Monday, 24 November 2014

Half-Hour Deliverance

Starting about now is the annual PAS conference. This year's ("Finds in the Landscape: How portable antiquities contribute to our understanding of past landscapes") has been organized by Katie Robbins, Post-Doc researcher as one of the "deliverables" of the Leverhulme project "The Portable Antiquities Scheme database as a tool for archaeological research'. ("An academic conference in 2014 will include papers from experts analysing and discussing data supplied by the PAS on a range of periods, artefact types and geographical areas" - so basically totally different from what they've done at any conference before....)
10:00 Registration­­­
10:25 Welcome by Dr Roger Bland
10:30 Dr Katherine Robbins (The British Museum)  The Portable Antiquities Scheme as a tool for archaeological research
11:00 Dr Claire Harris (The British Museum)  Mapping Palaeolithic Britain: Place, Space and Time
12.00 Dr Anwen Cooper and Dr Chris Green (University of Oxford) Finding the Landscape: PAS data and the English Landscape and Identities Project
12.30 Dr Julia Farley (The British Museum) When is a torc not a torc? A new approach to Iron Age and Romano British precious metal assemblages
14:00 Dr Adrian Chadwick and Dr Eleanor Ghey (University of Leicester and British Museum) Landscapes, Lucre and Lightning Seeds: Coin hoards in context in Iron Age and Roman Britain
14:30 Dr Tom Brindle (University of Reading) Roman Rural Settlement Project, title tbc
15:30 Adam Daubney (Finds Liaison Officer, Lincolnshire) Portable Antiquities and Persistent Places in Lincolnshire
16:00 Prof Julian Richards (University of York) The Viking Camp at Torksey, AD 872-3
16:30 Half-hour 'Discussion' and back-slapping.
17:00 Finish
Seeing as the whole Leverhulme project that's apparently funding this is about the use of the PAS database as a research tool, is it not a bit odd that only a quick half-hour summary is all that it actually involves?

What the PAS database records is a landscape largely of collecting activities by artefact hunters  but also accidental finds and information from miscellaneous sources, all with their inbuilt biases. It is rather odd then that these methodological issues are are not discussed in favour of the usual "wotta-lotta-stuff-we-got" material aspects and the de rigeur dot-distribution maps. PAS- Siedlungsarchäologie once again (Daubney discussing the 'Ahnenerbe' too).

Dr. Craig Evans on First Century Fragment of Mark

Dissolving one artefact to get more small bits of artefact
Here's a guy getting so excited about finding a first century manuscript of a first century text that he's totally oblivious to the destruction of archaeological material ("hundreds of low-end mummy masks") it entails. They date the fragment "to the eighties" - what was the dating of the cartonnage, and was that dating from context or style/guesswork? By the way they generally did not accompany sarcophagi. Getting the mask off the wrapping was usually accompanied by the destruction of the whole mummy. Now these guys with their atrocious accents and patronising attitudes are destroying what's left to get their hands on  trophy exhibits.


The Dealer's Response to the Syrian Conflict Antiquity Crisis

Over the past couple of months British archaeologists Sam Hardy and I have been busily trying to deconstruct the journalistic hyperbole emerging (mostly from the USA) about the looting in Syria ('ISIL Looting: In war, the first casualty...?' PACHI Wednesday, 3 September 2014). Coin collecting fluffbrains may be loathe to read our blogs (and dismiss our scepticism and questioning as merely 'anti-American'), but then they should be wary of showing their ignorance of the issues by coming out with claims that US investigative journalist Jason Felch was the first to question these 'factoids' on this looting. He was not.

Veteran dugup dealer Wayne Sayles tries this gambit in his latest effort to appear relevant ('Media rush to judgement challenged', Sunday, November 23, 2014). He whinges:
While the evidence of ISIS looting and/or intentional destruction of cultural property is undeniable, the connection to ISIS funding through the sale of antiquities is far more spurious. That evidence is conspicuously lacking and the trade is essentially devoid of material that could conceivably have come through the hands of ISIS. Are these calls for embargo then strictly for show? I fear they are not. They are part of a deliberate long term program of disinformation.
Mr Sayles of course sees here a conspiracy, one that is "less obvious to the general public" but the coiney illuminati can at once spot that it is part of "a not-so-subtle underlying crusade that threatens the very underpinnings of law, order and justice". In short, what we've heard before, time and time again from the intellectually-bankrupt old ranters of the ACCG who are once again bringing nothing new to the discussion.

That the evidence is lacking between the end of the market Mr Sayles inhabits and the truckloads of antiquities headed for Syria's borders is a leitmotif we are hearing time and time again from dealers. It came up in the comments supplied by dealers to CPAC in the Egyptian MOU process, it's what dealers like Sayles were saying when America went into Afghanistan, into Iraq. I expect they were saying the same thing when Cyprus was invaded in 1973 by Turkey too. It's an utterly meaningless mantra, an assertion entirely unsupported for the simple reason that these dealers demonstrate their total lack of incisive investigations into where the goods they sell entered the market, when and how. We may only take Mr Sayles' own website as a particularly egregious example (PACHI Thursday, 30 October 2014, 'More Careless Syrian Coin Listings in America').  There is a "lack of evidence" because no-questions-asked dealing is the means by which that evidence is erased.

Mr Sayles has treated us all to his brownscript rant about what he does not want to see happen as a response to the current Syrian Conflict Antiquity Crisis. I think we'd all be much more interested in hearing what he personally and all his members (collectors passionately interested in the past and all to a man opposed to looting and smuggling no doubt), intend doing about this crisis. Apart from posture, rant and moan that is. Or are they content just to suggest that "somebody else" should do something while they stand on the sidelines and watch and tell them what to do?

[Cue: John Howland and Peter Tompa, "yap-yap-yap"]

See also: This is All Made up by the Archaeologists
Dealer: No Signs of the Artefacts

Seeking Permission: ten pounds per head, per day

The Northern Relic Hunters are a metal detecting club based in the north east of England. Its members boast they all have 'full public liability insurance' and they are looking for land to detect on. They pay ten pounds per head, per day. Most metal detectorists expect to use their "permissions" (and get to take away the haul) absolutely free. But even then it's a bargain if they find a buckle which according to the Searcher's finds valuation page is alone worth forty quid. Find two and a detectorist is laughing all the way to the bank. There is no mention here of signing a search and take agreement or finds ownership transfer protocols documents after detecting. The forum is closed to outsiders (and any detectorist they do not see eye-to-eye with) and the links pages unedifying. The webpage has no Code of Ethics displayed.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Palmyra and the Antiquities Trade

 I thought I'd make a list of past posts about Palmyra, in fact arranging them in chronological order shows an interesting evolution of views (and, following the links, the way the news is reported):
Sunday, 6 May 2012:'Syria's Cultural Treasures Fall Victim in Uprising'
Friday, 3 August 2012: 'Looting at Palmyra Indicated by Soldier’s Video?
Monday, 18 February 2013: 'Cultural Property Again in the Propaganda War in Syria'
Monday, 6 May 2013: "Syrians Loot Roman Treasures to Buy Guns"
Thursday, 16 May 2013: 'On their Way: Smuggled Syrian antiquities recovered in Lebanon'
aturday 18th May 2013: 'Smugglers Arrested in Lebanon'
Tuesday, 29 April 2014: 'Syrian smugglers enjoy a free-for-all among ancient ruins'

Sunday, 8 June 2014: 'Syrian Authorities Seize Eight Looted Antiquities'

Thursday, 14 August 2014: 'ISIS “Khums” Tax on Archaeological Loot Fuels the Conflicts in Syria and Iraq'
Monday, 27 October 2014: 'How the West buys ‘conflict antiquities’ from Iraq and Syria (and funds terror)'
Tuesday, 18 November 2014: 'The Dugup Artefact Market Needs a New Mentality'
Sunday, 23 November 2014: 'Palmyra Portableising Funerary Sculptures'
Sunday, 23 November 2014: 'Syria Looting: Could Collectors Care Less?'Sunday, 23 November 2014: 'More on the Taibul tomb'

More on the Taibul tomb

Judith Weingarten has sent me a link to her post in the Zenobia: Empress of the East blog discussing the Taibul tomb and the looting of others ('Amta, Daughter of Yarha. Alas!', 28 September 2014)
As the war grinds on, illegal excavation and the looting of antiquities is running riot. Sometimes the thieves are soldiers in the Syrian army. Others are criminal gangs, crazed iconoclasts, or just desperate unemployed and hungry men. It hardly matters: the resulting destruction of Syria's heritage is the same. Amidst the gloom, however, are rare flashes of light, such as the lucky swoop [on August 26th 2014.] by the Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums that recovered the anonymous bejewelled lady from Taibul's tomb (reported on the Palmyra History and Archaeology website, with photographs of recovered loot). The authorities must sometimes get tip-offs.  In just a single month  this year, they intercepted three different lots of looted Palmyran antiquities on their way to the international market (click for illustrations of the recovered objects): on 6 March 2014, 16 March 2014, and 30 March 2014.  April was much the same.  June and September were worse. And so it goes. These objects had all originated from known tomb groups or museum storerooms.  What is perhaps even more disturbing is the consignment seized on 19 June 2014, none of which was known to archaeologists, which means that illegal digging of unexcavated tombs is taking place around the city despite Palmyra being nominally under the control of the Syrian army.
As for the fate of the Taibul tomb, as she says: 
Can we doubt that all the funerary banquets, sarcophagi, high reliefs, and busts have also been cut from the walls -- and already crossed the border into Lebanon to be sold on to rich European, American, and Gulf collectors? 
But let us recall that dealers such as Alan Walker say they've never seen any of this stuff at their end of the market. Is it being carted off by fairies, vanishing into a time-warp, entering a parallel universe, or are dealers in denial looking in the wrong places?
Hat tip to Judith Weingarten

Dismembering History: The Shady Online Trade in Ancient Texts

holy papyri? Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters
There is an interesting article in the daily Beast highlighting the trade in dodgy papyri: 
eBay has become a regular marketplace for antiquities. Previously unknown papyri crop up only to vanish into private collections and out of the sight of scholars forever. Artifacts that—if authentic—could offer priceless glimpses into the past are marketed with the same savvy as a knock-off Burberry scarf: extortionate shipping fees and tantalizingly low opening bids of $0.99. [...]  In the case of many auctions, however, the papyri are completely unprovenanced. In other words, they weren’t found on an archeological dig nor do they have accompanying documents specifying their origins. We don’t know either where they come from or how they got here. None of the eBay auctions are properly documented. Today, a lack of provenance often means one of two things: an artifact is forged or an artifact was illegally acquired. [...] When documentation is unavailable, it is likely that the materials were obtained illegally, often as the result of looting in the wake of military and political unrest.
In many cases dealers buy large pieces or whole manuscripts and then try to maximise profits by selling them in smaller pieces: 
Rather than sell the complete manuscript, they cut out pages and placed them on eBay on an ad hoc basis. [...]  It’s a long-established moneymaking technique among antiquities dealers. [...] Some eBayers are wise to scholarly commitments to complete texts and use them to extort more money for complete manuscripts. In pitching a complete Coptic Lectionary (a liturgical calendar) to him for $20,000, Pattyspreciouspicks told Takla, “If I can’t sell it to you as a whole, then I will unfortunately be forced to sell off each old page one at a time on my eBay site. I really don’t want to cut up this old Coptic religious document…” As Takla notes, “Needless to say he knew that he would not be able to get that asking price whether he sold it intact or by the sheet." 
The article concludes:

Something is clearly amiss in the global antiquities market. eBay is the dark underbelly of the papyrus trade: precious documents are being carved up, potentially stolen goods trafficked, and the materials for forgers readily supplied. If capitalism has taught us anything, it’s that demand creates supply. Until scholars and collectors stop buying, antiquities dealers have no incentive to stop selling.
Candida Moss, 'Dismembering History: The Shady Online Trade in Ancient Texts', The Daily Beast November 23, 2014
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