The Robust International Antiquities Trade: the Law, Smugglers, thieves, Prestigious Auctions, ISIS, Animals. And some Renowned Museums too.

Elgin Marbles | Detail


[At the Kansas City, Missouri, ANTIQUES ROADSHOW in August 2013, a woman brought in what was probably a seed pot that was made by the Anasazi, a Native American pueblo people who lived near present-day Four Corners — the region where Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona come together. The pot was most likely made between 1000 and 1300 A.D. — clearly making it an important piece historically — and according to expert Anthony Slayter-Ralph was worth between $3,000 and $4,000 in the retail market.

But this pot, like many other Native American objects, raised an important question often asked by owners and collectors of Native American objects: What should be done with prehistoric and other Indian objects that you may possess, and when is it okay to buy or sell them?] Indian Artifacts: Understanding the Law | PBS

Also, An Exclusive Look at the Greatest Haul of Native American Artifacts, Ever | The Smithsonian Magazine

Also, ICE Cultural Heritage Repatriations 

Europe |

[A few years ago, Christos Tsirogiannis was looking through the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s online collection when he had a flash of recognition. While studying an ancient Greek krater—a clay vase used for mixing wine—something “suddenly clicked,” he says. The vase was decorated with a painting of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine. “I knew that I had seen the subject on that krater before,” he says.

A forensic archaeologist affiliated with the University of Glasgow’s Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research, Tsirogiannis has access to restricted databases containing tens of thousands of photographs and documents seized during raids. Searching through the online archives, he found five photos of the Met’s Greek krater among items confiscated from Giacomo Medici, an Italian antiquities dealer convicted in 2005 of receiving stolen goods and conspiracy to traffic looted antiquities.

So why was an object that may have been dug up and sold by looters on display at a famous American museum, and how did it get there?] Museum Goers Beware: That Ancient Artifact May Be Stolen | National Geographic

Middle East and ISIS |

[What isis hates, it destroys, and ancient artifacts are no exception. To erase pre-Islamic history, it has employed sledgehammers and drills at a museum in Mosul, explosives at Palmyra, and all of these weapons, plus jackhammers, power saws, and bulldozers, at Nimrud. In one video, a fighter explains that isismust smash “these statues and idols, these artifacts,” because the Prophet Muhammad destroyed such things after conquering Mecca, nearly fourteen hundred years ago. “They became worthless to us even if they are worth billions of dollars,” he adds. So, at the Met, many were puzzled when Andrew Keller, a soft-spoken senior official at the State Department, unveiled newly declassified documents proving that isis maintains a marginally profitable “antiquities division.”] The Real Value of the ISIS Antiquities Trade | The New Yorker

Efforts |

[A Memorandum of Understanding was inked by the United States and the People’s Republic of China on January 14, 2009. The five-year agreement outlines a number of steps designed to stem the flow of illicitly excavated or exported artifacts from China to the U.S. (click here for legal background).] Archaeological Institute of America

U.S., Egypt Sign Agreement to Thwart Trade in Illegal Antiquities | National Geographic


Latin America |

[Mexico has had poor results in recuperating stolen cultural antiquities. There are deficiencies in both the registration of these thefts and a lack of coordination among the authorities to preserve the items.

The trafficking of items of cultural heritage is an activity that cuts across countries, and connects antique dealers and politicians in Buenos Aires to narcos in Guatemala, to collectors in Mexico, to diplomats in Peru and Costa Rica. This special, involving five journalistic teams, reveals the illicit international market for objects stolen from temples, public museums, and private collections. An initiative of OjoPúblico, this was produced by an alliance of news teams including La Nación (Costa Rica), Plaza Pública (Guatemala), Animal Político (México) and Chequeado (Argentina).] Only a Fraction of Mexico’s Stolen Cultural Antiquities Are Recovered | Insight Crime

Also… Illicit Cultural Property from Latin America: Looting, Trafficking, and Sale | SocArXivs

India |

[Indian Tourism and Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma’s recent admission in parliament that eight cases of antiquities theft were reported from State-protected monuments and museums across three states over the last year, has yet again brought to the fore the fraught issue of pilferage and smuggling of art treasures from Indian shores.

According to Global Financial Integrity, a Washington-based advocacy group, illegal trade in paintings, sculptures, and other artifacts is one of the world’s most lucrative criminal enterprises, estimated at $6 billion a year. And India, with its redoubtable cultural heritage, bureaucratic apathy, and tardy implementation of antiquities protection laws, offers pilferers fertile ground to plunder the past and spirit away booty worth billions for sale in the international bazaar.] Smuggling India’s Antiquities | The Diplomat



Popol Vuh

[Popol VuhMaya document, an invaluable source of knowledge of ancient Mayan mythology and culture. Written in K’iche’ (a Mayan language) by a Mayan author or authors between 1554 and 1558, it uses the Latin alphabet with Spanish orthography. It chronicles the creation of humankind, the actions of the gods, the origin and history of the K’iche’ people, and the chronology of their kings down to 1550.

The original book was discovered at the beginning of the 18th century by Francisco Ximénez (Jiménez), parish priest of Chichicastenango in highland Guatemala. He both copied the original K’iche’ text (now lost) and translated it into Spanish. His work is now in the Newberry Library, Chicago.

In 2009 archaeologist Richard Hansen discovered two 8-metre- (26-foot-) long panels carved in stucco from the pre-Classic Mayan site of El Mirador, Guatemala, that depict aspects of the Popol Vuh. The panels—which date to about 300 BCE, some 500 years before the Classic-period fluorescence of Mayan culture—attested to the antiquity of the Popol Vuh. In explaining how the Mayan gods created the world, the Popol Vuh features the Hero Twins, Hunahpu and Xbalanque, who were transformed into, respectively, the Sun and the Moon. One of the panels depicts the Hero Twins beneath a bird deity; the other panel features a Mayan maize (corn) god surrounded by a serpent. The panels thus authenticated the earliest written version of the Mayan origin story, transcribed by Ximénez. (Source: BRITANNICA)

Most copies were burnt by the Spanish who wanted to eradicate Mayan culture—the only writing culture that developed independently from Europe and Asia. To promote their own culture and religion, Spanish missionaries taught Mayan scribes the Latin alphabet. Secretly, those scribes used the Latin alphabet to preserve the Popol Vuh, hiding the transliterated book until it could emerge unharmed and find new readers hundreds of years later.]

Father Ximénez’s manuscript contains the oldest known text of Popol Vuh. It is mostly written in parallel K’iche’ and Spanish as in the front and rear of the first folio pictured here | The original uploader was AmericanGringo at English Wikipedia – Originally from Ohio State Univ (cropped, straightened, grayscaled)

Desert Solitaire

[“Wilderness preservation, like a hundred other good causes, will be forgotten under the overwhelming pressure of a struggle for mere survival and sanity in a completely urbanized, completely industrialized, even more crowded environment,” Abbey warned. “For my own part I would rather take my chances in a thermonuclear war than live in such a world….

The arches themselves, strange, impressive, grotesque, form but a small and inessential part of the general beauty of this country. When we think of rock we usually think of stones, broken rock, buried under soil and plant life, but here all is exposed and naked, dominated by the monolithic formations of sandstone which stand above the surface of the ground and extend for miles, sometimes level, sometimes tilted or warped by pressures from below, carved by erosion and weathering into an intricate maze of glens, grottoes, fissures, passageways and deep narrow canyons….”

Outdoor recreation was Abbey’s rebellion against the decaying and overcrowded cities. In the 1980s, as a succession of Reagan-era appointees sought to weaken protection of federal lands, “Desert Solitaire” became a must-read for environmentalists and Abbey found himself speaking to crowds of hundreds, denouncing money-grubbers who willy-nilly looted the public domain. His death in 1989 silenced his outraged voice, but no one will ever be able to silence the power of “Desert Solitaire,” his wild-goat cry to leave it as it was. “A civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original,” Abbey warned, “is cutting itself off from its origins.”]


A Body, Only a Body. And Nothing More

[I came across Mr. Nygard’s ode to human endurance three years ago while beginning research on a novel about a woman who can’t die, and watching that video allowed me to experience something close to life extension. As Mr. Nygard compared himself to Leonardo da Vinci and Benjamin Franklin while dancing with a bevy of models — or as a voice-over explained, “living a life most can only dream of” — nine minutes of YouTube expanded into a vapid eternity, where time melted into a vortex of solipsism.

But men who hope to live forever might pause on their eternal journey to consider the frightening void at invincibility’s core. Death is the ultimate vulnerability. It is the moment when all of us must confront exactly what so many women have known all too well: You are a body, only a body, and nothing more.]

The Mapping of Massacres

[… So far, it includes more than a hundred and seventy massacres of Indigenous people in eastern Australia, as well as six recorded massacres of settlers, from the period of 1788 to 1872. She estimates that there were more than five hundred massacres of Indigenous people over all, and that massacres of settlers numbered fewer than ten. (Ryan has not yet researched any massacres of Torres Strait Islander people, who are culturally distinct from mainland Aboriginal groups but share their history of colonization.] Ceridwen Dovey is the author of the novel “Blood Kin” and the short-story collection “Only the Animals.” 

The Mapping of Massacres | THE NEW YORKER 



What Borders are Indigenous Americans Crossing?

If You Respect Native American Culture Then Help Actual Native Americans Cross the Border | DALLAS NEWS

When I mention American Indians in Mexico and Latin America, don’t be confused. Indian bloodlines do not stop at the present-day U.S.-Mexico  border. Genetically and by looks, there is little difference between a Navajo or Aztec, or Mayan and Opòn of Venezuela, or Inka and Cherokee. Or between them and the average Mexican or Guatemalan or Chilean.

My scholar cousin needed to bury a woman in a proper way.

That is, the remains of a woman who died 1,100 years ago. The Native American’s remains were found last year buried in downtown Fort Worth. Perhaps the woman was related to me and my cousin, Eddie Sandoval. Related, as in American Indian genetics.

Not long ago, Sandoval was asked by anthropologist Dana Austin to help return the woman’s remains to the earth. For this woman, lost to oblivion, he crafted tools to perform rituals he learned decades ago. Sandoval is a scholarly man who, as a youth with the American Indian Movement, took part in a Lakota Sun Dance. Always a resolute son of the southwest, his most recent honor is induction to the Trail of Fame in Fort Worth….

Photograph by Styliani Giannitsi | @2017



John Brown

Brown helped finance the publication of David Walker’s Appeal and Henry Highland’s “Call to Rebellion” speech. He gave land to fugitive slaves. He and his wife agreed to raise a black youth as one of their own. He also participated in the Underground Railroad and, in 1851, helped establish the League of Gileadites, an organization that worked to protect escaped slaves from slave catchers.

On October 16, 1859, he set his plan to attack Virginia when he and 21 other men — 5 blacks and 16 whites — raided the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry. Brown was wounded and quickly captured, and moved to Charlestown, Virginia, where he was tried and convicted of treason. He was hanged on December 2, 1859. (read more: John Brown | PBS )

More about John Brown:

John brown in Wikipedia  |  Jon Brown’s Day of Reckoning | SMITHSONIAN  |  Jon Brown | Civil War Trust

Photograph: Wikipedia

Photograph: Wikipedia