Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Yahoo Antiquity Dealing Behind Closed Doors

Yahoo's Ancient Artefacts discussion list was founded on Jun 7 2002 and currently has 2407 members scattered all over the world:
and serves as a venue where collectors and dealers can get together and discuss collecting and dealing in ancient artefacts and "news from the world of antiquities". The timespan of these collectables is defined by its owner Tim Haines as "any artefact dating from China's Ming Dynasty or earlier". Ming was 1368-1644.

The group welcomes "many new collectors" (not all?), and claims it has "many highly experienced and qualified members willing to offer help and advice, including
many of the best antiquities dealers on the net, as well as Phd's, university professors and museum curators". These people can "give help identifying items", can be asked for "approximate values, background information, whatever". A key element of group ethos however is revealed by another sentence on the home page: "Dealers and individuals are welcome to post details of their own items for sale here, as well as links to eBay and other sales". This is a global network for marketing dugup artefacts. This ttherefore is where the "questions" should be being asked by responsible (discriminating between legitimate and potentially looted collectables) collectors who are its members. Is it?

Reassuringly those looking at the home page can see the text "We are committed to responsible antiquities collecting, and members have compiled a voluntary code of conduct for collectors". Those who actually penetrate deeper by registering can see that this unilateral expression of "commitment" by the author of this text on behalf of all of the group's members is in fact taken no further than the cosmetic declaration on the outside.

The dealers offering goods nor collectors discussing them are in fact in no way constrained to compliance with the code of conduct "compiled by [a few of the] members" (well, "it's voluntry, innit?"). The group itself is in fact when looked at more closely a hotbed of no-questions-asked trading and collecting, with blatant offerings of what have been openly termed there "free range antiquities". You can find there offers of artefacts fresh from Bulgaria, Egypt, India (all countries forbidding such export of ancient artefacts) and other places. Any attempt to question what goes on there gets the questioner censured by a bevvy of loud and aggressive naysayers rather than supported by the "responsible collectors" on the list. This is behaviour that can be seen in the archive (closed to non-members of course) is repeated throughout the group's eight year history. Eight years in which thousands of artefacts annually in the stocks of dealer-members have been advertised worldwide to collectors, no-questions-asked.

There too we come across the eternal rants about the "rights" of no-questions-asked (so in fact irresponsible) collecting, which is not only tolerated but actively encouraged by the group's list owner (it is notable that Californian coin dealer and ACCG agitator Dave Welsh is an especially vociferous contributor to these). There is the same constant antagonism against archaeology and archaeologists which we see on other collecting forums. In particular the targets of attack are those who happen to have (how could they not?) critical views on no-questions-asked (irresponsible) collecting of dugup artefacts and those who do not agree with the ACCG party line, represented there by dealer Dave Welsh. There too get trotted out the pejorative labels referring to "nationalist" preservationists opposing the "cosmopolitan" and "internationalist" collectors giving artefacts a "good home" (because "the museums..." bla bla bla). This does not really bode well for dialogue about responsibility in antiquity collecting.

In my period of being a contributor to that list (22.12.07- 13.04.10), I admit I did not see much evidence of many known PhD-holders making much of a contribution to the discussions there of responsible collecting, neither was it at all obvious from the content of the contributions that there were "university professors and museum curators" among their authors, and how could the latter (or the former for that matter) legitimately be there and giving valuations? Perhaps they are sitting tight and saying nowt and just watching. [I do not recall filling in a form of academic qualifications and positions held upon joining the group - so the question is how the list owner knows this fact - if indeed it is a true fact].

The value of such groups - which now facilitate communication within the collectors' milieu without members leaving their computer (which may even be in a different country) - is that they also allow anyone unprecedented access to see what goes on in them. One can therefore come across a variety of somewhat revealing views which allow a partial reconstruction of the collectors' mindset. I have, instead of expressing outright criticism on the list itself, from time to time on these pages commented on some of the revealing sentiments expressed by the Yahoo-gathered collectors which could be found on that group and encouraged readers to log on and see what goes on in collecting circles, even those that declare themselves to be "responsible".

Now I propose over the next few weeks to comment on the past and current offerings of a number the dealers ("many of the best dealers on the net"[sic]) gathered under Yahoo's umbrella. They are presumably there because the list owner regards them too as "committed to responsible collecting" (otherwise a committed list owner would have thrown them off). See also my earlier discussion of the group's 'recommended dealers' list. Having a close look at some of these dealers is quite revealing about what yahooish behaviour and attitudes are hidden behind Yahoo's closed doors.

Let us take a look and see why the doors of this group are closed to the real stakeholders, the members of society who are NOT collectors of dugup bits of THEIR archaeological heritage. Just what is it that collectors feel they have to hide from the rest of us?

[Unlike the Yahoo list, I do not plan to block civil discussion of these issues here, on-topic comments cordially invited]

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