Forgeries in the international antiquities market, Africa and others

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The Independent Online

Fakes and forgeries exist in the international antiquities market

Fakes and forgeries exist in the international antiquities market

Sir: Professor Palmer's letter (26 May) querying my reported statements made at the recent Art and Crime conference (report, 24 May), gives me the opportunity to clarify the situation. The meeting, jointly organised by the Fraud Advisory Panel and The Art Club, was principally concerned with theft and illicit trade. My contribution was on methods of detecting forgeries. Thus I thought it appropriate to point out that although it is generally accepted that many unprovenanced antiquities on the international art market are likely to be illicit exports, it is less generally appreciated that many other unprovenanced pieces could be forgeries.

I am sorry if this was misunderstood and I am a little surprised that Professor Palmer did not take the opportunity to address me during the ample question time after my paper. If he had done so I could have emphasised there and then that I was speaking of unprovenanced antiquities on the international market.

The looting of antiquities and their forgery do seem often to be linked, the one counterbalancing the other. For example, ancient ceramics from Oaxaca in Mexico were locally forged on a massive scale up until the 1960s. Then land development revealed a large number of new archaeological sites, and these were plundered. As the American archaeologist R D Shaplin put it "the lonely and time consuming art of the forger ... is less rewarding than their illicit excavation", and the fake factories were no more.

Conversely, the large-scale trade in anthropomorphic vessels looted from the Neolithic site of Haçilar in southern Turkey during the 1960s was stopped dead in its tracks after the publication of thermoluminescence tests showing that many in Western museum collections were in fact forgeries. Fear of purchasing a forgery accomplished what the Turkish antiquities laws apparently could not. As James Mellaart, the archaeologist in charge of the excavations concluded in his report on the site, the affair "was one of the most tragic chapters in the history of archaeology".



Africa needs to be led from within

Sir: Reading your Africa issue (1 June) and Niall Ferguson's Empire I am struck by the similarities between his descriptions of the "scramble for Africa" in the late 19th century, when the world's superpowers frequently met to stake their claims to various places, and the situation that presents itself today. Your columnist Basildon Peta asserts that it is the African leaders who need sorting out. In that case why do the G8 members convene alone to decide the continent's direction as far as poverty and aid are concerned? A meeting as important as this should surely involve some participation from those who are directly implicated in the appalling lack of progress that African nations have made.



Sir: The Independent's current welcome focus on Africa includes a sentence about female genital mutilation (FGM), but this is also practised in the UK. The British 1999 Labour Force Survey estimated that over 100,000 FGMs have taken place here, and that, even now, 25,000 girls and young women are at risk from this tragic, disabling and often fatal form of sexual violence. Even our 2003 FGM Act has not been enforced against this barbarous ritual practice, while in the 28 African countries where it is prevalent, about 100-140 million women and female children suffer from it, generally in Muslim areas. However, it must be stressed that FGM is against Islamic religion.

Since 1983 FORWARD (www. have campaigned with UN, international, regional, national and local community agencies to influence legislators and policymakers in outlawing FGM, as well as developing treatment and counselling centres for those who suffer agonising childbirth, sex, excretion, infections and general ill-health. Nevertheless, the influential media like The Independent, have a vital, continuing role to play in exposing and discussing this disgusting practice.



Sir: Throughout the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries the European ruling élites plundered the continent of Africa for its natural and human resources for the purposes of enhancing their own prestige, power and wealth. During the 20th century such behaviour became unfashionable in the West and the Europeans left the Africans to govern themselves. When African élites then proceeded to copy the example set them by the departed Europeans they were met with the demand that they "Do as we say not as we do". The most appropriate response would be a howl of grimly cackling laughter.



We must pay to save the forests

Sir: Thank you for your recent articles on the destruction of the Brazilian and Russian forests (20 May and 31 May). Some letters you have published on this topic argue that since the European countries had destroyed our forests we could not criticise Brazilians for now decimating theirs. But the central fact seems to me to be that when "we", from the time of the Romans in Britain, through the Middle Ages and the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions, cut down most of the British woodlands, this was done in ignorance of the effects on the environment and the world. It was part of growth and change at that time.

However, we now know that continued devastation of complex ecosystems is a threat to individual species and to the planet itself. Thus the conditions under which the forests are cleared, in terms of human understanding, are not the same at all. This supports the argument that we should therefore provide financial help to the countries which have these key planetary resources, in order to maintain them, just as our agricultural subsidies here are now turning to encouraging a more balanced ecosystem.



The EU constitution calls for reinvention

Sir: I welcome the French "no" vote on the EU Constitution, and I agree with John Rentoul (Opinion, 31 May) that this reinvigorates debate on EU reform. I disagree that the French vote means a constitution is unnecessary; we need a constitution to entrench human rights and citizen and nation responsibilities, but one which moves away from the wrong-headed focus on economic neo-liberal policies and EU military role. The proposed spread of military power through the instigation of the "Rapid Reaction Force" undermines the proper role of the EU in promoting peace, while the prioritisation of trade and competition disregards the need for environmentally sound and locally sustainable production. We need a constitution which focuses on social justice and sustainability, rather than free trade and profit. The rejection of the constitution by the French people is the first step in reinventing an accountable and democratic EU with the support of its citizens.



Parents make the best parents

Sir: As Deborah Orr writes (31 May) "lifestyle" programmes dominate our current TV schedules, but viewers who lap up Delia Smith, Ground Force and Supernanny have no more intention of parenting their children than they have of cooking crème brûlée or laying a patio.

I know of very few babies who are not placed in the hands of a paid carer for a number of hours each week, often from the age of six months or less. In encouraging both parents to work the Government is doing a disservice to the next generation. It ought to be a truism that the best parenting is done by parents, but few will acknowledge or recognise this. It is accepted now that if you have a baby, somebody else will be caring for it at some time during its formative years.

I am sure many parents feel slightly guilty about this, hence weekends and evenings are deemed "quality time" - a special time because parents and children are together. To ensure everybody knows this is special, the time is packed with events and theme parks; children aren't chastised because that would spoil the day.

Feminism did a great disservice to our children by denigrating motherhood and Thatcherism compounded this by encouraging everybody to work ridiculously hard to be able to afford consumer durables - the only goal in life, naturally. If parents spend time getting to know their children in their pre-school years and care for them themselves in their own home, I'm sure the Government's proposed parenting classes would be unnecessary.



The ghosts in the voting machine

Sir: Before your campaign succeeds and helps to bring about a much-needed change in our electoral system, perhaps you should take a look at how the electoral register is compiled.

For example, the house in which I live is, according to the register, subdivided into three flats with 11 occupants. Flat C is listed as having three occupants, including a Mr Ben Dover. Neither Ben nor the other two registered voters is real, and that is not surprising, because Flat C does not exist either.

Of the 11 voters listed only four really live in the house. I made a complaint about this farrago at the polling station, and was all but brushed off until I insisted that it was reported. Three weeks later I complained again, to Camden council, and was not reassured by their reply.

The line that struck me as the most revealing was this: "The reason for retaining names where we have not received a return is to ensure as far as possible that electors who have registered are able to vote when an election is called".

In other words, once you are on the register you stay on until someone tells the council you've gone. And the way to get yourself on to it is to fill in the return, adding whichever names take your fancy for a laugh. Nothing is checked. You don't even have to identify yourself. So anyone can become a voter, whether they are eligible, or exist, or not.

In a borough with a large transient population such as Camden, one wonders how many other ghosts appear on the voting register? It would be interesting to find out: my street alone would be worth checking. Ben Dover did not vote, as it happens, being a silly joke. But shouldn't such jokes ring fire bells at the town hall? Does anybody check, or care?



Sir: One of the problems with our democracy is that MPs are meant to fulfill three roles: to act as people's advocate in dealings with government; to formulate and scrutinize legislation; and to deliver the people's assent. There is a conflict of interest in trying to achieve all these things, and given the overwhelming influence of the political parties, where there is a conflict, the party wins in nearly all cases. The farcical whipping-in system is the most extreme example of this, with parties bullying MPs to follow the party line.

I propose that the three roles identified above be split so that professional advocates take up the role of the constituency MP; party nominees debate, formulate and scrutinize legislation; and a random selection of ordinary people provide or deny assent on behalf of the population at large. Let's get radical.



Travelling green

Sir: Julia Stephenson's remark (The Green Goddess, 30 May) that she "took the train (no carbon emissions, no tree planting required)" is, I suspect, another example of the widespread belief that electric trains and electric cars are "zero emission". While it is true that there are no emissions at the point of use, the generation of electricity, in the UK, is associated with considerable carbon dioxide, and other, emissions. So, keep planting those trees, Julia.



Sir: Congratulations on your feature ("Revealed: The real cost of air travel", 28 May) in which it was claimed that the emissions from the continuing expansion of cheap flights is making nonsense of Britain's global warming targets. Maybe to get the message across to politicians and people alike, it's time we reinvented the old war-time slogan to, "Is your aircraft journey really necessary?"



Mystery Armani man

Sir: I, like John Lichfield, (Our man in Paris, 31 May), met the mystery Italian selling at a reduced rate, or even giving away, his "samples" in a Sainsbury's car park, Derby, in 2004. He was most insistent and followed me to my car making impassioned pleas to relieve him of these fine Armani leather jackets. He even showed me his passport in order to prove how genuine he was. Eventually I managed to escape but whether he found someone less sceptical I cannot say.



No ID card infallible

Sir: I do not share Terry Lurie's optimism about Chip and PIN technology (letter, 30 May). As a rule of thumb, any institution, financial or political, that claims something is "unbreakable", "unforgeable" or "infallible" is peddling snake oil. If it can be manufactured, then it can be copied, given sufficient effort. ID cards share the same problems as bank cards, but add new technical challenges concerning biometrics, ethical challenges concerning civil liberties, and financial challenges justifying the huge costs and dubious benefits.



Classroom girl power

Sir: Reading Janaki Mehta's comments (letter, 31 May) I feel she has ignored an important factor. From the point of view of a male A-level student, single-sex classes would further accentuate the gender imbalance where boys perform poorly in comparison to girls, as it is usually the girls in a class who moderate unruly boys' behaviour. Single-sex classes would remove this pacifying influence.



Hoodie vs anorak

Sir: Q: When does a hoodie become an anorak? (Letters, 26 May). A: When he's over 40.