Authorities in Cape Town, South Africa, have expressed grave concern about what they describe as the deteriorating state of Robben Island.

Nelson Mandela was held prisoner on the island for most of the 27 years he was in jail, and it is now a World Heritage site and major tourist attraction.

But reports say thousands of feral rabbits are devastating local wildlife and undermining historic buildings.

The premier of the Western Cape has called for urgent action on the site.

Helen Zille has demanded a meeting with South African Minister of Culture Lulu Xingwana to discuss how to halt its decline.

‘Rabbits roam’

The island sits in the bay just seven kilometres from Cape Town’s beaches, and is visited by more than 1,800 tourists a day at peak times.

They come to see the grim conditions under which political prisoners, including Mr Mandela, were held.

But in a statement on Friday the City of Cape Town and the Western Cape provincial government said that if poor management of the island continued, it risked losing its World Heritage status.

Helen Bamford, a journalist with the Cape Argus Newspaper, told the BBC: “The rabbits are the main problem. I mean there are estimates of up to 25,000 of them, you know, roaming around the island and they are burrowing under historic buildings and eating all the vegetation.

“And there are also fallow deer. Last year they were in fact starving to death because of the lack of vegetation and supplementary food was brought onto the island for them and that caused the population to double and there are now about 500.

“At the moment they are being shot by a team of 10 hunters and the rabbits are also being culled, but that’s going to take years.”

Concern over the island comes just as the city prepares for the World Cup – and the hundreds of thousands for foreign visitors this will bring.

Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/africa/8335618.stm

October 30th, 2009

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FBI investigates forgery claims against La. couple

By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN (AP)

BATON ROUGE, La. — The old man’s sales pitch sounded plausible enough to art collector Don Fuson. The warning signs didn’t appear until after Fuson paid him $30,000 for what he thought were paintings by renowned folk artist Clementine Hunter.

By the time the FBI got involved, Fuson didn’t need the agents to tell him what he already suspected: The paintings appeared to be forgeries.

The FBI is investigating allegations that William Toye, 78, and his wife Beryl Ann, 68, have been selling forged paintings to unsuspecting art collectors and dealers since the 1970s. William Toye was arrested in the ’70s on a charge of forging Hunter’s work, but was never prosecuted.

“We can all be fooled, and this man fooled me,” Fuson said. “I gave him the benefit of the doubt at every turn, and that’s not normally me.”

Some of the collectors and dealers who purchased paintings from the Toyes say the biggest victim would be Hunter, who died in 1988 at age 101.

The black folk artist taught herself to paint while living in Louisiana’s rural Natchitoches Parish. Her paintings — believed to number in the thousands — depict cotton picking, baptisms, funerals and other scenes of plantation life. Since her death, paintings that once fetched several hundred dollars now routinely sell for thousands.

No new charges have been filed against the Toyes since the FBI opened its investigation, but court records show that agents searched their Baton Rouge home on Sept. 30 and seized artwork and other items.

In court papers, an FBI agent said he interviewed Fuson and three other people who paid the Toyes nearly $100,000 for more than 40 paintings that appear to be Hunter forgeries. The FBI says the couple knew they were fakes.

The FBI’s probe has expanded beyond Louisiana. In January, an FBI agent took photographs of Hunter paintings at the Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota. The paintings were a gift from a donor who had lived in the area. Lyndel King, the Weisman’s director, said FBI Special Agent Randolph Deaton IV informed the museum in March that five of its 38 Hunter paintings may be forgeries.

During an interview at their home this week, the Toyes denied creating or selling any forgeries.

“Once they leave our hands, we have no control over what happens to them,” Beryl Ann Toye said. “We had the real ones, and everyone else was faking them.”

The Toyes said FBI agents seized records that can prove their innocence.

“I didn’t confess anything because I didn’t do anything,” William Toye said.

The couple also is suspected of using an intermediary, Robert Edwin Lucky Jr., to sell forged paintings, Deaton wrote in court documents. Lucky told the FBI he met the Toyes about 10 years ago and has sold up to 100 paintings he obtained from them.

The FBI said Lucky learned from experts in Hunter’s works that the Toyes’ paintings were forgeries but continued to sell them, an allegation Lucky denies.

“I never sold a painting that I thought was a forgery,” he said.

Fuson wasn’t an avid Hunter collector when William Toye visited his Baton Rouge store in November 2005. But he agreed to buy a few paintings after hearing Toye’s story: His wife started buying paintings from Hunter in the 1960s. Their collection survived Hurricane Katrina, but the couple wanted to sell them after moving from New Orleans to Baton Rouge.

“The story read right to me. Nothing seemed wrong,” he recalled.

Fuson found it strange that Toye kept changing his telephone number, but that didn’t stop him from buying more paintings. It wasn’t until February 2006 that Fuson heard from other buyers that Toye was suspected of selling forgeries.

Fuson confronted the Toyes and asked for documentation that the paintings were authentic. He said Beryl Ann Toye then accused Fuson of forging the paintings.

The FBI took photos of paintings Fuson bought and showed them to an expert on Hunter’s work, who said they appeared to be forgeries.

Shannon Foley, a New Orleans art dealer, bought 19 paintings from the Toyes for $44,500. The expert consulted by the FBI said her paintings also appeared to be fake.

Foley, who has sued the Toyes, was reluctant to publicly discuss her story.

“Dealers don’t want to have their name associated with forgeries, but there were a lot of other reputable dealers who bought these paintings, too,” she said.

Beryl Ann Toye said FBI agents accused her of painting the forgeries, a claim she denies.

“They have no proof,” she said.

October 30th, 2009

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Oct 30,2009

United Nations

UN body overseeing worlds great heritage sites elects 12 new members

29 October 2009 – The United Nations body that seeks to preserve
internationally renowned cultural and natural sites around the world,
from the pyramids of Egypt to Australias Great Barrier Reef, has
elected 12 new members as the number of sites already inscribed on the
World Heritage List nears 900.

At a meeting in Paris ending yesterday, the General Assembly of States
Parties to the World Heritage Convention, adopted by the UN
Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1972,
replaced more than half the 21 members of the World Heritage Committee
that oversees the treaty.

Cambodia, Estonia, Ethiopia, France, Iraq, Mali, Mexico, Russia, South
Africa, Switzerland, Thailand and United Arab Emirates now join
Australia, Bahrain, Barbados, Brazil, China, Egypt, Jordan, Nigeria
and Sweden for a four-year term in reviewing States requests for the
inscription of new sites and determining which of those already on the
list are in danger of serious deterioration.

The 890 sites inscribed so far range from the minaret and
archaeological remains of Jam and the cultural landscape and
archaeological remains of the Bamiyan Valley in Afghanistan, both
considered endangered, to Victoria Falls and Great Zimbabwe National
Monument in Zimbabwe.

Ratified by 186 countries to date, the World Heritage Convention
enjoys almost universal endorsement.

During a debate about the future of the convention, the Paris meeting
focused on such issues as conservation and sustainable development and
the need to help States develop the skills needed to look after their
heritage.

The committees next session will take place in Brasilia, Brazil, from
25 July to 3 August.

October 30th, 2009

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Man admits dolls theft

A MAN hired to put up shelves at Tullie House in Carlisle stole four dolls worth £2,000.

Kevin Taylor, 27, was working at the museum for a contractor last year when he was told by a member of staff that the dolls were valuable.

He took three wax-faced and one pot-faced figures then sold them to an antiques dealer for just £100, Carlisle Magistrates’ Court heard yesterday. The fact that they belonged to Tullie House was discovered when one of the dolls was sold again and the new owner spotted a Carlisle Museums stamp.

The dolls were later recovered and Taylor, of Esther Grove in Wakefield, pleaded guilty to theft. The case was adjourned for reports.

October 30th, 2009

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Frankfurt/Main (dpa) Ein wertvolles Buch mit handschriftlichen Eintragungen Johann Wolfgang von Goethes ist auf der Frankfurter Buchmesse gestohlen worden. Der Wert des Werkes betrage etwa

68000 Euro, sagte ein Polizeisprecher und bestätigte damit einen Bericht der «Bild»-Zeitung.
Das Freundschaftsalbum des ungarischen Nationalökonomen Gregor von Berzeviczy (1763-1822) enthielt eine Sammlung von Widmungen. Außer Goethe hatten sich unter anderem Johann Gottfried Herder und Christoph Martin Wieland in das Album eingetragen. Es wurde am 17. oder 18. Oktober auf der Antiquariatsschau auf der Messe aus der Vitrine eines Wiener Händlers entwendet. Vom Täter fehlte zunächst jede Spur.

October 30th, 2009

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Aus den Museen in Polen sind während des Zweiten Weltkriegs und in den Jahren danach schätzungsweise rund eine Million Kunstwerke entführt worden. Neben den Nazis sollen dafür auch die Sowjets verantwortlich sein, die sich ebenfalls in den Museen in Warschau, Danzig und anderen polnischen Städten bedient haben. Nachdem es Polen im Gegensatz zu anderen bestohlenen Staaten, z.B. der ehemaligen DDR, nicht gelang, die mutmaßlich gestohlenen Kunstwerke in seinen Besitz zurückzuholen, gibt es zwischen Polen und Russland einen seit nunmehr über 50 Jahren schwelenden Streit um die Beutekunst.

Während Polen nach wie vor die schnellstmögliche Rückgabe der verschleppten Kunstwerke fordert, hat Russland die Beutekunst im Jahr 1996 per Gesetz kurzerhand zum Eigentum erklärt. Zahlreiche Kunstwerke, die Polen für sich beansprucht, wurden in den vergangenen Jahren im Rahmen diverser Ausstellungen in Moskau und anderen Städten Russlands gezeigt, so dass der Verbleib geklärt ist. Unklar ist hingegen, wem die Kunstwerke gehören, da ein namhafter Teil aus dem Museum in Danzig entwendet wurde, das vor dem Krieg noch dem Deutschen Reich angehörte, ebenso wie einige andere Städte im heutigen Polen.

Trotz der scheinbar festgefahrenen Situation zwischen Polen und Russland gibt es auch einige Anzeichen für eine vorsichtige Annäherung. Jacek Miller, der das Nationalerbe Polens im Auftrag des Kulturministeriums verwaltet, berichtete zuletzt von positiven Entwicklungen im Zusammenhang mit der Beutekunst, die größtenteils in russischen Museen vermutet wird. Gut möglich also, dass in Warschau und Danzig in den nächsten Monaten einige Neuzugänge in den hiesigen Museen verzeichnet werden können, die in Polen schon als verloren abgeschrieben worden waren.

October 30th, 2009

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Priceless emerald sivalingams without security in temples

K Praveen Kumar, TNN 30 October 2009, 03:03am IST
CHENNAI: When the idol wing of the economic offence wing seized an emerald sivalingam from two men in the city last Monday, many could not believe that the little idol was worth Rs 50 crore. There are many more priceless emerald sivalingams located in various temples across the state, without adequate security.

Neither the Hindu religious and charitable endowments department nor the Archeological Survey of India has the complete list of the temples which has these priceless antiques. However, it is believed that the seven temples, known as the Sapthavidangal and 27 associated temples known as Upavidangal have these emerald sivalingams. Two such idols from the Neeladhatchiamman Koil in Nagapattinam and Thyagaraja Swamy temple in Tirukaravasal were stolen in 1992.

What is more pathetic is that the HR&CE department does not have a list of the priceless antiques available with the temples under the department. Sources in the department say that there is no effort on part of the department to survey and list out these properties in the near future. So these antiques remain in poorly guarded temples, which could be broken into without much difficulty.
Dr S Suresh of Intach, consultants to ASI for renovation and restoration works, said that the temples under the supervision of ASI, which are not more than a few hundreds, are the best preserved and secured in the state. “However, not many are under ASI’s supervision,” he added.

It is only now, after several reports about idol thefts from ancient temples were reported, the government has realised the importance of having better security in temples. After the seizure of emerald sivalingam, weighing 990 grams and estimated to cost more than Rs 50 crore, the HR&CE minister convened a high-level meeting to discuss security to the 38,465 temples registered under the HR&CE department.

The meeting discussed setting up of an exclusive temple protection. At present, police personnel are being deputed for security of temple alongs with private security. However, the new plan is to have a force under the HR&CE department.
“The plan is at a very premature stage. The suggestion is to have an exclusive temple protection force for which the recruitment would be done by the department itself. We will also be responsible for training of the selected personnel, including weapon training. We have to first formulate plans for this proposal and submit it to the government,” HR&CE commissioner PR Shampath told The Times Of India.

He added that last month, the government had created a corpus fund of Rs 5 crore to fix burglar alarms in temples falling under its purview. “At present we have burglar alarms fixed in 380 temples. With the new fund, we will fix the alarms in all the remaining temples,” the commissioner added.

There are several other ancient temples which are not under the department, and are still governed by mutts. Though HR&CE has a supervisory role in these temples, matters regarding security and other issues are decided by the temple management committees.

Idol wing officials said that though several recommendations were forwarded to the government regarding security to the temples, very little has been done. “The handicrafts department, which certifies idols, has to be sensitised on this aspect. Smugglers approach the textile department with an antique idol after declaring it as a newly-made one. They did not even bother to look at the idol and gives the certificate,” an idol wing official said.

Similarly, idol wing’s demand to keep them in consultation regarding any individual trying to send idols abroad has gone unheard. “If they give us the photographs of the idols and details about the exporter, we can do a character antecedents check and also cross check our lost idols registry. But they have not taken this suggestion seriously. Similarly, private couriers are allowed to send parcels of up to 10 kg abroad. So many idols are being sent via private couriers,” the official added.

praveen.kumar8@timesgroup.com

October 30th, 2009

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Emergency safety measures are in place and the clearing of debris has begun on a Renaissance-period castle in southern Germany, which was destroyed by a fire in mid-September, causing damage estimated by police at several million euros. The roof of the structure has already been removed and its charred beams have been stacked in the yard of the house, as construction of a new temporary roof is being completed. The 16th-century Schloss Ebelsbach, the main landmark in the small Barvarian village of Ebelsbach, was built between 1564 and 1569 by Baron Matthew von Rotenhan. The fire, which occurred on the night of 10 September, proved particularly difficult to control and also destroyed the gardens and a number of outlying buildings of the castle that was originally surrounded by a deep moat. The owner of the house since 2000 is reported to be a Cologne-based businessman.

October 30th, 2009

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By BARBARA WALL

Forgers have been duping the art world for generations, but advances in computer technology may sound the death knell of this illicit industry — and, at the same time, make it easier for collectors of major artworks to know if they are getting what they pay so handsomely for. Eric Postma, a professor of artificial intelligence at Tilburg University in the Netherlands and an expert on the digital analysis of works by Vincent Van Gogh, explains the new technology and why more museums and private buyers should open up their collections to computer scientists.

Q. According to industry estimates, forgeries may account for 10 percent to 50 percent of art for sale on the international market. Which figure is closer to reality?

A. My impression is biased because of the many individuals who have approached me over the years, convinced they own genuine Van Gogh paintings. I estimate that around 99 percent of these paintings are fake or misattributed.

I strongly suspect that the number of forgeries uncovered and publicized each year is just the tip of a very large iceberg. Within the museum world there are two classes of paintings: established works and doubted works. In the first class the majority will be authentic, with perhaps 1 percent forged. In the second class the number of fakes, or misattributions, is much greater — typically, between 50 percent and 80 percent. These figures have not changed much over the years.

Q. Auction houses and art dealers would seem to be the first line of defense in identifying and combating fraud. What steps do they take, and is it enough?

A. Independent art historians will do everything in their power to ensure a work is authentic. However, where price is a motivating factor, subjective judgments can become easily clouded. I firmly believe that auction houses could be doing more to protect client interests by having a more open attitude toward innovations that may help to establish authenticity.

Q. The new techniques are based on computer technology. How can they help distinguish between a fake and the genuine article?

A. An important clue in identifying the artist’s style is the configuration of the brush strokes. Our software is able to break down these brush strokes to find a complex pattern unique to every artist. That is just one of many algorithms we use. We also look at pigment and canvas weave.

Working in cooperation with the Van Gogh Museum and the Kröller-Müller Museum, both located in the Netherlands, we have been able to demonstrate the accuracy of digital analysis. A painting depicting the sea at Saintes-Maries, a Van Gogh fake sold by the German art dealer Otto Wacker, fooled experts for years, but our software easily identified the work as suspect. It had too many prominent brush strokes.

Our methodology was also tested on a U.S. television show, “Nova Science,” where we were easily able to distinguish one fake Van Gogh painting from five genuine works by the artist.

Q. Will digital analysis work on all paintings?

A. We are currently analyzing the works of Rubens, Monet and Gauguin. Provided we have a large enough database of paintings to work from, I see no reason why we could not apply our methods to Old Masters and modern works of art alike.

I was recently asked if we could tell whether a “drip” painting by Jackson Pollock was authentic. Clearly there are no brush strokes to work from here, but Richard Taylor at the University of Oregon performed a fractal analysis of Pollock’s paintings using computer algorithms and succeeded in demonstrating how these algorithms could distinguish a true Pollock from a forgery.

A few artists present challenges. When we started our analysis in 2000, we had trouble authenticating the works of Rembrandt because his paintings are dark and the brush strokes difficult to identify. Technology has improved since then and the digital images that we work from are of a much higher quality.

Ultimately, we would like to come up with an algorithm that goes beyond brush strokes and captures the visual structure of a painting. One art historian refers to the “visual rhythm” of Van Gogh. If we could capture the visual rhythm and other artist-specific features in a software package, it would make the work of art historians much easier.

Q. Despite its advantages in identifying some forgeries, digital analysis is still not widely accepted by the art world. What are the obstacles, and how do you think they can be overcome?

A. We enjoy support from museums in the Netherlands and the United States, but many art historians are still suspicious of our techniques. This is understandable because our algorithms are still being developed. We do not have all the answers, but working together historians and computer scientists would make a formidable team.

We also need to enlarge our database of paintings if we are to offer a full service. I would like to do more work on some of the modern artists, such as Picasso, but many collectors are reluctant to have their expensive works of art held up to scrutiny. Unless we can persuade collectors that it is in the interests of the art world to compile a digitized database of genuine and fake art work, the forgers will always be ahead of the curve.

October 30th, 2009

Posted In: forgery

by Gary Nurkin last modified 10-29-2009 08:30 AM

Investigating officials have identified a large smuggling organization that appears to have moved items out of Italy to other locations in Europe from which they were smuggled into the United States.

Art Daily, October 29, 2009

NEW YORK, NY.- U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents seized two stolen Italian artifacts that date back more than 2,000 years. The items were illegally excavated in Italy, smuggled into the United States and offered for sale in New York. The recovery was the result of a joint international investigation between ICE and the Italian Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage.

The Italians have traced one of the objects recovered, a Red-Figured Situla (circa 365-350 B.C.), back to the Puglia region of Italy and the other, an Attic Red-Figured Pelike (circa 480-460 B.C.), to Etruria, Italy. The artifacts have an approximate combined value of $120,000.

“The recovery of these unique cultural artifacts serves as a deterrent to large-scale smuggling organizations trying to benefit financially from a nation’s history and heritage,” said James T. Hayes, Jr., special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in New York. “ICE is committed to working closely with foreign governments to find and return stolen works of art and antiquities to their rightful owners.”

Investigating officials have identified a large smuggling organization that appears to have moved items out of Italy to other locations in Europe from which they were smuggled into the United States. Typically, the items were then sold through antiquities galleries in the United States to obscure their origins before introducing them into major auction houses. The illicit proceeds of the sales were then laundered back to the source countries. The trail of these two seized items started in Italy, moved to Geneva, and then, according to the evidence uncovered so far, arrived in Beverly Hills. The gallery involved in the sale of these items has been associated with other looted materials that have ultimately been repatriated to their source countries.

The Attic Red-Figured Pelike and the Apulian Red-Figured Situla were part of a collection that in the late 1990s was presented to an expert in the antiquities trade who described the collection as “fresh”, meaning that they were new to the international marketplace for such items. Items of this same collection have been traced back to Giacomo Medici. Similarly looted pieces that have passed along this route for smuggled antiquities are believed to have ended up at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles rather then public auction houses.

Medici was arrested in Italy in 1997. During judicial proceedings in Italy against Medici for the smuggling of antiquities, it was concluded that a Corinthian column krater, which was seized by ICE in June, originated from the archaeological sites of Latium, a region of Lazio, Italy. Hundreds of pieces of ancient Greek, Roman, and Etruscan art were identified by authorities during the investigation as having been illegally handled by Medici. He was sentenced in 2004 by the Tribunal of Rome to eight years in prison and fined 10 million Euros, which is one of the largest penalties ever meted out for antiquities crimes.

Giacomo Medici’s operation was thought to be one of the largest and most sophisticated antiquities networks in the world. His operation is believed to be responsible for illegally digging up and illicitly introducing thousands of antiquities into the international art market.

October 30th, 2009

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Man faces charges for helmet theft
October 28, 2009

A man appeared in court accused of stealing two helmets from the Museum of Reading.

Robert Jermey, 35, appeared via video link at Reading Magistrates’ Court yesterday where he did not enter a plea to the two theft counts.

He is charged with stealing a Second World War fireguard helmet on Tuesday, June 9, and a Medieval Cavalry helmet on Thursday, June 11.

The case was adjourned until Tuesday, November 24, and Jermey, of no fixed address, was remanded in custody.

October 30th, 2009

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Smugglers ‘stealing our heritage’

October 29 2009 at 07:57AM

Skopje – Macedonia has vowed to put a halt to illegal excavations at the country’s wealth of archaeological sites, many of which have already been ransacked by savvy smugglers digging up the rich treasures.

“The criminals are always a step ahead, they follow our activities and know exactly when to move away,” an official from the special department in charge of archaeological crime who requested anonymity told AFP.

When archaeologists arrived at Isar Marvinci in southern Macedonia, the seat of power in ancient times, they had hoped to begin excavations but instead faced an unpleasant surprise.

“They found more than 1 000 open pits, but all the findings were gone, mostly sold to our southern neighbour” Greece, said Pasko Kuzman, head of the state institute for the protection of cultural heritage.

Ancient graves were believed to be full of “golden jewelry, silver, bronze and amber pieces, all very light and easy to transport,” Kuzman said.

Isar, which dates back to the Iron Age, flourished under the ancient Greeks, but the Romans levelled the metropolis to the ground.

Kuzman noted a case when 230 archaeological findings – hidden in bags full of beans – were discovered by customs officials at the Croatian-Slovenian border in 2006.

“Slovenian officials established that the findings were from the territory of Macedonia and returned them to us,” he said.

In the past two years, police have reported 21 cases of cultural heritage theft, with 16 of them solved, interior ministry spokesman Ivo Kotevski said.

Thieves are mostly interested in smaller pieces like money, silver, copper or ceramic pots, and stone figures, he said.

According to various estimations, most of Macedonia’s territory hides archaeological treasures due to the Balkan state’s central position in ancient times.

So far, 10 000 different sites have been registered, but at least several more thousand still need to be examined.

The ancient Roman settlement of Stobi, famous for its mosaics, has for years attracted visitors, scientists and tourists, but also thieves.

A large part of the area has yet to be excavated, so officials have introduced 24-hour security at the site.

“Stobi has been protected around the clock as our presence is the best guarantee that there will be no illegal diggers,” Silvana Blazevska, the manager of the site, told AFP.

It is quite common in Marvince, in southern Macedonia close to the border with Greece, for a builder to find an ancient plate while putting in foundations for a new home, or for a farmer to dig out a piece of an ancient vase in his field.

“Usually farmers immediately call us to tell us of the findings,” said Blazevska.

Police officials are reluctant to estimate whether the amount of archaeological thefts has risen in the past years, but say that such “illegal business can bring several million dollars annually.”

A wide-range network is believed to be organised through regional crime gangs, while buyers are easily found in Greece, Austria and Germany, they say.

Some of the findings could be sold for up to €20 000, while less valuable pieces – like an ancient Roman spear top – could be had for only 100 euros.

“One golden coin by itself has no high value, but if it is found together with other objects from a dated time-period, its value increases in relation to scientific, cultural and heritage significance,” Kuzman said.

Zlatko Videski from the Museum of Macedonia heads the excavations at Isar, spread across about 80 hectares (xx acres ????) of land. He said the economic crisis has trimmed government funding of the site – “neglected for so many years” – so his team will be able to cover only about 20 acres HECTARES??? this year.

“But the site has been damaged a lot and only when we examine material collected so far will we be able to estimate its real value,” Videski told AFP.

In only seven months of excavations at the site, archaeologists have found around 2 500 graves from different time periods, he added.

“There are graves from prehistoric times, Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages, but for smugglers, the most interesting are those from ancient and Byzantine times,” Kuzman said. – AFP

October 30th, 2009

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New legal right for Nazi-looted art heirs

By Jessica Elgot, October 28, 2009

A new law has been approved to allow art looted by the Nazis and found in British museums to be returned to the heirs of the original owners.

Labour’s Andrew Dismore, MP for Hendon, sponsored the Holocaust (Stolen Art) Restitution Act, which has been approved by the House of Lords.

It will now be given royal assent before becoming law.

Before the law was passed, the spoliation panel would recommend pieces to be returned to their owners, but museums had no legal powers to carry out the recommendations.

Once in place, the law will allow heirs to have a choice whether to have their belongings returned to them, or to be given compensation.

Estimates suggest around 20 looted items are in British museums, but the number could be far greater.

Mr Dismore said: “It shows what could be achieved by a determined backbencher: by rolling out my sleeping bag and sleeping on the floor of the Public Bill Office overnight, I was able to become the first in the queue to apply for Second Readings after the balloted Bills, and this tactic paid off.

“Whilst I do not envisage the Act having to be used very frequently, this is an important moral step, to ensure that we can close yet a further chapter on the appalling crimes of the Holocaust.”

October 30th, 2009

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SIEM REAP, Cambodia — On a muggy afternoon in Cambodia’s ancient Angkor complex, workers in hardhats hunch over the world’s biggest jigsaw puzzle, painstakingly assembling sandstone blocks.

Walled-off from camera-toting tourists, they are finally close to completing an astonishing reconstruction of the fabled 11th century Baphuon Temple.

“This is not easy to plan like a construction project is,” says architect Pascal Royere from the French School of Asian Studies, who is leading the rebuilding team.

Restorers dismantled Baphuon in the 1960s when it was falling apart, laying some 300,000 of its stone blocks in the grass and jungle around the site.

But before the French-led team of archaeologists could reassemble the 34-metre (112-foot) tall temple, the hardline communist Khmer Rouge swept to power in 1975.

Up to two million people died from overwork, starvation and torture as the regime tried to re-set Cambodia to “Year Zero” by eliminating reminders of its past — including the records to put Baphuon back together.

“The archive of the numbering system (for scattered stones) was stolen and destroyed by the Khmer Rouge,” Royere says.

“We had to face a kind of jigsaw puzzle without the picture how to rebuild it.”

Chinese envoy Zhou Daguan, who visited the Khmer kingdom in 1226, described Baphuon as a “an exquisite site” with a bronze tower.

Baphuon was the largest monument in the Khmer empire when it was built under King Udayadityavarman II as a Hindu temple dedicated to the goddess Shiva.

In the kingdom which at one time spanned parts of modern-day Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar and Malaysia, Baphuon’s size was only eclipsed by the famed Angkor Wat temple.

“I believe that when the restoration of the temple is done, a lot of visitors will climb to see it,” says Soeung Kong, deputy director general of the Apsara Authority, which oversees Cambodia’s ancient temples.

“It is high, so they can have nice views of surrounding temples.”

After the 1991 peace agreement to end Cambodia’s civil war, French architect Jacques Dumarcay, who was in charge of Baphuon’s restoration from 1964 to 1970, rushed back to the site and appointed Royere to do his old job.

Despite invaluable input from Dumarcay and others who worked on Baphuon in the 60s and 70s, reconstruction required measuring and weighing each block, as well as numerous drawings to figure out how each part fits.

When Royere began work on the project in 1993, grass and jungle had grown over most of Baphuon’s blocks. He spent much of 1994 trying to figure out how to approach the complicated job.

“Each block has its own place. It can’t be replaced by another one because there’s no mortar between them and you will not find two blocks that have the same volume and the same dimensions.”

It was first estimated Baphuon would be rebuilt by 2003 or 2004. Now Royere says it will take until the end of next year, but adds the hardest task — stabilizing Baphuon so it doesn’t collapse — is now complete.

Recent work has focused on a 22-metre (72 foot) high pile of rubble which collapsed in 1971, covering a quarter of the monument.

“It was a kind of landslide mixed with blocks. In 2008 we started to dismantle it, taking care of each block and building a concrete retaining wall,” Royere says.

“When you take one brick, you have to take care another doesn’t collapse. It took double the time we thought.”

Last year Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni presided over a ceremony marking the restoration of a 70-metre (230-foot) long reclining Buddha statue along one of Baphuon’s walls.

Now, Royere says, his project is entering its final stage, matching parts of intricate ornamentation altered in the 16th century when stones were shifted from the top of Baphuon to build the reclining Buddha.

“Now it’s the most interesting,” Royere says. “We have now the picture because we worked for a long time.”

October 28th, 2009

Posted In: Mailing list reports

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More war medals reported missing
28-Oct 15:52
More war medals have been reported missing, this time from a Waikato museum, in what appears to be an historical theft.
The loss of 30 war medals was discovered only after one of the Te Awamutu Museum’s medals was put up for sale by an American collector on the website eBay this year, the Waikato Times reported.
An audit of the museum’s inventory, which took six months, revealed 30 of its 175 historical medals were unaccounted for.
The apparent theft preceded that of eight Victoria Crosses and one VC and bar, stolen from the Waiouru Army Museum in 2007 as part of a 96-medal haul.
A depositions hearing for one of the two men accused of those thefts is under way at the Wanganui District Court this week.
Another man, who also has name suppression, was earlier sentenced to 11 years’ jail for the theft.
Waipa District Council museum and heritage manager Jan White said she had no idea how the medals had gone missing, but she believed they had disappeared between 1991 and 1996 – when the museum was run by volunteers.
Since the council took over managing the museum in 2005 “security was superb”, she said.
“It has nothing to do with the current staff, it was so long ago.”
The inventory audit was expected to take at least three years – 10,000 pieces will be checked against historical documents and registers.
Te Awamutu police Senior Sergeant Dave Simes said police had received a large amount of information from the museum which they would begin working through.
NZPA

More war medals reported missing

28-Oct 15:52

More war medals have been reported missing, this time from a Waikato museum, in what appears to be an historical theft.

The loss of 30 war medals was discovered only after one of the Te Awamutu Museum’s medals was put up for sale by an American collector on the website eBay this year, the Waikato Times reported.

An audit of the museum’s inventory, which took six months, revealed 30 of its 175 historical medals were unaccounted for.

The apparent theft preceded that of eight Victoria Crosses and one VC and bar, stolen from the Waiouru Army Museum in 2007 as part of a 96-medal haul.

A depositions hearing for one of the two men accused of those thefts is under way at the Wanganui District Court this week.

Another man, who also has name suppression, was earlier sentenced to 11 years’ jail for the theft.

Waipa District Council museum and heritage manager Jan White said she had no idea how the medals had gone missing, but she believed they had disappeared between 1991 and 1996 – when the museum was run by volunteers.

Since the council took over managing the museum in 2005 “security was superb”, she said.

“It has nothing to do with the current staff, it was so long ago.”

The inventory audit was expected to take at least three years – 10,000 pieces will be checked against historical documents and registers.

Te Awamutu police Senior Sergeant Dave Simes said police had received a large amount of information from the museum which they would begin working through.

NZPA

October 28th, 2009

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October 28th, 2009

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October 27th, 2009

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read full text at: http://www.museum-security.org/china.htm

October 27th, 2009

Posted In: Dr. Kwame Opoku writings about looted cultural objects, Mailing list reports

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Beveiligers moeten niet de pretentie hebben dat gewapende overvallen geheel kunnen worden voorkomen; niet-beveiligers moeten van het vooroordeel af dat gewapende overvallen helemaal niet kunnen worden voorkomen.

lees volledige tekst:

http://www.handboekveiligheidszorgmusea.nl/2009/10/28/maatregelen-tegen-gewapende-overvallen/

October 27th, 2009

Posted In: Uncategorized

The Met returns Egyptian artifact
CAIRO — New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art will return to Egypt a fragment of an ancient pharoanic shrine it purchased from a collector, Egypt’s antiquities department said Monday.
The Supreme Council of Antiquities said that a piece of a red granite shrine, known as a “naos,” was purchased from an antiquities collector in New York last October so that it could be returned.
The piece arrives in Egypt Thursday, the statement said. Egle Zygas, senior press officer for the Met, confirmed the museum’s decision.
SCA head Zahi Hawass hailed the Met’s move as a “great deed,” singling it out as the first time a museum has bought an item for the sole purpose of repatriating it.
The fragment belongs to the naos honoring the 12th Dynasty King Amenemhat I, who ruled 4,000 years ago, which is now in the Ptah temple of Karnak in Luxor.
It’s the latest coup for Hawass, Egypt’s assertive and media-savvy archaeologist, who has been on an international lobbying campaign to reclaim what he says are stolen Egyptian artifacts from the world’s most prestigious museums.
He says so far he has recovered 5,000 artifacts since becoming antiquities head in 2002.
In early October, Hawass compelled the Louvre to return five painted wall fragments of a 3,200 year-old nobleman’s tomb by publicly cutting ties with the French museum, suspending its excavations in the country and canceling a lecture by one of its former Egyptology department curators, Christiane Ziegler.
After France’s Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand agreed to return the fragments, Hawass restored the Louvre’s excavations but has continued to shun Ziegler, whom he claims is responsible for acquiring the artifacts in the first place.
Though the Met did not openly say its decision was prompted by the Louvre’s, Hawass interpreted it as the Met’s devotion to return illegal antiquities.
“It is also a kind gesture from the newly appointed Met director Thomas Campbell,” he said.
Before taking on the Louvre, Hawass cut ties with the St. Louis Art Museum after it failed to answer his demand to return a 3,200-year-old golden burial mask of a noblewoman.
Hawass has a laundry list of Egypt’s cultural heritage that he wants back, including the bust of Nefertiti — wife of the famed monotheistic Pharaoh Akhenaten — and the Rosetta Stone, a basalt slab with an inscription that was the key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics.
The bust is in Berlin, the stone in London.
http://www.chron.com/

CAIRO — New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art will return to Egypt a fragment of an ancient pharoanic shrine it purchased from a collector, Egypt’s antiquities department said Monday.

The Supreme Council of Antiquities said that a piece of a red granite shrine, known as a “naos,” was purchased from an antiquities collector in New York last October so that it could be returned.

The piece arrives in Egypt Thursday, the statement said. Egle Zygas, senior press officer for the Met, confirmed the museum’s decision.

SCA head Zahi Hawass hailed the Met’s move as a “great deed,” singling it out as the first time a museum has bought an item for the sole purpose of repatriating it.

The fragment belongs to the naos honoring the 12th Dynasty King Amenemhat I, who ruled 4,000 years ago, which is now in the Ptah temple of Karnak in Luxor.

It’s the latest coup for Hawass, Egypt’s assertive and media-savvy archaeologist, who has been on an international lobbying campaign to reclaim what he says are stolen Egyptian artifacts from the world’s most prestigious museums.

He says so far he has recovered 5,000 artifacts since becoming antiquities head in 2002.

In early October, Hawass compelled the Louvre to return five painted wall fragments of a 3,200 year-old nobleman’s tomb by publicly cutting ties with the French museum, suspending its excavations in the country and canceling a lecture by one of its former Egyptology department curators, Christiane Ziegler.

After France’s Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand agreed to return the fragments, Hawass restored the Louvre’s excavations but has continued to shun Ziegler, whom he claims is responsible for acquiring the artifacts in the first place.

Though the Met did not openly say its decision was prompted by the Louvre’s, Hawass interpreted it as the Met’s devotion to return illegal antiquities.

“It is also a kind gesture from the newly appointed Met director Thomas Campbell,” he said.

Before taking on the Louvre, Hawass cut ties with the St. Louis Art Museum after it failed to answer his demand to return a 3,200-year-old golden burial mask of a noblewoman.

Hawass has a laundry list of Egypt’s cultural heritage that he wants back, including the bust of Nefertiti — wife of the famed monotheistic Pharaoh Akhenaten — and the Rosetta Stone, a basalt slab with an inscription that was the key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics.

The bust is in Berlin, the stone in London.

http://www.chron.com/

October 27th, 2009

Posted In: Mailing list reports

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As the specialist art press busies itself with yawn-inducing non-stories such as Tracey Emin’s feeble ‘defence’ of Damien Hirst’s critically demolished paintings at the Wallace Collection, a story with rather more significant implications for the art world has been unfolding over in Holland, as I reported here.

read full text:
http://tom-flynn.blogspot.com/2009/10/they-came-like-thieves-in-night-how-abn.html

October 27th, 2009

Posted In: Mailing list reports

Tags:

As the specialist art press busies itself with yawn-inducing non-stories such as Tracey Emin’s feeble ‘defence’ of Damien Hirst’s critically demolished paintings at the Wallace Collection, a story with rather more significant implications for the art world has been unfolding over in Holland, as I reported here.

read full text:
http://tom-flynn.blogspot.com/2009/10/they-came-like-thieves-in-night-how-abn.html

October 27th, 2009

Posted In: Mailing list reports

Tags:

Looting Mali’s History
As demand for its antiquities soars, the West African country is losing its most prized artifacts to illegal sellers and smugglers
• By Joshua Hammer
• Photographs by Aaron Huey
• Smithsonian magazine, November 2009
I’m sitting in the courtyard of a mud-walled compound in a village in central Mali, 40 miles east of the Niger River, waiting for a clandestine meeting to begin. Donkeys, sheep, goats, chickens and ducks wander around the courtyard; a dozen women pound millet, chat in singsong voices and cast shy glances in my direction. My host, whom I’ll call Ahmadou Oungoyba, is a slim, prosperous-looking man draped in a purple bubu, a traditional Malian gown. He disappears into a storage room, then emerges minutes later carrying several objects wrapped in white cloth. Oungoyba unfolds the first bundle to reveal a Giacometti-like human figure carved out of weathered blond wood. He says the piece, splintered and missing a leg, was found in a cave not far from this village. He gently turns the statuette in his hands. “It’s at least 700 years old,” he adds.
Oungoyba runs a successful tourist hotel next door to his house; he also does a brisk business selling factory-produced copies of ancient wooden statuettes and other objects to the Western package-tour groups that fill the hotel during the winter high season. But his real money, I’ve been told, comes from collectors—particularly Europeans—who may pay up to several hundred thousand dollars for antique pieces from villages in the region, in defiance of Malian law. My guide told Oungoyba that I was an American collector interested in purchasing “authentic” Dogon art.
The Dogon, subsistence farmers who hold ancient animist beliefs, are one of central Mali’s ethnic groups. In the 15th century, or even earlier, perhaps fleeing a wave of Islamization, they settled along the 100-mile-long Bandiagara Cliffs, which rise just above this village. The Dogon displaced the indigenous Tellem people, who had used caves and cliff dwellings as granaries and burial chambers, a practice the Dogon adopted. They built their villages on the rocky slopes below. Today, the majority of the estimated 500,000 Dogon remain purely animist (the rest are Muslims and Christians), their ancient culture based on a triumvirate of gods. Ritual art—used to connect with the spiritual world through prayer and supplication—can still be found in caves and shrines. Dogon doors and shutters, distinctively carved and embellished with images of crocodiles, bats and sticklike human figures, adorn important village structures.
On the porch of his private compound, Oungoyba, a Dogon, unwraps a few additional objects: a pair of ebony statuettes, male and female, that, he says, date back 80 years, which he offers to sell for $16,000; a slender figurine more than 500 years old, available for $20,000. “Check with any one of my clients,” he says. “They’ll tell you I sell only the real antiquities.”
Two days earlier, in the village of Hombori, I had met an elderly man who told me that a young Dogon from the village had been cursed by the elders and died suddenly after stealing ancient artifacts from a cave and selling them to a dealer. But endemic poverty, the spread of Islam and cash-bearing dealers such as Oungoyba have persuaded many Dogon to part with their relics. Indeed, Oungoyba says he purchased the 700-year-old human figure, which he offers to me for $9,000, from a committee of village elders, who needed money to make improvements to the local schoolhouse. “There are always people in the villages who want to sell,” Oungoyba says. “It’s just a question of how much money.”
The villages of Dogon Country are among hundreds of sites across Mali that local people have plundered for cash. The pillaging feeds an insatiable overseas market for Malian antiquities, considered by European, American and Japanese art collectors to be among the finest in Africa. The objects range from the Inland Niger Delta’s delicate terra-cotta statuettes—vestiges of three empires that controlled Saharan trade routes to Europe and the Middle East for some 600 years—to Neolithic pottery to the carved wooden doors and human figurines made by the Dogon.
According to Malian officials, skyrocketing prices for West African art and artifacts, along with the emergence of sophisticated smuggling networks, threaten to wipe out one of Africa’s greatest cultural heritages. “These [antiquities dealers] are like narcotraffickers in Mexico,” says Ali Kampo, a cultural official in Mopti, a trading town in the Inland Niger Delta. “They’re running illegal networks from the poorest villages to the European buyers, and we don’t have the resources to stop them.”
Mali’s antiquities are protected—in principle. The 1970 Unesco Convention signed in Paris obligated member nations to cooperate in “preventing the illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of cultural property.” Fifteen years later, Mali passed legislation banning export of what is designated broadly as its cultural patrimony. But the laws have proved easy to circumvent. It’s not just poor villagers who have succumbed to temptation. About a decade ago, according to unconfirmed reports, thieves made off with the central door of the Great Mosque of Djenné, a market town in the Inland Niger Delta. The centuries-old wooden door, inlaid with gold, allegedly disappeared while it was being replaced with a facsimile to thwart a plot to steal it. The door, which may well have fetched millions of dollars, was likely smuggled out of the country overland, across the porous border with Burkina Faso.
Antiquity thefts since then have continued apace. In November 2005, officials at France’s Montpellier-Méditerranée Airport intercepted 9,500 artifacts from Mali. Days later, French customs agents outside Arles stopped a Moroccan truck bound for Germany packed with fossils from Morocco and statues, pottery and jewels from Mali. In January 2007, authorities at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris opened nine suspicious-looking packages marked “hand crafted objects” from Bamako, Mali’s capital: inside they found more than 650 bracelets, ax heads, flint stones and stone rings, excavated from Neolithic settlement sites around Ménaka in eastern Mali. Some of these sites date back 8,000 years, when the Sahara was a vast savanna populated by hunter-gatherers. “When you tear these objects out of the ground, that’s the end of any story we can reconstruct about that site in the past, what it was used for, who used it,” says Susan Keech McIntosh, an archaeologist at Rice University in Houston and a leading authority on ancient West African civilizations. “It’s a great loss.”
I met up with McIntosh in Gao, a parched Niger River town of mud-walled houses and domed tents. The sun was setting over the Sahara when I arrived after a two-day drive across the desert from Timbuktu. McIntosh was there to look in on the excavation of a brick-and-stone complex being conducted by her graduate student, Mamadou Cissé. Locals believe that the site, constructed on top of more ancient structures, was built in the 14th century by Kankou Moussa, ruler of the Mali Empire. I found her seated on the concrete floor of an adobe-and-stucco guesthouse owned by Mali’s culture ministry, adjacent to the municipal soccer grounds. With a 40-watt bulb providing the only illumination, she was studying some of the thousands of pottery fragments found at the site. “We’ve gone down nearly 12 feet, and the pottery appears to go back to around 2,000 years ago,” she said, fingering a delicate pale blue shard.
In 1977, McIntosh and her then-husband, Roderick McIntosh, both graduate students in archaeology at the University of California at Santa Barbara, carried out excavations at a 20-foot-high mound that marked the site of Jenne-Jeno, a roughly 2,000-year-old commercial center along the ancient gold-trade route from Ghana and one of the oldest urban centers in sub-Saharan Africa, near present-day Djenné. The couple found pottery and terra-cotta sculptures embedded in clay, along with glass beads from as far away as Southeast Asia. The find was highly publicized: a Times of London correspondent reported on the excavations, and the McIntoshes documented their findings in the journal Archaeology. Meanwhile, the archaeologists also published a monograph on their work, illustrated by photographs of terra-cotta treasures they uncovered in 1977 and 1980, including a headless torso now on display at Mali’s National Museum. A demand for figurines of similar quality was one factor in increased looting in the region, which had begun as far back as the 1960s.
From the 1980s on, she says, thieves ransacked hundreds of archaeological mounds in the Inland Niger Delta and elsewhere. The objects from these sites fetched extraordinary prices: in New York City in 1991, Sotheby’s auctioned a 31 1/4- inch-tall Malian terra-cotta ram, from 600 to 1,000 years old, for $275,000—one of the highest prices commanded to that date for Malian statuary. (A Belgian journalist, Michel Brent, later reported that a Malian counterfeiter had added a fake body and hind legs to the ram, deceiving the world’s African art experts. Brent also charged that the piece had been pillaged from the village of Dary in 1986.) In another notorious case, in 1997, then French President Jacques Chirac returned a terra-cotta ram he had received as a gift after Mali provided evidence that it had been looted from the Tenenkou region.
With a fierce wind blowing from the desert, I venture beyond Gao to observe examples of the systematic looting in the region. Mamadou Cissé, McIntosh’s graduate student, leads me across an archaeological mound known as Gao-Saney. Grains of sand nip at our faces as we trudge across the 25- to 30-foot-high mound, crunching shards of ancient pottery beneath our feet. Below us, on the flood plain, I can make out the long dry bed of the Telemsi River, which likely drew settlers to this site 1,400 years ago. What commands my attention, however, are hundreds of holes, as deep as ten feet, that pockmark this mound. “Watch out,” says Cissé, hopscotching past a trough gouged out of the sand. “The looters have dug everywhere.”
Between A.D. 610 and 1200, Gao-Saney served as a trading center controlled by the Dia dynasty. A decade ago, Western and Malian archaeologists began digging in the sandy soil and uncovered fine pottery, copper bracelets and bead necklaces strung with glass and semiprecious stones. Looters, however, had already burrowed into the soft ground and sold what they found to international dealers in Niger. Several years ago, Mali’s culture ministry hired a guard to watch the site around the clock. “By then it was too late,” Cissé told me, surveying the moonscape. “Les pilleurs had stripped it clean.”
The late Boubou Gassama, director of cultural affairs in the Gao region, had told me that looting had spread up the Telemsi Valley to remote sites virtually impossible to protect. In October 2004, local tipsters told him about a gang of pilleurs who were active in a desert area outside Gao; Gassama brought in the gendarmerie and conducted a predawn sting operation that netted 17 looters, who were making off with beads, arrowheads, vases and other objects from the Neolithic era and later. “They were mostly looking for glass beads, which they can sell in Morocco and Mauritania for as much as $3,000 apiece,” Gassama had said. The men, all of them Tuareg nomads from around Timbuktu, served six months in the Gao prison. Since then, Cissé reports, locals have created “brigades of surveillance” to help protect the sites.
The Malian government has made modest progress combating antiquities theft. Former President Alpha Oumar Konaré, an archaeologist who held office between 1992 and 2002, established a network of cultural missions across the Inland Niger Delta, responsible for policing sites and raising awareness of the need to preserve Mali’s heritage. The government also beefed up security at important mounds. McIntosh, who usually returns to Mali every couple of years, says Konaré’s program has almost eliminated looting in Jenne-Jeno and the surrounding area.
Samuel Sidibé, director of Mali’s National Museum in Bamako, has helped Mali’s customs officials prevent cultural heritage material from leaving the country. Regulations require anyone seeking to export Malian art to submit the objects themselves—as well as a set of photographs—to museum officials. Sidibé and other experts issue export certificates only if they determine that the objects are not, in fact, cultural patrimony. Only two months earlier, Sidibé told me, he had been able to block a shipment of centuries-old terra cottas. Shady exporters are furious about the regulations, he adds, because they make it more difficult for them to pass off copies as authentic artifacts, and prices have nose-dived.
Oungoyba, the illegal antiquities dealer, scoffs at the regulations. I asked him if I would be able to smuggle Dogon sculptures out of the country. “Pas de problème,” he says, flashing a small smile. Oungoyba says that he’ll pack up whatever I purchase in a secured wood crate, and he instructs me to undervalue the purchase by 95 percent. Bamako International Airport, he says, can be tricky; he advises his clients to carry their purchases overland to Niger. Malian customs officials at the border usually can’t be bothered to open the crate. “Just tell them that you spent $100 on it as a gift for your family, and nobody will ask questions,” he assures me, adding that suspicious officials can be bought off. Once I’ve crossed into Niger, he continues, I’ll be home free. The Niger government has been lax about enforcing the Unesco treaty obliging signatories to cooperate in combating antiquities theft. Oungoyba insists that his black-market trade helps the economy of the destitute Dogon region. But others say dealers and buyers hide behind such arguments to justify the damage they’re inflicting on the culture. “They claim they’re doing good things—building hospitals, spreading money around,” Ali Kampo, the cultural official in Mopti, tells me. “But in the end, they’re doing a disservice to humanity.”
Writer Joshua Hammer lives in Berlin. Photographer Aaron Huey works from his base in Seattle, Washington.
Find this article at:
http://www.smithsonianmag.com/people-places/64220862.html• By Joshua Hammer

I’m sitting in the courtyard of a mud-walled compound in a village in central Mali, 40 miles east of the Niger River, waiting for a clandestine meeting to begin. Donkeys, sheep, goats, chickens and ducks wander around the courtyard; a dozen women pound millet, chat in singsong voices and cast shy glances in my direction. My host, whom I’ll call Ahmadou Oungoyba, is a slim, prosperous-looking man draped in a purple bubu, a traditional Malian gown. He disappears into a storage room, then emerges minutes later carrying several objects wrapped in white cloth. Oungoyba unfolds the first bundle to reveal a Giacometti-like human figure carved out of weathered blond wood. He says the piece, splintered and missing a leg, was found in a cave not far from this village. He gently turns the statuette in his hands. “It’s at least 700 years old,” he adds.

Oungoyba runs a successful tourist hotel next door to his house; he also does a brisk business selling factory-produced copies of ancient wooden statuettes and other objects to the Western package-tour groups that fill the hotel during the winter high season. But his real money, I’ve been told, comes from collectors—particularly Europeans—who may pay up to several hundred thousand dollars for antique pieces from villages in the region, in defiance of Malian law. My guide told Oungoyba that I was an American collector interested in purchasing “authentic” Dogon art.

The Dogon, subsistence farmers who hold ancient animist beliefs, are one of central Mali’s ethnic groups. In the 15th century, or even earlier, perhaps fleeing a wave of Islamization, they settled along the 100-mile-long Bandiagara Cliffs, which rise just above this village. The Dogon displaced the indigenous Tellem people, who had used caves and cliff dwellings as granaries and burial chambers, a practice the Dogon adopted. They built their villages on the rocky slopes below. Today, the majority of the estimated 500,000 Dogon remain purely animist (the rest are Muslims and Christians), their ancient culture based on a triumvirate of gods. Ritual art—used to connect with the spiritual world through prayer and supplication—can still be found in caves and shrines. Dogon doors and shutters, distinctively carved and embellished with images of crocodiles, bats and sticklike human figures, adorn important village structures.

On the porch of his private compound, Oungoyba, a Dogon, unwraps a few additional objects: a pair of ebony statuettes, male and female, that, he says, date back 80 years, which he offers to sell for $16,000; a slender figurine more than 500 years old, available for $20,000. “Check with any one of my clients,” he says. “They’ll tell you I sell only the real antiquities.”

Two days earlier, in the village of Hombori, I had met an elderly man who told me that a young Dogon from the village had been cursed by the elders and died suddenly after stealing ancient artifacts from a cave and selling them to a dealer. But endemic poverty, the spread of Islam and cash-bearing dealers such as Oungoyba have persuaded many Dogon to part with their relics. Indeed, Oungoyba says he purchased the 700-year-old human figure, which he offers to me for $9,000, from a committee of village elders, who needed money to make improvements to the local schoolhouse. “There are always people in the villages who want to sell,” Oungoyba says. “It’s just a question of how much money.”

The villages of Dogon Country are among hundreds of sites across Mali that local people have plundered for cash. The pillaging feeds an insatiable overseas market for Malian antiquities, considered by European, American and Japanese art collectors to be among the finest in Africa. The objects range from the Inland Niger Delta’s delicate terra-cotta statuettes—vestiges of three empires that controlled Saharan trade routes to Europe and the Middle East for some 600 years—to Neolithic pottery to the carved wooden doors and human figurines made by the Dogon.

According to Malian officials, skyrocketing prices for West African art and artifacts, along with the emergence of sophisticated smuggling networks, threaten to wipe out one of Africa’s greatest cultural heritages. “These [antiquities dealers] are like narcotraffickers in Mexico,” says Ali Kampo, a cultural official in Mopti, a trading town in the Inland Niger Delta. “They’re running illegal networks from the poorest villages to the European buyers, and we don’t have the resources to stop them.”

Mali’s antiquities are protected—in principle. The 1970 Unesco Convention signed in Paris obligated member nations to cooperate in “preventing the illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of cultural property.” Fifteen years later, Mali passed legislation banning export of what is designated broadly as its cultural patrimony. But the laws have proved easy to circumvent. It’s not just poor villagers who have succumbed to temptation. About a decade ago, according to unconfirmed reports, thieves made off with the central door of the Great Mosque of Djenné, a market town in the Inland Niger Delta. The centuries-old wooden door, inlaid with gold, allegedly disappeared while it was being replaced with a facsimile to thwart a plot to steal it. The door, which may well have fetched millions of dollars, was likely smuggled out of the country overland, across the porous border with Burkina Faso.

Antiquity thefts since then have continued apace. In November 2005, officials at France’s Montpellier-Méditerranée Airport intercepted 9,500 artifacts from Mali. Days later, French customs agents outside Arles stopped a Moroccan truck bound for Germany packed with fossils from Morocco and statues, pottery and jewels from Mali. In January 2007, authorities at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris opened nine suspicious-looking packages marked “hand crafted objects” from Bamako, Mali’s capital: inside they found more than 650 bracelets, ax heads, flint stones and stone rings, excavated from Neolithic settlement sites around Ménaka in eastern Mali. Some of these sites date back 8,000 years, when the Sahara was a vast savanna populated by hunter-gatherers. “When you tear these objects out of the ground, that’s the end of any story we can reconstruct about that site in the past, what it was used for, who used it,” says Susan Keech McIntosh, an archaeologist at Rice University in Houston and a leading authority on ancient West African civilizations. “It’s a great loss.”

I met up with McIntosh in Gao, a parched Niger River town of mud-walled houses and domed tents. The sun was setting over the Sahara when I arrived after a two-day drive across the desert from Timbuktu. McIntosh was there to look in on the excavation of a brick-and-stone complex being conducted by her graduate student, Mamadou Cissé. Locals believe that the site, constructed on top of more ancient structures, was built in the 14th century by Kankou Moussa, ruler of the Mali Empire. I found her seated on the concrete floor of an adobe-and-stucco guesthouse owned by Mali’s culture ministry, adjacent to the municipal soccer grounds. With a 40-watt bulb providing the only illumination, she was studying some of the thousands of pottery fragments found at the site. “We’ve gone down nearly 12 feet, and the pottery appears to go back to around 2,000 years ago,” she said, fingering a delicate pale blue shard.

In 1977, McIntosh and her then-husband, Roderick McIntosh, both graduate students in archaeology at the University of California at Santa Barbara, carried out excavations at a 20-foot-high mound that marked the site of Jenne-Jeno, a roughly 2,000-year-old commercial center along the ancient gold-trade route from Ghana and one of the oldest urban centers in sub-Saharan Africa, near present-day Djenné. The couple found pottery and terra-cotta sculptures embedded in clay, along with glass beads from as far away as Southeast Asia. The find was highly publicized: a Times of London correspondent reported on the excavations, and the McIntoshes documented their findings in the journal Archaeology. Meanwhile, the archaeologists also published a monograph on their work, illustrated by photographs of terra-cotta treasures they uncovered in 1977 and 1980, including a headless torso now on display at Mali’s National Museum. A demand for figurines of similar quality was one factor in increased looting in the region, which had begun as far back as the 1960s.

From the 1980s on, she says, thieves ransacked hundreds of archaeological mounds in the Inland Niger Delta and elsewhere. The objects from these sites fetched extraordinary prices: in New York City in 1991, Sotheby’s auctioned a 31 1/4- inch-tall Malian terra-cotta ram, from 600 to 1,000 years old, for $275,000—one of the highest prices commanded to that date for Malian statuary. (A Belgian journalist, Michel Brent, later reported that a Malian counterfeiter had added a fake body and hind legs to the ram, deceiving the world’s African art experts. Brent also charged that the piece had been pillaged from the village of Dary in 1986.) In another notorious case, in 1997, then French President Jacques Chirac returned a terra-cotta ram he had received as a gift after Mali provided evidence that it had been looted from the Tenenkou region.

With a fierce wind blowing from the desert, I venture beyond Gao to observe examples of the systematic looting in the region. Mamadou Cissé, McIntosh’s graduate student, leads me across an archaeological mound known as Gao-Saney. Grains of sand nip at our faces as we trudge across the 25- to 30-foot-high mound, crunching shards of ancient pottery beneath our feet. Below us, on the flood plain, I can make out the long dry bed of the Telemsi River, which likely drew settlers to this site 1,400 years ago. What commands my attention, however, are hundreds of holes, as deep as ten feet, that pockmark this mound. “Watch out,” says Cissé, hopscotching past a trough gouged out of the sand. “The looters have dug everywhere.”

Between A.D. 610 and 1200, Gao-Saney served as a trading center controlled by the Dia dynasty. A decade ago, Western and Malian archaeologists began digging in the sandy soil and uncovered fine pottery, copper bracelets and bead necklaces strung with glass and semiprecious stones. Looters, however, had already burrowed into the soft ground and sold what they found to international dealers in Niger. Several years ago, Mali’s culture ministry hired a guard to watch the site around the clock. “By then it was too late,” Cissé told me, surveying the moonscape. “Les pilleurs had stripped it clean.”

The late Boubou Gassama, director of cultural affairs in the Gao region, had told me that looting had spread up the Telemsi Valley to remote sites virtually impossible to protect. In October 2004, local tipsters told him about a gang of pilleurs who were active in a desert area outside Gao; Gassama brought in the gendarmerie and conducted a predawn sting operation that netted 17 looters, who were making off with beads, arrowheads, vases and other objects from the Neolithic era and later. “They were mostly looking for glass beads, which they can sell in Morocco and Mauritania for as much as $3,000 apiece,” Gassama had said. The men, all of them Tuareg nomads from around Timbuktu, served six months in the Gao prison. Since then, Cissé reports, locals have created “brigades of surveillance” to help protect the sites.

The Malian government has made modest progress combating antiquities theft. Former President Alpha Oumar Konaré, an archaeologist who held office between 1992 and 2002, established a network of cultural missions across the Inland Niger Delta, responsible for policing sites and raising awareness of the need to preserve Mali’s heritage. The government also beefed up security at important mounds. McIntosh, who usually returns to Mali every couple of years, says Konaré’s program has almost eliminated looting in Jenne-Jeno and the surrounding area.

Samuel Sidibé, director of Mali’s National Museum in Bamako, has helped Mali’s customs officials prevent cultural heritage material from leaving the country. Regulations require anyone seeking to export Malian art to submit the objects themselves—as well as a set of photographs—to museum officials. Sidibé and other experts issue export certificates only if they determine that the objects are not, in fact, cultural patrimony. Only two months earlier, Sidibé told me, he had been able to block a shipment of centuries-old terra cottas. Shady exporters are furious about the regulations, he adds, because they make it more difficult for them to pass off copies as authentic artifacts, and prices have nose-dived.

Oungoyba, the illegal antiquities dealer, scoffs at the regulations. I asked him if I would be able to smuggle Dogon sculptures out of the country. “Pas de problème,” he says, flashing a small smile. Oungoyba says that he’ll pack up whatever I purchase in a secured wood crate, and he instructs me to undervalue the purchase by 95 percent. Bamako International Airport, he says, can be tricky; he advises his clients to carry their purchases overland to Niger. Malian customs officials at the border usually can’t be bothered to open the crate. “Just tell them that you spent $100 on it as a gift for your family, and nobody will ask questions,” he assures me, adding that suspicious officials can be bought off. Once I’ve crossed into Niger, he continues, I’ll be home free. The Niger government has been lax about enforcing the Unesco treaty obliging signatories to cooperate in combating antiquities theft. Oungoyba insists that his black-market trade helps the economy of the destitute Dogon region. But others say dealers and buyers hide behind such arguments to justify the damage they’re inflicting on the culture. “They claim they’re doing good things—building hospitals, spreading money around,” Ali Kampo, the cultural official in Mopti, tells me. “But in the end, they’re doing a disservice to humanity.”

Writer Joshua Hammer lives in Berlin. Photographer Aaron Huey works from his base in Seattle, Washington.

Find this article at:

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/people-places/64220862.html

October 27th, 2009

Posted In: African Affairs, Mailing list reports

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A called a lack of respect.

The exhibit, which has been in the courtyard outside of Snyder-Phillips Hall for the past six and a half months, consisted of 12 metal signs valued at as much as $10,000. Each of the signs was marked with the words “Michigan, today your host is,” followed by the names of different Native American tribes in the state.

Four of the 12 were stolen between about 8 p.m. Saturday and 11:30 a.m. Sunday, MSU police Sgt. Florene McGlothian-Taylor said.

Two of the four signs were found inside Mason-Abbot Hall during the weekend, Residential College in the Arts and Humanities Dean Stephen L. Esquith said. Esquith said he does not think they were taken with malicious intent, as the artwork has received nothing but praise in its time at MSU, he said.

“I think it was instead of taking a sign that said, ‘Bogue Street,’ (the thieves) found some more interesting signs that they didn’t understand,” he said. “We are disappointed this happened, but we understand when you display public art like this, someone will find it so attractive they will want to display it themselves.”

Taylor said investigation continues into the theft of the other two signs. There currently are no suspects, she said.

The nationally acclaimed artist, Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds — a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Indian tribes and former visiting artist in residence at the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities — said the thefts reflect an apparent lack of respect from students.

“It’s kind of hard to believe that with such a small campus, people wouldn’t understand it’s an art thing,” he said. “To me, (the theft) related to Native American freedom or rights.”

Political science junior Rhianna Biernat said the theft likely was the product of people trying to be funny. Biernat said she did not understand the meaning of the signs.

“It’s sad that they’re gone,” she said. “I thought the signs were cool. … I think people took them because they didn’t know what they were and thought it was funny. They could have been drunk or whatever.”

Heap of Birds said this is not the first case where his artwork was disrespected. A display at the University of Illinois was vandalized, leading to prosecution of the vandals, he said. The signs need to be replaced and criminal prosecution is worth discussing, he said.

But Heap of Birds said he mostly hopes the other two signs will be returned.

“The work is available for people to see so they can be educated of native rights,” he said. “It’s really necessary to have this type of work to educate, to have students educated about native life and culture — that’s the mission of the art work.”

October 21st, 2009

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The Ministry of Culture is endeavouring for return of over 290 stolen artefacts from Italy and UK that were recovered two years back.

Official sources in the ministry told APP that some 198 priceless objects were recovered from the UK and these 4,000 years old pottery items were handed over to the British Museum which identified these belonging to Pakistan origin.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has asked the Ministry of Culture to arrange transportation for bringing these artefacts back to home.

While some 96 stolen artefacts recovered from Italy were also waiting to be handed over to Pakistan government from the past two years.

The ancient treasures, which were smuggled out of Pakistan, mostly include pottery from the Nal village in Central Baluchistan, 4,000BC – 2,000BC.

Experts from the National Museum of Oriental Art in Rome had established that some of the 100 or so pieces came from South Baluchistan and others from the Indus Valley region, were discovered at a 2005 antiques fair in Italy, the sources said.

These pieces were handed over to Pakistan embassy in Rome, Italy.

“It cannot be said when and how these precious objects left the country. But it is a huge accomplishment that the international community, under the umbrella of UNESCO, is fighting illegal antiquities market and returning stolen artefacts to country of origin,” sources said.

Financial constraints were among the major reasons that caused delayed in the return of these items, the official said. Recently, the Ministry of Culture in the National Assembly, informed that the customs authorities have detained 500 ancient coins and 30 pieces of pottery at the Islamabad International Airport.

The case of these artefacts was under trial in the Customs Court, Rawalpindi and was expected to be handed over to the Department of Archaeology soon.

October 21st, 2009

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The memorandum of understanding, signed on Tuesday in collaboration with the Federal Police Office and the Association of Swiss Cantonal Archaeologists, follows a successful three-month pilot project in 2008.

eBay “will only permit the sale of archaeological artefacts in Switzerland with proof of legality issued by the competent authorities in Switzerland or abroad,” the Culture Office said in a statement.

The restrictions apply particularly to cultural property classified in risk categories including those contained in the “red list” of the International Council of Museums, and in categories defined in bilateral agreements.

Both Interpol and Unesco, the United Nations culture agency, have released recommendations concerning the illegal trade of stolen cultural artefacts.

A law banning the illegal trafficking of cultural property entered into force in Switzerland nearly four years ago. The country is one of the world’s top four trade hubs for art objects.

eBay’s international headquarters are in Bern, the Swiss capital.

October 20th, 2009

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We may not all agree with Zahi Hawass in many aspects of restitution but we cannot deny that the energetic Egyptian cultural activist has a perfect sense of timing and is, in many ways, a very sophisticated strategist that many countries would be well-served to possess.

He first requested from the French Egyptian artefacts for which the French were most probably not ready to fight for. With this initial victory, he reminded the British about his well-known demand for the Rosetta Stone. Before the British could react, he demanded from the Germans the return of the bust of Nefertiti, the Egyptian Queen, who has been kept in German sojourn since 1913 when the notorious German archaeologist Ludwig Borchardt surreptitiously brought the bust to Germany under dubious circumstances which have not yet been completely clarified. Borchardt’s own words indicated that he was fully aware that he was taking the sculpture away from Egypt without the consent of the Egyptians or the authorities responsible for dividing archaeological finds between Egypt and the European archaeologists involved in excavation.

read full text at http://www.museum-security.org/hawass_nefertiti.htm

October 20th, 2009

Posted In: Dr. Kwame Opoku writings about looted cultural objects, Mailing list reports

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By Russ Morgan (Contact)

Security will be tightened at an Emporia State University museum after the theft of several valuable fossils from the school’s collection.

The thefts were reported early last week, but the fossil specimens from the Johnston Geology Museum are believed to have been removed sometime the week before, according to professor and museum director Michael Morales.

Three fossil specimens — two acanthodian fish and a xenocanthus — were taken from the museum, and now staffers are looking at ways to prevent such thefts in the future. Measures might limit students’ access to the museum.

“We’re going to reduce the number of hours it’s open when it’s unattended, so it won’t be open so much anymore on nights and weekends,” Morales said.

Security cameras are a possibility as well, an expense that physical science chair DeWayne Backhus said he would like to avoid if possible.

“We’ve discussed the prospect of security cameras, and that’s an expense I would like to forgo because I try to put the available dollars into instruction,” Backhus said.

The theft was well-orchestrated, leading officials to believe it wasn’t just a college prank. The thief or thieves went into the museum with tools and dismantled the frame that holds a Plexiglass sheet, Morales said. Whoever took the fossils was wearing gloves. Finger marks were made on the Plexiglass, but no fingerprints could be recovered.

“It’s a big Plexiglass, probably four by four or something like that,” Morales said. “They just took it off. They had to break into the case. If it was a prank they would have given it back by now, I suspect.”

One of the specimens in particular was valuable to the school. The xenocanthus, representing a kinship with a freshwater shark, was a specimen of exceptional quality whose value is hard to estimate, Backhus said. The fossil was recovered from a quarry near Hamilton that has provided specimens for several natural history museums in the midwest.

“This was such an incredibly, extraordinarily good specimen,” Backhus said, one that required years of labor and luck to recover and give to the school. “The specimen that was brought in to us was so exceptional it may be the only one of those specimens that would ever be found in that quarry, particularly of the quality of that particular specimen.”

The fossils also are hard to put a dollar value on because of the unique qualities of each specimen, Morales said.

“There are no two specimens alike,” he said. “You can’t buy another specimen that’s the exact same as this one because there’s only one of a kind.”

The value of the specimen is such that it will be impossible to replace in the school’s collection.

“For several hundred dollars, there can be casts purchased of some of these types of fish,” Backhus said. “For a real specimen you might be talking about a few thousand. For the only one of that quality perhaps coming from the Hamilton quarry, you might have to put tens of thousands on it, or just call it priceless.”

Money is one possible motive, but to profit from the theft one would have to turn to the black market.

“A museum or a legitimate educational entity would be typically suspicious of a specimen such as that popping through the door,” Backhus said. “A good museum, a credible museum would want background on the specimen.”

It might be possible for one to turn to the Internet to find underground interest in specimens such as the ones that were stolen.

“I have heard reports that there is private backroom trading that goes on in the collecting world,” Backhus said. “Maybe someone isn’t in it for the scientific interest, but rather for the financial gain that might be made, and I suppose it’s possible, with the Internet being so pervasive in terms of contacting a huge population out there.”

There have been thefts from the science department before, Backhus said, but nothing on the scale of the fossil thefts.

“There was some mischief at one time in the past where a few Indian artifacts were taken, but it would not represent something of the nature of this particular theft,” Backhus said.

Regardless, Backhus and Morales are troubled by the thefts, and by the changes that will take place because of them.

“I think most people are fundamentally honest,” Backhus said. “We want to be open access and we exercise trust, but now that’s been violated.”

“Why do people do bad things?” Morales said. “I don’t know. It certainly might be that they just coveted the specimens. They might be fossil collectors themselves and just wanted them. Or they wanted to sell them.”

October 20th, 2009

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Five men facing extortion charges over the recovery of the Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece Madonna with the Yarnwinder are to stand trial next year.

The artwork was found in Glasgow in 2007 – four years after it was stolen from Drumlanrig Castle, near Thornhill, in Dumfries and Galloway.

At the High Court in Glasgow, Lord Kinclaven set a trial for March 2010.

The case against the men – three from Lancashire and two from Scotland – is expected to last for up to six weeks.

Marshall Ronald, 53, Robert Graham, 57, John Doyle, 61, all from Lancashire, Callum Jones, 44, from Renfrewshire and David Boyce, 52, from Lanarkshire, were all excused attendance during Monday’s hearing.

The painting, which has a value estimated at £30m, has been in the Duke of Buccleuch’s family for two centuries.

Depicting the Madonna with the infant Jesus holding a cross-shaped yarnwinder, it is believed by experts to have been painted between 1500 and 1510.

October 19th, 2009

Posted In: Mailing list reports, Museum thefts

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Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures,
by Robert K. Wittman (Author), John Shiffman (Author)

pre-order this book at:
http://www.amazon.com/dp/0307461475/ref=cm_sw_su_dp

Book’s release expected June 2010

October 19th, 2009

Posted In: Book reviews, Mailing list reports

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By JUDY DEMPSEY

BERLIN — Culture lovers, visitors and the city authorities of Berlin were reveling in the reopening Friday of the Neues Museum in the heart of the German capital by Chancellor Angela Merkel, the culmination of decades of efforts to renovate a special site destroyed during World War II.

But the celebrations have been marred by a growing dispute between the German and Egyptian governments about the star of the show: the 3,300-year-old limestone and stucco bust of Queen Nefertiti, a wife of Pharaoh Akhenaten.

The Nefertiti sculpture has been in Germany since 1913. But it is only now that Egypt is demanding that this fragile and haunting object, perched alone in a domed room that overlooks the length of the museum, be returned.

The Egyptian antiquities chief, Zahi Hawass, told the German media over the past few days that Nefertiti belonged to his country.

In interviews with Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger and Spiegel Online, Mr. Hawass said that an official investigation had begun into how Nefertiti arrived in Germany. “If she left Egypt illegally, which I am convinced she did, then I will officially demand it back from Germany,” he said in both interviews.

It was the first time that Egypt had made an official request for the statue to be returned if it was found to have been illegally removed from Egypt.

The comments from Mr. Hawass came just weeks after the Culture Minister Faruq Hosni of Egypt complained bitterly about his failure to be elected as the new director general of Unesco, the United Nations culture agency based in Paris.

Once considered a front-runner for the post, Mr. Hosni stirred controversy because of remarks made in 2008, when he told the Egyptian Parliament that he would that he would personally burn any Israeli book found in an Egyptian library.

Even though he distanced himself from that remark during his effort to become the first Arab to run Unesco, the United States, France and Elie Wiesel, a prominent survivor of Auschwitz, said his appointment would bring shame to the global community.

A German Foreign Ministry official would not say how Germany had voted. “It is secret,” said the official, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue. She said that there was “no connection between the Egyptian request to have Nefertiti returned and the outcome of the Unesco vote.”

Days after the defeat of Mr. Hosni, Mr. Hawass accused France of stealing antiquities and insisted that they be returned. He referred to five painted wall fragments dating to the Pharoahs which ended up in Paris at the Louvre Museum in 2000 and 2003.

After Egypt threatened to suspend cooperation for exhibitions organized with the Louvre, as well as any work conducted by the Louvre on the Pharaonic necropolis of Saqqara, south of Cairo, the French culture minister, Frédéric Mitterrand, said that his country was ready to return the antiquities if they had been stolen.

German art experts deny that Nefertiti was taken out of Egypt illegally.

“The documentation exists. The arrangements were agreed. The process was legal,” said Monika Grütters, an art history professor, legislator and a leading cultural expert in Mrs. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party.

“There was a complete understanding about what would remain in Egypt and what would be taken to Germany,” Mrs. Grutters said by telephone. “Maybe there is a bit of jealousy on the part of Egypt over Nefertiti. In any event, I am not so sure Egypt has the best conditions for this statue,” she added. “And because it is so fragile, I am not sure the statue can even be flown. We have excellent conditions here in Germany.”

Mr. Hawass alleged that the Egyptian officials may have been misled about how Nefertiti had been taken to Germany in 1913. According to the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, there exists a document written in 1924 explaining how the secretary of the German Oriental Company, which was involved in the region, gave an account of a meeting in 1913 between a senior Egyptian official and the German archaeologist Ludwig Borchardt. Mr. Borchardt had found the bust during a dig in 1912.

According to the document, the secretary was present at the meeting, which had been called to divide the spoils of a dig between Germany and Egypt. Mr. Borchardt, the witness noted, “wanted to save the bust for us.” Perhaps intentionally, the bust was not shown in the best light.

Hermann Parzinger, the head of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, which oversees Berlin’s museums, told journalists ahead of the opening of the galleries that he was confident that Nefertiti’s place in Germany was secure.

The Neues Museum was for years a derelict, bomb-scarred shell. Situated in the former East Germany, it was left in its war-torn state because of the lack of funds. Nefertiti and thousands of other items have now been returned to their former home for the first time. It was only after the reunification of Germany in 1990 that Berlin city authorities, with substantial support from the federal government, could embark on a huge renovation of cultural sites, which has drawn more tourists to the city.

The neoclassical architecture of the museum, which has been recognized as a Unesco world heritage site, has been given a modernist touch by the British architect David Chipperfield. In his €233-million, or $347 million, redesign, he left some of the historic decay untouched. The original columns still show fire damage.

October 19th, 2009

Posted In: Mailing list reports

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Relic hunters descend on US, European museums

China Daily, October 19, 2009

China will send an expert team to trace and document relics taken from the Old Summer Palace that are now in foreign countries, a park official said on October 18.

The team of experts will visit museums, libraries and private collectors in 2010 in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Japan and other countries for photos, documents and archives of relics plundered from the Old Summer Palace, according to Chen Mingjie, director of the park’s management office.

“We hope to build a complete database of the Old Summer Palace’s lost relics so we can have a clearer view of the historical royal garden, then known as the ‘Garden of Gardens’ before it was looted and burned down in 1860 by invading British and French armies,” said Chen.

“We don’t really know how many relics have been plundered since the catalogue of treasures stored in the garden was burned during the catastrophe. But based on our rough calculations, about 1.5 million relics are housed in more than 2,000 museums in 47 countries.”

Some of them are being showcased in the British Museum and the Fontainebleau Art Museum in France, Chen added.

The expert team has contacted several museums and libraries so far without encountering resistance, according to Chen.

“We have clarified that this is an attempt to document rather than to seek a return of those relics,” said Chen, “even though we do hope some previously unknown relics might surface and some might be returned to our country during our tracing effort.”

A camera crew from China Central Television will follow and document the team’s effort to keep the domestic audience posted about their progress, but possibilities exist that video or photography might not be allowed.

“We will get as much as we can,” said Chen.

Like other ancient civilizations, China saw many cultural relics taken overseas when the country was subjected to wars and occupation.

According to the Chinese Cultural Relics Association, more than 10 million Chinese cultural relics were taken from the country between 1840 and 1949, a large number of which are now stored at major public museums in Europe and the US.

China has been actively seeking the return of overseas relics during the past decade through purchases at international auctions, donations by private collectors or overseas Chinese and increasingly through diplomatic means based on international conventions.

Last February, two looted fountainheads from the Old Summer Palace were sold at auction giant Christie’s for 14 million euros (US$17.9 million), which roused opposition from the Chinese and international communities.

http://www.china.org.cn/arts/2009-10/19/content_18725112.htm


October 18th, 2009

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Precious stones stolen in Iceland

By Alex on Oct 18, 2009 in Finance and Business, General, Iceland, MBL

Around 500 crystals, which were on display in Berufjordur, Iceland, were stolen some time this week. The thieves concentrated solely on the gem exhibition and left everything else alone.

The museum, Teigarhornid is considered one of the finest stone collections in Iceland. The museum owner lives in Reykjavik but makes the trip to Berufjordur regularly, most recently on Friday night when she noticed that the theft had taken place.

Jonina Ingvarsdottir, one of the museum owners says that pretty much the entire stone collection has been taken.

The police were called to the scene of Friday night and are now investifgating the burglary of the 500 stones – some of which were for sale. Ingvarsdottir believes the collection is worth around ISK 16 million (USD 130,000) – but the collection was not insured.

A lot of work has reportedly gone into building the collection up and thousands of tourists visit the exhibition every year.


October 16th, 2009

Posted In: Mailing list reports, Museum thefts

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In an article entitled Egypt asks British Museum for the Rosetta Stone after Louvre victory, the British Daily Telegraph reports that soon after the Louvre has agreed to return the stolen frescoes, Zahi Hawass, the dynamic Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities has asked the British Museum for a loan of the Rosetta Stone. The Telegraph also reports that: “Mr. Hawass acknowledged that seeking the return of the Rosetta Stone was a different proposition from the painted fragments in the Louvre.”  The paper adds that: “A spokesman said the British Museum “enjoys good relations” with Egypt and promised to consider Mr Hawass’s request.”

read full text at: http://www.museum-security.org/hawass-rosetta.htm

October 16th, 2009

Posted In: African Affairs, Dr. Kwame Opoku writings about looted cultural objects, Mailing list reports

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The West L.A. art collector, who reportedly stood to recoup $25 million for the 11 pieces, told the Seattle Times that he doesn’t want to go through the hassle of the insurer’s investigation.

By Joel Rubin

8:08 PM PDT, October 15, 2009

The owner of a multimillion-dollar collection of artwork stolen last month has unexpectedly waived the insurance policy he owns to protect the paintings, Los Angeles police detectives confirmed Thursday.

The art world was abuzz in early September with word that a series of original works by famed Pop Art icon Andy Warhol had been stolen from the walls of noted art collector Richard L. Weisman’s Westside Los Angeles home.

In all, 11 brightly colored silk screen paintings were gone — 10 are portraits of famous athletes and one is of Weisman, 69, who was friends with Warhol and commissioned the series in the late 1970s.

Each piece was estimated by some experts to be worth at least $1 million.

Dets. Donald Hrycyk and Mark Sommer, who make up the Los Angeles Police Department’s art theft detail, had few leads to follow. There was no sign of forced entry and no substantial witness accounts. And, oddly, other valuable pieces of art in the home had been left untouched.

Now, Weisman has said he is not going to pursue a payout from the company that insured the paintings.

“It is curious,” Sommer said. “We’d like to talk to him about it.”

Sommer said it has been difficult to track down Weisman. The detective added that there are no suspects in the case.

News of the canceled policy was first reported by the Seattle Times, which said Weisman stood to recoup $25 million for the art and quoted Weisman as saying that he would rather give up the money than go through the hassle of the insurance company’s investigation into the theft.

Weisman did not return calls seeking comment Thursday evening.

A spokesperson for Chartis Insurance, the company that reportedly covered the work, declined to comment.

joel.rubin@latimes.com

October 15th, 2009

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Fire officials still aren’t sure why a fire sprinkler malfunctioned at the State Historical Society of Missouri last month, although they have deemed the sprinkler head is a product no longer being produced.

The faulty sprinkler head was manufactured by Simplex-Grinnell in the mid-1970s and was designed to activate when exposed to excessive heat. The Columbia Fire Department does not believe the sprinkler was exposed to heat on Sept. 30, when it activated and soaked multiple backup copies of state documents at Ellis Library.

The University of Missouri has identified 21 additional sprinklers of this model in the society’s leased space at the library. Administrators are in the process of replacing those sprinkler heads.

According to the fire department, a fire sprinkler head failure is extremely rare.

October 15th, 2009

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New Potential Suspect In Art Theft Investigation
Published On 10/15/2009 1:14:46 AM
By ZOE A.Y. WEINBERG
Contributing Writer
The investigation of an alleged $80 million theft of a Harvard doctor’s art collection has taken yet another bizarre turn, with the Boston Globe now reporting that officials are looking into whether the doctor’s business partner is to blame.

The line of inquiry comes just two weeks after former Harvard Medical School instructor Ralph Kennaugh and his business partner Angelo B. Amadio said that $80 million worth of artwork was stolen from their home in California. Last week, investigators identified the alleged victims as possible suspects in the case, but last Friday, the Globe reported that Amadio may have stolen the art from Kennaugh, according to the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office. The Sheriff’s Office would not confirm this report when contacted.

During a press conference last week, Commander Mike Richards said that several of Amadio’s statements have been false and inconsistent. Amadio’s background has also come into question. Richards said that Amadio is “reportedly a venture capitalist,” and has “a number of scams related to him.”

The investigators have asked Kennaugh and Amadio to take polygraph tests but they have both declined, according to Richards.

“The bottom line is that this is a simple investigation that could have been made a lot easier with the cooperation of the victims,” Richards said at the press conference. “We’ve been blocked all the way on this thing.”

According to David St. John, the insurance consultant who was responsible for buying insurance for the artwork, Kennaugh and Amadio refused to take polygraph tests because they are part of a small corporation.

St. John would not reveal the names of the corporation’s members, but did say that because all members of the corporation would be required to take the test, and that because one member objected, neither Kennaugh nor Amadio would take the test.

Following the press conference last week, Kennaugh and Amadio indicated that they would be more cooperative, according to Richards. On Oct. 9, Kennaugh and Amadio released a document listing the artwork that had been stolen, but Richards said he could not verify the authenticity of the document.

St. John said that he has seen the artwork and believes the artwork to be real.

“[Kennaugh and Amadio] are not some blue collar people that have copies of Van Gogh on their wall like a motel,” he said.

On Oct. 6 Kennaugh and Amadio gave the police a typed-ransom note that they said they had found behind a painting that had not been stolen. Richards said that they have conducted full fingerprinting analysis of the note. Additionally, the police say they have determined that there was no entry at the alleged point of break in.

But St. John asserted the innocence of Kennaugh and Amadio and accused the police department for “incompetence” in the investigation process. St. John alleges that the police failed to fingerprint the apartment until four days after the theft was reported.

Richards said that the FBI and Interpol have been consulted on the case, but that the investigation is still being conducted by the Sheriff’s office.

“Why would [the Sheriff’s office] talk to the FBI if they believed the pieces didn’t exist?” St. John asked.

He later added, “The sheriff’s department is pulling up a smokescreen. They were caught with their britches down and now they are trying to cover it up by turning the blame on Kennaugh and Amadio.”

Both the Sheriff’s office and St. John agree that the case is complicated. “We feel manipulated,” Richards said.

But St. John said, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. Or perhaps I should say something is rotten in the Monterey county.”

http://www.thecrimson.com/article.aspx?ref=529530

October 15th, 2009

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Miércoles 14 de octubre de 2009 | 08:08 (actualizado a las 08:08) Noticias de Información general: anterior | siguiente

Tres ladrones intentaron asaltar la caja fuerte del Museo de Ciencias Naturales de La Plata, y al no poder abrirla, se llevaron solamente dinero, celulares y algunas pertenencias de valor de dos empleados y dos visitantes.
La policía indicó que el inusual hecho ocurrió en la tarde de ayer, alrededor de las 19, cuando tres ladrones fuertemente armados irrumpieron en una de las oficinas administrativas del Museo, ubicado en el cruce de la diagonal 75 y las calles 61 y 62, dentro del Paseo del Bosque.
Los ladrones, tras reducir a la directora del establecimiento, dos turistas chilenos y otro empleado, intentaron violentar con una barreta la caja fuerte de hierro sólido y, como no lo lograron, se llevaron dinero, celulares y algunas pertenencias de valor de las víctimas.
Según los informantes, los ladrones huyeron en una camioneta que los esperaba en las inmediaciones del Museo con otro cómplice al volante.
Lo ocurrido fue denunciado por Silvia Ametranno, directora del paseo turístico-cultural asaltado.

October 15th, 2009

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Iraq blocks sale of Mesopotamian artifacts in German auction

Iraqi diplomats in Germany have stopped the sale of 28 Mesopotamian artifacts believed to have been smuggled from the country in the years since the 2003-U.S. invasion.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has asked the Iraqi embassy in Germany to appoint a lawyer and launch a lawsuit to have the artifacts returned to Iraq.
Under an Iraqi law issued in 2007, Iraqi envoys in foreign countries are required to report on the exhibition of Mesopotamian artifacts or their auctioning.
Information on the Iraqi items is passed to experts who determine whether they were part of tens of thousands of items that have been looted or illegally dug in the past few years.
The items whose sale has been blocked in Germany dated to the ancient civilizations that flourished in southern Iraq, particularly the Sumerians.
Iraqi scientists say Germany is not doing enough to have the smuggled items on its territory returned to the country.
But Iraqi envoys in Germany have already won a court case for the return of a priceless gold item of astounding beauty.
The gold piece which is more than 4500 years old is currently in the possession of Iraq Museum.
The court victory has encouraged Iraqi diplomats across Europe to resort to judicial procedures to crack down on Iraqi antiquity smugglers.

October 15th, 2009

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Italian officials assist in returning artifacts worth $4M
ReutersSeptember 25, 2009

Italian police working with the FBI have recovered more than 1,000 Italian artifacts found in the home of a U.S. collector, ranging from medieval scrolls to a letter signed by former dictator Benito Mussolini.

The 1,140 pieces, valued at more than $4 million, were part of a collection of 3,500 articles assembled in the Illinois home of Italian-American collector John Sisto, who died in 2007.

The artifacts, which Sisto collected over the years, were stolen from town archives, libraries and churches in the southern regions of Puglia, Sicily and Molise, and exported illegally, Italian police said.

After Sisto’s death, his two sons contacted U.S. authorities after discovering the collection scattered around the family home in Berwyn, Ill.

The trove included 348 parchments dating back as far as the 12th century, more than 400 archeological artifacts, and documents signed by famous Italians including 19th-century unification hero Giuseppe Garibaldi.

“We are returning to Puglia artifacts taken by an immigrant who wanted too many reminders of his own land,” said Col. Luigi Cortellessa, deputy head of the police department in charge of protecting Italy’s cultural heritage.

It was not clear how Sisto got hold of the artifacts. Police said Sisto’s sons were unaware of their father’s activities and contacted U.S. authorities because they did not know what to do with the antiquities.

Italy, together with archeological powerhouse Greece, has stepped up international efforts in recent years to return looted antiquities smuggled to foreign museums and private collections.

Italy dropped a high-profile lawsuit against California’s Getty Museum in 2007 when it agreed to return 40 items and signed a loans and co-operation agreement.

October 14th, 2009

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http://www.theartnewspaper.tv/

October 14th, 2009

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Egypt battling for more relics after Louvre success

CAIRO — Many relics from ancient Egypt remain in foreign museums and Cairo is struggling to persuade other countries to send them back, like France which agreed to return a set of 3,000-year-old wall painting fragments.

“It is the Egyptian people’s right to see works of art from their country’s civilisation,” said Abdel Halim Nureddin, a former head of Egypt’s antiquities authority.

The vast majority of Egyptians “do not have the money for a plane ticket to see the Rosetta Stone in London,” he said.

A special commission of the French museums’ agency decided on Friday to hand over the five fragments after ruling that they were stolen in the 1980s before ending up at the Louvre in 2000 and 2003.

But a number of the world’s most famous museums are clinging on to collections of priceless Egyptian antiquities from the time of the Pharoahs, many of them acquired during British colonial rule.

The Rosetta Stone, famous for helping the understanding of Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics by showing the same information in three different scripts, has been on display at the British Museum since soon after its 1799 discovery.

Cairo wants that back and is also seeking the return from Berlin of the 34-centuries-old bust of Queen Nefertiti that was discovered on the banks of the Nile.

Other artefacts that Egypt would like to regain include the Dendera Zodiac from the Louvre, a bust of pyramid builder Ankhaf from the Boston Museum of Fine Art, and a statue of architect Hemiunu, currently in the Roemer und Pelizaeus Museum in Hildesheim, Germany.

France decided to return the wall painting pieces after Zawi Hawass, the current head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, announced last Wednesday that Cairo was halting cooperation with the Louvre until the relics were sent back.

Egypt has previously severed relations with other museums, including St Louis in the United States, but it was the first time it had taken a stand against an institution as prestigious as the Louvre.

The fragments, known as steles, “must return to Egyptian territory” because they are “part of the cultural heritage” and are “very important from a scientific viewpoint,” said Jihane Zaki, director of international cooperation at the antiquities authority. — AFP

October 13th, 2009

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pe, art theft bring prison

A judge slapped a 40- to 60-year sentence on a man who stole a local church’s centuries-old Virgin Mary painting to try to fund an abortion for the 14-year-old girl he raped.

This morning, Douglas County District Judge Joseph Troia sentenced Aurelio Vallecillo-Sanchez to the term — which translates to 20 to 30 years’ incarceration under state sentencing guidelines.

Vallecillo-Sanchez, 40, will not be eligible for parole until after 20 years. If he is not paroled, he likely will be released — and deported — after serving 30 years.

Vallecillo-Sanchez, 40, had faced up to 70 years in prison — 50 for the sexual assault and 20 years for the theft of “The Virgin Immaculata,” a painting that St. Cecilia Cathedral officials valued at $100,000.

Vallecillo-Sanchez had planned to sell the painting and use the proceeds to pay for an abortion for the 14-year-old girl.

But after taking the girl to Mexico, a doctor viewed an ultrasound and informed Vallecillo-Sanchez and the girl that the fetus was too far along.

That wasn’t all. Prosecutors and police say that Vallecillo-Sanchez threatened to kill the girl and her family if she told anyone he was the father.

Police investigating the sexual assault of the girl then spoke with Vallecillo-Sanchez’s children, who told them of a series of church thefts that Vallecillo-Sanchez committed in 2006 and 2007.

In all, Vallecillo-Sanchez was suspected of stealing dozens of pieces of religious artwork from at least five area churches.

October 13th, 2009

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Heritage of Alms – Sad Plight of Sub-Saharan States

http://allafrica.com/stories/200910120117.html

Nairobi ˜ Underfunding and shortage of professionals are the main hurdles facing conservation of world heritage sites in sub-Saharan Africa, experts say.

Due to inadequate funding by the concerned countries, conservationists rely on external donors to implement projects such as conservation of natural, cultural, immovable, movable, tangible and intangible heritage on the continent.

The International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property director general, Mounir Bouchnaki, said conservation of heritage sites will not be sustainable if African states continue relying on donor funds.

Dr Bouchnaki said conservation activities in many African countries will come to a halt if donors pull out.

“The major challenge we face is lack of adequate funds to conserving heritage sites. Many countries depend on external donors as their governments have not prioritised the protection of national heritage.

“It is sad that the authorities have not realised the importance of our cultures, which play a major part in spurring economic growth. Kenya, for instance, attracts many tourists due to its diverse cultures.”

Dr Bouchnaki said the continent has a shortage of professionals who could manage and conserve national heritage.

This, he added, was because African governments have not earmarked adequate funds to train conservationists. Instead, they have left the task to unqualified personnel.

“We need people with the knowledge to manage and preserve our cultural sites… some of which are in danger of being wiped off the map,” he said.

The director general said the continent lags behind in listing its heritage sites with Unesco, adding that only 60 of its sites are on the UN organisation’s roll.

By comparison, Italy has 42 sites — the largest number by a single country in the world.

Dr Bouchnaki, however, said the Africa 2009 group will forward more sites in the continent to Unesco for consideration.

Through the programme, he said, 300 professionals have been trained on maintenance and conservation, management planning, interpretation and promotion.

He was speaking at Sarova Whitesands Beach Resort in Mombasa during an Africa 2009 programme directors’ seminar.

Participants were drawn from 30 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and representatives from the World Heritage Centre, Sweden and Norway.

National Museums of Kenya director general Idle Farah agreed that inadequate funding had affected conservation of world heritage sites in the country.

He said NMK relies heavily on donor support to implement conservation projects since funds from the government are inadequate.

“Conserving most of the projects that we undertake depends a lot on external funding. If donors withdraw their support, we will face many difficulties,” the NMK official said.

“The government should plough back more resources into protecting endangered World Heritage Sites such as Lamu, which is currently threatened by land grabbers,” he added.

The NMK boss said they had forwarded more sites to Unesco for possible enlistment since the country has only four World Heritage Sites.

Kenya has an acute shortage of professionals and is unable to effectively manage and conserve its national heritage.

The acting Commissioner of Uganda’s Department of Museums and Monuments, Rose Mwanja, said they receive very little funding from the government to conserve the country’s three listed heritage sites.

She said the government only earmarks funds for salaries and administrative issues, making the department rely on donors for support.

She thanked the embassies of America, France, Germany and Norway, as well as other foreign organisations like Unesco, for funding conservation projects.

Other problems affecting conservation efforts in Uganda include lack of trained staff and poverty — which has triggered large-scale sale of old buildings by locals to well-off foreigners in Old Kampala town.

“Our efforts to conserve historical buildings in the town have proved futile,” Ms Mwanja said.

She added that the department was creating public awareness to halt the sale of heritage sites.

Tanzania’s Head of Cultural Heritage Development, Digna Tillya, said inadequate funds have crippled efforts to conserve immovable cultural heritage sites in the country.

She said rehabilitating and restoring heritage sites was expensive, adding that the country had inadequate professionals.

Among the pending projects she cited were restoration of old buildings, walls, wells, ruins, tombs and other settlements.

“Employees conversant with cultural heritage development are very few,” she said.

She added that locals are yet to realise the importance of conserving immovable cultural heritage.

To overcome these shortcomings, the department would conduct fund-raising drives, she said.

The country would also train more personnel to assist in conservation.

“All stakeholders will be involved in these activities,” she said.

Representatives of the 30 sub-Saharan countries agreed to work together on personnel training, management and conservation of the continent’s heritage sites.

Copyright © 2009 The East African. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).

October 13th, 2009

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READ FULL TEXT http://www.museum-security.org/louvre-hawass.htm

October 11th, 2009

Posted In: African Affairs, Dr. Kwame Opoku writings about looted cultural objects, Mailing list reports

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Read full text


October 10th, 2009

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Egypt battling for more relics after Louvre success

By Ines Bel Aiba (AFP) – 2 hours ago

CAIRO — Many relics from ancient Egypt remain in foreign museums and Cairo is struggling to persuade other countries to send them back, like France which agreed to return a set of 3,000-year-old wall painting fragments.

“It is the Egyptian people’s right to see works of art from their country’s civilisation,” said Abdel Halim Nureddin, a former head of Egypt’s antiquities authority.

The vast majority of Egyptians “do not have the money for a plane ticket to see the Rosetta Stone in London,” he said.

A special commission of the French museums’ agency decided on Friday to hand over the five fragments after ruling that they were stolen in the 1980s before ending up at the Louvre in 2000 and 2003.

But a number of the world’s most famous museums are clinging on to collections of priceless Egyptian antiquities from the time of the Pharoahs, many of them acquired during British colonial rule.

The Rosetta Stone, famous for helping the understanding of Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics by showing the same information in three different scripts, has been on display at the British Museum since soon after its 1799 discovery.

Cairo wants that back and is also seeking the return from Berlin of the 34-centuries-old bust of Queen Nefertiti that was discovered on the banks of the Nile.

Other artefacts that Egypt would like to regain include the Dendera Zodiac from the Louvre, a bust of pyramid builder Ankhaf from the Boston Museum of Fine Art, and a statue of architect Hemiunu, currently in the Roemer und Pelizaeus Museum in Hildesheim, Germany.

France decided to return the wall painting pieces after Zawi Hawass, the current head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, announced on Wednesday that Cairo was halting cooperation with the Louvre until the relics were sent back.

Egypt has previously severed relations with other museums, including St Louis in the United States, but it was the first time it had taken a stand against an institution as prestigious as the Louvre.

The fragments, known as steles, “must return to Egyptian territory” because they are “part of the cultural heritage” and are “very important from a scientific viewpoint,” said Jihane Zaki, director of international cooperation at the antiquities authority.

The relics, from the tomb of an 18th dynasty dignitary in the Valley of the Kings, “should never have left their place of origin,” Louvre president Henri Loyrette admitted.

The victory owes much to a campaign by Hawass, who has fought since his appointment in 2002 for the return of Egyptian antiquities.

“Everything which was stolen from us should be given back,” he demanded in January.

However, the restitution of the fragments, measuring 15 centimetres (six inches) wide and 30 cm (one foot) high, does not necessarily herald the return of the other more significant artefacts.

“Everyone agrees on the principle” that Egypt should have control of all historic relics, but the “procedures are debatable,” according to a European diplomat in Cairo.

The museums base their approach on the 1970 UNESCO convention on illicit trafficking in works of art, which exempts transfers carried out before the convention was drawn up.

For instance, Hass says the bust of Nefertiti was covered in clay and shipped secretly to Germany following its discovery by German archaeologist Ludwig Borchardt in December 1912.

But Berlin insists it acquired the bust legally in 1913 and says any relocation of the “fragile” sculpture would be risky.

Egypt has threatened to refuse to allow other antiquities to be taken to Germany unless Nefertiti is sent on loan, but the stand has so far been ineffective.

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October 10th, 2009

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The Hawass Code – Bikya Masr

CAIRO: The Louvre and Egypt’s chief Egyptologist made up on Friday, as the French museum agreed to return five artifacts allegedly stolen from the North African country after Egypt had cut ties with the museum on Wednesday. The French move was met with a promise from Zahi Hawass, the head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, to restore ties.

The dispute highlights who is in charge of Egypt’s ancient past, Zahi Hawass. Since taking charge of Egypt’s antiquities in 2003, the Secretary-General has been an ardent campaigner to have all artifacts taken from the sands of the country returned to Egyptian museums, but his efforts, until recently had been unfruitful. The Louvre’s decision to return the artifacts, which appear to have been stolen in the 1980s, is a major victory for Hawass.

“We see this as proof that Egypt deserves to have all stolen artifacts returned to this country because it is their rightful home. What country wouldn’t want their artifacts back on their homeland,” an official at the SCA told Bikya Masr on Saturday.

But, Hawass has been under fire from a number of sides in recent weeks from rights groups who accuse the man of dictatorial polices concerning debate and scientific findings. The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) called out Hawass for allegedly pushing aside a researcher for stating views that differed from the SCA Secretary-General’s, which led to dozens of investigations, the rights group said in a statement published last Monday.

Ahmed Saleh, the researcher in question, told ANHRI that he was “alarmed with a series of investigations and announcements from Hawass in newspapers” that the researcher felt were undermining and ridiculing his work. According to ANHRI, the researcher proposed a new approach on how to deal with “some Egyptian antiquities, especially the mummy of King Tut.”

Saleh is a mummification specialist and has a Master’s degree in Egyptian antiquities.

ANHRI claims Hawass – who has become the poster-child of Egyptology worldwide with his cowboy hat – launched dozens of press campaigns against Saleh, after “Hawass would not accept a subordinate who is more knowledgeable, even if the researcher’s propositions are proved to be correct and for the good of the Egyptian antiquities.”

The Louvre and Saleh’s situation highlight the power Hawass has achieved. He is listed as one of the globe’s most influential persons and has taken it to heart, moving with speed to criticize foreign museums and threaten a suspension of ties with Egypt. Until recently, these threats were met with little fanfare, but the French museum’s acquiescence is likely to spur more demands from Egypt.

“I suspect that this decision will create more demands from Hawass and Egypt to have artifacts returned to the country, even though they don’t have the proper ability to maintain them,” said German Egyptologist Hannah, who asked that her full name not be published. “We all need to work in this country, but if Hawass and the government continue this push, it will be more and more difficult.”

Without proper museum capabilities, Egyptologists do not believe the country has a right to demand artifacts back. “How will they keep them so future generations can see them. Look at the Egyptian Museum, it is full of dust and thousands of pieces lie in the basement without proper care,” said the Egyptologist, who has worked in the country for years.

The criticism Hawass is receiving is not likely to change the man’s demands in the near future. He has blamed foreign tourists for much of the destruction in and around the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, which has pushed the SCA to make the area an open-musuem, forcing aside thousands of Egyptians who have lived near the relics for centuries.

In an interview with Bikya Masr’s Editor/Founder last year, Hawass said in his Cairo office that “if we do not act now, the history of this country could quickly disappear and we cannot have that.” And he is acting, as the Louvre knows very well.

But, for all his cheerful spirit – Hawass gave his fabled cowboy hat to American President Barack Obama in June – he has his critics, who claim he searches for fame before truly acting as a caretaker.

“He is paid thousands of dollars for each appearance he makes for the Discovery Channel and every time he writes or appears anywhere. The man makes so much money that it is no wonder he tries to curtail other opinions,” an Egyptian researcher told Bikya Masr. The researcher, who works for the SCA, says that “everyone in the council knows what goes on, but he is the boss and his rules go, so there is little we can do.”

With the Louvre returning stolen artifacts, Hawass is not likely to slow in his quest to have all artifacts, including the Nefertiti bust in Germany and the Rosetta Stone in London returned. Threats are no longer seen as empty, say archaeologists, and the situation is likely to heat up before it calms down.

October 9th, 2009

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MIAMI — The U.S. is taking legal steps in Miami to return a stolen, 3,000-year-old sarcophagus to Egypt.

Federal prosecutors filed court papers Thursday seeking forfeiture of the ancient artifact. It wound up in Miami last year following a series of transactions that began at an antique dealership in Barcelona, Spain.

Egyptian authorities say the sarcophagus was probably illegally excavated years ago. It’s made out of wood and is yellow in color, covered by elaborate hieroglyphics and symbols. Prosecutors say it was constructed between 1070 and 946 B.C. for the mummified remains of an unknown person.

Virtually all such antiquities belong to the Egyptian government. The court case would allow for the sarcophagus to return to Egypt.

October 9th, 2009

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Woman who embezzled from Midway Museum gets year in jail

By Dana Littlefield

Union-Tribune Staff Writer

4:58 p.m. October 8, 2009

SAN DIEGO – A woman who embezzled more than $100,000 from the USS Midway Museum where she once worked was ordered to serve a year in county jail and was placed on probation for five years.

Veronica Gonzalez Monay, 35, of Chula Vista pleaded guilty Aug. 26 in San Diego Superior Court to charges of grand theft and fraudulent appropriation by an employee. She could have been sent to prison for up to four years.

Defense attorney Gretchen von Helms noted Thursday that Gonzalez cooperated fully with investigators and was remorseful about her behavior.

Von Helms said her client was a single mother struggling to raise her daughter when the thefts occurred. The 12-year-old is now living with Gonzalez’s ex-husband.

Thursday, Gonzalez provided the last child-support payment she received – a check for $154 – as payment toward restitution.

Judge Timothy Weathers acknowledged Gonzalez’s remorse, her early admission of guilt, and “insignificant” previous criminal record, but focused less on her personal history.

“No personal problem really excuses taking that kind of money,” he said. Deputy District Attorney James Teh has said Gonzalez worked for three years as an accounting manager at the aircraft carrier museum, and stole 21 cash deposits totaling $111,000.

Gonzalez resigned when the museum’s chief financial officer notified her of accounting irregularities, giving only two days notice, the prosecutor said.

Authorities received information later through an external audit that pointed to Gonzalez.

Dana Littlefield: (619) 542-4590;

http://www3.signonsandiego.com/stories/2009/oct/08/bn08-midway-embezzle-case/

October 9th, 2009

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ART FORGERY SCANDAL IN STOCKHOLM
A former Stockholm art gallery owner has been charged with a 30 million kronor ($4.4 million) art forgery scam. The name of the dealer in question was not given, but he is accused of faking works by some heavyweight modernists, including Georges Braque, Alberto Giacometti, Edward Munch and Egon Schiele. Police claim that they found 15 forged works when they searched his house, and that he sold the fakes with forged certificates of authenticity from Sweden’s National Museum of Fine Arts. Authorities also say that the alleged forger secured a 200,000 kronor ($28,500) loan using a fake Braque painting as collateral, and attempted to sell “falsely signed” works by Viktor Vasarely through the website Blocket.se.

October 8th, 2009

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