Friday, 31 January 2014

Remind you of Something?

These feet seem to ring a bell.

Vernon Silver, 'The Apollo of Gaza: Hamas's Ancient Bronze Statue', Bloomsburg's Business week, January 30, 2014

Looted Mithraic Relief Re-Assembled: Snout on a Stick Still Missing

Relief with a hole, a hole caused by looters and collectors

A relief in a cave used for Mithraic worship at Tor Cervara in Rome was broken into pieces and the fragments were stolen and scattered on the art market. In the mid 1960s the fragments remaining in the cave were pieced together making up part of the tauromachia, bullfight scene in the Museo delle Terme in Rome. The bull's head and the a part of the upper body and head of the god Mithras were missing. Because the relief remained incomplete, it was moved to the stores.

In 1976 an art dealer in Bern offered the Badische Landesmuseum the head of a Mithraic relief. The museum conducted a search to determine whether such an item had been reported stolen, when finding no trace of such a report, they bought the head for 60,000 D- Mark even though there was no record of where it had come from.

The Karlsruhe Mithras head was identified as the  missing part of the relief in Rome in 1987 by the Swiss archaeologist Rolf Stucky. The Karlsruhe Mithras was acquired before germany became party to the 1970 UNESCO Convention - so the Italians cannot claim it back. Instead at the end of last year, the Museo delle Terme sent the relief  to Karlsruhe, where it was joined to the head. The completed Mithras Relief - only the head of the bull is still missing - appeared in the  Karlsruhe exhibition "Empire of the Gods". After completion of the exhibition in May, the completed relief will be shown in Italy for ten years. In return, Karlsruhe then gets a loan from Rome.

 'Der fehlende Kopf kam aus der Schweiz' Tages Anzeiger 30.01.2014

Karlruhe's loose 60000 DM head-on-a-stick, as "art",  no sense at all without the rest, and without knowing where it came from:

So which selfish collector of "ancient art" has the ever-so artistic "snout on a stick" hidden away?

and why? 

Vernon Silver on the "Apollo of Gaza"

There is quite a lengthy writeup of some of the problems surrounding a recent statue find: Vernon Silver, 'The Apollo of Gaza: Hamas's Ancient Bronze Statue', Bloomsburg's Business week, January 30, 2014. "A thicket of issues surrounding the Apollo’s provenance and ownership will make it hard to establish legal title".

The official story has it being found underwater on Aug. 16 2013, by a fisherman,  Jouda Ghurab from Deir al-Balah (about 8 miles southwest of Gaza City). He raised it and then it was taken by his cousins belonging to Hamas’s militant wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades.* It was moved to Beit Lahia, where attempts were made to interest local collector Jawdat Khoudary in it in September. He alerted officials from the Hamas government who seized the artefact.
Thomas Bauzou, a professor of ancient history at France’s Université d’Orléans [...]  corresponded with the Gaza Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, using photographs to assess the bronze. “This statue is a major discovery,” he wrote in a Sept. 23 letter [...] Bauzou concluded from his research that the statue dated from between the 5th century B.C. and 2nd century A.D.
The statue already seems to be breaking out in bronze disease (chloride corrosion) and urgently needs specialist care. The problem with this is:
Gaza is governed by Hamas, the Islamist movement considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. and the European Union. [...] Any purchase of the bronze from Hamas by a U.S. or European museum or collector would risk violating sanctions against financing terrorism. [...]  In the hands of the Hamas government, the bronze is worth more than just money. The most valuable reward would be recognition of any kind by U.S. or European institutions and governments. Even the slightest cooperation, say, over restoration, sale, or loan of the statue, could open the diplomatic door a crack. “This case is fiendishly difficult,” says Sam Hardy, a British archaeologist whose Conflict Antiquities website tracks the use of looted artifacts to fund war. “National and international laws make it difficult to assist the administration in the West Bank, let alone that in the Gaza Strip. Indeed, any sale or leasing of the statue might normalize looting of antiquities as a funding stream for Hamas.” [...]

A curious episode in the story was that on the 10th of October, seller "thn87" offered the Apollo of Gaza for sale on eBay, starting bid, $500,000. Shipping was listed as “Free Local Pickup” in Gaza—which was either optimistic, a joke, or a scam to get someone to pay a deposit. In addition to this, there are a number of holes in the discovery of the statue:
Neither Humbert nor Bauzou believes Ghurab discovered the bronze underwater. “It does not come from the sea. It’s obvious,” Bauzou says. The giveaway, they say, is the lack of any sea encrustation or damage from hundreds of years underwater. Instead, they suspect the bronze came from a clandestine excavation somewhere on land. “This story has been fabricated to hide the real place where the statue was found so they can continue digging.” In the antiquities racket, which is riddled with scams and fakes, crazier things have happened. In this case, if it turned out the bronze came from, say, a pilfered temple complex, it would be much more toxic for museums than a chance underwater find. [...]  It’s possible the fisherman’s story is an elaborate hoax. It is true the Apollo isn’t encrusted with barnacles, but not all submerged bronzes get crusty [...] the Riace bronzes from 1972 appear to have come ashore with skin as smooth as that of the Gaza bronze. 
See also:
Sam Hardy, 'The Apollo of Gaza: 'nobody can say, “I didn't know where it came from'... Conflict antiquities Oct 13, 2013

Sam Hardy, 'The Apollo of Gaza: less innocent origins, equally problematic destinations', Conflict antiquities  October 16, 2013

Sam Hardy, 'Who ran the eBay auction of the Gaza Apollo?' Conflict antiquities October 25, 2013

Elder of Ziyon, 'The strange case of the Gaza Apollo statue (update)', the elder of ziyon Tuesday, October 15, 2013

* The brigades, which are known for their suicide bombings in Israel, are composed of a network of secret cells. They operate with some autonomy from the Hamas political movement, which runs Gaza.

Mount Carnic Archaeological Permit Withdrawn

Stephen McGrath of the Independent ('Key archeological permit suspended for Gabriel Resources’ Rosia Montana gold mine') is reporting:
A tribunal in Romania has suspended a key archeological discharge certificate (ADC) of Gabriel Resources – a Canadian miner - for the exploitation of gold and silver at Rosia Montana’s Mount Carnic [...] Mount Carnic has some of the oldest Roman gold mine galleries in the world, and is being called for recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site by campaign groups. ADCs are required by European law for various parts of the proposed mine to ensure that historical artifacts will be protected.

Read more:
Gabriel Resources gold plans suffer setback, as Romanian parliament rejects mining law  
Romanian gold rush cancelled as protesters defeat Europe's biggest mine  

The Damage at Cairo's Islamic Museum

I have not written about the damage caused to Cairo's Islamic Museum due to a truck bomb blast on Jan. 24 2014 outside Cairo’s police headquarters across the street, killing four people and injuring 76. The bomb consisted of 500 kilograms of TNT, detonated just 25 meters from the museum. It seems separatists from Sinai were responsible. The museum’s collection of artefacts focussed on Islam’s Golden Era and representing Islamic history from the Umayyads in the seventh century to the Ottoman period in the 19th. There has been extensive media coverage elsewhere, but the reports about the damage caused were conflicting, some reporting near total destruction of all the exhibits, others playing down the damage. Certainly photographs show extensive damage to the building itself, which though serious were mainly superficial, not affecting the structural core. The façade was damaged, windows blown in, ceilings collapsed. The blast tore through the 111-year-old museum, blowing out windows and sending metal and glass flying through its halls. A water pipe in one of the upper stories was ruptured, sending water cascading down onto some of the collection.

Egypt’s minister of antiquities, Mohamed Ibrahim, said on Friday that 74 precious artifacts had been destroyed and that 90 were damaged, but repairable. The museum had nearly 1,471 artifacts on display in 25 galleries and 96,000 objects in storage. Situated near Islamic Cairo, the museum building, with its impressive neo-Mameluke facade, had recently undergone a six-year, $10 million renovation. The complex includes Egypt’s National Library on the second floor, where several rare manuscripts and papyri were also damaged.

Sarah Gauchjan, 'Triage for Treasures After a Bomb Blast Sorting Through the Rubble of Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo', New York Times Jan 31st 2014.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Relaunch of VAuctions

Worthy of note is the . After a hiatus of some six months, has relunched under the guidance of Barry Murphy, formerly senior numismatist at CNG, and Bill Puetz, founder of VCoins. The current sale, ending Thursday January 30 is the largest ever with more than 500 lots...

eBay Reportedly Agree to Suspend Selling Egyptian Antiquities

Could it be a much-overdue MOU or emergency import restrictions are on the way?
The Egyptian Embassy in Washington has reached an agreement with eBay, a leading online auction wbsite, to suspend selling Egyptian archaeological pieces in its internet auctions. Egyptian Ambassador to the US Mohamed Tawfiq said eBay company officials have expressed preparedness to cooperate with the Egyptian government since starting talks in this respect in October 2013.

He noted that several US associations, like Capitol Archaeological Institute, are ready to cooperate with the Egyptian government to buoy up its efforts to prevent stealing, smuggling and selling of Egyptian antiquities.

These efforts coincide with the embassy’s arrangement for a visit by Egyptian Minister of Antiquities to the US for talks on cooperation in curbing Egyptian antiquities smuggling and renovating some Egyptian archaeological sites, he added. 
Source: 'Egyptian embassy in US, eBay agree to suspend selling antiquities', The Cairo Post,  Jan. 29, 2014

At the moment, 29th Jan 12:AM, there are 2,476 Egyptian (or 'Egyptian') antiquities on Of these 1213 are being sold by US sellers (and 82 by other "N. American" sellers - Canadian I guess). A lot of it is complete crap, not even resembling real antiquities (but people are bidding on them). 

Here is the problem, everybody knows that a lot of the eBay antiquities are not real, so are the sellers of real dodgy artefacts just going to dodge the issue and say in their descriptions "no guarantee of authenticity - you decide" and thus carry on selling the same stock regardless of the ban? Or are eBay  as good as their word, and going to shut down the entire category? (What do we reckon, eBay "as good as their word"? Anyone?). Let us see. 

There are one or two dealers of such things on eBay I'd like to see inconvenienced by this, if not shut down. Their stuff is obviously real and has no paperwork mentioned, and ever-so-vague collecting histories. There are one or two dealers cheekily selling what to my eye are dangerous fakes at very high prices. I'd like to see them prosper for the simple reason that it's the one way I think carefree collectors are going to learn that finding out exactly where something came from and got on the market is important, and that seems to me to be the only way to stop no-questions-asked dealing. 

All eyes will be on eBay over the coming months. And what about the brick and mortar dealers? Will they be joining Messers Sayles, Welsh and Tompa in their efforts to grind the US Gubn'mint down over import restrictions by their tiresome protests and stunts? Or, unlike that lot, will the other dealers accept that the situation on the antiquities market long ago reached a crisis point when something has to be done to maintain a clean market and responsible collecting?

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Even Though There is no Warranty of Authenticity, Buyer Still Entitled to Refund

There is an interesting post on the Oostwaard Advocaten legal blog ('No warranty of authenticity, buyer nevertheless gets a refund', Versturen 27 January 2014), and I think it has some application to the current no-questions-asked market in dugup antiquities. A Dutch collector bought four bronze sculptures some signed which were reportedly represented as the work of Rodin and Giacometti by the reputable gallery ("European Fine Art") selling them. When experts later labelled the sculptures as mere copies the collector demanded his money back. The gallery refused because they insist that they had "not warranted authenticity" (an old eBay seller get-out). The matter came before the Court of Appeals of Arnhem-Leeuwarden, which had to decide whether an error had been committed by the seller or buyer and thus "whether seller or buyer should bear the risk of the incorrect attribution". The seller argued that this was a case of caveat emptor, the buyer had got the sculptures at a price which was "significantly lower than the market value of similar bronzes of which the authenticity is a certainty". The final judgement of the Appellate Court is of interest with regard to the current state of the antiquities trade, with its risk of buying masked illicit and fake items. It was decided that it was the seller who should have observed greater level of care, the gallery had not
"made a (sufficiently clear) proviso that the sold sculptures might not be authentic [...] [and] had failed to disclose the reasons to doubt the authenticity. Given the seller's knowledge of the provenance of the sculptures, the seller should have known that there was a significant chance that the sculptures were not "the real deal". In short, seller should have provided more clarity on the level of certainty of the authenticity. [...] Whether the seller issued a warranty of authenticity is irrelevant: he should have observed more clarity and transparency.

After all, getting reliable, informed and accurate information about the object is one of the reasons one patronises reputable vendors. The sale (approximately 180.000 euro in total) was anulled by the Appellate Court which obliged the gallery to refund the purchase price.

Unlike certain other blogs of the genre, the Oostwaard Advocaten give  collectors sound advice. They note that the case illustrates the importance of clarity and disclosure in art sales transactions very well. The seller is obliged to make a sufficiently explicit proviso that items like this might not be authentic:  
When in doubt, selling galleries are well advised to disclose the risk of non-authenticity (and to adequately record that disclosure). Buyers of art can take heed as well: it took this collector six years to learn that he was entitled to a refund. An important disputed fact was whether the seller had made firm statements on the authenticity of the sculptures. From witness testimonies it became apparent that this particular collector felt it was generally "not done" to outright inquire about authenticity with a professional seller. In the next art sales transaction, as this case about the sculptures shows, buyers may want to consider not shying away from the (important) questions: "is it genuine" and "how do you know it's genuine"? And, better yet, getting something on paper to this end. 
What about adding "and of licit origin" to whether it is fake or not?

Antiquity dealers might be interested in the link the Kunst und Recht blog gives to the original judgement (in Dutch)


Metal Detecting Looter Caught in Calabria

L'uomo ripreso in azione agli scavi
di Capo Colonna
Police on Tuesday arrested a 34-year-old man as he was trying to abscond with artifacts from Capo Colonna Archaeological Park near Crotone, a port city facing towards Greece in the southern Calabria region. The would-be robber, who was identified by the initials I.F., was caught by a metal detector (sic) as he attempted to leave the 30,000-square-meter-park on a promontory overlooking the Tarentine Gulf with his loot.
This story was reported like that in The Archaeology News Network, 29th January 2014, confusing many people.

Going back to the original text makes things a little clearer: 'Crotone, scavava nell'area di Capo Colonna Arrestato giovane e recuperati molti reperti' Il Quotidiano della Calabria  28th January 2014.  The man was caught in the course of his clandestine digging scanning ("with the most modern generation of metal detector") the terrain of the archaeological area of ​​Capo Colonna. Several artefacts were found in his home, and he is now being prosecuted:
Usava un metal detector di ultima generazione per indivuare sottoterra i reperti dell'antica Crotone ma i militari del Nucleo di tutela del patrimonio di Cosenza assieme ai colleghi della compagnia di Crotone lo hanno preso proprio mentre cercava nuovo frammenti di storia [...] l’arrestato è stato notato accedere a bordo di un autoveicolo all’interno dell’insediamento archeologico e colto in flagranza di reato mentre si impossessava di svariati reperti, recuperati grazie all’ausilio di un metal detector di ultima generazione. Le successive investigazioni e perquisizioni domiciliari hanno consentito di acquisire ulteriori elementi a carico di un altro giovane incensurato di Isola Capo Rizzuto. I reati per i quali si procede sono violazione in materia di ricerche archeologiche, impossessamento illecito di beni culturali e danneggiamento aggravato. 

Good! New Forum for Discussing PAS

Obviously timed in order to integrate with the launch of the PAS Audience Survey, there is a new forum for members of the public to discuss the publicly funded outreach Scheme on everybody's lips. Create an account now and tell them what you think and ask any questions you may have about the Scheme's work and its relationship to the preservation of Britain's archaeological heritage: "Welcome to Scheme discussion" .

UPDATE 29th January 2014
Oh look, they've just now changed the name.  So, the new forum where the public can interact with the Scheme and it can interact with its audience (of finders of all types, members of the public, museums people, policemen, archaeologists and heritage professionals) must be somewhere else then, mustn't it?

The "Crosby Garrett" Helmet in London Again

from BM Twitter feed
Billed as "what the Romans wore to play ancient war games", the Crosby Garrett Helmet is now on display in the British Museum. Certainly during the mounting of the object for display in one of Britain's premier museums, the conservation department will have been involved to make sure no damage comes to it while in BM hands. Presumably then, they'll have written some kind of protocol and maybe a report. It would be very interesting to learn what they wrote about the restoration and current state of the object. I doubt though that we will get to hear of it.

In the photo of the object in the BM twitter feed, you can well see the clunked peak, one of the few things not hammered out in the under-the-arches restoration. One feels that one possible reason for that is that if it were straightened, it would be even more obvious that the curved base of the griffin apparently does not match the curve of the peak. And what would the Helmet be without its griffin?

No-Questions-Asking UK Academic Reads a Freshly-Uncovered Ripped-up Papyrus from Unknown Source

Classicist scholars are getting excited about a bit of ripped-up papyrus belonging to an "anonymous collector" and bought on the antiquities black market. Because of that nobody knows where and with what the papyrus was found. The papyrus:
probably came from Egypt and perhaps from Oxyrynchus, but its provenance may never be known. A thriving black market for papyri means that many of them emerge not from archaeological digs but from souks, bazaars and antiquities shops. [...]  the owner of an ancient papyrus, dating to the 3rd century A.D., consulted an Oxford classicist, Dirk Obbink, about the Greek writing on the tattered scrap. Dr. Obbink [...]  quickly realized the importance of what the papyrus contained and asked its owner for permission to publish it. His article, which includes a transcription of the fragmentary poems, will appear in a scholarly journal this spring, but an on-line version has already been released.
There is nothing, not a word, in the draft article for Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik to indicate that the author (from Christ Church College) thought for a moment about when and how the item he is discussing left the source country, let alone anything (not a single word) to indicate that it has been out of the ground and out of the source country any length of time. Indeed, quite the opposite, the author describes (page 2 of his text) it as "a newly uncovered papyrus".  Dr Obbink notes that the fragment he discusses was in the same handwriting as something called "P. GC. inv. 105", but what that piece of papyrological jargon means for the context of discovery I could not say. The scholar reckons it is the sixth poem to be found from the output of Sappho. The collector is unnamed, but his purchase of a ripped up bit of history has just increased in financial value many-fold by virtue of Dr Obbink's publication and publicity. I am sure he beamed broadly as he warmly shook the academic's hand when he got "his" ripped up bit of papyrus back. Now Dr Obbink, wash your hands.

I do not know what Code of Ethics Oxford papyrologists (or University of Oxford academics or Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik) work to. I do hope though that if Dr Obbink in his Oxford college study was asked to look after some laptops on behalf of a bloke he met in the pub, and came to realise they had been "freshly" stolen from the computer shop down the road, that he'd not just hand them back to the bloke, but he'd take them to the police. Remember the principled stand of Michael Müller-Karpe (here, here, here, here, but see also here)? Would Oxford University turn a blind eye to 'Antikenhehlerei' if it produces good stuff for its scholars to write about? Would they allow handling of potentially stolen goods on the premises?

Note how the piece illustrated above has been ripped into a square shape. Quite a lot of freshly-surfaced papyri are treated in this manner by the trade, they then go into frames which can then hang on a den wall, to make it look like a person of culture lives there -  instead of a no-questions-asking looter-financing Philistine.

Source: James Romm, 'Scholars Discover New Poems from Ancient Greek Poetess Sappho', Daily Beast 28th January 2014.

Vignette: Stock photo of decoratively-ripped collectable parchment fragment (Archaeology News Network, after Greek Reporter)

UPDATE 6th February 2014
It seems some Classicists have problems reading plain English:  A Reply to "Rosemary85" who Knows More About Papyrology than me. Note that this text is referring to one of the earlier accounts of the discovery, and was written before the TLS text which seems to shed light on some of the issues raised.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Egypt 28th Jan 2011: Museum at Dusk

Some time at the end of the day the staff of the Egyptian Museum go home for the day, leaving - according to the Minister of Antiquities writing the next day - just three guards on duty. The rest went home to their families. Although they were criticised for this in the light of what subsequently happened, it later emerged that the reason for this was reportedly that the Museum was full (?) of secret servicemen (from the Ministry of Interior most likely) who were using the security staff room and the museum's own security cameras (pointing at Tahrir Square) to monitor events in the Square. Reportedly the museum Director Tarek al-Adly was with them. 

Egypt Three years Ago, 28th January 2011

Egypt 28th January 2011: at 4pm, on "Friday of rage" after a violent confrontation with police, came a turning point for the uprising. The police dropped their guns, officers disappeared.

At about this time also a substantial number of dangerous criminals were let out of jail, or escaped and the security situation changed dramatically all over the country. One of the freed men was Mohammed Morsi, in court today accused of "collaborating with Hamas and Hezbollah to escape Wadi-Natroun jail" in the wake of the revolution. 

Focus on UK Metal detecting: Pleeease Help us Help You

If you use the PAS database now you get this distracting little header "Can you help with our survey?"
The Portable Antiquities Scheme Central Unit is conducting a survey to help us understand our audiences and their interaction with the PAS and database a bit better. This will be very helpful in developing the PASt Explorers project to expand our volunteer base and reach new audiences, for which we are currently seeking funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund [...].
And the response on a metal detecting forum near you says everything about both the motivation and the end result of those taking part in the PAS survey. Liamnolan (Re: PAS Survey, Mon Jan 27, 2014 10:42 pm) writes (my emphasis, smiley omitted):
Lets not get sidetracked, this topic is about completing the survey. Discussion on the service delivery [sic!!] of the PAS staff can be carried on within the General Chat section [...].
Member "Dirt-fishing" (Mon Jan 27, 2014 10:51 pm) agrees:
Well said... Lets get this survey filled in and all show our interest in the success of the PAS...!
Except all the evidence from the forums indicates that the dullards don't quite seem to have got it that this is not what this survey is about.

You see, "The PAS Central Unit is conducting a survey..." is already eight words. If the press office had only omitted those two unnecessary words "central Unit", perhaps at least one tekkie reading beyond the eight-word limit which it would seem is most that many of them can manage, and spotting the beginning of the clause "to help", might have made the special effort to soldier on to the end of the sentence. Then he could report back to his "M8s" (with of course lots of frantically moving emoticons to attract and hold their attention) what the survey is really about. But, after fifteen years it seems the PAS still does not know how most effectively to liaise with their partners, keep it slow and low, short and simple.

UPDATE 29th Jan 2014
I'm hearing the explanation that the poor souls were confused by two different messages with different wording, although the meaning of both is the same, the PAS should have known that this would confuse  certain segments of its audience. Slow and low, short, simple and repetitively.

Vignette: PAS attempting to get an all-round view

Monday, 27 January 2014

The Reported Burial Place of the So-called Crosby Garrett Helmet

David Gill has a piece on the article by Mike Bishop and Stuart Noon with Matthew Symonds in the February issue (287) of Current Archaeology which has not reached me yet: 'The alleged burial place of the so-called Crosby Garrett helmet', Monday, January 27, 2014. He notes a number of inaccuracies and unanswered questions in the account:
Was the helmet found where it is claimed? The article comments, 'Unsubstantiated rumours speculated that perhaps the artefact had been found elsewhere, maybe even overseas, and that a faux findspot in the Hadrian's Wall hinterland was a way to secure a provenance'. So what is the evidence that the helmet was found in a hole near Crosby Garrett? "Minerva Heritage Ltd opened a small trench on the spot, which revealed that any cut made when the helmet was deposited had been destroyed when it was dug up in 2010". In other words, the metal-detectorists obliterated any archaeology that could have been there, and there is no compelling evidence that the helmet was found at this spot. Interestingly Noon suggests that the depth of soil, some 50 cm, was 'not sure the volume of soil would be enough' to have crushed the helmet in the way that it was presented. So, again, was it found here?
See also my text on the subject: "Crosby Garrett Helmet Findspot", Tuesday, 12 November 2013 [note who I cite there and compare that with the authorship of the recent article]. A question Gill does not ask is why, when the collapsed thin corroded metal sheet was buried half a metre down in pasture, it produced a signal at all. The excavations show that right next to the helmet findspot, more shallowly-buried coins were not detected and hoiked. What machine on what settings do the still-anonymous finders claim to have been using? What were the ground conditions when it was found? Metal detectorists delight in telling us all that their machines cannot go down that far and their hoiking is only from "six to eight inches" (15-21 cm). Here either somebody is not telling the truth, or these claims are in fact nonsense.

Why, actually, are the finders not coming forward to help explain the emerging discrepancies in the story of the discovery of this item? How much of this story have the PAS been able to verify and how? What is the grey gunk on the object in the PAS' photograph of it lying in a tray in Christie's before restoration, when and how did it get there?

Polish Museums as seen in Washington Fantasyland

National Museum courtyard

Arthur Houghton  reckons
there is a lot of cultural property in Polish museums that does not belong there [...] and should [...] be send (sic) back. [...] Next come the private collections of looted objects. He [Paul Barford, apparently] should give us a list. We can then decide how to act.
Now I do not know how many times Arthur Houghton has been in Poland, and what he did when he was here. I suspect it was not visit our museums. It is wholly unclear therefore where he gets his "information" from.  Once again though (" We can then decide how to act") we see that disagreeable characteristic of Washington to see itself as the policeman of the world, able to boss around the other nations and submit them to Washington's will. In reality, these people really have a very distorted view of the rest of the world, including Europe.

I have been meaning for some time to do a post on our national museum and its collections. In short, it is my assessment that due to a series of circumstances, they really do not include anything much which is dodgy. I think some of the medieval panel paintings in the National Museum that have come from the post-Yalta/Potsdam western territories should be displayed there rather than Warsaw, but that I am not alone in thinking this is illustrated by the way that certain items have already gone back. There is a whole load of Classical items from the Grand Tour period, with pukka nineteenth century pedigrees, the same for the (rather nice) ancient Egyptian collections, bulked out with loans. There is enough 'European art' with decent pedigrees to show the main trends. As far as I know there have been no recent Holocaust art claims on our paintings etc. This is how an almost encyclopaedic museum collection should look. There is some controversy about archival material and drawings which found its way to Poland after 1945 (from the Soviet Trophy Teams) which the Germans contest, but most of it came from institutions whose seats are now within Poland - but let's negotiate.

What one must remember is that this is but a shadow of what was destroyed, stolen and lost in the horrors of the Nazi occupation (1939-1945). If Mr Houghton has any first hand knowledge of Polish collections, he will have seen the glass case containing the preserved mass of compacted ashes of the books which is all that remains of one of the most important national library collections in this part of Europe deliberately torched by the Nazis. This serves as a poignant reminder of the untold millions of other pieces of cultural property of all types lost during those six horrible years. Vast numbers of artworks went missing from public as well as private collections, and remain lost (or hidden). Others were destroyed in military action (one of my favourites the Kammen Casket was probably destroyed when the train evacuating it was shelled). The most shocking thing is that much of it was callously and deliberately destroyed specifically to undermine Polish national identity, Warsaw did not have its Dietrich von Choltitz. These experiences are why over here in this part of Europe, we have a somewhat different attitude to cultural property than those collectors who lead a sheltered navel-gazing life in the USA who cannot even begin to imagine what happened here (and I doubt whether the Hollywood version of the "Monuments Men" will do anything to inform them).

Mr Houghton should be aware that post-1945 economic factors precluded rebuilding the lost collections by purchase of looted art on the western markets. The same goes for private collectors, in the period 1945-1989 the tendency was rather sell abroad than buy abroad, and market oppotunities within the People's Republic were "somewhat limited".

So I really do not know what Mr Houghton is on about, this seems the next in a series of spiteful and irrational xenophobic outbursts of his, and like the rest without any substantial foundation. 

Who Cares What Peter Tompa Thinks?

Over on the Cultural Property Observer blog, its host - believed to be one Peter Tompa the paid lobbyist of certain numismatic trade associations - decided he wanted to talk about the Heinrich Himmler letters stolen in May 1945 and later surfacing to feature in the tabloid press"Himmler Letters Now in Israel". He raises some point about whether where they should end up. The original post is then followed by a number of comments (11 in fact). In the first, Arthur Houghton asks him to post on his behalf some insultingly worded snipe at those who would prefer the stolen documents  to go to an archive housed with other related historical documents of the period in Germany (January 26, 2014 at 5:36 PM). This precedes a comment  (January 27, 2014 at 5:04 AM) from metal detectorist Dick Stout "explaining" to Mr Tompa's readers in provocative manner "what Mr Barford said" about the origin of these documents, though I wonder whether a lawyer's blog's readers actually need that explaining to them, especially by a metal detectorist.

Arthur Houghton comments again (January 27, 2014 at 8:30 AM). He begins with provocatively questioning what Mr Barford thinks about something he calls the "Auschwitz Panel" (painted - he says by "an SS guard" and removed from the monument at the end of the war - I suspect he is confused and is in fact referring to the Bruno Schulz murals from the Felix Landau house in Drohobycz - which is in Ukraine, not Poland. Arthur Houghton goes on in his comments to Peter Tompa's post to suggest that now the CPO blog has "exposed these little hypocrisies" (which ones he has in mind is left unclear), Mr Barford should make a list of the dodgy material Mr Houghton "knows" is in Polish museums so that "We can then decide how to act" as if Mr Houghton and his friends in Washington have any say in the matter of what Polish museums can and cannot curate. The very idea.

The happy slapping then continues with a comment by British metal detectorist John Howland. He chimes in with some obtuse arguing responding to my comment on the Monuments Men, "... the small group of Allied servicemen who in May 1945 were saving 'Monuments, Fine Art and Archives' for us all,..." which he seems not to have understood (January 27, 2014 at 8:40 AM):
Could this be,one wonders,the same mysterious and hush-hush Unit referred to by Mr Barford that beavered away close to where Allied servicemen slaved,starved and died building the infamous Burma Railway* - not to rescue them, but to rescue certain Burmese temples of certain 'trinkets'.
Well, obviously not because the Monuments Men operated in Italy, France, Belgium, Holland and (western) Germany not Burma, and the the Burma Railway was finished in 1943 and nobody was discussing Burmese temple ornaments. I fail to see the connection. This is typical metal detectorist logical non sequitur, apparently more ad hominem provocation rather than any serious attempt to add something to the discussion of the topic under consideration.

And so it goes on. A real dog's dinner. Mr Tompa published something about the repatriation of stolen historical documents and the braying starts, not about the case under discussion, but what a guest on Mr Tompa's blog allegedly thinks, or "should" do. His commentators are intent on fighting battles of their own, utilising his blog as their platform, but with scant reference to what Mr Tompa had himself written in the post to which they are commenting. Once again, Bailey and Ehrenberg 's lobbyist has allowed the discussion on his blog to get out of hand, and his standards slide. He is increasingly prone to allowing the comments on his blog become merely insults directed at other commentators which diverge totally from the subject of the post.

But then, is this not precisely what the "Cultural Property Observer" blog is for? Is that not what he is paid to do on behalf of the dugup antiquity sellers? What substantive point did Peter Tompa actual make about the newly surfaced stolen material in his three-sentence post? Is it actually worth trying to take the CPO blog at all seriously, or is it of no more value as a resource of information and informed opinion than the metal detecting blog to which Mr Tompa links at the bottom of his page?

There are fortunately other blogs to which one can turn for a much more professional approach to the topic, such as Rick St Hilaire's resource and, for example, the Art Law blog of Oostwaard Advocaten at

* We see here another expression of the xenophobic chauvinism so prevalent in discussions in these circles.  I have long suspected from his anti-Polish comments elsewhere that this particular British detectorist sees the world more from the perspective of gung-ho cinema and lurid spy novels than on an assessment of real historical (or indeed basic geographical) facts. In the construction of the Burma railway it is well-known that far more romusha (forced labourers of Asian origin) were employed and proportionally far more (nearly 50% of them in fact) died than Allied prisoners. This was a cheap, disrespectful and unworthy comment.

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: Finding Anglo-Saxons, Rob a Grave

Helen Geake may not be so keen as she initially was to allow discussion of her thoughts on the use of the Early Medieval finds in the PAS database, but not so Toby Martin. Toby has had a look at the database with the aim of studying "Anglo-Saxons on the PAS: 2013 in Review (Part I)", These Fragments, January 27, 2014. Of the 45,000 items logged on the publicly available database over the course of 2013, he found 319 were of the early Anglo-Saxon period (defined as most of the 5th and 6th centuries, so that is just one chunk of the wider Early Medieval period looked at by Geake). This is of interest:
The vast majority of items recorded by the PAS from this period is not just brooches, but worn items of all varieties.  There’s a good reason for this – most of this material comes from disturbed graves. What we’re mostly looking at here are ploughed-out mortuary assemblages minus nearly all the ironwork and ceramics, obviously not recovered by metal detectorists looking for decorative metalwork.
That's quite an interesting observation, because Helen Geake in her Cambridge seminar apparently (pers. comm. in litt.) said that the reason the PAS data dated to the broader Early Medieval period differed from the  excavated material is because there is a "higher proportion of accidental losses, which are incredibly difficult to recover any other way". So one interpretation is that certain Early Medieval finds consist of accidental losses accidentally found by lucky searchers, the other that certain Early Medieval finds come from selective gathering from disturbed stratified contexts. Of course not insignificant is that there are published gazetteers of Anglo-Saxon cemetery sites (some are also indicated 'X-marks the spot' on old OS maps). To what extent are these finds coming from burial grounds targeted as potential productive sites by artefact hunters eager to do a bit of grave-robbing?

I missed an earlier post on Toby Martin's blog about "Bias in the PAS Database: The Case of Annular Brooches

What's Happening in Glasgow?

The Glasgow Trafficking Culture project got off to a flying start, but the website seems to reflect a lack of current activity, except news about the travels of various members of staff. There were ambitious plans to create an online resource (encyclopaedia)  but it does not seem to be going anywhere fast - there are a lot of high-profile Case Studies, but the section on "Law" is still empty. The all important sections on  Theory and Method and Terminology have only very selective and not very useful coverage. The former has only something about FOI requests, using the media, and surface and satellite surveillance of looted sites. The latter deals with "Treasure (England and Wales)", Fakes and Forgeries, "Tombarolo", "Huacero", "Nighthawk" which was quickly rewritten when discussed here - no acknowledgement for input of course , Subsistence Digging (of antiquities), "Illicit Antiquities", but not yet "metal detectorist".

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Illegal Metal Detecting in France

France loses at least half a million buried archaeological items to metal detector using pillagers each year, a group fighting the practice said on Wednesday.
Jean-David Desforges, head of the French association Stop the Pillage of Archaeological and Historical Heritage, told a conference that many objects from ancient Gaul, and Nazi artefacts from World War II were illegally dug up and sold by thousands of prospectors using metal detectors. "In the past few years, the illegal sale of objects has exploded on the internet," he said, despite legislation that stipulates that buried heritage is protected.
"Now, if only they had a PAS" one can almost hear a certain lobby gearing up to say... It is one of their silly thoughtless mantras.

So first you'd have to scrap the law intended to prevent the pillage of the archaeological record for collectables. Now I am sure artefact hunters and collectors would see that as a "positive" thing, but actually - is it? Then the next question is whether the ruffians doing the looting illegally now would actually in this imaginary future voluntarily report what they dig up, or would they carry on taking 500 000 pieces of the past out of the archaeological record, now alongside another few thousand additional artefact hunters facilitated by the new laws. Would destruction be increased or decreased? Would the new scheme lead to a reduction of the information missing because of the artefact hunting going on, or would it decrease even further relative to the scale? Would you need to set up artefact hunting and trading clubs and commercial site pilfering rallies in order to even make a dent in the data loss? How much would it all cost, and what would actually be the point?

Would it not be nice if we had some nuanced data from the only place where this happens now, England and (for the moment) Wales in order to model this? But we don't, we have only spin.

Preconditions for Instituting a PAS-clone Scheme Abroad

Nigel Swift of Heritage Action has published some thoughts on the necessary preconditions for setting up a PAS-clone abroad ('How to set up a Portable Antiquities Scheme: a guide for heritage professionals abroad' Heritage Journal, 26/01/2014). As we have seen this is a constant leitmotif of the collectors. US coin collectors consider that the US government "should' insist that other nations do this before trying to deal with the effects of smuggling (the logic of which escapes all but the most disfunctional of minds). Metal detectorists in the US and elsewhere (Poland included) want a PAS at home, because they can see from the situation unfolding in Britain how effectively it would legitimate their exploitive hobby.  

So Nigel Swift has produced a flowchart showing how it works (I've tweaked it a bit below).

At the bottom is the destruction going on, then above that the various processes involving what Nigel calls "ADWIM – avoidable depletion with inadequate mitigation” and then the various mechanisms by which the public is led by the PAS and heritage professionals in Great Britain to believe that artefact hunting and collecting are just what the British archaeological record needs and spending millions of pounds as a result is a good thing.

Over on the top left is the tally of the number of things praiseworthy, denied and about which there is simply embarrassed silence (much of it from Bloomsbury).  It's be even worse for countries that attempt to set up such a Scheme if first they do not create metal detecting clubs and commercial site-pilfering rallies as that is where the English and (for the moment) Welsh FLOs do a substantial part of their recording.

In terms of archaeological heritage management, what this chart shows is not so much proper administration (ADMIN) of the protection of the resource, but ADWIM, a bizarrely distorted form.

Government should make greater use of university academics as specialist consultants

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: Entitlement, who gives who what?

Pretty astounding this. Heritage Action are currently facing all sorts of sly abuse for their drawing attention to the attitudes of entitlement we see among UK detectorists (through 'Silas Brown' and the 'Code of Ethical Detecting'). I got a comment here which illustrates this perfectly. I wrote disapprovingly of a blogging detectorist who was crowing about another archaeological find dug up by Treasure hunters being flogged off through a coin dealer and making everyone a nice bit of cash. This was followed by a comment (25 January 2014 12:55) based no doubt on an acceptance of the usual tekkie lore:
I assume it was sold in order to give the landowners a share of the value. Much as I am in favour of donating finds like this, few detector users are wealthy enough to be able to fork out half of its value.
Spot the error in logic. The coin and its full value belong to the LANDOWNER. The coin does not need to be sold to give the landowner what belongs to him. It is not up to the finder to give the owner half the value of what is already his by the laws of the land. In reality objects like this are sold to give 'half the money' to the artefact hunter (metal detectorist). You know, those people who say they are "not-in-it-fer-the-money, just-the-histry" but then make the farmers sign agreements obliging them to give all away their property to (and split its value fifty-fifty with) a guest on their land.

Vignette: Tekkie weasel words with the sole purpose of cheating Farmer Brown.

Focus on Irresponsible Artefact Hunting: That Permission and Split-the-Cash Division

How to write a finds agreement section of a search permit with the landowner:
...with a copy of "the Searcher" turned to the "Identification and valuation desk" and "Saleroom scene" pages no doubt. Maybe the petitioning detectorist routinely leaves a copy with him to look over, so the landowner can see how much the average non-treasure find (buckle, fibula or average piece of grot) is valued there as being worth. I've got one open in front of me now, mundane objects, not coins: 30 quid, 120 quid, 120-150 quid, 45 quid, 90 quid, 70 quid, 20 quid, 40-50 quid, it all adds up.

How many farmers, countrywide are appraised of this sort of information BEFORE they sign that agreement? How many are appraised of that information (honestly) each time they agree to sign over yet another day's haul of bits and pieces from his fields?

Even if the detectorist himself does not sell the many accumulated bits, his heirs probably will, and if the finds are kept loose with no labels who gave permission to take them from where, that money will never get back to the landowner (or their heirs). And it should, shouldn't it?
It is strange, is it not, that in the typical "finds agreement templates" published on many UK artefact hunting forums and websites, it is precisely these issues which are omitted.

Head Shot to a Curator?

A US collector has a cunning plan which he sets forth on the "Cultural Property Observer" blog (January 25, 2014 at 1:46 PM),  he proposes sending a NATO snatch squad to Damascus:
one should be disturbed by the fact that some of the most important artifacts in the Near East rest in Syria, which is convulsed by civil war, and are at risk of being looted and destroyed or sold onward to rapacious markets in the Gulf or China.
He apparently thinks some of them belong in America:
Of particular concern is are the incredibly important paintings of the great Synagogue of Dura Europos, which when I last saw them had a room of their own in the depths of the Damascus Museum. I must tell you, I have discovered some interest in a possible NATO action to rescue these. It would take a very fast operation with limited forces and the technical ability to remove them from the walls, package them properly and then take them out, but I understand this capability exists. Perhaps this is a subject for another, quiet verbal discussion, but I did not want you to lose hope that nothing can be done.
Yes, in this collectors' fantasy world, US cultural property buffs will get into a nice warm Washingtonian huddle and chat about how they are going to send in their brave boys to remove these items by force from the source country to avoid some foreign rebels selling them to the Yellows or Eyerabs. I guess they'd also have to decide what to do if any official of the Syrian Ministry of Antiquities or a member of the Museum's staff tries to stop them. Head shot perhaps?

You can see  here (Yale Divinity School) the frescoes which Arthur Houghton III, distinguished Director of the US Cultural Property Research Institute, has suggested on a professional legal blog could be "rescued from the Syrians". Leaving aside the ethics of such a suggestion, and what it says about US collectors' mentalities, does the "plan" look at all feasible to any but a coin collector? Yet Mr Houghton claims "I have discovered some interest" in the proposal. 

UPDATE 29th Jan 2014, 9:00 AM.
Of course it is futile to expect that any US collector reading the "Cultural Property Observer" blog would have seen anything wrong with such a suggestion, or criticised it (even if as a joke in extremely poor taste).  The last comment on the topic is the blog owner's own: "Seal Team Six meets Monuments Men. I like it".

Focus on UK Irresponsible Detecting: Scratch a Tekkie, find a Coiney Inside

Metal detectorist Andy Baines commenting on my remarks about a rare coin being flogged off instead of going to be curated in a public collection said (25 January 2014 08:28)...
would you rather it be stuffed in the back of a museum storage room with 90% of the other coins and artifacts (sic) that museum's (sic) have ?
That's not an argument one would expect to hear from the "only want to add to our nation's history (not in it fer the munny)" brigade. That's a favourite coiney anti-academism argument.

Mr Baines apparently disapproves of an object going to a museum's reserve collection. There (unlike most private coin collections, to judge from the way such information is in a very short time irretrievable) the object would be properly entered in the catalogue system. It would be kept and monitored by a professional curatorial staff. Kept loose in coin case in some cupboard of an anonymous private collector (or bank vault) it would then be likely to disappear when they die. Like that coin that somehow turned up in Switzerland which only surfaced and was luckily recognized two generations later.

I wonder what the metal detectorist has against museum study collections. I wonder whether he has ever used one.

But then, I'd also like to know what suggests to him that this GOLD coin (worth ten thousand quid and  one of only four known in the world), would actually be "stuffed in the back" of anywhere.

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: What does my FLO do with the time when they are not Servicing us?

On a metal detecting forum near you, by geoman (Sat Jan 25, 2014 9:24 pm) notes:
Now we all hear FLO's say they are overworked, it's a stock phrase as they wipe the perspiration from their brows when we meet them. Many of us will have seen from the published stats in the annual PAS Report that some FLO's actually record very little and so we now have confirmation that FLO's average 1000 finds recorded per year which divided by 52 weeks in the year means that the average FLO is overworked processing 19.2 finds per week....
Vignette: What do FLOs do in their "spare" time?

US Coiney Defiance of Regulation Threatens National Security?

In a typically well-researched and referenced text, Cultural Heritage Lawyer Rick St Hilaire gives a useful and interesting summary of the situation regarding anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing legislation (AML/CTF) in relation to the international art market ('Money Laundering and the Trade in Cultural Property: Taking a Fresh Look at Federal AML/CTFs', 25 Jan 2014). It is a shame that there are so few comparable resources on the English-speaking Internet where the average collector can go for this sort of information presented in such a professional and objective manner.

We are all witness to current attempts of US antiquities dealers to free themselves of compliance with import regulations on cultural property aimed at limiting passage of smuggled goods to the US. Organized criminal groups are heavily involved in smuggling operations, so it is worth noting that the U.S. Department of State's INL Office of Anti-Crime Programs (referenced by St Hilaire) specifically cites "art dealers" when discussing AML/CTF goals.

St Hilaire gives a succinct introduction to money-laundering practices, and how it interacts with legitimate sectors of a grey market. He has already proposed spotlighting black market antiquities with record-keeping laws and now points out that:
identifying and targeting both money laundering and terror financing that is entangled within the legitimate cultural property trade should also involve a fresh look at federal AML/CTFs, and maybe some changes.

Your Chance to Get Yer Hands on a Bit of Istry of Your Very Own

"Earlier this month", says John Winter (A Rare Gold Quarter Stater), "an exceedingly rare gold quarter stater of Togodumnus was offered for public sale by Liz Cottam of Chris Rudd. This was a first. Only three others have been recorded and they are all in museums". Somehow, I guess, it is supposed to be a good thing that this one isn't. The coin was found by only-in-it-for-the-history artefact hunter Tom Lesurf.

Mr Winter's text has a telling link to a wannabe scholarly article citing PAS staff on how coineys go about mixing pictures and writing on a disc of metal with some written sources to "write history" - the inscription though is CVN and not CVNO, isn't it?

Vignette: Coin dealers: metal detectorists' other partners - keeping archaeological heritage out of museums and making a nice profit in the process.

Friday, 24 January 2014

"First Found" Fiasco Continues

The ACCG's dispute with the rest of the world about the "First Found" of the CCPIA limps along. I said the coineys are wrong and why, Rick St Hilaire says they are wrong. Peter Tompa does not accept that, and wrote a post criticising St Hilaire, spitefully dismissing the lawyer as an "archaeo-blogger" ('Context Matters', CPO Friday, January 24, 2014). 

He alleges that St Hilaire "quotes selectively" from the Fourth Circuit's opinion in the case precipitated by the ACCG Baltimore illegal coin import stunt "on whether State and Customs must make a principled determination of whether coin types are "first discovered" in a specific county before restricting them". I expect that would be enough to satisfy his more slack-jawed attention-span deficient readers that Tompa is "right" and St Hilaire is "wrong". Any attempt however to wade through argument and counter-argument to get to the bottom of this suggests to me that it is Mr Tompa who is over-interpreting.

On looking at the Fourth Circuit's document, we see that the excuse that the court dismissed the ACCG's test case allegedly on so-called "foreign policy grounds" does not in fact refer to the specific bit of the opinion (section 1B on pp 4-7) which covers the references in the CCPIA to creation of the designated List, and which directly concerns the relationship between the "first found" objects and those in the designated list. Furthermore, the creation of the Designated list is clearly stated there to be a process taking place within federal government in the US after other procedures have been completed, and whatever Mr Tompa may think about those processes, this part of the procedure is not a matter of "negotiations between the Department of State and foreign countries".

This passage of the Fourth Circuit's opinion, the one which directly affects the First Found argument raised by the ACCG, is a factual statement about how the Designated list and the "... property of the state party" interact. And there in black and white, is a clear refutation of the ACCG's costly interpretation of the First Found principle. Mr Tompa may delight in arguing round and round in circles, but the repetitiveness and predictability of this is beginning to lose its charm.

We wait impatiently to see emerging from the US coin collecting community some sensible discussion which aims to resolve the impasse over the no-questions-asked market to replace this posturing, the sole aim of which is obviously to stave off such a discussion. Responsible collectors need to take responsibility for their hobby and ditch the ranters. 

Focus on Irresponsible UK Metal Detecting: Stop tarring us...

Metal detectorist Steve Broom sent a comment here (under this post) which is one of the many emerging from the collecting milieu which criticises the manner in which I express myself on this blog about collecting. Mercifully this one at least avoided the worn cliché "tarring us all with the same brush"(and empty-headed phrases like "throwing the toys out of the pram [angry smiley] [frown smiley]" much beloved of the milieu). My first reaction was to ignore it. This is my blog and my words and I feel no need to explain myself time and time again to artefact collectors and dealers; in any case, they never listen. So I really do not know why I am answering this, but here - for what it is worth - is this today's answer explaining yet again why I am doing what I am doing and in the way I do it. This follows on from Mr Broom's comment here

Some of us, Mr Broom, who were first in on this more than three decades ago politely and with deference "tried to enter into sensible dialogue" with metal detectorists, in many cases only to be met with massive indifference, ignorance, evasion, bad manners, aggression and personal attacks. Mr Thugwit is not a figment of my imagination, he is an observation. It is what I and others have encountered in the detecting community, and he has been firmly embedded there since the 1970s when the hobby began.He cannot be ignored, however much you'd like to.

There are ten thousand (at least) tekkies in Great Britain. So what that one or two say they are the good guys and even try to be? That you, Mr Broom, personally are an exception rather proves the rule rather than the opposite. Thugwittism and all that follows on from that has been going on now several decades with sixteen million pounds of public money pumped into trying to change things, with poor results. The 'Grey detecting' I describe extensively on this blog is clearly the norm. 'Best practice' (true best practice) is the exception.

Why do I say that? From many years close observation. When I started this, you had to go along to detecting clubs to see what they did, and so I did in the late 1970s back home in England. Now we have the internet and people discuss online in real time what they do, think and want, and (unless they are blocked by tekkie gatekeepers) anyone can see what metal detectorists are up to. Now, if everything was hunky-dory, that would not be a problem, we could all see what splendid chaps you all are. But that's not how it goes is it? Most metal detecting forums block access from outside. This is for good reason, because when you do gain access you see that all is not well and fine in tekkieland. Thugwittism prevails.*

For example, what does it mean when you look  at a metal detecting forum where somebody has posted something like (to take one random recent example) getting farmers to "refresh" a field by ploughing deeper into the underlying undisturbed stratigraphy so THEY can grab more goodies for their collection? It's yet another signal that PAS outreach has failed.

Mr Broom, what is MORE significant is the reaction of the mass of members of the forum with several thousand members to such a post. The post is answered, yes, everybody adding their comments and applauding this great idea, but not a single person criticises that approach. PAS outreach is seen to have scored a second fail.

Then what happens? When somebody starts a discussion on a blog like mine (yes, that is what this is) , suddenly the original post disappears from the tekkie forum - we see detectorists in denial. PAS is shown yet again to have scored a fail.  Does anyone on that forum even protest that the thread was taken down because they wanted to discuss how the outsiders criticising this type of behaviour are right? [By the by, will they even behave like civilized people and mention the outsider's name instead of thuggishly referring to them by insulting labels?]

This is not a one-off event, this sort of thing is repeated week after week. Isn't it? What are we good guys going to do? Keep quiet about it, or speak out against it? To show the world what is happening? Why would a good guy want it hidden or not discussed in terms of the strongest disapproval?

Did you, Mr Broom, criticise MegaB on the forum or off it for his or her deep-plough-trashing idea? Why not? Have you, Mr Broom, ever responded to something said on his nasty abusive blog by John Howland? There's another one propagating a very narrow and negative picture of the hobby; where are the good guys of detecting then? Keeping quiet is where they are. Letting him get on with it is where they are. But both you and Mr Howland are "ambassadors of the hobby" one shouts his mouth off and gets noticed, the other hides away and complains sullenly that outsiders are writing things critical of the hobby. You will not, Mr Broom, answer Mr Howland and his ilk, but you'll happily come over here and try to tell me off for writing what I see and think. The only difference between me and Mr Howland, surely, is that I do not own a metal detector.

This is why I think the small percentage of do-gooders do not affect the overall picture. You and your ten, fifteen mates may not be doing (the same kind of) damage as the 9985 other ones, but it is THEIR effect on the archaeological record which is my concern. And they are doing it under the umbrella of the wishy washy uncritical propaganda pap pushed out by the PAS and detecting's own propaganda machine (the charity rallies, the ring-finding services, picking up litter and all that guff). ALL of this is intended to push the issue of the erosion caused by the hobby into the shadows. And it is that issue I want to see discussed, sweeping aside the dross arguments. And they are all dross. 

If I paint a "a negative picture of detectorists" it is because pretty much everything I see and have experienced at the hands of not one or two but dozens, hundreds of them, over several decades of close observation and attempts to discuss the issues, inclines me to see them as a group as precisely the way I depict them. You are new to the debate. I have not always talked about collectors in this manner, on five moderated British forums 2000-2007 (one of them a detecting one, UKDN) I was very polite, ready to listen with a mind open to any good arguments the artefact hunting community and their supporters could offer. That was an utter waste of time. The experience only served to change my mind about the point of trying such an approach. The thugwits emerged and fixed that. How any attempt to engage in civilised discussion (on what we are told is a "common interest") on neutral ground was met by the detecting community can be seen in the archives of - for example Britarch. Look for posts by Clive Hallam, Gary Brun, Steve Burch, "Deepseeker" and "Edward Thompson" for example. The response of the detecting community to any attempt to frankly, openly and civilly discuss the issues was met with a deliberate attempt to create such a fuss and bad feeling around the subject that it would discourage further discussion. Which it did. These people did more to permanently damage the initial good will of the archaeologists on the britarch list than anyone else could have done. Note again, not a single "responsible" voice was raised from within the detecting community that this type of public behaviour was damaging the hobby. That's how I spent the first two thirds of the last decade. I do not propose wasting any more of my time on what I perceive as a futile pursuit of dialogue, I leave that up to others. Most of them seem to have been giving up recently, too. Wonder why? Perhaps they too as they get more involved, are coming to the same conclusions as I did. As far as I am concerned, I gave tekkies a chance and I'm not wading into the same muddy water twice. Which is when I started this blog.

The PAS is now frittering away millions on "partnering" the detecting community as a whole, and daily puts out ever-so-positive propaganda on behalf of those "partners". The public has a wonderful glowing image of the hobby and how "helpful" it is - painted by the experts, archaeologists. Tekkies do not have to lift a finger to earn it, and the bulk of them generally do not. I think that is wrong.

This blog puts forward the other half of the story, the one the sixteen million pound public Scheme is deliberately not telling the public who pay for it and whose heritage it is. The public is entitled to more detail than they are getting from Bloomsbury.

Now, if you do not like that, then please do not read this blog. Those who believe I am not representing here realities within the collecting world (for of course THIS BLOG IS NOT JUST ABOUT METAL DETECTING) can stop reading too. Nobody is forcing them. Or they can try and show that I am wrong. For example documenting that twenty minutes after Baz Thugwit wrote what he wrote on a forum, fifteen responsible members jumped on him and explained him the error of his ways. Show us that this is how it really is, please.

Until we actually get concrete demonstrations that the rosy picture painted by the propagandists in any way reflects reality, I will continue to say what I think and provide cases which show those who care to read this that there are grounds for believing that in no way does the reality look like the picture being painted. The language I use to try and get that point over is my choice. Maybe you'll try and understand why, after so long of seeing next-to-zero change, and the archaeological damage goes on and on with us powerless to prevent it, and nobody very much bothered about it, and indeed almost everyone either complacent about it ofr passively refusing to get involved, I get so angry about the situation.

In any case, I get really annoyed by artefact hunters, like you Mr Broom, who say that what is written here can be dismissed without a second thought as "deceit". I cite my sources, and they can all be checked out until the tekkies hide them that is. Ask who there is being the more honest. 

*And yes, tekkies think up all manner of excuses why forums are member-access only, but this is merely another expression of the hypocrisy - as is shown the moment they find out that an outsider is discussing what is said on a forum, it becomes clear what the main motive for restricting access really is.

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: "Shady, Sinister and Dishonest", Is He Talking About Me?

In what seems to me to be relatively clear English, I wrote:
English Heritage's guidance on "responding to heritagecrime in progress" is not a lot of use when you see some blokes walking up and down with shadowy metal-detector-like tools on an archaeological site in the middle of a field at dusk. They might be nighthawks, or they might be there with a letter of permission. That's in Bonkers Britain, outside it there is often far less ambiguity. 
Admittedly some of the sentences are more than eight words long. Nevertheless, it is with some surprise that over on a detectorist's blog near you (i - Go Detecting, Wednesday, 22 January 2014), we read the astonishing claim:
"The author of the original post tries to paint a shady, sinister and dishonest picture of all detectorists"
Can anyone else see here what he's getting at? Where is this "shady"? Where is it "sinister"? And for goodness sake where is the "deceit"? It seems to me we have a case here of a reader unjustifiably replacing with an alleged hidden intent the real meaning of the actual words used.

Any observer of the heritage debate in Britain will quickly see that a constant stream of kneejerk paranoia from a bunch of mental-age-of-thirteen buffoons quick to take offence is about all one can expect when one tries to discuss anything sensibly with artefact hunters around. These people refuse to admit the existence of serious issues surrounding the whole area of artefact collecting and the antiquities trade, still less offer to help do anything about it. As far as they are concernedl the only problems must be assignable to the ill-will of the "Other", they are ever-keen to play the victim and deny any responsibility of themselves and their fellows, it is always "somebody else".

Bonkers Britain will be "Portableising" Ancient Woodland Now?

The British Environmental Secretary Owen Patterson has taken a leaf out of the Historic Environment Mismanagement book. Just as the latter sees the artefact patterns that make up cultural landscapes fit for dismembering, and actually encourages the scattering of the decontextualised "portable antiquities" into new personal assemblages, he apparently reckons Britain can do the same with ancient woodland. Rescue's letter regarding protection for ancient woodland, explaining why one is OK and the other not has been published in today's Telegraph. You can . (Oh, by the way, Rescue do not actually explain why they are not bellyaching about ripping the artefacts out of cultural landscapes, perhaps they should).

Vignette: Trees are sexier than finds scatters, "can this disappear? asks an article. That thousands of sites are disappearing from the archaeological record, trashed by artefact hunting alarms nobody.

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: It's Easy!!

Poor Baz Thugwit, his mates all urge him to fill in a PAS survey, to "help the hobby", but he hesitates. What if it asks questions he cannot answer? What if he cannot work out how to fill in the details, and keeps getting error messages? Or what after laboriously filling in the answers to them questions and checking the speling so they don't fink he's an idiot, he cannot work out how to send it? Or maybe some password or somefink is needed? Baz breaks out in a cold sweat at the thought. But there is no need to worry !! All his friends have done it and each of them reports back (each with an encouraging smiley) on the thread on a metal detecting forum near you how "easy" it is, as if they all too had been expecting to encounter difficulties. Now they are happy and relieved to have 'taken the PAS test' (having faced up to it as a duty). But there is really no need to fear. This survey is specifically  written by the PAS for their "partners", and after sixteen years of liaising with them, the PAS has a jolly good idea of how many words some detectorists can be expected to be able to manage in twenty minutes. Not that many, with a minimum of sentences over eight words long. It's easy Baz, fill it in, give the PAS a boost !  

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