Suzan Mazur: You make the case early on in the book, establish the importance of what the Italians have been doing in terms of reclaiming their ancient art. You highlight the Etruscans having the "earliest urban civilization in the north Mediterranean" and say they were as much "founders" of Western civilization as Greece and Rome. That they were excellent at science and technology, for instance, and built stone arches, paved streets, aqueducts and sewers, which the Romans are sometimes given credit for.
Then you describe the Greek vase painters - particularly the brilliant red-figure artists of the 6th-4th centuries BC, who were their day's Michaelangelo, Raphael and da Vinci and produced paintings of a quality "the world would not see again until the Italian Renaissance." You mention that these vases - red-figure as well as black-figure - were placed in Etruscan. tombs. And then you note that maybe as many as 100,000 of these tombs - Etruscan and others - were robbed by Bob Hecht, Giacomo Medici and the organization, the "cordata".
Would you pick up there and comment further on the destruction, which resulted in a loss of half of Italy's Greek and Roman culture?
Peter Watson: It began with the discovery of Giacomo Medici's archives [following raids by the Swiss and Italian authorities] and three senior archaeologists being assigned to those archives. It was a first for these archaeologists to have the leisure to examine so many objects.
Normally archaeologists can only see these things for a day or two when they come up for view prior to an auction. When other people are jostling to see them. When you can only get a few minutes with some of the objects. Or if they come into a gallery, you can go and have a quick look. Whereas with the Medici material, the archaeologists were let loose amongst all the objects and were able to link many of the objects, as we show in the book, with specific tombs.
There was that quote from Gilda Bartoloni [an Etruscologist at La Sapienza University, Rome] where she said that normally an average archaeologist would be lucky to come across two important tombs in a career. But that in Medici's warehouse there was material from about 50 important tombs. The archaeologists basically know what an average tomb consists of. So it's possible to work out from the number of objects that are there, how many tombs have been plundered. On the ground, like we saw when we were in Foggia, in Apulia, are the pits the tombarolis make. So the archaeologists have some idea of the scale of damage.
Let's just stick to the world of classical archaeology for a minute. The world of classical archaeology is a finite field. We know there are roughly speaking 16,000 Cycladic sculptures in the world. We know that there are so many thousand Apulian vases, black figure attic vases, etc. It is a finite world that can be measured.
So this is how they arrived at the conclusion that 100,000 tombs have been looted. The calculation can be made from what is known, from the number of tombs that have been properly excavated over many years. According to Ric Alia's research [Archaeologist, Boston U] , for instance, one vase on average is found in every nine tombs. So the dimensions are known.
... the rest ... quite an eyeopener (I have to get the book).