Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Brick from archaeological site listed on EBay

I enjoy going to movies, so much so that I tend to go at least once a week.  While sitting for Lone Survivor last week, a trailer sparked my interest.  It was for the movie Pompeii set for release February 21, 2014 (you can view the trailer above).  The synopsis is as follows:

A slave/gladiator in a race to save his love (the daughter of a weathy merchant) from the destruction caused by Mount Vesuvius.

Figure 1. Brick from Pompeii picture Taken from Ebay
The main reason this trailer sparked my interest is because people love disaster movies, especially those dealng with historic events, and the destruction of Pompeii is a well known event (although you do not hear a lot about Herculaneum outside of a historical field of study).

This post is not particularly about the movie, but rather the interest people have in that doomed Roman resort.  Recently, an brick from Pompeii went up for sale on Ebay on January 18th, for $199.

 The Ebay/seller's description is as follows:
BRICK FROM POMPEIIThis Brick belonged to my mother, now deceased. She "acquired" it when they were in Naples, Italy in 1958.
The city of Pompeii was an ancient Roman town-city near modern Naples in the Italian region of Campania. My parents traveled a lot, and when they were in Pompeii, she couldn't leave there without a brick. She did a small write up for it, it is the one in the photos. This brick is authentic, there's no doubt. I have no use for it, so now you can have it for your collection. I contacted a number of different authorities on this brick, and they all say that it is not against the law or any law to sell this brick. I also contacted a number of different antiquities and artifacts dealers around the the states and they say the same thing, no laws broken! They sell this stuff all the time. Before you bid on this brick, if you live outside of the USA, please check with your country's laws about importing this artifact.
Thanks for looking.
This is the brick that got all the attention in the Italian newspapers! And some US papers. 

Figure 2.  Note associated with the brick from Pompeii, taken from EBay

Issues surrounding the sale

Italian law on cultural property
I actually analyzed Italy's cultural heritage and property law in relation to repatriation in my thesis.  I wrote the following (Castro 2011):

Italy has a long history attempting to regulate the illicit trade in its cultural property. In 1939, the country declared that all antiquities uncovered after 1902 were the property of the state and could not be exported or sold without the government‟s permission (Felch and Frammolino 2005). On May 3, 1969, the government established the Carabinieri Art Squad as an extension of the army to protect its cultural heritage (Arma dei Carabinieri 2008). In order to make an impression and relate to the great culture of Italy, the Carabinieri built its headquarters in the Piazzaoli Sant‟ Ignazio, a tourist spot in the heart of Rome (Arma dei Carabinieri 2008). The Carabinieri Art Squad specifically handles cases dealing with antiquity, archaeology, and contemporary art forgeries (Arma dei Carabinieri 2008). On April 28, 2006 by order of the Minister of Interior, the Carabinieri took on an extra role to directly protect cultural heritage (Arma dei Carabinieri 2008).
In 1979, Italy ratified the 1970 UNESCO Convention (UNESCO 1970), and like Guatemala and Peru, Italy signed a MOU with the U.S. (U.S. Department of State 2011d). Like many ethical codes and standards, the MOU follows the UNESCO Convention. The MOU protects Italy‟s pre-Classical, Classical, and Imperial Roman periods, and according to the agreement, the US will restrict the import of stone, metal, ceramic, and glass artifacts, as well as wall paintings (U.S. Department of State 2011d).

Based on the information I provided, Italy has a long-standing tradition of protecting cultural property well before the 1958 date provided by the seller.  Italy established in 1902 that the government would need to provide permission, which is highly unlikely with any artifact, let alone one that comes from the site of Pompeii.  Pompeii is one of the most significant sites in Italy, and as a trivia fact, it is also the longest running archaeological excavation, dating to the 19th Century.

United States Law
I cannot apply the UNESCO Convention or the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Italy to this case because they post-date when the seller said his grandmother obtained the brick in 1958.  For my purposes, I choose to believe the seller.  The law I can apply to this case is 18 U.S. Code § 2314, also known as the National Stolen Property Act of 1934 (ammended in 1940).  The law states (I will highlight what I find important):

Whoever transports, transmits, or transfers in interstate or foreign commerce any goods, wares, merchandise, securities or money, of the value of $5,000 or more, knowing the same to have been stolen, converted or taken by fraud; or
Whoever, having devised or intending to devise any scheme or artifice to defraud, or for obtaining money or property by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises, transports or causes to be transported, or induces any person or persons to travel in, or to be transported in interstate or foreign commerce in the execution or concealment of a scheme or artifice to defraud that person or those persons of money or property having a value of $5,000 or more; or
Whoever, with unlawful or fraudulent intent, transports in interstate or foreign commerce any falsely made, forged, altered, or counterfeited securities or tax stamps, knowing the same to have been falsely made, forged, altered, or counterfeited; or
Whoever, with unlawful or fraudulent intent, transports in interstate or foreign commerce any traveler’s check bearing a forged countersignature; or
Whoever, with unlawful or fraudulent intent, transports in interstate or foreign commerce, any tool, implement, or thing used or fitted to be used in falsely making, forging, altering, or counterfeiting any security or tax stamps, or any part thereof; or
Whoever transports, transmits, or transfers in interstate or foreign commerce any veterans’ memorial object, knowing the same to have been stolen, converted or taken by fraud—
Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both. If the offense involves a pre-retail medical product (as defined in section 670) the punishment for the offense shall be the same as the punishment for an offense under section 670 unless the punishment under this section is greater. If the offense involves the transportation, transmission, or transfer in interstate or foreign commerce of veterans’ memorial objects with a value, in the aggregate, of less than $1,000, the defendant shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.
This section shall not apply to any falsely made, forged, altered, counterfeited or spurious representation of an obligation or other security of the United States, or of an obligation, bond, certificate, security, treasury note, bill, promise to pay or bank note issued by any foreign government. This section also shall not apply to any falsely made, forged, altered, counterfeited, or spurious representation of any bank note or bill issued by a bank or corporation of any foreign country which is intended by the laws or usage of such country to circulate as money.
For purposes of this section the term “veterans’ memorial object” means a grave marker, headstone, monument, or other object, intended to permanently honor a veteran or mark a veteran’s grave, or any monument that signifies an event of national military historical significance.
Sometimes the law stretches the term "veterans' memorial object" to items of cultural significance.

Based on this law, the grandmother transported stolen property across state lines (Italy to the U.S.), and the current seller is attempting to convert a stolen object monetarily through a sale.  These two facts denote fraud under the National Stolen Property Act, and is therefore illegal.

Summary of the law
If we apply any of the laws I outlined, the seller is conducting an illegal transaction and can be prosecuted, either in the U.S. and/or Italy, even though the seller says he contacted authorities.  I doubt he did contact the authorities, and most local authorities are not well versed in cultural property law and litigation.

Italy's reaction

If you read the seller's description he/she writes that this is the brick in the newspapers.  Well Italy has taken an interest.  According to the New York Daily News (Moran 2014), Italian authorities (the Caribinieri Art Squad specifically) want to speak with the seller.  Archaeologists alerted Italian authorities after viewing the sale online (Moran 2014).  The article also suggests that Italian authorities might think this is a fraud (Moran 2014).

Final Thoughts

Unfortunately Ebay is a hotbed for looted artifacts up for sale that the big auction houses either would not take the chance on them or the artifacts are not "grand" enough (such has a statue, vase, etc).
I assume this object will not sell based on the controvery surrounding it.  Legal fees alone would not justify selling the object, instead the seller should just ship it back since he/she says in the description that he/she does not have any use for it.


Work Cited/Referenced

Arma dei Carabinieri
2008 Comando Carabinieri per la Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale. http://www.carabinieri.it/Internet/Cittadino/Informazioni/Tutela/Patrimonio+Culturale, accessed May 29, 2011.

Felch, Jason, and Ralph Frammolino
2005 Getty had Signs it was Acquiring Possibly Looted Art, Documents show. Los Angeles Times, September 25: A.1.

Moran, Lee
2014 Italian cops hunt American behind eBay auction of ancient brick stolen from Pompeii. http://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime/italians-hunt-american-behind-ebay-auction-ancient-brick-stolen-pompeii-article-1.1578931#ixzz2r44TXZCE, accessed January 21, 2014.

1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. http://portal.unesco.org/culture/en/ev.php-URL_ID=36193&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html, accessed February 27, 2011.

U.S. Department of State
2011d Memorandum of Understanding Between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Republic of Italy, accessed March 30, 2011.

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