Stolen Art Updates From Around the World

1. CAIRO (AP).- Taking advantage of Egypt's political upheaval, thieves have gone on a treasure hunt with a spree of illegal digging, preying on the country's ancient pharaonic heritage. Illegal digs near ancient temples and in isolated desert sites have swelled a staggering 100-fold over the past 16 months since a popular uprising toppled Hosni Mubarak's 29-year regime and security fell apart in many areas as police simply stopped doing their jobs. The pillaging comes on top of a wave of break-ins last year at archaeological storehouses — and even at Cairo's famed Egyptian Museum, the country's biggest repository of pharaonic artifacts. Horrified archaeologists and antiquities authorities are scrambling to prevent smuggling, keeping a watch on European and American auction houses in case stolen artifacts show up there. "Criminals became so bold they are digging in landmark areas." including near the Great Pyramids in Giza, other nearby pyramids and the grand temples of the southern city of Luxor, said Maj.-Gen. Abdel-Rahim Hassan, commander of the Tourism and Antiquities Police Department. "It is no longer a crime motivated by poverty, it's naked greed and it involves educated people," he said.
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2. BOSTON (Reuters) - Authorities spent Thursday searching the home, and digging up the Connecticut yard, of an alleged mobster suspected of having information about a notorious Boston art theft that happened more than twenty years ago.
The search did not unearth the renowned paintings and other artwork nabbed from Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum on March 18, 1990, a source familiar with the activities said. But FBI agents carried away boxes, apparently of possible evidence, from the house.
Thieves disguised as Boston police officers entered the museum, located in a mansion modeled on a 15th century Venetian palazzo, at night, handcuffed guards and made off with 13 art works.
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/sns-rt-us-art-theft-gardnerbre8491lo-20120510,0,3883852.story
3. JERUSALEM.- Inspectors of the Israel Antiquities Authority recently seized two covers of Egyptian sarcophagi that contained ancient mummies in the past. The covers were confiscated by inspectors of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery while checking shops in the market place of the Old City in Jerusalem. The ancient covers, which are made of wood and coated with a layer of plaster, are adorned with breathtaking decorations and paintings of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. The coffins were taken for examination on the suspicion they might be stolen property. After undergoing examination by experts, which included among other things a Carbon 14 analysis for the purpose of dating the wood, it was unequivocally determined that these items are authentic and thousands of years old: one of the covers is dated to the period between the 10th and 8th centuries BCE (Iron Age) and the other to between the 16th and 14th centuries BCE (Late Bronze Age). Because these are rare artifacts made of organic material, they are being held for the time being in custody, under climate-control conditions, in the laboratories of the Israel Antiquities Authority in Jerusalem. Wooden sarcophagi of this kind have only been found in Egypt so far, and were preserved thanks to the dry desert climate that prevails there. It is suspected that Egyptian antiquities robbers plundered ancient tombs in the region of the Western Desert in Egypt, and afterwards unknown persons smuggled the wooden covers from Egypt to Dubai, and from there they found their way to Israel by way of a third country in Europe. Evidence of their having been smuggled is indicated by the sawing of the covers into two parts, which caused irreparable damage to the ancient items. This was presumably done to reduce their dimensions and facilitate concealing and transporting them in a standard size suitcase. Covers of this kind usually enclosed a sarcophagus made of palm wood c. 2 meters long, which contained the embalmed remains of a person. It is unclear what happened to the mummy and the sarcophagus.
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4. LONDON (AP).- British police say they have recovered two Chinese artifacts valued together at more than 2 million pounds ($3.2 million) that were stolen from a university museum earlier this month. Raiders chiseled through a wall to snatch the Qing Dynasty items from the Oriental Museum at Durham University in northern England on April 5. Police soon arrested several suspects, but the items — a large jade bowl with a Chinese poem written inside that dates back to 1769, and a Dehua porcelain sculpture — were not immediately recovered. Durham Police said Saturday that both artifacts had been retrieved, though it did not say how. Police have named two men they are searching for over the raid — Lee Wildman and Adrian Stanton, both from the West Midlands area of central England. The Oriental Museum is currently undergoing a major redevelopment project. This will involve the closure and complete redisplay of many of the galleries over the next 4-5 years. Work on the Egypt and China galleries has now been completed. During 2012/13 work will be getting underway on the Japan, South and South East Asia and Islamic World gallleries. We are trying to keep as much of the museum open and accessible to visitors during this work but it will involve some closures and disruption.
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5. ST. LOUIS (AP).- A St. Louis museum can keep hold of a 3,200-year-old mummy's mask, a federal judge has ruled, saying the U.S. government failed to prove that the Egyptian relic was ever stolen. Prosecutors said the funeral mask of Lady Ka-Nefer-Nefer went missing from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo about 40 years ago and that it should be returned to its country of origin. The St. Louis Art Museum said it researched the provenance of the mask and legitimately purchased it in 1998 from a New York art dealer. U.S. District Judge Henry Autry in St. Louis sided with the museum. The U.S. government "does not provide a factual statement of theft, smuggling or clandestine importation," Autry wrote in the March 31 ruling. "The Government cannot simply rest on its laurels and believe that it can initiate a civil forfeiture proceeding on the basis of one bold assertion that because something went missing from one party in 1973 and turned up with another party in 1998, it was therefore stolen and/or imported or exported illegally," the judge wrote. A message left with Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities was not returned. The 20-inch-long funeral mask of painted and gilded plaster-coated linen over wood with inlaid glass eyes was excavated from one of the Saqqara pyramids, about 16 miles south of Cairo, in 1952. Ka-Nefer-Nefer was a noblewoman who lived from 1295 BC to 1186 BC. U.S. government investigators suspect the mask was stolen sometime between 1966, when it was shipped to Cairo for an exhibit, and 1973, when the Egyptian Museum discovered it was missing. The art museum bought the mask in 1998 for $499,000 from a New York art dealer, and it has been on display at the museum in Forest Park ever since. U.S. Attorney Richard Callahan said a decision on whether to appeal has not been made. "We're just looking to make sure we haven't missed the tiniest bit of circumstantial evidence," Callahan said. "We're back to the drawing board and studying it." Museum officials have said they researched the mask's ownership history before buying it and had no indication there were questions about how it arrived in the U.S. The museum's research showed the mask was part of the Kaloterna private collection during the 1960s, before a Croatian collector, Zuzi Jelinek, bought it in Switzerland and later sold it to Phoenix Ancient Art of New York in 1995. The art museum purchased the mask from Phoenix Ancient Art. St. Louis Art Museum attorney David Linenbroker said the museum is confident the ruling will mean that the mask can remain permanently in St. Louis. "We don't have any interest in possessing a stolen object," Linenbroker said. "We've been facing all this innuendo for years." He said the legal process provided an opportunity for someone to prove the mask had been stolen, but no one did. "We're confident we're the rightful owner," Linenbroker said. Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.
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