Tuesday, 17 May 2022

Metal Detectors Across the Sea


Never mind the "environment", look at my butterflies!

On social media we were alerted by Archaeology Irland Magazine (@Archaeology_Irl) that "an international supermarket chain is selling metal detectors in Ireland for seeking ‘treasure and artefacts’. It is against the law to use metal detectors for this purpose in Ireland without a license", so this is a repeat of the Cadbury's Treasure Hunt fiasco all over again. In response, an individual called "@Dubht1"(who mostly retweets pro-Russian twaddle on the invasion of Ukraine and anti-vax stuff, you get the picture), obviously oblivious to why the law exists as it does (and ignoring the fact that the issue of a licence would have a purpose) asks: So is it better to leave history uncovered??? He seems to be Irish and we assume he means "unrecovered". The usual vacant trope. I decided to address the issue:
Paul Barford @PortantIssues · 5 g.
"Better" than what, @Dubht1 ?

Even in England and Wales where there is a recording Scheme touted as "successful", EIGHT IN NINE "uncovered" artefacts simply vanish into metal detectorists' pockets unrecorded https://paul-barford.blogspot.com/2018/07/a-revised-artefact-erosion-counter.html / As far as figures available show, situation in other countries, such as Scotland and Denmark (also claimed by metal-detecting-groupies as "successes") is no better. Artefact hunting everywhere destroys "Uncovered history"! That's why the use of these tools should be restricted.
Seems pretty unequivocal to me, but not if you are an Irish anti-vaxer:
@Dubht1 · 42 min
Is it better than never being found thou? I'm sure there are some unscrupulous people that pocket finds but the majority of detecorists would report important finds to their Flo.
There we go, the usual "minority of unscrupulous people that are not real metal detectorists like me and my mates" bla-bla mantra. Let's just note that in neither part of Ireland is there a FLO....
Paul Barford @PortantIssues · 22 min

Did you actually read what I wrote? As I said, it is very clear that the majority of detectorists just trash sites and assemblages to hoik out artefacts that never get reported. So from the point of view of saving sites from vandalism, better they don't dig holes all over them. [...] It's the same argument with wild orchids and osprey eggs, in the middle of a field or up a tree, nobody will see them, but if some collector collects them, they can show the world what they've got, eh? This is however not what we call "conservation", in Ireland or anywhere else.
Dubht1 replies:
Um, er, yeah I did but I don't agree with you.There are unscrupulous people in every walk of life you shouldn't tar all detecorists with the same brush...Our museum's are full of artifects that detecorists have found.
It is difficult to imagine a conversation with a detectorist that would contain more cliches.
Paul Barford @PortantIssues · 36 min
W odpowiedzi do @Dubht1 @Archaeology_Irl i @32_ireland
You "don't agree" about what? On which evidence? What are your figures and where do they come from? if a minority of Brits love or have dogs it's not "tarring Brits with same brush" to call them a nation of dog lovers, is it? Majority of detectorist finds NOT reported. Ask PAS.
Later, it came as no surprise that although he disagreed with it, "Dove" had not actually read the text to which I linked, and totally unsurprisingly intones the next cliche: " Archaeologists should work with detectorists as one big happy family unearthing history together".

Behave Yourself on Holiday in Iraq, or Just Don't Go


UK Home Office: "Code Red,
        Advise against all travel"       
The trial in Iraq has started of a Briton and a German allegedly found with ancient pottery shards in their luggage who claim ignorance of the law concerning such artefacts. When they were leaving the country, according to statements from customs officers and witnesses, the baggage of one of the men contained about a dozen stone fragments, pieces of pottery or ceramics, while two further pieces were found in a plastic bag in the luggage of the German (AFP, 'Briton, German on trial in Iraq over pottery shards' 15/05/2022):
James Fitton, 66, a retired British geologist, and Volker Waldmann, 60, a Berlin psychologist [...] were arrested March 20 at Baghdad airport [...] The judge told the accused they were charged under a 2002 law which provides for sentences up to the death penalty for those guilty of "intentionally taking or trying to take out of Iraq an antiquity". [...] When the judge asked Fitton why he tried to take the artefacts out of Iraq, he cited his "hobby" and said he did not mean to do anything illegal. "I didn't realise that taking them was against the law," he said, adding that some of the ancient sites were open and unguarded. "I am a retired geologist. My interests still lie in geology and ancient history and archeology," said Fitton, who lives in Malaysia. He added that "most of the pieces were really small".
Reportedly, the fragments came from the Eridu archaeological site in southern Iraq. The trial is to continue on May 22.

Publicity around this trial will undoubtably make people think twice about visiting Iraq, at a time when teh country is hoping to achieve the regrowth of tourism, among which one key point is to encourage international visitors to tour its many archaeological sites (many of which are anyway pockmarked with unsightly looters' holes). Even if they do not intend to gather a few sherds from the ground surface as souvenirs, this case suggests that there is no telling what other harsh penalties exist in Iraq for a traveller carelessly behaving as they would at home. The UK Home Office and US State Department still both advise not going to Iraq at all due to terrorism, kidnapping, armed conflict, civil unrest, and limited capacity of diplomats there to provide support to its country's citizens.

Saturday, 14 May 2022

UK Forum Admits to More Irresponsible Metal Detecting in their Ranks [Updated]

On a metal detecting forum near you, just a mouse click away, you can see a telling indicator of the attitude of entitlement exhibited by many British detectorists. In a forum thread started by newbie "freti" (Fri May 13, 2022) on "Permissions and finds?" in the responses, you will see how they refer to landowners:  Some want to see everything and take their pick of the goodies, others just aren’t interested and are happy for you to take everything. No prizes for guessing which group the grasping muddy-boot-and-grubby hand brigade prefer to be dealing with, the ones that just let them walk off with the lot. But then if they do that, how will they get the protocols assigning title to the hoiked property that the PAS should be asking for before they handle these objects? Or are the ones who jus' walk off wiv it not the ones that are doing the reporting-to-the-PAS bit of so-called "responsible artefact hunting"? Actually, if they would take a look at the "Code of Best Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting" they'd see that entering into such a relationship with a landowner is NOT responsible metal detecting:
[III] After you have been metal-detecting
1. Reporting all archaeological finds to the relevant landowner / occupier; and making it clear to the landowner that you wish to record archaeological finds to the Portable Antiquities Scheme, so the information can pass into the local Historic Environment Record [...].
I am surprised that the PAS is not on these forums doing outreach by keeping artefact hunters informed. Fat lot of good it is having a "Code" if nobody concerned remembers what's in it. It's all for show, innit?

Update 15.05.2022
I see farmer Brown is irritated by these attitudes of entitlement too ('Farmer Brown: detectorist claims farmers are uncultured fools' HA 15.05.2022).

Comedy "Detectorists" Back

I have mixed feelings about the announcement that BBC Four's comedy series 'Detectorists' is coming back for a feature-length special (11th May 2022). On the one hand, I really enjoyed the original series as such and the brilliant array of characters portrayed by some excellent actors. On the other, I think its casual treatment and legitimising of the whole issue of exploiting archaeological sites as a source of collectables (together with a culpable lack of public discussion of the issues from the British 'archaeological community' on its back) awfully damaging. That the same series could have been made about some other rural hobby, such as train spotters or clay pigeon shooters, but was not. When the three-series show ended in 2017, the author of the screenplay said he had no plans to return to the topic, it seems he's changed his mind:
Toby Jones and Mackenzie Crook are reuniting in a new Detectorists special The one-off programme will be feature-length at 75 minutes It promises to "bring viewers up to date with the lives of Andy, Lance, Becky and the Danebury Metal Detecting Club" [...] Production on the new special of the triple BAFTA-winner is understood to begin shortly, made by Treasure Trove Productions, Channel X North and Lola TV.
No doubt it will be good TV. No doubt our British colleagues will once again fail to step up to the mark, no doubt a new wave of new people will be out there making their first metal detector purchases and looking for somewhere to use them. And mno doubt an additional few thousand archaeological artefacts will get hoiked out of Britain's already-depleted archaeological record to end up as loose decontextualised pieces of old metal in countless pockets for a while until they get lost. For what?

In the course of the three series members of the Danebury Club found a number of metal items, some modern, others older. An 'aestil' (Alfred-Jewel Lookalike) was found by Lance, but its context was never determined, the same with the hoard at the end of the third series. A ship burial was missed. Maybe a detectorist-supporting archaeologist would like to pen a paper about what the fictional artefact hunting we see in the programme would add, in the way we see it being done, to our knowledge of the archaeology/history area where Andy and Lance are searching that goes beyond a trite, triumphant "the Romans/Saxons/Medieval falconers were here too". Yes, we have that 2020 book "Landscapes of Detectorists" but I'd like to see artefact hunting archaeologists take us through the aspects of 'knowledge making' in anything but a narrow sense from collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record using what this programme represents as a starting point of discussion. they won't of course, British arkies also seem to think that archaeology is basically all about just "digging up old things.

Wednesday, 11 May 2022

Iranian Lawmakers and Landowners Want "Optimal Utilization of Dugup Ancient Objects and Treasures"

          Weird Jiroft stuff               

It seems that draft legislation has been submitted to Iran's parliament intended to turn Iran into a “regional centre” for antiquities trade, aiming to prevent the “cheap smuggling of national heritage”. Rather transparent motives there... The proposed law would reduce archaeology to "treasure hunting" and give license to non-professionals to dig anywhere for artefacts for sale. The plan calls for the creation of a regional 'hub' for 'treasures sale'. There are other disquieting details, including a measure that states that after someone requests a permit, if the Ministry doesn't reply within just 3 weeks, their request is automatically approved. Archaeologists and University professors have already protested (Radio Farda, 'Archeologists Concerned Over Bill Turning Iran Into Hub For Antiquities Trade' May 11 2022).

In a letter addressed to parliament speaker Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, 61 archeology professors called on parliament to scrap the proposal, dubbed the "optimal utilization of ancient objects and treasures," warning it will pave the way for the misuse of historical artifacts and monuments by traffickers and looters. They also said that the bill submitted this week by 46 lawmakers, had been drafted "without any consultation with official archaeological institutions."
(see also ASP, 'Iran archaeologists oppose bill allowing antiquities trade', Al Arabiya news 11 May, 2022). It is disheartening to see that after almost a century of antiquities laws and (sometimes faltering) efforts to preserve the country's rich archaeological heritage, legislators are now regarding cultural heritage and archaeology as a saleable commodity. If passed, this new law would mean that from now on sellers with Amlash, Luristan, Elam, Jiroft and a whole lot of other kinds of artefacts will not have to exert themselves to prove a pre-something export date to claim licitness, they will be able to say brazenly that something was freshly excavated. Name me a collector that would then ask to have a copy of the excavation permit for their collection's paperwork.

Once again, we see the consequences of an ivory-tower archaeology ("they did not sask us first" means they have not established themselves and the discipline as a voice in the public arena) to properly inform lawmakers and the public what archaeoklogy is and has to offer, allowing public discourse to focus on "the things (we have in our museums/ have been taken out of our country/ have been repatriated from dodgy dealers)" and the number (26) of trophy sites inscribed on the World Heritage List. The profs are concerned about one thing, but under their watch the man in the street has come to think the issue is something else. This is exactly the same as is happening in the UK with the PAS and elsewhere. Why do archaeologists everywhere only see the need for proper public outreach in hindsight when a situation like this arises, can the discipline become preeo-active?

Friday, 6 May 2022

More Antiquities Bend Time and Space: Parallel Presence Artefacts


Parallel-Presence Artefacts (Catawiki vs. Violity)

Over dinner today, my companion, a physicist involved in research into anti-matter in CERN told me, I think he was jesting, I could get a Nobel Prize for a certain little discovery I have made. Collectors and dealers will tell you that "holding a piece of the past in your hand" will "bridge the gap between past and present". I think they do much more than that, I think we can show that they really do exist in parallel universes. Look at the St Louis Ka Nefer Nefer mummy mask which this blog showed was in two places at once, according to documentation supplied by the dealer, the mask was on show in a gallery in Belgium, while other documentation seems to show it was in a museum storeroom in Egypt. Then we have the Leutwitz Apollo, which as I have shown is documented as being in the garden of a farmhouse in Saxony at the same time as a scholar saw it in a restorer's workshop. Also we must remember relatively large numbers of auction sales from some major sellers where an item has one collection history and then it turns out that there is the exact same artefact in one of the Medici (etc) polaroids and this can only mean that these artefacts too were in two different places at once. I think there is even more evidence of this elsewhere in the market. 

The collectables auction site 'Catawiki' has experts to look over the correctness of the descriptions of the items they sell, in the case of archaeological artefacts the vetting is in the hands of people that include Peter Reynaers ("About 30 years of experience, Moderator of several online art research groups, Avid collector, Broad interest and knowledge of art"). As the website says:

"What our experts do: Virtually review submitted objects (Every day sellers submit thousands of objects. Our 240+ in-house experts review and select only the best to auction).
Assist sellers with object presentation (Experts make sure the objects they select provide all the necessary details), Match objects to the perfect auction (Experts make sure special objects are easy to find by placing them in the right auctions)."
Also, all three of the auctions discussed below carries the text:
"The Seller can prove that the lot was obtained legally, provenance statement seen by Catawiki. Important information. The seller guarantees that he is entitled to ship this lot. The seller will take care that any necessary permits will be arranged."
Let us have a look at three more "dual-presence" artefacts, all of them from Catawiki and all sold by the same shadowy seller based in Austria. I did not spot them myself and may have to split the Nobel Prize money with the person who did, an anonymous collector with an interest and real knowledge of ancient brooches/fibulae with the screen name "Renate" who I have mentioned a couple of times on this blog. Regrettably, that's all I know. They posted a longish post on the ancient.artifacts.groups.io forum that contains the information about what they found (Apr 30   ). Anyway, the perspicaceous "Renate" found some brooches all sold by one guy ( "aesnumismatics" based in Austria,  Catawiki member since May 27, 2016) that had an unusual characteristic:

1) Catawiki no. 53222963, called a "Early medieval Bronze Extremely Rare Merovingian Zoomorphic Fibula with Raven Heads and Solar Symbols",
Without a pin and one of the ravens slightly bent, otherwise very well preserved with a lovely brownish natural patina and every detail perfectly visible. Extremely Rare Type. Size: 6,2 cm. Purchased by the current owner in 2016 in Austria, Wien (sic). Collected Since: 1980's. Previous owners history: Old Austrian Private Collection.
This had an expert's estimate € 220 - € 350, but as the reserve price was not met, it was not sold.
What is extremely exciting is that although it was purchased over (? note: "since") forty years ago, "Renate" found the very same, identical, object had been sold (33 bids 23.11.2020, 801 грн = 27.23 $) by its finder on the Ukrainian auction site Violity in November 2020 as "Fibula P[enkovska] K[ultura], the seller was located in Poltava Oblast, Ukraine. The Ukrainian metal detectorist is right and Catawiki's expert is totally wrong, this is clearly a Penkovska Culture fibula, with zero connection with the Merovingians. Nothing like anything they created, so much for his "ancient art" training.

2) Catawiki no. 56589917 described (laughably) as: "Ancient Roman Silver Nicely Ornamented Rarer Type Brooch Fibula with a back part (sic) resembling a Legionary Helmet with a nicely engraved ornamentation"
Almost intact with only some small part is missing on the left side, very stable metal and nice old cabinet tone- with its original pin, which is very rare . See Photo Rare type especially in silver. Size: 5,2cm. Purchased by the current owner in 2016 in Austria, Wien (sic). Collected Since: 1990's. Previous owners history: Old Austrian Private Collection.
Here the expert's estimate was € 440 - € 600, but as the reserve price was not met, it was not sold.
But this is fantastic news because it is evidence of the existence of parallel universes, because although this one entered an existing old collection thirty (? note "since") years ago, the absolutely same brooch was also dug up in a field in Ukraine many years later!! We know this because exactly the same identical silver brooch with with two coils appears on sale on Ukrainian online marketplace [Серебряная фибула] in the hands of a seller from Kiev also in November 2020 (Lot sold, 42 bids, 06.12.2020 902 грн = 30.66 $ ). Both fibulae have been tampered with in an identical way, the footplate has been cut down and reshaped. And no Mr Reynaers, that is not "the shape of a legionary's helmet", its not the "back end" and these brooches are not all that rare in silver. Back to ancient art history school for you.

3) Catawiki no. 52857081, "Ancient Roman Silver Exceptionally Well Preserved Cicade Brooch Fibula (shaped as a Fly). Much Rarer in Silver"
Nicely shaped which distinguish the body with it anatomy- the wings and the head of the fly. Almost intact with its own pin which is extremely rare and a nice old cabinet tone. Much rarer in silver. Size: 3 cm. Purchased by the current owner in 2016 in Austria, Wien (sic). Collected Since: 1980's. Previous owners history: Old Austrian Private Collection.
The expert's estimate was € 330 - € 460, but as the reserve price was not met, it was not sold. So the Austrian dealer Aesnumismatics has on his or her hands a precious collection of three dual-presence artefacts, documented as being in two different places at the same time, for this cicada brooch is also to be found on the Ukrainian online looted archaeological artefacts sales portal Фібула цикада, ЧК (Chernikhovo Culture). Now this one CANNOT be the one in Vienna, because the seller clearly indicates: "Пересилка тільки по Україні" (will not ship outside Ukraine - export controls). There is one characteristic however that argues for them being the same object simply in two different universes, this brooch has been clumsily pimped, with the catchplate fixed the wrong way round. This occurs in both of them.

These three items, taken with the other two mentioned above really do indicate that we need to be trawling artefact sales for more examples of artefacts that can actuially be 

Thursday, 5 May 2022

2022 Russian Invasion of Ukraine: "Russian Troops Destroying Ancient Tombs"

It is being reported that soldiers of the army of the Russian Federation taking part in the illegal and unprovoked invasion of neighbouring Ukraine are barbarically damaging ancient burial mounds dating back more than 2,200 years by using them as firing positions Ukrainian officials have said (George Grylls 'Russian troops are destroying ancient nomadic tombs' The Times May 04 2022).

Cultural inspectors said that Kurgans, sacred mounds dating to the first millennium BC, were being damaged by Russian forces. The mounds, which can be up to 15 metres high, are being used by Russians as elevated positions to fire artillery in the otherwise flat landscape of the Ukrainian steppe. [...] The Scythians were a nomadic people who roamed the plains of central Asia from 9th century BC to the 2nd century BC. At the height of their power, they controlled territory from northern China to Hungary. Little contemporary writing about their culture survives [...] [but] archaeologists have pieced together the story of Scythian culture [...] everything we know about the Scythians comes from archaeology or chance finds. Nomads generally don’t write, they don’t need to. Writing is the product of the bureaucracies of settled civilisations and cultures. That’s why Scythian archaeology is so important to understanding who they were, what they did, what they made and what they used.
There is a precedent:
Professor Hermann Parzinger, a German historian, said the “unbelievable concentration” of Kurgans in the lower Dnieper had been used as strategic defensive positions during the Second World War. “Soviet and German troops used Kurgans as firing positions in the Second World War because the steppe is very flat. Sometimes the only mountains or elevations are burial grounds. Some are 10 or 15m high.” “It is architecture and not just a heap of earth covering a burial. If you destroy such a mound, there is enormous damage to one of the most important Eurasian cultures.” He warned that Russian troops could destroy the sites to steal valuable objects. “In areas which are not controlled now, I can imagine that many Kurgans are knocked down with bulldozers by people just looking for gold,” he said.
I warned about this a few weeks ago (Artefact Trade and the February 2022 Russian Invasion of Ukraine). In the weeks before the 2022 Russian Invasion and Occupation took place, I was doing some work with satellite photos on rates and extent of site looting of part of the steppe around the Dniepr estuary and think that a few days ago, I recognised in war photography one of 'my' clifftop sites being used as a firing position for a MANPAD (in this case with no visible damage being done to the site). But let us be honest, that whole area is covered by these 'kurgans' - many are ploughed out and appear as cropmarks (both clear and very fuzzy)* and most of those that are still mounds do tend to have one or more holes dug into the middle. Some of that may be WW2 damage mentioned by Dr Parzinger, some certainly does seem to be relatively recent looting activity. While deploring all and any damage to cultural and archaeological assets of any region, and especially those occupied by force, I think we need to be wary of being involved in propaganda and keep away from facile hyperbole when reporting on such events. The rhetoric used by both sides in this war in part involve cultural heritage (and a Russian nostalgia for a past), which means that we need to take a step back from an emotional approach to heritage issues. 

* In part this is due to some of them having been made not by upcast from a ditch like many barrows, but by the cutting of turf from the surrounding areas and carrying them to the mound built of piled sods. The soil of the latter will be similar to that of the topsoil surrounding the mound.  

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