The Illicit Trade in Portable Antiquities
Throughout its history the CBA has been in the forefront of the fight to end the illicit international trade in antiquities.This section provides a selection of articles, DCMS press releases and CBA Responses.
Who owns our ancient past?. What should be done with objects from antiquity, when their provenance is uncertain? (BBC, 5 November 2008).
Police look for Afghan antiques. Volunteers from the art industry are being trained by the Metropolitan Police to spot looted Afghan antiques. (BBC, 20 October 2008).
Ban proposed on Iraqi antiquities trade. A worldwide ban on buying and selling any Iraqi antiquities was proposed in London by a senior Iraqi official, as the only way of ending an illicit trade which has left looted sites resembling lunar landscapes, pitted with hundreds of holes and trenches. (By Maev Kennedy, Guardian, 01 May 2008).
The Parthenon marbles, and the rest please. Greece is setting its sights on reclaiming more of its cultural heritage, writes Helena Smith, but its tough new stance on antiquities trafficking may not be enough to stop the trade. (By Helena Smith, The Guardian, 24 Juanuary 2008).
New York Collector to Return ‘Looted’ Antiques. A prominent New York philanthropist and art collector has agreed to return 10 classical antiquities to Italy following claims that they were looted. (By Tom Leonard, Daily Telegraph, 19 January 2008).
Greece talks tough on Parthenon marbles. PM says UK has run out of ‘feeble excuses’ over return. (By Helena Smith and John Hooper, Guardian, 30 March 2007).
Greek protest over London auction. Greece’s culture minister has called on Christie’s, the London auction house, to suspend this week’s auction of treasures belonging to the former Greek royal household. (BBC, 22 January 2007).
‘Don’t Buy Looted Goods By Accident’ David Lammy Tells Heritage Bodies. Museums, libraries and archives must work to ensure that they do not accidentally acquire material that has been stolen or looted, Culture Minister David Lammy said today. (DCMS Press Release, 143/05, 25 Oct, 2006).
Not for Sale Yet - the ‘Cursed’ 14 Pieces of Silver Worth £100m. Archaeologists alarmed at display of Roman hoard claimed by Hungary, writes Maev Kennedy (Guardian, Oct 17, 2006).
Looted Treasure from Peru Handed in by British Collector, writes Nigel Reynolds. (Daily Telegraph, Aug 18, 2006).
Owning Antiquity. Review of Jonathan Tokeley-Parry’s book by Noel Malcolm. (Daily Telegraph, Jun 25, 2006).
The richest of pickings. The trade in stolen architectural salvage generates £300 million a year. Matt Born reports on efforts to combat the problem. (By Matt Born, Daily Telegraph, 07 January 2005).
The curse of Aphrodite. Marion True, worked as the head of antiquities at the formidably rich Getty Museum in California, could face 10 years in jail if convicted on charges of conspiring to traffic in stolen artefacts, including an $18 million statue of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. (By William Langley and Sarah-Jane Checkland, Daily Telegraph, 17 December 2005).
‘Lost Paradise’ Treasure Hunt. Iran has asked Britain to help recover valuable artefacts it says were looted from the ancient city of Jiroft, by Behzad Farsian. (Daily Telegraph, Sept 20, 2004).
Estelle Morris Says Museums Must Tighten Up Procedures To Prevent Acquiring Illicit Cultural Objects. Arts Minister Estelle Morris today said museums must respond to the growing problem of illicit traffic in cultural property by drawing up firmer guidelines on collecting practices. (DCMS Press Release, 133/03, 20/11/2003).
CBA Update: Portable Antiquities, Iraq and the ‘Sussex’. The effects of the Iraq conflict and the case of the warship Sussex have raised a wide range of issues about how the UK’s policies and international activities impinge on conserving the heritage (writes George Lambrick). (British Archaeology, No.72, Sept, 2003).
Safeguarding Iraq’s Cultural Heritage - Statement by the DCMS. DCMS is working within the Office of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq (OCPA) to support the Iraqi people in the protection and reconstruction of key heritage institutions and sites. An Iraqi Cabinet for Culture has been established to determine priority actions. (DCMS Press Release, 60/2003, 11 Jun, 2003).
Top Auction Houses Sell Looted Art, Claims Howells. Kim Howells, the culture minister, is accusing Britain’s leading auction houses of trading in looted antiquities and demanding that they do more to ensure the provenance of objects they sell, writes Colin Brown and Catherine Milner. (Daily Telegraph, May 25, 2003).
The House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee has agreed to hold a short inquiry into the UK Government’s current policy, as well as performance and plans, in relation to the illicit trade in cultural objects. This in part will review progress on recommendations made by the Committee’s inquiry in 2001 on Cultural Property: Return and Illicit Trade but will also take evidence on the “scale and implications of the looting of the Iraq Museum in Baghdad and museums and archaeological sites elsewhere in the country”. (July 2003). See also Raiders of the lost art The Plundering of Iraq’s Antiquities Looked Like an Act of Random Vengeance but a New and more Sinister Picture is Emerging, writes William Langley. (Daily Telegraph, 20 Apr, 2003)
Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell’s Statement on Iraqi Antiquities. Experts have been hearing from Dr George the true impact of the looting and destruction. No doubt now that these memories of the origins of civilisation have been pillaged on a massive scale. (DCMS Press Release, 30 Apr, 2003).
Statement from the DCMS re: Iraq’s Cultural Heritage. The Ministry of Defence have throughout the conflict been alert to the need to protect sensitive cultural and archaeological sites in Iraq. More recently they have been working hard to ensure that such sites are secured from the risk of looting. (DCMS Press Release, 43/03, 16 Apr, 2003).
Lost Treasures of Iraq – Joint letter (Monday 14th April 2003) to The Guardian from the Council for British Archaeology, Institute of Field Archaeologists, ICOMOS UK, All Party Parliamentary Archaeology Group, Royal Archaeological Institute, National Trust for Scotland, National Trust, Cambrian Archaeological Society & Heritage Link calling on swift action by coalition forces to stem the tide of looting of antiquities.
Richard Allen MP (Sheffield Hallam, Liberal Democrat) presents his Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Bill as a Private Members Bill in the House of Commons. The purpose of the Bill is to create a new criminal offence in dealing or being in possession of ‘tainted’ cultural objects to help tackle the illicit trade in antiquities. See also, The Bill to close legal loophole on buried treasures by Maev Kennedy (Guardian, 18 Dec, 2002).
Government Signs up to UNESCO Convention to Tackle Illicit Trade in Art and Antiquities (DCMS Press Release, 1st August 2002).
Arts Minister Announces Final Stages of UK Accession to UNESCO Convention on Illict Cultural Trade (DCMS Press Release, 30 April 2002).
Arts Minister Announces at Meeting of the Standing Conference on Portable Antiquities that the UK will sign up to the UNESCO Convention on illicit trade in cultural property by July and agrees to provide continued funding of all the present posts in the Portable Antiquities Scheme for the coming year – DCMS press release (14 Mar, 2002) - and see copy of the Minister’s speech and a briefing document on the Portable Antiquities Scheme.
Parliament Considers the Export Control Bill which contains measures relating to the export of cultural objects – debates in House of Lords on 7 Feb 2002 on 4 March 2002 in particular consider these measures
Government Signs Up to UNESCO Convention to Tackle Illicit Trade in Art and Antiquities. The UK has formally signed up to an international agreement to protect cultural property, Arts Minister Baroness Blackstone announced today. (DCMS Press Release, 1 Jan, 2002).
Britain Signs up to Protect Antiquities. After 30 years of stonewalling, stolen treasure trade to be banned, writes Maev Kennedy. (Guardian, Dec 19, 2000).
Alan Howarth Welcomes Report into Preventing Illicit Trade in Cultural Objects (DCMS press release 324/2000, 18 December 2000).
Report of the Ministerial Advisory Panel on Illicit Trade (published December 2000).
A Thieves’ Kitchen. The widespread looting of archaeological sites throughout the world is being funded and powered by the illicit traffic in unprovenanced antiquities, by Colin Renfrew (The Times, Jun 30, 2000).
Moves to End ‘Theft of History’. One of Britain’s leading archaeologists, Lord Renfrew, yesterday demanded that the government and the British art trade act urgently to end the “sickening enterprise” of trade in looted antiquities, writes Maev Kennedy. (Guardian, Jun 13, 2000).
The Seventh Report from the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Session 1999 - 2000, entitled Cultural Property: Return and Illicit Trade, including a Summary of Conclusions and Recommendations. The Standing Conference on Portable Antiquities submitted written and oral evidence to the inquiry. (published 25 June 2000).
A Panel of Experts is to Examine the Scale of the Illicit Trade in Art and Antiquities – Including the UK’s Involvement – and Advise the Government on Steps to Fight it, Arts Minister Alan Howarth announced today (DCMS press release 124\2000, 24 May 2000).
Standing Conference on Portable Antiquities renews resolution on the UNIDROIT and UNESCO conventions. (Mar, 2000). “The Standing Conference on Portable Antiquities, deploring the continuing loss to our knowledge of the past and the damage to the cultural heritage caused by the illicit excavation and illegal export of antiquities in this country and overseas, and in light of Her Majesty’s Government’s recent decision that it will not ratify the 1970 UNESCO and 1995 UNIDROIT conventions, renews its Resolution passed on the 13th November 1997, and urges Her Majesty’s Government to:
- urgently reconsider its decision not to ratify these conventions;
- provide detailed written explanation setting out the reasons why it has been unable to ratify these conventions;
- clarify what options for an alternative legislative approach it is currently considering.”
Stemming the flood of looted antiquities. The Government may soon agree to change British policy, writes Colin Renfrew. (British Archaeology, No.30, Dec 1997).
News: New Measures to Combat Trade in Stolen Artefacts. Police forces hunting for stolen antiquities and objects of art could find their work made much easier following the introduction of a new internationally-agreed checklist for recording artefacts. (British Archaeology, No.26, Jul 1997).
News: Government Rejects Conventions on Loot Trade. (British Archaeology, No. 52, Apr 2000).
Other relevant web sites:
- International Cultural Property Protection
- International Council of Museums (ICOM) Webpages on the Illicit Traffic in Cultural Property
- The Illicit Antiquities Research Centre, University of Cambridge
- INTERPOL’s Webpages on Stolen Works of Art
- The Art Loss Register
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