Friday, 14 December 2018

March 2019: Time for a 'Brimusexit' Too

Along with Brexit, now the country officially states it is not part of any community with anyone but itself, Britain should amend the archaic British Museum Act of 1963.

The act as a whole sanctions the BM hanging on to stuff they took from other countries that, in the days of colonialism, it forcefully impelled to become part of the community they called the 'British Empire'. That, thankfully, has all gone now leaving a bad taste in the mouth for some and a smug feeling of nostalgia among another group (and its pretty likely that a lot of that group with their myth of britishness are among the Leavers). As it is written, the Act prevents the Museum from officially doing the right thing and removing inappropriately appropriated artefacts from its collection, except in very exceptional – and rare – cases. The law only reinforces the atavistic social acceptance of Britain’s right to plundered artefacts, regardless of how they were taken (Ruqaya Izzidien, 'Stolen goods: Britain's museums must hand back colonial plunder' Middle East Eye 14 December 2018).

Dutch court throws out case of disputed Buddha statue

(Photo/Xinhua, edited)
A Dutch architect Oscar van Overeem bought a lacquer stature in 1995 for 40,000 Dutch guilders ($20,500) in 1996 from a collector in Amsterdam who had acquired it in Hong Kong and it turned out that it had mummified human remains in it which makes it unique (Nick Squires'Mummified monk revealed inside 1,000-year-old Buddha statue' Telegraph 24 Feb 2015). It then transpired that two villages - Yangchun and Dong Pu in southeastern Fujian province, say that a statue containing the remains of an 11th-century monk was stolen from their shared temple in 1995. They claim it is the one that ended up in the collection of this Dutch art collector. The latter denies that the statue he has is the stolen antiquity. The village committes went to court, the case is one of the first attempts to repatriate Chinese antiquities through a legal approach instead of diplomatic channels. Now:
A court in Amsterdam has refused to resolve a legal dispute over ownership [...] The civil court in Amsterdam threw out the case Wednesday, saying in a written ruling that two Chinese village committees seeking ownership of the disputed statue are not legal entities and are therefore ineligible to file a claim. 
Associated Press, 'Dutch court throws out case of disputed Buddha statue' Idaho Statesman Dec 12, 2018). There however is a snag with such a judgement,
Huo Zhengxin, vice dean of the School of International Law of China University of Political Science and Law, said the Dutch court failed to refer to laws of the plaintiff's country, which is Chinese law in this case. Village committees are entitled to file lawsuits, according to Article 96 of the General Principles of Civil Law. Sun Tian, 'Expert advises plaintiffs to appeal Dutch court ruling on stolen Buddha statue', Global Times 2018-12-14 )
I think the issue here however is why collectors think they have the right to buy human remains and hang on to them like this. Once again, the ethics of the antiquities trade are in question.

Thursday, 13 December 2018

What have we Done to Iraq - and Why?

Remember, "Somewher else", it is now 15 years of this:

Bagdhad Post December 2017

Head of US occupation in Iraq Paul Bremer announces capture of Saddam Hussein (13th Dec 2003)

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Treasure, this time in a Margarine Tub and 'The Right People'.

Another year, another launch of a Treasure report, more silly narrativisation of selected finds to shift attention away from the wider issues (Mark Brown (Arts correspondent), ' Forgotten statue kept in a margarine tub is 2,000-year-old treasure' Guardian Tue 11 Dec 2018)
The British Museum on Tuesday revealed the details of 1,267 finds across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, more than there has ever been since the Treasure Act was passed in 1996.[...] About 78,000 archaeological objects, some of it treasure, were recorded in 2017 on a voluntary basis with the portable antiquities scheme. Metal de[te]ctorists found 93% of the items, with the biggest numbers in Norfolk, followed by Lincolnshire and Suffolk. Lewis said the rising figures were down to greater engagement between archaeologists and hobby detectorists, two communities which have not always got on. In the 1970s and 80s there was a campaign by some archaeologists to stop metal detecting. Lewis said:
“There was a misunderstanding on both sides about what the other was up to. There was an idea that metal detecting was all about finding things for financial gain and ruining archaeology. Over the years it has been realised that there are a lot of people interested in the past, quite happy for the objects to go in to museums. We’re still on a journey, don’t get me wrong … it is very important that the right people are doing metal detecting.
The finds by metal detectorists were welcomed by the heritage minister, Michael Ellis, who has announced a consultation on how the system could be improved.
Mike Lewis tells only half the story, the concerns about collection driven exploitation of the archaeological record were not all focussed on the monetary aspect, but the conservation issue - damage to the archaeological record by random hoiking of collectables with no proper recording of associations and context of deposition, and the artefacts ending up in scattered ephemeral personal collections without proper documentation. Those two problems have still not been solved, but Lewis skips around admitting that by simply ignoring the problem, turning his Bloomsbury back on it. That's the kind of dumbdown and under-informed public that gets you a Brexit.

The fact that more and more Treasure found each year means only one thing (because we are constantly told that the "vast majority" of those engaged in Collection-Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record are law abiding, so illegal non-reporting cannot be the explanation). It means that on the PAS watch the number of people going out there and searching sites for such objects (in their 'interest in the past') is quite rapidly increasing. That means the damage to the finite number of accessible sites is also increasing at the same rate, from year to year.

Mr Lewis seems not to have told the journalist how the PAS intends to fix it that with all the people coming into this hobby, only the 'right people' have access to the machines and land.
Mr Lewis says these history-hunters are 'quite happy for the objects to go to museums'. He forgets two things, first of all the ultimate decision in the case of non-Treasure items is not that of the finders but the landowner's and theirs alone. Secondly in the case of Treasure it is clear that the only thing that makes collectors 'quite happy' to part with 'their' Treasures is in the (vast) majority of cases - whatever the Treasure Registrar may for some reason best known to himself pretend is the situation - is a ransom equal to its full market value.

Official: US, France Excavating Sites Illegally in Northern Syria

 A senior Syrian official says the US and France are carrying out illegal excavations in ancient sites in northern Syria with the help of Kurdish militants (Press TV, ' Official: US, France looting artifacts in northern Syria'', Mon Dec 10, 2018) 
Much of the digging work is conducted on the Um al-Sarj mountain near Manbij, head of Syria's Directorate-General for Museums and Antiquities Mahmoud Hammoud told SANA news agency Sunday. Manbij is controlled by Kurdish militants who are heavily armed and supported by US and French troops illegally deployed to northern Syria. According to SANA, the Um al-Sarj mountain in the northern countryside of Aleppo is rich in artifacts. US troops and their allies, it said, are carrying out similar excavations in the ancient souk of Manbij. "The excavations, looting and robbery are also taking place in the archaeological tombs in the eastern side of Manbij," he said. Hammoud said the diggings are a criminal act and a violation of the Syrian sovereignty. His department, he said, is contacting international organizations to condemn the looting of Syria's cultural heritage.
The US has been conducting airstrikes against what it calls Daesh targets inside Syria since September 2014 without any authorization from the Damascus government or a UN mandate.

Monday, 10 December 2018

UK Artefact Hunting: Most of it Already Robbed Out

Note this is a site under permanent grassland, most likely unploughed in recent times, yet even here some oik has hoiked as many of the diagnostic and other artefacts out that they take a fancy to. And where are they (and any  records they made) now?:
PeaceHavens published 19 mar 2011
Metal detector hints. Even in the wilderness I am walking in the footsteps of some detectorist who has been there before me ... but with a bit of lateral thinking I find a new site that they missed ... nothing spectacular ... but new sites are still out there ... but it ain't easy.
"Someone's had a dig virtually everywhere" (Yorkshire dales 2011). So, in fact, if we were to STOP metal detecting tomorrow and concentrated on getting ll those old dug-up finds and their findspot details documented, we'd still be getting a lot of information about new sites, just the ones that have been dug-over by previous detectorists and not (yet) reported. The Ixelles Six (on pp. 323-34 of their recent joint article) claim that this hoiking on sites like this and the non-reporting of the material and information from them is "not cultural damage" because all that knowledge is not lost, it is just zero-gained, it's not been retrieved from them yet. The FLO says (The Foucault of Baz Thugwit?)  that the 'liminal potential' of these data has yet to be actively utilised through the application of 'the complex of relationships that comprise the 'discursive formation' of Archaeology'. The FLO says that non-recording is not a final denial. Let's see. Time to put those words to the test. Responsible detectorists - all of you - let's get the unreported material on record before any of you dig up and pocket any more!

Is the Crown Estate now Supporting Artefact Hunting?

Searching history....for the Crown Estate.


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