SWANSEA, Wales, April 30 /PRNewswire/ -- David Gill, archaeologist, reflects on the use of photographic archives to identify recently surfaced antiquities.
In September 1995 a police raid on the Geneva Freeport premises of antiquities dealer Giacomo Medici yielded over 4000 photographs in addition to some 3800 objects. Painstaking work by teams of investigators and archaeologists has led to the identification of a number of items in public and private collections. Some summary lists for one public and two private collections appeared in The Medici Conspiracy (2006) by Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini. Many of the 130 or so antiquities returned to Italy from North America in the last few years have featured in this Medici dossier.
This was not the only archive of photographs of recently surfaced antiquities. In September 2005 it has been reported that some 10,000 photographs as well as "200 bundles of receipts" were recovered from a warehouse of another dealer in Basel, Switzerland. Three other warehouses associated with the same dealer had been raised in May 2002 and approximately 5000 objects seized. Three truckloads of antiquities, some 4400 items, were returned to Italy in November 2008.
A third archive of photographs were seized by Greek police on the island of Schinoussa. A 2006 report by Greek journalist Nikolas Zirganos suggested "the items were photographed while in the possession of crooked dealers and circulated to potential buyers, typically, before being sold through Swiss auction houses." Several items have been identified and returned from a North American collection to Greece.
There are thousands of objects that have yet to be identified. Several pieces were spotted passing through the New York market in 2009, and another batch at a London auction-house in 2008. More recently three Roman funerary busts that were due to be offered at auction in London were noticed by Cambridge researcher Christos Tsirogiannis; a fourth piece, a Roman marble youth, was also identified.
These "toxic" antiquities are likely to continue to appear on the market. Dealers, collectors and museums need to be on their guard. They need to conduct rigorous due diligence searches on the collecting histories of the items to trace them back to the period prior to 1970, the date of the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.
SOURCE Looting Matters