Monthly Archives: November 2013

Trafficking Culture: Getty to return artwork to Sicily

                I decided to take a look at the article Getty to return artwork to Sicily, written by David Ng and Jason Felch. This article takes a look at a terra cotta head of the god Hades acquired by the Getty museum in 1985, they have voluntarily decided to send it back home to Sicily. Records show that the museum paid something like $530,000 to Maurice Tempelsman. It is believed that the head was looted from the archaeological site of Morgantina, Sicily in the early 1970s. Due to fragments they compared to the head, scientists were able to determine its origin. This makes someone wonder what else out there has been looted and acquired by the museums under false pretenses. I find it rather interesting that the Getty museum is voluntarily giving back the head and not fighting for the right to keep it. This in turns makes me wonder about the laws surrounding these looted objects, are there any at all?

From Illicit to Licit

I decided to look at the trafficking culture website. Their goal is to produce a visual representation of the trade of looted/stolen antiquities. Along with this they hope that their representation of the trade will give evidence to help make more stern policies when it comes to trafficking illicit objects. One of the projects on the site that I focused on was “From Illicit to Licit: The Laundering of Looted Antiquities into Legitimate Artworks” by Tess Davis. The main problem with antiquities that are looted being turned into legitimate works is that there is no tracking its path from the site of the looting to the licit market. She poses a few questions that her goals will hopefully answers: What is the trajectory of pillaged antiquities from Koh Ker to overseas collections? How to explain the legal transformation from looted antiquity to legitimate artwork? Do existing theoretical models provide an adequate explanation? What are the roles of individuals, organizations, and jurisdictions? What are the impacts of political, economic, social, legal, and practical factors, especially peace, war, and occupation? Can more effective legislation and public policy be formulated to combat antiquities trafficking?

The question that stands out the most is how to explain the legal transformation looted antiquity makes. Most people who have the disposable income and take an interest in the antiquities trade will do what they must to acquire rare finds such as sculptures or statues. Of course the state of the land that a looting has taken place in has a great impact on the chance the looters had to take the objects. For example, a place that is war-torn with civil unrest is less likely to be able to spare the extra men to guard an ancient site, leaving a few fences to hope over and some security cameras to avoid as the only obstacles in the way of looters. Perhaps more security at ancient sites (living, breathing security) would deter the looters from taking such risks to take cultural objects.

What are the roles of individuals, organizations, and jurisdictions? In order for looted antiquities to stop being such a prevalent source of cultural objects, people need to stop buying them. Looters will have nobody to sell their antiquities to if individuals and organizations don’t take the easy way out and are thorough about where the cultural objects legally came from. Buyers are responsible for looting being so widely accepted as something that just happens, as they hold no responsibility for the stolen objects, especially if they have been made legitimate artworks by the time the buyer has come into contact with it.

I am interested to see if further research regarding these questions will shed light on the path that illicit objects take when they make the transformation from illicit to a legitimate artwork, and whether they will be able to track down people along with antiquities that have been stolen.

Orbis|Via and Antonine Itineraries

I chose to use the Orbis|Via and Antonine Itineraries to do this little experiment. Orbis shows you the step by step option you can take to do your journey and you are also able to choose how to move forward. Another thing also is that you can choose your starting point. For the other one, you can only choose the map and it will just start off randomly somewhere on the map. The main difference between these two simulations is the starting point of the journey. The Antonine Itineraries is all very random even though it moves so much faster than the Orbis simulation. But Orbis somehow takes up so much time whereas the other simulation works faster. To me, the Orbis simulation shows a better metaphor because of the step by step process you can take even though it takes more time, but for a better view or result of the historical content.

Turkey wants their “treasures” back

Turkey has been busy requesting many American museums for the artifacts that were supposedly looted and sold illegally. Museums such as J. Paul Getty Museum, Museum of Art in New York, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and Harvard University’s Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collections are some of the museums that took part in the illicit trade of the artifacts. A passage in a 1960 law is believed to be the source of the artifacts being excavated, shipped out, and taken in ownership. Seeing how Italy and Greece had many successful claims towards their artifacts, Turkey decided to claim their artifacts back from those museums. With further investigation, Turkey has enough evidence to halt all loan of art to the museums until they decides to respond to the claims Turkey had set down. The Getty, the Met, the Cleveland, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and Princeton University Art Museum were confronted with the evidence Turkey had presented and they have returned more than 100 artifacts back to Italy and Greece. Further investigation shows that some museums had ties with the criminal investigation that involves dealer Edoardo Almagia and Princeton antiquities curator Michael Padgett. The Getty was involved with antiquity dealers, Elie Borowsku and Nicolar Koutoulakis, which were involved in illicit trade. Even with the evidence Turkey has, it is still something to think about whether the museums can fight back against such claims. Some of the artifacts were taken out of Turkey under the law at that time and now they want it back. Does that mean that all the original artifacts should be sent back to their place of origin where it was excavated? That the artifacts should only be acquired through loans? This is where I am getting conflicting thoughts about it.


Illicit antiquities

Archaeological artifacts and antiquities have always been very famous around the world, but sometime the trades have been completely illegal or legal depending on the people. The good side to legal trade is that the scientist can study the archaeological and anthropological context of the artifacts and antiquities. The bad side to illegal trade is that people will independently dig a site and steal the artifacts they find and sell them to the black market. This can be linked to organised crime and millions of dollars worth of merchandise can be counted. One recent seize of illegal archaeological artifacts happened in Italy where more than 500 works, estimated around 2 millions euros were recovered before they were sold on the black market.  Around 584 artifacts were illegally excavated in two southern town of Italy (Benevento and Foggia). Around 21 graverobbers and a local man were charged with the theft.  The artifacts included Greek objects, ceramic bowls, various Etruscans and Corinthian objects, coins, lanterns, and a helmet. The Italian police stated that these predators were real professionals.  As you can see, looters still exist in this day and age and I’m guessing will continue to exist forever. It’s a shame that they steal all these artifacts because without actual scientist properly digging them out and studying them, it’s impossible for us to understand the context of the artifacts and antiquities.  We could learn so much from them if they weren’t being stolen.




Measuring the International Market in Illicit Cultural Objects

I looked at the website and what they are doing to assess and analyze   evidence of widespread looting and traffic of cultural objects. Since the quantitative estimates of the size of the illicit market as a whole, in terms of material volume or monetary value, it is difficult to provide descriptions of how the market is structured. The lack of quantitative description means that it is difficult to locally or globally demonstrate the severity and urgency of the problems, and to design policy and measures to combat this problem. Relatively basic questions of market size and shape are groundbreaking in scope, simply because the statistics necessary to answer those questions do not currently exist. They propose to rectify this situation by considering and triangulating all available sources of data on market activity.

They want to look at two sources that have been under-utilized for quantitative analysis of the market in cultural objects. First they want to look at the sales catalogues of the major auction houses, which offer a comprehensive and historical source of quantifiable data, because they record all details of each object sold. Second looking at the museum acquisitions records, which are published annually by major museums. With this data available from both these sources they will be able to establish the size and structure of the market and investigate the possible use of these data for the assessment of public policy.

I am quite interested in what they find through this research because these objects that are being illegally sold in this market rob us from understanding the past and its information about the context from which they came.

Illicit Antiquities

Why should we care that looters are flooding the antiquities market?

• When properly excavated antiquities offer a window on history and provide primary sources for scholars to interpret.
• Antiquities that are illegally dug up are divorced from the past and information about the context in which they came from is all but lost.
• Archaeological sites can truly only be excavated once, so properly documenting every piece of the puzzle is vital to fully understand the site.

Thus antiquities properly recovered and documented from a legitimate archaeological excavation are important for three reasons:

1. It has provenance.
2. It has a context.
3. It is not a forgery.

Once a site is looted, details of provenance and context are destroyed which can never be reconstructed. So how can we help avoid such catastrophes?

International organisations such as ICOM (International Council of Museums), UNESCO, UNIDROIT and INTERPOL run training programmes for heritage professionals, customs staff and police officers. They also promote ethical standards and raise awareness about threats posed by looting. They provide educational programmes which encourage local communities to preserve their archaeological heritage in order to not only save their cultural past but attract tourists and discourage looting.

Agreements between governments and the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (which Canada didn’t sign until 1978) have proved a powerful weapon in the war against looting. Nearly 100 countries have now signed this convention.

Ultimately, the archaeological looting will stop only when collectors, museums and dealers refuse to buy looted antiquities. Perhaps in the years to come collecting illicit antiquities will become as socially unacceptable as a stealing candy from a baby. Yet for the mean time this billion dollar industry doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

Illicit Antiquities Lecture Response

The two things that I found most interesting from today’s lecture were the J. Paul Getty Museum scandal and Giacomo Medici’s illicit artifact dealing. I found the scandal of the J. Paul Getty Museum and curator Marion True being extradited to Italy for a heritage crime particularly fascinating. I decided to do a little more research on the matter. As a matter of fact, she was indicted in April 2005 by the Italian federal court on criminal charges accusing her of participating in laundering stolen artifacts through private art dealers and creating a fake paper trail. It also turns out she was later prosecuted by the Greeks as well. This scandal opened up a lot of questions about museum administration, repatriation and ethics. True was eventually dismissed because the statute of limitations expired, and she was acquitted in 2007 of charges relating to items being looted from northern Greece. The remainder of the Italian charges were dropped as well for the same reasons. Now, all of this is also connected to Giacomo Medici as he seems to have been the main “middle-man” in the illicit art market. The primary evidence for the case against Marion True came from the 1995 raid of a Swiss warehouse containing stolen artifacts. Medici was eventually arrested in 1997 and sentenced in 2004 to ten years in prison and 10 million euros. It is the largest penalty ever given out in Italy in relation to the illicit antiquities trade.

Orbis and Stranger In These Parts

(Sorry it’s late, I completely forgot) I looked at Orbis and Stranger in These Parts, and whilst Orbis was a lot easier to use, I think both are valuable ways of virtually traveling in the ancient world. For Orbis I looked at a trip from Londinium to Narbo in Southern France. I haven’t properly used Orbis before and I enjoyed how I could investigate how long my trip would take in all different scenarios with various methods of travel and weather conditions. It gives you a good perspective of traveling in the ancient world, but it sort of baffles me how it actually calculates the time it would take, and surely there must be a lot of things that aren’t taken into consideration. I think perhaps it is a bit optimistic and there could be many difficulties that the ancient traveler would have faced and which aren’t wholly taken into consideration here. But that being said, Orbis is still the best simulation for ancient travel that I have come across. Stranger in These Parts is a different kettle of fish and very frustrating (I am glad I am not the only one who found this). But despite its rejection of many of my instructions, it is great how you can tell it what to do and write your own journey, and I think if you could get it to work really well and do everything it tells you, then it is a good way of learning about Roman history and travel as it uses knowledge of the ancient world in an interactive way which makes the game player feel authoritative, which I think most people enjoy.