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September 2014 – Newsletter of the Committee for Cultural Policy

September 2014 – Newsletter of the Committee for Cultural Policy

"Villa dei Misteri II - 1" by WolfgangRieger - Marisa Ranieri Panetta (ed.): Pompeji. Geschichte, Kunst und Leben in der versunkenen Stadt. Belser, Stuttgart 2005, ISBN 3-7630-2266-X, p. 11. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons -

This month’s digital newsletter from the Committee for Cultural Policy, Inc. includes news and commentary on deceptive campaigns, discoveries, museums, and more.

The Committee for Cultural Policy is a non-profit organization serving the public through education, legal initiatives and direct dialogue with museums, scholars and government. Follow the links to our website, where you will find news, art law resources, in-depth policy analysis and commentary from experts in the field, videos featuring top museum leaders – and of course our Art News blog. When you visit, please remember that we need your financial support to do our work.

We urge you to make a tax deductible donation to support rational public policy on cultural heritage. Write to us at The Committee for Cultural Policy, Inc., Box 4881, Santa Fe, NM 87502.

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Image: “Villa dei Misteri II – 1” by WolfgangRieger – Marisa Ranieri Panetta (ed.): Pompeji. Geschichte, Kunst und Leben in der versunkenen Stadt. Belser, Stuttgart 2005, ISBN 3-7630-2266-X, p. 11. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons –

A Bridge Too Far – Using IS to End the Trade in Art


From Our Commentary Pages

The terrorist group known as the Islamic State or IS, which now controls large areas of Syria and Iraq, is responsible for innumerable crimes and atrocities. In addition to its most terrible crimes against the human population of the region, IS has willfully destroyed ancient monuments and even Islamic period tombs that it considers “un-Islamic.” IS has also commandeered many of the region’s economic resources. It has seized oil refineries, depots, and tankers; its black market oil revenues are estimated at $1-2 million per day. IS is also said to be forcibly extracting funds from the general population through a tithe imposed on all economic activities.

Anti-art trade activists[ii] have taken advantage of IS’s well-deserved reputation for evil to argue for US legislation to end to the trade in virtually all art and artifacts from the region.[iii] They argue for imposing an embargo on all Syrian “cultural heritage” entering the US– without regard for what the term encompasses. Modern art? Ordinary antiques? The call for legislation omits questions of when art left Syria or how long it has circulated in the art world.

Compare to this the more reasoned decision this August in the UK to limit importation of goods exported from Syria after 9 May 2011. [iv] Any action that blocks the destructive path of IS should be seriously considered, but actions must be based on a clear understanding of the facts. Our policy choices should not collaterally damage our own cultural interests and cultural institutions.  Read more

Binchester Roman Town in County Durham, UK For Sale

August 29, 2014.   British archeologists fear that research at Binchester Roman Town County Durham, in the north of England, could be jeopardized if a large parcel of land that includes a Roman fort and town is sold. The land is owned by the Church of England, whose investments are managed by the Church Commissioners.

The Auckland Castle Trust, a local heritage trust financed by London philanthropist Jonathan Ruffer, has offered the asking price of £2 million in order to safeguard the site from development. The Trust’s head curator, Dr. Christopher Ferguson, has said that research at the excavation site may be hindered if it ends up in private hands. Binchester Hall is among the plots for sale and has planning permission to be developed into housing or a hotel. Read more

Allard Pierson Museum Holding Artifacts Claimed by Both Russia and Ukraine

August 23, 2014  The Allard Pierson Museum, the University of Amsterdam’s well-regarded archaeological museum, has displayed a special exhibition of ancient artifacts from the Black Sea region, on loan from five different museums in Crimea, since February of 2014. The exhibition included a wide range of artifacts, from Scythian goldwork to a Chinese lacquer box which arrived in Crimea along ancient trade routes. The museum planned to return the objects in May, but the exhibition was extended to the end of August due to uncertainty created by the Russian invasion of Crimea, which began in late February. The Allard Pierson Museum announced that it is not preparing to return the artifacts because the conflict in Ukraine has produced multiple claimants for them. Both the Ukrainian and Russian governments have declared themselves the rightful owners of the artifacts; the Russian claim is based upon its current control of the Crimea, where the lending museums are located, as well as a claimed cultural affinity with the ancient cultures which created the objects. Ukraine likewise holds that it has the primary historical connection to the objects, and that because the museums were under Ukrainian governance at the time of the loan, Russia’s claim to Crimea is illegitimate, the product of an unjustified invasion. Read more

Chinese Demand for Return of Stele Mixes Politics and Heritage

August 21, 2014.  A Chinese WWII reparations advocacy group, the China Federation of Demanding Compensation from Japan (CFDC), has requested the return of a 1,300-year-old stele brought to Japan from northeastern China as a trophy at the conclusion of the Russo-Japanese War. Since its 1908 arrival in Japan, the stele has sat in  the Japanese Imperial family’s private gardens. Neither Chinese nor Japanese scholars have been permitted access to the stele since its removal, though photographs of its inscriptions reveal it to be an important artifact that was used to mark the northernmost extent of the Tang dynasty’s territory. The Chinese claims to ownership of the stele are complicated by the fact that, although the stele’s original location is now the Chinese city of Dalian, at the time the land was ruled by a Tang-supported monarchy viewed by some scholars as culturally and historically Korean. Read more

TombReader App Reads Hieroglyphs Directly from Artifacts

August 10, 2014  Software developer Jan Van Gemert of the University of Amsterdam has utilized the hieroglyphic resources of the Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam to develop an application, TombReader, that can be used to translate Egyptian hieroglyphs. The development team have announced release of the first alpha version of the app. The process is as follows: first a picture is taken from a tomb wall. The smart phone app will locate and classify each individual hieroglyph. Database matching with known and already translated texts yields the translation and any desired amount of meta-data associated with the object or the texts. One of the most challenging elements was to improve detection, which is the ability to localize hieroglyphs in a photo prior to knowing what the type is. The app is capable of finding the columns along which the hieroglyphs are written, as well as finding the cartouches that depict the name of a Pharaoh.  Read more

Digitization of Peabody Essex Museum Library

August 31, 2014 The Peabody Essex Museum of Salem, Massachusetts has announced the completion of a major digitization project at the Phillips Library, one of the largest museum libraries in the US. The three year long project of library renovation involved the digitization of more than 250,000 records, including over 50,000 items that are unique to the Phillips Library collection. The library has collected books, ephemera, broadsides, and pamphlets since 1799 and has been a particularly rich resource for scholars of maritime history and trade, American decorative arts, Asian art and culture, Native American history and art, and the art and culture of Oceania. The library provides access for the general public to 400,000 printed volumes and more than a mile of shelves of manuscripts. The project included digitizing and making publicly available some 80,000 images on the China trade. The digitized records are available worldwide via the Phillips Library website ( and through OCLC/Worldcat. Read more

Team of Myanmar Divers Says It Located Dhammazedi Bell

August 26, 2014  A team of local Myanmar divers claims to have located the legendary Dhammazedi bell in the Yangon River, but many observers remain skeptical of the giant bell’s existence. The bell is said to have been the largest bell ever cast. It was cast on 5 February 1484 by order of King Dhammazedi of Hanthawaddy Pegu. Portuguese mercenary and merchant Filipe De Brito e Nicote stole the giant bell, weighing almost 300 tons, from the Shwedagon Pagoda in the 1600s. After removing it, it was rolled down a hill to a raft and then hauled by elephants to the river, where the raft was lashed to De Brito’s flagship.  The weight of the bell is said to have sunk the boat on which it was being transported.  Read more…

Giant Alexandrine Period Tomb Discovered in Northern Greece

August 22, 2014  Archaeologists working in northern Greece recently unearthed a massive tomb which appears to have been built in the mid 4th century BCE, soon after the death of Alexander the Great. Although the excavators do not believe the tomb was intended for Alexander, who died in Babylon, there is speculation that it was built for a member of the Macedonian royal family, or for Nearchus, one of Alexander’s generals. The tomb’s architect was Descartes of Rhodes, who was employed by Alexander to assist in the design of Alexandria. Read more

My Way or the Highway – Austin Declaration on the Excavation of Archaeological Material in the Popular Media

August 12, 2014  Archeological groups gathered in Texas issued the Austin Declaration today, demanding that popular media deny news coverage to archeological investigations – worldwide and presumably including underwater exploration – unless the researchers meet textbook scientific standards. The declaration appears aimed at popular programming that celebrates discovery more than the analysis and scientific testing that often comes later.  The declaration goes beyond demands for full documentation and publication, which all would agree are imperative; it also requires a level of rigorous scientific testing that may mot be available in harsh conditions of excavation or in less developed countries without liberal funding for archeological work. Read more, including the text of the Declaration…

Two Major Getty Appointments: Spier & Gasparatto

August 22, 2014.  Two new appointments have been made at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Dr. Jeffrey B. Spier, of the Department of Classics at the University of Arizona will serve as the Senior Curator of Antiquities. Dr. Spier is well known for his research into Roman, Ancient Greek, and Near Eastern art history, and noted for his particular expertise on ancient gems. The post of Senor Curator of Paintings will be filled by Dr. Davide Gasparotto, formerly the director of the Galleria Estense in Modena, Italy, Senior Curator of Paintings, and Dr. Gasparotto has curated several major exhibitions of Renaissance and Medieval art, and has published numerous works on Italian art from 1600-1800. (Image: Dr. Jeffrey B. Spier)

Last But Not Least: Sphinx Replica Still in Place in China’s Hebei Province

August 2, 2014 Visitors and Chinese locals continue to enjoy the full-size replica of the Sphinx in Donggou village in north China’s Hebei province. Egyptian officials have demanded that the Sphinx be demolished: Minister of Antiquities Mohamed Ibrahim announced in May 2014 that Egypt was filing a complaint with UNESCO. The Minister said he feared the replica would have a negative effect on the Egyptian tourism industry because it harms the country’s “cultural heritage.” However, neither Egyptian nor Chinese law contemplates copyright protections lasting thousands of years.  Read more

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