THOMAS P. CAMPBELL, DIRECTOR AND CEO, THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART: All right. So we have six presentations, and then we’ll have a very brief Q&A, and then we will have a reception in the Temple of Dendur afterwards, where questions and further discussions can take place.
So I’m going to get going quickly. It’s a pleasure to introduce Jennifer Janisch, an investigative producer from CBS News. Jennifer is an award-winning television producer with CBS News Investigative Unit which contributes original investigative stories to the CBS Evening News and CBS This Morning.
Her recent story about the trafficking of looted antiquities gave us all a first-hand glimpse of the reality behind this activity. Jennifer.
Jennifer Janisch, Investigative Producer, CBS News: Thank you very much. I really appreciate the MET and the State Department for including me in this symposium. I’ve been asked to keep remarks short. I think I’m going to forgo remarks and just let our story speak for itself. So if our audiovisual people would be so kind, we’ll go ahead and kick-off our story that we had on the CBS Evening News and CBS This Morning earlier this month.
TV ANCHOR: The homeland they left behind has been torn apart by civil war and ISIS is annihilating their cultural heritage. Whatever is not destroyed is being sold on a thriving black market which CBS News infiltrated over the course of a six-month investigation. Here’s Clarissa Ward.
CLARISSA WARD: Sacred monasteries destroyed. Ancient temples leveled by explosives. But perhaps the greatest threat to Syria and Iraq’s cultural heritage is what you don’t see; the illegal trafficking of precious antiquities.
To get a first-hand look at this underground world, our producer posed as a buyer and made contact through social media with Omar, a Syrian living in Turkey, who offers looted Syrian artifacts to international buyers.
He claimed he had mosaics that were freshly dug out of the ground. These he could sell for $60,000, he wrote.
We met in Istanbul and recorded our meeting on hidden cameras.
Amr al-Azm: They were the ones who ripped it out.
CLARISSA WARD: We asked archaeologist, Amr al-Azm, to come with us to authenticate the piece.
Two nervous young Syrians took us to a run-down apartment on the outskirts of town and showed us this.
A nearly 2,000-year-old Roman mosaic, and as we learned later, potentially worth $100,000.
Amr al-Azm: It was in Syria. They recently brought it out.
CLARISSA WARD: We were told they dug it out of the ancient city of Apamea, one of Syria’s most significant archaeological sites seen in satellite photos in 2011, now pockmarked with the robber holes of looters.
We move to our van where the smugglers also offered us Roman glass stolen from a tomb. The negotiating began.
I need a rough price. I need a ballpark figure.
"$200,000 for the mosaic,” they said. But that quickly dropped to $60,000. They were eager to get the illegal piece off their hands.
What’s your reaction when you see a beautiful mosaic like this that’s been looted from a precious site like Apamea?
Amr al-Azm: Well, obviously, sadness, because these eventually will be bought by someone and they’ll be lost to us forever.
CLARISSA WARD: The main beneficiary is ISIS which makes tens of millions of dollars on the thriving black market. The group issues permits to looters and takes a cut of the profits.
Colonel Matthew Bogdanos: For every antiquity they destroy on camera, thousands line their coffers through the illegal trade in antiquities.
CLARISSA WARD: Colonel Matthew Bogdanos led the investigation into the looting of the Iraq National Museum in 2003. Now he prosecutes antiquities cases as an assistant district attorney.
So who is buying these antiquities? Who is giving them the money?
Colonel Matthew Bogdanos: It is a cozy cabal of academics, art historians, dealers, gallery owners, auction houses, museums and private collectors.
CLARISSA WARD: So some of these antiquities are ending up here in the U.S.?
Colonel Matthew Bogdanos: Certainly. Absolutely.
MR. CAMPBELL: Jennifer, thank you for sharing this with us. Frightening work to be doing but you put the specific detail around the…the sort of almost abstract satellite photographs we’re seeing. I imagine that since this report you must have had further anecdotal and further cases brought to your attention.
MS. Janisch: Well, interestingly enough, I still am receiving photographs of artifacts from Omar, the smuggler with whom I corresponded for about six months. [LAUGHTER]
MR. CAMPBELL: You’ve made him an international star.
MS. Janisch: Well, apparently. I guess he doesn’t watch CBS News. [LAUGHTER] But, you know, it’s clear to me that they are selling these artifacts. That they have dealt with buyers before. We asked him, in many conversations that we had over the months, whether he had engaged with buyers from the west. He said he had. Of course it’s very difficult to fact-check that, but we are still continuing to receive photographs of mosaics, of different kinds of relics from Syria, some from Iraq, a mixture, likely, of real and fake items.
MR. CAMPBELL: Well, thank you. We look forward to hearing perhaps more reports from you in the future. And I’m sure there’ll be questions for you after the session. So thank you.
MS. Janisch: Thank you.
MR. CAMPBELL: Now we turn to Sharon Cott, the MET’s senior vice president, secretary and general counsel. She guides the MET’s policy around diligence in the acquisition of antiquities and archaeological material and she also works with our curatorial staff to ensure full transparency around the provenance of works in our collection; obviously an issue that has been the subject of considerable discussion in the last 25 years.
So Sharon, we’ve heard a lot about the looting. Can you talk about what the museums, what the museum community and what the MET is doing in the face of this situation?
Sharon Cott, Senior Vice President, Secretary, and General Counsel,
The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Certainly. Thank you Tom. And it’s a privilege to have you all here today. Art museums of course exist throughout the world to preserve, conserve, study and present to the public the artistic heritage of mankind. And as Tom has already said, museums are horrified to witness the damage and destruction in Syria and Iraq. It’s humbling to face the question, what can we do to help to protect the world’s ancient civilizations at this particular moment in history? There are three museum initiatives that I would like to highlight today.
First are the existing acquisition guidelines. Second, ongoing support and assistance. And third, new safe haven protocols.
I’ll focus today in particular on the acquisition guidelines which are already in place. These guidelines effectively prohibit U.S. art museums from acquiring works of art which may have been recently looted from Syria and Iraq. We could not and would not want to acquire them. Ethical guidelines for the art museum profession are issued by the Association of Art Museum Directors or AAMD. AAMD is a membership organization of 240 directors of the major art museums in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. The guidelines on acquisition of archaeological material and ancient art are published on the AAMD website. The key provision of the guidelines is they require AAMD museums to undertake thorough provenance research of any antiquity prior to acquisition.
After completing the due diligence research, museums generally do not proceed to acquire an antiquity unless the provenance research substantiates that the object was outside its country of modern discovery prior to November 1970 – the date of the UNESCO convention – or that it was legally exported after that date.
This search for provenance back to 1970 was incorporated into the guidelines in 2008, and it should prevent the acquisition of any objects recently looted from Syria or Iraq.
Now, under 2008 guidelines, museums are permitted to make exceptions to this “1970 rule.” The guidelines identify appropriate circumstances for exceptions, such as objects with a prior publication or exhibition history, establishing that there is no likelihood that they were recently looted. If a museum makes an exception and acquires an antiquity, it has a higher burden. It must post the acquisition on a special section of the AAMD website which has an object registry for antiquities and archaeological material. This online publication by AAMD is in addition to the individual websites that museums publish their own acquisitions on.
I encourage you to look at the object registry on the AAMD website.
Over the past seven years, 24 museums have posted 900 objects on the registry; none have a post-conflict provenance.
The online registry promotes responsible collecting by museums and provides access and information to anyone who may have claims or questions. If a museum learns new information after an acquisition which establishes another party’s right to ownership, the guidelines provide that the museum should bring this information forward, and if the case warrants, initiate the return of the object. If a museum receives a claim to an object, the guidelines direct museums to respond promptly and responsibly and take whatever steps are necessary to address the claim, including, if warranted, returning the work as has been done by several museums in the past.
The guidelines, we believe, effectively answer the question, what would a U.S. museum do if presented with an object-looting during this period of conflict? We would not acquire it.
The second initiative museums have taken and plan to continue to take is to offer assistance, to share expertise and experience with colleagues around the world. Curatorial staff at the MET are in regular contact with colleagues in the conflict areas and have upcoming meetings and a conference scheduled. Conservation staff at the MET have assisted with the preservation of objects and training of staff, both here and abroad, during and after prior conflicts.
Experts in art storage, transit, photography, technology and other areas, indeed every and any department of the MET, would and does offer an outstretched hand to colleague institutions and stands ready to assist. MET staff, I would note, also regularly respond to requests for assistance from government agencies, including Homeland Security officials here today. Unfortunately, we have not yet made a match quite like the one described today with the sarcophagus, but we stand available for general assistance.
The final museum initiative I’d like to announce today is the imminent release by AAMD of protocols for safe havens of works of cultural significance from countries in crisis. The concept of safe havens is not new and has been adapted in the past to different needs at different times. The new protocols will encourage AAMD members to act as safe havens, to open their doors to temporarily store works in danger of destruction or looting from countries in crisis. The AAMD hopes that these protocols can help serve as a model for other museums around the world.
In closing, we at the MET, as well as the leadership of the AAMD, applaud government efforts and all of the new initiative announced today to safeguard and protect cultural heritage, and we are united in our commitment to do our part in response to this crisis. Thank you.
MR. CAMPBELL: Sharon, thank you very much. Our next speaker, Professor Doctor Markus Hilgert, is a specialist in ancient near eastern studies and the current director of the Ancient Near East Museum at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. Within the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, he directs an ambitious multi-disciplinary research project that would enable a better understanding of the illicit traffic in cultural goods in Germany, and he leads the creation of a new center that undertakes 3D imaging research for archaeological heritage for the Berlin museums. Markus.
Markus Hilgert, Director, Ancient Near East Museum at the Pergamon museum, Berlin State Museums: Thank you very much, Tom. Good evening ladies and gentlemen. It’s a great pleasure and honor for me to be here tonight discussing with you this very important topic. I would like to highlight some answers that expert institutions like the Ancient Near East Museum on Berlin’s Museum Island can give in order to protect the archaeological heritage of Iraq and Syria.
Let me start by saying that, in our efforts, we were guided by three strong convictions. First, the archaeological heritage of Iraq and Syria is the heritage of all humankind. Two, the biggest single threat to this heritage is the illicit traffic in antiquities despite the horrible pictures we’ve seen from Palmyra and Nimrud. And, three, confronting this threat is a complex, global challenge that requires strategic action in different areas by all stakeholders.
From the point of view of an expert institution, the key components of such an action plan against illicit trafficking are, expert knowledge, illicit traffic research, awareness raising, capacity building, infrastructures and technologies, and legislation. And the Ancient Near East Museum is engaged in all these areas largely funded by various ministries of the Federal Government of Germany.
Our expert knowledge derives from the fact that for over 100 years we have been a research institution with signature collections from Iraq and Syria, and that more than 95% of our archaeological objects come from regular documented archaeological excavations and these objects were transferred to Berlin on the basis of partage which makes it very easy for us to communicate with countries like Iraq and Syria. The curatorial concept that we have adopted is that of an integrated object care and presentation, and that combined state-of-the-art storage, preventive conservation, digital documentation, especially in the 3D sector, basic research, provenance analysis with a multi-perspective presentation.
When I talk about our objects, I talk about monumental architecture like the famous Ishtar Gate of Babylon, the Processional Way of Babylon, but also about smaller and mid-sized objects, cuneiform tablets, jewelry, vessels and [inaudible].
For a public institution, like the Ancient Near East Museum, fighting illicit traffic starts with taking a bold public stance. We’re doing this by cooperating closely and very visibly with Iraq and Syria, especially when it comes to plundered or orphaned objects. We have a strict no acquisition policy. We do not acquire anything at all, which means that even if we get something in the mail, we hand it over – and it happens, actually – we hand it over to the Iraqi and Syrian officials.
Our experts’ reports are only prepared for government and law enforcement authorities, not for dealers, not for collectors, and we do comprehensive provenance research corresponding to the stipulation of due diligence principles.
But this is not enough obviously. Security Council Resolution 2199 has reminded us of the urgency to prevent the trade in items of cultural, scientific and religious importance. But how do you do that? You don’t have the numbers. You don’t understand the inner workings of this trade. You don’t understand how the networks function. This is why we have initiated and designed a national research project that is called ILLICID and that is supposed to carry out innovative research combining academic and non-academic expertise. Our team comprises sociologists, law enforcement agents, IT specialists, and ancient studies specialists, like myself.
The main task of ILLICID is a systematic analysis of the illicit traffic in archaeological objects mainly from Iraq and Syria, and our associated partners, who are very important for this project, are UNESCO, ICOM, the Federal Foreign Office and many others.
ILLICID goals…ILLICID’s goals are identifying or developing criminological methods for an in-depth analysis of illicit traffic in cultural property in Germany. We’re focusing on object-types, turnover networks. operation modes. We’re trying to assess the potential or the dimension of money laundering and terrorist financing in Germany, and we’re preparing a best practice guide for all pertinent stakeholders and are creating a digital object repository, then to be accessed with mobile devices by custom and law enforcement officials.
Preventing illicit traffic goes hand in hand with awareness-raising and the red lists of ICOM, that are made possible by the Department of State, are very important tools in this context because they address both issues. It’s been very important for us to cooperate with ICOM in the 2015 update of the “Emergency Red List of Iraqi Cultural Objects at Risk.” We’ve provided many provenanced objects and academic expertise, and the gentleman you see on the cover is actually from our collection. We’re also assisting in the translation and the production of the German version that will be launched in January.
We’re proud partners of the #UNITE4HERITAGE campaign which has been incredibly successful, and we’re strengthening our partnership with UNESCO through the production and dissemination of promotional material and through the intensified exchange of expertise and data.
All these are important measures but it’s clear that the protection of the archaeological heritage of Iraq and Syria starts in Iraq and in Syria, which is why capacity building is so important. We’ve had a very successful track record of cooperating with and training experts from Iraq and Syria, thereby establishing sustainable interpersonal expert networks. We’ve also learned from this experience that, in the case of Iraq and Syria, we need a more systematic approach; an approach that also involves the political at the administrative level. So together with the permanent delegation of Iraq to UNESCO, we’ve initiated and we’re carrying out the Iraqi-German expert dialogue on Iraq’s cultural heritage at archaeological sites and museums. It’s a high-level bilateral expert panel for the design and coordination of a large-scale capacity building program between Iraq and Germany that is trying to establish the framework, the infrastructural, political and operational framework for sustainable exchange of knowledge.
We’ve had a very successful first round of consultations at the end of July and we’ve reached a consensus as to the current priorities as perceived by Iraq – this is very important that these are not our priorities, but the priorities of the country that is in question. We have agreed on principles of implementation, like sustainability, and we’ve envisioned infrastructure and technologies in Iraq, like core facilities. In the case of core facilities, you need to test them, you need to develop them. And we’re doing this in the sector of 3D imaging. We’ve just established a core facility for 3D imaging research, a center for digital cultural heritage in museums, that focuses on the generation storage and flexible use of 3D models. And we’re also developing solutions for preventive documentation in situations of crisis. These are things that we’re doing right now. This is a color print of a Neolithic skull, and these are images we did over the weekend of cuneiform tablets – all this will help to document, to do research, to visualize and, eventually, to reconstruct.
Coming to a close, I would like to underline the importance of legislation. All this is taking place against the background of the ongoing revision of the German Culture Property Protection Law from 2007. The dual law aims at an improved implementation of the UNESCO 1970 Convention with better import controls, more effective return mechanisms and strict due diligence principles. And what’s most important is the introduction of a mandatory export documentation rule for all respective source countries, with respect to archaeological objects to be imported to Germany. Which means you cannot import any archaeological object without an export documentation by the source country.
It is clear, and this is my last point, that if Germany does it, it’s a first, moderate step. The same has to be done for the European single market. This is why it’s so important that Director General Bokova has underlined the importance of general import rules on a European level because otherwise we will not be able to save and protect the cultural heritage of Iraq and Syria. Thank you very much.
MR. CAMPBELL: Markus, thank you. Could you just clarify, is ILLICID being developed independently by the museum community, under museum leadership, as a resource for law enforcement and customs or are you working in partnership with law enforcement and in an investigative component?
MR. Hilgert: No, I have been asked, we have been asked to develop a scheme – a research scheme – in this area by law enforcement officials because we’ve been collaborating for the last 10 years, and they wanted something that, in Germany, is called “dark field research,” which is a part of criminological research that requires various capacities and various kinds of knowledge, and we’re actually spearheading the project and directing it.
MR. CAMPBELL: Thank you. Thank you.
Our next speaker, Ute Wartenberg Kagan, whose research interest focuses on ancient Greek coinage, has spent most of her academic career in the museum world. Since 1999, she’s been the executive director of the American Numismatic Society, and from 1991-’98, she worked as curator of Greek coins in the British Museum in London. And she’ll address the looting and illicit market for ancient coins, which as we’ve heard, seems to be a market on a much larger scale, perhaps, than some other areas of antiquities because of that portability.
Ute Wartenberg Kagan, Executive Director, American Numismatic Society: Thank you, Tom. And I’d like to thank the organizers for inviting me. It’s a topic I usually don’t talk about, so I did some research in this area and a much longer version of what I have to say today with some of the detailed evidence on the numismatic evidence, is on the website of the American Numismatic Society at numismatics.org. And as Tom said, the debate about looted antiquities and the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, often leads to coins. Coins appear in these photos we saw of confiscated material, and scholars and journalists refer to coins being widely looted. Nevertheless, as it’s often repeated in certain quarters, that there is no single collectible coin that can be linked directly to ISIL here in this country. The looting of coins in Syria and Iraq and elsewhere is undoubtedly widespread. Something that probably is linked to the massive number of previously unknown types of coins noted by academic numismatists coming to light over the last years. As metal objects, coins are an ideal target for looters as they’re found by metal detecting, a practice that typically destroys the archaeological context of the find. Once found, coins can be more easily identified than most other categories of archaeological artifact and therefore are probably highly valued by looters.
Even so, hard, actual evidence for coins coming from Syria and Iraq to the U.S. is virtually non-existent, or to put it differently, not available to numismatic scholars like myself. Despite the absence of hard evidence, it is possible to observe trends in the current numismatic marketplace, that when placed against the backdrop of earlier numismatic scholarship, indicate the strong probability that a significant amount of certain types of coins on today’s coin market likely originated in Syria. Something that I should emphasize, that most coin collectors and perhaps many dealers in the United States, are largely unaware of. But, and this is a point I must stress, these observations can only be applied to a specific selection of ancient coinage since many other coin-types circulated in Syria, but they circulated at the same time elsewhere as well. This is of course true for other archaeological items, but particularly true for coins. So online you can look at this paper that I’ve looked at some particular cases. I will highlight only one of them, but there are some other cases, and in particular about coins that were actually produced in western Turkey which circulate exclusively, almost exclusively in Syria – this is something that’s not generally known. But, just for this presentation here, the coinage of Zenobia, a famous queen of Palmyra and her son, issued a coinage at the Syrian mint of Antioch during the few months of 272 – from March to May – which is known to circulate largely in Syria. Perhaps a little bit in Lebanon and Israel. This coinage was actually so rare that until 1970, scholars thought the few and known types were modern counterfeits. From 1980 to circa 2009, about two or three of these coins entered the market – they’re very valuable coins – and per year – this was two or three per year. In 2014, and this data comes from relatively easily accessible coin archives data, seven such coins appeared, and in the first eight months of this year so far, seven coins have been or are being offered for sale. This dramatic increase is likely to be connected to the conflict in Syria. And so in the interest of time, I will not go through the other cases but you can look at them online.
So how, as coin collectors as well as museum curators, do we avoid acquiring illegally-exported coins from Syria or indeed from any other country here?
And here the first rule is – and this is something we tell increasingly collectors of coins – ancient coins come from somewhere, and this might seem obvious after what we’re hearing here, but it’s not always sort of understandable. One must, therefore, inquire whether the coins in question entered the U.S. legally. If in doubt, we ask for paperwork and we also – this is an important point – buy only from dealers who we personally know.
Second, in cases where a Syrian, Iraqi origin is possible or likely, the rule is simple. We will not buy anything that does not have a well-documented provenance, ideally before 1970, but just as Sharon had illustrated, if this is not possible, we require a solidly documented provenance for at least 10 years, ideally more. In practice, it means we really acquire relatively few coins from that region at all. In fact, I can’t think of any. If no provenance is available, we assume the worst. The probability, that I should emphasize here, that such a coin without a provenance on the market has an old provenance is extremely slim.
Third, we research provenance in detail, and here just to describe what numismatists do, we also look at the old auction records that might be mentioned. Not all current catalog references are correct, and therefore we look for earlier, clearly-verifiable photos with weight and other information from an earlier auction.
Fourth, over the last few years especially, the American Numismatic Society has rejected gifts that originated from online auctions which have no permanent record of their sales or limited information about sellers, or to put this differently, eBay is not a source that we feel is reliable and we will not accept such gifts or buy.
Five, for us, one of the most important parts of the acquisition process is the immediate publication of all new objects in an online database. And here, the American Numismatic Society’s database, MANTIS, has been a leader in the field and the first website opened first in ’97 with an online database of coins, and all new acquisitions are photographed and described, and the staff usually puts new acquisitions online within a few weeks.
Six, if the society receives competing claims of ownership for material in the collection, the staff investigates diligently whether an item was unlawfully acquired, exported or imported. We seek to resolve such matters in an equitable and mutually agreeable manner.
These rules, by the way, is something we also advise our collectors, as the American Numismatic Society is a membership society founded in 1858, and collectors are a very large part of what we do and we want them to follow, you know, and help them with their collections in this way.
So last but not least, the society’s curatorial staff is committed to taking a more active role in raising awareness about the destruction of national heritage in other countries and the impact of the looting of antiquities, including coins, on civil war and human suffering. While it is impossible to undo the damage that has been done by looters and others, we seek to engage collectors, dealers, archaeologists, legislators and law enforcement officials in a dialogue to help create an academic discipline and a hobby for serious coin collectors as it should be undertaken in the 21st century. Thank you very much.
MR. CAMPBELL: Ute, thank you. This question might be a little bit “how long is a piece of string,” but for the kind of coins that you were describing from Syria and from Iraq, with provenance, what would they be fetching in the licit antique trade? Is there sort of a spectrum?
MS. Wartenberg Kagan: The coinage that I mentioned used to be – there is in fact one or two examples with the provenance that is in the sort of $30,000-$40,000 range. However, more recent examples in not the best condition because of clearly the market being, you know, not that many people collect them, and if you saw pictures, they’re not particularly attractive looking, go just for a few hundred dollars now.
MR. CAMPBELL: Thank you. So clearly…
MS. Wartenberg Kagan: So there’s an enormous spread there.
MR. CAMPBELL: Yeah. But the sort of examples that are certainly going to stimulate greed and avarice…yeah…and illegal trafficking.
All right, our next speaker, Sandy Cobden, has been a New York-based litigator for more than 20 years. She’s worked at Christie’s for over seven years managing Christie’s disputes, legislative interests and government affairs, and she’ll provide an overview of Christie’s business practices with a particular focus on provenance issues, the vetting process for antiquities and for suggestions on best practices. Thank you.
Sandra L. Cobden, Senior Vice President and General Counsel, Christie’s: Good afternoon. I’d like to thank the State Department and the Metropolitan Museum of Art for inviting Christie’s to this very important conference. During my five to seven minutes, and I’ll aim towards five, I’d like to cover three topics. A quick introduction to Christie’s. I’d like to explain in detail how we vet antiquities for cultural property issues and then provide four best practice tips for collectors.
Turning to Christie’s: I have some statistics on my PowerPoint slide. Here is what I’d like you to take away from it.
At 249 years and counting, we have a lot of experience in the art market. Our reach extends to the four corners of the globe, and as an auction house, we’re at the most transparent end of the marketplace. A side note: we also do private sales where our rule of thumb is this, if we wouldn’t sell it at auction, we don’t sell it privately either. In other words, we consider ourselves a leader in the marketplace and we take our obligation to be a responsible player seriously.
So let’s look at how we vet our antiquities. We know these objects carry special risks that require careful vetting and have developed a three-part process to ensure that what we sell is a legal antiquity.
First, we require that written documentation that an object has been out of its country of origin by a date certain. For Iraq, that means 1990. For Syria, it means 2000. For countries that have MOUs with the United States, it is the date of the execution of the MOU, and for all other countries, it is the year 2000. Based on the dates we use, we believe it is unlikely that looted items from Iraq and Syria, during the recent conflicts, will end up our salesrooms.
Second, our antiquities department tries to verify the provenance story. We vet, at Christie’s, everything we sell against the ALR, FBI and Interpol databases. The difficulty with those databases is they don’t have much information on cultural property items. So one of the things we continue to urge law enforcement, and others in the field, is to help create better databases that we can use to vet the property we’re seeking to sell against. In face of that lack, though, at the moment we do our own research into the objects and we are attempting to compile our own databases of resources that we come across, so that we make the most knowledgeable decisions we can about the objects we’re looking at.
Finally, we carry out know-your-client checks particularly for new clients because we want to be darn sure we know who we’re dealing with. After that is completed, the antiquities department passes it on to the provenance record on to legal who provides an independent review of the provenance as a final check.
So what do we do if an object fails our vetting process? It depends on why. If we have a believable consignor with a believable story and no red flags but simply a lack of documentation, we return the object to our consignor. And this happens more often than you think. Picture the son whose father died the year before, was an avid collector for 30 years, but left no documentation surrounding his collection. There’s no indication that that object is looted, but it doesn’t meet our criteria for sale either, so we won’t sell it, and therefore, we return it.
But occasionally, we uncover evidence that an object was looted or stolen from a country of origin and then we work very hard to make sure it is returned. I’ll give you a few examples:
In 2004 – I’ll get to the right slide – in 2004, we returned the oldest surviving manuscript on paper to Iraq after finding it was stolen from a museum there. In 2011, we returned a cuneiform tablet to Iraq after determining that it had been stolen sometime after 1954 from the Iraq Museum in Baghdad. In 2014, we notified the Egyptian Ambassador to the United Kingdom and the British police that we believed one of our consignors had a recently-looted object from Egypt. The investigation resulted in the arrest of our consignor and the discovery of a large cash of Egyptian items that were then successfully returned to Egypt. Also in 2014, we helped facilitate the return of an important piece of cultural property to Cambodia and were honored at the welcoming ceremony – the only auction house to receive such recognition.
So what is the message we want our clients and the greater marketplace to learn from our efforts? It is these three things: Christie’s wants to protect the legal marketplace where legitimate antiquities are traded. It considers looted and stolen objects to be valueless – worth zero – in the legal marketplace, and it will work hard to keep looted and stolen objects not only out of our salesrooms, but to the extent we can help, out of the marketplace as a whole.
Will we be 100% perfect in these endeavors? No. I doubt we will. But we’re going to try damn hard to make sure that these items stay as far away from our salesroom and this marketplace as possible.
So what are our suggestions for collectors?
The first suggestion we have is that you document your collection. The easy way to do that is to have an invoice. That’s your starting point but it is far from your ending point. There are other items to look for. Family pictures in which the item is included can help date the time the object was out of a country of origin. Obituary notices regarding the collector can put an end date as to when the object was in the collector’s possession. And there are a number of other different sorts of items that collectors, when thinking creatively, can use to help document their collection.
Second, collectors should educate themselves regarding the risks in their area and how to mitigate them. My colleague, Mark Porter, chairman of Christie’s, is going to talk later at the reception about how Christie’s plans to help in this regard. But for the moment, I will tell you that all those objects or all those documents that help document your collection are ones that you should ask for at the point of sale.
Finally, use your common sense. If you’re being offered something at a deep discount from an unfamiliar vendor with little to no provenance, that is not the deal of the century. That is likely something looted and you should not buy it. Which brings me to my fourth and final point, which is to know that ethical collecting practices make good commercial sense. Strong provenance that can withstand rigorous vetting leads to strong values and good prices for the objects in your collection and that’s the best way to maintain a valuable and important collection.
Again, my colleague, Mark, will speak to you at the reception about other Christie’s initiatives, but in the meantime, on behalf of Christie’s, I’d like to thank you for your time and attention to these very important issues.
MR. CAMPBELL: Sandy, thank you very much. Our final speaker, Wolfgang Weber, has over 15 years of extensive international, legal and management experience in regulatory affairs, compliance, privacy, internet and telecommunication security and cybercrime. Wolfgang will give a brief introduction to e-commerce and eBay’s policy enforcement and he will also discuss specific cases that eBay has addressed. Wolfgang.
Wolfgang Weber, Head of Global Regulatory Policy, eBay: Thank you very much. It’s a great pleasure and honor being here. And I will try to keep my presentation as short as possible, but I think, you know, I have a good story to tell from the eBay perspective.
First off, I’d like to give a little bit more background on how e-commerce works. You know, everybody knows the internet and I’m now talking, of course, only about the bright web and not the dark web. And if you’re a seller, you have various ways to connect to your buyers. You can do it via marketplaces, like the eBay marketplaces or the Amazon marketplace or you could setup your own web shop and advertise it on Google, Craigslist or Facebook. At the end, all these companies, and many more, are in the business of connecting sellers with buyers.
Let me share some fast facts about eBay. I think the most important number here for today is, at any given time there are more than 800 million listings on the eBay platforms. This is a huge number and around 79% of these items are new. So my team’s task is to find prohibited, illegal materials and remove them as quickly as possible, and with these huge numbers, you can imagine what kind of search for needles in the haystack it is.
What is eBay’s starting position?
So eBay operates a marketplace. I know we’re known as online auction, but things have changed a little bit. It’s a marketplace where most items that are sold are new, but still we have very strong roots with our collectors’ community – eBay started with collectors. But what really differentiates us from the real auction houses is that, you know, we do not sell ourself, and we never possess or control any item offered on the eBay marketplace, so the only thing what we have to assess if an item is prohibited or not, is the electronic item description and with the pictures on it. We cannot check the item in our hands and see what’s going on with it.
The other starting position is, you know, if something is legal, it can be sold on eBay, and it’s also working the other way around. So if something is illegal, it must not be sold on the eBay marketplace. We have strictly no tolerance for illegal activity on the eBay marketplace, and we have a long track record of working with law enforcement to fight cybercrime.
The success of the eBay marketplace is built on trust, and this is why we invest so heavily in safety, security and trust of our customers. And prohibited items have a negative impact on users’ trust. So if, you know, a potential buyer is not trusting the seller that the item is OK and worth the money, he will probably not buy it, right? And that is not good for our business.
Actively fighting prohibited items keeps the eBay marketplace safe and increases trust. So this is why we are here and this is why we want to partner with the private sector but also, of course, with law enforcement.
We do a lot of policy enforcement. We remove non-compliant listings based on internal filter and rule systems, community web form reports. So we have a lot of people who are really interested that the marketplace they use is safe. And they report items to us that are non-compliant. We receive also a lot of reports from authorities and take down those listings that are getting reported. And we also get a lot of reports from non-government organizations which we cooperate with.
If we find sellers that are non-compliant, we take sanctions, like a warning first, because it is our experience that most sellers simply do not know the rules. If they would know they comply, so a warning and education is the starting point. But if this does not help, we put in place selling restrictions or even do account suspensions.
I would like to bring in some examples of partnerships we did in the past. The thing is, if you sell something on eBay, it’s public accessible. Anybody can see it and, in one case, the Roman-Germanic Museum in Cologne reported a listing offering a cuneiform on eBay.de. We had good relationship, or we have a good relationship, with the German Federal Criminal Police, the BKA, and the BKA again reported the case to Interpol in Bern because, you know, the seller was Swiss. The Swiss authorities then did a house search at the seller and were able to successfully seize the item and all of this happened at the same day. By the way, it was a Friday, of course. [LAUGHTER]
You know, this example is important because it shows, in order to be successful, many, many parties need to cooperate and need to communicate and need to coordinate, and if these communication channels exist and if they’re used and everybody is committed, we can have successes like this.
Another example is the education and enforcement project we did in Austria, Germany and Switzerland in the year 2008. And the background of this project is that back then there was a huge concern with illicit excavation originated from people going around with metal detectors. In 2008, ISIL was not a threat yet, so it was more about hobby ecologists trying to dig out coins and other stuff, and then try to sell it on eBay. The way we try to address, or the way that we have addressed the issue, was setting up a roundtable with the German Association of State Ecologists because, you know, they are the experts, they know about, you know, the cultural goods, the Austrian Federal Ministry for Education, Arts and Culture and the Swiss Federal Office for Culture and several other police authorities. What the authorities then did is they published a lot of information materials about selling cultural goods. We also, by the way, have included a link to the ICOM red list in our artifacts policy. We then updated our policy based on recommendation of the authorities, because a policy is only as good as it can be enforced, and if we have a policy that cannot be enforced, it’s useless. So the authorities made very good information about including provenance, for example, and based on the changed policies, the partner authorities monitored the marketplace using their expert knowledge and they reported items to us that were non-compliant with the policy, that is, of course, a little bit stricter than law requires, and that had a tremendous impact, you know, within several months. We took down hundreds of listings, and the good thing is, if there was anything that was really highly suspicious, the ecologist authorities reported it to the police authorities which then started investigations.
Seller compliance did improve significantly after four weeks. And I think, you know, this project is still going on and I just asked last week how many reports do we get, and instead of, you know, hundreds, we now get like one or two per month, if at all. So the seller community has learned the background, what we do, why we do it. They started to comply and those sellers who don’t want to comply, probably has moved elsewhere because the internet is big and there are, as I explained before, there are many opportunities to connect with buyers elsewhere. But what we wanted to achieve from the eBay side, is that our marketplace is no longer getting misused by these people.
Other examples include cooperation with the U.S. Department of State and Department of Homeland Security. So we have a very close cooperation over many years regarding potentially looted cultural goods from the Middle East and other areas, potentially after the Iraq war. We have set up an online antiquities buying guide on the eBay UK website with the British Museum, and we’ve partnered with the Egyptian Embassy, because in 2014, around 18 listings were identified as not legitimate and we took it down based on reports from the Embassy. So thank you very much for your attention. I’m happy to answer any questions later on.
MR. CAMPBELL: Wolfgang, thank you. I know that many of you are looking forward to informal conversations at the reception, so I’m going to try and get you through there quickly. But let’s take a couple of questions in open session.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hi. I’m Katharyn Hanson with the University of Pennsylvania’s Cultural Heritage Center. And I wanted to thank Markus, first of all, for mentioning Germany’s import restrictions and their legislation. And I wanted to raise a question. Right now in the U.S., we don’t have specific import restrictions for Syrian cultural material. A bill has passed the House of Representatives, S. 1887, which is the bill to protect that. It is currently in the Senate pending approval. It’s been introduced by Senator Casey from Pennsylvania. And one of the things that I wanted to ask all of the panelists was what we can do to get support from the collector community, specifically the coin collector community, for these important import restrictions? Given that databases exist, thus working against some of the overburden of paperwork that might happen, we’d really like to see support for that bill from the collector community.
MR. CAMPBELL: Well, in the interest of time, perhaps not all the panel, [LAUGHTER] but Ute do you want, as coins were cited, why don’t you start and perhaps Sharon can…
MS. Wartenberg Kagan: It’s a very difficult question, and as you probably know yourself, the collector community has perhaps different views from the ones held by the staff of the curatorial academic staff of this. I think there are people in this room who might be able to answer this question more effectively. I have to say, education is undoubtedly an issue of collectors, and I think enabling also a way how collectors can continue to collect. I think the feeling is there’s a threat to collecting overall, you know, that all collecting is bad and I think that’s why explaining guidelines and having also clearer guidelines overall because what I’ve just said earlier, it is very difficult to see what is a Syrian coin, and the definition of Syrian origin actually is also very different. So I think more education is the first step. and perhaps a climate in which people come together and discuss it as opposed to attacking each other nonstop.
MR. CAMPBELL: Thank you. Anyone else on the panel?
MS. COBDEN: Yes.
MR. CAMPBELL: Sandy.
MS. COBDEN: Yes. I would also add that I think we need to get the different segments of our community to talk more to one another. This is a good start but I will say, Christie’s often goes to UNESCO conferences and finds it is the only art market participant there. That shouldn’t be. We should find forums where our collectors, our market participants and archaeologists, government officials, can be brainstorming about these issues together and coming up with practical next steps and solutions. But the only way we’re going to do that is if we talk to one another.
MR. CAMPBELL: Thank you. Wolfgang, you avoided any reference to – I wonder whether, statistically or anecdotally, you can give us a sense of the volume of potential objects that might be – people may have been trying to offer on eBay from Syria or Iraq – from, you know, that may be the product of the recent unrest.
MR. Weber: yeah, I’m very sorry, so we do not have metrics around that. So we have metrics for, you know, general information; how much coins are offered in a certain category, but we do not have this very detailed information.
MR. CAMPBELL: And do you have a team specifically assigned to be looking at this area or are you essentially dependent on feedback from your user base?
MR. Weber: So we have a team that is proactively identifying prohibited items, and that includes illicit cultural goods as well.
MR. CAMPBELL: Yeah, OK. Thank you. Any more questions? I’m sure that everyone is thirsty. It’s been a long session. [LAUGHTER] Going, going, going. All right, well, let me thank our panelists. Obviously, we’ve just… [APPLAUSE] …we’re just scraping the surface of a very complex subject, but I think what you’ve heard, in the course of this afternoon, is the very real evidence of the scale of this illicit trade and you’ve heard words from different aspects and museum and the trade communities of the steps we’re attempting to take. I’m sure we will continue to work on and refine these practices. We’re all part of this. We all want to do everything we can to, as I said in my opening remarks, prepare for the day, pray it comes soon, when some sort of peace and stability returns to this part of the world. Thank you all very much. We have a reception now in the Temple of Dendur.