Monday, 30 March 2015

FLO Attacks Heritage Action

I assume that the attack of Annie Byard, Oxfordshire FLO on "this site", was on Heritage Action  (rather than Rescue). In reply to the eminently reasonable observation HA made about the so-called "Ebroacum Hoard" of shattered pennies sold by metal detectorists at Spink's, she's banging on about "the detectorists that do waive their right to reward and donate to museums, or donate objects that aren't governed by the treasure act". She then refers to those who think rather less of this phenomenon than she does as "somewhat prejudiced and ill informed". This is typical of the PAS. They refuse to engage with any sensible discussion of a topic, and then shout insults down at the grassroots folk from the top of their ivory tower. "Trolls!", "Prejudiced and Ill-informed!", "Buzz off and leave us alone!". 

"Ill-informed" Heritage Action are not. The only prejudice here seems to be coming from another quarter, if you ask me. The PAS gobble up millions of pounds of public money to liaise with artefact collectors, and you would think we'd be able to get some simple facts and figures out of them about the effects of current policies on portable antiquities after seventeen years of this liaison and partnership.  But that kind of factual interaction seems not to be what Bloomsbury sees to be its function. 

As Heritage Action point out
we aren’t in the PAS game of pretending the majority (in this matter and in the whole of best practice) are well behaved and responsible. They aren’t, and even PAS has conceded that in its published figures. We aren’t apologists for metal detecting and our continuance isn’t dependant upon praising them. Can PAS say the same? “Prejudiced” means taking a particular line in defiance of the evidence. Hasn’t PAS done that for 17 years?

Export Licence Application on Sekhemka

It (only) now transpires that Northampton Borough Council sold the Sekhemka statue to an overseas buyer, but while the current owner's identity and location have not been released (it is rumoured to be one of the Gulf States), Ed Vaizey has placed a temporary export ban on the statue following a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA), which is administered by Arts Council England. Here is a statement by the Save Sekhemka Action Group.  Sekhemka's statue stays in Britain (probably in rich-man's storage somewhere) until 29 July. Still, at least the new owner asked. One suspects certain other people would try to get him out in a shipment of 'garden furniture' or something and other collectors apparently simply do not understand the notion of "export licence". 

UPDATE 31th March 2015
There is a good summary of the ethical problems involved in the export ban by 'Pipeline' (Andy Brockman) here: 'Ethical Dilemma as Vaizy [sic] blocks export of Sekhemka', the Pipeline March 31 2015. It transpires from this that Cllr David Mackintosh (Leader of Northampton Borough Council) who was behind this sale is Prospective Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Northampton South. Meanwhile local authorities in Northampton continue to exhibit a shocking degree of cultural philistinism. I am glad I do not live there.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

UNESCO calls for the protection of cultural heritage in Yemen

The old city of Sana’a. Photo: UNESCO/Maria Gropa
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) urged combatants not to neglect the protection of Yemen’s cultural heritage in the wake of the human tragedy unfolding in the country and the escalation of armed conflict there :
In a statement, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova urged all parties involved in military operations to preserve the Yemeni cultural heritage. “Experience shows that cultural heritage is never more vulnerable than during times of conflict. It is crucial that all parties refrain from targeting, by shelling or by air strikes, or using for military purposes cultural heritage sites and buildings,” Ms. Bokova called. She emphasized the originality and importance of Yemen’s cultural sites. “The heritage of Yemen is unique, reflecting centuries of Islamic thought, rich exchange and dialogue. I call on the people of Yemen, as well as on countries in the region engaging in military operations in Yemen, to do all they can to protect Yemen’s invaluable cultural heritage.” The Director-General recalled the obligations under international humanitarian law to protect cultural heritage, especially the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict.

'UNESCO calls for the protection of cultural heritage in Yemen', UN Press Centre
27 March 2015.

PAS Hitting the Road versus Social Media

An exchange on an Internet near you:
Digger Dan ‏@MetalDetectorUK Mar 21 Facebook needs an ambassador from @findsorguk to encourage people to report finds! I daily see amazing items being posted! 1 retweet 0 favourites
and the response:
Portable Antiquities ‏@findsorguk @MetalDetectorUK we don’t have the resources to dedicate time to every platform I am afraid. Privacy controls also prevent things being seen
This raises two issues, first is if metal detectorists were as "responsible" as people say (the PAS included even though they know it is not true), every time an unrecorded find was posted up on Facebook, a metal detecting forum etc, there would be five posters asking "have you reported/when are you going to report this to the PAS for recording?" The fact is this is very rarely raised by forum members after a "look-wot-i-found-this-weekend-M8s" post. If "responsible" detectorists instead of being merely declaratively responsible really took responsibility for the health of the hobby themselves, there would be no need for a PAS "ambassador", all responsible detectorists would be ambassadors for the responsible hobby and ensure it was kept that way.

The second point is that the reluctance of the PAS to engage with the broader public using the social media is increasingly puzzling. Outreaching to that public is what they are given those resources for.  By the public, for the public. So why are they not using the capabilities of these media to better advantage? The PAS secret blog is secret and seemingly avoids discussing weightier issues raised in other social media, the public blog has deadeningly boring content, the Facebook page desultory, the webpage a dog's dinner.  Most of what they do (Britain's Secret Treasures) is dumb-down show-and-tell in the worst traditions of peasant television and tabloid journalism. When are we going to see some proper and well-conceived use of social media by the PAS potentially to reach thousands of members of the public? Instead, it seems the PAS prefer to spend their resources paying FLOs overtime and expenses to chug around the countryside in their little cars visiting scattered metal detecting clubs and commercial rallies and outreaching to a few dozen tekkies every so often, and in the process maybe get to do a little Treasure-digging themselves.

Hat tip to Nigel Swift

Bulgarian Artefact Bust - Shumen

A trafficker's garage

'Archaeology in Bulgaria' has two recent articles about an antiquity bust which saw an 'impressive' haul of artefacts confiscated from treasure hunters and antique traffickers by the police in the northeastern Bulgarian province of Shumen (in Shumen itself, Novi Pazar, and Ivanovo as well as Veliki Preslav ) which had been destined to be trafficked to other EU states. Associated with the article are some helpful Background Infonotes:
Treasure hunting and illegal trafficking of antiques have been rampant in Bulgaria after the collapse of the communism regime in 1989 (and allegedly before that). Estimates vary but some consider this the second most profitable activity for the Bulgarian mafia after drug trafficking. One recent estimate suggests its annual turnover amounts to BGN 500 million (app. EUR 260 million), and estimates of the number of those involved range from 5 000 to 200 000 – 300 000, the vast majority of whom are low-level impoverished diggers
The haul included Greco-Roman works from the 1st-2nd century AD (19 Ancient Greek and Roman statues and figurines, marble and stone slabs, including one engraved stone altar), and nine thousand authentic and forged ancient coins as well as matrices for the forging of ancient coins. A number of the sculptures come from grave-robbing, they are from sarcophagi. One of them is a fragment depicting the Gorgon Medusa. There was also a sculpted lion's head and an altar with the images of a family and an inscription in Ancient Greek. The items were confiscated from 51-year-old citizen of Turkey, Veisal Sanli, who had been followed by the Bulgarian police for 2 months before he was arrested. It is not clear how many of the artefacts had been dug up in Bulgaria, or how many of them had been smuggled into the country for selling on the networks established by Bulgarian-based organized criminal groups. This is still being investigated.  The investigators have not discovered evidence linking these traffickers to an organized crime group, which raises the question of their access to the markets and where they were being supplied with objects from. Some of the photos suggest the bronze artefacts are the sort of thing you meet on eBay. It is worth noting the condition of the objects:

Cruddy dugup coins in trafficker's stock
The marble slabs have traces of soil and limestone deposits [...] “Among the coins there are some that authentic, some are even in the condition in which they were found in the ground, but there are also some that have been produced recently,” explains Zhenya Zhekova, who is the head of the Department of Numismatics in the Shumen Museum, as cited by Darik Shumen. She has also mentioned that most are copper coins.
In other words, all those US coin dealers and coin collectors that swear blind that the items that are "collectable" by them and their fellows (unlike all the other dugup artefacts from the same period sold by middlemen-dealers like this) do not come from metal detecting on ancient sites are simply unaware, and/or willfully ignorant of what actually is found on raids on artefact traffickers in the source countries that supply them. The coin-exceptionalism argument is a false one. Let us note that this willful ignorance of provenance ('grounding') means that numbers of fake coins reach the market they patronise.

Psst...wanna buy some fake Iraqi loot too?
One of the two articles on the haul devotes much space to a stone slab with relief carving of figures in Sumerian/Akkadian style on it and a neatly-drilled hole in the middle. Bulgarian archaeologists (including Prof. Nikolay Ovcharov) say this is a Mesopotamian artefact smuggled by culture criminals into Bulgaria. I disagree, the photos are a bit lacking in clarity, but to my eyes this piece looks like an 'in the style of' fake, and a not very good one either. The carving is flat, the hole drilled with a power-took and shows no erosion around the edge, though the slab edges and surface do. Fake.

The problem is, I do not think it is the only one. The stone items shown in the film here look a mixed bunch to me. For a start it seems almost as if they are all (the 'Sumerian piece too) in the same type of stone except one marble foot in crystalline marble. I suspend judgement in the case of the several objects we see in the first fifty seconds of the film, I have a bad feeling about one of them. The stela at 52 seconds though, looks highly dodgy to me on this video, it looks rather too much like the scene has been copied from a book on Roman art and to me has the same flat mechanical 'feel' as the Sumerian piece which follows it in the film. I have the same reaction to the lumpy tombstone (1:26), look down the right side, that bird for example. Nasty. Then there is a very block-shaped medieval king (from a window or door jamb?), which is followed by a series of small fragments. I think there are real archaeological dugups here mixed in with antiqued modern pastiche and perhaps two pieces which might turn out to have come from post-medieval garden sculpture rather than ancient cities.   
The police arrested three men for treasure hunting on March 11, 2105, after raiding their homes and discovering the Ancient Roman artifacts. [...] After they were tipped off about illegal trafficking and ownership of cultural treasures, the Shumen police first raided the home of a 56-year-old man in the city of Shumen where they found a total of 19 Ancient Roman marble and stone slabs with inscriptions and figurines and parts of Roman statues hidden in his garage. They followed-up with a raid in the town of Novi Pazar where they found about 9,000 ancient or ancient-looking coins as well as matrixes for forging ancient coins in the home of a 52-year-old man. They also discovered ancient metal items and about 80 ancient coins in the home of a 32-year-old man in the town of Ivanovo as well as ancient coins and the head of a statue in the home of 51-year-old citizen of Turkey residing legally in the city of Shumen.
It is not clear if all of these men were involved in digging up and selling artefacts, were any of them buyers who'd had dealings with the others? Four men are mentioned, but three arrests. The articles suggest that there is a connection between the activities of these four men and the arrest of one seems to have led to the next (yes?). It is also interesting to speculate on who tipped the police off and why. To be honest, on the basis of what these articles are saying, it is difficult to accept  the local police assessment that these are just "individual treasure hunters".  Metal detectorists don't generally have huge hunks of carved stone in their garage, they do not generally have engraved dies and equipment for striking fake coins and then the chemicals to patinate them. I hope more information emerges in the future.

The IAPN and PNG (through their paid lobbyist) insisted at the time the MOU was being discussed that there is a free and open market in antiquities, including coins, within Bulgaria. Maybe then, they would like to tell us why these men were arrested.

Ivan Dikov, 'Bulgarian Police Seize Ancient Roman Archaeology Artifacts, Slab with Sumerian Motifs from Treasure Hunters' Archaeology in Bulgaria March 24th, 2015. [lots of photos]

Ivan Dikov, 'Bulgarian Archaeologist Finds 5000-Year-Old Relief from Ancient Mesopotamia among Artifacts Seized from Treasure Hunters' Archaeology in Bulgaria March 27th, 2015.

'Пресякоха канал за трафик на културно-исторически ценности в чужбина'  

Collector Beware: The importance of your Documentation Assuring Title

Don Miller, the Indiana collector, 91, died Sunday, nearly a year after federal agents surrounded his rural Rush County home and began removing thousands of artefacts ("FBI Examines Antiquities at Rural Indiana Home"  PACHI, 3 April 2014;' see also "What a Collector Had in His Cellar"  PACHI, 7 May 2014). Officials at the time cited a desire to catalogue the artefacts and return any that had been illicitly obtained to their countries of origin.
Miller never faced any charges related to his collection. No lawsuits were filed against him in the year since the seizure. [...] after his death, progress of the federal investigation remains shrouded in mystery. FBI Special Agent Drew Northern declined to comment about the case Tuesday night. Officials from the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis anthropology department, which is assisting the FBI in identifying and preserving the artifacts, also would not comment. But a legal expert told The Star it could take years, if not decades, before experts can sort out the legalities of the thousands of objects seized by the government. "Even just figuring out which ones are illegally possessed in the United States is an enormous task when he's purchased them over so many years, so you can see why this is such a difficult problem to solve," said David B. Smith, a Virginia-based attorney with a background in asset forfeiture. "Without his help, it's just going to be enormously difficult to figure out which ones he legitimately purchased, which are legal and which ones aren't," Smith said. "It's a huge problem."
Of course, there will have been paperwork, wouldn't there? Any collector who is intent on "preserving" these remains of the past will have documented the accessions properly establishing title and to sort out precisely these sorts of problems on their demise.
"Here's the problem," Smith said. "The illegal extraction is usually done by some guy in Europe or South America, and then it goes through a chain of dealers and it ends up in the possession of some rich American who's not a crook, but has purchased an object that was stolen or taken illegally from some other country." Even before Miller's death, Smith said the case would have likely taken years to resolve. Each item needs to be evaluated on its own merits, and must include factors like the date of purchase, trade law for each country at the time of purchase, and cultural significance. For thousands of items, that presents an incredible logistical challenge, Smith said. "You can understand why this case is going nowhere," Smith said. "They just don't have the resources to spend 30 years going through this stuff."
Mr Miller is just one of thousands of collectors in the United States alone. Who is going to pay for going through all their loose undocumented artefacts when they die? Or will their heirs just dump it all on a museum or dealer and hope nobody asks where they came from and whether they were all obtained licitly? That goes for coin collections too.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

UK Metal Detecting: Fiction Relentlessly Presented as Fact

I was amused to see that about the same time as I pressed "send" on my "Metal Detectorists Get Confused", a new post appeared on The Heritage Journal ('Metal detecting: all’s well that’s Orwell?', 28th March 2015, where both mention detectorist-blogger John Winter's comments on the Lammy gaffe:
fiction relentlessly presented as fact [...] Mr Winter benefits from the fact some of his readers are pretty uninformed so it's easy to play to the gallery. Thus he has just resurrected Minister Lammy's "heroes" statement using the same selective justifications, emphasising the positives and totally ignoring the massive downside, the widespread knowledge theft. That might get you backslapped Mr Winter but it's not being honest with the public.
They go on to make a similar point about the PAS:
Who can fail to notice that much of what it says and does is devoted to delivering a relentless propaganda of success, presumably to promote its own continuance? [...] Metal detecting is simply not as heroic or educated or moral as PAS constantly portrays it to be. Like in the case of Mr Winter, presenting a concocted account is not honest, it's Orwellian. 
The example is given of the Lenborough Hoard Fiasco, which Roger Bland represents as
"a rescue job and Ros, as our sole FLO at event with about a hundred metal detector users, did a heroic job in the circumstances and ensured that all the coins were recovered".
HA comment on this in their usual trenchant form:
Note the use of the H word, heroic, instead of hurried, echoing Minister Lammy. Pure Nineteen Eighty Four! It was a rescue alright, but presented like a corkscrew. Why not tell the public straight out (rather than coyly hinting it to those in the know) that the main peril was from some of those present? And why not admit that the FLO's otherwise inexplicable and otherwise unprofessional decision not to ensure the hoard was guarded overnight was due to pressure and opposition from those around her? Had they been amateur archaeologists the matter would have been dealt with properly. Fact.
Fact, not fiction. Why can we not have the facts about current policies n UK artefact hunting out in the open instead of the boxload of fob-off fictional mantras and refusals to discuss the issues frankly and openly which is all the PAS and its metal detecting "partners" have to offer stakeholders?
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