Saturday, 22 February 2020 200,000 Archaeological Artefacts on Sale in One Week in January

This weekend I am doing some stakhanovite editing of a text on the trade in North African lithics that is supposed to go in a volume on North African prehistory that I am collaborating in. The first draft of my text has to be shortened by half and has to have a new bit written at the beginning and end... I have just chucked this bit out and it took half a day to get the data together. It's not very satisfactory as a text anyway. The point is however pretty interesting.
The scale of the online commerce in antiquities [as a whole, not just the lithics PMB] is enormous, but it is difficult to count absolute numbers, because of the way different sellers list items using various terms and listing them in different sections of the larger websites. On in the first week of January 2020 for example, the search engine reveals that in that week, there were a total of at least 196,936 archaeological artefacts on sale. This includes just over 72,000 antiquities (and ‘antiquities’) in the section of the portal specifically dedicated to antiquities (over 23,000 of them were of metal). There were about three hundred North African stone artefacts listed here. In the numismatic section, there were 104,800 ancient and medieval coins on sale (excluding an additional several tens of thousand of examples from SE Asia and the Far East that I did not count). More artefacts and pseudo-artefacts can be found in the ‘collectables’ section (mainly under ‘cultures and ethnicities’). Here were found the bulk of the Native American lithic items (19,520) and several hundred North African stone artefacts. Another 616, mostly North African arrowheads were being sold in the ‘rocks and minerals’ section.
Among the antiquities, 3800 items were marketed as Palaeolithic and Neolithic objects, the bulk of which were stone tools from various sources in Europe, MENA and SE Asia. It seems that a substantial proportion of these were in fact not ancient artefacts (this is a general problem with the indiscriminate internet market of portable antiquities, neither buyers nor sellers can distinguish between authentic and fake – and for some sellers fakes are easier, and less risky in legal terms, to market). Together with the ‘collectables’ a total of 20,611 out of 192,750 portable antiquities (10.7 %) were lithic artefacts. While the bulk of this material comes from collecting in the USA and, though to a much lesser extent, Canada, the North African material forms a substantial portion of this group of items.
My paper was intended to be making the point that the discussion of artefact hunting and collecting (Collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record) should not by any means be restricted to metal detecting, and I was going to do this by investigating one bit of the trade in lithics. The original plan has had to be changed and the focus of the article will be shifted to the effects of this trade on the archaeological record (I'll try and use the rest elsewhere).

Note that the figure 193,975 refers to items being offered for sale at one time on only one of the several eBay portals (not including results from the various national ones). It also does not include other online selling plaes, catawiki, Faceboox, Sixbid etc etc. This trade is massive. 

Friday, 21 February 2020

András Riedlmayer and Serbian Nationalist War Crimes Against Culture

Mostar Bridge
András Riedlmayer, a bibliographer at Harvard’s Fine Arts Library, knows more about the destruction of that region’s cultural heritage during the Yugoslav Wars from 1991 to 2001 than almost anyone, and has helped set a precedent of prosecuting this kind of destruction as a war crime (Anna Burgess, 'Harvard librarian puts this war crime on the map', The Harvard Gazette February 21, 2020):
In 1992, when he read about the burning of the National Library, Riedlmayer knew it was an attack on more than physical objects. It was what he later testified to being “cultural heritage destruction”: intentional and unnecessary destruction of sites and records that act as a community’s collective memory. The crime comes from a desire to not only kill individuals who are part of an ethnic or religious group, Riedlmayer explained, but to erase their existence, “remove any evidence that they were ever there to begin with, and give them no reason to come back.” In the case of the Balkan region, cultural heritage destruction was part of attempted ethnic cleansing by the Serbian nationalist government led by Milosevic. The nationalists came to power amid destabilization in the former Yugoslavia and began targeting Bosnian Muslims, Kosovar Albanians, and other non-Serbs. They destroyed everything from ancient mosques to property records

Illegal Metal Detecting in Hockley Woods Reported on Facebook

Hockley Woods, Essex,
Site of Special Scientific
Interest (wikipedia)
Today on Facebook Fudgeworld 'metal detecting' page
David Coates 5 hours in hockley woods. Never again
Jimmy Young How did you get permission for them woods? As they are protected
David Coates Just asked the local ranger guy he said if I don’t see you then I don’t no about it
Which I guess means that he thinks that this is legal. It seems detectorists consider that its just "somebody's permission" they need, rather than the actual landowner. But - as David Coates should know - Rochford Council has a blanket ban on all metal detecting and particularly on Hockley Woods which is a SSSI.

Right, and who is going to report him? A 'Responsible metal Detectorist'? A British archaeologist, the PAS maybe? Or the bloke in Poland? Or... maybe nobody, and he'll get away wiv it - as they all do.

By the way, the ("If I doesn't see ya, then I dont no abowt it") ranger too should be reported, for aiding and abetting. But of course Coatsey did not akchully rite 'is name down fur ferther refrince.

Once again, let us return to my misgivings about a 'policy' (I use the term loosely) that is based on a pious hope that these people can be educated in 'best practice' when it is clear that there is among them a hard core of individuals that seem from present evidence to be in effect ineducable. So what are we to do to stop them destroying the heritage? Ideas, PAS? 

Thursday, 20 February 2020

Inside a Metal Detectorist's Home in Savoie

Objects SCREWED TO the wall in a French
artefact hunter's home (France)
A communication from the Ministère de la Culture DRAC Auvergne - Rhône-Alpes,  Pillage d'un site archéologique à Aiguebelette en Savoie (13th Feb 2020) describes a raid by the regional department of Archaeology of the DRAC Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes and the Department of underwater and underwater archaeological research assisted the National Gendarmerie on the home of an individual suspected of engaging without authorization in the detection and removal of archaeological and historical objects from the archaeological record. What they found is illustrated by a photo of objects displayed as trophies (without any labels identifying where they came from), and if you look carefully you can see the iron objects (covered in some unknown shiny material) are actually screwed to the wall (!):
Durant cette opération, des milliers d’objets ont été saisis et sont désormais sous scellés. Ces objets sont presque exclusivement métalliques et datent des périodes de l’âge du Bronze (2100 avant notre ère) à nos jours. Ces objets ont été extraits de sites archéologiques et ce lien essentiel avec le contexte archéologique qu’ils caractérisaient a été irrémédiablement détruit. En l’absence de cette connaissance de leur origine, quelques-uns de ces objets conservent une information archéologique intrinsèque ou une dimension esthétique, mais beaucoup ont perdu toute valeur archéologique ou muséale. Des pans entiers de connaissance du passé ont ainsi été perdus définitivement et la conservation même de certains de ces objets a été mise en péril par leur extraction du sol et des conditions de stockage inadéquate.  
And for British 'leavers' who did not pay attention in school, that's: "Thousands of objects were seized during this operation and are now under seal. These objects are almost exclusively metallic and date from the Bronze Age (2100 BCE) to the present day. These objects were extracted from archaeological sites and this essential link with the archaeological context which they characterized was irreparably destroyed. In the absence of this knowledge of their origin, some of these objects retain intrinsic archaeological information or an aesthetic dimension, but many have lost all archaeological or museum value. Whole sections of knowledge of the past have thus been lost permanently and the very conservation of some of these objects has been jeopardized by their extraction from the soil and inadequate storage conditions.
Most of the objects shown in the accompanying photo of this weird (and, I would say, rather unaesthetic) installation seem rather to be Early Medieval or later. There are also natural history specimens, shed roe deer antlers, minerals (is that Wieliczka salt?) and possibly some ethnographic collectables. This has nothing to do with 'researching the past', but everything with display.

French Brochure on Collection-Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Heritage

In the communication from the Ministère de la Culture DRAC Auvergne - Rhône-Alpes, Marie-Pierre Feuillet, heritage curator at the Drac regional archaeological service stresses:
Le patrimoine archéologique est une ressource précieuse et non renouvelable. Cette activité de détection non autorisée a spolié le patrimoine de la Savoie des données scientifiques détruites. L’État se doit de garantir les droits des générations à venir en leur transmettant un patrimoine naturel et culturel conservé et mettra tout en œuvre pour empêcher que de telles destructions se renouvellent. Entretien avec Marie-Pierre Feuillet, conservatrice du patrimoine au service régional archéologique de la Drac L'archéologie est un métier, l'utilisation de détecteurs de métaux hors des cadres légaux est interdite 
For British 'leavers': "The archaeological heritage is a precious and non-renewable resource. This unauthorised detection activity has robbed the heritage of Savoy of destroyed scientific data. The State must guarantee the rights of future generations by transmitting to them a preserved natural and cultural heritage and will do everything in its power to prevent such destruction from happening again. Archaeology is a profession, the use of metal detectors outside the legal framework is prohibited."
Download the brochure Archaeological heritage: a fragile and non-renewable resource (in French) None of this fluffy pirate-nation 'citizen archaeology' nonsense from Europeans. Maybe the PAS could take a look and reflect.

Costa Almeria Metal Detectorists Caught Looting Roman Site

Almeria, Gérgal
Cathy Elelman, 'Costa Almeria metal detector enthusiasts caught digging up finds from Roman archaeological site in Gérgal' Euroweeklynews 20 February 2020
Police caught three artefact hunters digging up artefacts from an Iberian-Roman archaeological site in Gérgal. A patrol from the Environment and Heritage Protection Group of the Police Unit Assigned to the Andalucia Autonomous Community in Almeria surprised the trio prospecting for finds with the metal detectors and using other tools to excavate without any kind of authorisation. Officers found the three had gathered some 70 pieces, including coins, brooches, and other items of archaeological interest. Police also seized the detectors, radio equipment, torches, materials to clean the pieces which were dug up and other materials related to the illegal activities. The three have been charged with breaking an article of the Andalucia Historic Heritage Law, which only allows the controlled use of metal detectors without impacting on historic heritage.
Earlier this year police seized nearly 500 items considered of archaeological interest and with no documentation to show their legal origin that a Roquetas de Mar metal detector enthusiast had found. Fines for breaking the Andalucia Historic Heritage Law can be as much as €200,000. And still they do it - presumably assuming that if they do it when nobody is looking (torches at night for example), they will not get caught.
hat tip, John Ma,  @rogueclassicist

"The coin collector lost a protracted legal challenge to regain possession of the coins"

"Most countries have laws that protect their cultural 
property, such as art, artifacts, antiquities, 
 or other archeological and ethnological material. 
 These laws include export controls and national 
 ownership of cultural property. Therefore, 
although they do not necessarily confer ownership, 
consignees or importers must have documents 
such as export permits and receipts 
when importing such items into the United States"

Public service announcement to all collectors

The kind of heavily chemically
stripped crap this "collector from
 Missouri" usually buys? 
Valentine's day present for responsible collecting. US dealers lobby group lose their "Baltimore Illegal Coin Import Stunt" ('Baltimore CBP Repatriates Priceless Artifacts to Cyprus Government Officials Press Release : February 14, 2020). So, what are they going to do now? Sue Cyprus to get them back?
U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Baltimore Field Office repatriated seven ancient coins [...] to the Embassy of Cyprus today that Baltimore CBP officers initially discovered in an air cargo shipment in April 2009. An appraisal determined that the collection dated from the Roman Empire, from several periods during 81 BC through 217 AD. The collection includes:
Two bronze coins from an unspecified Roman period
One coin from the Ptolemaeus period, 81 BC -58 BC
One coin from the Augustus period, 27 BC – 14 AD
Two coins from the Tiberius period, 14-37 AD
One coin from the Severan period, 193 AD – 217 AD
“On behalf of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, I am honored to return these priceless national treasures to the government and citizens of Cyprus,” said Casey Durst, CBP’s Director of Field Operations in Baltimore. “Customs and Border Protection will continue to use our border authority to identify and rescue precious antiquities being smuggled by those who profit on the theft of another country’s historical and cultural property, and return them to their rightful owners.
"Coin collector from Missouri", please note. The dealer he bought them from who did not have the proper documentation was sending him coins to which they had no title (1970 UNESCO Convention Art 3).  And just look at the state of this coin-chemically stripped to bare porous metal, this is what the antiquities trade does to ancient artefacts, this is not preservation, it is damage. Apparently these coins were acquired from Spink. Who would believe that such a 'reputable' firm would have had such things in their stockroom. Yuk.
CBP officers from the Area Port of Baltimore initially encountered the ancient coins in April 2009 during an inspection of air cargo that arrived from London. This specific parcel was destined to a coin collector in Missouri. CBP issued a letter to the consignee requesting any documentation they received from the government of Cyprus authorizing the lawful importation of these cultural artifacts.  [...] In May 2009, the consignee admitted to not possessing authority from the government of Cyprus to import the artifacts, and CBP officers seized the coins. Additionally, the parcel contained Chinese coins determined to be from the Zhou, Han and Western Han dynasties, dating from 400 BC through 220 AD. CBP contracted an appraiser to determine the estimated ages of the artifacts. The coin collector lost a protracted legal challenge to regain possession of the coins and CBP’s Office of International Affairs coordinated with the government of Cyprus to repatriate the coins during a ceremony today at their Embassy in Washington, D.C.
Good for them, and a long-overdue poke in the eye for US dealers who think they can carry on irresponsibly scattering the world's heritage without going to the trouble of documenting it properly. Now, what next for the "collector in Missouri" [Wayne Sayles] and the no-questions-asked dealers and collectors congregated in the now toothless and thoroughly discredited Ancient Coin Collectors'[sic] Guild?
Hat tip: Dorothy Lobel King
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