Thursday, 7 November 2019

Potential Unknown Parts of the Staffordshire Hoard on EBay?

We know that the Staffordshire Hoard findspot was not fully explored at the time of discovery in July 2009, the original keyhole 'excavation' in autumn of that year and subsequent work in 2010 and in December 2012. Almost certainly in that time, objects from the hoard and associated with it have found their way into private collections in Europe and the US. Now the full (?) report of the objects found to date has appeared there is renewed interest in the hoard, so perhaps we might expect some of those items now to resurface. They would hardly likely to be labelled with a collecting history that specifically states them to be from this find. We should look very carefully at anything appearing that does not have proper and explicit provenances that looks like it could be some of this material. Obviously, dealers - knowing we are on the lookout for this kind of material - if their stock comprises licit artefacts would be at pains to present every scrap of evidence they have that places a distance between what they are selling and the Staffordshire Hoard. What are we to make of dealers that do not do this?

For sale on EBay this very moment by the dealer 'wear-the-past' (2819 ) [yuk!] based in Bath, United Kingdom (165km from the Hoard findspot) for a cool $1,185.00, despite it being - like the Staffordshire Hoard items, plough damaged:
Rare 6th - 7th century A.D. Anglo-Saxon Period Gold and Garnet Ring Bezel Stud ' This is a wonderful Anglo-Saxon or Frankish gold finger ring bezel (or stud), dating to the 6th - 7th century A.D. It is decorated with Cloisonné cells, set with garnet gemstones in a cruciform design. It appears to have been either used as a cap, to cover an object or scabbard stud (similar to pieces found in the Staffordshire hoard) or set as the bezel of a gold finger ring. Today the jewel has survived, with minor scuffing from its time buried in the ground. The gems are original and still securely set. An interesting piece of Saxon treasure, worthy of a fine collection. OBJECT: Finger Ring bezel or scabbard cap etc.
CULTURE: Anglo-Saxon / Frankish
DATE: c. 6th - 7th century A.D.
MATERIAL: Gold and Garnets
SIZE: 12mm x 7mm
WEIGHT: 1.25 grams
PROVENANCE: Ex. B. Jones collection, Kansas. USA
This item is unconditionally guaranteed to be an antique original and to date from the period described. A certificate of authenticity will be supplied on request.
Now, I do not know who "B. Jones of Kansas" is, still less how he or she obtained this item, and when - and whether it was disclaimed as Treasure under the 1996 Treasure Act or exported from the UK with an export licence or not. The seller simply does not say - as if they think nobody really cares, or should care. These matters are however not by any means without meaning... especially as (coincidentally, no doubt), the same seller has this with the same ability to supply a certificate of authenticity on request:

6th - 7th century Saxon / Merovingian gold gilded chip-carved armour fitting

This is a wonderful Saxon period chip-carved belt fitting, dating to the 6th - 7th century. It is decorated with a complex interlaced design, some of the gold gilding has worn off giving a nice contrast with the patina. It retains four rivet holes with traces of the iron rivets. This was presumably riveted to metal (rather than leather) using the iron rivets for strength, as such would have formed part of an armour or helmet decoration with the design suitable for a leather strap. A rare object, comparable with finds from the Staffordshire Hoard! OBJECT: Strap Fitting
CULTURE: Anglo Saxon / Merovingian
DATE: c. 6th - 7th century A.D.
MATERIAL: Bronze gold gilded
SIZE: 34mm x 12mm
WEIGHT: 3.19 grams
PROVENANCE: Ex. [sic!] European Private Collection
The same comments about this "ex European Private Collection" (Old Swiss?). And on just what grounds can one honestly issue a CoA if you do not actually know whether it is 'grounded' as you do not know the details of the beginning of its collecting history (for if one did, why is it not presented n the sales offer?). Would a CoA rely on the issuer's connoisseurship (we know how dodgy a guide that can be) or "looks like" grounds? Above all, since the Staffordshire Hoard field has been looted for the last ten years, it becomes important to note when the object entered that collection, and really what that 'collection' consisted of. That it is a European one means nothing at all. Why are details so (deliberately) scanty?  Then there is
6th - 7th century A.D. Anglo Saxon Period Gold & Garnet Scabbard Button RARE  This is a very rare Saxon gold jeweled scabbard button, dating to the 6th - 7th century A.D. It is an impressive piece of early Saxon jewelry, set with a large flat-topped garnet gemstone. The garnet is held in a rubbed over the bezel, decorated with beaded wirework. Similar flat-topped garnet can be found on the Anglo-Saxon gold pectoral cross, found in the Staffordshire Hoard. OBJECT: Scabbard Button CULTURE: Saxon Germanic Migration. DATE: c. 6th - 7th century A.D. MATERIAL: Gold & Garnet SIZE: 18.13mm x 13.66mm x 8.41mm WEIGHT: 4.82 grams PROVENANCE: Ex. [sic!] European Private Collection, Dublin, Ireland
It's actually still got soil on it...  What kind of self-respecting "private collector" wold have a grubby piece like that in the collection?  And what about this piece? Dating? origin? Its description as a 'scrying' piece is dealer's crap:
Rare 7th century A.D. Anglo Saxon Gold and Rock Crystal Scrying Pendant Jewel. This is a superb Anglo Saxon period gold and rock crystal pendant, dating to the 7th century. It is intact with a suspension loop on the back, the crystal is very clear and of a fine quality. The Saxons called rock crystal ðurhscynestan - literally ‘through shine stone’. It is thought the lens was used for scrying but also for magnification (of lettering, or for viewing intricate detail by craftsmen). Rock crystal was considered a very magical material, used to peer into the future, see visions by seer's [sic], psychics and mediums - who were known as "Völva" to the Vikings and Spákona to the Saxons. This is a beautiful ancient pendant, intact and in good excavated condition.
OBJECT: Pendant - Scrying lens
CULTURE: Anglo-Saxon / Frankish
DATE: c. 7th century A.D.
MATERIAL: Gold and Rock Crystal
SIZE: 17mm x 6mm
WEIGHT: 2.88 grams
PROVENANCE: Ex.[sic] European Private Collection
Note here how narrativisation is extended, more than anything that is said about collecting history.  There is some more interesting AS goldwork which arouses our interest too.  Like this: Rare 7th - 9th century A.D. Anglo Saxon Period Gold Pendant Sun Wheel Pendant and 6th - 7th century A.D. Anglo Saxon Period Gold Concentric Ring Shaped Pendant and a ring... you get the picture.


Absolutely ZERO real information required or given of where this material is coming from, and how it is getting onto the UK market. A nighthawk's dream.

The seller, wear-the-past (2819) has 98.4% positive feedback and claims:
I am a fully qualified Archaeologist and small finds specialist, working in research and acquisition of ancient jewelry (sic), intaglios, and gems. All items for sale are guaranteed ancient. Further stock can be found on my website
From the website we get a little better picture:
Our company is founded on 'expertise' headed by Adam, a fully qualified archaeologist, and small finds specialist. After a lifelong passion for ancient history, coin collecting, and metal detecting, Adam graduated in Archaeology with Honours, from the University of Wales, Lampeter in the year 2000 and has been actively dealing in antiquities and coins ever since.  
Another PAS 'success story'? Metal detectorist turned archaeology student...  So, Adam, one archaeologist to another, where did that Anglo-Saxon gold come from?

More on Wear-the-Past Antiquities Sales

A reader has sent me the results of some online sleuthing they've done. Most interesting. The proprietor of 'Wear-the-Past' antiquities turns out to be a character that from 2004 to an unknown date was 'director' of an entity called angloantiquities, apparently a Microsoft Network shop. An address in Church Street Tewksbury is associated with it, and the same address appears in a leaked list of BNP members where the director is identified as: 
'Lord Adam Murray [...] Gloucestershire GL20 5RZ 01[...], Activist, Business owner (antiquities). Pubic [sic] speaker. Has two suits of medieval 14th and 15th century armour and can joust for rallies
Presumably BNP political rallies are meant rather than commercial artefact hunting ones. Jousting by yourself cannot be much fun. On his Facebook page, Mr Murray gives his DNA results, itemised by 'nationality' (!) - apparently treating it like some kind of racial (?) pedigree. 

Here is their eBay logo

Excavate, and "invest".

'Christian' Museum at end of a criminal chain

Roberta Mazza of Manchester has a text 'The Green Fiasco in Context' (Nov 7th) in the latest number of Eidolon ['Classics without fragility, makes the classics political and personal, feminist and fun'] . In it, she identifies five important issues that apply to antiquities collecting in general:

Problem 1: Researchers in text-based disciplines don’t think of texts as objects.[...]
While archaeologists deal with the materiality of the objects they excavate and study, papyrologists and more broadly classicists and those in other textual disciplines often do not grapple with this reality, because these fields have been mainly preoccupied with the inscribed contents of the manuscripts rather than their materiality. More often than not, these specialists produce knowledge that separates the text from where it belongs (i.e. the object) and from the collection process through which the text reached them[...] This break from reality and refusal to grapple with materiality has set these fields back — this problem must be addressed because it has undermined the ability of scholars to understand the very nature of these things and, as a consequence, has fostered a scholarship that has not properly reflected on the legislation and ethical norms regulating the handling of ancient artefacts, let alone the [...] epistemology of the disciplines at stake.
This is our problem with the coineys of course (and the cunie-fondlers), it is also what Elizabeth Marlowe discussed in her 2013 book 'Shaky Ground: Context, Connoisseurship, and the History of Roman Art'. The issue here is the difference between 'addressed' sources (objects created with the intent of transmitting a message/information) and 'non-addressed' ones, what archaeologists more generally are dealing with.

Mazza's next three identified problems are:

Problem 2: The purchase and publishing of papyri that have recently emerged from the market and are of questionable legal status.[...]
Problem 3: Private collections have accessibility problems.[...]
 Problem 4: Accessibility is also problematic in institutional collections.[...]
I like the way that the fifth one is particularly strongly-formulated and refers to the entire no-questions asked antiquities market:
Problem 5: The black to grey market is a serious threat because it involves criminals.As documented by research and UNESCO reports, crime in art and antiquities is the business of dangerous people and organisations. The products of such endeavours are later laundered through transit countries, the grey market, and also academic expertise and publications that make any illegally-sourced antiquity more acceptable to the public. Given this last point, I am appalled by the fact that in 2019 some academics still think that publishing unprovenanced materials has no consequences on society. The idea that scholarship lives in a vacuum, in a separate universe from the rest of the world, is not only unrealistic–it’s unacceptable. In Egypt, criminals are taking advantage of the socio-economic climate: looting, theft, and trafficking are thriving. These activities have harmed local communities deeply and in many ways, and not only because they destroy archaeological evidence: children employed to pick up antiquities from shafts have been seriously injured and killed, and guards of archaeological sites have lost their lives protecting objects and places. Would you pay the price to be at the end of this crime chain just for the sake of adding another line on your CV?

She concludes with a challenge for the greedy collectors like the Greens:
This brings me back to the episodes addressed in the rest of this special issue. As the Green collection includes many more fragments than those at the center of the current scandal, can I finally receive an answer to the question I have been asking since 2014: where the hell are these other papyri from?

The 'Provenance' of Sappho?

In her text on the potential dodgyness of the papyri in the 'Christian' Green Collection, the astute Roberta Mazza raises the question of just what Bettany Hughes knew about the provenance of the recently surfaced 'Sappho' manuscript:
Collecting, even if done responsibly, presents obstacles to scholarship. Collectors do not like publicity — for reasonable reasons (privacy and security) — and tend to establish a privileged relationship with specific scholars. Let us take for example the “elderly” gentleman (as historian and broadcaster Bettany Hughes defined him), who has provided private access to his Sappho fragment to Dirk Obbink. That “elderly” gentleman, in London at that time and who knows where now, cannot be approached by anyone wishing to check the text other than the first editor of his papyrus; Obbink is the only person, to my knowledge, who knows his identity and whereabouts. Not to mention the fact that the owner might have sold the Sappho fragment in the time since, as this “elderly” gentleman in fact sounds more like a dealer than anything else. I am of the opinion that the adjective “elderly” is a play on the dealer’s name rather than a reference to his age. Am I wrong? Perhaps I am, but as long as the owner stays anonymous, we will never know, and the new Sappho text and its whereabouts will remain a mystery. 

In case it disappears, the link goes to a discussion by Candida Moss of  the firm 'Oxford Ancient' (Clarendon House, 52 Cornmarket street Oxford) that records show is 'headed by Dirk Obbink'. (She notes that 'Oxford Ancient' shares an office with something called Museum of the Bible Fellowship which seems to be affiliated with the Museum of the Bible). There used to be another antiquities advising and trading company called "Castle Folio" based at the same address (Clarendon House). The company dissolved in April 2019. According to its incorporation docs (dated Oct 31 2014) Castle Folio was jointly and equally owned by Dirk Obbink and Mahmoud Elder. According to its Facebook page, 'Castle Folio "works with... experts and collectors to help identify, preserve and monetize (sic) private collections"...'

'Adopt a Tomb in a Hot Country full of Dead Brown-skinned Folk'

US archaeologist thinks she can use her credentials to provide a “physical sponsorship certificate for your tomb” in exotic Egypt
Robyn S Lacy, M.A. ⚰ @robyn_la Heeyyy please don't do this. Those are peoples' graves, and pretending ownership over them is colonial and not ok. Signed, a burial ground specialist.
Ten Tweet jest niedostępny.
Donating to the research is one thing, but donating to pretend ownership over a person's literal grave is not ok.

Monday, 4 November 2019

British Museum, "World's Largest Receiver of Stolen Goods"

BM promotes looting by another name
In a new book, due out today, the British Museum has been accused of exhibiting “pilfered cultural property”, by a leading human rights lawyer who is calling for European and US institutions to return treasures taken from “subjugated peoples” by “conquerors or colonial masters” (Dalya Alberge, ' British Museum is world's largest receiver of stolen goods, says QC’, Guardian Mon 4 Nov 2019). The book's author, Geoffrey Robertson QC prepared a report on the reunification of the Parthenon marbles for the Greek government with Amal Clooney and the late Professor Norman Palmer. “We cannot right historical wrongs", he says "but we can no longer, without shame, profit from them”. In the case of the Parthenon Marbles he accused the museum of telling “a string of carefully-constructed lies and half- truths” about how the marbles “were ‘saved’ or ‘salvaged’ or ‘rescued’ by Lord Elgin, who came into possession of them lawfully”. Robertson says:

“The trustees of the British Museum have become the world’s largest receivers of stolen property, and the great majority of their loot is not even on public display.” [...] He criticised “encyclopaedic museums” such as the British Museum, the Louvre in Paris and the Metropolitan in New York that “lock up the precious legacy of other lands, stolen from their people by wars of aggression, theft and duplicity”. [...]  He writes: “This is a time for humility – something the British, still yearning for the era when they ruled the world, ie for Brexit, do not do very well.

A string of carefully-constructed lies and half- truths is of course what the same institution concocts for continued support of Britain's lootier lassez faire antiquities legislation and collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record. The parallel goes deeper:
 A British Museum spokeswoman [...] said the Elgin marbles were acquired legally, with the approval of the Ottoman authorities of the day. “They were not acquired as a result of conflict or violence. Lord Elgin’s activities were thoroughly investigated by a parliamentary select committee in 1816 and found to be entirely legal” she said. 
Maybe it's time to take a second look, not just the "it's legal innit?" arguments of other British looters. 

Geoffrey Robertson's 'Who Owns History? Elgin’s Loot and the Case for Returning Plundered Treasure' will be published on 5 November by Biteback

No Legislation to Protect Looters in EU

From FB Fudgeworld metal Detecting Hideout:
Tibor Lengyel 22 years,1000 brooches..... 
he shows 20 images, just one of a blizzard of brooches gives a good enough idea.

The "responsible metal detectorist" response on Mr Fudge's group's page? Horror at the destruction of so many archaeological contexts to generate the bragging rights to a table-top of unlabelled archaeological artefacts? A reflective observation that in brooches alone, that's 150% of the figure that Heritage Action established for their artefact counter as an average annual recordable artefact haul for a UK metal detectorist?* Not exactly:
Gabriele Negro in Italy with all those pieces you would be accused of being responsible for the black traffic of archaeological goods, here there is no legislation to protect those who practice this hobby, everything and everything is forbidden and it would take many authorizations, moreover all the objects found with more than 50 years must be delivered to the authorities. 
No "legislation to protect Collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record" in Negro's Italy?  Are our hearts bleeding when we see the scale of damage that an individual with a metal detector and spade can do?

* Now see here
Creative Commons License
Ten utwór jest dostępny na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa-Bez utworów zależnych 3.0 Unported.