Thursday, 21 June 2012

Homeland Security Seizes T-Rex From Heritage Auctions

"Homeland Security Seizes T-Rex From Heritage Auctions: A federal judge has authorized the Department of Homeland Security to seize a 24-foot-long Tyrannosaurus skeleton from an art storage company in Queens. [...] Heritage Auctions sold the T-Rex had to a collector for more than $1 million last month; authorities suspect it's been illegally exported from Mongolia." 
The dinosaur is reported to have gone quietly.


 I should explain that the dinosaur posts are here for two reasons, this case is completely comparable to the antiquities issues that are the subject of this archaeological blog, but also sadly palaeontologists don't often have laws protecting the resources they need for their research like archaeologists sometimes have, the best they can do is apply our laws to their stuff, thus we have a 65 million year old dinosaur being called "cultural property", which admittedly is plain stupid. It is at this point I should remind readers: "Archaeologists Don't Actually Do Dinosaurs!"

We Don't Do Dinosaurs! [The Archaeology Song] by Archaeosoup Productions.


Alfredo De La Fe said...

No Paul, dinosaur bones are nothing like coins and minor antiquities. In this case, there is only one place it could have come from and it is not like there are MILLIONS of them in private collections. I would expect anyone dealing in such a valuable item to keep their paperwork in order.

Coins and other minor antiquities on the other hand exist in the millions and have been private property for centuries. They also have little to no documentation in the vast majority of cases.

I really cannot comment on this case in particular, because I do not know the laws nor do I know the details. But comparing the two is just plain silly.

Paul Barford said...

Alfredo, it is NOT the “lack of documentation” that is the problem here, but that the seller has not the particular documentation required to allow the object to be legally sold, ie an export licence. This is therefore NO different from the objects you mention: no documents, then a RESPONSIBLE dealer has no business handling them any more than any other items to which he cannot demonstrate full legal title.

Let us note that it is precisely for the omission of THESE documents in the case of the import of FRESH coins onto the US market that the ACCG is fighting tooth and nail. What’s the problem if fresh coins have documentation that the dodgier items already on the market lack?

Anyway, it is NOT true that items such as coins exist “in millions” – what about coins of Domitian for example, the ones with the legend: IMP CAES DOMIT AVG GERM P M TR P XVI, when from the whole of the provinces of England and Wales there are only 349 coins recorded in the Portable Antiquities Scheme database for the whole reign? I doubt the number of these particular coins extant is even very many thousands, rather than “millions”. Or the shabtis of Pa-Miw when there were conventionally 365 in the tomb?

No, you are just making excuses for the abuses of dugups dealers.

The case is entirely comparable, and could-not-care less dealers get their fingers (and reputations) burnt in the end.

Alfredo De La Fe said...

There are perhaps tens of thousands (if not more) of Roman Imperial coins of Domitian which are either in dealer inventories or private collections.

When you figure that the output of a single die was impressive and the number of dies per issue... Well, you get my point.

Keep playing fast and loose with the facts Paul. The biggest issue I have with the recent MOU's is that export documentation is required from the "country of origin" which is being interpreted to mean "country of manufacture". (It is a bit more complicated than this, and I do not feel like going into great detail, but the above is a pretty fair summation of this one problem)

There are millions of ancient coins in private hands. If it makes you feel better to pick one obverse legend out of tens of thousands for all of the coins struck for the Roman Empire and Republic that is your business. But it still does not change the fact that there are potentially MILLIONS of coins without any documentation which you would like to see be deemed illicit.

Paul Barford said...

There are many millions of fossils of different types in collections, we were discussing a single group (those from a certain deposit in the Gobi desert – nota bene it is the provenance here which adds to the value to these collectors).

As you will see, I mentioned one particular category of coin to illustrate my point – a point you seem determined to avoid addressing. It is not me that is “playing fast and loose” with the facts but the coin dealer.

The “output of a single die” is neither here nor there (any more than the reproductive rate of a certain horny dinosaur species) what is important is the number extant today, and where they come from. vIt certainly is false logic to claim that every coin ever struck is still available
"somewhere" to become archaeological evidence or a collector's geegaw (and a few dollars in the pocket of a coin shop owner). As a numismatist you will I hope not be oblivious to why I chose coins of year XVI of that particular emperor for my example (and if you do not know, look it up).

“The biggest issue I have with the recent MOU's is that export documentation is required from the "country of origin"…”
Yes, export licences tend to be, that is their nature. And your POINT? US customs regulations require the import documents of items that may be covered by restrictions to accurately state what is in the transport entering the US, and where it comes from. That does not apply just to antiquities, and does not apply to antiquities only from MOU countries, but a whole range of commercial goods and non-commercial items.

What I "would like to see" – to reduce out the possibilities of dealing in dodgy artefacts on a highly tainted market - is responsible dealers handling only items to which they can document full right to trade in. I "would like to see" them eschewing handling those that have no such documentation. That is irrespective of whether they be Mongolian, Chinese or Ukrainian fossils, Coins of year XVI of Domitian, Pontius Pilate, shabtis of Pa-Miw, scaraboids of Thuthmosis III, and Greek vases with naughty pictures on. And if they cannot work out how to access items with such credentials, then perhaps they should switch to selling something else. Books on antiquity for example, trips to the Greek Islands. Phone cards and stamps. Used cars. Celebrity autographs. Fruit and vegetables.

Anonymous said...

How tiresome, the endless reference to "lack of documentation" trotted out as an excuse for the fact that everything that gets stolen gets dealt in, and hence encouraged,rewarded and expanded, wittingly or otherwise, by Mr De La Fe and his many mates and their hundreds of thousands of paying customers.

As a British person I'd like to know why neither he nor his pals ever quote a PAS reference number on their sales of British dug-ups? That's not lack of documentation, it's dodgy dealing, as in from the back of a lorry, simple as.

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