NewsLocalAntiquities Department response to articles by The National and The Guardian

Antiquities Department response to articles by The National and The Guardian

The Department of Antiquities issued a response on Friday on two recent articles by The National and The Guardian on shipwrecks discovered in 2015 in the sea zone between Cyprus and Lebanon, refuting reports by the former that Cyprus plans to sell artefacts at auction.

The two articles, one published on April 22, 2020, and the other on April 18, 2020, are about a landmark discovery back in 2015 of shipwrecks carrying a wealth of artefacts the Guardian says originate from 14 cultures and civilisations.

The information and photographic material for both stories came from UK-based company Enigma Recoveries that has been credited with the discoveries, and both mention that the artefacts discovered are now being held in Cyprus.

The National said that 588 items that were recovered by the company in 2015 from one Ottoman shipwreck “have been impounded following a dispute over documentation by Cyprus which is seeking to sell them at auction.”

In today’s announcement, the Department of Antiquities confirmed that the above objects were salvaged by Enigma Shipwrecks Project in 2015 from the Ottoman merchant ship, but said the excavation was illicit as it violated Customs legislation.

“They had been excavated in the EEZ/contiguous zone of Lebanon and were confiscated as a result of the violation of Customs legislation, when the ship docked at the Lemesos harbour,” the Department said.

It added that “the above-mentioned company is well known both to Cyprus and other countries, as well as international organizations, including UNESCO, for its activities in illicit underwater excavations, and their intention to sell objects is evident in documents filed with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (NASDAQ),” mentioning that “the digital records of the illicit excavation were confiscated, which show the violent extraction of objects causing destruction to their context.”

On claims by The National that it aims to auction the artefacts, it said that “the Cypriot authorities will not, under any circumstances, be auctioning the objects as erroneously reported in the above-mentioned article, since this does not only contravene the ethical code but it is also prohibited by the Antiquities Law of Cyprus.”

Read below the full announcement by the Antiquities Department:

Announcement of the Department of Antiquities on recent articles regarding shipwrecks in the sea zone between Cyprus and Lebanon

The Department of Antiquities of the Ministry of Transport, Communications and Works, in view of recent articles published in the media, concerning shipwrecks in the sea zone between Cyprus and Lebanon, announces the following:

The recent article in The Guardian of 18 April 2020, entitled “Mediterranean shipwrecks reveal “birth of globalization in trade” concerns the location of 12 shipwrecks during searches made by Enigma Shipwrecks Project in the sea zone between Cyprus and Lebanon and mentions that some of the objects recovered are being held in Cyprus. In another article of the newspaper The National, 22 April 2020, entitled “Huge Ottoman shipwreck found after 70-year hunt”, it is mentioned that “the 588 objects recovered from the wreck in 2015, have been impounded following a dispute over documentation by Cyprus which is seeking to sell them at auction”. With respect to the above, the Department of Antiquities would like to clarify that the above objects were salvaged by Enigma shipwrecks Project in 2015 from a shipwreck described in the recent article as a “17th century Ottoman merchant ship”. At the end of December 2015, a large number of antiquities, primarily of Chinese provenance, as well as Islamic objects were located by Cyprus’ authorities on the ship Odyssey Explorer. They had been excavated in the EEZ/contiguous zone of Lebanon and were confiscated as a result of the violation of Customs legislation, when the ship docked at the Lemesos harbour.

All the antiquities found on the ship were photographed by representatives of the Department of Antiquities and the Cyprus Police and their conservation was undertaken by a specialist conservator under the supervision of the Department of Antiquities, which is still monitoring their state of preservation. In addition, the digital records of the illicit excavation were confiscated, which show the violent extraction of objects causing destruction to their context.

The above-mentioned company is well known both to Cyprus and other countries, as well as international organizations, including UNESCO, for its activities in illicit underwater excavations and their intention to sell objects is evident in the documents filed with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (NASDAQ) (http://www.sec.gov/Archives/wdgar/data). It is emphasized that the Cypriot authorities will not, under any circumstances, be auctioning the objects as erroneously reported in the above-mentioned article, since this does not only contravene the ethical code but it is also prohibited by the Antiquities Law of Cyprus.   

One of the main goals of the Department of Antiquities, is the mitigation of illicit excavation on land or at sea. Towards this end, a series of measures are undertaken, including, primarily, the recent amendment of the Antiquities Law, so as to enhance the protection of the underwater cultural heritage in all the sea-zones of the Republic of Cyprus.”

Pictured: FILE PHOTO

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