Thursday, 2 October 2014

AAMD Returns to the old idea of an Antiquity Tax



The Association of American Art Museum Directors has made a case to CPAC that the CCPIA does not help protect the archaeological heritage of countries like the United Kingdom. Here is part of what the AAAMD has told CPAC in its recent public comments (slightly edited for consistency):
AAAMD does not suggest that it has all of the answers to this issue, but one can begin to identify those answers by admitting that simply repeating what has been done in the past is not likely to have any different result than what has occurred over the last 27 years. In 2010, the AAAMD recommended to this Committee that instead of export licences, the United Kingdom be encouraged to begin a legal system of exchange of cultural property. This can be suggested under 19 U.S.C. § 2602(a)(4). Any such exchange should be taxed and the proceeds of that tax should be used to protect cultural sites and to encourage related employment by the local populations and the scientific exploration, storage and conservation of objects from those sites. There may well be other approaches that reasonable people on all sides of these issues can recommend, but the first step needs to be taken by this Committee in acknowledging that new and different approaches must be taken if the archaeological record of a country like the United Kingdom is to be preserved and protected.
How much revenue is raised by the state in the UK through the legal sytstem of exchange of cultural property? Could taxes from the UK antiquities trade  be used to:
(a) protect cultural sites,
(b) to encourage "related employment by the local populations" and
(c) the scientific exploration of objects from those sites
(d) their storage and conservation?
Discuss.Actually, since they put forward the idea, let the AAAMD put forward a cost sheet demonstrating how their proposed mechanism would work in a country like the UK, and then for comparison, how it would operate in a smaller country, like - for example El Salvador. Would museums and other public institutions buying artefacts on such a market also have to pay this tax, even if buying back their own heritage?  Will they be taking money from the tax profits for their own storage costs and conservation bills? Details please and cost sheets please AAAMD. Put your money where your collective art-museum-directorial mouth is.

I think the confusion here again is the failure of the Association of American Art Museum Directors to actually get to grips with the real, instead of Disneyland fantasy, wording of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. It is not thehttp://2.bp.blogspot.com/-PZTvMbZ_6ZM/VC0KY06x4nI/AAAAAAAAVxs/v9Ya3f7UASY/s1600/SLAMBumpr%2BSticker.jpgre to "preserve and protect the archaeological record of a country" ("like El Salvador" - what does that mean?). Read the words. Carefully. Use a dishionary if you don't know what the words mean.

Just who do the AAAMD think they are to urge their government start dictating to a sovereign nation just what they should and should not do with its own heritage?  The recognition of the right of sovereign nations to decide precisely this is the whole point of the Convention. If the AAAMD don't think the US should agree to the 26 articles of the Convention, then let the AAAMD propose the US stop the hypocrisy and withdraw from the Convention. I dare them. But if you are a party to a convention, it means you accept the principles it embodies. No? It is not intended as a forum for neo-colonial impudence from big nations at the expense of the smaller ones.  What "American values' do their art museums represent anyway? 


What is on the AIA Songsheet?


Note: for Harageh see here, and here.


I'm less and less sure from which songsheet the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) is singing. Some clarification would be most welcome, as what they are saying at the moment seems like an anti-archaeological lobbyist's caricature than a considered position. The whole issue arises connected with today's Bonhams antiquities sale (the so-called 'Treasure of Harageh') by a branch of the AIA which came as news to the national leadership of the organization who oppose it (Gary Shaw, 'St Louis archaeological society sells Egyptian treasure' Art Newspaper 01 October 2014).  Ann Benbow, the executive director of the AIA wrote of the sale of in an email to The Art Newspaper.
“If [it] goes forward, it will tarnish the long-standing reputation of the AIA, which has a strong stance against the sale of antiquities… Archaeological artifacts should be cared for and made available for educational purposes, not put up for auction.”
That's not my impression from reading other material they have produced, where it seems pretty clearly stated that the AIA opposes commercial circulation of illicitly-obtained artefacts and not artefacts per se. I wrote about this two years ago, and nobody challenged it then: PACHI Thursday, 11 August 2011, 'AIA Policies on Portable Antiquity Collecting'. Nor can I see anything on their webpage withdrawing those earlier views.

Nevertheless from what Ann Benbow is quoted by the Art Newspaper as saying, it would seem that the official position now is that the AIA is opposed to the whole market, not differentiating between items on it that are licit or illicit. That seems to me a totally unnecessary position in the case of the open sale of items which have a documented collecting history. I think some clarification is needed.

Benbow adds that the AIA has “formally asked the St Louis Society not to go forward with the [Harageh artefact] sale and are awaiting their response”. As are we all. "St Louis, glad I don't live there". 

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

King on a Koutoulakis Herm and the Hermeneutics of Dealers Descriptions


Dorothy Lobel King (PhDiva) walks us through the case of a head withdrawn from tomorrow's Bonham antiquity sale (Wednesday, October 1, 2014, 'Collecting 101: A Head at Bonhams'). She says sellers who put such things up for auction "often mess up is in trying to be too clever with the provenance and literature" and gives a few hints about how to "read between the lines" (ADCAEA-guidelines aficionados, are you watching?). She points out that Bonhams does not have a stumble-free track record (involvement with the Sevso Treasure and that Portland-vase-clone cameo glass which quietly disappeared and other problems). Her equation:
So Symes polaroids + dodgy dealer [...] + no paperwork + odd write-up + second dodgy dealer = the balance of probability suggests that this piece was looted.
I was interested in her comments about authenticity and some dealers offering items which seem to be modern fakes:
This doesn't really bother me - auction houses operate under caveat emptor, and frankly I don't care if arrogant collectors buy fakes any more than if they exhibit exceptionally bad taste in their vanity project museums. Fakes have been around forever, and arguably the Roman Hermes above is a fake of Alcamenes' Hermes Propylaios - and they don't damage archaeological sites.
My thoughts exactly. If you buy items only on a dealer's say-so, no-questions-asked about provenance, no-documentary-proof-offered, no proper scientific/condition report to back up the statements made about age and manufacturing technique, then it really is caveat emptor, the arrogant buyer relying on his own unaided judgement is wading out into a deep sea of problems without a lifejacket.

The "Nicolas Koutoulakis Collection, Geneva, acquired circa 1965, thence by descent" head in question was withdrawn from the auction

Where is this Going? "Hot Air and no Outreach"


Dorothy King ('Collecting 101: A Head at Bonhams') complains about the amount of propaganda and unsubstantiated allegations that are finding their way into the international media about looting and collecting antiquities, which leads to the danger of none of the concerns about these issues being "taken seriously by people dealing with the day to day business of antiquities, whether selling or buying".
In recent years there has however arisen a whole industry of 'experts' most of whom do little other than travel from one conference to another, and complain about the issues to raise funds to travel to more international conferences. So we have a lot of hot air and a lot of allegations, but very little actual outreach explaining it to people.
I think we would all like to see less jet-setting jaw-jaw from the experts and more presentation of concrete proposals for action to those responsible for creating policy and forumating legislation. So far, we have seen proposals coming mainly from the side of the trade and their lobbyists (eg Pearlstein's recent 'white paper' of the ADCAEA 'due diligence guidelines'). Initiatives like this are discussed on this blog, but not in the marbled halls of academia, which one might be forgiven for thinking, looking at the output, seem more concerned at the moment with discussing the newsworthy trophy cases rather than the pragmatic aspects of the daily business of antiquity trade and heritage protection.

Northampton Borough Council is barred from Museums Association membership for sale of Sekhemka statue.


Northampton Borough Council is barred from Museums Association membership for sale of Sekhemka statue. Northampton Borough Council is only the fourth organisation that has been barred from membership in the MA's 125-year history. Let us see if the AIA can put their money where their mouth is and suspend the St Louis branch for its upcoming sale tomorrow.

"Detectorists" Inviting a Public Debate


"The 66-year-old recently unearthed a
 2,000-year-old Roman coin in a field in Wiltshire,
 to add to his small collection of ancient finds. [...] 
He’s one of the UK’s legion of about 20,000 metal detector owners.
"

Adrian Lee ('Detectorists: The treasure hunters digging up a fortune' Daily Express, October 1, 2014) has not won himself many friends in the metal detecting community this morning with his opinion piece on tomorrow's debut of "Detectorists" "a new BBC comedy revolving around the bizarre world of metal detecting". He's interviewed some real life artefact hunters, Dave Rees chairman of a club in Wiltshire and "his small collection of ancient finds", Jeanette Jacobs from Scunthorpe, and of course de rigeur, Dave Crisp the photogenic PAS poster-boy, the £360,000 Frome Hoard finder. Also interviewed was a gender-muddled Harry Bain ("he" is a "she"), editor of "The Searcher", and Trevor Austin GenSec of the NCMD. 
In the BBC sitcom [Mackenzie] Crook plays Andy, an archaeology student [that's a new piece of information] who is working part-time as a cleaner. He and friend Lance, whose marriage collapsed when his wife left him for the manager of a pizza restaurant, are members of Danbury Metal Detecting Club and dream of unearthing a priceless Saxon hoard. “They are searching for something in their lives, not just gold coins,”  

I don't know where Mr Lee gets his "20 000" figure from, but PAS's 531,620 records divided by 20 000 and divided by 17 years, comes out at each of them has reported just 1.56 finds a year. Hardly anything that the PAS could claim as "progress". And the archaeological heritage of Britain currently being curated in twenty thousand undocumented scattered and ephemeral personal collections is certainly a figure worth thinking about and discussing. Also if we were to accept that there are 20 000 active metal detecting artefact hunters in the UK, the Heritage Action Artefact Erosion Counter would have to tick away twice as fast, hinting at how many undocumented items those collections potentially contain.



Metal Detectorist Arrested in Greece



The seized artefacts (Greek Reporter)
Antiquity looting and smuggling are a pervasive problem in Greece, the Greek police make dozens of arrests per year in connection with the trade. Greek police announced the arrest on Monday of a 72-year-old Greek man accused of violation of cultural heritage law, possession of illegal weapons, as well as embezzlement. The 72-year-old man had reportedly been involved in similar activity in the past.
Investigation of the man’s home in a village near the city of Alexandria in northern Greece revealed 1,061 ancient copper coins. Most date from the Hellenistic period – the third to first centuries BC – the Byzantine period – 330 AD to 1453 AD – and the Ottoman period – the 15th to the 19th centuries AD. Police said that the coins were seized on Sunday, along with 30 silver coins dating to the same periods, 16 copper rings, as well as precious jewels of the Byzantine and post-Byzantine eras. Police also found an assault rifle, seven pistols of various calibers, six handguns, two hunting rifles, 15 metal detectors [...] . 
The photo accompanying the article shows a heap of uncleaned coins which were either in his own personal collection or were destined for the market, and artefacts among which is something which looks like aqn radiate headed fibula. One of the objects however, while it may be 'Byzantine', I suppose looks awfully like the sort of things that come out of the SE Baltic/ NW Russian regions. Is this collection a mixture of locally found and imported artefacts? Only closer analysis can tell.

Nikoleta Kalmouki, 'Greek Man Arrested for Illegal Possession of Ancient Coins' Greek reporter Sep 30, 2014.
 
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