Sunday 6 July 2014

A Shot in the foot? Or Somebody Else's Despicable Verbal Tricks?

Once highly desirable, now cellar clutter
Wayne Sayles has been aroused by Nathan Elkins' recent brief text on the  Biblical Archaeology Review blog. One of the effects is a long post today ("A Shot in the Foot", Ancient Coin Collecting Sunday, July 06, 2014) in which the dealer tries, fruitlessly I would guess, to persuade people that demand does not stimulate supply of a commodity. Sayles denies that this is "factual or relevant" to the antiquities market. He therefore reacts to David Knell's comment "That collecting provides most of the motivation for looting is blatantly obvious to the rest of the world" with:
I'm not sure in this case who "the rest of the world" is, but Knell's statement did not seem all that obvious to me, and does not comport with scholarly opinions that cite poverty as the primary cause of cultural property looting.  Eliminating the private collecting of ancient coins clearly would not eliminate looting.  
So you won't need these
The rest of the world is the world outside the antiquities market that are watching and noting what they see. Whatever Wayne Sayles may think people think, that a demand for something provides most of the motivation for producing more of it is a concept blatantly obvious to the rest of the world. When there is a reduced demand for the little spool wheels of a cassette player, the factories in Taiwan making them go out of business. If those factories do not want to go out of business, the only thing they can do is to conduct a programme of hyping cassette players, trying to recreate an interest and demand for them. So it is with dugup artefacts; dissuade people from buying looted artefacts, the looters go out of business. Just think where that puts the dealer who profits from them.

Sayles claims "poverty is the primary cause of [collection directed exploitation]" well, that is not necessarily the truth. Those that exploit archaeological sites in the UK, the US, Holland and France to find items for collection or sale are not all poor by any means. Those that buy metal detectors and hire mechanical excavators to do it in the Balkans can hardly be so-termed. What however all these people do have in common is an outlet whereby they can turn the scraps they dig up (including stone, and ceramic) into cash. Some buy bread and butter, we know of at least one who bought a sports car - hardly a first choice for a "pauper". Mr Sayles seems never to have dug on an ancient site. He claims that those who do "will inevitably find precious metal objects that can be melted down for bullion if not sold intact". Really? That will be news to most archaeologists and artefact hunters. I have examined this scrap metal model before, issued those who think like Mr Sayles with a challenge, and since then none of them have taken it up (April 12th 2012: 'Testing the scrap seekers myth '). Maybe Mr Sayles might try to demonstrate the truthiness of his claim. Claiming that the "Near East" is in any way an exceptional case will not wash - I've dug in Egypt (just outside the Valley of the Kings no less) and visited their bazaars what he says is not true even of there. 

To make matters worse, Mr Sayles then pretends he has no idea what I am talking about when I refer to "Munich coin elves" (for clarity of discussion, I deal with that in another post). After that he blatantly misrepresents what I said in response to his weasel-worded comment that "the amount of looting in Britain is far less than that in Egypt". I pointed out that a rose called by any other name is the same rose, in Britain it is not illegal to dig up unprotected sites to recover collectables, in Egypt it is, which is why it is called "artefact hunting" in one country and "looting" in another.  The names are different but the amount and type of damage done are obviously the same. Mr Sayles is having none of that:
Barford suggests the term "collection driven exploitation" as an alternative to "looting" that should in his view be used "irrespective of what the law says about it."  He says, "This is a conservation issue, not one of collectors' rights by law or anything else."  I beg to differ.  It is ALL about law.  In a situation that is driven by law, how can anyone propose to act irrespective of what the law says?  America has a law that is clear and reasonable, the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act.
Bla bla. Note the two sleights of hand there. First of all he mutates my statement about the use of a term for an activity into a statement about doing the activity itself "irrespective of the law", a despicable enough trick. He then compounds it by immediately pretending that the US CCPIA is about artefact hunting. It is not, it is about smuggling, and the relevant law in the US (as any collector should know) is the Archaeological Resources Protection Act. I am talking about sites being trashed so dealers can turn a quick buck flogging paperless stuff off including to greedy collectors who do not give a tinkers where the stuff comes from. Here what the law says about it at the moment is barely relevant, we need to rewrite those laws to make more effective the controls on the digging of stuff up and illicit transfer of ownership by tightening up the trade (which in my opinion means scrapping that CCPIA and replacing it with something more suited to the current state of the market).

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