Monday, 31 December 2012

2012: That was a year that was... (part one)

I thought I'd try and summarise for my own benefit as much as anything, this blog's contents for the year 2012 in portable antiquity collecting issues as I see them. I was expecting it to be a much more pessimistic picture than in fact emerged. 

January opened with the beginning of the saga of the 'Cabinet W' Weiss seizure  in New York. Readers will know that I consider the coineys and their arguments to be extremely dangerous, and it was good to feel that at last the US authorities were going to take their activities more seriously than they had been doing. Well, it was a nice thought at the time. I was asked to keep quiet about my misgivings about two of the coins.... It seems I was not the only one who thought this case might be a watershed one, revealing rather a lot about the circulation of numismatic material, the ANS, to their shame, started to remove any information from their website about the many donations of Dr Weiss to their collections. Shortly after this there was the Prospero coin sale which also reminded us just how much money could be made from dugup coins. It is still being claimed that this is nothing to do with looting, we heard more about the coin elves  this time from the ANA. Robert Hecht's trial came to an end, followed by the dealer's death a month later. In January, on a PAS front, I tried to engage Professor Raimund Karl the Heritage management lecturer at Bangor University over his paper on the PAS being the best thing for dealing with artefact looting and collecting since sliced bread, he however declined to take part...  - no surprise there then.

February began with a metal detecting forum carrying the information suggesting that once again PAS employees have been saying behind my back things about the preservationist point of view represented on this blog that not a single one of them has the nerve to say to my face. This set the foundations for a pattern of deteriorating professional standards ...  The Glasgow team got a big grant to look at heritage crime raising hopes that we would be seeing some innovative new research and thinking on this topic. In America the fuss was starting up over television portrayal of metal detecting. Back in Britain, LootBusters was set up. The private, pirate, "UK Detector Finds Database" started to hide finders' names, but later in the year suffered some kind of system problems and some aspects of it have been crippled for several months. Meanwhile an AIAD member was selling a number of Pa Miw Shabtis (and last time I looked still was several months later). English Heritage issued a notably clueless statement about metal detectorists.

It was in February that the Olympia Museum was robbed , prompting the traditional chorus of the US collecting crowd protesting the idea of "repatriation" of stolen artefacts to "those people" - rather missing the point. SAFE had a rather more positive approach ("what can I do to help?"). Turkey began deliberations on the deaccession of certain museum objects. We began to hear of a curious case in Italy, where an archaeologist reportedly got involved in dealing and artefact fakery but I have been unable to learn the outcome. Odyssey Marine Exploration had to surrender the cargo of the Spanish ship Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes to its owners, Spain. The Syrian conflict became even more heated and I examined the frequency one could meet unprovenanced  Syrian coins on sale through V-Coins, nothing has changed in this regard in the intervening months. Egypt detained a traveller for carrying artefacts which turned out to be modern tourist souvenirs. It was at this time that a series of posts about the Koh Ker statuary began, with one on Cambodia's Trunkless Legs of Stone and then a mention of the ACCG's favourite london dealer, Spinks ("no Paperwork" eh? ).

In March, the fuss continued in the US about TV programmes on artefact hunting with the Spike TV offering("John Roby: "Putting the hurt on heritage")  joined by one from somebody one might have expected to know better ("National Geographic and Bozo Archaeological Site Emptying"). I commented on this one prophetically ("just Imagine this Happening in the UK ") and Heritage Action noted the difference between the US and UK. Over in Britain, it turned out that the rumoured TV programme  "Britain's Secret Treasures" (which it was claimed earlier that PAS had "binned") would soon be aired.  The Portable Antiquities Scheme went on a promotional tour of America. A Virginia metal detectorist was reportedly convicted of destruction of context and stealing metal artefacts from Petersburg National Battlefield. Meanwhile a belated US cultural property MOU with Bulgaria was under discussion. The US preservationist organization  SAFE revamped their excellent and valuable website, giving more prominence to case studies highlighting the problem of looting.  Dealer Michael Malter was sentenced for illegally trafficking in Native American archaeological resources. Oded Golan and Robert Deutsch were acquitted in the Jerusalem antiquities forgery trial. Turkey continued its increased pressure on foreign museums to return cultural property taken from Anatolia, questioning the Schimmel Collection. There was a big Greek antiquities bust which prompted thoughts about the no-questions-asked market in dugups. There was a bust in Egypt too, but the most interesting aspect of that was some indication of the number of items still missing from the previous year's events. It was in March too that the first more reliable but shocking reports came in from El Hibeh about the looting there. I covered this story quite extensively giving support to the US campaign to try and get something done. Sadly they were less than grateful. Lootbusters met the real antiquity trolls.

My first post in April about 'an Unknown Pope' was of course an April Fool joke - in hindsight not a very good one, though it made a point about the PAS and text-driven archaeology. The supporters of the Scheme continue to pretend that site-wrecker 'Depth Advantage' metal detectors do not exist, and challenge none of the mantras they spout in support of "partnering" their users. Shame on them. The PAS got a £150K research project grant to justify their database. There was an antiquity bust in Bulgaria but no US coin dealer's blog or website noted it. I wonder why?

 There was some discussion in April of the Ka Nefer Nefer mask case which looked to be drawing out into a long battle. I started a series of posts where I looked critically at the "Collection History" of the object that the US Museum was sticking to, it turned out to be so full of holes that it was simply untenable.  In Egypt, Former Minister Zahi Hawass faced charges brought by his political enemies over the travelling exhibitions touring the US (the charges were later quietly dropped and the exhibitions are still touring until next month). In the US New York antiquities dealer Morris Khouli pleaded guilty to smuggling Egyptian antiquities. Two other sarcophagi (or what was left of them after they'd passed through the hands of saw-wielding middlemen) were seized in Jerusalem, they'd passed through Dubai. New antiquity laws were instituted in Israel. The Cambodian Statues Saga continued with the entry of Ms Bunker. On the coiney front, Wayne Sayles, having given up his V-coins store, says he's now not going to blog on the fight for cultural property, only coin collecting - we would see how long that lasted. This blog received over half a million hits since it started - showing (together with a similar number of David Gill's looting matters" that there is indeed a lot of public interest in issues related to cultural property and portable antiquity collecting.

In May, Wyatt Yeager, former collections manager at the American Numismatic Association Money Museum in Colorado Springs was Sentenced for stealing coins, many of them have not yet been recovered.  Another theft from US collections which the other collecting blogs will not tell you about was in the news in May too. Meanwhile a coin dealer had some stock stolen.  A New York antiquities ("ancient art") dealer who had previously threatened a fellow blogger  was arrested and awaiting extradition from Germany to India beginning the Kapoor Saga that was recounted on several heritage blogs (though not collecting ones) over the next few months. Another saga that was to occupy the pages of this blog for seven months was the Tarby sale by Heritage Auctions which defied a court order. In Italy, a court upheld the claim on the Atleta di Fano the case remains unresolved. There was continued concern over Syria's cultural property threatened in the ongoing civil war.

In Britain, at a public presentation in May, the British Museum labelled as mere "trolls" preservationists questioning British policies (I use the term loosely) on artefact collecting and the trade. One of their "partners" called however on metal detectorists never to back down and resist the temptation to work with archaeologists. Some archaeologists actually broke ranks and disapprovingly accused the British government of  facilitating looting of a shipwreck, though blind to the depredations of metal detectorists on land under their noses.

In the early summer of 2012, there were a number of thefts from UK museums. British metal detectorists had a good month in June, over on Jersey a huge Iron Age coin hoard was dug out from very deep down, it turns out this was a known site that was being targeted. The British newspapers once again started the ritual of enthusing about the "massive wealth" that is just "up for grabs""  for anyone who buys a metal detector. Dealers were rubbing their hands in anticipation awaiting the upcoming PAS Treasure-fest on TV. Questions about possible  future trends in metal detecting in the UK went unanswered - it seems discussing the future of artefact hunting is not on the agenda in Britain. Metal detectorists were however worried about another aspect of the future, the amount of non-ferrous contamination in green wast compost spread on many of "their" fields.  Roger Bland got a new post, and Minelab lost the Man-in-the-Hat.

In Egypt somebody tried to saw a stela of Merenptah from the quarry wall at Silsila (the photos show this was not the first time, my question on the date and identity of the author of the first attempt went unanswered).  Also in Egypt, a June antiquity bust revealed that one third of the items being offered alongside real dugups by these dealers  were fakes. This seems to be quite a frequent occurrence in this trade. The attempts to get something done at El Hibeh continued.  Tragically, some looters were killed in a tunnel collapse. In Jerusalem, Oded Golan, acquitted of other charges, was sentenced for some antiquity dealing. US-Iraqi archaeological co-operation was reported suspended over some items the US had taken and were refusing to return (what happened here in the end?).

There was discussion of Looting in Albania, in Greece a routine traffic stop led to the arrest of antiquity traffickers. A public information campaign  Protect Greek Antiquities got underway in June. Turkey too was keeping up the pressure. In the US, the Flamenbaums were told to give  a piece of war-loot back to the Vorderasiatischen Museum in Berlin (what happened to this story?). The Polish Museum of America got some stolen artefacts back courtesy of coin dealer Harlan Berk. Two Khmer Statues in the Met came under scrutiny. The tarbosaurus skeleton sold the previous month  by Heritage Auctions was seized by Federal agents and the legal process was begun to forfeit it. At this stage nothing was done about other items the same dealer was handling. Peter Tompa was one of two lawyers engaged to defend this important case.

Throughout the first part of the year, I continued to demonstrate - with verifiable reference to real-life cases - that the idealistic rosy picture painted by both artefact hunters with metal detectors (as well as no-questions-asked coin dealers and collectors across the seas) about their aims and activities fails totally to correlate with the far more complex realities of both milieux.  It is only by wholly ignoring these issues that anyone can even begin to contemplate calling these people their "partners" - but that is exactly what the British establishment does, and most likely will continue to do.

(part two tomorrow)

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