Saturday, 28 November 2015

What’s to be done about a Shrinking Passive PAS and a Milieu that Just Doesn't Get It? ?

Heritage Action have a thought-provoking text: 'PAS is shrinking. It really matters. So what’s to be done?', 28th Nov 2015. A tweet of a disgruntled FLO indicating that eighteen years on, the metal detectorists in her region really have not cottoned on to what the PAS means to them. As HA point out:
What did PAS ever do for us?” You mean apart from PR and ID services, massive positive advocacy to the Government, landowners and the public – and survival, and all completely free? Nothing mate.
I'd say enough is enough a failed social experiment in educating the tekkies is a failed social experiment. It did not work, time to STOP, and think of some other more holistic and more effective way of dealing with the Looting Matters.

"Who owns art" turned into "Safe harbor" debate

The dealer and collectors' hackneyed argument "who owns art (anyway)?" began losing steam when faced with the rightful riposte that its not so much about "whether" to collect, but "how", it's not about ownership but standards and best practice. As a result they've drifted away from that, and redirected attention by depicting what they do as some form of "opposition" to a partly mythologised Hostile Other ("who threatens the values we all hold dear"). In other words they are attempting to garner support for extremist views by scapegoatism.

Thus we have seen the emergence of the "Safe harbor" trope in recent years. This has gone on alongside the "ISIL makes money by looting sites" trope (which in itself is the same kind of rhetorical and social engineering tactic which can be suggested to have its origins in the group of academics and activists gathered around the US Department of State). Dealers and collectors are currently being vilified (quite justifiably in my opinion) for failing to adapt to the changing circumstances in which the market finds itself by demanding and producing documentation verifying licit provenance (collecting histories) of the objects they handle.  Instead of responsibly buckling down to find ways of doing this and establish new standards of best practice in the industry, they strike out on a tangent. Employing a Two Wrongs argument has always been their main escape  and here it is too. For a long time collectors have claimed that by hoiking artefacts out of their archaeological context or removing them from a monument, they are "saving art" ("saving art for everybody by putting it in my private collection"). Unwilling to think up more sophisticated excuses, this is the one they are going with in the industry's 'ISIS-Crisis'.  Suddenly they start presenting the whole heritage debate in terms of "Syria" (but rarely post-2003 Iraq) and "the fight against ISIL" (as if ISIL was the only foreign group of militants anyone ever need to 'think' about).

Their argument goes like this:
"ISIL destroy monuments" they say (linking to no end of shocking ISIL propaganda videos showing them doing precisely that).
"This art is extremely important, the most important thing in this whole conflict", they say (falling haplessly into the very trap the provocation has set up for them).
"This uncivilised behaviour must STOP"  they say (showing they share the same values as the rest of us)
"We must bring everything we can carry off to our country where it is safe" they say (assuming their country will never become in any way a threat - the Paris seven attacked a theatre and restaurants, they could have done the same in a museum),
"regardless of how we get our hands on the art, the art is more important than anything else, it is OUR heritage and we wants it", they say.

First of all, Syria, Iraq and other regions of the MENA area are conflict zones, when Europe was last a conflict zone in the lifetime of our parents (and sadly for some in southern and eastern Europe the lifetime of our generation too), cultural heritage was damaged. Some artefacts did get evacuated to the US - and in some cases like the Hungarian Royal Crown, it took the Americans a long time to give it back after the War ended (I have discussed other removals of items from Europe in 1945 by the US, both state-sponsored and private, elsewhere in this blog. Russia likewise has stuff "evacuated" from the front line in 1944/45 which still has not come back). Obviously, despite the existence f international conventions and what we all would want to be otherwise, destruction of monuments and heritage (and much else besides) is what happens in any social conflict. Unfortunately there are inevitably those who see the breakdown of the old order in such situations as an opportunity to take things which would otherwise be unavailable. They take them for themselves - or more often than not for sale.

While we can all agree that the destruction of heritage must be prevented and halted, gathering up the loose bits and taking them out of the country as trophies to an imagined philanthropism (which in reality is masking greed) is quite obviously not the way this can be achieved. In particular this is not the case when the introduction of these desired things onto the market is potentially doing its part to perpetuate the conflict (it is not enough to attempt to dismiss the issue on the grounds that there is contention in the shadowyness of the antiquities market about the scale at which the latter is the case).

There are a huge number of issues that need to be debated around the simplistic gung-ho "America (or France) Saves the World's Art" argument. This is especially the case when it primarily comes to the public domain when used merely as a deflecting tactic by the dealers' lobbyists (see what Peter Tompa and the ADCAEA are up to) and big-colonial-museums-must-have-more-stuff brigade (James Cuno is the poster-boy). We need to examine very closely the motivations of those who support such schemes, and - in particular - look at the effects on the citizens of the source countries.

Museums, Dealers and Collectors Getting Hands on Foreign Ancient Objects

Jonathan Tokeley Parry and friend
CBC Radio recently re-ran material first broadcast in June 2015: 'Who Owns Ancient Art? Part 1' ( Friday November 20, 2015)  Listen to Full Episode 54:00' and 'Who Owns Ancient Art? Part 2' (Friday November 27, 2015) Listen to Full Episode 53:59.

The blurb reads:
When the the Taliban and ISIS destroy ancient artifacts, the world responds with outrage. But where should that outrage lead: taking ancient art out of the country of origin? Or would that amount to what some have called neo-colonialism and cultural genocide? Just who owns ancient art? That's the central question that Paul Kennedy explores in this two-part series, produced by contributor Anik See.
Among those interviewed: Jonathan Tokeley-Parry, Matthew Bogdanos, James Cuno, Nika Collison (member of the Haida Nation, and curator at the Haida Gwaii Museum.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Friday Retrospect: What the Supporters of "Partnership" Ignore

In my opinion, those who think that we will get that much-needed "best practice" from UK metal detectorists by patting them all on the head, cooing and being everso-nice are deluding themselves: 'UK Metal Detecting: Heritage Action Challenged Again (Yawn), by a Newbie '. After presenting some thoughts on the typical sort of responses we hear from a typical range of metal detectorists, I conclude, I think not without reason:
In my opinion, long term observation of this phenomenon indicates starkly that it's a waste of money trying to outreach to those that resist education. And its a waste of time British archaeologists persisting in  faffing around at the tax-payers' expense trying to achieve the unachievable for the only reason that its easier to deceive yourself and others that its different than it is, than actually taking real action to deal with the problem of collection-driven exploitation (CDE) of the archaeological record head on.
Nobody has thought fit to challenge that point of view. Ask your FLO why not.

[Mr Currell by the way never came back with any more of his Jim-Bob 'justifications'. I doubt that this is because he reconsidered his opinion and decided to STOP pocketing the evidence of Britain's past.]


Iraqi Smuggler caught

Smuggler apprehended by Iraqi commandos NW of Baghdad in possession of ancient antiquities. To whom were they on the way?

Wick Hoard Mashup

The Mail account of a new hoard buried in or after the reign of Marcus Aurelius (c. 160) has to be one of the worst-written in recent years (Sarah Griffiths, ' Hoard of Roman coins dating back to Mark Antony are discovered in Welsh field ' MailOnline 26 November 2015). It should actually be about the Treasure inquest, because the hoard was found some time ago. The text of the article wanders round random topics in a wholly confused way, the ultimate in British portable antiquities dumbdown. Without the space-filling waffle the main facts are:
A hoard of silver coins [....] have [sic] been discovered in a Welsh field [...], the 91 coins have been hailed by history experts as 'a significant find' and could be worth 'tens of thousands of pounds.'[...] They were unearthed by two friends out walking in a field near the small village of Wick in South Wales [...] Consultant psychiatrist Dr Richard Annear, 65 and John Player, 43, came across the small pot containing the money, including three particularly old silver denarii. They reported it to curators who were able to remove a chunk of soil containing the delicate find safely. 
Except the photo of that "delicate pot" shows the archaeologists did not do a very good job of it. It is not explained how "walkers" found a buried pot with coins. Perhaps they have X-ray eyes that can see through soil. But no, the problem seems to be that the reporters today found it in some way embarrassing to mention they'd been using metal detectors. As Edward Besly explains:

 Posted on You Tube by Wales News TV


"Detectorists" Responsible detectorists caught "Nighthawking"

Fans of the comedy series "Detectorists" will probably be disappointed by the second series which has not really got anywhere at all and been very lacklustre in the comedy, last night's was the penultimate episode (there will be a Christmas special which is currently being filmed [spoiler alert], part of it in the BM Treasure department). The storyline still has not really taken shape, but I really enjoyed the comedy in the last episode of the walkie-talkie commentary on the "stakeout" of an aircraft crash site (apparently with Nazi gold).

What was interesting though is that the arrogant two-man "team of elite detectorists working with the museum" were nabbed "nighthawking", showing that the boundary between the two worlds is just having the right piece of paper (in this case a MOD search licence). Given that the majority of detectorists present finds to the PAS, or flog them off on eBay without showing any kind of signed search and take agreement, or finds allocation agreement whatsoever, the boundary is a fine one.

Many 'responsible detectorists' will claim to be an elite, separate from the law-breakers, but ask them for a piece of paper to show they have gained full ownership rights by a formal agreement  and it seems not all of them have any such thing. This brings us close to the fourth category of illegal artefact hunting identified recently by the Glasgow criminological theorists (see 'Whatever happened  to the "Glasgow Fourth"?' Tuesday, 5 March 2013 or search for "Glasgow Fourth").

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