Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Bulgaria's Constitutional Court Rules on Cultural Heritage Law

In Bulgaria a new law concerning privately owned cultural property came into effect in April 2009. This concerned both art objects per se as well as dugup archaeological material, and required collectors to register their property with state authorities. The law is supposed to protect Bulgaria's cultural heritage from the treasure hunting plague and organized crime groups dealing with antiques trafficking. The passing of the law met stiff opposition as many interests were involved (we have discussed who has a stake in the trade in Bulgarian dugup antiquities earlier). Many influential people in Bulgaria collect art, and more particularly dug-up antiquities, and presumably are none too keen on revealing where the latter comes from.

The intention of the law was to bring private collections of objects of cultural heritage to light and to legalise the items in them which the owners could document as of legal origin . Current owners had a six months grace period after the law went into effect to register their objects, that period would come to an end on October 10 2009. As part of the registration process, owners would also have to declare origin and method of acquisition of the objects. Anyone failing to register the ownership of a cultural heritage object would be considered a care-taker instead of owner of the object.

Another element regarded as controversial by collectors was that according to this law, the legal sale of movable objects of cultural value could only take place after they had been identified and registered by authorities. The sale had to be announced by a collector by prior written notification sent to the Culture Ministry. If the object was required for the national collections, the ministry would then have seven days to purchase it under the same conditions as the buyer in the proposed deal. If the ministry failed to exercise this right, the object could be freely sold.

According to Bulgarian ombudsman Ginyo Ganev (above), these provisions of the new Law on Cultural Heritage are unconstitutional and he brought the matter before the Constitutional Court. He asserted that the provisions of art. 113 and paragraph 5 of the law violated the sanctity of private property, the rule of law and the right of protection established by the Constitution. Ganev said these requirements restricted the right to free disposal of property and were in violation of both the Bulgarian Constitution and article 1 of the Additional Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights. These arguments repeat objections from members of parliament and non-government organisations when the law was discussed in parliament. "Among the opponents of the law were Dimitar Ivanov, former head of the sixth division of the communist-era State Security who is known to be an art-collector, as well as intellectuals, academics and artists, including Svetlin Rusev, Ivan Marazov, Valeria Fol and Andrey Pantev, Mediapool said".

Members of of Parliament from Bulgaria's ruling GERB party, Daniela Petrova and Pavel Dimitrov, have also proposed amendments of the Cultural Heritage Act, attempting to create more lenient requirements for the registration of privately-owned antiques and archaeological items.

Leading Bulgarian archaeologists have declared themselves against the proposed changes: "By rescinding the requirement to have an official document proving the origin of cultural items, their ownership will now be certified with random pieces of paperwork. This is disrespect," said Margarita Vaklinova, Director of the Bulgarian Archaeological Institute and Museum at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, during a special press conference Thursday. If the dispute succeeds, the Bulgarian state will lose the control over its cultural heritage. Vaklinova said the archaeologists did not know which specialists participated in the commission appointed by Culture Minister, Vezhdi Rashidov, to draft the changes in the Cultural Heritage Act.

On Sept. 29, 2009 the Bulgarian Constitutional Court handed down a decision concerning the case raised by Ganev. The decision (in Bulgarian)is available here, or a Bulgarian numismatic forum here. The court:
"DECIDES: 1. Declared unconstitutional § 5, para. 2 and 3 of the Transitional and Final Provisions of the Law on Cultural Heritage (promulgated, SG. 19 of 2009).
2. Rejected the request for a declaration of unconstitutionality of art. 113, para. 1, 2 and 3 of the Law on Cultural Heritage".
The first referred to the registration issue. The second (para 113) to the sale, the sale of all cultural property still has to be notified to the state, and offered first to the Ministry for purchase for the national collections. It is notable that the discussion about registration (§ 5) really hinges on the obligation imposed by the new law to provide material not required by the old laws under which private collections had been created. It is specifically noted in this ruling that articles obtained illegally are not affected by this ruling. They are still held illegally. The ruling refers to the non-imposition of a requirement of additional documentation of previously legally obtained items.

It is amusing to observe the reaction of US collectors to this. I'll deal with this in a later post (see above) as the situation develops.

There are other issues here, the total inability of Bulgaria to construct a system of coherent laws concerning cultural property was noted in the ruling. But then, should the protection of the cultural heritage be wholly reliant on restrictive laws? Collectors all over the world, including in Bulgaria, say they are "protecting the heritage" (meaning by this objects taken FROM the archaeological record). Part however of curation is documenting where items are and where they have come from. this is the basis of museum accession registers. If private collectors wish to be see as avocational curators of the world's cultural heritage, then they have to accept the responsibilities that go with that. Bulgarian collectors in opposing this legislation show that they are not willing to accept those responsibilities. Like many collectors of portable antiquities everywhere.

Rene Beekman, ‘Constitutional court asked to rule on Law on Cultural Heritage’, Sophia Echo, Jul 30 2009.
'Bulgarian Archaeologists Blast Changes in Cultural Heritage Act', September 3, 2009.
Dessislava Popova, 'Amnesty Rewards Bulgaria`s Shady Collectors ', Balkan Insight, 30 June 06.

Photo: Collector's rights champion Ginyo Ganev, by Nadezhda Chipeva

Monday, 28 September 2009

Digging up Treasures of the Past: Another "How not To"

Another bit of "yank-the-artefact-out-before-you've-got-the-earth-off" digging this time not by British archaeologists, but a Belgian metal detectorist.
"Trouvaille d un casque allemand en fouille dans les Ardennes belge 15-3-2008".

That's what it says. Well, we can see it is an M44, the correct type for the date of the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes. It is in remarkably good condition after being "buried in the sandy soil" for 64 years - which is just as well as pulling it out like that from a narrow hole if it had not been could have led to it breaking.

But then one wonders why there are leaves and no matted roots inside the (dry) helmet, where the lining is and why it has no rivets if it's a battlefield find. This object seems to me to have been planted and the "excavation" staged. Sadly, one cannot say the same about the British archaeologists' digging seen in a recent film showing much the same kind of treatment of some portable antiquities.

This helmet-digging video brings us back to the problem that will not go away, that the findspots and circumstances of discovery of items is only where the artefact hunter claims. The helmet in this film could have been bought on eBay and the collector then claimed he'd dug it up somewhere else making it more easily disposed of.* A Treasure item declared by a metal detectorist in the UK could be legitimised by claiming it was found somewhere else than its true findspot, in order to claim the full market value reward. The current system can obviously be abused by the less scrupulous detector user, the question is to what extent it is, and what can be done to prevent it?
* This helmet does not look dug-up at all. In Poland for example after the War they were used in many farms as metal bowls - precisely with the liners removed. Quite often they were used for feeding chickens. Many just sat unused in a corner of barns. Collectors drove around the farms buying them up, restoring them (repainting them, putting fake liners and straps in) and then selling them on western markets at a large profit.

Debate or no debate?

Over on the CBA's British Archaeology Forum, a debate is or conversely is not about to break out on the dreaded subject those metal detectorists. The media hoo-haa about the seven-figure sum reward paid to the finder of the Staffordshire hoard is the context. Let's have a look in.
The thread starts with Mark Horton drawing attention to the plight of a Devon museum which suddenly, it appears, had the funding it was reliant on for developing its business plan, slashed by the local council. By a million quid. The museum will have to close, local jobs will be lost, the developers may well move in to the site and ruin its heritage amenities. He ends: "I am not sure if there is anything that can be done, except to feel outraged". A list member (Nigel Swift co-author of a certain book on artefact hunting) adds a trenchant comment to that:
One could reflect that if only 10% of market value of the Staffordshire hoard was paid to the finder (which is more than enough for surrendering what belongs to us all I would have thought) then the £1 million shortfall could be covered and the museum could be saved. It is really not on that finders can chortle that "it is better than winning the lottery" while at the same time museums can be allowed to go to the wall.
One Ian Daintith answers with a one-liner:
"And with an attitude like that more detectors will go "underground" and heritage would get nothing!" [my emphasis]
To which the sharp-witted Mr Swift replies with the only response possible faced with such a comment (remember metal detectorists say they're "only in it fer th'istry"):
So what are you suggesting?? Unless society is prepared to pay every penny in full, it can forget about seeing its heritage ? Is there a word for that?
[I think we can all think of one]. At which point Diana Briscoe, Archiver of Anglo-Saxon pottery stamps if you please, remonstrates:
OH PULEEZE!!!!I do NOT want to have to start deleting another round of metal detectorist arguments and slanging. Please stop this one right here!.
Lady D. does not want. Sounds like Andy Holland of the CBA who also "does not want" to talk about these issues on an archaeology forum either. Wimps. Quick as a flash Mr Swift (glad he's on my side) responds:
I'm afraid we shall have to differ. Millions of heritage pounds are not going into museum funding, yet millions of heritage pounds are going into private hands to reward people for doing what the law already obliges them to do. I really don't see why we shouldn't debate whether the heritage cake is being sliced to optimum effect.
Nor do I. Will there be a discussion on the British Archaeology forum? Probably not, British archaeologists seem to have lost the stomach to stand firm on anything much to do with artefact hunting and collecting these days.

There are three problems with this "full market" value lark. The first is it costs the public budget an awful lot. Britain is a rich country - but not that rich that it has enough hospital beds or school classrooms, or whatever. Most of these rewards are going to people deliberately going out seeking treasure.

An additional point is that every time the newspapers trumpet another six or seven figure reward another couple of hundred people decide it might be a good idea to take up metal detecting. Every year therefore we are going to be seeing more and more of these items being handed in. This will only stop when the Treasure (a finite resource) is all used up, or all the museums have decided they have enough gold and silver goodies to please the crowds. Mr Herbert of the Staffordshire hoard says treasure hunting is "like the lottery", it is not at all. With some 700 treasures being reported a year in England, Wales and Northern Ireland alone among 10 000 metal detectorists, a quick calculation shows that statistically in a decade or so detecting, the chances of finding a big-reward "Treasure" are cnsiderably higher than winning big-win sums on the lottery. It takes a bit longer, but it is exercise in the fresh air and you get your name in the papers and a pat on the head from the archaeologists.

The other issue is legal. The Treasure does not become Crown property from the moment of the inquest. The inquest determines whether it is or is not - the objects are Crown property while in (by virtue of being in) the ground. This means you or I or Mr Herbert cannot legally dig them up and sell them on eBay, any more than I could sell on eBay one of Her Majesty's corgis I found wandering lost in Windsor Great Park. Given therefore that their sale by a private individual would be illegal, how can they be sold for their full market value? They can only be disposed of by under-the-counter sales, for which the illegal vendor cannot expect full market value. This is the reasoning behind the assignation of rewards in other countries where items are considered state property. Why then is Britain different?

Archaeologists who find "Treasure" items in the course of going about doing what archaeologists do (they mainly "do it fer th'istry" too, there's no money in archaeology these days) do not get a reward. The law requires them to go through certain procedures with items of a specific category that they encounter as a result of their activities, and they do so without a big rigmarole, without a murmer. Metal detectorists who find "Treasure" items in the course of ("only doing it fer th'istry") doing what metal detectorists do get full market value. The law requires them to go through certain procedures with items of a specific category that they encounter as a result of their activities, and they do so and expect a massive reward for doing so. And they are often found complaining loudly on their forums that they reckon their mates were "diddled" by the state.

Let us note that English and Welsh law also requires everybody to report to the same official (the coroner) if they find a dead body somewhere, like in the woods or fields. So how soon is it before citizens will be expecting a reward for complying with that law (starting no doubt with the metal detectorists)? After all if there were no bodies reported, the newspapers would not be able to write about them, and the police would not be able to do their job would they?

Photo: the Knoxville body farm, no rewards for finders here.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

ACCG raises $32 000 from selling old coins: the fight goes on

The ACCG "Benefit Auction" finished before the weekend, and it has been announced it raised $32 000 ("plus") to fight a case with the US government over antiquity preservation legislation it has passed which allegedly infringe "collectors' rights" in some way. Last year's ACCG benefit auction raised over $50 000 so perhaps we may be justified in inferring that US dealers and collectors are tiring of the incessant barrage of justifications come up with by the coin dealers' lobby to oppose this legislation instead of simply complying with it.

In fact perhaps they are looking closely at who is saying what and who stands to benefit from this case. Certainly not collectors. Not US collectors who want to buy legally imported coins. Who actually is writing about the State Department and the nefarious conspiracies allegedly behind this new legislation? Two names stand out, Wayne Sayles (coin dealer) and his long time buddy "Cultural Property Observer" aka Peter Tompa who the Executive Director has involved in "fighting the good fight agin the gubn'mint". All the rest of the talk on this in coiney circles (and let us note it is only coin dealers that are raising this fuss) is following the line these two define. Nobody is discussing it independently of the group of people gathered around these two agitators. But then, whose legal firm has been "retained" apparently to deal with this ACCG/PNG/IAPN case? I'll give you three guesses.

1) Alan Dershowitz (O.J. Simpson's former lawyer)?

2) Ted Watts (coin collecting US lawyer)?

3) Bailey and Ehrenberg (where "Cultural Property Observer" works)?

Guess (Answer here, see Looting matters).

So Cultural propert Observer is stirring up ferment among coin collectors to get them to support an action the conduct of which his own firm stands to benefit from financially?

Why do coin collectors need to FIGHT this legislation? Well, one bizarre explanation emerging from the ACCG clique is that society owes the coin collecting community "a great deal, including freedom, equitable treatment by government, and due process of law". So coineys are striking a blow for "freedom" - but the freedom forseen by the Wisconsin Collector's Rights Declaration which requires 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.
Unrestricted import into the US for all looted dugups for example, unfettered by any "cultural property laws" and international agreements. I think that the coin dealers will need more that 30k to prove to the decent folk of the USA that cultural property laws and international co-operation to halt antiquity smuggling are senseless, though following recent developments in the Blanding case, I begin to wonder.

Aren't Tractor Drivers Wonderful?

The media hoo-haa about the "Staffordshire Hoard" is accompanied by the usual stereotypical "aren't metal detectorists wonderful finding all this stuff for us to drool over?" mantra. OK, suppose this had been found by a tractor driver when he stopped to urinate behind a hedge in the course of ripping his way across the ancient landscape twenty centimetres deeper than usual. If they urinated more frequently and found more gold, would we then be praising the archaeological benefits of deep ploughing of sites with archaeological content? Would British archaeologists be lauding the benefits of collaboration with deep ploughing farmers?

Well, after what we've seen over the last week, I'm beginning to suspect the answer might even be "yes" if it brings more golden goodies up from below the ground.

Photo: Heritage hero? Deep ploughing.

"It is not our intent to write the definitive report, let the whole world work on it"

I really cannot believe this. The BBC ('What happens to a hoard of old gold?') reports:

Detailed pictures of many of the items are already up on the Staffordshire Hoard website, allowing scholars and the public to view the items. "It's not our intent to write the definitive report. Let the whole world work on it." Such an approach is unprecedented, believes Dr Leahy.
Too right it is! So basically then the sole archaeological involvement is just to help treasure hunters get the goodies out of the ground and collect their reward and put some pictures on the Internet for any amateur theorist to make up stories about? No, "an archaeological discovery is not made until the time of its publication" that is a fundamental axiom of the discipline. The Portable Antiquities Scheme is paid for out of the public purse to ensure best practice among "finders". Well, not publishing this hoard in full is not best practice. It is a cop-out. It is a scam. I think the British Museum should issue an offcial statement confirming its intentions.

If the museum(s) acquiring this assemblage are not going to fulfill that obligation, then why not do what portable antiquity dealers have been urging all along, keep a few bits, put the rest on eBay then and send it out in the world to private collectors in the hope that some of them will have the decency to publish their pieces properly? Why not, Mr MacGregor? What is the point of getting all this glittery stuff for archaeological study if you are not going to realise the potential of the material? That is just like excavating a site, gathering up lots of pottery and bone and saying the job is done. The job is not done, the project not finished until a proper report is produced. How on earth can we expect artefact hunters and collectors to listen to us pontificating about "best practice" when we do not exhibit it ourselves?

The Sutton Hoo objects were published in full detail, it took the BM forty years to do it, the publication was too lavish (too heavy) and too expensive. Some of the objects in this "Staffordshire" hoard look to me as if they may well have links with the "Sutton Hoo workshops" (and maybe the latter were not East Anglian products after all?). So matching the patterns of the hatching on the gold foils (documented in the Sutton Hoo reports) may well prove significant. But not if the only access the scholarly world has to these objects is through some photos, however nice, on the Internet.

No, there has to be a proper definitive report published of this "Staffordshire hoard" with proper report of the 2009 excavations, with a description of each item every bit as detailed as that of the Sutton Hoo objects and at least some attempt at pulling together what it all means. Anything less would be a scandal.

And if the UK cannot afford to do the job properly, then perhaps the UK should think about these policies which allow people to go out looking for treasures which we have not got the resources to deal with. This problem can only get worse, not better.

ADDENDUM: I have this (27.09.09) evening received a private message from Roger Bland saying he was disappointed that I discuss this news item, because there are plans to produce a full report, and Kevin Leahy was somehow misquoted by the BBC. Phew. Additional piquancy is however added to this that there is a newsfeed on the PAS website and the BBC article to which I refer has for several hours been at the top of the list - on their own website. Well, anyone interested in the early medieval period will be interested to hear what the publication plans really are for this extraordinary find. Let's hope it is as detailed as the Sutton Hoo one, appears in a fraction of the time, is easier to carry (!) and a lot cheaper.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

"A Vulgar Quest for Pretty Objects". Is this the best British Archaeology can do?

I owe one of my readers a sincere apology. This morning when, bleary-eyed, I turned on my computer I found a rather nasty comment had been sent by somebody appearing to be a metal detectorist (?) from Hungary referring to a video posted on the Internet about the excavation of the "Staffordshire Hoard". The comment looked like the typical anti-archaeologist stuff certain artefact collecting forums are full of at the moment. Opening the link revealed the offending film had been posted by IT guru and generally decent bloke Dan Pett, of the BM. It was a dreadful video. After watching it, the only explanation that came to mind was that Dan had been offered a day trip out of London to see the site, had taken his cell phone and captured a few candid shots. Even on the best run sites there are days when one would prefer there not to be cameras around. I assumed this was an unauthorised video a visitor (Dan) to the site had made and posted. In which case the Hungarian reader's comments were a little unfair and biased - though the video did seem to show some strange things happening, at 13 seconds the girl clunks a piece of garnet inlaid gold with her trowel, objects being yanked out of what is clearly very stiff clay for example.

After thinking about it and reviewing what I had to do this morning, I regret to say I rejected the comment, not having time to explain all that to the person who'd sent it. I also sent a remonstratory email (OK, I'm grumpy early in the morning) to Dan Pett, suggesting that putting his none-too-flattering home movies of other people's excavations on the internet might get him into hot water and it was not creating a very good impression of the project or archaeology.

Then later on after the coffee kicked in, I found fragments of this video were part of the online coverage given by the Telegraph and the BBC, which would be odd if they were Dan Pett's home movies. Then I realised that these scenes were actually credited to Birmingham Archaeology, Birmingham University's Archaeology Unit which apparently received part (?) of 25000 pounds from English Heritage to conduct this excavation. This is an official film of the investigations (which Dan confirmed when he replied to my early morning mail - he has not been to the site). This I find astounding. Apart from anything else, it shows an extraordinary lack of professionalism to release such a film to the national media.

So, here belatedly is the original comment I too hastily rejected this morning:
Karikásostor has left a new comment on your post "Huge Anglo-Saxon Gold Hoard Dug up by Finder":

Dear Paul,Theoretically I'm 100% agree with your post, however in the practice I was rather shocked after watching this video: It's the so called professional fieldwork of the Birmingham archaeology team. I can't see too much difference between this and digging of some benevolent amateur detectorists. What can we see in this video?- People walking to the field with some larger GPS and possibly geophysical instruments.- We can see some wooden sticks, most likely grid points and some people digging in the most likely disturbed topsoil, with IRON trowels.- When they are finding some interesting find they are instantly removing each pieces and proudly showing to the camera. Frankly speaking, I had the chance to take part at several scientific archaeological field walking in my country (Hungary), when we discovered hoards, but this is not way shown in this video how some can gain valuable ARCHAEOLOGICAL information about such a spectacular find. I'm still hoping that I just misunderstood something about this film.

Well, so am I but I have a sneaking suspicion that your comments might not have been so far off the mark after all, sorry for rejecting it out of hand. Now, I suspect what we are not seeing is that before the filming each of those metal objects may have been pinpointed by metal detector (and or magnetometer) beforehand. So the slightly cavalier style of digging almost certainly is guided by the thought that they know pretty exactly where all the metal objects are. The video clearly shows that all these objects at this stage of the excavation are coming from the ploughsoil. While I would not see in such circumstances the use of trowels so much of a problem myself (you can see this is really awful stuff to dig), there certainly seems to be no record being made of the objects in the soil, we see objects exposed and immediately yanked out, and the cleaned off (the earth in the bent strip at 50 seconds could have contained organic material from the original burial environment). The site is a mess, the diggers are trampling over the spoil lying in the bottom of the trenches, the excavation units are highly irregular in shape. None of this produces the impression of a disciplined investigation. Two scenes show that one face of the artefact-bearing layer has been shaved off with a spade which in one case has passed extremely close to an object lying in situ. The objects are being yanked or levered out of the soil. What's going on? What happened to those lumps of clay - wet sieving? What kind of records were kept? This is Birmingham by the way where master excavator Phil Barker taught. Was there any kind of EH inspection to see how their 25k was being spent here?

Then I found a webpage with photos of the dig - really quite a small hole for 25000 quid - more to the point, unfenced. So what, a five by five metre trench? A thousand quid per square metre of topsoil sieving? But at least we see some wet-something (sieving? Where are the screens?) was going on of something. There is a petrie dish of three pieces of gold obviously recovered from this washing, one quite big.

Literally just as I was in the middle of drafting this post, I had an email from the French heritage group HAPPAH with a link to their newsletter. There we read some none-too-complimentary comments on British archaeology and the PAS (the latter I'll leave aside here). They judge British archaeology rather poorly from what they saw on BBC news of this what-should-have-been-a-flagship-project:

Ce sont les archéologues de Birmingham Archaeology, branche commerciale de l'université de Birmingham sur financement d'English Heritage, qui ont achevé « la fouille ». Mais peut-on vraiment parler de fouille ? D’après les films amateurs diffusés sur Internet, il s’agit plutôt d’une vulgaire quête au bel objet. Les prélèvements ne paraissent pas plus sérieux que ceux qui ont été effectués par le chasseur de trésors. Dans l’un de ces films on voit une personne prélever tous azimuts les objets, les arrachant de leur contexte stratigraphique avec une truelle trois fois trop grosse pour s’empresser de les présenter à la caméra. Les méthodes employées sont dignes des fouilles du XIXème siècle où seuls comptent les objets, leurs qualités artistiques, typologiques et symboliques. Les archéologues jugeront par eux mêmes si l’archéologie moderne est ici présentée sous son meilleur jour :
As one metal detectorist noted on seeing this, "If I as a metal detectorist did this with my spade and trowel would you be horrified and judge me by a 2 minute video?". Yes we would, and I think we are doubly justified in asking what is going on in this cringeworthy video when its not metal detectorists but archaeologists. Now (unusual though it may be it for me to defend the PAS), it should be pointed out that these excavations are nothing to do with the PAS, the Treasure Unit or the British Museum. The Treasure Unit, oddly, has no fieldwork team of their own or even a separate budget for such excavations, so when investigations of any Treasure findspot needs to be carried out, they are reliant on the local archaeologists. In the case of the Staffordshire hoard, one wonders looking at this video and the international criticism (Poland, Hungary and France) whether a team from the British Museum with experience of dealing with finds like this may not have done a better job than we see being done in this video. This looks like a typical example of British fudgery and make-do.
Now I hope I am entirely wrong and next week we will see soon some decent photos of a site that does not look like the amateur fossickings of the Barsettshire Amateur Archaeology Group in 1961, that we will see some decent site plans and a decent description of the site methodology. Whether or not these do appear, there can only be one conclusion here.
To make the Treasure Act any kind of archaeological (and not just treasure-hunting) success, there not only has to be a way of getting to the find before it has all been taken out of the ground by artefact hunters. There also clearly has to be the resources and ability to undertake a proper archaeological investigation of the findspot. A hole 2 x 2m as we have seen on other sites dug by one bloke with the assistance of the metal detectorist in a single day is not an adequate archaeological response to one of these finds. THere is a reason why this hoard was buried at precisely this spot, a 5 x 5 m trench is not necessarily going to find that reason, the area needs a proper topographical survey and field research to put it in context. Clearly there is a need for a well-equipped and well-resourced Treasure Unit Archaeological Flying Squad ready to go out at a minute's notice and co-ordinate the work of local teams. There needs to be resources set aside for providing proper security for such sites during excavation, the full conservation, study and publication of these nationally important (so we are told) finds. This should be financed to no less a degree than the money the UK is forking out to get the artefacts. And that is the true cost of the Treasure Act to the British people.
Photo: From the Birmingham Archaeology webpage.

Friday, 25 September 2009

So how long will the police watch the field?

This morning, sitting here in Warsaw, it took me twenty minutes using online sources and my old friend Google Earth and no 'inside information' to work out the field (well, actually at the moment one of two) where the so-called "Staffordshire hoard" (maybe now we can give it its real name) was found.*

I bet that I am not the only one. I do not think it's a very exclusive club this weekend. In fact the site (and therefore the excavation) could have been visible from a busy main road. This weekend the police have reportedly "sealed off" the field. Perhaps next weekend they will too. They cannot keep a police presence there for ever. The media have stressed that "all the hoard" was removed. I've seen the videos of "the archaeologists in action", I have my doubts.

This site WILL be visited by trespassing metal detector users, at night. More archaeological finds will be taken - but where will they end up? Should not the whole area around this site be immediately scheduled, and the subject of a much more detailed archaeological project costing at least as much as will be spent buying the treasure from its finder and landowner? There is a reason why in the past (seventh/ eighth century D) this hoard was buried here, surely the whole justification for the Treasure Act is to determine this and not just to get another showcase full of glittering "portable antiquities" before the collectors do. It certainly is not to be excluded that if there was a reason to bring this group of material here and deposit it in the ground at this spot, that same reason could have been the focus of other activity (including of course the deposition of other deposits of a related character). Whatever else is in the fields around the findspot, illegal (or even legal) artefact hunting of the surrounding region in the weeks, months and years ahead will destroy much of the evidence that could be used to put this glittering heap of (very nice) geegaws into their context in the landscape of Dark Age Britain. So let us put a "seven figure number" into doing an archaeological project to rescue the information before the treasure hunters get at it - but also find out what has come from the fields around the findspot in the past and has not yet been reported by other metal detectorists searching the same farm.

Alexander Chancellor: 'The Staffordshire hoard is spectacular. But now the countryside will be overrun with metal detectorists', Guardian 25 September 2009

*Unless of course there is a complex of misinformation being put out.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Website for Staffordshire Hoard

There is now online a rather nice website (created it says "in one day" by the indefatigable Dan Pett) on the Staffordshire Hoard. Enjoy.

For Anglo-Saxon metalwork nerds (a malady not foreign to me) the pictures are a treat, there's information on the people and institutions involved in the subsequent excavation, an there is even a corner for IT nerds. What is interesting is the attention paid to pointing out the archaeological (well, actually more "historical") context of this find to a greater degree than many of the other Treasures which have attracted attention where the main emphasis has been on the (monetary) value of the loot. Wonderful piece of work, Dan.
Vignette: one of my favourite pieces, just look at those garnets.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Huge Anglo-Saxon Gold Hoard Dug up by Finder

The UK's largest find of Anglo-Saxon gold was discovered in June this year buried beneath a field in Staffordshire, the assemblage of 1,500 pieces consisting of about 5kg of gold and 2.5kg of silver, dates back to the 7th Century and is unparalleled in size. A one-month excavation was subsequently carried out. Today an inquest will determine if it is Treasure or not (a bit unlikly that, I guess).

The collection was found "with his trusty 14-year-old detector" by Terry Herbert, 55, of Burntwood in Staffordshire, who has been metal detecting for 18 years. He came across the hoard as he searched land belonging to a farmer friend. Not surprisingly, the exact location has not been disclosed but it is understood to be near the Lichfield border in South Staffordshire in the region of the finder's home.

Duncan Slarke, finds liaison officer for Staffordshire, was the first professional archaeologist to see the group:
"Nothing could have prepared me for that," he said. "I saw boxes full of gold, items exhibiting the very finest Anglo-Saxon workmanship. "This is absolutely phenomenal. "It is a hugely important find - the most important one that I have dealt with, but this has got to rank as one of the biggest in the country."
"Boxes of gold" - so was this another case of the whole lot being hoiked out by the finder? well, so it would appear ('Golden dreams for man who found Anglo-Saxon hoard'):
Terry Herbert, from Burntwood, Staffordshire, unearthed his find on the afternoon of July 5 this year. The 55-year-old spent the next five days scouring a stretch of Staffordshire farmland and digging up pieces of an archaeological puzzle already sparking debate among experts. He said: "Imagine you're at home and somebody keeps putting money through your letterbox, that was what it was like. "I was going to bed and in my sleep I was seeing gold items. "As soon as I closed my eyes I saw gold patterns, I didn't think it was ever going to end. "I just kept thinking of what I might find the next day."
So Mr Herbert spent five whole days digging up his lucrative loot ("money through the letterbox") before he decided to report the find? The moment he first uncovered a gold object that was not a coin, the object was potential Treasure. That's what the law says. Sadly once again the archaeologists would not have got there before he'd already spent five days removing items. What kind of records did he keep?

Mr Herbert is unemployed and therefore has a lot of free time to go out with his metal detector. He said about his hobby:
"People laugh at metal detectorists. I've had people go past and go 'beep beep, he's after pennies'. "Well no, we are out there to find this kind of stuff and it is out there".
Yes, it is out there, but is it "managing" the British archaeological heritage to dig up every last piece of ancient metal for a cash reward in such a manner?

Anyway what's in this hoard? The Belfast Telegraph somehow was able to tell the world well before the other newspapers found out, its dismounted sword fittings, bits of helmets, some cruciform objects nd an inscribed gold strip which is one of the most significant and controversial finds. One expert believes that the style of lettering indicates it is from the seventh or early eighth centuries, while another dates it to the eighth or ninth centuries. The inscription, mis-spelt in places, is thought to be from the Book of Numbers, Chapter 10 verse 35. The translation reads: "Rise up, o Lord, and may thy enemies be dispersed and those who hate thee be driven from thy face".

I guess the interpretation hinges on the dating of the latest object in the hoard (e.g., the inscribed strip) - IF of course that inscribed strip was indeed associated with the other finds, the fact that this group was dug up in the way it was may hinder making that association - this could have been a spot where items were deposited over a umber of decades (a shrine and war booty for example). No doubt we will be hearing more about this find in the near future.

Now apart from the purchase price, how many resources is full publication of that little lot going to use up, how long will it last (publishing the Sutton Hoo objects took a mere forty years), and how much will it cost the nation?

So Britain paid out 1.1 million to have the Vale of York Viking Hoard dug up univited by treasure hunters, now how many million for this "Staffordshire Hoard"? How many millions annually will the UK be paying the people exploiting the archaeological record as a source of easy cash as more and more individuals take up metal detecting because of news like this? It seems to me that British archaeology is getting itself deeper and deeper into a cleft stick with these finds, coming out of the ground in increasing frequency - where will it all end?

Backward thinking in California

In answer to the coin selling Californian's the world-owes-me-a-living: "Society does not have the right to arbitrarily do that without making sensible provisions to ensure that the market in collectible antiquities is not thereby disrupted", collector Robyn C. ripostes:

I think your thinking is backwards. Society has a responsibility to make sure we don't do further damage to the historical record by making every effort to not buy recently looted items. The only "disruption" it would bring to the market is by making it more difficult to sell these items.
I wish I'd thought of saying that. Yes indeed. Backward thinking is a general trait of the whole pro-collecting lobby.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Provenance and the Follis

How odd it is that cultural property advocates say that the Portable Antiquities Scheme of England and Wales is such a superb way of meeting the needs of archaeologists, society and collectors that everybody should have one, and yet they have not the foggiest idea what the PAS is or does, who set it up and why. This of course is well in line with the general intellectual superficiality of the whole of the pro-collecting arguments.

One of them decided last night actually to have a look at what the PAS database has to offer him: "I went to the PAS website and did a search for the coin denomination "follis" (which is the most common type of Roman bronze coin). These are the results returned by that search:" He then appends a table of five coins from Norfolk.
I do not know why he chose just objects entered by Norfolk Museums Service, was this deliberate, or an accident? Anyhow, he then says:

"I opened the first record to examine it: Here is what appeared on my screen: [...] There is no image, no information as to the dimensions of the coin and no record of its weight. The type descriptions are not given, nor is any attribution information other than the legends and a RIC number. It does not appear to me that such a sketchy record as this would be adequate to describe a coin for purposes of provenance/ provenience. As a minimum, the diameter, weight and a good quality image of both sides of the coin would certainly have to be added. I would like to know what others think, and what information they may have regarding the PAS database. Is this really a typical example of a coin entry? Is the PAS presently capable of creating and recording tens of thousands of high resolution images so as to be able to document every coin in a find such as the Shrewsbury hoard?
Well, let us deal with that last point first. The "near Shrewsbury" hoard is a find falling into the legal category of Treasure by English law. The PAS was (as the collecting community should be well aware by now) set up to make a record of non-Treasure finds made by members of the public. The coins of the "near Shrewsbury" hoard will not be appearing on the PAS database (I have actually already pointed this out to the same bunch of collectors but as a group as we know they seem more prone to trying to shout other people down than digesting what they said). It would be nice if those shouting from the rooftops the virtues of the "English system" would at least first get sorted out in their heads what it is responsible for and what it is not! There is after all copious literature on the topic of the PAS.

Now I would have thought any rational person would have realised that among the 400 000 objects recorded on the PAS database, there are actually more than five (sic) of these Constantinian coins recorded there. The investigator should have questioned this and realised he had done something wrong. Why did he choose Norfolk? Well, one reason might be that he knows that a large number of these records were made by transferring paper records to the database, this would explain the lack of the digital image (this is presumably attached to the paper records, but by the time the data were transferred, the object was back with its finder). That is one explanation. Another is that these coins were shown in a rally when the conditions (British weather for example) did not allow camera use at the time these coins were briefly made available for recording by their finder. There could be a number of reasons. The investigator asks if this is typical, no I'd say this is not typical, the PAS pride themselves on the number of digital images they have online.

Yes, this record is sketchy in the extreme, certainly not one the PAS should be proud of. An archaeological object has been removed from the ground for the sole purpose of collection or sale, and this is the only chance we had of recording everything about it ('preservation by record") before it disappears into the anonymity of Numislandia. In this case what we see here is not "preservation by record" it is a bare presence/absence record. Nevertheless data fields are there in the database format for the information lacking, it is just that they have not been filled in. Is this typical? Sadly there are a lot of artefacts recorded there which have less than the full information one would need for it to be a full record of an object that once the PAS hands it back to the finder we lose sight of totally.

But what is totally incomprehensible is the suggestion that these PAS records are inadequate "to describe a coin for purposes of provenance/ provenience". The provenance of the object is where it came from in the ground, there is an NGR (National Grid Reference) for each of these coins, there is fuller information in the next level of the archive which is not accessible to the general public. Recording this is the fundamental task of the PAS and it really is unclear why this investigator does not think provenance has been recorded in this case. Certainly I'd be the last person to say that the PAS is perfect (in fact I am sure the PAS would be the last people to say the PAS database is perfect), but I do think that in this case these transatlantic criticisms are ill-placed and prompted by ill will and a refusal to look more deeply into the matter. Pro-collecting superficiality through and through. Taking the record of one object out of 400 000 as pars pro toto is a typical tactic of this milieu.

Provenance and licit antiquities

Over on the Yahoo Ancient Artefacts forum there has been a discussion going on for the last few days initiated by coin dealer Dave Welsh on the concept of the registration of artefacts in the trade to curb the ability of future looters and smugglers to pass off freshly dug material as "from an old collection". The concept seems quite straightforward, it is an extension of the idea behind the Portable Antiquities Scheme database, and akin to something UK metal detectorists have set up for themselves. Straightforward as a concept to a normal person that is, not so if you are a coin dealer it seems.

A taste of the spirit in which discussion (I use the term loosely) was proceeding (I use the term loosely) is the following exchange:

Defensive Dealer:

But you have NOT been saying "all along" that you would
accept an incomplete provenance as grounds for considering an antiquity to be licit
Paul Barford:
I still do not. [But what we are talking about is registering what is above ground and already on the market in order to create a watershed beyond which it will be increasingly difficult to insert freshly dugup material on the market passing it off as "from old collections", because there will be no evidence that any of it was].
Defensive Dealer (who in his reply omitted the section of my answer in brackets), answers "I still do not":
Then there is no basis for agreement, since if you will not accept a provenance as sufficient grounds for considering an antiquity to be licit, that provenance has no value to the collector.
Well, who can see the logic in that? Just compare DD's two statements a moment, look at the word "provenance" - see a difference? There is of course the world of difference between an incomplete provenance ("from the Simon J. Cowell collection" tells us nothing, "from a Sussex Collection" even less) and a provenance ("Five Oaks Field, Much Hadham, Herts PAS HTF-56789, found by Joe Boggins while metal detecting 12.09.09"). We don't even know even what country most of the objects on the market come from, let alone site within that country - just take a look at Mr Welsh's own stock a sorry result of the exploitive picking over of who knows how many archaeological assemblages, who knows where. Here we might have a clue what in fact Defensive Dealer is trying to avoid....

The point is if we had a proper and comprehensive register of what objects were actually above ground and actually in people's collections in 2010 onwards and the records were kept up to date, by 2030 it would be difficult for Dodgy Demetri and Deceitful Dennis to sell any freshly looted finds pretending that they were coming from those mythical "old European collections". The ethical collector of the 2030s (because the nineteenth century has to end in Collectalandia soon) would ask for the registration number, and Demetri and Dennis would be stuck with unsaleable tat on their hands.

Now actually from that point of view, and bearing in mind that once a site has been destroyed, it cannot magically be "undestroyed", what I was proposing in this discussion was that for the purpose of registration of currently held objects a partial provenance (the "from an old collection" type nonsense) would have to be acceptable to allow the find to be registered in the first place. One assumes if the proud owner had some documentation that it really HAD been in an old collection (or has the original receipt from its purchase from the Cairo Museum - oh yes, they do exist), this too would for part of the record. But as Oscar White Muscarella (in "And the Lie Became Great") said, over eighty percent of the stuff currently on the antiquities market has no provenance.

Accepting that objects would have to be registered on a 'present-absent' basis without decent provenances is not the same as agreeing that the registered objects all must therefore have entered the market by licit means. They could have been looted five years ago, well after the UNESCO 1970 cut-off date usually accepted as the watershed. If I steal a book from a bookshop, even if I write my name in it and nobody catches me, the book is still stolen.

The same goes for items where we have the name of the site they were taken from, but that site is protected by law. There is no way that merely "being told where these finds came from" can make them become licit finds without any extenuating details. Knowing finds bought on eBay are from Archar in Bulgaria does not somehow erase any of the damage done by the bulldozers and metal detectorists there (neither does not knowing, I see seller "empiredanny" has now changed his sales pitch). Likewise if a dealer has a false letter or provenance like those the Source allegedly saw being concocted with the participation of both finder and middleman in the Blanding cases, then it means nothing.

This is why I answered Welsh as I did. Merely "knowing the provenance" does not automatically make the artefact from that site somehow licitly obtained if it was not.

Whether antiquities dealers like it or not the mood is gradually changing. Recommendation seven of the nighthawking report was to stop the sale of archaeological finds in the UK (the home of the "anything goes" antiquities legislation collectors would like to see globally) without a provenance. If that legislation is ever drafted, that will certainly provoke a response. What a shame it is however that dealers and collectors will not do anything concrete themselves to push the illicit antiquities out of the market unless they are threatened with legislative change. What does that tell us all about that market?

Monday, 21 September 2009

"Brutal Destruction Of Iraq's Archaeological Sites"

Journalist Diane Tucker has a piece in the Huffington Post (Sept 21) called Brutal Destruction Of Iraq's Archaeological Sites Continues which largely sums up (with a shocking slideshow) the issues to keep them in the public eye. She reminds readers of the museum looting, of antiquities which "have illegally made their way to the lucrative antiquities markets of London, Geneva, and New York" the indiscriminate (she calls it "reckless") digging into archaeological sites to get more. Then there is the US base at Babylon and then a dig at the Rumsfeld Doctrine which was responsible for not having enough troops in the newly invaded country to establish law and order from the outset which was the source of many of the country's subsequent problems. Of the archaeological sites damaged she singles out Umm al-Aqarib, which "has been completely picked over by looters. Many of the illicit digs were massive efforts carried out by organized teams with backhoes and bulldozers, some financed by foreign operations".
While it is good that articles like this keep the issue of exploitation of the archaeological record to supply the no-questions-asked market with illicit antiquities in the public eye, one wishes these stories were assigned to journalists who have a little bit more insight into the difference between archaeology and the antiquities trade and who would not write that the aim of researchers is to:"assemble a mosaic of meaning from the shards of ancient art left buried in the ground". It was not just "ancient art" buried in the now-destroyed stratigraphy of those sites.

Coin auctions: "Not illegal" does not mean "not unethical."

On the Moneta-L discussion forum they are discussing a piece of news that the coin dealer Heritage Auction Galleries might be bidding on their own auctions under an assumed name, some members are leaping to the firm's defence pointing out that its not illegal. In this discussion one John Tratman remarks flatly ""Not illegal" does not mean "not unethical"". Collectors of and dealers in portable antiquities in the USA are notorious for buying coins that were illegally dug out of an archaeological site in the source country and then illegally exported from it while defiantly stating "no American law was broken". It is a shame that they do not apply more widely to to their own purchasing practices what they do to price-regulating practices of auction houses.

Sam Merten Lawsuit Claims Heritage Auction Galleries Uses Fake Bidder to Manipulate Auctions, Sept 10 2009.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Collectors' advocate: "Society owes me...."

In the discussion going on on an antiquities forum at the moment on registration of portable antiquities coming from the market to prevent freshly dugup material being passed off as "from an old collection" objections are being made by dealers that it is awfully difficult to find the material actually from old collections and they need some kind of help from archaeologists who should give them stuff from museums to make up the shortfall. (!) I expressed the opinion that it is nobody else's responsibility to obtain licit supplies than a trader who wishes to sell them. That seems logical to me, you cannot open up an electrical goods dealership and realise that you have no way of supplying yourself because you have no contact address for the factory, so you are reduced to selling goods that "fell off the back of a lorry". Californian antiquities dealer Dave Welsh says:
Absolutely wrong. If society wishes to have a licit market in some commodity, then it is essential to provide for a licit source of supply.
This is just a ridiculous position. We are constantly told somewhat aggressively (I have discussed these assertions here a number of times) that the market in antiquities is flooded with the huge resource of licit articles already out there from old collections. That's what the dealers say when you assert that there is a huge amount of looted material on the market [they assert its not true, it is not them buying the looted finds coming from the big holes looters dig, but the pixies, or the Japanese, just "somebody else"].

On the other hand, when you are discussing a mechanism that would (they can see) prevent frshly dug illegally exported items entering their market, then suddenly we observe an about-face and we see the aggressive demand, that if "we" cut off their access to these "new finds" (note the euphemism).then FIRST "archaeologists" (or "society") should assure the dealers access to other material they can sell!

I am sure I am not alone seeing the double standards implicit in those two standpoints of the antiquity dealing community. Disgusting.

In answer to my question why he thinks society owes it to him to make a living selling off pieces of somebody else's past, the coin dealer's reply was even more bizarre and illustrative of the mindset of the people involved in this trade:
Society owes me and others in the collecting community a great deal, including freedom, equitable treatment by government, and due process of law. In the present instance, you advocate significantly restricting the freedom collectors presently enjoy to collect antiquities including coins, and the freedom dealers enjoy to supply them. Society does not have the right to arbitrarily do that without making sensible provisions to ensure that the market in collectible antiquities is not thereby disrupted.
Really? Is it in society's interests to see the no-questions-asked buying and selling of archaeological artefacts which shields the trade in illictly obtained items promoted or disrupted?

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Iraq, where do the artefacts come from, where does the money go?

Three men have been arrested in al-Abbasi a village southwest of Kirkuk in northern Iraq on charges they were trying to traffic stolen antiquities.The arrest took place in a sting operation two weeks ago where they had attempted to sell one of the looted artifacts for $160,000 to an undercover intelligence officer of the Iraqi Army's 12th division. The operation was set up based on intelligence from local residents. In total the men had eight pieces from the Sumerian period, including the bust of a ruler, though it is not clear at this stage if they had come from theft of items from a museum, or illicit digging in one of the archaeological sites of the region.

It should be noted that collectors often justify their appropriation of the cultural property coming from other countries on the grounds that the "natives" do not appreciate and value this cultural heritage (and therefore the collector is giving them a "good home"). This is by no means the first time that local inhabitants (in this case apparently villagers) had alerted authorities to the dirty dealings of culture criminals in Iraq.

General Abdel Amir al-Zaidi told journalists that the money from the sale of these artefacts was to be used to finance terrorist actions.Gen. al-Zaidi said that chasing terrorists is not the Iraqi army’s only duty these days. Culture thieves need to be put behind bars too.
Alexandra Sandels Iraq: Police bust artifacts traffickers, Los Angeles Times, September 22, 2009
Photo: three suppliers of the "ancient art" trade in custody.

"A badly Flawed Market"

Derek Fincham writes on the International Law Observer blog
If one were to devise a badly flawed market, one would be hard-pressed to surpass the antiquities trade. The reasons for this are numerous, but can be attributed to two main factors: a restricted supply and a trade plagued by anonymous buyers and sellers often shielded by auction house practices and traditions.
well, just how "restricted" is the supply after centuries of the movement of archaeological objects out of the ground (from the days of Petrarch we are tld) and into ephemeral private collections? How much more do collectors want? Where has it all gone? It seems to me that a study into this would be a very useful thing to have, but how on earth to do it with all those objects with lost provenances and the endemic secrecy?

I'm all for "tradition", but of course the bulk of the trade in portable antiquities today is being done through a very untraditional medium, the Internet. There seems no inherent reason why the Internet business should be run on the same lines as one of those stuffy old traditional auction houses. Let's have some more openness and transparency, an information culture in the forward looking and responsible antiquities trade.

I'm hoping that the last sentence of Fincham's text is a typo. "The challenge for heritage advocates (including archaeologists, dealers, auction houses and others) is to organize and implement an effective and workable heritage management framework". I hardly think that dealers and auction houses really count as "heritage advocates", they are in it to make money out of the commercialisation of selected bits of heritage. You might as well say battery chicken farmers are animals rights advocates.

Secondly this is the "it's up to the Others to do it for us" argument of the antiquitist lobby again. So, where in Mr Fincham's statement of challenge are the collectors? It is in the hands of the client of the dealers and auction houses to make them change their ways by boycotting those that do not come up to the standards they, the collectors, set. It is in their hands to stop the looting, within a very short time if they'd get their act together and refuse to buy an ancient artefact which the dealer cannot supply documentation has already been on the market for a certain number of years. Faced with a firm and consistent standpoint from the majority of their clients, no dealer is going to buy a bucketload of fresh dugups without any documentation that he cannot get rid of - unless by forging the documentation [but of course we "know" that no antiquities dealer would do that and get away with it, for they are all honourable men, are they not?].

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Looting is "justifiable" in Utah: Judge Waddoups supports collectors' rights

Yesterday Sept. 16, two prominent Blanding residents Jeanne Redd, 59, and daughter Jericca Redd, 37, walked out of a court free after having pleaded guilty in federal court to illegal trafficking in American Indian artifacts. This was the first sentencing to be handed down as the result of a 2½-year ("Action Cerberus") investigation into grave robbing and archaeological artefact thefts in the Four Corners region which had cost the taxpayer several hundred thousand dollars. The two had admitted to multiple felonies for excavating, possessing and selling prehistoric seed jars, pottery and personal ornaments. As part of the plea, Jeanne Redd had agreed to give up all of the artifacts in her collection, surrendering 112 boxes of artifacts, including reportedly human remains.

Jericca Redd, admitted to three felonies for digging up a seed jar, a vase and a pottery vessel in 2008, on the Navajo reservation.
Jeanne Redd had pleaded guilty to seven felonies: two counts of violating the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, two counts of theft of government property and three counts of theft of American Indian tribal property. Each carries potential fines of $250,000 and up to 10 years in prison.

Utah Division of Indian Affairs Director Forrest Cuch had said before the sentencing that he hoped the guilty pleas would help prevent future lootings. He said: "This is an opportunity for them [Jericca and Jeanne Redd] to be accountable for their actions [...] It's the right action to take. I hope that they can learn from this, and it will send a message to all other prospective looters that this is a very serious offence".

Prosecutors had sought a minimum 18 months in prison for Jeanne. Instead she received leniency when a U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups rejected the government's request for imprisonment, instead Jeanne got three years of probation and a $2,000 fine. That is about as much as many of the defendents were paying for a single artefact. The fine is derisive, the cost of an old pair of sandals. Jericca Redd was sentenced to two years of probation and no fine on three similar felony counts.
"This is a community where this kind of conduct" is commonly tolerated and "has been justified for a number of years," Waddoups is reported to have said. "This is a woman who has spent her life as a member of her community." I think most collectors of looted artefacts live as "members of their community". A community where grave robbing and looting of archaeological sites is accepted maybe, but JUSTIFIED Your Honour? What on earth are you talking about?
Sadly his online resume seems to be unavailable at the moment, so we cannot find out which American centre of higher education turned out an individual with such 'enlightened' views on the cultural heritage.
It would seem that the two people (James Redd and Steven Shrader) who committed suicide to escape punishment as a result of being accused of similar crimes really should have waited to see what kind of derisive sentences would be handed down by Judge Waddoups. After all there is breaking the law and "breaking the law (but it does not matter)". If the rest of the cases are going to be treated in the same way, what a waste of public money and a lot of people's hard work (and risking serious danger) the investigators of "Action Cerberus" must feel that was.

There is no record of any "collectors-rights" advocates in the courtroom, but even so Judge Waddoups seems to have decided these ladies had done nothing particularly wrong, giving a clear OK signal to looters all over the United States. Right guys, shovels out and grab yerself another piece of the Injun past. Maybe drop Judge Waddoups a line and invite him along with you?

See Patty Henez: Redds dodge prison in artifact sentencing , Salt lake City Tribune 16.09.09.
PS. What happened to the investigations of the computer of the Redds that it was suggested at the time might indicate they were involved in some "pyramid scheme" (reported in the Salt Lake Tribune and other sources back in June)? Is this still an ongoing investigation, or was this a false trail thrown out by federal sources to direct attention away from the role of the artefacts raid in Dr James Redd's June suicide? If so, was a statement later issued clearing Mrs Redd's name from these accusations? All very odd.

Photo: Judge Waddoups, who thinks looting of archaeological sites is "justified".

Nine Fallacies of the Portable Antiquity Dealers' Lobby

Artefact hunters and collectors have a number of prefabricated justifications for their hobby and why it should be left alone and not asked to change its ways. A veritable crop of them appeared last night on the Ancient Artifacts forum, where coin dealer and ACCG agitator Dave Welsh is still trying to rabble raise in the shadow of earlier comments about the Near Shrewsbury hoard discussed here earlier. I do not know how many of the two thosand portable antiquyity collectors gathered there can see the fallacies embedded in his texts, so far only two of them have tried to query what he says. Either the rest of them are totally taken in by these weasel words, or they don't want to listen to the coiney. Anyway here is my answer. Normally I'd provide hyperlinks to where the things I mention have been discussed, but today I have a lot of work to catch up on, regular readers will know to what I am referring, incidental ones are proaly not going to follow them up anyway.
It's a bit long - story of my life, "no time to write less".

Nine Fallacies of Dave Welsh,
a reply to AncientArtifacts message #49955

The Fallacy of Labels
Dave Welsh says: "I do not advocate legalizing looting". What he advocates is calling the process of exploitive and archaeologically destructive mining of archaeological sites as a source of collectables by another name.

Whether we call it "looting" or "artefact searching and recovery”, the effects on the ground are the same, a site is trashed. That is the sole effect that should be of interest to those who genuinely care about the past and its study.

The Banning Fallacy
Again Welsh trots out the tired myth that what is being proposed is "preventing ancient artefacts reaching western collectors". That is a total fallacy and he knows it. What people are requiring is to stop freshly looted material reaching these markets. There is a huge difference.

We Have Petrarch’s Coins Fallacy
The lobby to which Welsh belongs never tire of telling us that people have been collecting antiquities for a long while. This means that on the market there are hundreds of thousands of artefacts "recovered" in the past, and the destruction caused by this is water under the bridge, we can do nothing about that. I do not know anybody who feels that collecting this material is wrong - as LONG as you can document that it really was dug up in Grandpa's day, and is not something merely masquerading as "from an old collection" which is in fact from last month's fresh assault on Isin or Archar with a bulldozer.

The differentiation of these two classes of artifacts can ONLY come from the collecting and dealing community, through whose hands the material passes.

The collecting and dealing community have two choices, take responsibility and do something, or ignore the problem. Obviously what the lobby to which Welsh belongs is doing is advocating the second - hiding it under the pretence that its not a problem caused by dodgy dealers selling material which has indeed come from looted sites and illegal exports - but its a problem that "somebody else" must deal with, and dealers and collectors are not going to lift a finger to help. No, it is something they have to deal with. Only they have the opportunity, and they have the responsibility.

The Eternal Looter Fallacy
This lobby constantly refers to the fact that “looting has always been going on (so why should we bother about it now?)”. Matters are not s simple are they? Yes, we have reports of looting of Royal graves in the Theban necropolis in the twentieth dynasty, yes you can see ancient silver coins in heaps in Middle Eastern markets. But for example you do not see it in England, Germany, Spain, France, or North America (Utah for example), places where sites too are looted to fuel the market in illegal antiquities. Also in many countries we can document an increase in such digging for antiquities along with the expansion of the global market in antiquities, in Central America for example, Nigeria, Iran (Jiroft). It is utterly simplistic to say it has always been going on and collectors are just saving things from being melted down by ignorant brown-skinned oriental peasants who just see the scrap metal value.

The fallacy of this is of course that it does not apply to those who collect things like shabtis, cylinder seals, coptic textiles, Dead Sea scroll fragments, cuneiform tablets, and Anasazi pots. A moment's thought reveals that this is another of those little verbal tricks used to justify "not doing anything".

Also, one thought: if looters have always been with us, why is there anything at all left in the surface layers of sites such as tells anywhere in the world for people to dig out in such quantities today that (lobbyists like Welsh allege) people can live of the proceeds. What Welsh ignores is that I published a challenge to the scrap digger model proponents on my blog to test the validity of these claims, to actually show us (and the person proposing it) how this would work. It is actually far too simplistic of them to just say "well, you just go out and dig stuff up to sell". Let us see them do it before using this as a global argument.

I have no doubt some people do did up scrap on abandoned sites. I question whether the phenomenon affects archaeological sites on such a scale as to be used as a justification for a policy of inaction for the whole world. Logic says that it cannot - though if Mr Welsh would like to prove me wrong by taking up my challenge, then we can talk about it further. At the moment it is just an unsubstantiated generalisation of the dealers' lobby to justify taking no action on illicit artefacts entering the antiquities market.

By falsely representing themselves as “rescuers” of “things that would be dug up anyway”, lobbyists like Welsh open the way for their next fallacy.

The Laws are Made to Be Broken Fallacy
Hardly a discussion on this issue gets going than the US collectors-rights lobby invokes the Volstead laws and the failure of prohibition. This again however builds on the fallacy that what is being discussed is the prohibition of all antiquity collecting. Invoking this dubious parallel allows them to argue that legal restraints do not work. Welsh states:
So long as it remains profitable to dig up old artifacts, people will continue to do so. The only laws that can control this are the laws of economics.
Quite so, as long as it remains profitable to dig up old artefacts and sell them to people who will, knowing it is illegal, buy them because there is a market for them, people will continue to do so. The moment that market for looted goods dries up (because ethical collectors worldwide refuse to buy them), the damage this type of exploitation causes to archaeological sites will drop.

The Archaeologists must Supply us with Goods Fallacy
Lobbyists such as Welsh insist that since archaeologists want the market to contain provenanced artifacts to cut down looting, they themselves must supply them, these people periodically propose that duplicate objects archived in public collections (such as museum reserve collections) should be released onto the market. Or that any legal restrictions on digging of individuals into archaeological sites should be lifted to allow an artefactual free-for-all, which they propose could be “regulated” (sic) by instituting something like England and Wales’ Portable Antiquities Scheme. Welsh says:
The ultimate solution to the antiquities looting problem can only be to establish a regulated licit market in provenanced antiquities. That will ensure that antiquities go into the licit market, rather than into the black market.
No, that does not stop the treatment of archaeological sites merely as a source of collectables, it just gives it another name, but its prime function would to help keep the people who trade in them out of jail. To the archaeological record it makes no difference whatsoever if the saleable collectable geegaws ripped from the ground by a peasant's shovel go to dealers like Mr Welsh via the European black market, red market or green one(without plastic carrier bags). The far away peasant still dug some holes in a site to find it and any stratigraphic information there is gone for ever. As I say, that is the important issue. The archaeological record of the world is threatened enough by factors we can do little about, the illegal digging of sites for profit however is something we can aspire to do something about.

But yes, a regulated market that stops items circulating without documentation of licit origins is a fine idea - but let us note that even a rudimentary form of this is immediately challenged by Mr Welsh and his ACCG pals, in their Baltimore Illegal Coin Import Stunt. I wonder why? (Rhetorical question Mr Welsh).

The Quis Custodiet Fallacy
Behind this is the argument that in general, archaeologists “don’t look after” the finds they curate, and they would be given a better home in a private collection in a Wisconsin back bedroom. Every opportunity is taken by these lobbyists to highlight when a museum storeroom has been flooded or robbed. Interestingly primarily when they are in countries where the inhabitants have brown skins. When a (white) Long Island museum curator was accused of selling items from that collection, the lobbyists’ blogs were silent. It is of course very easy by such a pars pro toto approach to convince fellow collectors that their domestic accumulations of decontextualised “pieces of the past” are given a “better home” than in museums. I sincerely doubt however that across the whole extent of portable antiquity collecting that is any more true than “all museums are bad”. Once again superficiality of thinking in this milieu triumps over reason.

The Good Collector Fallacy
The fallacy therefore develops that the collecting of antiquities is in some way socially beneficial, it has nothing to do with personal acquisitive needs. The dealers who sell relics to collectors (wherever they come from) are supplying a public service. Their clients are all Good Collectors. Nobody knows, or at least has any dealings with real crooks. Welsh says:
This is my reason for opposing the efforts of Paul Barford and others (beginning with Colin Renfrew and Ricardo Elia) to portray collectors as being ultimately responsible for looting. That simply isn't true.

Collectors that buy looted objects are ultimately responsible for looting. There is absolutely nothing illogical in that. It is the laws of economics, if there is a market for a particular commodity, the opportunity exists to make a profit supplying that commodity. The bigger the market, the greater the opportunity, the more intensively the commodity can be produced without oversaturating the market. Simple. Ergo, the smaller the market for looted archaeological finds (because some day in the future under the influence of the efforts of the Portable Antiquities Scheme and other such organizations, collectors have woken up and started to apply strict ethics to what they do), the less demand there will be for looted artefacts.

Now whether the collectors that strenuously avoid buying looted or potentially looted objects are in any way distinguishable to a dealer on today's market is an interesting question. I have already drawn attention a number of times that the way sales offers are phrased seems to indicate that the dealers on the whole anticipate few detailed questions on the precise origins of finds from their clients as whole. They obviuously perceive the total lack of any provenance information time after time on their objects as being no hindrance to their marketability. The reader can draw their own conclusions from that vis-a-vis what proportion of the collecting community they regard as responsible for the continuation of the illicit trade.

The Archaeologists Must Sort This Out Fallacy
Again we find in Welsh's lobby a misrepresentation of the case. Welsh reckons that pointing out the relationship between no-questions-asked collecting and the current scale of looting is in some way a "mistaken concept" (though actually has failed to say how) which is "causing significant social damage" (while no-questions-asked collecting is merely causing archaeological damage he forgot to say). He alleges that it distracts "our attention from sensible and realistic approaches that would have a much better chance of solving the problem".

Well, as I have pointed out that "the problem" that dealers like Welsh are interested in is how to make money selling these bits and pieces without worrying too much about their origins being scrutinised. They want "the archaeologists" and lawmakers to establish (for them) a "a regulated licit market in provenanced antiquities", in fact ones that they put on the market for him to sell.

This is Not a Fallacy
In fact what this lobby is doing with all this verbal juggling is himself trying to distract the attention of the artefact collecting community "from sensible and realistic approaches that would have a much better chance of solving the problem", which are to stop selling and collecting antiquities which cannot be verified as not-looted.

I would imagine that for most people who are not collectors, there is nothing ridiculous or unrealistic about such a simple proposal. Given the amount of looted material entering the global antiquities market, the only sensible and realistic approach to curbing the damage this is causing to the archaeological record is to stop selling and collecting artefacts which cannot be verified as non-looted". To only sell clean goods

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

The Cunning Plan is Revealed

Latest in the saga of nonsense from the coin dealer. The scrap digger paradigm but see here, followed by:
the only real possibility of suppressing looting is to make sale of licit, provenanced artifacts to Western collectors the most profitable disposition channel.
So we make it legal and stop calling it looting, and the problem is fixed? Sites will still be dug over to find articles to be sold at a profit, but we'll not call it looting....

So in fact we can sort out the problem with child sex offenders like that too, can't we? Make it legal, and drugs, underage driving, car theft, tax evasion. Simple. Dave Welsh for President!!

Rarely does one hear anything so ridiculous as what is routine on artefact collecting forums. I really do think there must be a mind-affecting fungus in freshly dug up metal objects or its an effect produced by the chemicals used by the smugglers to preserve the finds in transit. Its the only explanation of these aberrations.
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