Thursday, 29 October 2020

Those numbers of metal detectorists... STOP Fudging the Question


Fudge is no answer
While the Helsinki gang can gaily ignore the implications of Hardy's 2017 estimate of 27000 artefact hunters in England and Wales, the rest of us would prefer to know the facts. We have seen that "Let's Go Digging" has 13400 followrs, and now I see that the latest membership numbers for the "Fudgeworld" (Metal detecting Private group) currently stands at 26.2K members. Not all will be British, not all will be active, but then again, not all active English and Welsh detectorists will be members of this one facebook page. It's beginning to look as if there is a problem here that current policy needs to address.

Wednesday, 28 October 2020

Let's Go Digging Insurance

Metal detectors and farmers

Some comments were made here on whether fly-by-night visits through pay-to-dig companies qualified for insurance cover. Paul "White Lives Matter" Howard, the organiser of the Let's Go Digging events has announced:

Piece [sic] of mind everyone who attends Lets Go Digging events is insured up to £10’000’000 public liability insurance while on our farms
They can't provide toilets but have the money to pay premiums on insurance like that... Does this insurance cover the farmer from loss if a metal detectorist were to steal something from the property? (as if, eh?). 

"Our farms"? 


California Museum Dragging Feet over Thai Artefacts Acquired without Paperwork in 1960s

Khao Lon lintel
A museum in California is, for some reason, displaying two ripped-off Thai sculptures. They were spotted accidentally by the Thai consulate general in Los Angeles who saw the lintels on display when he visited the museum in 2016. Now, four years later, the U.S. government is demanding the museum gives up any claims to these objects and sends them back, the U.S. attorney’s office announced Tuesday (Associated Press, 'Lawsuit demands California museum forfeit Thai artifacts', Washington Post Oct. 28, 2020. ).
The lawsuit says the items illegally made their way to a private collector in the United States and were donated to the city- and county-owned collection of the Asian Art Museum [...]. The museum said one lintel is from Nong Hong Temple and dates to 1000-1080 AD. The other is from Khao Lon Temple and dates to 975-1025 AD. The museum says one item was bought by noted collector Avery Brundage and the other by the museum, with Brundage as a go-between, in the 1960s from sellers in London and Paris.
Nong Hon lintel
The museum said that its own study found no evidence that the lintels were looted but also didn’t turn up any copies of required export documents required under Thai law, which raises questions about what they were playing at having them in the museum collection for more than half a century before this lawsuit. They seem to have been taking their time after finding a big enough box:
"The lawsuit is surprising because the museum had been negotiating with both the Department of Homeland Security and Thai officials since 2017, said Robert Mintz, the museum’s deputy director. The lengthy process of permanently removing the items from the museum’s collection had been expected to be completed this spring but now ”the lintels won’t go anywhere until the legal process is complete,” he said. “We’re surprised by this filing and we’re disappointed that it seems to throw up a roadblock to what seemed like positive and developing negotiations.” he added.
If somebody's stolen car was found in their car park in 2016 and they were told that getting the paperwork together for them to give it back was going to take the museum "a lengthy period", I suggest that a court case would be in order four years later. This case was noted here in an older post, odd to see it is still dragging on: Thailand is seeking the return of Illicit items from museums in the United States, PACHI  Saturday, 4 August 2018.

As for: "museum said that its own study found no evidence that the lintels were looted but also didn’t turn up any copies of required export documents required under Thai law", either they are being disingenuous or are just not very bright Trump voters.  Looting and smuggling are two different activities, export licencing refers to the latter activity. And yes, the absence of any export licencing is evidence that this thing is not suitable to add to any responsible collection. 

Antiquity is in the Eye of the Beholder

Barakat galleries (London, Seoul, Amman, West Hollywood, Hong Kong) aim to be a "mirror of all ages and cultures" and in their  Masterpieces of Biblical Art, they had a Bronze Age Limestone Votive Sculpture that was sold last night:

Bronze Age Limestone Votive Sculpture SKU PF.0167 Circa 2500 BC to 1500 BC Dimensions 8″ (20.3cm) high x 6″ (15.2cm) wide,   Medium:  Limestone,   Origin:  Northern Syria,   Gallery Location USA
With his arms clasped reverently to his chest, this powerful figure stands in awe before some god the world has now forgotten. He evokes a distant age, a time when man felt more helpless before the forces of the cosmos. Even after all these centuries, his quiet dignity in the face of the unknown has the power to move us.
Barakat (fair use for purposes of criticism and comment)
That's it. What a sales spiel!  The object was first spotted by Professor Erin Thompson [@artcrimeprof] John Jay College (CUNY), NYC who described it as looking like a "fossilized heap of Weetabix". The bidding stood at $12k last night when I last saw it. First of all, as Prof Thompson remarked, who in their right mind would buy a dubious object from what has been for some time now a heavily looted conflict zone with absolutely no information about how and when it left Syria (
Rebels, Rojava or Regime?) and entered the US, and what its collecting history was? Perhaps it has "none", which raises all sorts of questions. At one extreme, somebody was careless with the documentation, at another somebody deliberately deleted all trace of its recent past, and a third option is that the object has no past because it is a recent production that the dealer mistook for an antiquity.

Note that the gallery did not give any proper description at all of what is on sale. In particular, that condition report is scanty, yet it is in the condition in which the object is that part of its biography is embodied. Any dealer/auction sale should treat the task of describing what they've got a little more seriously than, "here's a few random arty pictures not necessarily showing all angles, you pays for what you sees". And that is what we had here.

Like the potential buyer was, I'm looking at these pictures and trying to see the object in four dimensions from them. I see the left arm is oddly deformed, and not clasped on the chest in awe or not. The figure seems to be holding a rectangular object (a book?). But oddly there is not a photo showing that left arm properly.

Stylistically, there are a muddle of associations, the head as it is today seems to want to be Mohenjo Daro or a star-gazer, while the figure as a whole also reminds one of Yemeni stuff. Perhaps this stylistic melange is the reason why the dealer does not want to go into details. But one does wonder about the stature of a dealer that describes a chunk of stone a dozen or so centimetres tall as "powerful".

Barakat (fair use for purposes
of criticism and comment)

The front of the figure has a recent scar, cutting through the brownish patina to reveal the limestone is grey. It looks like a glancing plough or mattock scar, hinting at the process of how it came onto the market. But then there is a second scar on the back of the head. If you zoom in and look at the back, the patina is scarred and scuffed as though this item was at some time in a box of rocks.
How and when did that happen? But then the same scuffing is absent from the front and sides, and the edges of the protruding arms and nose. In one photo, the arm seems to be formed from a sawn surface. Or is it? Because one prominent element of the object is not described at all, the oblique scar of the chin. The dealer makes no reference to that.

My first question, looking at the profile is what form this had in the first place. Secondly, why is the fracture so flat? Has the object split along a bedding plane or joint? Is the right shoulder another fault in the rock? The dealer makes no reference to that and should (for example how many inner faults might this object have?).

Barakat (fair use for purposes
of criticism and comment)
But then look at the back (keeping the blocky profile and the back of the head and neck in mind). Doesn't that look like a bedding plane, with that rectangular slabby bit behind the left shoulder? This is where I start to get really suspicious. Look at the bottom edge, where there is a break. Remember the right side has been carved out of a flat surface. So that bottom edge is chipped quite a lot, apparently after breakage, and you can see before the scuffing. So the implication is that the complete figure was broken and the upper part subject to some rolling or bashing process, chipping the edge of the break.... but not the arms, angular shoulder (OK, the nose is battered). That's a bit odd, and I would expect the dealer describing his goods to mention this.

I am a bit puzzled what the lower part of this "artwork" is supposed to have looked like. There is no indication of a waist having been below the break. Was this a rectangular stela with a head on top? Was it a fully round figurine that tapered lower down, to end in small feet? What parallels can be adduced for any of this in the art of "Northern Syria"? The dealer does not say. But he opines that it is "Bronze Age". Why? He does not say.
All my own work, based on subjective
 interpretation derived from  what
one can glean from description
by Barakat (fair use for purposes of
criticism and comment).
Because the problem is that the odd chipping an weathering of the back of this object could equally mean that somebody found a slab of limestone with a weathered broken edge meeting a flat edge almost at right angles, with a nice weathered bedding plane, and got creative with it. One might very well interpret it like that. There is nothing in the seller's description (including the photographs) that conflict with that interpretation of what we see presented. And that means the object would have been manufactured to look as if it had been broken. The shadows in the photos prevent us from seeing in detail any differences there might be between the patina on the front, sides and back. And again, the seller says nothing about this. ("Caveat emptor, but I'm not gonna help you"?)

So what actually is this undocumented chunk of stone said to be ancient and said to be from Northern Syria ? The opinion of Mr Barakat is that this is a "masterpiece (sic) of Biblical (sic) art" dated by him to the Bronze Age, I think there are good grounds to ask on what this opinion is based apart from "because I say so". The antiquities trade sorely needs to start taking the description of their goods more seriously, to avoid any misunderstandings.
hat tip Erin Thompson

Monday, 26 October 2020

Gutted Wen Fings Aint Wot They Sim- Honest

Some news from the toiletless dig at Moreton-in-Marsh
Paul Howard Admin 1 h
1 x Gold Roman now from our Moreton-in-Marsh permission, Always hammered and Roman to be found, we’ve done a few visits now but it just keeps giving and yesterday we had a go on a new 50 acre area and had a silver Roman and hammered and gold half sovrin, We will be doing the new 50 acre again but we now also have the 100 acre site we’ve done a few times and had the 1st gold Roman been ploughed and is ready for us to book so keep eye on events I’m going to get us back their in next few weeks, also has lots hard standing parking
Lee DjIlla B Booth: Nice Paul , it’s not everyday you see gold Roman coming out the ground hope you well fella

Lorraine Maud Awesome

Gary Molloy Congratulations to the finder,awesome
Paul Howard Gutted just seen a live video of the what looked like a gold roman but it turns out it’s a lead farm token that in Kevin’s pics looked gold but def isn’t

According to finder, a
 farm token not worth
reporting to the landowner.

Oh def. This "lead token" with a goldy sheen has an inscription on it TI CAESAR DIVI - AVG F AVGVSTVS and on the reverse PONTIF and the rest is worn... That's really quite interesting for a lead farm token, I would say the landowner should jolly well get that valued before he gives it away, it could be worth quite a bit to a collector of funny-looking-lead-farm-tokens-found-by-metal-detectorists. Especially as this one has that attractive golden sheen to it (must be the artificial chemical fertilisers that did that). I think this should be recorded by the PAS, and I hope they manage to contact "Kevin".

I can't help wondering why a "farm token" would be made to look just like a slightly worn aureus of Tiberius - like the ones that the finder could locate on a dealer's website like here (prices up to 16000$). Rauch (sale 108) had three for about 3-400 euros and there are several sellers listed in CoinArchives (Leu et al.) that have them at a hefty price ticket too, even for ones in quite grotty condition like the LGD one. This is why I think a "lead farm token that is def not a valuble Romin coin" is especially interesting, I wonder what the landowner thought of it when the finder showed him and asked if he could take it? Maybe when the FLO has recorded it, he could interview the landowner and it would make a very interesting post for teh PAS blog, about public attitudes to the past, the metal detectorists out there for the "love of history (and not the money)", the landowner that wants to share the history of his land with the public. 

Now you may be saying, "Paul, this photo shows what clearly IS a Roman coin", but you'd be wrong, we have the word of the finder AND Mr Howard that this is not the case, and as we all know, LGD events take place on the basis of a contract (and mutual trust) between the landowner and the person responsible for his members' conduct on that property, and that contract states clearly that high-value items (such as an aureus of Tiberius) would be reported to the landowner and a financial settlement a greed. So this CAN'T be an aureus of Tiberius can it, that would mean the metal detectorists were ripping off the landowner... and surely nobody suspects that metal detectorists would do anything like that. No, this must be lead - but let the PAS see it and record it just to make sure.  

Sunday, 25 October 2020

If Only People Would Look into Artefact Hunting and Collecting Like This


The ability to identify misinformation is a crucial skill these days. This should be being taught in every school. Fighting fake news is the same whether its Covid or the nonsenses of the PAS and Helsinki Gang about "metal detectorists":

Instead of "trusted sources", (ie what other arkies say, because most of them are parrotting the same rumours and half-truths) I'd suggest going back to verbatim sources produced by the detectorists themselves. 

More British Looting: Engaging in and Excreting on the PASt in Moreton this Weekend. [Updated]

Pay to Dig Looters like animals

Heritage Action, 'Right now another innocent community is being put at risk by a pay-to-dig metal detecting rally', Heritage Journal 25/10/2020. Moreton In Marsh is a particularly beautiful historical Cotswold town. So that means its a target for the pay-to-dig brigade that have signed a contract with a local landowner that means that

people from goodness knows where (but including those from High-Risk Zone 2 places) [will be] descending on their town and using their facilities. It’s the second such stunt in Gloucestershire in a week. The locals will be pondering how come their innocent agricultural show had to be cancelled whereas a grubby, acquisitive metal detecting rally is allowed. And no, the incomers won’t be keeping out of their town, for the organisers, Let’s Go Digging, have told attendees: “No catering or toilets but very close to the town of Moreton” No toilets! Imagine! There’s a pandemic on yet Britain is the ONLY place in the world where the health of locals is being put at risk like this. And for why? “Anything you find under £3,000 is yours without having to split with farmers“ (which speaks loudly of the motivation of the attendees and their propensity to report all they find to the farmer and PAS).

This is disgusting on all accounts. Ripping out collectables, and leaving behind poo-strewn fields because the organisers can't organise proper sanitation  in Britain is what "gets detecting a bad name". British archaeologists if they had the balls would be doing something about their "partners" getting involved in damaging commercial activity like is to protect sites, but we all know they could not give a proverbial poo-bag in a tree. 

Let's recall that the LGD Facebook page shows the group has over 13.4 thousand followers, half the metal detecting "partners" in the country. 

UPDATE 25th October 2020

I've just been contacted by an emotional detectorist who'd paid up to attend but suffers from incontinence, but when he was preparing to set off today, wanted to find out where precisely in Moreton the public toilets open on Sunday were. Google Earth however told him that the organisers were pulling a fast one. There are none. The nearest are about 10 km away. Is that in the organisers' risk assessment? 

Google Earth Sunday October 25th 2020. The yellow line is 10 km long. He should get his money back from the pay-to-dig charlatans. 

Presumably, one of the 'benefits' of the island leaving the EU is that rules about grazing animals on land that is contaminated with human faeces will have been lifted. But this allows the spread of parasites. That kind of hygienic laxity will not help the UK reach a trade deal with anyone if the meat supplied by Gloucestershire farmers is found to be riddled with disease.  

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