel was built to capitalize on the golf course and encourage visitors. Things went smoothly until the hotel closed during the 1930s, and it currently lies in disrepair. One hopes at least that Trump's golf complex won't result in a similar boondoggle.

Nov 3, 2008

"Antiquities Wars" at NYU Nov. 19th

The New York Institute for the Humanities at NYU is presenting the following:

Antiquities Wars

A conversation about loot and legitimacy

Wednesday, November 19th, 7 pm

NYU's Hemmerdinger Hall
Silver Center for Arts and Science
100 Washington Square East

James Cuno
Director, The Art Institute of Chicago
Author, Who Owns Antiquity?

Sharon Waxman
Formerly of The New York Times
Author, Loot: The Battle over the Stolen Treasures of the Ancient World

Kwame Anthony Appiah
Philosopher, Princeton University
Author, Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers

Daniel Shapiro
International Cultural Property Society
President Emeritus

Free to the public. For more information: 212.998.2101 or nyih.info@nyu.edu

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