Sunday 29 March 2009

'Archaeology for Dummies' Writer Digs Into Stereotypes


According to the blurb: "In her book "Archaeology for Dummies," University of South Florida professor of archaeology Nancy Marie White explains what archaeology is all about. The book provides an overview of the field of archaeology and its different types. It covers prehistoric and historic archaeology, and includes information on the past two million years of human existence. White said the book is aimed at a lay audience and offers advice on how to get involved in archaeology ..."

Phew, it's a good job the publishers did not ask a British archaeologist to write the text, or we'd get a book which tells the reader to go out and buy a metal detector and start a personal collection of decontextualised metallic portable antiquities and found coins as a way to "get involved in archaeology".

I wonder how many portable antiquity collectors over in the US will be buying and reading it before indulging in their habitual misinformed archi-bashing? Let's see an Ancient Coin Collectors Guild or a Unidroit-L review of the book (and while they are at it Renfrew and Bahn Archaeology: Theories, Methods and Practice).

Saturday 28 March 2009

Newark Aircraft Crash Site Questions

On this blog we have previously discussed the varying accounts of the discovery of the Newark Torc and the legal issues involved in the finding of this item which has become a sort of flagship of the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Readers may recall that previous media accounts initially indicated that it in fact came from searching with a metal detector one of the few types of site in the UK (WW2 aircraft crash site) which every responsible "metal detectorist" in the country surely knows needs a search permit for "metal detecting" to be carried out legally. We have seen that although it was admitted in the first press accounts that finder Maurice Richardson was searching a WW2 aeroplane crash site, for some reason very quickly a different version of the story was later being circulated by the British media, playing down the question of the proximity to the crash site. Our enquiries from the relevant authorities suggested that no search permit had been issued for this site before the discovery. Our question addressed to the British Museum's Treasure Unit whether they has ascertained that proper procedures were followed in before processing the case suspiciously went without answer. Our enquiries addressed to the archaeological unit that investigated the site drew an ambiguous and incomplete answer. The question therefore remains.

Today Maurice Richardson gives in his own candid words an account of the discovery: 'I discovered priceless Iron Age treasure' The Guardian, Saturday 28 March 2009). He writes as follows:
That February afternoon I had a couple of hours to spare and a location in mind. But it was raining as I parked the car, so I had to settle for a closer spot I knew to be peppered with shrapnel from a crashed wartime aircraft. The first time my detector bleeped, it was shrapnel I uncovered. As I bagged it, the detector swung on my arm and bleeped again.
Again, no mention of him chosing on the spur of the moment to search a site for which he had previously obtained a permit to search and made the necessary arrangements. So was Mr Richardson in possession of a search permit for this aircraft crash site on the basis of which he was in February last year bagging part of the wreck? (Why, in fact, was he taking it away?)

Maybe in the light of this publication of a fresh story, the Portable Antiquities Scheme and the British Museum's Treasure Department might like to issue a statement about "responsible metal detecting" of WW2 crash sites and in particular their handling of this Newark Treasure case in order to set to rest the nagging doubts that the fresh account raises.

At the end of his story, Maurice Richardson writes:
But those buckles, brooches and coins are no less interesting now. Besides, if a fisherman catches a big fish, he doesn't give up - not while there's the chance of a bigger fish tomorrow.
Perhaps he has ambitions to go back and recover the whole aircraft - but to do it legally he should be informed by the "metal detectorists'" new "partner", the Portable Antiquities Scheme that he needs to apply for a permit first. Would that be too much to ask?

Friday 27 March 2009

Born in the USA: Portable Antiquities, Provenance and the Presidential Birthplace

If President Barack Obama was a portable antiquity, my bet is there would be no interest whatsoever in the United States about where precisely he came from. The problem for him is that in a National Archives and Records Administration display case in Washington, there is a document of 1787 which says that the President has to be what it calls a "natural born Citizen", though neither do the "framers" define in that document what that means, nor who determines who is eligible to stand for election. Despite the fact that "we the people" voted pretty decisively that they wanted him to lead the country, there are those who are unhappy with the choice and now claim that the two most important words in the whole Consititution are "natural born".

A bemusing video with a National Geographic type voiceover produced by a group called ("We the people will not allow our Beloved Constitution to be highjacked and DESecrated!") urges US citizens to "take time to research the facts" about the significance of provenance in this particular case because "the agencies of misinformation want to to think this is an absurd battle waged by conspiracy theorists [tinfoil hat shot], but the issue IS real and the matter IS serious and simply trying to shoot the messenger will not make the message disappear"...

Now it is obviously an internal matter how the US deals with the ultra nationalists in their midst and their insistence on the vital importance of two words in the Holy Writ (though it beats me why it actually matters in this globalised day and age in what hospital or building a newborn kid came into the world - when just a few years earlier they wanted to free themselves of mad King George, the watchword in North America was the self evident truth that "all men are created equal"). By the way, the same Consititution uses the word "he" for the President and talks of Indians and classifying people by their "former state of servitude", never amended either.

US collectors frequently loudly protest that no-questions-asked collecting of provenance-less portable antiquities from every corner of the world (Old and New) is their "Constitutional Right" which nobody can take away from them (the rhetoric used is often of the 'Cold Dead Hands' type). Actually there is not a single word in the US Constitution or Bill of Rights to support this assertion. It does however allow for the definition and punishment of "Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations". It seems to me therefore that far from giving its citizens a carte blanche to act as they will in such matters, cultural heritage piracy and transmaritime smuggling of antiquities against the law of nations is something the adhering to the letter of the Consitution would require to be more fully addressed than it currently is in US legislation. In any case, this is what "we the people" of the US declare they are going to do in their Constitution.

If President Barack Obama was a portable antiquity, my bet is there would be no interest whatsoever in the United States about the piece of paper saying where he comes from. US collectors do not seem overly concerned to buy only portable antiquities with a clearly defined and precise provenance. Let's see some consistency in their claims about what the Consititution means to them.

Thursday 26 March 2009

French metal detectorists seek archaeological asylum in Britain!

Heritage Action has a few well-chosen words on a recent disturbing story on "metal detecting" that has been discussed on UK and other "metal detecting" forums, and an archaeological one. Apparently "a group of French metal detectorists (from ANDL, the National Association for the Metal Detection of Leisure) has started sending details of their finds for recording at the Roman Legion Museum of Caerleon, in Wales, asking for an “archaeological asylum”. That’s the details of their finds, note, not the objects themselves - they are keeping those for themselves not giving them to the museum." Apparently the French artefact hunters have chosen this course of action due to "the issues we face in France" and "to practice our hobby, we decided to force the French authorities to take a clear position". Actually the French have already taken a clear position which is embodied in their heritage protection legislation which makes grubbing up archaeological artefacts from archaeological sites in France for entertainment and profit illgal if done without a permit. A perfectly clear and perfectly reasonable position.

What is not clear is why the French "detectorists" chose to involve this particular British institution in this stunt. Do they already have the Museum's agreement that it will "record" their finds? On what basis? Given the current legal situation concerning this kind of artefact hunting in France (as HA quite correctly noted), this is illegal. Will therefore Caerleon Museum (part of the National Museum of Wales) "pick up the phone" to the right people over the Channel? Certainly that is precisely what several international documents to which the UK is party, not to mention two at least codes of archaeological ethics, would require them to do. I would like to think they would, though seeing what kind of an "asylum" Britain has become when it concerns portable antiquity collecting and collecting.....

If the National Museum of Wales really is going along with this scheme, then what on earth do they think they are playing at? After all it's one thing when dealers and collectors of portable antiquities pick and choose which antiquity protection laws they regard as "bad laws" which they will disregard to "get their hands on the stuff", it is another thing when it is a national museum doing it. I think we and, indeed in particular, the French public deserve a statement from the museum (a French version would not go amiss in the circumstances).

The privately-run pirate "recording database" for UK metal detected finds, the UKDFD has also got involved in the antisocial behaviour of their French counterparts. Heritage Action has a few well-chosen words about them too:

In the circumstances one might have expected UKDFD to advise these people that if French law tells them not to put leurs patts grossières on French heritage they should simply do what they are told. Sadly, that is not the case since UKDFD, which constantly complains it has been branded “irresponsible” by
all of Britain’s archaeological and heritage organisations is proposing to aid, abet and host a database of looted artefacts supplied by French criminals! This revelation may not change the opinion of UKDFD in the minds of the British establishment any time soon.

It might also give them pause for thought on a wider level: if foreign heritage criminals see Britain as a sort of lawless
banana republic where they can escape the consequences of their illegal activities in their home countries, maybe Britain needs to consider who is out of step, Britain or the rest of the world?
Vignettes, above: carrefour avec priorité à droite, below: the British Hatter and Hare give the Dormouse asylum by hiding the problem...

When on Google Earth 17


Here’s the latest one in the When on Google Earth series after I managed (after an embarrassing false start) to get WOGE 16 on Dan Pett's Portable Antiquities Scheme blog - Dambulla cave temple in Sri Lanka.

This one is in a way related to the topic of this blog, the site may even have been mentioned here. It turns out that most of the trickier sites I thought of occurred in areas where Google Earth was annoyingly low resolution (yes, even in the USA). As a result I think this one is going to be relatively easy. The colours were very dreary so I tweaked them a bit (it does not say anything in the rules about that).

The Rules of When on Google Earth are as follows:

Q: What is When on Google Earth?
A: It’s a game for archaeologists, or anybody else willing to have a go!

Q: How do you play it?
A: Simple, you try to identify the site in the picture.

Q: Who wins?
A: The first person to correctly identify the site, including its major period of occupation, wins the game.

Q: What does the winner get?
A: The winner gets bragging rights and the chance to host the next When on Google Earth on his/her own blog!

The early history of this game is here, somewhere I saw a fuller list of previous ones, but lost sight of it again, if I find it I'll post a link here.

UPDATE: 14th April 2009

Since in my efforts to make it more entertaining, I seem to have cropped the last photo a bit too much, here is another view of the same place. To make it a little easier, since someone was looking for this site in Cyprus, this oblique view is taken looking in the general direction of Nicosia, several hundred kilometres away.

The definition's not too brilliant here, but its the topography that is important. I've made it a bit more contrasty and brightened the colours a little as the original is pretty dreary. The width of the photo at is about six kilometres in the middle distance.

Photos: courtesy Google Earth

Keep Better Records, Keep Out of Jail

London antiquities dealer Malcolm Hays has been sentenced in absentia to three years in prison by a Greek court for allegedly handling stolen Greek antiquities. (Ivan McQuisten, ‘Greek court gives UK dealer three years in prison’ Antiquities Trade Gazette 23 March 2009). Hays says he is innocent and his London business was unwittingly caught up in a case of stolen Greek artefacts by doing business in July 1999 with a regular customer, a registered antiques dealer based in Athens.

It appears that the Greek dealer was raided in 2000 and “a large number of important but stolen artefacts in her possession” was seized. The dealer, Hays said, tried to explain away her possession of these items by producing the invoice she had obtained from one of the purchases she had made from Hays in London. This was for the sale of what Hays referred to as “a small number of minor artefacts and broken pieces” and not the items which were subsequently seized, though it is not clear what precisely was written on the document. Since, however, the document produced by the Athens dealer seemed to indicate that the objects deemed to be stolen had been obtained from Mr Hays, not surprisingly the Greek authorities wanted to speak with the London antiquities dealer, so they issued a European Arrest Warrant for him (which is the main topic of the Antiquities Trade Gazette article, see also The Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation (LCCHP).

Now it seems pretty self evident that anyone dealing in items which are liable at any moment to be questioned – and precisely from the point of view of their origins - needs to keep careful records of the movement of material through their hands. This applies to whether you are handling goods like firearms, explosives, pharmecutical products, or fresh meat. No mention is made in the article of Mr Hays’ ability to present to the Athens court proper documentation of precisely what he had sold the Athens dealer and of its legitimate provenance. This would appear to be the source of his trouble.

The whole matter as presented in the Antiquities Trade Gazette hinges on the very lack of proper documentation of the provenance of artifacts moving through the market which is regarded by most archaeological resource preservationists as the root of the problem with the illegal trade.

Mr Hays is going to appeal, perhaps we will see some of the missing documentation being presented in court, and maybe this will give the no-questions-asked dealers and collectors pause for thought about cleaning up their act and maintaining proper records of their transactions involving archaeological goods in order to avoid facing similar accusations themselves. I cannot help but feel that the effects of this would be beneficial all round.

Presumably there is another side to this story, if Mr Hays has indeed been sentenced it was presumably as (alleged) accessory to another offence for which we may presume a conviction was obtained; we might wonder who the Greek dealer involved was and what "stolen" artefacts are involved? How do the Greek authorities know they are stolen despite the dealer having what she says is an invoice for their legitimate purchase in London?

Vignette: jail for not being to document your answer to a simple question?

Monday 23 March 2009

Daniela Rizzo Identifies the Real Issue

In remarks made in a Rome court, Marion True, the former curator of antiquities at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, defended herself last week against accusations that she knowingly bought antiquities that had been illegally excavated (Elisabetta Povoledo, ‘Getty Ex-Curator Testifies in Rome Antiquities Trial’, New York Times 20th March 2009.
In this stage of the long-running trial, the defence lawyers plan an object-by-object rebuttal of the prosecution’s case for each of the 35 artifacts that Ms. True approved for acquisition by the Getty which the Italians say were looted. This should prove interesting. The defence lawyers have begun their first day of questioning of archaeologist Daniela Rizzo, from the Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici dell'Etruria Meridionale, a prosecution witness who has been on the stand for about a dozen hearings over the past two years.

Responding to her remarks in the cross-examination, True said on Friday in court that “if ever there was an indication (sic) of proof” of an object coming from an illegal excavation, the Getty would eventually deaccession it and return the object. Ms. Rizzo pointed out in court that the issue here is not one of “repatriation” or “whose past” is being collected by foreign museums patronising the international no-questions-asked antiquities market. She remonstrated that Ms. True could have, and indeed should have, done more to prevent the trade in looted antiquities. “You are an archaeologist, a scholar and a great expert, and you had the knowledge to recognize objects that could have come from Etruria.” Perhaps “a closer, more direct collaboration with Italian archaeologists would have been more useful than to return objects over time,” Ms. Rizzo said. Absolutely true, this is the real issue here.

Thursday 19 March 2009

"Give us the stuff in the museums and storerooms and we will stop the looting of archaeological sites"

On his blog, Nathan Elkins ("Commodification of Antiquities as a Means of Protection?" ) discusses the portable antiquity collectors’ fantasy that state-employed archaeologists and governments ought to facilitate the commodification of collectable which they consistently present as “the only way to stop looting” while ensuring “the preservation of antiquities” in a way they claim public institutions are not doing. The persistence and frequency with which this argument is trundled out by the pro-collecting lobby is profoundly irritating. I've discussed a couple of cases here and here, but the whole "give every nation a PAS and it'll stop the looting" claptrap is another irritating and equally flawed variant.

The phenomenon really does raise questions about the awareness of the proponents of such arguments of what it is we are trying to conserve and how, what kind of material modern excavations of archaeological sites produce, and the function of museums and excavation archive storerooms. They also fail to take into account that most objects passing through private collections very soon lose any kind of documentation of provenance (I know of material in museums in England which has the provenance and associations recorded for finds of the 1850s and 1860s, while it seems US private collectors cannot find any documentation for objects they claim were “bought in Maceys” in the 1950s and 1960s or even later). That is no guarantee that anything going from a museum into such private collections will not almost immediately lose even the information that it had been in a museum and is not another looted and smuggled find. So what is the point? There is also the matter which Nathan raises of conservation and archiving facilities in domestic contexts.

Clemency C. Coggins (1995, ‘A Licit International Traffic in Ancient Art: Let there be Light’ International Journal of Cultural Property 4, 61-80) writes “one must conclude that talk of ‘duplicates’ which will supply, even satiate, the market is a smoke screen for inaction”. Personally, until collectors and dealers can sort out their problems with documenting the origins of the collectables as they move from hand to hand, from home to home, I think that is basically all we need to hear about these arguments.

Also since collectors strongly deny that there is any link between their no-questions-asked buying of artefacts of totally undocumentable origins and the clandestine movement of illegally excavated items to feed the commercial market... who spots the inconsistency in their other "argument" that IF public museum collections were split up to feed the antquities market, the looting would somehow stop? The only way that could be a logical argument would be to admit that it is the demand for looted objects that is the motor for creating the supply - which is of course what most people are not portable antiquity collectors can see at a glance is likely to be the case.

Anyway, please read what Nathan has to say.

"Reams of pointless documents, codes and guidelines"

While on the topic of the missing Strategy Report on Illegal Artefact Hunting in the UK, and who might be interested in it being hidden from view, I am reminded of calls to stop producing such reports altogether. Four years ago, David Barwell until July 2005 chairman of the National Council of Metal Detectorists gave a paper at the March 2005 PAS conference in the British Museum about “empowering finders” (in a gross misinterpretation of the aims of the PAS he took this to mean metal detector using artefact hunters). What he says is still on the PAS website and is quite revealing:

Since it’s (sic) inception, the Portable Antiquities Scheme has been instrumental in awakening the general public and the media to our hobby of metal detecting, it has also woken up English Heritage, the Forestry Commission, English Nature, DEFRA, ALGAO, Tony Robinson and Uncle Tom Cobley and all, and not to be gazumped by the Portable Antiquities Scheme, they are all producing reams of documents, codes and guidelines, some have been threatening, some pointless. Not only have the NCMD been deluged with mountains of paper but it has been very counter productive to the mission of the Portable Antiquities Scheme and has at times served only as a threat to the success of the scheme! Today I want to send a clear message to all these bureaucrats - GET OFF OF (sic) OUR CASE - leave the responsible hobby alone, go and do something you think you understand, like managing sheep or planting trees. You are preventing empowerment by trying to inflict archaeological controls; matters that relate to the detecting hobby should be channelled through the Portable Antiquities Scheme. The Scheme had already succeeded in gaining our confidence while you were messing about formulating rulebooks!
So according to the NCMD, creating heritage conservation policy guidelines and strategic reports is “threatening” and “pointless” when we have the PAS in partnership with metal detectorists (what about the other “finders” Mr Barwell?). Creating policy is furthermore “counter productive to the mission of the Portable Antiquities Scheme” – which Mr Barwell presumably sees as an autonomous body divorced from Britain’s cultural heritage policy. I wonder what kind of "empowerment" is threatened by the UK looking at conservation policies?

It is worthy of note that David Barwell acts as a consultant for Jimmy Sierra’s [James (Jimmy Sierra) Normandi from Forest Knolls California] “Discovery Tours” metal detecting holiday company. I suppose anybody who makes money from finding “productive” sites for US “metal detectorists” to come on paying trips (c. 3500 dollars a head) to take away little pieces of Britain’s archaeological record as keepsakes,* might be more than a little bit interested in policy makers “getting off the case” and leaving "metal detectorists" alone.

The NCMD spokesman tells English Heritage, the public body responsible for heritage policy in England and other conservation organizations to “get off the case” of the effects of artefact hunting and collecting on the finite resources of archaeological record still surviving in the soil of Britain. I say to English Heritage and all the rest of the British heritage management organizations, GET ON THE CASE of the actual long term effects on the exploitation of the archaeological record for entertainment and profit and public perceptions of archaeology as a discipline and an asset.

* The website makes a great play of how "responsibly" they are taking away pieces of the archaeological record. A reader of the 2009 update of their webpage might take note what it indicates that they do NOT comply with. More about these businesses offering artefact hunting holidays maybe another time.

Wednesday 18 March 2009

On the trail of the missing strategic report

Writing yesterday I idly clicked on a link in one of my own old posts here, broken. It happens sometimes, so I set about fixing it. I hit a snag.

Am I the only one who cannot get the links to the recently virtually- published "Nighthawking Report" to open? It was available online on English Heritage's HELM (Historic Environment Local Management) website and the PAS website. Both links are currently inactive. A web search suggests that all who have discussed it used the same links, there seems to be no other. Well, I thought, maybe English Heritage has moved it. I used the site's own search engine to look for the term "Nighthawking" - no results. "Aha", think I, "they've moved it to their own perennially not-terribly-user-friendly site, maybe". That has a search engine. No results. If it's out there on the web, it's been sneakily tucked away somewhere that is more difficult to find. Maybe somebody can tell us where.

So its a bit like one of those "find Wally" pictures. Where has EH hidden the strategic report on illegal artefact hunting, and why is it not accessible where it used to be? We may recall no sooner was it out than a certain central institution in partnership with artefact hunters and collectors was busy contradicting what other central institutions were saying about the results of the report, then a pirate recording scheme added its own storm-in-a-teacup "statement" to the fuss. So it would be helpful if we could refer to the source document which should be permanently accessible somewhere where we can all find it easily. So why isn't it? Why was it not produced in paper form? No wonder there's not much proper debate in Britain about artefact hunting if people keep losing sight of the evidence.

Tuesday 17 March 2009

Where the Portable Antiquities are Going?

This map shows where members of the Yahoo Ancient Antiquities Group forum are logging in from (it seems to be mapping clusters of individual servers). This would indicate to a large degree where there are people sitting behind computers interested in the market in portable antiquities - mostly one would presume (from the profile of the list itself), in buying them. The breakdown of countries is interesting:

Current Country Totals From 17 Sep 2008 to 16 Mar 2009
United States (US) 2,534
United Kingdom (GB) 1,511
Italy (IT) 231
Spain (ES) 218
Australia (AU) 201
Germany (DE) 184
Canada (CA) 164
Netherlands (NL) 106
Sweden (SE) 96

Chile (CL) 79
France (FR) 60
Israel (IL) 41
South Africa (ZA) 39
Egypt (EG) 33
Brazil (BR) 28
New Zealand (NZ) 25
India (IN) 25
Greece (GR) 23
Belgium (BE) 22
Poland (PL) [Tut tut...] 21
Yemen (YE) 18
Switzerland (CH) 18
Turkey (TR) 16
Hong Kong (HK) 16
Pakistan (PK) 13
Singapore (SG) 12
Philippines (PH) 11
Japan (JP) 10

Less than ten: Portugal 9, Indonesia 8, Finland 8, Czech
Republic 8, Denmark 6, Ireland 6, Saudi Arabia 4, Norway 4, Bulgaria 3, Russian Federation 3, Serbia 3, Iran 3, China 3, Mexico 3, Austria 2, United Arab Emirates 2, Lithuania 2, Peru 2, Slovenia 2, Lebanon 2, Taiwan 2, Croatia 2, Romania 2. One each: Jamaica , Puerto Rico, Estonia, Uruguay, Malaysia,
Thailand, Luxembourg, "Europe" (Eh?), Qatar, Palestinian Territory, Bahamas, Georgia, Macau, Ukraine, Vietnam.

These figures are interesting from several points of view. The dots on the map do not correspond simply with countries where knowledge of English is greatest, though I suspect that some EU countries are underrepresented because its natives tend not to favour English as a means of international communication - preferring French as their ligua franca for example. Above all we see the difference between countries which are the sources of the most commonly collected "portable antiquities" (generally low on the list) and the countries where we have ample evidence from other sources of a large and expanding market for such "commodities" (Britain, the US). It is clear that the pattern to some extent coincides in general terms with the global distribution of disposable wealth. It is tempting to see this map as in some way reflecting the direction of flow of portable antiquities (much of it illegal) from the "source countries" to the major "market countries". If so, the scale and role of the market of Great Britain here is pretty shocking. The truth is the market is such that we really have no idea of the scale or direction of this traffic. I post this map here as a signal, that perhaps we jolly well should.

Metal Detectorist Malarky: Guilty M’lord

Readers of this blog may remember the story I reported here last year of the metal detector using artefact hunter and collector from Nuneaton who was facing trial over some ancient coins he claims to have found and offered UK coin dealers who reported him to the police for attempting to sell what they say are fakes.

As we know, Britain has some totally laissez faire approaches to portable antiquity hunting, digging and collecting which do nothing to curb the abuse of the system by those who would for one reason or another give artefacts false provenances. I discussed a newspaper report of a worrying case here a few weeks ago - which prompted the head of the Portable Antiquities Scheme to threaten to "have the law onto me" for daring to draw attention to it and discuss it... [this is despite the fact that the "Nighthawking report" (page 98, point 9.3.9) also discusses this as a concern of the staff that work for Mr Bland, maybe he needs to listen to their concerns more, or "have the law on" Oxford Archaeology too].

Anyway, there has been a development in the Nuneaton case. It was being reported yesterday on various metal detecting forums that the accused has changed his plea to guilty on five of the seven offences he was charged with. The case has apparently been adjourned for reports to be made prior to sentence being passed, and the metal detectorists' forums report that the accused will be reappearing in court on April 22nd. Interestingly it turns out that the mysterious owner (“Crusader”) of the previously rather moribund “Coldfeet uncovered” blog which has been covering (somewhat vindictively) this case very closely revealed himself on the forum to be somebody who has commented on this blog. It’s a small world.

This is a satisfying outcome for me personally, as I had a run-in with this gentleman and his truculent supporters five years ago when (before he changed his name). He accused a British museum of "losing" (stealing from him) a valuable gold coin which he had lent them for identification. This matter went to court, which found that there was no evidence the coin had been deposited in the museum (which led to all sorts of accusations from various segments of the "metal-detecting" community opposed to co-operation with archaeologists and museums). I was interested to see the basis for these allegations against my colleagues, and obtained copies of the original documentation and was satisfied that the court was right to maintain that the claim that what was documented as being loaned to the museum was anything different from what was returned was not tenable. It was clear that the conspiracy theory about the museum employees stealing this coin had no basis in fact, but equally clear that certain metal detector users were utilising this imagined scandal to justify their own and fellow "detectorists"' non-cooperation with archaeological institutions. The accuser then produced what he said was a photo of both sides of the coin which the museum had "lost". It was a relatively rare type, a 'Celtic' trefoil stater. Interestingly - and impossibly - the obverse was struck on a different shaped flan than the reverse. Canadian celtic coin buff John Hooker suggested - and I am inclined to agree with him - that what had happened was that somebody had faked the photo with a computer graphics program by manipulating photos of other known examples. This of course did not go down well in the metal detecting community. This latest court case and reported guilty plea suggests that we were right to question the evidential value of this photo. Its all on Britarch, if anyone wants to follow it up (June 2004 "Museum loses coin" and related threads, though I believe the relevant threads on the metal detecting forums with have since gone - a shame because the tenor of the "discussion" was rather telling).

I note that a day after these revelations, the record of his "find" of a controversial coin (though apparently validated by detectorist-database coin expert Rod Blunt) is still in the UKDFD database as I reported earlier. I would like to ask whether in the light of these five reported 'guilty pleas', and the fact that two of the coins involved were said to be from a hoard reported to the BM as "Treasure", any records of finds made by this metal detectorist and incorporated in the PAS database will now be verified. Unlike the UKDFD records, the PAS records are for some reason anonymous, so there is no way for the observer unaided to determine which records in it were made of finds from a particular finder who, if yesterday's reports are true, it now turns out was less than trustworthy in reporting where some of the items he was claiming to have found had actually come from.

UPDATE March 2010: I see that on the UKDFD website there is this statement:
UKDFD STATEMENT Removal of Records from Database

The recent conviction of David Hutchings ('Coldfeet') for selling fake coins inevitably raises doubts about the reliability of information he provided for the finds that he recorded on the UKDFD.

The decision has therefore been taken to remove all the records of his finds from the public database.
I do not recall seeing a similar announcement from the PAS.

A Portable Antiquities Charter

Heritage Action announces on its new blog:
We have searched in vain for a clear expression of opinion by an official body relating to the moral issues which recreational and entrepreneurial digging for archaeological artefacts raise. We suspect that in Britain at least no such formal opinion has been published since the activity is legally sanctioned but also subject to recommended but purely voluntary preferred parameters, both implying a toleration of multiple and conflicting behaviours, this being a logical absurdity that cannot be expressed as a single moral position.To fill the gap, and to provide a basis for discussion, we have produced our own. We should be pleased to receive comments or suggestions for amendments.
The text is here. I expect they will be getting lots of congratulatory messages from artefact hunters and collectors and the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

Loot or not loot - Who can tell? Who cares?

Museum Surplus Antiquities (Ken Martins, Laguna Niguel, CA 92607) like a number of other US dealers in portable antiquities is currently selling some nine cuneiform tablets and a foundation cone, but they reassure their potential customers “Since the looting of the Iraqi Museum, all of our Mesopotamian or Babylonian material purchased has been checked against the Interpol Database of Iraqi Museum looted materials”… But then, surely if the objects can be checked in the database, it means the objects concerned have a photographic record and a link to provenance information in the museums accession registers.

Surely the more important type of looting is the tablets that have been illegally dug since the 1990s out of archaeological sites of Iraq and without any records put by various means on the market. Surely customers can only be satisfied that they are buying legitimate items if the seller can produce verifiable documentation that those particular items were already in old collections outside Iraq before the current spate of exploitive and destructive digging started. Only those items can be regarded as legitimate, all the rest are in the eyes of the world totally suspect.

No special pleading, no excuses. I don't know about you, gentle reader, but I would not buy meat from a shopkeeper or stallholder who cannot determine exactly where it came from and whether it has all the requisite papers; why should the peddlars of portable antiquities feel they can ignore the same type of trading standards and proof of legitimate origin as other suppliers have to maintain in order to maintain our custom? What kind of customers do they have? The kind that would put on their table uncertified meat of unknown origin perhaps.
Photo: Isin, waving looters, SAFE website, photo: John Russel.

US Ratification of the 1954 Hague Convention

On 13 March 2009 the Director-General of UNESCO, Mr Koïchiro Matsuura, expressed his great pleasure on receiving the instrument of ratification of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict from Mr Stephen Engelken, Chargé d’Affaires a.i. of the United States of America to UNESCO. This ratification brings the number of States Parties to 123. About time too.

The UK Government publicly announced its "intention to ratify the 1954 Hague Convention and accede to both its Protocols" on 14 May 2004, the 50th anniversary of the Convention. That that seems to be as far as it got. There was some consultation process in 2005-6 but then... more foot dragging. Poland ratified it in 1956.

Monday 16 March 2009

Dimmi quando, quando, quando

Art dealer Robert Hecht in correspondence cited at his trial with Copenhagen’s Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek about some objects he had “acquired” in Switzerland and was selling to the Danish Museum, is reported to have said that he supposes “everything came from Etruria but” — and here he teasingly broke into song — “dimmi quando, quando, quando” (“tell me when, when, when”). It seems to me that this is a question an ethical dealer would be answering rather than requiring a potential client to find an answer. What kind of a museum would not walk away from such a deal? Well, not the Glyptotek, they bought the stuff without it seems finding the answer to the sing-song riddle, and are now having problems it seems admitting to the significance of their oversight (Elisabetta Povoledo Danish Museum Resists Return of Disputed Artifacts, New York Times, March 16th 2009).

Daniela Rizzo, an archaeologist and witness for the prosecution at the trial pointed out that a group of objects from an Etruscan tomb in a Colle del Forno necropolis that were part of the deal should never have been bought in the first place. “They were visibly the result of a traumatic action [...] It would have been impossible not to know that it had been illegally excavated".

[I must say I like the term "traumatic action". I think we will need to look at that cover-all term "looting" archaeological resource protection advocates and the media alike tend to use for everything - including theft from existing museum collections down to metal detecting, pot hunting and grave-robbing. The fuzziness of the concept only allows scope for confusion and weasel-wording on the part of the pro-collecting lobby. We need to thrash out and agree some new terms and definitions of what it is we are talking about to make the issues clearer].

Sunday 15 March 2009

Thinking about cultural property

The Cultural Property Observer suggests that the Cuno interview in Science magazine discussed here yesterday about the UNESCO “treaty on the looting of archaeological sites” (sic) was „thoughtful” - when it was anything but (see here and here). Obviously we will have to differ with the pro-collecting lobbyites in our definition of what actually constitutes “thinking”. It does not seem to me to be a very well-thought-out strategy to criticise first a non existent "treaty" and then to lay into the invented and non-existent alleged wording of the preface of a UNESCO convention. Perhaps this is another of those pro-collecting tinfoil helmet brigade conspiracy theories about a UNESCO cover-up of their real intentions by making the convention say something other than what it "really" means...
Tompa also notes the recent Al Ahram article 'Hands off, and we mean it' about Egypt's proposed new antiquity laws with harsher penalties for damaging archaeological sites and monuments, looting and smuggling. He comments that:
“the corrupt and authoritarian Egyptian government will likely make its own harsh antiquities laws even more draconian […] One really wonders about the point of confiscating antiquities from registered collectors just so they can be installed in "archaeological storehouses" […].
{Actually, I would like to hear Tompa's explanation why the existing 1983 antiquities laws of Egypt are any more "harsh" than the 1979 Archaeological Resources Protection Act, NAGPRA and other State and Federal cultural preservation laws of the USA - or when you strip away the facade, the system in Egypt is necessarily more "corrupt" than that of his own country, but that is by the by}.

To answer his comment about native collectors, the "point" is that the Egyptian authorities are aware that the current system is clearly being abused and unreported freshly dug-up artefacts are still reaching outside markets, the new legislation is intended to make this more difficult and increase the penalties. If foreign collectors and dealers had stopped buying Egyptian antiquities no-questions-asked in 1970 or 1983, collectors in Egypt would not now have to be giving up their collections and the other penalties would not be necessary. Foreign collectors and dealers have no intention of doing any such thing so the Egyptians are applying the only means available to them in those circumstances. Making a portable antiquity free-for-all as Tompa suggests is clearly not the answer to the main issue. Neither is increasing penalties for violations of the law necessarily "cutting the Egyptian people off" from their heritage, there are a number of ways of appreciating the heritage which do NOT involve making personal collections of little pieces of it.
People who suggest that countries should for some reason model their antiquities protection systems on the laissez faire one of England and Wales tend not to want to admit that illegal artefact hunting, trade in illicit artefacts and illegal exports of archaeological material occur there - though the Brits don't like to admit it, or are completely unable (and more than a bit unwilling also I'd suggest) to quantify its scope and scale.
I think actually the proposed Egyptian law does have a number of interesting points to it, but prefer to wait and see what parts of it become legislation before discussing it in more detail.

Vignette, tinfoil helmets to stop those unfocussed pro-collecting and anti-SAFE "thoughts" escaping.

Saturday 14 March 2009

Who should own Gandhi's glasses - and why?

Dr A. Srivathsan has an interesting article in the Hindu ("Who owns antiquity?" 15th March) which draws on the recent story of the sale of Gandhi memorabilia (relics?) to discuss some wider issues:
The world of antiquities is a murky and complex one where ownership is a contested space. Many Indian sculptures (and pieces of architecture) of immense historical value are still languishing in Western museums. In this context, it was naïve to expect Gandhi’s memorabilia to be returned voluntarily. [...] In the hypocritical, complex world of antiquities, the question who rightfully owns the object is never taken seriously, leave alone answered properly.
Worth a read and a think. In connection with this latest sale it is interesting to see collectors once again adopting a holier-than-thou stance with whole nations and their governments, Pierre Berge declares he will halt the selling of the items he's flogging off (an infamous rat and rabbit) if China will "free Tibet", the Gandhi seller wanted to make a deal to force the Indian government to spend more on health care. This seems to be analogous to the dealers' lobby declaring that they are striking a blow for "free enterprise" in the "source countries" with their "restrictive antiquities preservation legislation" by buying goods no-questions-asked and suggesting that the way to "stop the looting" is to drop the restrictive laws that make it illegal. Yeah right.

Bring on the clowns again

Michael Jackson announced last week that he will be coming back on stage to pay off his debts. Peter Tompa has just announced that another (ideologically) bankrupt group will also be making a comeback. He reports that the former members of the American Council for Cultural Policythe only cultural organization to have had effective discussions with the Departments of Defense and State in the period immediately prior to the beginning of the Iraq War in 2001” (sic) have begun to discuss its reactivation to help deal with the flood of antiquities that have been flowing steadily but illicitly out of Aghanistan in the wake of "Operation Enduring Freedom", the US-led occupation. The ACCP is the sister act to the coin dealers' lobbying comedy troupe the ACCG. It has been described by some as “little more than a lobbying group for the antiquities trade” in general. It was within its ranks that a number of the hilarious one-liners which are now classic staples of recent pro-collecting standup acts were apparently born. It remains to be seen if the ACCP attempt a comeback whether they stay with their former scriptwriters and repeat the time-tested jokes of yesteryear, or whether they will reach out to new audiences with fresh material.
To add spice to his little piece of showbiz gossip, Tompa alleges that the ACCP act will be returning to the stage because of something Larry Rothman wrote on SAFEcorner. In my opinion, Mr Tompa should try and get together with metal detectorist Gary Brun some time, they’d probably make a great double act.

Vignette: Michael Jackson (reputedly)

Cuno makes myths

“Science news” (“the magazine of the society for science and the public”) has a highly misleading interview by Janet Raloff with James Cuno. This of addresses none of the wider issues but is largely devoted to a criticism of the implications of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property which Cuno says “hinders access for museums” in the US and Europe to desirable collectable items of unclear provenance. Oh dear.

This article seems a clear case where uninformed “science journalist” met uninformed art institute director. Firstly the interview makes reference to something called “ the UNESCO 1970 treaty on looting of archaeological sites”… which not surprisingly has “not stopped looting of sites” (because there is of course no such UNESCO "treaty"). Hmm. It is a shame that the Oxford Archaeology team writing the report on the illegal use of metal detectors in the United Kingdom or those currently trying to combat the illegal artefact hunting in Germany did not speak to Mr Cuno, who "knows" and would have told them not only is looting on the increase, but illegal artefact hunters “are desperate people doing desperate things. In situations of a failed economy, a failed government, the absence of civil society, internecine warfare, sectarian violence, drought — whatever — conditions emerge that can create pressures for looting.” Yep, that’s the UK and Germany in a nutshell, spot on Mr Cuno.

Cuno says that if ethical museums have stopped buying items of dubious provenance, “like water on a leaky roof, looted artifacts are finding the path of least resistance to a buyer somewhere”. So according to Cuno, it is no-questions-asked private collectors, unethical museums and those that sell to them that are now financing the looting. That is what some of us have been saying all along. This has been strenuously denied by dealers and collectors of no-questions-asked ancient “collectables” (aka decontextualised archaeological evidence from irreparably damaged archaeological contexts). We have recently seen a rash of Cuno-wannabes in the portable collecting world repeating his various generalizations and platitudes as mantras since the publication of his “who owns antiquity” with its throwback arguments. Let’s see if they take this one on board too.

In the “Science news” interview, Cuno discusses why he claims that the treaty (sic) gives a false view of history.”….:

The preface of UNESCO 1970 implies there is no difference between the nationals of a modern state and the ancient peoples that made things that have been excavated from the soils of modern states. The argument seems to be that these people share a “collective genius”—one that might be racial or ethnic or cultural. And that the shared genius is particular to the people, both ancient and modern. But that argument was made by politicians, not by scientists.
In discussing issues with the pro-collecting lobby that we are constantly faced with special pleading, unreflexive platitudes, self-delusion and half truths. We seem here too to be dealing with a hopeless case of just that. On reading that anybody who knows what the 1970 Convention actually says might even be forgiven for asking whether the director of Chicago’s art institute can actually read. This is what the preface of the 1970 UNESCO convention on Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property actually SAYS:

The General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, meeting in Paris from 12 October to 14 November 1970, at its sixteenth session,

Recalling the importance of the provisions contained in the Declaration of the Principles of International Cultural Co-operation, adopted by the General Conference at its fourteenth session,

Considering that the interchange of cultural property among nations for scientific, cultural and educational purposes increases the knowledge of the civilization of Man, enriches the cultural life of all peoples and inspires mutual respect and appreciation among nations,

Considering that cultural property constitutes one of the basic elements of civilization and national culture, and that its true value can be appreciated only in relation to the fullest possible information regarding is origin, history and traditional setting,

Considering that it is incumbent upon every State to protect the cultural property existing within its territory against the dangers of theft, clandestine excavation, and illicit export,

Considering that, to avert these dangers, it is essential for every State to become increasingly alive to the moral obligations to respect its own cultural heritage and that of all nations,

Considering that, as cultural institutions, museums, libraries and archives should ensure that their collections are built up in accordance with universally recognized moral principles,

Considering that the illicit import, export and transfer of
ownership of cultural property is an obstacle to that understanding between nations which it is part of UNESCO’s mission to promote by recommending to interested States, international conventions to this end,

Considering that the protection of cultural heritage can be effective only if organized both nationally and internationally among States working in close co-operation,

Considering that the UNESCO General Conference adopted a Recommendation to this effect in 1964,

Having before It further proposals on the means of prohibiting
and preventing the illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of cultural property, a question which is on the agenda for the session as item 19,

Having decided, at its fifteenth session, that this question should be made the subject of an international convention,

Adopts this Convention on the fourteenth day of November 1970.

Now where actually does it say that “there is no difference between the nationals of a modern state and the ancient peoples that made things that have been excavated from the soils of modern states” where is there a reference here to any “collective genius” (sic) racial or ethnic or cultural or that this is particular to the people, both ancient and modern? It seems to me that this convention is talking about spatial rather than ethnic aspects, in terms of public property rather than Ahnenerbe.

What Cuno is reported as saying in the "Science news" article is pure fantasy. It is disturbing to see this glib myth making still breaking out months after his earlier efforts to articulate his atavistic views, despite the numerous reviews and discussions of Cuno’s book where this has been pointed out. In fact, if one actually READS the preface of the 1970 Convention, it is clear it has precisely the same aims as Cuno says his universal antiquity collections have. What is preventing it from being as effective as it might is the current unaccountable no-questions-asked trade in portable antiquities.
vignette from ""

Thursday 12 March 2009

How It Happens: State Archaeologist

How It Happens: State Archaeologist. The author of this brief video suggests that Minnesota's state archaeologists (one guy and an assistant) are so overworked and under-resourced that they might need to adopt an "Indiana Jones approach" (whatever the author of the video understands that to be). I personally think that US collectors who spend time lobbying for no-questions-asked collecting of portable antiquities taken from other countries because they are "so passionate about the past" might do more good by first campaigning to make sure the US can look after its own historical record to the degree that local law requires before they insist on telling other countries what they should and should not do. We find lobbying groups like the ACCG criticising "foreign governments" for their policies over heritage, without recognising that there are also serious problems in their own heritage backyard. Of course if they do not collect arrowheads and potsherds, but shinier geegaws like coins from hoards, then they may not care. Let them at least then be honest with the rest of us, that their concern is not for the "heritage" of the foreign lands they have never set foot in, but their ability to get their hands back in the USA on the stuff they want.

Perhaps US portable antiquity collectors should all be campaigning to BE the Indiana Jones which the video suggests would save America's archaeological heritage, out there with their metal detectors and shovels, saving theheritage of their homeland before somebody else builds something on it.

We see the ACCG calling for all nations under the sun except the UK to repeal their antiquity preservation laws and empty their museums to allow its members to buy shiny geegaws for their collection - well, let us see them FIRST campaign for the US to repeal its laws in the same way. Let us see them urge that the USA sets the example. Let them apply exactly the same arguments they apply to foreign countries first to their own - using the same justifications. What would US public opinion make of that?

And then let them ask themselves whether public opinion in the "source countries" would not react in the same way to their propositions.

What is in a name?

Dealers and collectors of antiquities are constantly mocking the use by the media of the term which suggests that archaeological material removed from the soil in a specific region is the cultural property of a modern state. Every time there is a big news story about this, the forums are abuzz with Cuno-esque derision of “nationalist” sentiment and worse. The fault here however is the sloppy writing of our journalists.

The case is well illustrated by the constant battle the Polish foreign office has with dozy foreign journalists who keep writing of “Polish extermination camps” when they mean Nazi extermination camps which now lie in Poland. I see this morning that an Italian newspaper did the same. Let's have a bit more precision of language.

The remains associated with these complexes comprise a material heritage that surely must be preserved, must be linked with the non-material. Since the majority of these sites lie within the post 1945 frontiers of Poland, it is that country that has to bear the burden of organizing it, and finding funds for it, but it is not solely Poland’s heritage. They are not “Polish” camps. That does not mean that Poland should not be supported in her efforts to look after these remains and allow their study in context. In the same way the archaeological record of a country should not be despoiled by uncaring dealers and collectors just because the modern population is not perceived (by the foreign collectors) as having any genetic link with the creators of the material. The Cuno-wannabes fail to notice that "Power of Place" is a far more more important concept in today's global conservation theory as notions of "Ahnenerbe". They are chasing the wrong non-material values.

Monday 2 March 2009

A Code of Ethics for Collectors of Ancient Artifacts

The antiquity collecting milieu is demonstrably full of Flat Earthers, conspiracy theorists and Deniers who persist in resisting any change to the current status quo which allows looting to go unchecked, and who are egged on by the dealers with most to lose. They shield themselves from criticism with reference to "reputation" (undefined) and "codes of practice" of the dealers, these however are manifestly unsatisfactory safeguards. There are however a group of collectors who are capable of thinking about the issues themselves who have seen through the smokescreen of false arguments and posturing of the dealers' lobby and are concerned to establish an independent idea of the ethics of collecting - a modification of the "Good Collector " model.

Yesterday on the Yahoo Ancient Artifacts forum a group of antiquities collectors published a document that has been compiled on the basis of several months discussion on that forum. It is a "Code of Ethics for Collectors of Ancient Artefacts" - still a draft and open to discussion. It would be good to see some input and comment from archaeological bodies (such as the PAS) and conservation groups. The text reads:

A Code of Ethics for Collectors of Ancient Artifacts
Version 1 1st March 2009
This is a voluntary code, reflecting the personal conviction of those who adhere to it. It concerns actions now and in the future, and aims to inform both new and experienced collectors. Although it is clearly in every collector’s own interest to be able to separate the fake from the authentic, keep good records and care properly for artifacts, these guidelines are an attempt to go further by outlining commonsense standards to protect our shared interests, and particularly the finite and fragile archaeological resource.

(1) Protect our archaeological heritage and uphold the law
Only buy artifacts which you have reason to believe have been obtained and are offered in accordance with all national laws.
• Ask the vendor for all relevant paperwork relating to provenance, export etc.
• Take extra care if collecting particular classes of object which have been subjected to wide-scale recent looting.

(2) Check your source
• Verify a vendor’s reputation independently before buying. Assure yourself that they are using due diligence in their trading practices, and do not support those who knowingly sell fakes as authentic or offer items of questionable provenance.

(3) Collect sensitively
• Consider the implications of acquiring items which may be of religious or social significance to others.

(4) Recognise your role as custodian
• Do your utmost to ensure the wellbeing of the objects in your care.
• Consider the condition of artifacts prior to purchase and whether you will be able to carry out any necessary conservation or repairs. Any intrusive operation should ideally be carried out by a competent professional.
• Maintain and update records relating to each artifact, including its provenance. Make sure these records can be connected to the relevant object by a layman.
• Only buy from vendors who do the same.

(5) Keep artifacts in one piece and consider the significance of groups of objects
• Do not dismember any item, or acquire a fragment which you believe to have been separated from a larger object except through natural means.
• Consider the implications of buying an item from an associated assemblage and the impact this could have on study.

(6) Promote further study
• Liaise, where possible, with the academic and broader communities about your artifacts. Significant objects, in particular, should not be withheld from study. Try to find out more about the artifacts you own and their context.

(7) Dispose of artifacts responsibly
• Do your best to ensure that none of the above guidelines are infringed by the way you dispose of your artifacts.
• Pass on all information about each piece, particularly its provenance, and include as much original documentation as possible (even if the prices are blacked out).
• Give an honest description of any repairs or restoration.
• Promote responsible custodianship to the new owner and other collectors.
• Give thought to the disposal of your collection in the event of your death, and leave clear instructions as to how it should be sold or donated.

I think the creation of this Code is a great step forward. Above all it seems to me that it places respect for the remains of the past above the self-centred interests connected with their posession and exploitation. That is an important difference between it and previous "codes". The text as it stands is explicit and allows none of the weasel-wording favoured by the dealers. If 80% of portable collecting within a decade was being done by people actually adhering (not merely paying lip service) to the principles embodied here, the cowboy dealers of undocumented material will have to change their current no-questions-asked business practices and the looters and their middlemen will have to find other markets. At the moment this Code is just a proposal from a small group on an Internet forum, the next question is how it could become the credo of an increasing number of collectors over a wider area. Also, how many dealers will support it?

Sunday 1 March 2009

Compteur d'objets prélevés illégalement avec des détecteurs de métaux

The French heritage lobby group HAPPAH have just put online a counter which is equivalent to the one of Heritage Action for Britain which I have mentioned here before. Their "Estimation basse du nombre d'objets prélevés illégalement depuis le décret du 19 août 1991" .... "représente le nombre d’artéfacts intéressant l’art, l’histoire, la préhistoire et l’archéologie prélevé illégalement par les utilisateurs clandestins de détecteurs de métaux en France." At the moment the counter stands at 9,105,239 items, so it would seem that illegal artefact hunting is not a problem restricted to the United Kingdom and Bulgaria.

The authors assure the visitors to their website that, like the Heritage Action one, "Il est basé délibérément sur les estimations les plus basses. Le nombre d’utilisateurs illégaux de détecteur de métaux en activité a été évalué pour ce compteur à 10000. Ce chiffre est nettement inférieur à la seule statistique officielle datant de 1997 (70 000, rapport du conseil de la concurrence)".

The counter works on a slightly different principle from the Heritage Action one, for which the PAS somewhat selective idea of "recordable artefact" was used (nowhere actually formally defined but reconstructable from what is included on and excluded from the database). HAPPAH (perfectly logically in fact) use a more archaeology-based definition based on le jolly old Convention Européenne pour la Protection du Patrimoine Archéologique (you know, the one Britain signed too but then failed to actually put fully into action). So:”Un clou de sandale, même fragmenté, est au même titre que le vase de Vix un objet archéologique. l’Article Ier, Définition du Patrimoine Archéologique, […] sont considérés comme éléments du patrimoine archéologique tous les vestiges, biens et autres traces de l’existence de l’humanité dans le passé, […].” Fair enough.

Furthermore they reveal that in terms of overall statistics “Nous avons fait le choix de compter seulement un seul artéfact prélevé par semaine et par utilisateur, ce qui est très peu comparé à nos décomptes sur des collections particulières. Ce qui porte à 107 le nombre d’objets trouvés chaque heure durant la journée et 12 objets par heure durant la nuit. Nous avons en effet choisit de ralentir le compteur durant la nuit en estimant que les prélèvements se font surtout le jour. Mais on connaît malheureusement de nombreux cas de pillages nocturnes sur les sites archéologiques". I am sure it's only the denser British metal detectorists that need explaining that nobody is saying that each detectorist in France goes out once a week, finds one object and packs up and goes home. This is a statistical average based on what the organization knows about average find rates (which I understand vary from region to region of the country anyway). As a result, HAPPAH estimate that " Au minimum ce sont 520 000 objets qui sont pillés chaque année !" Half a million illegally obtained artefacts a year, many no doubt entering private collections and the illicit market. That is if there are "only" 10 000 detector using artefact hunters in France.
Not surprisingly HAPPAH want something done about the failure of law enforcement bodies to do anything about this illegal plunder and the ownership of the proceeds. I expect the British and the US "ancient coineys" will be saying "give them a PAS and let the looting go on legally". That fails to address the problem of the physical erosion of the record.
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