The Cultural Afterlife of Mosaics in Turkey

By: Laurent Dissard, University of Pennsylvania

Sensational discoveries of mosaics periodically make the headlines of newspapers in Turkey. After being discovered, unearthed, cleaned, and removed, these ancient floors slowly make their way to museums or private collections. For this month’s ASOR Blog on the Archaeology of Anatolia, I wish to examine the curious afterlife of mosaics in, out of, and more recently, back to Turkey. I want to analyze their transformation from buried and forgotten things in the ground, to sanitized artifacts, aesthetic masterpieces, and contested objects of desire.

Unearthed in the late 1990s at Zeugma in Southeastern Turkey during rescue excavations before the construction of the Birecik Dam, the 2nd century AD mosaic below is now displayed in the newly built Mosaic Museum of Gaziantep. It shows Achilles on the island of Skyros leaving for the Trojan War. Thetis, Achilles’ mother, knowing that her son would die by joining the Greek army, dresses him as a girl and sends him to live with a king and his beautiful daughters on the island of Skyros, far away from the war.

Odysseus (R) takes Achilles (C) away from Deidameia (L)

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Cultural Heritage Month Comes to an End

We have had a successful October here, with a great range of posts on cultural heritage projects, the idea of heritage itself, and current problems in the field. If you haven’t read them all already make sure you do. Check out the list of posts below with brief summaries of each.

November 14-17 will be ASOR’s Annual Meeting in Chicago, and we will have some updates from the meeting, so be sure to check in for those! Also we will be focusing on the archaeology of Cyrpus this month, with posts from leading scholars on different periods of Cyprus’ history.

Additionally, La Sierra University is hosting, and ASOR is co-sponsoring, an archaeology weekend focusing on the archaeology of Cyrpus, November 10-11. Check out their program and stop by if you have a chance. Continue reading

The Terms of Heritage

By: Kathryn McDonnell

Specialized terminology, such as stake holders, the “universal museum,” provenance, or even the phrases, “cultural property” or “cultural heritage,” is often used during discussions between law enforcement professionals, such as Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in the US or the Carabinieri in Italy, diplomats (ICOMOS), lawyers, and scholars, including archaeologists. Although these terms allow us to sustain discussion across disciplines, they are often meaningless to non-specialists. In addition, this language can obscure the intellectual, emotional, and economic impact of the antiquities trade, much like the term “human trafficking” stands in for the more visceral, and potentially inflammatory, term “slavery.” My intent here is to break down some of these terms, describe their core concepts, and problematize some of the assumptions beneath them.

What is cultural heritage?

The terms cultural heritage or cultural property are intentionally broad, as they must encompass a world’s worth of objects, sites, and monuments. If you asked me to describe the cultural heritage of the United States, I might mention Gettysburg Battlefield, James Monroe’s home, Ash Lawn-Highland, or Chaco Canyon. I could also choose objects, such as the copy of the Declaration of Independence now in the National Archives, Native American arrowheads, or the sweetgrass baskets of Charleston, SC.

Sweetgrass basket

A sweetgrass basket

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Outrage and the Plight of Cultural Heritage: an Outsider’s Perspective

e corbettBy: Elena Corbett

While this blog post is addressed to ASOR’s archaeological community, I am not an archaeologist, nor do I specialize in the ancient.  And I find the “oriental” in ASOR cringe-worthy.  After getting a Master’s in Islamic Archaeology, I went to the dark side-modern Middle East history.  It’s a better place for people who hate pottery and love modern languages, for those who are more interested in living people, or at least people who were more recently living.  And it’s a better place for those of us who recognize and readily admit that we are political creatures, engaged—as are all producers of knowledge, archaeologists included—in what are ultimately political acts.  It was there among the moderns that this political self found a much more productive avenue of scholarly inquiry for a life-long obsession with archaeology.  Archaeology is, after all, politics.  And the map of the modern Middle East has its inception in exactly that, beginning with the “holy land” imaginary of the Victorian milieu mapped into reality by the Palestine Exploration Fund (PEF) in its Survey of Western Palestine (1871-1877)[1]. This map was destined after the Great War to replace the extant, indigenous holy land of the diverse late Ottoman Empire so embedded in unquestioned Abrahamic tradition and practice[2]. Continue reading

WikiLoot, crowdsourcing against the illicit antiquities trade


Jason Felch, a Los Angeles Times investigative reporter and co-author of Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World’s Richest Museum—a look into the Getty’s involvement in the illegal antiquities trade—agreed to answer a few questions for us about his latest project, WikiLoot.

Can you sum up what WikiLoot is?

WikiLoot is a web platform for collaborative research of the global trade in looted antiquities. We’ll be posting primary- and secondary-source documents about the trade - photographs, business records, court documents, press accounts — and crowdsourcing the tagging, linking, translation and analysis of those records. The result will be an authoritative public database that yields new insights into the size and scope of the trade and helps raise awareness about the consequences of looting. Continue reading

Protecting Archaeological Sites in Conflict Zones: What Is to be Done in Syria?

By: Lawrence Rothfield

The recent upsurge in high profile news stories, in Time and other mass media outlets, about the looting of archaeological sites in Syria has been accompanied by the usual public handwringing by archaeologists and heritage protection organizations. The terrible impact on the world’s cultural patrimony is bewailed, and the heads of UNESCO, the World Monuments Fund, and so on call upon the international community to stop the destruction. What is most depressing, for those of us who study the history of cultural heritage protection in times of armed conflict, is how similar these public statements are to those made in the runup to and the wake of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Thousands of looting pits pockmarking Iraq bear witness to how ineffectual those earlier pronouncements were, and yet the archaeological and heritage community continues to issue them.

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Christina Luke on Building Understanding and Countering the Illegal Trade in Antiquities

One of the highlights of the ASOR Workshop, SECONDARY CONTEXT I, was a contribution by Christina Luke, the noted researcher and scholar of legislation pertaining to the regulation of the movement of unprovenienced artifacts.

Changing attitudes toward looting. What are your ideas?

Euphronios Krater, returned to Italy by the Metropolitan Museum of Art

By Dr. Lynn Swartz Dodd

A growing body of literature documents the reality that the ancient, buried landscape of Israel, including the areas known as the West Bank and Gaza, are being inexorably and irretrievably looted. Looting refers to a process by which objects are removed without official permission or archaeological oversight and documentation. [1] Some positive outcomes may devolve to those who participate in such activities (money from selling artifacts, cultivation of buyer/dealer networks, prestige from owning objects that are old and in increasingly short supply).  In every single case, there is a parallel negative result that occurs, which is the loss of context for an ancient object and the loss of association between those certain artifacts and the place they last were laid by an ancient actor. Anyone who denies that this outcome is the reality is, in this author’s mind, uninformed about the consequences of looting. Continue reading

The Research Imperative

B. Porten at Institute of Archaeology Hebrew University Jerusalem

Dr. Bezalel Porten, Emeritus Professor at Hebrew University (Jerusalem) has devoted much of his recent research to a large number of Idumean ostraca said to come from Khirbet el-Kôm. The following brief remarks are taken from his commentary at ASOR Workshop SECONDARY CONTEXT I. His comments centered on the imperative need to study such material, even if the original find-spot is lost. Dr. Porten’s stance challenges publication policies of some scholarly journals.

-Rick Hauser, Research Associate, IIMAS The International Institute for Mesopotamian Area Studies

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A Class Trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Rachel Hallote
Purchase College SUNY

Next week I will be taking the students in my “Politics and Archaeology” course to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We’ll be going as part of our unit on unprovenanced artifacts, collecting, looting and forgeries.

The assignment I give the class is simple: With a partner, choose a section of a gallery of antiquities—Egyptian, Greek, Roman or Mesopotamian. Walk around and write down the pertinent information for every artifact you see there, whether it’s a tiny bead, or a huge piece of architecture, using the museum display cards as your source. For every artifact, make sure you record: 1- the date when the museum acquired it, 2- whether it was uncovered by an archaeological excavation (and which one), 3- whether it is part of a named collection, 4- whether the museum owns it, or whether it is on loan, 5- the period or century to which the artifact dates, and 6- the artifact’s provenance. Then, quantify your results.

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G.M. Grena
The LMLK Research Website, founder/editor


In comments to Dr. Kersel’s article (Buyer Beware: Shopping for Artifacts in the Holy Land), I expressed disappointment over the undocumented, arbitrary nature of her claims, which amount to an opinion based on hearsay, and contribute little if anything towards scientific knowledge. Herewith, I will present a well-documented firsthand account of my own experience in shopping for artifacts over the past decade in an effort to balance the discussion.

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The Secondary Context Workshop: A Report

Site ravaged by looting, SE corner of the enclosing walls of the inner city, Al Resafa, Syria. Image, courtesy of the photographer, Thomas Schutyser

Site ravaged by looting, SE corner of the enclosing walls of the inner city, Al Resafa, Syria. Image, courtesy of the photographer, Thomas Schutyser

A Report

In the waning days of November, 2011, colleagues in archaeology and related sciences with special interest in research issues centering on the Ancient Near East gathered in San Francisco for their annual meeting. Over 800 of some 1300 members were in attendance; and of these, fully ten percent attended our workshop! Continue reading

Buyer Beware: Shopping for Artifacts in the Holy Land

Morag M. Kersel
DePaul University

Although the recent outcome of the “Trial of the Century” did nothing to settle debate over the authenticity of the inscription on the James Ossuary, this case confirms that artifacts that are purchased on the market are entangled in webs of intrigue. We will never know the exact archaeological provenience (findspot) of this ossuary or the many other artifacts for sale in the licensed shops in Israel. Unsuspecting tourists, collectors, dealers, museums, and educational institutions all take a chance when purchasing artifacts on the Israeli market with no accompanying background information. Buyers should beware.

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April Theme: Fakes, Looting, and Artifacts Lacking Context

The ASOR Blog ( is pleased to announce a new “theme” for the month of April—Unprovenanced Artifacts and Possible Forgeries. The ASOR Blog will continue to post other items of interest that are submitted by the ASOR Staff and ASOR Members, but (just like we did in March) we will solicit posts on the “theme” for the month and also encourage unsolicited submissions on the theme from our membership. The guest editors for the month will be ASOR executive director Andy Vaughn ( and Professors Lynn Swartz Dodd ( and Christopher Rollston ( Submissions should be sent to Andy Vaughn with a CC to Kevin Cooney ( Continue reading

The Response of the Israel Antiquities Authority to the Verdict by the Jerusalem District Court in the Matter of the Forgeries Trial

"Johoash Inscription" that most scholars have determined is a modern forgery; photo credit: courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

This morning (Wednesday, March 14) the verdict was published in the prosecution’s case—the State of Israel vs. Oded Golan, Robert Deutsch, et alia—Criminal Case 482/04. [This post is taken from the IAA website and re-posted on the ASOR Blog]

In response to the decision by Judge Aharon Farkash of the Jerusalem District Court, the Israel Antiquities Authority announces the following: The Israel Antiquities Authority respects the court’s decisions. The Israel Antiquities Authority praises the efforts of the Jerusalem District Attorney’s Office in the case and is proud of the State’s determination in looking out for the broad public interest in the country and abroad, which states it is forbidden to meddle in the history of the peoples that lived and live in the Land of Israel.

The prosecution’s efforts resulted in the conviction of one defendant in this case in the past, and today the court acquitted Oded Golan of forgery and fraud charges on a basis of reasonable doubt, and found him guilty of three counts of violating the Antiquities Law and possession of suspected stolen property. The charges in some of the offenses were cancelled due to the statue of limitations. According to the judge, “The absolute truth was not a guiding light for Golan”. Continue reading

Eric Meyers’ reaction to the verdict in the forgery trial in Israel

Reaction to Golan Acquittal, Professor Eric M. Meyers, Duke University

The verdict announced today, March 14, by Judge Aharon Farkash in Jerusalem, acquitting Oded Golan and Robert Deustch of all major charges comes as no surprise. The James ossuary first came into public view some ten years ago in Toronto when a special exhibition was mounted at the Royal Ontario Museum coterminous with the conventions of the Society of Biblical Literature and the American Schools of Oriental Research. I was among the very first to question the wisdom or such an exhibition after the artifact had a questionable provenance and had come to the public’s attention with such hoopla, which is not the normal way for important artifacts or subjects to be vetted. Speaking at a plenary session of SBL I also drew attention to portions of the inscription which seemed questionable at best and to the rush to judgment that this was the brother of Jesus of Nazareth. Secondary burial in an ossuary was a common form of inhumation in late Second Temple times that continued on for some time after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE in the Galilee. It was the dominant form of burial at the Jewish necropolis of Beth She`arim near Sepphoris where Rabbi Judah the Prince was buried in the 3rd c. CE. Continue reading