ArtiFACTS: Recent News in Archaeology 8/15/06

Artifact Thieves in Russia
This story of looting cultural resources is a real drama, too! The thieves of over 221 items from the St. Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum in Russia turned out to be the husband and son of the Museum’s curator. The curator apparently suffered a heart attack as the museum stores were being inventoried. It isn’t clear in the article whether or not the heart attack was related to the shock of discovering that the missing artifacts “included dozens of precious icons, gold and silver 18th- and 19th-century jewelry, elaborate clocks, and gem-studded chalices and crosses.”

According to the Hermitage Museum’s website, antiques dealers and collectors have worked to recover and return several of the stolen artifacts

Caddo Pottery Theft
Afarensis first blogged this here. But since this edition of ArtiFACTS is dominated by looting and theft of cultural resources, it would be silly not to include it.

The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas reported, Indian bowls, bottles taken from locked room at Southern Arkansas University. Brazen thieves stole the centuries old ceramics from the university storeroom maintained by the Arkansas Archeological Survey’s Research Station. The 26 prehistoric vessels were excavated from the Cedar Grove site in Lafayette County, Arkansas and are federal property, belonging to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Arkansas Archaeological Survey reports that photographs and documentation of each of the vessels is thorough enough to make sale of the items very difficult.

For a list and photographs of the pottery, click here [.pdf].

For an overview of the Caddo Pottery Tradition, click here.

Sumerian Loot Recovered
The headless statue of the Sumerian king Entemena of Lagash was returned by the United States to Iraq. The statue, weighing hundreds of pounds, was stolen from the National Museum in Iraq as the U.S. invaded in 2003. Too heavy to be easily lifted, it was bounced down the steps of the Museum, damaging both the artifact as well as the steps and other artifacts.

The NY Times is quoted:

American officials declined to discuss how they recovered the statue, saying that to do so might impair their efforts to retrieve other artifacts. But people with knowledge of the episode described a narrative that included antiquities smugglers, international art dealers and an Iraqi expatriate businessman referred to as the broker who was the linchpin in efforts to recover the piece and bring it to the United States.

The statue was headless when originally excavated, a political move not uncommon in antiquity OR modernity. After all, Saddam’s statue was being pulled down just miles away even as Entemena’s, whose head was removed several thousand years ago, perhaps for similar reasons, was being carted away for sale.


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