Dr. Laurie Rush on "Cultural Property Protection as a Force Multiplier"

Laurie Rush, and Army archaeologist who has directed the In Theater Heritage Training Program for Deploying Personnel has a very interesting piece tin the March-April edition of Military Review, Cultural Property Protection as a Force Multiplier in Stability Operations The piece focuses on the work of the Monuments officers during WWII, but has much to say about the continued importance of heritage protection today. An excerpt:

Few contest the long-term value of cultural property protection during fullspectrum operations. However, one might reasonably question its immediate benefits to Western military personnel facing hostile engagements in today’s complex conflict situations. One immediate response refers to the media battle that is an inevitable part of all modern conflict. Just as the Italians and Germans used propaganda effectively to advance their causes during the African and Italian campaigns, the terrorists and insurgents of today are often on the scene with video cameras. The British monuments program in 1943 began in part as a response to an Italian propaganda effort centering on the ancient Roman city of Cyrenica in Libya. After the ancient site changed hands from the Italians to the British and back to the Italians, the Italian government put together a propaganda campaign with the message that the British had shown no respect for the glory of ancient Rome. The Italians faked damage to the museum, photographed statues under reconstruction and added captions accusing the British of deliberately breaking them, and offered examples of graffiti written in English. The power of these materials was manifest. They helped convince the Italian people that the British had no respect for any element of Italian or Roman history and culture.

The whole piece merits a good read, highly recommended. I wonder if the protection of these sites and objects can be considered an economic, cultural or other ‘multiplier’ as well, extending the arguments and resources we might dedicate to their protection outside of conflict zones as well.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Nemeth on strategic protection of cultural heritage

Does the citizen protection at the Cairo Museum
offer lessons for strategic protection of heritage?

Erik Nemeth makes an interesting point in a special contribution to the Chicago Tribune. Rather than just consider what museums or ‘source nations’ lose when objects are repatriated; why not consider the gain and strategic benefit returns can offer to the returning nation or museum. And what other benefits might occur during armed conflict if heritage sites are aggressively protected?

The political turbulence in Egypt, Libya and Bahrain has seen both looting of artifacts and destruction of monuments. Last year, citizens linked arms in front of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo with some success. This and other instances like it suggest potential for proactive protection of cultural artifacts, particularly in light of the U.S. ratification of the 1954 Hague Convention in 2009. Indeed, U.S. foreign policy can parlay risk to cultural property into diplomacy by insisting that military interventions, even when the U.S. is not engaged militarily, include a strategy for securing museums, monuments and sites of archaeological significance that along with tactical bombing avoids collateral damage. America might also assess objects that are likely targets for repatriation and consider offering their return as part of a strategy for relations with the nation of origin. If engaged in conflict — or even if not — an active interest in protecting the local cultural property would serve the purposes of garnering political goodwill and creating an opportunity for communication with the local government and potentially the insurgency.

  1. Erik Nemeth, Repatriating part of Saddam statue could promote diplomacy, Chicago Tribune, June 7, 2012, http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-06-07/news/ct-perspec-0607-artifacts-20120607_1_hiram-bingham-iii-artifacts-collateral-damage (last visited Jun 10, 2012).
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Destruction and Looting in Syria

AP Photo of destruction in Homs

There are increasing reports of destruction in Syria. Sites like Krak des Chavaliers, Palmyra, Elba, and historic buildings in Homs are all at risk. Government forces in some cases are shelling civilian areas—the Citadel of Al Madeeq has been shelled, with a tragic result for the site and for the inhabitants.

The AP describes the damage: “shells thudded into the walls of the 12th century al-Madeeq Citadel, raising flames and columns of smoke as regime forces battled with rebels in March. The bombardment punched holes in the walls, according to online footage of the fighting.”

There are reports of looting, including some by government forces and others. Rodrigo Martin, an archaeologist who has worked in Syria describes some of the destruction:

We have facts showing that the government is acting directly against the country’s historical heritage,. . . What we know . . . Syrian heritage has already provided a huge quantity of information, but we can safely say that the part that has not yet been studied is even bigger,. . . [the destruction] is like burning a page in the book of history of mankind.

This kind of damage, which approaches intentional destruction similar to the destruction of the Buddhas at Bamiyan will be difficult to prevent. With respect to the looting and damage being done, sadly there are not a whole lot of good options the heritage community can call for, apart from a peaceful resolution of the conflict, and renewed vigilance in the marketplace to watch out for the kinds of objects which looters may be taking from Syria.

  1. Syria’s Cultural Treasures Latest Uprising Victim, NPR.org,   May 1, 2012, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=151783292 (last visited May 3, 2012).
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Cambodia Disputing a Koh Ker statue up for auction at Sotheby’s

The disputed limestone Koh Ker statue

Cambodia is asking for assistance from the U.S. government in repatriating a limestone statue which was likely looted during the Vietnam War/Khmer Rouge era. Jane Levine, compliance director for Sotheby’s argues that “there are widely divergent views on how to resolve conflicts involving cultural heritage objects”. Here is mine.

The statue has considerable value, its pre-sale auction price was estimated at between $2-3 million. That estimate will likely be considerably less after the report in the New York times, detailing the dubious history of the object. Sotheby’s claims the object was acquired by a “noble European lady” in 1975. Hardly a complete history of the object, and hardly enough to invoke the protections of good faith. The absence of information should not confer the benefits of a good faith purchase. Sotheby’s argues the burden should be placed on Cambodia. I wonder though if the blunt reality of two feet without a body might lead a thinking person to a different conclusion. No museum can ethically acquire this object. Though the Norton Simon has a similar statue, also without feet, no word yet on whether Cambodia may seek the repatriation of that statue as well.

I would expect if a resolution between Sotheby’s and Cambodia cannot be reached that the government consider using its forfeiture powers on the grounds the statue was under the ownership of Cambodia after a 1925 French colonial law declaring objects in Cambodia to be the exclusive property of the state.

Should the forfeiture proceeding be declined, I would urge Cambodia or its lawyers to consider using a civil action using as a precedent the English case, Bumper Development Corp. v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis [1991] 1 WLR 1362. That case successfully achieved the repatriation of an object taken from an Indian temple, but it was the temple itself was given legal rights as a party. Perhaps there is a legal personality in Cambodia which might offer a similar connection to this statue.

    A Pedestal in Cambodia, which might be the base
  1. Tom Mashberg & Ralph Blumenthal, Sotheby’s Caught in Dispute Over Prized Cambodian Statue, The New York Times, February 28, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/29/arts/design/sothebys-caught-in-dispute-over-prized-cambodian-statue.html (last visited Feb 28, 2012).

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

More Context on the Menil Frescoes

The Frescoes at the Menil in Montrose

The return of the Byzantine Frescoes to Cyprus presents an opportunity to consider what will happen to the physical space which was specially created to house them at the Menil in Houston. But it also offers an opportunity to look back at the acquisition process for the frescoes. Lisa Gray reports that at the time of the acquisition, Dominique de Menil understood they were dealing with ‘Thugs’:

An example of the chopped up mosaics before restoration

De Menil and her associates had flown to Munich, expecting to see two Byzantine frescoes of unusual excellence. Their contact, Turkish businessman Aydin Dikmen, led the little party to a ratty neighborhood at the edge of Munich, then up a flight of stairs to an apartment that had no electricity. In a room lit only by two candles, de Menil was shown two pieces of plaster (John the Baptist, plus part of an angel) propped against a wall. Other bits were packed in a crate. De Menil was horrified. “The pieces were too much chopped up to derive any impression of beauty,” she later told Texas Monthly reporter Helen Thorpe. “It was like a miserable human being that has to be brought to the hospital.” Through translators, Dikmen told her that the frescoes had been discovered under rubble at a construction site in Turkey. The de Menil party doubted the story. But de Menil agreed to pay Dikmen earnest money in exchange for the right to buy them in the future. At that point, she did something unusual for the wild-and-woolly 1980s antiquity market: She began earnestly trying to track down the frescoes’ rightful owner. Eventually, after many letters exchanged by lawyers and embassies, it became clear that the frescoes had been stolen from a tiny church near the town of Lysi, on the island of Cyprus. In 1974, after Turkey invaded northern Cyprus, looters systematically robbed the area’s churches and monuments of anything they could carry off. In the little church at Lysi, where the frescoes were painted into the walls’ plaster, they’d glued cloth to the walls’ surfaces, then used a chain saw and chisel to hack away Christ, Mary and the angels, yielding 38 cloth-fronted pieces.

It is a fascinating story of one of the rare examples of a collector working with the original owner to solve a theft, restore the mosaics, display them, and return them to Cyprus. But in this case, the thieves were rewarded. The mosaics were stripped from their church, sold on the international market in Munich. So it is a good result, and the Menil and the Byzantine Church of Cyprus should be rewarded, and yet this was a success for the thieves as well.

The Chapel in Lysi, Cyprus where the mosaics were stolen
  1. Lisa Gray, Afterlife for a chapel, Houston Chronicle, February 5, 2012, http://www.chron.com/life/gray/article/Gray-Afterlife-for-a-chapel-2968817.php#src=fb (last visited Feb 6, 2012).
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Art Crime and War Course in Hamilton, New Zealand

Hamilton, New Zealand
One of the highlights of ARCA’s Certificate program each summer is a course taught by Judge Arthur Tompkins. For those willing and able to make it to New Zealand in February, which is the Antipodean summer, the University of Waikato’s Te Piringa-Faculty of Law and the University’s Centre for Continued Education have recently announced a forthcoming five-day summer intensive course, entitled “Art Crime during Armed Conflict”.

I cannot recommend Judge Tompkins’s course highly enough, he covers art and war from ancient times in Greece and Rome up to the present Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.

Here are the details:
Continuing Education Flyer for Art Crime During Armed Conflict

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Nemeth on Antiquities (UPDATE w/ image)

Erik Nemeth has recently posted a number of interesting articles on SSRN examining ‘cultural security’ and the task of quantifying antiquities looting.

Cultural Security: From Concept to Engagement:

Recent armed conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan and political violence in Egypt have revealed the strategic significance of cultural property. This paper assesses the role of historic sites and antiquities in foreign engagement. Over the past century, U.S. foreign policy has had successes and shortcomings in leveraging protection of cultural patrimony to strategic advantage. The contrast of successful policy on the protection of immovable cultural property, such as religious monuments, in armed conflict and missed opportunities for tactical intelligence on the trade in movable cultural property, such as antiquities trafficking, identifies potential for development of foreign policy.

Market Value of Culture: Quantifying the Risk of Antiquities Looting:

The traditionally clandestine nature of the art market poses challenges to assessing looting and trafficking in developing nations. In the absence of direct information on transactions in source nations, sales at auction provide a sense of the market value and trade volume of antiquities and primitive art. Auction houses openly publish results of auctions and enable access to sales archives through web sites. On-line access to sales archives creates a substantive pool of data on hammer prices from auctions around the world. Sales archives also contain detailed descriptions of the artworks. The description that accompanies an auction lot can identify the geographic origin of the artwork. Data mining of sales archives for hammer price and origin enables analysis of market value by source nation. The analysis assesses relative market value and, thereby, contributes to an assessment of relative risks of looting across developing nations.

Both short essays are highly recommended.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Did Marion True Ever Catch a Looter or Dealer?

One of the stolen Mosaics at issue in the case

Some folks on the internet are not too pleased about the letter I collaborated on with Noah Charney re-examining Hugh Eakin’s review of Chasing Aphrodite. A pointed response by David Gill here, and another critic wonders “whether anything done by Marion True herself actually led to the capture and conviction of a single looter of archaeological sites, or advanced any “Research into Crimes against Art”?

Yes, she certainly did, according to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. As anyone should know who claims to study looting of archaeology and heritage, Marion True was the hero of one of the most prominent antiquities cases of the last thirty years, AUTOCEPHALOUS GREEK-ORTHODOX CHURCH OF CYPRUS vs.GOLDBERG, 917 F. 2d 278 (7th Cir., 1990) (available here). The case involved an antiquities dealer, Peg Goldberg, as well as Michel van Rijn. A helpful summary of the case is available here from IFAR.  I discuss the case at some length in  an article where I argue the nation of origin’s law should be applied more often in cross-border trafficking in pieces of cultural heritage.

But with respect to Marion True, she is the unabashed hero of the case. From the opinion by Chief Judge Alex Bauer:

Peg Goldberg’s efforts soon turned to just that: the resale of these valuable mosaics. She worked up sales brochures about them, and contacted several other dealers to help her find a buyer. Two of these dealers’ searches led them both to Dr. Marion True of the Getty Museum in California. When told of these mosaics and their likely origin, the aptly-named Dr. True explained to the dealers that she had a working relationship with the Republic of Cyprus and that she was duty-bound to contact Cypriot officials about them. Dr. True called Dr. Vassos Karageorghis, the Director of the Republic’s Department of Antiquities and one of the primary Cypriot officials involved in the worldwide search for the mosaics. Dr. Karageorghis verified that the Republic was in fact hunting for the mosaics that had been described to Dr. True, and he set in motion the investigative and legal machinery that ultimately resulted in the Republic learning that they were in Goldberg’s possession in Indianapolis.

(emphasis added)

The opinion is also widely cited because of a concurring opinion by Judge Cudahy embedding the 1954 Hague Convention and the 1970 UNESCO Convention into cultural heritage law, a precedent which has had a number of important effects.

Marion True is no saint, nobody would argue she is, but her story is more complicated than merely painting her as the endpoint for looted antiquities. She did so much more, as Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino explain in their book. Italian officials will tell you if asked that the case was brought against her because they had the evidence, not necessarily because she was the worst offender. And yes, she was instrumental in returning at least one looted object.  group of looted objects.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

More War, More Looting

Jason bringing Pelias the Golden Fleece

From Jason and his argonauts to Thomas Bruce, seventh Earl of Elgin, cultural takings are nothing new. So argues Richard J. Evans—Professor of History at Wolfson College, Cambridge, and Chair of the U.K. Spoliation Advisory Panel—in a terrific long-read that argues the looting of heritage during wartime continue despite attempts to police conflict.

It is a beautifully written historical summary of wartime looting, which puts the ancient world, modern unrest, and World War II in historical context. I really recommend giving the entire piece a read, but here are some highlights:

The history of [looting] goes back far indeed, beginning perhaps with Jason and the Argonauts looting the Golden Fleece; and it continued with the Romans’ habit of looting art from conquered cities in order to parade it through the streets of Rome in the ceremonial procession of the Roman triumph before putting it on display in the Forum.
. . .
ELGIN’S ACTIONS reflected his belief that educated Englishmen were the true heirs of classical civilization, whose legacy permeated the minds of educated elites across Europe. This influence was nowhere greater than in revolutionary France, where Napoleon’s victorious armies began concluding a series of treaties with conquered states across Europe, notably the Treaty of Tolentino, signed by the pope in 1797, that allowed them to appropriate artworks to stock the Louvre Museum, founded in 1793.
. . .
It is vital to learn the lessons of the Second World War and put effective arrangements in place in advance of future fighting to rescue and restore cultural objects and prevent looting. Such arrangements were not made in Iraq in 2003, and the devastation was vast. The international community cannot prevent looting and destruction in the course of civil unrest, but it can take steps to minimize it in cases of interstate conflicts. Above all, the art and museum world needs to be more vigilant in monitoring the trade in looted goods in the wake of conflicts such as those in Iraq or Afghanistan, and law-enforcement agencies need to step in with sanctions against those who encourage—or benefit—from it. In a globalized world, every state has, as the Hague Convention urged more than a century ago, a duty to act as the trustee of the culture of all nations, not just its own.

  1. Richard J. Evans, Art in the Time of War, The National Interest, May-June 2011, http://nationalinterest.org/article/art-the-time-war-5163 (last visited Apr 19, 2011).
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Archaeologists Warn of Danger to Sites in Afghanistan

AFP reports on damage to cultural heritage in Afghanistan today.  We heard a lot about damage done in Iraq, but as Larry Rothfield and others have pointed out, Afghanistan is a chance to correct the mistakes that were made in Iraq.  It looks like it might be a failed opportunity.  It is a familiar story of a flawed market, economic instability, and little enforcement. 

KABUL — A senior Western archaeologist in Afghanistan says he is struggling to protect a vast wealth of cultural treasures from being stolen and smuggled to wealthier countries, or worse, destroyed altogether.
“I think there is absolutely no site in this country which is unaffected,” Philippe Marquis, the director of a team of French government-funded archaeologists operating in Afghanistan, told AFP in a recent interview.
“The illegal trade in antiquities is very significant, and is related to all the illegal activities which are going on in Afghanistan,” he added.
Afghanistan’s position on the ancient Silk Road that linked east with west has left the country with a rich cultural heritage.
But decades of war have hampered efforts to conduct proper archaeological investigations, while a lack of regulation means that priceless treasures are being smuggled out of the country at an alarming rate.
The looting is often carried out by poor villagers who are paid by middlemen often based elsewhere in the region — a problem the French have gone some way to addressing by paying the looters to work on their digs instead.
But Marquis believes much of the blame lies elsewhere. It is illegal to take object more than 100 years old out of Afghanistan, but enforcement of the law is weak, and most stolen antiquities are smuggled to wealthier countries.
The United Nations recently sought the advice of the French archaeologists after it discovered a large number of Afghan antiquities in the shipment of a departing staff member.
“People are often not even aware of the importance, they just think, well this would be nice on a shelf in my house in France or the UK,” says Marquis.

  1. Claire Cozens, AFP: Archaeologists seek protection for Afghan treasures (2010), http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5jf-EWqmhK3CiG7XGyGyVtOsNWZ8g (last visited Jun 22, 2010).
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com