Sunday 12 April 2009

Collector Myth number ... I've lost count

During Soviet rule finders just stockpiled what was found. When the iron curtain fell the market was flooded.
How many times have we heard this? What actually is the evidence? As far as I can gather from my colleagues the problem with looting of archaeological sites in those regions really only began after 1989. True I never lived in the USSR but certainly lived and worked as an archaeologist in the Soviet Bloc and through the two institutes with which I was associated had a lot of contact with "Soviet" colleagues in those (for me) extraordinary times.

The Soviet model is put to use by those collectors who claim that "repressive laws don't work - why look at the Soviet Union" as in the quote above. In fact it seems to me that - with a few obvious exceptions (some of which are fascinating and scandalous stories in their own right) the Soviet Bloc as a whole seem to be a very interesting case of quite the opposite. If US collectors want to use this argument, let us have more than anecdotal evidence please that the looting of archaeological sites in general was anything like that after 1989/1990 and the opening of the borders - to western markets (see a pattern here?). The argument about "stockpiles" really seems to be a means of deflecting blame from the no-questions-asked collector.

There is a whole lot of "Viking" (sic - it is not Scandinavian type material) stuff on eBay right now being sold by a US seller who admits (or boasts?) it comes from the Plakun cemeteries around Lake Ladoga. I am sure everyone buying it is getting a copy of the export licence which its movement out of the region requires. These by the way are for the most part barrow cemeteries, so there's a fair bit of digging and destruction involved in the gaining of a buckle or dangly thing ornament to sell on eBay for a few bucks.

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