Thursday, 6 August 2020

Facebook Takes Revenge?

This is pretty appalling, ARCA (Association for Research into Crimes against Art) has been among those calling out the use of social media for antiquities trafficking: 
ARCA @ARCA_artcrime · 3 g.
@Facebook is suddenly blocking all links to ARCA's art crime and illicit trafficking blog saying that "the content doesn't meet our Community Standards." Please help us highlight the problem by RT'ing this post.
Facebook is literally putting more effort into blocking people who fight trafficking than blocking the traffickers those activists try to stop.  Last year, Facebook blocked good-guy cultural property lawyer RickStHilaire's blog due to a false accusation that "the content doesn't meet our Community Standards" on equally-false grounds. Malicious reports?  

UK Metal Detecting Rally breaks Covid Regulations

A reader: "A metal detecting event by Pink Wellies is to be held on land at CB11 4XB Littlebury Green this Sunday 9th Aug 2020 8:00.  I am concerned that 200 people booked breaks the Covid19 Regs. Also, no toilet facilities are being provided. The event is run by Klaine Morris more details can be found on their Facebook group". Interesting to look at the Pink Wellies set-up

Pink Wellies Detecting is a new group that my partner and I have started. Our aim is to provide good quality ground in East Anglia for responsible detectorists.
We hope that by ensuring that our members are respectful of the land and the landowners, the poor perception of detectorists can be changed, encouraging more Farmers to give permissions.
All members of our digs must have NCMD membership, be prepared to fill their holes and to abide by the group rules and the Treasure Act Regulations.
[...] All finds subject to the Treasure Act and must be reported to the local FLO officer with grid references. Any finds with a value of over £500 must be shared 50:50 with the landowner/farmer.  If, by any miracle, you find a hoard you must immediately contact me or my partner Klaine. We will secure and document the hoard and ensure that it is accurately reported. We will set up an exclusion area around you and allow you alone to detect within the area on your own for two hours.


Wednesday, 5 August 2020

"Welcome to Detroit Institute of Arts Museum", Well, not you.

Secretive Detroit (1910 postcard)

Here's a new one for me, doing an image search for pre-columbian stuff for something I am writing, clicked on an image of a footed bowl to pull up the webpage... and the Detroit Institute of Arts Museum (director Salvador Salort-Pons) seems to know my ISP number...

Where did they get that?

Golly, it's good that this is not one of the premier museums in the USA , one that we should be taking seriously. Not the sort of thing however one would expect even from the lowliest provincial museum because you (are one of several people that) have written critically of some aspects of their accession and deaccession practices in the past.

Transparency, eh? Blocking access to the information about cultural property you have stashed away? Room for improvement, I'd say.

Ipswich Treasure Hunters Sleep in Field

Just about everything about this story is wrong (Yohannes Lowe, 'Metal detectorist guards £100k hoard of silver for two sleepless nights amid 'nighthawk' fears' Telegraph 3 August 2020). Metal detectorist Luke Mahoney owns Joan Allen Electrics, a metal detecting shop in Westerham, Kent, but was up in Suffolk last Sunday, metal detecting near Ispwich with two friends, Dan Hunt and Matt Brown:
A metal detectorist spent two nights guarding the hoard of £100,000 worth of silver civil war coins he had discovered for fear that “nighthawks” would steal the trove if he went home. 

But if you thought he was securing the site so the archaeologists could investigate it and document its context, you'd be wrong.:
Photos show that a lot of metal detectorists
seem to have skin and nail problems, so apart
from the cultural damage, metal detectors
possibly cause dermatitis (Telegraph)
 Luke Mahoney, 40, was scouring for precious metals near the Lindsey Rose Pub in Ipswich with two friends last Sunday morning when he found a “beautiful” gold coin and a sixpence on the field. They took a break for lunch and returned to the site to find that a plough had cracked a clay (sic) earthenware pot buried 2ft [60 cm PMB] beneath the ground. By the end of the afternoon, Mr Mahoney, who has been metal detecting for more than a decade, was “delighted” to have helped unearth 1,078 silver, hammered coins, including some possibly dating back to the 15th century. “They were everywhere. It was pandemonium. After ten minutes of searching I hit this massive signal and I thought 'this is it'. We dug and saw the pot. That feeling of scraping the dirt away and seeing the coins is indescribable,” he said.
So this is when he "spent two sleepless nights in his car on the field watching for so-called “nighthawk” detectorists hoping to loot the coins under the cover of darkness".
Mr Mahoney feared the treasures he discovered would be sold onto the black market by unscrupulous dealers who would use the history of the coins to boost their prices online. He told The Daily Telegraph: “I had to stay up because I didn't want other people going into the fields and stealing the coins. I was getting an hour nap here and there for around two nights in a row.” “These nighthawks are professional thieves who make their living by waiting for detectorists to leave the fields and scavenge anything that is left over.” 
That's a novel definition, so not just knowledge thieves, culture thieves, property thieves, but also scavengers. The claim "dealers" would "use the history of the coins to boost their prices online" implies they'd be so stupid as to reveal the context of discovery- which in the case of stolen property would be reckless.
Following the discovery of his “biggest hoard”, Mr Mahoney immediately contacted the local finds liaison officer, who is currently assessing the coins, and declared the treasure to the coroner, as the law dictates. 
No, actually the Treasure Act provision 8  Duty of finder to notify coroner, quite clearly states whose obligation it is to inform the coroner. It could not be clearer.

Luke Mahoney says:
 “I want the coins to go to a local museum and the money from their sale as a little something for me and my two friends"
He wants the coins to "go" to a museum so he does not feel so bad about trashing the context[pot buried in a pit 60cm down , but with no information saved about what else was in that pit] and get a bit of fame for himself, but he wants the Museum to pay the Treasure hunters and to as he says 'use the history of the coins to boost their prices. I can assure Mr Mahoney that the museum would far rather have those coins from a properly excavated context that would provide far more grounds for writing 'the history' of that deposit, what else was in it, whether attempts have been made to retrieve it and so on. They should not have dug it up themselves.

Similar story here: Matthew Earth, 'Civil war-era coins worth £100,000 unearthed in field behind pub' East Anglian Daily Times 03 August 2020
Valuation expert Nigel Mills examined some of the coins found and said the hoard would fetch at least £100,000 at auction. He said the earliest coin was an Elizabeth I era shilling dating back to 1573-78, with the find also containing many Charles I half crowns from 1641-43. After unearthing the haul, Mr Mahoney contacted a finds liaison officer to record the discovery and declared the treasure to the coroner. Museums will have the opportunity to bid for the coins when they are sent to auction.

Sunday, 2 August 2020

Metal Detectorist investigated in Cadiz Province

A metal detectorist is being investigated in Spain after he posted pictures of some of his finds online and they were being shared on different websites (Sam Jones, ' Spanish police recover ancient treasure from alleged looter Guardian Sun 2 Aug 2020). Police raided his home in Villamartín, Cádiz province and recovered a haul of ancient artefacts
Among them was a gold earring that is thought to be of Phoenician origin and could be between 2,500 and 3,200 years old. “Once the officers identified the suspect, they realised that his looting activities were neither circumstantial nor random, but had taken place over a long period of time,” the force said in a statement. “It also emerged that the suspect had been fined for similar activities in the past.” [...] The suspect also took police to a farm near Jerez de la Frontera, where he said he had found the pieces. 
Other artefacts recovered included a gold dirham, five gold pieces that may have made up a necklace or bracelet, a large number of coins from different eras, and a stone bust of a woman. Officers also recovered a bronze axe, Roman weights, a bronze lion and three metal detectors. 
Police are now looking into whether the man was merely collecting the items or whether he intended to sell them. According to El País, the suspect could face a fine or a prison sentence of between six months and three years. It is thought many of the objects could be funerary offerings. Experts told the paper that most of the finds appeared to be Roman or late Roman, although they also include a buckle that could be Visigothic. “It looks like there’s a bit of everything, which is quite normal when you’re dealing with people who use metal detectors to find treasure,” one said.

Saturday, 1 August 2020

ACCP Tries Again with RAND Report

Like a cracked record, 'the lady
doth protest too much, methinks " 
The American Committee for Cultural Property joined the chorus of 'art trade' voices trumpeting how the Rand Report published in May. They all said it vindicated the "We are victims of a vast misunderstanding" narrative of the antiquities trade. But that text (Kate Fitz Gibbon, 'RAND Corporation Debunks Facebook and Dark Web Ties to Illegal Antiquities', Cultural Property News (ACCP) July 19th 2020) was full of nastiness directed at the people that had trying to get Facebook to stop acting as a conduit for antiquities sales. Quite why ms Fitz Giibbon is such a fan of facebook is left unclear. 

Anyway, after some criticism of her approach, it seems she decided to have another go...

So now we have a second piece "RAND Corp Report Demolishes Assumptions on Antiquities and Terror". In it, she says that the art trade is the 'victim of a lie' (violins please) that art dealers, collectors, and greedy museums are supporting looting.
This story has already severely damaged the legitimate trade in ancient art and artifacts, including coins.
(More violins). In what way? (undefined). But the RAND Corporation has come to the rescue (hooray), with "the first major step in completely overturning current thinking on the size, geographical scope and participants in illicit looting and sales of antiquities". That's a bit of hyperbole because what the report does is use the same sources as the rest of us, and comes to very similar conclusions in fact as most of us currently working on the issue.
The report shows that the conventional narrative promoted by many journalists and espoused by advocacy and archaeological organizations is dead wrong: the illicit antiquities trade is not a multi-billion-dollar enterprise operating through organized criminal networks, nor is it a significant source of revenue to terrorist organizations.
Uh-hmmm. yes. Few 'advocates' are saying these things. Part of the trade does operate this way (that's why the RAND report takes Bulgaria as one of its case studies). Some of us don't use the T-word in the loose way it is applied in US public rhetoric. And this report is stubbornly US-orientated, even though the trade it claims to investigate is global. Funny that.

So then Fitz Gibbon starts laying into Matthew Bogdanos... and the Antiquities Coalition, and then the Antiquities Coalition... I guess the antiquities trade has to have its hate figures. Bogdanos is mentioned only twice in the report in fact.

The report has the following three research questions as its brief:
What do the actors, networks, and markets that enable the looting, trafficking, and sale of antiquities look like?
What data sources can be used to assess the structure and transaction volume of the illicit antiquities market?
What are the potential strategies and data sources that would guide more-effective enforcement?
The report supplies some answers to those questions. I would say they are also in the interests of the "reputable antiquities trade", so I wonder why the American Committee for Cultural Policy is making such a meal of the aspects Fitz Gibbon chose to focus on, and not how THEY see the recommendations of this report applying to US dealers and collectors in the future. But perhaps loudly playing the victim and pretending that a problem is an 'invented one' is easier than actually applying knowledge to resolve a problem.

Can we expect a third ACCP text from the pen of the verbaceous Kate Fitz Gibbon saying how they will recommend taking this forward - but please, this time leave out the pretentious antique maps.

UK's PAS: An Odd Number - but look what it means for that "Success of Outreach"

There is an odd number in the Internet about England and Wales' Portable Antiquities Scheme. It's in an anonymous document released by the HLF: 'New Portable Antiquities Scheme project receives support from Heritage Lottery Fund', 25/08/2014. Half-way down we read:
The PAS has a history of interacting with volunteers and for utilising the power of the crowd. Over 24,000 people have provided data for the PAS database and the public have been able to record their own finds since 2010.
24,000 people, of which (so we are regularly told), for most of this period roughly 80% or so are metal detectorists. That means that for each of the 17 years of the PAS in 2014, 1412 new people have brought stuff to the PAS (and some of the old will continue, others will drop away).
In the same 17 years the records of finds made by those 24000 people between Thursday 1st January 1998 until Monday 25th August was 628570 records of 998479 objects. Interestingly, that means that each of those 24000 people reported 26.2 finds in that entire period.

That number of finds in 17 years breaks down to  1.5 finds a year.

We can perhaps get closer, 80% of 24000 is 19200 detectorists. The non-detectorists are unlikely to be showing multiple finds.  So 4800 non-detectorists let us say added (for example) 2 finds each during that 17 years (they might come back).  That would be 163200 finds taken from the whole.

628570 minus 163200 =  465370 records in 17 years. Divided by 19200 it comes to 24.2 finds each in that period, so still 1.4 finds a year from each of them.

Here's one guy's detecting finds for just one day before lockdown:

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