Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Last Month's London "Culture in Crisis" Conference Online

The videos from the "Culture in Crisis" conference organised by the Victoria and Albert Museum in collaboration with the Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage, Yale University under the patronage of UNESCO are now available online.  The videos are filed here (Yale University You Tube channel, label "Culture in Crisis"). Here is the programme (from here) so you can see in what order they were presented:


There are some interesting reflections from the meeting here: (Roya Arab, ' Reflections on the Culture in Crisis Conference, April 2015' Media Diversified May 15, 2015).

and of course the dealers' friends are trying our patience by calling foul play as per usual (Anon. 'Culture in Crisis Conference: Platform for Restrictive German Law'. The Committee for Cultural Policy Updated May 27, 2015. And they wonder why only one dealer got to talk there. Ede's performance was hardly stellar, the usual moans and he apparently thinks it's all about "repatriation" and the Art Loss Register. Waste of time (oh and do compare what he actually said with the bowdlerised version printed by said THE (sic) Committee of Cultural Policy.

Yemeni War Leads to Massive Destruction of Cultural Heritage

Laura C. Mallonee, 'Yemeni War Leads to Massive Destruction of Cultural Heritage' Hyperallergic, May 27, 2015.
In the past few months, a deadly civil war in Yemen between the Saudi Arabia-backed government and Houthi militants has claimed the lives of nearly 2,000 civilians and led to the state’s collapse. But as with other current conflicts in the region, it’s not just the country’s future that’s at risk, but also its past.

Coineys, Curios and Butterfly Minds

The paid lobbyist for the International Association of Professional Numismatists (coinshop keepers) once again has written on what his clients mean when they call the coin trade a licit business. You see, according to him it is "Trade Professionals Speak Common Sense", while "Ivory Tower academics of the archaeological lobby" who consider that these claims require production of supporting documentation do not realise that such documentation does not exist. I suspect I am not to only one who fails to see in what way a trade which systematically obscures the origins and status of the commodities traded can in any way be regarded as  legitimate.  In a comment under that Dealer Dave ventures:
It is only recently that this "responsible collecting" campaign has been organized [...] . Those behind it [...] in my view have little understanding of the actual workings of the numismatic and antiquities trades, and of numismatic and antiquities collecting. [...] traceability has been difficult because there are good, sensible reasons for sellers to insist upon anonymity
Well, yes. That is the point, isn't it? There are good reasons for the origins of some of that material to be hidden. How much? Dealer Dave asserts:
Recently unearthed "illicit" coins and antiquities are very far from being the majority of items traded.
That sounds like an admission that such items are handled by the trade. But how can Welsh say how much of it there is, if the items he handles have absolutely no documentation? Dealer Alfredo suggests [on if you please] that in the case of the coins he comes across in America, it is one in a thousand which has papers.These people ask us to accept that this is perfectly normal and acceptable that they and collectors have been throwing away the documentation of 99.9% (ninety-nine point nine percent!) of objects entering the collectors' market. How on earth can one refer to that as ethical or responsible business practices? This is especially the case when the trade has a definition in Art 3 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention specifying what the term "illicit" is taken to mean - something the documentation-discarders in the international dugup antiquities trade have been ignoring since 1970.

However, not all collectors are so blasé about collecting history. Serious collectors of geological and palaeontological specimens require the name of the findspot from where the specimen was collected as the barest minimum on the accompanying label. It is the same with meteorites. These are classified according to their findspot - which has to be recorded, and the authenticity is determined by the labels showing who collected the specimen and then which collections it passed through. No meteorite collector would dream of throwing away those slips of paper detailing that, because the value (as a collectable and as material for study) would drop immensely. Of course there are teenagers who collect bits of unprovenanced stone with a visible ablation crust as "cool, rocks from space". In other words as trophy bragging pieces and curios.

Its the same with shells, herbarium specimens, and butterflies. Serious conchologists want a specimen to have not only the name of the species, but where and when it was collected. Serious botanists go a step further, they want the name of the botanist who collected the specimen and the date. Serious lepidopterists have similar requirements, they too want the name of the entomologist who collected the specimen and the date. Without these details on the label beautiful animals have died for nothing, so their carcasses can become a curio in a collector's display case. Again none of these collectors would dream of separating the specimen from its label containing these data. It has been like that almost since the beginning of this collecting in the nineteenth century (and beyond). Serious conchologists and serious lepidopterists use this information to do amateur scholarship, often of a very high standard, but to do this their reference/study collection has to be properly arranged and documented. Other people just put an unprovenanced moth transfixed cruelly by a steel pin in a case on the wall to 'decorate' the room as a curio.

So these numismatic collectors who give not a thought to documenting the coins in their possession, are they collectors of evidence  or curios? The people that sold them those items without the documentation, professionals or curio sellers?

Tim Pestell in a recent video made the point that recent studies suggest that in pre-Roman East Anglia, there were many thousands of coin dies in use. Yet of their products, only a relatively few have any kind of findspot data recorded when they have been through the hands of the archaeologists of the Portable Antiquities Scheme. If one wanted to do a study of not only the characteristics but the spatial distribution of products of a hypothetical 'Pestell group X variant 132 die', the coin market is no help, they've thrown away the documentation of 99.9% of the finds. The best the coins on the market can achieve is "here is another one". That is hardly likely to advance our knowledge of the past in any useful way.

Egypt: Museum Store Raid Suspects Arrested

A stolen limestone statue of a seated priest and his wife of the Middle Kingdom is back in Egypt and the alleged thieves in Egyptian custody pending investigation: Nevine El-Aref , 'Suspects arrested in case of stolen Memphis statue' Al-Ahram 26 May 2015
The Tourism and Antiquities Police on Tuesday arrested several men, accusing them of having stolen an ancient Egyptian statue last year from the warehouses of the Memphis archaeological site, near the town of Mit Rahina 20 km outside Cairo, Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh Eldamaty has said. The suspects included an archaeological inspector from the site, who stands accused of having stolen the statue from the warehouse, before replacing it with a replica, and illegally smuggling it to Brussels, the minister added. The ministry managed to retrieve the statue and bring it back to Egypt a few months ago, the minister said.
The Ka Nefer Nefer mask was said to have been taken to Brussels too. How did it get there (if it did)? SLAM, any new leads on the TRUE story of this piece?

Coiney Straw Men Speaking Again

The IAPN has spent tens of thousands of dollars of their members' money retaining a lobbyist as an "observer" who has not the faintest idea what the others (the ones he's lobbying against) are talking about. Here is Peter Tompa in full flow:
The Ivory Tower academics of the archaeological lobby often speak about requiring "provenance information" and "export certificates" as proof that items are not the products of looting. 
We are talking about collecting histories and export licences are  proof that an object was not smuggled. It is the easiest thing in the world to construct straw men arguments, the question is whether that is an efficient use of IAPN funds to continue to do so. 

US Ancient Coin Collectors, What is there not to Understand?

Intelligence of a cat...
I've been talking about responsible collection since 2000, and blogging here about it since summer 2008. You'd think by now that those who want to write disagreeing with what I propose would at least have had the opportunity to find out what it was. But to do that you would have to be able to read English and have a bit higher IQ than my cat.

Ed Snible over on the IAPN paid lobbyist's blog recounts his awful experiences with a coin he bought from a well-known dealer (Palmyra Heritage Morris Khouli Gallery). They are talking about "provenace" (they mean collecting history) and that responsible collecting is allegedly a "misnomer". Snible moans
I recently blogged about a coin with a provenance back to Pakistan in 1963. I was crowing online about the long provenance, and P[aul] B[arford] immediately called me to task for not seeking a 1963 Pakistani export license (this is for a sub-$30 value coin in 2015 dollars).
Nonsense. What I wrote about was collectors buying irresponsibly. In order that the coin in question had been exported legally, there would have to be documentation. Snible had no such documentation for his coin. I wrote of responsible collectors taking responsibility for the hygiene of their collection by buying only from dealers who have in their stockroom artefacts which have the paperwork allowing verification of their claims that they are licit. Such collectors would avoid the cowboys that continually palm off on them second-best. If a dealer cannot secure a supply of licit artefacts, then he's not the kind of dealer responsible collectors want in the market. What, actually, is so difficult for US coin collectors to understand here? It is not exactly rocket science, so why do they keep getting it wrong?

Perhaps the reality is they simply do not want to address the plain truth which seems to be that 99.98% of them are not in the slightest bothered about whether or not they are buying coins that have been smuggled and do not really care at all where that coin came from and how it got out of the ground and onto the market. That, certainly is what their actions, and constant attempts to dodge the issues seems to suggest with utmost clarity.

Get Involved in Heritage Action

"The Heritage Journal - What we are About - Get Involved!" Video created by Alan Simkins
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