Friday, March 24, 2017

Italy's 'Art Squad' charges Collector of Roman coins

Italy's 'Art Squad', the police force tasked with protecting the country's priceless cultural heritage, has confiscated Roman coins and other historical artefacts from a private residence (Catherine Edwards, "Italy's 'Art Squad' charges hoarder of rare Roman coins", The Local 24 March 2017)
The rarest of the coins is one of just five in existence, police said on Thursday. It dates back to the time of Emperor Constantino II, who was in power between 337 and 340. In total, the Cultural Heritage police in Perugia, central Italy, confiscated 13 coins and various other "archaeological artefacts of interest" which dated back to the fourth century AD. The owner has been charged with illegal possession of cultural objects and violation of the laws surrounding excavations. Police also confiscated two portable metal detectors which they believed had been used to track down the artefacts in agricultural areas across the Umbria region.
The article explains: "art crime is a huge problem in Italy, where artworks are stolen from unguarded churches and even from secure museums, and illegal excavations can uncover valuable historical treasures.  Over one million artworks are currently listed as missing or stolen". Yet the police cannot do any better than persecute some innocent collector, the coins shown in the photo are not what would really classify as "rare" and all could be bought for a few bucks from any dealer. These coins were minted in their millions and widely traded in the ancient world! Italy neds to get its "heritage protection" priorities right and instead of opposing collectors they need to go after the real thieves. Until they do, the Trump administration needs to suspend repatriation to countries like this that cannot look after the world heritage.

Artemis in Mexico

The heritage of the classical past is around us: a stunning sculpture in Mexico of the ancient Greek goddess, Artemis....her Roman counterpart, La Diana Cazadora (Photo: Ray Fujiok)

Noah's Flood in Cuneiform

Cuneiform tablet from Nineveh first translated in 1872 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

‘Syria Cultural Property Protection Policy Failure

Archeologists Fake News on Looting

In reply to a further reiteration of the claims by Owen Jarus that: "$100 Million in Artifacts Shipped from Egypt and Turkey to US in 2016" (Live Science March 21, 2017), the cultural property expert Peter Tompa explains that this information is "merely the latest iteration of what is essentially the same article that has been published three times in the last year":
Each time, the author has been apprised of serious concerns about his methodology.  I also emailed his publication in the past, but received no response.  Both the author and the internet publication, “Live Science” have instead ignored these concerns in favor of lurid headlines.  In brief, my concerns are as follows.

1.      The author’s methodology is flawed.  I have spoken to several Customs experts.  They have confirmed that one cannot assume the trade data accurately reflects direct exports from either Turkey or Egypt.  Rather, it is quite likely the figures also take into count objects made in Egypt and Turkey and exported from third countries.  These items could have been out of Turkey or Egypt for years.
2.     The article focuses on exports of gold coins from Turkey and Egypt.   The author implies that the large outflows of gold coins are due to looting.  In fact, the figures relate to antique gold coins (over 100 years old) that exist in the millions.  Such coins—mainly 19th c. issues—have been used as stores of wealth in the Middle East, Europe and the United States for decades. 
3.     It is likely the outflow can be explained in one of two ways.  Large shipments of 19th c. gold coins from Egyptian or Turkish mints coming from third countries or large shipments of such coins coming from either Turkey or Egypt.  If the former, they are likely part of the normal trade in such items between investors.  (It is my understanding that bullion sellers make large bulk shipments periodically—one such shipment could impact the trade numbers greatly.)  If the latter, the outflows are likely explained by wealthy Turks and Egyptians shipping out hard assets for safe keeping given political instability at home.  In neither circumstance would the shipments likely have anything to do with ISIS or looting.

Thank you for your consideration.

Peter Tompa

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Diving Robbers Are Looting Underwater Treasures, Archeologists Wail

Diving robbers looting underwater sites are the bane of marine archaeologists. The items stolen from the sea floor, ranging from coins to amphorae to a life-sized bronze statue of Apollo to scrap metal from World War II warships, are usually sold on the black market. Worse, stopping the ravage of the ancient sites is all but impossible, the authorities admit: they can hardly post underwater guards. The problem of maritime looting is especially acute in Israel, say experts. The narrow Levantine coast has been inhabited throughout human history and traces of long-vanished civilizations remain on land and under water, observable to intrepid divers. A least if they dive soon, before thieves steal the lot and ruin the rest. 
Philippe Bohstrom, "Diving Robbers Are Looting Underwater Treasures, Archaeologists Wail" Haaretz Mar 15, 2017
The problem is that they cannot possibly investigate all these sites given the resources available. Would it not be better to work with the treasure seekers rather than try to fight them and "wailing" about their successes? This has worked well in other countries, such as Britain, why not here??