We have developed the antiquities trade’s most vigorous and stringent procedures of due diligence for establishing the authenticity and provenance/ownership history of objects.
Provenance can be difficult to determine. We have hired six independent firms to handle such research. These experts search objects against several lost art registries, including the Art Loss Register and Interpol. We compiled a digital database of over 495 public auction catalogues including Bonham’s, Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Parke Bernet, among others with some published sales going as far back as 1910, as well as a growing library of publications from the 19th century, and have successfully matched works of art from our holdings demonstrating their long standing provenance. Enormous amounts of time and effort go into locating documentation of prior ownership, including, but not limited to publications, sworn affidavits, dated photographs, invoices, customs documents, insurance policies, correspondence, inventory documents, bank and estate records.
Phoenix Ancient Art offers an evaluation service for those who seek to verify the authenticity and/or the value of an ancient work of art that is within our sphere of expertise. We also purchase works of art from private collectors, public auctions, art dealers, art brokers and we negotiate de-accessions from museums worldwide.
We go to great lengths to ensure the authenticity of each individual object. This extends from scholarly historical and stylistic analysis to scientific reports, carried out by reputable laboratories and/or scientists/specialists, based on thermo-luminescence, “Carbon 14”, metallurgic, and other advanced testing such as analysis by scanning electron microscopy (SEM) in addition to surface analysis. When necessary, this process is done to ensure that an artifact is authentic with regards to its description, culture and date.
Phoenix Ancient Art has spent the last 25 years contributing to various ad hoc efforts around the globe to improve regulation of the antiquities market.
Recipients of such funds include the British Museum, the Louvre, the University of Princeton Museum, the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, the Milken Institute, the American Council for the Preservation of Cultural Property, and others.
We’ve provided funding for the publication of the finds of the 1936 excavations by Sir Charles Leonard Woolley of Al Mina, Coastal Northern Syria (British Museum), the excavations and preservation of Kinik Höyük, South Central Turkey (ISAW / NYU), an excavation project in Lylibee, Sicily (University of Geneva) and more recently a donation to the Royal Cemetery Protection Initiative in Ur, Iraq (UNESCO).
Yet, a black market still exists, and our legitimate business, like others, has been harmed by it. We believe that the market’s over-reliance upon discretion encourages speculation and rumors about the magnitude of a black market to run rampant, fueling distrust. It is time to change this dynamic and correct the misinformation.
We have become convinced that more transparency would help stop unfounded rumors. We and our customers agree that looting is not only morally wrong, but that it hurts all of humanity in the loss of contextual data for objects removed from the ground covertly. That loss of knowledge also provides a window for those wishing to exploit a historically legitimate market.
On the other hand, we cannot turn a blind eye to all objects that lack provenance information dating back to their removal from the ground. We have learned much from them – in fact, they exist in the great majority of the world’s museums. And it is important to understand that the antiquities market has thrived for centuries. The reality is that due to normal human behavior, complete documentation for an object thousands of years old is not always possible.
We are alert to red flags and will not buy or sell any object that we do not feel comfortable with.
Archaeologists, museum-goers and collectors all share a common love for learning the lessons of antiquity.
A peaceful world, however, also demands the respect of property rights—both of source nations and of those who legally and ethically purchased their collections.
We believe the legitimate dealer community can and should do more to shut down any illicit market. In the decades since the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property of 1970, not enough has changed despite the adoption of dealer and museum ethics codes.
We need greater transparency to improve trust. The Association of Art Museum Directors built a registry of artifacts newly acquired by museums in an attempt to provide source nations with an easy means to monitor for objects to which they may have a claim. We brought this same plan to the Italian Ministry of Justice in 2006 and to the Milken Institute in June 2007 which ultimately gave rise to the AAMD’s registry. We would be interested in a similar site for dealers so that we can publicize our holdings and future acquisitions on it.
A new Dealers Antiquities Portal can be the hub for information about ancient works of art, especially those that require additional provenance research.
And we welcome any information from any source that may help close gaps or provide further information into the history of an object’s ownership.
Further, we will dedicate a portion of our net quarterly profits from the sale of antiquities to an independent non-profit, the Archaeology Preservation Fund. This non-profit invites and evaluates proposals from archaeologists and those seeking to protect archaeological sites around the world and fund quality security proposals. Professor Jennifer A. Kreder, a renowned lawyer who specializes in provenance related law, runs this non-profit and exercises sound judgment in balancing the desire for transparency with the need to maximize security at the sites.
Input and additional information are welcome, especially if any source nation has any data that shows that an object may have been taken or exported illegally. We have no interest in profiting from any such objects.
We welcome all those with relevant information—including suggestions for improvement—to contact us.