|Coin Elves (Arthur Rackham)|
In the ongoing discussion of Nathan Elkins' brief article in a US biblical archaeology magazine about the archaeological effects of looting, coin dealers and their supporters are trying desperately to deflect attention from the points being made. David Knell took as the starting point of one of his comments: “That collecting provides most of the motivation for looting is blatantly obvious to the rest of the world” (so, I'd say that's like the fact that paedophiles buy the stuff provides most of the motivation for the production of kiddie porn, or the fact that people buy pirated DVDs is the reason why criminals produce them, or that people pay bribes to get what they want is the reason why corrupt individuals ask for them). These things are blatantly obvious to the rest of the world, but veteran dealer and campaigner Wayne Sayles is not having any of this.
I think that is an inaccurate characterization. The amount of looting in Britain is far less than that in Egypt, for example, if one believes the media reports. Does that mean there are many more (or more voracious) collectors of Egyptian artifacts than there are of Romano-British or Celtic objects? If so, the ancient coin market does not reflect that. A rational person might conclude instead that the differing degrees reflect differing cultural property laws and societal concerns over perservation in the two countries.
A rational person considering the number of metal detectorists in Britain (probably 16000+) would conclude that they seek historical objects to collect or sell, whatever you may call the activity. An irrational person might conclude that they get their artefacts from the Munich coin elves and the possession of a metal detector and cosmetically-muddied spade displayed in the back porch is just a badge of honour. Let's stick though with the rational folk.
This is what the PAS has brought us to. Artefact hunting with a metal detector is not seen in Britain as anything erosive due to the propagation by the PAS of a one-sided pro-collecting message. The whole series of nuances surrounding the issue have been blurred, and as we see above, one result of this is that we see this blurred notion presented as a 'fact' by those urging irrationality across the Atlantic. The PAS is failing utterly to inform not only the British public, but all engaged in any form of heritage debate.
Let us see whether there is a more accurate to characterise what is happening. We need a term to characterize the activity which is the topic of discussion, independently of the legal framework in which it takes place (restrictive in the case of Egypt and Greece and liberal in countries like the UK and USA). The archaeological erosion and damage done is the same whatever the lawmakers think about it and "societal concerns" may be.
I propose using the term 'Collection Driven Exploitation (CDE)' of archaeological and historical resources for personal entertainment and profit for the issue of concern here, irrespective of what the law says about it. This is a conservation issue, not one of collectors' rights by law or anything else. The term is all the more useful as it not only resolves the pointless "not it isn't/yes it is" sillyness of the argument whether the no questions-asked market is encouraging digging over of archaeological sites to produce collectables (note the distinction between 'collection-driven' and 'collector-driven'). It also forces the supporters of a PAS-come-hither-pat-on-the-head-type approach to consider that what artefact hunters are doing to the archaeological record, no matter how much we try to "record" the effects, is doing something other than apply an archaeological methodology to its study. It is collection-driven.