Saturday, 28 April 2018

Is Just 'Digging up Old Stuff' in any way an Advance in Archaeological Practice?


There are those in archaeology that are sucked up in the PAS gladtalking about those folk up to their neck in collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record are in some way engaging in something they call 'citizen archaeology'. They might like to explain to the rest of us that if you do a   search for specific terms in periodicals such as Advances in Archaeological Practice, while you get 38 hits for the word 'collection' (in collocation mostly with the word 'data'), and thirteen hits for the word 'detecting', you get just one for the phrase 'metal detecting' - but that (American) article does not refer to collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record but the use of a metal detector as a tool in a systematic archaeological survey.

It seems there is a whole body of post-nineteenth-century archaeological thought that considers the discipline of archaeology to be more, far more, than 'just digging up old things'. Back to school for the rest.

Friday, 27 April 2018

Finnish Talk Raises Questions


On Friday 27th April SuALT Project’s Dr Anna Wessman will be presenting the regular Helsinki Archaeology Seminar. The talk is entitled “Engaging with the Public: Introducing the SuALT-project”. I won't be there, but the abstract for the talk is as follows:
SuALT (Suomen arkeologisten löytöjen linkitetty tietokanta), or the Finnish Archaeological Finds Recording Linked Database, is a unique project within Finnish archaeology. The multidisciplinary project, funded by the Academy of Finland, consists of the University of Helsinki, Helsinki Centre for Digital Humanities (HELDIG), Aalto University and the Finnish Heritage Agency. We are developing a user-friendly and open database that encourages metal detectorists, but also other finders of chance material, to record their finds in the SuALT database. These finds have a high scientific potential but are not used in academic research at present. By engaging meaningfully with metal detectorists and other stakeholders, the project hopes to ensure that more finds are reported than at present, including retrospective recording. Through our citizens science approach we also hope to contribute in democratizing archaeology.
The Finn seem to have ingested the PAS-bacteria. First of all, the people engaged in treating the archaeological record as a source of trophies and collectables may prefer to be called by some anorakish name, such as 'metal detectorists' but they are artefact hunters engaged in the collection-driven exploitation of the record, whatever happens to the things they find. Collectors are not "the public", they are a minority group with their own specific and personal interest in the archaeological record. By engaging with artefact hunters the SuALT people are no more 'engaging with the public' than they would be engaging with these guys (all mentioned on this blog from time to time):


'Encouraging metal detectorists'  is not a good way of promoting archaeology, it promotes the Treasure-hunting mentality that is a major cause of damage to the archaeological record from Jordan to Jyväskylä  and Jyväskylä  to Wansborough. I really do not understand why normally sane (?) archaeologists anywhere would want to encourage collection-driven exploitation of anybody'\s (everybody's) archaeological record. Just what are they thinking? 

What is 'citizen science' when it is exploitive and damaging? Is big game shooting 'citizen science' because it involves knowing where to wait with a gun to blow a hole in the animal in a place where you do not damage the pelt too much? Is that science? You get a pelt to display but the environment is all the poorer for it? In what context is the noun 'science' being used here? How does one define this understanding of the word? (That actually is a very serious question which an archaeologist should be able to answer before using the word). 

Are looting (collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record, both legal and illegal), smuggling, the antiquities market and collecting actually a means of 'democratising archaeology'? It may enable lots of people to get their own 'pieces of the past' to hold in their hand, fire their fantasies, and act as trophies, but is that - in fact - archaeOLOGY? That is another serious question I'd like to see (real) archaeologists answering. I say it is NOT. Collecting is not archaeology, in the same was as amassing lots of costume Barbie dolls is not ethnology, and rhino horn acquirers and whalers are not ecologists.  


Friday, 20 April 2018

Friday Retrospect: Fate of a Loughborough Private Collection


I have done this before as a Friday retrospect, but I really do think that we need to keep in mind the actual reality (rather than the pro-collectors' imagined shangri-la) of the relation between archaeological evidence from the ground and the artefact hunters' collections. Of course discussing any of this is the last thing the pro-collecting lobby in UK archaeology wants to discuss: Friday Retrospect: Fate of a Loughborough Private Collection

Friday, 26 March 2010Detectorist selling upMetal detectorist waltzerlad_123 from Loughborough, Leicestershire, has a somewhat inarticulate offer on eBay at the moment:
THIS SALE IS FOR A VAST LOT OF DETECTOR FINDS I HAVE PUT A FEW PHOTOS ON BUT THERE IS LOTS MORE I AM NOT LISTING EVERYTHING AS I WOULD BE HERE ALL DAY. I AM SELLING MY COMPLETE COLLECTION HERE. IF ITS FINDS YOU WANT DON'T MISS THIS LOT. LIKE I SAID THERE IS JUST TO MUCH TO LIST HERE, SO HERE IS JUST A ROUGH IDEA OF WHAT THERE IS: BUTTONS_ FASTENERS_ BROOCHES_ TOKENS_ BUCKLES_ SPINDLE WHORLS_ PINS _MOUNTS ROMAN MIRROR BACKS_ RINGS_ NAIL CLEANER ROMAN _SNAKE BELT HOOKS_DAGGER CHAPES BARREL TAPS +KEYS_THIMBLES_CROTAL BELLS COMPLETE _ HOOK FASTENERS _LEAD SEALS + SEALS HORSE DECORATION ITEMS BELL WHISTLES _THIMBLES _LOTS OF NICE ROMAN COINS AND HAMMERED COINS. LIKE I SAID JUST TO MUCH TO LIST. PLEASE READ, THIS SALE IS BUY NOW ONLY AND CASH ON PICK UP OR I COULD DELIVER FOR SMALL COST I WILL ONLY DO THIS UP TO 100 MILES. AS THIS IS PICK UP I WILL ONLY TAKE CASE SO PLEASE TAKE NOTE OF THIS ONLY CASH. THE BUY ME NOW PRICE AND ONLY PRICE SO PLEASE DO NOT TRY KNOCKING ME DOWN OR SORTING THROUGH IS £500 SO PLEASE DO NOT BUY IF YOU DO NOT HAVE CASH OR YOU THINK YOU DO NOT WANT ITEMS. I AM LOOKING FOR A QUICK SMOOTH SALE. THERE IS LOTS HERE AND WHO EVER BUYS HAS ONE GOOD BARGIN. I WILL SAY AGAIN FOR THE THICK ONES THAT DO NOT UNDER STAND FIRST TIME ROUND, THIS IS A CASH SALE PICK UP NO PAY PAL CHEQUE JUST CASH I WILL DELIVER UP TO AROUND 100 MILES FOR PETROL COST THANKS FOR LOOKING. SELLING AS I AM GIVING UP HOBBY I AM ALSO SELLING ALL MY BOOK SOON SAME WAY JOB LOT. NOT EVERYTHING IS IN THE PHOTOS THERE IS LOTS MORE THE PHOTES ARE JUST A TAST OF SOME OF THE ITEMS. THERE IS LOTS MORE THAN THE PHOTES SHOW
It is rather odd though that according to the feedback, the same seller has been buying metal detector finds, mostly in private sales... including just a few days ago. Now why would one want cash in hand payment that do not show on the bank account? I've met this a number of times with UK metal detectorists. Are they doing this while on social security benefits? Or perhaps they do not want the solicitors of an estranged partner knowing how much money they make from selling antiquities?
Sadly we do not see the extent of the whole collection to get an idea of how many finds waltzerlad_123 had made in his detecting career. So I guess this means that he has stopped being "passionately intrestid in the past" then? Of course not all of the material visible in the photos is PAS-recordable, some of it seems to be Old-Timey bygones type stuff, collectable, but not as archaeologically significant as the rest.


The photos show some of the "collection" heaped on open glass shelves, no order discernible. Not a single one has a label attached saying where it came from (neither does the seller see fit to tell the prospective buyer where any of them might have come from). There is no mention of a catalogue accompanying the sale. So basically what is on offer are a heap of totally decontextualised artefacts stripped out of any number of sites and assemblages, who knows when. The coins are in PVC coin envelopes, again we cannot see any national Grid References or even parish names on the labels that can be read. Is this typical of the average British metal detectorists' hoard of archaeological geegaws? If so, what kind of curation of the remains of the past are they offering? How many of these objects have had their findspots recorded with the PAS?
Note that eight years on, no information on the latter has ever emerged from the PAS. Let us guess that the reason for that is not that by entering this discussion, the PAS would show what a jolly good job they are doing mitigating information loss and that 96.5% of the recordable artefacts on those shelves were in fact recorded. I'm going to guess that less than 3% of them were. 

Another thing we do not know is what happened to those artefacts Waltzerland123 had in his brief curation, what has happened to these (by now decontextualised) artefacts taken from the archaeological record, and what was the ultimate purpose of their removal to a personal collection? PAS, perhaps you'd like to comment? Leicestershire FLO, maybe?

UPDATE 29th April 2018
Thought not

Collection History Matters


Roman lettuces infected in USA
53 people across 16 states were infected by E. Coli linked chopped Romaine lettuce grown in Yuma, Arizona. States affected are: Pennsylvania Idaho New Jersey Montana Arizona Connecticut Michigan New York Ohio Alaska California Illinois Louisiana Missouri Virginia Washington
So, what can collectors do?
The says no specific supplier has been identified. They warn people across the U.S. to not eat or buy Romaine lettuce (including any in salad mixes) from grocery stores or at restaurants.
More specifically
UPDATE: The CDC says to avoid all types of Romaine lettuce (including whole heads and hearts) unless you can confirm that it’s not from Yuma, Arizona.
Check the paperwork. Unpapered lettuces can be a health risk.

Looted Dacian Gold Returned


Austria has repatriated a collection of first-century A.D. Dacian gold and silver artifacts to Romania, including more than 450 coins and 18 bracelets, thought to have been plundered from the Orastie Mountains between 2000 and 2001.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Destruction at the Ancient Site of Mari in Syria



Mary Shepperson writes in the Guardian (Thu 19 Apr 2018) of 'Destruction at the ancient site of Mari in Syria':
' The ancient city was one of the first archaeological sites to be occupied by Islamic State. Now new photos are revealing the fate of this important site as archaeologists continue to count the cultural cost of Isis
and so it goes on. Yet the actual evidence (highlighted by myself in this blog, and Sam Hardy elsewhere) is that the looting here did not begin under ISIL.
When Islamic State emerged, the part of Deir ez-Zor province in which [the already-looted PMB] Mari lies was one of the first areas to fall under its control in early 2014. Under IS, the site suffered an immediate explosion of looting; satellite images revealed the change from archaeological site to lunar landscape in a matter of months. More than 1,500 new looting pits were recorded at Mari between 2013 and 2015, likely representing the removal of a huge quantity of ancient objects, sold into the illegal antiquities market to fund Isis and its war. 
New looting pits identified at Mari between March and November 2014.
 Dense areas of disturbance can be in the central and northern areas of the site.
Photograph: Courtesy of the Mission Archéologique Française de Mari 
The damage was also caused by neglect:

Mari was home to an extraordinary palace. The earliest major structure dates to around 2500-2300 BC, and part of this early palace was restored and preserved at the site, providing a unique opportunity to walk through a third millennium BC Mesopotamian palace, standing almost to its roof beams. This palace area is now very badly damaged. Its protective roof was compromised by a sand storm in 2011 [which of course was in no way connected with ISIL], and the security situation at that time left it impossible to make repairs, but the recently released photos show that large parts of the palace’s 2m thick walls have now collapsed. Prof Pascal Butterlin, who directed excavations at the site up until 2010, believes such a level of destruction suggests that explosives, either ground based or more likely from air strikes, were probably involved, adding to the damage caused by looting for financial gain.
Butterlin gave a paper detailing the plight of Mari at the International Congress on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East conference in Munich two weeks ago, to general dismay.





The palace of Mari as  it was in 2008, with walls standing 5m high  under a protective roof (left),  and the
 palace as it appears in the new photos released by the Syrian  Directorate-General of Antiquities and
Museums, showing a pile of mudbrick rubble and the remains of the collapsed roof (right) .
Photograph: Mary Shepperson / Syrian Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums website 

The author points out that the later palace at Mari built in around 1800 BC by the Lim dynasty  has provided the most complete picture available of the life of a royal palace and the functioning of a Bronze Age city state. It is very important for the archives of (25 000)  cuneiform tablets of this period that its ruins contained, but these too seem likely (note: she offers no proof) to have been looted
The texts preserved on the tablets have left us the names of the rulers of Mari, provided a wealth of detail about the city and its people, and opened an exceptional window on the politics and diplomacy of the ancient Near East through the preservation of royal letters between the kings of Mari and the rulers of neighbouring kingdoms.   [...] It’s impossible to tell how much more of this history may have been hacked out of the ground by the IS-sponsored looters, written on tablets which were sold to fund the fighting.  
Of course cunieformists will point out that because the isolated objects that they study are addressed sources (made specifically to contain information transmitted to the viewer/handler) 'the names of the rulers of Mari' and the textual aspects of that 'wealth of detail about the city and its people', are still available to those who study the looted items in the copious private artefact hoard of Arthur Avarice the property developer and artefact collector. The question is should ethical academics be stooping to handle such items in the first place?

Shepperson ends:
Given the wonders of the palace of Mari and the importance of this site, it’s disappointing that the destruction of the palace and the plundering of the site in search of tablets and other saleable objects hasn’t received more attention. The first explanation is that cultural destruction in the Middle East has been so widespread in recent years that it’s ceased to be news-worthy in all but the most extreme cases, which is a depressing thought. A second disadvantage Mari has over more high-profile sites, such as Palmyra, is that its buildings were made of mud, and not the classical stonework which produces photogenic ruins and screams its artistic worth to a general audience. Nevertheless, Mari deserves to be considered as a loss on the same scale as any of the more celebrated sites to have suffered during the Isis conflict. 

Sunday, 15 April 2018

A View on the Antiquities Market


John Hooker FSA April 15, 2018 at 6:47 pm Hi Dick,
It’s great to see a detectorist who is not swayed by archaeological brainwashing! Some archaeologists lure people into not selling their finds because they fear the collector. The reason being that a specialist collector will amass far more information about their specialty than any archaeologist could ever hope to achieve from excavating sites. The same will be true for many dealers whose reputation and success depends on their knowledge.

Detectorists who sell finds contribute to our knowledge in many ways: a lot of dealers maintain public archives of their stock which can be accessed by anyone who knows how to use Google whereas academic publications are priced very high and are seen mainly by academics who want to further their careers; specialists often pay far more than nonspecialists so selling by auction can be a good choice for the detectorist; The detectorist can provide information about the location of the find which will aid in creating distribution patterns. This need not be very specific because a location within a few miles is usually adequate. I suggest saying something was found “near [the closest town]”. That way, the detectorist will know that no one is likely to find their favorite spot.

Being a specialist and a collector, I often give advice to detectorists about good places to look in their area and identify finds for them. In return, they often present me with samples from a site find that I can study further and I share that information with them as well as making it public through my blog.

After a while, many detectorist/collectors will form their own specialties and I also advise them on purchases. I never bid on any item that a collaborating collector asks me about if they are also going to bid. In return, they often tell me about things that they are not planning to buy but that I am interested in.

If you devote time, effort and money, then there is nothing wrong with profiting from that. Who would deny a farmer or a craftsman from making a living from their knowledge and their work? There is something wrong, though, with having information available only to the academic elite. Best, John

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Looting of Baghdad Museum


U.S. forces invaded Iraq 15 years ago this week and we remember the looting of the  National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad (Sigal Samuel, 'It’s Disturbingly Easy to Buy Iraq’s Archeological Treasures' The Atlantic March 19, 2018).  The story begins with a dramatisation of the theft and recovery of the Lady of Warka head
a priceless Sumerian artifact dating back to 3100 B.C., it’s the earliest known representation of the human face. It was looted from the museum in Baghdad—along with 15,000 other antiquities—in the chaotic aftermath of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Soon after, a tip from an Iraqi informant led American and Iraqi investigators to raid a nearby farm. They found the Lady of Warka intact. In September 2003, it was returned to the museum. Other artifacts have not been as lucky. Fifteen years after U.S. forces toppled Saddam Hussein, ushering in a period of instability that led to the plunder of the museum while ignoring pleas to secure the building, some 7,000 looted items have been returned, but about 8,000 are still out there. 
It is worth noting one reason why 'portable antiquities' are called 'portable antiquities' and why this is important:
Most of the Iraqi antiquities sold online are small. Of the large items stolen from the museum in 2003, the majority have been returned. Many Iraqis who looted these items quickly realized they couldn’t sell them because they were too recognizable, and took advantage of the amnesty that the museum offered for anyone returning stolen goods. Some iconic items were swept up in raids or got caught at customs as smugglers tried to export them. The U.S. has helped recover and repatriate some of these. A stone statue of the Sumerian king Entemena of Lagash, which weighs hundreds of pounds and is missing its head, was stolen from Baghdad soon after the invasion. A clandestine operation involving federal prosecutors in New York led its recovery in 2006 and its return to Iraq in 2010. 
It is worth noting, which the journalist does not, the Aboutaam brothers played a part in this recovery. It is also worth noting that this piece made it to New York before it was found. Another one that got there:
Another high-profile case centered on a limestone statue—this one consisting of nothing but a head—of the Assyrian king Sargon II. The artifact was seized in New York in 2008 and returned to Iraq in 2015. (Like London, New York is a major hub for the antiquities market, given the city’s many galleries and auction houses.)  Although the U.S. has been actively repatriating artifacts—Immigration and Customs Enforcement returned more than 1,200 items between 2008 and 2015 alone—it has also let some things slide. “It is worth noting that there were no follow-up congressional hearings or independent investigations to pinpoint the parties responsible for the negligence connected to the museum debacle,” Archeology Magazine reported in 2013. What’s more, as the Chicago Tribune reported in 2015, “American military members, contractors, and others caught with culturally significant artifacts they brought home from the war there largely aren’t prosecuted.” It’s not known how many Americans brought home artifacts as souvenirs or war trophies, but one expert suggested to the Tribune that the known cases—a defense contractor who brought back gold-plated items from Saddam’s palaces; a U.S. employee who shipped home an Iraq government seal; a Marine who bought eight ancient looted stone seals off the street—are just “the tiniest tip of the iceberg.” 

Sunday, 8 April 2018

It Took Some Time, but it is Official ‘Jordan Codices’ proven fake


Readers may remember the case of the lead codices allegedly found in a northern Jordan cave between 2005- 2007 and promoted as authentic and important antiquities by David and Jennifer Elkington.  The Jordanian Department of Antiquities (DoA) has definitively announced that they have been proven forged (Ahmed Bani Mustafa, ‘Jordan Codices’ proven fake — DoA', Jordan Times Apr 07, 2018).
The codices, comprised of more than 70 ring-bound books entirely made of lead, were reportedly found in a remote valley over a decade ago. The DoA Director General Monther Jamhawi said that the codices are a kind of “professional” forgery that was executed skillfully. 
No they were not, the official is just making excuses for the tardiness of the recent announcement.  But he is right saying that 'this [...] counterfeit has created confusion', as do any antiquities of unclear nature surfacing on the no-questions-asked market - see for example what Oscar White Muscarella (The Lie Became Great) says on the matter of bazaar archaeology (sometimes you could even read it - as here - as  'bizarre').
.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Blogging Light for a While


Blogging here has been and will be light for a while longer, I am recovering from an operation which should have been simple, but developed complications. But I am feeling OK now and will be delivering the presentation on 11th April on looted artefacts from the  MENA  area and the antiquities trade (etc) at University of East Anglia as planned. See some of you there.
 
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