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December 7th, 2011

Posted In: looting and illegal art traffickers, Struggle against illicit trade in cultural heritage

News » Gaza moves to preserve local antiquities from black market

A coastal door on the Mediterranean to the ancient world’s great empires, the Gaza Strip is home to both decades-long conflict and an enormous cache of archeological treasures. But now the Gaza government is working to stop the black market trade of its ancient treasures, the Christian Science Monitor reports.

The empires to have passed through coastal Palestine include the Egyptian, Romans, Persians, Ottomans, and Byzantines, their footprint leaving jewelry, weapons, and even fortresses. But, CS Monitor explains, “in the absence of solid laws or regulations, relics from as early as the Bronze Age are happened upon mostly by chance, poorly kept, plundered, or sold on the black market.”

Gaza Islamic University professor Salim al-Mubaid comments, “Gaza was for centuries the primary trade outlet of the hinterland of Jordan and the greater Arabian Peninsula. The Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Mamluks, and Ottomans all ruled us. There are secrets of history under every square meter.”

Hamas tourism and antiquities minister Mohammad al-Agha elaborates:

“Gaza is very small geographically, but in terms of archaeology, it is very large. Gaza was at the crossroads of Africa, Asia, and Europe, and there is a great accumulation of human civilization here. But we don’t have our own specialists so we can’t manage the sites professionally.”

As with many colonial/occupied territories, many of Gaza’s archeological finds are housed in Israeli and British museums. And without the law and specialists, antiquities disappear quickly into the holds of Gaza’s dynamic black market. The antiquities ministry gives an example, explaining that a find of 25,000 gold and bronze coins in 1990 saw 14,00 stolen and sold illegally.

In a place where a functional economy is near impossible to effect as a result of the Israeli blockade, those who can pay for artifacts get them. CS Monitor says:

Construction contractors like Jawhdat Khodary, who opened a private museum in a beachfront space in 2008, would pay laborers and local fishermen for any artifacts they found, preserving at least 3,000 pieces.

Of course, the blockade has hurt the dealers as well. Underground antiquities trader Abu Ahmed says, “An ancient piece the size of a cellphone from the Pharaonic or Canaanite eras easily sells for $1 million on the black market. And I used to make a major deal every month.”

Travel restrictions at the Erez border have complicated the Gaza archeological trade, but Abu Ahmed says Israel is still the biggest buyer of relics he has, and that demand remains. CS Monitor says many Israelis consider Gaza to be built on top of ancient Canaan, which they believe is a precursor to the original land of Israel from the 2nd and 1st centuries BCE.

Hamas, among its many house-cleaning efforts since taking over the Gaza Strip in 2007, says it has made regulating and preserving historical sites and antiquity finds a government priority. Mr. Agha says the tourism and antiquities ministry plans to team up with Islamic university to expand existing archeology courses.

A 3rd-century CE monastery is the ministry’s latest find, and according to Mr. Mubaid, Gaza’s most important archeological site. Hamas has hired a guard for the site.

But for all Hamas’ moves to preserve the ancient history of Gaza, Mr. Khodary says Hamas officials have censored some of his findings – requesting that he put away found menorah figurines and a statue of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess’ gown “deemed too revealing.”

April 25th, 2010

Posted In: Struggle against illicit trade in cultural heritage

The Saint Louis Art Museum Ka-Nefer-Nefer Egyptian Mask Saga Continues
Wed Nov 26, 2008 at 04:58:43 PM

A recent Associated Press article reports that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is now looking into the provenance of the Ka-Nefer-Nefer mask, a 3,000-year-old Egyptian relic acquired in the late 1990s by the Saint Louis Art Museum.

The mask, said to date back to the Nineteenth Dynasty (1293-1185 B.C.), was unearthed early in 1952 by an up-and-coming Egyptian archaeologist named Mohammed Zakaria Goneim. It is at the center of a long-running ownership dispute between the art museum and the Egyptian government. The set-to was the topic of an in-depth Riverfront Times story by Malcolm Gay, “Out of Egypt,” published in February 2006.

Wrote Gay:

Goneim announced to the world that he might have uncovered the untouched tomb of a previously unknown pharaoh named Sekhemkhet — potentially the most significant find since Howard Carter unearthed the virgin tomb of Tutankhamen 30 years before.

Among the many burials Goneim discovered atop the pyramid, one in particular caught his eye: the unmummified body of a woman, wrapped in a simple reed mat. Her remains, which dated to the Nineteenth Dynasty, were badly decomposed, but she wore an elaborate mask over her head and shoulders. Her face, covered by a thin sheet of blended copper and gold, peeked from beneath an intricate resin wig molded into plaits. The diadem that crowned her head was made of glass, as were her eyes and nipples. In each hand she held an amulet symbolizing strength and welfare; etched across her folded arms was a scene depicting the encounter between Osiris, the Egyptian god of the dead, and the woman’s spiritual double in the afterlife, known as her ka.

Goneim dubbed the woman Ka-Nefer-Nefer: the Twice-Beautiful Ka.
The AP story updates the fight being waged by Zahi Hawass, secretary general for Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, against the SLAM and its current director, Brent Benjamin. In the current story, Benjamin reiterates the argument he made to Gay in 2006 — asserting that “[t]o date, we have not seen information that we believe is compelling enough to return the object.”

Counters Hawass, per the Associated Press: “This stupid man [Benjamin], he doesn’t understand the rules here.”

Archaeologist Goneim, meanwhile, never achieved the worldwide fame his discovery had augured: In 1958 he was accused of looting artifacts, and though a friend and colleague came to the rescue with exculpatory evidence, he arrived too late. On January 12, 1959, Goneim threw himself into the Nile River and drowned.

-Tom Finkel

November 27th, 2008

Posted In: looting and illegal art traffickers, Struggle against illicit trade in cultural heritage

against the theft & traffic of archaeology
Established 1996, closing September 2007.

The Illicit Antiquities Research Centre (IARC) was established in May 1996, under the then directorship of Professor Colin Renfrew, at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge, England.  It commenced operations in October 1997.  We regret to announce that we will be closing at the end of September 2007.

The purpose of the IARC is to monitor and report upon the damage caused to cultural heritage by the international trade in illicit antiquities (ie. antiquities which have been stolen or clandestinely excavated and/or illegally exported).

The enormous increase in the volume of this trade over the past twenty years has caused the large-scale plundering of archaeological sites and museums around the world.

At the IARC, we raise public awareness of the problems cause by this trade and seek appropriate national and international legislation, codes of conduct and other conventions to place restraint upon it.


December 11th, 2007

Posted In: Struggle against illicit trade in cultural heritage

December 5, 2007

EBay, the American online auction site, is facing an unprecedented lawsuit in France, where a government watchdog wants it to be declared illegal. The move could lead to the arrest of the company’s executives if the claim were to be upheld by the High Court in Paris. The French Council of Sales, which regulates the country’s auction market, filed the case after denouncing eBay for allegedly failing to comply with French consumer protection laws. (more…)

December 6th, 2007

Posted In: looting and illegal art traffickers, Struggle against illicit trade in cultural heritage

By Enrique Rangel
Globe-News Austin Bureau
Publication Date: 12/04/07
AUSTIN – Burglaries and other property crimes may be down in Amarillo, Lubbock and other cities, but law enforcement agencies are betting that such numbers will go down even further – if the public is willing to help. The Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Police Chiefs Association have partnered with a United Kingdom company that has created, a Web site where people can register valuable property, report stolen property or check whether an article they are considering buying from an individual or a pawnshop has been reported as stolen. (more…)

December 5th, 2007

Posted In: Struggle against illicit trade in cultural heritage