Thursday, 14 October 2010

The CPAC Hearing as Smorgesbord

I see that Wayne Sayles has posted something about the CPAC hearing he attended on behalf of ACCG members ("The Yin and Yang"). Unfortunately he tells us nothing about the reception of his own presentation about the Spengler collection, merely expresses (feigned I think) surprise that there are different views on the relationship between archaeology and the (US) antiquities trade and collecting within the (global) archaeological community.

This is an unusual post for Sayles; in his obvious excitement and haste to show that different people have different opinions ("a smorgasbord of views"), he omits to precede it with his customary introductory folksy tale. He talks of who is opposed to reaching a bilateral agreement with countries whose archaeological heritage is being looted and illegally exported to foreign markets. In the case of the imposition of import controls on items without paperwork showing legal export: "the lion's share of opposition [...] these days has come from the Ancient Coin Collecting community and the Art Museum community". He says the former is represented by the ACCG and ANA, "along with representatives of the numismatic trade" (and - surprise surprise the coiney propaganda tool the ACE). According to Sayles the "art" museums that want unrestricted imports are "represented primarily by the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD)". Hmmm, how does that jive with the Code of ethics of the latter?

Sayles reports a remark "in response to a question from the Committee" of Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) president Dr. Brian Rose who apparently stated "that he was not aware of any schism between the collector community and the archaeological community". It would be interesting to learn more about the context of that remark.

Of course Britain's PAS would probably make exactly the same sort of statement, the whole organization is based on the premise that the artefact collectors' community shares "a lot of common ground" (sic) with archaeologists. Martin Rundkvist is currently saying the same about "Swedish detectorists", David Connolly and Pete McCrone about the British artefact hunters and collectors, some Polish colleagues and Polish ones and so on. I think they are wrong, but they are as entitled to argue their positions with those who disagree as anyone else. I am not sure it is "shocking" as Sayles put it, but reaching some agreement on common ground (if such exists) and acceptable and well-considered compromise is fundamental to any attempt to work together. It seems to me that it is people like Sayles and the organization he runs which are striving to drive a wedge between artefact collectors and those who urge a cleaning up of damaging trade and collecting practices. There is nothing "shocking" in organizations such as AIA and PAS trying to do something to bring the two sides together in mutual understanding in the interests of protecting the archaeological heritage, it seems to me that this is one of the functions of the two organizations.

Sayles says "For the past decade, the antagonism between collectors and archaeologists has grown exponentially" and it is not difficult to see that the creation of the ACCG was born from that antagonism to voices urging ethical artefact trading and collecting and even a cursory inspection of the forums, websites, newsletters and blogs of its leaders will demonstrate beyond any doubt that from the beginning of its operation has been directed to fanning that antagonism among artefact collectors. So there are those who want to accept responsible collectors into the fold. There are however those (like myself) whose primary concern are the irresponsible collectors who do not want to be part of the ethical, sustainable collecting movement (a phenomenon that the "let's all be friends" camp persistently dismisses as an unimportant phenomenon - not fitting the "liaison" model of dealing with the looting problem):
Hot on the heels of the public comment session came news of a post by one of the more vocal archaeo-bloggers that called American dealers and collectors "cultural property bandits: xenophxobic, neo-colonialist, introverted, self centered and careless consumers."
"News" of a post? So Sayles could not himself be bothered to read it? Well, of course this particular blogger according to Sayles is "viewed by many as an irrational extremist". Yes, this European (British) observer of what is happening on the US collecting scene (and particularly the coin collecting scene) over a number of years has formulated that opinion of who is engaged in no-questions-asked collecting and antiquity trading over the other side of the Atlantic. The collectors and dealers who are most vocal, and who are tolerated and encouraged by the silence of the rest of the community who therefore allow them to speak for the whole milieu. While of course a broad generalisation, is there anything fundamentally untrue in that assessment of that part of the milieu as a whole?

No-questions-asked-collecting is, by its nature, self-centred, introverted. It is also careless (one might say 'could-not-care-less'). While in the UK, reporting metal detectorists "give" something (information on findspots which can be analysed) for what they take, 50 000 ancient coin collectors in the US (Sayles' estimate) give very little for the millions of ancient dugup coins they have taken. Their attitudes about the world outside the borders of their own country are demonstrably neo-colonialist and their "internationalist" writings repeatedly show a complete disregard and contempt for for the peoples of the "source nations", their cultural aspirations, sources of national pride, systems of government and general foreignness. From my point of view, the attitudes and activities of collectors and dealers over there fully deserves the label "cultural property banditry". Exposing it as such casts light on the real nature of that part of the British (for example) collecting milieu which shares with it similar attitudes and rhetoric.

There are many hundreds of posts on my "Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues" blog in which the reasons why I have reached that opinion about this milieu and its activities are reported in gory detail (with links to the sources of the material used so it can be seen if it's being taken wholly out of context). While Sayles may not agree with my assessment, at the head of one of the most visible "collectors' rights" advocacy organizations in the USA, he has done nothing in the past few years which would show why my opinion is not wholly justified. Readers can take a look at what he himself has written over the years, the justifications, the attacks on the preservationists, the excuses why "nothing can be done" and why nothing needs to be done, the statistics, and make up their own minds about what is really going on in the US antiquities market in the 2010s.

Vignette: Breaking down the barriers between the collecting and archaeological communities, Brian Rose having tea with Shelby White. Something I am sure cultural property antagonist Wayne Sayles does not want to see.

No comments:

Creative Commons License
Ten utwór jest dostępny na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa-Bez utworów zależnych 3.0 Unported.