Thursday, 30 June 2011

Blanding Teacher Reaches Deal in Artefacts Case

It seems there has been yet another plead deal in the Four Corners looting case. David Lacy, a mathematics teacher of Blanding, Utah, was one of the 26 people indicted in Utah, New Mexico and Colorado recently as a result of the Operation Cerberus investigation into artefact looting and trafficking. Lacy, who is the brother of San Juan County Sheriff Mike Lacy, was set for a six-day jury trial on July 11.
He was indicted on accusations that he sold a woman's prehistoric loin cloth, a turkey feather blanket, a decorated digging stick, a set of knife points and other artefacts for more than $11,000. He pleaded not guilty to the charges and, until Thursday, it appeared his would be the only case to go to trial. [...] Lacy fought the charges in part because a felony conviction could disqualify him from his job as a high school teacher.
Though admitting to being in possession of these 'injun' artefacts presumably will not? Most of the remaining 24 defendants (including two co-defendants charged alongside Lacy), reached plea agreements with federal prosecutors. None has been sentenced to prison (though Kevin Shumway has yet to be sentenced - that will happen Sept 16th). Two of the accused committed suicide rather than face charges.
On Thursday, both Lacy's attorney, Matthew Lewis, and assistant U.S. attorney Richard McKelvie declined to comment on the details of the "agreement in principle" they had reached. McKelvie said a change of plea hearing will be held in July, although no date has been set.

Source: Jennifer Dobner, 'Blanding teacher reaches deal in artifacts case', DeseretNews, June 30, 2011

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Good News for British Tekkies?

In Britain conservationists are worried that ongoing EU budget negotiations on the future of money provided through the Common Agricultural Policy could pose a threat to the British countryside and wildlife. These are vital funding streams which have underpinned major environmental improvement in the UK countryside over the last 20 years. But the metal detectorists will be happy, they have always been very wary of these conservation schemes which they fear will affect their ability to go onto properties managed in a conservation-guided manner and take away the artefacts from sites and assemblages from these areas of the historic environment. Also they have been heard complaining that subsidised shallow ploughing which does not dig into the subsoil layers of archaeological sites is failing to bring up enough collectables to satisfy them. It's a bit ironic that in a week when British archaeologists have been categorised by the ignorant and unhinged as mere "bunny huggers", they are awfully quiet about the possible effects on the historic environment of a curtailing of EU-funded environmental stewardship schemes.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Smithsonian Shipwreck Show Scuppered

According to Kate Taylor ('Shipwreck Show Postponed', New York Times June 28, 2011):
The Smithsonian Institution has indefinitely postponed its plans to mount an exhibition of Chinese artifacts salvaged from a shipwreck because of opposition from archeologists who say the objects were collected by a commercial treasure hunter in a manner that violated professional standards. The exhibition, “Shipwrecked: Tang Treasures and Monsoon Winds,” was tentatively scheduled for next spring at the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, the Smithsonian’s Asian art museums.
It is apparently not off the cards indefinitely, the Museum says it might mount a “Shipwrecked” exhibit perhaps two years from now, giving time for the museums’ director, Julian Raby "time to address some of the archeologists’ concerns" (what's he going to do, make the salvage company put the stuff back and excavate it properly with more attention to detail this time? Sadly with archaeological sites you can't do that, once it's gone, it's gone - which is what the point is.)
The salvage company has said it mined the artifacts quickly to avoid looting.
That's like teenage joyriders stealing a Rolls Royce so a hoodlum doesn't.

Kudos to the Smithsonian for reversing its earlier decision and taking the moral lead over the exploitation of underwater archaeological sites simply as "Treasure".

Councillor Alan Melton and Dr Mike Heyworth - BBC Radio 4 - PM

The UK local Councillor from the swampy Fens who said that his council would be lifting the requirement for pre-development assessments and mitigating excavations by "bunny huggers and historic lefties" has just appeared on the BBC. The debate is now available on You Tube.

"Oi mayda speach, ... I just want ter geta debayt going" said the oikey ex-brickey councillor (who certainly did not present it at a developers' meeting in such a manner). This is juxtaposed by "The truth of the matter..." presented in a much more articulate manner by Mike Heyworth, director of the CBA.

Councillor Melton seems not to understand what the words "GPS" mean, or what Sarah Parcak's work in Egypt consisted of and what relevance it has to what he is discussing.

The fracas was mentioned in the Guardian.'Archaeologists furious over councillor's 'bunny huggers' jibe.

UPDATE 23 July 2011: I see ex-Brickie Melton's own gor-blimey style is absent from a recent statement issued by the Fenland local council It would seem they employed a ghost-writer for him to take back what he had earlier said. What a farce.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Metal Detectorists Researching "History" in the UK

One of the standard pro-collecting arguments is that metal detectorists "research history" out in the fields while they are looking for artefacts to collect. This for the most part is nonsense, they are out there looking for things to collect. Any research they might do to put what they find into any context is done outside the normal rigours and methodologies of historical research, sometimes with tragi-comic results. Here is a classic example of the genre. There are good reasons why the History of Geoffrey of Monmouth and related material are not given much credence these days (not that they were in previous centuries either)- but some amateur historians simply do not read the kind of books which explain why. So we get some home-grown pseudo-historigraphy of the type represented by Alan Wilson. Now this gentleman has written a number of books on his theories and "has for years attempted to get the English Establishment to dig a simple hole in order to reveal the truth about the Kingdom of Wales and create a Tourist Industry" (eh? Tourists do not go to Wales?). But now we learn from the metal detecting forum UKDN that he has had help from Alan Hassell a "well-known" metal detectorist treasure hunter who has a big black box machine that makes loud noises (but never explains just what it is) which needs a little boy to carry around (a bit suspicious that). Together they "were able to find metal where there should not be any". They've just released some You Tube videos on their exploits (the texts cited below come from the links given lower down this post).
This Video held back for security and protection of the sites was never to be released until the Dumb, Stupid, Ignorant Academics and English Establishment did something to not only protect these sites but also to reveal the mistakes made in the past by trying to Silence Wilson and Blackett in the process. [...] Now beyond reasonable doubt the truth of these sites is revealed and the incompetance of the English Establishment EXPOSED for all the world to see. We take no pride in Destroying the name and reputation of Englands Establishment but enough is enough and they have had many oportunities to talk. Well let them talk their way out of this one. Dont believe anything the Englsih have to say about history its all Bullshit and we prove it.
Believe a metal detector instead, eh? Now my understanding is that these sites are in Wales, so I really do not know why its the English that are being criticised, and not the local Welsh archaeological services, but that is by the by. The problem is what these gentlemen have been telling the authorities they have found (the hyperlinks are mine, not in the original text)...
King Arthurs grave, The cross that Queen Helena recovered from the Holy Lands, King Arthurs Crown, and the Ark of the Covenant.[...] Apart from the Ark of the Covenant we also know where the Tabernacle was concealed. This is of far greater value than the Ark but for security reasons we make no mention of this in these 3 short videos.
Now funnily enough the authorities seem not to have taken their discoveries with the whining black box too seriously, so they decided to go public with the videos.
We implore the London Establishment and the Media to bring this to the Worlds Attention to stop mindless individuals armed with metal detectors destroying these very important historical sites. [...] After much deliberation we have decided to put these videos which prove beyond doubt that there is unexplained reasons why these sites have never been investigated or even considered worthy of an archaeological dig to investigate and close the matter.[...] Send links to these clips to every TV station and media newpapers to help protect these sites and hope that one day the world can see what is buried in these important places.
Well, if the machine is detecting metal I suggest that in one case its a collapsed and overgrown barbed wire fence.

The site they are searching here is the area around the Medieval church of St Peter Ad Montem at Llanharan, Glamorgan, a place the amateur historians consider to have been Caer Caradoc which they call Arthur's capital. They dug the church (which they own) here and 'discovered' an inscribed stone and a cast metal cross. Here's what one blogger has to say about them:
In 1983, they discovered a burial stone that reads “Rex Artorius, Fili Mavricius,” which supposedly means “King Arthur, the son of Mauricius (Meurig).” In 1990, they discovered an electrum cross that reads “Pro Anima Artorius,” “for the soul of Arthur.” The problem is, as the Bad Archaeologist points out, that “Rex Artorius, Fili Mavricius” actually means “King Arthur Mauricius, of the son” and “Pro Anima Artorius” means “Arthur for the soul.” Oh dear. This is not terribly complicated Latin grammar, although one could imagine that it might fool people who put apostrophes in plurals.
Frankly, I suspect that the guy with the wispy unwashed thinning hair has just written another book (let me see, "Lost Treasures of King Arthur"?) and these are promotional videos for it. But I'll put links up here for the value of the comism of the dialogue the metal detectorist conducts with himself.

Part 1:
Part 2:
Part 3:
Showing some more:

So, how many of these sites are protected by law? What's the betting that there will be loads of nocturnal visitors out there with their "depth advantage" detectors trying to find the golden doors and the hidden chamber with the stashes of gold that are reported here?

This seems to be the video-maker's intention. We find this expressly articulated here:
Australian Treasure hunter Alan Hassell uses his special deep seeking metal detector to reveal metal targets hidden for centuries. The English Establishment need to act now or face the humiliation of the world's media for incompetence. Now these sites have been revealed detectorists and night hawks will be out in force SEEKING FORTUNES. The time for these imbiciles has come for them to come out into the open and mediate is NOW not in the future NOW”.
("Mediate"?) The misspelt adjective "imbeciles" of course refers to "the Establishment" rather than the metal detectorists who are going to be out at these sites with their metal detectors seeking the Ark of the Covenant.

Note the way the treasure hunter, not once but twice, shows how "by triangulation" (eh?) he has worked out precisely where "the gold" is behind that slab-built ("look how easily they come out") wall. It's almost as if he wants somebody to go there at night and tear a big hole in it - that would make a really good photo ("We will probably never know what they took") for the book, wouldn't it? But then inciting somebody to commit vandalism is not exactly "responsible metal detecting". So this whole affair does not depict treasure hunting and metal detectorists in too favourable a light. I wonder if the PAS would care to issue a statement on these videos while Wales is still within the PAS remit? (Don't hold your breath).

Utah fires its state archaeologists

It seems that in the US antiquity collectors and dealers are not the only ones who disapprove of archaeologists. In Utah, the scene of recent clashes between archaeology and collecting, the Salt Lake Tribune announces that Utah has fired its state archaeologists
The Utah Department of Community and Culture on Tuesday laid off the state archaeologist and two assistants, leaving the Antiquities section with just two employees: those responsible for maintaining a database necessary for development of roads, railways, buildings and other projects. Department acting Director Mike Hansen said he was simply carrying out budget cuts ordered by the Legislature to eliminate programs that receive state funds and that do not carry out requirements of state or federal law. [...] Assistant state archaeologist Ronald Rood, who was among those dismissed, said in a professional association website post that Utah "showed its disdain for archaeology and Utah’s vast cultural heritage." In a separate interview with The Tribune, he said that no other programs in the state Division of History had been cut and suggested there may have been a political motive behind the change: to eliminate employees who sought to protect archaeological sites threatened by development

[hat tip to BAJR]

Vignette: Kevin Jones, formerly Utah State Archaeologist

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Tory Councillor: No More Archaeology on my Patch

The obsession with British archaeology with 'Treasure' and its media coverage is reaping its rewards. Tory councillor Cllr Alan Melton, Leader of Fenland Council, Cambridgeshire, working on the principle “no growth equals no investment”, recently announced that from July 1st 2011, developers would no longer be required to observe the archaeological and heritage requirements of planning conditions. He says:
We will of course not seek to break the law, but we will be practical [...] we shall seek to be sustainable and practical, but we won’t dwell too much on the scriptures of the new religion. I don’t believe that Polar Bears will be floating down the Nene in my life time or indeed my children’s. I think we all need more convincing about some of the conflicting stories that are constantly peddled.
well, British archaeology has indeed been giving out conflicting stories about the value of finding shiny stuff and then demanding developers finance trenches dug in mud which contains no shiny stuff. So the developer "would not seek" to break the law when Treasure turns up unexpectedly on a building site but it seems that beyond that some are suggesting society need not go.

As the CBA said - "this example of unilateral policy-making on the hoof foregrounds a much more serious prospect: an era of local business-led, planning that may find it too much to resist the temptation of setting aside inconvenient truths about the impact of development on the historic and natural environment." Rescue has a similar response; the Archaeology Forum likewise. But are the public behind them?

The full text of Cllr Melton's speech is here, there is a Facebook page here (currently 895 members) and a petition here. Note that its organizers set themselves a target of "5000" signatories, in a country with fifty million people who current ideology has it are all "stakeholders" in the archaeological resource as common heritage - and at least 8000 metal detecting artefact hunters who are supposed to be responsible and all have a "passionate interest in the past".

It seems to me that British archaeology has dropped the ball and unless there is legislative (unlikely) and administrative reforms (even more so) strengthening the position of archaeology, we will be seeing many more Cllr Meltons in coming years. Certainly a first step towards any reform of growing attitudes is a return to emphasising that archaeology is not just a hunt for gold and silver objects which is precisely the picture that the public is getting from a decade and a half of the main form of "outreach" done by Britain's largest organization established for the purpose. This has undone many decades of hard work which was putting forward a more accurate picture of what archaeology is (was) about.

UPDATE 27.06.11
I did not hear it myself (the player does not operate outside GB), but to judge from the reaction of others talking about it afterwards, the Philistine Councillor made a complete ass of himself when faced with the reasoned arguments of Dr Mike Heyworth (CBA Director) on national radio. Good, but that still does not resolve the underlying problem of the way archaeology is perceived by the public.

Vignette: Cllr Melton addresses local about future Philistine planning policies in the pipeline.

Collectors' "Rights": We Gotta Amend the Constitution!!

According to a dugup antiquities dealer in the USA, the preservation ethic is a:
malignant cancer gradually penetrating, pervading and corrupting the heart of our Government [which] must be removed at any cost and at all hazards, or it will inevitably destroy everything we stand for and all that we hold dear - including what we think of as the American way of life.[...] Only when the right to collect is indelibly embedded into US law by a Constitutional amendment (or some equivalent measure to the effect that the right to collect trumps any and all interests of archaeology and cultural affairs) will continuation of our traditional right to collect coins and other antiquities be permanently secured.
So, sort of an extension of the 1973 Hobby Protection Act then? Would it make the trade in illegally exported coins and coins deemed stolen from state (common) ownership according to the laws of the country where obtained legal or illegal in the US? So why would the US pass laws which jeopardise its international relationships?

So are they going to repeal the Archaeological Resources Protection Act to allow the looting of collectables from ancient sites at home? Read the above with looting 'Injun' graves (and Judge Waddoups) in mind.


Can You Buy a Chair in the US for 15000 Dollars?


Can you buy a chair on a cultural preservation committee in the US for 15 000 dollars? That seems to be what conspiracy-theorist Peter Tompa is inferring. reports that Prof. Gerstenblith has donated $14,950 to Democratic candidates since 2008, including $2,300 to President Obama's election campaign and $1500 to his Senatorial campaigns.
(He does not reveal the political campaign contributions of the antiquity trade CPAC people, like Kislak and Korver).

I find it odd that US collectors and dealers accuse the brown-skinned foreign folk from whom they wish to take the dugup antiquities they covet of all having corrupt governments (which is used to suggest gives the somehow-superior US collectors and dealers some unwritten imperialist "rights" to cultural property illicitly obtained and illegally removed from such countries). Yet the same people do not bat an eyelid while suggesting corruption in their own government.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Patty Gerstenblith appointed CPAC Chair

An announcement has just been made that Professor Patty Gerstenblith, founding president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation has just been chosen to be appointed to the chair of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC). She replaces Katharine L. Reid (Museums). This is particularly interesting in the light of claims being made by antiquity dealers' lobbyists that the CPAC has been involved in "extra-legal activities" under previous chairs. This is unlikely to problem in Gerstenblith's period of office, so the coineys will have to find something else to snipe about (we need have no doubt they will). Prof. Gerstenblith has particularly welcome views on the antiquities market, her most recent article was titled, “Controlling the International Market in Antiquities: Reducing the Harm, Preserving the Past” - which is surely what the CPAC is all about. Before studying law she obtained a BA in Art History and Anthropology [and a PhD in the subject from] from Harvard University.

Nancy C. Wilkie is to be reappointed a member of the CPAC. She is an interesting choice:
Nancy Wilkie has a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota where she studied classics and prehistoric Greek archaeology. At Carleton College she is the William H. Laird Professor of Classics, Anthropology and the Liberal Arts, and her areas of specialization are prehistoric Greece, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, and cultural property issues. Her main publications include “Governmental Agencies and the Protection of Cultural Property in Times of War” in “Antiquities Under Siege. Cultural Heritage Protection After the Iraq War” (Lawrence Rothfield (ed.), Lanham 2008). She is Past-President of the AIA, and the 2009/2010 Norton Lecturer.
It seems Robert Korver (who says he walked off in a huff when he found he could not use his membership to "serve" the commerce in dugup ancient coins as he had hoped), has not yet been replaced. Let us hope that when he is it is from another part of the arts and antiquities trade, one that does not have problems with accepting the idea of export licences.
President Obama said, “It gives me great confidence that such dedicated and capable individuals have agreed to join this Administration to serve the American people. I look forward to working with them in the months and years to come.”
That is "serve" the American people not just the few thousand among them that collect dirty pieces of dugup history.

See also: SAFE congratulates newly appointed CPAC Chair Patty Gerstenblith

Friday, 24 June 2011

"Heritage Auction" Director Korver on His Failed Role in the CPAC

Former CPAC member Robert B. Korver has an article out in the coiney press under the inflammatory and oddly punctuated title "Congratulations! Your government believes... If You Collect, Coins You Are No better Than A Tomb Robber" (Celator June 2011, pp 30-32) supposedly to illustrate that its not just the brown-skinned folk which US coineys want to relieve of their archaeological heritage who have corrupt governments. All it shows me is how unsuitable the choice of Korver was as a Presidential advisor on cultural heritage in the first place - but we all know the younger President Bush was ill-served by his advisers in many areas. The text is the typical loosely structured ranty numismatic cant that we are used to meeting when coin fondlers get all riled up. If this is typical of the way Korver addressed fellow Commitee members, one can imagine he was not met with much understanding. Korver describes his exit from the CPAC in the following words: "Once the lunatics figured out how to seize control of the asylum, it was time to quit". I wonder that with his extreme coiney views expressed in overtly anti-archaeological and anti-establishment ACCG-lingo, it was not politely suggested to Korver that he had outstayed his welcome as a cultural "adviser".

Let's have a look at a few typical passages:

"Imagine today America claiming all $100 bills circulating abroad as our "cultural patrimony"...' is supposed to be an analogy to source countries objecting to the illegal export of archaeological material to fuel the US market.

"These MOUs are not your friend" - they restrict the number of illegally exported antiquities US importers can bring into the country. The point is of course that the MOUs were not designed to be the "friend" of those who wanted to profit from foreign criminal activity, were they? Surely that was the whole point of them?

"I was asked by the Bush White House to join the CPAC in July of 2003, and I served the interests of the collecting community faithfully" - note not objectively advising the state on the cultural matters under consideration as part of a team of eleven members. Mr Korver seems to project here the image of somebody who imagines he alone was a one-man CPAC, and one furthermore with a mission to place the interests of the dealers in ancient dugups before that of the protection of the cultural heritage, rather than seek some kind of responsible compromise.

We remember an earlier text in which Korver suggested the place for the CPAC is not the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) of the U.S. Department of State, but the Department of Commerce(!) This casts considerable doubt about his view of what the Committee's tasks actually were.

"Just in case nobody else has told you this before, professional archaeologists own ancient history, not criminals like you". It is odd that Korver thought the subject of CPAC deliberations was "who owns history" and not the US taking a moral lead and doing its part to combat the erosion of the world's historical record and the depletion of another country's cultural property due to illegal activity. I do not think anyone considers coin collectors to all be "criminals", just the one who knowingly and carelessly buy illicitly-obtained dugup artefacts. They are the real looters of the past and make its study by more responsible amateurs as well as professionals of this and future generations impossible. This is why the US - one of the world's largest markets for this kind of material - should be taking the moral lead and trying to curb this. They are not going to be able to do this if a member of the CPAC is by his own admission sitting there continually "advising" the rest that the US should not be doing this because - as he admits above - his loyalties lie with the no-questions-asked market (Korver is a Director of Heritage Auctions, America's largest collectibles auctioneer and third largest auction house in the world - turnover last year $716,664,649 including ancient coins of unclear provenance and collecting history).

Like all the rest of the "Cultural Propert Internationalists" spawned by the ACCG movement, Korver (p. 31) "much prefers Britain's Portable Treasure scheme which allows duplicate material to enter the market". The former "cultural expert" appointed by Bush can't even get the name of his preferred system right. Its the Portable Antiquities Scheme, which "allows" nothing; that is Britain's legislation (the Scheme is a result of the legislation not the other way round Mr Korver, and neither has anything to do with "duplicates"). The Treasure Act is something else, and has nothing to do with "duplicates". One would have thought that the guy could have found out more at least in the years after his appointment to the role of expert advisor, about how these things work. Another reason perhaps for us thinking that Mr Korver was an unsuitable candidate for the role to which George Dubbya appointed him.

Korver says that "CPAC guided previous administrations in their response to the cultural property demands (sic - "requests" is the word Mr Korver) made by foreign governments, and had previously agreed that while the import of certain antiquities and works of art should be relegated, ancient coins should be exempt from such restrictions". On the grounds presumably that they are neither antiquities nor works of art being looted? - surely some mistake? In point of fact, Bolivia, Canada, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mali and Peru are not noted for being source countries of ancient coins. That is the reason why these coins were not in the MOUs reached with those nations, Mr Korver. One might have thought that a presidential appointee as cultural advisor would have understood that.

As further justification why nobody should be concerned about the illicit movement of cultural property, Korver - who claims he himself has been trained in "ethno-history" - trots out the "Petrarch collected coins argument". He threatens coineys that one day he "may write a history of how archaeologists who stand on the shoulders of two centuries of numismatic research (sic) have turned on their former friends". I suggest he does not bother if it is going to be as Amerocentric and full of ranty bluster and mistakes as the text he wrote for the coiney broadsheet "Celator". It should be noted that there are three adverts for Californian dugup coin dealers in the body of his article.

Financial Times on Investing in Antiquities (Again)

The Financial Times has an article 'Antiquities: the war of art', by Stephen Wilmot (23/6/11) discussing the "attractions and risks associated with investing in antiquities". Every so often the financial papers produce such cringe-worthy texts which invariably miss out any discussion whatsoever of the moral aspects of the no-questions-asked commerce in antiquities which they are advertising. This article is no exception, though it has a surprise ending. It seems vaguely to focus on the market for Chinese artefacts for some reason. There is a discussion of China's efforts to get looted material back home, Neil Brodie is quoted as asking whether these efforts may be increased as China gains influence in the world economy:“At the moment people can afford to ignore Chinese claims, but will that still be the case in 10 or 20 years’ time?” he asks. the nearest the article gets to discussing the ethics of the trade is when it points out that investigating culture crime requires the investment of considerable resources, which is where countries like Italy have an advantage over poorer countries (Greece and Egypt are cited) where less resources can be devoted to this effort. This part of the discussion is entirely object-centred.
Costas Paraskevaides, director of ArtAncient, a website that sells historical objects, says “there is little doubt the market is very buoyant right now”. He cites the emergence of mainland Chinese buyers as a key reason. Two years ago, he sold roughly one item a month to a mainland Chinese buyer. Now, he says, they snap up pieces at all price ranges almost every other day.
As one of the 'posities' in 'investing in antiquities', the size of the market is stressed, and the article points out it is an expanding one.
Jonathan Stone, international business director of Asian art at Christie’s, believes the well of buyers is deep enough. “We’re not dealing with a handful of people – the breadth and depth of the market now is something very new,” he says.
But of course an expanding number of people after a finite resource (the number of licitly-obtained artefacts on the market) is one full of dire portent, because it will increasingly draw illicitly-obtained material onto the market to make up the shortfall, and as prices rise so does the incentive for looting. This of course is an aspect totally omitted by the Financial Times' one-sided discussion of the "investment value" of antiquities.

The article points out that some antiquities lose value [Brodie is again quoted here], that they may be over-priced at the time of sale due to aggressive bidding from a small number of greedy people for a particularly coveted item (I'd say the Crosby Garrett helmet is a good example of this). the article warns there are a lot of fakes around, and "the risk that the piece has been illegally imported" (should be "exported" shouldn't it FT?). There is no proper mention of the need for responsible collectors to ensure they have documented title to objects through verifiable and documented collecting histories and proof export formalities were fulfilled, or that it is collections of such artefacts which are most worth 'investing' in.

All this has made other ways of investing in emerging-world culture more popular, particularly Chinese contemporary art. “You need very specialist knowledge to collect the past, whereas the appeal of contemporary art is visceral – it’s about how you feel about it, what it does to you,” says Strauss. “Antiquities are far more problematic.”
Indeed they are, and it is to be noted that achieving "intercultural understanding" and cosmopolitanism (that's "globalisation" over here) is one of the main motives US (mainly) "cultural property internationalist" authors have been ascribing to their collecting and commercial activities. Why however concentrate on dead cultures of a foreign region at the expense of contact with the living one?

Vignette: money, money, money.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Steindorff Artefacts to Remain at University of Leipzig

The collection of Egyptian antiquities unearthed 96 years ago by Jewish Egyptologist Georg Steindorff will remain at the University of Leipzig, despite a Berlin Administrative Court ruling on May 26 that the university must return the collection to the American-based Jewish Claims Conference (sic) as unclaimed Jewish property.
The decision follows public protests against a recent Berlin court order that the objects be handed over to the Claims Conference, which had fought to reclaim them as stolen Jewish property since the unification of former East and West Germany in 1990 [...] An heir of Steindorff came forward recently to say the objects should remain in Leipzig [...] Steindorff’s grandson, Thomas Hemer, 88, traveled from Nevada to his Leipzig birthplace to argue that the objects should remain at the institute that his grandfather had cherished, Bloomberg reported.
The agreement establishes that the university will keep the collection and in return will devote time and funds toward a documentation of the life and work of Steindorff. It is unclear precisely what the Jewish Claims Conference had wanted to do with the items they fought for so long to obtain - given that Steindorff's heir apparently had no desire to see them divorced from the University's teaching collection.

Roman Haller, director of the Claims Conference in Germany said that the Berlin court judgment “sends a special signal to all museums, galleries and auction houses” that they must research the provenance of their collections. "The circumstances under which the cultural assets reached the museums must be transparent; we owe this to the victims,” Haller said. The same of course goes to all museums - for example those holding ethnographic material/art works taken from native communities, many of whom now want its return, and museums, collectors and dealers holding antiquities of unclear legitimacy.

It is reported that for some reason, Egyptian Minister for Antiquities Zahi Hawass had contacted the Claims Conference demanding that the Leipzig objects be returned to Egypt. The grounds for this second claim were not made clear. Some of us might feel that Dr Hawass' energies would be better utilised better documenting, securing and looking after what the Egyptians already have in their museum galleries and storerooms than chasing up material which has been in Europe since the 1930s, well before the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

JTA, 'Steindorff artifacts to remain at University of Leipzig', Jewish Journal June 23, 2011

Auction Houses Wary of Antiquities?

Here is an interesting comment from a frequent auction goer, an antiquity collector who however is not among those that avoids reading what is written here. He notes that these days the auction houses are copping it almost every time they publish a catalogue of an antiquities sale. He suggests they are getting more careful to be covered should questions arise about the collecting history of the items on offer. He makes an interesting point worth checking out:
have you noticed that they only leave a window of 3-4 weeks for their antiquities catalogs to go online but with other sales they are online 4-6 weeks before the sale?
well, actually I had noticed that when you run your eyes down the list of forthcoming auctions of certain firms, prints and drawings and furniture seem to be advertised well in advance, but its rare on casual visits to see when the next antiquity sale will be.

US Coiney Mutual Admiration Society

Today, June 23rd 2011, the Bailey & Ehrenberg website reports that "Peter Tompa Receives Kudos from former Presidential Advisor" for his "work before the Cultural Property Advisory Committee". The "advisor" is not named, but we can reveal that it was Robert Korver. Whoopee, eh? (Here's Tompa writing about Korver).

Stuck For Words

Cultural Property Observer has decided that discretion is the best part of valour and refusing to answer quite an important question:

Peter Tompa writes:"It seems to me Bulgarian money would be better spent on security for sites under active archaeological investigation and on a treasure trove program for the rest". Paul Barford said... I think I may have asked you this before, I must say I am more than a little curious to know how you feel that this would help preserve archaeological sites. See here and here. Thanks.

Could it be that the Washington lawyer just says the first stupid thing that comes into his head, and when asked to explain it, finds himself at a loss? The simple truth is that the measures Tompa suggests simply WILL NOT protect archaeological sites, all he really is interested in is suggesting that the "source countries" adopt measures which allow the depletion of the archaeological record (to fuel the collectors' market) to continue. The guy has not the faintest idea of what the discussion is about. Or pretends he does not - who knows with US lawyers?

What is the use of a lobbyist who cannot supply decent arguments to uphold what he is saying? Come on Mr Tompa, let us have a reasoned discussion of the issue. Ask Mr Witschonka for help if you feel you cannot do it yourself. He's keen on the idea too.

Trafic d'art : le trésor de guerre du terrorisme

Vendredi 24 juin 2011 de 12h30 à 13h25 sur Canal+ Décalé
Trafic d'art : le trésor de guerre du terrorisme - Une enquête de Romain Bolzinger.
Berceau de l'une des plus anciennes civilisations au monde, l'Irak est une mine d'or pour les archéologues : le sous-sol de Mésopotamie regorge de vestiges qui se négocient très cher dans les salles des ventes occidentales. Or, certains objets sont issus de fouilles illégales. A la chute de Saddam Hussein, le chaos a permis le pillage des musées de Bagdad. Au Liban, berceau de la civilisation phénicienne, le trafic d'art finance le Hezbollah. Le monde très fermé des collectionneurs d'art ne s'embarrasse pas de ces «détails». Milliardaires passionnés, galeristes fortunés et antiquaires sans scrupules font affaire. [...] Ironie de l'Histoire : les descendants des Sumériens, Assyriens et Babyloniens, fondateurs de notre civilisation, participent involontairement à sa destruction via un trafic d'antiquités qui finance le terrorisme le plus sanglant ! C'est la piste suivie par cette enquête passionnante et rigoureuse qui nous mène d'Irak au Liban, en passant par les salles de vente les plus réputées et les moins scrupuleuses à travers deux exemples très concrets.

En 2005 se vend à Drouot une statuette sumérienne d'une provenance douteuse, accompagnée d'un certificat suspect. Un cas d'école. Le commissaire-priseur auteur de cette forfaiture siège au Conseil des ventes volontaires censé sanctionner ces pratiques... L'Irak réclame en vain la restitution de la statuette. Personne ne bouge, alors qu'il a suffi d'un coup de fil à Romain Bolzinger pour vérifier, auprès des héritiers du collectionneur auquel aurait appartenu cette statuette, qu'ils ne l'ont jamais vue. Tout comme, d'un saut d'avion à New York, le journaliste débusque le galeriste trafiquant ayant pignon sur Madison Avenue et coutumier des descentes du FBI. Puis Romain Bolzinger se rend au Liban, dans le fief du Hezbollah, qui se comporte en parrain des transactions issues du pillage des sites archéologiques. Le mouvement terroriste est le plus gros fourgue de la collection du milliardaire américain James Ferrell, capable de publier sans état d'âme, et en toute impunité, un catalogue de deux cents pièces maîtresses sans pedigree.

And here's an estimate of a "statistic" for David Gill's current survey of opinions:
Avec 6 milliards de dollars, le trafic d'oeuvres d'art arrive en troisième position, juste après la drogue et les armes.
There is a video interview with the programme's author here:

Here is the book to which he refers: Treasures of the Ferrell Collection by Jeffrey Spier.

Why Size Matters

Over on Looting Matters is a lively discussion of the size of the market in illicitly-obtained antiquities (The scale of the market). It seems the main group of people taking part in the discussion are collectors, who are anxious to play down Gill's estimate (according to which the market is "worth 100 million dollars annually"). One dealer, Wayne Sayles joins in:
What does it matter? Even a common ancient coin worth $5 on the world market is "priceless" in the eyes of archaeologists and the sycophant press. The size of the market is just hyperbole.
No, no it is not. If the global market in illicit antiquities was worth 5000 dollars annually (within an art market worth billions), society would be justified in not investing many resources to fight it. If it is worth 5 million dollars annually it would be less justifiable. Gill suggests the market in tainted antiquities is worth twenty times that amount - in which case it is obvious than minimal investment of resources is not going to deal with the problem. It therefore is important to identify the scale and nature of the problem in order to deal with it.

Sayles, suggests that the problem is due to archaeological hyperbole which regards what he sees as a five-buck piece of merchandise as (")priceless(") information. I do not see the reason for the inverted commas, how would he price information? Coin dealers do in the US. It costs "too much" to provide their customers with items with full collecting histories, which is why (they say) they do not do it.

Sayles ridicules the archaeological concerns about the sale of a five-buck coin. But what Sayles is saying is that priceless information about the past is destroyed by plundering sites for collectables so dealers like him can earn a measly five bucks? Well, obviously that is an unacceptable situation, especially when Sayles is one of those fighting for his "right" to do that, and to block any attempts made by the US government to clean up the US market in dugup antiquities. Disgusting.

The looting of sites like Archar (Bulgaria) on an industrial sale produces not single coins ("worth five bucks") but produces bucketfuls of ancient artefacts (read:"archaeological evidence") from which middlemen and dealers sort the five-buck coins from that which they can sell for bigger money. The five-buck coin (and "minor artefacts for reasonable prices") often trotted out by these people are the by-products of a larger process. A process of destruction.

A process of destruction which, whatever the precise value, is generating big money. It should be stressed that this trade exists because of the money it can generate - not because the people involved in it are interested in "preserving the past" still less preserving information about the past which can be gained from the study of the archaeological record.

Sayles' view is typical of the wholly object-centred approach US (usually) collectors have to what they persist in calling the "cultural property debate", when it is a resource conservation issue.

Let us also remember that the antiquities trade does not exist solely on the basis that there is a constant flow of people with bulging wallets walking into Mr Grebkash and Runn's coin shop and buying one ten thousand dollar coin after another. The quickly- shifted cheaper coins and minor antiquities and 'partifacts' are not a negligent factor in the cashflow processes of many a dealer in dugup antiquities whose stock will often contain items of a variety of price ranges for this reason. If there were a dearth of these "reasonably priced" coins on the market, then many dealers would go out of business and fewer people would take up collecting. But of course it is the numbers of such coins on the market that keeps the prices down, and here it is the metal detector which is the cause of this glut.

Dr Bob, The Greek Businessman and the Trade in Illicit Antiquities

A bloke calling himself thedrbob has joined the "Looting Matters" discussion on 'The scale of the market' with two comments which point out that the size of the market in illicit antiquities is undiminished by recent concerns:
The prices realized from these sales and the estimated value of the suggested inventories clearly indicate that all of the anti-collecting hype against the antiquities market is ineffective. [...] The market is robust and is apparently ignoring all of the anti-collecting hype.
He later amended this to a question:
The sums realized from the recent antiquities auctions and the suggested value of alleged inventories suggests that the antiquities market is both robust and flourishing. [...] Is one, therefore, to conclude that all of this anti-collecting hype is just that, hype, without any effect whatsoever on the actual market?
The term "anti-collecting hype" deserves comment. "Thedrbob" was writing on "Looting Matters" and I really do think it unfair to dismiss the work Dr Gill does (see his list of publications) as mere "hype". But of course dismissive belittling is the preferred weapon of the antiquity collector and dealer (see Sayles' comments in the same thread). I would be interested to learn what "Thedrbob" feels about what can quite justifiably be considered "pro-collecting hype" - the views put out by collectors and dealers to try and convince a wider public that there is no real problem of illicit antiquities, and anyway all this so-called "cultural property retentionalism" is an evil construction based on reprehensible nationalism and applied by corrupt un-American governments and their brown-skinned unwashed ignorant subjects who cant really be trusted as much as an American collector to look after those bits of the world's archaeological heritage that happen to be found in their country. That collectors of dugups are an elite of connoisseurs and scholars not only "passionate about the past", and not only adding to our knowledge of the past, but through their cosmopolitanism and inter-cultural "understanding" leading to the dissemination of peace and love in the world. Now, wouldn't "The Dr Rob" consider that "hype"? So how do you combat the spread of such ideas among the general populace? Erudite papers in obscure archaeological journals on the ethics and politics of archaeological research published in the Netherlands? I bet "The Dr Rob" could not even give the name of one such journal, let alone say what was in the latest issue. Or is there not a place alongside such works for a more populist approach? Is that not what the collectors and dealers not doing? (Except as a milieu, they don't really do the "erudite paper" bit very well.)

As for the reason for the discussions of the illicit trade which "The Dr Rob" labels "just hype", surely the problem is that the concerns expressed are formulated because of and not in opposition to the size of the market in illicitly-obtained antiquities. If it were not a problem, there would be little discussion of it. "Thedrbob" is an idealist if he thinks that once collectors and dealers become aware of the issues involved in illicit antiquity transactions, they'd stop. On the contrary the trade in such items is not only as he says "robust and flourishing" but those involved in it are actively talking back and even lobbying lawmakers to further reduce restrictions on the trade.

Obviously since dealers and collectors will not be persuaded that there is a need to act more responsibly, then they will have to be constrained by external means, and that in turn means that public opinion has to be turned against them. The ideal is a situation where somebody would admit to having a collection of irresponsibly-obtained antiquities with as much alacrity as they would announce they are going to Kenya on a big game shooting expedition or they have a drawer full of freshly-collected Osprey eggs in their study.

"The Doctor Bob" reckons:
What the report (eh?) also fails to recognize is the sheer number of low end e-commerce sites selling antiquities as well.
This was later expanded to make an additional point:
To that strength must be added the observation that there are an increasing number of low end e-commerce sites offering a wide range of antiquities at moderate prices.
This echoes what another collector said in the same thread:
your way off the mark, i think you will find that illicit antiquities account for far less than you think [...] if you take out the realy expensive antiquities which all have fantastic provenance than you are left in my opinion with a negligible figure.
Well, the Looting Matters blog is perhaps not the best of places to claim that top-end of the market items have good provenances (collecting histories), when the whole point of that resource is that substantial numbers of them do not.

There seems to be the notion that because lots of antiquities do not cost all that much, preserving sites from being dug over to produce them is somehow not important. I really do not see the logic of that. A big hole in an archaeological site is no less a big hole if the only artefacts that it produced sold for 200 dollars instead of 200 000. How much money somebody made out of the end-sale really is no mitigation of archaeological destruction. Doctor Bob made an additional point, the number of outlets of such venues where they sell this stuff is "increasing". The point of this is that back in the nineteenth century an antiquity-collecting toff would have easily accepted something like the Euphronios vase in the hallway or music room, or a nice Roman copy of a hellenistic statue of Apollo in the orangery, he'd be unlikely to have a collection of uncleaned Roman bronze coins or fragments of fibulae stashed away in the portrait gallery. These things were rarely collected by the Grand Tour crowd. So where does Dr Bob think these "minor antiquities' are surfacing from? Almost certainly very rarely from any real (as opposed to mythological - "wink-wink" ) old collections. Its not the lack of cabinet toning on the objects that tells us this. Dealers will make up all sorts of excuses why they cannot demonstrate an actual origin in a real old (e.g., pre-1970) collection of licit items for more than a fraction of what they sell. Collectors may believe these excuses (or pretend to themselves they do). The rest of us cannot avoid the suspicion that these dealers are stringing us all along, and deep in their heart of hearts they know - even if they studiously avoided asking so as not to hear what they'd not want to hear - that these recently surfaced items come from all-too-recent digging on archaeological sites to fuel the no-questions-asked market in illicit antiquities.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

ANS's Witschonke and the Illicit Trade in Antiquities: "It's All THEIR Fault"

The American Numismatic Society (ANS) is conducting a discussion about "Ancient Coins and the Cultural Property Debate" in their magazine. While of course such a move should be welcomed, it is a shame that the theme is chosen in such a way as to make the ensuing discussion object-centred (and not conservation-based). The reader is immediately misled about the actual concerns that underlie what the American collector labels "the cultural property debate" which pretty soon gets deflected merely into the territory of "ownership" issues. What surely is at issue is the effect of the way antiquities as a whole (coins included) are collected on the looting and destruction of archaeological deposits which are a fragile and finite resource. Also one cannot help wondering about the commitment displayed and the effectiveness of a debate on such complex topics which apparently assigns each author just two pages (short attention span of coineys?). The discussion is also typically amerocentric rather than internationalist. Anyway, lets see how it is presented.

The beginning is not very encouraging. In the brief introductory article, Rick Witschonke trots out the same old tired arguments we have seen in the US context over and over again. His is an object-centred view. The problem for him is not that sites are damaged to produce fresh items for the expanding no-questions-asked numismatic trade (a problem he does not even mention), but how numismatic data (findspot details and associations) are lost through this market. He places the blame for this on "increased vigilance" and "national patrimony laws" which "drove the [...] trade in ancient coins underground" (which is why dealers don't like to talk about where coins actually come from).

But one might remark that it takes two to tango. Criminal sellers have to find buyers willing to do illicit deals with criminals, and these can do so sure that they will encounter no less morally challenged people who will in turn buy the goods from them. Witschonke is admitting that anyone who buys coins from these source countries in such a manner are participating in this underground illicit trade.

I find it odd that the problem is presented here as due to the "increased vigilance" of the archaeological protection authorities of these "source countries". This is because elsewhere US dugup antiquity collectors are saying (see yesterday's discussion here of what Tompa said about Bulgaria) that the way to resolve the problem is provide more vigilance, guards on all the sites. Witschonke raises an issue of the existence of "national patrimony laws", alleging that they are to blame for the problem with cultural property, nowhere does he address the issue of whether countries with antiquities in their soil "should" have them. What does the coiney think: should the USA have an Archaeological Resources Protection Act? Should Bulgaria or India? And who says they should not, or what they should contain, and on what grounds?

Anyway to continue with what Witschonke writes; he remarks that the main concern of the American Institute of Archaeology (apparently the only archaeological body in the world) is to "suppress the illicit trade" and "therefore end illicit excavation". This means that "they are opposed by dealer and collector groups who wish to maintain the trade in ancient coins". There is an interesting logical jump there. That the AIA wants to curb the illicit trade is presented as a threat to the entire industry. So what proportion of the coin supply to the trade is of illicit origin if the threat it might be curtailed rouses such alarm?

The ANS membership apparently (that is what Witschonke says) wish to engage in "responsible" collection of ancient coins. It seems to me therefore there is a need within the ANS to have some kind of a discussion what that means as part of their contribution to the "cultural property debate". Now, there is a document on the "Collection Policies of the American Numismatic Society" ("Acquisition and Disposal of Numismatic and Library Material") which states that:
The Society will not purchase or exhibit numismatic objects or other items that the Society reasonably suspects to have been unlawfully removed from archeological sites, stolen from public or private collections, removed from their country of origin in contravention of that country's laws declaring them state property or otherwise imported in contravention of the laws of the United States.
[That latter bit ("otherwise") is a bit puzzling as of course as dealers and collectors will tell you importing stuff illegally exported from most source countries "no US law was broken"]. It would be useful if the ANS was to make such a principle fundamental in a code of ethics for responsible coin collecting which it would expect its members to uphold in all cases, but especially in the case of those that purchase and collect dugup archaeological material (ancient coins). It would be even more useful is the word "suspect" (in itself a useful advance on weasel-worded "have no reason to believe") were replaced by the notion that the responsible collector takes "active steps to ascertain and document that individual items were not..." and seeks out responsible dealers who can supply such material. If that were applied on a large enough scale, that would do a lot to reduce the demand for illegally dug and illicitly exported archaeological material. It is clear that it is the failure of collectors to collect responsibly that is the cause of the looting. Irresponsible collectors are the looters of the past.

ANS: Heath Tries to Persuade

The next contribution to the American Numismatic Society (ANS) discussion about "Ancient Coins and the Cultural Property Debate" (see the post above this) is a text by archaeologist ("lifetime ANS member") Sebastian Heath who is there to present the archaeological view ( Peter Tompa is the next contributor invited ). I must admit I found Heath's text disagreeably smarmy in tone and lacking somewhat in content (the first two paragraphs are solely about the author - repeating to some extent Witschonke's introduction - so a slow start).

The archaeological content is missing because like coiney Witschonke in the preceding piece, Heath inexplicably presents an object-centred view. In his all-too brief presentation, a hoard (the Frome Hoard from England) is contrasted with coins the selling of which somehow (not really explained) "leads to further destruction of knowledge about the ancient world" because "the coins found by a detectorist and his mates could have been of great cultural importance". Well obviously they are not, I discuss this case in some detail on this blog (Wednesday, 6 October 2010, Wisconsin Reverend has Metal Detecting Friends in the UK and here, 20 October 2010 More Coins Fresh from the English Archaeological Record on Sale in Wisconsin ) and list the sort of coins involved.* Its not the coins that are important here, but the fact that they were ripped from an unknown site or sites without any form of documentation, which is information that can never be put back into the archaeological record. The archaeological information contained in those sites has been damaged or destroyed just so that somebody across the sea can have a few more coins to fondle.

Sadly, Heath gives his readers not an inkling of the fact that what is of importance is not that "the coins are taken" to fuel the expanding no-questions asked market, but "what they are taken from" and the damage caused when this occurs. That is what the archaeologist invited to contribute to this debate should surely be getting over here.

Perhaps he cannot do that for two reasons. The first is that the USA where this debate is taking place has no archaeological sites of its own producing these ancient coins. The looting the market for "minor" (sic) metal artefacts from Antiquity causes is perhaps not so much in-your-face over there as it is on this side of the Atlantic. The American collector is divorced from it somewhat, these apparently are wholly abstract concepts for them - but this should not apply to Dr Heath who has worked over here if I am not mistaken. Also this is just a result of the narrow focus of such people, looting of other artefactual material does take place in the US and the destruction to the archaeological record is just as great if it is Anasazi pots or Attic pots and coins being dug out.

Perhaps a more significant reason is that Heath chose the British Isles as his example, and as we all know, "metal detecting" is not there in any way (we are asked to believe) "damaging", but instead the British artefact collectors plundering British sites for collectables some of which are destined for the international market are (we are asked to believe) British archaeology's "partners". It would have been better if Heath had taken Bulgaria as his example - for that is clearly where very many of the coins on the US market are coming from, and the issues are far clearer. The photos from Archar for example are really shocking.

[*Far more apposite as a contrast to Heath's hoard example would have been the comparison with another dodgy deal of the same seller: Monday, 8 March 2010 Wisconsin Clergyman Sells Unprovenanced Augustan Coin hoard on eBay].

Vignette: this should be about conservation, not saving numismatic information.
Threatened heathland at Hawley Common, Rushmore England.

Pot-Smashing "Artist" Released from Detainment

Los Angeles Times is reporting: 'Chinese state media say artist Ai Weiwei released from detainment' (June 22, 2011 ). I expect then he'll be back to his demonstrative cultural vandalism as soon as he can get his hands on some more ancient objects from the antiquities market.

More background in the New York Times: Edward Wong, 'Dissident Chinese Artist Is Released', June 22, 2011.

Gill on BBC: Looting in Wales?

David Gill was on BBC Wales this morning talking about the looting of antiquities, I thought he came over very well and explained the concerns in a manner readily understandable by the general public. He talks about the value of the market, why its important - mostly about the Looting matters rather than repatriation issues, mentions his work on the Cycladic figures and subsequent work. Then he introduces the seizure of records in Geneva, Basle and Schinoussa. To those collectors worried about what those photos show, he points out we've only located about 1% of the objects seen in the Medici Archive. There's a mention too of the sale of the objects formerly owned by Australian collector Graham Geddes from which a number of items had to be withdrawn on the eve of the auction.

My ears pricked up, 27 minutes in, when he was asked a question about "looting in Britain", it's beginning to get good I thought. Then there were sharp words about the Icklingham Bronzes, and then he mentions that there's this thing called the Portable Antiquities Scheme and these metal detecting blokes... Well, that is as far as that topic went, as the topic turned to the subject of how the PAS was going to be further funded in Wales. Obviously a key issue too, but sadly the question of how many artefacts being hoiked out of the ground in Wales by artefact collectors and not being reported to the PAS would have been (in my opinion) a better way to continue the discussion. Sadly though David's time was almost up, and he was unable to explore that topic.

You can listen to it here at the moment (starts at 2:09 hrs). It's best to avoid the two hours before it - some dire "banter" throughout and even worse music. No Welsh accents there, either.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Pirate Coin Seller in Spain

"Learn some history" by collecting and trading in old coins:
Authentic Ancient ROMAN COIN Soldier Horse Old AE ..
Centenional Diameter: 1.8 centimeters.
Observe: Bust of emperor
Reverse: Follen horseman with soldiers standing
Spain Coin from old collection. A nice example of the pirate currency. THIS COIN OF COPPER WAS MOST ESTIMATED IN TIME OF THE PIRATES In the 1600s Pirates ruled the seas as Spain conquered the New World. Spanish coinage was the international currency and the one that was most desired by Pirates. This is a genuine coin EXACT COIN SHOWN IN SCAN WILL BE MAILED TO SUCESSFUL BIDDER. GUARANTIED 100%. AUTHENTIC COINS. COINS ARE NOT REPRODUCTIONS. Please grade by photographs.
There's another coin from the same seller issued by that old Pirate, Emperor Claudius. Again the potential purchaser is invited to estimate its grade by looking at the photographs. So, this freshly-stripped surface comes "from an old collection"? How "old"? Last year's zapped coins? And where was it before that?

Spain to return Iraqi antiquities gratis

Jose Turin, the Spanish ambassador to Iraq, announced today that his government is buying all Iraqi stolen antiques in Spain "and those within the government" and returning them to Iraq as a present from the Spanish government. The Minister of Tourism and Antiquities Dr. Liwa' Smaisim "disclosed that 36 Iraqi antiquities are available in Spanish auctions and two in the Spanish government" (eh?).
According to the statement, the Spanish ambassador confirmed that his country is trying to buy these antiquities and return them as a present to the Iraqi government. The ambassador, according to the statement, expressed the readiness of his country "to train Iraqi Ministry's cadres, because Spain is one of the developed countries in this field.
well, not if this is the only way they can stop illegally exported items from being sold on their open market they are not. Buying them back is just putting money into those who deal with the criminals who exported them. A bigger present - not only to Iraq - would be catching the people trading in stolen antiquities and punishing them.

Vignette: International cultural cooperation, Spanish-Iraqi friendship.

Aswat al-Iraq, 'Spain to return Iraqi antiquities gratis - Ambassador', 20th June 2011.

Canada Makes the Bulgarians Pay

Peter Tompa suggests that in writing about the return of stolen antiquities to Bulgaria archaeobloggers might have 'Misplaced Priorities', CPO, June 20, 2011. This is because "Bulgarian authorities are spending up to 320,000 Euros to repatriate minor Bulgarian artifacts" recently seized in Canada.* Tompa argues that this cash could have been better spent in Bulgaria on protecting sites and issuing artefact hunters rewards for handing finds in (see below).

Well, if we are going to take that attitude, I would ask why the Canadians made the Bulgarians travel all the way to Canada to pick up the stuff and call it "repatriation"? Have the Canadians no diplomatic post of their own that they could send the goods safely to their consulate in Sofia to be handed over there? Or was the whole point not so much getting the artefacts back, but through holding a ceremony on Canadian soil making a big political show of what good guys they are for keeping an eye on what crosses their borders?

*(We may note that Tompa, quite correctly for a lawyer, says "allegedly smuggled", because "As is the case with many similar reports, we'll never know the actual facts because the importer abandoned the property". Let us note that the reported value of the shipments seized was 707,000 euros ($1 million), and my feeling is an importer would have to have a pretty good reason to shrug his shoulders and simply abandon such a haul - surely it can't cost that much in Canada to send your lawyer along to the customs office with a copy of the export licences. So if there had been export licences issued for this shipment (ie the objects were not smuggled), what conceivable reason is there for him to simply abandon his purchase? I really am curious to know).

The Lawyer and Archaeological Site Preservation

In his most recent post ("Misplaced Priorities?"), Peter Tompa suggests that, instead going after antiquity thefts, source-country Bulgaria should use the resources elsewhere:
It seems to me Bulgarian money would be better spent on security for sites under active archaeological investigation and on a treasure trove program for the rest.
It seems to me that "Cultural Property Observer" is not being very observant about the principles observed by those urging the preservation of the archaeological record. This is not regarded anywhere outside a coiney's cabinet as just a case of keeping looters off archaeological sites currently "under active archaeological investigation" (see post below). Whether part of a site is investigated this year, last year or next year is not the determining factor in whether it deserves to be protected from destruction. Certainly not in the US, where Tompa is writing, nor over here in Europe. I really cannot see where the "observer" gets this idea from (maybe talking to Derek Fincham, another US lawyer who seems from what he has previously written - see here and a second time here - not really to grasp this issue either). Certainly he did not get this from discussing this with archaeologists and heritage professionals.

Likewise, how will giving the artefact hunters who dug up this haul of objects a reward of a million dollars (the value reportedly assigned to the items seized in Canada) help protect the archaeological sites they and other finds like them come from? Why does Tompa think this would not merely provide an incentive for more treasure hunters to go and dig more artefacts out of the ground to claim more reward money? Tompa's notion suggests he simply is unobservant not only about the basic principles of archaeological preservation, but also human nature. How is he going to stop the reported "300 000" Bulgarian treasure hunters exploiting these state payouts to empty the remaining archaeological sites of the remaining collectable objects in them? How would what he proposes encourage site preservation and not site destruction?

Wanborough, Surrey: Archaeological site excavated after it had been "done over"by artefact hunters, most of the holes seen here dug into the stratified deposits are the result of the extraction or metal artefacts for collection or sale by "metal detectors". Coin collector and dealers' pal Peter Tompa apparently wants to 'reward' this kind of behaviour. © 2003 Surrey Archaeological Society

This sort of thing forms a repeating pattern in the arguments offered and accepted by the dugup collecting milieu. This raises the very real question of whether it is possible for anyone who collects antiquities these days to think outside the box, and see beyond the (their) artefact to the context from which they come? It seems to me that Tompa is here thinking very schematically and superficially because he is fetishising the object (the portable antiquity) which for him is the sole embodiment of information about the past ( a la: "numismatics is the window through which I look out on the past") rather than recognising that not only are there other means of studying that past, but the collectors' object fetishism is actually destroying the sources for those other approaches. This is a very narrow - even introverted - view, and an ignorance which surely should be dispelled through a wider outreach of educational programmes. Is it possible to educate dugup antiquity collectors? Is it possible to penetrate the mental fog within which such self-consciously unenlightened milieus wrap themselves? Are dugup collectors ("passionately interested in the past") at all interested in learning about the wider context in which their collecting functions, or do they have their heads down and attention merely focussed on the geegaws they accumulate in their ephemeral personal collections?

Well, let's see. In the post below this I have copied and pasted some information from US archaeological sources, information intended for the average member of the US public (in other words not those that claim to be an elite with a special interest in the past). Let us see if Peter Tompa and his fellow collectors exhibit any sign at all that they have understood it.

This is For Peter Tompa and his Antiquity Collecting Followers

I think we may all be astounded by the total lack of awareness exhibited by the antiquity collectors, especially the North American ones, when writing about archaeological site preservation. Peter Tompa ("Misplaced Priorities?") is just the most noticeable among them, but this seems to be a repeating pattern. The real danger is of course that as a result of their one-sided and self-interested advocacy, they may lead to a misinformation of the public. Surely all archaeologists and those concerned with the preservation of the remains of the past should be doing their utmost to put the record straight in the face of the "archaeologists have got it all wrong, what they need to do (to accommodate us) is..." claptrap emerging from the dealers' lobbyists and the collector camp-followers both sides of the Atlantic.

Part of the problem seems to be what is considered a "site" in US archaeological literature. When the AIA talks about its "Site preservation program" it is actually talking about what the rest of us would call "monuments" and in fact "restoration" more often than actual preservation. The same goes to some extent for the US State Department's efforts. In fact they do not seem very hot on site preservation in the States. In the Lootier State, Wisconsin, home of the Republican "Collectors' Rights declaration", we learn that
It is estimated that nearly 80% of the archaeological sites that once existed in the state have been destroyed or severely damaged, primarily by modern land practices such as development and farming. Many sites have also been damaged by looting.
New York has an archaeological site preservation initiative ("Enhance the Value of your Community by Saving your Archaeological Heritage"):
We value places and buildings that embody a sense of our history, our community, our local and national identity. [...] Archaeological and historic sites are disappearing rapidly, mainly through construction and development projects, often without any documentation. [...] What Activities Damage or Destroy Sites? Natural forces such as wind and water do a lot of damage. But most damage is done by PEOPLE through construction and development projects, and by unauthorized digging.
The observant reader will note that the object of concern is not just archaeological sites currently under active investigation" nor whether or not the people digging artefacts out of archaeological sites in these areas of the USA are getting any kind of state payout of a financial "reward" for their efforts. That is not what archaeological site conservation is about in the United States of America (and it is therefore difficult to see why any educated American should think it is any different anywhere else).

I could not find the equivalent District of Columbia text, maybe there is one, but here's the other Washington talking about archaeological site stewardship, I'll quote it in in-your-face full for Mr Tompa and people that think like him about archaeological site preservation. It is nicely and thoughtfully written in a clear style and I hope its authors will not mind the fact that the information it contains is more widely propagated among milieus that might not find it themselves:

Archaeology: Site Stewardship

What are Archaeological Sites?
Archaeological sites are the physical remains of past human activity. Wherever people have lived and worked, the land and water may contain evidence of their lives. The prehistoric ancestors of Washington's Indians lived here 12,000 years before the arrival of the first European colonists. They left behind the remains of camps, villages, quarries,and hunting and fishing sites, all scattered across Washington beneath the visible landscape. Traces of structures built since settlement such as the foundations of 19th-century gristmills, stone walls of deserted farmsteads, and abandoned cemeteries all contain valuable information about the lives of the people who lived before we did.

These clues, tangible links to our past, are often invisible from the surface. Traces of earlier occupation may lie under parking lots, buildings, or plowed fields and are only discovered through archaeological survey. As such, archaeological sites scattered across the state represent a tangible link to our past. Because most sites in Washington are privately owned they will be preserved through the generosity of private landowners, or not at all.

All archaeological sites are fragile and irreplaceable; they cannot be rebuilt or remade. In Washington, archaeological sites are disappearing at an alarming rate, and unless landowners take positive steps to preserve and manage these properties, valuable pieces of history will be lost forever. It is important that we all actively participate in the preservation and management of Washington's archaeological heritage.

Through the Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (DAHP), landowners are encouraged to preserve, protect, and interpret significant archaeological resources on their property. State archaeologists can provide information about the probable location of archaeological sites and can advise and assist landowners in evaluating and developing alternatives to preserve archaeological sites.

Survey and Registration Archaeological sites discovered through survey that meet certain criteria for significance and integrity can be listed in the National Register of Historic Places and the Washington Heritage Register, the nation’s and state’s lists of significant sites. Registration informs individuals and localities of important resources that they may wish to consider in private and community land use decisions.

Site Stewardship Plan With the help of DAHP a site stewardship plan can be developed to provide specific guidance and recommendations to a landowner with archaeological sites on his or her property. The plan assists the landowner in preserving, protecting, and interpreting archaeological sites in his or her care. The success of the plan depends solely on the participation and commitment of landowners.

Archaeological Sites: Some DOs and DON’Ts

  • Do keep records of artifacts found lying on the surface of your property.
  • Do report sites discovered on your property to the Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation. Your report will not trigger any land use decisions but will aid in scientific research and preservation planning.
  • Do maintain your site in its natural condition and protect it from inadvertent destruction.
  • Do learn more about your site and other nearby sites. Encourage scholarly research to interpret the prehistoric and historic assets of your property.
  • Don't allow unqualified persons to "collect" or "dig" at your site. Report any unauthorized activities—"looting"—to the State Archaeologist and local police.
  • Don't conduct any earth moving or construction in the immediate vicinity of your site.

Visiting an Archaeological Site: Innocent Acts that can Cause Damage

Archaeological sites are fragile and nonrenewable. Proper etiquette is essential when visiting ancient sites. Appreciate the site and contemplate times long past, but please leave the site undisturbed for others to enjoy. Once damaged, the secrets an archaeological site can tell us are lost forever.

Please take a few moments to read and review these following guidelines before you visit an archaeological site. As you approach an archaeological site, stop for a moment and think about how you can minimize the impact of your visit to the site.

  • Stay back from any exposed edges, soils, or rock features.
  • Do not step on artifacts.
  • Stay on established trails and avoid creating new ones.
  • Please do NOT remove or disturb anything. Strict laws prohibit the removal and theft of artifacts. If you do accidentally move something, put it back exactly where you found it.
  • Avoid handling artifacts and the vegetation.
  • If you are visiting a petroglyph or pictograph site take only pictures with your camera. Avoid touching, rubbing, tracing or chalking the surface. Such actions alter the surface of the image and can damage and alter the image over time.
  • Children's natural curiosity and enthusiasm for exploring and collecting is great. Please teach your youngster about archaeological site etiquette.

Brochures/ Guidebooks

Help us Protect Cultural Resources of the Columbia Basin
So there seems to be some awareness among educated Americans that digging artefacts out of archaeological sites (with or without a reward) is not "preservation", and that the only sites that need to be preserved are those currently under active archaeological investigation, so why not among cultural property lawyers and collectors?
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