Thursday, 27 August 2009

Sayles on What is a "Draconian" Law

Wayne Sayles draws the attention of modern coin collectors to a case in India last week. These events took place in Varanisi (Benares ) in Uttar Pradesh state, in which three men [Rajesh Singh, Aditya Sharan and Mukesh Mishra] were quarrelling over the division of a hoard of 7,500 historic coins they had dug up and were trying to sell (weighing 68.3 Kg). They claimed they had dug them up in their “ancestral home” in Deoria District, 270 km away to the NE. The men were arrested. Mr Sayles states that:

the coins were determined upon investigation to date back to 1861 and 1892 and they bore images of the British monarchs Queen Victoria and King George. Ancient indeed! […] and apparently under the laws of India they belong to the State”.
Well, I do not know where Sayles gets his information from, but neither under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act 1958 nor the Antiquities and Art Treasures Act of 1972 ("AATA") are any archaeological objects claimed to be state property. They have private owners who have, it is true, to notify the state they own them by registering them [AATA art. 14] (and notifying the state of any transfer of ownership, for example by inheritance), but they cannot sell them without a licence [AATA articles 7-12] and the licensee has to maintain records [AATA art. 10]. If the state wishes to acquire an object for curation or display, it has to compensate the owner for the full value of the object (and the AATA art. 19-20 lays down the procedure for agreeing that and appealing it). It seems to me that these objects were seized under the provisions of AATA art. 23 (ii). Sayles is apparently iritated that:

Many collectors of modern World Coins have complacently ignored the plight of those who collect truly "ancient" coins and who are under constant attack from nationalist ideologues.* But this arrest in India ought to be a wake-up call to even the most sedentary collector of anything older than their great-grandparent. It's called repressive legislation and it is a wide-sweeping draconian response to a very specific problem -- one might say an Orwellian fix. Are American collectors immune to this sort of oppression? Hardly.
....well, hardly. In order to be considered as an archaeological resource in the USA according to the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 something has to be a hundred years old, so a 1909 tin can dump could also in certain circumstances be an archaeological resource in terms of US law. In the US, one cannot simply find something just anywhere, even on public lands, and keep it (ask the guys in the Four Corners area) not even if you register it with the gubn’mint like in “repressive” (sic) India. You cannot get a licence to sell any such goods, and if the state takes one of these objects from you, you get no compensation – but threatened with a fine and jail.

So who is better off, collectors in India or the US? So can we envisage that the ACCG will now be taking up arms on behalf of the US collectors of dugup nineteenth century relics, to free them from such “draconian” and “repressive legislation” imposed by their government without asking them? Come on Mr Sayles, put your members’ money where your mouth is. Or is it just brown-skinned men that have "draconian laws", while the same legislation among you paler American guys is somehow more... civilised?

* The reason why they are under "attack" is for not taking care to avoid buying illicitly obtained artefacts including those obtained at the cost of trashing archaeological sites. This has absolutely nothing to do with "nationalism" of course.

Photo: Indian peasants. Suffering according to Mr Sayles under "draconian antiquities laws" - but is that their biggest problem?

UPDATE: I see that Sayles has added a comment to his post: "For a good laugh go to: Poor Paul is losing it. No, I rather think its the no-questions-asked lobbyists that are "losing it".

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