Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Preservation the Concern of "Snobs"?

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Peter Tompa reckons that:
we should all be happy that PAS and the Treasure Act have encouraged the general public to help the archaeological community record the past in England and Wales.
But what about preserving the remains of the past in a more holistic sense? Yes, the Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme get records made of shiny (or not so shiny) "bits of the past", but at what cost? What is lost along the way? Tompa seems not to want to admit that these geegaws are ripped from the archaeological record, and what is "recorded" is just the tip of the iceberg, that which is lost is immeasurably greater. So what is it "for"? Who should be happy about what precisely? And who is this "we"?

Tompa reckons it is not true that the PAS "look wotta lotta stuff" figures being quoted on the front page of their website do not contain the CCI and IARCW and Frome Hoard data. But they quite clearly do. But people like Tompa are not going to listen to reason, they "know what they know" and that is that the PAS is the best thing for collectors since sliced bread. It however does not need a "snob" to ask to what degree current UK policies (here I included Scotland) are indeed the best thing for the archaeological record. Is archaeology really just about "Treasure" hunting?

So if American lawyers and others are "happy" that the Brits are "recording their past" what about creating the opportunity for American members of the public to do it too by setting up a Portable Antiquities Scheme in the USA and Canada? Plenty of artefacts over there, plenty of artefact hunters digging them up and collecting them away. Why is there no 'PAS of America' gathering that information if its such a good thing when others do it? What about US "collectors' rights" to be able to make a contribution? When are we going to see the "collectors' rights" advocates actually putting their money where their mouths are and pushing for one in their own country?

Vignette: green eco-snobs

Monday, 30 May 2011

New York Senator Gillibrand and Cultural Policy

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Readers may remember that on March 21st the Cultural Policy Research Institute (a thinly disguised reformation of the American Council for Cultural Policy ACCP) organized under the patronage of New York senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand a "seminar" in Washington attacking the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act. About two months ago I wrote to the Senator asking for clarification of her views on the international trade in illegally exported dugup archaeological artefacts.

I noted at the time that in the list of topics in the Senator's contact form to choose from, there was no mention of culture or cultural property theft, suggesting this was not a matter about which Senator Gillibrand was expecting to get correspondence from citizens. Although I did not receive an answer to my letter, I note that the Senator has since that time engaged in activities suggesting she is taking an interest in promoting culture and the arts after all. On March 23rd at the Brooklyn Museum there was a workshop sponsored by the Office of Senator Gillibrand "Promoting the Arts, Cultural Institutions and Historic Sites: An Economic Development and Grants Writing Workshop". On April 27th a related programme was offered at the Albright-Knox Gallery Auditorium, Buffalo, New York there was a session on “Promoting the Arts, Cultural Institutions and Historic Sites: A Strategy for Economic Growth and Job Creation". On 17th May, a similar event ("Promoting the Arts, Cultural Institutions and Historic Sites: A Strategy for Economic Growth and Job Creation") was held at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York (Daniel Aloi, 'Panelists promote culture, tourism benefits to regional economy development', May 26, 2011).

Based on the promotional material to these events I imagine that has Senator Gillybrand done me the courtesy of replying, the Senator's office would have sent a reply to my letter that looked something like this:
Dear Mr Barford,
Thank you for your interest in the work of this office. Senator Gillibrand considers culture is very important, and was pleased to be involved in the organization of a discussion in Washington of the Cultural Property Research Institute on the efficiency of the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act.

The Senator of course supports the State Department’s initiatives on cultural protection and is certain that Secretary Clinton and the staff for which she is responsible fulfil their duty with integrity and the best interests of America's international standing as their highest priority.

Senator Gillibrand is definitely a champion for the arts and takes great interest in what is going to happen in this regard in the next legislative session, it is important that we work with lawmakers to pursue aggressively and creatively the promise of partnerships between industry and the world of culture. She embraces the view that there are economic reason for creating efficient policies concerning culture and the arts in our country. Culture is a mighty tool for economic development which is a No. 1 priority for the senator.

To this end, the Senator’s office willingly assists arts organizations as well as small businesses, with letters of support and other services.

I hope this answers your questions. Thank you for your expression of interest in the work of this Office, /.../ bla bla

well, of course its pretty obvious that its the use of historic sites and what is in them for promoting economic growth and job creation in the United States that is at the basis of the cultural policy represented by the Gillybrand workshops. Promoting the preservation of foreign sites as a resource for economic development in the wider world seems not to be her concern. But helping US "small businesses" is of importance to her - like the US coin trade (V-Coins today 151 Dug-up Ancient Coin Dealers advertising 110,412 Items with a total value of $24,348,909). That is probably why she went along with their lobbyists' proposal to organize a meeting in Washington examining the concept of restriction of imports of dugup antiquities into the US market to those with documentation of legal export.

Here is the Senator being interviewed at the Turkish Cultural Centre's Annual Friendship Dinner, March 24, 2011:



Here she again links cultural heritage with economy: "...economic development, economic opportunity, cultural exchange, the cultures of both countries can enhance everything that we have to offer here in America". Well, cultural exchange is not very fruitful when one nation's citizens are busy making money from the sale of cultural property plundered in the other and illegally exported. Is she really of the opinion that the Turkish cultural heritage is only of value when it is being used to "enhance everything that we have to offer here in America"?

It is a great shame that the Senator refused to clarify her involvement and explain why she would allow her name to become associated with the criticism from the antiquity dealers' lobby of the efforts of the United States to curb the trade in illicit antiquities.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Jewish Claims Conference Gets University Antiquity Collection

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Leipzig University has a small but important collection of ancient Egyptian antiquities which are used as teaching material. Part of it is material that was collected for that purpose by Georg Steindorff, a professor of Jewish origin and had been bought from him by the University in 1936. A court in Berlin has now decided that the collection must be handed to the Jewish Claims Conference (JCC), considering that Steindorff had sold it under duress for a value far below its actual worth.
Leipzig university could produce no evidence to counter the charge that Steindorff had been forced to sell his collection under Nazi rule. It had taken the case to court in the hope of keeping the antique objects that the professor had collected on research trips. Steindorff, who held Leipzig's Egyptology chair, emigrated from Nazi Germany and died in the US in 1951.

Deutsche Press Agentur, 'German university loses Egyptian collection bought under Nazis', Monsters and Critics May 26, 2011,

So, now these well-provenanced objects will presumably be appearing on the market. What is interesting is that the wishes of Steindorff's family in the US have been disregarded as his legacy is split up and destroyed. Thomas Hemer, grandson of Georg Steindorff, wants the collection to stay in Leipzig. There is now a Georg Steindorff Initiative: Facebook page on this controversy. Over in Egypt, others have their eye on this once-partaged material:

Zahi Hawass Minister of State for Antiquities sent an official letter to the JCC demanding restitution of these objects, and threatened to file a lawsuit against it before German and international courts if the JCC did not comply.
- but there seems to be a misunderstanding among their cardboard-cutout journalists what this is all about ("Hawass seeks return of pharaonic piece in Israel").
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Saturday, 28 May 2011

Crosby Garrett Excavations 2011

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The Crosby Garrett helmet was discovered by metal detectorists last year. After much cajoling the anonymous finder or finders was/were persuaded to admit where it had been found. Apparently FLOs visiting the site saw an "infilled hole" which they were told had been the findspot. An excavation was promised, so that we could all learn about the context of deposition of this Nationally-Important-Shiny-Stuff-That-Is-Not-A-National-Treasure. The object itself has disappeared into an anonymous private collection without sight or sound since. Meanwhile the nighthawks have gone over the site. Winter came and has gone, spring too, we are now well into summer, the ground has dried, the sheep have lambed. When was the excavation? Where is the excavation archive? Where and when will it be published? The only Google hit for the term might be helpful to the excavators, but does not reveal that one took place. So what happened? What was the context of deposition of this extraordinary object?

Friday, 27 May 2011

Fincham's "Collaborative network" involving Locals, Sans "Filth"

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Since my earlier attempt to understand this was dismissed by Derek Fincham as Glennbeckian and "filth" (sic), I'll try again. Fincham wrote a lengthy review of "Chasing Aphrodite" on his Illicit Cultural property blog. The final paragraph of his text however posed some questions about responsibility for looting and how therefore to deal with it. It seems from this text and other things he has written that Dr Fincham differs from those of us who see the antiquities market as the main factor driving commercial antiquities looting. In the text to which I refer, while he admits that the book rightly highlights the "illegal and unethical conduct of the Getty", according to him:
the archaeological community and nations of origin have much to answer for as well. When these ancient cities are studied, concern needs to be directed at the source to how the locals will react. What good is a trained archaeologist who painstakingly unearths parts of an ancient city, only to have her work undone at night by looters. [...] Moving forward how can we envision a collaborative network which follows the law, but also protects sites, allows for professional excavation, and allows us to steward these precious resources for future generations.
Let us note the term "collaborative network". Derek Fincham refused to answer my earlier comments, so has not revealed whether this is a reference back to his previous position (see here , here and here) that England's Portable Antiquities Scheme is a (the?) "way forward" to prevent looting. This is what he has suggested in the past and although the text presently discussed is somewhat garbled, it looks a bit like he still seems to believe this.

I pointed out that protecting the tropical rainforests does not consist of finding ways to professionally make things like tropical hardwood bookshelves from the trees, but preserving the trees in situ and sustainably. In the same way then conservation of archaeological sites (Fincham's "cities") does not mean excavating them all (however "professionally") to get the displayable goodies out right now, but preserving them as intact as possible. Excavation does not come into it. It looks a bit like in proposing a "collaborative network" allowing for "professional excavation" Fincham is thinking about 'stewardship' of dugup OBJECTS rather than archaeological deposits. In other words "art(sic)-protection" at the expense of "archaeological protection". material goods instead of information about our collective social past.

It also seems to me that Fincham is blaming "source countries" and "archaeologists" for not creating these "collaborative networks" involving locals and their "reactions". He does not see them as the victim of looting but one of its causes. I wonder if he would care to enlarge on that?

Advocating the setting up of Portable-Antiquities-Scheme-clones in antiquity "source countries" as a means of preservation (sic) is the kind of collaborative network postulated by Fincham in the past ("A Coordinated Legal and Policy Approach to Undiscovered Antiquities: Adapting the Cultural Heritage Policy of England and Wales to Other Nations of Origin" ). It would take into account "how the locals will react" having a plunderable source of collectables on their doorstep. I suppose those who believe the Brits are putting millions of pounds into research excavations on Treasure findspots (but they are not) which Treasure hunters have stopped disturbing the moment they realise there is reportable material there (they generally do not) might be conned into thinking the Treasure Act "allows for professional excavation".

Here's the recipe for setting up a comparable PAS-clone in the average antiquity source country (applying the 'Fincham Model'):

1) first of all you would have to remove the legislation, rendering the hoiking of collectables out of archaeological site by spade, pickaxe and metal detector legal (nobody is going to come forward to report finds if the activity is illegal).

2) Then you need to set up the PAS-clone Scheme at a cost of a few million dollars a year.

3) This will only be efficient at "building up numbers" of stuff in its database if it concentrates its activities on Treasure hunters rather than accidental finders. Obviously the more Treasure hunters there are, the more will be coming forward with finds to record. And the more 'wonderful things' we will have to show an admiring public glittering away behind security glass.

4) This will not achieve results comparable to the English PAS unless the Treasure hunters can be concentrated into groups, such as organizing commercial artefact-grabbing events rather like the commercial metal detecting rallies in Britain. In societies where metal-detector-ownership-for-everyone is ruled out by poverty, and dealers cannot be persuaded to 'sponsor a treasure seeker' this could have the form of a commercial dig-in, perhaps with the use of earthmoving machinery to give participants access to the finds-bearing layers (like the setup in Texas I discussed on this blog maybe a year ago).

5) Another approach is the 'club', entities which organize treasure seekers into groups where information can be gathered and they can swap stories about how best to plunder the archaeological record for finds for the Clone-Scheme to record.

6) The Clone-Scheme needs to monopolise the media in order to convince the public that short-term policies of plundering the displayable and collectable goodies out of the archaeological record is in no way an erosion of their archaeological values, that anyone who thinks it is must be a 'dinosaur', out of touch with the spirit of the times.

7) It needs to convince archaeologists and other heritage professionals that in order not to be labelled a 'dinosaur', they have to support organized treasure and collectable plundering and the Clone-Scheme. It needs to persuade archaeologists to succumb to the tendency to present archaeology mainly as a "search for shiny stuff" and "stuff to tell half-wit stories about to the press". It needs to combat any of those 'dinosaurs' who insist on recalling how much effort it took previous generations to present archaeology to the public as 'not a treasure hunt'. This may be more difficult in some countries that others, it depends on education I suppose. Certainly remarkable things have happened in the archaeological milieu in Great Britain, the archaeological sites of which are now a "treasure hunter's paradise").

8) Of course not everybody will come forward with their dugups for recording. But that should not matter so much, some is better than nothing. What needs to be done is to make a loud fuss about what has been recorded, take every opportunity to emphasise "how much" has been noted and keep very quiet about the stuff that is clandestinely dug up and spirtited away under the existing legislation. That's not positive news, its food for the 'dinosaurs' who cannot see that a "collaborative network" engaged in emptying sites for collectables is the way forward. At all costs a fuller public discussion of these issues is to be avoided. Transparency is the enemy of policy. Ignore the questioners, send them to Coventry.

"Britain: An Amateur Treasure-Seeker's Paradise": Metal Detecting Holiday Bookings Up.

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PAS has outshone itself. Google searching for the text "Britain: An Amateur Treasure-Seeker's Paradise" (with inverted commas) produces 179 links and texts hosted on sites like Yahoo, MSN, various Reuters offshoots, India Times, coiney newsfeeds, metal detecting webpages, and I even spotted a link apparently on an 'UK Erotica & Sex News' page.

Meanwhile searching for any text at all on the topic of "Britain: Archaeological preservation" (with inverted commas) produced eleven. So about the ratio you'd expect then. Shiny Stuff Sets the Agenda.

I expect metal detecting holiday bookings will be up this summer.

Disgraceful. This is supposed to be "archaeological outreach"? This is the kind of damaging "outreach" the discipline can well do without. What went wrong? What are these people thinking?

Thursday, 26 May 2011

PASing Around with the "Numbers": A Week in the Record

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The country I live in used to have a government that loved statistics. Every year wheat and sugar beet production was up, the number of new houses built was up, production of tractors and cars was up. Over in the "rotten west" the only thing that the newspapers told us was going up was the number of unemployed and alcoholics, and the number of people shot in the streets by gangsters or killed in some catastrophe or other. Listening to the state media (the only media), one could believe one lived in a paradise on earth, except there were food shortages in the shops, there was a waiting list for new cars and somehow those new houses and flats seemed not to have been built in the citizen's own town. We lived in a world of statistical myth. Knowing that, nobody listened to the numbers and dismissed the claims that things were improving as propaganda. Which is a pity, because although life was bad (really bad) for most of us, things were happening which were to have great significance when the country threw out those communists and began to live under a new system. Many other nations in the post-Soviet Bloc countries found themselves with a far worse social and economic infrastructure with the results we see.

Like the countries of eastern Europe before 1989, the PAS loves broadcasting its propaganda of success. From press releases and conference programmes it can be seen that it knows no other type. The PAS webpage gives a running account of how the numbers keep getting bigger and bigger. So yesterday during the launch of the 2008 report, instead of hearing about them, we heard of the bigger numbers achieved two years later in 2010. We were treated to effusive accounts of how well "the numbers" show the PAS is doing in its struggle to inform citizens about the wealth of archaeological treasures that lies beneath their feet just waiting for them to "have a go" themselves at digging them up and showcase them on the PAS database. Now the whole world and its aunt is learning that the British Museum reports a large increase in archaeological finds found by the public and that "archaeological finds are up by 36%". Yesterday this "massive increase in archaeological finds found by the public" was being trumpeted around the press. The figures for 2010 were 139502 records referring to 233273 objects recorded through the PAS. In addition it was announced yesterday that in 2010, there were " 859 Treasure cases, up 10%":
the British Museum manages the PAS, and also administers the Treasure Act (sic) 1996. This increase in finds is mostly due to a rebuild of the PAS finds database in early 2010, which has made it easier to use for recorders and the public, and interns employed to record finds, generously funded by the Headley Trust and Institute for Archaeologists.
Well, that is not the whole truth is it? Let's have a look at those statistics for 2010, using the search the database facilities of the PAS. I have no special access to PAS records, I see as much as the average member of public who pays for the Scheme, so readers - and culture ministers - can check this out themselves from the 'statistics' sidebar in the database, the rest is very user-friendly so everybody can use it.

Using this facility to look at the 2010 Average per month records, we get these results:

Month

Objects

Records

January

12277

4289

February

5584

3509

March

95560

93774

April

57874

4183

May

5258

3948

June

14509

4476

July

5506

4574

August

11299

3459

September

4688

3844

October

6445

4641

November

9017

5062

December

5256

3743


233273

139502


Well, first of all let us look at that massive total, c. 139500 records (referring to 233200 objects) - wow, eh? The figures for 2009 are 39874 records (mentioning 67074 objects), so that is a big increase...

Looking in more detail however we can see that the monthly recording figures for 2010 are indeed a little up on the corresponding values for 2009. But there is one highly significant anomaly. March 2010 (March 22nd 2010 in particular) is interesting. On one day there was a huge leap in the numbers. In fact this is a huge leap which is largely responsible for the increase reported for the whole of 2010. Let us take a look at the PAS recording going on that third week in March 2010 using the PAS database search facility. Have a look at this: Statistical analysis of the database for Friday 19th March 2010 until Saturday 27th March 2010

Number of records: 91388 (Number of objects to which they refer: 92140 - an uncharacteristically low ratio this week, see why below)

Number due to Responsible Metal Detectorists reporting their Finds:
14118 records overall (15.4%) referring to 14864 objects.

Quantities recorded per Officer and assistants:
Only 36 FLOs recorded anything at all during that week (most recorded between 3 and 40 objects - average 17.1) That is 645 records referring to 1397 objects
Hero recorders that week:
Adam Daubney (Lincoln): submitted 66 records referring to 101 objects
Andrew Brown (Suffolk): submitted 58 records of 58 finds
and Ciorstaidh Hayward Trevarthen (Dorset) boosting the "number of objects" statistics with just one record, but referring to 662 objects.

What is significant in the records made in that week is that two additional bodies of data are present:
Peter Guest (not a PAS employee) submitted 52,812 records (listed as referring to 52812 objects) inserted from Cardiff University's Iron Age and Roman Coins of Wales project database.
and Celtic Coin Index (not a PAS employee) submitted 37,931 records (also listed as containing records of the same number of objects) inserted from Oxford University's Celtic Coin Index database.

So of March 2010's total of 93,774 records 90,743 are from these two extraneous (and independently funded and operated) sources alone added to the PAS database on March 22nd. That means only 3031 objects were recorded from outreach to both metal detectorists and non metal detecting members of the public that month (about seventy per FLO per month). It also means that c. 91,000 records of the total of 139,502 quoted for 2010 are in fact inserted from these other sources, and therefore only 48,759 come from the outreach work of the FLOs. So in 2010 there were just 8885 more records created on the PAS database as a result of outreach among the public in 2010 by the PAS than in 2009. That is not an increase of "36%" is it?

This alleged "36%" increase in statistics about PAS outreach and the overall totals have however been lauded by metal detecting Minister Ed Vaisey and others as showing the contribution of artefact hunting to the work of the PAS - which in turn shows how it is "working". But let us look at the actual date of finding of the objects entered onto the PAS database from those two external sources and now being included in the PAS statistics for 2010 (again from the PAS database). The source is the same statistical analysis of the database for Friday 19th March 2010 until Saturday 27th March 2010: Let us see how many of those data counted as "finds recording in 2010" come from finds made in and around 2010, or even in the same decade or century:




Year of discovery

Year Objects Records
No year recorded 64296 64244
year zer0 5945 5945
1720 3 3
1736 1 1
1746 1 1
1749 19 19
1750 1 1
1761 1 1
1762 5 5
1764 1 1
1775 1 1
1781 3 3
1786 1 1
1788 1 1
1796 1 1
1800 11 11
1801 1 1
1803 6 6
1805 1 1
1806 2 2
1813 1 1
1816 1 1
1821 1 1
1824 1 1
1825 9 9
1827 22 22
1829 21 21
1830 17 17
1832 6 6
1835 2 2
1836 1 1
1837 3 3
1838 9 9
1839 2 2
1840 9 9
1841 4 4
1842 19 19
1843 7 7
1844 4 4
1845 2 2
1846 1 1
1847 5 5
1848 31 31
1849 65 65
1850 5 5
1851 5 5
1852 1 1
1853 86 86
1854 11 11
1855 7 7
1856 5 5
1857 12 12
1858 5 5
1859 8 8
1860 167 167
1861 3 3
1862 9 9
1863 6 6
1864 60 60
1865 9 9
1866 6 6
1867 17 17
1868 7 7
1869 17 17
1870 18 18
1871 6 6
1872 5 5
1873 59 59
1874 4 4
1875 18 18
1876 4 4
1877 7 7
1878 99 99
1879 6 6
1880 29 29
1881 5 5
1882 11 11
1883 4 4
1884 3 3
1885 2 2
1886 5 5
1887 8 8
1888 14 14
1889 21 21
1890 30 30
1891 10 10
1892 32 32
1893 15 15
1894 5 5
1895 14 14
1896 7 7
1897 2 2
1898 115 115
1899 9 9
1900 22 22
1901 5 5
1902 6 6
1903 15 15
1904 33 33
1905 611 611
1906 4 4
1907 53 53
1908 118 118
1909 6 6
1910 6 6
1911 331 331
1912 31 31
1913 76 76
1914 21 21
1915 8 8
1916 5 5
1917 8 8
1918 18 18
1919 132 132
1920 9 9
1921 3 3
1922 4 4
1923 7 7
1924 14 14
1925 14 14
1926 4 4
1927 69 69
1928 14 14
1929 6 6
1930 34 34
1931 46 46
1932 30 30
1933 8 8
1934 35 35
1935 42 42
1936 16 16
1937 23 23
1938 16 16
1939 15 15
1940 12 12
1941 6 6
1942 3 3
1943 2 2
1944 2 2
1945 3 3
1946 3 3
1947 4 4
1948 122 122
1949 6 6
1950 17 17
1951 5 5
1952 12 12
1953 10 10
1954 40 40
1955 30 30
1956 9 9
1957 25 25
1958 23 23
1959 14 14
1960 69 69
1961 26 26
1962 56 56
1963 51 51
1964 35 35
1965 68 68
1966 110 110
1967 111 111
1968 84 84
1969 38 38
1970 150 150
1971 99 99
1972 183 183
1973 127 127
1974 33 33
1975 43 43
1976 209 209
1977 283 283
1978 128 128
1979 146 146
1980 131 131
1981 122 122
1982 267 267
1983 274 274
1984 464 464
1985 862 862
1986 455 455
1987 869 869
1988 255 255
1989 199 199
1990 386 386
1991 300 300
1992 602 602
1993 426 426
1994 828 828
1995 658 658
1996 330 330
1997 129 129
1998 90 90
1999 336 336
2000 398 398
2001 286 286
2002 463 463
2003 489 489
2004 254 254
2005 35 35
2006 34 34
2007 4 4
2008 23 22
2009 194 182
2010 6105 5418

92140 91388

Of the actual total of records on the PAS database made in that week for 2010 as we have seen, at a maximum 645 were records (referring to 1397 objects) created by the FLOs as a result of the PAS' public outreach. The rest seem clearly to be inserted data from these two other external and independent sources.

The CCI and IARCW data are also responsible for a large peak in the number of findspots recorded in March 2010 with 8 figure National Grid References (888) and 10 figure one (52870). Normally PAS data do not contain as many records of findspot location with such precision.

I think the figures speak for themselves. Far from the figures indicating that in 2010, a substantial number more members of the public (including metal detectorists) came forward with finds they had recently made is an illusion. What is happening instead is that in 2010 the PAS gained access to data compiled by others quite unrelated to the Scheme, some of it recorded nearly 300 years ago and it is these data which are being presented on the PAS webpage as part of its own "achievement" in recording finds. This is at best misleading, but - given the fact that there is not a word of this in the BM press release, as reported on the Scheme's own website - could also be construed as dishonest.

It might be suggested that it is legitimate to count these figures in the PAS database as they are date about "finds made by the public" - which is what, in broad terms, the PAS database records. This is false on two counts. Firstly the CCI and IARCW databases both contained considerable numbers of records of finds made during archaeological excavations and archaeological surveys. They were both funded by outside sources as academic research projects, not public outreach. Secondly, and more importantly, both of them already existed in the form of standalone databases, and could comfortably have continued to do so. Incorporating them in the PAS database is unnecessary and seems primarily an idea seized upon cynically to bump up the Scheme's statistics to make it look as if - in its outreach to members of the public, and the "metal-detecting" community in particular, the PAS is "working" much better than it actually is.

I really do not see the need for this subterfuge (for there really can be no other name for it). In fact it hides the real achievement of the Scheme which has been a genuine rise in the number of records being made by genuine outreach. I think this is largely due to the reconstruction of the database which streamlines the manner in which FLOs enter these data and is enabling them to get through their recording backlog more rapidly. The PAS can tell us themselves the percentage I am sure. The question is however, given their propensity for 'spinning' their statistics in a form which both flatters and defends their metal-detectorist-partners instead of in a form which gives realistic basis for assessment of policy effectiveness, whether anyone apart from DCMS ministers and superficial journalists are really interested in listening to their "look how well we are doing!" bleating any more.

Vignette: Polish propaganda poster from the Old Days: "Better results from working together", might be a good slogan for the PAS .

Baghdad Museum: are "US Tax Dollars" the most important issue here?

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Professor Lamia al-Gailani Werr wrote on the University of Chicago's IraqCrisis list (Letter from Baghdad, May 24th 2011) of some of the recent archaeological and heritage events in Iraq, including some ongoing problems in the Iraq Museum in Baghdad with inventorisation, archiving and conservation despite having been helped by a grant from the Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation. Most people on reading such a text would consider it a shame that so much cultural property is in peril and feeling deep sympathy and empathy for those colleagues who are fighting these problems out of their own concern for the situation (for example the people in Iraq who alerted prof al-Galiani Werr to the problems). They would be considering ways to offer their support and help. Not so the US collecting mob. Lawyer Tompa "Cultural Property Observer" considers this text as highlighting why the US should not be aiding the Iraqis attempting to preserve the cultural heritage of the country that was so recently subject to US-led invasion and occupation (Your tax dollars at work: Fraud, Waste and Abuse at the Iraq Museum). He seems not to notice that the problems highlighted in the text go far beyond the particular one the US ambassadors threw a bit of money at (largely one suspects as a public relations gesture, the US having earned such bad press over the way they treated the Iraq Museum and similar institutions during the Invasion). He apparently places the blame for this "fraud" (eh?), "waste and abuse" of US tax dollars on "Crusading Western archaeologists". He seems not to notice that the number of tax dollars spent on repairing the roof and showcases of the shelled and gutted Museum are insignificant compared to the number of tax dollars spent on invading a sovereign country, bombing, shooting arresting, torturing and killing its citizens, searching for imaginary super weapons and toppling a former US ally. He sees no evidence of Fraud, Waste and Abuse in the conduct of that war.

As for US tax dollars lost through the failure of those distributing them to apply some more effective form of fiscal accountability from those receiving them, "stuff happens" Mr Tompa. Is that not the US attitude? You cannot blame financial mismanagement and wastage on "crusading western archaeologists".

Is it not a bit much to blame the Iraqi people for the shortcomings of their heritage protection efforts today, given the huge human and humanitarian problems the country faces? The people of Iraq have gone through three wars in twenty years, had to suffer under a dictator that America's leaders would have the world believe was one of the worse in the world. They had to endure ten years under US imposed sanctions, a US-generated program of economic and social destabilisation, then a US-led invasion and and cope with the consequent instability that has prevailed until now. I wonder how well the heritage would fare in any other country (including the US) if it was forced to endure such conditions.

This sort of use of other peoples' misfortunes as pro-American "it could never happen here" and "look at what the wily Orientals are doing now" propaganda is upsetting when it is offered as an excuse for ceasing to express support and concern or offer help. The use of commercial interests of reports of other peoples' misfortunes as oblique propaganda for Tompa's trade partners arguing for the sustaining of current ongoing antiquity looting and smuggling (because "it's better off in US collections") is simply disgusting.

UPDATE 13.06.11
It seems the Iraqis, still less those dastardly 'crusading archaeologists' are not the whole (or maybe main) culprits here: Paul Richter, 'Missing Iraq money may have been stolen, auditors say', Los Angeles Times, June 13, 2011:
U.S. Defense officials still cannot say what happened to $6.6 billion, sent by the planeload in cash and intended for Iraq's reconstruction after the start of the war. [...] U.S. officials often didn't have time or staff to keep strict financial controls. Millions of dollars were stuffed in gunnysacks and hauled on pickups to Iraqi agencies or contractors, officials have testified. House Government Reform Committee investigators charged in 2005 that U.S. officials "used virtually no financial controls to account for these enormous cash withdrawals once they arrived in Iraq, and there is evidence of substantial waste, fraud and abuse in the actual spending and disbursement of the Iraqi funds." Pentagon officials have contended for the last six years that they could account for the money if given enough time to track down the records. But repeated attempts to find the documentation, or better yet the cash, were fruitless.
So, a leaky roof in a foreign museum is just the tip of the iceberg of a problem involving considerable mismanagement of US funds, by the representatives of US administration itself and nothing to do with archaeologists and preservationists.

Fincham: Blaming the Victim?

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There is a lengthy review of "Chasing Aphrodite" by Derek Fincham on his blog. I really cannot let his final comment go unremarked. The lawyer apparently does not see the antiquities market as driving commercial antiquities looting. According to him, even though it is clear that the book rightly highlights the "illegal and unethical conduct of the Getty":
the archaeological community and nations of origin have much to answer for as well. When these ancient cities are studied, concern needs to be directed at the source to how the locals will react. What good is a trained archaeologist who painstakingly unearths parts of an ancient city, only to have her work undone at night by looters. [...] Moving forward how can we envision a collaborative network which follows the law, but also protects sites, allows for professional excavation, and allows us to steward these precious resources for future generations.
Well of course protecting the tropical rainforests does not consist of finding ways to professionally make tropical hardwood toilet seats from the trees, but preserving the trees in situ and sustainably. In the same way then conservation of archaeological sites (Fincham's "cities") does not mean excavating them all (however "professionally") to get the displayable goodies out right now, but preserving them as intact as possible. Excavation does not come into it. So in order to provide stewardship, how about laws which (a) make it illegal to plunder sites for collectables, and (b) a market within which illicitly obtained collectables cannot be sold? Oh wait, we already have the first in most civilized countries (well, except the barbarian west, the island which is a "treasure hunter's paradise"). The problem is policing that market where many cowboys still apply piratical nineteenth century no-questions-asked ("optical due diligence") principles.

I really think we'd got past the stage of placing the blame for rape on the victim - which is exactly what Fincham does here trying to lay the blame on "nations of origin". Likewise it really is not the "good archaeologist" who pays nocturnal looters money for finds plundered from the site they excavate in the daytime - is Fincham suggesting they should try to outbid the antiquity marchands who finance such looting? I simply do not follow his point that "concern needs to be directed at the source to how the locals will react". Eh? React to what? The fact that archaeologists are digging? or the fact that some shady character in a black hat turns up one day and says he'll pay a few dollars for some of those terracotta figurines (heads with faces on them preferred, torsos also acceptable)?

How does looting start? At Wanborough, was it the discovery of a Roman temple (and lack of concern for "how the locals would react") that started the looting off, or was it the fact that some blokes would buy the coins and other metal artefacts from metal detecting the site that led to the destruction? Are looters going out to farmer John Browning's farm (the source of the Icklingham Bronzes) because archaeologists had made discoveries there and had not sufficiently "directed concern at the source to how the locals will react" or because the finds made there can be sold on at a tidy profit to people that will not ask too many questions? The bloke that looted the wreck I reported here a month ago because there was no "concern how the locals would react" or because he could sell the artefacts at a tidy profit to people who'd not ask too many questions? Is the Roman town at Archar in Bulgaria now totally trashed (a whole Roman town) currently in that state because nobody "directed concern at the source to how the locals will react" to the fact that was a Roman town under the fields, or was it because container loads of the metal detected artefacts could be shipped through Munich and Frankfurt to US markets where they were being sold by the kilogramme like onions to buyers who did not give a monkey's about where they came from and what had been destroyed to produce them? Likewise in the States is looting going on in the Four Corners region because of a lack of "concern directed at the source to how the locals will react" to there being ancient sites and graveyards in public lands out in the desert, or is it due to the desire of collectors to collect pots and pans and their high market value? (And Judge Waddoups saying its "OK" to loot the "Injun past" out there)?

Slimy toad dealers and their lawyers may try to persuade their clients and the wider public that there is "no scientific evidence that no-questions-asked trading is the motor of looting". I say they are fogging the issue. There is no scientific proof that it is NOT, and there is every indication that in fact the no-questions-asked trade is directly responsible for the commercial viability of looting. Derek Fincham may try to claim that the archaeologists and the victim nations are in some way responsible for the commercial rape of the heritage of countries with ancient cultures. I say that no-questions-asked dealers and collectors are clearly the guilty party. Let us have transparency and openness of the trade in antiquities, documented and verifiably licit collecting histories and exclusion from the market of the cowboys whose two-minute due diligence is merely "optical" (in other words, merely illusory).

UPDATE: I did a follow-up text on this here (Fincham's "Collaborative Network" involving Locals, sans "Filth")
Now I see Dr Fincham, replying to Gill, is claiming that archaeologists are partly to blame because "it is my understanding that often times when a new site is discovered, archaeologists will study a part of a site, but when they leave, looters will come in; either at night or when the site is left when summer digs have concluded". So what is he saying? that archaeologists should not sample new sites? That archaeologists should set up house on the sites of their research projects and live there for the rest of their lives (what if the site is wreck underwater)? In what way are they to "blame" for what criminals do? Is the home owner to "blame" because they went out to see that film when the burglars came visiting? Would an apprehended burglar's lawyer really argue that it was the victims' fault for going out of their houses providing an opportunity to thieve? I really do not follow the logic of Fincham's argument.

Vignette: "Chasing Aphrodite", object lust and blaming the victim

Britain: "An Amateur Treasure-Seeker's Paradise"

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Britain, due to lax legislation is now considered an amateur treasure-seeker's paradise where, according to Stefano Ambrogi of Reuters reporting on another PAS boastfest ('Britain: An amateur treasure-seeker's paradise', May 25th 2011) "unusually, government and museums approve detection and digging by general public" and "detector enthusiasts [...] are able to keep their haul":
Britain is bursting with ancient buried treasure and the masses have been bitten by the bug for digging it up — ironically with the full approval of the government and leading museums. Latest figures released by the British Museum on Wednesday showed a "massive" jump in the number of antiquities and spectacular objects classed as treasure being found by ordinary citizens with a passion for history.
"Highlights displayed at the British Museum" include "a stash of late Iron Age solid gold coins, called "staters," dating from 15 to 20 AD" (that would be the Wickham Market hoard where limited excavations - I think as yet unpublished - failed to reveal much about its burial context). "Of equal importance" (for whom?) "is a unique Roman knife handle depicting a perverted erotic scene involving two males and a female with one of the figures clutching a decapitated head. Only a handful of erotic knife handle designs have ever been found in Britain".

Apparently we are to rejoice that "In 2010, over 90,000 archaeological objects were reported to museums across the country — a 36 percent rise on 2009 — through what is known as the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS)". Well, were they? Is that REALLY what that figure of 90 000 represents? Who says so? Where is the Celtic Coin Index and the Roman Coins of Wales database? What about the Norfolk paper records entered by interns? All these contain information coming from PREVIOUS years, and not 2010 alone, don't they? In the case of the CCI some data going back to the eighteenth century well before electronic metal detectors (well before electricity in fact).

According to the article (is this based on a PAS press release?) the reason why so-called "detector enthusiasts" (why not call them what they are - artefact hunters?) were "derided by archaeologists in the past for their unscientific practices". That rather skips over what is meant by "unscientific", it is not whether they use more sophisticated (depth advantage and discriminating) electronic tools for "detecting" metal collectables, but the fact that the archaeological record is being actively mined as a source of collectables in Britain. That is what the problem is, sites and assemblages are being ripped apart and plundered for collectable geegaws, and all the public is told by an appreciative press is that we've an erotic knife handle and to a set of post-medieval false teeth to show for it. And tens of thousands of utterly trashed archaeological sites.

Along comes Michael Lewis to announce that the scheme differed markedly from the way in which excavation is regulated in the rest of Europe
which he said was "draconian" by comparison.
"Draconian" is the sort of word used by dealers and collectors. The likes of Wayne Sayles and Dave Welsh of the ACCG, William Pearlstein of the ACCP. The ACCG certainly thinks the PAS is on their side. Expressions of disdain for measures proposed by other countries in an effort to protect their archaeological sites from being trashed by artefact hunters and collectors being expressed by the PAS certainly do nothing to dispel this impression. After all as we all know, Roger Bland was a willing recipient of the ACCG "Friends of Numismatics" award.

Those so-called "draconian laws" mean that it is illegal to trash sites and treat them as geegaw mines in most other countries of the world (including on public lands in the USA). I really do not see that Britain has anything to be proud of that it is not in England, Wales and Scotland.


Here's some holes dug by artefact hunters at Wanborough and an excavation of a site after the artefact hunters have been there - do artefact hunters no longer damage sites now Britain has a PAS?

That's like making a virtue of the fact that a country may have (for example) limited anti-rape laws. Fine for male perverts, less so for the women who live there. Britain's legislation is fine for the artefact collector, ideal for the dealer (as long as its not for export) and as we have seen now widely regarded as a 'paradise' for treasure seekers. But its not protecting the archaeology. Filling museum cases with pretty dugup and ripped off geegaws is what nineteenth century antiquaries used to do. Elgin, Layard, Botta and Belzoni for example. But it is not "doing archaeology". It is not protecting sites. Paying for upwards of 800 "Treasures" unnecessarily ripped to a great degree from their (unknown because nobody investigates most of the sites) context of deposition well below plough level on otherwise unthreatened sites loudly applauded by all is costing millions yearly. I really cannot see why Lewis thinks this is anything for the Brits to boast about. What on earth do British archaeologists think they are doing just passively watching on as this sort of thing goes on?

Lauding the scheme Vaizey said: It really is incredibly effective...and it works."
Well, only until you stop parroting what you got on the self-gratulatory press release and start asking other questions. What it is actually doing is providing a platform legitimising artefact hunting, looting, and collecting as well as the antiquity trade. It is not actually mitigating the losses to the British archaeological record to any satisfactory degree, because the token big numbers do not look so impressive when you try to examine the evidence for the overall losses. The PAS (including the publicity given to events such as this) seems actually to be directly responsible for an increase in the number of people taking up this erosive and destructive hobby in Britain. It is also actively eroding public perceptions of the aims and purposes (and methods of) archaeology [and that's worldwide]. In actual fact, closer familiarity with what "metal detectorists" are up to behind the scenes (try looking in on the closed sections of their forums Mr Vaisey) reveal as clear as can be that the PAS is failing to instil "best practice" to any significant degree - and yet that was one of the government's primary aims in setting it up. In fact the PAS seems woefully unaware of the need to do anything about recent developments. Neither - most significantly in my opinion - is it providing any kind of a forum for discussion of the issues surrounding artefact hunting, collecting and the trade (licit and illicit) within archaeology, nor as archaeological "outreach" (ha ha - hollow laugh) to the general - non-collecting - public. A task for which the PAS is showing progressively less interest. I really do not see that there are grounds for the Minister's jubilation that it "works" - did they serve wine at the launch?

Where is the CBA? Where is the IFA? Where is APPAG? Where are RESCUE and The Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers? What is going on? [I can't find my Mad Hatter's Teaparty "doormouse into the teapot" vignette: I'll use this instead]
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Thanks to Nigel Swift for putting arrows on my map, it seems to present the central dilemma so well that I decided to use it twice. How on earth can anyone in their right mind say the PAS is "working" faced with something as graphic as that? Beats me. Cue more attacks on the Heritage Action Artefact Erosion Counter I guess...

From Cockspur Street to Coventry: What the British DCMS does not Want you to Think About

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British Culture Minister Vaisey appears terribly impressed that the PAS now has more and more objects in its database and apparently expects us to be too. Indeed the "dadah!" self-advertising toolbar on the PAS website excitedly announces today:
443,102 records * 700,306 objects * 19,053 people involved * 2,986 accounts
There is a problem in getting very excited about these figures, and that is a worrying little thing called the Heritage Action Artefact Erosion Counter. Never mind the vast number of finds that are accidentally being made by ordinary members of the public and not being reported, many many more are being found and deliberately dug up by artefact hunters for personal (private) collection and sale. The HAAEC purports to be a
running total of the number of recordable archaeological artefacts removed from the fields of England and Wales by metal detectorists (mostly without being reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme).

Today: 43
This year:114,883
Since the start of the Portable Antiquities Scheme: 4,196,418
Overall Total since 1975: 11,068,211

Mr Vaisey, like the rest of us, might have difficulty visualising those figures. Let us consider it in terms of the length of a chalk-line (or Bloomsbury pigeon flight) along the Edgeware Road from Marble Arch. Let us say one centimetre represents one record on the PAS database. Our chalk line today would go from the foot of Marble Arch 443,085 cm to Kilburn Tube Station (Iverson Road, where co-incidentally I used to live for a while when a student). If we take the number of "objects" represented by those records, we come to somewhere like Cricklewood Road. So still in comfortable biking distance from Cockspur Street. Very impressive? Well its the combined work of many people over thirteen years and it has cost the Brits thirteen million quid in direct funding alone.

But... the HAAEC says the number of (records of) recordable finds removed from the archaeological record would be about 4,196,418 since the PAS started. How long a chalk line is that many centimetres? It is a line that starts at the foot of Marble Arch, runs up the Edgeware Road, past Watford, St Albans and ends somewhere on the south side of Luton, more or less at the distance between the end of the runway of Luton Airport and Marble Arch. That is one centimetre for every missing find. One centimetre for every recordable archaeological find deliberately removed for personal entertainment and profit from the archaeological record which is a common resource, and vanished without trace. A line from Cockspur Street to Luton Airport. If it cost the Brits thirteen million pounds to get enough finds to get a line a little way up the Edgeware Road, how much would it really cost to get a scheme that would be coping with the rate of erosion to get a line as far as, say - St Albans, about three quarters of the way to Luton Airport?

Obviously, too much. So the answer most British archaeologists apparently adopt is to shrug their shoulders and say it's "better than nothing" and call it a "partnership". And the metal detectorists who've got all the stuff taken from between Cricklewood and Luton Airport are laughing.

Of course there are some who say the HAAEC gives a "false picture". They are right in two regards. The first is that it suggests we (so in other words, the PAS) actually know how many finds are taken, when - even after a thirteen-million-thirteen-year "partnership" with these plunderers of the past, the PAS simply does not. The HAAEC counter is a model, an estimate - but its the best we have. We have to ask by how much it would have to be "wrong" to make the figures acceptable. The second area where it is wrong however takes it the other way, because it takes the UK's population of active metal detectorists as a stable 10 000 (meaning slightly more than 8000 in the area covered by the PAS, which is the figure used in the HAAEC algorithm). I have been doing some thinking about that figure recently and while I feel it was correct (though a conservative estimate) for the period when the Counter was created, several pieces of evidence converge to suggest that the number of metal detector using artefact hunters in Britain has been growing at an annual rate of between 6 and 8% since that time. So the HAAEC should have been ticking away at quickening rate increasing by that amount each year, and it has not. The model is therefore an under-estimate of the number of finds now being lost annually through laissez-faire British policies concerning this activity.


Readers might be interested to know that the chalk line that represents the recordable finds lost to private collecting in England and Wales alone due to metal detecting from 1975 when the hobby really began to take off (one find: one centimetre) stretches from the north wall of Marble Arch to the outskirts of Coventry. But after throwing thirteen million quid at the problem, we only have a record of the ones as far as Kilburn tube station to show for this so-called "partnership".

Vignette: Visualisation of PAS 'achievement' on a map of southern England: red line = PAS records. Blue line = what their 'partners' have taken and PAS has not been able to record, Green line, what metal detectorists have taken since 1975.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

PAS "announces archaeological finds are up 35%"

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Well, it had to happen didn't it? The Museums Journal is reporting that the PAS is announcing that "archaeological finds are up by 36%". That's a laugh isn't it? The overall number of archaeological finds made by archaeologists, members of the public and metal-detector armed artefact hunters is of course much the same as it was the previous year or so, what the author of this article means is that the PAS have bumped-up the numbers of objects in their database by a fair percentage. That is not at all the same thing. What is important is the number of the things being found which contribute information to public knowledge, which however you measure it, it a very small proportion of the finds coming out of the earth year after year, many of them as the result of people going out equipped to deliberately seek them for collection and sale.

Interestingly it is also noted in the Museums Journal text that there was a 10% rise in treasure finds over last year. Since reporting is compulsory, that number is a statistical reflection of the amount of searching going on. That would seem to suggest that the number of people going out to plunder the archaeological record for collectables might be rising by about that percentage a year now the rewards for doing so are being so regularly trumpeted by the national press (led by the PAS). [A conclusion I came to recently on the basis of other sources - I'll write about it and its implications some time].

Ed Vaisey goes metal detecting, you can spot the Minister, the one who goes out in the fields in his clubbing-jeans and town-shoes and manages to keep them clean.

Ed Vaisey, the metal-detecting culture minister, added helpfully that the PAS:
“really is incredibly effective. It’s cost effective, it works and it’s probably the envy of the rest of the world. It connects amateurs and experts, and ensures that what is uncovered underground gets recorded, gets researched and, importantly, often gets displayed to the public”.
The Minister's mind is not really focussing on the issues (perhaps it has been addled by those electromagnetic waves from the metal detector he's been waving, or contact with artefact plunderers masquerading as archaeology's "partners"). Like many a foreign coiney he apparently confuses the Portable Antiquities Scheme with the Treasure Act with that 'displayed to the public' bit. Different things Ed. Most of the finds reported under the PAS disappear entirely into scattered and ephemeral private collections. the only ones (briefly) on 'public display' are those offered on eBay. In what way does the PAS "work", Minister? Has the Minister seen (and understood) the Heritage Action Erosion Counter? (go on Nigel, send a short presentation and the link to Cockspur Street). As for what is "uncovered underground" (sic) being preserved (surely what is most important), there's precious little of that going on, being properly "researched" likewise.

Minister Ed should be advised that the rest of the world does not "envy" English archaeology's crackpot Scheme to partner plunderers of the archaeological world. He is confusing the artefact trade with the "rest of the world". The French see right through it. In mid 2009, French metal detector users carried out a campaign to persuade the French government to adopt the British system which they tried to present as the ideal form of heritage management. The French Minister of Culture Frédéric Mitterrand was not persuaded and issued an official statement that pointed out
‘Si ces mesures ont effectivement permis d'augmenter le nombre des déclarations de découvertes d'objets archéologiques métalliques, elles n'ont en rien permis de réduire les atteintes au patrimoine générées par l'utilisation de détecteurs de métaux. Tout au plus permettent-elles de mesurer avec plus d'exactitude l'ampleur de ces atteintes’.
Les Journaux Officiels, 11th August 2009 page7867

So would Minister Vaisey claim that the UK is now 36% closer to mitigating the massive losses to the archaeological record caused by his government's policies on artefact hunting and collecting? I say this is a misleading illusion. This problem is not being addressed at all neither by British policy-makers or apathetic shoulder-shrugging British archaeologists.

Rebecca Atkinson, 'PAS announces 36% rise in archaeological finds' Museums Journal online 25th May 2011.

A Step Backwards, or a New Trend? Kunstkammer in Mougins

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Mougins Museum of Art (MMoCA) "is a unique museum which displays the art of the ancient world alongside paintings and sculpture from the Renaissance to the present day". It is also a private collection emulating the Universal Museum concept. Over on the SAFE blog on the basis of an enthusiastic Guardian article (the Museum is not open yet), Marni Walter asks: Good Guy-Bad Guy? On the basis of what their website showcases, I personally would ask Good-Taste-Guy or Bad-Taste-Guy? Take a look at the website. Look for example at what it says of MMoCA’s Egyptian gallery:
‘The Crypt’, is evocative of the Egyptian underworld and appropriately subterranean in the manner of a tomb to accommodate artefacts of special association with the afterlife. These include a splendid range of tomb reliefs, funerary masks and panels, smaller gods and goddesses in bronze and wood, culminating in a spectacular painted wooden sarcophagus. The material represents the complete span of Egyptology (sic), from the Old Kingdom (2686 BC – 2181 BC) to the Ptolemaic period (332 – 330 BC), complemented thematically by the more recent paintings of Alexander Calder, Jean Cocteau, and Hubert Robert.
I do not see much evidence of any egyptology in the presentation, nor the idea that Egyptian culture can be represented only by the funerary evidence. Click on the video (at your peril) - is that naff or what? Indiana Jones meets Frank Miller. Yuk.

And what is this? Fifth dynasty microcephalic brachiating apemen? There is no mention on the website where this object came from, how it got the 'musket-ball impact hole' in it or where the present owner bought it, but I've seen some similar stuff in a "Yahoo Ancient Artifacts" New York dealer's offerings on eBay. An atrocious piece. Where did the Third Intermediate Period sarcophagus "surface"? The granite statue from Karnak? (The "mummy mask" depicted on the website is clearly not a mask as such but - as the three dowel-holes show a fragment of a sarcophagus frequently the only bit that looters kept - the other bits being bulky and not so attractive to collectors).

So if this is about "Classical Art" and "connections", why does the Museum's website not attempt to explain why there is an Egyptian (but not, for example, Indian) gallery here at all? Egypt only became part of the Greek world (like Bactria which gets no mention) well after the formation of the Classical Greek tradition, and numerous elements of Ptolemaic Egypt never made it into the post-Classical Classicising tradition until Napoleon came along and kick-started interest in it as something "mysterious". It was only then, as a result of "Egyptomania" that it began contributing to European culture - which is not at all the way Roman traditions affected Medieval and Renaissance Europe.

In the Greek section is (Egypt again!) a “Marble Head of a Ptolemaic Queen” depicted with asymmetric eyes after she’s just come out of the shower which allegedly “is of special interest as its striking similarity to Cleopatra may make it be one of few sculpted portraits of the enigmatic queen in existence”. That’s the Cleopatra on the coins? Hmmm. In fact, this bust probably also "looks like" any of several thousand first century BC noblewomen with rather atypical hairstyles from whatever region it actually comes from. [UPDATE: It's nice to see that Dorothy King, initially very favourably disposed to the gallery now questions both the origins and attribution of this bust - among others - more closely].

The Roman Gallery “shares the same gallery space as Greece and presents every aspect of life and death in the Roman Empire with a world class display”. That seems an extravagant claim for such a small exhibition space, depicting "every aspect of life" in the whole Empire in a single display would be difficult to achieve. (What's the actual dating evidence for that rather distinctive "third century" mosaic depicted, and where did it come from?). The Museum's creators claim that this gallery contains “many novel arrangements in museology” (sic). That is not true, there is nothing “novel” about the jumbled "cabinet of curiosities"/ Kunstkammer approach – it was applied by the earliest antiquaries such as Ole Worm and is applied in other media – such as (note the name) the arts (?) magazine “Cabinet” . The museum's website portrays the Mougins Museum of Classical Art as less an "encyclopaedic" museum than a private Kunstkammer put on display for the proles to gawp at and be impressed - so a bit like British museums' current movement away from being places of learning towards an emphasis on supplying easily digestible entertainment and especially as showcases of glittery treasures.

UPDATE 20th June 2011: Since this was written the museum has been opened and visitors can make their own mind up. The opening ceremony is pictured and involved speeches, fireworks and guys dressed as Spartacus involved in a mock gladiator fight. Note the naff entrance gate.

UPDATE2, 10th July 2011: Dorothy King with her name-dropping "collectors' friend" hat on considers the recently opened museum a "hot topic" and remarks that in her circle of acquaintances, "everyone I know that has seen the Museum has been enthusiastic about the project".

By placing the collection on display, Levett cannot be accused of hiding dodgy antiquities out of sight like a pimp hiding his whores for the benefit and abuse of his close friends. My understanding is that they have a strict policy of 20 to 25 years' provenance for lesser items and 40+ years' provenance for more important antiquities. I suspect that some of these provenances will in due course turn out to have been figments of the dealers' imagination, but other items have secure provenances going back to the 18th century[...] The Mougins Museum of Classical Art is a genuine attempt to create a kosher collection of antiquities with good collecting histories and to share those antiquities with the public. For that reason I feel we should fully support I[t].
Well, if that is so, a good start would be making sure those secure provenances and collecting histories are given on the website to bring that point home to the public they want to encourage to visit. It is worth noting that this collecting policy is not mentioned at all on the website, suggesting that the website creators do not consider this as important as the naff video and "wotta-lotta-good-stuff-we've-got" aspects. So it is difficult to say how "kosher" any of this is. A collecting provenance of 25 years of course takes you back only to 1986, which is certainly no guarantee whatsoever that an item has not been illicitly obtained, is it?

[I'm a bit puzzled by the PhDivan comparison with a pimp and his girls, surely the evils of pimping are not related in any way to the size of the clientele].


Vignette: Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra by Eric Digger, you can buy your own on eBay and start your own classically-themed Kunstkammer.
 
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