Wednesday, 12 May 2010

The Enemy Knows Exactly What They Are Doing

Coin dealer Alfredo de La Fe defends the ACCG against the mounting tide of questions being asked on a collectors' forum about its true aims:

On one side we have a group of individuals [...] that are working towards erroding the personal property and ownership rights of a whole group of individuals. [...] Make no mistake about it, the "enemy" knows exactly what they are doing. As in a good chess game, they are thinking several moves ahead. If they can call into question the legal status of the majority of coins on the market they will have won a major battle [...]. Instead of calling for reasonable laws in source countries they are attacking the weakest link in the chain. As archaeologists they cannot attack the "status quo" of the governments that they depend on to fund and permit their efforts. So they attack us as a group because not only do they feel that it can have "some" effectiveness, but it makes them heroes in the eyes of the authorities that allow them to exist as a profession.
As an archaeologist I see nothing "unreasonable" in the laws which protect the archaeological heritage from looting. What I do see as unreasonable is that collectors are willing themselves to ignore that laws like this exist and buy items without taking the slightest step to ensure they were not acquired in flagrant disregard of those laws and then have the nerve to call them "ineffective".

Let us note that most archaeologists would agree that a legislative system that would protect archaeological sites as a resource for sustainable use in the future does not need to institute measures which allow archaeological finds dug from those sites to licitly pass onto the market. On the contrary. Neither is a law to protect the archaeological record concerned wholly, nor even primarily, on having finds dug up by treasure hunters to be "reported", as most collectors seem to assume must be the prime reason for archaeological heritage management - it is only one facet of a whole process. I think the PAS has tended to overemphasise certain aspects of the whole problem in its archaeological (I use the term loosely here in this context) "outreach" to its partners the artefact collecting community which is leading to people like de la Fe, Sayles and Witschonke getting utterly confused.

Mr de la Fe seems to think that archaeologists if they could suggest legal changes, free of any possible (imaginary) sanctions in the form of funding or excavation permits, would all to a man - with an eye to getting the dugup stuff 'reported' - like to see treasure hunters digging up archaeological sites in their country, getting the market value of what the gvernment wants to take, and the rest sold off to dealers like himself across the high seas. That they want that is assumed by all collectors, why they should want that is never addressed.

If pointing out that large quantities of the antiquities on the market are not demonstrably of licit origins is the "weakest link" in the chain, why are collectors advocacy groups (like the ACCG allegedly is) not trying to do something to strengthen this weak point in the system by which antiquities get from the ground to collectors? This would at once not only cripple the argument used in what de la Fe persists in seeing as unreasonable "attacks". But in fact not only that, this would remove the whole reason for the criticism of the current status quo on the market. What actually is all that is being asked is that we establish a market in legitimately obtained antiquities and not one based on the flow of freshly dug-up ("surfaced") artefacts of unknown origins.
Vignette: ACCG accolytes have frequently made in the recent past unseemly and provocative allegations about archaeologists' associations with certain regimes of which they disapprove . De la Fe continues the trend, "archaeologists cannot attack the status quo of the governments that they depend on to fund and permit their efforts". The picture he presents however is just as much a schematic cartoon as the scene from South Park.

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