Monday, 1 September 2014

One Archaeologist Stands up.


Hollingbury Head (photo by 'Gray')
I promise that I am not writing comments on the Guardian under a pseudonym. What a pleasant surprise it was to find that, while others avoid the topic, one lady archaeologist wrote the truth about UK policies on metal detecting (ChelseaSweeney, 31 August 2014 10:25pm). Chelsea is vexed by Dave Crisp's article sensationalizing artefact hunting:
Here's my beef: yes there is a Portable Antiquities Scheme that records finds on private and public property, but how is this helpful to archaeologists if whatever is extracted from the ground is not properly documented in its precise context? Or goes unreported and finds its way to Ebay/black market? In my view, metal detecting, should be regulated and all finds reported to the PAS. [...] We need responsible metal detectorists. I would advise those interested in this pasttime to join an archaeological society like the B[rifhton and] H[ove] A[rchaeological] S[ociety] and aid archaeologists rather than take a stab at "treasure hunting."
I'd modify that from "aid archaeologists' to "become an archaeologist" instead of hoiking artefact accumulators. Chelsea is afraid that loose encouragement of "metal detecting" is only going to lead to a new 'surge' of people, ignorant of the law, to engage in scouring protected sites ("like what happened at Hollingbury Hill Fort in June" - this story seems not to have hit the news). She says that we need to reduce knowledge theft through heritage crime.

PAS Begins its Eighteenth Year


The histories of the PAS all begin with pilot schemes that commenced "in September 1997", but no firm date is quoted, so 1st September is a conventional one. The online PAS database contains no records of finds at all for those early months and years (the earliest records accessible seem to be from 3rd August 1999).

How much is this all costing the public to get a modicum of information about some of their heritage artefact collectors are taking from them, day by day, week by week, year after year?   Kate Clark's reviw of the Scheme (2010, p. 11) tabulates the expenditure up to 2008/9:


Firm figures after that are hard to come by. The PAS for some reason do not seem to consider it a fact they should be highlighting in their annual reports (the reports which say where that money went). In  2009-10 there was an allocation of £1.3 million, which reportedly rose to over £1.4 million in 2010-11. Funding seems to have been maintained at about £1.3 million each year (2011-12, 2012-13, 2013-14) making an additional £5,200,000. The manner of funding the Scheme changed after the Review, but the role of 'local partners' remained important. Let's say they contributed the same amount each year, 60 000 p.a. That adds another £240,000 to the pot. That is a total of £15,005,000.

The Welsh PAS following the phased withdrawal of the British Museum funding passes to AC-NMW, Cadw and CyMAL will fund it from 2015-16 when the British Museum funding ends.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: From Folkstone Beach to Apamea



The reaction of the Portable Antiquities Scheme to Dave Crisp's exhortation to 'take up yer metal detector and loot' (and show the stuff to the PAS) was swift. Based on previous experience of discussing the issues with members of the public, they produced a page showing the benefits to our knowledge and stewardship of knowledge of the past through site preservation instead of greedy, self-centred acquisitive destruction of evidence through collection-driven exploitation (CDE). They put Britain's curio anti-protection laws in their global context of the measures taken all over the world to prevent damage to sites through them being 'mined' for collectables for personal entertainment and profit. They give a link to one of my blog posts about CDE going on at Apamea, Syria, showing the damage caused by collection driven exploitation over a wide area of this important town. They point out that a difference is that the "Code" of UK detectorists enjoins them to fill the holes in after they've finished hoiking.

The information page explaining the issues which was produced by this professional outreach scheme run at taxpayers' expense can be seen here.

Well, actually no it cannot. The PAS would not in a hundred years actually produce any piece of public outreach like that. They'd have another 'recording strike' on their hands the moment they did that, from the people that have the PAS over a barrel, their artefact hunting "partners".  You might well ask why.



Comment


My comment replying to the sock-puppet "Diggerdoc's" remarks on the Guardian (Re the Crisp text). It could have been phrased more fluidly, but these are not Daily Mail readers:
"Diggerdoc" how is collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record as exhorted here by Mr Crisp "doing a worthwhile job"? They are simply collectors, some people make personal collections of stamps and pottery figurines, these people collect artefacts abstracted from archaeological assemblages. 

Is collection-driven exploitation of archaeological sites not "doing a worthwhile job" in other places, Egypt  (El Hibeh etc.), Syria (Apamea, Dura Europos etc), Cambodia, Guatemala, France, Germany, Nigeria and Utah, only because these countries do not have a fifteen million pound Portable Antiquities Scheme there and looters there don't fill in their holes? 

Would UK bird egg collectors be "doing a worthwhile job" if there was a government scheme set up to "record" their depletion of a finite and fragile resource too?

For "even more" UK artefact hunters to report "even more" of their finds for professional recording (like the estimated eleven million found by metal detectorists since 1975, and the 134700 found just this year  of which there is still absolutely no record) the PAS annually would cost not today's 1.3 million pounds annually. The taxpayer would have to pay annually about 3,06 million pounds annually and in perpetuity. For "archaeology as whole to spend time on working with them" also costs money on top of that. How do you propose raising this money to save all the information from that "worthwhile job" of artefact hunters and collectors simply going missing, as it is today?
The ball-park figures for PAS full operation come from taking the values for number of objects the Heritage Action Artefact Erosion Counter estimates as not recorded this year (1st Jan to 30th August 2014: 134695 items) and the number of objects (93075) recorded by the PAS in the same period and then multiplying the average daily rate by 365.

The costs in fact would be greater as the HAAERC is based on there being 8000 active detectorists in the England and (for the moment) Wales catchment area of the PAS. Although the Counter has not been adjusted for the change in numbers of detectorists brought about by misguided propaganda, including from the fold of the PAS, that figure has now, I think, risen some 60%. I would say if we had the proper figures from an official survey, we'd probably be looking now at a significantly higher rate of depletion which should be measured at 12800 detectorists. That would come out as 4,89 million pounds annually to get coverage of even the basic bare-bones (findspot and what-it-is) information being lost through metal detecting. If these figures are right, a minority and erosive hobby would cost the British public five million pounds a year to support. These are costs no other country has, over most of the rest of the world the ripping up of a finite and fragile resource such as the archaeological record for personal entertainment and profit is regulated by environmental protection laws.

If these figures are right, there is a shortfall of 3.6 million pounds each year on the amount England and Wales are currently willing to spend pretending they are "dealing with the metal detecting issue".  Three million, six hundred thousand pounds worth of knowledge-taking each year remains unmitigated. And PAS-partner Mr Crisp says we need more unmitigateable taking - because he's got a book to promote.

 UPDATE 1st September 2014
"Diggerdoc"  of course never cam back to reply. Another example of happy-slapping nuisance posting from the tekkies.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Intelligently weighing facts and circumstances


Wayne Sayles June 24, 2014, 3:30 pm

Wayne Sayles likes to appear to be seeking dialogue, just not on his blog. I queried the name calling and admonition to go and "get ***ed" used there on Thursday, August 28, 2014 regarding myself, and posted a link to my answer to the point made there about the Syrian sanctions (trying to make out that bolstering the licit trade was an attack on it) and nothing else. It was not posted, but this was his reply:
By the way, I routinely block posts from certain agitators in my comments section for that very reason. This blog is not a forum for debate.
Well, we can discuss it here on this blog as part of the ongoing public heritage debate if Mr Sayles would like to say why he thinks stopping stolen, looted and smuggled artefacts coming to the UK from Syria is an attack on legal collectors and dealers. I do not get the point made of his blog, and I am sure I am not the only one eager to hear a more detailed exposition of the dealer's point of view. That's unlikely, but not - you understand - because he has any problems articulating such ideas. Oh no, no it's our fault:
I went through a phase of indignant rebuttal to archaeo-blogger polemics but realized that it was consuming time, energy and enthusiasm better directed toward more worthy endeavors. It is a futile confrontation. I try to ignore them and reach out to those who are capable of intelligently weighing facts and circumstances.
Like metal detectorist John Howland he means. He's unlikely to attract them to a little brown blog which allows no debate. What he actually means is he really has no answers to the questions which the archaeo-bloggers urging responsible collecting are raising. Especially as he is trying to make people believe that when we argue for more transparency and accountability in the antiquities trade in order to force out the dodgy dealers, what we are instead doing is characterised as "an effort to clamp down on legitimate collecting". It takes a specific mindset to appreciate how trying to reinforce the legitimacy of the legitimate trade is somehow an attack on that (very same) legitimate trade, rather than being an effort to clamp down on the illicit antiquities trade. These are nothing more than weasel words of a dealer in denial.

Clamping down on the illicit antiquities trade is surely something one would have thought that the collectors Sayles claims to represent would be all for, though it might make some shady dealers and their shadowy business partners rather unhappy perhaps. So on whose side is Sayles and his weasel worded denials? I think those "who are capable of intelligently weighing facts and circumstances" do not blindly buy dugup antiquities on the no-questions-asked market. They come to sites like SAFE, David Gill, Rick St Hilaire, Donna Yates and mine for the "facts and circumstances", rather than those of the weasel wording ageing shopkeepers moaning that nobody's listening to him any more.

Intelligently weighing facts and circumstances, it seems to me that the reader can really come to only one conclusion why US dealers are behaving in this manner, and why.

False Prophets in Washington Antiquities Lobby


A lobbyist for the no-questions-asked antiquities market was crowing back in December 26, 2012 that "SAFE No More?":
A reliable source indicates that Saving Antiquities for Everyone (SAFE) is effectively dead. While SAFE's website remains online, it has not really been updated for some time [...] I for one will not mourn the demise of SAFE. From the start, it was highly confrontational, and brought far more heat than light to cultural property issues.
Personally I would say that is a description perfectly fitting the grotesque blog of the author of those words. Peter Tompa does not produce texts presenting any substantive "observations" on cultural heritage issues, every single one of them is the sort of weasel-worded irritating provocation one might expect of an internet troll, and moreover he represents not one, but two international dealers' associations. The non-profit SAFE meanwhile goes from strength to strength, due to the dedication, commitment and initiative of its staff and volunteers. While strident jackasses in the US antiquities trade with their specious arguments and self-centred attitudes are among those who persist in damaging the image of America in the eyes of the outside world, organizations like SAFE are assets to US cultural diplomacy.  (I know the US Department of State reads this, how about some kind of award for them in a couple of years?). Thank you Cindy Ho for giving us all something of inestimable value.

And that is the reason why the US lobbyists for the shadowy no-questions-asked market in antiquities would be happy to see the back of them with their reasoned arguments in opposition to their confrontational nonsense.  I have every confidence that SAFE and the enlightened attitudes it represents are here to stay.

Focus on Metal Detecting: Welcome to Hoik Wiltshire Too


Dave Crisp and heap of coins
PAS poster-boy metal detectorist Dave Crisp (photogenic Frome Hoard finder) now writes for the Guardian ('The joy of metal detecting – it’s not just about the treasure', Friday 29 August 2014).
Yesterday, a treasure hunt began on a Folkestone beach where a German artist, Michael Sailstorfer, has buried £10,000 of bullion – 30 bars of 24-carat gold – as part of an arts festival. People started to descend with metal detectors, spades, forked sticks and anything else they thought might help, and on Thursday night a family found the very first bar. Is this art? It’s not for me to say. I can’t tell a Picasso from a potato, but it’s certainly given my hobby a boost.
Ah yes, beachcombing, using metal detectors to find coins and jewellery recently lost in the sand by holidaymakers, and the quirky other objects that they take to the beach (model cars seem to be common finds), or the odd thing washed up by the tides. in the meanwhile performing a socially useful function in removing rubbish, sharp can fragments, cutlery and worse. Sadly this PAS-partner did not extol that, he turned a discussion of an art-happening into a plug for collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record, artefact hunting and collecting.
It’s not all about pots of coins and jewel-encrusted gems, but the items people have lost over the past 2,000 years, the fascinating everyday artefacts – buckles, brooches, rings, weights and buttons. All these lost items are our history, and they shouldn’t just be left in the ground to rot and disappear. These Celtic, Roman, Saxon and Viking items conjure up the history of our shores, the people who made us what we are today, the ancestors whose blood runs in our veins, and their lost objects are ours to enjoy. 
"These Celtic, Roman, Saxon and Viking items" which artefact hoikers are taking by the thousand and adding to thousands of scattered ephemeral private collections (where it seems that the majority soon lose all contact with their findspot information) are not just capable of "conjuring up the history" (narrativisation -story telling). Through proper analysis of their associations and deposition patterns, they are a resource for the study of the past, one which we are wasting in a wholly unsustainable manner.

Out comes the self-interest special pleading "they shouldn’t just be left in the ground to rot and disappear". Being left in the ground is called preservation, and these "Celtic, Roman, Saxon and Viking items" have been in the ground one to two thousand years or more without "rotting and disappearing" until now and - in reality - there is no reason to think that the majority of them are any more "threatened" with "rotting and disappearance" (except if taken by hoikers and knowledge thieves) now in 2014 than they were in 1414. In 1414 when they had ploughs, frosts and manure - but no metal detectorists. What is currently the threat to the knowledge in the ground is the number of grey metal detectorists pilfering archaeological sites for collectables and it is irresponsible for Mr Crisp to write so blithely to encourage even more.
"Go on, take yer spiydes to th' 'eritidge, rissponsble like!"
PAS-partner Mr Crisp says its OK


 
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