Sunday, 30 August 2009

Roman coins ignored, only discovered by PAS? More metal detecting stuff and nonsense

From the Guardian:

"The grots have only been reported since 1996, when the PAS began establishing a national network of finds officers, to record and crucially map all the archaeological objects found by amateurs".

Who writes this stuff? Typing chimpanzees? Maev Kennedy might try to look at some archaeological publications, museum catalogues, the Victoria County Histories, anything really before she writes such things. It's not "metal detectorists that are rewriting history" but gullible journalists who cannot check the facts handed to them by interest groups.

So the big hoo-ha is really about how the PAS have entered the 400 000th object on their database. Whoopee. Measured against 8000 metal detector users hoovering away artefacts from the British archaeological record for 11 years since the Scheme was set up, that is 4.5 objects per detectorist per detecting year being recorded. Most of them can find that many over a single weekend. Let us remember that the total includes many thousand accidental finds made by non-collecting members of the public.

Where is the PAS Annual Report for 2007? Where (at the beginning of September 2009) is the PAS report for 2008? Instead of propagating cheery factoids, let's have a proper account of what they've been up to.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Antiquitist Quiz

Here is a quiz for all of those antiquity collectors out there. What well known site do the following two photographs depict? Where is it, and what has happened to it that it has such a marked surface texture? Answers next week.

Answer: It is the site of the colonia at Archar near Vidin in NW Bulgaria. This is the place whence apparently (by his own admission) came the artefacts and coins being sold by ebay dealers like Empire Danny and his business contacts. They have (had) almost a metric tonne of artefacts obtained by "excavation" (sic) ten years ago. You can see the "excavation' trenches dug with bulldozers to take the topsoil off so metal detectors can penetrate the archaeological layers quite clearly. The way to stop this kind of damage is for responsible collectors to stop buying archaeologcal artefacts witout ensuring (by means of verifiable documented provenance) that they did not come from robber-digging like this.

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".

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

US Artefact Collecting Code of Conduct

Dealers in and collectors of ancient Native American artifacts are encouraged to adhere to the Authentic Artifacts Collectors’ Association Rules of Conduct created at the end of 2007. This like the ACCG one covers mostly aspects connected with dealing as much as collecting of artifacts. It deals with a number of issues such as customer relations , the matter of authenticity, resolution of conflicts. It does also include a number of items of interest concerning the looting of archaeological sites as a source of these collectables and is worth comparing parts of it with what the naysayers in other parts of the US portable antiquity collecting world are asserting about the "impossibility" of keeping track on what items are coming from where and where they are going (the emphasis below is mine):

1.) Members shall engage in the discovery, collection, and/or sale of legally obtained artifacts only. The AACA does not condone the possession, collection, or sale of human remains. [“Those who disregard any laws pertaining to the collection or procurement of artifacts are not welcome”].

3.) All members are expected to maintain and share accurate records of artifact provenience. During artifact transactions, members are also expected to fully disclose any and all associated opinions of authenticity that have been rendered by commercial authenticators. [“The emphasis here is to provide other collectors with complete and accurate information, concerning an artifact's history, as part of any transaction”].

7.) Members must strive to educate new collectors seeking knowledge about artifact collecting. [“We believe that is what this organization is all about - members helping members to learn more about their hobby, history and how to build a clean collection”].
Good for them. I wonder if US dealers in other types of portable antiquities (such as ancient dugup coins) can aspire to the same levels of due diligence as their fellow dealers. But actually of course groups like the ACCG should logically, in the name of "collectors' rights", be fighting the "restrictive" laws which make this kind of material legal to collect in only certain very restrictive circumstances. There is no room for "no-questions-asked" collecting here.

Grand Junction Antiquity Dealer Charged

An antiquity dealer from Grand Junction Colorado who sold Native American relics on the Internet is the 26th person to have been charged in connection with the Four Corners "Action Cerberus" Artefact case. Robert Knowlton (66) who ran an Internet-based business called Bob's Flint Shop has been indicted by a federal grand jury in Denver, accused by federal agents of four counts of illegally selling and offering to sell archaeological artifacts taken from public lands and one count of transporting them from Colorado to Utah. The charges involve the selling and mailing of three items last year taken from federal land: a pipe, a Midland point and a Hell Gap knife which he sold for more than $6,500. According to a search warrant affidavit, on at least two occasions in 2008, Knowlton met with an artefacts dealer ("The Source") working undercover for the FBI and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. It is alleged that on one of those visits, Knowlton said his collection included about 3,700 artifacts with a retail value of a half-million dollars or more.
He told the informant he bought the Midland knife point from a "park ranger" who said he found it after a fire on U.S. Forest Service land near Telluride, records say. He said he bought "a lot of stuff" from the ranger.The Hell Gap knife came from an area near a southern Utah airport, Knowlton told the informant.The two settled on $8,600 for several items, including the three mentioned in the indictment. The informant pulled out a stack of $100 bills and asked if cash was OK."Knowlton said 'I like that I don't have to tell nobody,'" according to the affidavit.He agreed to mail the three items to Utah. Once they arrived, the informant turned them over to federal authorities, according to the affidavit.
Knowlton hasn't been arrested. Federal officials say he'll get a summons to appear in federal court on Sept. 14. "If convicted, Knowlton faces up to two years in federal prison and a $20,000 fine for each count of selling and transporting an archaeological resource. If convicted of the charge of interstate transportation of stolen property, he could get up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, according to federal officials".

These charges come a week after Vern Crites an antiquities dealer from Durango (Colorado), surrendered his vast collection of artifacts after being named in federal charges earlier this summer.

It is possible that there may be even more arrests of dealers connected with this case in the future. Perhaps now that antiquity dealers are accused of handling objects deemed "stolen" under a country's "restrictive' legislation, the collectors' rights advocates in groups like the ACCG will take notice of the problems living in a "retentive" state hold for collectors. Forget Bulgaria, Cyprus and China guys, this is happening right under your noses !

Mike Stark, Colorado man indicted in Utah artifacts looting case, Salt lake Tribune/AP, 26th Aug 2009. Orchard Mesa man indicted in artifact case, NBC News.
Vignette: Near Telluride, Colorado.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Professional Numismatists Group also Finances the Assault on the CPIA

PNG and IAPN officials are concerned about efforts by the Archaeological Institute of America to train Customs inspectors to detect and seize coins suspected of being imported in violation of the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act. “The use of trainers from the archaeological community with ‘an axe to grind’ against professional numismatists and collectors carries with it the danger that unfair enforcement will actually result,” said attorney Peter K. Tompa of the Washington, D.C. law firm of Bailey & Ehrenberg PLLC.
Well, of course what the Cyprus and China MOUs regulate is the undocumented trade in archaeological artefacts. These coins are just one category of the material involved. I suppose Mr Tompa would rather that archaeologists show customs officers what square, triangular and spheroid archaeological artefacts look like leaving showing the round flat ones to the coineys. Of course none of the dealers and collectors approached would have any 'axe to grind' about import legislation. Nevertheless, if all they have to do is show the customs officers "this is an old coin", it seems not to be an impediment to training - but then, what is the point in employing a whole army of trainers when one group will do?

Anyhow it has just been announced that the PNG will provide $12,000 towards the costs of opposing the urrent means of implementation of the US's Cultural Property Implementation Act - but interestingly paid to the IAPN, and not the more ranty ACCG currently involved in a controversial and provocative attempt to import undocumented coins.

“The PNG Board of Directors unanimously agreed to contribute the funds to assist IAPN in its lobbying efforts to combat unfair import restrictions. We are concerned that overzealous Customs Bureau agents may unfairly misconstrue even well-meaning regulations by mistakenly claiming that any undocumented ancient coin is a stolen cultural property artifact of another country,” said PNG Executive Director Robert Brueggeman.

Well, that is not exactly the case, the CPIA acuses nobody of anything, it actually only requires the import of certain groups of artefacts into the USA to be accompanied by certain types of documentation, providing alternative manners in which this requirement can be met. Either a particular group of coins have this, or they do not. If they have not, ethical dealers would not be attempting to import them into a country which has restrictions on the movements across its border of coins without such documentation. It is as simple as that. Why, actually do US coin dealers think that they alone should be above the law?

I think there should be more transparency here, are the IAPN and PNG behind the ACCG coin import stunt? Yes or No?

See now David Gill's comments: Numismatic dealers raise concerns about the AIA (I appreciated Nathan Elkins' trenchant comment at the bottom)

Photo: Robert Bruegman fourteen years executive director of PNG.

"Anti-collectors" a Disgrace!

The authors of [...] anti-collecting web sites are [....] a disgrace to the scientific and to the scholastic views that they espouse and all that should be disseminated about them is their slant. We might also question their real motives which seek to hide a proper assessment of the situation. After all, they have already thus proven themselves untrustworthy.

I am at a loss to determine where Mr Hooker sees "anti-collecting" web sites, as far as I can see there are a number of web resources of preservationists presenting the deleterious effects of irresponsible collecting and dealing in archaeological artefacts on the archaeological record. Maybe Mr H. would like to give actual links to the anti-collecting web sites he is considers to be a "disgrace".

The reason he says this?:

The [contention] that that the lack of the history of a coin is directly related to the looting of archaeological sites is not backed up with any scientific study which would obviously need to show "control groups" of sales data of non-archaeological material with a similar lack of object history and can thus be compared to a drug test test done without theuse of placebos.
I suppose merchants handling elephant ivory of undocumented origin would be saying basically the same thing. Frankly I think that the denial that the no-questions-asked market is allowing the illegal handling of archaeological is simply disgraceful. There is no scientific proof that this is the case. We know that a metric tonne of illegally exported coins were released by a Bulgarian wholesaler onto the US market as a test case in 1999. Today there is not a single collector or dealer that can hold up one of those coins and say "this was in all certainity part of that shipment". No need for a control group, as proof that what he says is true let Mr Hooker locate ten coins from that shipment and post them on the ACCG website with the name of the person who now has them and documentary proof why he asserts those ten coins came from the 1999 Frankfurt shipment. In that way he will show that the current form of the market actually allows the detection of illegally obtained coins. Otherise he will have to accept that what the preservationists say is true, the failure of dealers and collectors of portable antiquities to document the precise origins of the goods they handle allows the transfer of ownership of illegally obtained archaeological artefact in substantial quantities to be masked.

What ACTUALLY is the problem here for legitimate and responsible dealers and collectors? What is they want to hide when asked to keep documentation of where the legitimate items they have for sale and resale are coming from and going to? How can they continue to claim to be acting "responsibly" while refusing to do this in the light of the many reasons why a group of responsible people in almost any other field whould willingly be agreeing?

I do not think we need any "scientific investigations" to come to some preliminary conclusions what is going on, it is enough to sniff the air to detect that something is not quite right around the arguments currently being proposed for leaving the no-questions-asked market alone.

* Accusing his opponents of unobjective treatment of the evidence Mr Hooker does not himself neglect to use loaded language; the word "fallacy" was used here.

Vignette: skunk tracks

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Heaps of Ancient Coin Collectors

Coin dealer Dave Welsh moaned here about my alleged:
similarly insulting (and unjustified) references to "heap-of-coins-on-a-table" dealers […] I have never displayed a heap of coins on a table, nor do I have any intention of doing so in the future.
I think the writer will find that I have been writing about “heap-of-decontextualised-coin-on-a-table” collection. The ancient coin dealer is however part of the decontextualising trade which stands between the coins in the ground in their archaeological context and the collectors willing to buy a geegaw of unspecified origin to add to those they already have.

This is a contrast to the kind of research on coins which takes as its startpoint coins individually stored each one labeled with the place it was found “Colchester Union 1888”, “STO’86, layer 256A”. This kind of use of ancient coins see them individually as single pieces of evidence which are interpreted in terms of the other evidence from the same and surrounding contexts. Here there is a body of theory, in particular relating to the taphonomy of context. Coin assemblages from certain groups, across a site, between sites in a region, between types of site all provide information about the past. In England for example numismatists like Richard Reece have long been publishing studies of this type which vividly demonstrate the use of ancient coins as a source of archaeological information that goes well beyond what is stamped on them. This information is lost the moment a coin becomes decontextualised and enters the market.

Let us take just a few examples. I am not a great fan of “metal detecting” or "metal detectorists" and “metal detecting rallies” in particular, but the plan here shows a plot published by the Portable Antiquities Scheme of the finds made during one such rally in the fields to the southwest of the small Roman town of Durobrivae.

(Google earth and finds plot from Flickr). As can be seen they form clusters, and a careful study of the Roman coins in these discrete assemblages showed they varied, in other words this was not a random pattern but various factors were affecting the rate of deposition of coins in antiquity across this area in the past. The second figure is a graph of coin finds from several sites in the Chester region (P. Carrington, Towards a model of Roman society in Cheshire First to third centuries AD, graph compiled by Reece and Shotton). The vertical columns are the coin periods established by Richard Reece for the study of British coin Roman assemblages, it can be seen that again patterns of deposition are not random, the assemblages of coins from the different sites have a different profile, and this information now has to be explained.
A third example might be the frequent occurrence of Roman coins in early Anglo-Saxon cemeteries and graves. By the sixth century the Roman monetary economy was a vague memory if that, and yet Roman copper alloy coins are found with some frequency in graves, often in a position (when the grave is an inhumation) that indicates that they were carried in a pouch at the waist. Are these just random occurrences? If not, what was the function of these coins? What part did they play in the world vew and belief systems of the Anglo-Saxons? Only careful analysis of the contexts of these finds can tell us – but of course each coin that a metal detectorist has hoiked out of the ground and lumped together with others from other sites into a bulk lot, another piece of information about the past disappears and the archaeological record is depleted. Very probably the metal detectorist never even realized that he was dealing with an ‘out of place’ artefact, and certainly the coin “zapper” across the sea who then destroys it trying to see if the campgate had a star over it or not will never know.

It is a totally different type of coin use to use them in their decontextualised form by the collectors who try to accumulate coins on themes such as “the Twelve labours of Hercules on ancient coins” or obtain “a campgate reverse from every mint” before selling them or whatever. It is in the name of this kind of collection that hundreds of holes are dug in the archaeological sites in the fields of England, Bulgaria and Palestine to accumulate bulk loads of ancient objects gathered from many sites together. The coins are separated out and sorted through, what is not deemed worthy of processing to sell individually is sold as the “uncleaned bulk lots” we see on sale all over the Internet to “coin zappers”. Whether a dealer gets his “Bulgarian specials” in individual packets or packets of four, six, ten, these are still part of the “heap-of-decontextualised-coins-on-a-table” market. Nobody at any stage has attempted to keep the finds from the Flavian fort area separate from the vicus or the temple area of a site separate, even coins from many sites are mixed before the first real sorting.

Aware of criticisms that the coin trade destroys contextual information, some collectors try to justify what they do. They argue that archaeological context is “not important”, that what matters is something they call “numismatic context”. Numismatic context […] is […] mostly concerned with the systematic study of dies and die-links, and also with the study of coin hoards and their dating” (D. Welsh "Preserving Numismatic Context from Destruction by Archaeologists"). The term “die-links” is a fancy way of saying that coin collectors just compare the pictures on one coin with those on another and play “spot the difference” and count how many coins of one or other variant they can find. The definition of "numismatic context" of Missouri coin dealer Wayne Sayles (‘ACCG opposes import restrictions on coins from Italy’) has a slightly more sophisticated wording, but embodies the same idea: "numismatists derive their own “context” from the iconography and epigraphical devices used on coins, the number and chronology of dies used to strike a given series, and the metallurgical content of various issues". The context of a coin is other coins, the only context of deposition of interest is a hoard. All the other archaeological contexts can be trashed as far as a so-conceived numismatic context is concerned. They say they need tens of thousands of decontextualised coins on the open market to study "numismatic context". I say this can be done with tens of thousands of coins whose context is known whether or not it is a hoard, this really is no hindrance to ‘spot the difference’ comparison games. Indeed what Sayles describes is precisely the manner in which coins from known archaeological contexts are also studied. I really do not know what makes the US dealer community think that they and their clients are so superior to everybody else.

The coin collector seems not to be interested in keeping the coins from different archaeological contexts separately, that would hinder sorting them into types and comparing one coin with another. This is a bit odd because series collectors of other materials (conchologists, botanists, lepidopterists, meterorite collectors) frequently catalogue their collections on the basis of where specifically the items come from.

I suspect the people involved in the trade of decontextualised coins do not see that my "heap-on-a-table" label is a bit tongue-in-cheek. Mr Welsh yesterday wrote me off-list an email explaining at unneccessary length that what appears to be a "heap"of coins on his website is not really a "heap" at all, but an assemblage created for imaging, and its not really on a table at all and he'd not heap coins and take every precaution to prevent his goods rubbing together. Nevertheless on V-Coins there are US dealers quite happily mingling ancient coins together in heaps - or box fulls. Some of them are called "dealer's lots". There are collectors who happily heap Late Roman Bronze coins in order to sort them to decide which ones to "zap", no problems with coins rubbing together in kilogramme bag lots is there?

Here's a still from Mike Pegg's wonderful (in a funny kinda way) "metal detecting" video I recommended a while back. Here we are in his back room with his artefact collection. Note how he has them heaped on a surface (no, Mr Welsh is right, it is not - technically - a "table" here either). When the video shows a closeup, there is not a finds label or catalogue number in sight which would allow a particular item to be linked to a particular findspot. I doubt whether many US ancient coin collections have either, whether the storage method is the same or not.

I suppose its a case of "show me your catalogue and I will tell you what kind of a collector you are".

Three articles by Nathan Elkins available online discuss the intellectual consequences of the market in decontextualised numismatic material from archaeological sites:

Elkins, N.T. 2008. A Survey of the Material and Intellectual Consequences of Trading in Undocumented Ancient Coins: a Case Study on the North American Trade.

2008: Elkins, Why coins matter, Trafficking in undocumented and illegally exported ancient coinsin the North American marketplace

2009: The Trade in Ancient Coins in the USA: Scale and Structure

These matters are also discussed on Elkins' blog, and on the SAFE webpage there is a "resources" page with further material discussing the deleterious effects of the trade.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Viktor Bout and the Antiquities Trade

The Americans are furious that a Thai court (apparently pressured by Russia) has refused to allow extradition of Tajik-born Victor Bout (that’s Виктор Анатольевич Бут when he’s at home). Douglas Farah, , Foreign Policy Aug. 11th, 2009. The Americans are after him for selling arms and various other things and are calling him all sorts of names. Douglas Farah together with Stephen Braun wrote a book calling him “Merchant of Death” (Merchant of Death: Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible). On the other hand as Farah said in an interview "It is important to note, as we do in the book, that much of what Viktor Bout does is, while reprehensible, not illegal" (Douglas Farah, "Meet Viktor Bout, the Real-Life 'Lord of War'" - MotherJones, September 13, 2007).

In the same way the Merchants of Destruction, those who sell no-questions-asked collectors their little “pieces of the past” which are collectable geegaws ripped without record from the archaeological sites across the world say that they (themselves) by buying material in their own countries coming from looting of sites in other ones are doing nothing which is technically illegal. Maybe someone should write a book about the no-questions-asked trade, Merchants of Destruction: Money, Internet sales, Collectors and the Men Who Make The Destruction of the World’s Unwritten History Possible.

Vignette: "Hello Kałasnikov"

"Collectors Rights" according to the ACCG

"BE IT ALSO RESOLVED that the Republican Party of Wisconsin, in convention assembled, asks lawmakers to pass a bill exempting art, books, coins, militaria, pottery, stamps, weapons and other common antique collectibles for consideration from future import restriction and cultural property laws and treaties".

"Collectors' Rights Win in Wisconsin " (sic). How many collectors of portable antiquities in the United States of America outside the Republicans of Wisconsin see this kind of statement as the foundation of their "collectors' rights"? Native Indian pot-collectors presumably note that it says their "common collectable" items should be exempt from ANY cultural property laws (it does not state "foreign" ones). Maybe the Republican party of Wisconsin is going to stand up for the rights of the Blanding pot diggers? What "rights" does it mean that US collectors of archaeological artefacts imagine they have over the archaeological record of all the countries of the world containing evidence of the unwritten history of the world which is the common heritage of us all? What a fiasco, just who do these people think they are?

Ethics Laws and Looting: Reply to Dave Welsh, Yahoo AncientArtifacts message # 49329

This is a reply to the lengthy comments of David Welsh, antiquity dealer and "collectors' rights" activist:
The thread where it appeared was closed minutes after he made his posting. Convenient for Mr Welsh no doubt.

Collectors of portable antiquities may like it or like it not that there is a divide between the responsible collector who conclusively determines the legitimate origins of every object they acquire for their collections and those who do not. There seems no reason why we should not call such people “no-questions-asked buyers” since that is precisely what they do. If Mr Welsh finds that “insulting” perhaps he should examine his own soul why that is. I have in mind, for example, our previous discussions about how coins get out of the ground in southeastern Europe and into Mr Welsh’s stockroom. This of course does not concern so much merely staying within the letter of the law (arguments along the lines of “no law was broken once they got to my country”), what I am concerned with are the ethics behind, those which actually define, this trade and the way they relate to the problem which concerns me as an archaeologist, the destructive mining (looting) of ancient sites merely as a source of collectables.

Mr Welsh constantly assures us that no archaeological site was damaged to get the stuff he and his fellow dealers in the US and elsewhere supply to their clients, because we have seen (the "edge of battlefield hoard" model) he argues that these coins by some magical process do not come from archaeological sites. Well of course he cannot tell us exactly where the individual coins come from as he bought them from a bloke who bought them from a bloke…. and somewhere down the line there were no questions asked. But then we all have to ask ourselves where precisely is one of the “blokes” in the chain getting kilogammes of mixed metal objects still with the earth on them from? "Old collections" or fresh digging?

The dealers who say that they are merely striving to “preserve presently lawful, time-honoured rights of collectors in the USA and elsewhere” as Mr Welsh asserts might like to specify more precisely quite what “rights” they think they have over coins and ancient artifacts coming from outside their own country. What "rights" Amercans claim over archaeological finds from archaeological sites and assemblages on Bulgarian soil if they cannot show us a Bulgarian export licence or proof they were out of the ground legally and out of Bulgaria before (say) 1970. What “rights” do they have over fresh “English dugups” unrecorded with the PAS?

Merely applying what my good friend Nigel Swift (who Mr Welsh knows) has christened the “it’s legal innit?” argument to define matters of ethics clearly is not enough. Slavery, displacing Native Americans from their lands too and race discrimination and were all no doubt considered “time honored” as well as “lawful” (and possibly even Divinely Ordained) by those involved in the past of North America, but it does not mean they were ethically right. This is the crux of the matter, one cannot define ethics by what is merely within the limits of one country's laws - especially laws which anyone involved in debate on portable antiquities knows were not constructed with the sole aim of protecting the archaeological resource and are in any case full of loopholes. Ethical trade, ethical collecting, morality in general all mean going at least that one step further than what one is legally obliged to do. This is what antiquity dealers in such discussions really fail to accept. It is ethical collecting which we are discussing. The type of collecting that asks questions about where the objects concerned come from, does not acquire blindly.

As for what the law says, I sincerely doubt whether the chairman of the ACCG International committee has the slightest inkling what he is talking about when he writes of the alleged laws in “Poland (where Barford presently resides)” which allegedly are “substantially restricting the rights of private collectors to own and trade in items which may or may not be archaeological artifacts". That is merely a facile attempt to dismiss what I say on the grounds that I am some kind of ignorant foreigner from a country with different ways.

In fact, Mr Welsh should have checked before he spoke. There are no such laws in Poland (for goodness' sake I was involved - albeit in a small way - in their writing!). Private ownership of collections of coins and antiquities is not restricted by Polish law. Neither were they in Communist Poland – where the collector was given help by the state to maintain their collections. This type of uninformed myth making is endemic in the collecting advocacy milieu, more concerned with spreading alarmist propaganda than facts, and thrives on the generally uninformed prejudices of collectors who cannot be bothered to check the facts and apparently simply believe what they are told.

Welsh says foreign laws like those of “Poland” are not necessarily better or more moral “than nations such as the USA which do not impose the same restrictions”. I really do not know what he is thinking saying that there are no restrictions on what people can collect in America when 1001 km almost directly east of his home a drama is playing out in Utah and Colorado which has at its basis laws which are EXACTLY the same as those in Poland and a number of other countries! The United States of America has laws about who can dig up artifacts where and declares them state property, even if they come from unutilized public land. Perhaps before campaigning about "collectors' rights" over archaeological material taken from the archaeological record in foreign countries, it would be far more logical for US "collectors' rights" advocates to establish those same "rights" over archaeological material taken in their own. Why should foreign states be forced by American collectors to accede to demands that would be rejected at home? I have asked this question a number of times now, but it seems to me that the milieu concerned is studiously avoiding supplying an answer - or even acknowledging that the question exists at all. Whose there is the "intellectual dishonesty"?

According to Welsh, "Barford is actually advocating radical changes that would greatly restrict, or even eliminate, existing rights of private collectors and dealers in antiquities". It depends whether one sees rights as existing without responsibilities, and again quite what those “rights” consist of. Actually, it is not just me who is advocating that the current status quo in the antiquities market cannot go on indefinitely. To take just one country as an example, at the official launch of the UK Nighthawking Strategic Report Feb 16th this year, the Director of the Council for British Archaeology said the same thing. The All Party Parliamentary Archaeology Group chaired by Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn says the same. The Portable Antiquities Scheme does too. What is being proposed is nothing more or less than collectors are able to document that the objects in their collection do not come from recent looting. That is all. Now why would any antiquities dealer oppose that? Would that really lead to the elimination "existing rights"? What "rights" would they be precisely, Mr Welsh? To buy anything without questioning origins?

Mr Welsh may have his own personal ethical standard which rejects acquiring coins without valid export licences by (as he himself states) asking the would-be vendor "where are the coins located? " But this question is meaningless in terms of the issue in question, which is the looting of archaeological sites to provide collectables for the market. His approach seems to be symptomatic of a fixation of US dealers (necessarily separated from the source of the ancient coins they collect) with “export, export”.

Since ancient artifacts do not grow on trees or fall from the sky, the important question is “where have these coins come from?”. This is precisely the “No-question” that is of concern here. Mr Welsh does not say he asks it.* So the heap (yes, top photo) of “specials” from the Balkans on sale in Mr Welsh’s shop, how did they leave the ground? So what if somebody bought a bucketload of coins from the Holy Land with an Israeli export licence? On what grounds was that licence issued? I don't know, but the foreign dealer relying on it to ascertain licit origins should check. These may be coins recovered by controlled metal detecting surveys of ancient sites by the Israel Antiquities Service and then sold as surplus to museum needs through registered antiquity dealers. Or they may very well be coins looted from sites in neighbouring countries, exported to the Gulf States, and from there imported into Jerusalem and thus wholly legally exported from there with an export licence. In the latter case they'd be totally “legal”, but looted from archaeological sites nonetheless. These are the questions both dealers and collectors need to be asking (and information dealers which obviously ought to be passing along to the new owners with the artefacts) to avoid being a link in the chain of looting.

The value of a export licence in these discussions is that any normal state would not (we hope) issue an export licence for items that had been looted or otherwise dishonestly obtained from its own archaeological record. Sadly, despite international agreements, most states have no compunction whatsoever about issuing export licences for material taken by whatever means from archaeological sites outside its borders – even if it was illegally imported into that state. That is simply wrong, but it is a fact of life dealers in archaeological artefacts constantly take advantage of. They claim they’ve done "nothing wrong", as indeed in legal terms they have not, but surely the rest of us can agree that looted is looted. So coins looted in Palestine and shipped out through Jerusalem would get an AIA export licence if the dealer assured them (perhaps they require documentation?) that these are not 37 kg of ancient coins stripped from the archaeological record within the borders of modern Israel. There is nothing much under Israeli law that the AIA could do to not give a licence. That does not make the coins un-looted though.

So to reiterate, the only question of importance is “where, exactly, did these objects come from?”.

There very probably is not a dealer in Mr Welsh’s acquaintance who does not declare that they are concerned about handling stolen items, after all, the long arm of the law can reach them for that. But they prefer to take a very narrow view of what the word "stolen" means. If one day however the flow of objects stolen from the archaeological record of many source countries were to dry up, I am pretty sure that would be a source of real concern for many dealers. Many dealers will probably find it much more difficult to buy goods from a bloke who bought them from a bloke….. But of course that source of supply will not run out just yet. The coin and minor antiquity market was revitalized as the Balkan artefact mines started production about 1990. Huge loads of them went to the US. There are signals however that these sites are almost exhausted, where will the foreign dealer turn next for a country to supply the quantities the expanding market needs?

Mr Welsh considers that the use of the word “stolen” for illegally excavated items is “something quite different from the normal, plain English definition of that word”. But that is exactly what 25 (+) residents of Utah and Colorado are going on trial for. The word is used in their indictments in the “normal, plain English definition of that word” by Federal authorities. I really would like to see one day "collectors' rights" advocate Welsh arguing that out with them. US pot-digging for entertainment and profit and Balkan metal detecting for entertainment and/or profit are self-evidently in effect exactly the same. They both trash the archaeological record, they both produce collectables. If it is not "intellectual dishonesty" to treat them as in any way different, then let the ACCG and other collectors' "rights" activists show why.

Mr Welsh says that he has come to believe that “Mr. Barford thinks private collecting of anything that might conceivably perhaps have once been a buried artifact should be prohibited by law”. Well, he can make up whatever nonsense he likes, but there are six hundred posts here and equal numbers on several forums (including his own Unidroit-L) which should be ample evidence of what I really think. Let him show his readers one sentence which states even obliquely the opinion he imputes to me. He cannot because I have never said such a thing. This is the boring old "Banning Bogeyman" argument again.
What I do think is that private collecting of archaeological artifacts should be subject to a rigid code of ethics accepted by responsible collectors aware of the damage that has already been done by looting and intent on enjoying their hobby with a clear conscience. I also believe that alongside this, their trade should be regulated better by law than they are now. I believe that there should be transparency in and public scrutiny of all dealings concerning portable antiquities on the open market. Never have I suggested that the trade and collecting should be stopped, that would serve no purpose whatsoever.
At the beginning of his complaint, Welsh moans that I talk of a no-questions-asked market. I do this to make clear what part of the wide range of activities on the global market in archaeological artefacts I see as a problem. The use of this term should make clear that I am not generalising about the entire market, all dealers and all collectors, just the ones that trade in material of indeterminate, or undertermined origins despite the large quantities of illicit material known to come onto the market annually. These are the people who are causing the problem, and certain factions of the pro-collecting lobby (sadly Mr Welsh and his ACCG chief among them) are intent on prolonging precisely these practices by whatever means, fair or foul it seems at times.

“Barford is actually advocating that no one should be allowed to possess or trade in antiquities unless the individual concerned is able to "prove provenance," Well, no again, that is not at all what I said. I think collectors themselves should in the interests of what may be called the hygiene of their collections be rejecting items which the seller cannot actually demonstrate has legitimate provenance. It would be nice to see the cuneiform tablets without any stated provenance and any stated documentation I discussed here a few months ago still on sale because nobody would touch them. They have however almost all gone. I think dealers on the other hand should be constrained by law to maintain documentation of origins of their stock and be able to present that on demand. That is anyway what some countries today require (Canada and Switzerland for example). That seems to be a not unreasonable request since shops and traders in general do tend to have to be able to provide such documentation any time there is doubt about the quality and origin of the objects they sell.
Neither do I see why it should take any kind of “expert investigation to assemble "paper trail" documentation” on the part of dealers proving the provenance of any ancient object coming on the market. A seller has an object they want to sell, the buyer says “no papers, no thanks”. That applies to dealers as well as their clients. After all, we are constantly told that people have been collecting artifacts like coins in the US for six hundred years, so there must be some artifacts out there with a history. So where are they? Apparently, since the trade "never required" documentation of provenance because the antiquity could be appreciated as an art object without, nobody kept the little tray slips in Petrarch’s handwriting. But I really do not see why the world's archaeological record should continue to suffer as a result of their sheer negligence.

*Addendum, now see Marcus Preen's comment reminding me of an episode I had fogotten.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Utah Crackdown Puts Artefact Dealers on Edge

The ongoing federal investigation into the sale of Native American artefacts has:
cloaked the market in a fog of fear and uncertainty. Wealthy collectors are more cautious about buying artifacts for fear of criminal liability, and reputable dealers say they're working double-time to prove their legitimacy after being wrongly lumped together with looters and gravediggers. Amid grumbling about government meddling, the tension was evident Tuesday at one of the nation's largest and longest-running Indian artifact shows
(Susan Montoya Bryan, Fed crackdown puts tribal artifact dealers on edge, Salt Lake Tribune/AP, 19th Aug 2009).

Apparently the dealers participating in the 31st annual Whitehawk Antique Show in Santa Fe:
said they were concerned about their reputations because of a growing public perception that anyone involved in the trade could be involved with the criminal element that's being targeted by federal agents.
Jeff Hammond, a private collector and dealer insisted that there is no reason for a collector to consider a shady deal or illegal activity when there are so many legitimate Indian artifacts on the market. "If you really want to do this and not look over your shoulder and always have to watch your back and worry about things, you just need to stay on the right side," he said.

Walter Knox, a dealer who runs Fort Knox Antiquities in Scottsdale, Ariz. said that "despite the picture federal investigators have painted of the trade, he and his fellow dealers are not camouflage-wearing felons who loot sites under the cover of darkness. "We're the ones who love this stuff, who clean it and care for it," he said. "That's what people are doing, preserving history. And there's a right way and a wrong way to do it"".

Quite. It is pretty obvious that buying unprovenanced objects no-questions-asked as the antiquity collecting advocacy groups are insisting is the "collectors' rights" is not one of the right ways to do it. Any object without a proper legitimate provenance these days can only be considered as suspect by the ethical collector (or at best culpable and irresponsible carelessness on the part of previous owners).

Another collection seized in the aftermath of "Action Cerberus"

In Durango, Colorado, Federal authorities confiscated on Wednesday a large private collection of thousands of ancient Native American artifacts which had been voluntarily surrendered by its owners. Antiquities collector and dealer Vern Crites, 74, and his wife, Marie, have been indicted for trafficking, theft and grave desecration as part of the series of raids known as "Action Cerberus" in which 25 people from the Four Corners were arrested in June. Two of the original defendants committed suicide, and one pleaded guilty and turned over a large amount of artifacts. The items from the Crites home were taken to Utah, where they will remain while the case against the couple is adjudicated.

More here: Katie Burford, Feds seize couple's artifacts, Durango Herald, Thursday, Aug. 20, 2009,

and here: Paul Foy Feds Gather Vast Collection Of Artifacts Dealer (Colorado and Denver News/ AP Aug 19, 2009).

Patty Henetz, Feds haul off more seized artifacts Salt Lake Tribune, Aug 19, 2009.

This case puts another slant on the 'privacy' arguments I mentioned in an earlier post, where collectors insist that what they do in the privacy of their own homes is theirs, and nobody else's business. Although no plea has been entered, it is conceivable that the Criteses will claim they have done nothing wrong in providing these artefacts with a good home where they can be looked at - as do almost all portable antiquity collectors. Where however does one draw the line? Certainly the charges against them and their co-defendants make at least some of their alleged activities sound questionable, and not only to an archaeologist.

The photos taken through the open door of the Crites' house show shelves with pots on them, nowhere can I see any form of labelling. If that is the case, since the artefacts were gathered while the couple were absent from the home, how will any of them be assigned to any kind of proenance - or will they not be? Let us hope that this time the federal agents got the books from the hidden safe which details the purchases and sales the couple was involved in. Perhaps we will see what documentation their customers can show concerning these purchases. The circle widens.
Vignette: Heimatstein

Metal-detector Archaeological Partnerships at Binchester: one or more?

One “Dunhelme Steve” wrote in the comments section of an earlier post on this blog:
metal detectorists are mostly law abiding decent people from all walks of life who take their hobby very seriously. the club i belong to work very closely with the p.a.s and archaeologists scanning their spoil heaps for them at our expense and time, last dig was binchester which lasted a month.
My ears pricked up as I remembered the name Binchester as having cropped up in a case study I was looking into a while back, and also the dig mentioned is run by Dave Petts and is covered by a blog. Oddly enough the contribution of the “local metal detecting club” is mentioned in only one post on that blog, so we are none the wiser what exactly was achieved in having them there. But anyway, good for them. Here’s the Durham County Council blurb on the dig:
Binchester excavation project 2009-2014 is a new programme of excavation which started in June 2009. This is a joint project with our partners at Durham University; Stanford University (California), and the Architectural and Archaeological Society of Northumberland and Durham. Part of the project will include a phase of public excavation in late June through to the middle of July.
What has been happening on outlying areas of this complex is however another case of metal detector enabled portable antiquity asset-stripping from a known site, something I have been looking into. It turns out that a commercial metal detecting rally was held in October 1999 on land which included an area of the Roman vicus attached to the Roman fort at Binchester. A search of the PAS database seems (one can never be sure these days) to reveal that none of these finds were entered on the PAS database (in 1999 the PAS covered only a limited number of counties and Durham was not among them). The Treasure Reports show however that metal detecting continues to take place here. The 2003 Treasure Report (Record T270, Page 56) features a gold (Roman?) finger ring found in May 2001 by Mr K Leach whilst searching with a metal detector in a field adjacent to the remains of the Roman fort of Vinovium.

Obviously then, the landowner of fields adjacent to the scheduled site sees nothing wrong with allowing artefact hunters to strip the area of any interesting metal collectables. Finds from “near Binchester” found by metal detecting in 2006-9 are also illustrated on the UKDFD. None are reported anywhere else.

One wonders just how many times the finds-rich fields in the vicinity of this scheduled site have been targetted by metal detector users (with or without the permission of the landowner) and what has been taken with no record made whatsoever.

The mere fact that metal detectorists "come from all walks of life" and “take their hobby very seriously” and in whatever they do are mostly "law abiding decent people" really is beside the point. The issue is not how nice they are, but what is happening to the archaeological record of Britain as a result of current UK polices towards the hobby of these nice people. Some of them work very closely with the PAS but then not all do, and - what is significant is - that even at the level of the vicinity of a single site as here, we do not know to what extent compliance matches non-compliance. We have no way of controlling what information is lost in the course of this activity stretching now over several years.

The fact that some nice guys went over the 2009 Binchester excavation spoilheaps with metal detectors in no way relates to what nice guys are doing with metal detectors to the archaeological evidence in the fields over the fence. Both groups however want to be treated as archaeology's partners, no matter what is happening out there in the fields.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

"Search and you shall find"

A few weeks ago I posted some comments on a CD resource with which metal detectorists can do their "research". It seems the advert has been updated:

Wickham Market
Iron Age gold coins found at Wickham Market...News
Metal Detectors Searcher... have the locations of four Sites at Wickham Market listed in our Members Area, 3 are finds of pottery they have been on our website of over 1 year

So if any metal detector owner had spent just twenty quid and searched the known archaeological fndspots this CD provides the metal detector users, the implication is that you too could have found the "Wickham Market" coin hoard.

One thing that supporters ("partners") of metal detectorists are simply not admitting is that while some artefact hunting is done in areas randomly determined because of a friendly farmer saying "yes, please come in tekkies and take away any archaeological remains from my land you want", a substantial proportion of it is done by locating known archaeological sites from precisely such resources as we are discussing. In other words to some extent the data collected by the PAS and other such organizations is duplicating those already known - but to what extent? Well, nobody really is saying.

So here we have a proposed situation, the precise location of four known archaeological sites are given to the searcher on satellite photos by Mr Capman's CD resource. The advertising blurb suggests the enterprising treasure seeker can now go and search all four of them to his heart's cntent - or the limits of the patience of the landowner (for of course he'd ask permission first). Concentrating on known sites will increase the chances of rewarding finds. All he has to do is carry on long enough and he may well find a hoard of coins which when he digs it out and presents it to the coroner in a carrier bag will bring him in a multi-thousand pound reward and a pat on the head from the media. Simple.

The question is whether we the British archaeological record, and archaeological institutions really want all ancient treasures dug out of where they lie in archaeological contexts (in known archaeological sites) right now and at some considerable public expense? Should metal detectorists not in fact in any case be leaving known archaeological stes alone and not using them as an easy source of cash?

I asked the Portable Antiquities Scheme for an official comment on this resource and their thoughts on its use by their "partners". They seem not to have noticed that it has been published and are keeping quiet. What kind of outreach is that?

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Guns at a presidential event and collectors' rights

A bit off topic I know, but last night a US collector pointed out to Dave Welsh (in relation to his ideas of licencing all metal detector use in countries which have antiquities laws) that "Here in America, rifles, for the most part never have and do not need a license" which in a way surprised, but then again did not surprise me.

Then today there was some news coverage of some irresponsible jerks who turned up yesterday at a Presidential rally in Phoenix Arizona openly carrying loaded arms, including an Armalite 15 assault rifle. Apparently "Arizona law has nothing in the books regulating assault rifles, and only requires permits for carrying concealed weapons. So despite the man's proximity to the President, there were no charges or arrests to be made". (Speaking as a Brit), how dumb is that? As CNN newsman Rick Sanchez in Atlanta (Georgia) says with reference to this
"just because you can do something, does it mean you should"?
I personally think this is a point that can be made with regard to certain things that go on in portable antiquities collecting, where "it's legal innit?" is supposed to the the only justification needed.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Metal Detecting exams advocated by collectors' rights advocate

Californian collectors' "rights" activist and part-time coin dealer Dave Welsh reckons that metal detectors should be licenced, and:
a license to operate a metal detector should include (as does a license to drive an automobile) a requirement to pass an examination verifying knowledge of all relevant laws and ethical obligations which pertain to the activities of metal detectorists.
I guess that's because he does not use one himself. Has he really thought this through? This would mean that metal detector users in Bulgaria (for example) would be examined on the laws that prevent them passing on the coins they find to middlemen who then export them to the United States for people like Mr Welsh to sell. Well, of course there is a difference between knowing the law and abiding by it I suppose, so licence or not, I expect US dealers and collectors will continue to get their heaps of metal-detected 'dugups' extracted from some foreign archaeological field. Its not the diggers that need regulating, but the no-questions-asked market, Mr Welsh. Anyway what kind of collectors' "rights" is this upholding? Are metal detectorists in Britain and the USA for example not portable antiquity collectors too? Are they perhaps in Mr Welsh's eyes some kind of inferior collectors that he will willingly condone (nay, recommend) licencing them, but (as far as I know) not licencing the acquisitions of heaps-of-coin-collecting ACCG members? What makes him think the latter are so "special" and immune to what he would force on other collectors? I say let collectors rights advocates stand up for the rights of ALL portable antiquity collectors, or none. No discrimination.

ADDENDUM: Ah, now he's backtracking. He now specifies that he would not advocate requiring such a license in the USA:
however in European and Middle Eastern countries which restrict export of antiquities, I believe it would be appropriate to require detectorists to be licensed.
I really cannot understand this fixation with export. Export, export, export. Its not primarily the metal detector users that illegally export items from countries like Bulgaria, is it? The USA has an archaeological record (I learnt the other day that even tincans can be part of it) and it follows that inappropriate metal detector use there is just as damaging as anywhere else that has an archaeological record. Yes or no? Surely there are laws to learn and ethics to be observed in metal detecting in the USA, so why would no exam testing the detector users knowledge of them be needed in Mr Welsh's view? Because Americans are somehow "better" than the rest of us? So what actually is the guy on about? What is this "licence" he proposes for?

Mr Welsh seems blissfully unaware that in countries where the state manages the archaeological record like the ones he mentioned earlier, legal metal detector use to search for relics can already only take place with a permit. As is the case in Great Britain if the searcher wants to search certain locations which have such restrictions imposed, and indeed any part of Northern Ireland (part of the UK).

"Succinctly contrasts", but Mr Giedroyc gets it terribly wrong again

According to an ACG-affiliated coin collector writing on Moneta-L, the latest article (Iron Age Coin Find Ruled Treasure Trove) of Numismaster's master numismojournalist Richard Giedroyc of World Coin News "succinctly contrasts the real effect of England's Treasure Act with that of the laws of other countries"... (yawn). Sadly this assessment is a trifle overenthusiastic: the article is actually a poorly-researched heap of misleading nonsense.

When, oh when will American collectors and their mates learn the NAME of the Act which so appeals to them? Wickham Market is near the bottom on the left of that green bit across the water called "England", and the lumpier bit with the jaggedy edges at the top is another country called "Scotland". Scotland has legislation on Treasure Trove, England has....? England has, Mr Giedroyć, the 1996 Treasure Act. I don't expect it makes much difference to him. Not when he writes:

Suffolk Coroner Dr. Peter Dean declared the find to be treasure since the coins are more than 300 years old and were likely buried to be hidden with the intent to recover them later rather than being lost by their owner. [....] If, due to the nature of the find, the items found are determined to have been lost by chance, the finder takes possession of these items.
What? I suspect the influence of the 1965 Readers Digest Book of Buried Treasure here. That's the old law that went out in 1996! Thirteen years ago. What the Monetan correspondent finds so valuable (and yes, succinct) is this bit I presume:

At a time when countries such as Greece, Italy and Turkey have been enforcing laws banning the export of antiquities as being the cultural patrimony of these countries, the British treasure trove laws become even more relevant on the world stage as an example of how treasure finders can be encouraged to "do the right thing."
(Polite) words fail me, what has the Treasure Act got to do with "export"? Nothing, actually. Chalk and cheese. The English Treasure Act of course retains for the state these items "as being the cultural patrimony of the country" just as much as the laws of Greece, Turkey and Italy. Also Mr Giedroyc, instead of relying on ACCG handouts for information really should look into (for example) Greek heritage law concerning finds. He might find a surprise there. But then does he really mean Britain's (so that's Scotland then) Treasure TROVE laws? Because according to these, there is no division into "shiny gold/silver for the state - all the rest, who cares?" (which is I presume the wonder of the English legislation for the external collector of bronze coins and other decontextualised geegaws). No, in Scotland, the State wants to get its hands on all archaeological finds as it regards them all as the cultural patrimony of its citizens.

This article is sadly perfectly typical of the sort of shoddy research that goes into the anti-preservationist wafflings of the pro-collecting lobby, and which members of the latter propagate among collectors and try to foist off on the general public, totally misinforming them. Let's see if any well-informed Monetan queries the account of the workings of the English Treasure Act given in the article recommended to them so highly.

ADDENDUM 19th Aug: well it seems none of them noticed. So much for their knowledge of the laws which apply to their hobby which they like to portray as a scholarly "discipline".

The Minister and le malaise anglais

The “partnership” between British archaeologists and the country's band of takers of the past continues to do its damage abroad. On the 7th July this year in what appears to be a coordinated action, the metal detectorists of France banded together and sent a synchronised packet of questions to Frédéric Mitterrand, the French Minister of Culture and Transport. They want a “pact” like the Brits have, they want “respect”:
Ils souhaitent aujourd'hui la mise en place d'un pacte, audacieux et prometteur, de collaboration simple entre archéologues et détectoristes. Le prospecteur responsable connaît son terrain et peut męme se révéler ętre un auxiliaire intéressant pour l'archéologue. La législation anglaise a déjŕ mis en place un pacte de confiance, le « treasure act ». Aussi il souhaite savoir si le Gouvernement envisage de mettre en place un tel dispositif afin de permettre ŕ chacun, archéologues et prospecteurs, de voir son travail ou loisir respecté tout en respectant celui des autres.
The Minister answered this officially in the National Assembly on the 11th August and his reply was published after outlining the legislation of France and what it is based upon, and the fact that the English laws are a local aberration peculiar to that country, the Minister has some stinging words for Britain:
La question évoque le dispositif expérimenté en Angleterre, dit « Treasure Act ». Il s'agit tout d'abord de pratiques propres ŕ ce pays, qui s'appuient sur un régime juridique particulier des objets archéologiques, lequel s'écarte relativement du nôtre, et qui ne pourraient ętre transposées telles quelles. Si ces mesures ont effectivement permis d'augmenter le nombre des déclarations de découvertes d'objets archéologiques métalliques, elles n'ont en rien permis de réduire les atteintes au patrimoine générées par l'utilisation de détecteurs de métaux. Tout au plus permettent-elles de mesurer avec plus d'exactitude l'ampleur de ces atteintes.
{“If these measures have in fact permitted the number of declarations of the discovery of metallic archaeological objects to increase, they have in no way allowed a reduction in the number of attacks on the heritage caused by the use of metal detectors. All the same, they allow a more exact measurement of these attacks"}
[that last bit I included for the EU-sceptic conspiracy theorists :>) ].

So the Director of the Académie de France à Rome has not had the wool pulled over his eyes by the pro-artefact hunting claptrap about the “benefits” of allowing them to get on with emptying the collectables of British archaeological sites into their pockets. Good. Perhaps Roger Bland should invite a delegate from the French Ministry to the British Museum to the upcoming PAS conference to give participants a more rounded view of what people “in other countries” think of Britain’s “pact” with the history-takers. But France (Britain’s closest continental neighbour just a Channel Tunnel drive away) is not included in the provisional programme is it? I wonder if this is because the British Museum did not want to hear the preservation-orientated views of the French, or whether the French decided there was no point discussing this with the Brits.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Coin "zapping" in the numismatic literature

In tapping away at my keyboard trying to finish a text for publication on the corrosion of archaeological metalwork in the topsoil, I found myself writing that the condition of a certain group of coins was no different from those that are commonly sold as "bulk uncleaned lots to coin zappers" and it struck me that my readers might not know what "bulk uncleaned lots" of coins are and who or what "zappers" (sic) are and do. I wanted therefore at this point of the text to add a reference for clarity.

Now, there are lots of websites about coin zapping:
- how to get the coins and not get cheated (even some that admit where the coins come from, but many that present a fairy tale),
- how to "zap" (makes one to cringe to read them),
- what to do with the zapped coins (they normally only talk about the ones that are not irrevocably destroyed by the proposed method of treating these ancient artefacts),
- how to identify the coins and so on....
But I wanted some literature on paper to cite in my text. Maybe readers of this blog can point me to some texts in peer reviewed numismatic journals that discuss the methodology of "coin zapping"?

We are constantly told ad nauseam by dealers' advocacy groups like the ACCG that the heap-of-loose-decontextualised-coins-on-a-table-top-collecting is "numismatics" ("like wot Petrarch did", "Regal Grandmother of all the Historical Sciences" and all that) and that it is such an important discipline to which we "must" sacrifice archaeological context to allow it to flourish (and "incidentally" of course commerce in these items, which is what this is all about really). My response to that has been, that to qualify as a separate academic discipline, it must have an independent methodology which is formulated in textbooks. Otherwise it is just like stamp collecting. As an archaeologist, I have a lot of contact with numismatists, and most of the real numismatic methodology I have come across refers to the interepretation of coins in and from a context (there is a lot of valuable methodological work on this in Polish for example, going back at least to the 1950s). I cannot imagine the methodology which says "ignore all that, just make a heap of the coins on a table and by comparing one with the other something will come out of it". As a result of my lack of imagination in this regard, I have several times asked professional numismatists advocating "decontextualised numismatics" where I can find the methodology of this "discipline" formulated so I can learn about it. Where are the textbooks? So far I have received not a single reference to check out.

"Coin zapping" is an important part of the current shape of this brand of decontextualised numismatics. The "uncleaned lots" are the discards from bulk loads supplied by metal detectorists to a middleman who sorts them into various grades of commodities to send to external markets. Coin zappers consume the coins no dealer would want to have in his stock in that form and nobody in the trade feels are worth cleaning to make them presentable. By far, most of the coins ripped out of archaeological context in "source countries" like Britain and Bulgaria are doomed to go straight into these bulk lots for marketing, tens of thousands of them monthly, year in, year out. So why is this whole area of numismatics apparently so poorly represented in the numismatic literature?

Or perhaps it is not. Maybe one of my readers knows some articles on the numismatic worth of decontextualised bulk lots of metal-detected finds which have been published in the peer-reviewed numismatic journals? How seriously do they treat heap-on-a-table numismophily? How many coin zappers are talking at, or even going to the XIV International Numismatic Congress in Glasgow at the end of the month? I cannot see a session devoted to bulk buyers in the programme.

Ironbridge Senior Archaeologist Speaks out

Talking to a metal detectorist on an archaeological forum, Ironbridge Gorge Museum senior industrial archaeologist Paul Belford assures him:

There really isn't an "English Snobby Archaeo Mentality". Really. Honestly. Yes, some people in Poland might be snotty, but the rest of us are very happy to hear about all of your findings,
Yeah, I bet "the rest of you" are. You are quite right there are lots of professional archaeologists here in Poland (and several other countries too) that are puzzled over why you British archaeologists are pandering to artefact hunters and collectors and thus copping out on your responsibilities towards the archaeological record. Entering into a "partnership" with artefact hunters seems to a lot of us outside the UK to be a very strange way to "manage" what's left of the British archaeological record.

So this decontextualised York coin of some king or other recorded on the UK Detector Finds database ("site run by detectorists for detectorists") you are suddenly so "very happy" to hear about, where was it found? "Bedale, Yorkshire" - whoopee, but where in that rather large parish? Dunno, its not reported on UKDFD? Hmmm. What else was found on the same site? Dunno, it's not reported on UKDFD? Hmmm. Found by a Darren Pendleton with his Minelab Explorer II but the record was for some reason created by a "Lance Todd". Wonderful. Enough to make a British archaeologist "very happy". So who are they then? Adherants of the Code of Practice for Responsible metal Detecting in England and wales? Are they - do you know them? Actually if you know what that says from the information currently on the UKDFD page, they don't appear to be do they? (see below). So its the only coin from that reign with that particular moneyer's name on it? Whoopee, I bet that's made everybody's day in Ironbridge. That could change our whole understanding of Britain in the tenth century couldn't it? (Or maybe not really).

Crap photo though isn't it? So its going to be a bit difficult to do a die link study of that one when the coin itself disappears into somebody else's collection without a record where it's gone.

So is this coin recorded elsewhere? Like in the PAS database with a decent photo (as the Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales stipulates), or maybe at the Fitzwilliam? Well, actually - no. No, it is not recorded anywhere else. Does that make you "very happy" too? Broad grins all round the Ironbridge World Heritage Site at the news?

Paul what on earth are you British archaeologists playing at? You are all so "very happy" to hear that collectors are running about in the cultural landscape somewhere or other finding isolated coins and other goodies, all of which they take away with minimal record from their position in the archaeological record, but some of which they nicely let the archaeologists fondle too - but only if they do not ask too many questions where it came from and what it was found with and pat them on the head and thank them for denuding sites of all their collectable ancient metalwork. Pathetic.

Is that "snotty" enough for you Paul?

I really do not think it is me who has to explain himself in the circumstances. What is going on in England is just completely and utterly nuts.

Paul, if you agree, I am going to add you to the review list of my book, and I hope after reading it you will tell the readers of the "Journal of the Telford Industrial Archaeology and Bottle-Diggers Association" (or wherever) why you are still "very happy" to work with artefact hunters and why you dismiss what is written there as "snottiness with tables and footnotes". I am sure the metal detectorists with whom you and your treasure-hunter-loving British archaeological mates are such good pals will be delighted.

eBay deal concerning Scotland's archaeological heritage

The internet auction site eBay has agreed to stop selling unreported ancient artefacts from Scotland (Brian Donnolly eBay deal protects country’s ancient treasures, the Herald August 16th 2009). This follows a number of cases of the illegal sale of artefacts through the portal in the past. These objects are all protected by Scotland's Treasure Trove legislation (rather than the 1996 Treasure Act which applies in most other parts of the UK) and belong to the state (Crown). It is only when treasure trove assessors at museums reject artefacts that finders can become keepers who may then do as they wish with the items they have found, if the Crown retains the object the finder gets an award equal to the full market value. Nevertheless, a large number of finders are believed to not be reporting finds to the Treasure Trove Unit as the law requires.

Now, if only eBay would institute a similar ban on metal detected items from England and Wales which are not accompanied by a PAS number, and antiquities from any foreign country which has export restrictions without the seller saying explicitly that he can supply the buyer with a copy of the export licence or other documentation to show it left the surce country legitimately. Then we could all sleep a little sounder.

Raided Lost Art[chaeology], in the Market or Not?

The story of the theft — and ultimate return — of a magnificent ancient vase painted by Euphronios, the greatest Greek vase artist of antiquity, is a gripping tale that has helped to cripple the illicit international art trade trills the article about Vernon Silver's book the Lost Chalice annoyingly titled "Italy Cracks Down On Raiders Of Lost Art" (Ugh!). The claim that the enire market in dodgy stuff is "crippled" seems a bit of an overstatement. Especially in the light of the closing lines of the article:
Italian authorities confirm that there has been a sharp decline in the underground art trade. But they stress that the theft has been massive. Over the past few decades, the art theft police squad has recovered some 800,000 artworks from antiquity, but authorities estimate that's only about 40 percent of the total looted by the raiders of lost art.
So that means there is still another 1200000 items stolen from archaeological sites in Italy alone out there, that hardly heralds a crippled market.

Silver's book is discussed by David Gill here.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Tin cans as portable antiquities

I came across an archaeological text from Indiana USA called "HOW OLD IS "OLD"? Recognizing Historical Sites and Artifacts" (Sharon A. Waechter et al.) which made weird reading for a British archaeologist. I once dug up a biscuit tin in the fill of an old excavation trench at Wroxeter which was identified and dated by the manufacturers and which made it clear that the trench was probably one dug by Kathleen Kenyon, who therefore had gone deeper than she admitted in her report, but in general I'd never given rusty old tin cans much thought before. Whether a site was pre-1960 mor post 1960 had never really meant much to my own work. I was surprised to read that the authors consider "Ceramics in general are less time-sensitive than cans and bottles".

Metal Detector user arrested in Palestine

The west Bank contains at least 2,000 major archaeological sites. The fact that the area is subdivided into a patchwork of enclaves, some controlled by Israel, some by the Palestinian Authority, and some jointly mean that there are many legal and physical obstacles which hamper the authorities’ ability to protect these sites, leaving them vulnerable to artefact-hunting looters. This looting was described in a recent (Dec 2008) National Geographic article by Karen Lange ("The Stolen Past - West Bank Looting"):
in many places the scale of the destruction is almost industrial. Looters attack ancient sites with backhoes and small bulldozers, scraping away the top layer of earth across areas the size of several football fields. Then, guided by metal detectors—coins often give away the location of other goods—they sink shafts to extract anything of value. Among the rock-hewn tombs that honeycomb the hills around Jenin, Nablus, Bethlehem, and Hebron, grave robbers methodically clean out each centuries-old chamber, dumping the bones and hauling off the limestone ossuaries. […] Some looted artifacts are bought by middlemen who supply shops in Israel, where tourists and pilgrims eager to take home a piece of the Holy Land unwittingly underwrite the trade. Other artifacts are smuggled into Jordan, then on to big-time dealers elsewhere in the Middle East, especially the Persian Gulf states of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Dealers in those countries, in turn, sell the artifacts to outlets in Israel without revealing their provenance.

Many of these items then are exported from Israel with Israeli export licences to dealers in western markets who then represent them to their clients as “legitimate” goods. They are nevertheless looted. Both dealers and clients need to ask themselves where the bucketloads of ancient coins openly being offered by some Jerusalem dealers actually come from. These bulk lots for example being sold by a Jerusalem dealer discussed on this blog earlier.

On Friday, Palestinian tourism and antiques police arrested a man from Bethlehem and seized advanced metal detecting equipment which they say was used to unearth priceless artifacts in the Bethlehem area. The machines were seized following a home raid conducted by police following long-term investigations of the accused. His file has been handed over to local prosecution, police said.
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