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Mesopotamian Vase Sheds Light On Germany's Artefacts Trade

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Author Topic: Mesopotamian Vase Sheds Light On Germany's Artefacts Trade  (Read 1023 times)
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« on: July 01, 2009, 07:37:49 am »

                              Mesopotamian vase sheds light on Germany's artefacts trade

June 30, 2009
Iraqi authorities say they don't want the vase back

A legal dispute surrounding an antique golden vase being held in a museum vault in Mainz shines light on the surprisingly important role Germany plays in the often shady world of antiques trading.

The case sounds more like an esoteric crime novel than a simple legal tussle, involving as it does archaeologists, rare-coin dealers, customs officials, and the Iraqi embassy in Berlin.

At its heart is a golden vase just six centimeters high that may or may not have its origins in ancient Mesopotamia. 

The vase is currently being held by Michael Mueller-Karpe, an archaeologist at the Roman-Germanic Central Museum in Mainz, Germany. Three years ago he was charged with providing the court with an expert opinion on the provenance of the object, which is at the center of a lawsuit over fencing illegally trafficked goods.
« Last Edit: July 01, 2009, 08:05:07 am by Bianca » Report Spam   Logged

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« Reply #1 on: July 01, 2009, 07:46:29 am »

Archaeologist refuses to comply

The Iraqi embassy in Berlin says the vase would be less safe back in Iraq
Now Mueller-Karpe is ignoring a court order, and refuses to turn the vase back over to the customs officials who confiscated it. The Iraqi embassy in Berlin has asked him not to, he says. Apparently they believe the object is safer where it is.

Contrary to reports in the German media, the Stuttgart Customs Investigations Office is not about to break into the vault at the Roman-Germanic museum and grab the vase by force.

"I don't know how that rumor got started, but it's not true," said Dieter Peulen, the acting director of the Stuttgart Customs Investigation Office.

He would, however, like to get the object back.

"I've never seen anything like this before," said Peulen. "At the moment, [the vase] has been confiscated by customs. [Mueller-Karpe] doesn't own it. In my opinion, the court has requested him to give it back, and he should do so."

The vase showed up in Germany years ago in the catalog of a Munich auction house, designated as a Mediterranean piece from the Roman Iron Age. But someone familiar with Mesopotamian art spotted it, and sued the auctioneer for breach of the Foreign Trade Law.
« Last Edit: July 01, 2009, 07:48:24 am by Bianca » Report Spam   Logged

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« Reply #2 on: July 01, 2009, 07:49:49 am »

Stolen objects transit through Germany

Germany's lax cultural heritage laws blur the line between trading and trafficking antiques.

As part of the suit, customs officials brought the object to the museum in Mainz to have its provenance checked.

Mueller-Karpe said the vase is "most probably" around 4,500 years old, and believes it was stolen by grave robbers from the ancient royal cemetery in the city of Ur, Iraq. Its provenance may be researched further as the case moves through the courts, said customs official Peulen.

International traffic in antiques and artefacts from Iraq has bloomed since the fall of Saddam Hussein. According to the Spiegel Online newsmagazine, of the 15,000 pieces that were robbed from the National Museum in Baghdad in the wake of the US invasion in 2003, just 6,000 have been returned. Many of the missing objects - and more stolen from grave robbers around Ur - make their way through German auction houses at some point on their travels.

Indeed, the case sheds light on Germany's overall role in both antiques trading and antiques trafficking - a distinction that is often hard to make when it comes to the sale of ancient objects, experts say.
« Last Edit: July 01, 2009, 07:51:19 am by Bianca » Report Spam   Logged

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« Reply #3 on: July 01, 2009, 07:52:43 am »

'Unfortunate' legal situation

Germany was the last industrial country to sign a UNESCO convention on protecting cultural heritage, and its loose demands for documentation on exports of some ancient objects seen as being friendly to fencers and smugglers.

Bildunterschrift: GroŖansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift:  Mueller-Karpe faces the possibility of a prison sentence in Iraq if he returns the vase
"The legal situation in Germany is very unfortunate for us," the Iraqi culture attache in Berlin told Spiegel Online. The burden of proof, "especially for objects stolen by grave robbers," is too high, he said. "Even an expert opinion with a probability of provenance of 95 percent isn't enough for the courts."

According to Mueller-Karpe, the two-handled vase - which he believes is a "miniature version" of a Sumerian-era vase that would have served a functional purpose - remains in the museum for the time being.

He told dpa news agency that it would be too dangerous for him to give it back to customs authorities, since the Iraqis have threatened that anyone who is involved in helping fence stolen goods could face a sentence of up to five years in Iraq.

Since he is frequently on archaological digs in Iraq, Mueller-Karpe said, the sentence threat means he would lose his opportunity to work.

Jennifer Abramsohn

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« Reply #4 on: July 01, 2009, 10:04:35 am »

                               German-Iraqi dispute mounts over 4,500-year-old gold vase

Middle East News
Jun 30, 2009, 13:02 GMT
Deutch Presse-Agentur

- An Iraqi-German dispute heated up over an antique gold vase on Tuesday, as German customs officers said they would retrieve the object from a Mainz museum vault on Thursday, despite Iraqi opposition.

Both the Iraqi government and a Munich auction house have laid rival claims on the six-centimetre high vessel, safeguarded at the Roman-Germanic museum in Mainz since 2006.

The customs officials intend to hand the artefact to the Finance Court in Munich for valuation, while the Iraqi ambassador has asked the museum not to release it.

'I hope that, by Thursday, we will reach an amicable solution on this issue,' said archaeologist Michael Mueller-Karpe of the Mainz museum.

The customs officials, originally due to visit Tuesday, had threatened to cut open the vault with a welder if necessary, Mueller-Karpe added.

'I don't think this will happen though,' the archaeologist told German Press Agency dpa.

The Berlin branch of the International Council of Museums backed Mueller-Karpe, saying his resoluteness deserved 'every respect, it is in complete accord with the ethical guidelines for museums.'

Mueller-Karpe estimates the gold phial to be 4,500 years old. With all likelihood, the archaeologist believes the object to have been plundered from a royal grave in Iraq.

In 2005, investigators had seized the item from the Munich-based auction house, which had listed it as originating from the eastern Mediterranean area of the Roman Empire, Mueller-Karpe said.

The Iraqi ambassador asked the museum not to release the item until its provenance and ownership had been definitively settled by the court of highest instance - if necessary the European Court of Justice.

Mueller-Karpe said the handling of stolen goods was comparatively easy in Germany, where owners and traders of archaeological treasures did not need documentary proof of their provenance.

UNESCO and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) estimate the illegal trade in cultural treasures to be worth 6 to 8 billion dollars (4.3 to 5.7 billion euros) annually.

Investigations had shown that dealers often listed a false age and origin to circumvent a ban on trading objects from plundered graves, Mueller-Karpe said, adding that buyers and sellers knew full well what they were actually trading.

A 140-year-old export ban on artefacts from the Ancient Near East has drastically limited the 'legal' availability of objects from countries including Iraq, Syria or Turkey, Mueller-Karpe said.

A cylinder seal, authenticated with official documents, had recently sold for 145,000 dollars, the archaeologist said.

A comparable object, described by the trader as originating from 'old Swiss family property,' had sold for a few thousand dollars, Mueller-Karpe added.
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