Theft from Benghazi Bank

November 16, 2011

Further to our publication of the article on the Libyan situation, we now have permission to disseminate the following update.

BENGHAZI ROBBERY

STOP PRESS!

More has emerged since this article was published in Antiques Trade Gazette. There were a large number of Byzantine and Islamic coins involved. What is missing in the Islamic coins is a large number of the Almoravid Dynasty. This stands to reason because it was this dynasty that ruled Libya (AD. 1062-1147). This is not exclusive. We should all be careful when handling any Islamic coins of what is to-day Libya.

UNESCO (www.unesco.org) is issuing lists of what is missing. However this is likely of necessity not to be complete. Readers will be kept up-dated. That said much of the missing property, not just coins but jewellery and other artifacts is unlisted. So, we must be diligent in any dealings with valium antiquities of any period which could come from Libya. It is worth noting that of course some of the antiquities and coins of this part of the world are “clean”. But diligence is the watch word.

Richard Falkiner

Libya

September 6, 2011

September 6, 2011

Recent developments in Libya, with the ousting of the Gadhafi regime, the installation of the temporary interim government (NTC) and the refusal of some Gadhafi supporters to relent, combine to make the situation highly volatile. The fate of Libya’s rich archaeological heritage hangs in the balance.
The sites are not all well known in the west, due to nearly half a century of diplomatic isolation. In the south of Libya, in Acacus, 12,000 years old rock paintings are found across an entire mountain range. In the east, the city of Cyrene was once given to Cleopatra by the Roman general Mark Antony. Along the coast, the splendid ruins of Leptis Magna were buried for centuries under the sand, and were said to be one of the most beautiful cities of the Roman Empire. Recent gun battles took place among the ruins, with unknown consequences.
The eventual fate of these sites is cast into doubt by the Gadhafi regime’s track record. Additionally, once the fighting has ceased, typically there may be groups of armed men in a position to take whatever they wish. Antiquities may appear an attractive proposition for looting and sale. This is understood alkready to have taken tramadol place in Benghazi, the country’s second city and the base from which the NTC launched its operations. The so-called ‘Treasure of Benghazi’ was removed from the bank vault where it was stored.
UNESCO is preparing to send in an assessment team to examine the damage to the sites as soon as it’s safe to do so, and there are plans for a large international meeting in October to explore the future of Libya’s archaeological sites.

UK Treasure Trove Act Changes

January 12, 2010

January 12, 2010

An amendment to the legal framework in the UK concerning finds which are classed as ‘treasure’ was passed on 12th November 2009. For the purposes of the law, ‘treasure’ means an object or group of objects more than 300 years old with more than 10 per cent gold or silver. There has for a long time been a legal duty to report finds of treasure to the authorities; a coroner will then conduct an inquest to determine wther the treasure was lost (and thus the property of the crown) or hidden with a view to recovery, in which case the coroner must try to trace the owner or any surviving legal heirs (and should non be found the treasure reverts to the crown).
The new law, incorporated in the ‘Coroners and Justice Bill 2009′, makes it the legal duty of the possessor of any item which is or might be treasure to report it within 14 days of acquiring it or becoming aware that it might be treasure. Previously the onus was on the finder of any such item, but now the duty of reporting (disclosure) rests with the person in possession of the item. This will obviously have implications for dealers who hold stocks of coins and antiquities with significant gold or silver content. The act applies to England and Wales, but the Scottish position is slightly different due to the automatic duty to dislose which already exists in that country.
The only defence in law appears to be (i) to demonstrate that the item is not treasure or (ii) to establish that the item has already been reported when acquired. Ignorance of the law is not a workable legal defence!
The act does allow for a defence that the defendant may have a reasonable excuse for online pharmacies failing to notify; until this is tested in court, there is no means of knowing what will qualify as a reasonable excuse.
The punishment for being found guilty of not reporting extends to up to 51 weeks’ imprisonment and / or a fine of up to GBP 5000.
While reporting of finds of antiquities (whether treasure or not) is a laudable aim, it seems likely that this change in the law will potentially capture many people who find objects while gardening, walking the dog, making sandcastles on the beach and so on. The case law established here will be interesting!

X-Rays Join the Fight Against Fakes

October 14, 2009

One of the major problems for any dealer in manufactured items is getting the description right – whether the objects are expensive watches, motor vehicle parts or designer-label garments at ridiculously low prices. A stroll through any street market will provide plenty of evidence for ‘fake’ or misleadingly described goods. Not everything is what it appears to be, and the old Roman tag of ‘caveat emptor’ (let the buyer beware) has never been more apt.
In the field of coins and antiquities there is plenty of scope for mistaken or misleading descriptions. The rewards for passing off modern fakes as genuine ancient coins can be very tempting. At TimeLine Originals we have to be very careful never to offer for sale as genuine an object which is in any way ‘dubious’. This means that any items we place on our website have been thoroughly researched, which is a very expensive and time-consuming task, but an absolutely essential one if our customers are to be able to buy from us with complete confidence.

Research can mean several hours spent poring over reference books and archaeological reports, looking through back-issues of metal-detecting magazines and auction catalogues. The cost of this research can never be recouped through the sales price of the articles, but the cost of not doing enough research is that fakes remain in the market, the forgers are encouraged to continue and collectors cannot be sure that the coveted items they buy are genuine.
But modern science can assist with weeding out fakes and forgeries. There have been many developments in dating techniques since the beginnings of science-based archaeology in the mid-20th century. Thermoluminescence, dendrochronology phentermine and carbon-dating are three of the better known techniques. More recently, X-ray Fluorescence (XRF) has been added to this list.

The principle behind XRF is quite simple: the coin’s surface is bombarded with X-rays; these interact with the metal at the sub-atomic level, making it fluoresce (glow) and the wavelengths of the fluorescence are measured by the machine. The fluorescence pattern is different for every element present, so an accurate analysis of the composition can be made. The recent development of portable machines which can display the results on an integral screen is the real breakthrough – instead of having to take the sample into a controlled laboratory environment, prepare it and wait for the results, with modern machinery and computing power it is possible to discover the relative proportions (percentages) of the various elements present within a matter of minutes.

What this means for coin and antiquities dealers is that it is no longer necessary to rely on subjective judgements when evaluating an article. The look and feel are still important, but with XRF technology it is possible to add to these the results of objective analysis, to add defined quantities into the equation.
Because XRF testing is completely non-destructive, it does not damage the coin’s surface or even disturb the patina – the X-ray penetration is just a few atoms deep, totally invisible and without any effect on the article itself. This is especially useful when a highly sensitive and rare piece has to be evaluated – a few minutes with the XRF technician can provide objective data which can not only spot whether it is a fake or not, but can actually give impartial information to back up the technician’s opinion based on the test results.

Oxford X-ray Fluorescence (details below) is a new company offering just this service, which we believe will become increasingly commonplace among antiquities dealers and collectors. For a minimal cost and delay, an object with a price tag of hundreds or thousands of pounds can be evaluated. For the collector, this is a sensible investment of time and money – especially where so much is at stake. Not only does a fake coin in a collection call into question the reliability of the dealer from whom it was purchased, it also raises queries about the judgement of the collector who accepted it!

Obviously, the XRF test results do not in themselves show an object to be genuine or false. The technician has to have some known genuine results with which to compare those from the piece being tested. It is necessary to build a database of such results, and to keep it up-to-date. The database provides the yardstick against which the coin is to be measured – and the degree to which it conforms provides the level of confidence for the piece. Therefore, typically the outcome will be expressed in such terms as ‘compatible with a Late Roman date’ or ‘consistent with results for the Tudor period’.
As XRF testing is rolled out among collectors and dealers, the spotting of many fakes will become much easier. This will no doubt cause the serious forgers to raise their game in order to circumvent the new technology. But for the majority of forgers it will cause insuperable problems which will make the enterprise unrewarding and thus unattractive. If collectors’ confidence in their purchases through reputable dealers is increased, this will in time drive out both the fakers and the dealers who do not ask too many awkward questions.

TimeLine Originals have been using the Oxford X-ray Fluorescence for some time and have been more than satisfied with the results achieved. For collectors and dealers wishing to learn more and to try out the service, the website of Oxford X-ray Fluorescence Ltd can be found at http://oxford-labs.com where details of the process and costs are explained. They can be contacted by email xrf@oxford-labs.com.

By Brett Hammond of TimeLine Originals

Museums’ Acquisition Policy

October 14, 2009

As publicly-funded bodies whose directors are accountable to central governments, European museums have to be especially careful when offering to purchase any items. In the litigious world of today, museums are often the target of groups who try to make political capital out of the fact that ancient artefacts and human remains from a variety of cultures are housed in these buildings for public display.
With the 19th century vogue for collecting among the gentry and wealthier citizens, several very important collections were established which have been sources of knowledge for subsequent generations of students. In the 20th century, especially in mainland Europe, in the turmoil of war many objects were removed from captured cities, both by the Axis powers and by the Soviets; it would be naive to think that the western Allies never indulged in this practice.
Before acquiring objects, musuems are now required to carry out ‘due diligence’, similar to what happens when one corporation offers ambien to acquire another. The aim of this process is to establish the ownership of the objects to be acquired, and to avoid embroiling the museum in any expensive, long-running, legally complex or politically embarassing disputes.
The guidelines in force in the United Kingdom are quite comprehensive, requiring the donor/seller to supply information concerning the known history and provenance of the object, including:

      • name of discoveror

 

      • date and place of discovery

 

      • circumstances of discovery

 

      • history of sales and catalogue listings

 

    • any relevant involvement by the authorities (e.g. Treasure Valuation Committee)

The donor/seller must sign a written statement confirming that he/she is the absolute beneficial owner of the object(s), free from third party claims and encumbrances, and offering to sell or donate the same to the museum, and that any information provided as to the provenance of the object(s) is correct to the best of his/her knowledge, information and belief. This applies even if the museum is not paying for the item, but is receiving a gift.
The curator of the receiving museum or institution must also be very careful, making a corresponding signed statement to the effect that he/she has made reasonable enquiries in respect of the acquisition (and summarizing them) and that there is no reason in the DCMS guidelines for combating illicit trade (October 2005), nor in the museum’s own acquisition policy, not to make the proposed acquisition.
The curator is obliged to look at the following areas when considering the proposed acquisition:

      • to examine at first hand and to consider the type of item and likely place of origin

 

      • to take expert advice in areas outside the the curator’s own expertise

 

      • to determine whether the item was lawfully exported to the United Kingdom in the case of items sourced from abroad, and to check whether the export of the item was in line with the regulations of the country of origin, and other cultural property legislation applicable at the time the item was exported.

 

      • to evaluate the account given of the provenance (including export) of the item provided by the owner

 

      • to consider whether any specific permissions are required from the country of origin

 

    • If in doubt do not proceed

Critically, failure of the curator to satisfy him/herself on any of these points means that the acquisition should not go ahead, and if he/she believes a criminal offence may have been committed, to report the matter to the Police.

These requirements obviously place a burden of responsibility on the seller, who will be obliged to provide detailed information about the source of the object, and on the museum staff members who decide to acquire.

Nighthawking at Rendlesham

October 14, 2009

‘Nighthawking’ is the illegal metal-detecting of sites and theft of finds, usually conducted under cover of darkness.
It is not only illegal, since it usually involves trespass, criminal damage and theft, but also highly destructive on sites which are of great importance to our understanding of the past. Until a site is ‘scheduled’ (officially recognized as of national importance, and designated as such) there are no penalties for removing material with the landowner’s permission. But many important sites are unrecognized – precisely because the thieves are looting them covertly and want to keep the locations secret.
Recent media coverage of a pending prosecution has highlighted the problem of Rendlesham, Suffolk, a site mentioned by Bede in the Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum (III.22) as mansio rendili, the ‘house of Rendel’ or in old English Rendles ham, still the name of a village in east Suffolk. Bede’s mention of the site is in connection with the baptism of an East Saxon king during his stay with an East Anglian king. The implication is that Rendlesham was a royal site in the mid-7th century, and that it was an appropriate location for kings to entertain royal guests – a royal feasting hall, accommodation buildings, service buildings and an early church would seem to be the minimum one would expect to find here.
Despite such written documentation, the Rendlesham site has never been identified on the ground, and therefore it has never been scheduled. However, local landowner Sir Michael Bunbury applied to the County Council Archaeological Service about his Naunton Hall estate and the damage done to his property by nocturnal metal-detectorists. The area has been targetted based not only on Bede’s evidence, but also the 19th century find of an Anglian urn burial at Haw Hill, and the results of a fieldwalking survey conducted in 1982 prior to the erection of a new barn. The Woodbridge-based Sutton Hoo Society pledged financial support for a new survey of the area of the estate and extensive fieldwork was begun in October 2008. While this work was in progress, the site was attackd on several occasions. Sir Michael Bunbury was able to provide information to the local police which resulted in the arrest of five men – one local and four from outside the county.
Part of the importance of the Rendlesham site is in its association with King Rædwald, the East Anglian Bretwalda or overlord of all southern Britain, who is still the best candidate for the burial in Mound 1 at Suton Hoo. Bede relates the story of Rædwald’s conversion to Christianity and how he erected an altar to Christ in his existing temple to the heathen gods: as a polytheist, the king would have seen no conflict in this, but the monotheist Bede heartily disapproved. Rendlesham therefore has the potential to offer a great deal of information about the conversion of the English from the old religion to the new – with all the implications for social and economic change which this entailed.
Because Rendlesham is so important, it is to be hoped that whoever is convicted of the crime of looting the site is dealt with harshly as an example to others. Failure to offer a meaningful deterrent in this high-profile case will be construed as encouragement by the looters.


The Sutton Hoo Society can be found here

The Staffordshire Hoard

October 14, 2009

The discovery of a hoard of gold and silver in a field near Lichfield in September 2009 made headlines all around the world. Some reportage took the view that the find would re-write English history by showing that the country was rather wealthy in the Early Anglo-Saxon period (circa 400-650 AD). Other journalists expressed the finder’s surprise and joy at making a metal-detecting find which would surpass all others in monetary value.
One point which was generally overlooked in all the media interest in the finder’s personal circumstances (middle-aged and unemployed, using his detecting as a form of exercise and a hobby) and the likely sum he will receive as a reward (‘seven figures’ as Dr. Kevin Leahy, the PAS officer, put it) is that the hoard represents military fittings – not whole swords and shields as might be expected from a battle site, but just the gold and silver fittings from them. This must suggest that the pieces were removed deliberately – and often with some force – from weapons and collected for disposal.
The decorated objects all bear Style II decoration which puts them in the date-range 550-650 AD in England. Lichfield was a major centre of Mercian power in the 7th century and a menace to its neighbours and rivals – East Anglia, Northumbria, Wessex and the tiny Welsh kingdoms to the west. The hoard does not tell us much about weapons and warfare in the 7th century – but it does shed some light on the relationships among the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms and their neighbours on the Continent and in Scandinavia.
Until the discoveries at Sutton Hoo in 1939, the general view was that the Anglo-Saxons were an impoverished and unimpressive people. That view could no longer be maintained with the unearthing of the royal treasure ship, but it was still possible to argue that the king’s barrow was exceptional and his wealth was derived from family links with Sweden. The new hoard demonstrates clearly that the material recovered from Sutton Hoo was not exceptional in 7th century England, and may not have been the finest workmanship around at that time. A re-evaluation of the wealth and craftsmanship of the Anglo-Saxons generally – not just the Sutton Hoo and Prittlewell finds – will have to be undertaken once the hoard is published.

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