A blog commenting on various aspects of the private collecting and trade in archaeological artefacts today and their effect on the archaeological record.
Thursday, 2 July 2015
Who's Pulling the Journalists' Strings?
I spent several hours today sorting out what should have been a simple story. The first breaking news reports suggested that ISIL militants were just smashing some Palmyran busts for the hell of it - probably as propaganda suggesting they were steadfastly keeping to the paths of Koranic righteousness. Then the element appeared that this was "outside Palmyra Museum", and mentions were made of the Al-Alat lion being smashed a few days earlier. Most accounts in the media had the same erroneous information on this, accompanied by a quote from Maamoun Abdelkarim, Syrian antiquities minister. They were invariably also linked to comments from UNESCO's Bokova. Then one mentioned that "also on Thursday" ISIL had stopped a smuggler and tried him and destroyed his contraband. I began to have doubts about what the photos previously said to be taken in Palmyra showed. Then an additional version appeared when this was a failed 'monuments man' story (and a "baying crowd"). All the time though that lion was in it. I am beginning to suspect that behind all of these stories was a single badly-prepared press brief and that journalists had to improvise and that's why we get a whole range of different versions. What actually happened (or whether anything happened at all) will perhaps become clear later. At least one of the statues shown was [I think] a fake, which suggests rather that this involved smuggling rather than an artefact-rescuer. Who was behind this story appearing in the forms it did? Why were the faces blurred out?
British archaeologist living and working in Warsaw, Poland. Since the early 1990s (or even longer) a primary interest has been research on artefact hunting and collecting and the market in portable antiquities in the international context and their effect on the archaeological record.
"coiney" - a term I use for private collector of dug up ancient coins, particularly a member of the Moneta-L forum or the ACCG
"heap-of-artefacts-on-a-table-collecting" the term rather speaks for itself, an accumulation of loose artefacts with no attempt to link each item with documented origins. Most often used to refer to metal detectorists (ice-cream tubs-full) and ancient coin collectors (Roman coins sold in aggregated bulk lots)
"tekkie" - metal detectorist/metal detecting (a form of artefact hunting)