Wednesday, 5 April 2017

FSA buys 'Important Plastic Style' Object: And 'Responsible Collecting'?

John Hooker FSA has recently added another dealer-bought artefact to his collection in Canada, and 'Dale' (Dobunni Celt) comments January 2017 at 14:57
Hi John, Well done on spotting and adding two important Plastic Style pieces to your collection and making them known! Great work. Dale 
The problem is what he does not 'make known' is whether the object was legally exported from the country of origin (and thus does not come under the UK Dealing in Cultural Objects (offences) Act) and indeed from which precise country it actually came. This is just a loose paperless decontextualised object, removed from its findspot as a result of irresponsible collection-driven exploitation.

The text in question is  'New type: two plastic style ring-headed pins of the middle La Tène Objects' (Past Times, Present Tensions blog, Thursday, 5 January 2017) concerning three artefacts ('all central European, 3rd Cent. BC, pers. coll.'). The first was purchased at a Timeline Auction in August 2016, believed to be from Bohemia or France.
Several months later, I noticed another example of the type for sale on an Ebay auction from the U.K. It was part of a lot of three artifacts and so I bought that lot as well. Although the seller was in Britain, the items he had for sale were fairly consistent with objects I saw that were offered from Serbian sellers. [...] Another object in the Ebay lot provided a clue to the second pin's origins. I reasoned that the items in the lot most likely had all come from the same country, and while the second item in the lot was rare, the type had been well recorded with details of the locations of archaeological sites where they had been found. It was a pseudo-filigree fibula of the later 3rd cent. BC. [...] The archaeological site finds (24) of the pseudo-filigree fibula are as follows: Hungary (29.17%), Slovenia (25%), Serbia (16.7%), Slovakia (8.33%), Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Romania and Czech Republic (all 4.17%). Another clue (for what it is worth) is that the British seller had a Hungarian first name and a variation of a Slovak last name. [...]
Archaeological artefacts from all of these countries are protected by law and can only be legally exported if certain procedures are followed. The Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries however does not mention that he ascertained that this was the case, but shockingly instead invokes a 'they-can't-touch-me-for-it' argument:
There are no problems with the legalities of these items as[,] although many of the source countries mentioned in the paper which discusses the pseudo-filigree type have export restrictions, Canada will only recognize claims for objects that have only a single country where they are found. With this lot, there are no records at all for the plastic style pins[,] and the pseudo-filigree fibula is found in at least nine countries, and probably more. Some countries do not follow the letter of the law. For example, the U.S. has seized objects of types that are found in a number of modern countries deciding this on place of manufacture rather than where found. These extra-legal actions could be due to ignorance by archaeologists and/or customs officials and even perhaps even nefarious motives of politicians. Early Celtic art spans a great number of modern countries and finds can be scattered over vast distances from any known homeland of a style.
But there is a problem with the legality of items which passed from one of these source countries to Britain where somebody with 'a Hungarian first name and a variation of a Slovak last name' dealt in it and then exported it to a buyer outside the EU. A stolen car or Caravaggio nicked in Hamburg Germany does not become 'unstolen' by the mere act of transporting it to Burgham  in the UK without being stopped at the border. An FSA should know that and not be crowing about 'outsmarting' the authorities.  The country of origin can be determined by seizing the business records of the dealer that Mr Hooker has shopped and detaining the gentleman himself if it is found that he has been engaged in commerce in Illicit antiquities while in Britain. Seven years you can get for that. What kind of commercial (or maybe 'family') links are implied by the information Hooker FSA has imparted about the dealer's name?

Vignette: More empty words from the British Archaeological establishment on the illicit trade.   The Society of Antiquaries of London decries the commerce in illicit antiquities, but when one of their fellows boasted in January of being a participant, they do nothing. 

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