Saturday, 31 December 2016

The UK "Metal Detecting Debate" in 2016

The UK "Metal Detecting Debate" and the contribution of the British Museum/ Portable Antiquities Scheme in 2016

Happy New Year: Last lots Available

From among the Yahoos:
Hi Friends and Clients,  As you may know, the new Antiquities law has taken effect here in Israel with all inventory now locked in to the Antiquities Authority's national computer database system in an effort to track and then strangle the free trade of antiquities here. Consequently, we have our last 45kg remaining of Uncleaned, Unattributed Ancient coins of mixed varieties remaining. Approximately 350-400 coins per kg on average, and price is 550 USD per kg for 5kg minimum purchase. Thus price works out to be approximately 1-2 USD per coin. Truly "available while supplies last" on a first-come, first-served basis until sold - and because of the new law, once sold there will be no more, so get 'em while they're hot (available). We look forward to hearing from you. kindest regards, B. Leon  Z.Z. Antiquities, Ltd. Jerusalem
Mr Leon "antiquities dealers to antiquities dealers" has figured on the pages of this blog before, notably here. One obvious interpretation of the fact that so few dealers in dugup antiquities will accept any form of registering of artefacts already in circulation at a given date is that it would really quickly reveal how many of the objects they sell are indeed freshly arrived on the market (from where?) after that date. They try to suggest other justifications, but deep down, we all know what is the more likely reason. Look at what is happening in Israel at the moment with registration of Israeli dealers' stocks. If they cannot sell freshly-acquired stuff and have to rely on what really, truly comes from old stock and old collections, the trade dies. As the dealer quoted above admits. But then is a trade which relies on selling freshly-surfaced paperless commodities not something that should die out anyway in the 21st century?

Friday, 30 December 2016

Asia Week 2017

The Nancy Wiener Gallery is not listed as a participating gallery in Asia Week 2017 March 9-18, 2017. Kapoor galleries will be there. Probably fellow dealers will watch nervously who comes in their front doors the whole week.

A fresh look at Cultural Racketeering in Egypt

"Cultural Racketeering in Egypt — Predicting Patterns in Illicit Activity: Quantitative Tools of the 21st-Century Archaeologist" Katie A. Paul of The Antiquities Coalition has been looking into recent (post-Revolution) looting in Egypt. A good piece of work. The aim is laudable.
The cyclical and repetitive nature of these heritage threats has an additional benefit of creating a means of emergency preparedness that can be employed during periods of sudden conflict caused by a crisis catalyst. By understanding the types of patterns that occur in the looting of heritage sites following a tumultuous event governments and organizations can be better prepared in having a footprint of what may take place next so that resources can be allocated most efficiently.
Of course a paid lobbyist of the no-questions asked antiquity trade does not think so. But actually, the dealers long since alienated themselves from the heritage debate due to their support of the crude sniping, intellectually bankrupt pseudo-arguments and outright denialism of such mouthpieces.

Vandals, Access to the Past and Protecting Everybody's Heritage

Having a smashing time
And there are those archaeologists that argue for a hands-on 'interaction with the past', without putting objects behind glass (BBC, 'Damage of £10,000 at medieval Sueno's Stone in Forres')
Vandals have caused more than £10,000 worth of damage to glass panels which surround a medieval stone in Moray. Three panels at Sueno's Stone at Forres, between the B9011 and the A96, were broken between Wednesday and Thursday. The early medieval period carved standing stone is more than 20ft tall.
one shudders to think what would have been the results had there not been glass panels there.... How to counter such attitudes in part of a population?

Thursday, 29 December 2016

HSI corruption revealed in US

We are all familiar with the rants of US-based dugup antiquities  dealers and their lobbyists claiming that all the 'brown-skinned folk' of the source countries from which come the antiquities they handle are ruled by bad unamerican governments and administered by corrupt officials and that is why the citizens of such countries 'deserve' to have their heritage robbed away to feed the US market. While trying to comprehend the vastness of the logic-gap in such two wrongs arguments, we might also take a closer look at the imagined paradise these short-sighted, self-interested, xenophobic, orientalist, Trump-supporting, transatlantic hate-mongerers think they live in (Ron Nixon, 'The Enemy Within: Bribes Bore a Hole in the U.S. Border', December 28the, 2016).
A review by The New York Times of thousands of court records and internal agency documents showed that over the last 10 years almost 200 employees and contract workers of the Department of Homeland Security have taken nearly $15 million in bribes while being paid to protect the nation’s borders and enforce immigration laws. These employees have looked the other way as tons of drugs and thousands of undocumented immigrants were smuggled into the United States, the records show. [...] The Times’s findings most likely undercount the amount of bribes because in many cases court records do not give a tally. The findings also do not include gifts, trips or money stolen by Homeland Security employees. Throughout his campaign, President-elect Donald J. Trump said border security would be one of his highest priorities. As he prepares to take office, he will find that many of the problems seem to come from within.[...] Records show that Border Patrol officers and customs agents, who protect more than 7,000 miles of the border and deal most directly with drug cartels and smugglers, have taken the most in bribes, about $11 million.
One might ask what the cost has been for getting so many unpapered artefacts to 'surface' out of nowhere onto the US market, and who might be paying for that. It takes two to do a corrupt deal,

Obviously the dealers' lobbyist argument applies here too, they'd say HSI employees in the US need to be paid a living wage, making such 'subsistence corruption' unnecessary. The rest of us feel however that such simplistic arguments and suggested 'solutions' have very little merit.

Vibgnette: A 'wall' is only secure when the people policing it are incorruptible.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Metal Detectorist Caught with Artefacts in Sicily

Carabinieri TPC ,
Police caught a metal detecting artefact hunter looting a site of a Arab-Norman castle in Francavilla di Sicilia, Messina province. At the sight of the police, the man tried to escape, trying to get rid of the metal detector and other tools for digging, but was captured shortly thereafter. During the subsequent house search, the police found numerous illegally obtained archaeological finds of the Arab-Norman period: 183 ancient coins and 44 metal objects of various types (rings, buckles etc). The man, a 53 year old , was charged with illegal interference with an archaeological site and unauthorized appropriation of cultural goods belonging to the State.

Fortunately, most countries in the EU recognize looting of archaeological sites for personal entertainment and profit for what it is, only a few small islands just off the coast of the continent have a different view, but since they are leaving the EU in the next few years and losing any influence they may have had, the opinion of British looters and their archaeological supporters will no longer count for much.

Vignette:  a sad policeman looks at photos of part of the looter's collection. Note the characteristics of the equipment behind.

Coins Among Objects Smuggled from Egypt to Jordan

The people of Egypt have recovered 340 stolen artifacts that were smuggled to Jordan in a shipment of coal in 2015. The artefacts reportedly included statues, coins, jewellery and ornaments dating back to Greco-Roman and Ptolemaic Egypt.
According to Shaaban Abdel Gawad, the chief of the Department for the Repatriation of Artifacts at the Antiquities Ministry, a large collection of Ptolemaic coins, a large alabaster bust of Alexander the Great and several limestone statues were among the recovered artifacts. The ministry issued an official statement on Monday which reported that late last year the antiquities were seized by Jordanian customs officials in the Red Sea port of Aqaba. The statement claims these ancient artifacts were stolen and then smuggled out of the country in a shipping container filled with coal from Egypt’s Red Sea port of Nuweiba. In recent months officials from Egypt’s Antiquities Ministry worked closely with Jordanian police to repatriate the objects, which were shipped from Jordan and arrived in Egypt on Sunday night. It is unclear if thy were stolen from Egyptian museums, or were illegally excavated. The ministry added that in 2015 Egypt and Jordan signed a joint cooperation agreement to combat the illegal trade of artifacts, and collaborate on the recovery of stolen cultural works
This is the sordid reality, coins smuggled in truckloads of other items to a second country where they then come on the international  market with no indication where they had originally been taken from:

This is what lies behind the attempts of lobbyists for trade associations like the IAPN and PNG to persuade that the documentation of such movements should not be subject to scrutiny because (a) member dealers do not maintain such documentation as a matter of course (its a hindrance to their 'business practices', apparently) and (b) 'ancient coins travelled widely' in the past making it unclear in the case of loose decontextualised ones on the market where they had originally been found and which state would actually have a claim to them if that information was known (which it is not because the dealers have not kept any documentation allowing that to be traced). That's what we call laundering, and it is nothing that any proper professional association should be condoning, let alone actively campaigning to ensure its continuance.

Here is a shipment of artefacts found in a shipment of cheese from the same port on its way to Jordan too. In the space of time between the one and the other seizure, how many other smuggled loads containing paperless antiquities made it through an Egyptian port to arrive on the international antiquities market?

Relief looted from Hatshepsut's Temple in Luxor headed home

"Egypt receives ancient stolen limestone relief" - relief looted from Hatshepsut's Temple in Luxor headed home
 Egypt's embassy in London received a limestone relief that had been stolen from Queen Hatshepsut's temple in Luxor, the Ministry of Antiquities said. [...] The recovery of the relief is "very important" especially since it will help in restoration work currently being carried out by a Polish archaeological mission, he said. The relief, which is carved in limestone and engraved with hieroglyphic symbols, was stolen from the temple in 1975 and smuggled out of the country, he said. It was put on show in an auction hall in Spain and a British antiquities dealer bought it, the statement said.
They forgot to say that he'd bought it without first obtaining and verifying proof that it had been legally exported - because it had not. So he only has himself to blame.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Key hotspots in the Syrian conflict

Key hotspots in the Syrian conflict (Middle East Eye)

The map below from Middle east Eye had all the places in the wrong spots... I have corrected them here.

Monday, 26 December 2016

What is Wrong with Collectors [UPDATED]

Stephen Churley on Ancientartifacts:
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
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.

UPDATE, 30.12.2016

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.


Saturday, 24 December 2016

Christmas Greetings to All my Readers


'Portable Antiquities Collecting and Heritage Issues' życzy wszystkim świąt pełnych radości, ciepła i niepowtarzalnej, rodzinnej atmosfery a także pomyślności i samych sukcesów w Nowym Roku. Christmas Greetings to all my readers, even the sarcastic metal detecting ones.

Friday, 23 December 2016

"Found it in a Book Provenance"

Instagram account Artancient:
A beautiful ancient Greek coin with a remarkable newly discovered provenance. Once owned by the famous archaeologist, Sir Arthur Evans (1851 - 1941), subsequently in the collection of and published in 1913 by Robert Jameson. An ancient Greek silver stater, minted by the city of Metapontum, circa 330 BC. Showing a fine portrait of the goddess of the harvest, Demeter. The deity is shown with wild hair, her thick locks cascading down her neck and bound with two stalks of barley, she wears an elegant pendant earring.
The issue is however that the passage from the Jameson collection to the present owner cannot be reconstructed by 'found-it-in-a-book provenance'. All that can do is document that the coin was above ground, and out of the source country at a given date (here the publication of the catalogue). More to the point =- given the usual 'its from an old (undocumented) collection' argument trotted out by no-questions-asked dealers... where are the rest of the coins shown in that catalogue? How many survived the past century, and how many were lost? The number of coins in circulation on the market today is vastly greater than the number that would have made up the pool available half a century ago, even not taking into account the numbers lost through war, neglect or disaster.

The second question is of course, how many 'found it in a book provenances' (reconstructed collecting histories) were actually recovered by the buyer identifying it before the purchase?  Did not most of the identifications take place once a buyer had a coin in hand and was looking for its history retrospectively? In which case, one can hardly talk of due diligence.

Israeli settlements: UN Security Council calls for an end

Israeli settlements: UN Security Council calls for an end
Map - wikipedia
About 500,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel's 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this. The resolution reflects an international consensus that the growth of Israeli settlement-building has come to threaten the viability of a Palestinian state in any future peace deal.
Trump's commitment to move the US embassy to Jerusalem only inflames matters more.

At the base of it all is of course the shifting-border heritage argument. The Israeli response to the news goes something like: "Who gave you the right to deny us our eternal right in Jerusalem?"

"They-can't-touch-you-for-it"-legitimacy in Museums

'For nearly three decades, the Nancy Wiener Gallery has sold Asian art to private collectors and museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Asia Society, the Los Angeles County Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Nelson-Atkins Museum, the National Gallery of Australia and the Asian Civilizations Museum in Singapore, according to her website'.
Presumably now all these institutions will be encouraged to make available the details of which objects in their collection were from this source and of their previous collecting histories as presented by the seller. I bet though they will not be doing the same for the other items they bought from her fellow dealers who have not (yet) been caught out

An expression of "They-can't-touch-you-for-it"-legitimacy in its purest form.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

'Laundering Collecting Histories' ?

The dealers who suggest that in the past 'nobody bothered about keeping documentation of where items come from' ('so it is impossible to supply it, so there!') may not be telling it like it is. Take the case of a prominent New York dealer in the news today (Tom Mashberg, 'Prominent Antiquities Dealer Accused of Selling Stolen Artifacts', New York Times Dec 21st, 2016) and her alleged attempts to camouflage the history of certain objects which she reportedly had on sale:
In a complaint filed in Manhattan Criminal Court, prosecutors with the district attorney’s office say that [...] upon the death of her mother, Ms. Wiener inherited hundreds of illicit items at their gallery, discarded their records, and arranged for inaccurate ownership histories. 
The evidence (negative perforce) on which that allegation is based is not yet clear, nevertheless, this produces a model that is worth exploring for the light it can shed on business practices which may be general in this market. The objects concerned come from the stock of her mother's store. Doris Wiener was a dealer in 'Asian art' who started in the 1960/70s and who died in 2011. If this allegation proves to be true, this would mean that, despite what dealers assert now, according to past business practices of businesses like Doris Wiener's, records were available for many objects dug up and moved from country to country in the past, but the reason why when objects surface now, that documentation is missing, could well be due to a more general use of the practices alleged here, that the documents were deliberately destroyed. I think it is fair to suspect that there really can only be one reason why anyone would do that.

Vignette: Asian art

Patriot Act and the US Ethos on Artefects

Cultural Heritage Lawyer, 'Antiquities Forfeiture Under USA PATRIOT Act Marks Milestone in Cultural Heritage Law' Tuesday, December 20, 2016
Prosecutors last week filed a forfeiture complaint in federal district court to acquire legal title to cultural property accumulated by the terror group ISIS, also known as ISIL. The civil action is the first of its kind, rooted in one of America's most robust anti-terrorism laws.[...] The Department of Justice (DOJ) said in a press release, "The lawsuit marks the first time that the United States has filed an action to forfeit antiquities that are foreign assets of ISIL."
The problem is that mere forfeiting and repatriation is not what the game is about. US collectors and dealers are right in saying that, in the US context, the issues over illicit antiquities have been reduced to questions of 'who owns the past (not you)' and controlling access to antiquities. This is a states-side perversion of what the rest of us want to see, which is the prosecution of the culture criminals handling the stuff.

Manhattan Dealer Arrested

antiquities dealer Nancy Wiener was arrested Wednesday morning in Manhattan and charged with conspiring with international smuggling networks to buy, smuggle, launder and sell millions of dollars worth of stolen Asian art thru leading auction houses, source say.
More from Chasing Aphrodite 21st dec 2016.  See also Cultural Heritage Lawyer ('Felony Charges Against NY Antiquities Dealer Begins Cultural Property Prosecution in State Court';Wednesday, December 21, 2016) for some of the legal details. Tom Mashberg's coverage ('Prominent Antiquities Dealer Accused of Selling Stolen Artifacts' NYT Dec )  says that the complaint against Ms. Wiener 'provides a rare look at how looters, smugglers, art dealers and others may conspire to plunder relics from Indian shrines or Cambodian jungle temples, ferry them into the United States, give them fake pedigrees, and burnish them for sale as lawful imports':
“Defendant used a laundering process that included restoration services to hide damage from illegal excavations, straw purchases at auction houses to create sham ownership histories, and the creation of false provenance to predate international laws of patrimony prohibiting the exportation of looted antiquities,” according to the complaint.
 These 'restorers' are as much part of the conspiracy - having the physical evidence before them, which they then remove or mask.  Can the authorities release the names of restorers and conservators that have taken commissions from the Weiners?

This investigation is in connection with "(Not-really-all-that) Hidden Idol"and if the authorities are treating this seriously, we may expect other arrests to follow.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

How the International Antiquities Trade 'Looks After' Antiquities

'Art' trade Vandalism (Getty)
A typical collectors' mantra goes that private collections curate objects that might otherwise get lost or damaged. A statue in the Getty reminds us that this is a huge oversimplification, in turning archaeological artefacts into displayable 'ancient art', all sorts of things can happen (Annelisa Stephan, 'Surprises as an Ancient Statue Is Prepped to Receive Its Missing Head', Iris December 15, 2016):
the head was in primarily European collections until 2008, when it was purchased by an American gallery [...] The head also yielded another surprise: evidence of its own beheading. The deed was accomplished by electric drill, inserted in seven places around the neck. The weakened head was then whacked off, likely using a hammer and a blunt object as a lever. Why? Perhaps an art dealer thought the head would be more saleable alone, since it’s easier to display in a living room than a two-thousand-pound statue. Judith’s research suggests that the statue still had her head as late as 1937, so the team surmises that the beheading took place between then and 1971, when the Getty Museum was offered the body for sale.

Dumbdown Show-and-Tell from UK Archaeologists

PAS database DUMDOWN123:
Our Festive Finds series  continues with, a coin in the shape of a Polo mint. Round coins were frequently used by the Romans

Is this really what public pounds are spent on?

Monday, 19 December 2016

UK "Archaeological outreach": Dumbest of the Dumbdowns

"Star, innit?"
"Archaeological artefact fans (sic) might like to follow for his "
on the other hand, they could use the database stats to see how many metal detected objects he's recording while looking for Christmas-themed things to post on Twitter... .

I have more than once remarked that there are far more useful things FLOs and the PAS could use social media for in their outreach and establishing standards of best practice among the main group of 'finders' they now deal with. But you tell them that and you'll hear "we have no time".

They obviously have plenty of time to find "five gold rings","four calling birds", a "star to put on your Xmas tree" and other such trite dumbdown crap.

The aim of the PAS was not supposed to be to pander to  "fans of archaeological artefacts" but "to advance knowledge of history and archaeology". "Here's a star-shape I found" is not advancing any knowledge. It is just playing about at (considerable) public expense. But apparently this is approved by Head office:
Beautiful nativity scene to start the period. Don't forget to follow our FLOs for more !
What a shame we cannot follow them for first rate archaeology. 

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Like a Scratched record: Dealers' Lobbyist on 'Virtual Due Diligence'

The way the lobbyists for the dealers in such a specific commodity as dug up antiquities drag out the same time-worn arguments to justify lack of responsibility is pretty wearing. Here is Bailey and Ehrenberg's Peter Tompa again dodging the question on the thread of Abu Sayyaf II on the Chasing Aphrodite blog.
Paul Barford
Mr Tompa, you have not answered the question. HOW can we prevent items like those coins being sold under the conditions which exist in the market in the situation you describe where (you say) since the writing of the 1970 Convention, the majority of dealers handling imported dugup material have refused to keep any of the documentation for anything and people say not to bother about due diligence if ‘common sense’ says its not worth bothering about because carefree collectors will buy the lot regardless?
Can you tell us how to define a “reputable source’ and how that actually would help not buying the other things Mr Lal knows about on Abu Sayyaf’s hard drive which are NOT in this lawsuit? How would the average US dealer getting coins from (say) Munich, know a picture of that item is not on that hard drive? What kind of due diligence, not requiring any existing paperwork, could actually be done?
The reply, without the clownish ad personam arguments which serve only as a smokescreen
  • Peter Tompa
    [...]  Best advice. Buy from trusted sources. Buying from dealers who are members of trade associations with ethics rules good idea for collectors. Dealers need to assess the source of their own purchases. Levels of due dilligence will depend on the source. Obviously, buying from a collector you have known for decades different than buying from someone you don’t personally know. It will depend on the facts and circumstances of the individual transaction.

So, Mr T. is claiming that no dealer who handles smuggled stuff can be a member of "trade associations with ethics rules". I think that shows the value of this man's powers of "observation" and depth of his memory about the details of recent cases against dealers...

It is not enough for "dealers to assess the source of their own purchases" based on "feelings"  [' You've Got to Get That Feeling: Allegedly, the "Right Way" to Collect "Artefacts with Limited Provenance" ' PACHI Tuesday, 6 September 2016]. That cannot be passed on to purchasers who will need to pass it on to those who come after them.

"Knowing somebody personally" is not enough . Mr Hecht was known personally to a lot of collectors, dealers and museum curators. As is Mr Malter, Schulz , Mousa (Morris) Khouli  and a few others who have been considered by all of them to be "reputable". So, I ask again just what is a "reputable source" of dugup antiquities when it is clear that the dealer concerned cannot show a shred of hard evidence to uphold his claims? On what is trust to be based, and what do you do with an artefact that you bought on trust from a dealer who is subsequently arrested for dodgy dealing? What is that trust worth? And who will be next behind bars? 

Yes, it 'depends on the facts and circumstances of the individual transaction', in buying antiquities licitness depends on establishing the facts and circumstances of the individual transaction. A dealer who cannot facilitate that can only have a 'reputation' for selling stuff one can only guess at how it came onto the market.

Another Out-of-place Artefact on PAS 'database'

The PAS continue their juvenile dumbdown 'wottalotta-stuff" show-and-tell rundown to Christmas, showing all sorts of 'festive finds' instead of getting on with any real archaeological outreach. Pretty pathetic really. Geologists don't do that.  Here's one:

coin, innit?
 But then, somebody was intrigued by this out-of-place artefact:

Questions raised
 But it is not how 'fantastic' it looks which is (or is not) archaeological information:

Perfectly reasonable question

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Antiquities laundering: How can you tell One from the Other?

Now you see it, but in a moment
you will not, antiquities laundering
Part of my comment to the Chasing Aphrodite thread on the Department of Justice forfeiture suit on four antiquities which appear as photos on the seized Abu Sayyaf comuter hard drive:
What is a "reputable source" that cannot provide any paperwork to support their freely-given verbal assurances that all and any unpapered dugup antiquities in their stockroom is kosher? Is that a "reputation" for "not having been caught out yet (because he and his mates have got rid of all the paperwork and the trail has gone cold)"?

The only dealers I have heard of as having a 'bad reputation' among collectors (and I spend a lot of time monitoring what they say and write) are those that sell fakes as authentic antiquities. Mr Tompa can correct me I am sure if I have missed the name of any specific dealer who has a bad reputation among collectors in general for selling authentic but considered dodgily-sourced artefacts. What do we mean by that "reputable source"?

"it is possible that the coins were for sale and went into the market". Indeed, and the person who bought them, no doubt, believed they were sold to him by a "reputable dealer" who could well also have belonged to one of a number of professional' numismatic associations which tout their ethical codes but do zero monitoring of their members' conduct  - including those Mr Tompa lobbies for. So how can we tell?

How in the actual (not imagined) manner in which this opaque and secretive market operates can we prevent items like those coins being sold - in the absence of an alert like the one for these four objects based on records obtained by a government-sponsored raiding party breaking into a guy's house, killing one of the dealers involved in the chain and stealing his computer? How else would the market be alerted to the origins of these four antiquities - no different from the hundreds that 'surface' without papers on the international market weekly?
Personally I would hope there is a less violent way that we can resolve this issue without busting into the shops of antquities dealers, holding them at gunpoint and confiscating their hard drives. There must be a more civilized way than such Wild West tactics.

[And this is  the three cups game in action:

posted on You Tube by videomarketing2012 ]

US and the Disruption of ISIL's Antiquities Trade

The Secretary of State has authorized a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to the significant disruption of the sale and/or trade of antiquities by, for, on behalf of, or to benefit ISIL.
and that reward has remained unclaimed now, for how many years? What could that be telling us?

US 'Strategy' on Illicit Antiquitties Trade is Like...

When interests triumph over values terrible things can happen

As one of the world's largest markets for smuggled and looted antiquities from all over the world, one would have hoped that the US would take a strong line against this sort of thing. Such hopes are continually frustrated when the administration goes for 'understandings' signed with selected states and then a series of showpiece 'repatriations' with diplomatic canapés and feelgood speechifying. But then that is more or less what US foreign policy has become anyway in the past decade or so:
The administration creatively pioneered a third option, which it pursued not only in Syria but also in Ukraine and elsewhere: Between action and inaction, it chose inconsequential action [...] We acted, in sum, only in ways certain not to affect the outcome. We were strategically feckless.

Leon Wieseltier, 'Aleppo’s fall is Obama’s failure' Washington Post December 15 2016.(he makes a number of points about the wider consequences too).

[the text could be read together with the Economist's comments along similar lines: 'The lessons from Aleppo’s tragic fateWhen interests triumph over values terrible things can happen' Dec 17th 2016].

Let us see what the incoming administration will see as 'Making America Great Again', but the situation does not look very promising.

Vignette, steering a course to promote true US values?

It’s high time this dreary succession of “I dug it up myself” incidents was stopped in its tracks.

Heritage Action ask: 'Should we employ choirs of angels to praise detectorists full time?'. It seems some artefact hunters want nothing less.
Treasure has been found at Barlaston, Staffs. But Councillor Follows of Stoke-on-Trent City Council didn’t get it about conservation saying “It is a real credit to the finder for treating the discovery so responsibly and reporting it correctly” But in fact the finder was legally obliged to report it. Who but detectorists get praised for obeying the law? Not you, dear Reader, or me – else we’d need choirs of angels singing our praises full time!) As for him acting responsibly, he didn’t. He flouted reponsible behaviour in multiple ways, dug down more than a meter,  and totally destroyed the historical context. Worst of all, he dug it out himself because, diddums, archaeologists hadn’t arrived for an hour and a half. If that’s not irresponsible, selfish and ignorant goodness knows what is. But let’s not blame the Councillor. The blame lies with PAS for not outreaching to him and the whole country about how detectorists ought to behave.
Unlike Heritage Action, I do not think it matters a hoot or not whether in this particular case this particular 'only intrestid n th' 'istry, not in it fer th' munny' hoiker waives 'part of' the Treasure Ransom. to get a bunch of old objects with no context in a spotlit museum show case for a bit of oooo-ahhh show-and-tell. 

Thursday, 15 December 2016

What is going on here?

Good grief: "" (Department of Justice U.S. Attorney’s Office District of Columbia press release).
The U. S. Department of Justice announced today that the United States has filed a civil complaint seeking the forfeiture of multiple antiquities associated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as Da’esh. [...] The action, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, specifically seeks the forfeiture of four archaeological items that were depicted in photographs found during a raid of a residence of Abu Sayyaf, a senior leader within ISIL, near Deir Ezzor, Syria, in May 2015. The items include a gold ring, two gold coins, and a carved stone. They date to ancient times and are believed to be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. The FBI is pursuing recovery of these items.
This is pretty entertaining. Readers of this blog will know that I am highly sceptical about the authenticity of those Abu Sayyaf materials which we saw earlier. This material 'conveniently' fills in some of the gaps pointed out at the time. That rather raises the question why this set of material is being released just now. In addition, we should remember that the whole corpus of Abu Sayyaf material was obtained illegally (by a US team raiding deep within a foreign country from a base in Iraq, killing and abducting residents and taking antiquities and documents away without any authorisation or notification and giving them to Iraq to 'look after'). I do not see how a legal case can be based on material obtained by illegal means and taken from Syrian territory illicitly.

Specifically, the complaint alleges that the following four items are subject to forfeiture by US authorities (it is not explained on what legal basis this becomes a US prerogative). Digital images of these four objects were 'seized from Abu Sayyaf' (well, they walked into his house, blew a hole in his head and snatched his computer and wife) which the US DoJ says is evidence that these objects were 'sold directly by him' (why? Many of us writing about this topic have photos like this in their computer too which come - via journalists in my case - from dealers in the region):

Gold ring with carved gemstone
1) Gold ring with carved gemstone
This ring is believed to be from the Hellenistic/Roman period, dating approximately from 330 BC to 400 AD, and to have come from Deir Ezzor, Syria, which is near where the raid against Abu Sayyaf occurred.
Gold coin featuring Emperor Hadrian Augustus Caesar
2) Gold coin featuring Antoninus Pius
This coin is believed to be Roman, dating to approximately 138-161 A.D., and is sourced to any large, urban Hellenistic or Roman city in Syria, including Apamea, Palmyra, Dura Europos, or Bosra.
Gold coin featuring Antoninus Pius
3) Gold coin featuring Emperor Hadrian Augustus Caesar
This coin is believed to be Roman, dating to approximately 125-128 AD, was probably minted in Rome, and is sourced to any large, urban Hellenistic or Roman city in Syria, including Apamea, Palmyra, Dura Europos, or Bosra.
Carved Neo-Assyrian Stone
4) Carved Neo-Assyrian Stone
This is believed to be the upper portion of a round‐topped stone stela (upright stone slab bearing a relief design) carved with an image of a provincial official, most likely a eunuch, facing left, with his right forearm and hand raised. This item is believed to be from the archaeological site of Tell Ajaja in the Khabur region of northern Syria.
Well, Apamea, Bosra cannot have been looted by ISIL as they are outside that group's territory. Palmyra was in ISIL territory for a while, but in that time, satellite photos show no sign of any exctensive looting. As I have shown here, Dura Europos may not have been primarily looted by ISIL. The DOJ is just making this stuff up, if they cannot say where an object came from, they cannot say who looted it. How would Abu Sayyaf have photos of objects from Apamea and Bosra in his computer?

Anyway, the Feds need to get their story straight. According to the DoS, Abu Sayyaf was collecting taxes from middlemen (they showed what they said were documents of this activity). Now DoJ is implying he was involved in the sales himself. So where are the tax receipts from that? The four objects above are from towards the 'higher' end of the market, while the objects (the DoS say were) found in his office in the raid are mostly low end junk. This fishy in the extreme.

UPDATE 16th Dec 2016
Chasing Aphrodite has a blog post on this which supplies added detail from the court documents which were not released at the time I wrote ('Inside the ISIS Looting Operation: U.S. Lawsuit Reveals Terror Group’s Brutal Bureaucracy of Plunder', posted on December 15, 2016). To be honest I am even less convinced.

Among the 'corroborative evidence intended to impart an air of artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative'  is another [undated] suggested scheme of how the antiquities service (sic - should be Divan al-Rikaz)) would work. Or rather, not work. Also why is Abu Sayyaf involved in discussing how an antiquities service would operate in Al-Raqqa province, rather than his own? If this is an attempt at creating a 'national' institution, where are the regional offices and regional officers? What is this document, what is its context - and what is its relevance? Since it shows a totally unworkable structure is this something created by people trying to make an existing organization more efficient (Abu Sayyaf was not the first appointee to the post)  or a fake document concocted by people who need some official looking documents to support an existing and faltering narrative? It says that what we see is an original with transcriptions added. Does this really look like an original Islamic State document? Why is it undated and unsigned? Whose 'suggestion' is it?

But looky-here...  over to one side. "workshop supervisors, specialised in their fields". What kind of workshops one wonders. Conservation/restoration workshops maybe? But then further down we see them producing a revenue, not consuming it. I think what this is suggesting is workshops for recovery of bullion from unsaleable scrap metal artefacts. This is interesting in light of past criticism of the snatch squad who came back from killing Abu Sayyaf with a lumpy pot which they thought ancient (because primitive in shape) but which was in fact a modern furnace crucible. But this was a year and half before these documents were read. Is this little box on an undated document purporting to be an original ISIL document some two years old not, in fact, an attempt to answer the critics?

There is an interesting item in attachment E2, the Divan is 'authorised to search for the people who sold relics before the State entered their territories and to collect the 20%'- in other words, the established dealers of the existing black market were taken over by ISIL. Anyone using the same networks as before the ISIL takeover is financing the organization.

Then we come across a 'human interest' story:
Thursday’s filing includes new records from the Abu Sayyaf raid that have not previously been released. Among other things, they include a harrowing account from looters who were extorted by ISIS – Abu Sayyaf ordered their child kidnapped when they refused to pay an low-ball price for a cache of gold and relics they had discovered.
That's quite interesting in light of the fact that the whole reason the US raiding party went after Abu Sayyaf was his involvement in the kidnapping of a US citizen, so why was this story withheld back in May 2015? This story has a background, as Chasing Aphrodite notes:

ISIS’ taxation system for looted antiquities has an obvious flaw: the value of the finds are difficult to know before they are sold on the international market.
Which is why a number of people, myself included, doubted this whole story. So 'conveniently' up pops this yarn (also incidentally explaining the appearance of the gold coins in the assemblage of finds seized and sought).  The document is dated 5th April 2015. The seven women from al-Duwayr were 'looking for relics in Al-Salihiyyah archaeological site' (contra Chasing Aphrodite's identification of the name as a place near Damascus, this refers to Dura Europos (Qal'at es-Salihiye))   'two years' previously. That would be April 2013, precisely when ISIL was being formed in the region. So, if that is true, this digging at Dura Europos would have been before ISIL came into existence. It is interesting to note that, according to this document, when they were trying to negotiate a sale (two years ago) dealers from (then rebel-held) Idlib came all the way to their village to talk it over.

I think this suit has been rushed through to make sure that the incoming Trump administration can be persuaded to see the importance of continuing funding on border controls of antiquities. Mr Trump seems very keen on border security.

Promoting Artefact Collecting in UK

It has happened, British museums are now promoting collection-driven exploitation of archaeological record for personal entertainment and profit: Archaeology Collecting Day

Vignette: citizen museums, an artefact display showcase in every living room?

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Telepathic story-telling from PAS

Show and tell
PAS narrativisation at its usual standard: 
Teresa Gilmore, finds liaison officer for the West Midlands, said: "The coins would likely have been a farmer's savings that he buried in the field or could have been a donation to the gods." ( Kerry Ashdown, 'Barlaston field yields more than 2,000 pieces of Roman treasure' Staffordshire News December 13, 2016 )
Ms Gilmore might like to explain to the public that finance her office space what source-based or extra-source information she used to identify the social status of the person who deposited the hoard, and since there was no proper excavation of the findspot why she asserts it was buried in a field rather than under a pigsty or toolshed (or at some cult spot). This is just making-it-up, when she should have said that said by hoiking this out from among the remains of the deeply-buried ceramic containers, the impatient Treasure hunter has ruined any chance we may have had of understanding what the deposition of this group of artefacts (archaeological evidence) means. That is what proper public-funded archaeological outreach should entail. Instead we get childish fob-off dumbdown.Like some little kid making up some narrative about their toy soldiers, or make-believe playing house with a teaparty for soft toys and dolls. It's exactly the same ("Teddy's having tea now, because he's done his homework, good Teddy").

Two Styles of Antiquities Dealership

In the thread called Egyptian MOU imposes Drastic Restrictions  by its outraged initiator we read two different points of view. Here is one dealer (Sue McGovern-Huffman, President Sands of Time Ancient Art,  Washington, DC) speaking of the hoo-haa:
[...] Therefore, in summary, although the MOU was approved, it really doesn't have any impact on objects that have more than ten years of collection history. And, let’s face it, any object that does not have such a history is probably not something to be purchased with confidence. Best regards, Sue 
the actual period may be open to question, but the general way of thinking is correct. Especially compared to this guy:
Yes Nick, WoW. In this list the group can perceive how unethical collusion between the AIA and the Kouroupas regime at the State Department is gradually making licit importation of a majority of antiquities and ancient coins into the USA impossible. Even those with no suspicious aspects whatsoever, sent by trustworthy and reputable sources, are banned unless there is documentary evidence presented that they were outside Egypt prior to the effective date of the MOU. That, at the very least, adds an unnecessary delay and cost to the shipment process. Dave
No prizes for guessing the identity of the ACCG's Dealer Dave there.

Of course, this is a false argument because no additional costs whatsoever are involved. This is simply because in this day and age, nobody should be adding to their stock artefacts which cannot be proven to have been legitimately exported from Egypt before November 2016 (yes, that's right - now). Nor should any collector be buying from such a dealer no matter how "trustworthy and reputable" they believe them to be. In what are they 'trusting', if the dealer himself has no documentation - that immaterial 'feeling' Dealer Dave was talking about [' You've Got to Get That Feeling: Allegedly, the "Right Way" to Collect "Artefacts with Limited Provenance" ' PACHI Tuesday, 6 September 2016]?). How does one test whether a given dealer\'s 'feelings' are correct if there is no paperwork? And on what is that 'reputation' built? A reputation for what, not getting caught, perhaps?

Surely responsible buying (truly responsible buying of antiquities) should be based on more than a plaintive bleatijng: "paperless, I know, but everybody else buys from him".


Love, Peace and Happiness and lots of Hugs for a Treasure Hunter at Barleston

"It is a real credit to the finder for treating the
discovery so responsibly and reporting it correctly".
(Councillor Terry Follows, Stoke-on-Trent City Council
cabinet member for greener city, development and leisure)

Cllr Follows
Kerry.Ashdown 'Barlaston field yields more than 2,000 pieces of Roman treasure'  December 13, 2016

More than 2,000 Roman artefacts including coins have been declared treasure after being unearthed in Barlaston. Metal detectorist Stephen Squire made the discovery in a field in his home village. [...]  He contacted the British archaeology [sic] liaison officer for the West Midlands, but after waiting an hour and a half he realised he excavated the coins himself. [...] Councillor Terry Follows [...]  said: "This is a significant find because of the number of coins involved. They were found in broken pottery vessels just one metre below ground.  [...] Margaret Jones, North Staffordshire assistant coroner who oversaw the case, confirmed Mr Squire's find as treasure. She said: "[...] I hope that the coins bring you much happiness
That the context and associations were not properly documented is indicated by rejection of some of the finds from this excavation: 'A piece of copper alloy metal, an iron tool and a crucible of lead were also uncovered but were found to be of a much later date'. (A 'crucible of lead' is that what the PAStexplorers volunteer said?) . Yet the treasure hunter was digging into an archaeological context, represented by the broken ceramics surrounding his 'target' "just one metre down" because he was frustrated in his expectation that an entire archaeological team could be out in a field with all their kit at his beck and call in less than an hour and a half.

Dutch court rules on Crimean gold

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Antiquities Financing Assad Regime

The Apamea artefacts were looted apparently when the ancient town was in regime hands.  So which dealers and collectors are supplying funds to the Syrian regime by buying antiquities from them?

Monday, 12 December 2016

Aleppo, Tonight, as Every Night

Tonight, our thoughts are with the people of Syria caught up in this terrible war, epitomised by those  trapped under fire in Aleppo:
The siege in Aleppo is almost over. Advances by Syrian government forces and their allies have squeezed the fighters and civilians remaining in rebel-held parts of the city into a sliver of territory [...] [they are] crowded into abandoned apartments and rainy streets, exposed to shelling and afraid they would be killed or arrested if pro-government forces reached them, as antigovernment activists circulated reports of scores of summary killings in retaken areas. The United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, said in a statement on Monday that he was alarmed by reports of atrocities against a large number of civilians, including women and children. It appeared increasingly likely that the government would gain control of the whole of Aleppo, the largest city in Syria, within days, if not hours. [...] That would be a turning point in the civil war, cementing government control over all of Syria’s most important cities and forcing the opposition and its backers to reckon with whether their movement, especially the armed rebellion, has failed.
Anne Barnard, 'Syrian Government Moves Closer to Completely Controlling Aleppo' New York Times Dec 12th 2016.

UPDATE Dec 13th

Pro-Assad forces execute dozens of civilians in sweep through rebel-held Aleppo, says UN
Washington Post 13th dec 2016
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