NEWSLETTER AUGUST 2016
As you will see below, there has been a great deal of coverage of the Egyptian antiquities ministry’s problems this month. Collapsed revenues following the 2011 revolution have led to insufficient security at key sites, while development projects have been stalled. Antiquities are seen as essential to the revival of the country’s tourism and accompanying revenues.
Very significantly, the US Government Accountability Office has confirmed what we have known all along: that no one has any real idea of the level of looting or its value despite all the lurid claims.
The Antiquities Coalition have been very active over the past month, but not as effective as before, again avoiding any looting statistics linked to the NME and focusing on the problems in Cambodia, India and the Far East when it comes to evidence.
Just picked up, thanks to an article in the latest Saturday Telegraph Magazine in the UK is a study published in June by the Paris-based Centre for the Analysis of Terrorism (www.cat-int.org). Page 19 of the report, ISIS Financing 2015, details the contribution made by antiquities, putting it at 1% of ISIS revenues or around $30m. It anticipates that these revenues will decline in 2016 and further notes “the majority of valuable items have so far been placed in storage, mainly in free ports, until they are no longer under the gaze of the international community. They will probably be sold in a few years when it is more difficult to establish their provenance”. However, it offers no evidence to support this claim. (See http://goo.gl/CP8sDz and for useful graphic http://goo.gl/9P0n4V)
Egypt counts on unique antiquities to get out of tourism recession
New China: July 23: Another article on how Egypt plans to replace lost tourism revenues by exploiting antiquities. This one has some interesting additions to earlier articles. As it explains: “Egypt's tourism industry, a cornerstone of the economy and critical source of hard currency, has been struggling to rebound after a political and economic upheaval triggered by the 2011 uprising that ended Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule.”
The replica artefacts on offer are not all cheap by any means.
The article goes on to report: In the exhibition, the prices of the high-copy replicas range from 10 Egyptian pounds (about 1 U.S. dollar) for a scarab to 180,000 pounds (about 20,000 U.S. dollars) for some statues.
"Despite the relatively high prices of the replicas, still they look almost the same like the original ones," said Mahmoud Badran, a man in his 50s staring at a small wooden statue of ancient Egyptian queen Nefertiti.
It is unlikely that the trade will be taken in by this stuff, but what is the risk of this initiative complicating the online trade via the likes of eBay of illict antiquities that Egypt and others are so keen to prevent?
Al-Ahram and antiquities ministry to organise first tour of replica exhibition
Ahram Online: July 28: Egypt's Ministry of Antiquities is to establish the first touring exhibition of antiquities replicas produced by the ministry following the success of the first local replicas exhibition inaugurated by Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany early July at the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square.
The Big Business of Looted Antiquities
The Diane Rehm Show (radio), WAMU, Washington: August 5: Guests Gary Vikan (pro-trade former museum director), Sarah Parcak (Academic working on Antiquities Coalition-backed Chicago-based project to assess scope and value of looting), Tess Davis (exec director of the Antiquities Coalition) and Amr Al-Azm (Academic professor at US university and former antiquities official in Syria, who works closely with anti-trade media). The link below takes you to audio and transcript of 30-minute show.
The debate largely focuses on looting and crime linked to Cambodia, with Davis noticeably avoiding giving any details of the levels of looting in Syria, but admitting that information is thin on the ground. Vikan states clearly that the Western trade is not acquiring looted material and is horrified by destruction and acts of terror, explaining that it has become culturally unacceptable to the Western trade.
“The demand on the Western side has virtually disappeared,” says Vikan (11:29:18mins into programme). [Why?]
“I think it has to do with, in part, a general awareness of how deplorable being part of this trade is, and so much as we don't smoke inside buildings, much as we don't throw beer cans into ditches anymore, it is unacceptable in the museum community and the collecting community and the dealing community to be involved with objects that are freshly looted out of Northern Syria, out of Syria in general or out of Iraq.”
Vikan also warns against over-reaction and how that could damage the legitimate trade, museums and collecting, while also denouncing the bogus figures in billions.
Parcak warns that everyone needs to be more vigilant, while Davis hints at dodgy dealings behind the scenes at places like Sotheby’s but offers no evidence to support this, falling back on the safety of the Kapoor case, which, of course has nothing to do with Syria or Iraq.
Ancient Clay Figurine Repatriated to Cyprus from UK
Greek Reporter: August 5: The UK has returned a clay figurine of a horse and rider dating to the Cypro-Archaic period (approximately 700 BC) to Cyprus, reports the Department of Antiquities, Ministry of Transport, Communications and Works.
The Department states that it identified the figure on the website of a London-based antiquities dealer’s shop, but does not identify them. Nor does it state the legal status of the figurine.
Partial return of looted collection
Cyprus Mail: August 7: Cyprus Museum is celebrating the donation of a figurine by private collector Christakis Hadjiprodromou after it was repatriated from Munich in 2015, having been found in the possession of Turkish dealer Aydin Dikmen. It was part of the collection looted from Hadjiprodromou’s home following the Turksih invasion of Cyprus in 1974.
Libya's Antiquities Department refutes UNESCO report on Leptis Magna
The Libya Observer: August 7: The Head of Leptis Magna Control Committee said the UNESCO's decision to place this ancient archaeological site on the List World Heritage in Danger is inappropriate, saying the city is totally secured and UNESCO’s decision was baseless.
He also confirmed that the ancient city of Sabratha and old town of Ghadames, both were also placed by UNESCO in the danger list, are in good condition.
He has invited UNESCO “to come to Leptis Magna and see the true image and the real situation so that it can better evaluate the condition of the city”.
Fees cut in half for filming at Egypt's archaeological sites
Ahram Online: August 8: The Supreme Council of Antiquities has made this ruling as a further effort towards revenue generation and attracting tourists.
Blood & Gold: Children Dying As Egypt's Treasures Are Looted
Live Science: August 8: Archaeological commentator Owen Jarus tells how a Live Science investigation found that “an enormous amount of potentially looted Egyptian artefacts had made their way into the United States”. [Note the word “potentially”.] This is based on documents from the US Census Bureau showing that since 2011 “more than $143 million worth of artefacts have been exported from Egypt to the United States”.
Jarus gives no indication of whether this is more than the usual level of imports. He also appears not to consider alternative explanations for the imports, such as Egyptians getting their valuables out of the country in the wake of the coup.
He argues that what makes all of this more suspicious is that the vast majority of imports are shipped to New York “where many auction houses, antiquities dealers and art galleries are based”. He does not seem to realise that New York would be the natural gateway for imports of all types. The authorities tell him that it is “extremely difficult to prove that any single artifact that arrives in the U.S. has been looted”.
He continues: “Furthermore, U.S. Customs doesn't check all shipments; a spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Protection told Live Science that the agency conducts audits of antique shipments but declined to say how often this is done.” However, he does not explain whether it is normal, practicable or even possible to inspect every shipment.
By the end of the article he has provided no evidence at all, but based his suspicions and claims on little or no more than the above.
Nonetheless, the new post-Brexit publication New Europe has picked up the article and quoted it under the headline Suspicious rise in Egyptian artefacts brought to US.
The two comments at the end of the New Europe article come from Ivan Macquisten and Peter Tompa, the latter of whom says that the article appears to have been planted by the Antiquities Coalition, linking to his own Cultural Property Observer blog on the article, arguing how credulous Live Science has been on the issue.
The Potential Dark Side of China's Art and Antiquities Boom
The Diplomat: August 12: This article charts the rise of the Chinese art and antiques industry and the need to fill museums in the country. The authors argue: “there are simply not enough Chinese domestic art and antiquities to meet this demand. Logically, overseas collections will be in high pursuit by the museums, collectors, dealers, and auction houses.” This leads on to question of legitimacy over what is being sold, with attention then moving the Middle East and the subject of antiquities trafficking funding terrorism. “Demand countries such as the United States and Europe have taken steps to close their markets to these conflict antiquities.”
Then we come to the nub of the article: “Given the rapidly growing demand of the Chinese market for antiquities, increasingly including those from the Middle East, China could become a major source of terrorist financing if strict standards for acquisition are not upheld.” This is followed by a demand that Poly International, the world’s third largest auction house after Christie’s and Sotheby’s, “guarantee a world-class verification process to ensure the legitimacy of the antiquities that they are selling, particularly those coming from countries in conflict”.
The authors? Deborah Lehr and Katie Paul of The Antiquities Coalition.
CULTURAL PROPERTY: Protection of Iraqi and Syrian Antiquities
A report by the US Government Accountability Office
August 15: 61-page report on how best to protect Syrian and Iraqi property. Those consulted included IADAA, the ADA and others. Chief recommendations include clarifying guidance, better information sharing, data management, and the creation of a central database of stolen items for verification purposes. Better protection of archaeological sites was also seen as key. The GAO also notes: “There are no reliable and publicly available estimates of the revenue ISIS earns from trade in stolen cultural property overall.”
It is concerning that those referred to throughout the report as “art market experts” actually include “archaeologists, museums, academic institutions, and nongovernmental organizations (NGO) to lawyers who bring specialised expertise to cultural property cases”. In other words, many of those quoted as art market experts are not, they are anti-trade campaigners with expertise in other fields, many of whom know little or nothing about the art market. Unfortunately, however, this nomenclature makes it look as though they represent the views of the art market.
For example, on page 12 of the report, it states: “However, other art market experts noted they had seen some cultural property they suspected of having been looted from Iraq or Syria for sale on the internet and in galleries.” As far as we know, there has not been a single example of ISIS-related material showing up in Western galleries, but this is a US Government report confirming that “art market experts” say it has, when this is almost undoubtedly an unsubstantiated claim being made by academics, such as those in London. Nonetheless, the report does make a series of helpful recommendations and shows the art market being co-operative with lawmakers.
The second link provides a useful illustration from Washington-based thehill.com of how the media has interpreted the report.
Egypt’s Dar al-Kiswah — a monument turned into a dump
Al-Monitor: August 16: After Egypt stopped producing the Kaaba’s kiswah (the cloth covering the Kaaba in Mecca, replaced annually during the hajj) in 1961, the centuries-old site of production now lies in a state of utter neglect amid calls for renovation by nearby residents and experts. “The building was turned into a storage space for the Ministry of Endowments,” says a local. “Every once in a while, the doors are opened for a ministry official to come in and store carpets, fans, wood and other artifacts, before scheduling an auction to sell them. But we have been asking the government to turn Dar al-Kiswah into an Islamic museum. After all, it is a historic site that should not be left in such a moribund state.”
US places import restrictions to protect Syrian artefacts
Mail Online: August 17: The United States has announced emergency import restrictions on Syrian artefacts in response to looting of the country's cultural heritage, says the Mail. The restriction, The restrictions, published by US Customs and Border Protection, the Department of Homeland Security and the Treasury Department, apply to any cultural property "unlawfully removed" from Syria after March 15, 2011, when the conflict began. This includes objects of stone, metal, ceramic, clay and faience objects, wood, glass, ivory, bone and shell, plaster and stucco, textile, parchment, paper and leather, paintings and drawings, mosaic and writing.
The move is related to the #CultureUnderThreat taskforce report, drawn up by the Antiquities Coalition, the Asia Society and the Middle East Institute – all anti-trade campaigners – which led to the US Government bringing in the new law.
Islamic Extremist Pleads Guilty to Destroying Holy Sites in Timbuktu
New York Times: August 22: At the International Criminal Court in Paris, Former jihadist Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi pleaded guilty to charges of destroying shrines and damaging a mosque in the ancient city of Timbuktu. He gave an extensive apology, expressed his regrets and referred to his previous Al Qaeda and Ansar Dine colleagues as “deviant”. A plea bargain is expected to cut his sentence from a potential 30 years to around a third of that period. This is the first time such a case involving cultural destruction has been successfully concluded.
Almost 70% of smuggled objects seized in Syria and Lebanon are fakes, antiquities chief says
The Art Newspaper: August 24: Speaking at the Edinburgh International Cultural Summit, Syria’s antiquities chief Maamoun Abdulkarim says that while 7,000 objects have been seized by authorities in Syria since 2013, the proportion of fakes has risen from 30% to closer to 70%, both inside the country and in neighbouring Lebanon.
Regarding Palymra, Abdulkarim says that almost all of the ancient city’s artefacts have been secured since it was recaptured from Isil’s control in March, and most of the stones from damaged structures are reusable. "I can confirm that more than 90% of the collection in Palmyra is safe; 10% is damaged.” He says: “We didn’t lose Palmyra’s art.”
He estimates that it will take about five years to restore the city.
He said that his main concern is now Aleppo, which has recently been subject to mortar attack.
Arts and antiquities experts come to NewcastleGateshead to discuss the issues of industry theft
ITCM: August 24: A brand new conference addressing the impact of crime and theft in the arts and cultural sector launches at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, NewcastleGateshead, on Friday 11 November. The promotional material cites a BBC Five Live Investigates series in 2013 that estimated art and antique theft in the UK to be worth £300m annually, with a global figure of more than £10bn. What they do not make clear is that this covers domestic burglary and all crime – in other words, it mostly has nothing to do with the market. However, the quote immediately following these figures, from International Arts & Antiquities Security Forum chairman Andy Davis, links the figures directly to the market and looting: “The need for protecting global arts, antiquities, cultural sites and sites of historical relevance has never been greater.”
Delegates include archaeologist Sam Hardy, a specialist in antiquities, archaeological sites and looting.
Looted Art Helps Fund Jihadists in Europe
The Wall Street Journal: August 25: In what is little more than a sponsored article by the Antiquities Coalition, its chairman, Deborah Lehr, and executive director, Tess Davis, spend several hundred words loosely describing the history of illegal trafficking in Europe, as they see it. As usual, while the commentary is strong on accusation and allegation, it is absolutely devoid of evidence – literally not one example is given – and relies on words such as “potentially” to describe whether Brussels is home to those who might be funding terrorism. The furthest it goes is to say “The Belgian capital is also a known transit point for looted art”. Again, no evidence is supplied, nor any proof to show any links to terrorism.
At the heart of the article is an attempt to exploit the recent tragedies in Brussels and France in a bid to demand tougher laws to tackle art crime in Belgium.
Having been forced to stop touting the billions of dollars figures around, they now confirm what we all have for the past year, that the only reliable figures for antiquities looting funding ISIS are those linked to the Abu Sayyaf raid, as they put it: “$1.3m for only a three-month period”.
It is noticeable that Davis and Lehr have stepped up their journalistic activities in the past month, but it is unclear exactly why.
Egypt CANNOT afford to search for ancient treasures as it closes historic museums
Sunday Express (UK): August 25: EGYPT cannot afford to search for ancient buried treasures because of its economic crisis, the antiquities minister says.
Egypt's antiquities minister Khaled al-Anani said: "We have over 20 museums that have been closed down since the January 25 Revolution and we do not have the resources to run them."
His ministry is meant to be self-sufficient and not supposed to receive funds from the state budget.
In 2010 the ministry made 1.3 billion Egyptian pounds a year; in 2015 income was down to 275 million pounds.
This article is also the first we have monitored that directly links this issue with the attempt to reclaim Egyptian antiquities from other countries: “Other issues include a lack of international law experts at the ministry to help claim back Egyptian artefacts that were smuggled to other countries or claimed by the country's former colonial masters as well as the need to create a centralised database of antiquities to combat smuggling, efforts for which had stalled since the year 2000.”
How Egypt’s antiquities minister plans to lure back tourists
Al Monitor: August 31: New antiquities minister Khaled El Enany says that in the aftermath of the January 25 revolution in 2011, his ministry’s revenues have fallen from around £100m (Egyptian) a month to around £20m-26m (Egyptian). Salaries alone cost £80m (Egyptian).
He is now working on new ideas to rejuvenate tourism revenues as part of the effort to restore his ministry’s capabilities.
“Securing archaeological sites needs billions of pounds,” he adds. “Building a wall or a fence around one site could cost hundreds of millions, so it is not very feasible for the ministry to secure all sites, install surveillance cameras and other security means in light of the current circumstances.”
He adds that one of the main problems facing his ministry is that “so many archaeological sites that are left without security, which led to illegal drilling pits following the revolution because of the prevailing chaos of the state of security”.
He also revealed that the ministry is tackling the widespread problem of looting and smuggled Egyptian antiquities “by recording all Egyptian antiquities that are easy to be recovered from countries they entered. The recovery of smuggled antiquities committee resumed work in May to communicate with various countries to recover the Egyptian antiquities.”