View Full Version : Entirely OT: art history, archaeology, and forensic science input from anyone?

05-30-2007, 02:47 AM
Hi all

I am conducting a large piece of research that I have chosen because I find it extremely interesting. I call it my mini-thesis (or large essay). I thought I would ask whether anyone has any suggestions, input, or experience in this area?
(By the way, if this is something you think is really inappropriate to post about, please feel free to say so. But I see this as a community of people who are not just sharing crafting info, but talk about other things, so I thought I'd ask for input from anyone who has knowledge of this area. Let me know if you are not happy about that.)

I am a postgrad forensic science student, and this essay is on the use of forensic techniques for regulating, enforcing, policing, and monitoring the black market trade in archaeological artefacts and valuable artworks, including provenance and detecting forgeries.

So far this has mostly focused on authenticating artworks (chemical analysis of paints etc./authenticating signatures and so on) purely because I have found more examples of the science being used in this area, more so than archaeology. I'm hoping there are people on the forum who have knowledge in this area, especially archaeologists, but I would like to hear from anyone with a comment! This could include an interesting example that you saw in a documentary years ago, or a journal reference, anything you think might be relevant in any way!

(NB: right now, I am not looking at archaeological forgeries/hoaxes like Piltdown, Archaeoraptor. Again, if you think that this falls under 'help with homework' and shouldn't be seen on the forum, tell me.)

Thanks for input of any kind!


Susan P.
05-30-2007, 04:32 AM
This comment is a tangential one but, for what it's worth, I am repeatedly disturbed at the trade in cultural artifacts that can occur on e-bay. I believe governments need to step in and internationally put a ban on the commercial sale of certain national artifacts. Because of the currency differences globally, individuals looks to e-bay as a way to try and obtain US dollars and higher prices for items rather than offering items to museums or individuals onshore. (Obviously caveats exist)

If I were you I would join some of the archaeological listservs because some of these issues are raised from time to time. But a tip, avoid the commercial ones that work to look like noncommercial sites. Join listservs that are run out of either a university or a national/international archaeological group. I would also approach major national art galleries and ask about conferences etc in art forgery and for information about latest developments in detecting art forgeries (every year or two we hear about a major work being questioned).

05-30-2007, 07:30 AM
Thank you, that is exactly the kind of thing I'm interested in, in one section of my essay I'm covering 'recent developments/challenges' to the field, and the two big things are the proliferation of sites like eBay which are problematic in the way they open up a whole new unquestioning market, the second is the war in Iraq which has destroyed local infrastructure and led to the looting of museums in one of the most archaeologically significant regions of the world.

Interesting example re. the art: an employee of Steven Spielberg recently noticed that an item in his collection (recently purchased legitimately) was listed as stolen - a Norman Rockwell painting (bought in good faith)!!

Thank you!

Miss Moosey
05-30-2007, 07:55 AM
I'm no archaeology expert, but my freshman year of college I had to read a book entitled "Stealing History" by Roger Atwood. It talks about the illegal antiquities trade in general and also follows the story of one particular stolen artifact from South America from the 1980's, when it was discovered by tomb robbers, to its fairly recent recovery. Maybe that might be of help.


Susan P.
05-30-2007, 09:05 AM
The loss of cultural artifacts through war or through disaster has occurred throughout the world and certainly there is a lot of material available about this from the World Wars. Some years ago I joined what was really a museum listserv and there an example was raised about a pacific island nation that, through both disaster and economic hardship, was battling to preserve it's cultural heritage (even at the level of being able to man the museum more than a day a week and have a phone). The tsunami may have led to problems also in this area.

The issue of e-bay is really economic greed/desire (because it's not always greed) vs heritage retainment and preservation. It can also be about the 'average joe and judy' knowing how to decipher the value of an object they may locate in granny's attic and so on.

I would also add that some countries are now asking for their national items to be returned to them (items lost either via war pillage or via being stolen in war times etc and passed onto collectors in other countries). This is even a forensic issue at the human cadaver level where the body parts of indigenous peoples et al have found their way into museum collections internationally (and communities are now asking for their return).

yes, I recall the spielberg related case..interesting :)

05-30-2007, 10:47 AM
Thanks, but I mean forensic in the sense of forensic science - 'legal' science. Although those things like the Elgin Marbles are interesting to discuss, there's not so much 'forensic' relevance for this topic I think. Anything owned by Granny and sold on eBay, even if it were for a huge unfair profit, is not illegal trafficking/black market/theft/forgery-related. eBay does present big problems though in creating a new market, where 20 years ago a seller would have had to prove that s/he obtained that item legitimately... such an interesting topic!

Susan P.
05-30-2007, 07:00 PM
I was thinking of say items like war medals (rare ones) or even indigenous artifacts like stone carved axe heads and items taken from rare indigenous sites. e-bay has been a repository for items from major crimes and does create a lucrative market place for forgers across many item fields. I take your point however. I think delimiting your study is important and you're obviously doing that. You have access to say Factiva? There should be significant research available through that to at least give you multiple references. The NZ Fed Police (not sure if that's right name) would have an art forgery unit I think. Many major fed police agencies do..they may have some interesting info.

05-31-2007, 12:33 AM

I am an archaeologist! Did you want to know how archaeologists authenticate artifacts? What they in fact excavate themselves? Or when an artifact is presented to them out of context? Or both?

PS...don't even get me started on the theft of artifacts!

05-31-2007, 01:14 AM
An archaeologist! Joy! It's basically about the use of forensic science techniques in regulating, enforcing, policing, and monitoring of illegal trafficking in art treasures and archaeological artefacts - including detecting forgeries, ascertaining provenance. So are you familiar with any uses of forensic science in this? Like the Egyptian papyri that turned out to be from somewhere between 1700 and 1950 through paint analysis, analysis of the Vinland map, etc.?