Stephen Churley on Ancientartifacts:
So, the fact that the previous owner died before cleaning the pot in his collection is some kind of indicator that an object was excavated in the source country legally and exported in accordance with the law? Eh? Surely the fact that it is as it came out of the ground is quite the opposite...As for this kind of "research" to find out what this decontextualuised artefact is and which area of the ancient world it might have come from, this is a good symbol of everything that is wrong with the current state of the antiquities market. Of course that is nothing you will hear from the Yahoos on that forum.
I recently acquired this little 11x8cms juglet on eBay that was misdescribed as Roman. It was covered in limescale apart from a little red paint showing on the rim which intrigued me. So I removed the lime very easily with diluted HCL to reveal some interesting decoration (see pics). I think it's delightful. The body is slightly carinated and it is handmade not wheelmade. It think it's a very early baby feeder, either Chalcolithic or Early Bronze Age. It came from the collection of a deceased estate in Dorchester (UK), so it's not recently looted. Could it be Anatolian, Mesopotamian, Iranian, Armenian or Indian? My researches have not produced a parallel for the shape combined with the decoration. However, the decor does resemble this line drawing of a central Indian Chalcolithic Nagda ware pot which, it's been suggested, could be stylised 'antelopes dancing'. Here's the link from where I found the drawing: ASAA - THE AMATEUR ARCHAEOLOGIST ONLINE - Comparative Study of Iranian and Indian Dancing Figures Painted on Pottery
Collector Kyri sent a comment, but I want to discuss it here on top rather than down there. Here's the gist of what he wrote in response to my remarks:
I think you’re being a bit unkind to Stephen, he is a collector who cares about provenance and tries his best to collect ethically. I think you would find that most collectors do not clean their pieces, I certainly don’t, so its quite possible this piece has been in a private collection for decades without being cleaned. […] if you’re buying from a deceased estate the chances are very good that the piece has been around for decades and is not recently looted[…] I doubt you would find recently looted pieces being sold as part of a deceased estate. Unfortunately the vast majority of pieces have no context, it doesn’t mean they cannot be researched, I’m sure there are still thousands of pieces out there in attics waiting to be found.[…] With these types of sales unfortunately the person who knows the history of the piece is unavailable for comment.There are two sets of issues here, about how collectors acquire artefacts after ascertaining that they are licit and then their curation of the artefacts in their care. I do not know Stephen Churley (as readers will know I am excluded from membership among the Yahoos), but I am basing this comment on what he wrote which I found on the Internet... What he wrote is pretty typical of general attitudes, which is why I discuss it (that it is typical is indicated by the fact that there are no dissenting comments from the Yahoos about it).
It is a nonsense to say in this case that 'X is a collector who cares about provenance' (scil. collecting history) since this text shows he bought an antiquity from an unknown source and does not even know which source country it came from. That is simply a misunderstanding of what we mean by collecting history and why it is important (and here we see why David Gill insists on the second term rather than the vaguer shorthand one). Mr Churley bought an artefact 'blind', with zero paperwork confirming legal excavation or export - that is confirming licitness. Zero. That is not what can be called responsible purchasing by any stretch of the imagination. This object is orphaned by the market of legitimacy and should be considered unsaleable. 'Collecting ethically' is not buying unsaleable orphan artefacts. On the contrary, it is restricting purchases to items that can be documented as of ethical provenance, and if they cannot, not being tempted to add such contaminants to their collection.
And no, let's not go down the barren road of the 'Good Collector' argument. We all know how Renfrew curtly dismissed that one. Or if we don't, we jolly well should. Also let us discretely omit a deeper discussion this time about what in the collector's vies constitutes 'research' in this case betyond noting that this is a word frequently misused in the collecting milieu....
As for the statements:
its quite possible this piece has been in a private collection for decades without being cleaned. […] if you’re buying from a deceased estate the chances are very good that the piece has been around for decades and is not recently looted […] I doubt you would find recently looted pieces being sold as part of a deceased estate.That is precisely the sort of soothingly self-deceiving, wishy-washy arguments collectors lull themselves into a false sense of righteousness with but which flies in the face of logic. If Kyri was knocked down by a bus tomorrow, in his 'estate' would be objects bought last week, last month, last year as well as, potentially, items bought at the beginning of his collecting career.* That a former owner is now dead does not make any looted and smuggled artefacts they bought any the less looted and smuggled - just more difficult to identify as such if the paperwork is got-rid of by a seller ... which is exactly the essence of no-questions-asked buying and 'they-can't-touch-you-for-it-'legitimacy'. And relying on the latter two methods are as far from what can really be considered as ethical collecting as chalk is from cheese.
So this is an collectors' acquisition fail. The record on curation is equally poor. The object in question has passed onto the market without any paperwork. This is the fault of the previous collector who had an object in his possession and kept it in a manner that it was divorced from any paperwork he or she received with it, and documenting its licit origins (or perhaps not - which is why they got rid of it). Collectors (those that claim they are the 'Good' guys) say they are 'preserving' and caring for artefacts that otherwise (back in the lands of the brown-skinned folk they mean) would nopt be as well 'preserved' or looked after. But then a museum would have an accessions register and files with all the documents preserved in their archives. Where are the archives of the average private collector's collection? Why do the majority of artefacts purporting to be from 'old licit collections;' virtually never come accompanied by the papers from those archives? Because they've been discarded (why?) or there never were any? How can collectors claim to be curating these objects properly if they are failing in this basic duty?
Curation has another aspect, and that is conservation, dugup objects cannot just be plonked in a case which has a different environment from the state it was in the ground (or in a previous collection). They WILL deteriorate. That is obvious. So I really do not see the logic of somebody telling me that 'most collectors do not clean their pieces'. If the object is not cleaned, how can its state of deterioration be observed and a suitable treatment chosen to look after it? An object removed from the ground (or water) covered in a salt encrustation obviously needs to have that removed because underneath it all sorts of changes could be operating. A collector that fails to treat an object in his care properly, either through lack of expertise or lack of facilities/skills/resources is NOT exercising that 'care' in any meaningful sense of the word and it is irresponsible for such individuals to even take such an object into their 'care'. As for Mr Churley gaily describing how he pumped his pot with chlorides, one wonders just what he was thinking writing such a thing on a public forum.
The Yahoos used to have 'a voluntary code of conduct for collectors', but the link to it has been broken for many years, probably because no collector ever felt the need to even see what it said because they had no interest whatsoever in what the definition of 'responsible collecting' actually is. Sad, but true. Yahoos.
But if we apply the 1970 cut-off date (when the question of being required to produce and maintain documentation first came up), it should be pointed out that the collectors' mantra of 'being around for some decades' is still not enough as that is now 46 (47) years ago. If we apply that criterion, 'some' decades are not enough, five would be needed.