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Ancient Art News & Exhibitions from here and around the World

Study reveals 'oldest jewellery'
By Paul Rincon
Science reporter, BBC News
The earliest known pieces of jewellery made by modern humans have been identified by scientists. The three shell beads are between 90,000 and 100,000 years old, according to an international research team. Two of the ancient beads come from Skhul Cave on the slopes of Mount Carmel in Israel. The other comes from the site of Oued Djebbana in Algeria. The finds, which pre-date other ancient examples by 25,000 years, are described in the US journal Science.
The pea-sized items all have similar holes which would have allowed them to be strung together into a necklace or bracelet, the researchers believe.
It supports my thought that there are no great revolutions in the evolution of modern human behaviour - it is a gradual process Alison Brooks, George Washington University. All three shells come from the same genus of marine mollusc known as Nassarius ; they were probably selected for their size and deliberately perforated with a sharp flint tool. They represent a remarkable early expression of modern behaviour in the archaeological record, experts say.
"The interesting thing about necklaces and this kind of behaviour is that it is symbolic. When we wear items like this, we are sending a message," said co-author Professor Chris Stringer of London's Natural History Museum.
"The message may be that we are powerful, or wealthy, or sexy, that we're part of a particular group, or to ward off evil. They're not just decorative; we think they had a social meaning."
Remote locations
Chemical and elemental analysis of sediments stuck to one of the shells from Skhul showed that it came from ground layers dated to 100,000 years ago.
The style of tools at Oued Djebbana suggests the single specimen from this open-air site might be up to 90,000 years old.
The authors' case for the shells having been used as beads is based on the remote location of the sites where they were found and the nature of the perforations in them.
"The fact they are there at all means they were transported by people to [Skhul] cave; these are seashells and the sea was never that close to the cave," Professor Stringer told BBC Radio 4's Leading Edge programme. Similarly, Oued Djebbana is located about 200km (120 miles) from the Mediterranean Sea.
"We're confident these were artificially made. The position of the holes are exactly where people drill shells like this when they are making necklaces."
In addition, he added, the probability of finding two shells with holes in this position is at least one in a thousand. The objects provide a clear example of the complex, symbolic behaviour that would appear to set our species apart from the animal world.
Modern thinking
Up until recently, examples of modern behaviour before 50,000 years ago had eluded researchers, even though humans with modern-looking anatomy are known in the fossil record from about 195,000 years ago onward.
This had led some researchers to propose that modern anatomy and modern behaviour did not evolve in tandem.
Instead, they argued, a fortuitous mutation in the human brain may have triggered an explosion in human creativity 50,000 years ago, leading to a sudden appearance of personal ornaments, skilfully-crafted art, novel tools and weapons.
The discovery of 75,000-year-old Nassarius shell beads at Blombos Cave in South Africa challenged this idea. These beads even bore traces of red ochre, used as a pigment. Now the dates for beads from Skhul and Oued Djebbana further weaken the "cultural explosion" scenario, says Stringer.
Professor Alison Brooks, an expert in African archaeology at George Washington University, US, said the study was "very well researched".
"I am not surprised because I have long thought that the wide variety of bead types that we see during the Upper Palaeolithic in Europe had to have an antecedent. And this tradition is a very logical antecedent," she told the BBC News website.
"It supports my thought that there are no great revolutions in the evolution of modern human behaviour - it is a gradual process."
Cooking up
But the apparent antiquity of symbolic behaviour raises questions about the time it took for modern humans to expand into the rest of the world.
"There was a long period where modern humans survived in the African world and into part of the Near East, but never expanded into western Europe," Professor Ofer Bar-Yosef of Harvard University, US, told the BBC News website.
"I think you have a 'cooking' or 'brewing' period. Otherwise you have to explain, for example, why the industrial revolution in England took place around 1850 and rapidly expanded across the channel to Europe and then across the Atlantic to America. "In fact, we know from historical records that the development of scientific methods and the development of machinery took about 200 years before there was a 'breakout'." The marine shells from Skhul are held by the Natural History Museum in London, while the shell bead from Oued Djebbana is held by the Museum of Man in Paris.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2006/06/22 20:24:34 GMT

The Rubin Museum of Art is New York's newest museum. Opened on October 2nd, 2004, it is the first museum in the Western World dedicated to the art of the Himalayas and surrounding regions. The museum's mission is to establish, present, preserve and document a permanent collection that reflects the vitality, complexity and historical significance of Himalayan art.

Monday: 11 am–5pm
Tuesday: Closed
Wednesday: 11 am–7 pm
Thursday: 11 am–5 pm
Friday: 11 am–10 pm
Saturday: 11 am–6 pm
Sunday: 11 am–6 pm
The museum is closed on Tuesdays, Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Year's Day.
RMA is located in the Chelsea district of New York City at the corner of 17th street and 7th Avenue.150 West 17th Street
New York, NY 10011 - Tel 212-620-5000
Admission: Adults: $10.00
Seniors/Students/Artists with ID: $7
Neighbors (zip codes 10011 & 10001 with ID): $7
Children (under 12): Free
Free to all Fridays 7–10 pm

The British Museum

Mummy: The Inside Story
The BP special exhibition
Repeated daily showings, until 14 August
To reserve tickets call 011+44 (0)20 7323 8181

An extraordinary, virtual reality film narrated by Sir Ian McKellen and accompanying exhibition. For the first time, the unopened 3000-year-old mummy of Nesperennub, priest of Karnak, reveals its secrets. Data obtained using a CT scanner has been transformed into a unique 'virtual mummy'. Look inside the mummy-case, under the wrappings, even travel inside the body, and wonder at Nesperennub's recreated face. An unmissable and extraordinary opportunity to learn more about the life and death of the Ancient Egyptians.

Admission £6, concessions £3
Children aged 5–16 £3, under 5s free
Family ticket £15
Extended until 14 August

Valley of Kings Online LONDON

The Theban Mapping Project, under the direction of Kent Weeks of the American University in Cairo, has been working to establish a comprehensive database of the Valley of the Kings in Egypt for the past 23 years. It has now launched an interactive website (www.thebanmappingproject.com) that presents its work with state of the art virtual technology. The site includes an interactive atlas of more than 250 tomb mappings; 66 narrated tours of the Valley including a 3D exploration of one of the largest tombs, KV14; a database of some 2,000 images, and articles about the site including a glossary, bibliography and timeline. Details of KV5, the tomb belonging to the sons of Pharaoh Rameses II which was discovered by Dr Weeks in 1995, are also online.

From The ArtNewspaper

The Metropolitan Museum of Art -

Heritage of Power: Ancient Sculpture from West Mexico
The Andrall E. Pearson Family Collection

October 19, 2004–April 3, 2005
The Michael C. Rockefeller Wing, 1st floor
Created to acknowledge many of life’s important events, the ceramic sculpture of the western region of Mexico from 2,000 years ago is noted for its variety, spontaneity, and the overwhelming presence of the human image. Heroes, houses, and ancestor pairs are rendered in three dimensions to give visual substance to prominent members of society and their significant activities on behalf of community and family, as well as to honor their forebears. Placed in major tombs, the sculptures commemorate the high social position, personal power, and wealth of the deceased. The more than forty works of ceramic that are on display come from the three major west Mexican regions—Colima, Jalisco, and Nayarit—and represent the primary style groups of Comala, Ameca-Ezatlán, and Ixtlán del Rio. The sculptures date between 300 B.C. and A.D. 400 and include depictions of birds and animals.
Accompanied by a catalogue

The Aztec Empire - Guggenheim Museum, N.Y.

The Renaissance, an intellectual movement in the sciences and the arts of 15th-century Europe, had its counterpart in ancient Mexico, where two powerful indigenous states flourished, the Aztec empire, and its neighbor and traditional enemy, the Tarascan empire. The Aztec Empire re-creates this period, bringing together a great number of art objects created by the various peoples who lived at this time, during the period that is known as the Late Postclassic. The historic origins of the Aztec empire lie in a the military coalition known as the Triple Alliance. Three emerging states formed this union: the Mexica-Aztecs, whose capital city was Mexico-Tenochtitlan, renowned in its time; the Acolhua with Tetzcoco as their main city, considered the cultural center par excellence; and Tlacopan, which united the survivors of the ancient domain that once dominated the Valley of Mexico. The Aztecs shrewdly imposed their hierarchy on their allies and extended their dominion to the coasts of the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. They acquired power and riches based on a strict system of tributes, so that upon the arrival of the Spaniards in the early 16th century, their capital was considered the most significant and majestic city of its time.

The dominant language among the allies was Nahuatl, which became the lingua franca for most of Mesoamerica and was used to name the geographical features of ancient Mexico, even replacing the terms of other ancestral languages. The other powerful indigenous state was the Tarascan empire, also known as Purepecha, whose main principal city was Tzintzuntzan. Toward the end of the Tarascan historical period, this city functioned as its political capital, from which the Tarascans dominated a broad area that included north-central and western Mexico. Their language was Porhe or Tarasco, fundamentally different from Nahuatl and not linked to any other language of ancient Mexico. With the expansion of the Aztec empire an international artistic style flourished. This artistic language, even more than Nahuatl, enabled the various cultures of the empire to communicate with each other and share their stories and the knowledge of their deities and rituals. Two extraordinary examples of the international style of the Aztec period are the sculptural images found in Coxcatlan of Coatlicue and Xiuhtecuhtli that constitute the introduction to the exhibition. As goddess of the earth, Coatlicue is the female expression of the creation and destruction of life. She is accompanied by Xiuhtecuhtli, the young god of fire, who as the essence of the masculine powers of light and heat also personifies the sun. The exhibition is divided into twelve themes that provide a thorough representation of Aztec society from its development to the zenith of the empire and its decline.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art ~ China: Dawn of a Golden Age, 200–750 AD
October 12, 2004–January 23, 2005
Special Exhibition Galleries, The Tisch Galleries, 2nd floor

Chinese civilization underwent a major transformation during the period spanning the turn of the 3rd century (Late Han dynasty) to the mid-8th century (High Tang dynasty) as a result of the massive immigration of people from Northern Asia into China and extensive trade contacts with all parts of Asia. This landmark exhibition tells the story of Chinese art and culture during this formative period, focusing especially on East–West cross-cultural interchange. Comprising some 300 objects—the majority of them recent archaeological finds—this is one of the largest exhibitions ever to come out of mainland China. While most of the objects are Chinese works of art, the exhibition also presents gold artifacts of the nomadic peoples from Mongolia, who entered North China after the collapse of the Han dynasty, and luxury articles of glass and precious metals imported from Western and Central Asia during the 4th to 6th centuries. Some of the most famous early Chinese Buddhist sculptures are also on view, as well as a spectacular assemblage of works in every medium from the Tang period, interpreted as the culmination of several centuries of cultural exchange and adaptation. An international symposium is planned in connection with this exhibition on Saturday, November 13. For further information, please e-mail lectures@metmuseum.org. This symposium is made possible by The Madeline & Kevin Brine Charitable Trust, Leon D. Black, and the Thaw Charitable Trust. The exhibition and its accompanying catalogue are made possible by The Starr Foundation.
Additional support for education programs has been provided by The Freeman Foundation.
Support for the catalogue has also been provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
An indemnity has been granted by the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

EGYPT ~ Valley of The Kings Online

The Theban Mapping Project, under the direction of Kent Weeks of the American University in Cairo, has been working to establish a comprehensive database of the Valley of the Kings in Egypt for the past 23 years. It has now launched an interactive website (www.thebanmappingproject.com) that presents its work with state of the art virtual technology. The site includes an interactive atlas of more than 250 tomb mappings; 66 narrated tours of the Valley including a 3D exploration of one of the largest tombs, KV14; a database of some 2,000 images, and articles about the site including a glossary, bibliography and timeline. Details of KV5, the tomb belonging to the sons of Pharaoh Rameses II which was discovered by Dr Weeks in 1995, are also online.

Ohio Museum Attributes a Purchase to Praxiteles

Published: June 22, 2004, N.Y. Times

The Cleveland Museum of Art has bought what it thinks is an ancient bronze sculpture of Apollo the Lizard Slayer by the classical Greek sculptor Praxiteles. If it is authentic, it will be one of the most important ancient bronzes in an American museum.

About five feet tall, the bronze Apollo originally depicted the young god pulling back a laurel sapling with his left hand while holding an arrow aimed at a lizard with his right. The image is known from two marble copies from the Roman period, in the Louvre and the Vatican.

Of the few known Greek sculptors of the fourth century B.C., Praxiteles is considered among the greatest. But ancient Greek sculpture was so fashionable under the Roman Empire that it was heavily copied by Roman artists, which makes it difficult for scholars to date.

The Roman historian Pliny the Elder saw what he considered to be the original sculpture in the first century. "Although Praxiteles was more successful and therefore more famous for his marble sculptures, he nevertheless also created beautiful works in bronze," Pliny wrote. "He made a youthful Apollo called Sauroktonos (Lizard Slayer), waiting in ambush for a creeping lizard, close at hand, with an arrow."

If the work is Greek and of the classical period, it will be the only monumental Greek bronze sculpture attributed to any Greek master through literary sources.

The purchase was made after a year of research, but the museum acknowledges that it has taken a gamble on whether it is Greek or Roman. "It's very important for us to make claims we can prove," said Katharine Lee Reid, director of the Cleveland Museum. "We all feel strongly that it is early and very important."

The museum had the bronze tested, Ms. Reid said, and the examination identified several stylistic and technical characteristics consistent with Greek monumental sculpture from the fourth and third centuries B.C., as well as techniques that continued into the Roman period. The bronze was cast in several sections and joined together. Additional indications that the work dates from the classical Greek era include the copper inlays of the lips and nipples, the stone insert of the right eye, the thick casting and the type of patches used for repairs, as well as the corrosion of the surface and the overall condition.

"When I saw it in Geneva, I thought it had all the hallmarks of being Greek," said Michael Bennett, the curator of Greek and Roman art at the Cleveland.

The museum bought the sculpture for an undisclosed price from Phoenix Ancient Art, a gallery with locations in Geneva and New York run by two brothers, Hicham and Ali Aboutaam. In December 2003, Hicham Aboutaam was arrested in New York and charged with bringing a silver drinking vessel into the United States from Iran and falsely claiming it came from Syria. He was released on bail and has yet to be indicted.

When asked about doing business with Phoenix Ancient Art, both Mr. Bennett and Ms. Reid said the gallery had sold antiquities to major museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and that they had done extensive research on the sculpture's provenance.

Ernst-Ulrich Walter, a lawyer now in his 80's, discovered the sculpture in 1994 after he had reclaimed his family's estate in the reunited Germany. The bronze was in pieces. Four years later, Dr. Lucia Marinescu, the former director of the National History Museum of Romania, toured the estate and saw the work still in fragments. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Walter sold it to a Dutch dealer, Mr. Bennett said. From 1994 to 2002 it passed through several hands, he said, but he is not sure who owned the piece during those years.

Officials at the Cleveland Museum said the sculpture was restored in 1994. It is missing the tree, the right arm from above the elbow and the left arm from the shoulder. The left hand and part of the forearm exist, detached from the figure, as does the lizard.

The Cleveland Museum has shown the work to several leading antiquities experts. David G. Mitten, a curator of ancient and Byzantine art at the Harvard University Art Museums, said: "There will be intense, ongoing debate about the precise date and attribution of this figure. What is already clear, however, is that we are most likely in the presence of an original Greek bronze statue of the middle to the second half of the fourth century B.C. or perhaps the very early third century B.C."

If it turns out that the work is indeed by Praxiteles, it will be an important discovery. If not, a Roman bronze is not nearly as historically significant.

Sometimes museums never know. In 1983 the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles bought a marble sculpture of a naked youth or kourus for about $9 million that many scholars now believe was made by a modern forger.

The Cleveland Museum plans a symposium on the work in April 2006 and is publishing a monograph as well. "It will be studied for years to come," Ms. Reid said.

Pilfered treasures a hard sell?
17/04/2003 09:14 - (SA)

New York - Thieves or fences of archeological treasures looted from the Baghdad Museum will have a hard, but not impossible time finding buyers on international markets, US experts and dealers say.

When Baghdad fell to allied forces, about 200 000 art objects from ancient Mesopotamia - virtually the capital's entire collection - were spirited from the museum, drawing a cry of grief from the international art community.

As the United Nations' Paris-based Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation Unesco mobilised to rescue the collection, sources in the highly specialised ancient art world said the quality and renown of Iraq's treasures made it near impossible for them to be trafficked through traditional channels.

"You can never do anything with artifacts from a museum, because they are all documented," said New York dealer Howard Nowes. "In the end, it's ridiculous. No one would go near those things.

"You can't buy something these days without a solid provenance: major auction houses or estates," he said.

"To make a quick, small profit, you lose in the long run, because it's terrible to try to deal with something from a museum. No dealer that I know would, all my friends, my colleagues."

Fayez Barakat, owner of a Los Angeles gallery, agreed.

"Before I buy any serious item of any kind, I usually send the Art Loss register a photograh of it and make sure it is free and clear for me to purchase and deal with it," he said.

Art Loss was set up in 1991 by leading art auction houses and insurance companies to create and manage an international database for stolen and missing art. With offices in New York, London and Cologne, the register is a working tool of both professional buyers and sellers.

"It's possible that some pieces are gone, resold, pass through a couple of different hands and perhaps enter the art market," said Anna Kisluk of Art Lost's New York office. "That's where collecting detailed information on what has been looted is critical.

"We hope that cataloging information exists for the Baghdad Museum. We're a database. In order for our system to function, we need the data," she said, adding that the register was in contact with Unesco, which was furnishing data on the missing Iraqi pieces.

Although the classic antique art market is tightly scrutinised, say experts, it is always possible for museum pieces to land on the black market.

"There are always very rich collectors that don't care," said Howard Nowes. "They want pieces and are sometimes ready to pay...You never know."

For Fayez Barakat, while most traders are scrupulous, "there are of course some bad art dealers in this world".

And to deal with that reality, discourage traffic in stolen artifacts and encourage restitution, Philippe de Montebello, director of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, has proposed total amnesty to thieves who voluntarily return their loot.

Moreover, he proposes that the international art community set up a fund to reward such restitutions.

The scheme would doubtless turn into a sort of buyback of Iraqi art from the thieves who stole it. But, seen from another angle, it would be a cut-rate way of salvaging the essence of Iraq's heritage for its people. - Sapa-AFP

New York Times, Thurday May 1st, 2003

Of 2,000 Treasures Stolen in Gulf War of 1991,

Only 12 Have Been Recovered


LONDON, April 30 — After a rampage of looting of museums in Iraq in the wake of the Persian Gulf war of 1991, American and British archaeologists compiled a list of more than 2,000 stolen objects, a sad catalog of losses to the history of civilization. Eleven years later, experts say, no more than half a dozen of the pieces have been tracked down.

Many others are presumed to have been traded away through a thriving international market in antiquities. The poor record of returning artifacts lost after the gulf war suggests the daunting obstacles that museum officials and police investigators face as they commit to finding items recently sacked from the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad and other sites. The plunder from 1991 added fuel to a global industry of scavengers, shippers and traders, who funneled stolen items from Iraq into the hands of private collectors overseas. While reputable dealers and owners insist they work hard to identify and avoid illicit goods, eager buyers continue to demand rare items, and the market flourishes.

"Sometimes we feel we are fighting a war we have already lost," said Manus Brinkman, secretary general of the International Council of Museums in Paris, one of many museum officials engaged in current recovery efforts.

The booty from the National Museum includes invaluable one-of-a-kind treasures as well as thousands of artifacts of everyday ancient life. John Curtis, who heads the British Museum's Near East department, said here Tuesday that paper records and microfilm were strewn about in a way that will take the staff "months if not years to sort out."

Museum curators and law enforcement officials say that the disarray and loss of documents will make it especially difficult to recoup the artifacts. To show that an item has been stolen, experts require papers tracing it to an ancient site or museum. Many Iraqi objects lost in the 1991 looting were removed from sites and understaffed museums that had no careful recording in photographs and catalogs.
"These cases can be a nightmare," said Tony Russell, a former detective sergeant with Scotland Yard's art squad, who is now with the James Mintz Group, an investigative agency. Stolen artifacts often disappear for years before emerging for sale. Other factors add to the difficulties: the ease with which material can slip through customs, the meager numbers of police assigned to art theft, and the circuitous trails of ownership in the world of trading.

More than 10,000 identified archaeological sites in Iraq hold remnants of Sumerian, Babylonian, Assyrian and other seminal cultures dating as far back as 10,000 years. A law adopted in the 1930's in Iraq makes it illegal to remove artifacts from the country without state permission. Archaeologists and dealers say that relatively few ancient pieces came out before the gulf war.

In the waning days of the fighting, 9 of 13 regional museums were ransacked. Experts believe that the early sprees were spontaneous, without participation by professional thieves. Subsequently, a system of organized smuggling developed. Collectors, dealers and law enforcement officials said that they frequently heard that Saddam Hussein's son Uday had a role in the trafficking.

In some areas of the countryside, Saddam Hussein, weakened after his rout by allied troops in the war, ceded some control to local leaders. McGuire Gibson, a professor of archaeology at the University of Chicago, said there were reports that these leaders would accept payments from intermediaries to allow ancient sites to be pillaged, often with small armies of local people digging for little compensation.
From the sites, law enforcement sources said, items often made their way to Amman, Jordan, a major trafficking point with an active bazaar and a few powerful dealers. One dealer named by several people in the trade was Ghassan Rihani, the former head of the Jordanian Antiquities Association. A wealthy Kuwaiti charged in a lawsuit that Mr. Rihani, who died in 2001, had sold items that were stolen from him by Iraqi soldiers during Iraq's 1991 occupation of Kuwait.

Mr. Rihani's son, Tamim, insisted in an interview that his father dealt only in legitimate artifacts.

From Jordan and other regional trade centers in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran and Syria, the goods often passed through Switzerland. Laws there are more favorable than in many other countries to buyers, who say they bought objects without knowing that they were stolen.

In London, dealers' stalls and showrooms were flooded by the mid-1990's with small tablets dating back 3,500 years or more, inscribed with cuneiform characters portraying daily life.

Before placing an antiquity on the market, dealers often tried to have them authenticated by experts, not to learn where they came from but to guard against fakes. Some archaeologists decline to participate in this verification, saying they are reluctant to assist a market that they believe only encourages smuggling.

One expert who validates authenticity is Wilfred Lambert, emeritus professor of the history of Assyria at the University of Birmingham in England. In a telephone interview, Professor Lambert estimated he had evaluated several hundred items from the region, working for several London dealers. He said that in a marketplace filled with copies and fakes, his role is limited to identifying the age and culture of objects and ascertaining that they are genuine.
Professor Lambert said that he does not offer to verify how an object came on the market. "I don't necessarily know where it comes from or how long it's been coming," he said. The dealers, he continued, "don't themselves, I suspect, very often."

"If I come across something that is clearly stolen I say so," he said, adding it had happened only once.

Today on eBay, the Internet auction site, it is easy to find a dozen or more auctions offering fragments of cuneiform writing and small cylindrical carved stones that were used to make seals, with final prices that don't top $100. EBay recently posted a notice that cautions sellers against trafficking in Iraqi booty.

The Howard Nowes Gallery in New York is typical of dozens of dealers. It advertises Iraqi amulets and cylinder seals for prices in the hundreds of dollars. Mr. Nowes said in an interview that he did not buy ancient items from people who walked in off the street. His Iraqi pieces, he said, came from the collection of a doctor on the East Side. "A dealer has to be very careful, do due diligence if you're in it for the long run," he said.
Mr. Nowes, like most dealers, said he demanded written assurances that items were not stolen and had been in the owner's possession for a substantial period of time. But he admitted there was often little other than good faith for backup.

So far there have been only unconfirmed reports of recently looted objects being offered for sale in the West. Antiquities experts said the most valuable artifacts taken from the Baghdad museum were too well known to be offered publicly for sale. They fear, however, that such items might disappear into obscure private collections far removed from the museum world, or worse, be melted down for their ore.

More commonplace jars, vases and tablets will surely make their way toward the market, authorities predicted. They warned that traders might try to sell in the coming six months, while museums are working to compile a catalog of the newly looted items. In a rare display of unity, dealers are joining with archaeologists and curators to declare they will try to stop any trade in Iraqi objects.

An account of a prominent case in which an artifact was successfully returned to Iraq illustrates how unlikely such episodes are, however. In 1995 Shlomo Moussaieff, a prominent London collector, paid about $15,000 to buy a relief taken from the site of the spectacular seventh-century palace at Nineveh.

In a telephone interview, Mr. Moussaieff said he bought the slab, which shows slaves pulling a boat, in a warehouse in the free port at the airport in Geneva, Switzerland, where much art commerce is conducted. According to court documents, the seller was Nabil Asfar, a well-known Lebanese dealer, apparently based in Brussels.

Mr. Moussaieff took the relief to England and then applied for an export license to ship it to Israel. He sent a picture to the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem, to see if curators there wanted to display it, according to newspaper accounts quoting his lawyer. The museum sent the picture for validation to John Malcolm Russell, an expert on Nineveh and now a professor at the Massachusetts College of Art.

Professor Russell said that he was soon shown pictures of two other fragments from the relief. He warned museum authorities that all of them had been stolen since he had seen the slab intact at Nineveh in 1989. English authorities reviewing Mr. Moussaieff's export request contacted experts at the British Museum, who recognized the relief from an article by Professor Russell. Scotland Yard alerted Iraqi authorities.

A suit brought by Iraq was settled when Mr. Moussaieff returned the relief and was reimbursed by the Baghdad government. Mr. Moussaieff maintained that he was unaware the piece had been stolen.
Professor Russell said he still did not know what had happened to the other pieces that he had been asked to examine, nor at least 10 other important stolen pieces he had identified. "They all just disappeared," he said.

Constance Lowenthal, a consultant on art ownership disputes who is based in New York, said that police and customs officials are going to have to study Iraq's extraordinarily rich and long history. "They are going to have to learn to recognize things from all the civilizations of Mesopotamia," she said.

"The Arts of Islam - Islamic Art and Patronage: Treasures from Kuwait"
2002-11-30 until 2003-01-27
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Sydney, , AU Australia

More than 120 of the finest examples of Islamic arts, ranging from jewel encrusted objects, rare ceramics, finely detailed miniatures and illustrated written texts, have been selected for the internationally touring exhibition The Arts of Islam - Islamic Art and Patronage: Treasures from Kuwait. This exhibition will be on view at the Art Gallery of New South Wales from 30 November until 27 January 2003.

The works in the exhibition are from the al-Sabah Collection, which is housed at the Kuwait National Museum. This collection has been formed by principal members of the Kuwait Royal Family, Sheik Nasir Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah and his wife Sheikha Hassah Sabah al-Salem al-Sabah. Begun in 1975, the collection is regarded as one of the most important in the world, containing as it does a comprehensive collection of rare and significant Islamic art objects.

This Royal collection was placed in the care of the Kuwait National Museum in 1983. During the Gulf War in 1990 the Museum buildings were ransacked and destroyed, but most of the pieces had been taken before the destruction and therefore saved. Since then the al-Sabah Collection has mostly either been in storage or touring the world.

"The worlds of Islam reach from the Iberian peninsula to the islands of Indonesia. The arts of Islam reflect the cultural and artistic opportunities of such a breadth of place and history in works as varied as exquisite calligraphies, Indian and Persian miniatures, ceramics, metalwork and of course the hallmark carpets. The arts of Islam are not well known in Australia and this most welcome and timely exhibition will aesthetically entrance and profoundly inform," said Edmund Capon, Director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Created between the 8th and 18th centuries, these Islamic arts reflect the wide range produced in countries stretching from Spain to India and throughout the Middle East. While Islam has a wide geographic spread, common themes and principles of design unite the art produced; and patterns from nature or geometry are found throughout the Islamic world.

Many of the pieces were made by unknown artists who worked for courts or wealthy individuals. Royal patronage was considered an obligation to provide for the community’s spiritual life as well as sponsoring non-religious culture. Royal families sponsored the construction of mosques and other religious buildings including their decoration by artists of the highest calibre. In the 21st century, the Royal Family of Kuwait continues this tradition of patronage through supporting and sponsoring the Kuwait National Museum.

"African Shields: Art, Power and Identity"
2002-08-26 until 2002-03-02
Neuberger Museum of Art
Purchase, NY, USA

The Neuberger Museum of Art opens African Shields: Art, Power and Identity, an exhibition that brings together a selection of fifteen outstanding examples of African shields that date from the 19th to 20th centuries. The works were created by artists from 13 different cultures in the present-day nations of Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Tanzania, Rwanda, Kenya and Ethiopia. Curated by Christa Clarke, Ph.D., the Neuberger Museum’s Curator of African Art, the exhibition presents works in diverse media, including wood, wicker, hide and fiber that embody an astonishing range of creative approaches to this genre.

The Neuberger Museum is the first U.S. art museum to present an exhibition devoted to African shields; it will be on display through March 2, 2003. Although shields were among the earliest objects to enter the collections of ethnographic museums in the West, their artistic significance has long been overlooked in favor of the more familiar masks and figural sculpture from Africa. This exhibition reflects the Neuberger’s on-going commitment to presenting a broad and inclusive portrait of Africa’s cultural heritage, and highlights both the artistry of African shields as well as the political and social significance of their use and creation, states Dr. Clarke.

Admired for their form and craftsmanship, African shields serve in multiple capacities as defensive weaponry in warfare, emblems of status and rank, and accessories in dance performances. Their creation and use has an ancient history in Africa, recorded as early as the 6th century B.C. by the Greek artist Exekias, who painted an image of Ethiopian warriors bearing shields on a classical amphora. Shields were originally designed to offer protection during combat and their divergent forms developed in response to different military practicalities. The size, shape and material of the shield was often determined by its specific use in battle, with small, lightweight shields offering greater mobility for close combat and large, weighty shields providing more substantial protection during ground battles. Distinct patterns and designs on the shields marked social and ethnic affiliation and heralded an individual’s rank and status on the battlefield. In addition to their use in combat, shields were also worn during important initiation and funeral ceremonies or employed as a valuable economic and political commodity. In all of these contexts, shields were regarded as highly visible emblems of power and identity, communicating important social and political information through aesthetic display.

As an art form, the shield offers an intriguing play between its fundamentally sculptural qualities as a three-dimensional object and the two-dimensional nature of its relatively flat surface. African artists employ diverse media and techniques for practical purposes and visual effect. Animal hide, frequently chosen for its durability and strength, is shaped with burls and grooves into strongly sculptural patterns. Wicker, a lightweight material that is easily worked, allows an exploration of different weaving techniques whose intricacy may be further embellished with pigment. Wood, solid yet light, may be sculpted into a smooth, rounded surface or carved with low relief designs. In varying combinations of material, shape and decoration, African shields seamlessly integrate physical, symbolic and aesthetic power.

"Treasures from a Lost Civilization: Ancient Chinese Art from Sichuan"
2002-03-06 until 2002-06-16
Metropolitan Museum of Art
New York, NY, USA

This exhibition presents the fascinating art and material culture of ancient Sichuan, in remote southwest China, uncovered by archaeology of the last 15 years. The 128 works of art on exhibit include monumental bronze images of deities, lively human figures, fantastic ritual vessels, exquisite jades, and spirited ceramic sculptures dating from the late phase of Sanxingdui culture (13th–11th century B.C.) to the Han dynasty (3rd century B.C.–3rd century A.D.).

They are among the most unusual and spectacular works of art from the ancient world, and most of them are being shown for the first time in the United States. This exhibition provides rare access to a previously unknown artistic and cultural tradition as well as an opportunity to reexamine the early phase of Chinese civilization. Accompanied by a catalogue.

The exhibition was organized by the Seattle Art Museum in collaboration with The Bureau of Cultural Relics, Sichuan Province of the People's Republic of China. The Boeing Company provided the leadership grant for the exhibition with major support from the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation. Additional funding provided by the National Endowment for the Arts. This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities. In New York, the exhibition is made possible in part by The Dillon Fund.

"Desire and Devotion: Art from India, Tibet, and Nepal"
2002-03-02 until 2002-06-02
Santa Barbara Museum of Art
Santa Barbara, CA, USA

The collection of John and Berthe Ford is one of the most important private holdings of Indian and Himalayan art in the world. Certain objects have been widely exhibited, such as the Green Tara, a painting executed in India around 1100 for a Tibetan patron and recognized as both a masterpiece and a cornerstone for the study of Tibetan painting. Other works have never been publicly shown. This exhibition brings together works from both India and the Himalayas, demonstrating the range and depth of the Ford collection; it provides an extraordinary overview of 2,000 years of history and illustrates the enduring themes in the art of southern Asia.

Chronologically and geographically, the exhibition of 150 objects falls into three chief divisions. First, Indian sculpture in clay, stone, metal, and wood, dating from the 3rd century BC to the 17th century AD (33 works). Secondly, 10th- to 19th-century Himalayan metal sculpture and paintings (51 works from Tibet and 26 from Nepal). The final section consists of Indian miniature painting from the 17th to 19th centuries (40 works). With few exceptions, the objects are either Hindu or Buddhist.

The exhibition is held together by certain recurring topics or themes, chiefly having to do with the human body. Systems of ideal beauty, based on fixed proportions and characteristic attributes, were established early and have remained constant for centuries. The gods are depicted with perfected bodies. Sculptures and pictures of both humans and deities also express sentiments such as serenity, anger and desire. These sentiments are the outward manifestations of internal mental processes that are directed toward a supreme end: Serenity represents an enlightened mind; anger represents the mind's battle with evil; and desire represents the mind's engagement with philosophical perfection. These themes will be discussed in the catalogue, wall texts, and labels.

Dr. Pratapaditya Pal, former curator of Indian and Southeast Asian art at LACMA and now consulting curator for Chicago Art Institute and the Norton Simon Museum, will be the principal author of the catalogue.

"Wit and Wine: A New Look at Ancient Iranian Ceramics"
2001-09-07 until 2001-12-30
Brooklyn Museum of Art
Brooklyn, NY, USA


This exhibition comprises forty-five pottery vessels -- most for holding or pouring wine -- from ancient Iran, ranging in date from the fifth millennium B.C. to the third century A.D.

Demonstrating the extraordinary range of Iranian pottery, the exhibition includes such whimsical examples as a jug like vessel supported by human feet, and sculptural works in the shape of camels and bulls. Some containers clearly imitate early metal prototypes, with their unusually thin walls and long spouts, while others are painted with sophisticated ornamental designs depicting the animals of the Iranian highland. The Brooklyn Museum of Art is the last scheduled venue for this traveling exhibition.

"The Collector's Eye: Masterpieces of Egyptian Art from the Thalassic Collection, Ltd.,"
2001-04-22 until 2002-01-06
Michael C. Carlos Museum of Emory University
Atlanta, GA, USA United States of America

The Thalassic collection is one of the finest private collections of ancient Egyptian art to be found anywhere in the world. Comprised of more than 175 objects, the collection ranges from monumental statues of pharaohs and their queens to exquisitely crafted amulets and jewels.

Funerary and cult objects, cosmetic equipment, architectural elements, royal and private sculpture dating from the Predynastic period to the time of Cleopatra, will make up this unequalled exhibition in its first public exhibition

A Grand Past Comes to Surface Ornate Moche Tombs Unearthed in Peru

By Guy Gugliotta
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 15, 2001; Page A03

They dominated the coast of Peru for 700 years, long before the Inca existed. They tamed the great rivers of the Andes and used them to irrigate crops of corn, peppers, squash and beans. They killed their captured enemies and drank their blood.

And when their leaders died, the Moche of northern Peru buried them in tombs filled with beautifully carved ceramics, gold ornaments and textiles encrusted with carved copper medallions and precious jewels.

Yesterday, a research team led by Christopher P. Donnan, of the University of California at Los Angeles, reported the discovery of three intact tombs within a 105-foot mud-brick Moche pyramid near the Pacific coast at Dos Cabezas, south of the present-day city of Chiclayo.

The site has offered new clues to the culture of the mysterious Moche, who dominated the coast between A.D. 100 and A.D. 800. Donnan dated the tombs to between A.D. 450 and A.D. 550, as much as 1,000 years before the Inca arose to dominate what later became the Andean nations of South America.

Each of the three Moche tombs contains the skeleton of a man 18 to 22 years old, Donnan said. "There is no sign of violent death," but the three were unusually tall, between 5 feet 9 inches and 6 feet, giants among a people who seldom topped 5-foot-6. Donnan said the thinness of their bones suggests they may have suffered from a hereditary condition known today as Marfan syndrome, which causes elongated limbs and fingers.

The three were entombed separately, lying north to south in chambers filled with elegantly carved ceramics, copper and gold ornaments; elaborate headdresses and shields; and heavy wooden war clubs. Each tomb had a young woman and a llama buried atop it, and one tomb also contained the remains of a young child.

Outside each was a smaller chamber containing a small copper statue and smaller ornaments and objects designed to mimic those of the nearby dead man. "This deliberate miniaturization has never been seen anywhere in the world," Donnan said.

Donnan, who has studied the Moche for 35 years and helped excavate the famous nearby ruins at Sipan, began working at Dos Cabezas in 1997, focusing on the pyramid's west face, which had been severely eroded by heavy rains.

The Moche maintained their ceremonial pyramids by adding layers of sun-dried adobe brick to the mound beneath, creating an onion-like effect. Tombs were built into pyramids by hacking out a space in the solid mound.

Although some 350 Moche burial sites have been excavated, only a few have been discovered intact, undisturbed by nature and looters. Donnan, whose work is being described this week in National Geographic magazine, said he found the first of the three burial chambers after analyzing pottery shards and other artifact fragments from a nearby looted tomb.

Donnan said the richest came from "Tomb 2," the resting place of a young man buried with an exquisite carved ceramic bat, a headdress covered with gilded copper bats and a nose ornament depicting a bat in solid gold. His face was covered with a copper bowl, and beneath was a funerary mask made of gold and copper with inlaid eyes.

Donnan said the ceramics were carved with sea lions, condors, mythical animals and seated figures, painted in red and white. The jugs had the Moches' characteristic stirrup spouts, a feature widely copied today in replicas sold in Peruvian tourist shops.

Although the Moche had no written language, their carvings describe a warlike people who used human sacrifice and drank the blood of their victims, a characteristic shared with the Maya, the Moches' contemporaries in Central America.

Donnan said that although archaeologists continue to search for linkages between the two peoples, there is no evidence of direct contact. The reason for the disappearance of the Moche culture remains a mystery.

"It may have been a long and severe drought. Or maybe a serious El Niño," Donnan said, referring to the periodic rise in Pacific water temperature that brings severe flooding to Peru's normally arid coast. "But we just don't have the information."

"Images for Eternity: MEXICAN TOMB FIGURES"
2001-01-22 until 2001-02-25
Thorne-Sagendorph Art Gallery
Keene, NH, USA United States of America

From absoluteart.com

Ceramic figures from ancient tombs in West Mexico will be exhibited from Saturday, Jan. 20, through Sunday, Feb. 25, at the Thorne-Sagendorph Art Gallery at Keene State College. The Images for Eternity exhibit will include a short video about understanding sculpture through movement, created by Patricia Pedroza, a KSC faculty member visiting from Mexico. The exhibit will be complemented by an installation about the Day of the Dead, a Mexican celebration of the lives of friends and relatives, who have died during the year.

Both exhibits will open with a reception on Friday, Jan. 19, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Thorne gallery. The reception will feature a walk through the exhibit with Stephen L. Whittington, director of the Hudson Museum at the University of Maine, Orono. The Hudson Museum organized the Images for Eternity exhibit from its collection of West Mexican shaft-tomb figures.

Pedroza, who has a longstanding interest in the pre-Columbian arts of her native Mexico, will make an opening-night presentation, addressing the interpretation of human-figure poses depicted on the tomb sculptures. Interpretations of the figures offer an engaging link between the mysteries of the their origins and contemporary culture, explains Pedroza, who teaches in the Spanish and Women's Studies departments.

Friends of the Thorne will present educational tours for regional school children Feb. 5-21. Three time slots are available each day: 9-10:15 a.m.; 10:45 a.m.-noon; and 12:30-1:45 p.m. The program includes a 30-minute guided tour of the gallery and a 30-minute art activity, which is age specific for elementary and middle school students. Older groups may forgo the art activity in favor of an extended gallery visit. The program is free but pre-registration is necessary. Call Meg Kidd at 358-2719.

The Images for Eternity exhibit consists of ceramic figures, dated between 200 B.C. and A.D. 300, looted throughout the centuries from shaft tombs in the West Mexican states of Nayarit, Jalisco, Colima, and Michoacán. The sculptures depict a variety of subjects such as a mother holding a child, musicians blowing pan-pipes, and a warrior wearing a horned headdress.

Until recently, archaeologists did little work in the region and concentrated their efforts on more familiar cultures of Mesoamerica, such as the Maya and Aztec, writes Whittington in his recently published exhibit guide.

The Day of the Dead exhibit will feature a reconstructed traditional ofrenda or altar offering used during the annual celebration. The ritual feast of feeding the dead for their journey into the afterlife is speculated to have originated approximately 1000 B.C. as an affirmation of the life cycle. Today's colorful celebration, which combines ancient Amerindian and Catholic Christian beliefs, provides a rich link to ancient West Mexican art and culture, explains Meg Kidd, coordinator of the Friends of the Thorne education program.

Located on Wyman Way, the gallery is open from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday through Wednesday and noon to 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday. The gallery is open only when Keene State College is in session. It is accessible to people with disabilities. For information, call 603-358-2720.

UK closer to signing the Unesco Convention
Panel set up Minister for the Arts considers objections by previous governments to be unfounded

From The Art Newspaper

By Martin Bailey

LONDON. Arts Minister Alan Howarth has welcomed the report on “Illicit Trade” which was prepared by an advisory panel under Professor Norman Palmer.

Launching the study on 18 December, the minister admitted that it was “because of growing anxieties about the illicit trade and the UK’s part in it that I established the panel.” Set up last May, its mandate was to determine the extent of the UK’s involvement in illicit dealings in art and antiquities and to advise the government on how to prevent and prohibit this trade.

The panel’s report recommends that the UK should sign the 1970 Unesco Convention, which previous British governments have rejected. Despite some legal difficulties, the panel decided that the convention ought to be accepted, subject to three technical reservations. Speaking at the launch of the panel’s report, Professor Palmer pointed out that Switzerland, an important centre for the arts and antiquities trade, has just agreed to sign up to the Unesco Convention.

Mr Howarth told The Art Newspaper that he “believes we shall be able to sign”, adding that the Lord Chancellor’s Office had recently taken a fresh look at the issues and now does not see any major problems.

After considerable discussion, the advisory panel ended up advising against signing the 1995 Unidroit Convention, which the recent House of Commons select committee on Cultural Property has recently supported. The panel had four major objections to Unidroit: it prohibits reservations by signatories, only twelve states have implemented it, the range of cultural objects covered is too wide, and the limitation periods cause concern. “On balance, we advise that these considerations, taken in conjunction with the alternative measures which we propose elsewhere in this Report, militate against the adoption of the Unidroit Convention under the present circumstances.”

Among the panel’s other major proposals is legislation to make it a criminal offence “dishonestly to import, deal in or be in possession of any cultural object, knowing or believing that the object was stolen, or illegally excavated or removed from any monument or wreck contrary to local law [abroad].” The offence would be one of guilty intent, with the burden of establishing this resting with the prosecution. With some reluctance, the panel decided to exclude illegally-exported objects from this proposed new offence, because of concerns that certain countries restrain individuals from exporting personal property.

The Art and Antiques Unit of the Metropolitan Police was described as “seriously under-resourced”, and the panel recommended that a unit should be created with a national remit. “We do not feel that the law enforcement agencies have hitherto devoted the resources to combating the illicit trade that it deserves.” Two new databases are also proposed. The first would be a comprehensive and universally accessible record of international legislative information, enabling anyone handling cultural objects to know what national laws might have applied to them. The other database would be of unlawfully removed cultural objects, whether from the UK or overseas.

Headed by Professor Norman Palmer of London’s University College, the panel comprised Dr Peter Addyman (York Archaeological Trust), Dr Robert Anderson (British Museum), Anthony Browne (British Art Market Federation), Anna Somers Cocks (The Art Newspaper), Dr Maurice Davies (Museums Association), James Ede (Antiquities Dealers Association), Joanna van der Lande (Bonhams and Brooks) and Professor Lord Renfrew (McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research). Their 37-page report, plus annexes, is available on the website www.culture.gov.uk.

The government’s next move on the problem of looted artworks and antiquities is expected to be a detailed reaction to the House of Commons select committee’s report on Cultural Property. A partial response was published on 31 October, but the Department for Culture, Media and Sports then admitted that it would be unable to respond to some of the points until it had received its advisory panel’s report. Following discussions with other government departments, a detailed response to the Illicit Trade report will follow, probably in the next month or so.

Ancient Peruvian silver-one of the three metals extensively worked in Peru from about 500 B.C. onwards, and rarer at the time than gold-will be the focus of this unprecedented exhibition, which brings together for the first time well-preserved silver objects from public and private collections in the United States. Spanning a period of about 1500 years, from the early part of the first millennium until the 16th century, the works will include large decorated disks, miniature models of a garden scene and funeral procession, personal ornaments, and an important group of silver vessels in the shape of human and animal figures from the Metropolitan's own collection.
The exhibition is made possible by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The exhibition catalogue is made possible in part by the Roswell L. Gilpatric Fund for Publications. The exhibition was initiated with the collaboration of the Americas Society, New York.
Associated Press Writer

China and US drafting anti-smuggling agreement
A full import ban may not be intended by the Chinese, merely a bilateral agreement to implement the 1970 Unesco Convention

By Meg Maggio 11/03/00

BEIJING. The word in Beijing is that next year China’s State Bureau of Cultural Relics will sign a bilateral agreement with the US with the aim of reducing the smuggling of cultural relics and smoothing the way for the return of items seized in the US. The Art Newspaper has spoken with parties involved, who say, however, that the wording of the agreement is far from finalised. The US is, to date, the only major art importing country to have implemented the 1970 Unesco Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, and it has codified it into US law as the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act of 1983. This says that the agreements have to be reached bilaterally on a nation by nation basis, and that any requesting nation must have “taken measures consistent with the Convention to protect its cultural patrimony”. China requested such a bilateral agreement in 1998, but progress has been slow. Several drafts submitted by the Chinese side to the US Embassy have been rejected for lack of conformity with international treaty standards. Now, as a result of recent high profile overseas cases, including one civil suit to recover an antiquity from the US, the Beijing leadership, US Customs, and US Embassy officials alike are increasing pressure on the Bureau to conclude the treaty as soon as possible. While infighting persists within the Bureau over the best way to handle this and many other issues, the US Embassy, in an effort to push the agreement forward, has offered to assist by recommending legal experts to assist the Bureau.
In all other cases where the US has entered into such an agreement (with El Salvador, Guatemala, Canada, Mali, Cyprus and Cambodia), its essence has been the restriction of the import into the US of archaeological or ethnological material from those countries. It seems, however, that the Chinese are aiming for an agreement that will simply mirror the language of the 1970 Unesco Convention, to which both the US and China have already acceded. This would include obligations on the US to prevent museums and similar institutions from acquiring illegally exported cultural property from China; a prohibition of the import into the US of Chinese cultural property stolen from a museum, public monument, or institution; and the mandatory return of such items once found in the US. The signing of such an agreement would be used officially as a vehicle for China to take a more visible role on the world stage in international cultural property matters.To date, work on the agreement has been undertaken solely by the Foreign Affairs Department of the Cultural Relics Bureau. This is the same Department which operates as the Bureau’s in-house public relations team by maintaining close ties with Christie’s, Sotheby’s, antique dealers, collectors, and foreign museums. In the view of some Bureau officials both inside and outside this Department, the question of illicit trafficking in antiquities should be kept out of their day-to-day activities, and would be more effectively handled by China’s local police, Customs and Public Security Bureaus. In any event, an agreement may be finalised amidst great fanfares before its long-term implications are fully understood by those who are directly involved at present. Chinese cultural relics officials will have a far greater obligation to implement, and conform to, international standards of cultural relics protection than in the past. Given the greater degree of accountability required from both sides by the agreement, the implementation of illicit trafficking curbs is likely to be faster and better coordinated than ever before, and a growing number of claims will have to be accepted and resolved on the Chinese side. Chinese cultural relics authorities will not be able to sit back and simply wait for returned items to be delivered from the US. The Cultural Relics Bureau may find itself getting deeper and deeper into the business of fighting the internal traffic in cultural relics, whether or not its members want to be involved.

UMM AL-AJARIB, Iraq (AP) -- Iraqi archaeologists are striving to bring to light what they describe as Mesopotamia's largest "city of graves,'' where the Sumerians buried their dead nearly 5,000 years ago.
The scientists are stunned by the size of cemetery and say much more work needs to be done to determine what role it played in ancient times.

"We have never excavated anything like it before. It is unprecedented,'' said Fadhil Abdulwahid, a Baghdad University archaeologist. Remote and desolate, the site was long the target of grave robbers who the scientists say pilfered gold ornaments, cylinder seals made of precious stones and statuettes. Ancient Iraqis usually buried their dead with their most valued possessions.
Chief archaeologist Donny Youkhanna could not say how many artifacts were stolen nor estimate their significance, "but the damage is certainly big.''
When he started excavations with 40 diggers last year he brought along armed guards.
Previously, he said, few dared to approach the ancient mound due to the large number of scorpions that lived among the graves, which prompted the locals to name it Umm al-Ajarib or "Mother of Scorpions.'' Shells, bowls, beads and handsome earthenware and statues dot small lanes in the cemetery situated 250 miles south of Baghdad.
"It is the largest graveyard of Sumer. Nowhere in ancient Iraq have we come across so many graves,'' Youkhanna said.
Until now, experts had designated a cemetery at Eridu in southern Iraq as the largest Sumerian burial ground. There, scientists uncovered 1,000 graves in an area of about half a square mile.
Umm al-Ajarib is many times larger. The whole site is about two square miles with the cemetery occupying the largest portion, and Youkhanna said it may hold hundreds of thousands of graves. A better estimate will be available once the diggers remove debris and count the graves in a square they have targeted.
The Sumerian civilization appeared in southern Mesopotamia as early as the 5th millennium B.C. By 3000 B.C., Sumer had developed considerable power based on irrigated agriculture, fine arts and a special writing system known as cuneiform, probably the earliest ever in man's history.
The burials at Umm al-Ajarib are chiefly in coffins of brick laid in bitumen as mortar. The graves are regularly arranged, like cemetery lots, with streets and lanes.
William Hayes Ward was the first Western traveler to visit the site in 1886. Little work had been done at the site since Ward noted that Umm al-Ajarib must have been a sacred burial ground for the Sumerians in the same manner the present day holy city of Najaf is to Muslim Shiites.
"The Sumerians looked after the dead. Funerary rituals were of great significance because they believed if the dead were not buried properly their souls will return and haunt the living relatives,'' said archaeologist Marwan al-Adhami.
When a Sumerian monarch conquered a city, the first thing he would do was to "open the graves and release the souls'' to chase away any enemy soldiers who escaped the sword, al-Adhami said.
Umm al-Ajarib is now arid land covered with sand dunes, a featureless expanse of sand with no vegetation and shrubs. But in antiquity it was part of a territory comprising gardens, palm groves and fields of barley and wheat, Youkhanna said.
Youkhanna's main task is to prove the city's sanctity. He has already dug up a small part of a tripartite temple with huge walls rising up to 3 yards. Like similar Sumerian sanctuaries, the temple is built of sun-dried bricks. A clay tablet provides a list of quantities of food rations -- wheat, barley, dates and oil -- given to temple servants, but supplies no names or figures.
Artifacts gathered from the temple so far, though significant, do not shed enough light. Among them is a stone vessel with an inscription in cuneiform, magnificent ivory cylinder seals, goblets, conical bowls and spouted jars.

"The Year One: Art of the Ancient World East and West"
2000-10-03 until 2001-01-14
Metropolitan Mueum of ARt
New York, NY

This unprecedented exhibition cuts across geographical and cultural boundaries to present a global view of art at the dawn of the first millennium. The Year One: Art of the Ancient World East and West drawn almost entirely from the Metropolitan's collection, celebrates the artistic production of such far-flung civilizations as ancient China, Imperial Rome, and the Mayans of present-day Central America. Seen together, these objects reveal not only the rich diversity but also the often surprising interconnections among the cultures that created them.
With objects spanning almost five millennia and drawn from nearly every known culture, the Metropolitan is one of the few truly encyclopedic museums in the world. Normally, these collections are displayed according to the particular region or artistic school they represent.

"The Rich Life and the Dance: Weavings from Roman, Byzantine, and Islamic Egypt"
2000-10-27 until 2001-01-14
Harvard University Art Museums, Arthur M. Sackler Museum
Cambridge, MA
USA United States of America

The Harvard University Art Museums will exhibit more than 100 Egyptian textile fragments and tunics from the late antique period at the Arthur M. Sackler Museum beginning October 27. The exhibition, The Rich Life and the Dance: Weavings from Roman, Byzantine and Islamic Egypt, presents the collection of Mrs. Rose Choron and has been organized by Eunice Maguire, former curator at the Krannert Art Museum at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. It will be on view through January 14, 2001.
The hand-woven fabrics, most of them dating from the third to seventh centuries, feature images of dancers, haloed saints with hands raised in prayer, and a myriad of flora and fauna evoking the abundance of the Nile Valley. Some display Arabic inscriptions celebrating divine power. All provide colorful glimpses into a world of the past: what people wore, how they decorated their homes, and how they perceived nature and the supernatural.
These remarkably well-preserved textiles are an example of our dedication to bringing a rich variety of art work to our Museums for new understanding and appreciation, said James Cuno, the Elizabeth and John Moors Cabot Director of the Harvard University Art Museums. It has been especially rewarding to work with students, both former and present, to bring this exhibition here to Harvard. The textiles are arranged according to their Roman, Christian, or Islamic themes. Additional objects such as architectural relief fragments, bone furniture inlays and bronze artifacts have been added from the Harvard Art Museums' own collection as comparative examples of motifs common to many media during this period.
To look closely at each fragment is to enter a world of images and motifs which can be both sophisticated and charming, said Amy Brauer, Diane Heath Beever Associate Curator of Ancient Art, Arthur M. Sackler Museum.
The textiles were mostly preserved from burials. They illustrate the changing culture of the post-classical period, from the decline of the Roman Empire to the advent of Islam. Egypt is a prime source for late antique textiles because its dry climate is particularly conducive to the preservation of organic materials. Surviving textiles offer evidence of production techniques, styles and decorations that were popular throughout the Mediterranean region during the same period.

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