Sunday, 3 July 2022

More Dual Presence (Ukrainian) Artefacts Spotted on Austrian Market

The draining of Ukraine's archaeological record by artefact hunters has been going on for some time now (see Sam Hardy 2018 '‘Black archaeology’ in Eastern Europe: metal detecting, illicit trafficking of cultural objects, and ‘legal nihilism’ in Belarus, Poland, Russia, and Ukraine') and there are no end of dealers in the west willing to make a huge profit by buying illegally obtained artefacts through online markets in Ukraine (bidding against local collectors) and then getting them exported and selling them with a huge markup through a western auction provider. Or at least that's the alternative to the model that I proposed earlier that in some mysterious way antiquities straddle a space-time disruption that means they are present in dual parallel universes at the same time. Knowledgeable collector "Renate" has documented three more such examples of “dual presence” brooches (all offered by the mysterious dealer aesnumismatics on Catawiki)
Cicada brooch [...]

Violity: Фибула цикада , с солярными знаками (Cicada fibula, with solar symbols). Sold on 18-May-2021, the seller was located in the Vinnitsa region, Ukraine then and wanted to send the piece only within Ukraine

Catawiki: Ancient Roman Bronze Exceptionally Well Preserved and Richly Decorated Cicade Brooch Fibula (shaped as a Fly) Sold on 16-Mar-2022. “Purchased by the current owner in 2016 in Austria, Wien. Collected Since: 1990's. Previous owners history: Old Austrian Private Collection. The Seller can prove that the lot was obtained legally , provenance statement seen by Catawiki.” The catch plate was repaired, possibly in antiquity. The pin could be new.

“Slavic” brooch (discussed in the pdf)

Violity: Пятипалая фибула ПК (Five-fingered fibula PC) PC= Penkovo culture. Sold on 31.Okt.2020, the seller was located in the Vinnitsa region, Ukraine then and wanted to send the piece only within Ukraine.

Catawiki: The Great Migration Period, Germanic Tribe- Ostrogothic Bronze Huge (16,8cm) Zoomorphic Fibula engraved with Solar Ornamentation-5 Beams&Dragon Head& 2 Raven Heads. Ended 8-Jun-22, not sold: “Purchased by the current owner in 2016 in Austria, Wien. Collected Since: 1990's. Previous owners history: Old Austrian Private Collection. The Seller can prove that the lot was obtained legally , provenance statement seen by Catawiki.

Another “Slavic” brooch [...]

Violity: Пятипалые пеньковские фибулы 4 шт, две большие (Five-fingered Penkovo fibulae 4 pieces, two large). It’s the small green piece on the right of the first image. Sold on 26. Nov. 2020, the seller was located in the Cherkassy region, Ukraine then and wanted to send the piece only within Ukraine.

Catawiki: Great Migration Period, Germanic tribes Ostrogothic Bronze Superb Zoomorphic Brooch-Fibula with Seven Ravens Heads in Openwork Technique and Dragon Head – bidding ended 15-Jun-2022, not sold. “Purchased by the current owner in 2016 in Austria, Wien. Collected Since: 1990's. Previous owners history: Old Austrian Private Collection. The Seller can prove that the lot was obtained legally , provenance statement seen by Catawiki.”
Yeah, I bet he can. But that still does not solve the problem that it was both being sold as a dugup in Ukraine in 2020 but at the same time the dealer can prove (?) it was in Austria in 2016.

I leave it up to the reader to decide which of these three alternatives is the best explanation:
1) There are parallel universes  in which the same antiquity is present in two separate space-time continuums at the same time and dealer aesnumismatics has the ability to time-travel to retrieve this information,
2) Dealer aesnumismatics has such an unprofessional complete mess in the records of their company that they got muddled about which artefact was from where, and where the export documents are. 
3) Dealer aesnumismatics is making up these collection histories to hide the real origin of looted artefacts smuggled out of Ukraine.
I prefer the first, it's most romantic My son-in-law goes periodically to CERN to make antimatter and says parallel universes are a real possibility, and who am I to argue with that? 

But on the other hand, who I am is somebody who is vitally interested that the rare sites where we have intact deposits with datable Penkovska Culture [Пеньківська культура] metalwork in them are not trashed by artefact hunters so that dealers like aesnumismatics can make a profit by hiding where they come from. As far as I am concerned they are Early Slavic (as far as anything is) and we still know precious little about where the Slav-speaking communities came from, what happened to them, and how they ended up occupying about half of Europe in a span of a few centuries. The only way we can sort that out is from the archaeological evidence, evidence that is endangered by artefact hunting and antiquities collecting. 

And just to put in context just how much intellectual damage is caused by the dealer's representation of the brooches as "Ostrogothic", this (right) is more-or-less where the sixth century brooches of this type are coming from... (it's from here). 

The Penkovska Culture (which perhaps we should be calling now the Penkivska Culture, as the type-sites are in Ukraine, not Russia) is a bit difficult to pin down. In the archaeology of the Soviet Blok and post-Soviet Early Medieval, especially here, there is some doubt about which assemblages are and which are not groupable in a whole load of shifting entities, this applies especially to the northern (north of the Prypets) forest zone and the forest-steppe zone (as here). The dating is 5th to the late seventh century (might be eighth century), it's all up in the air - which is why we need to be able to do more archaeological work on undamaged sites.  Below is how Ukrainian and Russian Wikipedia represent them (the Russian one is based on: Седов В. В. Славяне в раннем средневековье, Moscow Институт археологии РАН, 1995). The German one shows something rather different (and no, no, no, these brooches are not the archaeological correlate of the written-source people  that distant and muddled-up old Jordanes called the Antes). The Siverskyi Donets where the fighting now is (as it runs through the Don[ets]-bas[in]) is on the right of both maps. So there's quite a distance between where the seller says the brooches come from, and where they were actually dug up. 

Bazaar archaeology at its most egregious


                                               nicholas gunn                                     
Over on an open access antiquities collectors' forum just a mouse click away, yet another example of the maxim "buy the book before you buy the antiquity". You should not trust what dealers say, and really have to know what you are doing on this market specifically.

A "nicholas.gunn@..." contacted the group with a demand: "fake or not"...

nicholas.gunn@...Jul 1 #96954
hi i am new to your group and thanks for letting me join. i am a collector of any thing roman based in the uk ,i have just purchased these roman razors from a auction house in the uk i had a good look at them before biding and i thought they was ok, i have recently put them on a collecting site of roman antiquities site and someone suggested they could be fake,can anyone help thanks
There might be clue there why buying a book may not even help in all cases. These are the people that artefacts are ripped out of archaeological contexts to titillate. Fortunately, the production of these three artefacts did not damage any archaeological context, just the eyes and insult the intelligence. A couple of members try to enlighten him
Robert Kokotailo Jul 1 #96956
I am not expert specifically on Roman razors but I know a fair bit about Roman bronze work in general. I would be very surprised if these turnout to be genuine. They all have stylistic problems in the finer details that do not look like Roman workmanship and the patinas look artificial.
The punctuation-challenged Mr Gunn is at first acquiescent, then stubbornly defiant:
nicholas.gunn@...Jul 1 #96959 "thanks for your reply i feared the worst thanks". nicholas.gunn@...Jul 1 #96960 "just found thi what do you think-"
So a "looks like" totally sidesteps what the knowledgeable and frank Canadian dealer says (when asked) about style, workmanship and condition. Instead of being a properly-grounded artefact with the same style, workmanship and condition, "this" is another object from the antiquities market, sold by a UK dealer based in the port town of Harwich. But he's right, this example "From the collection of a European gentleman living in South London; acquired 1970-1980", on a number of counts looks very much like the object the UK collector bought (see below).

Then David Knell had a go providing an answer to his question with some sound observations:
David Knell Jul 1 #96961
That razor with two lions from TimeLine (sold £700) shares some characteristics with an equally dubious example with double-headed horse sold on Catawiki (sold £296): questionable artistic style, strangely even and unlayered patina on the bronze, curiously intact iron blade, etc. I wouldn't trust either of those razors as far as I could strop them. Ultimately, it's not just a matter of what makes an item look fake; it's a matter of what makes an item look authentic - and I see nothing at all that convinces me that those razors are.
Me neither. The catawiki one was sold 28-03-2018 for € 340 on a Catawiki-hosted auction curated by Peter Reynaers by 'fleur_de_coin' based in Austria. Nicholas Gunn, who is puzzled by punctuation, also does not really understand what David Knell says though, and has problems applying by himself what he might have learnt to his own items:
nicholas.gunn@...Jul 2 #96968 yes i agree but what do you think of mine
He says he "agrees" (apparently goes along with everything he's told without thinking about it first - I bet he voted for Brexit too) but basically is still in the dark. So David Knell explains again:
David Knell Jul 3 #96987 [..] I'm confident that all three items shown in your first post are modern fakes. Their suspiciously ambitious design, unconvincing artistic elements, careless finish, poorly executed patina, convenient lack of relative ferrous corrosion, and other factors are typical of the kind of thing being churned out in enormous numbers by workshops in eastern Europe.
Quick as a flash, the denial and self-deception that seems so endemic to many antiquities buyers:
nicholas.gunn@...Jul 3 #96988
if there being churned out in enormous numbers why can i not find any like these
I think that was supposed to be a question. But it illustrates the whole mechanism of "authentication" by seeing whether there is something else (even, or maybe especially, on the market) that "looks like this" - and we assume that largely means "looks like this, on the Internet".

What he was told, but did not understand was: "stylistic problems in the finer details that do not look like Roman workmanship and the patinas look artificial", "questionable artistic style, strangely even and unlayered patina on the bronze, curiously intact iron blade, etc.", "suspiciously ambitious design, unconvincing artistic elements, careless finish, poorly executed patina, convenient lack of relative ferrous corrosion, and other factors".

Instead of being in denial, the collector might have spent a moment to reflect on the repeating information here:
1) I must find out more about Roman style, both in form of typical artefacts of this type as well as how the workmanship actually looks on grounded (ie properly excavated and published) artefacts.
2) There seems to be some problem with the patina, what did Robert mean about "patina looks artificial", what does arteficial patina look like? What are the different ways it is made and how would I recognise them? What did David mean about "poorly executed patina"? How could the patina look more convincing as something that had come out of the ground? What did the fakers get wrong? What did he mean by "strangely even and unlayered"? Maybe I need to do some reading on corrosion processes underground, at the moment, it seems David might know more about this than me.
3) What's wrong with the iron being like it is? What did David mean by "curiously intact" and "lack of relative ferrous corrosion"? I think there was something in school about that once, "reactic series" or something like that, but I was too busy daydreaming to pay any attention to chemistry classes, load of useless rubbish. I guess I need to see if I've got my old third year chemistry textbook somewhere.
I think when he's done that with any diligence and attention, Nicholas Gunn can answer his own questions.

For the record this "smooth shiny avocado green with light bloom patina" is one of the more common used by fakers, because it is popular with collectors as it looks nice in a spotlit display. The green is achived by several reagents. I think the bloom is done with a slurry of cat litter, at least I have had some good results with it.

Are3 the TimeLine, Catawiki and Gunn-collection razors from the same workshop? It is possible, the Catawiki one has a different looking patina and the irion is in different condition, but then, if the TimeLine consigner's information is correct, the workshop was in production at least forty years ago, so the iron could be looking like this by now.

TDCP (Targeted Damage to Cultural Property) in Ukraine as Seen from USA

Another report on damage to cultural property in Ukraine. Before 24th Feb 2022, for some reason there was no great interest, but now I presume there's funding floating around for research, but you need to invent a research topic to qualify. The "Cultural Heritage Monitoring Lab (CHML)" and the "Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative (SICRI)" together with the "University of Maryland’s Center for International Development and Conflict Management (CIDCM)", apparently want a slice of it. They are related in some unclear way to yet another group called the "Conflict Observatory" that declares itself to be "a central hub to capture, analyse, and make widely available evidence of Russia-perpetrated war crimes and other atrocities in Ukraine", which is a bit odd, because it seems to be based "centrally" in Esri a private company based in Redlands, California  - so not in Ukraine at all. Esri ("Environmental Systems Research Institute" [sic]) is involved in the supply of geographic information system (GIS) software, web GIS and geodatabase management applications.

They say they have analysed and confirmed damage to 104 sites through satellite image analysis and review of open-source news and social media. Anyway, they now proudly invite you to download and read their report:
Bassett, H. F., Aronson, J., Cil, D., Hanson, K., Narimanova, N., Averyt, K., Carroll, C., Koropeckyj, D. V., Harrell, K., Welsh, W., Wegener, C., and Daniels, B. I. (2022). 'Analysis of Damage to Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Sites: A Case Study as of 08 June 2022'. Virginia Museum of Natural History, Cultural Heritage Monitoring Lab; University of Maryland, Center of International Development and Conflict Management; and Smithsonian Institution, Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative. [30 June 2022]
This document makes rather disturbing reading, though I will wager not for the reasons the authors intended. We don't know anything of these "104 sites", the actual report has just a little over two pages (that's 12 authors for a report that is basically 1130 words long, including a 133 word 'executive summary') with two dozen muddy, fuzzy satellite photos showing a handful of (seven/eight) sites as case studies. The sites discussed are scattered all over the place. In their captions, information is muddled and repeated. 

It is not clear why these sites were chosen and why. The only evidence offered for what happened to them and when comes from the satellite photos. They claim to have used social media for their account, but in several of these cases we have more precise data from on-the ground reports in social media. I guess using those data did not fall into the GIS mapwork format of ESRI. Most of these sites have also already been listed and discussed elsewhere, several times. So, it's not clear what the actual function of this report is. 

The acknowledgements, such as they are, do not mention a single Ukrainian cultural official or organization. The Ukrainians seem to be excluded. The "executive summary" is in English not Ukrainian... Who are the authors? There are no affiliations given in the text. On checking them out on the Internet they all seem to be US-based and most are CHML and SICRI staff.  One of them is listed as "Disaster Response Coordinator" at the latter, so we come back to the mentality of the US "command centre"... 

These authors paint a glowing picture of their own capabilities as experts: 
This report seeks to distinguish between collateral damage and other military activity at cultural heritage sites in Ukraine. It proposes that damaged cultural heritage sites distant (>3km) from ongoing conflict activity, Ukrainian bases or stationary military assets, and dual-use transportation infrastructure (e.g., train stations, railways, airfields, and airports) are unlikely to be damaged as a consequence of military activity. Therefore, not all site damage can be explained by collateral damage or proximity to a potential military target. Among the 104 cultural heritage sites with confirmed damage, 21 are situated >3km from a potential military target or reported military activity.
It is not totally clear what they are trying to do here. Although not explicitly stated in the report's two-page (!) text, taken in context of other rhetoric coming out of the USA at the moment, it looks like this is an attempt to demonstrate Targeted Destruction of Cultural Property (TDCP) by the invading army of the Russian Federation (see the aims of the CO). Does it do that? Absolutely not. Let's take a look at the case studies. They do not say so, but none of them are ">3km from a potential military target or reported military activity" as even the most superficial of research into the course of the ongoing military action would have shown. And why are the Ukrainians excluded from this "central" (but remote) attempt to co-ordinate research into analysing damage to Ukrainian cultural heritage sites?

1) Rubizhne City Museum, Luhansk Oblast ("Image from March 29, 2022 shows damage to the roof of the building"). Far from being 3km from any military action, the city [just N of Severodonetsk] is on the Eastern Front and was fought over in the 'Battle of Rubizhne' (15 March 2022 and - 12 May 2022). I really do not see, bearing in mind the state of the city by the third week of May with extensive regions flattened by shelling, one can talk of 'targeting'. The houses all around this building were flattened by the time this report was written. Note that in their photo, a monument stands in front of the museum, not damaged.

2) Yatsevo cemetery, just to the east of the city of Chernihiv, in Chernihiv oblast. This cemetery  with an area of more than 100 hectares and more than 97,000 graves is one of the largest necropolises in Ukraine. It began to operate in 1974, after the closure of another cemetery in Yalovschina. The necropolis lies on the eastern outskirts of the city - ie in the path of the Russian Federation's advance. The  Siege of Chernihiv began on 24 February 2022, and was over (for the moment at least) by the 4 April 2022. The report looks at the Church of St. Theodosius (built in 1996) just inside the cemetery gate. It was damaged between the photos of March 10th [fig 3] and March 18th [fig. 4].
The report also illustrates a memorial chapel in the 108th sector in the middle of the cemetery that was damaged probably at the same time (but for some reason treats it as a separate monument). In the case of this Memorial Chapel of the Archangel Michael, like the church, the photo of March 10th shows no damage, but photos [Figs 21 and 22] from March 16, and April 28, 2022 show damage to the chapel. What the report however omits to say is that this chapel was opened on the "Day of Dignity and Freedom" (November 21st) 2018 in honour of the soldiers from the region who died for Ukraine fighting in the OOC and ATO [the Joint Forces Operation and Anti-Terrorist Operation]. That is they died between 2014 and 2018+ fighting against the 'separatists' in Luhansk and Donetsk, part of the very army that was now moving through the area of the cemetery to take Chernihiv. The report under discussion does not clarify that this building is only four years old and has this function. 

3) Church in Hostomel, Kyiv Oblast. Photos 5 and 6 of the report show damage occurred between Feb 28th and March 18, 2022. Intent on pushing some narrative, the authors fail to point out the extensive damage to buildings visible in the same photo on both sides of the road. This is a very good example of the problems with this report. The authors admit that the church (as are several others they do not mention) is on the line of European road E373. This is of course the road on which the famous Russian convoy was stalled (from c. 28th Feb/1st March to c. 11th March). In fact it passed/stood right next to the Church. And moreover the reason it was stuck was that at the head of the convoy (not very far to the south of the church in Hostomel) is that Ukrainian forces were knocking out vehicles trying to pass other knocked out vehicles that were blocking the road. Hostomel was the scene of heavy fighting 25th February to before April 1 2022. Looking at other satellite shots shows that behind the church fronting the road is part of precisely the same forest that UA troops were using to hit the stranded military column and then hide their movements (in other words, they were attacking Russian troops on the road to Kiev from behind the very church that was damaged in the fighting). If you look on the photo you can see what look like foxhole firing positions dug by the side of the road and opposite the church a massive bomb crater. Certainly this building was in the thick of the fighting when it was hit.

4) Ivankiv Historical and Local History Museum, Kyiv Oblast. Photo 7 shows it undamaged before the War (Feb 14, 2022) and the next shows the burnt out building on February 27, 2022. We know a lot about the damage to this building (see a summary: 'More Sensationalist and Superficial Claims on Organized Russian Looting to Order in Ukraine' PACHI Sunday, 19 June 2022) which also occurred during the heavy fighting near the crossing of the River Teteriv (the bridge a few hundred metres from the building was indeed, Conflict Observatory, a military target).

5) Izyum Historical and Local History Museum, Kharkiv Oblast. Here the report uses photos  9-11 to show the damage, noting: "As a rural area, the region around Izyum has limited periodicity of pre-conflict imagery". For the record, Izyum, the town the monument discussed is slap-bang in the middle of is six kilomtres across and 10 km long. The image from July 18, 2021 shows no visible damage and then another two from March 12, and Mar 20, 2022 showing damage to the building. Again, what they do not say is that there is damage to several buildings in the area of the museum. This is not surprising as the town has been exposed to constant Russian rocket fire since 3 March 2022 going right through until the end of March. As a result of these attacks, most of the town's residential areas were severely damaged., given the scale of this, it would be surprising if the museum was not hit. Establishing Russian control over Izyum was an important military goal in March. 

6) Wooden church (built in 2018)  in the village of Kamyanka, Kharkiv Oblast. In image [12] from July 09, 2020 it is undamaged, in one from March 23, 2022 they say the image "shows damage to the building" in the pdf its too fuzzy to see what they are talking about. The next image [Fig 13], taken March 23, 2022 shows damage to the building, while one taken a few days later shows the building has been razed/burnt down to its foundations. There was a lot of fighting precisely on the segment of the eastern front around Izyum in March 2022, Kam'yansk was the site of a Russian tank regiment that was destroyed in the village by 11th March. Another tank group moved into the area at the end of the month. Again, having a tank battalion stationed in the region of the church does not exactly support the idea that at the time the damage occurred there was no military target within three kilometres of the site.

7) St. Elijah's Monastery in the village of Varvarivka, Luhansk Oblast [Figs 15-17]. The image from March 29, 2022 shows no visible damage, while those of April 07 and April 27, 2022 show damage to the building, but the reproduced photos are too 'muddy' to see if apparent damage to buildings both sides is real or an artefact of the photography. Varvarivka was on the outskirts of the battle for Rubizhne and between 19 and 20 March it was captured by Russian and LPR forces. There was still fighting going on north of Rubizhne in May, for example in 3 May, the village of Mykhailivka near Rubizhne was shelled, and among other things, another monastery was hit and a priest died

8) I have discussed the memorial chapel in the Yatsevo cemerey above. This was the last site discussed in the report (so seven or eight not "ten").  

It is worth noting that of the seven (treated as eight) 'Ukrainian cultural heritage sites' discussed in this report, three were museums, while four were churches (two modern ones related to a 1974 cemetery, one other also built four years ago). There are a number of problems treating damage done to churches merely as an attack on Ukrainian culture, and the conservation issues of restoring a damaged sixteenth century church and one from 2018 are very different. There are other much more extensive lists (such as this one from sources on the ground by the National News Agency of Ukraine - Ukrinform) on damage being done to places of worship due to the current phase of this conflict. I am not sure whether duplicating information like this adds much, especially as the "Observing Conflict" report ignore so much of the context (in fact that of the conflict), as in the case of the memorial chapel in the cemetery, and also this whole phenomenon must be seen in light of the context of the political role of the institution of the Church, in particular in the current power struggle between Moscow and Kyiv.  

As for "seeking to distinguish between collateral damage and other military activity at cultural heritage sites in Ukraine", the report as it stands significantly fails to do that. The information required to do that simply is not presented. None of the damaged cultural heritage sites are "distant (>3km) from ongoing conflict activity", many of them sere in the middle of areas that were strongly affected by military action, being on active fronts. Moreover the report fails to take into account that the specific building it illustrates (like many of those it does not illustrate) is surrounded by other destroyed structures. The authors say they have the ambition to show that  through "utilisation of advanced statistical methods suitable for observational data, it is possible to understand how and why cultural heritage is damaged during armed conflict". This report does nothing to show the  authors are anywhere near that aim. Firstly the 2022 invasion already has had several different tactical (if one can call it that) phases, reflected in what the troops on the ground have been doing - but none of the evidence the report presents is in any way related to analysing that. 

There simply seems to have been an attempt to produce "something" ("something that shows damage to a few sites") but without any underlying ideas in the way of setting out any real aims for the report or justifying which sites are presented in this way and how they relate to the greater whole, or what can be done with the information gathered and presented. The apparent exclusion of Ukrainians from the project is a huge error.    

Tuesday, 28 June 2022

ICOM Researching How to put Paper Watchman on Door of Empty Stable

Ta ra! ICOM, in close cooperation with its National Committee in Ukraine, is preparing an Emergency Red List of Cultural Objects at Risk for Ukraine to combat illicit traffic following the invasion. An invasion that started in 2014. How timely, eh?

The article mainly promotes ICOM and its "long track record in [...] protecting heritage from illicit trafficking", and how many "Red Lists" it has produced in the last 20 years.

ICOM will build on this expertise to protect cultural heritage in Ukraine by publishing a Red List with the support from the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture and Information Policy. ICOM is currently working with museum experts from ICOM Ukraine and neighbouring countries to research and determine which objects are most at risk of being illicitly trafficked. In fact, for each Red List, ICOM closely cooperates with art historians and archaeologists from the concerned countries, as these experts are in the best position to ensure that the objects included in the lists appropriately reflect both present and possible future threats. [Anastasiia Cherednychenko, Vice-Chair of ICOM Ukraine says,] “Our heritage is under threat, and to protect it, ICOM Ukraine is coordinating a team of experts who are working on an Emergency Red Lists for Ukraine. We know that the international community needs a tool that will help identify Ukrainian objects at risk of being illegally exported, and the ICOM team is mobilized to produce this List as soon as possible”
They say, "Red Lists are both flexible and non-exhaustive tools but share a common point by identifying objects protected by law, objects which can be the target of illicit trafficking, and which are also on high demand on the international art market". Basically, that could have been done ten years ago on the basis of the insane outflow of cultural objects out of Ukraine. Archaeological objects among them. Just take a look on the auction provider Violity (est Aug 2010)
Thousands of collectibles are sold and bought daily on VIOLITY. Our site is recognized by sellers and buyers as one of the most user-friendly, reliable and user-friendly Internet sites in the world. Convenient and well thought-out structure of sections and subsections allows you to spend a minimum amount of time looking for what interests you. [...] 5 502 797 active lots 142 000 users.
There is a war going on, but on open sale on this one site, you can see 108 pages of "Ancient and medieval objects (up to 1700).These break down as follows:
Ancient and early middle ages metalwork antiquities 2,703 ,
Ancient, antique and medieval glass, porcelain, earthenware, stoneware 490,
Christian cult metal work (crosses, pandants, encolpions etc.) 1,266,
Finger rings XVI–XIX cent. 933
The metal objects include personal ornaments (fibulae etc.. many probably the product of grave-robbing) and items of Scythian goldwork (mostly small objects - the sort of items involved in the Melitopol Museum discussion). On at the moment, there are 1837 antiquities assigned to "Kievan Rus" (taking into account only the ones in appropriate sections, the search produces more items that are not antiquities) the majority of them being sold (during this war) by sellers living in Ukraine - most of them in the west and southwest, but including at least one apparently behind the front line. These sales did not start of 24th February this year, together with the so-called "Black Archaeology" that feeds this market, this has been going on for more than a decade (Sam Hardy will possibly have more precise figures).

Satellite photo evidence shows that looting has been taking place on sites on the south coast in waves since the earliest open source detailed satellite photos available from 2003. Coins and small metal objects from the classical sites among them (and stone and ceramic objects from looting of Trypilske Culture sites further west) are on open sale direct from the finders and ready for illegal export in internet portals just one mouse click away.

Objects that have already reached foreign markets are on open sale too, though this time often with a made-up "provenance" involving fictional (but conveniently anonymous or dead) previous owners. Sometimes a bit of dedicated searching by archaeologists and sometimes collectors reveals "dual presence artefacts". artefacts that a seller claims were long ago safely tucked away from sight in one place, while external evidence shows they surfaced much later in the hands of a Ukrainian artefact hunter (and sometimes amateur artefact-modifier - "pimping" the goods before selling them). The number of people in the foreign market countries that have devoted time to this search seems to be relatively small, and publications of the results even thinner on the ground. Two of these researchers have been threatened by the lawyers of a (the same) dealer implicated in such practices, and when the police are notified (at least in Britain, we hear a whole list of reasons why they cant, actually, take this up ("but we'll note it down"). Yeah.

So what are people like myself to do? Make a rolling record of those successive bunches of 6000 +1837 artefacts week after week, and when two or three years later international auctioneers Grebkesh and Runn offer stuff that looks suspiciously like material from Ukraine check through hundreds of thousands of those records to find one that instead of being from the "European collection made before 1968-70")  claimed was dug up by "RudiDetekts" from Kriyvy Rih in September 2022. And when that's been identified, trot along to the police only to hear that they'll "note it down"? Will it help if I clutch in my hand a copy of the "Red List"?  Will it? If I posted a copy of the "Red List" to the dealer's lawyers, will they stop sending me threatening letters, forbidding me from writing what I found? 

Yet the people selling online are there for everyone to see, ICOM, the Ukrainian authorities. The metal detectorists and pot-diggers admittedly choose remote spots (mostly), but a patrol could identify fresh digging (thirty fresh looters holes several metres across are not dug in eight to ten hours, but are several week's work). But the looting goes on, the same sites are visited over a period of several years. The goods come through the post (crossing the EU border in many cases), but somehow ancient fibulae and weapons (!) don't seem to show up on the scanners either at the point of export, or import.

And if ICOM or anyone else were really concerned about how they are going to stop the passage of any conflict antiquities there may be onto foreign markets a few moments thinking about the real world will reveal that since there is already an ongoing trade in antiquities, it makes sense for anyone wanting to get involved with the movement of material to tap into the previously existing network established over years clandestinely to move this stuff, instead of creating a new one in competition with it. So really the key to curbing postulated future trade is to tackle and dismantle the existing trade networks. It hardly take a brain the size of a planet to work that one out. Prevention is always better than a cure.  
In addition to the production of Red Lists, ICOM continues to foster international cooperation to fight against the illicit trafficking of cultural goods by encouraging the ratification of the international cultural conventions, such as the UNESCO 1970 Convention and the UNIDROIT 1995 Convention, as well as bilateral agreements between states, which are vital in addressing this illicit trade. This Emergency Red List will play an important role in ensuring state parties to these conventions will respect their international obligations. As international cooperation is crucial to fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property, ICOM counts on the support of strong international partners such as INTERPOL and WCO to raise awareness on this multifaceted phenomenon.
Those "Conventions" don't seem to be doing much, do they? Many countries that have signed such pieces of paper to look good don't actually do more than pay lip-service to "respecting their international obligations" in this regard, and just how much "raising awareness on this multifaceted phenomenon" is being done? In the UK for example. Who's doing that then? Well, there's David Gill's blog and ... and... um. The British Museum..? The British Museum, proud holder of colonial loot, hosts the Portable Antiquities Scheme that PROMOTES going around with a metal detector and hoiking out collectable items for collection or sale. Hardly the message we need. But there will be a Red List, so somebody will look good - and that will most likely be the end of the matter. And, meanwhile, the looting and the trade will go on; the looters and dealers will carry on making money. And anything that's lost - blame the Russkies.

Sunday, 26 June 2022

Greek and Roman Provincial Coins Found in England and Wales


A question  arose in correspondence with a reader and I suggested that for a comparison to what we were discussing, they looked at the occurrence of Greek and Roman provincial coins in England and Wales on the Portable Antiquities Scheme "Database". They reported some problems, so I decided to extract the data myself and send them. When you start to do that... what a complete ballsup. The PAS (stricte: the well-paid staff of the British Museum), shamed by the fact that UKDND had started doing this before them, spent ages a few years ago, well before the Pandemic lockdown, getting up "guides"  to various finds categories. In effect what they did was create something that was not much more than a wordy online numismatic guide - as if there were no coin books on the planet. 

Anyway, the one of Greek and Roman Provincial coins is rubbish. They spent ages creating a list of all the possible rulers that could issue the things... it goes into 30 pages, 506 rulers, and that's a waste of time because coins of most of those rulers never reached the British Isles (these coins circulated locally, mostly around the eastern Mediterranean). But when you turn to the issuing places, you find a shorter list . When however you start clicking, you find most of the fields are empty and the ones that are not contain links to BYZANTINE coins. What a public-funded fiasco.

Using the search engine, one finds that all this wasted effort was to "provide a background" for just 346 coins

Since the PAS database is mainly geared up to creating dot-distribution maps, here's one for the Greek issues ("500BC to 50 AD") on the left and ones for provincial issues of the Roman period ("40AD to 450AD") on the right generated by the clunky map-making application that forms part of the PAS database. Does this pattern mean anything? What does it mean? 

Let's look at this. This is where according to the table in the right sidebar of the PAS database display the coins in the PAS database were from:  

county of origin: Kent (27), Wrexham (22), Hampshire (18), Monmouthshire (15), Lincolnshire (14), Oxfordshire (14), Newport (11), Cornwall (10), East Riding of Yorkshire (10), Isle of Wight (10), Powys (9), Suffolk (9), Essex (7), Leicestershire (7), Norfolk (7), North Yorkshire (7), Nottinghamshire (7), Buckinghamshire (6), Darlington (5), East Sussex (5), Gwynedd (5), Medway (5), West Sussex (5), Cambridgeshire (4), Carmarthenshire (4), Cheshire East (4), Cumbria (4), Greater London Authority (4), North Lincolnshire (4), Surrey (4), Swansea (4), County of Herefordshire (3), Denbighshire (3), Devon (3), Hertfordshire (3), Lancashire (3), Warwickshire (3), Wiltshire (3), Wirral (3), Worcestershire (3), Cardiff (2), Central Bedfordshire (2), Cheshire West and Chester (2), Derbyshire (2), Doncaster (2), Flintshire (2), Neath Port Talbot (2), Northamptonshire (2), Pembrokeshire (2), Rhondda Cynon Taf (2), Shropshire (2), Staffordshire (2), Tameside (2), Wakefield (2), West Berkshire (2), Windsor and Maidenhead (2), Bath and North East Somerset (1), Calderdale (1), Ceredigion (1), City of Peterborough (1), Halton (1), Kirklees (1), Newcastle upon Tyne (1), Northumberland (1), Sefton (1), Solihull (1), Somerset (1), South Tyneside (1), Stockton-on-Tees (1), Wokingham (1), York (1), the Vale of Glamorgan(1)
Interesting. The 22 Wrexham ones are from a find called "Llanarmon Dyffryn Ceiriog" and are all records imported from the IARCW ("a corpus of work produced by Peter Guest and Nick Wells, entitled "Iron Age and Roman coins of Wales@. There are no images to accompany this series and our staff did not identify these coins. Questions about these data should be directed to Dr Guest/ Dr Wells"). So why are they in the PAS database and not the IARCW one? In fact as many as 82 of the Greek and Roman provincial coins found by members of the public in the PAS database are data imported equally blindly from the IARCW database... this rather would skew their geographical distribution (Wrexham (22), Monmouthshire (15), Newport (11), Powys (8), Gwynedd (5), Carmarthenshire (4), Swansea (4), Cardiff (2), Denbighshire (2), Neath Port Talbot (2), Pembrokeshire (2), Rhondda Cynon Taf (2), Ceredigion (1), Flintshire (1), the Vale of Glamorgan (1)). What is more that with the exception of three finds, from Powys, Denighshire and Flintshire, all the Welsh records in the PAS database came from the IARCW data, gathered by unknown means, and therefore not comparable to the PAS data. Why are they even there? 

Taking all of these finds (PAS and IARCW) together * we can find the following pattern of coins recorded in the PAS database  according to the  information presented in the table in the right sidebar of the PAS database display:
Septimius Severus (27), Diocletian (13), Probus (13), Caracalla (8), Julia Domna (8), Trajan (8), Hadrian (7), Gordian III (6), Antoninus Pius (5), Juba I (5), Severus Alexander (5), Alexander III (4), Diadumenian Caesar (4), Nero (4), Philip II (4), Ptolemy II (4), Aurelian (3), Carinus (3), Ptolemy VI (3), Uncertain Roman Provincial (3), Antiochus IV (2), Azes (2), Cassander (2), Claudius (2), Commodus (2), Demetrius I (2), Elagabalus (2), Hermaeus (2), Hieron II (2), Kujula Kadphises (2), Maximian I (2), Maximinus I (2), Philip I (2), Ptolemy (2), Ptolemy I (2), Trajan Decius (2), Vabalathus (2), Agathocles (1), Alexander the Great (1), Amyntas III (1), Antiochus VIII (1), Apollodotus I (1), Augustus (1), Azes II (1), Domitian (1), Galba (1), Gallienus (1), Geta (1), Juba II (1), Julia Mamaea (1), Kanishka (1), Lucius Verus (1), Marcus Aurelius (as Caesar), (1), Maximian (1), Menander (1), Nerva (1), Numerian (1), Philip III (1), Ptolemy III (1), Salonina (1), Sextus Pompeius (1), Timoleon (1), Tranquillina (1), Trebonianus Gallus (1), Uncertain - 1st/2nd Century AD (1), Valerian I (1), Vespasian(1)
and Place of Issue, as presented by the table in the right sidebar of the PAS database display:
Alexandria -Egypt (34), Alexandria - Egypt (26), Laodiceia Combusta (24), Emisa (8), Nicaea, Bithynia (6), Syracuse (6), Carthage (5), Ebusus (5), Lycia (5), Massalia (5), Byzantium (4), Numidia (4), Sardinian (4), Sicily (4), Athens (3), Caesarea, Cappadocia (3), Sicilian mint (3), Antioch (2), Antioch (Antakya, Turkey), (2), Antioch (Syria), (2), Bactria (2), Carteia (2), Nicopolis ad Istrum (2), Sardes (2), Syrian Mint? (2), Agrigentum (1), Amisus (1), Amphipolis (1), Antioch, Syria (1), Aradus (1), Babylon (1), Camarina (1), Carmo (1), Centuripae (1), Colophon (1), Commagene (1), Cranium (1), Cyprus (1), Cyrene (1), Deultum (1), Ecbatana (1), Emporiae (1), Ephesus (1), Hierapolis (1), Istrus (1), Macedonia (1), Mamertines (1), Massicytes (1), Nisibis (1), Odessus (1), Pamphylia (1), Pella (1), Philippi (1), Philippopolis (1), Poseidonia (1), Punic-Sardinia (1), Samos (1), Sekaisa (1), Siculo-Punic (1), Tabae (1), Tauromenium (1), Thessalonica (1), Tomis (1), Viminacium (1), Uncertain (5), Uncertain (11),

We can analyse these data from the database. I've already done that for the Alexandrian tetradrachms  in the PAS database and in the process shown why accurate interpretation has significance far beyond just intellectual curiosity: 'Alexandrian Tetras and US Coiney Dishonesty' PACHI Monday, 2 June 2014. I am of the opinion that some, and very probably many, of these finds were modern collectors' losses or possibly modern 'plants' rather than an indication of any substantial coin circulation in Roman times (see the 60 examples now in the database above). 

Those 24 coins from Laodiceia Combusta in the region of Pisidia, central Anatolia were all data imported from the IARCW database, and one (Geta Caesar/Septimus Severus) was found in 'Duffryn' (Newport), and another 23 were of Julia Domna/Septimius Severus, one from 'Segontium', and the rest were from that 'Llanarmon Dyffryn Ceiriog' find. No details are available for the circumstances or date of discovery, or how they are interpreted. The same goes for all but one of the Emisa coins (IARCW data).

One could go through the list and look at where these coins are coming from, and how they are dated... but it seems to me not worth the bother for two reasons. Since we do not know from the database anything at all about the site context (one 'ploughed field' is not equal to the next 'ploughed field' in terms of what it contains and how it got there), using the database as presented, we cannot really make anything except a guess as to whether a single recorded find is part of a contemporary coin scatter or whether it is a modern collectors' loss. I think the latter explanation is more likely for many of them. Secondly, and much more importantly, there are severe doubts as to what the PAS database is showing us anyway.

Take a closer look. I think if we do, we see that the PAS map-making thingy is a piece of crap. The dataset for mapping is 346, not an enormous number. There should be a cluster of 82 coins shown on that map in Wales. That's 82 (23%) of the 346 coins that the database search engine says are there. Count the dots. There are two shown on the map, two of the 82. What's going on?
Look at the totals above. Add up all the given numbers in brackets for the rulers... does it come to 346? Add up the numbers in brackets for the places of issue... do they come to 346? Well, no. No they do not. The total for the number of rulers (including uncertain ones) is 201, not 346. Then again the number of issuing places identified (including uncertain and unidentified ones) is 218, not 346, and not the same as the 201 in the table in the same sidebar from the same search!  So where do these numbers come from? Why is there a discrepancy and what information is missing (and why)? Presenting this material to the public that pay through the nose for it (whether they want it or not) as the results of all the work done for over quarter of a century by the British Museum (no less) and its team, for those millions of pounds, you'd either expect results that match and make sense or at least a transparent bit of accountability, or if they are hiding data from the public, there should be a clear notification of that and an indication of what is not there and why. Why is there neither transparency or accountability here

What is the point of incorporating smart-looking "digital analysis tools" into the public-funded database that do not actually work? The mapping application, as it is, is a gadget, a toy of no use to anyone to do anything useful. so if this part of the PAS database is just for show and does not actually work, how accurate are the results produced by the search engine itself? ARE there really 346 coins of this category in the database? Are the data that are shown representative of what is stored among those million plus records? And with over a million records, who is to ever know? The PAS can just roll out the big numbers and nobody would be any the wiser (including themselves). So what is the point of a database of questionable reliability?  

And what IS this crap at the bottom of the page, that has been there over a decade taking up space just above the British Museum logo ? What is it intended to be used for, who is it intended for and what the blazes does it show? (and if it shows something, why is there nothing anywhere on the webpage that explains that to the user of this website?).

While on the subject of the way the 'data' about individual decontextualised objects is presented on each dedicated page, the maps there I assume are just intended to be totally unusable and uninformative. Which they are. So why are they there at all? The point is, rather than faffing about taking up space with useless peripherals like this, more attention should be being paid to using the British Museum's resources to make the database more reliable and not "just for show". 

*For what it is worth, these are the data for the IARCW finds alone:
Septimius Severus (23), Julia Domna (7), Diocletian (3), Caracalla (2), Maximian I (2), Probus (2), Ptolemy I (2), Ptolemy II (2), Vabalathus (2), Antoninus Pius (1), Augustus (1), Aurelian (1), Demetrius I (1), Geta (1), Hieron II (1), Lucius Verus (1), Marcus Aurelius as Caesar (1), Nero (1), Philip I (1), Trajan (1), Trebonianus Gallus (1), Uncertain - 1st/2nd Century AD (1), Valerian I (1), Vespasian (1).
Laodiceia Combusta (24), Alexandria, Egypt (18), Uncertain (11), Emisa (7), Sicilian mint (3), Carteia (2), Syracuse (2), Agrigentum (1), Athens (1), Carmo (1), Centuripae (1), Commagene (1), Mamertines (1), Massicytes (1), Nisibis (1), Poseidonia (1), Tauromenium (1)

Belgian Ballsup: But Dealer Insists on His Money


Provenance matters. A dealer bought a bargain at a Belgian government sale, did not know or ask where item was from and why it was on the market at all.

And now, British police are keeping a stolen statue worth millions of dollars in their custody as a dispute rages between a Belgian antique dealer and a Nigerian museum (Barnaby Phillips, Nigerian Ife head: Why UK police are holding a priceless sculpture BBC, 26th June 2022). In the 1980s and '90s Nigeria's museums suffered many damaging robberies, apparently sometimes in collaboration with corrupt staff of Nigeria's National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM). Among the robberies was one on the night of 14 January 1987, when thieves broke into the Jos Museum, beat up the guard and made off with nine of the museum's most precious treasures.

The NCMM instantly alerted Unesco, providing photographs of everything stolen from Jos. In 1990 collectors in Switzerland were approached by a man trying to sell a beautiful Benin Bronze head for a half a million Swiss francs. The collectors were suspicious, and with the help of American, Swiss and Nigerian diplomats it was identified as having come from Jos and was returned to Nigeria. Meanwhile the other eight pieces had, apparently, vanished. Most of them, including the Ife head, are listed in a 1994 publication by the International Council of Museums (ICOM), entitled One Hundred Missing Objects; Looting in Africa. It wasn't until many years later, in bizarre circumstances, that the Ife head would reappear, in Belgium.
That's when things get a bit wozzy. On 14 November 2007, the Belgian authorities held an auction of "confiscated art items", and among them was this head, which was bought by a local antique dealer, for €200. What is not clear is how the Belgian authorities got the head and when, why they simply sold it instead of returning it to Nigeria. This is just sheer incompetence. The dealer claims that, despite the obvious quality of the piece, and the fact that Swiss collectors did know what issues were involved and which questions to ask, he did not know what he was buying and what problems there could be with its provenance. In 2007. What kind of a dealer is that?
The Nigerian authorities are incandescent, not least because Belgium's failure to answer these questions may make it impossible to ever discover what happened to the other pieces stolen from Jos. [...] As for the antique dealer, I managed to track him down. We had a short, terse telephone conversation. "Did you know you were buying stolen property?" I asked the man, who we have decided not to name. "Of course I didn't, I bought it from the Belgian state," he replied, and put the phone down.
Hmmm. This is Belgium, this citizen is convinced that the Belgian state never stole anything itself from Africa (Belgian Congo, Heart of Darkness)? Really? 

"We have decided not to name" the dealer says the journalist,  as though the wider public has no right to know. If the dealer's done nothing wrong, then they can go on the record. Anyway, the dealer who had bought the head for a bargain price in good faith decided not to try and shift it straight away. They waited ten years. Waited for what? (serious question):
The story then leaps forward 10 years, to London and 2017, when the dealer tried to sell the head through Woolley and Wallis, who passed it on to the British police. In 2019 the police took the head to the British Museum, where curators confirmed its authenticity [...] the head has been sitting in a secure police facility for the past five years.
It is not stated whether Woolley and Wallis were the first auction houses approached. Anyway, the Nigerian government has asserted its ownership, but the dealer refuses to relinquish their claim. What happened subsequently is explained by Babatunde Adebiyi, a Nigerian museum official:
In 2019 a Nigerian delegation met the dealer. The atmosphere, according to Mr Adebiyi, was "cordial". Mr Adebiyi pleaded with him. "I told him he could be an international hero. He said he wanted money, not people saying nice things about him." The Nigerians say that at times the dealer has asked for €5m, but has brought his price down. British officials tell me he is now asking for €39,000 (£33,500).
If he does not care for what people say about him, all the more reason why he can be named. After all, many clients will want to know which dealer can take an object they bought for €200 and sell it for them for €39,000, irrespective of its pedigree. Magic.

Here is an interesting video about these Ife heads.

Whoops.... [Updated]

COIN Unique ID: KENT-542043
Object type certainty: Certain
Copper alloy Roman Provincial bronze coin struck for Hadrian (AD 117-38) at Oddessus in Moesia (modern Ukraine on northern coast of the Black Sea), dating to c.AD 125-128. RPC III, p. 98, no. 772 (three specimens recorded, five on the online version of RPC III). 22mm; 6.5g.
Obverse: [ΑΥΤ]ΟΚΡΑΤωΡ ΑΔΡΙ[ΑΝOС]; laureate and draped bust right
Reverse: OΔHCEI-TωN; Heracles standing left, resting on club with his right hand, lion skin over left arm
Measurements: 22mm in diameter and 6.5g in weight.
Notes: We are grateful to the finder for providing the images for this record.

and what else? The record is anonymous - who actually wrote this?

While it is true that Odessos (one 'd') was in the ancient region of Moesia, which later became a Roman province, Moesia ended on one side of the Danube, while modern Ukraine begins on the other. So Moesia was not "modern Ukraine on [the] northern coast of the Black Sea". Moesia was on the eastern coast of the Black Sea, between teh Balkan mountains and the Danube. The colony and then urban centre of Odessa in which this coin was struck is under today's Varna in modern Bulgaria.

I suspect the FLO is confusing that with the similarly named Ukrainian city of Odessa, founded in 1794 on the site of a Tatar settlement (Hacibey/Khadjibey) by Tsarina Catherine the Great - and giving it a Greek name was a conceit of hers.

Millions, literally, of pounds have gone into this Portable Antiquities Scheme, mainly because the Brits cannot be bothered to actually tackle artefact hunting. The least those who work for it as "partners" of the artefact hunters and collectors can do is to check the facts that they provide the public as their costly "archaeological outreach" and not spread nonsense.  

Update a few minutes later
Generally PAS do not like me commenting on the records when I spot an issue and do not always react when I write, but I usually try. Doing so this time produces the information missing from the public page:
"Report an error relating to KENT-542043
Thank you for taking the time to report an error about this find. The error report will be sent to:
Finds Adviser(s) responsible
Sam Moorhead Andrew Brown
Finds Liaison Officer(s) responsible
Jo Ahmet<
br> You are submitting an error report on:
PAS record number: KENT-542043"
So the FLO wrote this junk record? And Sam Moorhead and Andrew Brown are responsible for its accuracy? Tragic.

UPDATE The next Day:

"Recording Institution: KENT
Created: 4 years ago
Updated: About one hour ago"

Four years it took the British Museum to get it right.

I got this in my inbox too:
"Dear All, I have slightly rejigged the record. It is Odessus (which was ancient Varna) in Bulgaria. I can see the confusion with Odessa further up the coast. Thanks Paul for the alert.
Valete, Sam [This Message is Official]"
Yeah. "Confusion" is why we have experts, the PAS is supposed to be the experts here.

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