Wednesday, December 22, 2010

archaeologists accepted Greek Cypriot looting of Alaas, Cyprus?

Analysing the evidence from rescue excavations of Alaas, Cyprus, it appears that private collectors violated their secret agreement with archaeologists, and bought Greek Cypriot-looted antiquities (rather than reporting the looters to the Greek Cypriot police).

Worse, it seems that archaeologists accepted the looting and collecting (rather than reporting the collectors to the Greek Cypriot police).


In the late 1960s-early 1970s, two cemeteries near Alaas had been looted; then, in 1973, Alaas was looted (again); and in 1973 and 1974, the Republic of Cyprus Department of Antiquities ran rescue excavations at Alaas, Famagusta District. The next year, Vassos Karageorghis published the rescue excavation of Alaas: a Protogeometric Necropolis in Cyprus.

(There is an interesting historical footnote.(1))


First, looters robbed eleven tombs (Tombs 1-11), and refilled ten of them; then the Department excavated the unfilled looted tomb (#11), and eight other tombs (Tombs 12-19), of which two had been looted in antiquity (Tombs 12 and 18; ibid.: 2; 6; 20).

In the archaeologist-excavated tombs:
  • recently looted Tomb 11 had 4 catalogued objects (ibid.: 5-6);
  • long-ago looted Tomb 12 had 5 catalogued objects (ibid.: 6-7);
  • unlooted Tomb 13 had 8 catalogued objects (ibid.: 7-8);
  • unlooted Tomb 14 had 2 catalogued objects (ibid.: 9);
  • unlooted Tomb 15 had 13 catalogued objects (ibid.: 10-12);
  • unlooted Tomb 16 had 24 catalogued objects (ibid.: 13-15);
  • unlooted Tomb 17 had 28 catalogued objects (ibid.: 16-19);
  • long-ago looted Tomb 18 had no catalogued objects (ibid.: 20); and
  • unlooted Tomb 19 had 27 catalogued objects (ibid.: 20-23).
Outside scientific excavations' public collections:
  • the Hadjiprodromou Collection had 93 objects (ibid.: 28-41); and
  • the Severis Collection had 27 objects (ibid.: 41-45).
  • there were 112 artefacts in 6 unlooted tombs;
  • on average, there were 18.67 artefacts in each unlooted tomb;
  • so, (excluding the two tombs looted in antiquity) there were probably around 317 (±35%) artefacts in total in the 17 unlooted and recently-looted tombs (1-11, 13-17 and 19);
  • yet, in total in the 17 unlooted and recently-looted tombs, there were 116 (36.59% of the approximate probable total);
  • and, if excavated recently-looted Tomb 11 were representative, there would be about 40 (12.62%) artefacts left in the unexcavated recently-looted tombs (1-10);
  • while there were 120 (37.85%) looted antiquities in Hadjiprodromou and Severis collections;
  • and thereby an estimated 41 (12.93%) missing artefacts – dealt on to other, unidentified collectors, or destroyed or discarded.
Notably, the two known private antiquities collectors did not buy 'some', but probably most of the looted artefacts from Alaas (120 of 161, 74.53%).

Archaeologists' and private collectors' secret agreement

According to antiquities director Karageorghis (1999: 17), Hadjiprodromou's and Severis's private antiquities collections were two of the most important ones formed through a silent accord and amnesty, during the intracommunal and intercommunal conflicts of 1963-1973.

Under the secret agreement, Greek Cypriot archaeologists encouraged Greek Cypriot private collectors to buy illicit antiquities looted by Turkish Cypriots, in Turkish Cypriot enclaves, which the Greek Cypriot administration could not control or police; then the Greek Cypriot administration legalised the private collections of illegal antiquities.

The Department of Antiquities conducted rescue excavations at Alaas because private collectors, who had bought '[s]ome' of the looters' illicit antiquities, warned the Department of 'systematic looting of tombs', and showed them the site (ibid.: 1).

Curiously, the tombs looted in 1973 were looted before the autumn (ibid.: 20), but the collector(s) who tipped off the Department about the looting of Alaas did so at the end of the silent accord, indeed near the end of the amnesty during which they were able to get their collection catalogued and legalised (c.f. Karageorghis, 1999: 17).

Private collectors' public violations of archaeologists' secret policy

Again according to Karageorghis (ibid.), Alaas was one of the sites worst-looted between 1963 and 1973. Yet the nearest village to Alaas was Greek Cypriot Gastria; indeed, the site was entirely surrounded by Greek Cypriot villages (Gastria, Patriki, Agios Theodoros Karpasias, and Vokolida; and the Mediterranean).

So, based upon archaeologists' repeatedly published definitions of their secret agreement with private collectors, [apparently] private collectors exploited the silent accord to buy Greek Cypriot-looted as well as Turkish Cypriot-looted antiquities (and archaeologists were too embarrassed or too complicit to stop them).

Alternatively, archaeologists knew of and accepted private collectors' violations of the government-approved secret accord.

Sadly, given the archaeologists' knowledge of the artefacts looted from Alaas in the private collections, and indeed the archaeologists' publications of those collections, it seems that Greek Cypriot archaeologists knew of and accepted Greek Cypriot private collectors buying Greek Cypriot-looted antiquities in the areas controlled by the Greek Cypriot administration and its police.

Based upon archaeologists' published documentations of the site and the private antiquities collections, private collectors bought Greek Cypriot-looted antiquities, rather than reporting the looters to the Greek Cypriot police; and archaeologists catalogued, legalised and published the collections of illicit antiquities, rather than reporting the collectors to the Greek Cypriot police.

[Corrected on 29th December 2010: I deleted an ungrammatical "either" (which lacked a subsequent "or").]

  1. Normally, the finds would have been stored at Famagusta District Museum, and thus they would have been in the area occupied by the Turkish army in 1974.

    However, when the Turkish army invaded, the finds were being studied at the Cyprus Museum, so the Department of Antiquities still had access to them, and was thereby able to publish the site (Karageorghis, 1975: vii).

Karageorghis, V. 1975: Alaas: A Protogeometric necropolis in Cyprus. Nicosia: Republic of Cyprus Department of Antiquities.

Karageorghis, V. 1999: Ancient Cypriote art in the Severis Collection. Athens: Costakis and Leto Severis Foundation.

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