Archive for the ‘Looting’ Category

European police seize 25,000 trafficked artifacts

Thursday, July 5th, 2018

” rel=”noopener” target=”_blank”>A coordinated sting of an antiquities trafficking operation executed in four European countries has resulted in the seizure of 25,000 ancient artifacts worth an estimated 40 million euros ($46 million). The pre-dawn action saw more than 250 law enforcement officers raid 40 different locations in Italy, Spain, Britain and Germany, and arrest 23 individuals.

This is the culmination of four years of investigation into a major smuggling ring that began with the discovery of a looted archaeological site in the small town of Riesi in the Caltanissetta area of central Sicily. Before the coordinated raids, Italian authorities confiscated 3,000 artifacts, 1,200 forgeries and 1,500 tools of the looting trade including metal detectors.

The stolen artifacts, mostly coins, statues and pottery, all seem to have been illegally excavated in and around Caltanissetta which has a rich Greek, Punic and Roman history. From there, the objects were smuggled up the boot of Italy, out of the country to Germany where they were sold with ginned up ownership histories. Police searched locations in Sicily, Calabria, Piedmont and Apulia, one the largest crackdowns on heritage crime in Italian history.

Europol, which financed the meetings between each country’s forces, said that key facilitators in the trafficking ring were “also acting from Barcelona and London, coordinating the supply chain and providing technical support”.

Metropolitan Police officers acting on a European arrest warrant issued by Italian magistrates Wednesday arrested the art dealer, Thomas William Veres, 64, in London, a Carabinieri paramilitary police spokesman told a news conference.[…]

The Sicilian smuggling operation is alleged to have been masterminded by Francesco Lucerna, 76, another of those arrested Wednesday.

Mr Lucerna regularly dispatched stolen archaeological remains to northern Italy through a network of couriers where they allegedly made contact with Mr Veres’ gang, investigators believe.

The gang also set up workshops where teams of counterfeiters copied some of the archaeological remains and sold replica copies as originals, it is alleged.

The investigation into the vast operation is still ongoing. The two auction houses in Munich which regularly received and sold the smuggled artifacts are under investigation as well.

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Reward offered for Moundville artifacts stolen 40 years ago

Saturday, June 30th, 2018

The Moundville Archaeological Site near Tuscaloosa, Alabama, was the political and religious center of a Mississippian culture polity that flourished from the 11th to the 16th century. Today the park consists of 29 mounds and a large rectangular plaza which have been extensively excavated. It also includes a museum and archaeological repository. It is a National Historic Landmark and is the second largest Mississipian site after Cahokia, Illinois. one of Alabama’s most important historic sites.

In March of 1980, thieves broke into the Erskine Ramsey Archaeological Repository on the Moundville site and made off with 264 Native American artifacts. This was a loss of eight centuries worth of pottery vessels — bottles, bowls, jars and fragments — worth an estimated $1 million in 1980, the equivalent of about $3 million today. Some of the stolen objects were, according to archaeologists, among the highest-quality artifacts ever found at Moundville, recovered during excavations in the 1930s and completely irreplaceable. The sheer quantity was devastating as well, representing one fifth of the entire Moundville pottery collection and an agonizing 70% of the museum-quality pieces. To this day, the Moundville theft is the largest recorded antiquities theft in the Southern United States.

The theft was discovered by University of Michigan students who walked into the repository on March 6th to find boxes of artifacts lined up against the wall. Authorities suspect the thieves made several trips with boxes full of loot and had another one (or more) planned but were thwarted for some reason. The organized nature of the theft and the consistently exceptional quality of the chosen items strongly suggests that thieves were either educated in Mississippian artifacts or working with/for someone who was.

It’s been more than 38 years and none of the 264 artifacts have been seen since, let alone recovered. Because the market for Native American objects is predominately US-based, it’s likely they’re still in the country, even after so much time has elapsed. The thefts weren’t widely publicized at the time. There was a notice posted in the Journal of Field Archaeology in 1981 and the FBI was on the case, but it’s a whole new world now when it comes to the sale of stolen antiquities. Large internet auction sites like eBay are routinely used by looters, dealers and collectors to sell goods with questionable ownership histories.

In the hope that the power of the information age might be harnessed to solve this mystery, a private organization, the Associates for the Return of Moundville Artifacts, is now offering a reward of $15,000 for any information leading to the recovery of these priceless objects. They’ve established a confidential tip line (205 348-2800) for people to call with information. There’s a photo gallery of most of the stolen artifacts online here. If you see anything like them during your surfing and antiquing, please call the tip line.

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Anne of Brittany’s heart stolen, found

Friday, May 4th, 2018

On the night of Friday, April 13th, thieves broke in through a window of the Musée Dobrée in Nantes, western France, and stole the gold reliquary made to contain the heart of one of my favorite historic personages, Anne of Brittany. The alarm did sound, but it was insufficient to stop the thieves.

The only woman ever to be queen of France two separate times (both entirely against her will), Anne struggled her whole life to keep Brittany independent and after her sadly premature death in 1514 at the age of 37 was a revered symbol of Brittany’s unique history and culture. The reliquary that contained her heart was created shortly after her death and is inscribed “In this little vessel of fine gold, pure and clean, rests a heart greater than any lady in the world ever had. Anne was her name, twice queen in France, Duchess of the Bretons, royal and sovereign.”

That dedication may have been part of the attraction for the thieves who may have been hoping to make big bucks by melting it, but the 6-inch reliquary and its lovely crown of nine fleurs-de-lis together total only 100 grams of gold. This is not the first time the gold reliquary and crown had a brush with the crucible. It was confiscated during the French Revolution and Anne’s heart thrown in the trash, a fate suffered by so many royal remains. The container was ordered melted down, but the order was never followed and the reliquary was kept intact in the Bibliothèque Nationale until 1819 when it was returned to Nantes. It has been part of the collection of the Musée Dobrée since the 1880s.

There were murmurs that Breton nationalists might have been behind the theft, but the authorities thought it more likely to have been the work of petty thieves. Councilors of the Loire-Atlantique department accordingly appealed in the press for the return of the precious artifact, pointing out that it has far more historical value than monetary.

A week later, Nantes police found the reliquary, a figurine and some gold coins, all stolen from the museum, at an undisclosed location near the museum.

Two men in their early twenties have been arrested and charged with “association with criminals” and “theft of cultural assets”. One is known to authorities. They both deny involvement. Two other suspects are at large.

According to Pierre Sennes, the Nantes prosecutor, the prized gold case “seems to be in good shape”.

The museum reopened to visitors last week, sans reliquary for the time being, but on Wednesday, May 2nd, the government of the Loire-Atlantique department announced that the Voyage in the Collections exhibition would be closed permanently because of the thefts and the damage inflicted on the display. It was supposed to run through September 30th.

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Mosaic looted from Cyprus church repatriated

Tuesday, April 24th, 2018

In the aftermath of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, the island’s cultural patrimony was ravaged by looting, particularly in the Turkish-controlled area of Northern Cyprus. The northeastern Karpass peninsula was heavily targeted by heritage despoilers, with thefts going on for years after the invasion. The church of Panagia Kanakaria in the village of Lythrangomi, an extremely rare survival of a 6th century monastery church famed for its Byzantine mosaics, was pillaged by Turkish occupation troops in 1979. Its mosaics of Jesus, the Virgin Mary and apostles, iconographically unique masterpieces of Early Christian mosaic art, were stripped off the walls and sold to antiquities buyers who didn’t give a damn about the brutality underpinning their acquisitions.

The looting was reported to UNESCO, other international heritage and policing organizations. Experts in Byzantine art were also notified so they could keep an eye out for the mosaics in institutions and collections. In 1983, two of the Apostle medallions that once adorned the apse of the church were located by a London art dealer and returned through Germany.

In 1988, US dealer Peg Goldberg bought four Panagia Kanakaria mosaics for $1 million. She then turned around and tried to sell them to the J. Paul Getty Museum in California, but the Getty was suspicious and alerted Greek Cypriot authorities. The Autocephalous Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus and the Republic of Cyprus filed a restitution claim in an Indianapolis federal court. Goldberg fought back, but her look-the-other-wayism was so egregious — the dealer claimed he had found the priceless mosaics “in an abandoned church,” she knew one of the middlemen was a convicted art forger, she only inspected the mosaics for a moment in the middle of the Geneva airport — that the US District Court for the Southern District of Indiana sided with the plaintiffs and ordered the mosaics returned to the Church. They were repatriated in August of 1991 and are now in the Byzantine Museum in Nicosia.

Turkish art dealer Aydin Dikmen was arrested in 1998 for having sold the looted Kanakaria mosaics to Peg Goldberg as well as other artifacts ripped from the walls of churches and monasteries. Greek Cypriot police and Department of Antiquities officials suspect him of having been instrumental in the savaging of Cyprus’ patrimony after the invasion and then spending decades selling his ill-gotten gains.

Another of the missing medallions, the one depicting the Apostle Thomas, was found in Dikmen’s possession during a police sting in October of 1997. Thaddeus was found the month before that. The hands of Archangel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary were found the month after that. More of them have been recovered since, leaving only two Apostle medallions still missing.

Now one of those last remaining two, a vividly colored depiction of St. Andrew, has been recovered and repatriated to Cyprus.

The mosaic was found in 2014 by the art historian Maria Paphiti. The last buyer of the mosaic acquired it as part of a larger collection of artworks in 2010. She asked Paphiti to prepare an exhibition for her pieces.

Paphiti told her about the origin of the mosaic and after a long period of negotiations, the owner finally agreed to hand it over to the Church of Cyprus without litigation and for only a symbolic sum.

Dr Andreas Pittas, president of Medochemie and Roys Poyiadjis, a Cypriot businessman, based in New York, covered the cost and restoration.

During the ceremony, the Medal of Apostle Andreas, the highest distinction of the Archbishopric of Cyprus was awarded to Paphiti, Poyiadjis and Pittas for their contribution to the repatriation of the mosaic.

I hope it doesn’t take another four decades to find the last mission medallion, St. Mark.

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Met returns two stolen artifacts to Nepal

Sunday, April 8th, 2018

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has returned two stolen religious icons to Nepal more than 30 years after they were looted. One is a 11th-12th century Standing Buddha that was stolen from a shrine in the Yatkha Tole neighborhood of Kathmandu in 1986. The other is a stele known as the Uma Maheshwor idol that depicts the god Shiva and his wife Parvati and is estimated to date to the 12th-13th century. It was stolen from the Tangal Hiti temple in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Patan in the Kathmandu Valley. The third largest city in Nepal, Patan is famed for its temples, palaces and rich tradition of artisan crafts.

The Met was given the Uma Maheshwor by a private collector in 1983. It wasn’t until the donation of the Standing Buddha in 2015 that the museum realized both pieces had been looted. Both statues feature in a 1989 book entitled Stolen Images of Nepal by Nepalese art expert Lain Singh Bangdel documenting the uncontrolled rash of thefts that ravaged Nepal from the 1950s through the 1980s. Temple deities were particular targets, stolen by the thousands. Easily portable — nobody thought to anchor them firmly when they were created a thousand or so years ago — and highly desirable to collectors, they weren’t guarded by security personnel. The local residents who worshipped them and prayed to them didn’t imagine they’d be ripped off and sold to unscrupulous Western collectors and institutions.

To its credit, the Metropolitan Museum of Art reached out to Nepal once it became aware the pieces were stolen. On March 6th, museum officials and Nepal’s Consul General in New York City signed a repatriation agreement, and less than a month later both idols were back in their native land.

The sculptures arrived at the Department of Archaeology in Kathmandu last Wednesday, April 4th. After the crates were opened, three men from the city of Patan traveled to Kathmandu to see their revered Uma Maheshwor stele for the first time in 35 years. The moment was all the more meaningful because Patan was devastated by the Gorkha earthquake that struck on April 25th, 2015, and many historical and religious structures and art works were damaged or destroyed.

Both works will now go the National Museum of Nepal in Kathmandu. This decision is not an uncontroversial one. The idols have profound spiritual meaning to the communities from which they were looted. They are considered living representations of deities. When they are put on display in a museum, they are exhibited as mere art pieces, a sharp decline in significance compared to the reverence they receive in their communities of origin.

There is a chance they might return to their shrines, however. By the terms of Nepal’s Ancient Monument Preservation Act 1956, communities can apply to have idols returned to them, but they have to prove they can secure them effectively. If they can convince the Department of Archaeology that the sculptures won’t be in danger of theft again, they will be returned. It’s a slim chance at best.

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These. Are. Looters!

Thursday, March 29th, 2018

Greek police have seized an ancient sculpture still in caked in the soil from which it was recently looted and arrested the looters. On March 23rd, officers from the Department of Cultural Heritage and Antiquities of the Attica Security Directorate arrested three individuals (aged 44, 48 and 57) in Sparta for illicit traffic in archaeological material. Inside a van owned by the 57-year-old police found a Hellenistic-era marble statue stuffed into a duffel bag. The figure is missing her head and one arm, but is believed to be a representation of the goddess Hygieia. It is 55cm (22 inches) high including the plinth.

According to the assessment of state archaeologists from the Ephorate of Antiquities of Lakonia, the statue is of significant value in terms of archaeological importance and unquestionably qualifies for protection of the statute establishing standards for the protection of Greek antiquities and cultural heritage. It is also of significant market value, and there is evidence the traffickers were already arranging its sale with an unnamed foreign buyer.

According to Greek law “all antiquities on land and sea are the property of the State, which has the right to investigate and preserve them”.

There are stringent fines and other punishments for people who intentionally or otherwise keep, sell or remove artifacts without telling the authorities.

Other objects were seized in the investigation at the homes of the suspects. Three of them were artifacts: an ancient loom weight, black-glazed grip from a Hellenistic vessel and a knob from a Roman-era lid, all of some archaeological value. The rest were tools of the trade — two metal detectors, two dowsing rods, two flare guns, eight mobile phones, pepper spray — and cash in the amount of 800 euros.

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Arrest made in Canterbury break-in!

Tuesday, March 20th, 2018

The good news keeps coming regarding the break-in at the Canterbury Archaeological Trust. Kent police have made an arrest and recovered more of the missing loot. On Monday, March 19th, the police received a report of a man “acting suspiciously” in front of a building on Sturry Road.

Officers attended and located a 36-year-old man of no fixed address who was arrested on suspicion of burglary.

A number of historical artefacts were recovered by attending officers, which are believed to been reported stolen in January from the Canterbury Archaeological Trust in Kingsmead Road.

So that confirms the ignorant clown theory. I seriously doubt this one drifter was able to cut through the walls of the Kingsmead stores and make off with thousands of artifacts on his own, however. That strikes me as a little above the acting-suspiciously-on-the-street pay grade. I’m thinking patsy.

The suspect is being held in custody as the investigation continues.

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Objects stolen from Canterbury Archaeological Trust recovered

Saturday, March 17th, 2018

Great news to report on this day of lucky shamrocks: most of the estimated 2,000 artifacts stolen during a destructive break-in at the Canterbury Archaeological Trust’s Kingsmead stores have been recovered. Kent Police received a tip that the loot had been dumped in a derelict house on Military Road. Officers from the Canterbury Community Policing Team and Canterbury Archaeological Trust staff went to the property and discovered boxes full of the stolen artifacts, including coins, axes, coins, metalwork, jewelry, carved bone artifacts and the full complement of more than 850 Anglo-Saxon glass beads.

Almost all of the archaeological material stolen in the raid is now back where it belongs. In other good news, because like so many thieves who steal cultural heritage these guys were a bunch of ignorant clowns who had no idea what to do with the material once it was in their grimy clutches, they didn’t even remove the objects from their labelled bags. That will make it a comparatively easy task for the museum staff to inventory and re-archive them.

Not found in the stash were the stolen educational materials, replica Bronze Axe axe-heads, replica Beaker pots and coins, that are actually expensive to produce although not worth much in terms of market value. See above re ignorant clowns.

Trust director Paul Bennett said: “We are hugely relieved to have got back such vital material which is of huge importance to the history of the city.

“We were overwhelmed by the support we got from around the world after we were raided. To get back such a significant proportion is fantastic and we would like to thank the police for their quick response.”

The raid on the store left property scattered about and a huge job for staff and volunteers to catalogue what was missing.

“The thieves probably didn’t know what to do with it because many of the items don’t have great monetary value. Some of the missing items may probably end up being sold at fairs.

“But we still hold out hope of getting some more of it back.”

The police investigation continues in the hope of recovering all of the stolen objects and, of course, the culprits. They have yet to be identified and the authorities are keeping mum on whether they have any leads to specific individuals.

The Canterbury Archaeological Trust is moving from Kingsmead, now afflicted with exposed asbestos and stripped copper wires thanks to the savage break-in, to a new facility in Wincheap later this year. The trust hopes to create a resource center there that will make their collection both more secure and more widely available to researchers and the public.

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Ugly Sweater-wearing idiot steals thumb of terracotta warrior

Saturday, February 17th, 2018

An individual who can only be described as a complete dumbass has been busted by the FBI for breaking the thumb off a Terracotta Warrior on display at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia and hiding it in his desk drawer. It’s incalculably sad that this 24-year-old loser who still lives at home with Mommy and Daddy was at the museum on the evening of December 21st just to attend an Ugly Sweater Party. He was able to access the room where 10 priceless terracotta warriors, among them the Cavalryman standing next to a horse, were on display simply by walking through a door carelessly left unlocked by (Keystone) rent-a-cops and stepping over the black rope capable of cordoning off nothing and nobody.

He got a couple of his friends to join him, but they quickly left because they’re not complete dumbasses. He lingered a bit, looking at the statues with light from his cell, putting his arm around the Cavalryman and taking a selfie like an idiot. Then he deliberately with malice aforethought snapped off one of the statue’s thumbs and slipped it in his pocket before decamping.

We know all this now because the FBI’s crack Art Crime squad reviewed security tape footage and saw it all go down. The museum staff only noticed the damage to the Cavalryman on January 8th, more than two weeks after it was looted. That’s when the FBI stepped in. FBI Special Agent Jacob Archer compared the surveillance footage to credit card receipts for the night and identified the thief as Michael Rohana of Bear, Delaware.

When the agent showed up at the Rohana household, Michael folded like an origami crane.

In front of his father, Rohana admitted it that he had stashed the thumb in his desk drawer.

A U.S. attorney has decided to charge him with theft of a major artwork from a museum, concealment of major artwork stolen from a museum, and interstate transportation of stolen property.

He was arrested and released on a 15,000-USD bail, on the condition that he hand over his passport, consent to drug testing, and refrain from leaving the country before trail.

Meanwhile, the museum has reviewed its security systems and procedures in the wake of this debacle.

The actions of one jackhole and the failure to follow any number of responsible security protocols shouldn’t irredeemably taint the exhibition. This particular group of warriors and artifacts have only been shown in two museums in the US. The first was the Pacific Science Center in Seattle, from which they all survived unscathed. The Franklin is the second and therefore the only one on the East Coast. It’s the first time in 30 years that the City of Brotherly Love has had any Terracotta Warriors come stay for a while and given the colossal miscarriage of stewardship, it may be more than 30 years before they come back. Plus, they’ve created a nifty Augmented Reality app that allows visitors the chance to see the warriors in virtual close-up and to view them with digital versions of the original weapons and accessories that have long since been destroyed or lost. The Cavalryman would likely have held his horse’s reins in one hand and a spear in the other. The digital view includes those long-gone accoutrements.

Terracotta Warriors of the First Emperor runs through March 4th of this year.

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Thieves ransack stores of Canterbury Archaeological Trust

Saturday, February 3rd, 2018

Thieves have broken into the Kingsmead stores of the Canterbury Archaeological Trust and made off with coins, metal artifacts, bone artifacts, tools and more than 850 Anglo-Saxon beads. They ransacked the storage warehouse, leaving it a shambles and making it hard for the Trust’s staff to sort out exactly what was stolen. A conservative estimate is at least 1,500 pieces. It was not a one-time deal. They broke in four times at the end of January, on January 18th, the night of the 22nd-23rd, then on the 23rd and 24th. They went so far as to cut a hole in the side of the building and yank out copper wiring from the walls.

It would serve them right if they were panting with exertion when they broke through that wall, because what they didn’t know is the exterior wall they broke through contained asbestos. I hope they inhaled deeply. Sorry not sorry. The disturbance of old asbestos only adds to the Trust’s burdens in recovering from the mess the thieves left behind, unfortunately, on top of all the other work that needs to be done. Only expensive hazmat abatement specialized are equipped to handle asbestos removal, and they don’t come cheap. Neither do plumbers and electrician, and that hole in the wall cut through electric and water pipes as well.

[T]he attacks in Canterbury appear to have purely financial motives. The two thieves also stole copper cables from the building during the burglaries and one of the men was caught on camera stealing beer from a local shop. […]

“The combs are so fragile that in their hands they will disintegrate,” added [Trust director Paul] Bennett.

“They may end up on eBay or car boot sales for pennies whereas their real place is in a museum. They are our legacy for future generations.

“These two people have been allowed to run rampant and steal our material. They are a couple of low lives who live locals. They must have a huge swag bag.

“It is the heritage of Canterbury trampled and trodden on by a pair of thieves. We have been caught up in a whirlwind of thievery.”

A supporter has started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money to help defray the costs of dealing with the break-in. It has a £1,000 goal, which while modest will contribute meaningfully to the expense of added security, personnel time and repairs. It’s about a third of the way to goal after one day.

CAT is asking collectors and enthusiasts who know their coins and beads to keep a sharp eye open on eBay and other sites where the looted objects might be offered for sale, also to share the Facebook post to get the word out as far as possible about the theft. CAT staff are updating a photo album with pictures of the stolen objects as they figure out what’s gone. That will give you an idea of what to look for on sites like eBay that don’t ask too many inconvenient (or any) questions about the source of the antiquities up for bid.

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