Saturday, 21 January 2017

Market Strikes back

The Tell Sheikh Hamad Stele in the news again (Patrick Sawer, 'The strange case of the ancient Assyrian curse and the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police' Telegraph 21 January 2017) This lower part of a stela of King Adad-Hirari is a fragment of an object from which comes the upper half in the British Museum, where it has been since it was acquired in 1881 from the private collector Joseph M Shemtob, two years after its discovery at the Tell Sheikh Hamad site in Syria. The lower part was offered for sale to the British Museum in 2011, but they declined it on the grounds that they were not satisfied that it had left the site and Syria legally. The object reappeared on the market three years later and was being offereed by Bonhams, but on the eve of the auction, officers from Scotland Yard’s art and antiques unit raided the Bonham's warehouse where it was being stored and seized the stele as evidence in any future trial. Now:
Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police [...] is being sued by a Lebanese antiques dealer after his officers seized the slab, known as a 'stele', following claims it had been stolen. The controversy began when it became known in art circles that Halim Korban was planning to auction the stele at Bonham’s, in Geneva, in April 2014. The Beirut-based Saadeh Cultural Foundation informed UNESCO that the stele had been obtained illegally, probably after being looted from a site in modern Syria, and should be returned to that country “as soon as circumstances permit”. [...]  Mr Korban has gone to court to have the artefact returned and is demanding £200,000 compensation for loss and damage as part of his claim. A spokesman for the art dealer told the Sunday Telegraph: “The stele is a valuable object which Mr Korban considers his and he wants it back. He can show proper provenance and utterly rejects the notion that it was obtained illegally.” [...]  Before the planned auction Bonham’s had said that the stele was "given as a gift from father to son in the 1960s" and that although no details about how it left Syria were available, it was confident of its provenance (sic). Mr Korban holds Mr Hogan-Howe personally responsible for the actions of his men in seizing the stone and preventing its planned sale. In his writ against the Commissioner he said: “At all times since their seizure of the stele the police have been aware of the claimant’s [Mr Korban] claim in respect of it, namely that he is its owner, and that he is who is entitled to its possession.” But Scotland Yard intends to mount a robust defence against his claims, [...] 
The stele had been offered in Bonhams with an estimate of £600,000 to £800,000,an interesting discrepancy.It will be interesting to see how this story comes out. Lobbyists for the antiquities trade insist that the reasons why cases like this are so rare is that dealers thing it is 'more economical' to surrender a questioned and seized piece than defend their legal title to it with the aid of their business documentation. Let us see how dealer Korban (who handled the Sevso Treasure in the past) fares with his.

Friday, 20 January 2017

The Antiquities Trade in Egypt 1880-1930

Fredrik Hagen and Kim Ryholt: The Antiquities Trade in Egypt 1880-1930. The H.O. Lange Papers. The Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters. Scientia Danica. Series H. Humanistica. 4 vol. 8. 2016. 335 pp. Lavishly illustrated. Price DKK 300  (preview here)
The book presents the first in-depth analysis of this market during its “golden age” in Egypt in the late 19th and early 20th Century. It is primarily based on the archival material of the Danish Egyptologist H. O. Lange (1863-1943) who, during two prolonged stays in Egypt (1899/1900 and 1929/1930), bought objects on behalf of Danish museums. The travel diaries, and the accompanying photographs, are complemented by a wide range of other sources, including contemporary travel guides and various travel memoirs, which together paint an extraordinarily detailed picture of the extensive antiquities trade.
The book looks at the laws governing trade and export, both in theory and practice, and the changes over time. The practicalities of the trade are described: its seasons, the networks of supply, the various methods available for acquiring antiquities, and the subsequent routes of transmission of objects, as well as the different types of dealers operating in Egypt. The geographical distribution of dealers is mapped, and the role of the Egyptian state as a dealer is investigated, both through official sale rooms, and as a seller and exporter of more or less complete tomb-chapels.
The final part of the book contains a list, with short biographies, of over 250 dealers active in Egypt from the 1880s until the abolishment of the trade in 1983. Most of them are described here in detail for the first time.
It also provides not just an excuse for all those collectors with private collections (the usual old crap about "how many objects were sold in teh past") but a challenge, if they want to claim one of those 250 dealers "might have been" the origin of the items in their collections, how many of them can give us proof that an object they now own came from one one of those dealers? How many objects in personal collections today can be assigned a legitimate collecting history back to any one of those dealers? 

Vignette: Lecture flyer

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Great Mosque in central Mosul, recaptured by Iraq's special forces.

Inside the Great Mosque in central Mosul, recaptured by Iraq's special forces. Seems to be full of looted items.

UNESCO reports on extensive damage in first emergency assessment mission to Aleppo

The destruction of Prophet Jonah Tomb, Mosul, Iraq

Auctioneer Urges return of Pot to Turkey

A  Bronze Age  jug  has been returned to Turkey  ('British woman returns 4,500 year-old Yortan jug to Turkey', Daily Sabah 19th Jan 2017):
The jug was reportedly bought as a souvenir by British citizen Thelma Bishop, who visited the Ancient City of Ephesus in the 1960s and brought it back to Britain. Bishop decided to return the jug to Turkey when she found out that it is a cultural property, through Adam Partridge Auctioneers and Valuers in Macclesfield. A consultant at the auction house by the name of Jason Wood, who confirmed the jug's authenticity advised Bishop to return it to Turkey, and contacted the Turkish embassy, reports said. The Turkish embassy presented a Museum Card, which can be used in various museums throughout Turkey, to Bishop and Wood for returning a cultural asset. "The return of the Yortan jug is significant in terms of raising awareness about Turkey's and other countries' international legal struggle regarding unlawful export of cultural property amongst auction firms and other countries" the embassy said in a statement. Furthermore, the owner of Adam Partridge Auctioneers said that he was happy that the rare artifact returned home to Turkey, and wished that their action sets precedent to other auctioneers in Britain. 
Nah. Most of them would just flog it off, without batting an eyelid.

More ISIL Atrocities in Palmyra

Palmyra was favoured by ISIL as the scene of showcase brutality, with executions and blowing up ancient structures during its ten-month occupatuion of the strategic city after first gaining control of the city in May 2015. The Islamists were driven out of the city by Syrian government forces and militias backed by Russian air strikes in March 2016, but returned last month after troops were pulled out for Bashar al-Assad’s offensive on Aleppo Now the atrocities are beginning again (Lizzie Dearden, 'Isis carries out mass executions in Palmyra's ancient ruins after retaking Syrian city' The Independent 19th jan 2017):
Isis has carried out a new wave of executions in the ancient ruins of Palmyra after re-taking the symbolic Syrian city. Monitors said teachers were among 12 people murdered in front of crowds of men and children, either having their throats slit or being shot by jihadis. The Palmyra Monitor group said captives were killed in three separate locations – Free Syrian Army and regime soldiers in two groups at the Roman theatre and in an abandoned Russian military base, and civilians outside Palmyra Museum. “There are now fears that Isis may carry out more executions against civilians who were arrested after it took control of the city,” the group said.
Russian intelligence suggests that ISIL is planning further destruction of the site's ancient remains:
Lt-Gen Sergei Rudskoi, a senior Russian defence ministry official, said intelligence indicated that Isis may be planning a new wave of destruction in Palmyra. “We have received information, confirmed by several sources, that a large amount of explosives has been brought into the Palmyra area and that the terrorists plan on destroying the city's world-class historical legacy,” he said.
Indeed, it seems this has already begun. The Facebook page of the ASOR Cultural Heritage Initiatives notes that ISIL have destroyed the Tetrapylon and part of the Roman Theatre.
ASOR CHI has obtained DigitalGlobe satellite imagery that reveals new damage to the ISIL-occupied UNESCO World Heritage site of Palmyra. The imagery shows significant damage to the Tetrapylon and the Roman Theater, likely the result of intentional destructions by ISIL, although we are currently unable to verify the exact cause. This damage occurred between December 26, 2016 and January 10, 2017. The Tetrapylon appears to have been intentionally destroyed using explosives. Two columns remain standing, but the majority of the structure has been severely damaged and column drums and debris are visible on the ground around the structure. The Roman Theater has sustained damage to the stage backdrop (scaenae frons), primarily in the area of the Porticus. New stone debris is scattered across the center of the stage. [...]  ASOR CHI will continue to monitor the rapidly changing situation in Palmyra and remains concerned about the plight of civilians in Tadmor.
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