Monday, 29 November 2010

Alderman on Antiquities and Organized Crime

There is a brief presentation on the ARCA blog of Kimberly Alderman’s views on the relationship between the illicit antiquities trade and organized crime as presented in the San Francisco session last week (‘ARCA Student Kim Alderman Presents "Honor Amongst Thieves"‘). She agrees with the interviewer Catherine Schofield Sezgin that “organized crime is involved in the illicit antiquities trade”, but “if you are talking only about mobsters or the mafia, then there is less evidence to support the alleged connection”, though admitting that “there has certainly been increasingly organized subversion in the illicit antiquities trade since then, although whether the 1960s served as a temporal starting point for such organization remains to be seen”. Answering a question, she says: “Claims that the illicit antiquities trade is connected with money laundering, extortion, the drug and arms trades, terrorism, and slavery, should be taken individually”. There are discrete instances of this which she argues “serve as indicators of a potential connection – not hard evidence”.

I think several more complex arguments have become conflated into a brief presentation here. The interviewer was facing Alderman with a question whether the whole illicit antiquities trade since the early 1960s had been “fuelled by organized crime”. That obviously is a singularly unhelpful question, and of course the answer is no. Much of the minor antiquities trade which is the staple of the industry today is clearly a private initiative of individuals.

I think that in general, we do not differentiate different (but probably overlapping) sectors of this trade enough both in terms of scope and mechanisms. I also feel very strongly that the antiquities trade of 2010 is absolutely nothing like that of the 1960s (or 1970s when the UNESCO Convention was written which makes the latter as much use as chocolate fire doors).

I really am unclear where the date “1960” comes from, it seems to me that the conditions for the present criminal trade of antiquities came into being with internet trading (and money transfer) from the mid 1990s. The fall of social systems and the rise of organized crime in much of eastern Europe from 1989 was a major feature in the digging up and smuggling of vast amounts of material from eastern Europe (the classic example is Bulgaria on which an entire system of trade has been built in the US coin and minor antiquities market with nothing being done by US authorities to stop it). The same thing happened with the drug trade when the traditional trade routes from the Near East to Europe were disrupted by the wars in former Yugoslavia. There are also trends, in the 1990s the Russian (and Belorussian and Ukranian) organized criminal groups were moving large numbers of illicitly-exported icons and other artworks west. Today that trade has to some extent dried up (at least as seen on the Polish border) but dugup minor antiquities from both Crimean and northwest "Russian" sources (I am thinking here of metalwork obviously plundered from burial mounds and cemeteries in the Ladoga region - sold as "Viking") are moving west in increasing numbers. The link with organized criminal groups able to ensure their illegal export seems in many cases likely.

More to the point, surely it matters not whether the whole trade is in the hands of organized crime or “just” a percentage of it. In order for responsible dealers and collectors becoming part of the network of distribution, differentiating the dodgy stuff from the more licit stuff means that (unless the pollution of the market does not induce them to give up buying totally on ethical grounds) collectors should be exercising far more caution than it seems they are at present, thus forcing the dealers to do so too.

Vignette: Mobsters.

Christmas Appeal

The "festive" decorations and other trappings of impending Christmas have appeared in the shops and the flood of charity appeals in the mailboxes too. This one struck me as a little different:
As a member of "English hammered coins" [discussion group] on Yahoo, I know you are an intelligent, discerning and caring person. I therefore know you are a person of qualities, who cares about the less fortunate in society. There is a class of person in desperate need, often overlooked by mainstream society, who struggle terribly at this time of year, and I am appealing for your sympathy and support.

Yes, 'knackered old potters addicted to hammered coins' are often forgotten during the festive season, but you can help, as I know you want to. This tragic addiction affects only one individual but has a devastating affect on their life, seasonal basic comforts that others take for granted such as Duck a L'Orange, Chateau Y'Quem, and Pate de Fois Gras are unaffordable luxuries to those who need a daily fix of Harthacnuts and Boarshead Groats to make it worthwhile getting out of bed in the morning.

This awful condition can only be cured by a long term carefully administered programme of auction acquisitions, fondling Nobles of Henry IV, and therapeutic cataloguing. All very upsetting, but I know you will want to help.

Can you spare a small donation to this worthwhile and overlooked cause? £50 will buy a years essential subscription to an auction house. £2500 will buy a much needed William I canopy penny of Winchester. £89,000 will buy a basic EF Triple Unite from Baldwins Fixed price list.

Any small donation, even a penny will help, you can enclose your penny with provenance and collectors tickets in the acetate-free envelope provided.

Thank you for your support, your donation can also be sent by Paypal to the above email address. Merry Xmas, Chris Brewchorne

It strikes me that British collectors of old coins tend to be much more relaxed about their collecting than do their American counterparts, far less aggression - though as we see above the same compulsion. The second difference is the casual reference to collecting coins with "provenance and collectors' tickets", we are constantly told that coins are "traditionally traded" without these in the States. Perhaps there is a reason why there is a PAS in England and not in the USA.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

"Mine is Bigger than Yours...": Numeracy among Humanists

Sadly David Gill has lost a subscriber, apparently due to her inability to read numbers.
I've unsubscribed from Looting Matters, as this sort of post by David Gill shows the type of propaganda that goes on in various blogs of it's (sic) ilk. And how frustrating it is trying to deal with people who'd argue black is white with a straight face ...
This is all very curious. I invite readers to check the Google Reader figures for themselves. On my screen they come out exactly the way that David Gill presents them, and in complete contrast to what Dorothy King claims. Having done that, they can then decide for themselves which side in the cultural property preservation debate is "arguing black is white with a straight face" and why that might be.

Some of the inexplicable discrepancies between what Ms King now asserts and the true values given today by Google Reader and what David Gill had stated:


Dorothy King

Google Reader

Looting matters




Blogging Pompeii












While Gill indeed did get the subscriber numbers wrong for one of Lee Rosenbaum (Culture Grrl)'s blogs and Derek Fincham's (it may be that he was mistakenly quoting the figures of the ArtLaw Blog), the general trend is clear; the blogs supporting cultural preservation and institutional measures still, by whatever means one uses to measure that, do seem to be being much more widely read than the blogs promoting the no-questions-asked market in antiquities and sniping at the archaeological establishment etc.

I posted a comment on PhDiva's blog pointing out the differences between what she say the Google Reader figures are and the actual values (which anyone can check for themselves). So far she has not deigned to answer it.

[In passing, she points out with mock modesty that she has 173 subscribers, but I suspect this has more to do with something she fails to point out. As I recall, about two (?) years ago she found it necessary to restrict access to her blog, to read anything on it as I recall one had to register, I could not be bothered, but it seems a hundred or so may well have done, thus producing a satisfying number of subscribers in the Google Reader statistics.]

One can only surmise why Ms King would find it "frustrating" to "deal with" (sic) the arguments against no-questions-asked collecting and for the preservation of the archaeological record, and labels "Looting Matters" propaganda. Still, now she's announced her reasons for unsubscribing from David's blog she'll not have to bother her pretty head over it any more.

So Where are the Objects Sold by Oying Alexanian ?

Antiquities collectors frequently stress how many items on the market arrived there legitimately, before local and international regulation of the trade. A Cairo bank vault full of part of the stock of an Armenian dealer, Oying Alexanian where it had lain since the first part of the twentieth century has been turned over to the Egyptian Antiquities Service.
This collection includes pieces from the ancient Egyptian, Graeco-Roman, Coptic and Islamic eras. Among them are limestone statuary heads of ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman deities such as Horus, Hathor and Ptah, as well as Roman terracotta figurines and 20 Islamic and modern coins, including gold coins. Hussein Bassir, head of the legal and technical committee that checked the authenticity of the objects, says the most significant item in the collection was the diary of an Armenian man called Oying Alexanian which contained the names and telephone numbers of antiquities dealers of the time, as well as the number of antiquities sale contracts. "These two things gave us a vision of how the antiquities trade in Egypt was rum at the time, especially that antiquities trading was legal," Abdel-Bassir said.
But where are the items he legitimately sold? Is there a private collector out there who can show us an object accompanied by documentation that it had been sold by this dealer?

Collectors insist that they should be able to take care of "surplus" items from the splitting up of existing museum collections, but are unable to show that when they do have items with a legitimising collecting history, they are able to maintain the records showing a chain of legitimate ownership for any length of time.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Auschwitz Sign Theft Charges

At last Poland has charged three more men in the case of the theft of the Auschwitz "Arbeit macht Frei" Sign last December. It was discovered cut into three pieces buried in a forest after a massive police hunt and the police arrested five Poles and a Swede. Three of the Poles involved in the scheme (brothers Radosław and Łukasz M. and Paweł S.) confessed to a minor role in the theft earlier this year and are already serving sentences ranging in length from six months to two-and-a-half years.

A Swede, former (?) Neo-Nazi Anders Högström, arrested and extradited to Poland was initially described as the mastermind, but last week it was indicated that Polish authorities now believe that Högström was "not the ultimate instigator of the theft, but more of a middleman with personal ties to the mastermind". Polish officials refused to divulge the identity of the suspected mastermind who is believed to be Swedish (and not British as reported in some earlier accounts). Investigators in Sweden will now work to shed light on his role.

Under the plea bargain, Hogstrom has agreed to a sentence of two years and eight months and a Pole identified only as Marcin A. to two years and six months, both on incitement to theft. Another Pole, Andrzej S., would get two years and four months for theft and for damaging the sign.


To catch a Looter in the US

Damian Huffer over on SAFE Corner (Forensics, looting, and the law: The view from Ohio) discusses a series of courses organized by Montana-based Martin McAllister in Wayne National Forest near Nelsonville, Ohio. Their aim is to provide archaeologists and law-enforcement officials/investigators from around the region, and from across the US, the tools, on-the-ground training, and 'forensic' perspective they need to investigate cases of prehistoric and historic site looting. The forest contains a variety of archaeological sites spanning 12,000 years of occupation, and including Hopewell-culture burial grounds. The Hopewell Culture National Historical Park in Chillicothe has lootings reported monthly. "Sadly, archaeology sites are being looted every day," said McAllister. Antiquity trafficking is among the largest illegal markets in the world, but only 50 to 100 cases of artifact theft and trafficking make it to U.S. courts each year. In the United States there is a huge black market.

During the course,
Mock 'crime-scenes' illustrating several illicit surface collection and excavation scenarios were set up and then utilized, most illustrating evidence for the looting of small, portable prehistoric artifacts such as arrowheads. Field training went hand-in-hand with workshops on the finer points of local and national laws that permit the arrest and trial of looters caught in the act - an outcome which happens far too infrequently, even in the US

Huffer concludes his presentation of the article: if any readers of this blog know about current workshops or classes in their area of the world that are comparable to this, I'd love to hear about them. I wonder whether anyone will point him to the series of courses organized by Britain's Portable Antiquities Scheme? No? That's probably because there have never been any organized as part of their "outreach" by that organization.

Not Doing So Well Yourselves, Need Help?

I was interested in Larry Rothfeld's comment to the SAFE Corner article discussed in the post above this:
This is a hopeful development. Certainly it would be a great advancement if archaeologists could be trained to gather evidence of looting that would actually be of use to bring looters to justice. The sad fact buried in the story, however, is that archaeologists are being "deputized" because there are only three historic preservation officers responsible for policing three million acres.

The United States (at least according to its coin collectors) has a very paternalistic not to say colonial attitude to other people's efforts to protect their cultural property from looting and illegal export. US dealers and collectors and their lawyers insist that the USA reserves the right to refuse to help a fellow member state of the 1970 UNESCO Convention if the later cannot satisfy the US that it is taking the "right" (in the arbitrary eyes of the US alone) steps to protect its cultural heritage. One might wonder by what right the USA assumes the mantle of world police in this regard when it is reported that there are reports of looting of archaeological sites in one national park almost monthly, every day protected archaeological sites are being looted (while other sites are unprotected totally) and that there are not enough people to police areas rich in archaeology like the Wayne national Forest and many other areas of the United States.

US collectors insist that setting up new legislation like the British Treasure Act and a concurrent Portable Antiquities Scheme would solve problems of site preservation and dealing with the illicit market in other countries. Would it solve America's problems of site preservation and dealing with the illicit market? It is odd that we hear virtually nothing from the coiney "collectors' rights" crowd on exploring this topic. Why not?

USA: Article 3? Article 3 is Right Out! You Know What you can All do with Your Article 3?

Peter Tompa continues his habitual denigration of anyone who might be interested in the USA honouring its commitments embodied in it being a state party to the 1970 UNESCO Convention.
there needs to be more analysis of the foreign laws that form the basis of defining action in the United States as "criminal." The governments of the most aggressive "source countries" have been rightly criticised to one degree or another for their authoritarian ways, their endemic corruption, or their excessive regulation. Under the circumstances, should law enforcement and the courts use our criminal law to effectuate broad declarations of foreign ownership made by such countries so uncritically? [...] In countries like China and Greece, there is one law for "the ordinary joe" or the foreigner and quite another for those connected to the powerful.
Unlike America then.

Now of course the USA when it belatedly became a state party of the 1970 UNESCO Convention did so with an extremely significant proviso:
"The United States understands Article 3 not to modify property interests in cultural property under the laws of the States parties".
Readers of this blog should not need reminding that Article 3 is the most important element of the whole Convention:
"Article 3: The import, export or transfer of ownership of cultural property effected contrary to the provisions adopted under this Convention by the States Parties thereto, shall be illicit".
So basically what the US was doing wass saying,
"We'll agree to sign it, but stuff your Convention".
The vulgarism is deliberate because that is precisely what message this gives out to the rest of the world. It is arrogantly nationalist, American exclusionism of the worst kind. Why on earth did the USA ratify a Convention which it has no intention whatsoever of fully honouring?

Tompa continues in the same vein:
I've read that a large percentage of the Bulgarian population is allegedly involved in illicit metal detecting.
and on this basis concludes "potential criminal liability has obviously not changed behavior and other approaches, like that embodied in the PAS and Treasure Act should be considered". Ha! "I have read" seems to be rather a vague basis for dictating to a foreign government what it should "consider". Does Mr Tompa own a metal detector? I ask because I wonder whether he has any idea what a usable machine (not a toy) costs. I invite him to see where Bulgaria is on the CIA Factbook's CDP (PPP) list, and which countries are above it in the ranking, and consider again whether a large percentage of the Bulgarian population has the capital and leisure time to engage in this hobby. Perhaps he would like to cite the source of his statement?

UPDATE: Coin Dealer Dave Welsh discusses Peter Tompa's xenophobic ramblings mentioned above under the heading "Schizophrenic US Cultural Property Laws". It seems to me that the only schizophrenia here is a whole nation's no-questions-asked antiquities trade which wants the whole world to believe that it honours international agreements on the licit trade of artefacts but in fact will have none of it. While such cowboy tendencies exist in the US antiquities trade and among its rapacious collectors, America should do the decent thing and withdraw from merely paying lip-service to the 1970 UNESCO Convention until such time as public opinion is behind honouring it in full.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Don't go "Walking" in the Fields Without One

The ARCHI database compiled among other things by indexing archaeological reports urges "Field Walkers" to use the winter to devote more time to "Field Walking research":
A few hours' background research now could save you months if not years of your time in the future. Maybe you could be making headlines soon with that spectacular object which has been sleeping in the earth for centuries, lying patiently for you to bring it back into existence. You could leave it to chance of course, but in most cases, as any old-hand will tell you, luck in Field Walking is proportional to one's local knowledge. Many historically significant new sites and beautiful artefacts have already been found and reported by people who have used the ARCHI database for their research. So with a little help, there shouldn't be any reason why you couldn't also contribute to our understanding of ancient British culture and society and also increase your prospects of making that special connection with the past too!
Now, is it just me, or is that text one long euphemism? These Field Walkers (capitalised in the original), they would not be "metal detectorists" (aka Treasure hunters, aka artefact hunters) would they? And is this "making a connection-with-the-past" not a "connection-wink-wink [banknote counting gesture]"?

To make it a little easier on the pocket in these times of austerity we are continuing to offer a subscription to ARCHI, the database of more than 125,000 UK Archaeological Sites at a reduced rate of Ł24.95 for one more month. Yes, thats a Ł10 pounds saving on the usual price of Ł34.95! However, this offer will only be available for one more month. If you haven't used the ARCHI database for a while, why not have a look now because new information may have been added since you last visited our site.
Do please enlarge, this "new information" comes from...?

Users will be excited that they can put bits of it onto car Sat Navs and mobile phones so you could drive straight to a location and walk directly to the precise position of an archaeological site of interest to do your "Field Walking" (nudge-nudge-wink-wink) at any time of the day or night.

I've looked at one of these on my blog before, still going strong, so obviously there is a lot of demand for this sort of thing from those who want to speed up their "research" on the "local archaeology". This raises the very important point that although the PAS is constantly promoted as a means by which British heritage management learns of new, previously unknown sites, to what extent are the data in the PAS database in actual fact coming from the erosive exploitation of archaeological sites already known in the literature or their immediate environs?

Is this "database" a resource the PAS is aware of, and if so, where is their statement concerning its use in "best practice"? Surely it should be pointing out that it gives a list of places where the truly responsible artefact hunter (both metal detectorists and eyes-only fieldwalkers) would be keeping well clear of. That is after all the only kind of outreach the PAS SHOULD be doing to artefact grabbers and collectors with public money.

Vignette: "Unsung hero of the UK's heritage", nocturnal artefact hunter or comic book figure? You choose.

PAS Supported up to the Hilt by the No-Questions-Asked Dealers Lobby

The PAS has a Friend in the no-questions-asked coin trade lobby, the ACCG. Its "Culture Property Internationalist" Executive Director chides Rick Witschonke:
How could Rick, in all seriousness, make such a statement? Has he forgotten the jointly sponsored ANS/ACCG presentation on PAS accomplishments by Dr. Roger Bland in Washington DC, and the jointly sponsored Field Museum/ACCG presentation by Dr. Bland in Chicago? Has he forgotten the ACCG letter to the British Parliament in support of PAS funding? Has he forgotten the ACCG participation in the Council for British Archaeology conference on PAS at Newcastle, England earlier this year. Is he unaware of all the past ACCG comments to CPAC that lauded the PAS and Treasure Act as models to emulate?
I'm not really sure they would be delighted to be perceived as so closely associated with this group. It could work against them.

"Has he forgotten the ACCG participation in the Council for British Archaeology conference on PAS at Newcastle, England earlier this year.", Eh? The Conference of course was NOT "about the Portable Antiquities Scheme"... And as far as the ACCG presentation there goes, that IS indeed best forgotten.

[I find it quite amusing that Witschonke too tries in his CPAC letter to distance himself from the bland platitudes of the ACCG loonies, but in the comment quoted above, Wayne Sayles is having none of that. Independent thinking is not allowed in coineydom, everybody must be seen as singing from the ACCG songsheet].

Paying for Archaeological Preservation: the Californian's Cunning Plan

Ever since the building in Pompeii collapsed, I see Dave Welsh has been pushing his "cunning plan" to register antiquities and prevent looting and finance preservation of archaeological sites and monuments on Tim Haines' "Yahoo Ancientartifacts" list and hs Unidroit-L forum. The plan is the same one he outlined years ago:
to establish internationally controlled antiquities auctions, in which objects (whether surplus to museums, or recently found by archaeologists and others) would be sold with provenance after they had been duly examined and recorded, that the illegal trade in unprovenanced antiquities would be greatly diminished. Few collectors would want unprovenanced items in their collections when provenanced items become widely available.
Yeah, yeah. Objects "surplus to museums" we've heard that before. Once they've entered the market in its present form any provenance they had will be lost forever within a few years because "collectors traditionally" have not bothered about where the stuff comes from. First let collectors establish a tradition of preserving provenance to the same level as that assured by documentation and permanent curation in museums, then we can talk.

It is typical that the antiquities dealer is proposing a "solution" that rewards the perpetrators (providing the currently no-questions-asked trade and collectors with a huge supply of provenanced artefacts) and penalises the victims (requiring museums in so-called 'source' colonies to sell off what is left of their curated cultural heritage that has not already been looted and illegally exported). To cap that, we note that he also implies that the cost of setting it all up should be borne by those (archaeologists and others fighting for preservation) who are raising the alarm about the destruction caused by the perpetrators.

So let us see how the situation would work in practice. Obviously American collectors will want their own country to set the example and show how wonderfully the system they propose works. There is heavy looting on Federal land in the Four Corners regions. US Collectors argue that the "source countries" should guard their sites to prevent looters having access. So to prevent looting of ancient sites near Blanding and other areas like it similarly threatened like the Midwest around the Ozarks discussed here earlier, more guards with helicopter patrols are needed. This needs more money paid to America's antiquity preservation services. Welsh suggests this can be raised by selling off "surplus" items from museums to collectors at home, and presumably abroad.

The nearest museum to Dave Welsh's home containing material belonging to the earliest human cultures in the region seems to be the Santa Barbara Museum of NATURAL HISTORY (sic!). "The archaeological collection of 75,000 objects from the Santa Barbara coast and islands spans nearly l0,000 years of cultural development in the region". So plenty here for a Welsh Scheme to sell off to collectors. The 2009 financial report does not show artefact sales have made much of a contribution to the museum's revenue so far, so there is probably lots to flog off. Anyhow selling off maybe three quarters of the duplicate objects in the collections should raise a tidy sum for preservation work. Cutting the collections down to 20 000 objects by removing "surplus" will allow saving on exhibitions and storage space and probably curatorial staff.

There would have to be special legislation written to override the wishes of the people that had donated and financed the upkeep of of objects to be deemed "surplus" and to direct them from the Californian museum's property to state property. This is the same in most of the "source countries" which Welsh wants to do the same, as museums are generally financed by local authorities and not the state. There would then have to be some means of apportioning the resultant cash to the various state authorities concerned, in the Blanding case I believe that would be the BLM. When the BLM helicopters have flown off all the gasoline paid for by the first batch of antiquity sales, museums would be encouraged no doubt to find "more surplus".

Maybe Mr Welsh would like to pop into the Santa Barbara museum of Natural History and explain the logic of his plan to the director of the Board of Trustees and see if he can get his support.

Photo: Chumash pictograph of US no-questions-asked artefact collectors anticipating getting their grasping hands on objects deaccessioned from the nation's museums.

Troops headed to Iraq get lessons in ancient artefacts

"Troops headed to Iraq get lessons in ancient artifacts" So, they did not go to ACE schools then? So they won't know about antiquity collecting, I guess.

C. Brian Rose, deputy director of Penn's Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, talks with soldiers from the 352d Civil Affairs and Communications outfit about ancient Sumerian tablets. Photo: CLEM MURRAY / Philadephia Inquirer Staff Photographer.

Resource Conservation On Party Lines

I saw an announcement on MSN about an award for a US palaeontologist for his involvement in the creation of that country's 2009 Palaeontological Resources Protection Act (Title VI of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 which seems a rather cack-handed way of passing such legislation). This led me to looking it up to see how it compared with the earlier archaeological one.

In summary, the law requires the Secretaries of the United States Department of Interior and Agriculture to manage and protect palaeontological resources on Federal land using scientific principles and expertise. The PRPA includes specific provisions addressing management of these resources by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the National Park Service (NPS), the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR), the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS). In particular it establishes stronger penalties than previously required for nonpermitted removal of scientifically significant fossils from federal lands. I note that
The provision was endorsed and strongly supported by the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, an international association of professional and amateur vertebrate paleontologists. In contrast, the Association of Applied Paleontological Sciences, an association of commercial fossil dealers, opposed the measure.
Quelle surprise (AAPS sounds awfully like the ACCG, doesn't it?). It is also notable that it seems that there was a certain amount of misinformation (see also here) being disseminated by lobbyists opposed to the tightening of controls in the interests of resource conservation in the US. "It was a long struggle, providing new insight into the amazing labyrinth that is the legislative process, and into the willingness of partisans in political battles to stretch the truth and stoke fears". Where have we come across that before?

I was interested to see how the voting went last year when it was passed, quite symptomatic I felt.
[It passed] by a vote of 285 to 140 (Democrats - yea: 285, nay: 4, not voting: 3; Republicans: yea: 38, nay: 140, 1 not voting)

Omnibus Public Lands Act of 2009, Paleontological Resources Preservation (OPLA-PRP) P.L. 111-11, Title VI, Subtitle D, Sections 6301-6312, 123 Stat. 1172, 16 U.S.C. 470aaa

Thursday, 25 November 2010

The US and the 1970 UNESCO Convention: Fundamental Question

Coiney collector's rights "international affairs expert" Dave Welsh assures us that the US CCPIA the intent of the CPIA was
that import restrictions would be a temporary solution [...] not a permanent general policy toward accepting responsibility for enforcing export control laws of other nations. The law intended that the US should take effective action to induce requesting nations to solve their own problems, including defects in their antiquities laws and the enforcement of those laws. Import restrictions were intended to "buy time" for such solutions to be devised and implemented.
I would like to ask him and his legal sidekick Tompa to show us where in the text of the Act it actually says that (I stress: in the text of the Act itself and not some collectors' interpretation of "what the authors had in mind"). I have carefully and hopefully reread the entire tiresome text (here and here) from front to end and with the best will in the world (because I'd like to believe that the US would like to curb archaeological looting), but cannot find any evidence whatsoever to support Welsh's assertion. The CCPIA has no preamble stating its purpose, and the measures it lays down refer exclusively throughout to matters related to import controls, not rewriting the legislation of how other countries protect archaeological sites, ensure reporting of accidental finds nor preserve the archaeological record. These come under other international documents (such as the Valetta Convention) to which the US is not a signatory, and to which the CCPIA in all certainty does not apply.

It seems to me that until they show us the phrases to which they are referring, we may regard the antiquity dealers' and collectors' interpretation of the "intent" of the act (which quite clearly is written to implement a particular Convention referring to a specific issue), as simply made-up. That goes for the basis for Mr Witschonke's "rational" and "thoughtful, well considered" neo-colonialist proposal. Where does the CCPIA, let alone the 1970 Convention, give - as is asserted - the US the authority to place an ultimatum before another state party to change its legislation before it will comply?

Are there any pro-heritage (or anti-heritage) lawyers who'd care to comment on the ACCG's imperialist interpretation of the 1970 Convention and the US's 1983 CCPIA?

The US and the UNESCO Convention

Peter Tompa has published for him Rick Witschonke's neo-colonialist suggestion that the US place a collectors' ultimatum before the Greek government before heeding their request to curb the import of illegally- exported artefacts. He calls it a A Rational Proposal for the Hellenic Republic. In doing so, Tompa reminds readers that
The 1970 UNESCO Convention is not self-executing. The US has retained its "independent judgment" as to whether and to what extent to give effect to Greece's export restrictions. The US can condition any assistance it gives to Greece.

One might ask then what is the point of the US being a state party of the 1970 UNESCO Convention? What is the point of agreeing to be party to a convention which indicates that you will aid fellow member states in the fight against the illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of cultural property if you then declare you will only do it in certain specific cases (or to put it another way, refuse to honour the commitment expressed by the Convention)? To what extent is the American people actually committed to fighting the illicit antiquity trade as a whole?

UPDATE: (26/11/10) Now coin dealer Dave Welsh has cross-posted Witschonke's text taken from Tompa's site, presumably at the author's request. He introduces it as follows:
Here is a very thoughtful, well considered proposal from a collector with outstanding credentials, including ties to the archaeology and museum communities. It is well worth reading whatever one's perspective may be, and certainly deserves to be preserved in list archives.
Indeed it does. It shows precisely where the problem lies with US collectors of dugup artefacts imported from other countries attempting at all costs (but somebody else's cost) to avoid the bother of ascertaining that they are on the US market legitimately. Welsh appends the following comment:
One of the strongest objections the pro-collecting advocacy has raised to the manner in which the US State Department manages implementation of US response to the 1970 UNESCO Convention is that very little, if any, effective action is being taken to induce requesting nations to improve their antiquities laws and the enforcement of those laws. Simply passively accepting whatever a requesting nation submits, without critical examination of the requesting nation's approach, tends to perpetuate problems and also contravenes the intent (perhaps also the letter) of the US CPIA, the law which implements the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

It is important to realize that the intent of the CPIA was that import restrictions would be a temporary solution only to be adopted in special situations, not a permanent general policy toward accepting responsibility for enforcing export control laws of other nations. The law intended that the US should take effective action to induce requesting nations to solve their own problems, including defects in their antiquities laws and the
enforcement of those laws. Import restrictions were intended to "buy time" for such solutions to be devised and implemented.
So I ask again what is the point of the US being a state party of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Cultural Property if the only means of implementation are directed towards something else and the USA does not actually intend adopting any kind of "permanent general policy toward accepting responsibility for enforcing export control laws of other nations"? What actual commitment is there to the respecting of cultural property export control laws of other nations in the USA today?

Considering the size of the US antiquities market, I think this is a question which deserves a proper answer. Doesn't it?

Outreach: the term turns

Another thought-provoking post by Heritage Action "Outreach: the term turns" for all those fans of an archaeology-collector "partnership" to ignore. But why should they feel that they do not really owe everyone an answer to this? What KIND of outreach is British archaeology doing these days, to whom and to what aim?

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Tourists Smuggling Antiquities

Kimberly Alderman has a thought provoking post here: Do Tourists Receive a “Get Out of Jail Free” Card to Smuggle Illicit Antiquities? November 24, 2010. It raises again the question of what use it is having laws if everybody knows they are not being applied?
when someone is caught smuggling an illicit artifact into the country, it would be appropriate to impose some sort of penalty. Criminal prosecutions of tourists for smuggling are, of course, difficult, but for as long as they get a “free pass”, they will continue to attempt to sneak illicit artifacts into the country. And the majority of them will succeed.
Of course what a huge fuss there would be if a citizen was detained in a foreign airport "just because" they had some figurine in their baggage. Even in countries which have strict laws about antiquity exports customs do not tend to apply them as stringently as they should (in fact in some cases could well be ignorant of what is and what is not permitted to cross borders, so tend to err on the side of lenience in order to avoid an unpleasant international situation if someone so much as misses a flight home). In general I believe (my dad was a customs officer so I know a little of how these things work) many seizures of antiquities at exit points in fact are due to tipoffs.

Reflections on Yet Another CPAC Written Submission from a Coiney on the Greek/US Illegally Exported Artefacts MOU

Rick Witschonke wrote to me yesterday about my earlier comments on his contribution to the CPAC meeting on the Greek/US Illegally Exported Artefacts MOU as reported by Peter Tompa. He says the full richness of his ideas was not represented by the lawyer and sent me the text of his written submission which had not been submitted electronically. It is over 2600 words in length, he said he only summarised the "key points" in his CPAC oral presentation, and invites me to comment on his text here but says "But I would prefer it if you would post the entire document, and not just quote snippets".

Having thought about that option, I decided it would be best if Witschonke made his own arrangements for the dissemination of the text of his ideas in full, maybe on one of the collectors' forums. I'll therefore share a few thoughts on the text as a whole and citing one "snippet". [UPDATE: well, of course I should have guessed who would be asked to host this text, Tompa called it " A Rational Proposal for the Hellenic Republic". How "rational" it is, the non-coiney reader can decide after reading it].

My feeling is this letter is wholly typical of the milieu, very similar in intent to all the other coiney submissions to the CPAC. The style in which it was written, like that of many of the others, did not seem to me appropriate to the occasion. It also immediately shifted the focus of the discussion - claiming (despite its name) that the purpose of the CCPIA is to "stop looting" [in Greece] and NOT "implement the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Cultural Property" (note the word "looting" does not occur in that overly-long title). So then he discusses ways that Greece could stop the looting without increased vigilance at US borders preventing the import of illegally exported material (Witschonke like the rest of the coineys argues that this would not help anyway - though to his credit he at least did not winge about "discrimination against US collectors"). What he avoids discussing are any other benefits that would accrue from stopping the import into the US of illegally exported archaeological artefacts (or any other cultural property).

In effect Witschonke argues that the US should make US compliance with the spirit of the 1970 UNESCO Convention dependent on Greece first altering its conceptions about what is and is not significant [archaeological] material, urging that it should adopt criteria more similar to those applied in the UK (he means England and Wales I guess). In the process he presents a warped picture of what the UK legislation consists of (which is a source of amazement to me as I know he has had it explained to him in great detail by his pal Roger Bland as well as myself - now why is this?). He hypothesises that until Greece does this, it may be considered by CPAC as having NOT taken measures consistent with the Convention to protect its cultural patrimony (and so- he carefully argues - the MOU request should be refused).

A moment's thought shows this is deceptive nonsense. The measures referred to in CCPIA are concerned with the "illegal import, export and transfer of ownership" of the Convention, aren't they? Also by what right would the US have to say a country is "not looking after its heritage" if the US itself does not apply the legislation to which Witschonke refers? There is no Treasure Act in the USA with a market-value reward system to ensure important finds are reported and preserved. There is no Portable Antiquities Scheme for finds made by artefact hunters, pot-diggers arrowhead collectors, Civil War Battlefield searching metal detectorists. So why should Greece be penalised by America on these grounds? That is just insulting and ureasonable. Mr Witschonke, you and your fellows set up a nation-wide PAS system and Treasure Act in the US first, before you try to coerce other countries into adopting one. The very idea!

I'm going to quote this snippet,
Why do archeologists oppose the UK approach? [...] In fact, even Paul Barford, one of the most rabid critics of the UK TA/PAS, admits that “the vast majority of British archeologists are ‘quite comfortable, thanks’ that they have PAS to ‘deal with’ the collecting problem” (see: Perhaps this is because they view it as a reasonable compromise, and the best way to maximize the preservation of archeological context.
"Rabid", eh? It is probably one of the symptoms of my madness that it seems to me that my criticism of the PAS as a means of preserving the archaeological record from looting is a wholly rational consequence of examining it from that angle.

I suspect the problem here is that in general Americans "don't do irony", and Witsconke has failed utterly to grasp the thought behind the words. I may be accused of many things, but failing to spell out in black and white in my own words what I think about the way British archaeology is dealing with artefact collectors is surely not one of them ! If Mr Witschonke were to look a little deeper he would know what I meant about the nature of the "collecting problem" the PAS shields English and Welsh archaeologists from. So is this deliberate coiney misrepresentation, or coiney superficiality and misapprehension? How can any archaeologist consider that encouraging artefact collecting (whether "responsible" or not) is the "best way to maximize the preservation of archaeological context"? Beats me, but then I'm not wearing any coiney-view-of-the-world glasses.

In general as far as Witschonke is concerned, his government should stipulate that those foreigners that have requested the US honour the spirit of the 1970 UNESCO Convention can have what they want ONLY AFTER they push a substantial number of collectables onto the US market, and while they fail to do so, should allow artefacts illegally exported from Greece to pass freely through US borders without any additional ICE scrutiny. That is basically what his letter to the CPAC, however he may want to dress it up in carefully-constructed lengthy arguments, is saying.

To my eyes, the approach American collectors like Witschonke adopt is extraordinarily arrogant and neo-colonial. Treating other states as so-called "source countries" for a raw material the US needs to import in growing quantities while giving back very little in return is pure colonialism. To deceive, coineys call it "internationalism" but at its basis is good old fashioned American exclusionism and chauvinism, and indeed "cultural nationalism" (in the proper sense of the use of the word). This is not entirely his own fault; this seems to be a fairly general attitude among US collectors of somebody else's dug up archaeological finds. They see the Manifest Destiny of the US is to be a world-police in cultural property matters, ordering all the lesser nations about concerning what they can and cannot consider as their own cultural property, the only arbiter of what is good and proper in foreign sovereign states (whose own policies and opinions on the matter are to be overridden as mistaken and 'unenlightened'). If the foreigners will not play ball with US collectors and give them everything they want, then - these people are saying - they cannot count on any US support in their efforts to preserve their heritage. If they will not play ball, US collectors and dealers will continue to treat it all as 'up for grabs' for their unfettered use in identity-building or whatever they use this stuff for. That is basically the message that is continually pumped out by this milieu, including Witschonke's letter to the CPAC.

This is wholly contrary to the spirit of the 1970 UNESCO Convention. Article 1 states that each nation has the right to decide what it considers as its cultural property and embody that in legislation, within the limits set down by that article. Coineys frequently misrepresent the meaning of Art. 1 but here Witschonke is ignoring its presence in the Convention totally. What Greece considers is cultural property falling under the 1970 Convention is for Greece and Greece alone to decide, not some distant eleven-member CPAC in some wannabe-Welthaupstadt-Washington. The states party to the 1970 UNESCO Convention have all agreed (by the act of acceding to it) to help each other deal with instances of illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of cultural property.

All, that is, except the United States of America, where each nation wanting that help from the US has to 'ask nicely please', satisfy some committee - meeting in Washington who listens to dealers and collectors and their lobbyists, and after long deliberation and reporting to Congress and all that - decides whether or not to graciously agree to do 'just for now' what the 1970 Convention says we all should be doing all the time. This is craziness gone mad.

Let the United States do the decent thing and get out of the 1970 UNESCO Convention. Let it admit that many of its antiquity dealers prefer to be cowboys, that the US government cannot regulate against this because the cowboys kick up too much of a fuss and even congressmen join in with opposing measures intended to stop imports of illegally exported material. Let the world see the US antiquity market for what it is, what it itself actually does not shrink from showing the rest of the world. Let the US continue "helping" the worldwide effort to prevent illegal exports of antiquities through its limiting 1983 CCPIA (merely renaming it), but let it stop pretending that the US trade in antiquities as a whole complies with the 1970 Convention as a whole, because in its current form it does not. After all, the US has nothing to lose, the country has very little archaeological material (or anything old much) that finds as large a market outside the country as artefacts from just about any region of the ancient world (including other American countries) have in the US. The US is not really in a position to demonstrate that its being "in" the Convention actually makes a lot of difference to what is traded by US dealers on a daily basis.

A final thought. While the sort of attitudes we see among collectors, dealers et al. in that country persist, should the day come when we all sit down and redraft the 1970 Convention more in line with the needs of dealing with the antiquities market of the 21st century (as we must), heaven forbid that the '1983' generation of Americans get anywhere near the table.

Alternatively they could have a look at their law written in the early 1980s and consider whether it really is a suitable US response to the form of global trade in antiquities which exists in 2010. After all it seems a bit dumb for the US collector to be calling on Greece to follow Britain's modern legislation (1996 and 2003) based on an outdated law from the times of Reagan.

Another Plea 'Deal' in Four Corners Looting Case

Antiquities dealer Vern Crites was one of 26 people charged as a result of the Four Corners operation Cerberus investigating looting of and trade in artefacts from land protected by US laws. He has already surrendered five truckloads of Native American relics to Federal authorities.
The 75-year-old dealer was described in government affidavits as a “price setter” for antiquities because of his influence over the market. Federal agents say he had an astonishing collection confiscated from his Durango home in January.
It is now being reported that he will "settle charges" of digging up a grave and plundering artifacts from federal lands. Vern Crites had been scheduled to take a plea deal on Tuesday at federal court in Salt Lake City, but the hearing was cancelled because of a snowstorm.

Another Durango man has pleaded guilty to removing an ancient human skull, pottery and a stone knife from federal land in the Four Corners of southern Utah.
Richard Bourret pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court in Salt Lake City to a felony charge of unauthorized excavation. U.S. District Court Judge Dee Benson scheduled sentencing for Feb. 1. Sixty-one-year-old Bourret faces a maximum of two years in prison, but prosecutors plan to recommend leniency as part of a deal that’ll drop two other charges. Crites and Bourret are expected to be ordered at sentencing to pay for damage at the San Juan County, Utah, dig site.

The newspaper helpfully adds:
The Four Corners once was the center of ancestral Puebloan culture, and it is a treasure trove of archaeological artifacts, Mark Michel, president of the Archaeological Conservancy, a national group based in Albuquerque told The Durango Herald in June 2009, when Vern and Marie Crites were arrested as part of sting operation targeting suspected illegal trades in stolen artifacts.
"There are thousands of archaeological sites in (the Four Corners), and I’ve never seen one that hasn’t had some looting,” Michel, who as worked in the area for 30 years, told the Herald.

This report sits uncomfortably with the texts which the US collectors of ancient dugup coins from foreign countries are producing. They bleat on and on about how its "not their fault" that sites are looted, that foreign nations must guard their archaeological sites from looting before they will stop buying anonymously imported artefacts no-questions-asked. Yet in their own land, the United States, they cannot afford or manage to do what collectors demand from the citizens of poorer countries. The "source countries" should enforce their laws more vigorously the collectors say - and yet after a costly two year operation to strike at the network of endemic looting and illcit dealing in the US Southwest we see plea bargain after plea bargain, letting people get off with a slap on the wrist instead of the jail sentences that the law allows. US law, upheld by US judges, one of whom said in effect that he was not going to give a proper sentence because he thought looting archaeological sites was a normal thing to do.

The words "private property" figure prominently in US antiquity collecting circles, once they've bought an artefact, it is THEIRS, sacrosanct, and nobody - they insist - has a right to question its origin. Yet Vern Crites' home was emptied of a collection which took five trucks to haul off. Where are the "collectors' rights" advocates? Why has this seizure (if that is what it was) received absolutely no attention in the discussions of the "private property rights" of US ancient artefact collectors? One would have thought that they would take great interest in precisely why Crites was required to surrender his "private property" a collection built up over a number of years, and why he agreed to do so. One would have thought that ancient dugup coin collectors in the US ought to be wondering if the same thing could happen to them too. But no, complete silence on the issue, because they insist that there is a vast gulf between pot-diggers at home and coin-diggers abroad. The reasons why they see them as completely different phenomena are never articulated, personally I see none at all.

The New PAS - Function and Functionality?

Both David Gill and Peter Tompa refer, one more uncritically than the other, to the announcement of PAS funding, secured for the moment in the BM, but reduced another 15%. The PAS has always presented its work as "bangs for buck" as Tompa puts it in terms of (information about) lots of goodies saved for the nation, but this obscures its intended real function as a means of instilling "good practice among finders" (sic). While I am sure the introduction of UKDFD-style 'self-recording' will keep "finds numbers" high, it is clear that gradually the ability of the PAS to do active outreach about ethical and preservation issues is even further reduced. What actually is the FUNCTION of such a PAS in the British archaeological heritage protection (I use the term loosely) system (I use that term loosely too)?

Some fairly uncritical reporting here: British Museum takeover safeguards buried treasure agencies as quango goes, Guardian 23 November 2010, but raises the question of what now happens in Wales. One might also add what happens to the various FLOs based in museums by various kinds of arrangement with the MLA, how will this be transformed into collaboration with the BM?

And over on a metal detecting forum near you, the artefact hunters of Britain are discussing whether the PAS getting a 15% cut is "good" or "bad". UK Artefact hunters, partners or predators of the PAS?

To function properly, the PAS urgently needs to have its position permanently established in British cultural heritage legislation, but first it has to find itself a function aside from merely legitimising collectors and collecting. Perhaps, as I argue elsewhere, the promised review of the Treasure Act would provide the means to do this.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

"The archaeological record is the imaginings of people with a mental disorder"

There is another priceless contribution to antiquitist insanity on the Moneta-L forum by ACCG's new employee, John Hooker. This one really takes the biscuit, it is too long and rambling to copy here, so anyone wanting to see what coin collectors are writing about archaeologists these days will just have to
register and follow this link and the next two Hooker posts and follow the subsequent desultory discussion. There they will find a curious mix of half-understood Internet derived post-modernist mumbo-jumbo fuddled with 'eighties thinking and served up in a sauce of neo-Kossinnist Celtic coineyism. The obfuscation is intended to lure the uncritical reader into believing that:

There can be no "archaeological context" without an observer -- so there is no such "thing" as an "archaeological record" that is not the product of individual(s) in present time [...] the building of an archaeological record requires people suffering from a mental disorder. [...] without an archaeologist, there can be no archaeological site, no archaeological record.

[so much then for the notion of a "people's archaeology" so beloved of antiquity collectors]

This is not the first time those associated with the ACCG have tried to deny the existence of the archaeological record or poke fun at archaeologists in this manner. A while back ACCG's Dave Welsh tried a similar ruse. As far as I can see those who collect coins and other antiquities tend to accept such arguments without a single murmur.

Hooker again mentions his stock argument "the dreadfully wrong dating for the Ferrybridge chariot burial" (adding now "apparently, bringing in a finds specialist was either never considered or was rejected"). From what is this apparent? Certainly not from the report of the site which has now been out many years which Hooker quite plainly has not read, basing his imaginary case instead on internet journalism.

According to Hooker, nothing exists that is not perceived and named. A tree falling in an uninhabited forest according to him falls noiselessly because there is nobody to hear it, equally it does not exist as such without anyone to see it and think "this is a tree". So there is no problem with disappearing tropical rainforests as long as nobody sees it happen. In the same way, he says, the archaeological record does not exist when there is nobody to read it. But on one level nobody is questioning that, when a looter digs blindly through different colours and textures of earth and stones to get collectables out of the ground, he does not see an archaeological record. He sees earth and stones in the way of what he wants to get his hands on. Does that mean however that there is no archaeological record because the person trashing it has a metal detector and a greedy smile and not the knowledge and experience and explicit methodology of the archaeologist under his belt? It would be a comfortable argument for those who buy looted goods ("no arechaeological site was destroyed because no archaeological site was reported as observed being destroyed by the person digging this stuff up") but is it true?

Did the geological record only materialise in modern times when we began to understand how we could read the "different layers of rocks and stuff" in terms of the results of a specific sequence of processes in the past, and therefore a key to understanding the geological past? Of course not, the patterns of strata in the walls of the Grand Canyon existed there well before there was anyone to 'read' them. It is nonsense to deny these patterns of deposition a physical existence in the eons before there was Man on the North American continent to look at them (the upper deposits through which it is cut, the Kaibab Limestone, are from the Permian period).

Hooker then tries to argue that there is in fact "no difference" between archaeological sites and archaeological artefacts because
"an object is only an object because someone says it is so. An object has parts - even if the object is a single atom it has its nucleus and its electrons, or looking even deeper, it has a whole menagerie of quarks or strings - whatever".

So, he goes on to say, do archaeological sites. This however totally ignores the issue that he himself raised that an archaeological site is not simply a sum of physical parts. The next leap in logic is therefore unjustifiable. He asserts that a single decontextualised artefact (like his favourite hobby horse the Celtic coins of Armorica) can be treated as a "site". The implications of this for the preservation of the archaeological record are however not revealed, discussion diverts to pictures of boars on coins and "round and long skulls" in Brittany.

John Hooker has already made a number of web-based contributions (some of which are discussed on this blog) claiming there can be no "cultural property" because there is "no culture", only "nationalism". Now it seems the collector is adamant in "proving" there is no archaeological heritage at all because there is no such thing as the archaeological record, archaeologial sites and all archaeologists who say otherwise have some kind of a "mental disorder". I really would like to see these collectors publishing such general methodological reflections not on internet forums to persuade other collectors, but in peer-reviewed journals where it can be subjected to the normal mechanisms of academic criticism. It is notable that all those "professional numsmatists" (like Welsh) and all those homespun "avocational scholar collectors" with their heap-of-contextless-coins-on-a-tabletop numismatics strenuously avoid doing this. Why? British Post-Processual archaeology, for example, is very open to alternative points of view, the collector cannot claim that their articles would be discriminated against because they are collectors. So what actually is stopping these authors unleashing their considerations on those unenlightened scholars out there who will never read the Moneta-L forum or the ACCG website? Could it be that these authors are in fact less than sincere in what they write? That what counts is effect rather than what they contribute to a wider discussion. If so, what "effect" do such texts intend to achieve?

Hooker has taken to signing his posts

"Numismatics is the window through which I look out on the past." Derek Fortrose Allen 1910-1975.

One can only remark it is "contributions" to the debate on archaeological resource preservation like this which show it is a very small and dirty window through which one can see only a small fragment of the whole landscape of the past and very foggily. If that narrow isolationist and distrorted view is how coineys want to see "the past", that is fine as long as in doing so they do not by their actions ruin things for those upstairs who have bigger windows and want to see a wider perspective and show it to a wider audience.


Monday, 22 November 2010

Witschonke, "Make the Medici Archive Public"

The letters to the Editor section of the "Art Newspaper" contains a letter from Roger Bland's good pal Rick Witschonke referring to an October article, “Medici ‘loot’ for sale?” about the withdrawal of another object from auction because of the appearance of what seems to be an identical item in the Medici archive.
Such images, from the 1995 Medici raid or the 2002 Becchina confiscation, appear periodically in the press when a similar object comes up for sale. The stigma of association with one of these convicted antiquities traffickers is often enough to result in its withdrawal. The larger issue, however, is that US collectors, dealers, auction houses, and museums are compelled to research the provenance of any prospective purchase to ensure it is not recently looted, and yet Italy has not published the Medici and Becchina photo archives that they hold, which would make vetting much easier. Furthermore, it appears that certain individuals (like David Gill and your Fabio Isman) are granted access, with the intent of periodically embarrassing the trade. This strikes me as cynical and counterproductive if the objective is to make the antiquities trade more transparent, and looted antiquities unsaleable. If a collector could go to a public archive (the Art Loss Register, for example), and determine whether a prospective purchase was questionable, the object would likely remain unsold.
—Rick Witschonke, Califon, New Jersey

Surely the embarrassment is not whether an item is sold on the US market or not, but who has been buying objects which are not of licit provenance. And who has been selling them - knowing that. As such therefore, the Medici archive is evidence in a series of ongoing investigations as each of these finds comes to light again. If the archive was published, any stolen goods it figures would remain underground and the links between the present owner and the looter more difficult to research. I doubt whether there are many ongoing FBI investigations where all the basic evidence is displayed online for amateur sleuths to puzzle over (and publish their conspiracy theories on the websites which are devoted to solving this or that crime). Like the full files accumulated as a result of the ongoing 1990 Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum thefts: full texts of staff interviews, review of security arrangements and flaws, fingerprints, DNA, inside informers' reports and so on. Make sense? Of course not, it would compromise the investigation.

Who should make the antiquities market transparent? Antiquity dealers selling the stuff they have in their stocks, or the Italian police? Somewhere down the chain of ownership of all those objects is somebody who knows full well that they originated with Medici et al. A whole series of people have sold them on (or may be in the process of selling them on) who are hiding that fact. That's where the transparency is needed. Of course it is not just US collectors who need to know, who need to find out what precisely it is they are buying and where in fact they came from.

That is what the PAS guidelines for buyers of antiquities recommends, that buyers themselves establish the vendor's title to sell.

Colorado Antiquity Dealer Sentenced

Antiquities dealer Robert B. Knowlton, 66, from Grand Junction Colorado, was among 26 people in Utah, Colorado and New Mexico who were rounded up in a two-year sting operation in the Four Corners region discussed earlier on this blog. He earlier admitted he had sold an archaeological resource, a small sandstone pipe, that had been excavated from an Anasazi site on federal land near Blanding to a federal undercover operative during an investigation in 2008 and mailed it from Colorado to Utah.

He was sentenced on Friday to 18 months of probation and "also banned from federal land for collecting purposes during the 18 months".
Knowlton was indicted in 2009 by a federal grand jury in Denver on five felony counts for allegedly selling looted American Indian antiquities worth $6,750 to the informant. In a plea deal, he pleaded guilty this year to a misdemeanor related to only the pipe, valued at less than $500.
Interestingly, Knowlton, had stated in a court filing that he had obtained the pipe after the death of Lamar Lindsay, an archaeologist employed by the state of Utah, from the latter's sister. The court document stated that the Utah Division of State History excavated the site in 1979 and 1980. So how had the pipe entered the sister's possession?

Robert Boczkiewicz, 'Colorado man sentenced for artifacts theft', Salt Lake Tribune Nov 19, 2010.

There is an interesting mention on the Lindsay episode by "Teofil" on the Collide-a-scape blog called simply "looting". It is followed by a thought-provoking series of comments. It would be interesting to know more about the manner in which this particular published (?) item reached a Colorado dealer. Was foul play involved, or were there legitimate reasons why the object was separated from the excavation archive and its intended destination was for some reason unknown to Lindsay's family?

Crosby Garrett: Mr Evan-Hart Responds

Julian Evan-Hart sort-of responds to my comments on his remarks about the finding of the Crosby Garrett helmet through a longer post on the Rally UK forum. For the enthusiast.

In the meanwhile somebody has pointed out to me that despite his somewhat instrumental approach to the PAS [apparently recommending liaison with "museums" more frequently - seemingly because they can help out with finding unprotected land to search on and may help conserve your finds], the PAS in its conservation notes cites as one of three recommended books on "conservation" Mr Evan-Hart's book: Beginner's Guide to Metal Detecting by Julian Evan-Hart & Dave Stuckey, Greenlight Publishing 2004. £9.95

You can find a summary of it here. Interesting reading, especially on "researching sites" - finding sites with lots of artefacts to collect that is.

Crosby Garrett: Compare

As I have previously mentioned on this blog, there has been some interesting discussion of the Crosby Garrett helmet on the Roman Army Talk forum. This post Re: The Crosby Garrett helmet caught my eye because I was suggesting here when I first saw it that the find had a 'Balkan' look to it. It seems worth sharing the information it contains. It is by "last roman" (don't you just love those cutesy screen names?) and was posted yesterday:
Decebalus wrote:It was mentioned in the previous posts that the helmet looks Bulgarian/of Balcan origin and it is interesting to note that of the six known helmets of the Silistra-Type (to which the mask would belong [in Junkelmann's typology, part of Robinson's CSB]) two are from Bulgaria (Chatalka-CSB12 and Silistra-CSB06), two said to be from Bulgaria (Ex-Guttmann AG 449 and AG 813 [CSB08]), one from Serbia (Smederovo-CSB25) and one from the Netherlands (Roomburgh-CSB07).

Here is some pics of Roman helmet with mask from Chatalka /now exposed in Historical Museum of Stara Zagora/:
Click on the post's link to see the two photos and note the similiarities and differences with the RECONSTRUCTED Crosby Garrett helmet and then go back to the PAS website where the initial state of the object in fragments is shown (after the restoration process had begun).

How precisely was the reconstruction of the top of the helmet achieved? What alternative reconstructions were considered and rejected and why? Is the process of arriving at the form we see in Christie's catalogue described at all in the "restoration" report? I know the answer, but - since the picture of the reconstruction already functions in the public domain - I think this information should also be in the public domain. On the basis of reading the restorer's report [I am referring to the version dated 16th September 2010] one might well ask, what exactly are we looking at when we look at the RESTORED Crosby Garrett Helmet? Is the photo on the PAS website one of an accurate reconstruction or not? Were all the pieces at the disposal of Christie's from the same object?
Vignette: Daily Mail

Crosby Garrett: An Adequate Record? Hardly

In a post yesterday I quoted the opinion of UK artefact hunter and author Julian Evan-Hart on the Crosby Garrett helmet fiasco. I think a couple of things he said need further discussion:
The main focus here is :- the find has been measured, weighed photographed and probably drawn so it matters little whether such a find goes into a main national collection or indeed a private one..there is enough associated reference material now for any academic to make comparitive studies etc about this great object . [...] Im glad a private individual now can cherish the artefact as can we all by looking at all the information and images of it.

Now in fact it is not true that an adequate record has been made of the object - or at least what is in the public domain is by no means an adequate reccord for those who want to do a little more than just "look at pictures of it". What "measurements" were taken? What for example was the thickness of the metal sheet at various points? What in fact WAS the "weight" Mr Evan-Hart? It was apparently NOT "drawn". I have seen the conservation report and the version I have seen is, quite frankly, judged as a report on the conservation (I use the term loosely) of an archaeological artefact of this nature, an appalling piece of work which raises very many serious questions of professional accountability. I hope they may be aired in public at some time. The viewing of the object by BM and PAS staff in Christie's offices, apparently already half-way through the restoration process, hardly provides the best facilities for proper observation and documentation, the whole process was a farce from beginning to end.

Mr Evan-Hart, here the blame must fall entirely on the finders (and landowner) who carted it off down to London to Christie's at the first opportunity, not giving the PAS or local archaeologists the chance to see the find in situ at the time of discovery, to work on it in a proper environment for its study, or to make more suitable arrangements for its analysis and conservation. The people at fault here are those that are now smiling on their way to the bank having sold off a bit of the British archaeological record from under our noses. Here are the rewards for NOT being a "partner" of archaeology and heritage management. Oh yes, they were perfectly entitled to do what they did by law, the "partnership" with archaeologists and the rest of society is (still) purely voluntary. But then that is precisely why voices are now being raised to say that since artefact hunters and collectors are consistently abusing that trust, cases like this clearly show the need to change that law to make sure such abuses are not repeated.

Crosby Garrett Helmet, "not fizzing away in a field"

Yesterday I briefly commented on the remarks of Julian Evan-Hart giving the detectorists' take on the Crosby Garrett helmet fiasco where he aggressively criticises those who think the object should have gone to a museum:
[...] those who bleat constantly about where it should be stored totally miss the point that whatever its now no longer fizzing away and corroding in a field...[...]
That is quite an interesting comment isn't it? It's part of the tekkies' empirically untested assertion that they are "rescuing" objects from destruction by hoiking them out from below ploughsoil level (as expressed here by Rod Blunt for example). This is in my opinion total nonsense, but never mind that now, let's look at this single case of the application of the argument.

Mr Evan-Hart has (it says on his website) 30 years of detecting experience in Britain. On the basis of that experience he would expect to find evidence that something that had been lying in a Cumbrian field for nigh-on two thousand years would be " fizzing away and corroding". The state of preservation of metal detected finds from adjacent areas of Cumbria (including Crosby Garrett itself) visible on the PAS database was discussed here earlier. They are indeed heavily corroded. I'm not sure I see any evidence that they were "fizzing away" in the process, but the point is that a certain amount of crustier corrosion would be expected on a find made here. Mr Evan-Hart apparently agrees with this assessment.

It seems however that Mr Evan-Hart has not in fact looked too closely at the photos that have been published of this find, none of which (and now some of us have seen the photos in the conservation report not released to the public). If he had he would be puzzled by the fact that on none of them are any corrosion products anything like those he obviously expects to find. No real evidence of the metal "corroding in a field" and certainly none of it " fizzing away in a field". So why not? The corrosion products form under the specific conditions of the burial environment. Why did the precise spot where that object was found have a burial environment which was so atypical of the area around? What was the burial environment of that object that led to this effect? If Mr Evan-Hart was to buy some dug-up coins on V-coins, how would the seller be describing that 'patina'? Would it be "typical dug up British detector find patina"? Would it be "Cumbrian Fell patina"? Or would it be named suggesting it had come from an entirely different geographical location and burial environment? (Gentle Reader: do a search of coin selling sites and see what it would be called).

Evan-Hart co-wrote a book about beginning artefact hunting. It is summarised on the NCMD website where we find the following passage:
For example, copper alloy - that develops a certain patina - will eventually become familiar in terms of age and colour in your search areas. Some of us have got pretty good at this recognition, and when a fellow Pastfinder shows a coin etc to fellow members, we can state where it was found with reasonable accuracy.
Really? So maybe a "PAStfinder" can tell us where in Cumbria one would find objects with the somewhat specific corrosion products like this.

The whole point is that the Crosby Garrett helmet does not have corrosion products on it which are entirely consistent with the story that it is a find from the region of Cumbria that is stated to have been the findspot. No evidence of that "fizzing away and corroding in a [Cumbrian] field". Why not?

[This question is not discussed in the "restorer's report" which does not describe the state of the object upon receipt in more than general terms].

Photo: Inside the Crosby Garrett helmet showing the corrosion products and state of the metal (photo by Caballo on Roman Army Talk).

Crosby Garrett Helmet Fiasco: Evan-Hart and the Archaeological Community

Yesterday, in a post below this I briefly present a comment on what is revealed by the comments on a detectorists' forum by author and detectorist Julian Evan-Hart giving the artefact hunter's take on the Crosby Garrett helmet fiasco. In his text he extremely aggressively criticises the archaeological community and those who think the object should have gone to a museum. Let's take a look at that part of his text again:
[...] undoubtedly the £300,000 as if anyone can pre value such a find was perhaps more inspired and influenced by greedy officials hoping they could procure the find for such a paltry sum....tough one guys it appears not eh? [...] undoubtedly we all face a barrage of bleating from those who believe its should have been obtained for a lesser sum and should indeed be in a national collection And who will now set about trying to change the Treasure Act so that such a heinous "crime" cannot be repeated... [...] they remind me of the spoilt child at a party, who cannot bear other children to win prizes, makes no effort to join in the games, and sits in the corner whingeing and whining until its parents arrive and console it with a MacDonalds and trip to a toy shop to pacify their little angel and make up for his "traumatic real-life experience". I just hope this Government do not act as the consoling parents to this whingeing group....Museums are stuffed to seam splitting point with enough objects, its just this dinosaur like attitude that the common people should never even be allowed to find their own heritage let alone sell it for profit. They may deny that attitude..... but finding objects used to be pretty much an exclusive career (and dont tell me that these exclusive careers didnt sell finds back then as they still do today)...and now its not so they get galled about it... One rule for some and another for us eh?.....many of us dont sell things...but the choice to do so is a democratic right...something that should be deeply considered by our critics...many of whom never get off their fat swollen at tax payers expense backsides, and who amazingly make little to absolutely no effort to to recover our heritage themselves...and yet appoint themselves as self-elected custodians to tell us all what to do......with our bloody finds!!!!
Well, talk about a chip on a shoulder...

First of all, I am not sure how Evan-Hart thought the museum community placed pressure on Christie's to publish a low estimate. This is a common tekkie accusation, that archaeologists want to depress the true market value of artefacts in order that British museums can buy national treasures cheaply. These people might wonder why the British taxpayer should be buying these things back at all from Treasure hunters (as opposed to accidental finders). The reward is nowhere stipulated in British (UK) legislation, it is discretionary. If Crosby garrett showed anything it is just how uncertain the valuation of a few lumps of corroded and bent metal fresh from the field can be. An artefact is just a lump of crud, the value of which depends on a number of factors, in this case how many people were bidding how much to get their hands on the item.

As for "they remind me of the spoilt child at a party, who cannot bear other children to win prizes", if this had been found on an excavation the finders would not have got a penny (but, depending on the terms of the pre-excavation agreement the landowner might still). So no archaeologist has anything personally to gain by preserving the archaeological record in situ for further proper investigation.

We see the trotting out of the old "museums are stuffed to seam splitting point with enough objects" argument. Presumably intended to justify why this object should not g to a museum where everyone can see it and it can be properly studied. The cultural philistine tekkie/coiney "empty the museums" argument however really has no place in this discussion.

Concurrent with that is the People's Archaeological Relic Liberation Front argument about an alleged "attitude that the common people should never even be allowed to find their own heritage". Where does this come from? What has the PAS been set up for? I know Evan-Hart does not personally use it, but that is his choice and thousands do. I do not recall seeing anything in the archaeological literature about stopping the finding of archaeological artefacts by members of the public, the emphasis however on those that do sharing the information (at least) with the rest of us. Somehow I suspect the message of thirteen years of public outreach by the PAS has been falling on deaf ears.

Evan-Hart describes the critics of current policies on artefact hunting and collecting:
...many of whom never get off their fat swollen at tax payers expense backsides, and who amazingly make little to absolutely no effort to to recover our heritage themselves...
Well, I'm not sure how he envisages the mechanisms of backside swelling at tax-payers' expense, maybe he means buttock implants? More seriously of course it is taking the ranters of the pro-collecting ilk an eternity to realise that very little archaeology these days is directly funded by the "taxpayer". Most of the money that is available from the public budget goes on upkeep of sites and monuments (and then - even when bulked out by other rants and sponsorship - its never enough). I think the main focus of critics' activities (as perhaps the PAS should be explaining to these people) is not to "recover" "things" from the ground, but to ensure the preservation of archaeological deposits assemblages and patterns so that they may be interpreted by archaeological means in the future. It is called "conservation". The artefact hunter and collector have an eternally object-centred picture of the whole issue, again this is something thirteen years of PAS outreach has not dealt with, or at least made any headway with. Maybe they need to change their methods?
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