Retrieving artifacts from abroad not in Egypt's favor: former minister
Egypt Independent: March 2: As reported in IADAA’s March 3 Newsflash, which was picked up by the media, Egypt’s former Antiquities Minister has said that retrieving Egyptian artefacts from abroad is not in Egypt’s interests, news sources from within the country report.
Prof. Mamdouh al-Damaty, an Egyptologist who was Minister from 2014-16 and believes that displaying his country’s heritage in other nations promotes Egypt across the world, also pointed out that the majority of Egyptian artefacts abroad were legally exported before laws were introduced to ban exports.
IADAA have been commissioned by The Art Newspaper to write a comment article on this issue for the April edition.
How journalism business models are fuelling the misinformation ecosystem
Journalism.co.uk: March 3: James Ball, special correspondent, BuzzFeed UK, explains how the need to be first is working against accurate information, and in favour of sensationalism and hoaxes.
This article explains a great deal about how fake news concerning looted antiquities and ISIS gains credence, either because journalists make mistakes, fail to check their facts and sources, and because unscrupulous propagandists have learned how to manipulate the media.
In short, the need for clicks to attract online advertising pushes web publishers to update content at speed, resulting in many stories being posted unchecked, especially if the story is sensational or contains great images or video.
“This makes the media vulnerable to people who want to use mainstream outlets for misinformation to get in,” says Ball.
He gives an interesting example about how what now appears to be a staged video gained over 79 million views on the Daily Mail’s Facebook page alone, and how other outlets rushed to upload it to attract traffic.
Cyprus and Egypt sign series of bilateral deals
Cyprus Mail: March 3: CYPRUS and Egypt on Friday signed a series of agreements and MoUs to enhance bilateral ties and further their strategic partnership. The agreement includes protecting antiquities.
“Cyprus and Egypt, countries with rich archaeological culture, face similar issues, regarding illicit exportation and are very frequently requested to take actions for the return of stolen and illicit exported objects,” said Cyprus’s Transport minister Marios Demetriades.
“The agreement will provide the framework for the exchange of information on legislation for the protection of cultural property, especially with regard to the prevention of theft, clandestine excavation and illicit import, export or transfer, as well as relevant policies and measures implemented by the competent authorities of the two countries.”
Less damage to ancient Palmyra than feared, Syrian antiquities chief says
Reuters: March 3: Damage to the World Heritage site of Palymra by Islamic State militants may be less than earlier believed, Syria’s antiquities chief says.
Maamoun Abdulkarim told Reuters that video from Palmyra after it was recaptured by the Syrian army has shown less damage than archaeologists feared when pictures emerged at the beginning of the year suggesting Islamic State had smashed more monuments.
3 steps news organisations can take to fight misinformation
journalism.co.uk: March 10: Advice on how news organisations should tackle fake news and fall victim to those who peddle it. The three steps are: 1) Improve your relationship with audiences to help them identify misinformation. 2) Inspire curiosity – alter the way facts are presented to readers. 3) Remain an impartial news organization. All sound advice; however, it is given by The New York Times and National Geographic, both organisations that have displayed such biased reporting in the past year that IADAA has had to submit formal complaints to their bosses… without any response in either case. Let’s hope this marks a sea change in attitude.
Zahi Hawas defends the Ministry of Antiquities’ strategy in Ramses statue extraction
Egypt Daily News: March 11: The Egyptian authorities have come under criticism after they used heavy loading equipment to remove the upper part of a vast statue of Ramses II from excavations near a housing estate, risking damage.
Former antiquities minister Zahi Hawas claimed there was no option but to use the equipment, but archaeologist Monica Hanna disagreed: ““In similar situations, pumps are used to absorb the surrounding water before lifting the monuments using ropes,” she said.
Hanna said that the bigger problem was that the archaeological land was sold when Zahi Hawas was the Minster of Antiquities, after he allegedly claimed that it had no historic interest: “He gave it to the local municipality to build a new market for street vendors, so the land is no longer owned by the ministry,” she explained.
Hawas told Daily News Egypt that “the land is one of the most historical sites as it previously saw the discoveries of remains of Ikhnaton and Ramses II temples.”
More digging is planned there.
Hanna added: “The bigger scandal for me which should be spotlighted is that we’re talking about discoveries that suggest that there’s a huge temple beneath that land, yet the Ministry of Antiquities under the direct supervision of Zahi Hawas gave it away without any clear explanation.”
The follow-up article from Al Arabiya on March 12 (second link below) reports sources at Egypt’s Antiquities Ministry quoted by Almasry Alyoum as stating that the remainder of the excavation will resume on Monday “using newer and safer techniques
”. This contradicts Hawas’s claim that there was no other way to extract the statue.
Egypt’s obligations under UNESCO Article 5 appear to have been ignored again.
As James McAndrew has pointed out, the Egypt Daily News article from March 10 (http://goo.gl/T9LfHE
) concluded with the following paragraph: “In 2013, the United Nations Economic Scientific Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) threatened to declassify six archaeological sites in Egypt quoting a lack of experts in Egypt managing the sites as the reason. The sites included the Great Pyramids of Giza, the Karnak Temple in Luxor, the temples of Abu Simbel, Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Saint Mina’s Monastery, and Islamic Cairo.”
James says this is further evidence of how source countries do little to nothing to protect and preserve their own cultural property so instead they pivot to the market (US and Europe) to place blame.
ISIS devastated Mosul Museum, or did it?
CNN: March 13: This article/TV news report focuses on the ISIS destruction at the Mosul Museum, showing the devastation wreaked on the building along with footage of statues and other artefacts being smashed by ISIS followers. However, the report ends with the revelation that over three quarters of the museum’s collection was removed to Baghdad before the invasion and most of the pieces ISIS destroyed were modern replicas.
Buyer Beware: US Market for Ancient Asian Art Still the Wild, Wild East
The Diplomat: March 14: Following Deborah Lehr’s article last month, Antiquities Coalition Executive Director Tess Davis turns her attention to Far Eastern antiquities and how these risk turning up in US markets. The article is timed to coincide with Asia Week New York, following on from last year’s series of raids on galleries orchestrated by NY Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos.
As we know, historically the looting problem in countries such as Cambodia and Thailand has been serious, with plenty of evidence to show this. The article capitalises on this, alluding to the Nancy Wiener case and corralling New York’s auction houses in with this. Davis also uses the article to promote the Antiquities Coalition, including a picture of Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sok An sitting between her and Deborah Lehr, presumably at a symposium.
The article concludes with a call to action for countries to close their borders to conflict antiquities and to extend the US ban on Syrian artefacts to Libya and Yemen. Davis also wants cultural heritage protection to be included in all peace-keeping mandates – something IADAA would endorse if done the right way – and criminal prosecutions for crimes against culture, which are already taking place.
Antiquities trade in Egypt
Coins Weekly: March 16: A fascinating review of a fascinating book. Ursula Kampmann looks at The Antiquities Trade in Egypt 1880-1930, The H.O. Lange Papers
, by Fredrik Hagen and Kim Ryholt, which revisits the cliché that Egypt has been the victim of constant exploitation at the hands of the trade and collectors and shows what actually happened as the authorities licensed 250 dealers and oversaw the sale of countless artefacts during these decades. Read Ursula’s review at the first link and order a copy of the book, (a must have!) from Cybele, Jean Pierre Montesino’s bookstore at the second link.
Al-Jazeera: March 17: The latest film by campaigning director Tania Rakhmanova into heritage issues and trafficking. Largely another programme peddling unsubstantiated propaganda.
Although the programme discredits itself at the beginning with inaccurate claims about the value and standing of the illicit market and again conflates the legitimate and illicit trades, it carries at least two important segments that debunk much of the rest of the programme. These contributions come from the director of The Association for the Protection of Syrian Archaeology (APSA), Cheikhmous Ali, and France Desmarais of ICOM. Here is a record of those segments and the approximate video timings for reference:
34.20 Ali says: “An armed group won’t sell an ancient coin to finance its arms purchases. It’s not easy to sell objects. You need to find the right channels and the right collector. You have to meet the collector to prove authenticity. Then you have to smuggle them safely into neighbouring countries. The profits aren’t huge. Especially when there’s oil, which they can sell immediately and take the money and run.”
35.10: Desmarais: “The hypothesis that terrorists are self-financing through the plundering of and sale of antiquities has been hugely exaggerated without real proof. But it’s true that cultural assets now have equal status with other types of assets.” However, she then goes on to conflate the legitimate trade with the illicit trade. “No one asked where things came from,” she says. But then goes on to say “But there’s much more awareness today.”
Closing comments in the programme make a very serious and interesting point, which rings true: that nation states are using cultural property/heritage as political tools in negotiations and diplomacy with other countries. The example in the film of France and China, linked to the plates bought by Pinault from Christian Deydier is a case in point. This effectively makes the legitimate trade a pawn in international diplomacy, to be abused and treated as expendable in the interests of other more pressing concerns.
UAE pledges Dh55m for heritage site protection fund
The National, UAE: March 20: Following last December’s conference in the UAE on cultural heritage protection for conflict zones, the Emirates have pledged $15m (Dh55m) to the mooted $100m fund announced then. France had already pledged $30m, Saudi Arabia $20m, Kuwait $5m and Morocco $1.5m. Other donations so far total around $4m-5m. Sheikh Saif bin Sayed announced the donation at the March 20 conference at The Louvre in Paris, where he was welcomed by President Hollande.
Archaeologists In Syria Use 'Data Water' To Confound Antiquities Smugglers
NPR: March 21: Syrian archaeologists are using a new product to try to stop the illegal flow of antiquities. It's a high-tech liquid visible under special light that carries tagging data on where items come from.
Building peace requires culture, education – message of historic UN Security Council resolution
UN News Centre: March 24: “The deliberate destruction of heritage […] has become a tactic of war to tear societies over the long term, in a strategy of cultural cleansing,” says Irina Bokova, the Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO
) following the adoption of a resolution to protect cultural sites. The UN Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2347 (2017), condemning the unlawful destruction of cultural heritage in the context of armed conflicts, notably by terrorist groups. The resolution also requests Member States to take appropriate steps to prevent and counter the illicit trade and trafficking in cultural property originating from a context of armed conflict, notably from terrorist groups.
“This is why defending cultural heritage is more than a cultural issue, it is a security imperative, inseparable from that of defending human lives,” she added.
In her briefing, she explained that since the adoption of Resolution 2199 (in 2015), which prohibits trade in cultural property from Iraq and Syria, efforts were well underway to disrupt terrorist financing through the illicit trafficking of antiquities.
The conference also heard her call for a “stronger focus on investigation, cross-border cooperation and exchange of information, and on bringing in private and public sector partners, including dealers and the tourism sector, to promote supply chain integrity and stop the illicit trade and sale of cultural property.”
This is important because it is the first instance noted where UNESCO has called for dealers to be part of the solution. IADAA will look into this more closely.
Further details of what the resolution might mean are available at the second link below.
Thinni looks to protect Libya’s archaeological heritage
Libya Herald: March 24: The interim government in Beida is looking at how to deal with the growing threat to Libya’s archaeological heritage. The issue was under the spotlight in talks between Prime Minister Abdullah Al-Thinni and some of the country’s antiquities and cultural chiefs.
The discussions follow repeated and growing warnings of late from local and international academics and archaeologists that the country’s archaeological sites are at risk from urban encroachment as well as from thieves and vandals.
Tess Davis of the Antiquities Coalition has just called for major restrictions to be introduced on the movement of antiquities from Libya and Yemen.
NGOs and activists have already been to Libya to put pressure on the government.
A conference on Libyan heritage
in Tunis a fortnight ago was told by a number of Libyan and foreign archaeologists and specialists, including the head of the French Archaeological Mission to Libya, that the country’s archaeological treasures were in danger of being lost forever. A UNESCO conference in Paris at the same time was told much the same news.
A positive development has been the newly adopted policy of aiming to protect heritage by raising public awareness of the country’s rich legacy via the media. Other initiatives include greater interaction between the tourism and antiquities authorities as well as the creation of body to look after the ruins in Beida of Balagrae, one of the cities of the Pentapolis. These have been left to nature to reclaim them after excavations in 2001/2.
Such a move would show some sort of commitment to the country’s obligations under Article 5 of the UNESCO Convention.
Selling precious artefacts could top up Egypt’s coffers
The National, Egypt: March 29: Patrick Werr, and independent finance writer who has been working in Egypt for 26 years, echoes thoughts first put out at the beginning of March by Vincent Geerling in the wake of the former antiquities minister of Egypt saying that his country should not try to reclaim everything from overseas. Werr argues that although politically it will never fly, economically it makes sense for Egypt to sell some of its antiquities:
“Egypt is overflowing with antiquities,” he writes. “So much so that they are stuffed away to moulder in warehouses, sometimes forgotten and allowed to deteriorate, never to be seen again by the public or by researchers.
“Why not package up some of these artefacts and organise their sale to foreigners or Egyptians, complete with documents telling the buyer where the item was found and why it is significant? The government could add tens of millions of dollars to its coffers each year.
“It’s not like Egypt isn’t selling antiquities now. The problem is that the sellers are not the government, but rather organised looters who have been plundering the country’s archaeological sites. In the process they have been destroying important historical information that proper archaeology would glean from the objects’ physical contexts.”
The report also refers to the Live Science article, mentioned above, which claims that imports to the US of artefacts from Egypt in 2016 climbed to $50m. As reported higher, this report makes no distinction between exports from Egypt and exports from other countries of Egyptian material and so is unreliable.
As noted at the top of this newsletter, Vincent’s Art Newspaper comment piece on the subject is published on April 1.