Tuesday, 20 February 2018

United States and Libya to Sign Cultural Property Protection Agreement

A US State Department press release tells us that United States and Libya will soon be signing a Cultural Property Protection Agreement
Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs I. Steven Goldstein and Libyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs Under Secretary for Political Affairs Lutfi Almughrabi will sign a landmark bilateral Memorandum of Understanding on cultural property protection on February 23, 2018 at 2:00 p.m. at the U.S. Department of State.
As part of the ongoing cooperation between the United States and Libya’s Government of National Accord, the United States will impose import restrictions on categories of archaeological material representing Libya’s cultural heritage dating from 12,000 B.C. through 1750 A.D. and Ottoman ethnological material from Libya dating from 1551 to 1911 A.D. Restrictions are intended to reduce the incentive for pillage and trafficking and are among the many ways the United States is combatting the financing of terrorism and disrupting the global market in illegal antiquities. These restrictions continue similar restrictions implemented by the U.S. government on an emergency basis on December 5, 2017. The cultural property agreement negotiated by the State Department under the U.S. law implementing the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property underscores the United States’ commitment to our relationship with Libya, as well as our global commitment to cultural heritage protection and preservation. The United States now has similar bilateral agreements with 17 countries around the world, as well as emergency import restrictions on cultural property from Iraq and Syria.
Hat tip to Dorothy Lobel King

Our Pocketed Portable PASt

Historic England's revised version of Our Portable Past is just out today:
This statement sets out Historic England’s approach to surface-collected portable antiquities in the context of our own archaeological projects. Historic England also recommends the statement as a suitable model to follow for organisations that fund or authorise archaeological projects, and for land managers and individuals involved in giving consent for archaeological projects whatever the legal status of the site or sites involved. It is also statement of good practice for portable antiquities/surface collected material in the context of field archaeology and survey programmes (including the use of metal detectors).
We've come a long way from that first edition when they pretended that none of this applied to 'matal detectoriusts'. OK, artefact hunters, now read it and put it into (best) practice. PAS, how far are you going to go to promote its message among your pocketing 'partners'? I note:
Although Section 42 licences are only required for geophysical surveys and metal detecting on protected places, Historic England believes that the same principles and standards set out in the section above (‘Appropriate context for metal detecting (nationally important and designated sites)’) should apply to metal detecting on all previously recognised and important archaeological sites recorded in the Historic England Archive or in Local Authority Historic Environment Records, and on areas protected by other (non-archaeological) designations (eg SSSIs). The principles also provide a template for projects intended to discover, locate or characterise sites. Historic England advises all those planning metal- detecting surveys to consult the appropriate Local Authority Historic Environment Record and inform the Local Authority Archaeologist and local Portable Antiquities Scheme Finds Liaison Officer (or Receiver of Wreck for underwater sites) before commencing their fieldwork. [...]  Particular issues arise from metal-detecting rallies. The potential loss of archaeological information through non-recording and the export without record of finds pose serious problems [...]
Note that the text does not say the holding of commercial collection-driven exploitation rallies is  problem in itself, just if the looted objects disappear. 

Digging up the Past for Cash in the Middle East, 11th April 2018

 I will be in England this spring talking at a University of Suffolk Heritage Futures Seminar and have chosen as a topic:
Collection-driven exploitation of the Middle Eastern archaeological record: Conflict antiquities, myth, realities and evidence
I've been blogging about it for years, now to put it all together in a short talk and then see what emerges from the discussion. Regular readers will know that I started off as a supporter of the 'antiquities finance terrorism, so we need to regulate the trade' model. Then I began to have questions, and then doubts (and not just about what we mean by that word 'terrorism')... I should acknowledge that Donna Yates (as I understand what she was writing) held all along that the evidence was not really there, and Sam Hardy has been assiduous in busting the myths and deconstructing glib narratives. Other colleagues have been just as staunch upholding them. Antiquities dealers and collectors are in total denial. The issue emerges as one of considerable complexity, and the debate about 'what it all means' will no doubt go on for years. Butas the terrible war in Syria and that in Iraq seem, sadly, to be entering another phase, perhaps it is time to take stock of what we know, what we think we know (but maybe don't), what we do not know but wish we did, and what we will probably never know (and yes, I do plan to cite Donald Rumsfeld). I use the term Middle East in the title, but cannot fail to mention both Libya, Afghanistan and Yemen, all outside the area as usually defined, but the way it is shaping up at the moment, the focus will be on what is happening right now in Syria and Iraq and how we should be reacting to it. And yes, I still believe that the antiquities trade needs regulating, no retractions there.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Lending Artefacts to US Museums Can Be Risky

Lobbyists for the US antiquities trade demand that when the US signs an MOU aiming to curb the entry of smuggled artefacts into the USA that it is made conditional on the partner countries allowing more artefacts into the USA on loan to public collections. A recent story illustrates why some of them might be reluctant to do so. Chinese authorities are calling for a heavy punishment for an American man charged with stealing a thumb from an ancient terracotta warrior statue on display at a museum in Pennsylvania. They have also demanded compensation for the damage caused to the US$4.5 million relic (Kinling Lo, 'China urges US to get tough on man who stole thumb from US$4.5 million terracotta warrior on display in a Philadelphia museum' South China Morning Post , 18 February, 2018).  The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia had borrowed ten statues from the Shaanxi Cultural Heritage Promotion Centre. They have been on show in Philadelphia since September, and are part of a clay army of about 8,000 soldiers, charioteers and horses unearthed in Xian, capital of northwestern China’s Shaanxi province in the tomb of China’s first emperor Qin Shihuang (210-209BC). According to figures from the FBI, they are potentially worth US$4.5 million apiece.
Michael Rohana, 24, was charged earlier this month with breaking off and stealing the left thumb of the 2,000-year-old sculpture [...] on December 21. [...]  Rohana, who comes from the US state of Delaware, was attending an ugly Christmas jumper party at the museum when he and two associates managed to make their way into the “Terracotta Warriors of the First Emperor” exhibition, the door to which was unlocked, the Beijing Youth Daily report said. According to surveillance camera footage, after the two other party guests had left the room, Rohana took a selfie with his arm draped over the shoulder of one of the statues. He then snapped off one of its thumbs, put it in his pocket and left. The theft went unnoticed until January 8, at which time the museum sought help from the FBI’s art crime team, who traced Rohana to his home on January 13. He was subsequently charged with the theft and concealment of a major artwork, and released on bail.
The cultural centre said it had loaned its exhibits more than 260 times to 60 different countries over the past 40 years, but had never before experienced “such a noxious incident”, according to the newspaper report. One also wonders about a museum's fake security which means that three people could be where they were not supposed to be (what, no alarms in your galleries Philadelphia?) and this was not detected for 18 days? This was on a day when there were people in the galleries (?) holding an 'ugly jumper party'? What kind of dumbdown 'museum event' is that? And the door to the closed gallery was unlocked? Why?

PAS Database Down: British Museum Unable to Curate Finds Data Unaided?

Visitors to the public-funded PAS database, wanting to use the material recorded there as a 'permanent record' at not inconsiderable public cost from two decades of searching and pocketing bits of the archaeological record by artefact collectors, will be disappointed. Someone has let the SSL certificates expire and the data are not visible and the link to a database containing sensitive findspot and personal information is insecure, the PAS database is currently classified as potentially a malicious site:

This raises a question, what mechanisms are in place to ensure that the PASD is actually a permanent record accessible to the public? As loss of evidence from the archaeological record gathers pace, how will that Database keep up and how will access of the public stakeholders to the information about what private individuals have taken away be maintained in the future? What will happen when the database instead of a source of institutional pride becomes a liability? The BM has scored a massive fail in firing the person whose creativity and input made the database possible, how are they going to ensure its maintenance when they cannot even get a simple thing like this right?

The PAS has been informed, let us see how quickly proper access is restored, and then let us see how long it is before there is another breakdown.

UPDATE English language version
I apologize to those of you who 'cannot read Polish' - I did not notice. So here, by courtesy of an English reader is what the notice says:
Your connection is not secure
The owner of finds.org.uk has configured their web site improperly. To protect your information from being stolen, Firefox has not connected to this web site.
This site uses HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS) to specify that Firefox only connect to it securely. As a result, it is not possible to add an exception for this certificate.
Learn more…
Report errors like this to help Mozilla identify and block malicious sites

Thanks Nigel 

Why Collect?, a report on museum collecting in the UK

Ferens Art Gallery, Hull
A new report out reveals the dire situation of museums in the UK (Art Fund and Wolfson Foundation publish Why Collect?, a report on museum collecting in the UK, Art Fund 15 February 2018). In the report, which calls for increased investment in museums and their collections, its principle author, historian Sir David Cannadine highlights a 13% fall in public spending on museums and galleries in England from 2007 to 2017, the imbalance of funding for museums inside and outside London, the poor salaries in the sector and the pressures faced by the Heritage Lottery Fund because of declining National Lottery income.
The report highlights the ever-widening gap between the spiralling prices of works on the international art market and the limited acquisition funds available to museums and galleries in the UK. It calls for increased investment in museums and their collections, as public spending on museums has decreased by 13% in real terms over the last decade. It is, writes Cannadine, a report that 'instead of giving comfort and reassurance, expresses anxiety and concern.' Cannadine's analysis of museum and gallery collecting traces its history from the 1830s to the present day and is accompanied by 11 case studies which explore various facets of the social and cultural impact of collecting. This is supported by statistical evidence from a national survey involving 266 collecting institutions. The report was undertaken to address the question of how, why and on what scale publicly funded museums and galleries continue to expand their collections. 
The report also discusses the question of  museum collecting and display and notes
- Many museums and galleries only display a fraction of their holdings – often less than 10% – and the report references recent arguments for making their stored collections more publicly available [...]
-  The digital revolution has enabled entire collections to be accessed and viewed online and ‘the more that we can learn about collections from exploring them online, the more we are likely to want to go and visit them in situ’.
- Only half of the 266 UK museums and galleries surveyed, had a specific budget allocation for collecting, and in most cases it was rarely more than 1% of the overall amount that was spent. Although almost all of the respondents had been able to add objects to their collections over the last five years, gifts and bequests were the most frequently used methods. The survey results demonstrated that, except in the case of the national museums, collecting for most museums and galleries is no more than a marginal activity.
The report criticised Northampton Museum and Art Gallery’s sale of its Egyptian statue of Sekhemka. Northampton “was a complete override of all of our professional standards ... it was an absolute tragedy in terms of damaging public trust for the rest of us. It will take a long time to forgive them.”

The problem caused by metal detecting Treasure hunters and the rising costs of antiquities through artefact hunters flogging off their finds is not mentioned. Only case study five - the Staffordshire Hoard touches on the issue:
Within four months of valuation the funds for the joint purchase had been raised, and the Hoard was formally acquired in June 2010. A public fundraising campaign led by Art Fund raised £900,000, the largest amount ever given by the public to a heritage appeal; a third of donors were from the West Midlands, indicating the regional pride felt for the endeavour. Support also came from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (£1.285m) and Art Fund with the support of the Wolfson Foundation (£300,000), with a further £600,000 from trusts and foundations, £100,000 from Birmingham City Council, £100,000 from Stoke-on-Trent City Council, £80,000 from Staffordshire County Council, £20,000 from Lichfield District Council and £20,000 from Tamworth Borough Council. 
Obviously the few dozen cases (assiduously chronicled by Bloomsbury's Treasure Registrar to create a rosy picture of their 'partners', the Treasure hunters) is just a drop in the bottomless bucket of funds-gobbling treasure hunters, taking money from the purchase of other items.

The report is also discussed by the Arts correspondent for the Guardian (Mark Brown, 'UK museum collecting at risk from lack of funding, report warnsInvestigation by Sir David Cannadine for Art Fund paints ‘deeply depressing’ picture' Guardian Thu 15 Feb 2018)

You can download the full report here.

Mysterious Seizures at Miami Airport

Press release: CBP Intercepts Ancient Artifacts at Miami International Airport Release Date: February 16, 2018

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers and agriculture specialists seem a bit confused as to what it is they are doing and why. They boast of stopping two antiquities shipments at Miami International Airport
One of the shipments sent from the United Kingdom had been manifested as having a value of $252,000. Upon opening the wooden cargo container, what appeared to be a helmet was discovered. The item appeared to be an antique possibly dating back to ancient times. The shipment documentation appeared incomplete and similar items have been deemed authentic and repatriated in the past. An expert appraiser was consulted and determined the item to be an authentic "Corinthian Helmet" dating back to 100-500 B.C.
Why it was stopped, and why they think they are going to 'repatriate' it is not clear. What was missing from the documentation. What is missing from this article is the name of the dealer that sent an object top the USA without knowing what documentation is needed to pass it through... obviously a dealer that any customer would be advised to be very wary of. In the other case:
CBP agriculture specialists at Miami International Airport selected the second shipment sent from El Salvador for an agriculture examination and discovered 13 individual pieces of pottery and figurines. The shipment manifest listed the contents as "Handicrafts". The items appeared to be pre-Columbian and CBP detained the shipment for appraisal and authentication. An expert appraiser recently concluded the items are of Mayan origin. Some of the items date back to 300 A.D. while others date back to 1200 A.D. "
Those dullard dealers, not knowing the right name for antiquities. Duh. Dealer's name also withheld. But it seems the CBP is not too good a briefing its press officers...
CBP's primary mission is to stop terrorists and their weapons from entering the homeland and the agency [...]  “The interception of these ancient antiquities is a great example of the role CBP plays in enforcing international repatriation laws of ancient artifacts."  
What 'laws' would they be then? Again that US fixation on the R-word, repatriation. Its Smuggling you guys are there to fight.

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