Sunday, 17 August 2008

Discussing the International Antiquities Trade, the British Way

This is a follow up to an earlier post here about discussions or rather the attempted avoidance of discussions about collection of potable antiquities on the Council for British Archaeology’s discussion forum, Britarch .

Ten days on, Dave Welsh is still trying to persuade British archaeologists there of what is what. They are mostly ignoring both him and sidekick (antiquity collector from Canada) John Hooker, from time to time interjecting with carefully-worded brief comments or reproaches. Welsh is noticeably attempting to play to the gallery by singling out for criticism one participant in the debate over portable antiquities collecting and trade in every second of a long series of posts, usually preceded by words such as “extremist”. Emboldened by the fact that nobody objected, and one “metal detectorist” agreed to the use of the term, he has now issued them a direct challenge:

I would like to invite listreaders other than extremists such as Paul Barford, to present reasons why his remarks and those of similar extremists should be taken seriously.
These "remarks" of course refer to things like:
1) the international trade of portable antiquities,
2) the effects of wholesale unregulated digging on a near global scale of the archaeological record as a source of collectables for entertainment and profit,
3) the movement of illegally excavated and exported material (and the efforts of the pro-collecting lobby to justify ignoring such “bothersome” formalities as documenting the origin of the items which are traded in this lucrative and ambiguous market).

The conservation-minded reader can decide for themselves whether it is indeed “extremist” to express concern about and desire to see a change in the current situation.

Welsh has made the job of starting (or avoiding) such a discussion easier for them by issuing statements in the same challenge such as:

Arguments which in effect assert that site specific contextual information is all important frequently tend to conflict with modern views of the importance of learning from the past
and that such attitudes lead to disastrous results:

Perhaps the preventable (and in many cases horrible) deaths of many millions of people should receive at least some weight in current archaeological opinion.” (sic).
Well, let us see what the inherently portable antiquity collector-friendly British archaeological community on the CBA's discussion forum make of this. Will they stand up to the challenges of the portable antiquity dealer and argue in support the notion of the conservation of the archaeological resource in the face of widespread commercial exploitation for the collectables market? Or perhaps they will collapse in the face of the enthusiasm with which he expounds the collectors’ point-of-view that to question the status quo from conservation grounds is in some way not only "non politically correct " or "elitist" but actually "extremist" and refuse to be seen to be associated with such ideals? Will they settle for further “compromise” with commercial exploitation (on the grounds that artefact collecting of the type advocated by Mr Welsh is in some way really “archaeology for all”)? Or will they turn a deaf ear and pretend they did not hear the question and ignore him in discrete (or embarrassed) silence?

Watch this space.

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