Ancient statues return to Lebanon as war on smuggling intensifies

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A picture taken on February 2, 2018 shows a Phoenician sculpture of a young boy wearing a long shirt dating back to the 5th century BC, part of a collection of repatriated artefacts on display during a ceremony at Beirut National Museum. (AFP)
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Lebanon's Culture Minister Ghattas Khoury reacts as he stands next to Matthew Bogdanos, assistant district attorney for Manhattan at Beirut National Museum in Beirut. (REUTERS)
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A picture taken on Feb. 2, 2018 shows a sculpture of a bull's head dating back to the 4th century BC, part of a collection of repatriated artefacts on display during a ceremony at Beirut National Museum. (AFP)
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Lebanon's Culture Minister Ghattas Khoury is seen at Beirut's National Museum in Beirut, Lebanon February 2, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 07 February 2018
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Ancient statues return to Lebanon as war on smuggling intensifies

BEIRUT: Ancient sculptures that were missing for decades after being stolen during Lebanon’s civil war are to go on display in Beirut thanks to a global fight against antiquities smuggling that has been stepped up since wartime looting in Iraq and Syria.
The five marble statues were among a haul of hundreds that Lebanese militiamen took from a storehouse in 1981, some of which are only now emerging onto the shadowy global arts market and even into the world’s greatest museums.
Three of the five sculptures unveiled at a ceremony in Beirut on Friday were spotted in New York’s Metropolitan Museum — where they were on loan from a private collector — by a curator who identified them using the Art Loss Register, an online database of stolen artefacts.
One of the people instrumental in getting them sent back to Lebanon was Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos, an Iraq war veteran who led the investigation into looting at the national museum in Baghdad during the chaos of the US-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein.
Outrage at looting there and in Syria, and fear that art trafficking was funding militant groups, has driven countries to work together to stop it, said Bogdanos, who was in Beirut on Friday for a ceremony to unveil the statues.
“It has resulted in greater attention, greater scrutiny and greater resources, all of which we desperately need in order to fight such an entrenched global network,” Bogdanos, whose office has recovered thousands of stolen antiquities in recent years, told Reuters at the ceremony at Beirut’s National Museum.
One of the other statues was identified last year by a gallery in Germany, which noticed it on the Art Loss Register. The fifth was seized in a container entering Lebanon’s port of Tripoli last month.
Archaeologists excavated all the statues in the 1960s and 1970s in Sidon at the Temple of Eshmoun, a god of healing.
They were carved between the sixth and fourth centuries BC, when Lebanon’s Phoenician civilization was ruled by the Persian empire but influenced by Greek art and culture.
One of the statues, a bull’s head, was from the capital of a pillar in the temple. The other statues, of youths and children, included one dedicated to the temple by fond relatives in thanks for the recovery from illness of their child.
“HERITAGE IS NOT FOR SALE"
They will be added to the Beirut museum’s display of Eshmoun sculptures, which include a complete capital with bull heads facing in each direction and marble statues of babies and children.
Only a handful of more than 500 Eshmoun statues pillaged from the storerooms of Byblos citadel in 1981 have been identified and returned to Lebanon.
“We will put every resource that we have to recover any piece wherever it is and whoever thinks it belongs to him. Our heritage is not for sale,” said Lebanon’s Culture Minister Ghattas Khoury.
Like these pieces, items smuggled from Iraq and Syria may stay hidden for decades before traffickers start selling them to collectors.
“It is rare that we would see anything on the market for 10 or 20 or even 30 years, because they do have the patience. They stockpile these pieces,” said Bogdanos.
The international nature of the trade makes it hard to trace them.
“If you would follow the pieces which we have here, there was a kind of ping-pong between Europe, America, Europe again ... it’s a globalization,” said Rolf Stucky, a Swiss archaeologist who registered many of the looted Eshmoun statues on Art Loss in the 1990s, allowing them to be identified now.
But countries now share information and help train authorities, both in the main markets for stolen artefacts and in the regions from which they come.
Lebanon itself has stopped many foreign pieces from being shipped through Beirut, said Ghattas. As a neighbor of Syria, it is a major route for items looted from there.
“In many respects (smugglers) didn’t have to be smart in their trafficking behavior simply because no countries were cooperating enough, were devoting enough resources to stop it,” said Bogdanos.
“That has all changed.”


Deadpool 2 ends Avengers: Infinity War’s box-office reign

Updated 21 May 2018
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Deadpool 2 ends Avengers: Infinity War’s box-office reign

LOS ANGELES: Deadpool and his foul-mouthed crew of misfits and malcontents have taken down the Avengers.
Fox’s “Deadpool 2” brought in $125 million this weekend, giving it the second-highest opening ever for an R-rated movie and ending the three-week reign of Disney’s “Avengers: Infinity War” at the top of the North American box office, according to studio estimates Sunday.
“Deadpool 2,” with Ryan Reynolds returning as the title character and co-writing this time, fell somewhat short of the $130 million the studio predicted and the $132.4 million that its predecessor earned two years ago.
Analysts and the studio said the difference can be attributed to the first film opening on a holiday weekend, and could easily be made up with Memorial Day coming, despite the looming competition from “Solo: A Star Wars Story.”
“I think with a holiday on our second weekend we’ll catch ‘Deadpool’ if not exceed it,” said Chris Aronson, distribution chief for 20th Century Fox.
The film grossed $176.3 million internationally and opened better overseas than the first, especially finding audiences in Latin America.
The Avengers are hardly hurting. Disney and Marvel’s “Avengers: Infinity War” brought in an estimated $29 million in North America for a four-week take of $595 million domestically and $1.2 billion overseas. It’s now the fifth highest grossing film of all time worldwide.
In a whole different corner of the cinematic universe, “Book Club” was third with a $12.5 million weekend that exceeded expectations.
It was a successful piece of counter-programming for Paramount, which used the modestly budgeted comedy starring Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton and Candice Bergen to find older audiences and women while “Deadpool 2” dwelled overwhelmingly on young men.
“There are definitely audiences out there for whom superhero movies are not their cup of tea,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for comScore.
“Deadpool 2” follows the proudly foul formula of the first, mixing the usual superhero set pieces with gore, gross-out jokes, 80s power ballads and frequent fourth-wall violations.
The box office of the second film suggests that formula can become a long-term franchise, and builds its possibilities with the addition of antihero teammates from Marvel Comics for the title character, including Josh Brolin’s Cable and Zazie Beetz’s Domino.
“The source material is so vast and rich that I don’t think there’s any question that it just opens the door for more,” Aronson said.
Along with the earnings and acclaim for last year’s R-rated “Logan,” Fox has made itself the early leader in the burgeoning subgenre.
“The R-rating may be restrictive in terms of the audience make-up, but it’s certainly not restrictive in the creative freedom it offers, so when movies like these hit, they can hit big,” Dergarabedian said. “There is a place for the R rating. In the superhero genre it offers endless and really cool possibilities.”
“Deadpool 2” next faces off with “Solo,” but the two films along with the still-earning “Avengers” ought to make for a major Memorial Day for the industry.
“This marketplace is big enough for all these films,” Dergarabedian said.