Culture crime news 7–20 August 2017


Hot this week: Two whole weeks of heritage crime, compiled on location in South Africa

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The hunt for Indian yellow
(10 August 2017; Chemistry World)
“A mysterious pigment has often been used to spot fake art – but what if the reference standard is wrong?”


Ministry of Antiquities denies alleged risk of collapse of Qaitbay Citadel (Egypt)
(9 August 2017; Egypt Independent)
Abbas Mohamed, a professor of applied geophysics and environment, said that the last inspection of the castle wasn’t finished and that there’s a risk of loss.

Attempt to smuggle 18th century artefacts foiled at Egypt’s Hurghada port (Egypt)
(17 August 2017; Ahram Online)
The pieces all have a Jewish theme, at a time when Egypt is trying to work to preserve its Jewish heritage.

Antiquities Ministry official denies robbery of 32,000 archaeological pieces from museum (Egypt)
(16 August 2017; Egypt Independent)
“These pieces were owned by an antiquities vendor from Luxor city back when the trade of antiquities was legal.”

Egypt says 33,000 artefacts lost in 50 years (Egypt)
(16 August 2017; AA)
Lost in some way, no details given.

Rada seize smuggler with ancient coins at Mitiga (Libya)
(7 August 2017; Libya Herald)
Told the police that this wasn’t the first time he moved coins out of Libya to sell abroad.

ICC to award damages for jihadist Timbuktu destruction (Mali)
(14 August 2017; The New Arab)
There are “serious challenges” to the implementation of the award

Western museums try to forge deal with west Africa to return the Benin bronzes (Nigeria, UK)
(12 August 2017; The Guardian)
Discussing and not true return, but a rotating display in Nigeria without ownership transferred it seems. Better than nothing?

Finding Somaliland’s ancient cave art is hard. Protecting it could be harder. (Somaliland)
(17 August 2017; Somaliland Press)
Tourists are touching the rock art, scratching it with knives, rubbing it away

Sudan’s antiquities are under threat as Gulf crisis rages (Sudan, UAE)
(10 August 2017; Financial Times)
Surprised that FT thinks Sudan’s antiquities are neglected by academics. Nope.


It belongs in a museum: Bones stolen from Edmonton archaeological site (Canada)
(9 August 2017; CBC)
They actually pulled animal bones from the dirt at the Alberta archaeological site.

‘Heartbroken’ artist seeks community’s help in finding stolen sculpture (Canada)
(11 August 2017; Windsor Star)
Taken from the back seat of the art student’s car

Calgary’s mayor says Blackfoot knowledge keeper was consulted about Bowfort Towers art (Canada)
(11 August 2017; APTN News)
“Nenshi said he can’t share who the city consulted with because he doesn’t have permission from the elder to release the information.”

Blackfoot artists call Calgary art installation ‘theft of culture’ (Canada)
(14 August 2017; CBC)
“City should have hired local, not New Yorker, to depict Indigenous symbolism”

Ladrones se robaron escultura de Atanasio Girardot en Medellín (Thieves steal sculpture of Atanasio Girardot in Medellín; Colombia)
(10 August 2017; El Colombiano)
Theft occurred in the afternoon, seemingly when many people were around.

Gang Stealing Artwork in Costa Rica Luxury Neighborhoods (Costa Rica)
(10 August 2017; The Costa Rican Times)
They were arrested; apparently they stole the paintings AND the certificates of authenticity in some cases.

Family Gives “One-of-a-Kind” Chilkat Robe to Sealaska Heritage Institute (USA)
(7 August 2017; SIT News)
The anonymous family repatriated the work voluntarily “an effort to return it to its ancestral home and repatriate it to tribal people.”

A major museum has to return another looted artifact. Welcome to the dark side of the art world. (USA)
(7 August 2017; The Wall Street Journal)
“Such laundering is possible, since most antiquities surface on the market and are sold without provenance”

Art thief makes off with $100K painting (USA)
(8 August 2017; Jackson Hole News & Guide)
Henry Farny painting stolen from Trailside Galleries in Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation holds first Cultural Heritage Symposium (USA)
(9 August 2017; The Californian)
“What about trafficking these looted items across the borders of tribal lands here within the U.S.?” Good question!

Additional Security Mulled After Another Shark In The Park Stolen (USA)
(9 August 2017; The Cape Cod Chronicle)
It’s the fourth art shark that has beed stolen.

Fixing the Hut (USA)
(10 August 2017; The Maui News)
Traditional Filipino country hut honuoring immigrant sugar cain workers has been a target of theft and vandalism.

Wearable art pieces vanish from CSU gallery (USA)
(10 August 2017; Coloradoan)
Kristin Stransky’s “Body Language” was hit and all but two of her works were taken.

Bronze Statue Stolen, Again (USA)
(10 August 2017; Iowa Public Radio)
Goddess of the Grapes in Sioux City a target again.

Hot Heist: Over 40 Warhols Stolen in 10 Years (USA)
(11 August 2017; Observer)
“FBI’s National Stolen Art File lists a staggering total of 91 stolen Warhols”

How Jeff Koons, 8 Puppies, and a Lawsuit Changed Artists’ Right to Copy (USA)
(14 August 2017; Artsy)
Five lawsuits from one show, with one pending now 30 years later.

Homeless man arrested following theft of horse sculpture from Augustine Gallery (USA)
(14 August 2017; WOKV)
Piece stolen from Grand Bohemian Gallery

Man ‘devastated’ after Civil War artifacts stolen (USA)
(15 August 2017; WSBT)
In Atlanta for a convention, suitcases of memorabilia taken from his car while he was at a film.

Deputies seek owner of three $5K sculptures uncovered in remote area of Utah County (USA)
(15 August 2017; KSL)
Discovered on a remote hillside, presumably dumped by thieves?

Portion of stolen pagoda recovered (USA)
(16 August 2017; Hawaii Tribune Herald)
Six of the ten pieces stolen from the Puna Hongwanji Mission were located.

Mural or Billboard? The Dispute Over a Shepard Fairey in Brooklyn Heads Back to Court (USA)
(17 August 2017; Hyperallergic)
Mural or billboard for the band Interpol? If ad, permit needed, apparently.

The Statue at the Center of Charlottesville’s Storm (USA)
(13 August 2017; The New York Times)
Erected long after the war in 1924 as racist posturing.

Lincoln Memorial Vandalized With Red Spray Paint (USA)
(15 August 2017; NBC)
Expletive in red spray paint.

Toppling Monuments, a Visual History (USA)
(17 August 2017; The New York Times)
“History is littered with the shattered remains of toppled statues”

Where Do Confederate Monuments Go after They’re Removed? (USA)
(17 August 2017; Artsy)
Most are relocated to museums or historic sites.

Priceless de Kooning painting is recovered 31 years after being ripped from University of Arizona gallery (USA)
(11 August 2017; AZ Central)
Suspicious, the man who bought it googled it and found old news stories about the theft 31 years ago.

Painting stolen from UA in 1985 recovered; worth up to $160 million (USA)
(11 August 2017;
Woman-Ochre by de Kooning, stolen from University of Arizona Museum of Art in 1985, located at a New Mexico state sale.

Stolen Scotts Valley deer sculpture found in ocean (USA)
(8 August 2017; KSBW)
“Uncle Buck” (of course!) is part of the Scotts Valley Art Walk.

Stolen $8,000 Deer Sculpture Rescued From Santa Cruz Co. Kelp Beds (USA)
(15 August 2017; Patch)
“Uncle Buck” proved to be bouyant.


What Became of Europe’s Nazi-Looted Libraries? (Belarus, Russia, Germany)
(8 August 2017; Forward)
Germany may be willing to investigate or make reparations, Russia isn’t.

Germany Returns Books Stolen by Nazis to Holocaust Survivors, Heirs (Germany)
(7 August 2017; The Jerusalem Post)
The “Initial Check” project which is focused on finding the rightful heirs of stolen books.

Greek Police help Egyptian peers arrest antiquities trader (Greece, Egypt, Libya)
(12 August 2017; eKathimerini)
Libyan man who was peddling objects on Facebook, a user tipped the authorities off.

Items Recovered from Wreck of Elgin’s Ship off Kythira (Greece)
(15 August 2017; Greek Reporter)
“Mentor” sank off Kythira in 1802 and was carrying antiquities

Why Is Modigliani Catnip for Forgers? The Fakes (and Feuds) Behind One of the Art Market’s Most Dangerous Artists (Italy)
(7 August 2017; ArtNet News)
His paintings sell for a lot, they have an impression of being easy to make, and the artist kept poor records.

Their fathers saved a priceless Dutch art collection from the Nazis (Netherlands, Canada)
(12 August 2017; The Province)
Hidden in “a man-made cave on the museum grounds, in the De Hoge Veluwe National Park”

High-value objects stolen from Norway museum (Norway)
(14 August 2017; The Local)
Taken from the history of culture section of the University Museum of Bergen

Thieves target historic Portuguese decorative tiles (Portugal)
(8 August 2017; The Sun Daily)
Churches and historic buildings targeted because tourists like to buy 18th century tile.

Desaparece una figura de un Niño Jesús durante una procesión (Spain)
(8 August 2017; Diario de Sevilla)
18th century piece was taken the Bormujos church during a procession.

Preocupación en Cantabria Ante el Robo de Campanas en Las Iglesias Rurales del Norte de España (Concern in Cantabria about the Theft of Bells from Churches in Northern Spain; Spain)
(16 August 2017; Mituin)
Fears that this rash of thefts will spread to other regions of the country

Making old bones: Joint Mitnor cave reopens with replica fossils (UK)
(7 August 2017; The Guardian)
3D printed; they note that the fossils are not actually worth much, though people seem to think otherwise.

Designer jewellery stolen from museum in ‘heartbreaking’ raid (UK)
(9 August 2017; Gloucestershire Live)
Break-in at the Court Barn in Chipping Campden.

‘Not one picture should leave this island’ Churchill’s cry as he hid treasured art in a Welsh quarry out of Hitler’s clutches (UK)
(9 August 2017; Mirror)
On hiding the national collection during WWII

The Strange, Sad Story of Joe Orton, His Lover, and 72 Stolen Library Books (UK)
(9 August 2017; Atlas Obscura)
They would take the books from the library, redo the covers, then slip them back on the shelf of the Islington Central Library.

Thieves steal ‘potentially deadly weapon’ from Heage Windmill in Derbyshire (UK)
(10 August 2017; Derby Telegraph)
Well, it’s an old mill bill, but someone could clobber someone else with it.

Burglar admits damaging ancient wooden panel at Carlisle cathedral (UK)
(10 August 2017; News and Star)
15th century panel broken when the burglar climbed over it.

Met Police unit tasked with targeting art thieves faces closure after detectives moved to cover Grenfell tragedy (UK)
(16 August 2017; The Telegraph)
“Losing it now, when cultural heritage is under threat in so much of the world, would represent a very serious loss.”


$400,000 painting stolen in Melbourne (Australia)
(17 August 2017; The West Australian)
Colonial era painting of an Aboriginal gathering stolen from a home.

Queenstown war memorabilia heist causes outcry on Tasmania’s west coast (Australia)
(14 August 2017; ABC Australia)
The second theft in two nights at the museum!

War artifacts stolen after break-in at Galley Museum in Queenstown (Australia)
(14 August 2017; The Advocate)
Medals from both World Wars, bayonets, pins, military uniform, flags and badges

Corporate ‘Fake Art’ Profits off Australia’s Indigenous Culture (Australia)
(9 August 2017; Telesur)
“Taking something they have no connection to, they have no idea what it means.”

Australia’s fake art and tourist tack: Indigenous artists fight back (Australia)
(9 August 2017; The Guardian)
The Fake Art Harms Culture campaign against the theft of Indigenous design for the making of cheap tourist goods.

South and East Asia

Ornaments stolen from temple (Bangladesh)
(10 August 2017; The Daily Star)
Taken from a Brahmanbaria temple.

Bombed and looted ancient Cambodian city poised for rebirth (Cambodia)
(11 August 2017; Maylay Mail)
Sambor Prei Kuk has gained UNESCO World Heritage listing.

China: detained audacious looting of ancient tombs (China)
(11 August 2017; The Mice Times of Asia)
32 detained, part of 7 organised groups.

Idol smuggler produced in court (India)
(8 August 2017; The Hindu)
The Kapoor case will have further hearing on 18 August.

Insurers paint on Rs 6,000-cr art insurance canvass (India)
(9 August 2017; DNA)
Art is an asset in India, and where there are assets there is insurance.

Idol Wing-CID opposes anticipatory bail to DSP (India)
(11 August 2017; The Hindu)
“As a high-ranking officer, he can tamper with witnesses”

Statues of martyrs defaced by miscreants (India)
(17 August 2017; The Times of India)
“The statues were kept in the ‘Inquilab Mandir’ at Gumthala village”

Lost and found: Jatin Das has a lot to say on the artful disappearance of masterpieces (India)
(18 August 2017; The Economic Times)
The artist comments on how he feels about Air India’s loss of his artwork

Religious order seeks to recover stolen parts of Marian statue (Malaysia)
(17 August 2017; Herald Malaysia)
An “unnamed antique collector” is believed to be holding the head and hands of the satue.

50kg gold-plated bell stolen from Siamese Buddhist temple (Myanmar)
(7 August 2017; The Sun Daily)
Taken from Samakhitham Buddhist Temple in Kampung Paya Nongmi

Colonial conquest’s lost treasures return to Myanmar (Myanmar, New Zealand)
(8 August 2017; Fontier)
Alas, it was decided to keep the retuned items in Yangon, but closer than New Zealand.

Two customs officials booked in antiques smuggling case (Pakistan, Japan)
(17 August 2017; Dawn)
Senior customs officials at Benazier Bhutto airport suspected of clearing export of antiquities headed to Japan

Recovered royal seals go on display at nat’l palace museum (South Korea, USA)
(18 August 2017; Yonhap News Agency)
Exhibition called “Return of the Royal Seals”

Japanese Shinto shrine vandalized in Taipei (Taiwan)
(17 August 2017; Taiwan News)
Yuanshan Water Shrine was spray-pained and a statue was stolen

Samurai Sword Attack Outside Taiwan Presidential Office (Taiwan)
(18 August 2017; NDTV)
Sword was stolen from a nearby history museum

West and Central Asia

War in the Arab world has devastated the region’s heritage (General)
(19 August 2017; The Economist)
“According to the UN, half of the old city of Mosul, in Iraq, and a third of the old city of Aleppo, in Syria, are rubble”

Iraq steps up efforts to restore lost heritage at ancient Nimrud (Iraq)
(7 August 2017; Al Monitor)
UNESCO has started the first stage of the restoration of Nimrud.

Citizen returns safekept, priceless manuscripts to Mosul university (Iraq)
(15 August 2017; Iraqi News)
700 books and manuscripts that the citizen hid at his home

After the Hobby Lobby scandal, a spotlight on antiquities sales in Israel (Israel, USA)
(16 August 2017; USA Today)
“Israel is the only country in the Middle East that permits state-licensed antiquities dealers to sell ancient artifacts”

Stolen Gandharan artefacts (Pakistan)
(12 August 2017; The Express Tribune)
“It is appalling that officials … had the gall to profiteer from the precious artefacts that do not belong to them”

Waqf: Israeli forces did not steal historical documents and materials from Al-Aqsa (Palestine, Israel)
(10 August 2017; Ma’an News Agency)
Holy documents unharmed, contradicting earlier statements.

Jerusalem Drops Plan to Build Luxury Homes Atop Ancient Palestinian Village (Palestine, Israel)
(11 August 2017; Haaretz)
Abandoned village of Lifta

Antiquities experts call for war on Isis looting in Syria and Iraq (Syria, Iraq)
(2 August 2017; The Sunday Times)
“War” in the headline is misleading. Dial it back.

Iran to return 7-century-old bell to Turkey (Turkey, Iran)
(10 August 2017; Azernews)
Originally belonged to the Saint Mary Church in Van

In Other News

Dinonappers: thieves steal raptor heads from National Dinosaur Museum (Australia)
(8 August 2017; The Canberra Times)
Decapitated with angle grinders and a hacksaw

Weaning Itself From Elephant Ivory, China Turns to Mammoths (China, Russia)
(6 August 2017; The New York Times)
Legal, but ethical? No in several ways. Certainly trafficked.

Stolen Diablo Art Turns Up In The Weirdest Places (General)
(16 August 2017; Kotaku)
Such as on a war memorial in Kiev.

FSB opens probe into theft of Chelyabinsk meteorite’s fragment (Russia)
(11 August 2017; RAPSI)
Found in the private collection of a geologist hired by the museum reader donates rare plastic bike to replace stolen museum piece (UK)
(9 August 2017;
After the plastic bike was stolen from the Bakelite Museum, a person who read about the story donated another bike of the same kind.

It ain’t easel: Canonbury street artist has kit stolen (UK)
(10 August 2017; Islington Gazette)
Artist Gary Power’s outdoor easel and supplies were taken.

Willy Wonka painting stolen from artist’s Pacific Beach home in brazen theft (USA)
(8 August 2017; The San Diego Union-Tribune)
6 by 8 foot spray-painted portrait of Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka…gone.

Feds try to seize dinosaur skull, but doctor says he bought his fair and square (USA)
(10 August 2017; Dallas News)
It’s another Tyrannosaurus Bataar smuggled from Mongolia

Case of the stolen $6 million Stradivarius violin ends happily ever after (USA)
(13 August 2017; Fox)
Some hyperbolic inaccuracies (e.g. “first known armed robbery of fine art”, but an interesting story.

Judge halts auction of Augusta National green jackets (USA)
(17 August 2017; The Augusta Chronicle)
Augusta National Golf Club says their either fakes or stolen