Sunday, 18 January 2009

Observer suggests "what archaeologists could do"....

ACCG officer and inveterate coin collector Peter Tompa has had some "some additional thoughts on the China MOU" (well actually they are much same as he had a few days ago). He refuses to accept that ancient coins are archaeological artefacts. He refuses to accept that they (or the sites they are looted from to feed the market) can be of cultural significance - though forgetting the the ACCG mantra is that coins are collected because of their cultural significance (duh). Tompa again alleges that it is ill-considered considering ancient coins as ancient artefacts (sic) because US customs officers cannot distinguish between pre-Tang “cash” coins* (covered by the MOU) and later types (not covered by the MOU) because “they all look the same”. As it happens though, whatever the MOU says, examples of these coins produced before 1912 need an export licence anyway to leave China, so a customs officer is justified in asking an exporter entering the US with them to show the export licence.

The probable source of the coin collector's confusion however is revealed by his concluding remark referring to archaeologists:

Wouldn't it be interesting to mandate detailed record keeping about the find spots, as well as the storage and disposition of archaeological finds like individual coins, and then see how the archaeological community would react?
That is a pretty astounding expression of Tompa’s total ignorance of how archaeologists (and American museum services) work. Their work actually does involve Mr Tompa, "detailed record keeping about the find spots [...] of archaeological finds like individual coins", information which is preserved with the finds in the excavation archives maintained in stores (housed in an institution such as a museum). Tompa has perhaps constructed his vision of the discipline from Indiana Jones films and reading about Belzoni. Those days are long gone.

I wonder whether for all their “interest in the past” and declared willingness to contribute to our greater knowledge of the past, portable antiquity collectors like Tompa have ever actually taken the trouble to read an archaeology book and find out what the archaeologists (who he is over-fond of criticising) actually do? What part of the word "archaeology" do they not understand?

* That is the cast ones with square holes in the middle and four (usually) characters round the outside. The photo shows a Tang one (at least that's what the seller says is is).

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