Wednesday, 5 December 2012

The PASjabbering Season is Upon Us Again

This is the time of year that the jabbering coineys come out in force. The PAS produces its annual report, the UK's tame journalists stray barely an inch from the prepared script and all over the globe, the collectors' lobbyists start the same old uncomprehending wittering. Why should this year be any different? Peter Tompa representing the numismatic dealers' associations, oblivious to the fact that he's already been answered many times, this year repeats himself once again ("More Success from Treasure Act and PAS"):
The Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme have reported another good year, which again begs the question why the US archaeological lobby is so hostile to any suggestion that a similar program should be tried elsewhere and barely tolerant of the program even for England and Wales. Indeed, it's a bit of a puzzle why the archaeological lobby [...]  seem more influenced by the views of the [....] governments of places like Bulgaria, China, Cyprus, Egypt, Greece and Italy than by the fair play of our longstanding ally, the United Kingdom. 
What is more surprising to me is how wholly tolerant of Peter Tompa and his antics the coiney community is of this garbage. Well, what more need one say? After all 'coiney' says it all.

It is when you see the same people coming out with the same stuff after they've been given the information a number of times that a twelve-year old child would work it out, that one begins to understand where the source is of the distaste many of my colleagues have for trying to explain anything to collectors. More to the point however is if  the question is left unanswered, not only are the coineys left in their ignorance, but anyone else trying to understand the issues about portable antiquity collection and comes across their writings is left without an answer.  That of course suits the collectors no end. So here's an answer for those that need one and who are failed by the apathy of my archaeological colleagues.
1) The PAS has reported another "good year" at what and for whom? It behoves Mr Tompa to define what he means by "good year" when those who are - as he says- barely tolerant of the PAS and its claims are raising the point that "wotta-lotta-stuff-we-got" is not the only way that the PAS should be assessed. So a "good year" of stopping erosion of the British archaeological record from artefact hunting and collecting? Absolutely not, the PAS figures suggest that the erosion is not only not decreasing ("best practice" anyone?) but even going on at an ever-increasing pace. 

2)  I would like to see the published evidence that suggests that the "US archaeological lobby" (as a whole) "is so hostile to any suggestion that a similar program should be tried elsewhere". Like in the United States of America, for example. US artefact hunters are busily finding relics that could tell a lot about the story of the nation. Quite apart from the stone tools and projectile points of prehistoric cultures going back millennia found in fields and on riverbanks throughout the country and eagerly legally collected, there are the metal objects (not to mention pottery and other relics) of the colonial period, sixteenth and seventeenth century material. Objects related to various events connected with the Revolutionary War and then Civil War, and the movement of settlement further west in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Early twentieth century material too has its part to play in the telling of America's story. It's all out there in the soil of the USA, and its all being legally collected (where it is legal to collect such stuff). So in that case, accepting that these collectors are out there doing their thing, and it's all legal, where are these US archaeologists who would NOT welcome the setting up of a state-funded scheme (providing jobs too) to help get this stuff voluntarily recorded by responsible and law-abiding US artefact hunters?   Do they exist or is this just another Tompamyth?

I really cannot see (as I have many times said) why the collectors' rights organizations of the US do not band together to put the case for it, if they want to see a PAS in every artefact source country, why do they not lobby for their own country to lead by example?  When by their lobbying and persuasion they've got one up and running in the US and have tested its efficacy in a situation outside the specific legislation and social conditions of England and (for the moment) Wales, that is the time - and not before - to propose that the US help other countries to set one up too. Why are these collectors' rights lobby groups not doing this instead of merely moaning about nobody else doing it? Why?

3) Tompa may find it "a puzzle" why "the US archaeological lobby" accepts the views of states like "Bulgaria, China, Cyprus, Egypt, Greece and Italy". I wonder whether he has ever - despite banging on like a madman about this year after year- attempted to get a proper answer to his question from the representatives of such governments (e.g., the embassies of those countries in Washington D.C.)? Has he written to the governments of:
(note the selectivity of that list) with a simple question:
Why don't you scrap your antiquities preservation legislation and institute an artefact hunting free-for-all in the archaeological sites and cemeteries of your country with a free internal market in dugup antiquities, like in England and Wales, and set up a voluntary recording scheme for looters to show what they have taken? Can you please pass this question on to heritage professionals in your country able to give myself and my readers an authorative answer?
Now I really find it a puzzle that Tompa can go on and on asking the same question to himself  (and getting the same answer from those archaeologists who can be bothered to even talk to the guy after all the crap he keeps coming out with) and NOT try to get an official answer from each of those countries to publish on his lobbyblog. Or is he really - like a whole lot of fellow collectors one could mention - just interested in sniping and trouble-making?

I think his real aim is the creation of a Tompamyth: "we've suggested it and they will not do it". By all means, suggest it Mr Tompa, but not in the blogosphere, but send an official letter to the embassies of each of the countries you have mentioned and ask for a reply.  You can get Wayne Sayles to sign it, if you think it will add gravitas.

4) Peter Tompa then makes a suggestion:
Perhaps, some of the millions of dollars of US taxpayer money committed to archaeological projects in places  like Iraq and Egypt should instead be invested in a pilot Portable Antiquities Scheme program in a place like Bulgaria.  That would help Bulgaria record many of the coins that now are not recorded, and show our support not only for Bulgaria, but for our ally, the United Kingdom.
There is of course a strategic reason why the US gives this money to certain countries and not others. The reasons for sneaking money into Egypt and Iraq (and how is it spent, who benefits?) are clear. So, "spend it all in Bulgaria"? Why Bulgaria? Why would a COIN dealers' lobbyist be interested in freeing up the flow of dugup artefacts from the ground in Bulgaria?

The answer to that, it seems to me, is in the specific place the Bulgarian black market in dugup antiquities has had in the history of the development of the US dugup coin market in its present form (let coin dealers try to deny that). A lot of evidence seems to suggest that this market has in more recent years become unstable due to the fact that most of the accessible sites have been robbed-out. Hence the appearance of increasing numbers of fakes, and the spread of the reach of the looters to neighbouring countries such as Makedonia and Serbia and Hungary (do you still collect those Hungarian coins Mr Tompa?). Obviously it would simplify things enormously for US dealers if Bulgarian suppliers could dig deeper in broad daylight with official sanction, and just by showing a few percent of the dugups (and I presume getting paid at market rates for any looted finds the Bulgarian state would like to add to the national collections) free up the rest for export. That, I am pretty sure, is what Tompa is suggesting here on behalf of his dealer friends and clients.

SHAME on the PNG and IAPN, their lobbyists, the ACCG and anyone else who might be involved in this campaign. What they suggest is nothing less than the mining away of the archaeological heritage of Bulgaria to serve their international market. To put money into their pockets, they want to turn the whole country into their own Mes Aynak, but instead of copper ore, they want selected bits of the dismantled historical record to buy and sell abroad. Furthermore, in this suggestion, it is not the PNG, IAPN ACCG or anybody else who is going to foot the bill of this collector-friendly Bulg-PAS pilot-scheme. They want the American government to do it! These coin dealers and their camp-followers want the looting to be masked by a voluntary "recording" scheme to be funded by the American government (through the very Department of State which they attack)! How much more blatantly neo-colonialist can one get?

5) the only reason "coins" in Bulgaria are not recorded is because instead of "finders" doing what the law obliges them to do, they disappear onto the black market - bcause they will always find a buyer who knows he will always be able to cover his costs. One may surmise that many of those "unrecorded coins" will bt such a route surface (from underground) in the trays of dealers in the ever-voracious markets of the  US.

[Let us note that there is not exactly a surfeit of coins on the US market that are sold with the sales spiel noting upfront that there is a PAS record of them - despite the latter now being in its fifteenth year. That tells us something about what would happen if there was a voluntary Bulgarian PAS, you'd still get coins "surfacing" which had not been recorded].

Now where, in all this is that Portable Antiquities Scheme? For FIFTEEN YEARS they have been hearing all this from the coineys and other collectors. I simply do not believe that the British Museum is so isolated from the rest of the world, that it has never heard such opinions expressed. The PAS is fully aware of all this. Their boss has been over in the US several times, met these coineys, talked with them, exchanged emails on al sorts of topics with some of them.WHY is it therefore that an organization that has gobbled up fifteen million quid (how many hospital beds is that?) to do public outreach has never ONCE actually adressed these issues? Not just for the benefit of US coin collectors, but for the members of the British public who see the points made about the role and function of the PAS through the internet? 

 Can you and your staff, Roger Bland, explain to the British public and your coin collecting friends all over the world, why "governments of places like Bulgaria, China, Cyprus, Egypt, Greece and Italy" do not immediately scrap their antiquity laws, and institute an artefact hunting free-for-all in the archaeological sites and cemeteries of their countries with a free internal market in dugup antiquities, like in England and Wales, and set up a voluntary recording scheme for looters to show what they have taken? 

I think fifteen million quid is not too little a sum to get a simple, but nvertheless responsibly-phrased answer to that simple question. Do you? How much more money would the PAS like to answer it and similar ones?  To actually do the "outreach" about portable antiquities they are being paid to do? To dispel the misconceptions. Surely it is self-evident that there is more to outreach than the current "gimme-gimme, show-me, show-me" approach which can only lead to "wotta-lotta-stuff-these-folk-are-digging-out-look!". 

Are we holding our breath waiting for this answer? No. The Brits keep paying through the nose for something we know from past experience they are not going to get.

And the coineys will continue jabbering. 

Vignette: Beanie Jabberer


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