Sunday, 25 October 2020

More British Looting: Engaging in and Excreting on the PASt in Moreton this Weekend. [Updated]

Pay to Dig Looters like animals

Heritage Action, 'Right now another innocent community is being put at risk by a pay-to-dig metal detecting rally', Heritage Journal 25/10/2020. Moreton In Marsh is a particularly beautiful historical Cotswold town. So that means its a target for the pay-to-dig brigade that have signed a contract with a local landowner that means that

people from goodness knows where (but including those from High-Risk Zone 2 places) [will be] descending on their town and using their facilities. It’s the second such stunt in Gloucestershire in a week. The locals will be pondering how come their innocent agricultural show had to be cancelled whereas a grubby, acquisitive metal detecting rally is allowed. And no, the incomers won’t be keeping out of their town, for the organisers, Let’s Go Digging, have told attendees: “No catering or toilets but very close to the town of Moreton” No toilets! Imagine! There’s a pandemic on yet Britain is the ONLY place in the world where the health of locals is being put at risk like this. And for why? “Anything you find under £3,000 is yours without having to split with farmers“ (which speaks loudly of the motivation of the attendees and their propensity to report all they find to the farmer and PAS).

This is disgusting on all accounts. Ripping out collectables, and leaving behind poo-strewn fields because the organisers can't organise proper sanitation  in Britain is what "gets detecting a bad name". British archaeologists if they had the balls would be doing something about their "partners" getting involved in damaging commercial activity like is to protect sites, but we all know they could not give a proverbial poo-bag in a tree. 

Let's recall that the LGD Facebook page shows the group has over 13.4 thousand followers, half the metal detecting "partners" in the country. 

UPDATE 25th October 2020

I've just been contacted by an emotional detectorist who'd paid up to attend but suffers from incontinence, but when he was preparing to set off today, wanted to find out where precisely in Moreton the public toilets open on Sunday were. Google Earth however told him that the organisers were pulling a fast one. There are none. The nearest are about 10 km away. Is that in the organisers' risk assessment? 

Google Earth Sunday October 25th 2020. The yellow line is 10 km long. He should get his money back from the pay-to-dig charlatans. 

Presumably, one of the 'benefits' of the island leaving the EU is that rules about grazing animals on land that is contaminated with human faeces will have been lifted. But this allows the spread of parasites. That kind of hygienic laxity will not help the UK reach a trade deal with anyone if the meat supplied by Gloucestershire farmers is found to be riddled with disease.  

Saturday, 24 October 2020

UK to return 5,000 ancient artifacts to Iraq'


Al-Monitor, 'UK to return 5,000 ancient artifacts to Iraq' Oct 23, 2020

The British government will return nearly 5,000 stolen artifacts to Iraq, the office of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi said Friday. Kadhimi, who was appointed premier in May, arrived in the United Kingdom earlier this week for an official state visit. During a tour of the British Museum in London, the Iraqi leader was briefed on the UK's pledge to return clay tablets and other artifacts to Iran. They are expected to be delivered next year, in what Kadhimi's office said is Iraq’s largest-yet repatriation of looted artifacts. Included in the repatriation 4,000-year-old Sumerian relic that museum experts discovered for sale by an online auctioneer in May 2019. The limestone sculpture is believed to have been taken from a temple in Iraq that was heavily looted during the Gulf War and again in 2003.

OK, we know about the relief that Essex dealer Timeline  was trying to flog off. Where are the other 4999 seized artefacts from, what are they and who was selling them? And how many arrests have been made in the UK as a result of the in-depth investigations of this crime? Somehow that seems to be missing from this text. How deeply involved are British dealers in the trade of conflict antiquities from this and other Middle Easter countries, and why are we not being told anything at all about this? Repatriation of loose smuggled artefacts should be the end of the process, not its aim. 


More British Looting: Essex Metal Detectorist Caught in Flagrante

Though fans will tell you "only a small minority go artefact hunting illegally", as legal access to land that has not already been hunted out dries up, more and more are going to disregard the niceties and go out reasonably confident they'll not be caught, or if they are, the police will not make the charges stick. This guy overtested his luck. The police already had evidence to make an arrest, now look what happened:
Oops. Congratulations on Essex police for such a piece of serendipity. What time was the attempted arrest, and why did the people at home not advise Mr Hawker by phone that the police were on the way to him? 

And of course the thread below is full of "detectorists" condemning the thief, who "gets the hobby a bad name". But I would be interested to hear why they think that is, because the damage done by this guy doing it illegally is exactly the same as that doing it legally by UK law and not reporting, or doing it legally by UK law, hoiking out the stuff without proper observation and recording of the context and reporting it. All we get from the latter are loose objects, and not in any form real archaeological information (any FLO or British arkie* wishing to contest that is welcome to try in the comments below). There simply is no difference in real archaeological terms between artefact hunting that is legal by the UK's wet-paper-bag antiquities "legislation" or illegal by the same measure. Open to discussion. 

*or "Bonnie and Suzie", Andras Minos and Pieterjan too. Go on, I know you want to. 

More British Looting. Artefact Hunting on Scheduled Site in Kent

 Kent Police Tonbridge and Malling,  reports of criminal damage at Little Kits Coty House. The digging and removal of artefacts from the ground will be investigated. How? (Not a rhetorical question). 

If the police are to protect this heritage, what changes would have to be made in the regulation of the collecting of and trade in archaeological objects to make that possible given the existing resources? Surely instead of just shrugging shoulders as more and more culture criminals get away with it, all those that (really) care about the past and its archaeological study should be able to find ways to reduce the chances that they can. 

Timeline: King Ring Found by Metal Detectorist

       Hawking in Angmering?
Timeline: Auctions, 24th November 2020,

LOT 0553 King James I's Personal Hawking Ring. Estimate GBP (£) 4,000 - 6,000 1603-1625 AD
A silver vervel or hawking ring used during falconry, comprising a flat-section hoop with legend in italic script 'Kyng James', and a waisted heater shield with quartered arms of the Stuart kings; the arms displayed are the royal arms used by the Stuarts (outside of Scotland) from the accession of James I to the British throne in 1603. 0.84 grams, 10.36mm (1/2"). Fine condition; edge of shield bent. An excessively rare ring, the personal possession of an important British monarch.

Found while searching with a metal detector near Angmering, West Sussex, UK, on 8 November 2016; declared under the treasure act under reference number 2017 T10, subsequently valued at £4,000-£4,500, but disclaimed as no museum was in a position to acquire it; accompanied by a copy of the treasure report for H M Coroner, the official provisional valuation, letters from the British Museum, and a copy of the Portable Antiquities report number SUSS-D17951; this lot has been checked against the Interpol Database of stolen works of art and is accompanied by AIAD certificate number no.10233-167384.

[ a load of narrativising waffle about kings and falcons - wikipedia stuff...]
There is an interesting change in appearance in the ring (and look at the inscription) between the PAS photo and now. So if this was vetted by the PAS as being found by the nameless detectorist, at a particular place and a particular time, WHY is Timeline asking the Interpol Database? Did it in fact, or do they just write that pro-forma for everything? I really do not see the logic in this action. Unless of course Timeline are saying "never trust a metal detectorist" - maybe (like me) they have some experience with this?

Nobody has explained why the shield of arms is bent round like that.

Now these metal detectorist chappies are always saying they are not interested in the money. So why is this one on sale when, mercifully, the museum could not raise the cash to buy it (did the museum too perhaps have doubts about it)? Nobody decided to donate it, but it got flogged off. the ring was made before 1603, and why was it in Sussex?

Historic England: "Not so Many, and What Can we Do?"

There was an online heritage seminar and it was suggested I might like to register to watch Mark Harrison, Head of Heritage Crime Strategy, Historic England. I said I was not going to because... blood pressure. But I submitted a question through a HA member 

I think we should ask the head of Heritage Crime Strategy about police estimates of the discovery rate of illegal metal detecting given that latest estimates are that there are 27000 active detectorists and they now frequently report they cannot get permission from any of the farmers they approach, what sort of police resources would there have to be to deal with the scale of effect?
HA reported "the presentation was pretty well as much as you'd predict/expect" and "one of my questions was chosen for discussion. Sadly, not Paul's one!" Surprise there, eh? Inevitably, even this "was turned around to state that only a 'small minority' of detectorists are nighthawks/thieves".

A small minority, eh? On what evidence? Let it be said that just 4%* of 27000 is 1080 detectorists who could potentially be going out even once a week... We are talking about the possibility that several thousand sites are being damaged each year, even if such a number only targets just three sites each (the number a group of men arrested in the UK a few months ago were reputed to have 'done' - no word to date of any charges brought).

It seems to me that the "strategy" is to wring hands that there are not the resources to place brightly coloured police cars with flashing lights and coppers camouflaged in hi-vis clothing on country roads to catch nighthawks in flagrente. That's a good way of not having to actually create a strategy. 

It seems to me that an obvious strategy would be to create a permit system, anyone caught out metal detecting without the permit, and signed agreement from the landowner to be on that land at that time, gets taken back to the station for questioning. Secondly, there should be spot checks on eBay sellers of artefacts, requiring them to present adequate documentation of provenance and title.

That's what Historic England's strategy should be, not to say "no can do, and there's not many of them anyway". As for those numbers, the Nighthawking Report was a bit of a cop-out (as I explained on my blog at the time) and more importantly written eleven years ago. The situation in artefact hunting in the UK eleven years ago was totally different. Then, most people had personal contracts with landowners. Now huge numbers of them are finding it so difficult to get onto land that they are having to pay to access it. One pay-to-dig commercial entity facilitating that has over 13000 followers, half the detectorists in England and Wales. Tell us that all metal detectorists that want land and have not got a "farmer" of their own, are now paying all that money each year. 

*The conventional estimate of the proportion of society that are sociopaths. Not all sociopaths are criminals, but not all criminals are sociopaths.

Timeline: Nameless "Western Asiatic" Limestone Statue


You see that term "Western Asia" and you already know the British dealer's trying to hide something. It is also a term derived of colonial terminology. Timeline Auctions, 24th November 2020: "Western Asiatic Sumerian Torso of a Worshipper" Circa 3rd millennium BC. Estimate GBP (£) 3,000 - 4,000. As Erin Thompson points out in form (especially the cutout for the feet), this strongly resembles the (much larger, diorite) statues of Gudea of Lachish in the Louvre mostly from Girsu/Tello (the smaller ones of other materials are ungrounded and have "come from the art market" and are dubiously authentic). Except this one is much smaller, and most importantly has no inscription, leaving its function totally unexplained. 

A carved limestone headless figure of a standing male worshipper with hands clasped across chest and wearing a long robe with incised ornament to hems; mounted on a custom-made stand for display. 783 grams total, 21cm including stand (8 1/4"). Fine condition.
From a private collection, acquired in the 1990s; previously in a UK private collection, since 1988.
Well, firstly the person writing that needs to look up the word "torso" in the dictionary. Secondly, that's a totally pathetic collecting history on all counts. First of all, if that is true, they might as well have written: "it seems obvious this was looted, so don't even ask". But then no documentation whatsoever is offered to verify those dates and claims. What kind of careless creep is going to buy this? The antiquities legislation of Iraq goes back well before 1988.  But have a look at the long terms and conditions and find where the buyer is actually guaranteed that the seller has legal title and the object was exported from southern Iraq legally. They, in fact, are not, the terms are long on denying the seller's liability for anything at all, short on saying why, nevertheless, anyone reading that should trust them a centimetre. 

Professor Erin L. Thompson @artcrimeprof · 18 g. notes that the Timeline Auction description of this item exhibits an oddity that they are selling this statue without drawing attention to the resemblance to those of Gudea.
So, why avoid the word "Gudea," especially when you love to write sales copy full of comparisons to demonstrate your knowledge? I don't know for sure, but, if it's a fake, you avoid pointing people to your source image... and if it's genuine but unprovenanced, you avoid alerting the potential source country to the fact that a looted sculpture of a well-known historical figure has surfaced. Either way, it's not a good look
In the discussion on Twitter, @rogueclassicist makes an interesting point explaining why the word Gudea does not appear: 
I see this a fair number of times and I think it's a selling tactic... the idea is that the folks who frequent these auctions have *some* knowledge and by not giving it the Gudea label gives the idea that they're smarter than the dealer and can get a deal because of that, it creates a bidding war condition for something that doesn't deserve it

Personally, I am really not convinced by this object, it looks too much like the pictures of the Gudea statues for that not to be a coincidence, yet what is the purpose of a mini-statue of the king, and especially one where there is no inscription, just a fringe? Also if you look, the figure's right shoulder is higher on front than on the back which suggests to me that it's more likely somebody is trying to reproduce what they see on a flat picture rather than a contemporary trying to represent a three-dimensional person. Also if you look at all the other two dozen ones, they are all properly clean (collectors don't want sand falling on the showcase floor). I am always suspicious of items with lashings of earth (which often looks like it was applied as wet kitty litter) all over them. If they were looted, they'd be cleaned to make it look as if they really were from a nice respectable old collection. If they were fake, the gunk's there to hide the freshness and say to  the buyer "hey, don't ask too many questions, I'm probably looted!" Dirt like this on antiquities is always suspicious. 

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