Sunday, 28 February 2016

Seller Dartmoorpixie's got a Dead Body: Hundred quid to a Good Home

EBay seller dartmoorpixie (215) offers what he or she says is a complete human burial for sale on the auction site 'Extremely rare Prehistoric Iron Age Pottery Urn, British' (spotted by Graham Taylor @Pottedhistory ). Well, yes Iron Age burials from Britain are in general rare  Here's the description ("Seller assumes all responsibility for this listing"):
An extremely rare Iron Age Pottery Urn. Of typical Urn shape with feint vertical line decoration around the lower half. This wonderful artefact is virtually complete, the Rim is intact. Theres an area of roughly 7cm x 7cm that has been restored but otherwise intact. This piece was acquired from a Museum sale, I will provide details to the winning bidder. In line with EBAY POLICY, this has been shown to a Museum and a provenance of its recent history can be provided. Unfortunately theres no find spot but it is almost certainly South Eastern British. The contents of the Urn appear to be original and I see no reason why they werent there when discovered originally. 15cm tall, maximum diameter is 21cm. Rim diameter 19.5cm. Rarely is a complete large Pot like this offered on the market. Please see my other auctions for more Ceramics and early items.
The listing was reported to eBay - who seem rather sluggish in taking it down, there is one bid (a hundred quid for an ooo-ahhh dead body trophy and pot). Looking at what the photo shows that pot contains, I would suggest that the "museum" was not all that competent in saying what was actually in that vessel. It is difficult to be sure due to the way the material is presented but it looks to me as if the pot contains (also?) animal bones. I think one can see bird bones there. Like most eBay artefacts described by collector, dealers and amateurs, the seller's description cannot be relied on to be a proper representation of what is actually on offer.

Neither is "Iron Age" an adequate description of the pot. Looking at it with a critical eye, that squared off and inturned rim is neither very "Aylesford-Swarling" not "Little Waltham" in concept. I have a sneaking feeling that this is continental and quite a bit later than advertised, but you'd have to see the fabric to judge.

There really is no reason why the seller of the pot cannot supply upfront the details of the museum which deaccessioned the items, IF that was done in accordance with the law and Museum Code of Ethics. Presumably the museum has closed and nobody wanted the entire collection and there were no constraints on its splitting. I would say however knowing in advance of making a decision that these three conditions were fulfilled would be a requirement of ethical purchase (and or course sale). So why the coyness about the precise details? The buyer is being asked to shell out money for a 'cat in the bag', only when the buyer has pledged that cash will change hands will this seller reveal where the item came from. That should be illegal, and against eBay policy at least.

The seller has a rather eclectic collection of artefacts on sale alongside these human remains, ceramic lamps, post-Medieval glass, a Sumerian bone inlay figure ("has been shown to a local museum"). The seller asserts:
All the ancient Pottery pieces and Lamps have come from a private collection and in line with EBAY POLICY they have been shown to a local museum" 
- which "policy" would that be, and what did the museum say after the things were shown to them, that "Sumerian figure" for example? There is no such "eBay policy".  Why can that "collection" not be named?

What do people do with such things? Here's what I think will more likely than not be the fate of this one: 
Meanwhile in a sitting room in East Tilbury, the floor strewn with sports papers and crisp bags, Baz asks his mate Nobby and his little girl, "d'ya want ter see me Ion Age burialurn, wot I got th' other day, then?" "
"G'on then, let's 'ave a shuftie..."  say the other man.

As Baz draws out a battered cardboard box from behind the sofa, ash from the fag dangling from the corner of his mouth falls onto the lid. Baz flicks it onto the carpet. Placing the box on the coffee table among the empty TV lunch boxes, Baz opens it and with a dramatic flourish takes out the pot, after first removing from it a discarded sweet wrapper and doggie-treat that have found their way inside.
t's got bones innit, I fink a kid's bones, look" he says, putting on his I-know-what-I'm-talking-about voice.
or!" says Nobby, wishing he had one.
Eeeek! Is that real?" shreiks nine-year-old Chelsie, as she hid her eyes behind her father.
oth men guffawed as Nobby took another swig of beer from the can.  Nobby luvs 'istry.


Hugo Anderson-Whymark said...

This vessel was sold at auction on 2nd September 2015 by Woolley and Wallis in their sale of Antiquities, pre-columbian and tribal art. It was described as 'A bronze age earthenware cremation urn, with incised linear decoration to the sides, 15cm high, containing burnt bone fragments. Provenance A Kent collection. Acquired by Stratford Armory Museum.' Estimated at £500-600.

Paul Barford said...

1) If there is information: "Kent collection, acquired by the Stratford Armouries Museum" associated with the object why is that not in the sales description upfront? What purpose does it serve hiding that information from a potential purchaser?

2) This "museum" is just a private collection, It is not a proper museum.

3) Is this it?

4) So, what provenance is that? How and when did it enter the market? Was it nighthawked or removed from a known and perhaps protected site? Why has the place of finding been obscured rather than that information preserved?

5) There are cremated bones here, presumably human. There are a number of issues connected with the handling of and property rights to such material, even in the case of museum items
for this reason the policy of EBay prohibits such sales through their portal. It seems the seller was unaware of this (careless) or ignored them (arrogant).

6) The seller says that "in accordance with" (non-existant) "eBay policy" this pot and contained remains were "shown to a museum". Which museum, and what was asked of the museum, and what was learnt from their answers? Why is that not presented in the sales spiel?

7) Those complete flagons the seller has on sale most likely came from graves too, in other words from grave robbing - note the flagon with the damaged rim, probably standing upright in a grave. The "Mediterranean" is a big place, is the material from Cyprus Mediterranean, Italy Mediterranean, Greece Mediterranean, Libya, Syria, Turkey? All these countries have LAWs about ownership of artefacts and their export. A lame "from an old collection" is zero assurance that ANY of those laws were respected. To be bought with proper due diligence they need paperwork or other verifiable proof that the laws were adhered to. "Nobody knows, so they cannot touch you for it" is neither a licit or responsible purchase, is it?

8) the same goes for the lamps, if they are real.

9) And those complete bottles, remembering the James Vessey case often cited by collectors.

kyri said...

hi paul ,the simple reason is that,like most dealers,he preferes to keep the real provenance a secret ,at least for now. if he discloses full details upfront it would be easy for the potential buyers to find out exactly how much he paid for this piece.i remember seeing this when it was up for sale,i stayed well clear and find it strange that anyone would want to buy someones ashes.some dealers lose any provenance they have on purpose, not wanting to give away their suppliers or if bought from public auctions like this piece,their mark ups.

Paul Barford said...

>> it would be easy for the potential buyers to find out exactly how much he paid for this <<
So?? The price is set by the dealer, take it or leave it. So what if someone finds out the dealer had paid 30 or 80 (or 800) quid earlier? The price is what the new seller says the price is.

kyri said...

when you have greedy dealers it is a big SO,in an ideal road they would be forced to pass on all the provenance they have.

Damien Huffer said...

Good find, Paul! Grisly, for sure. Human remains from a UK site or context being sold w/in the UK (or outside of it) is rather unusual, as my and colleague's research suggests.

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