Quote of the Day

Greece will fight for the return from foreign museums and collectors of every ancient Greek object for which we have evidence that it is a product of illegal digging, smuggling or illegal trade.

Giorgos Voulgarakis, Former Hellenic Republic Minister of Culture

February 16, 2015

Aboriginal leaders want British Museum to return more artefacts

Posted at 10:17 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

A few years ago, the law in the UK was changed to allow certain artefacts to be returned to their country of origin.

The 2004 Human Tissue Act had its origins in controlling the unauthorised storage of body parts of deceased patients by hospitals, but section 47 of the act covered a very different, yet tenuously related subject – the repatriation of human remains.

Following a successful campaign by Australian Aboriginal groups, a decision had been made by the British Government to make changes to the law, to allow artefacts that involved human remains (i.e. they were human remains, or part of them was composed from human remains) to be returned to their countries of origin. This change in the law was a major step forward, as for the first time it over-rode the 1963 British Museum Act, opening a new route by which items could be de-accessioned from the institution.

After the need for changes to the law were identified by a working group led by Professor Norman Palmer (who has recently been associated with the campaign for the return of the Parthenon Marbles), the Museums that held artefacts that might be affected by any change in the law, all wanted to limit any potential losses to their collections. As a result of this, various limitations were invoked within the act. Firstly, there was a 1000 year limit – artefacts older than this were not covered – a move that safeguarded any Egyptian mummies held by Britain’s major museums. The second limitation was a much more major distinction that of bones versus stones. It was argued that bones (i.e. human remains) were one category of artefact, whereas stones (i.e. pretty much everything else that was inanimate) constituted an entirely different category. While there are reasons that human remains should perhaps be seen in a different light, the move was arguably more about safeguarding large tranches of the museum’s collections, than it was about any real ethical distinction.

In the years since the Human Tissue Act came into force, there have been many instances of human remains being returned, from museums all over Britain. The returns have not just been to Australian Aboriginal groups, but also to many other indigenous peoples around the world.

During this time though, the stones versus bones argument never entirely disappeared. Aboriginal groups were pleased with the return of human remains, but to them, many other items in Britain’s museums held equally important cultural significance. The British Museum is now loaning some of the Aboriginal items in its collection to the National Museum of Australia, leading to new claims that some of these items should be returned. As the Aboriginal groups point out, these items tell a story about them and their culture, not a story about England.

Minor successes in this field have already been achieved, such as the Kwakwaka’wakw mask returned on a renewable loan basis, but these have been few and far between. To achieve what the Aboriginal Groups want would require another change in the law. This should not be considered as an insurmountable challenge – a few years after the 2004 Human Tissue Act, MP Andrew Dismore introduced the Holocaust (Stolen Art) Restitution Act, which punched a new hole in the anti-restitution clauses of the British Museum Act – this time allowing the return of items looted during the Nazi Era.

With each new special case, the legitimacy of more artefacts within the British Museum’s collection comes into question, leading to further pressure for changes in the law to give the potential for long running restitution cases such as that of the Parthenon Marbles to be resolved.

Aboriginal bark painting of a barramundi dating from 1861

Aboriginal bark painting of a barramundi dating from 1861

From:
Guardian

Indigenous leaders fight for return of relics featuring in major new exhibition
Paul Daley
Saturday 14 February 2015 00.03 GMT

When Gary Murray contemplates the thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander objects held in the vaults of the British Museum in London, he strikes a simple analogy.

“All of these things that belong to our people in Australia – they don’t tell a story about the Queen of England, do they?” he asks.
Read the rest of this entry »

February 13, 2015

Greek government to pursue new Parthenon Marbles strategy?

Posted at 2:00 pm in Elgin Marbles

I’m struggling to work out if there is any actual new information that this story is based on or not. The clarifications seem to be more a matter of re-hashing what I wrote a few weeks ago. In essence, its correcting some incorrect statements from the earlier article, which in reality told little more than “new government to re-look at existing contracts”.

In time we will no doubt find out more about the new government’s strategy for dealing with the Marbles, but at present, we do not yet know a great deal.

David Hill, Amal Clooney & Geoffrey Robertson in Athens

David Hill, Amal Clooney & Geoffrey Robertson in Athens

From:
Greek Reporter

Greece to Follow Different Strategy on Parthenon Marbles Repatriation
by Philip Chrysopoulos – Feb 13, 2015

The new Greek government is considering a different strategy for claiming the Parthenon sculptures from the British Museum and will likely stop cooperating with Amal Alamuddin-Clooney and her law firm.

The new Minister of Culture, Education and Religious Affairs Aristides Baltas told foreign reporters that Greece is seeking a new strategy to bring back the sculptures. He was quoted by The Times as saying, “Our campaign will continue, but the strategy and how we go about that may be tweaked, if required. We’ll be looking over these details in the coming weeks and if we see a need to alter them, we will.”
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February 12, 2015

Syria and the looting of antiquities by ISIS

Posted at 2:13 pm in Similar cases

Many photos have appeared in recent months showing the extent of looting and vandalism by ISIS in Syria and Northern Iraq.

Attempts are now being made to prevent this, which is a great step forward.

Many reports however also claim that the looting is the terrorist organisation’s second largest revenue stream after oil, although this link is as yet completely unproven and most likely incorrect, as proved by Jason Felch’s article here.

Archaeologists Rene Teijgeler and Isber Sabrinelooking for looted antiquities at a market in Gaziantep, Turkey

Archaeologists Rene Teijgeler and Isber Sabrinelooking for looted antiquities at a market in Gaziantep, Turkey

From:
Wall Street Journal

Culture Brigade
Syrian ‘Monuments Men’ Race to Protect Antiquities as Looting Bankrolls Terror
By Joe Parkinson, Ayla Albayrak and Duncan Mavin

TURKEY-SYRIA BORDER—In a hotel basement on the Turkish side of this combat-scarred frontier, a group of unlikely warriors is training to fight on a little-known front of Syria’s civil war: the battle for the country’s cultural heritage.

The recruits aren’t grizzled fighters but graying academics, more at home on an archaeological dig than a battlefield. For months, they have journeyed across war-torn regions of Syria, braving shelling, smugglers and the jihadists of Islamic State. Their mission: to save ancient artifacts and imperiled archaeological sites from profiteers, desperate civilians and fundamentalists who have plundered Syria’s rich artistic heritage to fund their war effort.
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February 6, 2015

3D printing – now everyone can copy ancient artefacts

Posted at 2:06 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

Producing replicas of artefacts is often touted as a solution to ownership disputes – both parties can have a version. Of course it then raises a question of who gets to have the originals. Or, if both are equal then why either party would mind not having the originals.

There are many copies of the Parthenon Sculptures, made from a smaller number of first generation casts, but if they are indistinguishable, then one has to wonder why the British Museum has from time to time proposed that Greece should be completely happy with casts, when they themselves are unwilling to give up the originals.

A copy has its own history from when it was made & how it was made, but this is a completely different history to that of the originals. As evidenced in many cultural property disputes around the world, provenance is critical in many different ways. A piece of rock from the moon, even if of identical composition to one on earth has an inherent importance because of where it originated and what we can learn from that.

That said, copies have their own value, in allowing people to study items from a physical artistic point of view more easily & the prevalence of 3D printing is going to make this sort of research more commonplace in future.

The British Museum allows some artefacts to be downloaded and 3D printed

The British Museum allows some artefacts to be downloaded and 3D printed

From:
Charlotte Observer

3-D printer copying of sculptures: Is it legal?
By Ariel Bogle
Posted: Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015

Almost every physical object, from a spoon to Edgar Degas’ famous dancer sculptures, can be scanned and uploaded onto the Internet as a file, ready for download by anyone with a desktop 3-D printer. But like the digitization of music and books before it, the migration of objects of art and design online brings with it the baggage of America’s frustrating intellectual-property regime.

A cast of Michelangelo’s famous 16th-century sculpture of Moses sits on the campus of Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D. Jerry Fisher, who lives in the area, decided to create a 3-D printable version of the artwork using photogrammetry – analyzing 2-D photos of an object and turning them into a digital 3-D model.
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February 2, 2015

The 8th Lord Elgin and ransacking of Beijing’s Summer Palace

Posted at 1:56 pm in Similar cases

Regular readers of this blog will know that Thomas Bruce, AKA the Seventh Earl of Elgin, who removed the sculptures from the Parthenon, was not the only one in his family with a reputation for pilfering historic artefacts.

His son, the Eighth Earl of Elgin was responsible for the ransacking of Beijing’s Summer Palace and the fallout from this single event still causes controversy and tension between Britain and China today, whenever one of the artefacts is put up for public auction.

The full documentary is available to listen to on BBC’s iPlayer.

Some Bronze Zodiac heads looted from the Summer Palace have now been recovered and are on display in Chinese Museums

Some Bronze Zodiac heads looted from the Summer Palace have now been recovered and are on display in Chinese Museums

From:
BBC History Magazine

2 February 2015 Last updated at 08:52
The palace of shame that makes China angry
By Chris Bowlby BBC News, Beijing

There is a deep, unhealed historical wound in the UK’s relations with China – a wound that most British people know nothing about, but which causes China great pain. It stems from the destruction in 1860 of the country’s most beautiful palace.

It’s been described as China’s ground zero – a place that tells a story of cultural destruction that everyone in China knows about, but hardly anyone outside.
Read the rest of this entry »

February 1, 2015

Why recent articles about Amal & the Marbles are misleading

Posted at 8:56 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

A number of the papers this weekend carried a similar story relating to the recent change of government in Greece.

The basis of the story is relatively factual – that the country is reviewing existing contracts that the government holds and is looking to save money where possible. From that point onwards though, the story is a complete fabrication, unless somebody else can point me to evidence to the contrary.

The story relates to the visit late last year to Greece of a team of Laywers, which included Amal Clooney. The way the story is portrayed is that whatever was agreed in Athens is now to be ripped up – and that her law firm is no longer likely to be a part of any initiative.

The reality (to the best of my knowledge) is something more like this.

1. Amal travelled to Athens with Geoffrey Robertson and Professor Norman Palmer and was very much the junior one of the three there. To describe it as Amal’s law firm is laughable. However the papers have a love of celebrity stories, so I doubt I can stop them from framing the story in this way. In some ways, I don’t have such an issue with it, if it gets readers who might otherwise have been uninterested to find out more about the Parthenon Marbles – although they won;t learn a great deal from this particular article.

2. The team of lawyers were in Athens to advise the government about the legal options available to them with regard to securing the return of the Marbles. To the best of my knowledge, they were not signed up to anything and if they received any money, it was likely to be merely their out of pocket expenses for travel, accommodation etc while they were there. To suggest that a government would sign any sort of contract on a first meeting over a subject as complex as the Parthenon Sculptures reunification is ridiculously naive. In the previous coalition, various ministers were trained lawyers and would have wanted to give the matter full consideration & have it assessed by their own in-house legal advisors and others before signing on the dotted line.

3. Much is made of the cost, but as highlighted above, as yet, there is no clear cost associated with this, as nothing has been agreed. Furthermore, the sort of cost talked about for a legal case, while a massive amount to the average man in the street, is tiny for governments that are regularly moving about far larger amounts on a daily basis. That is not to say that it is not an issue – but if there was a motivation to proceed, then the cost impact would be unlikely to be the major consideration. Indeed, if it was a major issue for the government and they were willing to swallow their pride, I am aware of various wealthy Greek foundations and individuals around the world, which would be happy to assist in funding such an initiative.

All in all, its a bit of a non-story. The new government is renewing contracts, the new culture minister is asked about the marbles & says he’s reviewing the strategy (as any new government would). That is all that has happened.

Personally, I hope that the government continues along the lines of the previous coalition with regard to the Marbles. I know that in Greek politics, there is often a tendency to rip up everything that the previous government did and head in the opposite direction, but I personally believe that great steps forward were made in the last few years – far more than was managed by any previous governments. Not only was an advisory team specifically focused on the Marbles set up, but on their advice, an invitation to mediation via UNESCO was issued and more recently, discussions have been made about other possible legal approaches. Finally the country has moved from talking about the issue to acting on it, and it would be a great shame to lose this momentum. For a relatively small outlay (for a nation, even an impoverished one), something great could eventually be achieved – something that could give the average Greek citizen a sense of achievement and success, a reason to be proud in their country once more.

David Hill, Amal Clooney & Geoffrey Robertson in Athens

David Hill, Amal Clooney & Geoffrey Robertson in Athens

From:
Daily Mail

Curtains for the new Mrs Clooney? Amal’s law firm could be ditched as advisor on Elgin Marbles as Greece’s new left-wing government reviews contracts
By Flora Drury For Mailonline
Published: 12:10, 31 January 2015 | Updated: 13:37, 31 January 2015

Amal Clooney could find herself with one less high profile case to fight after Greece’s new culture minister revealed they were reconsidering how to win back the Elgin Marbles.

Aristides Baltas revealed they were looking at the ‘strategy’ behind his country’s attempts to get the 5th century BC statues returned – and were willing to ‘tweak’ it if necessary.
Read the rest of this entry »

January 29, 2015

Architectural competition to redesign access to the Acropolis site

Posted at 2:02 pm in Acropolis

An architectural competition is soon to be announced, to redesign the entrance route to the Athenian Acropolis.

Entrance path to the Acropolis

Entrance path to the Acropolis

From:
ANSAmed

Greece: architecture contest to redesign Acropolis access
26 January, 14:34

Greek culture ministry is set to announce an international architecture contest inviting contestants to present proposals that will make access to the Acropolis more functional and friendlier for disabled visitors and improve the aesthetics of the surrounding area, Greek Travel Pages (Gtp) website reports. Renowned Greek architect Dimitris Pikionis, responsible for the landscaping work of the pedestrian walkways around the Acropolis in the 1950s, envisioned the entrance to the archaeological site as a sort of pilgrimage where visitors, on their way up to the Parthenon, would gain the overall view of the area from all its angles. In efforts to save time, however, tour guides created several side roads leading to the site, which contributed to overcrowding at its main entrance. According to Kathimerini daily, the competition aims to restore Pikionis’ initial vision and plan with the winning architect successfully redesigning the site’s entrance facilities. (ANSAmed).

January 28, 2015

Korean artefacts return from LA County Museum of Art

Posted at 2:16 pm in Similar cases

Two Korean artefact purchased by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art are being returned after being identified as having been illegally removed from the country by a US soldier.

Official seal of Queen Moon-jung

Official seal of Queen Moon-jung

From:
The Korea Times

Two stolen Korean artifacts to be returned home after 65 years
January 26, 2015

Two stolen artifacts will soon return to South Korea after 65 years.

The official seal of Queen Moon-jung, as well as a seal of King Hyeon-jong, were illegally taken by an American soldier during the Korean War.
Read the rest of this entry »

January 27, 2015

New Greek government & new Culture Minister, Nikos Xydakis

Posted at 2:22 pm in Elgin Marbles

Over the years since I started taking an interest in the Parthenon Marbles, while Greek governments have come and gone, the Culture Ministry (under a variety of name changes) has changed leadership more than most departments. Ministers have come and gone, although only a few have made a real impact, perhaps for me, the most notable being Venizelos (who spearheaded campaigning in London in the lead up to the 2004 Olympics) and Samaras (who oversaw the opening of the New Acropolis Museum, although its construction started well before that). Both of these understood that it was an international issue & needed to be dealt with on an international level, if there was to be any traction.

Following Sunday’s poll, a coalition dominated by Syriza is now leading Greece. Its charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras hass already made his views on the Parthenon Marbles known a few weeks ago.

Today, the re-organisation of various government departments was announced, along with the naming of the new Culture Minister – Nikos Xydakis, who is already relatively well known to many in Greece as a political commentator in Kathimerini.

It will be interesting to see in the coming weeks how he feels that the Parthenon Marbles issue should be handled by Greece.

Greek culture minister Nikos Xydakis

Greek culture minister Nikos Xydakis

January 26, 2015

Greek government receives money from Germany

Posted at 1:56 pm in Similar cases

Not the headline you were expecting given the current political events.

Actually, its some much older looted coins, which were smuggled out of the country 7 seized from a car en-route to Munich.

Ancient Greek coins repatriated by Germany

Ancient Greek coins repatriated by Germany

From:
Greek Reporter

Repatriation of 2,607 Seized Ancient Greek Coins From Germany
by A. Makris – Jan 24, 2015

A total of 2,607 ancient coins seized on September 9, 2011, in the luggage of a Greek citizen travelling by car to Munich have been repatriated from Germany, according to a Greek Culture Ministry announcement.

Members of an antiquities smuggling criminal organization dismantled in March 2012 were involved in the case.
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January 22, 2015

The Parthenon Marbles debate – who owns the sculptures?

Posted at 9:58 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

The Parthenon Marbles have managed to hit the headlines many times in the past year, for a variety of reasons.

Robert Fulford’s article looks at some of the reasons for this, along with the arguments from both sides. This blog gets a mention too – for its “witty and trenchant” opinions.

Part of the Parthenon frieze in the British Museum

Part of the Parthenon frieze in the British Museum

From:
National Post

The marble mouth debate over who really owns ancient Athens’ classics
Robert Fulford
January 20, 2015 12:14 PM ET

Last week, in the middle of an election campaign, the Greek parliament abruptly turned its attention to ancient Athenian culture. An opposition member, Tasos Kourakis, from the left-radical party that’s expected to win the election on Jan. 25, complained that Greek children are being badly educated on Lord Elgin and the marbles he stole from Athens and sold to the British Museum.

A Greek school textbook, used for the last 10 years, says the sculptures were “transported” to Britain. That’s wrong, Kourakis said. “The Elgin Marbles, gentlemen of the ministry of education, were not ‘transported’ but snatched by force.” For decades Greece has been demanding that Britain return the sculptures to Athens, a demand politicians treat as a centerpiece of national pride.
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SCOTUS rules against Norton Simon Museum looted art apeal

Posted at 9:35 pm in Similar cases

The United States Supreme Court has rejected an appeal by Norton Simon Museum, which aimed to prevent a court case brought by the heir of Jewish art dealer Jacques Goudstikker.

The appeal claimed that the claims made by the heir (Marei von Saher) conflicted with the US policy of resolving war-related art disputes and therefore with its right to conduct foreign affairs. The rejection of their appeal clears the way for von Saher to bring litigation against the institution, in an attempt to rectify the consequences of the forced transaction with Göring during the war.

You can read some more information about the background to the case here.

Adam and Eve, 1530, by Lucas Cranach the Elder

Adam and Eve, 1530, by Lucas Cranach the Elder

From:
Art Newspaper

By Laura Gilbert. Web only
Published online: 20 January 2015
Supreme Court rejects Norton Simon’s appeal in looted art case

The US Supreme Court today, 20 January, declined to hear the Pasadena-based Norton Simon Museum’s appeal in a case contesting its ownership of a life-size pair of paintings by Lucas Cranach the Elder. Adam and Eve, around 1530, belonged to the Jewish art dealer Jacques Goudstikker, who fled the Netherlands in 1940 after the Nazi invasion.

The Supreme Court’s rejection allows Goudstikker’s heir, Marei von Saher, who has been battling for the paintings in federal court since 2007, to continue her lawsuit. It also leaves standing the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision that pursuing her claims does not interfere with the US government’s conduct of foreign affairs.
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