Thursday, 31 January 2013

Just When You Thought... AAMD’s “Strengthened” Antiquities-Collecting Guidelines Widen the Loopholes


  has examined the AAMD’s “Strengthened” Antiquities-Collecting Guidelines:
My enthusiastic response to the Association of Art Museum Directors’ announcement that it had voted to “strengthen” its 2008 antiquities-collecting guidelines was premature. Having now read and analyzed the full document, comparing it closely with the 2008 guidelines, it seems to me that the primary change in AAMD’s eight-page Revisions to the 2008 Guidelines on the Acquisition of Archaeological Material and Ancient Art involves the delineation of loopholes that could be used to justify a member museum’s decision to acquire pieces despite their problematic pasts. 
Quelle surprise. 

Lee Rosenbaum, AAMD’s “Strengthened” Antiquities-Collecting Guidelines Boost the Loopholes, January 31, 2013

Will a mock-up of Tutankhamun's tomb pull in tourists?


In order to preserve the original from temperature and humidity rise/fluctuation, an exact replica of Tutankhamun's tomb has now been created - but will tourists really want to travel to Egypt just to visit a mock-up? BBC's Rajan Datar reports (and quote Hawass at the end).

Click on link: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/fast_track/9786255.stm

 [Luxor Temple is of limestone, not "granite"].
 
Putting it "by Carter's House" as suggested here involves taking the tourists past a huge modern (and incredibly dusty) rubbish dump. A lot of the latter is from the demolition of Qerna village. I think the replica should go in one of the valleys to the NE of the new Qerna village, and create tourist income there.


Wassat? Engagement with the Public? We'll Ask Our Boss First ...


Pretty astounding, the PAS are "too busy" to spend a few minutes to exchange a few thoughts with a grassroots conservation organization representing a section of the British public passionately interested in the past and its proper study interpretation and preservation (Alan Simkins [Heritage Action], "Why you might not get to know your FLO", 31/01/2013).

Heritage Action have been inviting archaeologists to share a few thoughts in a series called "Inside the Mind of…". So far the eleven archaeologists asked have been perfectly happy to do so. As HA says "we’ve been struck by how generous they have been with their time no matter how prominent they are". The series editor thought it would be a good idea to do something similar by putting some relevant questions to the specific subset of the archaeology world actually paid to do full-time liaison with the British public, to outreach to them  – the Finds Liaison Officers (FLOs) at the Portable Antiquities Scheme. As the recount:
Sadly it went pear-shaped. One of them seems to have contacted their boss, Dr Roger Bland at the British Museum, asking if they should respond and he sent us a message expressing surprise we had contacted the individuals direct “as they will come to me and my colleague Michael Lewis for advice on how to respond.” To say I was surprised in return would be an understatement as the questions were very similar to the ones sent to other archaeologists, completely uncontroversial and personal and nothing to do with PAS policies. 
I'm not surprised. From my own experience with corresponding with these folk, it is quite clear that the Organization is run in precisely such a fashion. Very few PAS staff will answer even a simple question (IF they answer at all) without consulting it with Comrade-Director in Bloomsbury Head Office who will tell them what to say, or deal with it himself - usually in such a dismissive fashion as Heritage Action were subject to. From my experience of dealing with them, FLOs seem rarely to have a voice of their own. I'd therefore say there is little point in sending these folk any invitation to share their own thoughts on the ten questions. As things stand, all I reckon you'd get is 'What my boss Told Me To Say". Back to Mr Simkins:
In fact not one of the 39 FLOs has said they would be willing to take part and only two have even replied (both using remarkably similar wording and saying they were far too busy but wishing us luck with the project). Hmmm. If people can tweet they can surely find a few minutes. And I don’t think FLOs are the only archaeologists with very busy jobs yet many archaeologists have found a few minutes for us. 
Pathetic. I bet if it was "Searcher" magazine asking they'd geta a Bloomsbury-Directive and there's be 39 monthly installments.

One question, did HA ask Roger Bland to participate in "in the mind of..."?

Whatever You do, Don't Mention the Counter!!



I thought one passage of Alan Simkins' "Why you might not get to know your FLO" was particularly revealing. Roger Bland's response to an invitation from Heritage Action to his staff to speak to their members reportedly stated that due to "the feelings that our staff have about initiatives such as the Artefact Erosion Counter" it was "unlikely that they would be able to respond". Eh? As Mr Simkins noted:
By the way, our Erosion Counter recently passed the 11.5 million mark! It runs at a rate of one million per 3.4 years whereas the English Heritage/CBA survey suggested one million per 2.4 years would be more accurate. People can choose whichever they wish to believe so long as they then compare their preferred figure with how few finds get reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme – 56K records in the whole of last year. We’re not about to recant over our belief that something is very wrong about current policies and the public is entitled to be alerted to the fact.
Well, obviously the PAS is of a different opininion- but, nota bene, they are "too busy" (with their paltry 56k finds) to enter any public debate about it. I presume that they sincerly believe that if they keep their heads down, bowed over their 56k finds annually, the issue will blow over - those "vexatious" problems will disappear.

Well, they will not. There  is  something very wrong about current policies, and the public is entitled to be alerted to the fact. Furthermore the public is entitled to an answer from the PAS to questions about this - among other things. Are they not? No amount of name-calling will absolve them from that duty - no matter how "vexatious" they find it.


Actually what are those "feelings that the PAS staff have about initiatives such as the Artefact Erosion Counter"? That it's none of anybody's business for example? That it's not - for some reason - worth debating how many recordable artefacts are being removed from the archaeological record of England and Wales? That the only thing that counts are their own "wottalotta stuff we got" numbers? What are they thinking? And why are they self-censoring those thoughts? Is it really just because "they are too busy" to tell anyone what they think? Or is British archaeology's silent generation afraid of the career (and other) consequences of doing so honestly and openly? It really is difficult to get "in the mind of" those that so loyally work with Roger Bland. What are they thinking?

Those "In the Mind of...." Ten Questions

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No Portable Antiquities Scheme Finds Liaison Officer has agreed to talk to members of Heritage Action through its "in the mind of" series. The questions were perhaps too controversial. Here are the ten questions other archaeologists are not wary of answering:
1) What sparked your interest in Archaeology? 
2)  How did you get started? 
3) Who has most influenced your career? 
4) Which has been your most exciting project to date? 
5) What is your favourite British archaeological site… and why? 
6) What is your biggest archaeological/heritage regret? 
7) If you could change one thing about current heritage protection legislation, what would it be? 
8) If you were able to address Parliament for 30 seconds on archaeology what would you say? 
9)  If your career hadn’t worked out, what would you be doing now? 
10) Away from the ‘day job’, how do you relax?

Might it be that everyone is aware that a thoughtful PAS FLO, thinking about what they do, if asked might want to give an answer to questions 6-8 which would differ from the 'Party-line' (ie what PAS-boss wants them to say)?

Might some of them be thinking like us that, among other possible legislative changes to better protect the UK's archaeological record from avoidable destruction, some kind of policy change over antiquity collecting and commerce really is now needed?
  

More on Trolls from Bloomsbury: How Social Media are used within the British Museum


Use of Social Media within the British Museum and Museum Sector D.E.J. Pett (ICT Adviser: The British Museum and Portable Antiquities Scheme) undated text published online May 2012.

 See Section 13, Problems with social media (page 13)

Institutional use of social media is fraught with potential problems.  While there have been many successful social media projects, it is important to also outline some of the remaining issues which include:
[...] Flash-point subjects
Bullying and anti-social behaviour, dealing with trolls and vexatious bloggers

But they don't do they? They do not "deal with" vexatious questions about their policies. They simply treat them like they do any other questioners, the people who want their Benin bronzes back (ignore them, refuse to deal with the issue), those who want their Parthenon Marbles back (ignore them, refuse to deal with them), those who want their caryatid back (ignore them, refuse to deal with them), those who want their Rosetta Stone back (ignore them, refuse to deal with them), those that want their Halicarnassus Mausoleum bits back (ignore them, refuse to deal with them). The British Museum has a long history of dismissively not dealing with vexatious people who question what they are doing, they consider themselves a law unto themselves, answerable to absolutely nobody.

It seems to me that those speaking from its imperialist portals on "engagement" would heed the words of the previous section on the topic in Pett's own paper (section 12 page 12 - 13: "strategies for involvement"):
[...] social media policy draws inspiration from Sir GusO’Donnell’s exhortations (pride, passion, pace and professionalism: Civil Service 2009b) to the civil service to: 
a) Be credible: Be accurate, fair, thorough and transparent. 
b) Be consistent: Encourage constructive criticism and deliberation. Be cordial, honest and professional at all times. 
c) Be responsive: When you gain insight, share it where appropriate.
d) Be integrated: Wherever possible, align online participation with other offline communications.
 e) Be a civil servant: Remember that you are an ambassador for your organisation.Wherever possible, disclose your position as a representative of your department or agency. 
Pett spoils it by suggesting "This is sage advice for all professional engagement online, but in reality it is impossible to actually control social media output by institutional employees and general encouragement to behave with common sense is a much better tactic to adopt than outright regulation". I see NO reference whatsoever to "regulation" here, this is code of ethics/practice type advice. Its what we expect of our public institutions. Expectations it is apparently unreasonable to have of a certain section of the (public) employees of the British Museum.

So how are social media used within the British Museum? I think if you look at what the Portable Antiquities Scheme, for excample, puts out, there is less actual engagement these days than sheer propaganda, the "Look wottalotta stuff we got" (look how it glitters and shines!) rather that that sharing any insight into artefact hunting and collecting as an activity or a more holistic consideration of its effects on the archaeological record and public opinion on archaeology. Its almost as if the exhortion to "be an ambassador" of the establishment has been taken to one extreme, at the expense of a more nuanced vision that one might (in other circumstances) have expected from one of Britain's major academic and research institutions. Shame on you, shame on the lot of you.


Star Trek - The Next Generation "Engage" (posted by Mandy Stewart). 
What will the next generation (if it exists) of the PAS avoid doing?

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Cultural Property Repatriation Issues


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In Jason Felch's analysis of Hugh Eakin's text about repatriation is one passage which seems worth pulling out from the general discussion:
Other archaeologically rich nations have been inspired by Italy’s success. In bringing their own claims, many have been less disciplined than Italy, which supported its demands with evidence — much of it photographic — gathered during a decade-long criminal investigation. But here Eakin misses an opportunity to articulate the key flaw of some recent repatriation requests — the conflation of historical gripes with the modern criminal behavior of looting, smuggling and fencing. For example, most of the objects Turkey is demanding from American museums were acquired since the 1960s and have no documented ownership history before that, suggesting they are likely the product of illicit excavations. Whether Turkey has evidence to support those claims remains to be seen — unlike Italy, the Turks are making their case to museums before sharing it with the public. But Turkey has also asked several European museums to return objects that were removed nearly a century ago, sometimes by archaeologists operating with government permission. And to increase their leverage, Turkey has denied digging permits to foreign archaeologists who played no role in the alleged wrongdoing. All of this — coupled with Turkey’s own history of plunder — has led to a skeptical reception of claims against American museums that may or may not be backed by clear evidence. And with good reason. Likewise, Greece and Egypt have frequently included colonial-era claims with requests for the return of recently looted antiquities. Some of those historical claims may carry ethical weight, such as the reunification of the Parthenon marbles. But more often they blur the moral and legal clarity of claims involving modern looting
I think this is an important point, and it seems to me that the lobbyists are doing this deliberately, to fog the issue.  This is why I discuss these issues more frequently in another blog altogether (Cultural Property Repatriation News and Issues). Personally, I see no reason to dismiss the claims of pre-1970 objects. These are issues to be discussed and compromises reached. Here another quote seems crucial:

What motivates repatriation claims from source countries is not a desire for a few more pieces of ancient art. The basements of their museums overflow with the stuff. What they want is respect.
Are they getting that from our museums and scholars? 

Source: 'Decoding Eakin: Behind ‘Extortion’ Claim, Fear the Floodgates Have Opened', January 29 2013.

 

Focus on UK Metal Detecting and that Pasture Land, Which has Never Been Ploughed


Responsible detecting as good as its going to get in deepest darkest Wales - thank goodness for all that very expensive PAS outreach to these lads, eh? From a metal detecting forum near you:
Advice on Pasture land (January 29, 2013, 05:48:34 PM).
Hi all. I have a promising area which is pasture land, which has never been ploughed. The question is what differences can i expect to find through signal strength and tone? I have done beach work and ploughed areas, which i have found a happy medium with my Whites 300DFX. Pasture is leading me astray in ground balance and settings. I have taken to keeping on all metals for now as i have began to tell pitch differences on the other areas mentioned, but the tones and readings all seem different on pasture. ?? Anyone with a whites who can help, or anyone who has similar problems?
Now, the real answer to that is "keep off, that's what the Code of Practice of responsible Detecting in England and Wales says". So how many of the responses which this chap got on a forum with several hundred members, all of whom would like you to think they are "responsible" actually said anything of the sort?

Let's see:

"Al you have a Exp II listed in your signature, if you have one then can I ask..Why aren't you using that on pasture or the beach for that matter?"

"get the explorer out for know al Wink"

"ahhh dont listen to them alun Grin...... roman rays doing alright...... ask him he'll put you straight Wink"

"as long as its not on a beach , he couldnt find his arse with both hands down there Cheesy Cheesy but he does well on farmland Smiley"

"ray has good rallies , better than dw anyway Wink"

"hi alan i put a program on here the other day to help 2 of the members who also had the d.f.x..im trying to find the right topic it was in..such as..general discussions..metal detecting finds.ect-ect..i cant bloody find what topic it was in...so i could put it back on here for you mucker.save me writeing another one out.i could just copy and paste it back up for you..bare with me mate. it should say help with the d.f.x.." 

"any idea if these settings would also work on my whites xlt spectrum ?"

"[...] i could.nt really say if it would be the same on the XLT mucker..no harm in trying them ..i here theres not much difference in both machines.give it a go mate".

I would say that this is hardly a very coherent presentation of any ethical standpoint on best artefact hunting practice, the ethical Code has been totally ignored here  in favour of low-brow banter and nerdy stuff about machine settings.

People like 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 sustainable heritage management "policy". 

Vignette: Pasture in the mists of time

France Returns Smuggled Nok Artefacts to Nigeria


BBC News, 'France returns smuggled Nok artefacts to Nigeria', 29 January 2013
France has returned to Nigeria five ancient terracotta sculptures smuggled out of the country in 2010. The artefacts, of Nok origin, were found in the luggage of French citizen at a Paris airport. [...] the terracotta sculptures are believed to have been smuggled out of Nigeria to neighbouring Togo, from where the French buyer flew to Paris's Charles de Gaulle airport. It is a route thought to be used by smugglers to avoid customs checks at Nigerian airports [...] France's ambassador to Nigeria, Jacques Champagne de Labriolle, told the BBC the artefacts' return was part of a global attempt to fight the "illegal trafficking of cultural goods". "It is both a decision by the French government and an obligation by all those countries that have signed the Unesco convention on the matter," he said.
Well, except the united States of America which mainly recognizes Article 9 of the Convention and manages to conveniently ignore the rest.

Caveat Emptor, US getting tough on Illegally Imported Numismatic Items at Last?


It is reported that a US collector has been arrested on stolen property charges for allegedly purchasing a precious Korean artifact considered to be a "national heritage item with significant academic and historical value" that may have been stolen from the country during the Korean War. Won Young Youn was reportedly taken into custody earlier this month and was scheduled to appear before a federal judge in Michigan yesterday. According to the criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court, the Hojo 10-nyang currency plate had been put up for sale by a relative of a deceased veteran who served in the US Marines during the Korean War and was bought from Midwest Auction Galleries in Michigan for $35,000. Youn had reportedly compared acquiring the item to "winning the lottery" because South Korea would likely be willing to negotiate a sale in order to return the item to the country.

The USA has no cultural property MOU with Korea.

The Ancient Coin Collectors' Guild is expected to issue a statement this afternoon expressing outrage that this man's constitutional rights to buy, own and "preserve" numismatic items has been violated with a promise to help fight such an "injustice".

Dan Ivers, 'Feds: Bergen County art collector bought precious artifact stolen from Korea', New Jersey news, January 29, 2013

There are three comments underneath, each revealing in their own way: 
"So what did this guy do wrong here? He bought a rare item from an auction house".
"Didn't Frank Burns do the same thing?"
"HEWOOOO THIS IS KOWEANNN EMBASSY YOU GIVE US PWATE NOWWWW!!!!"


UPDATE 31.01.13:  Rick St Hilaire also discusses this case (with more detail on the purchase):  "HSI Alleges Receiving Stolen Korean Currency Plate Was Like "Winning a Lottery"
There has been no movement (or even a mention) of this from the ACCG. The latter are thus shown to be all mouth and no trousers.

UPDATE 22.2.2013: St Hilaire has more on the case ["Defendant Cooperates in Korean Currency Plate Case" Thursday, February 21, 2013]. There still has been absolutely no mention of this US numismatic case from the Ancient Coin Collectors' (sic) Guild which is interesting because the latest development is that the collector reportedly is giving evidence aginst the dealer (if true, way to go!).


A Feud Over "Biblical Archaeology" Goes to Court



A million-dollar lawsuit in Israel [...] Simcha Jacobovici, a Canadian documentary maker specializing in biblical archaeology, is suing a retired scientist and former archaeological museum curator named Joe Zias, who has accused him of publicizing scientifically dubious theories.
Profoundly ridiculous. I guess this also raises the question of what is archaeology? Is it the relativistic "anything goes" of the metal detectorist?
American biblical scholar James West, who also blogs on biblical archaeology, said of the lawsuit: “Disagreements are fine, but vendettas (which is what this seems to one outside the proceedings) are improper. Perhaps Zias and Jacobovici should settle their differences the old-fashioned way — in a public debate. Scholars disagree all the time, and they can get quite nasty at it. But I have never once heard of a scholar suing another scholar because their work was eviscerated.” 
Somebody here tried it with me once, so I am on Zias' side. I do not like what Jakobovici is doing one little bit.

Nina Burleigh, 'A Feud Between Biblical Archaeologists Goes to Court', Time World, Jan. 29, 2013

More "Holy Land" Antiquities come on Market, but Artefact Hunters Apprehended



The Israel Antiquities Authority reported on Tuesday that a group of three tomb robbers was recently arrested while in the process of looting a 1st-century burial chamber near Kibbutz Metzer (32°26′30.46″N 35°02′36.77″E), in Emek Hefer. The suspects are believed to be behind a months-long wave of thefts from archaeological sites in the area.

Gabe Fisher, 'Antiquities', bandits nabbed red-handed', The Times of Israel, January 30, 2013.

Ex-Minister's Troubles Not Over


Al-Masry Al-Youm is reporting that in Egypt, the Public Prosecution refused a request by Zahi Hawass, former head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, to lift a travel ban placed on him more than a year and a half ago, First District Attorney Mostafa al-Husseiny said [...] Hawass was charged with violations relating to organizing exhibitions abroad, and with granting the management of the Egyptian Museum gift shop to the Egyptian Company for Sound and Light, for which he worked as a consultant. The foreign exhibitions closed at the beginning of the month and should have now returned and the museum shop stands starkly empty. Have they still got something on Hawass, are they afraid that he has something on them, or is are they just punishing him by making it impossible to utilise his fame abroad to make a living?

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Focus on Metal Detecting: Its not what you tell them, but who you tell?



Gold Coins found and handed-in.

Outreach not needed in Tipperrary, outreach not heeded in Twinstead?
Hat tip to Nigel Swift for the headsup

Of Oil and Antiquities: Gianfranco Becchina

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David Gill reminds us ("Becchina: More Revelations from North American Museums?" January 29, 2013) of the significance of the archives seized in raids on storage facilities in Basel belonging to Gianfranco Becchina, owner of gallery Antike Kunst Palladion in May 2002 and September 2005.  Photos of some 10000 artefacts that passed through this dealer's hands are known. Where are these artefacts now? Where did they come from?

While awaiting the results of his appeal on his 2011 sentence for antiquities dealing, Beccina apparently currently produces olive oil from a villa and farm owned by Princess Pignatelli of Spain, located on the outskirts of Castelvetrano, a small city in southwestern Sicily near the ruins of the ancient Greek colony of Selinunte ('Olio Verde 2012 Extra Virgin Olive Oil Olio Novello 2012')
  

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: Bravo for the PAS, where would we be without its "Outreach"?


Am I allowed

Postby orion » Sun Jan 06, 2013 10:00 pm
Evening all. Just would like to know if I'm allowed to detect on land if it has a scheduled castle, but this castle is in private grounds and the owner said yes I can :-/ and his house is listed
Apparently that the owner's house too is listed makes all the diffrerence.

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: Not Dobbing in the Thief


An Essex metal detectorist has this tale to tell ("Sheddy" Mon Jan 28, 2013 6:17 pmLegendary Old Boy gives Amazing Permission'). He'd gone knocking on doors with a friend to get permission to go artefact hunting to a very old house (one of the oldest inhabited ones in the county) but were refused, "as they already had someone detecting the land". They however were received in a hospitable fashion and invited to have a look at what the other detectorist had found:
The lady of the house made us a nice cuppa and they showed us some pocketed folders of what this detectorist had found over the years ... he'd apparently handed EVERYTHING he found over to them (except scrap) after he had cleaned and identified it. It was a stunning record .... especially stunning as there were no hammys with any real detail on, no roman silvers, no broaches in decent condition but lots of knackered hammys, knackered broaches and plenty of grots, buttons and other "stuff". there wasn't anything of any financial value. I very gently asked if it was a complete record of if the good stuff was elsewhere ... they assured us it was complete as the detectorist wasn't interested in the finds, only in building up a picture of the lands history. i didn't comment.
It was obvious to the two detectorists that the farmer was not receiving back all the finds discovered by this "finder", who was apparently doing some finder-keeping, despite his agreement with the landowner. Look at what then happened:
When we left the house they asked us to wait a moment ... and disappeared for a conflab. when they came back they said we could detect there but we had to do so on the same terms as the existing permission holder. We declined saying it would be a shame to usurp his research so far. there's no way we could go onto that land well knowing that the only way to be honest would be to dob another detectorist in who was obviously being less than honest. 
So, in detecting-think, being honest is keeping sztum when you see tekkie thieving going on? 

So how many other detectorists claiming not to be interested in the finds "only in building up a picture of the lands history" are pocketing the best stuff?

"dob in" vt.

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: Rent-a-Field Artefact Plundering

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There is a discussion going on over on a metal detecting forum near you about renting land and then hoiking out any artefacts there may be there. Opinions are divided, some say that it's a bad idea ("it'll give landowners ideas" - about what to do on their own land) while others see it as a viable option. One detectorist from Southend on Sea writes ("Sheddy", Sat Jan 26, 2013):
 I pay for my shooting grounds, I pay when i go fishing so if the whole detecting hobby went down the pay-as-you-go route then I really don't see a problem with it. Since I started detecting some 30 years ago I've benefited by a fair few £££'s. I've always seen my farmers right but I know that there are many detectorists who think nothing of hiding the choice finds and showing the farmer a pile of scrap. Why shouldn't the farmers benefit in some way from the plundering of their land?
Another ( "liamnolan" Sat Jan 26, 2013 7:52 pm ) points out that it could be good business:
If it costs £2000 a year to rent about 25 acres of awkward land that just happens to lie close to recorded history, then divide your costs by a group of ten buddies and you have your own land for £4 a week per person. You would need to have a good chat with your estate agent first and see what is held on file and then see if it has any historical value.
Coming back to the 'P' word, after being asked to consider what would happen should "detractors" see it used, "Sheddy" (Sat Jan 26, 2013 10:20 pm) defends his choice of vocabulary:
What single word descriptive would you use for seqarching a farmers land whilst pocketing the choice gear and showing the scrap? I couldn't care less about our detractors view, especially when they've pretty much hit the nail on the head. i've been in this game for a long time, I've seen the goody-two shoes portrait painted by ourselves on forums, I know what happens in truth. The Twinstead rally was proof of how detectorists really behave - IF any were needed. What would you call what we do?
Plundering the archaeological record for collectables seems about right to me too.

Of course there is a great difference in UK law between being a tenant (a renter of land) and the owner. Renting the field gives no rights to the archaeological finds buried in it - or the landowner's share of any Treasure Award.

AAMD Guidelines for Acquisition of Archaeological Material as "art"


It has just been announced that the Association of Art Museum Directors’s members voted today to approve "revisions to strengthen and clarify its guidelines for collecting archaeological material and ancient art" (that should be archaeological material AS "ancient art"). Full details will be publicly released upon the conclusion of AAMD’s meeting later this week.

Telling it Like it Isn't

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Kwame Opoku quite rightly points out in the comments to the post on Eakin's article on my other blog something I'd skipped over in my original presentation:
“Meanwhile, the looting that these cases were supposed to stop has gone on, possibly getting worse.” I do not recall anyone suggesting that the restitution of looted/stolen object would stop looting. Which government presented the cessation of looting as ground for requesting restitution of an art object?"
This is the Americans, misunderstanding the nature of the 1970 convention, through only seeing it through Article 9 and their own Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act. - neither of which I suspect many of them have never read from end to end with any kind of understanding...  Of course the purpose of returning stolen property to homeowners when thieves and fences are found with it in their posession is not to "stop burglaries".

Comment to:  Hugh Eakin 'The Great Giveback', the New York Times   January 26, 2013.

The Discussion of "the Great Giveback" by Hugh Eakin


Hugh Eakin's text The Great Giveback in the New York Times suggesting that claims of stolen property by foreign governments are "intimidating American museums" has aroused quite a bit of interest. I thought it might be helpful to set the responses out here.

1. Eakin's supporters

Judith Dobrzynski in artinfo.com () calls Eakin's piece "pitch-perfect" and claims journalists have not investigated claims and supported US museums in their efforts to hang on to stuff.

Cultural Property Observer Peter Tompa has a short piece on his lobbyblog called "" which it is interesting to see described on the Chasing Aphrodite Facebook page by Nikki Georgopulos: "That might just be the most nonsensical thing I've ever read".

Among those Tweeting the article are some who seem sympathetic to its premises: "
Twitter Trackbacks for The Great Giveback - New York Times

2. Polemecists
So far, most of the rest of the reactions question Eakin's point of view:

I wrote two pieces America's "Great Giveback".." in PACHI and another (with the same title) Cultural Property Repatriation News. I also did a brief follow-up piece.

Yesterday CultureGrrl entered the discussion with her text "Antiquities Antics: Hugh Eakin's Astonishing Anti-Repatriation Screed'
Hugh Eakin‘s distorted, often mistaken opinion piece [...] would best be ignored if it hadn’t been accorded the high-profile bully pulpit of a full-page spread in today’s NY Times “Review” section [...]  his misstatements and distortions regarding repatriations are likely to have been either deliberate or indicative of how much he has forgotten about what he once knew [...] his dubious, dangerous arguments demand a corrective.
She goes on to discuss an number of points whenere Eakin is wrong about the circumstances of past 'repatriations'.

 Lynda Albertson,  ARCA 's  CEO (Jan 27th) "Recapping the Villa Giulia Symposium - Italy’s Archaeological Looting, Then and Now" suggests Eakin may be wholly misrepresenting (may not know very much about) the motives of those asking for stuff back. 

David Gill has a nice long piece on his Looting Matters blog "Eakin: "Museums themselves are partly to blame" ..."
Hugh Eakin has written an important, but I believe flawed, piece on the return of antiquities for the New York Times.....
Rick St Hilaire responds in a text called "The Law of Repatriation under "The Great Giveback" "
He also calls the argument "flawed" and offers some legal observations. Eakin's "The Great Giveback":
overlooks the general principle that stolen property cannot be owned lawfully [...]  The article instead appears to encourage museums to retain tainted antiquities so long as they "have not been compelled by any legal ruling to give up the art." This assertion is fraught with risk for museums. [...] Eakin, meanwhile, maintains that unnamed "[c]ultural property lawyers say it is doubtful that foreign governments could have successfully claimed in court most of the works museums have handed over to them." This assertion is specious.
St Hilaire uses to illustrate his arguments an illicit kalpis purchased in good faith by the Toledo Museum of Art.

Derek Fincham adds his own comments "Reactions to Hugh Eakin's Anti-repatriation NYT Op-Ed"
[...]  piece by Hugh Eakin contained a stunning array of factual inaccuracies.[...] Having seen a looters pit and visiting these sites must I think cause any thinking person to change his or her views of the proper place for looted objects. Moreover, museums are repositories of works of art and cultural objects, but not at the expense of the rule of law. [...] But that's the casual indifference displayed by Eakin. 
Last, but most certainly not least, there is a really good text "Decoding Eakin: Behind ‘Extortion’ Claim, Fear the Floodgates Have Opened "Chasing Aphrodite blog",  Jan 29th 2013  which I would like to recommend as it sets the whole discussion neatly into context.
It is no coincidence that The Great Giveback, Hugh Eakin’s lengthy argument against the repatriation of looted antiquities, landed in The New York Times on Sunday, just as the directors of America’s leading art museums gathered in Kansas City for their annual meeting. [...] the series of reforms taken by many American museums in recent years — which include taking claims seriously and sending looted antiquities back to the countries from which they were stolen — are under attack from within. That brewing fight is the context for Eakin’s polemic, which notably takes aim not at source countries so much as museums like the Getty and Dallas that have embraced reforms and begun to proactively search their collections for problematic objects. With Philippe de Montebello retired and Jim Cuno forced to moderate his view by the Getty board, Eakin has emerged as the spokesman for the dissidents. [...] Eakin’s piece, then, is best understood as part of a broader effort to convince the public that claims involving looted antiquities are baseless and those who cave in to them, cowards. The reforms have not only failed to stop looting (a “scourge” often given lip service by museums, but never more.) They have “spurred a raft of extravagant new claims against museums — backed by menacing legal threats.” Unless American museums grow a backbone and fight these foreign claims to the death in court, Eakin suggests, someday soon they will be empty of ancient art. As he has done in the past, Eakin relies on a mosaic of selective facts and careful omissions to cobble together his argument.

A question which needs asking is also articulated here "the Museum Directors' Object Registry has become a tool for laundering suspect antiquities".


Finally, mention should be made of the 'Elginism' blog, which does not look so much at the issue of the rights and wrongs of US museums giving up their stolen stuff, but takes another angle about something Eakin says:   "The return of cultural treasures – and it wasn’t the Parthenon Marbles that opened the floodgates".

Monday, 28 January 2013

Confusion over Mali manuscripts

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There is some confusion today, exactly two years on from the looting of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, about the fate of the library of the Ahmed Baba Institute of Higher Islamic Studies and Research. This reportedly held between 30 000 and 40000 (depending on how they were counted) of the estimated 100,000 ancient manuscripts in Timbuktu. Scholars had only recently begun to catalog and digitise this vast group of documents, dating back to the 12th century. There are reports from the Malian security and military sources that the library was torched by retreating Islamist troops (who'd been using it as sleeping quarters) as the French forces approached the town. Timbuktu mayor Halley Ousmane, speaking from the capital Bamako, confirmed reports of the fire at the Ahmed Baba Centre for Documentation and Research, denouncing what he called a crime against culture (AFP, 'Liberation too late to save Timbuktu treasures from fleeing Islamists', the Australian,  January 29, 2013). The centre had been set up in 1973 and in 2009, a new building was opened following an agreement with South Africa to protect the manuscripts as African heritage. Timbuktu was for centuries a cosmopolitan city and a centre of Islamic learning. The Ahmed Baba Institute collection included
a wide array of court records and documents revealing international relations in the ancient world, giving them importance beyond Mali itself. The records may also have offered a window into the selling of slaves across the Sahara, shedding light on the roots of the trade. Many of them had not yet been read 
The fate of the historical heritage of Timbuktu has aroused international concern since radical Islamist rebels seized the city in April 2012 having seized the north of the country in the chaos that followed a military coup last March. The rebels instituted a regime of strict sharia law in the region. Previously, as widely reported in the world's press, there had been destruction of some of the city's historical monuments on religious grounds during the ten-month occupation. The city is rich in such monuments the mosques of Djingareyber, Sankore and Sidi Yahia, restored in the 16th century, are considered “essential examples of earthen architecture and of traditional maintenance techniques,” according to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee. Sidi Yahia had its gate destroyed last year (superstition had it that this gate would only be opened at the end of the world), but it is unclear how much Djingareyber and Sankore were damaged. Sufi tombs near these mosques were destroyed - local still worshipped at the sites as part of Sufi tradition, a practice that offended the religious radicals who overtook the city. It seems that the extremists destroyed all or almost all of the estimated 333 Timbuktu tombs dedicated to saints. The ancient sites around the city were also reportedly being looted during the unrest.

However there seem to be some doubts about the initial reports. Initially it was the mayor of Timbuktu who told the world's media that he has credible accounts of Islamist militants burning ancient manuscripts, but in fact he had fled to Bamako, so this is not first hand knowledge. Initial reports suggested two Timbuktu libraries had been burnt. Some manuscripts were hidden or 'in private hands' in the city or nearby before that and . The first images of a ransacked manuscript library in Timbuktu, showing they're not burned -- thousands of manuscripts are damaged or gone  (Sky News, 'Mali: French Troops Advance In Timbuktu',  Tuesday 29 January 2013.) There were disturbing images of ransacked manuscript library in Timbuktu, empty shelves in empty storage magazines. Early reports however suggested that one worker at Timbuktu library "says 3,000 manuscripts may be destroyed, but many were safely removed before jihadis arrived". There may have been "only 100 to 300 manuscripts in the ransacked library" but a larger number were temporarily stored in it last year according to 's Twitter stream. The "empty vaults" in the new Timbuktu library had always been empty, even before Islamists occupied it. So the report of "thousands stolen" may be incorrect (this seems a repeat of the early reports of the looting of the Iraqi Museum in Baghdad). Neither does the building seem to have been 'torched'. There are burnt papers visible in teh Sky news video, but are these ancient manuscripts from the library or papers detailing what the occupiers were doing which they did not want falling into French hands, or both?   The next few hours will no doubt resolve the question as more journalists arrive in the city.


 It will be interesting to see whether these reports about massive looting are an attempt by the Malian forces to distract attention from reports of abuses being committed as they take over rebel-held territory.
the International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda warned Mali over reports its army had committed abuses. Rights groups and journalists have reported allegations that Malian troops have executed suspects on the spot in towns recaptured during the offensive. “All those alleged to be responsible for serious crimes in Mali must be held accountable,” he warned. 
 The advance into Timbuktu, 1000 kilometres north of Bamako, came 18 days after the French launched their offensive to wrest the vast desert north from the Islamists in support of Malian troops.

UPDATE: See now: "Mali: Timbuktu Locals Saved Some of City’s Ancient Manuscripts from Islamists",  

BBC "In pictures: Timbuktu's manuscripts at the Ahmed Baba Institute",

Remembered: Second Anniversary

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Today is the second anniversary of the vandalism and looting in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. At five in the afternoon on 28th January, the police began withdrawing from the streets. At ten the Egyptian army took over the security role. What happened in and around the Museum in the 'missing' five hours has never been adequately explained. Neither are we yet sure what actually went missing, and much about the reported circumstances of the recovery of some items smacks of convenient fiction. There is a whole bundle of mutually conflicting reports about all of this, and no chance of any kind of official enquiry into what actually took place and who was behind it (and why). The world is just left to wonder.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

The Ringelblum Archives (Warsaw Ghetto)

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The Ringelblum Archives from the BBC...

Eakin's Latest Retwittered


UPDATE (Sunday, January 27, 2013)
 ... and twitted.

Lobboblogger says "Just Say No"
"Hugh Eakin has written a thoughtful piece  [...] 
 Perhaps if museums just said no to repatriation claims they might actually encourage some rational discussion of the real issues facing preservation of artifacts from the past. 
Talk about missing the point.  And who is it who is avoiding rational discussion of the real issues facing preservation of archaeological information about the past, the museums that surrender stolen goods they've happened to have bought from this or that antiquities dealer, or antiquities dealers and their lobbyists?

And Judith H. Dobrzynski (sic) in her "A Short Message About Museums And Antiquities" (January 27, 2013) reckons Eakin is "pitch perfect".

Wheras, far more satisfying, and informed, is the reaction from CultureGrrl, "Antiquities Antics: Hugh Eakin’s Astonishing Anti-Repatriation Screed" (27th Jan 2013). 

America's "Great Giveback"


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The New York Times has an Opinion piece by Hugh Eakin ('The Great Giveback',  NYT January 26, 2013) which I am surprised to see has not yet been trumpeted as vindication by the antiquity dealers lobbyists on their blogs. It illustrates quite clearly the robber baron attitude of entitlement, hypocrisy, xenophobia and supremecism when it comes to appropriating for their own uses other peoples' cultural property,  that internationally is losing America friends. Really disturbing:
The news has become astonishingly routine: a major American museum announces it is relinquishing extraordinary antiquities because a foreign government claims they were looted and has threatened legal action or other sanctions if it doesn’t get them back.  [...] Since 2006, more than 100 statues, bronzes, vases, mosaics and other works have left public collections in the United States.

Note the language of this article, "foreign government claims..." "statue of a Greek goddess was given to Italy", "agreed to send to Turkey...", "responding to trophy hunting from abroad"...

Eakin's gripe appears to be: 
In nearly every case, the museums have not been compelled by any legal ruling to give up the art, nor are they receiving compensation for doing so. And while a few of the returned works have been traced to particular sites or matched with other fragments residing in the claimant country, many of them have no known place of origin. 
He seems disturbed that US museums are caving in, not holding out like the SLAM attempted over that Ka Nefer Nefer mask. They just gave in to the pesky olive-skinned furriners.  Furriners who go so far in their insolence as sometimes to refuse to issue permits to archaeologists from other nations including the USA to dig up the archaeological heritage in their territories in response to them harbouring stolen (I almost feel Eakin would use scare quotes there) antiquities. How dare they? How dare they presume to say who should enter their sovereign territiory and for what purpose? Furthermore, he refers to these developments merely as:
rewarding the hardball tactics of foreign governments and impoverishing Americans’ access to the ancient world.  [...]  in zealously responding to trophy hunting from abroad, museums are [...]  making great art ever less available to their own patrons [...] museums [...] are supposed to be in the business of collecting and preserving art from every era, not giving it away.
He also warns that by coming to agreements with these persistent furriners, US museums:
[...]  have also spurred a raft of extravagant new claims  [..] museums’ relationships with foreign governments have become increasingly contingent upon giving in to unreasonable, and sometimes blatantly extortionary, demands.
 Well, I think that is enough of that. The guy steadfastly refuses to even hint that the Americans (demonised by "alarming stories of rogue curators and nefarious dealers") might actually be in the wrong here. That the proverbial Truth, Justice and the American Way might here not really being applied at all assiduously. Certainly I think we can all see a serial avoidance of an uncomfortable truth and a warping of a sense of justice in these writings. This is ridiculous, the US is not some banana republic with 80% of the population barely able to write their own name, its a nation that claims to have a responsible and enlightened society, to be a world leader and moral arbiter. Yet in writings like this we time and time again come across the expression of ideas which conflict with the moral stance one would expect from such a country. The stuff is stolen, if it somehow got into the USA and the original owner wants it back, why kick up such a fuss about handing it back, and how about saying "sorry"?

Eakin concedes that "museums themselves are partly to blame", then here comes the collectors mantra number one:
For decades, most antiquities available in the international art market that had not come from pre-20th century private collections lacked a known findspot and date of discovery. Museums figured they could collect these objects because they bought them in countries with legal antiquities markets and notified potential claimant governments when they bought them. 
What on earth is he talking about? What pre-20th century private collections coming onto that market have objects with "a known findspot and date of discovery"? So Mr Eakin is claiming that all of the 100 items that he bemoans being returned were "bought in countries with legal antiquities markets"? If there is a legal antiquities market, then the museums buying them would have no difficulty in coming into possession of documentation revealing the 100% licitness, legitimacy and legality of every one of those 100 items. How does Mr Eaking account therefore for their absence? In any case, many of the items were only purchased by museums in the US when the objects were already in the US, and it is how they got there that is in question. Secondly is Mr Eakin really convinced that in every one of those 100 cases, the purchasing museum actively "notified potential claimant governments when they bought them"?  As he himself points out,
Though they have involved tens of millions of dollars’ worth of art, the deals have not been made public [...] nor, for the most part, has the evidence on which they are based been disclosed. 
Neither, however, has that which the various US museums concerns use to justify their original acquisition.

Eakin then goes on to point out that "because the deals are premised on physical repatriation" the looting goes on; "in zealously responding to trophy hunting from abroad, museums are doing little to protect ancient heritage while making great art ever less available to their own patrons.

 But giving up objects has done little to halt the international trade in looted antiquities, while
“Has any of this affected the real evil, which is looting?” asks Stephen Urice, a cultural property lawyer at the University of Miami who has advised museums on restitution issues. “From what I see,” he adds, “it’s getting worse.” 
Part of the problem is that the US authorities apparently consider most of the time that getting the objects on the photo-op ICE tablecloths allowing the great and good to trot out their little superlative-filled  speeches for the press is the end of the job. As some of us (including cultural property lawyer Rick St Hilaire not quoted by Eakin) have been saying, that should be the beginning. The seizures should be used as the start of an aggressive truly international programme of going after the smugglers, their suppliers and the looters. Sending the stolen cars back to Hamburg with no investigation will self-evidently not catch the car thieves, and they will carry on thieving, and finding new ways to get the stolen goods smuggled across international borders.

Actually Mr Urice, the real evil is the no-questions-asked antiquities market which facilitates the making of profits for looting. The US no-questions-asked market unquestionably is pre-eminent among the most damaging.

Photo: Hugh Eakin (Authors at Harbourfront Centre)

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Marketing of the Dispositif Anti-Pillage Takes Off

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The day before yesterday I got a brochure in my mailbox (merci) today someone tweeted me their Facebook page. The Dispositif Anti-Pillage is on the market. A bit pricey, but what price protecting the heritage? The PAS will not approve of the French take on artefact hunting displayed there:




I am sure many of their "partners" are on the side of those that are seeking to disrupt this group by provocative postings (probably intended to induce its owners to make it private). This seems to be a general pattern when artefact hunters are in any way criticised.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Kwame Opoku on the "Declaration on ...Universal Museums", ten Years On.


Download Kwame Opoku, "Declaration on ...Universal Museums: Singular Failure of an Arrogant Imperialist Project" on MSN, as usual, hard hitting, copiously annotated and right.
The Declaration on the Importance and Value of the Universal Museum (DIVUM) of 2002 in now 10 years old. [...] The DIVUM is a very remarkable document that differs essentially from other declarations and documents that include in their title “Universal”, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Whereas the latter aims at uplifting mankind from the miserable and abject conditions into which it has been plunged by unjust and oppressive systems and conditions, DIVUM was aimed at consolidating the results of oppressive systems and preventing the victims from attempting to reverse the results of imperialist adventures. In effect DIVUM was advancing the argument that there should be no attempt to seek to reverse the transfer of artefacts that had been acquired under colonial and other violent and oppressive conditions [...] The British Museum which had engineered the whole project was not one of the signatories but the handwriting of the museum’s officials is all over the document; the language and style of the DIVUM can be traced to Bloomsbury, London.

Organized Crime and the illicit Antiquities Trade


The 'Trafficking Culture' folk are making much of the recent publication of one of the project team:
Dietzler, J. (2013) ‘On ‘Organized Crime’ in the illicit antiquities trade: moving beyond the definitional debate’, Trends in Organized Crime DOI 10.1007/s12117-012-9182-0
This takes a criminological approach to the problem and probably gives a foretaste of the work of the Glasgow project, so is worth examining.
"The question of whether organized crime [...] is involved in the illicit antiquities trade still remains".

Ms Dietzler seems to consider that there is little evidence that criminal organizations are involved in the illicit antiquity trade, she says its "stereotypical thinking" and assumptions. For this she wins dealer Wayne Sayles' friendship and gratitude as a "A rational voice in a sea of hyperbole". Unfortunately she offers no evidence in support of the opposite position, that a market such as this can function without the involvement of organized groups involved in getting the stuff from illegal source A to profitable market B.

She says we need to "get beyond the definitional debate" but it is unclear to me whether this means she thinks we do need a definition of what we understand by organized crime, or we do not (do we need a years-long debate on the definition of "rhino poacher" and "gun" before dealing with the slaughter of rhinos?).

Instead, Ms Dietzler says, we need to look at the mechanisms of the trade (duh). Then offers a singularly simplistic four stage model of the antiquities trade (just one 'transit country' ms Dietzler? Is that not, in fact often the crux of the problem under investigation in this paper?). In this model, we learn that "hotels" are in some way facilitators of the antiquities trade alongside archaeologists and museum curators (as "motivated offenders") and a few other enigmatic and otherwise unexplained characters, and the "Internet" is in four categories of the model at once. Apparently it is a product of "Routine Action Theory" RAT, but then is there really a "routine" way in which antiquities enter the global market? Frankly, I do not see how this helps, even if you give it a fancy title. While from one point of view it may be helpful to look at a process in short fragments, does that not risk losing sight of the whole and the connections between phenomena and facts? It is a shame Ms Dietzler did not test the usefulness of this model as an investigative tool by applying it to some real-life test cases - like the comparatively well-documented trade in Bulgarian (and other Balkan) dugups to western Europe, central Europe and the US, or the several recent Egyptian ones. Perhaps that will be a future project.

The text suffers from a surfeit of repetition of the same phrases throughout, and the literature Ms Dietzler cites is almost all in English, and a lot of it is produced by fellow project members.   

Vignette: Routine action or a network theory?

Egypt: Antiquities Don't Talk

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Egyptian police on Wednesday arrested a man, and confiscated a group of 863 artefacts from a man travelling on the Cairo-Suez highway, he was chased trying to escape from a police ambush after police stopped his vehicle for inspection. He has been detained pending further investigations.
The collection includes objects from ancient, Graeco-Roman, and Islamic periods of Egyptian history. Youssef Khalifa, head of the Confiscated Antiquities Section at the antiquities ministry, told Ahram Online that all the objects were genuine except for a dozen very accurate replicas. The collection includes 180 small amulets, 10 scarabs, 120 Ptolemaic coins, 407 bronze Roman coins and three Osirian wooden statues from the late period. There was also a very well preserved limestone basin from the Old Kingdom outlined with hieroglyphic text and the name of King Senefru's purification priest [...] A limestone stele depicting a bust of the god Ptah and a black granite statue of the goddess Hathor were also among the collection.
It is nice to see the question of the authenticity of the artefacts being addressed, so many times in recent months does it seem people were arrested for trafficking items which turned out to be replicas. So, these items were on their way to Suez and presumably for export out of Egypt. Of course amulets, scarabs and coins are easily smuggled, easy to introduce onto the no-questions asked market, they are among the staple money-circulators of today's antiquities trade. Dealers will pass them off as "from old collections" that just happen accidentally (again) to have lost any kind of paperwork confirming that beyond doubt, but (nudge-nudge, wink-wink - "you can take my word for it, or not buy it". Most collectors (nudge-nudge, wink-wink) do. They're not bothered. Not at all fussy.
Antiquities Minister Mohamed Ibrahim said early investigations prove the objects were stolen from illicit excavations at various archaeological sites ...
Which is the real reason why when they come onto the nudge-nudge, wink-wink antiquities market, they'll have no real paperwork. As the foreign nudgers and winkers to their eternal shame, well and fully know. Minister Mohamed Ibrahim is a bit optimistic thinking:
a team from the ministry would study every object to discover its original location.
They cannot tell that from the artefact. They might find out by appropriate persuasion of the man they arrested. 


Nevine El-Aref, 'Stolen Egyptian artefacts seized on Cairo-Suez highway' Al-Ahram, Thursday 24 Jan 2013.

Luxor Times: '863 genuine artefacts were seized on Cairo-Suez road' Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Vignette: establishing collecting histories, the hard way. 

Did Polish Artefact Hunters Remove Crown Property in Bedfordshire?

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Heritage Action took an interest in the activities of a group of Polish metal detectorists recently availing themselves of the hospitality of the British people with their dotty laws. Now ('Heritage High Treason in Bedfordshire?', 25/01/2013), the conservation group draws attention to a thread on a(n English) metal detecting forum about Crown Estate Land Permission?. It turns out that there is a question about the deposition of any finds, and HA raise the question of what has been happening to the artefacts this group found on this property. They are known to have been applying for export licences for some of the earlier finds. This year one club member however who lives outside the UK was showing ( 2012-09-27, 12:37 ) how he'd cleaned up one of his finds days after the 2012 rally, suggesting he'd already removed it from the UK. Is it likely that an export licence was applied for and issued so quickly? The whole thread, all seven pages showing the finds made (who's going to check the PAS database for them all?) is worth flicking through.

HA earlier, unsuccessfully, asked about the terms of any formal finds agreement these immigrants had with the Crown Estate, perhaps it is time the public saw it. What does the FLO know about this activity?

Another Sly-Worded Petition on Green Waste

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The tale goes on, now coiney Tony Abramson has begun yet another "petition on green waste". It's main message is cribbed from the other, metal detectorists', one: "shards of plastic, metal and glass and all kinds of other products, including chemicals and toxic substances, which puts at risk the health of wildlife, livestock, crops and humans". With a new twist:
 Moreover, there is irreversible damage to our heritage as these sites are no longer easily accessible to archaeologists and metal detectorists. 
Personally I know few archaeologists who have been prevented from accessing sites due to a bit of compost in the topsoil, included "plastic shards" or not.  The Portable Antiquities Scheme will no doubt soon be doing some fifteen-million quid archaeological outreach and telling people that manure and scattered farmyard waste are not actually a substantial hindrance to archaeological fieldwork. In fact non-ferrous scraps add significantly to the protection of sites from looting prior to archaeological fieldwork. As Mr Abramson says:
[contaminated green waste] prevent[s] detected sites (in the UK) from being productive
... 'productive' of collectables for the artefact hunter with a metal detector that is. I'd say the archaeologist who would investigate that site in another generation from now might see that rather as a boon than a problem.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Sayles awards Absolution


Commenting on a recent text on the transnational trade in illicit antiquities, veteran Wayne Sayles writes:
My own personal view, and that espoused by the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild, has always been that everyone in the cultural property arena must follow the laws that govern them. ...
 which rather reveals a misunderstanding of the whole idea of treating the phenomenon of the trade in antiquities as a network of transnationally interlinked systems involving the transfer of illicit antiquities from looter to collector. Bazza Thugwit, source-country metal detectorist is not bound by the laws of the US, and Wayne Sayles is not governed by the laws of Thugwit's country - so basically whatever transpires to the artefacts Mr T. digs up, and wherever those that Mr S. sells come from, the ACCG view is that "anything goes".

It seems Mr Sayles also missed a few other points made by the authoress in the article he imagines he has read.

Buying Saharan Antiquities and other Collectables

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"Following the recent attack on an Algerian gas plant, UK Prime Minister David Cameron says that the Sahara desert has turned into a haven for militant Islamists who are waging a jihad against the West. He says it will take decades to defeat them". 
Though obviously not the main source of funding for organizations needing to raise cash, it cannot be ignored that the money generated from the sale of illicitly-exported antiquities and geological specimens, meteorites in particular, to no-questions-asking dealers and collectors is one of the ways to achieve this. Collectors have a responsibility, surely, to ensure they buy such items only from known and verifiably (documented) kosher sources. Thousands of responsible collectors no doubt will be boycotting "arrowheads from the Saharah", plastic trilobites and NWA meteorites, won't they?

El-Hibeh and the Truth

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Holes in El Hibeh in 2005 shown on Google Earth,
compare that with those in Andy Dailey's accusatory article,
blaming them on the Post-Mubarak government of Egypt.

A few months ago I was among those energetically supporting the drive by a group of US scholars (the El-Hibeh excavation team) to get something done about reported ongoing looting at El Hibeh in Lower Egypt. I supported them while I could that is, in other words until they threw me off their Facebook awareness-arousing page for asking other archaeologists a question. It seems that US Egyptologists do not appreciate that. Which is a shame, as I personally think the conservation debate is one that should be out in the open.

Anyhow, something surfaced on another Facebook page, apparently cross posted from the El-Hibeh crowd's hang-out and advertising it. A careful look at this material rather gives a somewhat different view of the whole El-Hibeh affair and why Dr Redmount and her sidekicks don't like questioners. in this new production, one Andy Dailey, Carol Redmount's sidekick has published some photographic "evidence" of the "ongoing looting":
The pictures here are from Google Earth and show you the site in October 2009 and in December 2012. This gives you an idea of the level of destruction being meted out on Hibeh and sites throughout the country which the government has failed to protect. Please share and join us on the Save El Hibeh Egypt facebook page.
 Well, before you do, take a closer look at what these folk are dishing out. I do not know what experience Mr (?) Dailey has in archaeological (or any other) aerial photo interpretation, but whatever it is, it's clearly not enough. But actually that is not the issue, some deliberate deceit is apparently going on here. 

Showing the "December 2012" photos against the October 2009 series on Google Earth might convince some of the more superficially minded that there is a massive increase in looting. Those who look closer see something else. The "2009" photos in fact show the same holes, just lit differently (lesson 1 Mr Dailey, the interpretation of earthwork sites - check the lighting). The 2009 photos are fuzzy and unclear but do arguably show almost exactly the same landscape - so well before the 2011 coup.   

But then lesson two, Mr Dailey, would be "get as many different shots of the same site as you can". So even without straying far, we find that Google Earth has other overlays for El Hibeh. They are:
2nd Dec 2012 (the ones shown), 22nd March 2011 (not shown by Mr Dailey), the muddy ones taken 6th October 2009 (shown by Mr Dailey as "evidence"  - superficially they look smooth), very grainey ones of 7th Feb 2007 (not shown by Mr Dailey), 12th October 2005 (unfortunately not shown by Mr Dailey - a real omission, that), and 20th January 2005 (unfortunately not shown by Mr Dailey - a real omission, that). 
The reason why the omission by the El Hibeh campaigners of the two series of 2005 satellite photos is significant is (a) they are lit in a manner similar to the 2012 ones being the subject of discussion and - and more importantly - (b) they show more or less the same holes. While any holes at all in an ancient site (and I remain to be convinced that the ones shown in the photos are all looter's holes) are a shame, maybe even a tragedy, it seems to me the greater casualty here is the Truth. The holes Andy Dailey is apparently trying to pin on the current government were - the satellite photo evidence shows unequivocally - for the most part already there at the beginning of 2005.  So, how much of the other recent damage Carol Redmount and her fellows have been claiming at El Hibeh is in fact a similar misinterpretation, or misrepresentation of the evidence? 

One can only surmise what their motives are for such a bare-faced manipulation of the facts, but I think it might give a clue as to why they would be engaging in censorship of their Facebook propaganda page. 

This is the sort of exagerration and rabble-rousing that gets preservationists a bad name, and I for one, think this is reprehensible and irresponsible.

 
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