Sunday, August 12, 2012

The looting and protection of the Amluk-Dara stupa

A recent article by the International Herald Tribune, the local paper out of Islamabad, Pakistan, details the recent "re-discovery," looting and now protection and scientific excavation of a very important Gandharan era site (see larger photo here). The Amluk-Dara stupa, located in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province near Mt. Elum, is currently being salvaged by that province's archaeological department, in conjunction with the Italian Archaeological Mission.

It was apparently first discovered in 1926, then later re-studied in the 60s and 70s, but then fell into a period of looting. It has recently been acquired along with a series of other sites in the Swat valley, and the stupa itself apparently dates from the 3rd to 10th centuries and, remarkably, was one of the few sites still visited at the end of that period, when "90% of the Buddhist sites in the Swat valley had already been abandoned." If the site (and surrounding sites) are now truly "100% protected," as is claimed, then indeed much potential exists for open-air excavation and restoration projects to make them into major tourist drawcards, if funding can be found.

Careful excavation of such Gandharan period sites is all the more important given the known international smuggling of artifacts large and small from the region, even if the proportion of forgeries also seems to be high (here). Collectors and dealers might publish readily accessable guides regarding how to spot fakes, but this does not absolve anyone willingly on the demand side of the trade from responsibility in performing due diligence or supporting continued looting.

I will provide updates with news about both the excavation and related tourism, Heritage and outreach efforts as I hear it. All credit needs to go to both the Pakistani and Italian professionals who are leading this effort at what is likely great expense in a remote area. Keep up the good work!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Destroying Syria's Past...

This excellent report, compiled in May, is just too important not to share. It details the massive damage still occurring to Syrian archaeological sites of all time periods, with or without World Heritage listing. It also documents the even more recent looting of some key museums (e.g. the Homs museum), and the involvement of players on all sides of the conflict. Despite repeated and ongoing calls for on-the-ground help and greater contingency efforts, it appears that the situation remains grave. Another excellent summary can be found here, with video testimony.

Much praise needs to go to Mrs. Cunliffe, of Durham University, for her hard work in bringing this information to light, and in such a multifaceted way. The use of photos, media links, YouTube etc. is, in my opinion, an ideal combination of resources that can ensure the facts reach the widest possible audience and stick. Unfortunately, it seems that the desperate times inherent in such situations of "cultural heritage in conflict" is the very reason behind the production and availability of such materials. Thus, the biggest kudos goes to those Syrian archaeologists and concerned citizens who are watching this happen and doing their best to do something about it.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Updates on Two Ongoing Cases...

In regards to the Kapoor and Koh Ker statue cases that I originally assisted in tracking or exposing, here are some excellent updates recently reported. Once my doctorate is finished, I will return to more regular and weighty posts where possible, as well as new topics as they arise!

-Regarding Cambodia vs. Sotheby's, the case now seems to be locked in a legal battle between Sotheby's lawyers and the US District attorney. Sotheby's is still prohibited from moving or selling the piece, and the fight will resume on the 12th April. My colleague Jason Felch reports for the LA times here, and Chasing Aphrodite has a great summary here.

-Regarding the Kapoor case, the global network of his contacts and charitable (tax deductible?) "gifts" is slowly being revealed (see Chasing Aphrodite again here). I predict that as more investigations occur, more antiquities trafficked from outside Tamil Nadu and beyond will be revealed. Does this include the alleged smuggling of Buddhist statuary and antiquities out of Afghanistan, and might they have ended up in galleries such as this one, investigated by Australian authorities once before?

Particularly interesting to me is the presence of antiquities (in the LACMA collection and elsewhere?) gifted by Kapoor's brother Ramesh via his independent Kapoor Galleries. I personally visited this gallery as well in 2010 and can attest that it is smaller is size/scope than Art of the Past and allegedly trades more in historic pieces and paintings. Is Subhash Kapoor merely trying to foist blame onto his innocent siblings and daughter (here), or are they more connected than we realize?

Of course, an investigation is currently underway regarding the National Gallery of Australia's Shiva statue, one of 21 artifacts purchased from Kapoor (see photo above, © The Australian). Several press releases have occurred locally (here, here, and here). I can personally attest to having been briefly interviewed for Mrs. Boland's article in The Australian, but more relevant authorities as to the specific legal matters were also approached. An additional update as of August 6th is that the Art Gallery of NSW has also purchased from Kapoor and is now under investigation (see reporting here). Another relevant question is what will recently proposed Immunity from Seizure acts currently moving through the Australian Parliament mean for repatriation or prosecution? More developments on these cases and others will be broken or shared here as situations warrant.