Egypt’s January 25th revolution was originally seen as part of the larger “Arab Spring” across the Middle East where old political regimes were overthrown by popular protests and replaced by representative democracies. But on January 28th 2011, as chaos reigned in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, reports began circulating around the globe claiming that antiquities on display in the Egyptian Museum had been stolen. Zahi Hawass, the famous face of Egyptian archaeology, Mubarak regime insider, and then head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), was immediately embroiled in the situation. Many outside of Egypt believed that the political volatility and economic crisis engulfing the capital and the rest of the country had claimed some of the most precious artifacts of Egypt’s over 5,000 year history which would be lost forever. Egyptians of all social classes converged on the museum to protect it, sparking hopes that a new era in the relationship between Egyptians and their past had begun. Continue reading
By: Lynn Swartz Dodd
“There is a tendency at every important but difficult crossroad to pretend that it’s not really there.”
What should American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) members do if new Dead Sea Scrolls are found? What if our country’s military actions increase uncontrolled looting of ancient sites? Or if war creates a situation where people and ancient things exist under occupation? How should we deal with the remains of human beings we encounter in burials? How should ASOR members and others support international laws dealing with antiquities?
These are the questions that are driving the development of a new, comprehensive ethics policy for ASOR. This moment has arrived as a result of a decades-long process. ASOR is an organization with an impressive history and a promising future, founded in response to the shared interests, vision, and ideals of professional archaeologists, historians, epigraphers, and others. Continue reading
By: Christopher A. Rollston
Archaeological sites in the Middle East have been ransacked, pillaged, and plundered for many decades. The motivations of the actual pillaging are normally economic: the pursuit of marketable artifacts. That is, the pillagers wish to find objects that can be sold to collectors. Of course, the motivations of the collectors who purchase these pillaged antiquities range from the desire to possess a piece of ancient history to having putative proof for a cherished belief. Among the artifacts most prized by collectors are ancient inscriptions.
Think briefly about scientific archaeological excavations. Complete pots and potsherds are carefully collected, catalogued, documented, and analyzed, while broken pots are often restored. Organic materials are meticulously bagged and tagged and sent to be carbon dated. Animal bones and seeds are studied to learn about animal husbandry, agriculture, and ancient diets. Grinding stones, needles, and pins are photographed and studied carefully to shed light on aspects of daily life. Metal objects are sent to laboratories for scientific analyses. Stone tools such as arrowheads are sent to specialists for analysis. And inscriptions are sent to epigraphers to be read and analyzed. The result is that knowledge is gained about ancient languages and dialects, and about ancient social structures, and religious practices and ideas. The final result is that scientific excavations yield an enormous amount of information about the ebb and flow of ancient lives. Continue reading
By: Jonathan Rosenbaum
President Emeritus, Gratz College
For generations, academic journals have been deemed the appropriate venue for the initial publication of ancient inscriptions and artifacts. Nevertheless, last fall, the New York Times became the source of an editio princeps when it announced the discovery of a “faded papyrus fragment” that seemed to be “first known statement from antiquity that refers to Jesus speaking of [his] wife.” The Times reporter had not gained access to the fragment through a dogged effort of investigative journalism or a lucky find on the black market. Rather, Karen L. King, a prolific scholar of early Christianity at the Harvard Divinity School (HDS), had shared the discovery in an interview with the Times, the Boston Globe, and Harvard Magazine. Prof. King provocatively described the fragment as the “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife.”
Popular media immediately presented a panoply of opinions by respected papyrologists, Coptic linguists, Christian theologians, and laypeople. The Vatican weighed in with both an editorial and an article in L’Osservatore Romano, the former declaring the papyrus a fake and the latter by Coptic scholar, Alberto Camplani, expressing a more guarded opinion based upon the lack of provenance. Continue reading
By: Kathryn McDonnell
Specialized terminology, such as stake holders, the “universal museum,” provenance, or even the phrases, “cultural property” or “cultural heritage,” is often used during discussions between law enforcement professionals, such as Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in the US or the Carabinieri in Italy, diplomats (ICOMOS), lawyers, and scholars, including archaeologists. Although these terms allow us to sustain discussion across disciplines, they are often meaningless to non-specialists. In addition, this language can obscure the intellectual, emotional, and economic impact of the antiquities trade, much like the term “human trafficking” stands in for the more visceral, and potentially inflammatory, term “slavery.” My intent here is to break down some of these terms, describe their core concepts, and problematize some of the assumptions beneath them.
What is cultural heritage?
The terms cultural heritage or cultural property are intentionally broad, as they must encompass a world’s worth of objects, sites, and monuments. If you asked me to describe the cultural heritage of the United States, I might mention Gettysburg Battlefield, James Monroe’s home, Ash Lawn-Highland, or Chaco Canyon. I could also choose objects, such as the copy of the Declaration of Independence now in the National Archives, Native American arrowheads, or the sweetgrass baskets of Charleston, SC.
Jason Felch, a Los Angeles Times investigative reporter and co-author of Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World’s Richest Museum—a look into the Getty’s involvement in the illegal antiquities trade—agreed to answer a few questions for us about his latest project, WikiLoot.
Can you sum up what WikiLoot is?
WikiLoot is a web platform for collaborative research of the global trade in looted antiquities. We’ll be posting primary- and secondary-source documents about the trade – photographs, business records, court documents, press accounts — and crowdsourcing the tagging, linking, translation and analysis of those records. The result will be an authoritative public database that yields new insights into the size and scope of the trade and helps raise awareness about the consequences of looting. Continue reading
The recent upsurge in high profile news stories, in Time and other mass media outlets, about the looting of archaeological sites in Syria has been accompanied by the usual public handwringing by archaeologists and heritage protection organizations. The terrible impact on the world’s cultural patrimony is bewailed, and the heads of UNESCO, the World Monuments Fund, and so on call upon the international community to stop the destruction. What is most depressing, for those of us who study the history of cultural heritage protection in times of armed conflict, is how similar these public statements are to those made in the runup to and the wake of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Thousands of looting pits pockmarking Iraq bear witness to how ineffectual those earlier pronouncements were, and yet the archaeological and heritage community continues to issue them.
By Dr. Lynn Swartz Dodd
A growing body of literature documents the reality that the ancient, buried landscape of Israel, including the areas known as the West Bank and Gaza, are being inexorably and irretrievably looted. Looting refers to a process by which objects are removed without official permission or archaeological oversight and documentation.  Some positive outcomes may devolve to those who participate in such activities (money from selling artifacts, cultivation of buyer/dealer networks, prestige from owning objects that are old and in increasingly short supply). In every single case, there is a parallel negative result that occurs, which is the loss of context for an ancient object and the loss of association between those certain artifacts and the place they last were laid by an ancient actor. Anyone who denies that this outcome is the reality is, in this author’s mind, uninformed about the consequences of looting. Continue reading
Purchase College SUNY
Next week I will be taking the students in my “Politics and Archaeology” course to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We’ll be going as part of our unit on unprovenanced artifacts, collecting, looting and forgeries.
The assignment I give the class is simple: With a partner, choose a section of a gallery of antiquities—Egyptian, Greek, Roman or Mesopotamian. Walk around and write down the pertinent information for every artifact you see there, whether it’s a tiny bead, or a huge piece of architecture, using the museum display cards as your source. For every artifact, make sure you record: 1- the date when the museum acquired it, 2- whether it was uncovered by an archaeological excavation (and which one), 3- whether it is part of a named collection, 4- whether the museum owns it, or whether it is on loan, 5- the period or century to which the artifact dates, and 6- the artifact’s provenance. Then, quantify your results.
The LMLK Research Website, founder/editor
In comments to Dr. Kersel’s article (Buyer Beware: Shopping for Artifacts in the Holy Land), I expressed disappointment over the undocumented, arbitrary nature of her claims, which amount to an opinion based on hearsay, and contribute little if anything towards scientific knowledge. Herewith, I will present a well-documented firsthand account of my own experience in shopping for artifacts over the past decade in an effort to balance the discussion.
Christopher A. Rollston, firstname.lastname@example.org
Toyozo Nakarai Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Studies, Emmanuel Christian Seminary
I. MOTIVATIONS FOR THE PRODUCTION OF FORGERIES
Forgeries have been produced for many centuries (Metzger 1997, 125-139; Rollston 2003; 2004; 2005; 2012; Ehrman 2011) and it would not be prudent to believe that the future shall be different from the past in this regard. After all, there are timeless, discernible motives for the production of forgeries, and these motives can be detected on the basis of actual forgeries from Antiquity, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the Modern Period. (1) Of course, venality is certainly a motivation for the production of forgeries. During the modern period, for example, non-provenanced inscriptions (i.e., from the antiquities market) routinely sell for four, five, and even six figures. Some recent non-provenanced inscriptions have been valued at seven figures. Prior to the modern period, forgeries also garnered substantial amounts of money as well (cf. Metzger 1997, 125-126). (2) Some forgeries are arguably the result of “sour grapes” (e.g., a student purged in the modern period from an epigraphy program) or professional rivalry, with the forger hoping to “dupe” or “correct” the “offender.” (3) Similarly, sometimes a forgery can be a prank, a Witz of some sort (e.g., Coleman-Norton’s “Agraphon”). (4) Moreover, there is a certain amount of prestige associated with being the person who “collects,” “vets,” or “finds” a significant “ancient epigraph” from the market. Continue reading
In the waning days of November, 2011, colleagues in archaeology and related sciences with special interest in research issues centering on the Ancient Near East gathered in San Francisco for their annual meeting. Over 800 of some 1300 members were in attendance; and of these, fully ten percent attended our workshop! Continue reading
Although the recent outcome of the “Trial of the Century” did nothing to settle debate over the authenticity of the inscription on the James Ossuary, this case confirms that artifacts that are purchased on the market are entangled in webs of intrigue. We will never know the exact archaeological provenience (findspot) of this ossuary or the many other artifacts for sale in the licensed shops in Israel. Unsuspecting tourists, collectors, dealers, museums, and educational institutions all take a chance when purchasing artifacts on the Israeli market with no accompanying background information. Buyers should beware.
The ASOR Blog (asorblog.org) is pleased to announce a new “theme” for the month of April—Unprovenanced Artifacts and Possible Forgeries. The ASOR Blog will continue to post other items of interest that are submitted by the ASOR Staff and ASOR Members, but (just like we did in March) we will solicit posts on the “theme” for the month and also encourage unsolicited submissions on the theme from our membership. The guest editors for the month will be ASOR executive director Andy Vaughn (email@example.com) and Professors Lynn Swartz Dodd (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Christopher Rollston (email@example.com). Submissions should be sent to Andy Vaughn with a CC to Kevin Cooney (firstname.lastname@example.org). Continue reading
This morning (Wednesday, March 14) the verdict was published in the prosecution’s case—the State of Israel vs. Oded Golan, Robert Deutsch, et alia—Criminal Case 482/04. [This post is taken from the IAA website and re-posted on the ASOR Blog]
In response to the decision by Judge Aharon Farkash of the Jerusalem District Court, the Israel Antiquities Authority announces the following: The Israel Antiquities Authority respects the court’s decisions. The Israel Antiquities Authority praises the efforts of the Jerusalem District Attorney’s Office in the case and is proud of the State’s determination in looking out for the broad public interest in the country and abroad, which states it is forbidden to meddle in the history of the peoples that lived and live in the Land of Israel.
The prosecution’s efforts resulted in the conviction of one defendant in this case in the past, and today the court acquitted Oded Golan of forgery and fraud charges on a basis of reasonable doubt, and found him guilty of three counts of violating the Antiquities Law and possession of suspected stolen property. The charges in some of the offenses were cancelled due to the statue of limitations. According to the judge, “The absolute truth was not a guiding light for Golan”. Continue reading
Reaction to Golan Acquittal, Professor Eric M. Meyers, Duke University
The verdict announced today, March 14, by Judge Aharon Farkash in Jerusalem, acquitting Oded Golan and Robert Deustch of all major charges comes as no surprise. The James ossuary first came into public view some ten years ago in Toronto when a special exhibition was mounted at the Royal Ontario Museum coterminous with the conventions of the Society of Biblical Literature and the American Schools of Oriental Research. I was among the very first to question the wisdom or such an exhibition after the artifact had a questionable provenance and had come to the public’s attention with such hoopla, which is not the normal way for important artifacts or subjects to be vetted. Speaking at a plenary session of SBL I also drew attention to portions of the inscription which seemed questionable at best and to the rush to judgment that this was the brother of Jesus of Nazareth. Secondary burial in an ossuary was a common form of inhumation in late Second Temple times that continued on for some time after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE in the Galilee. It was the dominant form of burial at the Jewish necropolis of Beth She`arim near Sepphoris where Rabbi Judah the Prince was buried in the 3rd c. CE. Continue reading
Here are some links to recent news from the world of Archaeology!
- It looks like the artifacts in the Cairo museum are now being protected, but not all of them.
- Â Here is an interesting YouTube video of the looting at the Cairo museum. Â
- Other sites around Egypt need protecting as well.
- The preservation of Babylon made the New York Times.
- A pilgrim road has been uncovered in Israel. Â Super Bowl feasts may have their origin in preagricultural peoples.
- A sealed jar has been discovered at Qumran.
- Berlinâ€™s Pergamon museum has restored Tell Halaf Artifacts devastated during World War Two.
- Recently discovered artifacts suggest and earlier human exit from Africa than previously thought.
- A Roman Legion lost in China?
- Lots left to discover at GÃ¶bekli Tepe.
- Subterranean chamber discovered in Syria.
- Donâ€™t forget to check out ASORâ€™s most recent digital content on the Dig-it-al website!
If you find something interesting on the internet that you would like to share, please email the link to email@example.com.
The undersigned cultural heritage and archaeological organizations express their concern over the loss of life and injury to humans during the protests in Egypt this week. We support the desire of the Egyptian people to exercise their basic civil rights. We also share their concern about the losses to cultural heritage that Egypt has already sustained and the threat of further such losses over the coming days.
Brave actions taken by the citizens of Cairo and the military largely protected the Cairo Museum. However, the numerous sites, museums and storage areas located outside of Cairo are even more vulnerable. As the prisons are opened and common criminals are allowed to escape, the potential for greater loss is created. A recent report from Egyptologist Professor Sarah Parcak of the University of Alabama in Birmingham states that damage has been done to storage areas and tombs in Abusir and Saqqara and that looting is occurring there and in other locations.
We call on the Egyptian authorities to exercise their responsibilities to protect their countryâ€™s irreplaceable cultural heritage. At the same time, we call on United States and European law enforcement agencies to be on the alert over the next several months for the possible appearance of looted Egyptian antiquities at their borders.
- American Schools of Oriental Research
- Archaeological Institute of America
- Cultural Heritage Center, The University of Pennsylvania
- Cultural Heritage and Preservation Studies, Rutgers University
- Lawyersâ€™ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation
- U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield
For a link to ASOR’s Policy on the Preservation and Protection of Cultural Property, click here.
Robert Cargill posts “On the Aquisition of Dead Sea Scrolls Fragments by Azusa Pacific University.”