Sunday, 24 September 2023

Chat GPT Justifies Collecting...

I thought I'd see what our AI pal reckons about artefact collecting: " What do collectors of ancient and historical artefacts found in the fields (such as metal detectorists) and collectors of ancient coins DO with the artefacts they have in their collections? What are their justifications for collecting these items?" The answer was not a bad one, in the circumstances:


Collectors of ancient and historical artifacts found in fields, including metal detectorists, and collectors of ancient coins engage in these hobbies for various reasons. Their motivations and what they do with their collections can vary widely. Here are some common justifications and practices associated with these collectors:

Hobby and Personal Interest:

Many collectors are passionate about history and archaeology. They see their hobby as a way to connect with the past and learn about different cultures and time periods.
They derive personal enjoyment and satisfaction from the thrill of discovery and the process of research and preservation.

Preservation and Documentation:

Responsible collectors often take great care to document the artifacts they find, recording their context, location, and any historical significance.
Some collectors see themselves as stewards of history, preserving items that might otherwise be lost or damaged over time.

Research and Education:

Collectors often use their collections as educational tools. They may share their findings with scholars, museums, or the public to contribute to historical knowledge.
The artifacts and coins can be studied to gain insights into ancient civilizations, economies, and technologies.

Community and Social Bonding:

Many collectors are part of local or online communities where they can share their finds, experiences, and knowledge with like-minded enthusiasts.
Metal detecting clubs and archaeological societies provide opportunities for social interaction and support.

Display and Exhibition:

Some collectors create displays or private museums to showcase their collections. These displays can serve as educational resources for visitors.
Exhibiting artifacts can also be a way to share the beauty and historical value of these items with a wider audience.

Financial Investment:

While not the primary motivation for all collectors, some do consider their collections as investments. Rare or historically significant artifacts and coins can appreciate in value over time.
However, this approach may raise ethical concerns if it leads to the illicit trade of stolen or illegally acquired artifacts.

It's important to note that the motivations and practices of collectors can vary widely. While many collectors are responsible and ethical in their pursuits, there are also instances of looting, illegal artifact trafficking, and damage to archaeological sites. Laws and regulations regarding artifact collection vary by country, and it's essential for collectors to be aware of and comply with local and international laws governing the excavation and possession of historical artifacts.

In recent years, there has been increasing awareness of the ethical considerations surrounding artifact collection, and efforts have been made to encourage responsible collecting, reporting of finds to authorities, and collaboration with archaeologists and historians to ensure that valuable historical information is not lost through unregulated activities.
So how much of this applies to the metal detectorist that you do not personally know, because you met them on an excavation? I still see the influence of the PAS/ Bonnie-Suzie/ Helsinki here.

Russia has Destroyed Huge Numbers of of Ukrainian Texts in Ukraine.

It is estimated that as a result of military action or deliberate vandalism, Russia has damaged or completely destroyed more than 620 libraries in Ukraine since February 2022. Over 187 million Ukrainian library books have been destroyed by Russians. This estimate is just the library books and doesn’t account for all the other books they've destroyed. School library destroyed by a rocket attack, Kramatorsk, August 27, 2022

Saturday, 23 September 2023

Preparations for Getting Crimea Back


          The current state of the headquarters of the               
Russian Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol.    
In Ukraine, Vice Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk made an appeal: "Ukrainians who live in Crimea are asked to leave and wait out the deoccupation in another territory", she said. It is to be expected that things will get a bit chaotic in occupied Crimea the next couple of months.

This means that those currently in charge of the collections of museums in the temporarily occupied territories in Crimea must begin now their efforts to safeguard the collections currently in their care under the provisions of the 1954 Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict [Вы знаете, что есть такое, правда?].

Since nobody outside Russia recognizes the Russian territorial claims to Crimea, any attempt to "evacuate" material to Russia will be an attempt to smuggle cultural property, and can be treated as a war-crime too (Mali provided a precedent). 

Ukraine should publish a list of the names of the people currently in charge of institutions housing cultural property (museums, libraries, archives etc.) so they should know that the world is watching them closely.   

Of Akinakes and Axes

Office of the President of Ukraine: ' A ceremony of returning cultural property stolen from the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine was held in Washington with the participation of the President' 21 September 2023

During a working visit to the United States, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy took part in a ceremony of returning cultural property stolen by Russian invaders from the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine [...] and [...] confiscated by U.S. law enforcement agencies.[...]

In June 2022, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection detained an antique, which, after examination, turned out to be a European iron axe from the 17th century with a hammer on the back. The axe was illegally exported from Ukraine to the United States.

Also last June, artifacts smuggled into the United States from Russia were seized. In particular, three 17th-century iron axes, three 17th-century mattocks, two 6th-century BC Scythian iron acinaces, and one iron spearhead dating from approximately 500-1200 BC.

These artifacts were confiscated for transfer to the Embassy of Ukraine in the United States under administrative procedure.
Plus: the usual peptalk speaking as per normal, heritage values, bla bla.

I guess the first axe really was being exported by one of Ukraine's many eBay dealers, active before and during the War. I bet it's the one in the left foreground. The blunt peen could be used to knock nails (or wooden pegs) into a structure.

There is potential for a very satisfying PhD thesis for someone on "The Morphology, Characteristics and function of Post-Medieval Axes in Northern Europe (15th to 19th centuries)" - or maybe Europe generally? I don't think there is a monographic treatment (stand to be corrected). Dealers (no, I'll not name-names, I am sure you can come up with some) habitually [literally habitually] sell these and other forms as "Viking Axes", anything handmade with an odd-shaped blade and very-very rusty. The ones I saw in an auction house a year ago were quite specific in form, and on the Polish online sales-place Allegro I spotted the exact same form of axes in the "technological antiques" (ie byegones from the backs of rural barns). I am sure the dealers' ones were recent axes from Poland (Maybe the same form occurs in neighbouring countries) but this was no older than the nineteenth century. I do not know how this one is dated to the "17th century", the forms of utilitarian iron tools is (a) limited by the technique of forging and (b) tended to be very conservative over time.

The June 2023 ones, the same would apply to the axes. They are of vaguely-Viking-looking form, but are not. Again, I could not say how they are dated, perhaps they know where they were dug up (?). Weird forms like this could be spotted in manuscript illustrations, in manuscripts, early woodcuts, paintings. They are specialist woodworking tgools (perhaps boat-building? Just a guess). The one back right is robust and could [I'd suggest would] have been used to split logs longitudinally, with a mighty whack and then hammering the peen ito the wood until it split. It is not a battle axe, too heavy to carry about for one thing. The three hand-picks (NOT "mattocks"!) are small hand tools, used for dressing stone (similar tools are used for making stone-slab roofing tiles with the spike for making teh nail holes - but I am not sure whether such tiles were made in Russia/Ukraine, can't recall reading abouty them or seeing any). Totally beats me how they are dated. I have one bought new in Jack's in Colchester in the 1980s - used it as an excavation tool. Mine too is now as rusty as these as it's been in a leaky shed at my Mums for the last 37 years. Two of them are not ancient IMO. At the back... well, unlikely that the spearhead is as old as 1200 BC, wherever it is from. It probably is ancient, but why it is not Early Medieval beats me (given my background, it screams "Anglo-Saxon" to me, but it can't be - but it is to that period that I'd start looking for parallels, not the early Metal Ages). It's a fuzzy picture but the crud on it looks plausible. The sword behind it (now is that really an akinakes (here too) - I really doubt it, though it has to be admitted that they were variable is shape and size) is equally cruddy and until there are better photos deserves (or rather the dealer selling it as ancient) the benefit of doubt... But then, what links it specifically with Ukraine? The akinakes (the real one) was Achaemenid in origin and it and its derivatives occurred along a wide band of steppe between Crimean and Pesoia if not beyond.

The other one, I can only ask WTF? To my eye this looks for all the world like a recently-forged replica with an oxide patina. From that photo, I really cannot accept that it is anything else. But note that it is the same shape and size as the cruddy one, which has lost its tii and the end of the hilt. Is this a replica sold with the first to give an idea how it originally looked? So the dealer was not cheating, but making something more marketable. But then.... this replica (if that's what it is) draws attention to something else. How was the hilt finished? There are no rivet holes for hilt plates, nothing making a guard (though these does not have to be) no pommel as such (akinakes generally have one). IMO you cant just have some filler plates making a handgrip (OK, maybe glued to the metal?) and bound round tightly with tapes or leather strips to make a handgrip. IMO this would work loose in no time (and what rain-proof glue was there in the centuries BC?). This whole sword business looks a bit fishy to me.

But this is all object-centric divagation. These items are off the antiquities market, which we all know is  a swamp, so of course they are mis-described and now what they are represented as. That's par for the course.  And that the Americans are once again using antiquities to score a point without any real caere as to what it is they are "repatriating" - they do it all the time (vide: Kalmakara ('Western Cave') Griffin the  the dubious documents and @antiquities@ from the Abu Sayyaf raid) What I think is very clear that this is what's happening here. Hundreds of looted antiquiteies (real ones) are being exported from Ukraine, and not a few of them are going to the US, but this is the best Homeland Security could come up with for Zelensky's visit. A pathetic showing. let's note the phrase above: "smuggled into the United States from Russia". Given the rather unspecific/generic shape of most of these artefacts, what (apart from modern politics) determined that these objects should go to Ukraine? Can the US authorities explain that? Is this not an example of US instrumentally treating narratives of "X destroying/stealing cultural property" to create the picture of an evil Other [where a few years aggo X was "ISIL", and now it's "Russia"], regardless of what the facts are, or how securely one can actually justify these easy slogans. What actually links this ONE sale and the whole picture of "Russian theft" the US is trying to create? (and this is by no means a slight attack on the Ukrainian delegation Слава Україні!)

Crimean coin Seized in Athens Suburb


The premises of an antiquities smuggling ring were raided on September 16th by the Cultural Heritage and Antiquities Department of the Attica Security Directorate in  a coastal suburb of Greater Athens. The criminal syndicate was led by a man of Albanian origin known by the alias "Tzoni", and was reportedly operating from the Sports Hall of the Coastal Zone Olympic Sports Complex in Paleo Faliro. The antiquities were said to be from the regions of Attica and Epirus. In the raid, 31 ancient artifacts were seized, many of which hold great historical and archaeological importance and are protected by cultural heritage regulations. Archaeological experts evaluated the items, determining that 27 of them fell under the protective provisions of the Law on Protection of Antiquities, while four required further examination [I presume this means that they are suspected as possible fakes]. 

 Among the remarkable finds was a gold coin - a stater from Pantikapaion, a Greek colony in the Tauric Chersonese of the Black Sea, which is modern-day Crimea. This dates back to the 4th century BC. This coin, measuring approximately 17 millimeters in diameter and weighing about 9.2 grams, stood out as exceptionally rare. An archaeologist from the Numismatic Museum of Athens noted its uniqueness, as it featured a frontal depiction of Pan. Upon examination in the Numismatic Museum of Athens, it was affirmed that the coin falls under the protective provisions of Law No. 4858/2021 and holds substantial economic and cultural value due to its extraordinary rarity. it is valued at 6 million euros {there is no better information yet, but I assume that it is one of these staters that is referred to like the one sold in the Prosper collection a while back (here too)].

On what grounds however is this coin retained in Greece? What was the proof that it had been dug up in Attica/Epirus? While it is true that the normal staters did circulate a bit wider than the hinterland of the colony, one wonders what the grounds are for keeping this coin in Greece (apart from the national collections not having one).

But... would it not be ironic if this coin was one of the items that has not yet been declared a real, pukka antiquity? I.e., that it is a fake prompted by the publicity surrounding the "Prosper" sale? IS it real, or a fake? And if real, where was it from? 

Hat tip ARCA

Thursday, 21 September 2023

The UN and its UNESCO Failing to Meet Modern Challenges

              UN, pull your finger out.            

The UN is incapable of preventing aggressors like Vladimir Putin from invading other countries, Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky has claimed, as he made an impassioned call for reform of the General Assembly and Security Council to end Russia’s war on his country [...] as he addressed the UN Security Council in New York for the first time since Moscow’s invasion of his country.
There is no question that he is absolutely right. In its current form, the UN is not only no longer fit for purpose, but it has not been for a long time. The same goes for its documents such as the 1970 UNESCO Convention that refers to the situating on the antiquities market of the 1960s and 1970s and no longer are applicable to that of the 2020s. The world does not stand still, but the UN seems to think that it can ignore that fact.  

"They Can't Touch Yer for It" in Germany

In Germany, much was made of the new law (the Act on the Protection of Cultural Property) that entered into force in August 2016 penalizing the illegal export, import and trade of cultural property from and to Germany. There have been some repatriations to neighbouring EU states as a result of it (in 2018 three items, in 2019 over 1,000, in 2020 38, in 2021 a total of 884, in 2022 10, and so far this year 15). However, there are problems convicting people accused of breaking current legal regulations, because these acts are difficult to prove (for example in all of Bavaria since 2017, only two verdicts have been issued in against people prosecuted under the Cultural Property Protection Act). So, in a recent case (, 'Freispruch in Prozess um antike Silberteller aus der Ukraine' 19.09.2023) a trial involving ancient silver plates from Ukraine ended in acquittal (worth noting, as far as I can see, there is no evidence here that anyone is contesting that the plates actually were dug up in Ukraine and ended up on the Munich market - that to me is the actual point of importance): 

"On Tuesday, a district court in Munich acquitted a man of illegally importing antique silver plates from Ukraine to Germany. He was charged with violating the Act on the Protection of Cultural Property. Even the prosecutor who brought charges against him had to admit in his justification that he could not be proven to have committed a crime. Like the defence, she also demanded acquittal. A man brought fragments of two silver plates dating from the 2nd to 4th centuries AD to an auction house in Grasbrunn near Munich to auction them off. The relics are believed to be Ukrainian cultural assets, originating from looters' excavations in the Ternopil region of Ukraine in 2016–2017. The prosecutor's office assumed that he imported them to Germany illegally in 2019-2020. On Tuesday, the court decided that this could not be proven to the accused. It cannot be ruled out that he could have bought the works "from a dealer in Stuttgart a long time ago" and "that these items had been in the auction house for a long time."

(and so before the new law). So now some guy can buy this stuff, safe in the knowledge that in this case because there is no actual documentation, "They Can't Touch Yer for It"

[anyone got any more information? Like where did the prosecutor get the general location of the findspot and 2016-7?] 

 Hat tip Alexander Nagel
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