Archive for February, 2008

Looted ‘Sumerian Mona Lisa’ found in Iraq

Sunday, February 10th, 2008

She was looted from Baghdad’s Iraq Museum in April of 2003, along with thousands more artifacts from the Cradle of Civilization, 10,000 of which have yet to be recovered.

On a tip, Iraqi police and US troops found her buried in 6 inches of mud in someone’s garden, entirely unharmed.

Now on to the find the rest of the missing. Here’s hoping the authorities get at least 10,000 more dead-on accurate anonymous tips.


The genealogies of black folk

Saturday, February 9th, 2008

Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. traces the genealogy of more famous (and one non-famous) black people in African American Lives 2 on PBS. I watched the first series last year and was riveted by his exploration of the documentary record and DNA to uncover the family histories of people like Oprah Winfrey and Quincy Jones.

The second series premiered last Wednesday. Check your local listings to find a replay of the first 2 hours and don’t miss the last 2 hours this Wednesday. It’s fascinating stuff and deeply affecting.

See the impact on Chris Rock when he discovers his great-great grandfather Julius Caesar Tingman fought for the Union after 21 years as a slave in this clip. Now multiply that times 12 to get a sense of how amazing this program is.


Greece returns stolen statues to Albania

Friday, February 8th, 2008

In a bit of a break with the traditional direction of these things, yesterday Greece returned two ancient statues of Artemis and Apollo that had been stolen from an Albanian museum in 1991.

The headless marble statues, one dating back to the 2nd century B.C. and the other to the 2nd century A.D., were handed to Albanian Culture Minister Ylli Pango in Athens today. They were recovered by the Greek authorities in 1997 and identified [6 years later] as having been stolen from the Butrint archaeological site in 1991.

The ceremony was heavily laden with commentary about the propriety of returning cultural patrimony to its rightful owner, and was held in the brand spanking new Acropolis Museum which just happens to have a place set aside for the Elgin Marbles should hell frieze over.


US Army pilot charged in antiquities theft; Dealers in on it, as usual

Thursday, February 7th, 2008

Active duty helicopter pilot Edward Earle Johnson was charged today with selling 80 antiques stolen from the Ma’adi Museum outside of Cairo.

On September 29, 2002, 370 pre-dynastic artifacts ranging in date from 3,000 to 5,000 BC were stolen from the Ma’adi Museum. Chief Warrant Officer Johnson was deployed to Cairo from February to October of 2002.

In January of 2003, Johnson contacted a Texas art dealer offering to sell him a group of Egyptian antiquities that he claimed he had inherited from his grandfather who had acquired them in Egypt during the 30’s or 40’s. Bummer about him not having a sliver of documentation to support this provenance, of course, but why should that stop an art dealer from buying 90 5,000 year-old Egyptian artifacts for the bargain basement price of $20,000?

Nor, heaven forfend, should the unsupported fiction inhibit Christie’s and a bunch of other galleries and collectors in New York, London, Zurich, etc. from purchasing some of the pieces from the dealer, a dealer later discovered by the feds to be an associate of Sotheby’s.

As of January, the feds had recovered 80 of the 90 artifacts Johnson sold. Who knows where the other 260 antiquities stolen from the museum have ended up. Johnson hasn’t been charged with the theft, just with the sale, so that means the feds don’t have much in the way of prosecutable evidence on who actually did the stealing.

God, the antiquities trade is so dirty I could just spit.


Free online archaeology program!

Wednesday, February 6th, 2008

Yes, that’s right: free. The only other online program in archaeology I know of is the University of Leicester’s distance learning courses, and they’re both far more complex — book purchases, homework and final exams are involved — and far from free.

National Park Service Archeology Program, however, is easily accessible, entirely online, limited in scope to the ways and means of caring for archaeological collections, aka curating.

Much more broadly, this technical assistance is designed for the global archeological community — professional archeologists (e.g., university professors, CRM principal investigators and their staff, federal, tribal, and state agency staff), graduate students, upper level college students, and others concerned about archeological collections — who are rarely taught this material in formal educational settings. Because “Managing Archeological Collections” is created for primary access and use via the Internet, “global” is a key word here.

Cool, huh? Needless to say, I’m taking it. And even more needless to say, I’ll post all about it, especially the ethics sections. I have high hopes that a program by the NPS will take a firm stance on provenance issues, given how often looters target national parks for devastation in the name of profit.


Bulgarian police bust looting ring

Tuesday, February 5th, 2008

The felicitously named Bulgarian Directorate for Combating Organized Crime has busted a gang of 19 looters with operations in 5 major cities.

The police found a completely preserved ancient chariot, over 2,800 ancient coins, over 790 various archeological monuments, seven matrixes for minting coins, as well as ancient ceramic, glass, and bronze vessels.

Imagine what it took for these low lives to score a complete ancient chariot. They didn’t just scratch up the topsoil. Odds are they had heavy machinery and tore into the site.



Maps stolen from Spanish National Library returned

Monday, February 4th, 2008

Police have found and returned several rare maps stolen from the Spanish National Library by a researcher/looting son of a bitch.

Among the stolen pieces is a map of the world torn from one of the first printed editions of Ptolemy’s 2nd c. AD “Cosmographia”. One of the first printed editions of anything, actually, given the 1482 publishing date, just 42 years after Gutenberg completed his printing press, and just 10 years before a certain Christopher Columbus used Ptolemy’s maps to get lost on his way to India.

Hand-drawn and beautifully preserved in living color, the world map was cut out of the book by said looting son of a bitch then sold through a variety of art dealer sons of bitches until it was found in an Australian gallery and returned to Spain. There are more still to be recovered.

Eight maps were recovered from Buenos Aires, Argentina. Two others were found in New York and handed over to Spain’s police chief in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. Another is awaiting authorization to be returned from Sydney, Australia. At least four that date to between the 15th and 17th centuries are still missing, Rubalcaba said.


Millionaire forgers on parole

Sunday, February 3rd, 2008

An update to this entry about the family of antiquities forgers who were finally busted after years of successfully pulling the wool over experts’ eyes: Curtain falls on antiques rogue show as last of family forgers convicted.

The 84 year-old pater familias amusingly monickered the “Artful Codger” by the British press was sentenced to 2 years in prison, suspended. His 83 year-old wife got a year, also suspended. Their son, the guy who actually made the fake artifacts in their garden shed, got a 4 and a half year sentence, not suspended.

Their motivations are still something of a mystery. It can’t have been filthy lucre since they lived pretty low on the proverbial hog. The speculation is frustrated artistic talent driving them to mock the establishment, but the Greenhalgh’s ain’t talkin’.

Last week the Guardian knocked on the Greenhalgh front door to ask these questions. A lock rasped shut, a blind was drawn and from behind the frosted glass plane a woman shouted: “Go away or I’ll set the dog on you.”

:lol: I can’t help but like these guys. I’ll take a thousand skilled forgers over one looter, that’s for sure.


Zeus: the cuckoo in some other god’s nest?

Saturday, February 2nd, 2008

Excavations on Mount Lykaion, the birthplace of Zeus, have uncovered pottery that long predates the arrivals of the Greeks and their deity, suggesting that the altar was let’s just say repurposed at some point.

“Paganism is a language, and you suppose that other people worship your gods under the appropriate names in their language,” said Dowden, author of Zeus, one in a series of books on ancient gods.

“So if, as we suppose, the Greeks arrive in Greece at the beginning of the second millennium B.C., it is no surprise to see that their cult site goes back to the third millennium B.C.,” Dowden said in email.

“The cult sites of earlier inhabitants are still regarded as valid,” he said, “and when the language spoken eventually changes to Greek, so may the name of the god.

“There can be no doubt the Greeks brought ‘Zeus,’ the name, with them to Mount Lykaion. But you do tend to worship a sky and weather god on mountain peaks, and that’s doubtless what his predecessor (as we would view it) was.”

So at least the new boss was in the same business as the old one.


TV dinners, a bus pass, 2 Fra Angelicos and a Rossetti watercolor

Friday, February 1st, 2008

Retired manuscripts curator Jean Preston lived in an unassuming brick row house, ate tv dinners and took the bus when she needed to go somewhere. After her death in 2006, they found that she’d been living with $8 million of rare art on the walls, in the closet, on the back of the doors.

Among the treasures were two paintings by Fra Angelico, the 15th century Italian Renaissance master, that were the missing pieces of an eight-part altar decoration. […]

Hanging in the kitchen was a 19th century watercolour by pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and in the sitting room, above an electric fire, a work by Sir Edward Burne-Jones.[…]

Another hidden treasure was a rare edition of the works of Chaucer that was too big to fit on Preston’s bookshelf and was found buried in a wardrobe. It sold for nearly $150,000.

The Fra Angelicos are going home to Florence for the first time since they were snatched out of the altar piece of the church of San Marco during the Napoleonic wars. A private collector bought them at auction, but he’s expected to give them to the Uffizi Gallery. The Rossetti “Hamlet and Ophelia” and Burne-Jones’ “Music” are headed for the Ashmolean Museum.





February 2008


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