Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Mysterious Coiney Text

This six-word email has just bounced into my inbox out of the blue, it originates with dugup coin dealer "Honest" Joe Blazick (Roman peddlar, 12 caesars) and appears to be addressed to me, though the standard of literacy leaves its meaning and context obscure, no wonder my spam filter picked it out for deletion. The message simply reads:
"Take this ro the PAS idiot"
Now, I may have from time to time harsh words about the PAS, but it is unclear to me which "PAS idiot" Mr Blazick has in mind among the fifty or so people who work there. I think most of them are at least more capable of expressing themselves in plain English than he seems to be. Neither is it clear what "this" I am to take [t]o the PAS or [f]ro[m] the PAS, the email? Is it some kind of a code? Is there some kind of connection between the PAS and Mr Blazick? The mind of a coiney works in mysterious ways.

Vignette: The Riddler

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

‘Massive looting of ancient artefacts underway in Libya’

A Russian scholar warns that massive looting and destruction of ancient artefacts is already underway in Libya. Nikolai Sologubovsky, orientalist, writer and film maker, who spent several months in Libya this year as a correspondent for a Moscow tabloid, is deputy head of a Russian committee of solidarity with the people of Libya and Syria set up earlier this year. He told Russian television “The al-Jamahiriya National Museum in Tripoli has been looted and antiquities are being shipped out by sea to Europe”.

The National Museum houses some of Libya's most treasured archaeological and historical heritage. The collection includes invaluable samples of Neolithic, pre-historic, Berber, Garamantian, Phoenician, Punic, Greek, Roman and Byzantine culture. [...] The scholar accused NATO forces of destroying some of the most spectacular architectural sites included in UNESCO’s World Historical List. “NATO aircraft have bombed Leptis Magna and Sabratha,” said Mr. Sologobovsky [...] Earlier this summer, the government in Tripoli asked Egypt and other neighbouring countries to block the smuggling of artifacts from Libya, but the looting continued unabated. [...] The United Nation's cultural body last week warned international art dealers and museums to look out for artifacts that may have been looted from Libya. UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova said in a statement that dealers should be “particularly wary of objects from Libya in the present circumstances”. She called on Libyans, their neighbours and art dealers to protect the “invaluable cultural heritage”. Mr. Sologubovsky said the UNESCO appeal came too late, too little. “Plunder of Libya’s cultural heritage has been going on since February. I’m afraid it faces the same tragic fate as Iraq’s antiquities[...].
'Massive looting of ancient artefacts underway in Libya’, The Hindu August 29, 2011

The scholar said that rock art in the Acacus Mountains (World Heritage Site) that go back 14,000 years were being destroyed by looters. “They press silk cloth soaked in special chemical solution against rock frescoes and the paint sticks to the cloth and comes off the cave wall,” he said. This is disturbiong as it's easy to believe the story that a pot, statue or coin on offer for sale in a western gallery is from "an old collection" as advertised, brought out in the 1930s, 40s, etc. It's far more difficult to believe that of a professionally transferred piece of ancient rock art. People buying this "ancient art" are surely well aware where it came from and how it got on the market, and yet they'll still buy it. These sites have already been in the news because of the vandalism that has affected them in recent years. Vandalised Rock Art Sites In Acacus

See also Looting Matters: Cyrenaican antiquities: keep watch Compare with somebody else's: "Crying Wolf" (a lawyer working for international antiquity dealers):
"there have been no credible reports about either extensive looting of archaeological sites or attacks by NATO aircraft. Indeed, to the extent Libya's cultural heritage has gone missing, isn't it more likely to have happened due to the sticky fingers of Libya's former ruler and his family?"
As if it really mattered WHO was taking the stuff and supplying them to foreign markets. And PhDiva assures us: "Contrary to silly Russian claims yesterday, [the National Museum]'s safe and has been guarded by the rebels - and no NATO bombs have been dropped anywhere near it". But the article does not state they were.

Photo: Would this look the same on a Wisconsin collector's wall?

Monday, 29 August 2011

"The Egyptian Museum During and After the Revolution"

There is now available a video of what was presented at the second seminar of the 'World Wide Archaeology Commission' in cooperation with the Egyptian Museum, uploaded by on Aug 27, 2011. It is called "Egyptian Museum after Revolution.The truth from sources of trust". It shows which museum cases were broken into and, using before and after photos, demonstrates the extent of the damage to the objects, the restoration process, and the final result. Note the way the 'break-in' is represented. Also note a complete lack of reference to the two ripped-off mummy heads... Nevertheless this is a welcome addition to the information we have about the events of the night of 28th January.


Sunday, 28 August 2011

Finding King Arthur is "Very Easy"

More metaldetectian anti-academism, and to an extraordinary extent:
According to a Mr. Paul Barford who claims to be an Archaeologist Alan Wilson only uses one Book to find the elusive King Arthur Geoffrey of Monmouths one. That's far from the truth, in fact there are mases of documents that mention King Arthur. We list them here in order that you yourself can check up on the authenticity of King Arthur yourself to prove we are correct and people like Mr. Barford are wrong and too hasty in making judgement. [...] Alan Wilson shares his knowledge with you that he gained as a graduate at Cardiff University. Alan Wilson loves history but researches it diligently under the microscope. Something academics are too lazy to do. We even give you one site to look for some material the rest you will have to google yourself take this as a personal challenge if you enjoy history.
The site is "Sacred Texts". So the masses of documents this historian bases his opinion on are secondary rather than primary sources, and very much influenced by the Matter of Britain.

Astounding. Well, what I actually stated was in fact something quite different. I am a medievalist and do happen to have quite a bit of familiarity with historical texts, and more than a passing familiarity with the ones these guys are using, and it seems a fair deal more familiarity with the literature on how texts like this can and should not be used in modern scholarship.

The amateur historian's metal detecting pal Alan Hassell adds his own two Australian cents ('
Archaeologists are modern day grave robbers and our enemy') on the US TreasureNet "collectors rights" forum.
Paul Barford [...] himself admits he is a collector of antiquities but the way he goes about it he doesnt want anyone else to enjoy the pleasure of metal detecting. This guy and those like him are your worst enemy. Archaeologists are lets face it legalised grave robbers, they are rag and bone men, scavengers looking for buried treasure which they claim is an art and a science.
Well, that's just the PAS... Then we have this from the video linked below:

Well, there is actually nothing in this blog which to my mind suggest I am trying to win myself "popularity" (quite the opposite is the effect anyway), or that I am after "a bitta-trezzer" myself. If only these people would read between the lines of the Medieval texts and the secondary works based on them with the same criticism...

So where is it according to Mr Hassell that I announce I collect antiquities? Mr H. appears to have forgotten the link to back up his accusation. Maybe he's confusing me with somebody else.

Anyhow, my alleged sins do not end there, Alan Wilson and Alan Hassell think they know where to find King Arthur's grave and a whole lot besides:
For years they have kept these sites secret in order to protect the Nations history and heritage. For years various people have libelled made false remarks about Alan Wilson whose only interest was the preservation of his Ancient British History. We exppose those who have attempted to ensure they are ridiculed with contempt.. Some idiot, who claims to be an archaeologist writes more blogs than he does digs. he lies about the reasons we had put this up on here and accuses us of blackmailing the London Establishment (lie) if they were interested they would of done something years ago. He accuses us of inviting detectorist tor rob and pillage these sites which is stupid when he known about them for years and only interested in them being protected. His blog is and advertisment for any detectorist to destroy these sites as you can see for yourself. This is a most irresponsible thing for a supposed archaeologist to do who is supposed to protect ancient historical sites. His site is
Since he put that up the number of views has increased dramatically bringing it to the attention of the public. However it is not the sort of thing Academics should be doing and further proof that people like this should not be employed in positions of TRUST AS HE IS.

So let's get this straight, these guys "keep something secret" by posting You tube videos about them on the internet, yes? They take great care to point out exactly where one would have to dig or take down a ("oh look, there's a loose stone") wall to get to the "gold" they say is there. They do this to "protect" these sites? Yet when I say that its almost as if they wish somebody would come in the night and dig a big hole so they can say "see, there was something there and its gone now", it is somehow me that is inciting the destruction. I am inciting destruction by not keeping secret the fact that these guys have posted on the Internet a huge mass of videos showing where these guys imagine something exciting will be found? That is as logical as the text quoted above is coherent English. Or that in the presentation:

If having videos on the Internet showing where these sites are so worries the people that put the videos there in the first place, then I suggest they remove them forthwith.

It would seem somebody has a massive chip on their shoulder. A chip on their shoulder about everybody and anything, fancy the Minister not taking advantage of the opportunity when Mr Wilson had graciously agreed to meet him... Mr Hassell got thrown off the UKDN site and they won't let him back, it seems from the above. I think these gentlemen are trying to attract attention to themselves and their theories by these personal attacks.

The logic of this whole construction is a typical piece of pseudoscience complete with conspiracy theory at its core. It seems a bit churlish to point out that the whole claim that the "Anglo-Saxons" in the past and today will not admit there was a British church is wholly false, a straw man argument. Bede actually talks about it, the Synod of Whitby 664 is a key point in his narrative and chronology. Romano-British churches (or buildings generally regarded as churches) have been excavated at a number of places and are not at all controversial. What happened, and happened all over Europe in the early nineteenth century was the growth of historical source-criticism (Quellenforschung) applied to chronicles and annals and other historical texts. It was this process that showed that many of the things treated by these amateurish historians (like the Britons being in reality "Trojans") was just made-up myth set down in writing. Something being written down does not make it true. The Arthur-seekers might like to look at Jordanes' Getica, the history of the Gothic nation which well illustrates the process.

For more of the background, have a read of the text written by metal detectorist Alan Hassell (2003) 'The Worlds Greatest Historian's' (sic):
"There are few geniuses in this world and when one is found instead of being recognized for his/her abilities for some reason they seldom achieve the status and recognition they deserve in life that they get when they are dead. Take Beethoven, Elgar or Einstein for example they were all geniuses in their own way and are all recognized for their achievements to mankind but they are all dead".

Or you could look at this:Alan Wilson
To date, Wilson and Blackett have vanity-published seven books that provide information based upon based upon Old Welsh records that date to the 12th Century. They believe that these provide a final solution to the King Arthur story and claim to have discovered the true sites of the battles of Badon (Mynydd Baedan) and Camlann although the identification had been made 150 years before by Welsh writers.
Please read the whole text, it is quite revealing.

The anti-archaeological rant gets better. I'd like to see the PAS actually answer this ('Archaeology Demolishers of Ancient British History'):

Are they up to it?

I'll address the comment about the claims they made about my assessment of the documentary and archaeological evidence in a post tomorrow on my Detectorist-nonsense ghetto blog.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

What is the matter with these people? (1) - the Coiney

Browsing Meg Lambert's blog I found this comment from somebody who signed themselves "Anonymous":
You might note that importing and collecting unprovenanced coins is not only tolerated, but encouraged in both Cyprus and China (as well as Italy and Greece). The only difference in Cyprus and Greece at least is that you need to be a registered collector to do so-- and who is registered? The connected few of course. If collecting provenanced material is such a great idea, why don't these countries require of their own citizens what they ask State to impose on US collectors?
What is the matter with these people? Where do they leave their brains when they start to write about coin collecting? This is what I answered:
"Anonymous" is afraid to put his or her real name under the post, and quite rightly so. "Anonymous" knows he or she is NOT telling the truth when he saying that "Cyprus, China, Italy and Greece" require the US to stop "collecting unprovenanced coins".

First of all the MOUs in question [for we are talking about the Convention of Cultural property Implementation (sic) Act] only regulate IMPORT, not internal circulation and consumption.

Secondly, the decisive factor is (of course as anybody fule wot can read would know) NOT whether a coin is "provenanced" but whether it is legally EXPORTED. In the same way as the UK has the PAS to record provenance, and an export licensing system to govern (duh) export. They are of course completely separate things to any straight-thinking person.

So I really do not know whether "Anonymous" is doing this deliberately or simply does not know what he or she is talking about, but the fact they did not want to use their real name here suggests that he or she is aware of one or the other. I bet they collect dug-up coins, yes?

The four countries mentioned are all states party to the 1970 UNESCO Convention, so do not in any way "encourage import" of illegally exported coins or any other antiquities. Article 3 of the convention defines such items as "illicit". The United States is one of the few countries which is a state party (one among 120) which does not honour this part of the Convention in its "implementing" legislation. Perhaps it is time it did.
I really do wonder what their problem is. The CCPIA is not an easy text to read as a piece of prose, but its not actually all that difficult, and there is not in fact all that much content to it (it is also a piece of junk as legislation). But time and time again we find that instead of reading it carefully for themselves they are relying on somebody to tell them what it says, and the "somebody" who does that are the dealers who apparently have a vested interest in believing it says and means something different from what it actually does say and mean. Even though the collectors eventually find out they were lied to (again) by the dealers, they believe the next lie, and the next one. Why? What is behind this extraordinary phenomenon?

What is the matter with these people? (2) - the PhD

Comment by an Eaton Square archaeologist, supporter of the Portable Antiquities Scheme to Dave Welsh's anti-academic "Who owns Numismatics?":
I agree with you - there are many numismatists that know the physical coins better than academics. [...] It just seems slightly ironic you say Barford wants people to have paper qualifications, as he doesn't have all that many himself [...].
The irony of course here is the good doctor has not actually done her own research here, merely expressing an opinion based on what somebody has told her. Equally, I would not mind betting her "knowledge" of how many paper qualifications I have goes no further than her avid reading of seconary sources like the blogs of "Candice Jarman" and Steve Taylor. It's probably quite easy to get a PhD in Britain these days, a superficial questionnaire, apparently no extensive first hand contact with the material, forming opinions on the basis of what somebody else says rather than going to the primary evidence... No wonder British archaeology has gone to the dogs.

If PhDiva would take the trouble of reading what it is she is discussing, she will find that "Barford" (sic) "wants people to have paper qualifications" - is far from an adequate summary of what I actually said in that discussion. But superficiality is of course endemic in the mindset of the supporters of collecting and collectors, even if they have PhDs from British universities.

Vignette: PhDiva from PhDiva.

What is the matter with these people? (3) the Coiney Lawyer

Peter Tompa, "ACCG Board Authorizes Appeal" says:
concerns about how the State Department and US Customs treats collectors, the small businesses of the numismatic trade, and institutions that collect coins won't go away, and indeed will likely only increase as more and more collecting areas become largely off limits to all but the wealthy who can afford to purchase the few coins with established collecting histories.
What "established collecting histories" does the CCPIA require to IMPORT dugup coins from Cyprus, China, Italy and Greece?

I think it is high time the ACCG produced an authoritative "guide to purchasing dugup coins" for its collector members, setting out what precisely the law says, what pieces of paper a coin has to have to be legally exported from each of the fifty or so source countries for coins, and what pieces of paper they need to be legally imported into the US according to legislation like the CCPIA. It's beginning to look like it should not be Peter Tompa who writes it.

Friday, 26 August 2011

ACCG Keeping Same Legal Team For Appeal

The coiney lobby group ACCG obviously do not know when to give up on a bad job (Wayne G. Sayles, 'Board Authorizes Baltimore Appeal' ACCG)
On August 23, 2011 the ACCG Board of Directors voted in favor of a proposal that authorizes an appeal of the decision rendered in Baltimore by District Court Judge Catherine C. Blake on August 8. The initial motions in the case led to oral arguments on the government's motion to dismiss. Judge Blake subsequently granted that motion for dismissal in a 52-page opinion. ACCG is represented in the case by attorneys Peter Tompa and Jason Ehrenberg of the Washington DC firm Bailey & Ehrenberg.
There is something rather touching in the loyalty of these clownish old gentlemen. The ACCG has "5000 affiliated members" but there are said to be 50 000 collectors of dugup ancient coins in the USA alone, just who is this "Board" for them?

Save-A-Torah Rabbi Menachem Youlus Arrested in Manhattan on Fraud Charges.

On Wednesday, Rabbi Menachem Youlus of the Save-a-Torah foundation which I have discussed on this blog and elsewhere, was arrested in Manhattan on fraud charges.
Court papers said he had never gone to the far-flung places he talked about and had made up the stories he told about discovering Torahs at the sites of the Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps — or in Iraq in 2007. Instead, prosecutors accused him of selling fake Torahs and pocketing hundreds of thousands of dollars through Save a Torah, the nonprofit organization he co-founded in 2004.

... there was] nothing to support Rabbi Youlus’s claim that he had rescued a Torah that had been at Auschwitz. In April 2008, just before the rededication of a Torah in a ceremony at Central Synagogue in Manhattan on Holocaust Remembrance Day, Rabbi Youlus said he had dug it out of the ground after finding it with a metal detector. [...] there was no evidence that Rabbi Youlus had discovered a Torah in 2002 that he claimed had been hidden beneath a barracks at the Bergen-Belsen camp. Mr. Ghiozzi said that a historian at the Bergen-Belsen Memorial Museum had told him Rabbi Youlus’s account did not add up because the barracks were destroyed by the British Army weeks after the camp was liberated in 1945.

Likewise Youlus was not in Iraq with US forces in 2007, a case I discussed elsewhere.

James Barron, 'Rabbi Fabricated Swashbuckling Tales of Saving Holocaust Torahs, Prosecutors Say', New York Times 24.08.2011

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Gold Prices For UK's Heritage Heroes

"Archaeology UK", it calls itself, the fully-searchable database of the positions of more than 135,000 UK Archaeological sites ("available to search via the internet, Satellite Navigation Sytems (SatNav), Hand-held global positioning systems (GPS) and compatible mobile phones such as the Iphone").
Dear Archi Subscriber, Many of us in the field of Archaeology and Ancient History understand the significance of gold to our ancestors as a currency, a reliable form of wealth storage and when a gold hoard is found, as an indicator of past social and political instability. [...] In response to the above I have created a new web page on ARCHI which gives you the current price of gold and its trends. [...] Feel free to view the graphs because they do provide a means to appreciate that even though our modern technology is vastly superior, the forces which drive our cultures and societies may not differ that much from those of our ancestors! Best wishes Chris Kutler Digital Documents....

It's called greed and our vastly superior modern technology helps get more of that ancient gold out of the archaeological record than ever before...

All you need to do is take your Bill Wyman 'Real Archaeologist' Metal Detector out, dig up some stuff and use these handy tables to tell you how much its worth as bullion. Prices for gold, silver copper (but oddly not scrap lead from Roman baths or coffins and other objects). There's palladium too if you happen to find any bits that dropped off a disintegrating space craft fuel cell.

So, this new resource has been produced by Archi to help the Treasure Valuation Committee do its work then, has it? How public spirited of Mr Kutler. It would be worrying for the metal detectorist who hands something over and sees as the TVC prevaricates week after week, month after month the price of gold dropping, dropping.... Interestingly, the Archi site does not seem to contain any link to the PAS, Treasure Act or list of Coroners. Note that there is a Hatton Garden Metals, "turn your unwanted jewellery into cash" advert at the top of the page. Could it be...? No, of course not, they are in it for the "HISTORY".

Vignette: edited screengrab from ARCHI site showing the graphs of gold prices discussed here.

Dumbed down: History too Hard a Subect for UK Schools

According to Graeme Paton in the Daily Torygraph this morning ("Schools 'refusing to offer GCSEs in history', figures show"):
Data published by the Department for Education shows that 159 state secondary schools failed to enter a single pupil for a history exam last summer. It suggests that the schools – collectively teaching around 150,000 children – are unable to offer it as a distinct subject in the last two years of secondary education, even if pupils have a passion for history. Separate figures also show that the overall proportion of pupils studying the subject in state comprehensives across England dropped by almost a fifth under Labour. The disclosure comes amid mounting concerns over a fall in teenagers taking a string of tough GCSEs over the last 14 years. Critics blame schools for pushing pupils onto “soft” subjects and vocational qualifications to inflate their position in school league tables.
Still, under Labour, educashun in 'istry was availble fer kid's 'oo car n't deal wiv the hard stuff like 'istry becos there challinged wiv "formal lerning" (like wot Minstr Lammy sed). After all this was the period of the floruit of that spiffing Portable Antiquities Scheme, bringing the past to everyone.
The text says: Drag the metal detector across the fields, when you hear beeping you have found something! This comes from a teaching resource provided by the Portable Antiquities Scheme and in particular a section where children can do a virtual archaeological survey and get to do their own field walking and metal detecting.
All you have to do is get the kids a Bill Wyman metal detector, get out there in the fields and find stuff and be like a real archaeologist. None of that awful "book learning", hands on history for all! As Heritage Action ("rotten elitist spoilsports" is what they are regarded as in Bloomsbury no doubt) notes though that as a result of such an "educational policy":
the resultant depletion and damage from [artefact hunting] which PAS was set up and financed to reduce [will] increase! It’s hardly rocket science to ensure children are given proper access and information about their own heritage
Obviously for the British establishment it seems to be a hard concept to get their heads around. Probably because they passed through an increasingly dumbed-down British "educational" system themselves.

Vignette: Bill Wyman (who has not yet succeeded in meeting Dorothy King), a metal detector and some nice little girls.

Blind Outreach

From a PAS south coast FLO this morning:
Dear Mr Barford, Thank you for your enquiry. Due to limitations placed on access to internet sites via my work computer, I am unable at present to read through the material you have kindly provided links to below. I will forward the message to another e-mail address and take a look when I am next working from home and reply in due course. Regards,
So next time, dear Reader you see something going on right out in the open on a detecting forum, blog or antiquity sales site, do not assume the FLO can even see it if you notify them of it.

This is just bonkers, the PAS is set up to interact with, outreach to and instil best practice in members of the public. Here we all are members of the public seeing what is going on, and parts of the PAS cannot? So members of the public can interact with each other about these things, but the PAS is cut off from them totally? This poor lady has to wait until she gets permission from Bloomsbury to work from her HOME computer to actually do the work the British public are paying her to do? Its bad enough these people have to work weekends and bank holidays at commercial rallies to get the all-important database-boosting "data" to send buy computer to Wahlkampfzentrale Bloombury, now they have to work after ours to use any computer (and then it's their own) to engage in any kind of online outreach or interaction with the public? Outrageous.

I actually sent that notification several days ago - If I'd said I'd just found a hoard of coins with my Bill Wyman metal detector, I bet I'd have got a reply within minutes or hours. (Must try it next time I am in England - but still on outreach, my FLO Laura McLean still has not answered the question about the Mark's Tey rally, so I be blowed if I'm going to boost HER "finds recorded in a month" statistics.)

One might ask if the PAS really is seriously interested any more in any kind of real public archaeological outreach and education, or whether its just after as many 'bits of stuff' as it can get the details of as possible for its database and making TV programmes about "you too can find Buried Treasure"? If it is still engaged in doing to any extent what it was actually set up to do, where is the evidence of this, can anyone tell me?

Vignette: PAS like blind man walking

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Libya’s Gaddafi is Finished: What Happens to His Green Projects?

Libya’s Gaddafi is Finished: What Happens to His Green Projects? asks Maurice Picow Green Prophet, August 23rd, 2011

With Tripoli now largely in the hands of rebel forces, whose ethnic backgrounds represent no less then 138 indigenous tribes scattered over the country’s vast territory, and Gaddafi’s own whereabouts still unknown, it is still far to early for both archaeologists and environmentalists to try to figure out what will be the destiny of the unique ancient sites in this country. These include the rock paintings in the country’s southern mountains.

[...] in the aftermath of Gaddafi’s downfall, as when Saddam Hussein was defeated in Iraq, a lot of confusion and acts of looting will undoubtedly take place. [...] And unfortunately, as occurred in Baghdad, historical sites, especially museums, will be targeted by people not only wanting to take revenge for more than 40 years of persecution, but also to profit by selling the artifacts to antiquities dealers abroad. With so many tribes who have not been so friendly to one another, the country itself could wind up being split into several autonomous areas, like what happened to Yugoslavia several years back. The interim rebel government has it’s hands full to hold things together and try to unite a people who only were previously “united” due to Muamar Gaddafi’s heavy hand.

Most of the population lives and works in a narrow band along the coast, there are oilfields in the northeast, but the rest of the country is savannah and scrub and then desert... Not exactly prime land for state-(re)building.

So, these "antiquities dealers abroad" to which these objects will be being offered, we will see to what extent they are more concerned about helping protect the heritage of the region (more ARCA rewards due when one of them does the right thing?) or are they more concerned about a new supply of "freshly surfaced" antiquities to profit from? Like for example, lots of Roman coins coming out of Libya have that coveted "desert patina". will we be seeing more coins of the Greek colonies of North Africa appearing more frequently on V-coins in coming months?

See now, Larry Rothfield's "Did NATO Plans to Help Libyans Topple Ghaddafi Include Inducements to Protect Libyan Archaeological Sites?"

Map: Libya, lots of dugups here to be had... Greek colonies

US Kitchen Table Numismatics and Numismatic Scholarship: A Summary

This seems a good place to summarise some scattered posts on several blogs looking at the question of the degree to which Kitchen Table Numismatics (heaps of decontextualised coins bought by collectors) can constitute a discipline as that term is usually understood. Coin collectors, and especially US dealers, claim that the collecting of coins has an academic value which far outweighs the degree to which the trade in dugup artefacts depletes the archaeological record. They claim that if the flow of "freshly surfaced" coins is in any way disrupted, this will be to the detriment of "numismatic scholarship" affect our ability to "understand the past". Furthermore anyone who is not a "professional numismatist" cannot, by definition, "understand" (collectors love playing the misunderstood victim) and simply has no business saying anything about the trade in illicitly obtained and the smuggling of antiquities.

I made such a comment when US dealer Scott Semans suggested that "now" to get coins through US customs they will "have to be" labelled as something else. In other words smuggled. My questioning that prompted another dealer to interrogate me somewhat impudently issues (DW: Sunday, August 21, 2011, Clean Trade according to Barford ) on my "credentials in professional numismatics". Now note the emphasis here onpaper credentials (see below):
"Well, Mr. Barford, it now seems appropriate to inquire a bit further into the question of who you are [...] I have three questions I would like to ask, not that I really believe there is any possibility you would respond with an honest factual reply. First: Do you hold a baccalaureate (or higher) degree in archaeology from any accredited university?" etc.
What in other words ACCG's Dave Welsh was suggesting was that only if I were another "professional numismatist" (ie US dealer) would I understand why coins "have to be" smuggled into the US. Well, I am not, and it is true I do not understand why anything"has to be" smuggled into (or out of for that matter) the United States. But I was annoyed by the attitude of superiority and entitlement displayed by the dealer and responded in like tone, subsequently asking the same questions of the numismatist who had asked about mine to reveal the qualifications by virtue of which he constantly represents himself as a "professional numismatist" (Sunday, August 21, 2011, 'The "Science" of the Clean Trade ?'

The reply to this was rather pathetic. I really should not have asked, and it turned out that behind the bluster was a few popular magazine articles in his youth, some rather superficial stuff on his website and he'd sold a lot of coins and was able to tell one from another (DW 21st August 2011: 'Numismatic Qualifications'
"Coin dealing" (as Mr. Barford puts it) can indeed become a scientific activity, to the extent that one involved in it goes beyond simple commerce and becomes involved in making numismatic discoveries and educating collectors. I have discovered several coin types previously unknown to science. Here is one example:
(I asked him in a comment to explain why he thinks finding this new variety is so significant but this so far has gone unanswered). This long post raised a lot of issues. I dealt with the side issues on my subsidiary ("ghetto") blog:
(PB: Sunday, August 21, 2011, 'Dealer Dave not Happy', [about speaking out about conservation issues, and a look at what he presented as his 'research'] and on the same day: 'Dealer Dave's Numismatic Qualifications' [looking at what he'd presented as his own qualifications after attacking mine] These posts were written more in retaliation and do not add much to the argument which is why they are on that blog and not my main one). What is important here is Welsh's assertion a dealer in America is a "professional numismatist" because there are few opportunities to be a numismatist professionally in any other way there (which is not something that I'd have expected).

In the post on my main blog therefore something starts to sketch itself out (Monday, 22 August 2011, 'Qualities of a Professional Numismatist'). Welsh has all along accused me of total ignorance about anything connected with coins. In this post I reveal that far from what he thinks, I have indeed had contact with and worked with numismatists, both in an academic context as well as collaboration in editing a numismatic journal. It seems Welsh was unaware of that. In explaining that, it slowly dawned on me that what I was familiar with as "professional numismatists" was totally different to the way the ACCG coineys were using the term, because they are based in the US where the system is different. It gave me immense pleasure to find one area where my poor little central European Republic which I so heavily criticise at times was actually for once superior to the mighty USA. For the first time (because looking at it 'from the inside but from outside') I appreciated how comparatively neatly numismatics fitted into the general scheme of things over here (easy to take for granted when its around you I suppose) compared with the situation over the other side of the Atlantic. We are talking about two entirely different systems of doing numismatics.

Well, Welsh was having none of that (DW: Monday, August 22, 2011, 'The Gospel According to St. Paul Barford')
In responding to my last post it seems that archaeoblogger Paul Barford may have actually taken leave of his senses...
. Of course, he argues, the American system is BEST, he presents the view that all those Polaks obviously don't know anything about the material, their "paper qualifications" and titles are worth nothing, they are just external expressions of some contemptible foreign "academic rituals". But that is not the case. This is more chauvinistic bluster and tub-thumping, because the truth is, the Mr Welsh who considers his webpages "scientific research" in all probability has very little first hand knowledge of the current state of Polish numismatics.

Obviously Welsh had not actually understood what I wrote, so I tried again. The crux of the matter seems to be that Welsh seemed to misapprehend what I had said:"Mr. Barford is apparently afflicted by what is at best confusion, and at worst delusions, as to what really constitutes professional numismatic expertise and qualifications". I had pointed out that academic numismatists as I know it from Poland is more holistic and integrated with other disciplines in its approach, is analytical, far from merely telling one coin from another which it seems to me is the main emphasis Welsh was putting on the discipline. So I pointed out (again) the distinction (PB: Tuesday, 23 August 2011, 'US Coiney "Numismatics" : An Analytical Discipline or Merely Ordering Raw Data?'). Obviously at issue here are two views of what constitutes numismatic scholarship, and its not a matter whether the person doing it has letters after their name or teaches students or not. But then the conclusion is that if one model develops from another (so Poland was where it seems the study of ancient coins in the US seems to be way back in the 1930s) then although it consumes by the dealers' own admission, a vast proportion of the freshly-surfaced coins on the global market it seems there are grounds to ask, comparing the two models whether (PB Tuesday, 23 August 2011), 'Professional Numismatics in the USA Underdeveloped?'. I think from having listened to what the ACCG dealer has to say (and been notified of some of the rants ongoing on the forums from which I am blocked) there do seem to be grounds supporting this - somewhat surprising I must admit - assertion. It would however explain a lot of what we see.

Mr Welsh clearly does not understand (again). He the went off on a tangent (DW: Tuesday, August 23, 2011, 'Who owns Numismatics?'):
In a recent rant in his blog, anticollecting archaeoblogger Paul Barford confirms that he simply does not know what he is talking about regarding the science of numismatics, Numismatics is not and never has been defined or controlled by academia or archaeologists.
What he now writes about bears no relation whatsoever to what was being discussed. He is simply now trying to deflect discussion onto some sidetrack, as is usual amongst collectors when you look too deeply into something. I tried to get discussion back on the original topic which is the nature of the "numismatic scholarship" which allegedly would be endangered if it was only done with curated material and objects legally exported from the source country (PB: Wednesday, 24 August 2011, 'What Kind of Question is "Who Owns Numismatics?"...'). It turns out (a point I admit I'd not actually registered before) that the ACCG coineys do not include institutional numismatic scholars in their presentations of the current state of numismatics in the USA. This is weird, and something worth exploring further.

Basically therefore, we are back to square one again, with an interesting difference, this whole string of posts was begun with Welsh demanding details of my PAPER qualifications for daring to make any attempt to assess the effects of the commerce in dugups on the archaeological record. For the past three posts he has been stressing that paper qualifications mean nothing. So what on earth was that initial challenge all that about then?

It seems to me at this stage, ten posts on the 'same topic', I am wasting my own time and anyone who actually set out to read any of this. Instead of discussing an issue, we are arguing round in circles with no real focus any more. I have found that Coineys in general seem to have problems focussing on an issue, and looking at it in more than a superficial knee-jerk manner in a wider context. Mr Welsh seems to exemplify that trend to an inordinate extreme. This thread is a pretty egregious example of that trend. Its exhausting, (very) time consuming and frustrating trying to cut through the crap to the issue in hand. Despite all the sidetracks, I have however found it helpful to get a few ideas straight in my head and given me something to explore further, I neither at this point know or care whether Mr Welsh has gained anything at all from it. But thanks anyway.

What Kind of Question is "Who Owns Numismatics?"

We seem to be cutting to the core of the problem of the "US coiney" problem. It is beginning to emerge from the latest text to emerge from the ACCG stable ("Who owns Numismatics?") that a defining characteristic is in fact radical anti-academism. I suppose that should occasion no surprise in a group dominated by unqualified amateurs and commercial interests. However if we return to the original question, whether or not the brand of numismatics that indiscriminately uses decontextualised coins freshly surfaced on the market from "somewhere" can be considered as a discipline on a par with archaeology or other means of studying the past, such an approach is highly problematic.

ACCG coin dealer Dave Welsh in response to my earlier comments now throws out a question "who owns numismatics?". The logical connection between that and what was being discussed (I thought) earlier really escapes me, there was no discussion anywhere previously of "ownership", whatever the questioner understands by that. There is simply no coherence in the coiney's position which has shifted from day to day. besides that, I fail to see how claiming that "Numismatics is not and never has been defined or controlled by academia" but is "defined by [...] those who actually carry on its everyday business" really brings the author of that text any closer to showing that in the manner in which it is done in the US, coin collecting is a discipline which can claim to be on a par with others which have better developed academic traditions - which I thought was the point the ACCG coineys were trying to make (ACCG: Coin Collectors and Cultural Property Nationalism pp. 10-14 for example). I showed that in Poland, where I live and work and from where I write these words (through its position in the Academy of Sciences, in the universities and other cultural institutions), has indeed a firm place alongside others as an academic discipline. One equally valid in such a context as any of the others, including archaeology and ethnology/anthropology. This is to a large degree a development of the post War years in Poland; by contrast, the study of coinage, ancient and modern, in the United States seems from what ACCG board member Welsh is asserting to have the sort of structure as existed in Poland in the 1930s, or perhaps earlier. It seems it is this lack of structure which is at the root of the problems we seem to be having in communicating.

A fact that has only now struck me as of importance is the total absence in ACCG writings of any sign of a recognition of professional numismatic scholars in the US in statements such as:
The development of numismatics as a science is a result mainly of private collectors and their dedication to the pursuit of knowledge. When academia became aware of the value of coins as voices from the past, coin collectors and professional scholars found that they had much in common and worked closely together. Yes, that was a long time ago. What we see today is a bitter turf war between private collectors, independent scholars, museums, nationalist governments and archaeologists. What happened to the symbiosis?
What happened to those professional numismatic scholars in the US coineys' arguments? They are simply ignored.
Here the same:
...adversely affect private collectors, independent scholars and dealers in ancient coins – the infrastructure that has advanced numismatic knowledge since the eighteenth century
Part of the problem with his latest text seems to be that Welsh simply does not (or does not want to) understand what I have been saying about the existence and characteristics of a system recognising the importance of professional numismatic scholars. Things I have been saying here, let it be noted in answer to the very questions he himself challenged me to answer (so I think some of the comments on the coiney forums are rather unfair if they fail to take the origin of this exchange of views into consideration - not that coineys seem all that adept at seeing anything much in a wider context).

Whether or not "Mr. Barford's views to the contrary are unrealistic"(sic), the truth is that in cases like Poland (and I would venture not only) numismatics actually is a fully academic discipline and comfortably co-exists alongside others. Dave Welsh apparently does not accept the existence of professional numismatic scholars who do not sell coins is a "realistic" model, but it seems to work here.

Welsh apparently has travelled little in his numismatic scholarship and considers the US system of a "distributed discipline" to be the world norm, and cannot imagine that in other milieux other conditions apply. I therefore really do not see the point of the US coiney's comment "very few archaeologists or academics can by that definition be considered numismatists". Nobody, least of all me, said that "archaeologists were numismatists". What I did say is that where I work numismatists function normally within an academic environment alongside other related disciplines including archaeologists (which of course does not mean that there are no coin collectors or coin shops too). I really do not see where Welsh has difficulty understanding that, even though it may be outside his own personal experience as a US coin dealer.

If however we take Welsh's statement, that - in the US model - "very few archaeologists or academics can by that definition be considered numismatists", can US numismatists be considered archaeologists (i.e., those who study the past through the use and interpretation of certain types of material remains) or academics? Is this where Welsh is getting lost in his "ownership" issue, a matter of names? Surely the ACCG creed is that this is precisely what their brand of numismatics is and what it has to offer. I therefore must admit to becoming confused just what it is Welsh is trying to demonstrate or disprove here. It seems to me that Welsh is merely thrashing around here argumentatively and trying hard to fog the issues, and I really think if we attempt to maintain focus on and look deeper into the issue of the nature of numismatics as portrayed by the ACCG, it is their postulates which are taking quite a bashing as a result.

To come back to the odd title he chose for his piece, totally unrelated to anything we were discussing, one might remark that in his text Welsh in his post uses a medical analogy. I'd say the utter pointlessness of his title could be demonstrated by echoing the title: "Who owns brain surgery?"

Of course no discussion with a coiney would be complete without the accusation that the coiney is misunderstood, nobody understands coin collecting, "Nathan Elkins boldly attacks a discipline that he evidently does not understand":
Mr. Barford does not seem to understand that all real numismatists equate the word(s) "professional qualifications" with demonstrable knowledge of the source material, not academic rituals such as those he catalogues above.
If amateurs in the US consider being able to sort material into the right piles is the pinnacle of academic achievement in a discipline, good luck to them. They'll probably get invited to lots of academic coin-sorting conferences that way. This lack of understanding seems more due to the prejudices of the unqualified 'hands on' practitioners for formal education in general. The two are not of course not mutually exclusive, on the contrary. I do not know how it is in US institutes of higher education (but am beginning to form an idea), but over here a demonstrable knowledge of the source material is the only way to gain access to what Welsh dismisses contemptuously as "academic rituals". This certainly is well within the continental academic tradition. I wonder how Welsh thinks it is possible (in a central European institute of higher education in particular) to gain professional qualifications withOUT demonstrable knowledge of the source material? Mr Welsh has not taught in one, I have. The courses of archaeology (as indeed I think I made clear a few posts ago) are very much material-orientated as well as academic, I have no reason to believe that courses in numismatics, geology, meteoritics and a whole host of other subjects do not have a similar extensive practical element, working with the basic source material. Mr Welsh assumes otherwise, but that seems to be prejudice rather than based on any actual knowledge.

Finally, I really am getting fed up with this lose-headed kind of thing thrust into the middle of a text I am trying my hardest here to discuss rationally:
Like all but a relative handful of archaeologists and others involved in the pernicious campaign against private collecting of ancient coins...
For goodness' sake. I have just spent a few hours over the past few days tapping out here perfectly civilly and factually (and in answer to this guy's impudent questions) that archaeologists (yes archaeologists) where I come from work WITH numismatists (yes, numismatists), sit in commissions WITH collectors (yes, collectors), are NOT conducting any campaign against collecting of anything at all. The constant repetition of this type of provocative claptrap from coin dealers (mostly) is what is preventing any kind of a sensible discussion of the issues. What aim does it serve, if not to disrupt sensible discussion of the issues?

What is in reality the subject of a campaign Dave Welsh's own country is commerce in illegally exported coins. The 'campaign' is in fact a pretty half-hearted one and in fact rather than commerce only regulates initial import of illegally exported coins. But there is nothing else to these wild accusations. There are three and a half years of examination of these claims and writing here on this blog which lay open to examination and discussion the evidence that all the rest is coiney paranoia and conspiracy theory, not the real world.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Ph Duh and the Kiddies' Detector

In a somewhat surprising post in among the marbles and mosaics on her blog PhDiva likens me to Michel van Rijn, "except that MvR's rants were motivated by money (ie he'd remove them for cash)". Anyhow the good doctor decided on behalf of all her fans in the Portable Antiquities Society to give A Gloucestershire metal detectorist's coarse blog a plug. I imagine in moments when she has nothing much to do, she might well enjoy reading vulgarisms like that with her doggie while scoffing cream cakes on the sofa.

In the post below it she thought it would be a good idea to give a plug for The Bill Wyman Metal Detector, in doing so stressing that she's met Mick Jagger (which she apparently threw in for some reason "just to wind Paul Barford up"; the internal logic of that remark escapes me). She asserts:
Britain is amazing in that we have so many history and archaeology enthusiasts who devote their spare time to trying to uncover remnants of the past. Many do so using a metal detector. It's a great hobby and harms no-one, unlike rioting or taking drugs. There are always a few bad apples, but the vast majority of people who make finds report them to the Portable Antiquities Scheme. It's a legal requirement to do so, and most metal detectorists are happy to do [so,] as it means they get to find out more about their items, and have official recognition of their discoveries.
well, pretty amazing to have two factual errors in one PhDivan sentence, but there you are. Dr King should know that in her country, it is not required by law, the PAS is a voluntary scheme (she can ask Dan Pett next time she tweets him). Duh. Secondly, the majority of finds made with a metal detector are not being shown to the PAS, most artefact hunters avoid them for various reasons. Including Dorothy King's new favourite bloggers Candice Jarman (she can ask Dan Pett how many records they have from her) and the author of that other blog. The problem is that PhDiva is misled by the name "detecting", because she says these people "uncover remnants of the past". No, actually they dig them up and take them away, in Greece you'd call that "looting", in Britain, its not called that and British archaeologists like PhDiva see absolutely nothing wrong with it happening right under their noses.

Even Dr King admits she herself has been artefact hunting in Essex with a Bill Wyman Metal Detector. Apparently the good doctor has a reputation of being an archaeologist who could be "asked about metal detectors", but admits that so far she's "only used one, and only for a few days. It was the Bill Wyman Detector". I bet it made her back ache, because its made for really short people (as in children). She claims to have found "Roman" and "Viking" remains, but I suspect that's not true as I do not think you can actually find anything much with a Bill Wyman detector. Look at the UKDFD website, where they give the machines used to find the finds exhibited (down at the bottom of the page). How many of them were found with a Bill Wyman machine? QED.

Vignette: Mick Jagger had the pleasure of meeting Dorothy King

What They Are Teaching These Days: Doubly Profiting From the Past ("Should widely be publicised as a good example of how it should be done... "

(A little bit fictionalised, but based on real events). A metal detectorist out detecting in an undisclosed location in darkest "Oxfordshire" found a twisty piece of copper alloy, dug it up and put it in his pocket. Got it home, put it under the tap and thought "Celtic, I can get a few quid for that". Thought about taking it to the PAS, but thought he'd not bother being responsible this week either. Sold it to a dealer, spends the money on petrol to go and plunder more archaeological sites. Dealer puts it on a website, and there it sits. Over the other side of the Atlantic, a collector who imagines himself a bit of an expert in Celtic stuff (can drop the names of half a dozen scholars who he's written to about it in a single email) sees it. "I'll have that", he says. He buys it. It's shipped off to him after the dealer got an export licence for it. The collector starts fondling it at home. It's what he's always wanted. He reckons its a missing link, an early example of a style he's wanted to write about for ages. He excitedly sends off some "look what I've got!" emails to all and sundry who will listen. They all write back saying "Oooo, Aren't you a lucky boy, how CLEVER of you to have spotted it!". Collector glows with gratitude and self-satisfaction. Writes to a forum to tell everybody how pleased he is with himself.

Back in the UK on a night time visit, with the petrol he bought with the money from selling the twisty metal and other bits and bobs, the metal detectorist finishes emptying another Anglo-Saxon cemetery. He never goes back to the field where the Twisty bit was found as he felt he'd already "hammered" that site, nothing left in it now. The archaeologists never got to know about it because not a single item from it was reported to the PAS before nine months later a bypass was built running right through the site, destroying it utterly.

Back in Canada collector gets some analyses done, has some professional photos made, writes an article in "Squirls", the Celtic Art Lover's Group annual journal. His five minutes. He has established how important this object was, and that the object should never really have been allowed out of the country.

On the suggestion that it might be donated to a museum, the expert art historian refuses to countenance this idea.
No-- I will allow the British Museum to buy it if they wish, or I might well put it in a British auction [...]. Professor [of Archaeology & Heritage, Bangor] Raimund Karl (Ray) sees nothing wrong with me making some money over this, he says: "I actually think that the story of the 'Hooker finial' is actually something that should get a lot of publicity. After all, this is not about making loads of money [...], but rather about learning loads about the past [...]. And it's particularly the way you dealt with it - getting if for its scholarly significance; immediately showing it to the leading experts on the subject in the world, who in turn passed it on the the wider scholarly community; ensuring that it will be subjected to all kinds of analyses; etc. - that's a very different story from 'metal detectorist hits the coin jackpot', and one that should widely be publicised as a good example of how it should be done... "
Really? Is that what they teach as "heritage studies" in the UK now? I'll "publicise" it gladly. Well, yes a lot of people made money out of it, the detectorist, the dealer, and then the collector when he sells it back to the nation. The fact that nobody knows where it came from, that the place it came from might have resulted in us "learning lots about the past" before it was trashed unrecorded by the detectorist who then for all we know, could have let it unreported be bulldozed and built over by now. Or not, who knows? We will in any case never ever know the connection between the find and the findspot and other finds and findspots around it. That a piece of so-called "ancient art" which might or might not (of course the object has not been published yet) have been of national significance was not spotted as such and was exported without a second thought. In this case it was spotted by a Kitchen table Scholar who realised it was important, but it might have been bought by an Argentinian racehorse owner's teenage daughter looking for an exotic looking pendant for her hobby of stringing beads into fun necklaces to give her unappreciative friends. Now the Kitchen Table Scholar wants the BM to buy it from him.

Is this really "a good example of how it should be done"? Frankly I think it is a very sad example of what is wrong with the way the British treat the archaeological heritage. A potentially important object has been plundered at random from an unknown site to end up with a random foreign collector. How is that a good thing? Not a single one of the safeguards in place to prevent important material disappearing without record worked here.

US Coiney "Numismatics" : An Analytical Discipline or Merely Ordering Raw Data?

It seems coineys in the United States and I differ profoundly in our evaluations of what we understand by the word "professional discipline". In his rather nasty and hasty reply ("The Gospel according to St. Paul Barford") to my recent comments on what in terms of its status as a discipline I consider the words "professional numismatist" to mean, ACCG representative Dave Welsh writes:
Archaeoblogger Paul Barford may have actually taken leave of his senses: I caution all observers to realize that Mr. Barford is apparently afflicted by what is at best confusion, and at worst delusions, as to what really constitutes professional numismatic expertise and qualifications.
Perhaps it is Mr Welsh and his fellow numismatists in the US who are instead confused about the issue. The reason behind that insulting remark?

It seems to this observer that Mr. Barford has once again confused academia and its academic "qualifications" with genuine professional expertise.
Now this is comical when (if anybody is still following his pathetic thrashing around for self-justification), we remember his grounds for assessing me in his earlier attempt at interrogation were not practical "professional expertise", but paper qualifications.

Yes, I think if we are looking at something like numismatics in terms of it being a real discipline or not (which is what this discussion revolves around), then whether it is one that can be taught and assessed within an academic context is indeed one of those criteria. What is represented as such but is not is surely nothing but pseudoscience. How else can a discipline be defined?

Welsh then defines "professional expertise" as defined (in the discipline of numismatics) by ability to sort through a bulk lot of ancient coins. We are obviously talking about different things here. Whatever Welsh thinks it is, when I talk about a professional, I mean somebody with qualifications that go beyond mere hand-eye coordination. I think most of us equate the word "professional qualifications" in a discipline as consisting of something on paper, exams passed, courses completed, academic publications in peer-reviewed journals, that sort of thing. Throwing a pile of potsherds down on a table in front of a student who has completed the 'Prehistory of Poland 101' course and examining them on their ability to decide which are TRB neolithic and which Lusatian Culture (or whatever), is what we do at the end of the first year of a five year course. It's not a professional qualification, but a first year exam topic. Would Welsh consider a field-walking arrowhead collector in the States to represent a "professional discipline" comparable to his because he can sort them into types, from Agate basins to Yonkees? Or a British metal detectorist sorting 'grots' and 'partifacts' from 'trash'? Being "able to sort stuff into the right piles/boxes/coin slips" does not seem much on which to base a claim for such sorting to be a professional discipline. Nor fundamental to any discussion of the ethics of the antiquities trade.

Which is nothing but confirmation of what I was saying earlier about the great gap between what the US coineys consider to be "science" and what the rest of us would consider to be a science. Welsh is clearly talking here about a basic ability to sort data (as I say, sorting 'heaps of coins on a table' ) and not much else. I am talking about a discipline which consists of an ability to analyse data and interpret them within a methodology as I pointed out in my little essay on what real professional numismatists do with coins in the country where I am based and which Welsh now ridicules.

Welsh adds insult to injury when he says of what I wrote:

I do not think [...] very many of those whom he reveres as "academic numismatists" would do well in such a simple test of elementary qualifications.
That seems going a bit far. I doubt whether Mr Welsh has ever even heard before the names of the people I quoted in my earlier post, let alone met them at any international numismatic conference he's been to, and here he is judging and denigrating them. I would not be so dismissive of their abilities, I have seen some of them in action on excavated material, and would be interested to see how Dealer Dave would fare against them, especially when dealing with the material with which they would be more familiar than he. We do have rather high academic standards in this country (especially compared to what passes for 'education' in the US, speaking from the experience of having just had a bunch of US exchange students and their professor over here for a term) and Welsh in his self-advertising buffoonery is here overstepping the mark.

Certainly I do not expect I could (or would want to) sort a pile of Mr Welsh's coins to a degree that would satisfy him, but then I doubt whether he could say much about a pile of Early Slavic sherds, or an excavated Romano-British pottery assemblage (I bet he cannot even tell the difference between South Gaulish and Central Gaulist terra sigillata, let alone cope with the other imported finewares and amphoras found in Britain). Unlike him, however, I would not find that a justification for calling him names and saying he is "deluded" and knows nothing. I happen to have gained a fair working knowledge of certain artefact types because that's what I worked with at one stage of my working life. I cant do snail shells, or bird/fish bones or seeds, while there are others for whom its as falling off a log. But sorting things like that is a practical 'craft', not part of the analytical job of the archaeologist. Sorting the potsherds into piles and identifying Rhenish and Gaulish colour coat is just the beginning, counting and weighing them, assessing abrasion and sherd size are all technical operations - equivalent to what Welsh evidently considers the pinnacle of "professional expertise". In many units however this is work carried out by supervised volunteers and students and the main pot specialist does not dirty his hands with it. (Of course they earlier themselves served 'apprenticeship in the craft' by sorting). What the pot specialist does is look at assemblage composition and taphonomy and from that analyse the results in terms of the use, discarding and deposition of the material across the site, not in terms of individual assemblages, but the intrasite patterning of assemblages. In big units, the specialist takes tables of numbers from the sorting, and turns them into analytical reports.

Perhaps here is the root of the problem we have getting through to collectors what the issues are, they are seeing this all the time as a function of individual isolated objects which are to be "sorted" (merely identified), because that is all they do with the material they buy and sell ("oh, look a Gallienus not listed in RIC!"). They are fetishising the object rather than seeing the analytical and methodological issues, because in their own use of the material they do not analyse and have no methodology more sophisticated than an art-historical/typological approach developed in the 1870s. As a result they perhaps cannot imagine what else could be done with them.

I expect the toothless old peasant orchard owner who drives in to Warsaw from a village near Grójec in his battered old van to sell apples on the market near me would be able, if the boxes got mixed up, to separate by eye the 'jonagolds' from the 'chempions' and all the other local breeds of apple (we have a few, some not found anywhere else in Europe) without mistake into their correct piles by size, colour, appearance of the skin and density and other characteristics barely distinguishable to the average customer. Has that toothless, dirty old man an expertise that in the eyes of Mr Welsh and his fellows would merit the term "professional" and does that mean that he is an expert "malalologist" on the same "professional" standing in the eyes of a US "numismatist" as (or maybe better than) an eminent professor specialising in fruit tree husbandry at the Main Agricultural Academy here in Warsaw? Or is he just a market stallholder who knows what he is selling - a shopkeeper?

Vignette: coin collecting like stamp collecting, ordering "things". It is a little-known fact that FDR had six digits on one hand...

Professional Numismatics in the USA Underdeveloped?

Mr Welsh is indignant about my earlier post stating what, as a result of my own contacts with professional numismatists over many years as an archaeologist and medievalist, I consider to be a professional numismatist (and in particular that I do not think the term properly applies to a mere coin dealer with the ability to recognise the difference between one coin and another):
If we are to take this verbiage at face value, then according to [...] Barford, the nation of Poland alone can claim to the distinction of having a larger number of qualified "professional numismatists" than the United States, in which it is credibly estimated that roughly half of all ancient coin collectors in the world reside and half of the world's numismatic trade is carried on.
There he leaves it, it seems coin dealer Dave Welsh does not know enough about the number of qualified "professional numismatists" employed in academic and cultural institutions in the USA, but it must, surely, be bigger than any other country because it is the United States of America. Since he himself earlier said there were about "two dozen" in the whole country, I cannot see that, head for head of the population especially, that actually it is not. It would be interesting to do a proper headcount across several countries (USA, Canada) compared with some in Europe (UK, France, Germany, Poland, Albania). The results might be interesting.

Despite gobbling up, as the ACCG dealer admits, "half of the world's numismatic trade" of freshly surfaced and curated numismatic objects, as an academic discipline numismatics would seem to be, on the information he offers, relatively poorly developed in the USA and largely in amateur hands. These it seems from what is presented as their main "professional expertise" to prefer typological studies to the analytical work practised by those that use numismatic material in a more academic context.

This seems a phenomenon worthy of much closer examination with regard the use of all these coins for a study of the past" which is generally used as one of the main arguments for not doing anything that might restrict the flow of "freshly surfaced" coins onto the US market. Perhaps this coiney argument needs re-examination?

Monday, 22 August 2011

Working With Them Rots the Brain

I tell you, working with them rots the brain, after a few months, you'll not only be good pals with but you'll be talking like the "partners". Overheard at the Irthlingborough Rally commercial artefact hunting (oh sorry, historic-landscape-appreciating) grabfest. This is a British archaeologist:
I will be there with the FLOs so [...] please pop over and say hello! Fingers crossed for good whether and good finds!
Arrr. Help yourselves to the finds lads, just take what you want out of the archaeological record, show us a few, leave what you don't want in the scrap bins (non-ferrous on the right, lead on the left and just stick the iron in the hedge unless you think it's got scrap value too) and someone will get rid of it for you.

A "Charity" rally on "100 acres wheat stubble", organised by RallyUK and Thrapston & Raunds Rotary Club. 10am-4pm. £15 each.

More Bogus Bunkum from the Bogus Blonde Bunkum Monger

Bogus blonde "legal secretary who is not really a metal detectorist" takes issues with me treating the antiquities trade as a conservation issue and by way of analogy comparing it with the trade in other items leading to the depletetion of a resource (such as ivory). He denies that the issue with looting of archaeological sites is a conservation issue. The reason? "There are millions of artefacts" so artefacts are in no danger of disappearing.

The issue with the ivory trade is ivory comes from elephants and we want to protect the elephants from disappearing, not the ivory.

The issue with archaeological artefacts "surfacing" on the market is that they are coming out of the archaeological record, we want to protect the archaeological record from disappearing, not the artefacts. Duh.

I think to reach some collectors we are going to have to use comic books or something simple they can understand.

This of course in the case of members of the British public like "Candice Jarman" whether or not they are metal detectorists is the job of the PAS. It would be nice if "Candice's" FLO (Ciorstaidh Hayward Trevarthen Finds Liaison Officer - Dorset Historic Environment Team, Dorset County Council County Hall) were aware of this "People's Archaeology" blog and the misinformation it is spreading and could take the time to write to him and explain the rudiments of conservation instead of leaving the task up to a lone archaeologist from Poland who unlike her is not being paid to do outreach to members of the Dorset public.

One Like it on the PAS website

Like metal detectorist 'Flying2Blue' discussed here before, EBay seller 4t9a (1048) ("fortyniner"? address "England United Kingdom") has for a number of years been a firm believer in private sales for antiquities. He's selling things like for example this:

230662801178: Stunning Medieval Knife Handle Terminal ~ see PAS,
"Medieval English, Believed to represent 'PUCK' the mischievous Sprite of Medieval folklore. These terminals turn up occasionally and are very collectable. There is a picture of one on the Portable Antiquities Scheme website. Length 20mm starting at $45.57
He forgot to give the PAS numbers of the reported find and its supposed parallel. Now this is quite an interesting use of the database of artefacts hoiked from Britain's archaeological sites mainly by artefact hunters, to use to sell other artefacts hoiked from Britain's archaeological sites by artefact hunters.

But this does not often pay off. There's this "PILGRIM BADGE ~ Believed to be Knights Crusader related" 230661993295
Knight's Pilgrim Badge Cross Fleury with 6 Petalled Rose Solid bronze (i.e. not repousse) Beautiful Pilgrim Badge ~ primitive construction yet very detailed. One fleury end slightly awry but the badge is complete. The 6 petalled Rose is rarely seen and is usually associated with Mary Magdalene. More likely worn by Crusader than ordinary Pilgrim in my opinion. Would have been attached to clothing with four stitches. Measures 31mm Not seen this type before and can't find no reference to it.
Only five quid, and all those BIG WORDS, my my the guy must know what he's talking about, eh? Somehow the mount reminds me of something else... I think this seller is looking in the wrong part of the PAS database.
Thoughtlessly, the PAS don't have a keyword "Knights Crusader", which rather hinders this member of the public finding what he wants on this resource (mainly used it seems from the annual reports by metal detectorists "seeking parallels to their finds". I bet it is, easier than books isn't it?). How can they advertise things for sale on eBay if they can't find out what it is? That's probably why instead of going to the PAS they were going along to forums like UKDN.

Then there's 230662804944 VIKING RARITY ~ British Find ~ HOWLING BEAST Bowl Mount
Fascinating artefact. Made from Bronze. All four limbs intact. The beast has some scales on its back. Detailed hands. Open mouth in howling pose. Slight incurve to rear suggesting this mount was from a bowl. Evidence of iron near shoulders and possibly had iron tail for affixing to bowl. Note: this is not a pendant with a broken loop, the jaws are moulded. VIKING ART IS VERY STYLISED ~ THERE IS NO DEFINITE HEAD AS SUCH, JUST THE JAWS [...] STYLE IS FROM THE 'BORRE STYLE' PERIOD (900AD APPROX) THE 'KANGAROO' TYPE REAR LEGS AND THE 'CUFFED WRISTS' IS SEEN IN VIKING ART FROM THIS PERIOD. Quite big. Dimensions 46mm x 36mm Extremely rare artefact A very low starting price here"
only 75 quid, no possibility then that it's anything else? I mean its not really CLASSIC "Borre Style" is it? Sort of 'crude-commercial-spin-by-ignorant-metal-detected-finds-seller-trying-to-con-you-probable-Late-Medieval-harness-mount-fragment-is-viking' type Borre, isn't it? Again the seller got the wrong part of the PAS
database. [Actually it looks more like Kermit the frog with a hangover.] Perhaps PAS might decide that to help their "partners" get the most out of their ("only interested in it for the history- honest") hobby, they could provide guidelines on "How to use the PAS database to get better prices for your finds on eBay"?

And here's a rarity, an object with a "provenance":
EDWARD the ELDER ~ Extremely Rare Anglo-Saxon Penny
230662191742 starting at 275 quid:
EDWARD the ELDER 'Hand of Providence' Penny minted in Anglo-Saxon England between 899 - 924 AD Edward the Elder was the son of Alfred the Great. He ruled over Anglo-Saxon England with the help of his sister Aethelflaed (The Lady of the Mercians). The coin has been folded over possibly from Anglo-Saxon times as the condition on the inside looks good what I can see of it. The Hand of Providence can be seen as well as some random letters (different letters from the coin in Spinks 1081) these I believe make up the moneyers name. Small amount of damage to the outer face but generally a very legible coin. Small crack as indicated by white line in one of the photos, done some time in antiquity (I have not tried to open the fold although sorely tempted!). Very low starting price

As for provenance: This coin has been purchased from a collector. It has been part of his collection since 1998. He in turn received the coin from the original finder. Details of informative correspondence from the collector about the coin will be included which includes the interesting find location. The original Find location will be given to winning bidder only.
Don't bother mate. We know the provenance. Its a Trevor Ashmore copy. It is a shame the "finder" did not show it to the PAS, it would have saved everybody a lot of hassle and accusations that
4t9a is selling a FAKE. I believe that several collectors have already written to him informing him of it, but the object still has not had its description altered or been removed from sale. In fact what was this "finder" playing at? You'd have to be pretty heavy-handed to get a freshly minted coin that's never been in the ground to crack like that when bent once. What did he do, drive his car over it a couple of times to give it that battered look? I bet the correspondence with the collector is a cracking good laugh.

Never mind, if he comes across this, the coin's buyer can ask me and I'll give him the name of a metal detectorist in the UK who can get it unbent, an abusive, illiterate and unpleasant little twerp, but good with his hands. So at least he'll have a flat Trevor Ashmore copy.

4t9a says "OVERSEAS BUYERS MOST WELCOME BUT PAYMENT BY PAYPAL ONLY PLEASE" (he forgot to say they'd have to wait for the export licence)

But that's what you get when you buy antiquities irresponsibly put onto the UK dugup antiquities market (ie items unreported to the PAS). You are in the hands of sellers with unfettered imaginations about what the find is who know jolly well that the people buying this stuff are as ignorant, many of them, as planks. You are in the hands of sellers who'll swear blind that they "honestly did not know" that what they are selling is not authentic (and refuse to believe it when they are told). Anyone can sell old things and present themselves as an expert by throwing in a few big words they saw on the back of a cornflake packet. Seller 4t9a has sold over a thousand artefacts in the past couple of years. Sadly since his or her sales are hidden we cannot see if they were all as poorly described as these four. The entire antiquities market is a swamp, some bits of it are less smelly and quagmirish than others, but generally its not a good place to venture.

So what is the point of collecting "pieces of history" if they are the wrong bits of history and you are too ignorant to tell the difference?

UPDATE 22.08.11
Over on the EnglishHammered (coins) forum there has been some discussion of the coin all day, several members have been stubbornly giving this seller the benefit of doubt, offering to send him pictures of known Ashmore fakes so he can modify the listing... well, look for yourselves what his reaction was reported to be and their conclusion. The long and short of it the coin has been reported to eBay as a fake this evening. Let's see if they react (they do not always) Note the added question and answer added, after the seller had already been informed that its a copy:
Q: Hi, Is this the original coin or an Ashmore copy? Thank you Aug-22-11
A: Thank you for your question. I believe it is an original, I bought it as such and was given the Metal detector find location by the collector/dealer. If it is a copy then it is the best I have ever seen, I would think it impossible to age silver like this coin. If you think it is copy then best not to bid as I am not offering a refund on this coin due to its folded condition. Best Regards, Pete
Of course the copy is not all that good, the cut of the lettering is all wrong. The coin is not particularly "aged" either, except by somebody mistreating it in some way. But it's got a "metal detector find location" hasn't it? Of course anybody can say they "found" any object anywhere can't they? Here (because the object is in fact modern), we have a clear example of a false "metal detector findspot", how many that get into the PAS database have similarly false findspots?

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