Dealer Dikman’s Stock Returns to Cyprus

March 19, 2013

Paul Barford

Samarcheolog notes that items seized in the investigation of smuggling in the 1990s have finally been returned to Cyprus by Germany (‘Cyprus: return of tens of millions’ worth of conflict antiquities, looted from churches in occupied areas‘, Conflict Archaeology March 19th). Some 214 artefacts were found by Munich police in the possession of Turkish antiquities dealer Aydin Dikmen. They were found ‘hidden  inside the walls and under the floorboards in two apartments kept by Dikmen in Munich, under false names’

There […] were difficulties in making a criminal case: the key informant (and mastermind of and lead in the police sting operation), Dutch art smuggler-dealer Michel van Rijn, received death threats,  so he didn’t testify. Then, there were difficulties in making a civil case: the art had to be proved to have been removed from churches in Cyprus after the Turkish invasion. 

Anyway, the stuff has gone back, and the experiences of Michel van Rijn are a reminder that some not-very-nice people are involved in the trade in antiquities.  Who does your local (“trusted”) dealer know, and with whom does he in fact through his chain of supply do business?  

Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues: Dealer Dikman’s Stock Returns to Cyprus.

March 19th, 2013

Posted In: Cyprus, Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues

Lots of Fakes on the Market

March 8, 2013

Paul Barford

Still on the subject of fakes, and the limitations of a collector merely ‘trusting the dealer’ in the case of ‘paperless’ objects, are also the subject of an interview published today with a dealer in Far Eastern art. According to dealer Michael Teller, founder of  TK Antiquities New York gallery, the majority of Chinese antiquities offered on the market are forgeries (‘QandA With Michael Teller, Founder of TK Asian Antiquities‘, Epoch Times March 7, 2013).

Michael Teller: The majority of antiques, particularly ancient material on offer today are forgeries, pastiches, and restructured artifacts. It is imperative to learn the appropriate scientific analytical techniques required to unveil these problems. And, importantly, the new collector must realize that virtually all artifacts require multiple disciplines for meaningful authentication. […]
Epoch Times: What advice do you give to someone hoping to sell an item from their collection?
Mr. Teller: Engaging in three procedures are of great benefit if one wishes to realize a high return in the sale of a collector’s objects: Publishing the artifacts, displaying at museums, and documentation of the authenticity of an object. […] the size of the market value and the value of the pieces will definitely be strongly affected by the artifact’s known history and verification of its authenticity

Of course the museums in the US will not be exhibiting, even temporarily, objects private collectors supply if they do not conform with the existing guidelines (“1970 rule”) applicable to such exhibitions. It beats me why collectors are still allowing sellers such as Dealer Dave to insist that they should be quite happy to buy from his fellows objects without any kind of paper trail determining where they came from and how they arrived on the market.

[It is my opinion that the Chinese coins imported by the ACCG for their test case without a London dealer fulfilling the requirements for legal import into the US under law in place at that time should be tested for authenticity, as I pointed out here a couple of years ago, the corrosion products visible in the photo they published of them look like nothing that is produced naturally in the soil. If they are shown by non-destructive analysis not to be antiquities, the whole ACCG case collapses.]  

Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues: Lots of Fakes on the Market.

March 8th, 2013

Posted In: fakes and forgeries, Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues

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June 4th, 2012

Posted In: Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues, Saint Louis Art Museum

Focus on the Ka Nefer Nefer “Collection History” (1) (“Here Zakki, you can have this”)

April 8, 2012

The collection history of the mask of Ka-Nefer-Nefer currently in the St Louis Art Museum is crucial to the SLAM claim to the object. The mask was excavated by Muhammed Zakaria Goneim in 1952 in a grave at Saqqara. It was part of a small Ramesside cemetery in the layers overlying the lower courses of the unfinished step pyramid of Sekhemkhet. We do no know what position Ka Nefer Nefer (or Neferu) held, though circumstantial evidence suggests she lived in the times of Rameses II in the 19th Dynasty. Her body had not been mummified, the corpse was given a gilded cartonage mask and placed (apparently unwrapped) in a grave wrapped in a large reed mat. This is a type of rite more commonly associated with lower class burials, though the quality of the mask and accompanying gold items and range of amulets (and two alabaster shabtis) most of them inscribed with her name show that this was not the burial of a poor woman. It has been suggested that she was of Libyan ancestry.

I’d like to draw attention to the wiki by K.M. Johnston on this burial which is more accessible to most readers I would guess than Gonheim’s own published account, it was put up on 16 January 2011 and deserves much more attention, this is because it highlights what else was in that grave.  The smaller items are all still in Saqqara.

Let us imagine that the version fed to SLAM by the dealers, the Aboutaams, is true. The idea is that for his merits as an archaeologist the Egyptian Government in its munificence gave him one of the objects from the state-funded excavations he had directed as a reward. This is the way the mummy mask (the Aboutaams suggest) came onto the market legally, as the excavator’s own private property.

This is highly unlikely to have happened. First of all this is not what happened in Egyptian archaeology in the 1950s. Furthermore, Gonheim himself was not exactly flavour of the month after he had embarrassed the government in June 1954 when a much hyped pyramid-opening was a flop when the sarcophagus turned out to be empty. He was soon after this hounded, accused of antiquity thefts (it seems unjustly – there is a history of that in Egyptian archaeology) and committed suicide (or was killed) in January 1959. At what stage would the mask be “given to him” in the Aboutaam version of events? It was found early in 1952, seven years later Gonheim was dead. When he published the book in 1956 he thanked the Supreme Council for use of the photo of the object, unlikely if he had then been in possession of it.

After he died, under the shadow of accusations of pinching stuff, under what circumstances would his heirs be able to export it and a foreign gallery purchase it? Also, had Goneim’s enemies been accusing him of stealing objects, if he had indeed officially been granted the possession of one of his excavated finds, the fact that a whopping big mummy mask was not in the collections would have aroused suspicions, and one would have expected there to be a trace in some written records somewhere that he had secured himself against accusations on that account by providing some details of how he had come by this rather noticeable object by official channels. Instead, he was accused of nicking a vase (which later turned up in the muddle – even in 1959 – of the stores at the Egyptian Museum).

More to the point, the grave contained a whole lot of goodies. Had a magnanimous official wished to “reward” an archaeologist for doing his job, why would he choose the biggest – and most museum-displayable – thing in the grave?  There were two gold inlaid pectorals, and two alabaster shabtis, if ‘partage’ of some sort was being practiced, surely one of those would be a good ‘gift’? The amulets or beads likewise. The Saqqara storeroom is already full of such things. Anything would have made a more suitable “present” (official or not) than the mask.

The fact is that in 1952-9 no ‘partage’ had been practised for thirty years. The Aboutaam/SLAM story fails to provide any evidence why in this particular case that principle was ignored, and why it was the mummy mask that Goneim “received”. Of course neither party feels under any obligation to support their far-fetched interpretation of events.

Of course if the mask originated from Gonheim, as the Aboutaams assert, and it had not been an official grant, that too has consequences for the SLAM claim to ownership.

 Photo: Mohammed Zacharia Goneim (1905-1959): the first owner of the Ka Nefer Nefer mask?

Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues: Focus on the Ka Nefer Nefer .

April 8th, 2012

Posted In: Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues

St Louis Art Museum “Looking After” Ka Nefer Nefer?

April 8, 2012

Just how well-looked after is the Ka Nefer Nefer mummy mask in St Louis Art Museum? I was struck by an old photo of the object, which gave the face a very apprehensive look. I then tried to find out where it had come from and found another photo, similar but not the same on Zahi Hawass’ blog. But then I noticed something else about Hawass’ photo. Take a look at the official SLAM photos accompanying the joyous news that they will (for the moment at least) continue to take care of this object for the Egyptian people – to whom it rightfully belongs in their building-site-which-was-a-museum.  Take a look at the mask’s right shoulder (on our left) which is perfectly well-lit in Hawass’ photo. Notice what appears to be a missing chunk of gesso (resin)? Note on the Hawass photo the clear signs of scraping on the wrist on the right hand side which is where the hieratic inscription, “the Osiris Neferu” has been scraped off (Johnston says its the “left” hand, but the scraping is visible on the right)


Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues: St Louis Art Museum .

April 8th, 2012

Posted In: Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues, Saint Louis Art Museum