Thursday, 5 February 2009

Whose past is it?

This has been a message to you not from archaeologists
who you constantly demonise but from some ordinary British people who object to the careless attitude that you and any of your fellows in the States that are like-minded take towards our
communal archaeological resource

The overseas proponents of a ‘no-questions-asked’ commerce in freshly-dug artefacts taken from the archaeological record of many countries of the Old World to fill their coin cabinets and living room displays refer to their opponents as “archaeologists”. They actually mean of course conservationists, but there’s a bit of a stigma these days to openly admitting to being against conservation of finite resources. These dealers and collectors represent their actions as opposing the “unfair” restrictions of foreign governments (who it goes without saying must be “repressive” and “corrupt” to boot). The citizens of those "source countries", however, well the only place they figure in the pro-collecting picture of the world is that if collectors did not buy these artefacts and give them a good home, they’d all be melted down and broken up to end up as “puddles of bullion”.

Not surprisingly, not all the inhabitants of these source countries fit the ACCG stereotype. In Germany, the ACCG are currently desperately trying to show the collectors who buy artefacts stolen from the archaeological record as heroes victimised by the “radical” conservationsist. Instead, if one searches for German articles on Eckhard Laufer [the policeman the ACCG are currently bending and stretching the evidence to portray as some kind of “rogue” with a personal vendetta against the collector], the reader will find there is a lot of public support in Germany for his work against “raubgrabung” which is destroying archaeological sites there merely to produce collectables for a no-questions-asked market. This German market is of course where a lot of overseas dealers (US ones for example) get the coins they sell on (it is therefore interesting to note the opposition of US dealers to moves to clean up this market by excluding stoilen and illegally imported material from it).

Heritage Action is a grassroots organization in Great Britain of concerned citizens involved in obtaining a better protection for the country’s historical heritage. As part of this, they have become concerned about the scale of unmitigated erosion of the archaeological record caused by British policies towards artefact hunting. Incidental to this they have previously written about the way these policies are being abused to produce commodities which are then exported, both legally and illegally to foreign dealers and collectors. In their latest article on the new incarnation of the online “Heritage Journal” subtitled “Deconstructing some false claims by US Coin dealers and others….”, some citizens of a source country express their dismay at the shallow arguments offered by the no-questions-are-to-be-asked money-makers in support of a constant drain of the archaeological record into scattered ephemeral personal collections. I suspect if the truth were known, and if more citizens of the source countries became aware of the pathetic arguments offered by the pro-collecting lobby in defence of the commercial mining of the archaeological record of their own 'local homelands' for saleable collectables for illegal export to a distant foreign market, we might see more of this kind of comments. For the time being, let the Brits speak for the rest, "if you want to sell somebody else pieces of my land's past - you might have the courtesy to ask us all first!".

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