Archive for the ‘Looting’ Category

Nedjemankh’s gilded coffin repatriated

Thursday, September 26th, 2019

The exquisite Late Ptolemaic gilded cartonnage coffin of the priest Nedjemankh was officially returned to Egyptian authorities in a ceremony in New York City Wednesday. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., Special Agent-in-Charge for Homeland Security Investigations Peter C. Fitzhugh and Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Hassan Shoukry presided over the formal repatriation of the six-foot coffin that was looted from Egypt in the wake of the popular uprising that overthrew Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in January 2011.

The mummiform coffin decorated with thick layer of gesso reliefs and covered in an unbroken layer of gold was bought by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2017 for $4 million. The seller was French dealer Christophe Kunicki who gave the Met an export document from Egypt dated 1971 as proof that the exceptional, never-before-seen object had been legally removed from the country and been slumbering unknown in ye olde Swiss private collection. In February of 2019, after months of investigation, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit informed the museum that the export document was a forgery, the coffin very recently looted and the Met defrauded of four million dollars.

The investigation traced the movement of the coffin from its theft in the Minya region in October 2011 to the United Arab Emirates, Germany — where it was restored — the auction house in France and finally New York. This is just the tip of the iceberg and the investigation is ongoing, active in three countries.

At a press conference attended by Egypt’s minister of foreign affairs Sameh Shoukry on Wednesday, New York’s district attorney Cyrus Vance said the probe revealed “glaring inconsistencies” related to the coffin’s sale.

That the artifact first surfaced in 2011, a year that saw the revolution overthrow president Hosni Mubarak, “should have been a red flag,” Vance said.

Not to mention the reddest of red flags in the book, the Swiss private collection canard. I still can’t even believe I fell for that.

Vance said he had elaborated on details of the investigation “in the hope that folks in the industry will take note and perhaps use the lessons learnt in this case to better scrutinise their acquisitions.” […]

Vance said it was among hundreds of objects stolen by the same multi-national trafficking ring, and that “more significant seizures of prominent antiquities in the months and years to come” are possible.

Good. Can’t happen soon enough.

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Triple Hecate confiscated from smugglers

Tuesday, July 9th, 2019

Police have recovered a striking Roman-era marble statue during a smuggling bust in Turkey’s southwestern Denizli province. Two vehicles were being followed as part of a police investigation into antiquities smuggling. Anti-smuggling and anti-organized crime police units pulled the cars over, searched them and the statue was discovered inside one. Four individuals were detained on suspicion of violations of the Protection of Cultural and Natural Heritage Law.

The reports in the press are meager with little in the way of detail. The sculpture is sketchily described as three-headed statue of a beautiful woman with torches and wings, but I don’t think that’s accurate. For one thing, each head has its own body, albeit squared at the side. You can tell from the Doric chiton they each wear that it’s three individual figures, not a single three-headed lady. The central female figure holds a torch in each hand, the side figures hold torches in one hand. The reliefs on the back described as “wings” just look like their second arms to me. They’re very roughly hewn with the draping lines indicating the short sleeves and Playmobil style gripper hands, so I can see why someone might consider them winglike.

This is a triple Hecate. Hecate was a protective deity, guardian of gates and crossroads, often depicted holding double torches and as a threesome, handy when you’re keeping watch over all lines of approach. Pausanias, in his 2nd century travelogue Description of Greece, claims that the 5th century B.C. sculptor Alcamenes was the first to create a triple statue of Hecate. If so, he started a trend that would outlast ancient Greece and Rome and still be going strong in artistic motifs by the likes of William Blake.

The worship of Hecate was widespread in Thrace and Anatolia. It may have even originated there and spread to Greece later. Hecate was a particular favorite of the ancient city of Byzantium who would become in its later Roman incarnation the capital of one empire, then the capital of another and is today the city of Istanbul.

Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, flush from a number of military successes, turned his attention to the Hellespont in 340 B.C., and besieged the city of Perinthus on the Sea of Marmara west of Byzantium. Perinthus, perched on a high slope with strong walls and stone houses jammed close together to act as a secondary barrier once the walls were breached, defended by the allied forces of Athens and constantly resupplied by Byzantium, proved too tough a nut for Philip to crack.

Hoping to choke off Perinthus’ support and take advantage of the absence of many of Byzantium’s troops, weapons and war machines, Philip peeled off half his army from the siege of Perinthus and hit Byzantium. His strategem failed. Neither city fell and Philip was forced to make a truce with them and their allies. Plutarch attributes Philip’s loss to skill of the Athenian general Phocion. Diodorus Siculus chalks it up to Philip giving up when a bunch of other Greek cities sent reinforcements to break his sieges.

The account of 6th century chronicler Hesychius of Miletus, on the other hand, posits a less terrestrial explanation for Philip’s defeat. It was a dark and stormy night. The moonless sky was a perfect setting for a sneak attack by Macedon’s troops. All of a sudden, a bright light illuminated the heavens and the city’s dogs barked loudly. Byzantium’s defenders awoke and fended off Philip’s soldiers, defeating the Macedonian decisively. The great light was the work of Hecate protecting her most devoted adherents with the aid of the animal most sacred to her, the dog. The dramatic end of the siege was commemorated with a great statue overlooking the Bosphorus of Hecate Lampadephoros, the lamp-carrier.

Triple Hecates have been found throughout the Roman Empire, and Turkey, which has a solid claim to the origin of the cult, is certainly no exception. There’s a beautiful example in the Archaeological Museum in Antalya 140 miles southeast of Denizli. It’s very similar to the one recovered by the police, only the recent discovery lacks its handsome proportion and attention to detail. It’s the budget option, basically.

The confiscated statue is now in the hands of archaeologists at the regional museum who will study it further.

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Stolen Alexander Hamilton letter found 80 years later

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2019

A letter by Alexander Hamilton to the Marquis de LaFayette that was stolen eight decades ago has been found. It was stolen from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Archives by clerk Harold E. Perry between 1937 and 1945. After he was caught, he claimed to have stolen the documents as a “collector,” but he just so happened to have made quite a career from trafficking in looted history. He also stole original papers of George Washington’s, Benjamin Franklin’s, Paul Revere’s and, fittingly, Benedict Arnold’s. The thefts weren’t found out for years.

The Archive was left with documentary evidence that it had once owned the letter — a notation on a 19th century index list and on a name and subject index — and a photostat copy done in the 1920s. (Actually, they only had a photostat of the 19th century index list, because the traitor had stolen the index too while he was looting the archive.)

Perry was arrested in 1950, but by then he’d sold documents to dealers all over the country. He removed Archive reference numbers to obscure their origins. The Massachusetts Attorney General sent letters to all the major dealers alerting them to thefts and seeking the return of any stolen materials. Some of them were recovered. The Hamilton letter was not.

It was rediscovered when the document was consigned for sale to an auction house in Alexandria, Virginia by a South Carolina family in November 2018. The letter was valued at $25,000-35,000, but it never went under the hammer because a researcher at the auction house discovered the letter was missing from the Massachusetts Archives. They alerted the MA which provided documentation of the theft and then the auction house called the FBI.

The would-be consigners had no idea they had attempted to fence stolen goods. They inherited it from a relative who collected documents. From what they know, he bought it in the 1940s from a rare book dealer in Syracuse, New York, named Elmer Heise.

The FBI in Boston is currently in possession of the letter. US Attorney Andrew Lelling has filed a civil forfeiture complaint, a legally necessary step in the process of returning the letter to the Archives. Once that goes through the court, the Hamilton letter will be back at the Massachusetts Archives.

Dated July 21, 1780, the letter was written at George Washington’s Preakness Valley Headquarters in New Jersey. Its recipient was in Danbury, Connecticut at the time.

My Dear Marquis
We have just received advice from New York through different channels that the enemy are making an embarkation with which they menace the French fleet and army. Fifty transports are said to have gone up the Sound to take in troops and proceed directly to Rhode Island.

The General is absent and may not return before evening. Though this may be only a demonstration yet as it may be serious, I think it best to forward it without waiting the Generals return.

We have different accounts from New York of an action in the West Indies in which the English lost several ships. I am inclined to credit them.

I am My Dear Marquis with the truest affection

Yr. Most Obedt

A Hamilton  Aide De Camp

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Stolen Breeches Bible returned

Sunday, April 28th, 2019

A 404-year-old Bible that was stolen from the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh in the 1990s has been returned after being found in a museum in the Netherlands.

“After being identified as stolen, officers from the Leiden Museum, along with the DA’s office here in Pittsburgh, the FBI in the Netherlands and the FBI in the Netherlands and the FBI art crime team arranged for the return of the Bible,” said [FBI agent Robert] Jones.

The theft was discovered many years after it happened, in April 2017 insurance audit of the library’s holdings. Auditors found out that 314 books were missing from the Oliver Room, the rare books room which can only be accessed by scholars and researchers by prior appointment. It is not and has never been open to the public. The value of the lost books and pages added up to an estimated $8 million.

An investigation revealed that the thefts had taken place over a period of two decades. It was an inside job, an obscenely cupidinous betrayal by Gregory Priore, the sole archivist for the Oliver Room’s collection who systematically removed entire books or pages with important maps or images, cut out with an X-acto knife, and walked them down the block to book seller John Schulman, co-owner of the Caliban Book Shop. Schlman would pay him up front and then sell the books and amputated pages at a profit. Because all the most effective hypocrites hide in plain sight, Schulman had once been the chairman of the ethics committee Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America. Priore was fired when the thefts were discovered. Last year Priore and Schulman were charged with multiple counts of theft, conspiracy and other crimes related to the scheme.

The FBI Pittsburgh office has been looking for the 314 missing items and have so far recovered 18 books and 293 maps, plates and pamphlets. The 1615 Geneva Bible was traced to the American Pilgrim Museum in Leiden via the sale receipt from its 2015 acquisition by museum director Jeremy Dupertuis Bangs from a private seller for $1,200. Its estimated market value today is around $5,500, but Pittsburgh paid something in the neighborhood of $12,000 to get the Bible back from the museum safely.

The Pilgrims didn’t own this particular volume, as far as we know, but it was translated by English Protestant expatriates in Geneva during the reign of  Catholic Queen Mary and a copy of this version of the Bible was known to have accompanied the pilgrims on the Mayflower. Bangs planned to display it at future exhibitions on books owned by the Pilgrims.

The edition is also known as the Breeches Bible after an unusual translation of Genesis 3:7. Instead of the King James Version’s “And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons,” in this version Adam and Eve go beyond the basic crotch-concealment of a fig leaf apron into full lower-body coverage. “Then the eyes of them both were opened, and they knewe that they were naked, and they sewed figtree leaves together, and made themselves breeches.”

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UK returns looted Nebuchadnezzar boundary stone to Iraq

Wednesday, March 20th, 2019

A 3,000-year-old boundary stone from Babylonia was returned to Iraq in an official ceremony on Tuesday after seven years of investigation and legal wrangling. It’s not clear when the object was stolen — experts believe it was looted during the chaos of the Iraq War around 15 years ago. It surfaced in 2012 when the importer attempted to smuggle the piece into Britain with fake paperwork. The stone arrived at Heathrow airport in May 2012. The customs declaration claimed it was a carved stone made in Turkey worth $330. When a UK Border Force officer opened the box, he recognized the stone was no Turkish fake and that the claimed origin in the declaration had to be fraudulent.

Experts at the British Museum quickly identified it from the copious cuneiform inscriptions as a 12th century B.C. kudurru, a ceremonial boundary stone recording a land grant from the king. There are only 200 known surviving examples of kudurrus, and this one is a stand-out. It describes a gift of land from Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar I to one of his subjects in recognition of his distinguished service. The inscription indicates the stone came from Nippur, an ancient Sumerian city in what is now southern Iraq that was restored and expanded by Babylonian monarchs. Nippur suffered extensive looting in 2003 which is when experts believe the kudurru was stolen.

One side of the stone is covered in images depicting the gods Enlil and Marduk. The other side is inscribed with cuneiform text. In addition to recording the land grant, the text describes an enormously significant period of Babylonian history. It tells of how at the end of the preceding dynasty, Elamite forces had invaded the kingdom, looted the temples and carried away the statue of the god Marduk leaving Babylon bereft not just of the visual representation of the god, but of the protection of the god himself.

Enlil, father of the gods, created Nebuchadnezzar to avenge the outrage done to the Babylonians. The great king invaded Elam, defeated its army and reclaimed the statue of Marduk. He returned it to the temple and all was right with the world again.

“It is such an important moment in Babylonian history. Forever after the Babylonians told stories about this great, brave king who brought Marduk back, and in response they created the Babylonian epic of creation, which tells about how Marduk was appointed to defeat the forces of chaos and to put order into the universe. So, every spring at the new year festival they recite this epic of creation.”

[British Museum curator Jonathan] Taylor said the object also carried “terrible curses” for anyone trying to claim the land or damage the tablet.

“The gift is designed to last forever and there are a list of curses or protective formulas so if anyone should dispute that the gift was made or if they try and hide it, bury it in the dirt, try to destroy it with fire, smash it or get somebody who does not know any better to do it on their behalf, then the gods will curse them in a variety of really horrible ways. So, it is to protect forever this gift in recognition of this act of bravery,” said Taylor.

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Police seize smuggled leather Hebrew manuscript

Tuesday, March 12th, 2019

Turkish police have seized a leather manuscript believed to have been looted from Syria in an anti-smuggling operation in Kırşehir, central Turkey. Two individuals identified only as Erkan Ş. and Kısmet G. were stopped by the Kırşehir Police Department Anti-Smuggling and Organized Crime and Anti-Narcotics Department while driving on the Ankara-Kayseri highway. Stashed on the side of the seat wrapped in a blanket was the 12-page volume. The suspects were arrested and charged with antiquities trafficking.

According to suspects’ testimonies to the police, they bought the manuscript in the southeastern Mardin province and were planning to sell it in Istanbul for a large sum of money.

The manuscript was stolen from a museum in Syria during the conflict and was brought to Mardin illegally, the suspects said in their testimonies.

That’s all the information reported so far, which is barely any information at all. It’s only post-worthy because of the illuminations.

The manuscript is 16 pages long and is written in Hebrew in gold ink. The cover has metallic accents: four birds, one in each corner, on circular perches and a Star of David with a red stone in the center hexagon in the middle of the page. Most of the sheets are illuminated with an intriguing variety of images, including a dragon or griffin, two cows looking at each other challengingly, a hamsa hand, a menorah, a Star of David, an owl with a skull on its belly and a man in draped robes.

\begin shamelessly speculative romp

I find the iconography fascinating. The owl with a skull on its belly and the man in draped robes are particularly intriguing. The owl is listed among the abomination birds in Leviticus and in medieval Christendom it was often used to symbolize Jews as creatures of darkness because of their rejection of Christ. As for the man, the prohibition against graven images put a damper on figural depictions in Jewish art, but it didn’t prevent it entirely. There are frescoes, mosaics and manuscripts with images of Biblical figures, even ones from pagan mythology employed as metaphors. He could be a representation of a prophet or anybody else, for that matter. He does bear a resemblance to other rough drawn images of Jesus, however.

If it is meant to be Christ, he and the skull-bellied owl share the volume with unambiguous symbols of Judaism, the Star of David and the menorah, and the hamsa hand, a symbol very common in albeit not exclusive to Judaism. Not that I’m any kind of expert, or even a well-informed amateur, but I wonder if this be an artifact from one of the Jewish Christian communities that are known to have been in Syria in late antiquity and the early Middle Ages, like the Ebionites or Nazarenes.

\end shamelessly speculative romp

The manuscript has been transferred to the Kırşehir Museum Directorate which will study it and determine its origins. Here’s hoping the findings are released.

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I fell for a “Swiss Private Collection” lie, dammit

Saturday, February 16th, 2019

My only excuse, and it’s a terrible one that you should throw back in my face in disgust, is that the Metropolitan Museum of Art fell for it too. Had they accepted a fraudulent ownership record starring a Swiss private collector a few years back I would have laughed mirthlessly at the very idea of it, but the sensitivity to potentially looted artifacts is so much higher now that museums and auction houses have been dragged kicking and screaming into giving a damn by source countries creating legal and PR nightmares for them. That such a recent, high-profile, much-publicized sale could be a looted artifact with phony papers is an ugly testament to how deep the rot runs in the antiquities market.

In September 2017, the Met announced the acquisition of what is without question the most beautiful, perfectly-preserved and uniquely rich cartonnage coffin I’ve ever seen. Made from layers of linen, gesso and resin, covered in gilding front and back and lined with sheets of silver foil inside the lid, the mummiform coffin was the final resting place of Late Ptolemaic official Nedjemankh, a priest of Heryshef in Heracleopolis Magna.

The gilded coffin of Nedjemankh went on display immediately in the museum’s Egyptian Art gallery, and soon got a dedicated exhibition that ran from July 2018 until Tuesday, February 12th. Or at least it was meant to. There was supposed to be an exhibition tour beginning on February 22nd. No longer. I don’t know exactly which day, but the coffin was taken off display this week.

On Friday the museum announced that it was returning the coffin to Egypt because the Manhattan’s DA Office had found evidence that the Swiss private collection and legal export document from 1971 were nothing but happy horseshit conjured up by traffickers in looted antiquities. Not only was it not legally exported in 1971, it didn’t leave Egypt until 2011 and I don’t need to tell you the circumstances were very, very far from legal.

Notwithstanding the representations that the coffin had been exported from Egypt in 1971, recent evidence suggests it was looted from Egypt in 2011. Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance said, “Stewards of the world’s most important artifacts have a duty to hold their acquisitions to the highest level of scrutiny. Following my Office’s investigation, this beautiful piece of ancient Egyptian history will soon be returned to its rightful place. Our Antiquities Trafficking Unit will continue to root out stolen antiquities in our fight to stop the looting of historic sites and the trade of stolen artifacts around the world.”

The seller was a Paris dealer named Christophe Kunicki. The Met is less than pleased with him having paid 3.5 million euros (just under $4 million) for the coffin in July of 2017, just six years after it was stolen from Egypt. This character has yet to comment on the fraudulent sale and the Met plans to consider “all means,” according to spokesman Kenneth Weine, for the recovery of the $4 million they were conned out of. There is no word on any criminal action that might be taken against him, and there probably won’t be.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced today it will review and revise its acquisitions process. Max Hollein, Director of The Met, said, “Our museum must be a leader among our peers in the respect for cultural property and in the rigor and transparency of the policy and practices that we follow. We will learn from this event—specifically I will be leading a review of our acquisitions program—to understand what more can be done to prevent such events in the future.”

Here’s one revision to any museum or collector’s acquisition policy that needs to be carved in stone from now on: buy nothing purporting to come from Swiss private collections. It’s a scam every damn time. The Met apologized to Egypt profusely and abjectly, as well it should, and I do the same to you, as well I should. I can’t believe I was so thoroughly duped by the oldest lie in the book, one I have mocked and excoriated ad nauseum in this very blog a million times before.

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Speaking of looted art from Visigothic Spain…

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2019

Two Visigoth reliefs looted from a church in northern Spain 15 years ago have been found in Britain and returned to Spanish officials. The theft was a total debacle, but the heavy reliefs depicting two evangelists managed to survive intact against the odds.

The 7th century limestone reliefs originally adorned the church of Santa Maria de Lara, one of only a handful of churches from the Visigoth era still remaining on the Iberian peninsula. Built in the 7th or early 8th century, the church was abandoned after the Umayyad conquest and was likely rebuilt after the Spanish Reconquista in the 9th century. It was donated to the neighboring monastery of San Pedro de Arlanza in the 11th century but was not maintained and fell to ruin, eventually being forgotten entirely. The remains were rediscovered by a priest on a walk in 1921. They were obscured by brush and the location was remote so even after the church was found locals still used the ruins as corrals for their livestock.

Its fortunes improved when scholars identified as a Visigoth church in 1927 and it was granted National Monument status two years later. It wasn’t until the custodian and guide built an asphalted road to the nearby town of Quintanilla de las Vinas in the 1970s that the church became a popular tourist draw and brought it enough money to fund the site’s maintenance.

Even with a decent access road and thousands of visitors a year, Santa Maria de Lara was secluded enough that in 2004 thieves were able to use a crane to strip two 110-pound stone reliefs from the church and remove them unimpeded. They thought they had hit the jackpot. Very few Visigoth figural sculptures have survived, so these two pieces would be worth millions. Notice the conditional. They would be worth millions if they weren’t protected cultural patrimony, but they are.

As so often happens, the looters found themselves saddled with artifacts they could not sell for what they were worth. They had to take the hit and sell them off for whatever money they could get. And so in 2010, two priceless Visigoth reliefs were sold in Britain as garden ornaments for maybe 50,000 pounds apiece.

Somebody with a keen eye saw the “garden ornaments” for sale and thought they was much more to them. He alerted the Art Detective, private investigator Arthur Brand who recovers looted cultural material and stars in a TV show in the Netherlands dedicated to his exploits. Brand traveled to England to follow up, only to find that his informant had just died. His wife only knew a man named “Tony” was connected to the stones. All she had was his first name and a description of him.

It took Brand years to track Tony down. When he finally did, the fellow was suffering from dementia. He did remember the reliefs. He had seen them being delivered to London on a truck by a French art dealer and recognized that they might be Visigothic. Eventually he was able to locate photographs of them.

Brand then tracked down the French dealer, who pointed them towards an unnamed British aristocratic family living north of London.

“It ended up in the garden of an English nobleman, who did not know that it was world heritage, where they would stay like 15 years,” he said.

The owners were so shocked when told the truth that “they wanted to throw the artworks into a river and let them disappear forever. Fortunately we managed to convinced them not to,” said Brand.

I hope that was facetious. Destroying cultural heritage out of shame for having bought it through no fault of your own seems … well, nuts. Anyway it’s all good now. The reliefs are on their way back to Burgos and scholars are thrilled at what might be learned from them.

The looted artworks could also be “essential” evidence in a debate raging among scholars about the exact age of the church, said Oxford University researcher David Addison.

Addison said some believed it was a 7th century building while others dated it to the 10th or 11th centuries.

Brand’s return of the artifacts “would be a great service in this regard,” Addison said.

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A tale of Visigothic treasure lost and found

Monday, January 21st, 2019

It was August 25th, 1858. The night before had been dark and stormy, but this one was moonlit and clear. Francisco Morales and María Pérez were traveling on the road to Guadamar with their daughter Escolástica and a donkey when they reached the Guarrazar spring six miles outside Toledo. While answering the call of nature, Escolástica spied under the white glimmer of the moonlight a square hole barely covered with two flat stones. In the gap between them something shone gone. That something turned out to be a priceless treasure of gold crosses, goblets and other objects festooned with precious stones, pearls and glass. Francisco, María and Escolástica dug up everything they could find, rinsed the artifacts in the spring and quickly made off with their ill-gotten gains.

They didn’t know it, but they weren’t alone that night. Domingo de la Cruz, a gardener who owned an orchard near Guarrazar spring, had observed them digging up buried treasure. The next night, he went back to the site and did some of his own digging, finding a second, smaller collection of treasure. He too made off with it. Nobody told the authorities.

It was a hideous free-for-all. Within days unusual gold begemmed pieces began cropping up in the shops of Toledo’s famed gold and silversmiths. Many of them were broken up, melted down and reused making them untraceable. It’s said that one smith was so torn over what to do with a unique gold dove that he threw it in the Tagus. Gemstone trader José Navarro took a different approach. He had a yen for archaeology, so he bought numerous fragments and painstakingly pieced them back together, reconstructing the votive crowns commissioned by Visigothic royalty as donations to the Church, royals that can be identified with precision because pendant letters spell out the name of the exalted donors. Navarro did all this work under strictest secrecy. In 1859, his work as complete as he could get it, Navarro sold the crowns, pendants and assorted pieces to to Edmond Du Sommerard, director of the Musée National du Moyen Âge in Cluny, France.

That’s when the news of this exceptional discovery finally broke wide. Cluny published their acquisition in the scientific press and Spain was horrified to discover that incalculably precious cultural patrimony had been found only after it was lost. The Spanish government repeatedly demanded that France return the treasure, but was blown off by Napoleon III and subsequent governments.

José Amador de los Ríos, art historian, archaeologist and a pioneer in recognizing the literary and artistic wealth of Medieval Spain, was enlisted to excavate and document the find site in 1859 after the treasure had made headlines. He found a few loose pearls and gemstones that had fallen off the jewels, graves, some architectural remains and lots of evidence that the site had been thoroughly picked over by local looters who had heard about the treasure through the gossip mill.

It was Ríos who recognized that while the form of the votive crown and the decoration were of Byzantine design, the pieces were manufactured locally. The conventional wisdom among European historians at that time was that Spain was a penurious backwater in the early Middle Ages and that the splendors of the Visigoths which had so astounded the Umayyad conquerors who took Toledo in 712 A.D. had to have been Germanic in origin.

In 1861, a very nervous Domingos de la Cruz went to the Royal Estate of Aranjuez where Queen Isabel II was staying and offered her majesty what was left of the treasure he’d discovered. Much hemming and hawing and hypothetical “if somebody happened to have purloined gold Visigothic treasure a few years back and wanted to hand it in, would he get thrown in the dungeon or paid off?” kind of talk ensued. Queen Isabel agreed to accept the remaining treasure — including the votive crown of King Suintila (r. 621-631) — and give Domingos de la Cruz a fabulous pension of 4,000 reals a year in return. The Suintila crown was stolen in 1921 and has never been found.

Cluny kept Guarrazar’s Visigothic treasure for 80 years until Heinrich Himmler stepped into the picture. In 1941, with France under Nazi occupation, Himmler returned most of the treasure to fellow fascist General Francisco Franco. Six votive crowns, a goblet and crosses are now in the National Archeological Museum in Madrid while the Cluny Museum still holds three of the crowns and a few smaller objects. The Royal Palace in Madrid has one crown left.

With all the loss that has bedeviled Spain’s greatest Visigoth treasure since it was discovered, proper scientific study was long in coming. The first comprehensive study took place in 1995 and revealed that the gemstones traveled great distances. The cabochon sapphires are from Sri Lanka. The emeralds are from the Austrian Tyrol.

The question of why they had been buried in the first place was still open, however. Historians speculated that the priceless religious artifacts had been secreted in consecrated graves to keep them safe from the invasion force of Táriq Ibn Ziyad. Spanish archaeologist Juan Manuel Rojas found this explanation wanting.

With the help of the Guadamur City Hall, Rojas embarked on an investigation that led to the establishment of an archeological site that the public can now visit.

During recent years, the walls of a building more than 30 meters long have been unearthed as well as a basilica, the remains of what appears to have been a palace, a Visigoth graveyard and even a guest house for pilgrims. Rojas’ research has led to the revelation that the place where the treasure was hidden was not a field at all but a religious complex not unlike the one at Lourdes, France, with its own healing water that sprung from the well where Morales cleaned the jewels. So, far from being buried in an ignominious field, the royal treasure had been hidden in a prestigious site whose own ceilings were decked with votive crowns.

When its occupants found out about the unstoppable advance of the Muslim and Berber forces, they sought somewhere to hide the jewels and decided on the graveyard. Raising two tombstones, they removed the bodies, buried the treasure, covered it with cloths and sand and put the corpses back on top. When Escolástica went to relieve herself at the spot more than 1,000 years later, she ducked behind what had once been the wall around the cemetery.

You can see the crown of King Reccesvinth (649-672) in a 3D scan here, another votive crown here and a third here. I regret to inform you that the 360 degree views of the crowns requires Flash to run, but the resolution is great and there are a paucity of good images of the treasure out there, so it’s worth the annoyance to check them out.

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Missing Ancient Greek decree found in wall

Friday, December 28th, 2018

More than a century after it was lost, a 3rd century B.C. stele has been rediscovered embedded in the outer wall of a home on the island of Amorgos in the Cyclades. The Nikouria decree went missing in 1908 and many researchers have tried and failed to find it ever since. An archaeology student, Stelios Perakis, and archaeologist N. N. Fischer found the piece with the help of local residents.

French archaeologist Théophile Homolle, then director of the French School at Athens, discovered the stele in 1893 in the Panagia Church on the islet of Nikouria in northeastern Amorgos. The inscription records a response to Ptolemy II Philadelphus’ request that delegates be sent to Samos to discuss the Island League’s participation in the games and religious rites in honor of his father Ptolemy I Soter. Ptolemy, friend and general to Alexander the Great and ruler of Egypt after his death in 323 B.C., had “liberated” (really it was more of a take-over) some of the city-states of the Cyclades, restoring their ancient constitutions and repealing their taxes.

His son picked up where the father left off, expanding the Ptolemaic dominance in the Cyclades. The Island League was a political union of the Cycladic islands created by the Ptolemies to cement their influence. In the stele, the League agrees to send a mission to the sacred games held for Ptolemy in Alexandria. The Ptolemy games were also held every four years and the inscription explicitly addresses the obvious rival by stipulated that the members of the League hold the Ptolemaieia in equal importance to the Olympic games. The decree would be proclaimed in all the cities of the League. Ptolemy II would be gifted a gold crown at the cost of 1,000 staters. The stele then details how the island cities would pay for all this and names the three delegates they’d send to Samos. (The name of the third is lost.)

There’s been a lot of debate among scholars about the dating of the Nikouria decree. The first date proffered in 1895 was ca. 285-3 based on a reference to Ptolemy II’s accession to the throne, but Ptolemy didn’t conquer Samos until after his victory in the battle of Kouroupedion in 281 B.C . Later scholars shifted the range to the 260s B.C., likely 262 when the Ptolemaieia was held.

The specific stele is considered important since it provides evidence concerning the balance of power during the first half of the 3rd century BC and the transition of control from the Macedonians to the Ptolemies.

Belying its significance, the stele was not kept in a secure location after is discovery. It was stashed in a stable near the find site for years. That stable was its last known address when all records of its ceased in 1908. It was found again in the wall at a newly renovated home which had once belonged to Stamatis Gripsos, a shepherd from Nikouria. Perhaps he had access to the barnus delicti. The Nikouria decree will now be removed from the wall and moved to the Amorgos archaeological collection.

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