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)

The "Cultural Policy Research Institute" in 2012


"This has been a busy year for CPRI's educational projects" trumpets their website. In 2012, CPRI members presented something at three major public programs  (January 21, January 24, March 18). Apart from that, the CPRI has done very little, though its President was heard promoting the role of corruption in getting cultural property out of the source countries and into the hands of US collectors. I notice that post was quite popular at the Department of State a couple of weeks ago.

 However the point of research institutes, as the name suggests, is to carry out actual research, in the mission statement of the CPRI is the indication:  
CPRI researches legal, administrative, political and ethical issues concerning acquisition, display, conservation and publication of cultural artifacts by museums and private individuals in the United States.
Where is the ongoing research reported? Way down on the page "CPRI Seminars and Projects" is a list of four research projects the Institute began in 2009 (it says) and reports on all four were to be made available at the end of that year. Where are they at the end of this "busy year"? 

US Collectors Study These Coins? Where are those ACCG Monographs?



In reply to the post below, a coiney lobboblogger - true to form - suggests that it is not at all important that the stratified coin assemblage from the site of an early 1st century AD coin production centre has been excavated in Northern China instead of the site being looted away to produce saleable collectables for the international no-questions-asked, could-not-care-less market in dugups which he is paid by the dealers involved in it to defend. Peter Tompa is apparently distrustful of all "foreigners" who he apparently considers incapable of anything good:
"How much do you really think this huge number of coins is going to be researched?" 
I am putting my answer up here, because my suspicion is otherwise Tompa will be tempted to avoid developing his thoughts on the matter. Here's what the coin itself looks like:


I replied:
Well, first of all you are (I would guess deliberately) missing the POINT, we have several assemblages of coins here with a determined stratigraphic context, and associations. THAT, not the loose coins, is the subject of study.

Now tell me... imagine Spink's buy 3,5kg of Wang Mang Huo Chuan coins, all from "Northern China", but no guarantee where they came from, no guarantee they even came from the same site. They ship them to an ACCG dealer in an unmarked package which ICE does not stop. They get bought by a Wisconsin collector. What kind of "study" is he going to do even if he has 3,5kg of the things? What will it mean?  These coins are cast not struck, flat on one side, hole in the middle, two characters on the other. What are you going to "study"?

Can you point me to a comparable "study" by a US collector, preferably an ACCG member of this particular type of coin (huo chuan of Wang Mang)? well, can you? Despite them being one of the more popularly collected early cash coin.

 If we excavate the workshop, we have a chance to see the details of the production process, maybe a phasing of the different stages of activity, the relationship between the mint of Wang Mang and Wu-Di, and any of the stages in between. These of course can be tied in to the historical evidence (such as it is) of the rule of Wang Mang. If the site is looted to produce buckets and buckets of coins then we have no chance of doing any of that on the basis of the buckets of loose coins.

Furthermore, what right have you to suggest that the Chinese are any less equipped to curate in the long term and "study" the loose coins than if they were scattered among the Big White Man Collectors in the USA? Are you not guilty here of simple chauvinism, racism and orientalism? If not, what are your grounds for saying this?

Tell me also, if the coins were released with full provenance details, ("# 367890; pit 1, level 23, square 56d") how long - given the prevalence of dugup coins on the market which "surface" having each time lost every single reference to its previous histories - do you think we can count on that information being retrievable once they enter the could-not-care-less numismatic market? 

UPDATE 1st Jan 2013
I suppose I might have known that this was not going to get a proper answer. See Tompa's comments here.

I really said nothing here that "confirms that archaeologists really don't care about the coins themselves". Given a choice between studying a group of artefacts where we know their stratigraphic context and archaeological associations of each item under study, and a heap of them when we do not, it's pretty obvious which any truly historical discipline is going to prefer. The point is that a heap of loose coins is a heap of loose coins. Assemblages of coins from particular specific places in the stratigraphice record of that site are a far better source of a whole range of other (and important) information which is lost the moment the context of deposition is obliterated by the "finder".

I would contest that we know enough about the organization of Wang Mang's economic reforms to be able to predict what kind of additional information would become available from the excavation of a few of the coin production (not to mention distribution) sites. For example some tricky technological issues (the construction of furnaces capable of melting vast quantities of metal and heating such large areas of clay piece-moulds required to issue several massive monetary reforms in a matter of two decades). We would learn from such excavations about matters of workshop organization, in aspects such as fuel and raw material supply - do we know very much about where the metal was coming from, whether it was refined, alloyed and reprocessed elsewhere or at the coin production site? What quantities of coins are involved over what period of time? What was the urban setting of the workshop, in an artisan's area, or elite centre? Was there workers' accomodation on site? What else was associated? What about the metrology of the coins, those caches for example, do they correspond to specific ammounts of coinage prepared for distribution (or received for remelting)? What are these caches of coins buried in pits? Are they finished coins that were stored on site and were not distributed (why?) were they unfinished coins that were not ready for distribution (why were they left?), or were they the gathered raw material stored for remelting into other coins?

I think it's a fallacy for the coiney to suggest that this site can be ignored and destroyed by looters because "Chinese minting technology is well known". I do not think excavating any production site of anything, especially when it contains stratified caches of the products is a "waste of time". He might as well say "we know how Greek statues were made because they are still made like that today" so if we find Phidias' or any other statue-maker's workshop, we can just bulldoze it.

 Mr Tompa suggests "Chinese archaeologists [...] just perform the most basic sort of types". Now is that so? I rather have the impression from reading some of the newer literature on cash coins that a lot more is known about the typology and in particular its chronology of the early coins in particular than it was in Schoth's days (incidentally still used by many a western dealer to describe his wares) from precisely the use of archaeological study of these coins and their stratigraphic associations. Is that not so?

In saying that typological study is "hardly study in my view",  Mr Tompa seems unaware that the coiney study of their little heaps on tables is nothing more or less than pure typology. I have asked these coiney people time and time again, that if they want to claim that what they do with the source material is in any way different from what anyone else does with it, where is their textbook of method and theory of heap-of-coin-on-a-table numismatics? But then, that is one of the five questions I posed in my original text, which Tompa has completely ignored.

I also asked if a coiney got his hands on this assemblage, what would he actually do with it to "study" it which would be any different to what the archaeologist (or specialist working on the archived excavated assemblages in the museum) would do with it? He does not answer, so we are left in the dark...

I also asked what numismatic monographs we have of this, one of the most common coins of Han times in US collections. Again we have no answer. We are glibly told that if we do not stop US collectors getting their hands on illegally excavated and illegally exported coins they'd be busy "studying" them to add to our knowledge of the typology and metrology (though goodness knows what else you can tell from a heap of decontextualised ones - see above). I'd like again to ask, where do we have the results of such amateur US study utilising the vast number of loose coins collected by the numismatic community in the USA since the "days of Petrarch" and the introduction of an MOU restricting imports to coins with documentation of proper export? It seems to me that there is no such amateur-produced work on huo chuan coins. It turns out that this "study" is a figment of Mr Tompa's imagination. If they've not produced such a work as the result of collection maybe of tens of thousands of these dugups over the last eighty years, how is the MOU proving any more of a hindrance to its production than the indolence of the US numismatic community in this regard? 

So, with regard to my original five points:
1) Tompa is still missing the point about the stratified context,
2) Tompa does not explain what a Wisconsin collector would do to "study" a loose pile of these coins which would in any way be more beneficial than their study in stratified assemblages,
3) Tompa does not point to any monograph written by a US collector in over 80 years of the accumulation of this material, specifically on the results of a heap-of-coins-on-a-table "study" of huo chuan coins,
4) Tompa does not expand on the reasons for his obvious hatred and mistrust of Chinese archaeologists,
simply suggests US collectors should exercise some kind of a 'right' to take stuff away from them,
5) Tompa fails to answer that last question about what would happen to the documentation of the context of deposition were this archaeologically-excavated assemblage be released onto the market after study by the excavators. So I will answer it. Within a few years, I suspect from what we've seen time and time again with mass material, all that information will have become separated from the majority of the excavated artefacts in private collections, while those archived in archaeological stores may be reasonably expected to remain with the items until they are deaccessioned.

Tompa sums up his comments:
Restrict Americans from collecting what the Chinese themselves happily let their own people collect, all for no other reason than it might hypothetically stimulate reserach, when the reality is quite something else.
What is wrong with Chinese people collecting Chinese coins in China? Of course I did not say that respecting proper export procedure by US importers - still less that the only reason for it - was to "hypothetically stimulate research". That is not the point I made at all. Quite apart from respecting the laws concerning the material traded being a fundamental element of ethical business practice, I was talking about looters digging up and destroying historically valuable sites to fuel the market with collectables, and why such sites are valuable. Tompa ignores that, replacing what I said apparently by his own chauvinistic prejudices about "archaeologists", "foreign archaeologists" and "foreign Communist, yellow-skinned, slanty-eyed archaeologists" who he apparently considers are his intellectual inferiors who cannot be trusted to do a good job. He therefore approves stealing the archaeological heritage from under their noses so that the Big White Man collectors of his own country can attempt to do what he is 100% sure the "furriners" are unable to do. And of course the dark little Conspiracy Theory slant at the end:  "the reality is quite something else".

Reference: 
Fredrik Schjöth 1929, 'Chinese Currency: The Currency of the Far East, the Schjöth Collection at the Numismatic Cabinet of the University of Oslo, Norway'. Oslo.

China, Coin Thieves Busted

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Xinhua reported on Sunday that in the ancient town of Huoluochaideng (Hanggin Banner Inner Mongolia - map, red square), archaeologists have excavated about 3,500kg of ancient coins and remains of a coin-casting workshop of the Han dynasty (202 BC-220 AD). The caches of coins had been buried in pits on the site of the workshop. Most of the coins recovered were Huo chuan (huoquan) issues of the short-lived Xin Dynasty (45 BC-23 AD) - the reign of emperor Wang Mang who attempted far-reaching reforms of the Han monetary system. About a hundred coin moulds were also found, believed to date to the rule of Emperor Wudi (156 BC-87 BC) of the preceding Western Han Dynasty. The excavation of the workshop is a significant contribution in the study of the ancient monetary system and casting technology. It however very nearly never happened. According to Lian Jilin, a researcher with the regional Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, the coins were found  after police cracked three antiquity theft cases in the region. Fortunately the looters were stopped in time, before they had destroyed the archaeological site in a search for saleable commodities making research impossible. In most cases however the clandestine exploitation of archaeological sites for the collectables that are traded no-questions-asked leads to the destruction of archaeological knowledge.

Now I expect we'll hear the US coineys protesting that they want some of the coins from the excavation archive... 

'Huge quantity of ancient coins found in China',Times of India Dec 30, 2012

Daisey Stodola, '3,500 kg of ancient coins excavated in N China Souce', New Zealand Week, Dec 31 2012

Map: adapted from A Concise History of China

Sunday, 30 December 2012

SAFE Interview with Nancy Hatch Dupree


There is a very informative, not to say moving, interview with Nancy Hatch Dupree who has been living in and engaged with Afghanistan for many years ( Joanie Meharry and Shaharzad Akbar, 'Knowing Nancy: An Interview with Afghanistan’s Grandmother, Nancy Hatch Dupree' SAFE December 30, 2012). In this time she:
has stood as an emblem of the country’s rich and ancient cultural heritage. A force in her own right, her strength has been cemented in her singular, unwavering commitment to the culture of Afghanistan before, during, and after the more than thirty years of war. Arriving in Afghanistan from the US in the 1960s she fell deeply in love with the country, and not long after, the renowned Harvard archaeologist, Louis Dupree. Together they worked side by side, him studying pre-historic sites and her writing numerous guidebooks. With the great loss of Louis in 1989, Nancy re-doubled her commitment to their work. She expanded the Afghanistan Centre at Kabul University (ACKU), a rich source of regional information, which Louis had established in Pakistan before his death and which she moved to Kabul University in 2006. In 1994, Nancy founded the Society for the Preservation of Afghanistan’s Cultural Heritage (SPACH) in Islamabad in order to organize international efforts to protect the National Museum of Afghanistan during the Mujahideen Civil War. 
The video, “Who is the Historian?,” is available on YouTube and Kabul at Work.

The Trade in African Cultural Property: "Je ne suis pas moi-même" (2007)

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Je ne suis pas moi-même is a 52 minute Spanish 2007 documentary film produced by Nanouk Films which explores complex international African ethnic art market. 
 Mysterious figurines pass from hand to hand, crossing continents and changing in value and meaning. The film concentrates on the  movement of objects from Cameroon, and reveals how Cameroon has become a paradise for art forgers and traffickers and is related to corruption. It also shows how African artworks are spirited away to end up in Europe's leading public and private collections, where they come from, and how they arrive in the showcases of the biggest galleries and collections in Europe. It also explores who decides how much each piece is worth in this post-colonial context. In Europe there's a market needy of new ethnic art pieces. In Africa they’re in need of economical resources, some are willing to sell their cultural legacy or even fake it if need be. 

Watch the documentary: Je ne suis pas moi-même
Shortened trailer

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: What PAS Means in Trowbridge

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The "mission statement" of the Trowbridge and District Metal Detecting Club ("Saving Wiltshire's History")  is really awfully revealing - though more in what it does not say than what it does.
"As a metal detecting club we support and encourage (sic) the following organisations, codes of practice, and the relevant laws of the land..."
Now that obviously is not a statement of what a metal detecting club is FOR, so pretty poor showing as a mission statement.
N C M D The club is a active member of the Western Region of the National Council for Metal Detecting, and accept in full the code of conduct laid down by our elected representatives on the NCMD.
Treasure Act All members must report items that fall under the Treasure Act 1996, and any changes as they become law.
PAS As a club we encourage all members to use the Portable Antiquities Scheme, (PAS) to report, and record finds with the Wiltshire Finds Liaison Officer.
Country Code We recognise and accept the Country code, as good practice, especially on the farms where we have permission as a club to detect, and require all our members to conform to this code. 
There is no mention of the Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales  which has been agreed with other bodies, the Trowbridge lot stress that they adhere to a different one: "the code of conduct laid down by our elected representatives on the NCMD", this of course omits several things vital to the notion of "best practice" which it is the whole purpose of the PAS to instill in "finders". For Trowbridge artefact collectors the notion of "best practice" involves following the Country Code ("especially on the farms where we have permission as a club to detect"). The PAS is there only to be "used" rather than acting as any kind of partner in a collaborative effort to interpret local history.   [Both the Treasure Act and the Country Code are mentioned in the NCMD Code of Practice.]
As a club we are supported by our local Finds Liason Officer who regularly attends our meetings. She will receive anything unusual found and take it away to research the item and record it if appropriate for the Personal Antiquities Scheme (PAS). 
This "supportive" Finds Liaison Officer is Katie Hinds (whose contact address since November 2012 is incorrectly given on the club website). The Trowbridge detectorists may be supported in their archaeological erosion by the PAS, but they cannot get the name right. It is "portable" (meaning you can carry it away and deprive the record of it) rather than "personal" (meaning you can lock it away and keep it for yourself and deprive the record of it). 

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: Paying to Give Search Permissions


The Trowbridge and District Metal Detecting Club ("Saving Wiltshire's History")  offer members of the public a search service , you lose something on your land and they will come with their beepboxes and friendly smiles and find it for you. "Free Search Service (£10.00 fee for petrol)". That's a new twist. Future search permission gained by sleight of hand - and YOU pay THEM to come!

Not... Giv....ing... Up!


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The Ancient Coin "Collectors' Guild" stubbornly refuses to admit they have no case. Rick St Hilaire has on his blog a nice pill-size  history of the case concerning the Baltimore illegal Coin Import Stunt in which London dealer-of-Cambodian-statue-'fame' Spink's took part. The ACCG are now going to petition the Supreme Court to be heard. Well, that will no doubt bring a few more hundreds of dollars into the coffers of the legal firm in which one of their board members is employed. Talk about conflict of interest.  

Anyhow, "the ACCG hopes that this Petition will continue to sensitize U.S. Government decision makers to the concerns of the numismatic community" ("continue"? They seriously think that their illegal import stunt has impressed US lawmakers?).

Those concerns are "about how the U.S. State Department and U.S. Customs have damaged (sic) the venerable hobby of ancient coin collecting in the United States". Venerable, is neither here nor there (drunk-driving is as venerable as a tipsy cartster losing control of the haywain on a slope in Colonial Virginia, that does not mean that it should not be punished when laws are broken). What we are talking about is the import of dugup artefacts from other countries which have no evidence of proper export from the source country.

The ACCG lamely complains:
American importers of ancient coins are burdened with extralegal administrative regulations, collectors in most other countries may import the same coins with impunity
They are neither extralegal, nor is it the importer in the US that has to send the coins to the US with the proper pieces of paper, but the exporter. If they want to trade with the US, they - like the recipient - have to comply with current US regulations and customs controls.  All American importers have to do is ascertain that they buy from somebody who can supply the documentation of proper export. As anybody who is not a coin dealer can see, that is not a "burden" of "administrative regulations", it is a matter of ethical trading.

Vignette: coins

Friday, 28 December 2012

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: We Are Not Interested


A spokesman for the National Council of Metal Detecting (28th Dec at 10:34 am) is having a go at "Portable Antiquities Collecting and Heritage Issues". I raise a point that these daft folk would (really) be well advised to take up officially, but they cannot be bothered. UK metal detectorists prefer the insulting approach, adopting the terminology recently popularised by the Portable Antiquities Scheme for preservationists:
the repsonse (sic) rate for [Mr Barford's] comments on this topic will remain at zero which goes to show that either no one is interested in the slightest at his ramblings, can't be bothered to respond to a selective presentation of the facts coupled with regurgitated halftruths, hearsay, anecdotal comment, inuendo (sic) and of course down right lies,
[No "or" was offered]. The NCMD spokesman suggests people keep away from trying to discuss anything with Mr Barford, so
as not to get into an exchange of comments and views on a forum controlled by [Mr Barford].
This is a blog of course, not a forum. But metal detectorists can of course (with the proper links given so everyone can see what is being discussed) take up the discussion with anything they do not agree with on their own forum, that's what they are there for. There they are of course under under nobody's control, except that of their own forum moderators. At the moment, the only opinions that these individuals  can bring themselves to utter is to agree that they will not comment or respond to anything written by preservationists and add to that calling the disputant names, or refusing to indicate ("a certain person's blog") to whom they are actually referring. All of us have names, and some of us are not ashamed to use them. I rather think there is another reason why they are not going to engage with the issues raised on this blog about artefact hunting, collecting and the no-questions-asked market.

The PAS has made it easy for them to dismiss any scepticism as unwarranted trolling, rather than a raising of concerns that should be the topic of open public debate. The PAS have a lot to answer for.

As I have said, I would like 2013 to be "Register on a Whole Bunch of Detecting Forums" year for my readers, take a look at what these "partners" of the PAS themselves write and how. Then after a bit of reading of their own unadulterated words (and bearing in mind the purpose of this blog) those who do so, rather than taking the NCMD spokesman's word for it, will be in a position to decide for themselves to what degree, or whether at all, what I present here is an unduly "selective presentation of the facts coupled with regurgitated halftruths, hearsay, anecdotal comment, inuendo and of course down right lies".


TAKE A GOOD LOOK at these forums, for their members are precisely the sort of people the PAS wants to grab more and more millions of public quid to make into the "partners"  of the British Museum, archaeological heritage professionals - and to whom they want us all to entrust the exploitation of the archaeological record. Take a good look and decide what you think about that as a sustainable heritage management "policy".

Artefact Hunter Dies in US Prison


It has been announced today that a former insurance agent and "amateur archaeologist convicted of looting ancient Indian graves in the Nevada desert" has died in prison.
The Department of Corrections confirmed Thursday that Jack Lee Harelson, 72, of Grants Pass, died Dec. 14 in the infirmary of the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem. The agency said he died of natural causes.
Harelson was notorious as the person who had dug for collectable artefacts in the Elephant Mountain Cave in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert in the early 1980s. This looting had "destroyed the historical record of a site that was inhabited by ancestors of the Paiute Tribe for 5,000 years". Some 2,000 artefacts were recovered, including a necklace of unborn antelope hooves and an abalone shell, a cordage net for catching rabbits, and moccasins. There were also two child burials in baskets. When he was arrested in 1995, authorities said they found the headless mummified remains of two children wrapped in garbage bags and buried unceremoniously in Harelson’s garden. State police later recovered two skulls in a separate investigation. Like many artefact hunters, this looter downplayed the damage he had done:
acknowledging in an interview at the time that he could have done a better job excavating the site, Harelson maintained that amateurs like himself tramping the desert were responsible for many significant archaeological finds.
In 2005, Harelson was convicted in a retrial of trying to hire a hit man to kill Lloyd Olds of Brookings, a partner in an opal mine whom Harelson blamed for his grave-­robbing conviction.

 Jeff Barnard, 'Grave looter dies in prison', The Associated Press December 28, 2012

Guilty Plea: Tarby Going Home Soon


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We learn this morning from Rick St Hilaire's blog ('Guilty Plea in Dinosaur Smuggling Case') that in a press release it has just been announced that Florida  “commercial paleontologist” Eric Prokopi has pleaded guilty to the smuggling of Mongolian dinosaur fossils and conspiracy in the case of a Chinese one. More importantly for the US government, he agreed to forfeit the proceeds of these acts including "any and all [...] fossil parts of Mongolian origin that Prokopi brought into the country between 2010 and 2012". That will include the reconstructed fossil sold by Heritage Auctions against the wishes of the Republic of Mongolia which started this wholae affair. I cannot imagine Procopi's lawyers being too chuffed at the way this went, which is probably why some of them are refraining from making any "Cultural property Observations" about this outcome.

Slap on wrist sentencing by the US "flawed" criminal justice system due on April 25, 2013 at 10:00 a.m.

Here is a list of my previous posts on the 'Tarby' affair:


Sunday, 20 May 2012 : Heritage Auctions Prevented From Selling Mongolian Fossil 

Sunday, 20 May 2012: Heritage Auctions Defies Texas Court Order 


Monday, 21 May 2012: Heritage Auctions unaware of any treaty?
     
Meanwhile all those who bought Mongolian fossils on eBay from Mr Prokopi between 2010 and 2012 are laughing that they got away with it. How many do you think will be voluntarily be turning their purchases in to the authorities? And when they are sold on, as long as the seller does not admit where they came from, in a mechanism like that of dodgy dugups, they enter the market perfectly legally. But is that right? Is it ethical for a seller now to withold that information? What happens in situations when a seller's 'reputation' is the only guarantee that a dug-up is 'kosher', if that dealer subsequently is shown in a court of law to have been trading in 'non-kosher' objects - do all and any objects that were sold on the basis of that person's 'reputation' not become 'tainted'? How come?


UPDATE 28.12.12
Nikhil Kumar, 'Florida fossils dealer smuggled Tyrannosaurus skeleton worth $1m', Independent 28 December 2012.

UPDATE 29.12.12

How touching, a certain gentleman (I use the term loosely) on the south coast of Britain has been (for only the second time since Mr Procopi's arrest I believe) spending some time searching through my blog to see what he can learn about Mr Procopi's fate -  is this somebody who is now, and only now, trying to read up on the case out of concern for mr P. or in his own self-interest?  As a result of this case, will the British authorities be getting the details of who was exporting Mongolian and other fossils from the UK to Florida, and if they do, will they actually do anything about that?

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Derek Fincham on "Sentencing Antiquities Looters"

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Derek Fincham has a text '' (27th Dec 2012) which is "a humble plea for a little sobriety when sentences of this nature are handed down".
Too many archaeologists and other advocates hop up and down and either rejoice at these strong sentences—or criticize probation and fines which are at the other end of this spectrum. 
He reminds us that sentencing policy is a very complicated field. Fincham says that:
In the United States and in many other nations the criminal justice system is an imperfect mechanism which too often is asked to accomplish things it cannot.
He calls it a "flawed system". I am glad he said that and not me. I really do not see  however what is so complicated in punishing criminals once they've been convicted. The problem is however that (especially when we are talking about the USA) those convictions are rare. When smuggled, looted artefacts are located and seized, the authorities crow about having the trophies in their hands, rather than the hands of criminals, but the latter are sitting at home reading about it in the newspaper free to organize getting fresh supplies of illicit items, and so it goes on.

This, Mr Fincham, is not a matter for the "source nations" to "step up" over, convicting and punishing culture crime carried out by US citizens in and from the US is clearly a matter for the US authorities to deal properly with - and be seen to be dealing properly with. By the way, when however did the "stakeholders" get a chance to "step up" in the Four Corners cases fiasco?

 

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: Got Me Blinkers on, and can't Hear Anyfink


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On a tekkie artefact hunting forum near you, member "addedomaros" from Buckingham (Mon Dec 24, 2012 2:17 pm) notes:
It has been brought up on 'a certain person's' blog that the picture is very unusual. Would hawkers dig trenches with straight sides, trowel the surface, heap up the topsoil and remove larger stones? I think there's more to this than just ordinary detectorists hawking [he used the 'thinking' emoticon]
He means this post, and this one too. About an hour later "popsandme" replies:
i read it and thought the same.
but that's it, no other comments in that thread on the topic. That is despite the fact that what 'a certain person' said is entirely grist to their mill, and something they should be taking up with whoever will listen until they get an answer. But they will not, because "thinking" emoticons are no substitute for actual thought.

What's with this 'a certain person's' blog nonsense? If he read it here, then why does he simply not say so? Is it so extremely painful for one of the not-much-between-the-blinkers crowd to actually say "I do not agree with Paul Barford most of the time, but here, I think, he has a point"? Obviously, if the sole argument offered to offset the issues raised here by those unable to offer any others is to simply dismiss the polemecist as somebody whose opinion is not worth taking any note of, they are going to miss the occasions when it actually is worth their while.

Chester Farm, near Irchester: Mystery remains

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A few days ago, in the thirteenth baktun, I raised the question about what the two guys (labelled by the press "metal detecting enthusiasts") arrested in Northamptonshire and sentenced to  Prison Sentences and ASBOs were actually up to. I have in mind this post, and this one too. The question remains unposed anywhere else, let alone actually being answered.

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: Treasure Hunting Two-plank Thickedness


Forum member RogerM is incensed:
King's Ransom:
Location: Lichfield, Staffordshire
Year: 2009
The horde (sic) was valued at approximately £3.26 million It was confiscated by the Crown and is currently held by the British Museum.
Does that mean the metal detector finder got nothing for his find? How can the be?  (sic)
He is writing of course about Terry Herbert (who found a hoard, and not a "horde", nor a "metal detector"), the landowner and the Staffordshire Anglo-Saxon Hoard (Brownhills, near Lichfield). And his source of information" obviously is the MoneySupermarket (sic) webpage "6 Awesome Treasure Hunt Finds by Amateurs"  ("And if we haven't got you reaching for your metal detectors yet, we would just like to add that the total value of these treasures was a cool £7,000,000. Happy treasure hunting!").  But hypnotherapist -detectorist Ian steps in with an explanation of what Roger obviously could not look up on a thousand and one internet pages for himself:
 Hello Rodgerm, I think that what they are saying is that the hoard was classed as "treasure trove" which means that the hoard goes to a valuation committee and then the amount agreed upon is divided between the farmer and finder when it is acquired by a museum.
Treasure Trove? What a sneaky trick British lawmakers played on tekkies changing the name in the 1990s, eh? I mean they "might of known" that it'd be taking some of them fifteen years to learn the right one. But Ian has some more dark thoughts about the Gubn'mint:
Personally I think that the government are a bunch of robbing buggers and would do anything they can to acquire metal detecting finds as cheap as possible. I wouldn't trust them at all. It really makes me angry when treasure finds are taken from metal detectorists and placed in museums where over time they make an absolute fortune from not only displaying the finds but also making money from the copyright of all the pictures of the finds that are used in books and magazines (the metal detectorist gets nothing from this). There are also many metal detectorists that in my opinion do not receive a true valuation for their finds. 
So the British public is underpaying the Treasure hunter to dig up Britain's archaeological heritage to sell back to the public (whose heritage it is, isn't it)? So, it's the Gubn'mint who are robbing buggers or the Treasure Valuation Committe are incompetent lying buggers Ian? Let's be precise who it is you think are ripping Treasure hunters off. I mean it would not be Treasure hunters wanting to rip the rest of us off would it?

I'd also be interesting to see in a continuation of that thread an estimation just how much of a "fortune" the average provincial museum "makes over time" just because it has another broken pot with a pile of coins beside it on display. One million a year? Two? Or actually barely enough extra cash from extra visitors to cover the cost of buying a secure case, conserving and cataloguing all those coins, and getting somebody to clean around yet one more case?

As for the "copyright", we have seen other detectorists banging on about how much money, in their opinion (experience?) they can make from selling rights to photos. Fancy those museums retaining copyright of photos they have commissioned of objects in their collection which they have cleaned, preserved and mounted !! Quite obviously these Treasure hunters think this is an injustice, apparently museums should pay for the photographer, but immediately assign all rights to the person from whom they bought the ripped-out find. By what rationale?


TAKE A GOOD LOOK at this, for these are precisely the sort of people the PAS wants to grab more and more millions of public quid to make into the "partners"  of the British Museum, archaeological heritage professionals and to whom they want us all to entrust the exploitation of the archaeological record. Take a good look and decide what you think about that as a "policy". 

Vignette: plank

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: "Find Treasure in Britain and You Are Ripped Off"

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Ian Smith is not the only UK Treasure hunter who thinks the UK Gubn'mint are "thieving buggers". Another of his ilk has a video on display of "Treasure from around Europe" which are mainly scans of photos from a Bulgarian album of "Thracian Treasures" which merely serve as a vehicle for him to show off (at 1.40) his own find, the Poulton Hoard of Bronze Age scrap gold. We see him in another of his videos ("Work with archies, and they stab you in the back" which I have discussed here before) complaining he was hard-done-by, and what he thinks of Britain's archaeologists ("this is the treatment you can expect if you are fortunate enough to uncover a hoard of gold in the UK, libelous accusation and secret email's behind your back, alleging wrong doing"). 

The insertion by "Poulton Hoard" (one of the finder's several pseudonyms) of pictures of the Poulton Hoard  was intended to have the desired effect of attracting the attention and admiration of  the mentally vacant and easily-impressed crowd. It got the desired reaction a month ago from one "Ringo853":
wow! what the heck is that collection of objects? How old and how much did they pay you?
 That was the key question of course. "Not-in-it-fer-the-munny" is the answer PAS-partners are supposed to give, but Poulton Hoard Guy (http://www.youtube.com/user/DETECTINGFORGOLD) does not like the PAS. Apparently, he hates them in fact. His answer is more revealing than the usual glib PAS-patter: 
It's now called the Poulton Hoard, although the rings looked far better when they were on my hand. It dates to 1200-1400 B.C and can now be seen in the Corinium Museum, Cirencester. I had it valued at £50,000, but got paid £17,000 under Britain's rip off Treasure Act.
This hoard consists mostly of a pile of scrap bits, cut bar stock, hardly very displayable for a private collector. It would be interesting to learn who gave such a valuation. My thought is one could pick them up much cheaper had they been put on ebay as individual bits. Would Mr Taylor and the landowner have raised 17000 quid from the sale on eBay? Bidding from private collectors for relatively featureless cut up gold bar stock it seems to me would not be particularly brisk.

The finder seems less sure of that, he has a few more words about his "reward" and the Treasure Valuation Committee:
[...] their (sic) panel of in- house experts. Who have cocked up on many valuations. They will totally ignore what your independent experts have to say, on the matter. The only fair way is to put the item in auction, then you know you have the best price on the day.
Anyway, he seems to have those who side with him:
kebacor Hi there i feel bad for you.Thats one of the problems these day you do the right thing and then get slandered for it dont give up on getting whats yours Best of luck
MrBluejelly It's nice to see someone standing up against them, as most archaeologists think they are above the law. I would never trust them as far as I could throw them.

But then there is one voice opposing the reward-hungry finder (spelling and punctuation as in original!): 

TAKE A GOOD LOOK at this, for these are precisely the sort of people the PAS wants to grab more and more millions of public quid to make into the "partners"  of the British Museum, archaeological heritage professionals and to whom they want us all to entrust the exploitation of the archaeological record. Take a good look and decide what you think about that as a "policy".


Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Happy Christmas 2012

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I would like to wish all readers of Portable Antiquities Collecting and Heritage Issues a very happy, peaceful Christmas, whenever and however you celebrate it - and even if you do not.

Journalists Jailed at Christmas

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At this time of year, it seems only appropriate to spare a moment's thought for those in a less fortunate situation than ourselves. Among them a blogger should remember who bring the news we use in our own activities. This year has not been a good one for journalism:
The Committee to Protect Journalists said in a report Tuesday that a record-number 232 journalists are imprisoned worldwide and that Turkey has the highest number with 49 journalists behind bars. The [overall] total is 53 more than the tally last year and is the highest number since the New York-based organization began conducting worldwide surveys in 1990. The census of journalists behind bars on Dec. 1 found that anti-state charges such as terrorism, treason and subversion were the most common brought against journalists in 2012. At least 132 journalists are being held around the world on such charges, CPJ said.[...] CPJ said the second-worst jailer of the press is Iran, with 45 behind bars [...] China was third with 32 journalists behind bars, 19 of them Tibetans or Uighurs imprisoned for documenting ethnic tensions, CPJ said.[...] The overwhelming majority of the 232 detainees are local journalists being held by their own governments. Just three foreign journalists were on the list.
Spare a thought at Christmas for those who are persecuted for writing truthfully about what others in power would prefer them to keep quiet. Ask yourselves how much you value truth and free exchange of information.

USA Today, 'Report: Record 232 journalists jailed worldwide', December 11, 2012.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: In the Forums (1) "Ploughed and Rolled"

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The Ploughed and Rolled Metal Detecting Forum was set up in November 2008 and is run by a guy from the North Shields Near Newcastle upon Tyne called Ian Smith (apparently a hypnotherapist). It has the following sections:
General Discussion - Chit chat about anything.
Rallies and Events - " Keep up to date with what's on and what's been on".
Detectors - "A place to discuss the pro's and con's of your metal detector" (sic)
Archaeology - "All aspects of archaeology" (two posts)
Sites of interest - "Post links to sites relating to metal detecting and of historical interest here".
It is an interesting example of a series of texts which well illustrate the mindset of the artefact hunters with metal detectors to which current British "heritage management policy" (I use the term loosely) entrusts the exploration of tens of thousands of archaeoklogical sites. Here you can see what they talk about, what they think of the ethical issues connected with their hobby, and what they are in it for. The links section for example is of interest for the typically large range of dealers' sites given, where tekkies can flog off the history they find (one hopes it goes to the new owner at least with full accompanying documentation):
Archers Antiquities - www.archersantiquities.co.uk
Baldwin's Auctions - www.baldwin.sh
Charlie Brown - www.celticcoins.co.uk
Chris Rudd - www.celticcoins.com
Coin News - www.tokenpublishing.com
Dix Noonan Webb - www.dnw.co.uk
Lindner Publications - www.prinz.co.uk
Spink - www.spink.com
Time Line Originals - www.time-lines.co.uk
At the top of the "general discussion" setting the tenor for the whole sorry collection is a post on "The Paul Barford Song" and a lot of "hello from me" posts, a few on buying new detectors "Mind is at piece (sic) now", and other suchlike stuff. There is a lot in this section, together with the detector and rally section that is revealing of the tekkie mindset. Of most interest to me however were the two posts in the "archaeology" section. One of them is ostensibly about "copyright".
Hi All, I found this interesting article on the Internet about the use of photographs that are taken at rallies. I recently had a discussion with a PAS officer that wanted to attend a rally that we were organising so tha[...] 
The "article that I found in the internet" is not sourced, though it is copied and pasted verbatim from my blog, without acknowledgement. I see Mr Smith is quite happy to use my material when it supports something he wants to say, but equally happy to host inane youtube videos poking fun at the source of his information.

The thread "Your Views About Archaeologists and  Metal Detecting" is an eye-opener.
My personal belief is that the overall attitude of Archaeologists is that they would like to see metal detecting banned. [...] (i personally don't want anything to do with them). [...] they should encourage at any opportunity help from the metal detecting community [...] ask them to clear and record the finds on the sites that are at risk on a yearly basis (clubs would be only to happy to do this).[...] I'm not saying that the location of finds shouldn't be recorded, i just don't trust government agencies with the information. "Just exactly what is it that archaeologists and the government offer metal detectorists?"[...] My opinion is that the powers to be are just bullies that pick on metal detectorists because we are an easy target [...] When i think of Archaeologists the words Hypocrisy, Snobbery and Jealousy come to mind..
and an interesting bit of libel from forum member spookmore1 (that is 'personal development advisor'  Norman Kennedy) July 13, 2011 4:34pm (spelling and punctuation as in original):
 Personally the only good Archaeologist is a one that is buried,i think these people should be taken off the job and sacked by the Govenment it would save million's and would get rid of this scum for good. Paul arsehole Barford should be taken to court for liable love to meet him in a field has anyone heard about him being court in the local mens toilets I wont go into details as it may not be true that is all i can say. Norman
So, if it "may not be true" why stick it up on a public forum Mr Kennedy where it has been for the past seventeen months on a thread with 2,346 views? In fact, where he got this pretended "news" from is an equally libellous anonymous blog:  "Paul Barford (sic) Antiquities and Heritage Issues", a metal detectorist's post "Paul Barford caught in public toilet" of Saturday, 6 August 2011, but the author of those pages made it all up. This is exactly what I have been talking about, there is no way any metal detectorist is ever going to address the questions asked about the effects of current policies about artefact hunting, but they are all perfectly happy to see this kind of "answer" from one of their number. Note the blog has 5,406 views, and not a single person has sent a comment disapproving of the impression its author is creating of metal detectorists. 

The "ploughed and rolled" site turns out to be of a commercial rally organizer, and has a "special thank you goes out to the farmers, without who's (sic) kind permission our digs would not be possible". What about the British public whose archaeological heritage is being added to these people's personal collections? 

We note that the Portable Antiquities Scheme does not figure on their "links" page and I could find no mention of it whatsoever (for example when welcoming new tekkies to the forum), let alkone a section of the forum devoted to co-operation with this scheme promoting "responsible detecting". 

TAKE A GOOD LOOK at the "Ploughed and Rolled" forum, for these are precisely the sort of people the PAS wants to grab more and more millions of public quid to make into the "partners"  of the British Museum, archaeological heritage professionals and to whom they want us all to entrust the exploitation of the archaeological record. Take a good look and decide what you think about that as a "policy". 

Vignette: ploughed and rolled.

Metal Detectorists: "Who we ARE"

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In putting down here since the summer of 2008 on this blog my thoughts on the current state of artefact hunting and collecting and the antiquities trade, I may well  have said something at some time or another which has conflicted with the opinions of many involved in, or supportive of, all three. Not only artefact hunters, collectors and antiquity dealers, but their "partners" in the archaeology world will probably find here much with which they do not agree. Nobody however is preventing them from engaging with the arguments offered, the issues raised, after all open public debate is (supposedly) the basis of current English Heritage conservation policy. There are some attempts to present some sort of a rationale of a particular position (here and here for example).  Most who disagree on principle with what is written here however take the easy way out, and instead of making the effort to justify their positions in more detail, try to ignore and dismiss the points made.

Of all the groups concerned however, one of them stands out due to the nature of the 'engagement' its members attempt to adopt. Current British policy entrusts the exploration and curation of parts of the archaeological record to the group of collectors that roam the countryside with metal detectors looking for things to add to their personal ephemeral collections. It places great responsibilities on them, and assumes that they are all able to understand and meet those responsibilities. It is these people that experience has shown are the least fitted however to engaging in the public debate about the heritage.

Back in 2000 I began to attempt to engage fellow archaeologists in debate on British policies on artefact hunting on the CBA's JISC-run internet discussion forum (then called an 'academic' one). Very soon this came to the attention of metal detectorists who started using that forum to argue their side of the issue (as was their right, the CBA takes a very pluralistic view of what 'archaeology for all' is). The trouble is the manner in which they did that as hardly conducive to continuance of the debate there. This was of course their aim. The archives of 'Britarch' are permanently archived and open, which means that the points were raised and the manner in which it was phrased are available for inspection, as is the manner in which I and anyone who expressed similar views was treated for even broaching the subject. My attitudes about the milieu as a whole were strongly affected by these exchanges. The same thing happened on the forum of the PAS archaeological outreach scheme, the forum associated with the archaeology programme Time Team, and the short-lived forum of the conservation group Heritage Action. All of these were disrupted by metal detectorists, not coin dealers, not artefact smugglers, not museum curators or (with one shameful exception) pro-collecting archaeologists. Sadly, these displays of past tekkie aggression can only now be seen in the 'Britarch' archives. 

After more than a decade of this sort of behaviour, nobody is therefore much surprised by its continuance. The milieu as a whole seems to take pride in being seen as - in the recent words of one of their number - "foul-mouthed, uncouth, tasteless individuals". Interestingly this is one of those that has a page on his webite ("metal detectorists - who we are"), attempting to persuade public opinion through selective news items that artefact hunters with metal detectors are all benign jolly individuals who do no damage, but find lost wedding rings and give generously to charity. Digging a little deeper into other pages of the same website will soon reveal another, darker side to the activity and those who are engaged in it.

It was on this website that after he has been subjected to several threats, Nigel Swift's home address was publicised with the comment 'throw him to the dogs'. Now I know for a fact that Nigel Swift has never done anything to this particular individual to justify such treatment. Metal detectorists' names are kept out of the public record by the PAS due to concerns with the Data Protection Act, the vast majority of them use a variety of pseudonyms to hide their identity on internet forums and websites. Yet a British metal detectorist has no qualms whatsoever about publicising where, should an aggrieved fellow collector wish to encounter the chairman of Heritage Action in the flesh, they can find him of a dark evening. And yes, UK metal detectorists are not all the nicest of people one would like to meet in the dark. The British police warn farmers not themselves to approach those found detecting on their property without permission, they are known to have been armed with metal rods and worse. Many metal detectorists know exactly who the 'nighthawks' are and where they are going and what they are doing, but are afraid to report them. Metal detectorists have reportedly had their car tyres slashed at rallies for less. Colleagues in Oxford Archaeology took the unprecedented step of publishing a report anonymously since it was about metal detector users breaking the law. If a metal detectorist in the UK is afraid to confront a fellow metal detectorist, and the police warn members of the public to stay away from them, and archaeologists writing about them hide their identities for fear of retaliation, how much of an "imaginary" (sic)  threat is it publicising their home address in the internet and saying it is Nigel's own fault for saying things about metal detecting, implying that in a metal detectorist's eyes,  he deserves what he's got coming to him?

This, for most people would be considered totally unacceptable behaviour, yet it has passed without negative comment from a single member of the UK metal detecting community. For them, such thuggish attitudes are clearly well within what they would consider acceptable. Even such a generally reasonable and articulate blogger as John Winter, for example, considers that the antics of detectorists of this type is worthy of recommendation

The same metal detectorist three days ago as a Christmas present to all the tekkie Thugwits (and others) out there also publicised in the same place my address, with house number and postcode to boot.  He says "it's my own fault" for discussing artefact hunting and collecting under my own name, and not anonymously like the authors of the Oxford Archaeology "nighthawks" report. But hiding behind pseudonyms is exactly what I want to avoid, I see no reason why we cannot have an open public debate about artefact hunting, collecting and the antiquities trade. Given the message put out by British policy and government acceptance, in what way is that unreasonably idealistic? [UPDATE Christmas Day 2012: I am assured by the contrite blog owner that the post containing the latter address has since been removed, but no mention was made of the one with Nigel's]

Readers might notice a new sidebar panel, down near the bottom on the left: "False "Barford" Blogs, Not Actually by Paul Barford". It seems there is now a move among some in the milieu to try and discredit the present writer by impersonation. Since these pseudoblogs began, several thousand people have read what is written there and associated it with the name of the present writer. This includes a discussion of how I allegedly 'sell on eBay" (which, if it concerned archaeological artefacts would be an illegal act where I live). The other one contains insulting texts, among others attacking the memory of my mother and father. These of course have produced huge amusement in the artefact hunting community, and if there has been a single disapproving comment from among their 16000-strong number, I have yet to see it.

Then of course there is the puerile song with its inane lyrics: "If we get enough hits and links on this site we will out blog him, and put his blog in the gutter where he belongs". Obviously it never occurred to these individuals that the way to "outblog" a preservation-oriented archaeoblogger is simply to refute the points with which one is in disagreement. Once again, over a thousand hits, one single dissenting tekkie voice registered. It is notable however that the author of the song has already threatened to retaliate against "Muddy Mick", the author of that single dissenting voice.

Dissent is pretty rare among so-called "responsible detectorists" when it comes to matters of best practice, preservation and the public image of artefact hunting. Anyone who as much as peeps a word of criticism of the group mores can face the sort of intimidation and harrassment which is endemic in this milieu.  There is a huge difference between who tekkies want people to think they are (in line with the propaganda obligingly - and to their shame - pumped out on their behalf by the PAS), and who they actually are. To some extent the tekkies are shielded from public scrutiny by closing off their forums to public view (like most artefact collectors do). That is why I propose making 2013 a "join a metal detecting forum" year, and will be posting links and suggestions how to do that. Let us get as many people as possible observing the goings-on behind the facade, making up their own minds just who these "metal detectorists" on the whole are, and precisely what they represent. Let us have some transparency, and then some proper, informed, debate.

 


 
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