Saturday, September 13, 2014

New human remains trade research in the SAA 2015 illicit antiquities panel

Its been awhile, so here's wishing everyone well! I am still brainstorming new ideas and directions for this blog in among the continued deluge of post-doctoral research and writing obligations, plus the added bonus of having family and future in-laws in town (tour guiding around DC...feeling like a local now). Life is good, but oh so hectic.

Therefore, this is just a quick place holder post to announce the excellent panel on illicit antiquities trade issues put together by Dr. Donna Yates for next year's Society for American Archaeology conference. San Francisco!! I am really looking forward to participating; working once again with my friend and mentor Prof. Duncan Chappell to present an update of the ongoing research into the online trade in human remains that we began with this paper and continued discussing here. Several new cases have come to light, and more undoubtedly will before April, thus providing new angles to explore, legal scenarios to examine, and further our ability to discus how better to achieve transparency. There promises to be plenty of pictures for sure.

The panel itself will be very hard hitting; covering diverse regions, numerous high-profile cases, grounded in comparative theory, and cutting-edge in focus. If you will be attending the conference (or will be in the San Fran area and want to crash the world's preeminent gathering of archaeologists), then come on by. More details of exact day, time, and place to come.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Bare Bones of Summer


Wonder of wonders, I'm back! After a long hiatus as the summer schedule continues to ramp up (like the brilliant 4th of July fireworks display I viewed from my rooftop), I finally have the time to provide an update on my goings on. To be completely honest, the delay is posting has also been due to my being uncertain of this blog's future direction. Besides just describing my own work and activities, where do you readers think I should go?

Should I return to trying to find and disseminate solely Southern Hemisphere looting related news stories? Perhaps return to identifying and asking the tough questions of online dealers whom I suspect of not performing due diligence, or providing their potential online clientele of real proof of said diligence? Where should "It Surfaced Down Under" surface next?

In the meantime, the first thing I can report is that the Geneva conference went very well. A small group of legal, criminological and archaeological professionals, including reps from INTERPOL, Christies and Sotheby's (both encouragingly and surprisingly), the Art Loss Register, and my colleagues over at Trafficking Culture; all gave stimulating talks and/or participated in informative round-table discussions.

The latest cases were discussed, including such current controversies as the recently-sold Sekhemka statue, Nazi art restitution, legal situations from around the world, and even a great example of a small museum (Menil Foundation) "doing the right thing" in working with a country (Cyprus) to display, document and return pieces known to have been looted (Lysi Frescoes). Hats off to Dr. Derek Fincham for that one.

Although I wouldn't liked to have seen more talks or another panel focus on on-the-ground looting situations, all in all, it was informative. I think most delegates left united in thinking that the time is now to redirect much more attention towards breaking down criminal networks as opposed to repatriation after the fact, when it's "too late." As Dr. Neil Brodie  so eloquently put it: "If someone throws a brick through my window, I don't want the cops to bring me the broken glass. I want them to bring me the guy who threw the brick!"

My own talk, summarizing the general findings of the Hanoi fieldwork that myself and Prof. Duncan Chappell undertook in January, provided some South East Asian perspective on the problem and helped to continue to (slowly) put Vietnam on the map, in terms of what we know about region-wide trafficking. Food was delicious (fondue!), accommodation generously provided for two nights, and the time I took before and after to explore rewarded me with lakeside hiking, trips to museums as varied as Red Cross and Natural History, art galleries, and more.

The Uni-Mail campus has a bit of a Bauhaus feel to its design, but was located in a cool student-y neighborhood and the whole city was easy to navigate by (numerous!) public transport options. The deep history of the city was reflected best in the Old Town with its huge St. Pierre Cathedral and the massive excavation underneath it. A must see! All in all, a very worthwhile trip. Even just to visit (if you have the $...expensive!), Geneva is worth a look.

Back in DC, work at the Smithsonian continues apace. Four of my seven-eight skeletal assemblages are now located, preliminarily examined, and sampled, with the addition of a 2nd Bronze Age (c. 4,000 BP) group from Bahrain and a group of Romans from c. 3rd century AD, Jordan. This latter site should be particularly interesting, as some previous research by others suggests this (salvaged) cemetery represents a military garrison population of men perhaps sent to the provinces with their families. Much more research will ensue, and it will be great to see whether or not the isotopic chemistry (once it begins...) can clarify things. An in-house talk I given just after I returned (with jetlag...fun times!) at the Smithsonian Conservation Conference gave an overview of what's in the works.

The summer interns chug along; almost finished in fact. They represent an array of projects across numerous areas of museum conservation research, but also archaeological science, two bioarch projects, and folks interested in isotopes in totally different fields such as paleobotany, marine biology of living squids, etc. Its been really cool to learn from them, help when I can,  and have some other enthusiastic people around the office commons and labs. Science can be isolating; cherish when it's not!

In that vein, I am also working towards getting involved in the excellent Q?rius program of school-group outreach in the fall, and trying to work in a day/week to volunteer on a local excavation. I attended the small but vibrant local DC "Day of Archaeology" fair this past Saturday; a great opportunity to meet and network with numerous CRM firms and community outreach groups. With lab work coming out my ears, digging for data (and the people it represents) will make a welcome change. A top contender so far is volunteering on a project that is trying to locate and define the extent of the "negro burying ground" on the former estate of George Washington at Mt. Vernon!

The last bit of news I'll report only briefly here, as I am writing a more in-depth blog post about it over on SAFECorner. I am happy to announce that my and Prof. Chappell's first of two certain publications for this year has been released in early-view online! In it, we provide what I feel is a respectable update and 'snapshot' of the nebulous, poorly-understood, trade in archaeological and ethnographic human remains (mummies, trophy skulls, curios, etc.) c. 2013. Wish me/us luck for a speedy and positive review of what we have waiting in the wings!

With background, case studies, and visuals, we discuss what we know about who's buying and selling from a legal, criminological and physical anthropological perspective. Given that this represents preliminary work on an ever-changing topic, there is more we wish to do with this. As always, finding time and/or funding is the challenge, but let this be a first step.

So, until we meet again, good luck in all things, and constant vigilance! Change is afoot here, but I think that can only be a good thing.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Suisse Incroyable!

Just a quick update from the middle of a very busy storm. Post-doc work is going well as I locate and continue to do preliminary recording and sampling of my skeletal assemblages. This sees me running between my office, two different collection locations, and the various labs at MCI, all the while dodging the very productive undergrad summer interns who've now arrived. I look forward to working with them and helping with at least one project.  

This summer should also contain my first extended period of time working at U. Maryland-College Park. Once the bureaucratic overlords are appeased, I look forward to diving into the Sr (strontium) chemistry. I will also present SI-internally at this conference; sharing a general overview of isotopic bioarchaeology and what I will do for my project.

On the antiquities front, I am off to Switzerland tomorrow (!!!) to present at the first All Art and Heritage Law Conference on behalf of my U Sydney colleague and I, in regards to nascent investigations of the Vietnamese/Hanoi antiquities trade. Very excited to see a new city (Geneva) that I've never been to and meet/learn from some true experts in this area. Hope I do it justice. As usual, not looking forward to the long, draining flights... For those of you who follow me on Twitter, I will attempt semi-live tweeting as well, provided I get good WiFi.

In other news, I am pleased to announce that my and this same colleague's recent paper on the global online human remains trade will be released soon in Crime, Law, and Social Change. Long time coming, but we feel it's a good start to updating, and thus better understanding and monitoring, this overlooked aspect of cultural property trafficking. A week ago, myself, several colleagues old and new (including members of SAFE and The Antiquities Coalition) attended the CPAC hearing at the State Det. to decide on an MoU with Egypt. The room was packed to hear arguments both for and against...but I feel the outcome will be a clear win. You can read more about it here and here.

I am also happy to help to drum up press for the new book due out in October, in which a chapter by us (submitted from a talk given in February 2013!) will be found. Contemporary Perspectives on the Detection, Investigation and Prosecution of Art Crime (Ashgate Press). As other articles, chapters, and parts of my PhD enter and hopefully survive the review-process wringer, you'll hear about 'em!

That's me, signing off. There will be stories and a conference summary when I return. Till next time, constant vigilance!






Wednesday, May 7, 2014

DC: Initial Journeys

Just in case y'all were wondering, this post can confirm I'm still alive! I've hit the ground running here in DC, diving head first into my exciting new project. Despite the seemingly never-ending admin necessary to enter the Smithsonian network, I have managed to find the time to travel and (begin) to explore around DC, make an empty apartment into a home, and enjoy the wonderful spring weather (while it lasts). Life has been very hectic but fun, and a routine is now more or less established. While I have yet to work within the grand old Natural History Museum building (photo courtesy of the author), I will, and I can't wait! Wish me luck, and a good map; that place is huge!

On the illicit antiquities trade research front, things also continue to go well. Especially now that I am on the ground, I am only just beginning to appreciate the number and variety of relevant events I can potentially access and learn from, whether at the Smithsonian or not. I was fortunate enough to attend a lecture by SAFE Beacon Award winner Dr. Monica Hanna (reviewed here) at the Woodrow Wilson Centre (very prestigious, but a good audience). On the other hand, I was also fortunate enough to attend a small workshop entitled "Round table on Reform: U.S. Cultural Property Policy, Law and the Public Interest," held at the National Press Club. Quiet the eye opening event! 

A full transcript of the April 10th, 2014 symposium on which the round table followed on from is available here, but myself and a colleague are working on a more in-depth op-ed that lays out our reflections on what we saw (just as soon as I gather mine from among my notes and the myriad other tasks that accompany the start of a post-doctoral project). Suffice to say, while a few fair points were raised by the speakers, I (and probably any other illicit-trade savvy archaeologist in the room) left with a bad taste in our mouths... That being said, it can only be a good thing that such meetings are accessible and free to the (registered) public. This can only bolster further dialog. 

Speaking of new research, I am also happy to report that (by some miracle) some funding has been found for me to attend a small but important art crime and cultural heritage law conference in Geneva, Switzerland, this June. On behalf of my colleague Prof. Duncan Chappell, I will present a summary of our pilot research in Vietnam this past January, to an audience that (excitingly) includes many big names in the biz...people whose work I admire and who I've wanted to meet for some time. How I, perhaps the sole archaeologist and/or bioarchaeologist in the room will be accepted is unknown, but perhaps that just means my talk and perspective will be that much more unique? Hope so! 

So, to those who follow my exploits, please "watch this space" as things continue to develop into the summer. Publications will be submitted, released and shared, cool guest lectures will be attended, museums explored and written about, and science will march onwards! Summer undergraduate interns arrive soon, and all Fellows are expected to give a presentation related to their project as well as help staff advisers manage the mob. Exposing eager minds to cutting-edge archaeological research at the Smithsonian as it happens will (should be...) a treat. If the rising humidity (and the rising tide of tiny school children touring the stately halls) don't swallow me up first. What will happen next? Stay tuned! 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Road Goes Ever On and On...

Well, the day has finally arrived! As of tomorrow, I am off to Washington DC to begin what should be an amazingly productive, educational and fun two years of (very hard) work as a post-doc at the Smithsonian! Although my region of focus (in terms of bioarchaeological research) will move from Southeast Asia to Central Asia and the Near-East, it is guaranteed that my scientific skills will continue to develop, and my participation in antiquities trade research and public outreach grow immensely. Opportunities abound!

In the last couple of months, in and amongst packing and running around, the writing up of some intriguing and somewhat unexpected findings from the period of investigatory fieldwork in Hanoi last January is occurring apace, with publications to be submitted soon. Furthermore, I had the honour of taking part in a new TV documentary series being produced by the ABC 4 Corners program (to air on the 24th), in which the ins-and-outs of the Kapoor case as it currently stands will be discussed, from multiple angles. Though my time on camera might be short (whew!), participating was a novel experience for me.

I will miss Sydney and Australia terribly, but know that both academic and personal connections will keep me coming back. I leave thankful for all the great friends and colleagues made, experiences shared, collaborations begun, and all around fun I was able to have. Like the most complex of  courtroom dramas, I foresee many twists and turns in the road, but the journey has been wonderful so far.

Stay tuned for more updates as events warrant, and see you on the flip side!

Monday, February 3, 2014

I Have Re-Surfaced Down Under!

Greetings, archaeo-blogosphere! I have triumphantly returned from a successful conference and fieldwork trip to Cambodia and Vietnam. The IPPA conference was a smash hit, and my panel on the illicit antiquities trade in Southeast Asia garnered much more attention than I expected, to my great honour. I feel that this topic is finally "on the radar" for our region, so that documentation, research, and advocacy will increase.

What's more, it was fun to participate in the "live-Tweet" team, organized by my colleague Noel Hidalgo-Tan. We successfully, I think, covered a wide spectrum of talks and topics during the conference as they occurred! I had never done this before, but will do so again.

My time in Hanoi was also very productive. Besides catching up with old friends and colleagues, there was much learned and some (I feel) very important data gathered. While there is not much I am really at liberty to blog about at the moment, I'm sure that as time goes on, this might change.

It was lovely to be in Vietnam again for the Tet New Year (Year of the Horse), and I look forward to my next chance to visit and continue this project throughout the country someday. For now, I look forward (with trepidation) to the two months to come, where "organized chaos" will rule my life as I prepare for an international move. Wish me luck! Until next time.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Season's Greetings!

Season's Greetings to all of you in the cultural heritage blogosphere who visited my home in cyberspace this past year, or may do so in 2014. This is just to confirm that I'm still alive, so be prepared for more news and updates on my travels and adventures. As a preview, I can report that I will attend the IPPA (Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association) conference in Siem Reap, Cambodia in January. I am honored to be able to host a small panel on the illicit trade in Southeast Asia, which should bring together speakers who can offer both archaeological and legal/criminological insight as applied to that region of the world.

From there, I am Hanoi bound for two weeks in order to conduct "pilot" research for what I hope will be a long term project to better understand the antiquities trade within and from Vietnam using quantitative and qualitative data (see initial announcement here in the Oct. 1st post). Planning continues apace, but as always with research in this part of the world, some aspects will be played by ear. However, good outcomes are anticipated by myself and all involved.

As a final happy announcement, I am overjoyed to report that I will officially be a post-doctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Institution from April next year. Yes, this does mean that I am DC bound. I will maintain three affiliations, be engaged in what should be a very exciting bioarchaeology research project, and also be well positioned (I feel) to keep things going in regards to antiquities trade research (and the application of archaeological science to it) and public outreach. So, whilst updates here might be intermittent (more so!) from February through April, once I've arrived I will do my best to tap into the Smithsonian's wider outreach and training programs as a way to share what I do with an even wider audience and do new things to boot. Stay tuned!

As we close out 2013 (where did it go?!), may I take this chance to wish one and all Happy Holidays and a joyous New Year.