Athena Review, Vol.4, no. 3

  Introduction to Feature Section:

Looting and the Antiquities Market

 Michele A. Miller 

Editor, Old World Archaeology

    When the editors of Athena Review first discussed the prospect of focusing a future issue of the journal on the antiquities trade, we had no idea how much the topic would be in the news. After all, controversy about the role of the antiquities trade in the encouragement of looting and site destruction has simmered for decades. While long a topic of concern among archaeologists, the connections between the antiquities market and looting was brought to wider public awareness at least as early as the publication of Eric Meyer’s The Plundered Past in 1977. Yet until recently, only limited consequences of this connection have been manifest while the market itself has continued to grow exponentially — not only in terms of sheer numbers of objects being bought and sold, but also in the market’s expansion into formerly obscure regions, and in the sophistication of the procurement and movement of these objects. Notably, not only are the points brought up by Meyers about the connection between collecting antiquities and the looting and destruction of archaeological sites still very much in debate, but some of the specific examples he cited, such as the Euphronios krater and its 1972 acquisition by the Metropolitan Museum of Art (see Case Study 1, pp.27-30), have become internationally celebrated cases.
    It is clear that the conflict between the dealers, collectors and museums who support the antiquities market, and the archaeologists, source nations, and others who want to restrict such trade, is becoming more pronounced. Almost daily there are reports in the news about the provenience of a particular object in a museum collection, the destruction of archaeological sites by looting, notably in Iraq (figs.1-3), or the legal battles of a dealer, collector or museum. Furthermore, the looting and sale of antiquities worldwide continues to grow even as the laws of both “source” and “purchase” countries intensify. Meanwhile, the general public is slowly beginning to consider the ethics of both private collecting and museum acquisitions. The debate, discussed in these pages, centers on several issues, including the importance of the object itself over that of cultural context and the rightful “ownership” of these objects, be it by source country or worldwide culture. Further pages discuss who is responsible for reducing the flow of illegal goods (be it site workers, the local authorities, or the collectors) and possible methods for controlling the illicit market, such as broad government legislation, specific legal cases, or self-policing by the market.
    Until recently, the antiquities market remained a small and relatively obscure activity, in which a tightly-knit group of traders often worked hand-in-hand with scholars in their regional specialties. Those who currently support the market include the dealers and collectors who engage in it, as well as many museums who rely on new acquisitions to enhance their collections, and increase their attendance, revenues, and world prominence. Archaeologists most often vociferously oppose the market, but they are accompanied by various government officials of “source” countries who attempt to control the removal of cultural materials from their lands. Other scholars, such as art historians, epigraphers, and regional specialists are more ambivalent towards the market, usually depending on how their own research relies on the study of goods available primarily through the market. Legal experts are found on both sides of the issue. As the quantity of goods passing from place of origin to buyer increases, however, and the sources of desired goods continues to widen, opinions and responses to the market are becoming more polarized.
Fig.1: The Warka Vase (ca. 3500-3000 BC) was taken from the Iraq National museum during its looting in April 2003, then returned to the Museum two months later. This sculptured limestone libation vase from the Sumerian city of Uruk (biblical Erech, modern Warka) depicts offerings to the fertility goddess Innin during the New Year’s Festival (Scala / Art Resource, NY).

Arguments against the antiquities market:
  Many arguments of the anti-market group usually represent the perspective of archaeologists, whose profession involves the study and preservation of ancient sites. This group sees a direct correlation between the antiquities market and the looting of archaeological sites. From this viewpoint, collecting (and therefore purchasing) creates the initial demand for a particular class of archaeological artifacts. Increasingly high prices paid for these objects on an open market fuels this demand, and the end result is the looting of further sites to increase supply of these objects.
    The antiquities market also encourages forgeries and other chicanery when looting fails to meet growing demand. One example is the kouros acquired in 1985 by Jiri Frel, the first Curator of Antiquities at the J. Paul Getty Museum, for $9 million (see Case Study 2 on the Morgantina Venus, p. 31). Fig.4: This Akkadian seal from ca. 2200 BC shows a Mesopotamian sun god with a human in the boat (seen in the roll-out impression at left). This seal is similar to others lost in the looting of the Iraq Museum in Baghdad (photo: Courtesy of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago).
    From the archaeologist’s perspective, looting not only destroys a site’s stratigraphy (the layering of cultural material and sediment that defines the site’s chronology) as well as its architectural remains, but also removes the desired objects from the context which, to archaeologists, provide them with cultural meaning. Such context is vital for uncovering information about the cultures which produced the objects — the ultimate goal of archaeological research. Forgeries and fakes also obscure this context by creating false information which must be weeded out. It is thus understandable that archaeologists are professionally opposed to any activities that lead not only to the physical destruction of the materials they study, but also the loss of scientific information which is just as important as the artifacts themselves.
    In support of the archaeologist’s view, various studies have shown that market demand can lead (and has led) to increased looting. Two British archaeologists, for instance, Christopher Chippindale and David Gill (2000), have revealed how a new market for cruciform marble figurines, advanced by a few collectors, lead to the looting of archaeological sites in the Cyclades. In response, treaties between the US and source countries to prevent the illegal export of antiquities from these countries into the US have been shown to decrease looting (IFAR 2005).

  Detail of looters’ pits amid house foundations at Umma in March, 2004 (photo: REUTERS/ Luke Baker).

Fig.2: Umma (Tell Jokha), an ancient Sumerian town in southern Iraq dating from the Ur III period  (ca. 2500-2000 BC), is filled with looters’ pits, and is a major source of black market artifacts including cuneiform tablets  (photo: USAID).

    Members of the anti-market group, therefore, have often turned to laws and regulations to decrease the demand of the antiquities market. The hope is that through increased legislation, fewer antiquities will be able to be legitimately sold on the market. Some members of this group would even prefer that the buying and collecting of all antiquities — even those of known and legitimate provenance — be considered socially and ethically objectionable, much like the destruction of endangered species for economic ends. They would, in effect, hope that the conservation of sites becomes as mainstream as support for the conservation of the environment. 
    In support of the market: The arguments of the pro-market group are more varied and complex, as well as more pragmatic. Many collectors and dealers publicly disavow any relationship between their activities and looting.  Most make the distinction between “legitimate” trade in antiquities (i.e. objects removed from their context before the UNESCO treaty of 1972) and illegal black market activities, although some have remarked that the burden of proof should not be on them to determine the true provenance of an artifact (Atwood 2004). They feel that it is the responsibility of source countries to stop looting by more tightly protecting archaeological sites, rather than regulating the sale of antiquities in the US and other countries.
    Here, again, one of the major issues in the debate centers on the importance of context, already referred to, in discussing the archaeologist’s perspective. From archaeologist to art historian to collector to dealer, one could expect a diminishing concern for context. For the art historian and collector, antiquities are desirable primarily as objects of beauty and historical interest. For the dealers and some collectors, on the other hand, the objects are desired more for their monetary value, rather than as tools of scientific research. While art historians and most collectors value these objects for their connection with the past, it is apparent that the specific archaeological context is usually less important. The result is that for a majority of antiquities displayed in art museums, specific contexts are unlisted and unknown. In fact, as Christina Luke points out in this issue (pp.46-54), when legislation may prevent the marketing of objects from a specific region, the provenience and find context of antiquities for sale from this region may be deliberately obscured.
    It may be that much of the museum-going public has relatively little of the archaeologist’s concern for information on an artifact’s context. For collectors, dealers, and some art historians, one consequence of this attitude is that ancient objects are differently valued according to design, material, and whether they came from certain much-esteemed cultures, such as the Classical Greeks and Romans, or the Ancient Maya. Furthermore, a known provenance (i.e. the sequence of past ownership), especially an association with a prominent collection, will increase the value of an object. All of these factors ultimately convey upon the artifact a monetary value by which it is bought and sold. Artifacts can make their way into the market, as in the case of the Morgantina Venus (see Case Study 2, pp.32-38), through a number of hands — from dealer to collector to museum — and then, frequently, end up as financial investments which can be easily hidden in a vault or private estate or publicly displayed, then donated and written off for tax purposes.
    Despite this financial connection, dealers and collectors often see themselves as the true stewards of antiquities. To them, the archaeologists are an elitist clique, who try to control access to archaeological materials for scientific study, but do not truly love these objects for their intrinsic human value and beauty, and are often not interested in their public display. For instance, Frederick Schultz, as head of the New York-based National Association of Dealers in Ancient, Oriental, and Primitive Art, argued that it is the international antiquities market — together with the private and public collections it supplies — that preserves ancient treasures and disseminates their beauty and influence across the globe (Vincent 2005). This attitude opposes the archaeologists who would keep these objects in the ground or in a local museum. Supporters of the antiquities trade note that many source countries, such as Italy, maintain warehouses and storerooms filled with thousands of uncatalogued artifacts, many of which are “rotting away” without being seen by the public. They contend that, through the market, these objects could be seen and appreciated by people throughout the world.
     Museum curators generally would agree with this view. Many curators argue that if they lose the ability to acquire ‘new’ artifacts, museums would also decrease their ability to reach out to the public and provide them with new information about past cultures (IFAR 2005). Oddly, these same curators often do not discuss the loss of information due to the lack of provenience of many of these same objects. In a similar way, those scholars who agree to study and publish artifacts on the market or in a collection justify this decision by pointing out the loss of information if such materials were not studied at all, while those that agree to authenticate such objects explain that there is a ‘obligation to see’ what is out there and keep track of looted objects (Meyer 1977:19).  While it is true that many important artifacts have only entered the public consciousness through the market (i.e., the Maya codices; see also Case Study 3), these scholars must weigh the worth of the information gained in the study of illicitly gained materials against the cost of encouraging further looting, as the authentication and publication of such objects must inevitably increase their value.  

Fig.4: An Akkadian seal from ca. 2200 BC, whose roll-out impression (seen at  left) shows a reed boat with a Mesopotamian sun god and a human. This seal is similar to others lost in the looting of the Iraq Museum in Baghdad (photo: Courtesy of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago).   

    This latter point rides on the issue of who ‘owns’ world heritage. On the one hand, museums (and prominent collectors who lend objects to museums) argue that these objects are significant to a global heritage, and therefore should not be controlled by source nations. In this view, prominent museums such as the Metropolitan must be able to acquire and exhibit objects from around the world in order to educate the public about world culture.  Thus, having learned to appreciate the objects they have seen in museums, the public will be more likely to respect and preserve the cultures that produced them.  Also, without these worldwide repositories, only those people financially able to travel to foreign lands would have the ability to see and learn about these cultures.  In reality, of course, this reputable goal is in fact hampered by the fact that so little is known about the context of the majority of artifacts on display.  Furthermore, it can be said that only a fraction of antiquities on the market actually make it to a museum; the remainder are hidden from the public in private collections.  Also, the differential market value placed on some types of artifacts (figurative, precious materials, etc.) means that a greater quantity of ‘everyday’ objects from a particular culture may never be seen by the public, thus skewing their view of past cultures.    
    Some museums, however, like the Metropolitan, have responded to the public’s interest in viewing everyday objects by opening study collections. These allow visitors to view smaller or fragmentary materials typical of archaeological digs, such as potsherds, stone tool-making debitage, and charred food remains.
    Finally, supporters of the market argue the human desire to acquire is too strong and even if it could be curtailed in one country (if say, legislation and social attitudes make it harder to collect in the US) it is likely to increase in others where a new wealthy class has emerged (e.g. China).  Simply spoken, many dealers justify purchases of questionable objects with a form of ‘if I don’t buy it someone else will’ retort (Meyer, p. 190) that has all the subtlety of a schoolyard excuse.  
    Recently there has been a backlash among certain scholars — primarily those studying ancient texts — against restrictions by professional scholarly associations on publishing studies of unprovenanced (and thus likely looted) artifacts. Over 100 scholars in the United States and Europe have signed a controversial statement, drafted by Lawrence E. Stager of Harvard University and posted on the website of Biblical Archaeology Review, which asserts that the publishing restrictions of some scholarly associations are excessive, forcing them to “close their eyes to important information.” Although it states that they “recognize that artifacts ripped from their context by looters often lose much of their meaning,” it also states that “On the other hand, this is not always true, and even when it is, looted objects, especially inscriptions, often have much of scholarly importance to impart.”
    The protesters are specifically referring to the publication rules of the two leading professional associations for scholars of Classical and Near Eastern antiquity, the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) and the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR). Some of the scholars have even accused the journals of censorship. The publishers, however, note that this is an unfair characterization of their guidelines. The AIA, for instance, merely bans its journals from being the first to publish unprovenanced works. ASOR’s 1995 ethics policy states, “ASOR publications and its annual meeting will not be used for presentations of illicit material.” It also includes a special policy allowing for publication of unprovenanced cuneiform texts if permission is first obtained from the Iraq State Board of Antiquities and Heritage.
     Recent developments: Since the 1977 publication of Meyer’s survey of the antiquities market, many things have changed. Roger Atwood noted in Stealing History (2004) that the market itself has become more global and sophisticated. Objects from remote regions that were once beyond the interest or reach of collectors now enter the market within days of their discovery. Looting of sites, once often a family-run activity of a few people working after dark with pick-axes and shovels, now also involves a multinational, organized business often involving hundreds of employees and large, complex equipment such as metal detectors, backhoes, and bulldozers. Beyond this are behind-the-scenes financial manipulations, and the object’s devious route from looter’s trench to collector’s shelf.
    Recently, however, those that do buy unprovienced artifacts have been subject to ever increasing scrutiny, which has had a dampening effect on the most flagrantly illicit dealings of the antiquities market, if not in the actual number (or dollar amount) of objects traded. In effect, as dealers, museums and collectors have encountered the increasing prospect of legal action, their knowledge of the origin of such objects has conveniently decreased, just as the actual route an object may have taken from original context to ultimate collection has become further convoluted and obscured. In essence, it is no longer enough to state that any particular object has come from “an old family collection,” although it seems that purchasing from a seemingly reputable source is still enough to protect most buyers from legal action. Many dealings are now hidden under a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy for uncovering provenience; if you haven't been told the object came from an archaeological site then you cannot be liable if it is proved that the object was looted.
    Another development of the antiquities market expansion lies in the much-widened access to the acquisition of ancient artifacts provided by the growth of the internet, and its widely used trade forums. Since the advent of the internet as a major vehicle for retail of all kinds, anyone with a computer and phone line can now purchase an endless variety of antiquities — most of minor significance or monetary value — merely with a few strikes of the keyboard and a credit card. The effects of this on the antiquities trade worldwide has not been studied in great detail, although doubtless it has increased the business in forgeries and petty thefts.
    Other developments in the last thirty years have been the formation of organizations such as the International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR), World Monuments Fund (WMF) and most recently, Saving Antiquities for Everyone (SAFE) which disseminate information about the destruction of archaeological sites and the role of the antiquities market to a broader public.
Fig.5: Damaged relief slabs from recent looting at the Palace of Sennacherib at Nineveh in northern Iraq. Ninevah, capital of Assyria, was destroyed in 612 BC by the Medes and Babylonians. The palace, decorated with reliefs showing army exploits, was uncovered by Henry Layard in 1847. The reliefs have been appearing for sale since the mid-1990s (photo: Joanne Farchakh -Journalist/Archaeologist 2003).

   Legislation: Over the past few decades there have been many advances in regulating and addressing looting and the black market in antiquities. The first major international agreement was UNESCO’s 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export, and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. This agreement, signed by the US in 1972, created a legal framework allowing participating governments to negotiate for the return of looted items. Then in 1983 Congress passed the Cultural Properties Implementation Act (CPIA), which established a process by which source nations could request the US to import bans on archaeological material originating within their borders (box 3, p.34). So far, such import bans have been requested and granted to several nations, while a current request from China remains a subject of debate (IFAR 2005).
    Precedent has also been set for other legal action in the US pertaining to looted artifacts.  Among the most important cases is McClain vs. the United States. This 1977 case concerns Patty McClain, an appraiser, who was arrested for carrying Pre-Columbian antiquities across the Mexican border into the US. In that judgment, the US Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in New Orleans, using Mexican law to define stolen archaeological property, upheld McClain’s conviction. This case has been successfully used as precedent in other cases, such as the 1995 confiscation by US Customs agents of a 3rd-4th century BC Sicilian gold phiale, purchased by the now retired financier Michael Steinhardt from the New York dealer, Robert Haber, for $1.2 million. In February 1995, Italian authorities requested the US government's help in retrieving the phiale, which they claimed was part of Italy's cultural patrimony. (A 1939 Italian law claims state ownership of all antiquities located in Italy, except for those privately owned before 1902; see Case Study 2 on the Morgantina Venus, p.31.) Using the guidelines of the National Stolen Property Act (NSPA), US officials agreed the phiale was stolen property. But as Steinhardt’s defenders noted, Italy had not requested import restrictions under the CPIA. McClain vs. the United States permitted Italy to assert its state ownership laws in American courts, thus turning the phiale into stolen property under US law. Steinhardt unsuccessfully appealed in 1997, and the phiale was returned to Italy (Vincent 2005).
      Fig.6: Relief fragment from the Palace at Nineveh, which Russell (1996) has shown is from a larger scene of Sennacherib’s military camp in a mountainous region. The top portion shows Assyrians making an offering before two standards or poles with horned dragons or serpents attached (Layard 1849). 

      In another case (July 2001), US federal prosecutors accused Frederick Schultz of selling antiquities smuggled from Egypt. The star witness against the dealer was antiquities restorer Jonathan Tokeley-Parry, who claimed that from 1990 to 1994 he purchased numerous items, including statuary from Egyptian natives, and used his restoration skills to disguise them as tourist tchotchkes, or souvenirs, which could be safely exported from the country. His actions violated Egyptian Law 117, which states that any antiquities found within the country’s borders are state-owned and thus cannot be exported or sold. Tokeley-Parry evidently turned against Schultz in order to shorten a prison sentence in England involving other smuggled Egyptian antiquities. He testified that Schultz sold these and other illegally acquired objects to Western collectors, claiming they originated from the fictitious “Allcock Collection,” supposedly begun in the 1920s. In response, Schultz claimed to be an innocent associate of Tokeley-Parry’s. Since Egypt had never requested import restrictions as required by the CPIA, justification for declaring Tokeley-Parry’s objects as “stolen property” fell under Law 117. The US District Judge applied McClain and upheld the government’s contention that, under US law, Tokeley-Parry stole objects from Egypt and that Schultz knowingly sold these artifacts. Schultz was found guilty of conspiring to handle stolen property, and in 2002 was sentenced to 33 months in prison and a $50,000 fine (Vincent 2005).
    Media coverage: Despite legal developments, the greatest catalyst for changing public attitude toward the antiquities market may be the worldwide press coverage of the looting of the National Museum of Iraq and its unparalleled collection of Mesopotamian artifacts. After the First Gulf War (1991), several museums were looted. Then, during the  US invasion of Baghdad in 2003, news agencies reported that a vast number of objects, approximately 170,000, had been looted from the Iraq museum. This created a media flurry on the responsibilities of warring nations to protect cultural heritage. Later, it was revealed that the true number of stolen artifacts was more in the range of 10,000. Many of the most famous Mesopotamian artifacts, such as the Warka Vase (fig.1) were removed for their own protection,  although thousands of lesser known, more easily marketable pieces still remain at large     (figs.4,5).
    While stories about the destruction of the Iraqi museum may have been initially exaggerated, more recent reports have centered on the even more tragic looting of archaeological sites — both previously studied and largely undiscovered — throughout the country (figs.2,3,5). Local police do not have the manpower to stop these sometimes quite sophisticated looting operations. Even well-known, and supposedly protected, sites have not escaped this wreckage. Archaeologist John Russell (1996) has shown how well-documented artifacts, such as the famous stelae of Nineveh, have been hacked off and sold to market (figs.5,6). Legislation was passed in 2004 to restrict the import to the US of items known to have come from looting in Iraq, although its effectiveness has not yet been determined.
    Even before the public became aware of the devastation of looting in Iraq, the press was reporting many examples from other regions around the globe. Among these was the 2001 destruction of the gigantic Buddha sculptures in Bamiyan by the Taliban, which received worldwide castigation (AR 3:2). More recent concern has centered on the wholesale looting of important archaeological sites in Afghanistan (fig.7). Less well known is the fact that the Taliban, and the Mujahideen warlords preceding them, were supporting their terrorist activities by the sale of looted artifacts on the black market, perhaps including the so-called Buddhist Dead Sea Scrolls (see Case Study 3, pp.39-44). Meanwhile, newly discovered sites in Iran, identified as the Jiroft culture, and considered of equal importance with contemporary Mesopotamian and Harrapan cultures, are only now being scientifically studied, after large-scale looting has flooded the market with both authentic and forged Jiroft artifacts.
    Many similar examples have also been reported from Maya sites in Guatemala and Mexico. During the past decade, the Guatemalan government has been actively pressing for the return of looted pottery and other artifacts in US Museums (fig.8; see also article by Luke, pp.46-54).

Fig.8: A Late Classic Maya drinking cup (AD 593-830) in the collection of Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, one of the items that the Guatemalan government alleges was looted from grave sites in Guatemala and illegally exported in the 1970s and 1980s (photo: REUTERS/Ho New).

       Museums and the antiquities trade:  the current antiquities debate has taken on a more serious tone as source countries such as Italy, based on decades of research by their Carabinieri art-theft squad, have begun more rigorously defending their cultural patrimony through the use of the courts against major US museums. In a broad-scale effort to retrieve stolen artifacts, during the past few years the Carabinieri has conducted thorough investigations of the antiquities collections of several prominent US museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (see Case Study 1, p.27), the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles (see Case Study 2, pp.32-38), and the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) in Boston.
       In what is sure to be a landmark case, the Italian authorities since late 2005 have pursued charges against Marian True, former Curator of Antiquities of the J. Paul Getty Museum and Robert Hecht, a prominent antiquities dealer. The two have been charged with both trading in stolen objects, and conspiracy to trade in stolen objects with dealers named and unnamed. Under a 1939 Italian law, artifacts found in archaeological sites belong to the state, and any antiquities excavated after that date can leave the country only on loan.
    The investigation began in 1995 when a police raid on warehouses in Geneva, Switzerland owned by Giacomo Medici, a prominent Italian art dealer recovered not only looted objects, but a large cache of photographs of art that Italian investigators now argue were stolen or illegally exported from Italy. About 35 of the objects in these photographs were in collections of the Getty Museum. Accompanying the photographs were lists of names of Mr. Medici’s clients, some of which appear to have led the investigators to the Getty museum and its curator. Among the most prominent of the artifacts was a statue of Aphrodite or Venus (see Case Study 2, on the Morgantina Venus).
    Italian authorities have indicated that they hope this case will act as a strong deterrent to the further theft and export of antiquities from their country.  Already it has created shock-waves throughout American museums and the collecting community. The naming of True as a defendant, in fact, was particularly unforeseen, as under her curatorship the Getty adopted a more stringent antiquities acquisition policy, and she herself supported Italy’s 1999 request for import restrictions under CPIA. Yet internal Getty memos obtained by the Los Angeles Times suggest that despite this reputation, the museum was not completely unaware of the shady origins of many of its acquisitions. For instance, an internal review by the museum's lawyers found that more than half of the 104 antiquities identified by the Getty as “masterpieces” were obtained from suppliers under investigation. In one particularly telling memo, Mr. Hecht wrote to Ms. True that an ancient Etruscan urn that the Getty was interested in acquiring had been listed as stolen by the Italian police.  Apparently this did not deter the museum, which purchased the pot anyway.  
    With the media spotlight focused on the Getty museum and the continuing trial of former antiquities curator Dr. Marion True, US museums including the Metropolitan, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and the Getty have been cooperating with the Italian government. The threat of legal action and unfavorable media coverage, as well as fear of damaging vital relationships with Italy and other source countries (critical for exhibits requiring works of art on loan), has forced many other US museums to re-evaluate their acquisition policies or at least publicly defend them.
    The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: In February 2006, Metropolitan Museum of Art Director Philippe de Montebello signed an agreement with Rocco Buttiglione, Italy’s Minister of Culture, as well as Giuseppe Proietti, a senior official in charge of cultural heritage, to return twenty-one prestigious objects to Italy, including the Euphronios krater (see Case Study 1, pp.27-30). The krater was recently returned to Italy in January 2008, nine months after the opening of the museum’s new galleries for Etruscan, Hellenistic, and Roman art. Furthermore, after indisputable evidence surfaced on the Hellenistic silver collection thought to come from Morgantina, it was decided that this would also be returned in 2010 (see box 2, p.31). In return, Italy has promised to supply the Met with equally valued artifacts from its collections. The loans -— for up to four years — will be determined from a list submitted by the Met, which then must be approved jointly.
    The terms of the agreement called for the immediate return of four painted pottery vases that were cited as evidence in the prosecution of antiquities dealer Giacomo Medici. These include a red-figured Apulian dinos (340 to 320 BC) attributed to the Darius Painter, a red-figured psykter (ca. 520 BC) decorated with horsemen, a red-figured Attic amphora (ca. 490 BC) by the Berlin Painter, and a sixth-century Laconian kylix, or drinking cup (Povoledo 2006, 2007).
    In a public statement published in the New York Times in February, 2006, de Montebello said that, “this is the appropriate solution to a complex problem, which redresses past improprieties in the acquisitions process through a highly equitable arrangement.” This suggests that the agreement has ushered in a new era of cooperation through exhibits and research and heightened scruples among the collecting community, with the realization that former acquisition policies are in need of reform.
  In their investigations of the Met, Italian officials also have turned their attention to the collection of Shelby White and Leon Levy (the latter died in 2003). Levy and White contributed many ancient objects to the Met’s Greek and Roman department, and donated the majority of funds used to restore and refurbish the Roman and Etruscan collections, now exhibited in a hall named for them. This new museum section not only includes a major collection of Roman frescoes and Hellenistic through Roman sculpture, pottery, and jewelry, but also a substantial study collection (see article on Etruscan Chariot, p.14).
    The Levy White collection has also established of a fund at Harvard University to support the publication of archaeological work, which has so far distributed $9 million to more than a hundred scholars. They have largely financed the excavations at the site of Askelon in Israel conducted by Lawrence Stager, Harvard’s Dorot Professor of the Archaeology of Israel.
    Some archaeologists, however, such as Randall White of New York University (AR 2:4), have made it clear that they refuse to participate in research funded by Levy-White. Concern arose over the fact that that some 84% of the objects in the 1990 Met exhibit entitled “Glories of the Past: Ancient Art from the Shelby White and Leon Levy Collection” had no known or published provenience (Chippindale and Gill 2000). The exhibit catalog was edited by curator Dietrich von Bothmer (1990).
     On January 16, 2008, the Italian Culture Ministry announced, after 18 months of negotiations, the return to Italy by the Levy White collection of ten Greek and Etruscan antiquities. As part of the agreement, the Met will retain a 580 BC vessel signed by the painter Euphronios until 2010 (see also Case Study 1, p. 30).
     The J. Paul Getty Museum: The Getty Museum, located in Malibu, California, has for the past few years been the focus of scrutiny in regards to several cases where Greece and Italy have requested the return of artifacts that they believed had been looted. In 1993, antiquities curator Dr. Marion True  purchased three items from ancient Greece for the Getty collection for a total of $5.2 million. These artifacts included a marble torso or kore of a young woman (fig. 10), a 4th century BC grave stela, and a 4th century BC golden funerary wreath (fig.11).
    Three years later (1996) Greece issued a formal request for the return of these items, plus one other disputed artifact housed at the Getty Museum, a 6th century BC votive relief from the island of Thassos, originally purchased by J. Paul Getty in 1955 (fig.9).
    The Greek request remained dormant for approximately ten years. After the initiation of the Italian trial against True, however, Greek officials reopened their investigation in November 2005, seeking to prove that the disputed artifacts had been illegally smuggled out of Greece. By July 2006, the Getty formally agreed to return two of the items, including the 6th century BC votive relief (fig.9) and the 4th century BC grave marker, after being shown evidence that they had been looted. In September 2006, the two artifacts went on display at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens (Felch and Frammolino 2006).

 Fig.10: 6th century BC marble torso of a young woman (kore), returned to Greece by the Getty Museum on December 11, 2006 (photo: REUTERS/Ho New).   

Greece continued to press for return of the other two items. The fragmentary marble kore or torso of a young woman (fig.10) is believed to date from the late 7th-early 6th century BC. Pictures seized during the 1995 raid of Medici’s warehouses in Geneva, Switzerland showed the kore among other looted items, with dirt still in its folds.
    The 4th century BC gold funerary wreath (fig.11) was first viewed by Marion True in 1992, when she traveled to Zurich to meet its owner,  identified as a Dr. Preis, who was asking $1.6 million for the work. True apparently much admired the wreath, decorated with realistic sprays of gold leaves and flowers and inlaid with colored glass paste attached to a 28 cm headband. Yet files from an internal Getty review held in 2001, later published by the Los Angeles Times, show she had expressed misgivings about it, indicating that it was “too dangerous for us [the museum] to be involved with” (Felch and Frammolino 2006).
    Six months later, nevertheless, True purchased the wreath for $1.15 million from Christopher F. Leon, an art dealer and intermediary in Basel, Switzerland. At purchase, the source of the wreath was listed as “private collection, Switzerland.” Prior to the purchase, the Getty notified the Greek cultural ministry of their intentions. The Greeks responded that the wreath, dating from 320-300 BC, had probably been excavated in the Greek province of Macedonia, and was offered as a burial gift after the death of Alexander the Great (Felch and Frammolino 2006). Despite this claim, the museum went ahead with the purchase.
    As part an ongoing campaign to recover  looted artifacts, the Greek cultural ministry officially filed charges on November 22, 2006 against True for knowingly buying an artifact of illicit origins for the Getty collection. Others charged included two Greek citizens accused of digging up the wreath (Georgios Tsatalis and Georgios Kagias), a Serbian national, L.J. Kovacevic, who put the two diggers in touch with a middleman, and Christopher Leon, the Swiss dealer who sold the wreath to the Getty. As part of their own investigation, the Italians supplied Greek authorities with a photo of the wreath found in the file of another Italian dealer. This evidence contributed to the Getty’s decision to return the artifacts to Greece.

Fig.11: Greek golden funerary wreath, returned by the Getty Museum to Greece in December, 2006 and now on display at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens (photo: REUTERS/Ho New).

    Getty Director Michael Brand has taken positive steps to restore relations between the two countries. Brand and Greek Culture Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis announced on December 11, 2006 an agreement regarding the return of the kore and gold funerary wreath to Greece (Getty Museum 2006). Mr. Voulgarakis stated that this resolution would now allow for the establishment of cultural cooperation between the US and Greece, including long-term loans (Paphitis 2006). On March 28, 2007, the two items went on display at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.
    Eight months later, in November 2007, an appeals court in Athens dismissed the criminal case against Marion True, for conspiring to acquire the gold wreath bought by the Getty in 1993. In a motion for dismissal, True’s lawyer cited a California state law that sets a three-year statute of limitations for prosecutions, after the location of a stolen artifact is established. Greek law requires its courts to defer to the statute of limitations in the country where the acquisition was made (Carassava 2007).
      True still faces lesser charges in Greece. In 2006, Greek authorities raided True’s island villa in Paros, confiscating 29 ancient artifacts ranging from a pair of Hellenistic marble sarcophagi to a Byzantine icon. On May 4, 2006, charges were pressed against True for the illegal possession of these artifacts .In the same year, 280 artifacts ranging from a Roman marble sculpture of Aphrodite to two granite sphinxes, were seized in raids on two properties linked to the late Christo Michailidis, a London-based art dealer who supplied the Getty (and the Levy-White collection) with Greek, Roman and Etruscan antiquities (Carassava 2006, 2007).
    Museum of Fine Arts, Boston: In the fall of 2006, after a year of negotiations, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (MFA) followed in the footsteps of New York’s Metropolitan Museum, by agreeing to fully cooperate with the Italian government regarding its collections. The MFA first came under Italian scrutiny through its dealings with Robert Hecht, who had sold or given 116 objects to the museum (Edgers and Celeste 2005).
    Prosecutors in the True-Hecht trial noted that in photographs seized in raids of Hecht’s Paris home in 2000, as well as those found in Medici’s Swiss warehouse in 1995, three ancient objects appeared which had been purchased by the MFA. These include two pottery vessels, one from the Apulia region of southern Italy, and a six foot marble statue of the Roman empress Sabina. Italian prosecutor Paolo Ferri said the photographs indicated that some items acquired by the MFA were pulled out of ancient tombs in the 1970s. Apulian vases were typically buried in tombs in Southern Italy. These photos led investigators to compile a list of forty-two suspicious objects in the MFA’s collection, sixteen of which had been connected with Hecht (Edgers and Celeste 2005).
    The Sabina statue was bought by the MFA on November 14, 1979 from Zurich dealer and restorer Fritz Bürki, with Robert E. Hecht acting as agent (for more information on Bürki and Hecht, see Case Studies 1 and 2). Regarding the statue’s provenance or prior ownership, the MFA reported it was “said to have been in an aristocratic family collection in Bavaria” (MFA 2006b).    
    Following lengthy discussions with the Italian Ministry of Culture, the MFA signed an agreement on September 28, 2006 to arrange the transfer back to Italy of the statue of Sabina, a sculptural fragment of Hermes, and eleven painted vases from ca. 500-250 BC. These items were placed on display for the week of October 10, 2006 at the Museo Nazionale Romano di Palazzo Massimo, before going to museums in their historical territories (Italian Culture Ministry 2006; Edgers and Pinto 2006). MFA Director Malcolm Rogers stated that “this partnership with the Italian government heralds an exciting new era of collaboration by making the world’s greatest artistic treasures available to the broadest possible audience.” (MFA 2006a).
    The Italian government has praised the MFA for its cooperation, and has agreed to loan significant works from Italian museums to the MFA’s displays and special exhibition programs.
The first loan received by the MFA in November 2006 was a nine-foot high marble statue of Eirene (Goddess of Peace), from the 1st century AD. This was excavated in 1986 at a Roman villa 35 km northeast of Rome. Although the head and torso of the Eirene statue were displayed separately in Italy, the two pieces have been joined together for the first time by MFA conservators.The statue will be displayed in the museum’s Roman court gallery until 2009.
    The MFA is meanwhile engaged in negotiations for artifact returns by other countries, including Turkey and Guatemala (fig.8). A Turkish law was passed in 1906 establishing state ownership of archaeological finds. Encouraged by recent Italian successes with US museums, the Turkish government has claimed that one of the MFA’s most prized objects, the 27-inch upper part of a 2nd century AD statue of Herakles (fig.12), was stolen in 1980 from an excavation site in southern Turkey.
    This statue, known as the “Weary Herakles,  is a Roman copy of a 4th century BC bronze statue by the Greek master Lysippos of Sikyon. In its complete form, it shows the Greek demigod Herakles leaning on a club covered with the skin of the Nemean lion. The statue is now broken into upper and lower fragments. According to the MFA (2008), a half share in the upper fragment was purchased by the Museum from a dealer in 1981 with funds donated by the Jerome Levy Foundation. The remaining half share was later donated to the MFA in 2004 by Leon Levy and Shelby White.The sculpture was displayed in the 1990 Levy White exhibit at the Met.
    The lower portion of the statue was found in 1980 by Dr. Jale Inan in an excavation in Perge (Antalya) on the south coast of Turkey, and is now on display in Antalya Museum, along with a photograph of the upper half. In 1992, casts of the two fragments of the Weary Herakles were found to fit perfectly.
    Turkish authorities believe the statue was broken during excavation by looters shortly before its acquisition by the Levy White collection. The MFA says the statue may have broken in ancient times, and the upper half may have been removed from Turkey before the 1906 law came into effect.
    Egypt: In March 2006, Zahi Hawas, secretary general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), threatened to take legal action against the St. Louis Museum of Art (SLAM) for the return of an ancient mask that had been in the museum’s collection since 1998. Originally, the 19th dynasty (1307-1196 BC) wood and plaster mask of Ka-nefer-nefer was excavated in the Saqqara area some 25 km south of Cairo in 1952, and subsequently registered and stored at a nearby warehouse. Only recently did Egyptian officials realize the mask had been stolen sometime between 1959 and 1990 (Kaufman 2006).  Upon being informed that it was in St. Louis, they requested its return, but the museum refused. When the museum later failed to meet an ultimatum for the mask’s return, Egypt began legal proceedings in May 2006. St. Louis Museum Director Brent Benjamin is taking the claim seriously and states that there will be a thorough investigation of the mask’s ownership, with the hopes of reaching a fair resolution, possibly a long-term loan arrangement with Egypt. 
    Peru: Complex issues surround Peru’s request for the return of objects from Machu Picchu, recently featured in a major touring exhibition by Yale University’s Peabody Museum (AR 3:4). The royal Incan retreat of Machu Picchu (fig.13) was rediscovered in 1911 by Yale history professor Hiram Bingham III and a small group of native guides. In three separate expeditions (two of them funded by Yale and the National Geographic Society), Bingham mapped and excavated part of the site. In the process, he removed hundreds of objects and shipped them back to Yale, including pottery, jewelry, musical instruments, and human burials.
    These were supposed to be returned to Peru shortly thereafter, but have remained at Yale’s Peabody Museum through the present. When the museum hosted its multimedia exhibition on Machu Picchu in 2005, the Peruvian government negotiated to have Bingham’s material returned. Yale subsequently offered to return a significant portion of the collection and assist Peru in its installation at a new museum near the site. Yet Peruvian officials would not agree to any joint projects until Yale acknowledged that all of the objects belonged to the Peruvian people. Yale refused to do this, adding that “the civil code of 1852, which was in effect at the time of the Bingham expeditions, gave Yale title to the artifacts at the time of their excavation and ever since.” Even those strongly in favor of the return of illicitly obtained artifacts admit this is not a clear-cut case. The artifacts were not looted by fortune-seekers, but excavated with government permission in a manner considered scientific at the time, and thereafter stored and studied in a research-oriented facility.
    In September of 2007, Yale and Peru reached an agreement where Peru was given full title to all of the items. Some of the artifacts, including bone fragments and other objects, will remain at Yale for study. Yale and Peru have established an extensive collaborative research relationship that will include the building of a research center and museum in Cuzco, the closest city to Machu Picchu, of which Yale will serve as advisor. (Kennedy 2007). A program of scholarly exchange between Peru and Yale has also been established. Both parties praised the resolution, calling the deal “a new model of international cooperation providing for the collaborative stewardship of cultural and natural treasures.”

[Additional research and writing were done for this article by W. Rust and D. Rickenbrode].

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Additional photo credit for fig.12: Weary Herakles (“Herakles Farnese” type): Roman Provincial, Imperial Period, Hadrianic or Antonine, 2nd century AD (copy of a Greek original sculpted around 330-320 BC). Marble, probably from Paros or Aphrodisias. Height: 67 cm (26 3/8 in.). Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Gift of Leon Levy and Shelby White and Museum purchase with funds donated by the Jerome Levy Foundation (1981.783).

   This article appears on pages 18-26 of Vol.4 No.3 of Athena Review, and has been reformatted for internet  publication.. The complete text and original format may be obtained in the printed version of the magazine. 

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