Obama could still save Bears Ears

Cedar Mesa, one of the estimated 100,000 archaeological sites in the proposed Bears Ears monument
Cedar Mesa, one of the estimated 100,000 archaeological sites in the proposed Bears Ears monument

Former Senator and U.S. Representative Mark Udall argues President Obama could still set aside the “Bears Ears” National Monument:

The president has a rare opportunity to advance this proud tradition by protecting a spectacular area critical to our western heritage: Bears Ears, a 1.9 million-acre area in southern Utah replete with thousands of historic and cultural sites.

President Obama has already demonstrated his commitment to preserving and protecting unique public treasures for generations to come. He did so with Chimney Rock in southwest Colorado and again with Browns Canyon in Chaffee County. I was proud to champion both bipartisan efforts to protect these landscapes for future generations.

The president now has the chance to preserve lands vital to our nation’s heritage and history with the support of five Native American tribes whose heritage is memorialized in this area. He should utilize the Antiquities Act to protect the Bears Ears region in southeast Utah — a site that represents our western pioneering history and that of the tribal communities across the region, including the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe.

Numerous Native American tribes trace their roots to Bears Ears. In fact, the strongest voices in favor of a designation have come from the Ute Mountain Ute, Hopi, Navajo, Uintah and Ouray Ute, and Zuni tribes. The site also is home to artifacts from pioneers who made a home in the American West.

One of the prominent natural features in the landscape is Jacob’s Chair, named after my great-great grandfather, Jacob Hamlin, who was known as the Mormon Pathfinder. Hamlin spent his life working tirelessly to resolve conflicts that arose between the newly arrived settlers and the deeply rooted Native American tribes and bands already living in the area. His vision encompassed a future where both groups lived and worked together collaboratively, respecting each other’s traditions and beliefs, and living in harmony with the land. A Bears Ears National Monument would be a 21st century investment in that vision.

  1. Mark Udall, Still time for President Obama to save Bears Ears, The Denver Post (Nov. 20, 2016).

A strong connection between looting and organized crime in Greece

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Police in Greece have announced the arrest of 26 individuals in connection with an antiquities looting network that had been operating for 10 years. The announcement showed the recovery of more than 2,000 objects, including coins, jewelry, and other objects. Two individuals were arrested last Sunday at the Greek-Bulgarian border with an astounding 1,000 coins and small portable objects hidden in the bumper of their car.

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Police also confiscated metal detectors, guns, currency, and materials used to counterfeit currency.

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The arrests on Sunday were the culmination of a 14-month investigation which may have involved as many as 50 people.

Nicholas Paphitis, Greek police break up gang that excavated, sold antiquities, US News & World Report (Oct. 5, 2016), http://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2016-10-05/greek-police-break-gang-that-sold-thousands-of-antiquities.
Helen Stoilas, Police in Greece arrest 26 in bust of alleged antiquities smuggling ring, http://theartnewspaper.com/news/archeology/police-in-greece-arrest-26-in-bust-of-alleged-antiquities-smuggling-ring/.

Eakin on the destruction at Palmyra

Louis Vignes, Temple of Baalshamin, Palmyra, Syria (1864)
Louis Vignes, Temple of Baalshamin, Palmyra, Syria (1864)

In an essay in the most recent issue of the New York Review of Books, Hugh Eakin criticizes the actions of UNESCO, the United States, and Russia in the wake of the retaking of Palmyra from the Islamic State.

For all the pageantry, the retaking of Palmyra has served as a powerful reminder of how detached from reality the international campaign to save Syria’s endangered cultural heritage has been. Chastened by the damage wrought in recent wars in Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Mali, Western leaders, cultural officials, UNESCO, and even the UN Security Council have for several years now devoted unprecedented attention to the threats to sites in Syria by ISIS and other extremist groups. Millions of dollars have been spent to document, with the best satellite technology available and other resources, the current condition of archaeological monuments in the areas of conflict; legal scholars have called for war crimes prosecutions against those who intentionally damage historic sites and monuments; while top officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry and French President François Hollande, have long warned of the cost of Western inaction. Above all, a continuous series of initiatives have been aimed at cracking down on the international trade in looted Syrian antiquities, often described as a major revenue source for ISIS.

He argues instead that the best progress will likely come as a result of action done by local populations: Continue reading “Eakin on the destruction at Palmyra”

Comment on Pragmatic Reform in the Antiquities Trade

The 900-year-old bronze Dancing Shiva (Shiva Nataraja)  returned by the National Gallery of Australia to India in 2014
The 900-year-old bronze Dancing Shiva (Shiva Nataraja) returned by the National Gallery of Australia to India in 2014

Cornelius Banta, Jr. a recent graduate of the University of Houston Law Center has written an interesting piece in the Houston Law Review putting forth some pragmatic reforms to the antiquities trade. From the abstract:

The debate over the trade in antiquities generally pits archaeologists and antiquities-rich nations (cultural nationalists) against museums, art dealers, and private collectors (cultural internationalists). The former alleges that the latter’s lusting after antiquities perpetuates a black market that threatens the archaeological record and undermines the sovereignty of source nations. Conversely, cultural internationalists assert that policies favoring cultural nationalists stifle the free exchange of artifacts that belong to mankind as a whole, not just a select group of scholars and countries. The problem is that both sides are so intent on pointing the finger at each other that they fail to realize cooperation could produce a mutually beneficial outcome. The solution lies in changing the current adversarial debate into a cooperative dialogue where each side gives a little in order to ensure both sides gain more in the end.

This Comment attempts to break through the polarization in the debate over the trade in antiquities by stressing the shared interests of both sides and advocating pragmatic reforms. The current debate is first viewed through an intellectual framework, where the interests of cultural nationalists, who want to protect antiquities, runs up against cultural internationalists, who advocate for the free movement of antiquities. With the theoretical framework set, one can then analyze the debate through the current legal approaches towards regulating the antiquities market. The United States’ blend of criminal prosecutions and trade restrictions is illustrative of present efforts to control the antiquities trade. Yet despite the ineffectiveness of current polices, the hardline stances taken by both sides of the antiquities trade debate create an impasse for reform. Consequently, change can only come by recognizing the shortcomings of the current approaches and promoting civil and private remedies that benefit both sides.

Cornelius Banta Jr., Finding Common Ground in the Antiquities Trade Debate to Promote Pragmatic Reforms, http://www.houstonlawreview.org/2016/05/06/53-4-finding-common-ground-in-the-antiquities-trade-debate-to-promote-pragmatic-reforms/.

We Visited Morgantina and Aidone, they were great

This June I had the chance to visit the town of Aidone in Southern Sicily. It’s a town that I’ve written and thought a lot about, so when we had the opportunity to pop up from teaching in Valletta for a long weekend, we jumped. Its fame comes as the result of a series of looting scandals.

The village and the archaeological site has been written about a great deal, but I haven’t come across many who have actually visited the site and the Muesum. For decades, the site it represented in a tangible way the competing interests of illicit looters and archaeologists. Archaeologists would excavate during the summer, looters would raid the site after they left. Year after year the cycle continued.

If you are reading this you probably have some strong feelings about where the Dea di Aidone (aka the Getty Goddess) should reside. This short essay is a collection of my own thoughts about the ancient site of Morgantina and the nearby town of Aidone.

To give a bit of the history as I understand it, the island of Sicily was subject to the control of many Mediterranean civilizations, and Morgantina’s history reflects this. Morgantina was founded perhaps seven or eight centuries before Christ. At some point it came under the control of Syracuse. Much of what now exists at this site reflects a city at the edge of the ancient Greek world. At some point in the third century BCE Morgantina may have chosen to throw their lot in with Carthage, a choice which likely proved costly when it was finally captured by Rome. Morgantina may have fallen on hard times, and the city itself seems to have been largely deserted by the First Century CE.

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The baths at Morgantina. Notice the painting on the walls

Thesite has been the subject of a number of archaeological excavations, mainly by American archaeologists, and also the target of antiquities looters who ultimately sent objects on through the illicit black market in antiquities. Many of the most beautiful items looted ended up in American Museums, notably the Getty and the Metropolitan Museum of art. This seems to me to be a notable correlation. How is it an accident that most summers for the last 60 years have seen american archaeologists digging at Morgantina, and also the museums of the United States acquiring works from the very site. Assigning blame to the archaeologists who dig there, the local officials for protecting the site, or the museum curators who

A detail from one of the 16 pieces of the "Morgantina Silver"
A detail from one of the 16 pieces of the “Morgantina Silver”

acquire this material seems unproductive for this short essay. But visiting the Museum in Aidone and the site of Morgantina I was struck by what a colossal policy failure the looting represents.

Continue reading “We Visited Morgantina and Aidone, they were great”

Italy reached an agreement with the Glyptotek

Contents of a tomb from the Sabine Hills, north of Rome
Contents of a tomb from the Sabine Hills, north of Rome

Italy and the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek art museum in Copenhagen on Tuesday announced an agreement for the return of antiquities taken illegally from Italy.

Objects repatriated include the contents of a tomb from near Fara north of Rome. Those objects had allegedly passed through Robert Hecht, a familiar name to those who follow illicit antiquities. Hecht passed away in 2012, and had been the subject of a criminal trial in Rome in 2005, allegedly for dealing in illicit antiquities.

Robert Hecht described buying the Etruscan chariot from Giacomo Medici:

Continue reading “Italy reached an agreement with the Glyptotek”

Italy Squandered €150m in Culture Funding

La dea di Aidone
La dea di Aidone

The Art Newspaper reported last week after examining EU documents, that Italy has been stripped of €151m in culture funding next year because regions have failed to spend funds allocated. This includes the loss of funding for Aidone, which is the village near the ancient site of Morgantina:

The EU rejected a request for €2.4m from the Archaeological Museum of Aidone to renovate its galleries because of incomplete documentation and the lack of an “economic framework”. The museum was due to welcome back the Head of Hades (400-300BC), a Hellenistic terracotta fragment that was restored to Sicily by the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles in January. But the sculpture, thought to have been illegally excavated from a sanctuary at Morgantina in the 1970s, remains in limbo in Palermo, partly because the Aidone museum has not prepared a suitable display for it.

This is a really sad development. It seems now very difficult to square the argument that works of art must be returned when the requesting nation cannot properly manage funding that is available. The step here needs to be capacity building for these smaller museums and regions to properly instruct the employees the expectations of grant requests and the expectations.

There may be another side to this story. The English-language reporting of happenings in Italy often have a Northern-European bias. But its hard to put a positive spin on such wasted resources.

We’ll hopefully be in Aidone and Morgantina in a week’s time—we are able to sneak away from my cultural heritage law course in Valletta, Malta. I hope to have some images and thoughts on the site and museum in Aidone soon.

Tina Lepri & Hannah McGivern, Italy squanders €150m in EU grants, http://theartnewspaper.com/news/conservation/italy-squanders-hundreds-of-millions-in-eu-grants/.