Thursday, 28 May 2009

Images of Uncleaned Coins in the US and the Rape of History - What would the PAS say?

All those desirous of purchasing a bit of unrecorded history should get themselves along to a website mentioned here before, an online market stall whose proprietor has got literally kilograms of it, imported from all over Old Europe. Our attention is drawn by the ....
...great lot of uncleaned coins found in England, the coins vary from AE-4 (and smaller) up to As sized coins. We have seen Victorinus, Tetricus I, Tetricus II, Carausius, Allectus, Postumus and the of course the more common emperors. Lots of interesting mint marks. Not to mention some very interesting "non-official" issues or Barbarous issues [duh..]. These coins are not like your typical dug coins[,] they are British and one of the most interesting uncleaned coins varieties we offer. […] British Uncleaned Coins are hard to come by and expensive, not because there are not any available, there are just not as many as other varieties, and there is a market for them in there (sic) own home country.
The rest of this sorry tale can be read here. Take a moment to have a good look at this seller's pictures of the coins on offer, hundreds upon hundreds of piled up unrecorded archaeological artefacts in differing states of preservation suggesting they come from a great many sites in Britain which one may legitimately assume from what we see to have all been irreperably damaged by the removal of a non-randomly selected group of archaeological evidence by local artefact hunters. All to serve a foreign collectors' market which apparently does not bother itself overly where those coins come from.

How is it possible for the collectors of these things to say that their hobby does not provide the motor for the looting which produces such objects?

How can the collectors of such things close their eyes to the information that is lost when site after site has material like this removed from them without record and without concern?

How is it that the only thing that US coin collectors can concern themselves over in recent responses to a discussion of these issues is whether someone has used one of their scans in the discussion and criticism of this sorry sad state of affairs?

Well, it seems to me that if US no-questions-asked coin collectors want to hide such pictures, we should look upon them and reflect why actually showing them to people provokes such a reaction. Let's see what all the fuss is about.

Here's some scans of heaps of uncleaned coins like the "dugups" ones offered by some US dealers recently under discussion; each one comes from an unrecorded hole in the archaeological record, somewhere. It would seem by their recent reactions that no-questions-asked coin collectors in the US apparently do not care too much what is trashed in the process of supplying the market with such items, after all pleasure and profits are at stake here, but heaven help anyone who discusses it on a blog like this. What in fact have coin lovers got to worry about when people like me, or Nathan Elkins show what the coins they trade in actually look like? Here are some.

Here are some more.

Here are some in bags

For others on sale fresh from the fields of artefact-hunter friendly Britain, visit this seller's thought-provoking website where you can also see piles of similar uncleaned material from Spain, the Black Sea coast and other regions which have somewhat different regulations regarding the exploitation of archaeological sites as a source of collectables for the commercial market as well and having more stringent export licencing procedures. Are the UK coins at least on this site accompanied by a valid export licence? I think we'd all like to hear the answer to that one.

There are several hundred sellers of such material in Europe, the Near East and North America and even in Australia, each of whom has offerings similar to those discussed here. A thoughtful perusal of their trade offering invites a number of questions. Where do all these coins come from? Where do they ultimately go? How much irreplacable archaeological information has been utterly destroyed to support this trade? What would Britain's Portable Antiquities Scheme say about this loss of information? What would responsible artefact hunters who collect ethically and report finds fully say about those who buy and sell such material no-questions-asked without regard to what is lost in the process? Is it not precisely these people that gets the hobby of collecting such a bad name? What would the ACCG (who say they support ethical collecting and abhore the destruction of archaeological information in the pursuit of the hobby of coin collecting) have to say about this? Maybe the "collectors' Guild" could issue a comprehensive statement about "British dugups".

I'd also like to ask whence the aggression (here, more here) in some quarters of the artefact collecting community inspired by showing such photos.

Photos: heaps of uncleaned coins like the ones US antiquity dealers desperately want to prevent bloggers like myself showing our readers. I say, the public has the right to know. I say we all have the right (even obligation) to discuss this sorry trade, its effects and implications.


Nathan Elkins has updated his post on these "British dugup" artefacts and added the information that the PAS has determined that at least one of these sellers was "not aware" he needed an export licence.


heritageaction said...

Thanks for highlighting this. That's a lot of coins. It's hard to work out exactly how many but we reckon it's about 20% of the artefacts (maybe 50% of the Roman coins) our artefact erosion counter suggests were removed from the fields of England and Wales this month.

Considering our figures relate to many thousands of detectorists and those coins on the pictures were presumably supplied by just a few of them, it strongly suggests our Counter is a considerable underestimate of what is actually going on.

Paul Barford said...

And this is precisely the sort of reflection that the US sellers of such bulk lots want to avoid by keeping discussion of their photos off the heritage discussion blogs.

They claim such photos of piles of artefacts are their "stolen" "intellectual property". They do not regard it as "stealing" from anyone for some guy to dig up archaeological sites without any record and ship off quantities of artefacts to the US (sometimes without a by-your-leave export liocence). This is not anybody's "intellectual property" but it certainly is somebody's cultural property - and guess what? It is not the cultural property of the people selling it by the kilogramme like sacks of potatoes in the US and don't want us discussing it.

Do you know what Mr Blazick wrote this morning?
" Mr.Barford,please stop worrying about 72 legally purchased coins which have been
sold and no longer in my possesion.I have no reason to answer the questions you
ask and especially since you chose to make a stink about 72 Bronze coins.You are not a US citizen and I am wondering why you had to go to Poland. Life as a Archeologist for you must be boring and since you have time to steal others
scans, I suggest you change your profession..Get back to digging up history or become a taxi driver in Warsaw if the diggingt business is so not to your capabilities. Honest Joe

Not a US citizen eh? So that is supposed to disqualify me in some way from discussing "English dugups" and those who sell them? This by the way was a reply to my polite enquiry where the coins came from and whether he had received an export licence for them. "Not a US citizen"!

Seventy two coins here and seventy two more there however is not "just" seventy two coins. Those seventy two coins would be a substantial hole in the series from the surface examination of a villa, settlement or temple site. The Water Newton Rally [] produced 166 coins, if "just" 72 had been removed from these fields before it, the total would not be representative of what had been there and plotting the distribution patterns of what was left [ ] would be pointless after the site had been damaged in this way. Thirteen of those "just 72" coins could have dated a scatter of material that forms a vital part of the pattern of evidence of past activity scattered around the site. It cannot be treated as "just 72 coins". Try and explain that to a US coin collector or dealer.

heritageaction said...

Perhaps you could mention to Mr Blazick that the ordinary members of the British public in Heritage Action would like him to understand that 72 artefacts have disappeared from our fields eleven times today and have done so every day for the past 38 years and we beg his permission to resent it deeply and wonder if he gives a damn.

You might also ask him if he is prepared to convey the above figures and our views to all his customers. I think we know the answer, and why. It is not the American people nor even American collectors that are primarily responsible for this cultural outrage being committed against a friendly country but a tiny rump of self-serving dealers who know the truth but suppress it for personal gain. Let him come here and witness first hand the damage he is inflicting before he presumes to use the word "only".

Paul Barford said...

I doubt whether any of these dealers or their customers or the rest of the ACCG-affiliated dealers really "give a damn" about the feelings of the people of the countries the evidence of whose past is trashed to produce the heaps of coins they photograph and sell. But of course as far as they are concerned, it is only "US citizens" and what they think that count and want, isn't it? Hang the rest of the world!

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