Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Texas Does it Better

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In Britain a Finds Identification Day means just that whereas in Texas it seems it is treated as an opportunity to outreach to the public with the specific aim of explaining the harm caused by the idea of financial gain through inappropriate excavation and sale of artifacts.  Can anyone imagine one of the FLOs working for Britain's Portable Antiquities Scheme saying anything like that? Or it being said on the PAS website?

http://www.archaeological.org/news/nad/10775?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter
and http://www.archaeological.org/events/10009

Photo: AIA Finds tent in Texas
hat-tip to Heritage Action, thanks

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Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: Roman Fort Targeted by Artefact Thieves


From the Northern Echo comes news of the robbing of yet another important archaeological site in the UK by artefact hunters:
METAL detector enthusiasts armed with spades have been targeting a historic North-East site hunting for hidden treasures under the cover of darkness. Almost 25 holes have been found in the grounds of the Roman fort of Longovicium, near Lanchester, County Durham, The land owner, Nick Greenwell, said damage to the site had been carried out in the last two weeks. He said: “It is people using metal detectors coming in at night. “It is an historic site and whatever that has been taken could be of great value.”

Once again the issue of policing comes to the fore, Mark Harrison (national policing and crime advisor for English Heritage) "said local police had been informed and villagers should be aware of the archeological treasure they have on their doorstep":
He said: “By informing people what heritage sites are in their community we have got a chance of protecting those sites and if offences do happen we have got a better chance of catching those offenders.
"Got a chance"? Because otherwise there is no chance? So, English Heritage are telling the local police what has been happening under their noses. Why are the police not informing EH that they have thwarted an attempt to illegally hunt artefacts on a site in their 'patch'? If Britain cannot police the few sites which are protected by law, what hope for other states like Iraq, Bulgaria or Utah where such sites are in remote areas? The British seem to want to rely on curtain-twitching locals spying on artefact hunters, but then how is a concerned member of public to know (and from a distance too) what the difference is between a "responsible" metal detectorist in Farmer Scraggs' field, and a dayhawking thief in Farmer Brown's lower ten acres? When is Britain going to get its act together over large-scale  unregulated and  erosive artefact hunting?

Source:
Gavin Havery, 'Lanchester Roman fort targeted by thieves', The Northern Echo Thursday 25th October 2012.

 ALSO MENTIONED HERE: This story is also mentioned by Heritage Action  this week: Cheers and Boos: Punch-up cover-up at EH, windfarm bribes exposed, nighthawks identified and a photo winner


Monday, 29 October 2012

Photographs of the Commercial Looting of the Temple Facade at Placeres, Mexico

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The Trafficking Culture website has just published over forty photos (made available by archaeologist David Freidel) of the removal by commercial artefact hunters in the 1960s/1970s of pieces of the stucco temple facade at the Classic Maya site of Placeres in the jungle regions of Campeche, Mexico. This is of course not a portable antyiquity, but the entire side of a monument. Neverthelss it was "portableised" in order that it could surface on the US market. This obviously was a well-planned commercial operation on a large scale, not the work of casual peasnt 'subsistence diggers'.

The monument's pieces were then taken to the US where they were in the posession of dealer Everett Rassinga who attempted to get the Metropolitan Museum of Art to exhibit these "antiquities" (good for sales - to their credit they refused). The fragments were eventually returned to Mexico, where they are now in the  Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico City (as detailed in the Glasgow Project's Encyclopedia entry on the Placeres facade - the fate of other aretfacts from the site is not discussed).  No arrests are reported as having been made.

Donna Yates of the project is looking for more photographs or information about the movement of objects of this type - the information will be kept confidential unless you approve its release. Another member of the team is also after looting photos (see here). Meanwhile this seems a good opportunity to promote again the "looting" blog of Margaret Brown Vega and Nathan Craig

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: Paid me Tenner, Want the Lot

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There's an interesting discussion on Detectorist Forum that is not insignificant. Obviously all non-Treasure artefacts found on a landowner's property are precisely that, their property.  It seems not all metal detector users in the UK agree with that principle.
On a recent paid - for dig, £10 per head via a digging club, one member found a sestertius The father of the farmer turned up saw it and said I would like that and took it from the bemused finder. was it not for the paid for aspect obviously it would be for the landowner to decide but I believe the limit before anything is split is if its treasure or worth over £2000 with that club's agreement. 
 Responses so far have been pretty unanimous:
- He took my money, I keep what I find on his land
- Seems like there was no written agreement which was down to the organiser
- No written agreement (Regardless of what verbal may have been agreed) all finds belong to the landowner. Answer= Always use a written agreement (After the fiasco of the lantern I always do)
- On mine that I organise it is always the finder unless treasure under the Treasure Act.
- Did he get his tenner back ? Sounds like a funny old carry on if you ask me
- i bet hes gutted, makes you wonder how many will just be sliding stuff in their pockets and keeping their mouth shut from now on?.......sad carry on
Let us note that the name of the hobby metal detecting is a misnomer, suggesting the fun is in the finding - when in fact this example shows very well that for every one of those commenting, finding is not the lure, it is getting to keep what is "detected" that is the real aim. This is not "metal detecting" but "artefact hunting" and is a form of antiquity collection. The farmer presumably thought that metal "detecting" is exactly what the name implies - but it is a name deliberately employed to mislead.

As anyone who's looked at how these things go in sales will know, a "tenner" is pretty cheap for any decent looking sestertius, so the tekkie thought he was doing quite well until he found out it was not his to keep.

Nevertheless, since clearly they were hoiking stuff from a field with at least Roman activity, maybe a Roman site, the "deprived finder" will probably have found other things, may have filled his finds pouch with them, and their total value, without the coin, would almost certainly be more than ten pounds.

Note the lack of detail, where, when, what kind of site, name of club etc.

Hat tip to anonymous HA member for the heads-up.

Silent Welshman Ducks

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Gruffydd (obviously not his full name) - "a resident of mid-Wales" just your average bloke: "who is not a metal detectorist, who does not know Mr Simmons, and who does not have any formal association with CPAT" has remained quiet for the last three months.

Was he a member of PAS staff? We may never know. But then, if he is and like the others of his ilk he has absolutely nothing to say for himself except a bit of occasional sniping to annoy rather than inform, who actually cares? Wales will not have a PAS for much longer, then when that prop has gone, we'll see what the Gruffydds of the UK will do to explain themselves. 

Saturday, 27 October 2012

"Guard Your Hearts": the American Art of Self-Deception Over Ancient Dugups

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"God is still in the business of working miracles" claims the "Prayers for Candi" Facebook page. Amen intone the small-town indoctrinates. Just two days ago they were asking:  
Today we are asking for continued prayer for Candi and Marc and a new prayer request. Please guard your hearts and minds and be careful what you say in reference to what you may read or hear about her situation.[...] Please remember this when gossip starts flowing and whispers are spoken. All we ask is that you pray that Candi is represented fairly and that God is honored through this trial. God Bless!
So, all those involved having carefully guarded hearts and buttoned lips, once Mrs Candi Dunlap was confirmed on her way back to the US, several people  wanted to know what all the fuss really had been about. They were among those unwilling to believe the simplistic explanation that Macedonia is the Den of Unamerican Corruption, the kingdom of Satan, where Lucifer himself is behind the jailing of the Good Christian Girl Who Only Went There to Help. So for example Janet Ferguson asks: 
Now that its over, what exactly happened

Reply? It was a "miracle":
Mary Pankey: "Only our Heavenly Father, who loves us regardless, could have worked this MIRACLE, in HIS timing......... PRAISING GOD... and Giving Thanks to HIM for your release........."
Somebody else has a go at starting a proper discussion with the chanting dogooders:
But she gets brushed-off with the stock phrases:
well, whether one "has a clue" or not, breaking the law is, surely breaking the law, no? Jane, however reads newspapers:
Jane Lazevski: "If you say so. Though I don't know how you can mistake [ ] about 260 antique coins for buttons".
She later adds the information:  
Angela, she was found guilty for trying to smuggle 260 coins, some dated II centuries BC and given 5 years probation as well as a 10 year ban to enter Macedonia. The other option was for her to spend 2 years in prison in Macedonia. The judge decided to let her go because she has a family and children that live outside the country. I'm not trying to antagonize her, she might have made an honest mistake but you have to be extremely naive to do that, if you ask me. My opinion, of course...
 Another Facebooker too sees a hole in the page's offered explanations:
Angela Hester: "Tilley I realize she is lucky to be out of jail there. but no one has said exactly what the verdict was and how much stuff she had on her worth How much.? Grapevine has it at thousands of dollars worth of rare antiquities. How could you not know there was something wrong with taking that from the people. I thought she had been on a mission before. Just asking.??"
But that question will not be answered, not in that milieu:
 Reid Garrett: "This is all just a HUGE misunderstanding no matter how you look at it. The fact of the matter is that Candi is FREE and our prayers have been answered!".
Mr Garrett seems unwilling or unable to actually justify the interpretation of this as merely a "misunderstanding" instigated by foreign Agents of Satan fought off by effective American prayer (and President Obama's State Department). Suzy Faulkner also is not interested in discussing what happened:
"Lets focus on the most important thing that she is finally with her husband and going home to her family. Thank you Jesus". 
Jesus sat with tax inspectors, so today perhaps he'd sit with the artefact smugglers?  Linda Burcham Chancellor warns:  
Again, unless you were there and know all the facts, do not judge. Some things that could be worthless may be made into something valuable in a corrupt situation [...]. 
Worthless for whom Linda, and by whose system of values? I really wonder why when the Macedonians were merely enforcing the law it is called corrupt" by the Meridians. Is it not a fact that in court Mr Dunlap admitted the coins were indeed in her bag as she tried to leave Macedonia? What is "corrupt" about a country trying to protect the cultural heritage from being smuggled onto foreign markets? Just because the USA makes virtually no effort at all to do this (largely because it has no cultural heritage of its own that is not mass-produced) does not mean to say that any other nation that attempts this is necessarily "corrupt".  I would rather say that the corruption lies with US dealers, museums and collectors who turn a blind eye to the fact that goods they handle have no documentation of licit and legal export - or worse (SLAM). Though I do not expect Americans expressing xenophobic ideas like Facebook's Linda Burcham Chancellor would be too bothered about any of that.

The underlying fact of this misunderstanding is that, whether you like it or not, the legal system of Macedonia makes it illegal for anyone to own, or gift, or be gifted dugup artefacts. I assume that - even if it incompletely briefs participants - no American mission is going to be anywhere without at least partial access to the Internet. It took me all of twelve seconds to find the Macedonian legislation  all nicely tabulated and set out in English on a snazzy webpage. Scrolling (not very far) down brings you to the 'Law on Protection of Cultural Heritage' and there, not very far down either is article 10(3). Should anyone want to check a second source, they can look in a number of other databases (such as the UNESCO one which also contains a goodly mass of documents suggesting to even those who do not read them, that exporting cultural property is by no means just a matter of wrapping them in paper and shoving them in the bottom of a bag).

So, yes, let us judge the case on the basis of the facts. "God" was not involved either in setting her free, neither was "justice" done or "God glorified". It was a sordid business, deals behind the scenes and a situation that would not have arisen if this traveller had given a moment's thought to where she was and what she was doing.


Tumbleweed: Not Much Happening in CPRI

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Although their website claims 2012 has been "a busy year" for the Santa Fe based Cultural Property "Research Institute", their website in fact shows that - apart from cancelling the majority of the projects they had earlier announced they were engaged in - they've done very little recently. Very little of the promised "study of international policies to protect and preserve the world's antiquities, monuments, and archaeological sites" and absolutely nothing "to advance human knowledge for the benefit of all" as it says on the box.

Anyhow creating virtual research institutes seems to be very popular over in antiquity-land. There is now an "Ancient Numismatics Research Institute" a Missouri corporation, which claims it is:
organized for the purpose of conducting research on topics of interest to the numismatic community and offering educational and research opportunities to members of that community through in-house seminars, study groups, and guided research projects. The concept offers a range of activities heretofore unavailable to independent scholars and collectors of ancient coins. 
They are organizing seminars with groups of six to eight participants "working as a team in an interactive environment led by an experienced professional numismatist", in Gainesville, Miss, which just coincidentally happens to be where Wayne Sayles lives. This Institute is housed in an historic building at the corner of Harlin Dr and 4th street, just two blocks away from ACCG headquarters in Elm Street. This was "a former WPA Community Center built in 1935", so built quite early on in the 'Works Progress Administration' activities [WPA was a Depression era job-creation scheme operating 1935-1943]. It was promised that additional details of the seminars would be posted on the website as the Institute is developed. Mind you, it was set up over a year ago, so they are slow getting it off the ground. Nothing is said about the publication of the results of the coiney research, does the ANRI have a publication series planned? What about the origins of the material in its teaching collection, has it published its acquisition policy? I am not sure about housing ancient metal objects (or library materials) in a building without a damp course and such a high ground level on the west side.

Also dealer Alfredo De La Fe presents his coiney picture-gallery as an educational endeavour:
CoinProject.com is the first truly collaborative, non-commercial educational website that uses numismatics (study of coins) as an aid in the study of history and historic events spanning the period of time during which coinage has been produced (just under three thousand years).
and he wants money for it. He also intends to register it as a "not-for-profit 501(c3) corporation". The number of supporters this site has should give food for thought.  

Vignette: Miss Navajo was on in Santa Fe when this Google Earth photo was taken.

Bulgaria: Artefact Collector's Paradise

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The article by Veselin Toshkov ('Treasure hunters strip Bulgaria of its ancient treasures, destroying a cultural legacy', Associated Press 26th October 2012 - see the post below) discusses the terrible devastation caused to Bulgaria's archaeological heritage by commercial looting to fuel the international antiquities market, bot the high end (sculptures and inscriptions) as well as the trade in so-called "minor" artefacts sold as bulk lots by weight like so many potatoes. The country has a rich heritage and when  it is damaged, we are all the losers:  

Bulgaria hosts some of the most unique and vulnerable cultural resources in Europe. In addition to the numerous Neolithic, Chalcolithic and Bronze Age settlement mounds, there are significant remains of Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine urban centers. Perhaps most notable among Bulgarian antiquities are the remains of the Thracians, a powerful warrior kingdom conquered only by Alexander the Great and the Roman Empire. The best known Thracian remains in Bulgaria are tombs and burial mounds which contain stunning gold and silver work.
All this is of course hotly desired by collectors all over the world. 

 

Bulgaria: Greedy Dealers and Collectors the Real Looters


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There is quite a bit of coverage at the moment of the article on archaeological looting by Veselin Toshkov which takes as its starting point what is happening at Archar, a site discussed several times on this blog. The site is described as a "moonscape littered with shards of ceramics or glassware destroyed by the diggers" who move in the moment the archaeologists leave the 80 hectare site. What has happed here on teh site of the ancient town of Ratiaria is "the most drastic example of the looting that has been going on over the last 20 years, since the fall of communism". "The first excavations here were carried out by Bulgarian archaeologists between 1958 and 1962. They were renewed in 1976 by an Italian team, but lack of funding forced them to leave the site in 1991".
Ancient sites were protected during communist times by a strong fear of the omnipresent police and harsh punishments for any law-breaking activity. Since the collapse of the totalitarian system, many have taken up looting to earn a living. Organized by local mafia, looting squads that have mushroomed all over the country are well equipped with metal detectors, bulldozers, tractors and even decommissioned army vehicles. [...]  In early October, some 5,000 Roman items were handed over to the National History Museum in Sofia. They were seized at a border crossing with Serbia, just few miles (kilometers) west of Ratiaria. [...] Coins and other treasures found by looters are sold to people who smuggle them abroad. Roman items from Ratiaria can be found in auction houses and antiquity collections around the world [...] Experts say they have no way to gauge the extent of the pillaging. "There are hundreds of tombstones and statues in local museums, but what we don't know exactly is how many more such relics were smuggled out of the country and are now in Italy, Munich or Vienna," said Rumen Ivanov, Roman History professor at the National Institute of Archaeology. . 
Certainly in a region which is one of the poorest in the European Union there is a huge temptation for local inhabitants to dig at the site to see what can be found. This however can only be a viable manner of raising money when there is somebody willing to buy the proceeds of this illegal activity. Archaeologist Krasmira Luka, who directs current excavations here is well aware of hgow the procedure goes. She told the story:
...of three men from the nearby village or Archar, who had found a golden coin and sold it to smugglers for 1,500 euro, which equals the amount of four monthly average salaries in Bulgaria. "Months later the same coin was sold in Germany at a price many times higher," Luka said. "But it is not only the looters with the shovels who are responsible," Luka said, "there are a lot of people up the chain, and they enjoy the highest protection."
In other words, not the looters but the dealers and collectors who buy from them. It is well worth taking note of just with whom it is that the middlemen and dealers who handle this material are themselves doing business. Again Krasmira Luka has been looking into what has been happening on her doorstep: 
Over the last two decades, she said, organized crime groups have constantly bribed police officers, prosecutors and local officials who have sheltered their illegal activities. Those who usually get caught and sentenced, however, are from the lowest level of the well-organized scheme. With more than 50 percent of the 2,700 inhabitants of Archar jobless, Mayor Emil Georgiev seems unable to stop the daily attacks of looters seeking the treasure that is supposed to change their life. "Usually they work late at night or at weekends or holidays," the mayor said, adding that some 20 villagers have been convicted over the last year and ordered to serve different terms of probation by performing community service.
Recently the local government received government funds that providing jobs for eight people to work as guards at the archaeological site, but this is clearly an inadequate number to protect such a large area.


Sources:
Veselin Toshkov, 'Treasure hunters strip Bulgaria of its ancient treasures, destroying a cultural legacy', Associated Press 26th October 2012.

Veselin Toshkov, 'Bulgaria Treasure Hunters Loot Ancient Rataria Site' Huffington Post , 26th October 2012. 

Fox News: One in every 146 Bulgarians a Looter

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Fox News is carrying a story to gladden the heart of every US coin collector ('Treasure hunters strip Bulgaria of its ancient treasures, destroying a cultural legacy',October 26, 2012), looters digging for ancient artefacts to sell on the black market are keeping the market well supplied. Thieves dig pits into archaeological sites looking for ancient coins and jewellery, everything else, including ceramic vessels and other historically significant artefacts of less commercial attraction, is smashed to pieces.
Police reports indicate that every day up to 50,000 people are engaged in treasure hunting raids across Bulgaria, a country of 7.3 million. According to Angel Papalezov, a senior police officer, hundreds of thousands of artifacts are smuggled out of the country every year, with dealers hauling in up to $40 million. 
Dealers and collectors are willing customers of this destructive commerce. 50 000 in a population of (recte) 7,037,935 is one in 141 people.  So how many productive archaeological sites would there have to be (have had to have been) in Bulgaria to sustain such a level of activity?

On the other hand, how sure are Fox News of their facts? According to the book produced in 2000 by the Center for the Study of Democracy (Bulgaria),'Corruption and trafficking : monitoring and prevention : assessment methodologies and strategies for counteracting transborder crime in Bulgaria' by Boyko Todorov, Ognian Shentov, Alexander Stoyanov - ISBN: 954477078X 9789544770785 (p. 33): 
"by rough estimates, some 3,500 people are actively engaged in treasure-hunting in this country..."
There is quite a difference between 50 000 and three and a half. That is still one in 2010 people. Also it's about a third of the number of metal detectorists believed to be out taking artefacts out of the archaeological sites and assemblages in England and Wales. Since England and Bulgaria have approximately the same area (130 000 km2 and 111000 km2), the damage to the preserved archaeological sites in England from artefact hunting is three times as great. 

Mexican Artefact Repatriation: ICE Media Circus

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Recently there has been quite a bit of tension on the US-Mexican border, especially after a number of shootings of Mexicans by U.S. Border Patrol agents. In statements made at a widely-publicised ICE-sponsored  "repatriation ceremony" of amassed seized smuggled or stolen artefacts at the Consulate of Mexico in El Paso, Texas on Thursday Oct. 25, one of the largest-ever repatriations between the two countries:
officials emphasized the healthy partnership between the two countries, at least when it comes to hunting down and returning stolen art. Homeland Security Investigations Assistant Director Janice Ayala touted the “teamwork and cooperation” between the countries, while Mexican Consul General Jacob Prado thanked U.S. officials for returning items “which are a part of the cultural heritage and the historical memory of the people of Mexico.”
Among the items on display in this show of international friendship were more than 4,000 pre-Columbian artifacts including: at least five pre-Columbian statues (one a Chinesco Nayarit figurine),  26 pre-Columbian pottery vessels, Pre-Columbian metates, manos, an Aztec-era whistle, copper hatchets  etc. A U.S.-Mexico treaty of cooperation regarding the recovery and return of stolen archaeological, historical and cultural properties, which was negotiated by the U.S. Department of State and enacted in 1970, restricts the importation of pre-Columbian artifacts and colonial-era religious objects into the United States without proper export documents.

The objects concerned were recovered in 11 separate seizures and undercover and sting operations  by special agents of ICE's Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) with assistance from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at various ports of entry. Many of the objects were uncovered during a string of raids in West Texas in 2009. Amongt the seizures discussed in the news items about this display the following are discussed:

1-2) Naco, near Douglas, Ariz.; "An undeclared pre-Columbian metate – grinding stone – was discovered in the vehicle of two individuals entering the United States from Mexico at Naco, Ariz. Also discovered at the Naco Port of Entry, was another metate with four manos – a stone used as the upper millstone for grinding foods – lying in the bed of a person's truck, who said he stayed at his grandfather's ranch during his visit to Mexico and was bringing back clothes and tools".

3-4) Del Rio (Texas) Port of Entry from Mexico: "A pre-Columbian undeclared clay statue was discovered hidden in the luggage area of a person's vehicle entering the US.[...]  another pre-Columbian statuette was "discovered along with an Aztec Eagle whistle concealed in the dashboard of another person's vehicle entering the Del Rio Port of Entry".

5) Laredo, Texas; "Three pre-Columbian statues were discovered during a CBP agricultural inspection of an individual who arrived on a bus at the Lincoln-Juarez Bridge Port of Entry".


6) San Diego, Calif. "Two copper hatchet artifacts were discovered in cargo received at San Diego International Airport via Sweden".

7-8) Chicago; "While screening express mail at the Chicago Port of Entry, a CBP officer intercepted a parcel for inspection containing a falsely declared clay anthropomorphic statue dating to the early first millennium A.D. CBP officers, assigned to the Chicago Port of Entry, also discovered a shipment containing a Chinesco Nayarit figurine exported from the United States".

9) Kalispell, Mont.; HSI special agents discovered that  a US dealer had paid members of the Tarahumara, a tribe in northwestern Mexico, to rob items from ancestral burial caves dating back more than 1,500 years in the Copper Canyon area of Chihuahua, Mexico, and the objects were being sold through the local art gallery. The agents seized 26 pieces of pottery following an investigation and "determined that the objects were removed from Mexico in violation of Mexican law and brought into the United States in violation of U.S. laws and regulations".  As Larry Rothfield notes, in contrast to what most antiquity dealers and collectors would want you to believe, this case:
sheds important light on the way in which archaeological looting in poorer "source" countries is driven by the demand side in wealthy "market" countries -- and not just spontaneously, but in some cases intentionally as an organized business 
 10) Most of the relics returned on Thursday  resulted from a string of seizures in West Texas in 2009, following a tip about relics illegally entering the US at a border crossing in Presidio, Texas. As a result of the tip-off undercover agents were led to Fort Stockton, a Texas town about 230 miles south east of El Paso. Here they reportedly found a man who was in possession of a number of artefacts including 200 that it was alleged had been stolen in the Mexican border state of Coahuila.
Homeland Security special agent Dennis Ulrich said authorities executing a search warrant in Fort Stockton found the largest portion of the cache. And further investigation revealed that the two men who organised the artefacts' smuggling were involved in drug trafficking from Mexico to the US, he said. Mr Sanchez said some of the relics found in Fort Stockton were stolen from a private collection at the Cuatro Cienagas museum in the Mexican state of Coahuila. The items also include arrows, hunting bows and even extremely well conserved textile items such as sandals and pieces of baskets.
[...]  Later in November 2009, Texas Department of Public Safety troopers assisting HSI special agents stopped the same individual in a vehicle for a traffic violation and observed artifacts in the vehicle that the driver admitted were undeclared when he entered the United States at the Presidio (Texas) Port of Entry. After HSI special agents seized the artifacts, they opened a second investigation associated with the seizure of more than 4,000 artifacts including arrowheads, bows, rabbit sticks, axes, spears, tomahawks, statuettes, sandals and beads, all relating to the same conspiracy.
There is also mention of a raid in Mexico City, in coordination with Mexican law enforcement agencies.

Stolen antiquities are just one of the illegal commodities smuggled across the U.S.-Mexico border, others include illegal migrants, drugs, and, most recently, reptiles.


A clay statue was among some seized artifacts
returned to Mexico (AP/The El Paso Times, Mark Lambie)
Sources:
ICE News release: 'ICE returns stolen and looted archeological art and antiquities to Mexico', El Paso, TX October 25, 2012.
Gina Benitez, 'Thousands of looted artifacts returned to Mexico' KFOX El Paso, Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012

Richard Fausset, 'US returns more than 4000 stolen antiquities to Mexico' Los Angeles Times 25th Oct 2012.


Press Association ' Looted relics returned to Mexico', Irish Independent October 26 2012


Art Daily, 'ICE returns stolen and looted archeological art and antiquities to Mexico ', Art-Daily October 26, 2012 (simply a republication verbatim of the ICE press release).

Jared Taylor, 'US returns huge haul of pre-Columbian artifacts to Mexico', Chicago Tribune, 26th Oct 2012.

John Rosman, 'US Returns 4000 Stolen Antiquities To Mexico' KPBS October 26, 2012

Friday, 26 October 2012

Border Authorities Miss Most Smuggled Artefacts?

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The recent ICE media circus about the pre-Columbian Mexican artefacts seized while being smuggled into or illegally sold in the USA is being commented upon from a number of angles. In the past most commentators drew attentioon to the bla-bla about heritage and values and all the rest. in more recent months we are seeing voices asking where these investigations are actually leading - apart from making US border controls look better than they in fact are.  Antiquities busts make good propaganda to feed the American people. So, we find in the Los Angeles Times account of the Mexico repatrition event (Richard Faussett, 'U.S. returns more than 4,000 stolen antiquities to Mexico', October 25, 2012). The stories attached to these eleven batches of material: 
... will come as no surprise to Mexican officials and others who follow the widespread illicit trade in Mexican cultural artifacts. Noah Charney, the founding director of the nonprofit Association for Research Into Crimes Against Art, or ARCA, noted last year that Mexico had reported more than 2 million art objects stolen between 1997 and 2010, according to figures from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology. Charney wrote that the yearly average of stolen items in Mexico surpasses the yearly average in Italy -- the country with the most stolen art reported each year in Europe -- by a factor of five. The comparison, he added, is probably somewhat flawed, since the Italian pieces tend to be more substantial works and Mexican antiquities “may include fragments or very low-value” items. But the problem is serious enough that the Mexican ambassador to France last year asked for UNESCO to consider strengthening its 1970 Convention on Protection of Cultural Property, which set international standards to help prevent the plunder of precious cultural items.
"Fragments or very low value items" or not, Charney is guilty of falling into the trap of object-centrism, it is not what was dug out of the holes and how much profit that can be made out of it that is of central importance to the question of the looting of sites (its the holes that are the problem not what comes out of them). In any case, over on Looting Matters today David Gill is talking precisely about "fragments" (of Classical pottery in the Met collections). That aside, Charney's point is that huge numbers of holes are being dug in Mexico's archaeological record to find and then hoik out lesser numbers of artefacts which enter the collectors market. Many collectors are glad to get their grubby hands on even "fragments" and those of them collecting-on-a-budget are very eager indeed to bulk out their collections with the lower-value items. They have no room in their dens for big objects, but a few pots, heads knocked off figures and framed bits of textile will create the desired effect.

So how many of those artefacts are travelling undetected through the barrier of bubbles at the US border? How many of those stolen artefacts have entered US collections right under the noses of the authorities, when and where, and what steps are taken when they resurface on the market as these collections are broken up? How many stolen and smuggled artefacts are currently in no-questions-asked circulation on the US market masquerading as 'from an old ** collection'?

Fincham Questions US Resolve and ICE Strutting

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Derek Fincham notes the most recent ICE hoo-haa about the big numbers of artefacts which it "repatriates", this one to Mexico ('' 26th October 2012). He makes a point echoing some of those expressed here about these media-fests organized mainly for the propaganda benefit of the federal authorities:
These kinds of 'art on the table' news conferences are quite common. But [...] the underlying problems endemic to the antiquities trade itself are not treated or targeted [...] the more of these returns I see (and there are a lot of them) the more frustrating it becomes as well. Because these investigations target the objects. There is no mention of arrests, prosecutions or of much of anything which would produced sustained compliance on the part of the art trade.[...] The trade itself and art buyers need to step up at some point and correct a market which routinely accepts these looted and stolen objects. But that kind of sober reflection on these recoveries is not to be found in the statements of U.S. and Mexican officials.
Of course not, they are not sound-bite feelgood moral boosters. When instead of generating superficial mollifying pap are US authorities going to get properly-tough with smugglers? When are the US public who pay for all this going to demand real results and that the authorities do their bit to clean up the dirtier side of US commerce rather than strutting around displaying artefacts and mouthing-off about how they have "saved" them, like a metal detectorist?

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Tittering Over the Naughty Bits

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Britain has spent millions of pounds so the easily-amused can titter over naughty artefacts found by metal detectorists and other artefact hunters. That's the story behind this pathetic "Live Science" (I guess the term is used loosely) article about recent PAS 'work':  Owen Jarus, 'Penis-Shaped Bone and Lover's Bust Among Trove of Roman Art', LiveScience 25 October 2012. Its apparently about something PAS' Sally Worrel has written. I'm not even going to comment. Yes, they had penises.

But, what the....?
Worrell and her colleagues also describe a finger-ring that British Museum analysis determined was 90- to 93-percent gold. Coincidentally, it was found in Nottinghamshire, the legendary stomping grounds of Robin Hood (he lived long after Roman times).
It is real quality intellectual material that PAS is inspiring, enriching everybody's lives.

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: Ask a Tekkie - Suzie Thomas Searched for Answers


Despite what might be thought, there is not in fact a lot of literature about several aspects of the way artefact hunting is practiced in the UK. The PAS and its supporters concentrate on pushing out a certain genre of texts, all aiming to demonstrate/suggest/prove that the PAS is the best thing since sliced bread  and the "only way forward". It is not of course, but they don't want you - or the people that fund them - knowing that. As a result of the concentration on those same certain aspects of "metal detecting", the whole question in the UK has tended to become separated on teh whole from the other cultural property/heritage issues. So it is nice to see one of the premier specialist journals on the latter carrying a text on the nitty-gritty of "metal detecting". Suzie Thomas' (2012) text, ‘Searching for answers: A survey of metal-detector users in the UK’ [International Journal of Heritage Studies 18 (1), 49-64] is now also available online here (alternative link here). This is great as we can all use and discuss such open-access texts. Here's my take on this one. 

In it, the author points out correctly that "the relationships between archaeologists and metal-detector users" are often more complex than is usually considered "partly because little has been published to date on the dynamics that exist, though there is more about the artefactual information that has been gleaned through these relationships" as depicted by the PAS. That is illogical because if we are to use the latter as any kind of data for research, we have to know a lot more than we do about how they are collected. I am not sure however that the main topic of importance from that point of view is "relationships between archaeologists and metal-detector users", but that is what Dr Thomas is herself most interested in.

Nevertheless, what Thomas has written is of great interest for the wider enquiry. She collected information from the participants in several commercial artefact hunting rallies in England (Snape, Thornborough, Water Newton I and II) - sample size 262 tekkie. Here are some of her conclusions (I round up or down the percentages given in the publication):

Most detectorists are men (92% - p. 51)

Most are middle-aged (35 or more - fig. 2) or senior (65 and older 13% - p. 51)

A significant proportion of the respondents had been detecting "ten years or more" - p. 51. [if that tendency has existed since detecting begun, by now most of the metal detectorists that there have ever been will be dead - where are the finds they found?]

Thomas uses these figures (p. 53) to suggest that the hobby may be "in decline" (or about to be), though I am not really convinced by her argument here.

She then approaches the question of "motivations for artefact hunting" (p. 53, fig. 5). No surprises there, most (54%) said that they were interested in the past, while another 28% said it was "discovering things" that attracted them. Predictably only a small percentage (8%) admitted to the survey team that they wanted to find "things of value". [Later on the researcher admits that the participants may have been saying what they thought they "ought" to say, or what the researcher wanted to hear].

The same mechanisms operated in the questions concerning reporting non-treasure finds to the PAS (p. 54). Most (66%) said they "record their finds with the PAS", though - disappointingly - the proportion of their recordable finds reported was not a question asked.
Few (1% p. 54) reported directly to a local museum or the HER, while 5% used the UKDFD (but again data are missing whether this means only the UKDFD, and what proportion of these reports are duplicated on the PAS database).

As many as 16% of finders asked admitted they never reported finds. Thomas gives some possible reasons "excusing" this, but without exploring which are the most prevalent, or real.

Selling of finds: 83% assert they "never sell" finds (though the researcher caught one such respondent out when their family asserted something different from the artefact hunter -p. 55). Thomas' survey suggests that only "17%" of artefact hunters who were present at these rallies sell their finds - but she admits (p.55) that the respondents may have been saying what they thought the researcher wanted to hear - connected with the stigma attached to artefact hunters who did up stuff on archaeological sites to sell.

Interestingly (bearing in mind the presence of dealers on most commercial rallies) many detectorists (41% of the artefact sellers) admitted that they sold their finds directly to dealers rather than through internet sales (<10 p="p">
I found rather comical Thomas' attempts (p. 56) to explain away why a detectorist taking money from museums when a Treasure item is acquired is not a "sale". Of course it is. If the museum does not raise the cash, the find goes back to the landowner and finder who then flog them off to somebody else.

Donations to museums, a majority asked have never donated anything found to a museum (p. 56). The figures were 167, or 65%, had not donated finds to a museum, and 90 (35%) had. But then it is revealed that in these figures are 9 who hadn’t really (as they were Scottish, with rewards).  So actually, we can take those 9 out of the total which means 69% have not donated any finds.

There is not a lot of interest in the 'general observations' bit (pp. 56-8) until we get to the researcher's attempts to address the issue of how many metal detectorists there are in England and Wales. It's a bit convoluted, but she takes the number of metal detecting clubs, assume (based on her own thesis) they all have "50 members" and comes up with numbers that first range from 9750 to 10550 (p. 58). She notes the PAS prefer smaller numbers [and ignores the fact that I too published a while back a similar estimate based on metal detector sales].

But then she notes that a problem with using club membership as a criterion is that her survey showed that 40% of the people she was interviewing are not club members. She dithers about whether rally-goers might be more prone not to be club members (and none of her questions addressed that complex issue).

She concludes that if her first estimate was 60.2% of the total, in the UK (pp. 58-9) there would be between 16,196 and 17,525 detectorists (so for England and Wales she suggests a figure of 15,449 to 16,777 - which actually is the sort of figure which my own more recent work is suggesting).

Oddly though, without saying precisely why she comes to the figure she does, she then postulates that since people belong to more than one club, for the whole of the UK there must be a lower total (12000 to 14000). She then for some reason points out that this was half the earlier estimate of Denison and Dobinson (taken as more possible evidence of a "decline" - p. 59). In reality, the 1996 estimate in part based on NCMD mystification was probably way-off.

Although her final conclusions might be trending towards what would make the pro-collecting/pro-PAS fluffy bunnies happier (reducing the numbers of tekkies ignoring the Scheme), she then notes that less than half of the total number of detectorists of her conservative estimate actually record any finds with the PAS (p. 59) as opposed to the number claiming to (66%) in her survey.*

Sadly here she apparently mixes up the number of detectorists in the UK ("12000") with the number in the region covered by the PAS [on page 60 she claims only 340 detectorists live and search in Scotland]. Still, the figures are not at all good - that's even before we get to the question she omitted to examine, the proportion of the recordable finds extracted each year are actually reported to the PAS (or anyone else). It is this of course which makes up the "grey zone" indicated by the Heritage Action Artefact Erosion counter (based as it was when set up a few years ago on an estimate of some 8000 artefact huunters in England and Wales).

The rest of the discussion (pp. 60-62) basically repeats points made earlier, including again the suggestion that the hobby might be "in decline". She then touches on the important question of (even if the latter is NOT the case), what happends to all those finds all those old men have been accumulating steadily over their "ten years or more" each hunting and hoiking out artefacts. More to the point, what happens to the documentation of the information associated with each of those finds? Who is going to archive it, how and where? [An additional function of this part of the text seems to be to cram in references to some "literature"].

Thomas, whose primary concern is for some reason (building?) "relationships" between archaeologists and artefact collectors, suggests at the end that if archaeologists go along to artefact hunting events such as commercial rallies, where " ideologies differ", then there will be "more understanding" of the two sides - without really addressing the point whether archaeological ethics actually allow them to take part in commercial artefact hoiking rallies. Neither does she address why artefact hunters would really be at all interested in archaeological "ideologies" (which is amply documented in a large numbers of books published by archaeologists each year) - or indeed why anyone would be all that interested in understanding the "ideologies" of the collector. Surely more important than "understanding artefact hunters" - which you can do eavesdropping on their forums - is preserving the archaeological record from erosion?


Anyway, we may be grateful to Suzie Thomas and the Glasgow team (and the journal's publisher) for putting this thought-provoking text online where it can be more widely accessed and discussed.

* let us note that it precisely at rallies (and therefore from rally -goers) that the PAS get a lot of the "records" they so assiduously log - though they are a bit coy about actually releasing any statistics which allow the scale and scope of that phenomenon to actually be studied. Therefore Dr Thomas' results are going to be skewed by asking rally-goers whether they have "ever" recorded anything with the PAS. Put a pretty female FLO with a low-cut blouse at a PAS table at a rally and the (predominantly male and getting-on-a-bit) punters will oblige by bringing them lots of finds

Crown of Henry VIII has been Recreated.

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The lost crown of Henry VIII has been recreated in minute detail, down to the last pearl and thumbnail-sized enamelled sculpture, almost 400 years after the original was melted down along with every scrap of royal regalia Cromwell's government could lay its hands on. There is a video, but with really annoyingly anachronous music.

No Libyan Artefacts Intercepted by Dubai Auction House

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Matthew Paton, Head of Communications at Christie’s has contested the story that stolen Libyan artefacts were reported to the authorities after they had been offered to Christie's Dubai office (Tom Westcott, 'No Libyan artefacts intercepted by Dubai auction house', Libya Herald 24 October 2012).The news report had been carried by a UAE English-language daily, The National.
“We don’t actually deal with classical works of art in Dubai,” Paton told Libya Herald, “so the story is irrelevant to that site.” [...] “In terms of the Libyan antiquities,” Paton said, “there was a misunderstanding between our man who was interviewed and what was interpreted from what was said, which was if anything did come to us, we would alert the authorities. But actually we haven’t had anything come to us [from Libya] .” [...] “We tend to be the last place you would ever want to go if you did happen to have something you shouldn’t,” Paton explained, “because it does tend to get identified straight away. Even if a stolen artefact makes it into the catalogue, it is then publicised on the website, sent to academics, museums, and the art loss register. This is just such a public process that it tends not to happen.”
 So David Gill, Christos Tsirogiannis and their fellows spotting and questioning items in their catalogues are doing Christie's a favour? Then they should get recompensated for the long hours of work they put in. The Libyan herald however notes somewhat sceptically that this has not always been the case with looted Libyan art. In April 2011 Christie's sold a knocked-off sculpted head of a woman with piggy eyes, probably Flavia Domitilla Minor, the daughter of Emperor Vespasian. So it went through that auction house's rigorous checking procedures. It turned out pretty rapidly that the statue had been excavated in Sabratha (World heritage Site) and on show in the local museum until thieves smashed it and made off with the head in 1990.
When the head was listed at Christie’s, the original ‘auction lot’ notes apparently stated that it was part of a private Swiss collection and had been acquired in 1988.  [Apparently]  several archaeologists alerted Christie’s to its dubious origin and theft from the Sabratha Museum. However, the auctioneers proceeded with the sale and later said they had received no such information before the head went under the hammer. The head of Flavia Domitilla was purchased by an Italian collector for £91,250. Paton told Libya Herald that the head was an exceptional case. “It had gone through the checks and we were informed after the sale that there was a concern there and so we immediately cancelled the sale,” he said.
Ummm? There are a couple of people still saying they alerted Christie's that there were problems about the piece before the sale, so whose memory is right?

One Libyan artefact that did escape the auctioneer’s scrutiny,
dreadful glue-job Flavia Domitilla. Photo: thehistoryblog.com
But Mr Paton, Director of "Communications" did not count on the effects of injuring the Arab dignity. The reply from Dubai is crushing: 'Christie's appraisal fails to find any looted Libyan', The National, Oct 24, 2012.
Suggestions by a Christie's official that antiquities looted in Libya during the Arab Spring had been offered to the auction house prompted the company to carry out a full appraisal of the offices handling such items yesterday [...] A Christie's spokesman said the remarks, made by the official during a visit to Dubai this week, were the result of a "misunderstanding".
Touché.

Labyrinth of Lies

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"Labyrinth of Lies": This seems a pretty good analogy to the no-questions-about-collecting-history part of it in which freshly dug up and smuggled finds are masked by the pretence that there is somehow a huge bulk of unprovenanced but legitimate material floating around outside public collections, and that any artefact emerging from the provenance-losing labyrinth "must be" one of them.
 
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