Thursday, 13 May 2010

The Witschonke Vision: Putting it into action

Several times in recent days in coiney discussions the 2009 "Celator" editorial by Rick Witschonke of the American Numismatic Society has been raised. I have therefore had to remind myself what this was all about and here collect links to some of the discussion of his ideas on this blog.

Here is the first after it had been published, I was at this stage discussing what Reid Goldsborough had said about the ideas it contained.

The second was after its author sent me the text.

There is some discussion of it here on 22nd January 2009 when a discussion on Moneta-L was abruptly terminated and I was asked not to make any more posts there. I tried to explore where the digging up of ancient coins in "source countries" was "different" from the digging up of any other types of archaeological artefacts anywhere else in the world, including the US. This is a topic which since that date I have raised a number of times, and has so far been met with a total stony silence from the US coineys. None of them seem willing or able to take up that subject - which seems to me to be a fundamental question about the place of what these people are suggesting in the wider scheme of things. I think they believe that if they ignore the question, it will go away. {Witschonke wrote to me off-list the day before yesterday about a recent blog post thanking me for "the publicity", and I asked him the same questions but he's not replied}

Then there is this one about credible market rewards.

US collectors do not want to acknowledge that other nations have legislation concerning the antiquities they want to collect in disregard of it. They claim that the legislation "does not work" because they (actually they will all say "other collectors") are able to buy in the US black market goods from these countries. US collectors therefore want other nations to adopt new legislation which suits them.

These collectors however do not want to acknowledge that their own country has exactly the same type of legislation as those awkward "source countries" and that the US has a huge problem with the looting of archaeological sites for collectables.

They will not acknowledge that if they (US collectors) are proposing to other nations a "solution" which they say would "guarantee" a stop to looting, then first they should be proposing the same thing to their own government. If it works in the US, then, and only then, could the US government hold it up as an example to other nations and this would encourage them to consider applying it. Certainly it cannot be proposed, still less demanded, of foreign governments if the US itself is not willing to change its legislation and put up the resources to create a system analogous to Britain's Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme if that is the way that members of the American public think is the "only way" to protect the archaeological heritage.

So it is a great surprise to see that US coineys are jumping up and down until they are blue in the face insisting (at the CPAC hearing last week) that Italy be required by the US CPAC (and presumably then Department of State) to adopt the "British system", but we hear nothing of any attempts to first reform the Archaeological Resources Preservation Act in the US itself. Now, why would that be? Why do they not start a press campaign to convince the American public that the archaeological record is not actually part of any kind of national heritage (as two ACCG officers said a while ago as reported here) and should be subject to being dug up, collected away and exported willy nilly, unless it is a Treasure (gold and silver) or from a "scheduled" site? Merely claiming all finds from public lands (public - so belonging to all) state property, these "restrictive" "statist" laws should be replaced by more liberal ones. This would even be in line with a lot of the current criticism of the current US ("socialist" sic) government, and I see Glenn Beck is opposing the use of the 1906 Antiquities Act to make national parks in the desert.

I think we need to see the ACCG, which claims it operates in the interests of US collectors, putting the Witschonke vision into action, in their own land, and in the interests of US collectors. Otherwise we may get the impression that collectors of dugup artefacts, and those who claim to represent them, are aware that they are holding out for changes which they know are impossible, while presenting them as "the only reasonable solution" to a problem they then imagine they are absolved from trying to do anything else about. Like taking active steps to get black market goods off their market.

US collectors calling for collector-friendly legislative reform in the "source countries" without calling for similar reform of similar systems at home is not any kind of "middle road". It is extremism, it is American Imperialism of the most blatant kind. The US government is attempting to clean up the US antiquities market so that it does not play such a significant role in the global trade in illicitly obtained cultural property,
to establish its moral leadership. Attacking these policies and their implementation is undermining these efforts. This is damaging to US foreign relations. The only patriotic solution is that if they want foreign countries to comply with their demands, for US collectors to band together and shift public opinion at home to get Twigging and other forms of currently illegal artefact hunting made legal in the US. The "Internationalist" collectors' slogan might well be:
"Screw National Heritage, Collectors Want There Rights"
Now are Mr Sayles, Mr Tompa and Mr Witschonke going to sign up to this movement or not? If not, why not?

Not me, but collectors (whose views the ACCG claims to represent), deserve an answer. If the US "collectors' rights" lobby cannot answer that relatively simple question, which is a consequence of their own actions and positions, and which puts US collectors as a whole in a somewhat awkward situation, then how can they presume to be representing "collectors"? Somehow I do not see this as very likely to be discussed on Moneta-L.


Vignette: (1) in some parts of the world, even a box of rusty screws can legitimately be treated as part of the cultural heritage.(2) America has its beady eye and sharp claws on the world's archaeological heritage, but the world is also watching America with some suspicion here (image from the drMyers blog). The spelling mistake in my "slogan" is one of the many on this blog, but one of the few that is deliberate.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

When will dealers stop suggesting that Italy adopting the British system would be to the advantage of anyone but themselves and Italian crooks?

The British system has two elements. First, the Treasure Act, which aims to acquire the best 0.25% of dugups for British museums by making the British taxpayer pay megabucks for what is already morally his.

Second, the PAS system, which applies to 99.75% of dugups - of which PAS has only ever seen 14% at best, leaving 3.3 million items that have been found since PAS started, including ALL the looted ones, available to be snapped up by US dealers and labelled “licit as far as we know”!

I suspect the Devil will go to work on skates along the Tiber before Mr Sayles et al are listened to in Italy!

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