Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Bland on the ACCG

R. Bland 2013 'Response: the Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme', Internet Archaeology 33. http://dx.doi.org/10.11141/ia.33.8
Lastly a US-based contributor, Wayne Sayles, presents a defence of the private collecting of antiquities. Sayles is Executive Director of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild, a lobby group that defends the rights of collectors and which fights a running battle against attempts by foreign governments seeking bilateral agreements with the US under the 1983 Cultural Property Implementation Act to restrict the importation of antiquities from their countries.
I am afraid that there is much that is self-serving here. For example, when Sayles condemns the 'intractable claims from the archaeological community that no object from antiquity is of value to society unless its precise archaeological context is known, recorded, and verifiable', one wonders whether he has any appreciation of just how important the information that can be gained from recording a find in its context is. Even more sweeping is his claim 'even if an argument might be made for national retention of certain types, or exceptional examples, of certain artefacts, rarely can a case be made that utilitarian objects like coins are culturally significant objects...'. For someone who writes books about coins, this seems a strange statement indeed.

Equally questionable is Sayles's evident outrage at the fact that 'some archaeologists argue that the looting of ancient sites would not occur were it not for the private collector market': it is self-evident that the reason people loot sites is to recover objects that they can sell. What Sayles should have asked is whether it is ever practical to suppress this market completely, since it has probably existed for almost as long as the artefacts themselves. Even if a state could successfully suppress this market within its own territory, it is highly unlikely that it could ever prevent the outflow of cultural objects to other countries where such a market exists. There may be a valid argument to be made for a private market in antiquities, and the Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme in England and Wales was established within the context of a régime where such a market exists, but Sayles's bombastic contribution totally fails to make that case.
I am unshaken in my conviction, whatever I may say in the specific context of matters I discuss on this blog, Roger Bland - whom I have never met - is a thoroughly decent bloke and it is a pleasure to find at least one time when I can say hand-on-heart that here, he is absolutely right.

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