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Tina Brown:

“Sharon Waxman has written a compelling page turner about the world of antiquities and art-world skulduggery. She manages to combine rigorous, scholarly reporting with a flair for intrigue and personality that gives Loot the fast pace of a novel. I enjoyed it immensely."

Christopher Hitchens:

“Sharon Waxman’s Loot is the most instructive as well as the most intelligent (and the most entertaining) guide through the labyrinth of antiquity and the ways in which the claims of the departed intersect with the rights of the living.”

Douglas Preston, author of The Monster of Florence:

"Loot is a riveting foray into the biggest question facing museums today: who should own the great works of ancient art? Sharon Waxman is a first-rate reporter, a veritable Euphronios of words, who not only explores the legal and moral ambiguities of the conflict but brings to life the colorful -- even outrageous -- personalities facing off for a high noon showdown over some of the world’s iconic works of art. Vivid, witty, and delightful, this book will beguile any reader with an interest in art and museums."

Lucette Lagnado, author of The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit:

“Sharon Waxman approaches her subject with the passion of a great journalist and the rigor of a scholar. It may never again be possible for some of us to walk down the halls of the Louvre or the British Museum or the Metropolitan without a vague sense of disquietude, a frisson of wonder about the provenance of some of their showcase works of ancient art.”

Karl E. Meyer, author of The Plundered Past and co-author of Kingmakers: The Invention of the Modern Middle East:

"Sharon Waxman’s Loot is indispensable for everyone concerned with the illicit trade in smuggled antiquities. She exposes the self-serving humbug that too often afflicts both affluent possessors and righteous nationalists and shows that we all have a stake in getting an honest account of how great objects came to rest in our grandest museums."

General

October 29, 2009

Speaking in San Francisco today, as Met Returns Egyptian Artifact

I'm speaking this morning at the San Francisco Fall Antiques Show, where the reigning theme is Egyptomania.

How appropriate, then, that our friend Zahi Hawass continues to raise hell.

Coda to the brouhaha with the Louvre: the French caved, gave the pieces back, but Zahi continues to bar his longtime colleague Christiane Ziegler, saying she was in charge of buying the looted art in the first place.

Message heard loud and clear over at the Met in New York: they just voluntarily bought an artifact for the purpose of returning it to Egypt, a new one upmanship in the war on looting, and a notable notch on the belt of acquisitional transparency for the new director Thomas Campbell.

Here's the AP report:


The Met returns Egyptian artifact

CAIRO — New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art will return to Egypt a fragment of an ancient pharoanic shrine it purchased from a collector, Egypt's antiquities department said Monday.

The Supreme Council of Antiquities said that a piece of a red granite shrine, known as a "naos," was purchased from an antiquities collector in New York last October so that it could be returned.

The piece arrives in Egypt Thursday, the statement said. Egle Zygas, senior press officer for the Met, confirmed the museum's decision.

SCA head Zahi Hawass hailed the Met's move as a "great deed," singling it out as the first time a museum has bought an item for the sole purpose of repatriating it.

The fragment belongs to the naos honoring the 12th Dynasty King Amenemhat I, who ruled 4,000 years ago, which is now in the Ptah temple of Karnak in Luxor.

It's the latest coup for Hawass, Egypt's assertive and media-savvy archaeologist, who has been on an international lobbying campaign to reclaim what he says are stolen Egyptian artifacts from the world's most prestigious museums.

He says so far he has recovered 5,000 artifacts since becoming antiquities head in 2002.

In early October, Hawass compelled the Louvre to return five painted wall fragments of a 3,200 year-old nobleman's tomb by publicly cutting ties with the French museum, suspending its excavations in the country and canceling a lecture by one of its former Egyptology department curators, Christiane Ziegler.

After France's Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand agreed to return the fragments, Hawass restored the Louvre's excavations but has continued to shun Ziegler, whom he claims is responsible for acquiring the artifacts in the first place.

Though the Met did not openly say its decision was prompted by the Louvre's, Hawass interpreted it as the Met's devotion to return illegal antiquities.

"It is also a kind gesture from the newly appointed Met director Thomas Campbell," he said.

Before taking on the Louvre, Hawass cut ties with the St. Louis Art Museum after it failed to answer his demand to return a 3,200-year-old golden burial mask of a noblewoman.

Hawass has a laundry list of Egypt's cultural heritage that he wants back, including the bust of Nefertiti — wife of the famed monotheistic Pharaoh Akhenaten — and the Rosetta Stone, a basalt slab with an inscription that was the key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics.

The bust is in Berlin, the stone in London.


Map

October 07, 2009

Egypt Cuts Ties with Louvre Over Artifact Return

Hi all. I've been away building TheWrap for most of this year. "Loot" is now out in paperback, I"m delighted to tell you. Wanted to let you know I"ll be appearing in San Francisco later this month to speak about the book at the Fall Antiquities Fair. Details to follow.

This news comes courtesy of the AP -- our friend Zahi Hawass in Egypt has decided to make good on his many threats to Western museums over the years. He has cut ties with the Louvre - and cancelled an upcoming talk in Egypt by respected French Egyptologist Christian Ziegler - because the French museum will not return four reliefs from Luxor.

There is an amusing scene with Ziegler in 'Loot,' who at the time still headed the Egyptian Department at the Louvre. And Hawass has amusing things to say about her in the book.

Egypt cuts ties with France's Louvre museum

By PAUL SCHEMM

Associated Press Writer

CAIRO (AP) -- Egypt's antiquities department has severed its ties

with France's Louvre museum because it has refused to return what

are described as stolen artifacts, an official statement declared

Wednesday.

The ruling means that no archeological expeditions connected to

the France's premier museum will be allowed to work in Egypt.

Already a lecture in Egypt by a former Louvre curator has been

canceled.

"The Louvre Museum refused to return four archeological reliefs

to Egypt that were stolen during the 1980s from the tomb of the

noble Tetaki," near the famed temple city of Luxor, the statement

said, quoting antiquities head Zahi Hawass.

Christiane Ziegler, the former director of the Louvre's

Egyptology department, acquired the four reliefs last year and

displayed them, said the statement. She will now not be allowed to

give a scheduled lecture in Egypt.

Upon taking the helm of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities

in 2002, Hawass made recovering stolen Egyptian antiquities a

priority.

He issued a regulation, that he says was agreed to by all major

international museums including the Louvre, banning the acquiring

or display of stolen antiquities.

Hawass has made several high profile requests from the world's

museum for the return of Egyptian artifacts.

At the top of Hawass' request list are the bust of Nefertiti --

wife of the famed monotheistic Pharaoh Akhenaten -- and the Rosetta

Stone, a basalt slab with an inscription that was the key to

deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics. The bust is in Berlin's

Egyptian Museum; the Rosetta Stone is in the British Museum in

London.

Hawass said Egypt also was seeking "unique artifacts" from at

least 10 museums around the world, including the Louvre in Paris

and Boston's Museum of Fine Arts.

Hawass also has written to request the bust of Anchhaf -- the

builder of the Chephren Pyramid -- from the Museum of Fine Arts in

Boston, and the statue of Hemiunu -- nephew of the Pharaoh Khufu,

builder of the largest pyramid -- from Germany's Roemer-Pelizaeu

museum.

Hawass long has sought items taken from Egypt, recently

succeeding in winning the return from France of hair stolen from

the mummy of Ramses II.

AP-ES-10-07-09 0847EDT

September 17, 2009

Loot About to Emerge in Paperback! And a reader writes of more looting

Dear Readers,

You may know I've been absorbed building and launching TheWrap.com, a digital news organization covering the business of entertainment and media.

But I am still devoted to Loot, and am delighted to tell you that the paperback will be published this month, available now on Amazon. It will be featured in next week's New York Times Book Review on Paperback Row, very exciting.

The British edition, published by Old Street Books, will also be out soon, in early October. (Just in case you want every cover art available.)

Meanwhile a reader writes today of disturbing ongoing theft of Native American art, and asks what she can do about it:

Hello Ms. Waxman:
 
I just finished Loot and found it both fascinating and disturbing.  It prompted me to write to you concerning a contemporary problem regarding the plunder of ancient Native American rock art, particularly in the Colorado Plateau/ Four Corners region of the US. As I'm sure you're aware, unscrupulous (or just plain criminal) individuals are literally hacking portions of pictographs and petroglyphs from the sites where they belong and selling them to dealers and middlemen.  Many such trophies are leaving the country, but some come to rest on decks and in the homes of persons who can afford such pieces of irreplaceable Americana. Others face wanton destruction or just the ravages of time. These archaic sites are sacred to many Native American Tribes. Archaic rock art is disappearing before it can be evaluated and studied.
 
The remoteness of many sites make monitoring extremely difficult.  Furthermore, the American public is not sufficiently aware of this valuable heritage.  A number of sites rival in beauty and cultural significance the ancient European rock art sites that are universally revered.
 
For the past 4 years, I have been working with an organization -- the Barrier Canyon Style (BCS) project --  that is trying to discover, record, and make archival photographs of all the BCS sites on the Colorado Plateau.  I am the grant writer for the project.
 
There is, of course, a great deal more information regarding the project and its objectives, but I don't want to swamp you.
 
I would appreciate your opinions, suggestions and/or advice regarding the project and what can be done to halt the destruction of these American antiquities.
 
Many thanks.
 
Sincerely,
 
Anka Angrist

April 11, 2009

Vernon Silver Takes on Giacomo Medici

I've just finished reading an early galley of Vernon Silver's new book weighing in on the story of stolen Euphronioses and the man most associated with their looting in recent decades, Giacomo Medici.

The book, "The Lost Chalice," comes out in June, and the title refers to a chalice by the famed Greek painter that emerged on the market at around the same time as the more famous, and more valuable, krater bought by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.


Lost chalice The book takes us through a now-familiar cast of characters in this drama - Medici himself, dealer Robert Hecht,  Italian prosecutors, museum curators, tombaroli and that curiously,  still-unmet Swiss restorer, Fritz Burki. (Why have none of us sought this guy out? He must know an awful lot).

 Setting up his tale as a mystery to be solved  Silver takes a micro approach to a great big problem, that of looted antiquities in modern times. We learn that there’s another rare Euphronios out there to be traced and tracked.

I learned a number of things about Medici that I didn’t know, particularly the story of his tragic maiming as a child by a wayward American bomb in World War Two. But I do wonder how much more readers will want to know about this man, who has already been the title subject of another book, Peter Watson’s, “The Medici Conspiracy,” as well as  treated extensively in “Loot.”

 

Medici is not exactly a household name to average readers, and at the same time, the tale doesn’t really feel new. But Silver does a good job of weaving together police evidence, court testimony and interviews with Medici himself. For my money, the most interesting part of the book is not so much the mystery he builds around the elusive Euphronios – after all, it’s just a cup, and it wasn’t held by Jesus, blessed by Caesar or otherwise made a meaningful part of our cultural iconography.

Instead, it’s when Silver finds himself in the humble home of a tombaroli-farmer, invited for lunch at their table. There he hears a detailed account of how they found an ancient Etruscan tomb in Cerveteri, dug it up in an operation that took months and where they found the Euphronios krater and, it appears, the missing chalice. That kind of moment is worth the wait, and a welcome glimpse into the modern, secret journey of such ancient objects.

February 19, 2009

Kazim Finally Convicted for Stealing the Lydian Brooch

I received this email today from my Turkish friend about the sentencing of Kazim Akbiyikoglu, the director of the Usak museum who had been on trial for more than two years over the Lydian hoard:

From Feb. 14:

"The former director of the Usak Museum was sentenced on Friday to serve 12 years and 11 months in prison for dereliction of duty and misappropriation of an atique brooch that went missing in 2006.
One accomplice received 12 years and 6 months in prison while 8 others were sentenced to jail terms between 10 months and most 6 years. The police learned that the brooch, part of a 2500-years-old collection called the Karun Treasure, was replaced by a fake and that the director was in contact with the alleged thieves."

February 09, 2009

Artifacts returned to Pakistan

Britain returns smuggled pottery to Pakistan

LONDON, Feb 9 (Reuters) - Britain on Monday handed back to Pakistan almost 200 smuggled pottery artefacts that were seized by British border officers two years ago.

The 198 bowls and vases were smuggled from Pakistan via Dubai and discovered by the UK Border Agency at London's Heathrow airport in 2007.

The 4,000-year-old relics, which originate from Pakistan's north western frontier, were examined by the British Museum and estimated to have a value of 100,000 pounds ($148,800).

"It's a sort of vandalism, people who steal invaluable things from developing countries at a very cheap price," Wajid Shamsul Hasan, Pakistan's High Commissioner to Britain, said at a ceremony in London.

"This is our nation's heritage which will go back, and people will be happy to see them in the museums," he added.

Smuggled antiques and historic relics often end up in the hands of private collectors willing to pay big sums of money.

"Where ancient sites are plundered for short-term gain, this results both in the loss of heritage items to indigenous people and irreparable damage to archaeological sites," said Tony Walker, director of the UK Border Agency.

Anil Rajput, the customs officer who seized the artefacts in 2007, said they were smuggled from Dubai in freight declared as 'normal pottery' for a value of only $100.

"When I opened the boxes and actually looked at the pots, it was clear that they were not mass-produced in a factory in Dubai," he said. (Reporting by Martina Fuchs, editing by Mark Trevelyan)

February 06, 2009

A fantastic review for Loot



Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)

February 7, 2009 Saturday 
First Edition

In short nonfiction

BYLINE: Reviews by Bruce Elder

SECTION: SPECTRUM; Books; Pg. 31

LOOT

By Sharon Waxman

Times Books

What do you feel about all those antiquities from Greece, Egypt, Italy and the Middle East that are now on display in museums all over the world? Should they be returned to their countries of origin or do you agree with Aggy Leroule, the Louvre's press attache who claims: "You end up thinking we're all a bunch of looters, thieves, exploiters, that we're some kind of criminals . . . but who would be interested in Greek sculpture if it were all in Greece? These pieces are great because they're in the Louvre."

This is a fabulously well-written book full of outrage and shady intrigue. When you blend a fine journalistic style with a postgraduate degree in Middle East studies, you have a person who can write entertainingly about one of the modern world's most divisive artistic problems.

Waxman brings many of the key figures alive, debates the issues with subtlety and nuance and exposes much of the cultural arrogance that still underpins the belief that Western museums have some right to hold antiquities.

A reader's response

Who does History belong to?  That is the question.
 
It belongs to the world. To assume that it belongs to the source country
is a fallacy.  Egypt of today has no respect for antiquity or the ancient
Egyptians. Or will they ever learn that respect.
 
Looting and greed exists and has existed for thousands of years and Egyptians
have done more damage than anyone else (Nasser's dam in the 1950's).
 
We should thank the people who saved these artifacts for all of us to see and
admire. Surely, some made much money, but think what they gave us.  
Think of their scholarship (translating hieroglyphics, for one) that contributed 
to our knowledge.
 
We should thank the museums for their work in preservation and displays as
most of us would never have seen any of these treasures without them.
 
Marcia Winick
Tucson, Arizona
world


February 01, 2009

Artifacts vs. Facsimiles: a solution?

-An interesting suggestion from a reader:

My thanks to you and all who contributed to the Times (C-Span) program.  As soon as it ended I logged onto Amazon and ordered both "Loot" and "Who Owns..."   I'm eager to hold and read your book.

But I suspect that neither book will address what I'm about to ask you to comment on, viz---

Technology developed just in the past 10 years or so has made it not only possible, but rather easy, to create "three-dimensional scans" of precious, fragile,objects, without even touching them in the process of scanning them. And then from the scan, one (or 100)facsimiles may be made (and/or holograms, of course). There would be no risk of a copy becoming the object of fraud, as the material itself would be (e.g.) some modern plastic.  As best I recall, the Rosetta Stone is behind glass, and the viewer would be reasonably satisfied (or would she??) if what she was seeing was (and was labelled as) a facsimile.  As for Nefertiti, and the like, surface color etc. would still be a problem.

This technology is quite different from long-known methods such as lost-wax, or rubber mold, etc., from which museum shops have long sold "copies" of objects----Those copies are (because of the older technology) always at least slightly off in terms of size (and quality, of course).

What I'm suggesting would be particularly useful for such situations as the Elgin marbles (which Hitchens wants returned to Athens in order that the entablature be "complete")----Athens could have "the whole thing" (of which half would be a copy), and Bloomsbury would also have "the whole thing" (of which the OTHER half would be a copy).

What I'm suggesting DOES, obviously, fail to meet what I call the "piece of the true cross" test---some sort of transendental "union" with the past that for some (but not all) people is crucial to the experience of being in the presence of an important object. But for so many objects (e.g."your" Zodiacal ceiling; the Parthenon pieces), it seems to me this would be (thanks to this quite-new technology) a solution that could be at least tolerable to all interested parties.

I'm not so grandiose as to think that no one until me, now, has thought of this----So my question is: Can you point me to one or two sources where this has been seriously discussed in either scholarly or political venues?

Many thanks
              Alan W. Heldman (B'ham AL)

January 23, 2009

Egypt Demands Artifacts Return from Sweden

From BBC News:

Luxor

Egypt has asked Sweden for the return of 212 artefacts taken out of the country in the 1920s.

Egypt's chief archaeologist Zahi Hawass said they were taken in an "illegal manner" by Swedish collector Otto Smith from locations like Saqqara and Luxor.

He said lawyers for the country's Council of Antiquities have contacted Sweden's Ostergotlands County Museum.

The museum confirmed Egypt was seeking to recover about 200 items, but was awaiting a formal request.

Museum director Maria Jansen said she had been contacted by the Egyptian Embassy in Stockholm about the matter, but could not comment further.

She said the items were one of the museum's most "important" collections.

Neglect

Mr Smith took the objects home to Sweden with him, and after his death his family gave the pieces to the Ostergotlands Museum, asking the museum to look after them, according to Mr Hawass.

Mr Hawass claimed the museum displayed some of the artefacts in its restaurant, which caused damage and neglect.

He added that the Smith family has now accused the museum of breach of contract and also wanted the pieces returned to Egypt.

The family could not immediately be reached for comment.

Mr Hawass said the objects include items from the pharaonic era and ancient Egyptian Coptic pieces.