Palmyra Museum by Joseph Eid

Culture crime news 28 March–3 April 2016


Hot this week: Palmyra. Just Palmyra.

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UNESCO Round Table: The movement of cultural property in 2016 at UNESCO, Paris, 30 March 2016
(3 April 2016)
Conference review. Trade-heavy and academic-light, but useful talks on the state of illicit antiquities play globally all staged in a late 1950s modernist pseudo utopia.


Samuel Andrew Hardy: archaeomafias traffic antiquities as well as drugs
(19 March 2016; UNESCO)
Dr Hardy’s comments for the recent antiquities trafficking UNESCO round table

Stepping up stakeholders’ involvement in the fight against trafficking of culture
(1 April 2016; UNESCO)
Noted from the UNESCO round table on the illicit trafficking of cultural objects


Egypt’s Museum of Islamic Art regains its allure after two-year restoration (Egypt)
(27 March 2016; Ahram Online)
The Museum was heavily damaged in early 2014 in a major car bombing.

Waiting for Benin bronze from UK (Nigeria)
(30 March 2016; The Nation)
Concerning the possible return of the looted bronze from Cambridge, “This is a breakthrough and sign of good things to come,” said National Commission for Museums and Monuments Director-General Yussuf Abdallah Usman.

Diamond miner halted after digging on ancient archaeological site (South Africa)
(30 March 2016; BD Live)
A mine at Canteen Kopje outside Barkly West in the Northern Cape has been stopped by interdict for causing unknown damage to a large area of an archaeological site.


Looters, Tourism, and Racism: Controversy Surrounds ‘Discovery’ of Lost City in Honduras (Honduras)
(31 March 2016; Vice)
This difficult, disputed archaeology of La Mosquita

Delegado del INAH habla sobre el hallazgo en Altamura (Representative of the INAH speaks about the site in Altramura; Mexico)
(29 March 2016; Debate)
On looting and archaeology in the area

“El Señor de Sipán”: Un hito en la historia del Perú (“The Lord of Sipán”: a milestone in the history of Perú; Peru)
(30 March 2016; Periodista Digital)
A new film about the looting and then the saving of the spectacular Lord of Sipán tombs.

Theft of historic painting shakes parish in old gold-mining town (USA)
(28 March 2016; Catholic Philly)
The 200-year-old painting was stolen while the ceiling beams were being restored in this old New Mexico church

Confederate jacket sparks dispute between Alabama collector, museum (USA)
(28 March 2016; The Times Free Press)
The piece was allegedly stolen from the Confederate Memorial Hall Museum in New Orleans

Yale Can Keep Van Gogh Masterpiece as Supreme Court Rejects Appeal (USA, Russia)
(28 March 2016; Bloomberg)
The Supreme Court has declined to hear a case that asserts that Van Gogh’s The Night Café was illegally seized during the Bolshevik revolution.

Thieves steal statue from Orphan Train Museum in Opelousas (USA)
(30 March 2016; KLFY)
Only the shoes of the piece were left behind making one wonder why this theft occurred.

A final attempt to recover stolen art (USA)
(1 April 2016; Times Union)
It’s been 26 years, will we ever see the stolen Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum paintings again?

How to track down a missing masterpiece: A former FBI agent on the stings that recovered stolen paintings (USA)
(1 April 2016; National Post)
Some art crime stories from former FBI art crime agent Robert Wittman.

Sotheby’s Defends Against Strange Claim on a Mysterious Motherwell (USA)
(1 April 2016; ArtNet News)
A bit hard to follow, but it seems the owner of a real Motherwell is suing the house for putting up and taking down a fake of their painting.

Gagosian Attracts NY Scrutiny Over Picasso Deal for Leon Black (USA, UAE)
(1 April 2016; Bloomberg)
“The Manhattan District Attorney’s office has begun an inquiry into possible criminal misconduct by Larry Gagosian” over a disputed Picasso purchase.

Historic Moorhead church tries to repair, prevent vandalism (USA)
(2 April 2016; Hastings Tribune)
Dealing with sacred art destruction in a historic Iowa church.

Indiana group seeks tough penalties for cemetery vandalism (USA)
(2 April 2016; The Washington Times)
Responding to a recent wave of cemetery vandalism.

Man demands to know who’s buying his parents’ Nazi-looted art (USA)
(31 March 2016; The New York Post)
David Toren, one of the few people who has had a painting returned from the Gurlitt hoard.

Blind, 90-year-old son of Holocaust victims sues to find his family’s art (USA, Germany)
(1 April 2016; The Art Newspaper)
“David Toren has filed a petition in New York State Supreme Court asking the Berlin auction house Villa Grisebach to reveal the buyers of works sold there”

Utes, Navajo seek monument to preserve canyon (USA)
(27 March 2016; The Cortez Journal)
“The Ute Mountain, Uintah and Ouray Utes, and Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni tribes have formed the Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition” to help work towards the preservation of Bear Ears from looting and development.

The Excruciating Legacy of NAGPRA (USA)
(31 March 2016; Indian Country Today)
“Forced to violate our own covenants to conform with Western jurisprudence, forced to engage in sacrilege.”

Tabaré Vázquez expresó preocupación por robo de archivos sobre desaparecidos y la INDDHH denunció intencionalidad de entorpecer investigaciones (Tabaré Vázquez expressed concern about the theft of files about the disappeared and the INDDHH denied intent to hinder investigations; Uruguay)
(30 March 2016; La Red 21)
Files have been stolen from Uruguay’s Forensic Archaeology Unit concerning the search for people disappeared during the dictatorship.


Special ceremony to mark return of valuable icons (Cyprus)
(30 March 2016; Cyprus Mail)
The pieces were in the church of Ayios Iacovos in Trikomo; they were looted following the Turkish invasion and identified in possession of a Switzerland-based art dealer.

Former managing director of the Centre Pompidou pleads guilty to misuse of public funds (France)
(1 April 2016; The Art Newspaper)
Agnès Saal spent €40k on taxis in a period of 10 months

Will Florence’s New App Help Curb Graffiti on Historic Landmarks? (Italy)
(23 March 2016; ArtNet News)
The option to digitally graffiti Giotto’s Campanile, not really vandalise it.

After Brussels Attacks, Italy Announces $336 Million Anti-Terror Heritage Protection Plan (Italy)
(30 March 2016; ArtNet News)
Or, to be clear, to increase security at major Italian heritage sites

Stop the Roof Raiders: Lead thieves strike Boxted church as total hit by suspected gang reaches 16 in Suffolk (UK)
(25 March 2016; East Anglian Daily Times)
Strips of lead were taken off the roof of the 13th century Holy Trinity church south of Bury St Edmunds.

Marlow’s history at risk following rise in illegal metal detecting (UK)
(1 April 2016; Bucks Free Press)
“Marlow Archaeology has condemned the “selfish and antisocial thieves” who create permanent gaps in the town’s history”

Sekhemka to leave the UK as export licence deadline passes (UK, UAE, Egypt)
(1 April 2016; The Art Newspaper)
A matching offer was not made in time to prevent the statue, controversially auctioned by the Northampton Museum, to stay in the UK.

Nationally important 12th century monument spray-painted by vandals (UK)
(2 April 2016; The Herald)
St Bridget’s Kirk, Dalgety was tagged with purple paint.


Priceless Indian Artefacts With Australia; Will They Ever Come Back Home? (Australia, India)
(27 March 2016; Swarajya)
Only a handful of the looted Indian antiquities in Australian museums have been returned.

NGA keeping mum on 1000-year-old Indian goddess statue (Australia, India)
(29 March 2016; The Australian)
There is indication that a photograph of the piece being looted or shortly after theft has been obtained.

Australian Hindus Urge Sydney Art Gallery to Return Hindu Statue If Illegal Acquired (Australia, India)
(2 April 2016; The Chakra)
In question is an early 10th century red sandstone statue of goddess Durga slaying the buffalo demon Mahisha.

AGNSW’s 1000-year-old Hindu goddess ‘may be illegal’ (Australia, India)
(2 April 2016; The Australian)
The piece was sold to the gallery by Nancy Weiner who has already been implicated for sale of looted antiquities in the US and Australia

Calls for British Museum to surrender Indigenous Gweagal shield (Australia, UK)
(28 March 2016; ABC News)
The shield was taken by Captain Cook at Botany Bay in 1770.

Obsessing about past ‘wrongs’ is to miss the power of culture (Australia, UK)
(2 April 2016; The Guardian)
Tiffany Jenkins on not returning cultural property to it’s place of origin.

Captain James Cook feather cape and helmet gifted to him before death returned to Hawaii (New Zealand, USA)
(1 April 2016; ABC News)
The beautiful pieces are now on long term loan from Te Papa in New Zealand.

South and East Asia

Tracing The DNA Of Looted Artwork (Cambodia)
(30 March 2016; WBUR)
The Smithsonian’s Jane Milosch, director of the Provenance Research Initiative, talks Cambodian statue returns.

US museum returns ancient Hindu god statue to Cambodia (Cambodia, USA)
(28 March 2016; BBC News)
The Denver Art Museum has now given the the Rama back. It is in Cambodia with the rest of the Prasat Chen returns.

More looted antiquities welcomed home (Cambodia, France)
(31 March 2016; Phnom Penh Post)
Two Brahma heads taken from Koh Ker were returned from an unnamed Paris collector.

CAG holds Directorate of Arts & Culture guilty (India)
(28 March 2016; The Shillong Times)
The State Directorate of Arts and Culture has been ruled accountable for the loss of several priceless artifacts from Captain Williamson Sangma State Museum.

Four held; stolen idols recovered (India)
(30 March 2016; The Hindu)
The police were able to trace the ancient granite idols stolen in 2013 to Chennai and recovered them.

Idols stolen from streetside temple (India)
(30 March 2016; The Hindu)
They were taken from the Balasubramanian temple, Nammalwarpet.

Sirsi: Idol of Nandi stolen at Sirsi Temple. (India)
(30 March 2016; Sahil Online)
The Nandi had been stolen before and recovered.

3 panchaloha idols stolen from temple (India)
(30 March 2016; The Times of India)
The idols were taken from a Murugan temple near Ayanavaram, the first time this has happened in the area.

Stolen Durga idol returns to Valley after 25 years (India)
(30 March 2016; The Tribune)
The idol, returned from Germany, will be housed in the Srinagar’s Shri Pratap Singh Museum

89-year-old temple bell found in drainage canal (India)
(31 March 2016; The Hindu)
The bell, found in a Nellithope canal, belonged to Sri Muthu Vinayagar Sri Muthukumarasamy temple and is presumed stolen.

मंदिर से मूर्ति समेत अन्य सामान चोरी (Banke Bihari temple idol theft in Uttar Pradesh; India)
(2 April 2016; Khaskhabar)
Theft of a Lord Krishna idol from Bajkhe Bihari temple; the theft was discovered when the priest opened the temple for the day.

Panchaloha idols seized (India)
(3 April 2016; The Hans India)
The 700-year-old pieces were taken on 15 March and were recovered following a police vehicle check at Pandurangapuram village.

चोर की करतूत, मंदिर से पार कर दिया कीमती भगवान की मूर्ति (Kanker: Sculpture theft at temple; India)
(3 April 2016; Patrika)
The community is demanding a police investigation into the theft of the piece.

After Wakatak era coins, probe report vanishes (India)
(31 March 2016; The Times of India)
About 200 coins were found ti be missing from the small museum at Nagpur University. Now the report about their theft is missing as well.

Many precious artefacts too missing from NU, says probe panel member (India)
(2 April 2016; The Times of India)
An anonymous panel member claims that of 900 registered artefacts that are registered to be at Nagpur University, only about 250 are actually there.

KP government introduces bill to protect, preserve antiquities (Pakistan)
(28 March 2016; Business Recorder)
This seems to be the same legislation from last year, they seem to still be working hard to push it through.

Billionaire Collector Dmitry Rybolovlev Wins Right to Hold Yves Bouvier Trial in Singapore (Singapore)
(30 March 2016; ArtNet News)
“The Russian collector has filed legal actions against Bouvier in Paris, Monaco, and Hong Kong.”

Family of deceased artist files suit over museum’s claims (South Korea)
(29 March 2016; Korea Times)
The family of artist Chun Kyung-ja has filed a suit against the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art saying they have fakes.

West and Central Asia

Unemployed Iraqis join in looting of antiquities (Iraq)
(28 March 2016; Al Monitor)
A failed media attempt to meet with looters, but some discussion about poor people digging.

After 25 years, German doctor returns rare, ancient coin to Israel (Israel, Germany)
(30 March 2016; Canadian Jewish News)
He found the coin, took it back to Germany, and is now doing the right thing (returning it).

First Pictures Of Palmyra As IS Driven Out (Syria)
(28 March 2016; Sky News)
Outlets are reporting that Palmyra is ‘better than expected’ but it is unclear what they mean by that.

Palmyra liberated: First images of ancient heritage site freed from ISIS (PHOTOS) (Syria)
(28 March 2016; RT)
Mostly images from directly after the Syrian army and Russian air retake of Palmyra.

Why Palmyra is a pawn in Assad’s game with the West (Syria)
(30 March 2016; DW)
A talk with archeologist Annie Sartre-Fauriat who questions the political use of Palmyra and the ethics of rebuilding.

ISIS ‘Department of Artifacts’ document exposes antique loot trade via Turkey (RT EXCLUSIVE) (Turkey, Syria)
(31 March 2016; RT)
I would proceed with caution before believing anything like this without independent verification.

In Other News

Old law prevents preserving war sites (Bangladesh)
(18 March 2016; Prothom Alo)
The 1971 sites of torture and mass graves are too recent to be preserved under the law. Warning, very upsetting photos.

Skulduggery at King’s College Cambridge, as expensive ‘library skull’ goes missing (UK)
(24 March 2016; Cambridge News)
Whoever took the skull is asked to kindly return it.

This Is Not a Banksy: BBC Radio 4 (UK)
(29 March 2016; Student Newspaper)
A Banksy on his bum? A fun radio play about art market weirdness.

Ancient boulder to stay after villagers threatened to chain themselves to it to prevent move (UK)
(30 March 2016; Mirror)
The Soulbury Boot will remain where it’s always been, kinda in the middle of the street.

A Painted Heart Leaves a Black Mark on an Artist’s Record (USA)
(27 March 2016; The New York Times)
Hans Honschar draws inspiration from Keith Haring, but Haring didn’t draw directly on city property. Art and vandalism.

Teen arrested in theft of model spaceship from UFO museum (USA)
(28 March 2016; Salon)
“Police say surveillance video showed three people hauling the spaceship off in a pickup truck.”