Sunday 31 May 2009


The fuss continues over the comments made on the sale by two coin dealers in the US of some ancient artefacts taken from archaeological sites in England (Nathan Elkins, here and here, this blog here etc.). As I have pointed out on this blog, all the comment US coin collectors can muster refers to the fact that Nathan Elkins illustrated his post with two photographs showing the reader the material under discussion without the need to leave his blog in the process. Two days ago however he replaced these photos with links to the dealers' sales offers which showed these items. This has not ended the comments. Sadly all that US coin collectors can STILL muster... are more comments about Nathan showing the what the coins looked like. Cameron Day of Cerberus coins writes on Moneta-L that he assumes Nathan Elkins believes:

that all UK found roman coins are misappropriated and therefor thinks that his action in "stealing" at least two other peoples images is justifiable. I expect to see a formal apology by Elkins and his supporters on this list and the other lists where they have offended the members. A PhD candidate knows that
he/she cannot use another persons images or text without first seeking written permission or paying for the previledge (sic) via his University and then this does not unilaterally cover other intellectual property rights. Elkins, it's time to apologise.
Oh dear. Somebody showed a photo of some freshly dug up coins on a blog about protecting archaeological evidence and discussed the significance of this phenomenon. It now turns out that some of these coins at least had been exported from the UK without an export licence. Neither of the dealers was able to say where the coins had come from, which raises the question of whether there were nighthawked items in this bulk lot. Of course not a single US collector has commented on that (and somebody has bought some of these coins from one of the dealers despite their origins being so unclear and controversial).

Far from it being the case that Mr Elkins "and his supporters" (of which I am one) who owe some coin collectors an apology, there is no doubt in my mind that it is the no-questions- asked sellers of illegally exported items of unknown origins from England that owe the British people an apology here.

Since the coin dealers are persisting in keeping this matter alive, it seems to me that the time has come to urge them to repatriate to Britain any of these coins that were illegally exported (they can go to the FLOs as handling material - and let the FLOs explain to the public why they came back to the UK from the US, there is an important lesson there). Any illegally exported coins from these lots that have already been sold should obviously immediately be recalled from the purchaser in order to do so.

By the way, with reference to what Mr Day said, Nathan Elkins made his position quite clear what he regarded as the problem with these coins, it is my surmise that in actual fact his "assumption" indicates that Mr Day has not even read Nathan's blog post before commenting on it. Nothing new in that.

Mr Day's Cerberus coins website is an interesting venue also, no obvious Balkan material, but "We have just added Uncleaned Ancient Roman coins from Syria and Turkey ( 20 May 2009)We have just added another 1000 Holyland found ancient uncleaned coins. We also added some premium uncleaned Byzantine coins and some holyland found uncleaned Islamic coins!" There's stuff from Spain and "somewhere in the classical world where dirty coins can be found". Well, what a lot of coins from far off lands some of which the ACCG would say have "retentive" antiquities policies.... But Mr Day reckons it is Nathan Elkins who needs to apologise to coin collectors for showing two photos [which Mr Day classifies as "stolen" - his inverted commas] of what another dealer was offering quite openly for sale. So presumably those masses of uncleaned coins which Mr Day is selling came from the coin elves and none of them came from any archaeological sites in Spain, Turkey, Syria and "the Holy Land" (where's that? Holy to whom? Would that be Israel Mr Day, or would that be coins looted in neighbouring areas and sold by Israeli dealers?).

Thursday 28 May 2009

Images of Uncleaned Coins in the US and the Rape of History - What would the PAS say?

All those desirous of purchasing a bit of unrecorded history should get themselves along to a website mentioned here before, an online market stall whose proprietor has got literally kilograms of it, imported from all over Old Europe. Our attention is drawn by the ....
...great lot of uncleaned coins found in England, the coins vary from AE-4 (and smaller) up to As sized coins. We have seen Victorinus, Tetricus I, Tetricus II, Carausius, Allectus, Postumus and the of course the more common emperors. Lots of interesting mint marks. Not to mention some very interesting "non-official" issues or Barbarous issues [duh..]. These coins are not like your typical dug coins[,] they are British and one of the most interesting uncleaned coins varieties we offer. […] British Uncleaned Coins are hard to come by and expensive, not because there are not any available, there are just not as many as other varieties, and there is a market for them in there (sic) own home country.
The rest of this sorry tale can be read here. Take a moment to have a good look at this seller's pictures of the coins on offer, hundreds upon hundreds of piled up unrecorded archaeological artefacts in differing states of preservation suggesting they come from a great many sites in Britain which one may legitimately assume from what we see to have all been irreperably damaged by the removal of a non-randomly selected group of archaeological evidence by local artefact hunters. All to serve a foreign collectors' market which apparently does not bother itself overly where those coins come from.

How is it possible for the collectors of these things to say that their hobby does not provide the motor for the looting which produces such objects?

How can the collectors of such things close their eyes to the information that is lost when site after site has material like this removed from them without record and without concern?

How is it that the only thing that US coin collectors can concern themselves over in recent responses to a discussion of these issues is whether someone has used one of their scans in the discussion and criticism of this sorry sad state of affairs?

Well, it seems to me that if US no-questions-asked coin collectors want to hide such pictures, we should look upon them and reflect why actually showing them to people provokes such a reaction. Let's see what all the fuss is about.

Here's some scans of heaps of uncleaned coins like the "dugups" ones offered by some US dealers recently under discussion; each one comes from an unrecorded hole in the archaeological record, somewhere. It would seem by their recent reactions that no-questions-asked coin collectors in the US apparently do not care too much what is trashed in the process of supplying the market with such items, after all pleasure and profits are at stake here, but heaven help anyone who discusses it on a blog like this. What in fact have coin lovers got to worry about when people like me, or Nathan Elkins show what the coins they trade in actually look like? Here are some.

Here are some more.

Here are some in bags

For others on sale fresh from the fields of artefact-hunter friendly Britain, visit this seller's thought-provoking website where you can also see piles of similar uncleaned material from Spain, the Black Sea coast and other regions which have somewhat different regulations regarding the exploitation of archaeological sites as a source of collectables for the commercial market as well and having more stringent export licencing procedures. Are the UK coins at least on this site accompanied by a valid export licence? I think we'd all like to hear the answer to that one.

There are several hundred sellers of such material in Europe, the Near East and North America and even in Australia, each of whom has offerings similar to those discussed here. A thoughtful perusal of their trade offering invites a number of questions. Where do all these coins come from? Where do they ultimately go? How much irreplacable archaeological information has been utterly destroyed to support this trade? What would Britain's Portable Antiquities Scheme say about this loss of information? What would responsible artefact hunters who collect ethically and report finds fully say about those who buy and sell such material no-questions-asked without regard to what is lost in the process? Is it not precisely these people that gets the hobby of collecting such a bad name? What would the ACCG (who say they support ethical collecting and abhore the destruction of archaeological information in the pursuit of the hobby of coin collecting) have to say about this? Maybe the "collectors' Guild" could issue a comprehensive statement about "British dugups".

I'd also like to ask whence the aggression (here, more here) in some quarters of the artefact collecting community inspired by showing such photos.

Photos: heaps of uncleaned coins like the ones US antiquity dealers desperately want to prevent bloggers like myself showing our readers. I say, the public has the right to know. I say we all have the right (even obligation) to discuss this sorry trade, its effects and implications.


Nathan Elkins has updated his post on these "British dugup" artefacts and added the information that the PAS has determined that at least one of these sellers was "not aware" he needed an export licence.

Archaeology and Englishness

This call for papers for the Theoretical Archaeology Group Conference 2009 in Durham caught my eye. I am sure the cosmoglobalpolitan portable antiquity collectors critics of "nationalism' embodied in archaeological resource protection measures will enjoy this one. Maybe they'd like to give a paper?

Field archaeology is an essentially English form of sport"
O.G.S Crawford

As Gordon Brown wrestles with how to promote a sense of 'Britishness', there are increased signs of revival of a sense of English identity, whether expressed through the resurgence in popularity of the English flag or increased call to celebrate St George's Day as a national holiday. There is also an increasing popular literature exploring the notion of the 'English' and 'Englishness' often creating essentialised models of the concept. However, whilst other discipline, such as art history, literary studies and geography have long treated the notion of 'Englishness' as conceptworthy of analysis and deconstruction, this has not been true for archaeology. Whether exploring the development of national traditions of scholarship or considering the way in which material culture is used to develop and maintain a sense of national identity, there has been a tendency for England to be subsumed within a wider British or imperial discourse (though there are some exceptions e.g. Johnson 2007). This session aims to restore this balance and consider the extent to which it is possible to recognise the notion of 'England' and 'Englishness'within archaeology. It is hoped to explore a number of facets of the problematic relationship between archaeology and English identity including:
1/ Materiality and Englishness: the way in which material
culture, structures and landscapes were used to create and maintain a distinct sense of English identity in past societies;
2/ The development of English traditions of archaeological scholarship and a consideration of the consequences of the development of 'England' as a distinct unit of analysis. Is there a distinct English tradition of archaeology or heritage management?;
3/ The use of archaeology to create discourses of 'Englishness' in popular culture..

Part of the answer to question two is obvious, yes, the Brits are the only nation under the sun to pat artefact hunters on the heads and call them "unsung heroes of the heritage". The archaeology of OGSC was also archtypically English, he's one of my heroes.

I admit I did not know Dave Petts had a blog, that'll certainly be worth a look.

Wednesday 27 May 2009

US collectors start a "fund to assist British Museums"

Following a comment on this blog on 19th April Canadian coin dealer Robert Kokotailo suggested on the Moneta-L discussion list which he moderates setting up a fund to help out British museums purchase treasure finds. It has now been announced that the coin trade lobby group the ACCG has established such a fund. It is to help provide funding up to 500 GBP to small museums in England and Wales that wish to purchase local finds of ancient (ie, pre- Anglo-Saxon) coins which have been declared Treasure in terms of the 1996 Treasure Act. As we all know, the ACCG wishes to propagate the “British system” of portable antiquity laissez-faire worldwide and this is apparently their way of saying "thank you" to the Brits for showing the way... The ACCG says their motive is that in Britain:
Many small museums have inadequate find purchasing budgets and although there are schemes such the Headley Trust which might award a portion of the price for purchases of ₤500 or more, amounts lower than this must be entirely raised by the local museum. If the museum fails to raise the money, the coins might be purchased by a larger museum and leave the area where they were found. Local museums will place such finds on display to be enjoyed by the local population. Many ancient coin collectors support both the Treasure Act and voluntary reporting systems in England and Wales and would like to express their appreciation by donating money to help keep some of these ancient coin finds in the area in which they were found.
What a shame the ACCG does not apply the same high-sounding ideals to the coins their members collect no-questions-asked from the Balkans, Near East and other regions and sold by ACCG-affiliated dealers. As for US collectors “supporting” the British system, we saw an example of this the other day… The true aim of the exercise is revealed by the statement that:
The Committee will post details of any awards and a link to the museum home page on the ACCG web site along with photographs of the museum and the finds.
This is clearly a propaganda exercise. The ACCG adds: "This fund will enable small museums to be able to display local finds without overtaxing their limited financial resources. It will serve the established goals of the ACCG to broaden its visibility among non-coin collecting groups and will provide a vehicle for collectors to "give something back in appreciation". Well, I suppose it depends whether small British museums want to be involved in “broadening the visibility” of the ACCG among non-coin-collecting groups in Britain and whether that would serve the museum's mission – particularly bearing in mind the ACCG's recent coin import stunt and its general and stated opposition to any heritage protection measures which may disturb the free access of US dealers to as many ancient coins as they want. (That's basically most of them.) Support of the US dealers’ lobby by British museums would therefore rather go against the 2006 ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums which sets out some principles regarding the market in natural and cultural property. Members of the museum profession (principle 8.5) are not allowed to support certain parts of it directly or indirectly. Basically while the ACCG has the stated attitude it does to coin imports and exports, British museum professionals cannot ethically participate in broadening its visibility. In any case principle 8.15 (Interaction with Dealers) of the same code states: “Museum professionals should not accept any gift, hospitality, or any form of reward from a dealer, auctioneer, or other person as an inducement to purchase or dispose of museum items...".

It's also a bit of a shame that in setting up this fund, the ACCG did not first find out more about the sequence of the Treasure process in England and Wales (if they find reading the material too much of a strain, probably one phone call to the British Museum would have been enough to sort it out). They ask for a document which is not produced at the stage when museums are being approached about their desire and ability to purchase a find, and they fail to realise that the small museums they want to "assist" are offered the finds after the larger national museums have decided not to acquire - so the stated aim of helping the smaller museum to prevent the big museums snatching them is a misunderstanding of the process. If neither big nor small museums express a need for the find, it is returned to the finder and landowner and may then legitimately appear on the market.

It is also interesting that ACCG members are asked to send their donations to the Executive Director, while the ACCG does in fact have a separate office of Treasurer, and it is to the Executive Director that applications for the fund are to be made. Odd. We are told that “Approval will be based on the availability of funds, the number of current requests and the importance of the find as described in the application”. The executive Director has recently announced that Robert Kokotailo, John Hooker and Zach Beasley have volunteered to manage the ACCG Museum Fund. So that's a dealer and collector from Canada, and a dealer from the US. Perhaps they could have co-opted somebody from the British Isles (perhaps from the museum world) to give more informed advice? But then of course they are not really doing this to further the needs of British society, culture or museums.

Nice though the gesture is, there is something vaguely neo-colonial about rich US private collectors providing funding for foreign institutions to help them realise their cultural mission. The sum offered is laughable, there are many individual coins (without provenance) listed on eBay and V-Coins (owned by the ACCG President) which are being sold for much more than 500 GBP. Many of the Treasure finds which museums are having to buy from treasure hunters cost much more than that. Britain is a comparatively rich country compared with many of those that current ACCG doctrine would force "the British system" on. Who is going to pay for the treasure rewards that introduction of a British Treasure act clone would engender in those countries? US collectors too? When all they can manage for Britain is "payments up to 500 pounds"?

Mr Sayles has no sense of occasion. Immediately under his announcement of the way the coin dealers and collectors of the US want to help Britain preserve its culture, he adds:
I'd also like to remind collectors and dealers that now is the time to send donations to the ACCG Benefit Auction. If you have a single coin or a group of coins, that no longer fit into your collectingscheme, this is the perfect place for them. All proceeds of the auction go to the legal expenses of challenging import restrictions that threaten our hobby.
That sort of talk will certainly not encourage British heritage professionals to feel comfortable beating a path to their door for some cash handouts, because those same restrictions protect the culture which museums are set up to curate and help protect, and it is the collecting hobby which wants these restrictions relaxed or removed that is the threat to that cultural heritage.

Eton College returns suspect antiquities to Egypt

Martin Bailey of the Art Newspaper reports that on the 27th April, Eton College returned a group of more than 450 antiquities to Egypt, because it suspects that many had probably been illegally exported. The objects in question had been donated to Eton in 2006, by the family of the late Ron Davey, a London-based Egyptologist. He in turn had received most of them as a bequest from his friend, Peter Webb, who died in 1992. The Webb-Davey donation comprised 454 items, including ushabti figurines, beads and amulets, textile fragments, potsherds, coins and other small objects. When the antiquities arrived at Eton, they were examined by Dr Nicholas Reeves, and he was concerned to find that much of the material had been acquired in Egypt during the period 1972-88, and there was no surviving documentary evidence that proper export procedures had been followed. The remaining Webb-Davey antiquities seem to have been purchased in good faith on the London market during the same period, but again, no information was available on how they had left Egypt. Eton College considered the matter, and decided against keeping the donation. After discussions with Mr Davey’s family, it was decided to relinquish the objects to Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, for the Cairo Museum. That Eton should be upholding the principles of fair play and decency need surprise nobody, I'd expect nothing less, but wouldn't it be a nice surprise though to find other collectors of no-questions-asked material following such an exemplary lead and taking the same attitude?

"He is still at it again"

Over on the Moneta-L forum - as its name sugests a forum for coin collectors, John Hooker is still giving advice to Joe Blazic about his "English dugups" being queried on an archaeological resource protection advocacy blog or two. He advises against suing for libel:
If you believe that there was an actual intent to harm you, then skip that response and instead, approach the owner of the site if it is blogging site (such as was used here). [...] They will order that the images be removed and may even ban the client from their site. The next level of attack is to advise the violator's employer, publisher or affiliated organizations of the infringement. If the violator holds an academic post, this is especially effective as plagiarism of any form is ruthlessly dealt with by academia.
"attack"? The reader can draw their own conclusions why portable antiquity collectors woiuld like to get certain persons banned from blogging and even get their "employers, publishers or affiliated organizations" to silence them. I suppose trying to shut up the critics is easier than actually addressing the issues they raise. Mr Blazick has still not provided an enquirer the URL of the blog that he is so flustered about - could it be that he has himself discovered that he called Nathan Elkins "BUMford"?

Tuesday 26 May 2009

"He is at it again"

The dealer known as "Roman Peddler" writes on Moneta-L forum (spelling etc. as in the original):
Our favorite Hypocritical Archeologist is at it again.He cr5ies about Culturallooting and then on a blog he accuses (without evidence two dealers od sellingBristish Dugups and makes it sound illegal without proof.He then takes ThePhotos of two dealers and also private pictures from an ace gathering and
putsthem up on his Blog.Shame! Shame !! Sahme on the archeologist. FRrom Ole HonestJoe as he called me.
I assume since he refers to my street market-patois allusion and references to the photos used on this blog, he means me ("hypocritical"?). Do I make it sound illegal? Is it legal to sell coins in the United States which have been exported legally from the United Kingdom? Yes, so 'Roman Peddlar' can show us the export licence which all such finds require to leave the country legally, and everything is fine. I am sure he has one.

The photo of "two dealers" to which he refers is in fact a scene from a stage production of Oliver Twist. I am sure Mr Peddler will recognise the two characters (anyone who reads the blog will realise it is an allusion to the supply process of no-questions-asked dealing). As for the "private pictures from an ACE gathering", they are not private, they are used as promotional material on the ACE website, and I gave a link to where the original photo comes from - I think this falls under 'fair use'. The photo however was not used in reference to Mr Peddler (although the post refers to another dealer's "Suffolk dugups"). It illustrates a post on ACE's Scott Uhrick's request to coin sellers - it shows Mr Uhrick so the reader can put a face and person to the words.

Anyhow Mr Peddler was advised by John Hooker how to proceed in the case of "intellectual property theft", but instead writes:

Thanks for the link on the intellectual theft but after a lawter friend viewed the article he says that it became a matter of libel which I may chose to persue.

Another one wants to "have the law" on those who discuss the antiquities trade. I expect the ACCG can point Mr Blazick to a good lawter.

But wait a minute... Over on "Uncleaned Coins" we read the following: Seems that we have a hyprocrite on blogs.Likes to cry that people who get coins from England are looters because he dont know the route and how coins get topeople.They are guilty first.Well Mr.BUMford,seems it is not on the up and up topublish other peoples photos without their permission and a group is lookinginto what legal actions they can take.Last I will say about your characterassaination. SIGNED HONEST JOE!
The name is BARford, and Mr Peddler (who turns out to be Joe Blazick) seems to be confusing this blog with somebody else's. Looking at his written style, I wonder if he actually knows what the word "hypocrite" means? Well, it's not the "last" word, as the next day (as we saw above), he wrote about the same thing to Moneta-L.

I note in addition to the "English" lot, he has recently been selling "Austrian dugups from Vien[n]a" too and patronising some of the Bulgarian bulk sellers.

Since US coin dealers and collectors are currently kicking up such a fuss that to give this blog a bit of visual interest, I showed a photo of what ACE's Scott Ulrick looks like doing numismatic outreach among American youth, I decided to remove the photo from the blog. No big loss, I hope that makes them all deleriously happy. Now I think that a good starting point before Mr Peddler/Blazick or anyone else threatens any more legal action, we'd like to see the UK export licences for those two lots of "English dugup" coins. Now, the PAS would too I believe.

Monday 25 May 2009

Strategic report strategically altered

The Final Report of the Strategic Study produced by Oxford Archaeology for the governmental advisory body English heritage on illegal artefact hunting was published online as a pdf document on Monday Feb. 16th. Just a few days later as reported here, it vanished (see here for a still broken link to the February release). It then reappeared on the English Heritage site without any announcement or explanation.

Closer examination reveals that the current document is not the same as originally published in February and which some of us printed out in hard copy. Just as in the memory holes in Winston Smith’s Ministry of Truth the old version has been deleted from the public record and a new politically correct one substituted.

The changes are not – as far as I can see – identified in the new document which is now identified on the title page as “issue no. 3, April 2009”). [We all missed the first, what was in it?]

The two changes I spotted are interesting. The most striking is the total and unexplained absence of one of the case studies in Wiltshire. This has disrupted the pagination in the section of the report from pages 58-64 [where there is now a blank half page to compensate]. What is striking about this – apart from the fact that this has happened at all in an official report after publication – is that the conclusions drawn from this particular case remain unaltered in the later sections of the report, but are now unsupported by any evidence gathered ‘on the ground’.

The second set of changes seem to have been made under pressure from a private metal detecting finds “recording scheme”. From 24th February, its owners were conducting a spamming campaign drawing attention to some statements made by the original Nighthawking report which it alleged were untrue. Lo and behold when the ‘Issue three Nighthawking report’ appeared, some changes had been made to its page 14 which has again led to a difference between the pagination of the two versions of this “Final report”. Significantly, they do not actually address all of the three main points made in the detectorists' spamming campaign - and the overall assessment of the database concerned is not changed (though it is interesting to see this being claimed as some kind of a 'victory' by those concerned).
I do not know what other changes have been made in this document, but certainly the text needs to be treated with caution. The same goes for the conclusion it draws. The way which the absence of a paper publication allows manipulation of the official record of what the Study found out as a result of over 100 000 (I believe it was) pounds and several months' work is profoundly disturbing.

Personally, I think this hasty alteration of an already-published document is symptomatic of the rather haphazard way in which Britain goes about assessing the effects of current policies on artefact hunting on the archaeological record. Obviously if a few days after publication of the Final Report it is silently withdrawn for emendation (i.e., deletion of a whole section of the findings and a rephrasing of others) then there clearly is something very wrong with the process by which it was compiled.

PAS to HER data transfer

On the British Archaeology Jobs Resource forum metal detectorist Gary Brun and owner of a private UK metal detector finds database a month ago alleged:

All the (sic) years PAS and CBA have been stating UKDFD was irresponsible because it didn’t PAS its data to the HER’s. After much research and digging around... I find that PAS has hardly passed anything over to them either... because they do not have a transfer system that works and the data is to be honest unreliable. Also the HERs don’t have the resources to accept and implement it. The whole area of data transfer is a complete mess and I personally feel cheated and lied to by these two organisations. The whole thing of “data transfer” has been a red herring.... but now its all in the light.
I would like to know where this information is “in the light”. Can Mr Brun show us where it is please? If true, this is most disturbing news, the addition of the data recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme to the HERs was the whole point of throwing ten million pounds at the will o'the wisp idea of becoming "partners" (sic) with artefact hunters. If that is not happening after ten years, then that is something the recent independent review of the Scheme should have identified, addressed and questioned. What is the basis for this allegation?

Saturday 23 May 2009

A Controversial Coin from California

Artifact hunters searching grass road verges at the junction of South Beverly Drive and West Pico Boulevard in Beverly Hills, CA 90212 made a lucky discovery a few weeks ago; a very large coin bigger than even a Morgan dollar, apparently Roman in very nice condition. The object is now being offered for sale by Ira & Larry Goldberg in their pre-Long Beach sale which starts tomorrow and is described in their online catalogue thusly:
Lot 1931 Valentinian I, AD 364-375. Silver Multiple of 24 Miliaresia (48 Siliquae) 104.3 g. 66 mm., minted at Antioch, AD 369. Diademed, cuirassed and draped bust right of Valentinian. Reverse: Legend in four lines within laurel wreath; below, "AN" (mintmark for Antioch). Unpublished, and apparently unique […] Some light porosity and displaying stray marks. Minimal wear results in the net grade of Extremely Fine. This, the largest silver coin known of the Roman Empire, is a silver multiple weighing one-third of a Roman pound of silver. Remarkably thick in comparison to contemporary silver coins, it was struck at a time when silver, as a metal, was scarce. […] This gargantuan gift was no doubt presented to a high-ranking Roman officer or dignitary. One theory that has been advanced is the possibility that Count Theodosius himself, peacemaker of Britain at the time, was the recipient of the medallion. A likely occasion for this honor was Valentinian's quinquennial celebration, held on 25 February AD 369. Estimated Value $300,000 - 400,000. Provenance: With supporting certificates of authenticity from David R. Sear and Frank L. Kovacs.
The finder Mr Ivor Tecta is reported as saying “me and my man Bazza was jus’ ‘tecting this piece of grass by the side of the road, like, we had all the proper permission and all that. But we was like finding nothing but ring pulls, spent PD bullet cases and a few wheaties and a Barber dime; and I was like saying that we should give up and go back to the trailer park when I jus' got this really loud signal, like, and I bent down and picked it up. You should’a seen the look on Bazza’s face !” Mr Tecta who lives in a Santa Monica mobile home park went on. “It’s kinda nice researching the history of this part of Beverly Hills, all the things the Old Timers left behind, it makes history come to life, like, an' gives you a funny feeling to hold in yer hand what somebody held in their hands all that time ago".

David Classic, local antiquities dealer was the first to see the find. He too was amazed by the size and condition of this coin: “I immediately recognized the importance of this coin when Ivor brought it to me. Its not surprising to find it here, after all Parthian coins are found in Spain, so why not Roman coins in California? Roman soldiers used to bury their savings by the sides of old roads on their way to battle, and sadly, not all made it back to retrieve them. This is what it must have been, there must have been a big battle near here two thousand years ago”.

The decision to sell the coin has roused the anger of local residents and educators in the Beverly Hills area. They argue that an object of this importance and appeal should not find its way to some private collection, but should be displayed in a local or national collection (such as that of the American Numismatic Society) so that it can be appreciated by all members of the public and contribute to their knowledge of the rich cultural heritage of the classical world and its contribution to the rich cultural mosaic of the land they live in.

Mr Phil E. Stein, a spokesman for the US Ministry of Culture says that he understands the critical voices of those citizens, but says however: “We believe this object should be sold to the highest bidder and if it ends up in the private collection of a foreign businessman or dictator, well that is just too bad. We cannot be seen to be putting the cultural needs of people of this country before those of other people”. Mr Stein added that although some have argued that this piece is clearly of exceptional artistic, archaeological, historical and numismatic importance and is of great importance to the local culture of Beverly Hills, the Ministry of Culture will not be withholding the issue of an export licence for it. “my government feels that such retentive policies are nationalistic in their origin, and the American people are not nationalistic”. In any case, he added, even if a licence was refused, the new owners could easily take it out of the country at any time they wanted without one; “we all know our borders are as leaky as a sieve” he candidly remarked. There was always somebody who would turn a blind eye outside the country who would be willing to trade with artefact smugglers and buy it. "In fact, if someone just concealed it about (or within) their person and took it through airport checkin, it would save us a lot of boring old red tape".

Juanez Juno (author of the best-selling book "You Can Own Their Past") the newly appointed government advisor on cultural policy agrees: "Displaying this object in a foreign universal museum alongside other similarly shaped objects from different cultures such as those quaint native sculptures and lip-plugs and the artistic products of cargo-cults will allow the place of the ancient cultures of our land to be seen in its pluralistic global context and be another way of expressing American cultural supremacy through the ages".

Sayne Wales of the Ancient Coin Dependency Group (ACDG) based in Tompa Florida however has expressed outrage at such ideas and the short-sighted cultural policies by the current administration. “This nation does not deserve a Ministry of Culture", he fumed. "If this item is exported from the US as a result of the short sighted cultural policies of this Administration, my organization will immediately be making a Freedom of Information request to find out what back door dealings lie behind such a decision”. Wales suggested that there was a huge government conspiracy to deprive the American people of their cultural heritage. “This is unconstitutional and we will defend the right of our members to have access to such material for study in this country. It is unacceptable that our members would have to go to collections and museums in other parts of the world to see objects that have been taken from our soil”.

There are other controversies connected with this sale. Washington lawyer Pietro de Hamlyn represents the American Committee for the Ethical Trade in Antiquities (ACETIA) and is an avid observer of cultural property issues. He is very sceptical of the account concerning the findspot.
Although the trade is keeping very quiet about the whole business, in reality it is highly unlikely to have been found in the State of California or the United States at all. I seriously doubt the story of the finding of this coin by Mr Ivor Tecta in California, indeed, I think it entirely possible that the man himself does not even exist. Rumours however are circulating that this was part of a hoard which also contained coins of Priscus Attalus (Emperor of the West in 409-10) found abroad. As such, it was almost certainly illegally exported from the source country (I cannot seriously imagine any other country – apart form the US –  which would issue an export licence for such a unique item found on their soil). As such its import into the US cannot have been ethical or in accord with international legislation. We have signed international treaties you know, and the UNESCO one obliges our law enforcement agencies to stop any process likely to lead to illegal transfer of ownership. Not that this makes much of a difference, action is all to rarely taken in this country against those that flaunt these laws. More disturbingly, all too often the foreigners smuggling items like this to our shores are mixed up in all sorts of other illegal business such as drugs and human trafficking, and our border personnel and homeland security officials should be doing more to investigate these connections and break the smuggling rings. That in a civilised country like ours they do not is unacceptable. Our Committee is committed to drawing attention to this problem and goading the administration into taking action".
de Hamlyn noted that if US border personnel were unable to stop the import of 100 grammes of illegally exported ancient silver coin into the country, what confidence can US citizens have that they are stopping 100 grammes or more of illegally exported Strontium 90 powder for dirty bombs or 100 grammes of military-grade anthrax spores?

North Carolina coin dealer and trade watchdog Olin Von Arksdahl is of a different opinion on the lack of firm information on provenance. "It's a fake isn't it?" he asks rhetorically. "That is why they cannot say where it really comes from ! Just look at it, coins of Valentinian I have broad flat areas like this one, but are generally chunkier. This coin is too flat, the lettering too spindly and all over the place, the style is wrong. Look at that portrait, it has the appearance of a laboriously studious copy. Generally the relief is too flat, has no 'body' to it. The wreath looks like something on nineteenth century European coins and not like the wreaths on Roman coins and medallions. In any case, whoever heard of a hand-struck silver coin with a diameter of 66 mm? To strike this would need a coin press like those used by Chinese and Lebanese forgers - and isn't it interesting that the mintmark is "Antioch" - is somebody trying to tell us something? Where did it REALLY come from?". Our interview was cut short by Mr von Arksdahl complaining of a severe headache. The no-questions asked US trade in portable antiquities seems full of them.

Photo: The 'Goldberg' medallion, work out for yourselves what in the above is true and what is allegory.

Friday 22 May 2009

Who can sell ACE some "dugups"?

The so-called Ancient Coins for Education guys in the US are at it again. They now want some "dugups" to "prime the pump" and get more US kids hooked on collecting ancient coins. Any old numismatic "dugups", as long as they are Roman or "Classical", export licence optional, it would seem. In a message to the Moneta-L discussion list Connecticut coin collector Scott Uhrick writes:
Ancient Coins for Education is ramping up for our upcoming school year and needs to find a supplier or suppliers of the coins we use in the program. As you might know the kids attribute the coins as part of the program, so a decent obverse legend is far more important than coin type or rarity. If they are all "FEL TEMP", "GLORIA EXERCITAS", etc... that is fine. This first purchase will be of about a thousand coins with more orders to follow over the course of the year.If anyone [can] supply these please contact me at ....
I wonder why they would be searching for a source when the United States is awash with uncleaned bulk lots of Roman coins from Balkan potato fields and Suffolk dugups are not unknown? Has there been a hiccup in their usual source of supply - donations from bulk dealers?

Mr Uhrick and all you "educators" raising the standards of classical education in the US, "Gloria what"? [it is a fourth declension noun].

Stuck for words Mr Tompa?

Peter Tompa comments on Nathan Elkins’ post on the bulk lots of “English dugups” coins being sold on the US market. He says "I suspect it is quite possible that there was no legal obligation to report the coins " which is quite missing the point of what Nathan Elkins was saying.

What however is astounding (yes, I mean that) is a comment underneath Tompa's post made by US coin collector Voz Earl two days ago.

I think the constant emphasis of some on UK export licenses is misguided. Aren't we really talking about mere red tape here? The idea that someone will go through the trouble to get an export license every time he sends a low-value coin overseas is rather unrealistic. As far as legal infractions go it's about
as heinous as jaywalking or breaking the speed limit. If a coin and its context have been recorded in the PAS database, an export license does not add any further knowledge of use to archaeologists or numismatists.
Yes, that is right, that is what he said. Somewhat missing the point and displaying complete ignorance of the purpose of the export licence process. But then quite typical if the ACCG is busily telling its members that such laws are "bad laws" imposed by "nationalist governments".

So what was the reply of the Washington lawyer? We are still waiting. Stuck for words, Mr Tompa? Let me help you, lex dura sed lex.

If one is going to collect antiquities from other countries, at least have the decency to abide by their laws in doing so. That goes for items originating from excavations in the UK as well as items coming from Cyprus and China. Or to put it another way, why advocate obeying the export laws with regard items from Britain (as I hope Mr Tompa would) but ignoring those concerning objects from Cyprus and China (which the ACCG is currently advocating and indeed actually deliberately did at Baltimore airport in April).

Mr Earl’s comment does not violate the Code of Ethics of the ACCG which only talks of the laws in the BUYER’s own country, so this collector who sees no point in export licences even from the UK runs no risk of being drummed out of the Ancient Coin Collectors’ Guild for expressing such sentiments. Nevertheless that then raises the question of whether this is the kind of collector that the ACCG is representing.

A statement by the former President of the ACCG would, I think, be appreciated - not least by all those "Friends of US numismatists" in the UK. Would Mr Tompa advise collectors to respect the UK export licence procedure with regard archaeological finds or ignore it I wonder?

Thursday 21 May 2009

Cambridge Rider Findspot

Readers may recall that the DCMS press release referring to the Cambridge (read: Stow cum Quy) Rider said that the find was from a temple site. I have just received information from Sarah Poppy of Cambridgeshire Archaeology, who tells me that "we do not have records on the HER of a temple site in the vicinity of the find, so I am not sure where this association has come from. There have been other Roman finds from the same locality, also recorded by the PAS". There are also undated cropmark enclosures/field systems in the region of the findspot. What is interesting is that Sarah says that despite what the ARCHI database asserts, "no substantive evidence of a villa or temple has been recorded to our knowledge". Interestingly, the site of the figurine findspot was not known to us before its reporting to the PAS.

Sarah Poppy says that the PAS has recorded other items "from this site". The search engine on the PAS site however stubbornly and steadfastly refuses to recognise that there might be any data in the database for Stow cum Quy or "Stow" or "Quy" in Cambridgeshire (I did not try "cum") - so where are they? Ridiculous.

So what is going on here? Does the DCMS have information that the PAS and the Cambridgeshire HER have not received? Or is this some huge misunderstanding which has somehow invented a temple from thin air? The information from the HER was freely given. Why actually can we not have a simple answer to a simple question about the circumstances of this PAS-"recorded" object now on its way out of the country, where was this object found, and what was found with it under what circumstances? This seems a quite small request in return for 22000 quid somebody's getting for flogging it off abroad.
The PAS is keeping quiet isn't it?

Wednesday 20 May 2009

Living comfortably off the tax-dollars?

Guy Rothwell is a portable antiquities collector who according to the website is the moderator of the antiquities section of the Specialist - Moderated Specialist and Collectors Online Auctions". The antiquities section of this auction website seems to be composed mainly of freshly-dug up pieces, including some from the Balkans and "eastern Europe". Despite this, in his self-presentation as moderator, Rothwll writes comfortingly that "hundreds of thousands of individual artefacts have reached private collections over the last three hundred years and the break up of these collections forms the bulk of the material circulating on the market today" (my emphasis).

On the Yahoo Ancient Artefacts forum over the past few days there has been a discussion of these claims that the BULK of the unprovenanced artefacts on the market are from old collections. If this were true, there would be no need for the looting of archaeological sites and the shipment of many kilogrammes of metal artefacts out of the Balkans for example. In this discussion I pointed out that the number of people collecting antiquities 99 years ago (for example) was nowhere near like the number now doing it today (in the post-metal detector and post-internet auction site period of the development of "public involvement in the past"). Many of these former collectors donated their objects to museums when they died and only a proportion of their objects finds came onto the market, and some of those that are still on the market have retained their provenance to these old collections which gives them added cachet as collectables. In other words, it is very unlikely that the bulk of the artefacts on the market today could have originated in these old collections as there were simply not enough of them to produce this quantity of material. In my opinion, the "old collections" argument has been severely abused to explain away the vast numbers of unprovenanced artefacts on the market. Mr Rothwell of course does not agree. He now writes:
I, for one, get rather tired of archaeologists (most of whose salaries are probably paid in some way through our tax dollars) exaggerating something that really is of very very minor importance in the affairs of mankind. I really wish they would devote their energies to something worthwhile, such as campaigning against world poverty or something similiar. They have rather comfortable lives compared to most - but all we hear from them is misrepresentation and exaggeration and they seem to be bent on destroying a respectable and legitimate hobby that has existed for centuries.
I find it ironic that collectors always play the "there are more important issues" card. Obviously though, those involving those who produce and transport the artefacts they crave are not among them.

One side of the collecting lobby sees archaeologists as "agents for foreign governments" involved in some nefarious conspiracy to undermine their constitutional right to trample all over somebody else's. Another bunch sees archaeologists as living "comfortably" off other people's tax dollars. Why actually can portable antiquity collectors not see archaeologists as archaeologists?

If collectors regard preserving the archaeological record of millennia of human history (which can be read no other way) is "of very minor importance in the affairs of mankind", then it is interesting to note how much energy they expend trying to argue that it is "important" that they (and they alone) should be able to have bits of it regardless of what is destroyed and damaged in the process. Important or not?

Mr Rothwell, nobody is trying to destroy a respectable and legitimate hobby, what the archaeological resource protection lobby want is for portable antiquity collecting to leave the nineteenth century and become a respectable (respectworthy) and legitimate hobby by cutting out the opacity of the no-questions-asked approach which facilitates the penetration of so many looted and illegally exported items onto the market. It is not just archaeologists who want this.

I think though that before collectors start criticising archaeology about its sources of funding and what it actually does, it might be useful if they found out a little more about both.

Operation Phoenix

The recent display in Italy of items seized from the raid on the island villa of Greek shipping heiress Despoina Papadimitriou was mainly reported from the point of view of the recovery of some Byzantine frescoes ripped from the wall of a south Italian site which the owner of the villa had somehow acquired. Equally interesting was a piece of information which appeared as a footnote to the article in some news sources.
Police also showed off some of the 251 artifacts, worth a total of some euro2 million, discovered as part of another investigation, dubbed Operation Phoenix, into looted antiquities found in Switzerland. The goods were handed over to Italian authorities by two Lebanese brothers who operated a Geneva antiquities gallery. Police said they hoped that such a gesture would be repeated by anyone who had illicit antiquities in their possession.
Two Lebanese brothers had two million euros worth of artefacts which as a result of "Operation Pheonix" now turn out to have been illicitly obtained... Where did they come from? How many artefacts disturbed by the diggings on those sites were merely cast away or separated froim the rest as not worthy of a Geneva gallery of "ancient art"? How much destruction of the archaeological resource was done so Lebanese brothers can attempt to make a cool two million from selected bits of it?

While we may "hope" that anyone who had illicitly obtained artefacts might hand them over to the authorities, the more important thing is that they will hand over the information that will allow the identification and arrest of all those involved down the line in the illegal exploitation of archaeological sites and monuments as a source of collectables for the no-questions-asked market, and all those involved in their distribution. Derek Fincham reporting this asks rhetorically "will there be an end to the cycle of looting, seizures and arrests?". I ask, when will we make a proper beginning commensurate with the scale of the problem and the number (and nature) of the people who seem to be involved?

Tuesday 19 May 2009

Metal Detecting Sites & Finds

Specially for those who want to dig up their own bits of the past (or those who bought a provenanced bit on eBay and want to find out what the site looks like now):
Metal Detectors Searcher New CD, has links to over 7,500 Google Earth Placemarkers. Metal Detecting Sites & Finds CD is ideal for beginners and experts, a perfect starting point for all research, with satellite view of all sites. We continuously update your link and regularly and add new Metal Detecting Sites & Finds. It is also protected by user name and password. Your CD will have 1 year access, to over 7,500 Google Earth Placemarkers.
Most of which come from published sources - you know those things we call "books". Though some of them (look at the video with the naff music) come from an English Heritage "List of Scheduled sites" and at least one hoard "work in progress" (aka "PAS database" maybe?). Let us remember that one of the original "justifications" of encouraging "metal detecting" as a means of interacting with the UK's past is that it encourages metal detector using collectors to do "research into the history of their locality". Not any more it does not - no literacy skills needed, its "orl pikchures innit"?

I'd like to hear the PAS reaction to such databases - compiled from existing archaeological literature (the ARCHI database I mentioned here a few days ago is of the same nature). If UK artefact hunters use such "research methods" to any extent, a lot of PAS recorded information is going to be coming from sites already known and going to be duplicating existing knowledge about them - at the expense of further erosion of those same known sites. That seems to be rather pointless destruction from an archaeological point of view.

Monday 18 May 2009

English dugups, fresh from the soil, git 'em 'ere at 'onest Joe's

On his Numismatics and Archaeology blog, Nathan Elkins discusses two recently-offered lots of Roman coins cutely labelled by their sellers „English dugups”. He notes the relationship between these offers and the coin dealer-rhetoric urging other nations to adopt the “British system”.
Elkins notes lots of coins offered by sellers Joe Blazick (caesars12 on eBay) and Tony Jaworski of Common Bronze, selling unwashed, unrecorded coins from Suffolk. Neither offer seems to mention the existence of an export licence (which of course, being the declared products of direct excavation, by law their export without one is totally illegal). The coins shown by Elkins are anything but "unsorted" and "unwashed". Given the existence of the PAS in Britain and the general support it has among the numismatic community, why would any ethical dealer be dealing in unrecorded ancient coins from England? Why would any ethical collector buy them? This stinks.

Elkins rightly emphasizes that “schemes like the PAS are not effective solutions against systematic looting as long as dealers and collectors refuse to conduct any degree of due diligence”. He points out that “the PAS […] is not a license to loot systematically in order to provide masses of material for market consumption” (though some of us would say that whatever the original intent, in effect, through its current “partnership” with artefact hunters, that is precisely what it turns out to be).

It seems to me whether "friend of numismatics" or not, the PAS should be in touch with Messers Blazick and Jaworski tomorrow to find out where those coins came from and what documentation they have that they were obtained legally from their finder and the landowner(s). I doubt though that they will.
Photo: and where do no-questions asked dealers get the coins from? who knows where they come from and how?

Saturday 16 May 2009

Détecteur de métaux destructeurs de sites archéologiques

More advocacy to annoy the collectors on their sinking ship. This weekend viewers of France 5 will see a 52 minute documentary film "Chasseurs et pilleurs de trésors" made by Laurent Dy and produced by Maximal Productions, with the participation of France 5.
En France, il y un a un site archéologique tous les cinq cents mètres ; un patrimoine immense mais aussi une mine d'or pour les pillards. Le cadre juridique est flou et le gain financier énorme en cas de découverte de " trésor ", les vocations sont donc nombreuses. D'un coté, les pilleurs, plus ou moins conscients du mal qu'ils font. Ce sont les " détectoristes ", des particuliers qui, armés d'engins en forme de poêle à frire sensibles aux métaux, partent à la recherche de monnaies gallo-romaines. Individuellement, ils font très peu de dégâts. Mais ils sont plus de 40 000 en France. En face, les archéologues qui protègent leur zone de recherche avec les moyens du bord. C'est le cas de Frédéric Devevey. Il travaille à l'INRAP (Institut national d'archéologie préventive) et vient de commencer un chantier de fouilles en Bourgogne. Ses solutions de fortune pour écarter les visiteurs : des panneaux "chantier interdit au public", des clôtures, et même des brouilleurs de détecteur de métal. Pour lui, les indélicats font des ravages. Ces archéologues professionnels sont donc sans cesse confrontés à ces pillages. La guerre est déclarée.
Now if there really are 40 000 of these artefact hunters in France (population 62 400 000) the majority necessarily working illegally, to what do we ascribe the fact that in England there are estimated to be a quarter that number in a similar-sized population? Is it because the legal restrictions have in some way led to the hobby being more popular in France? Is it because either the French or the UK estimates are way out ? (I argued the point with HAPPAH and they do seem to have quite convincing reasons for their figures.) Whatever the reason, it is clear that rather than a purely legal solution, in order to reduce the scale of this problem we need to concentrate more on public opinion of the activity of collecting and create some form of regulation of the collection of and market in antiquities.

Friday 15 May 2009

The Search for "Undisclosed Agents of Influence for some Nationalistic, Repatriation Seeking Foreign Governments"

As my readers will know, "Looting Matters" is a blog of Dr David Gill, of the Department of Classics, Ancient History and Egyptology at Swansea University, Wales. They will also know that David has for a number of years been interested in (and published on) issues connected with the exploitation of archaeological sites, especially of the Classical world, as a source of collectables for the antiquities market. The “Looting Matters” blog (one of several he contributes to) reflects this. It is one of the more respected sources of balanced opinion and information on this issue and well worth reading (read it please, Looting DOES matter).

Recently Dr Gill announced that "Looting Matters" will be releasing a weekly story via PR Newswire. The first post was on “Why does the Return of the Euphronios Krater to its Original Home Awaken Debate?" This leads to a succinct piece on the "Looting matters" blog summarizing the issue of The Stewardship of Classical Antiquities in a post-Euphronios World. This looks like a useful feature and will probably bring many more interested members of the public into contact with David’s thoughts on the looting issue. More power to him.

Despite the fact that David is one of the more polite and discrete participants in the “debate on looting”, he has often been the butt of the attacks of the shameless advocates of the no-questions-asked antiquities market (but mainly as far as I know from the United States of America). It would seem that making the debate more widely known among the public is not to the liking of this crowd. Just one and a half hours after he made the announcement – Gill received what looks like a demand from Washington lawyer (Bailey & Ehrenberg) to reveal the source of his funds. Peter Tompa ("Cultural Property Observer") sent a comment to the story on "Looting Matters" [My emphasis]:

As I'm sure you know, PR Newswire is not a free service. To give your effort credibility I would urge you to provide your readers with some information in this regard. Otherwise, we might just suspect that you are merely acting as an undisclosed agent of influence for some nationalistic, repatriation seeking foreign government, like that of Greece.

On his own blog Tompa goes on about this, he claims “I don't begrudge Gill publicizing his views on unprovenanced artifacts and repatriation to source countries”, (really? I think he does) and candidly admits: "The ACCG has also used PR Newswire in the past, but only on an occasional basis due to cost concerns". He then surmises: "Presumably, Gill is paying these or similar rates weekly unless he is eligible for some particular discount". This then leads conspiracy-theory fan Tompa to the suspicion that the costs are being met for him as "as an undisclosed agent of influence for some nationalistic, repatriation seeking foreign government".

Frankly what David Gill writes or does not write on his own blog is his own personal business, as is how much it costs him in time, energy or money. It certainly is not the business of Mr Tompa or the readers of his blog.

This is not the first time Tompa has done this. A few months ago he was pestering Dr Gill for information about what finances he had been getting from a foreign government. Now that is simply bad manners.

To return to the original matter, in his blog Tompa goes further.

He says In any event, by placing stories on PR Newswire, Gill ultimately simply underscores the fact that his work (like that of fellow SAFE associated bloggers Elkins and Barford) has precious little to do with dispassionate academic research and, instead, has everything to do with advocacy for an "archaeology over all perspective." However impressive Gill's credentials, readers of "PR Newsire" (sic) should judge that work accordingly.

Hmm. The Washington lawyer I suspect actually knows little of Dr David Gill's work at the university of Swansea, its academic merits are for his university and peers to judge. I think also we may place the Tompa's suggestion that David Gill is a "secret agent of influence working for some foreign government" among his other conspiracy theories along with who Secretary of State Burns shook hands with and the Black Helicopters over Foggy Bottom. As for me (since Tompa brings me into it), my blog has no pretence whatsoever to in itself be "dispassionate academic research". It expresses my personal opinions based on what I have found out over the years about artefact hunting and collecting (whether that classes as academic research is up to the reviewers of my forthcoming book to discern) and discusses matters about which I am anything BUT "dispassionate", especially when it comes to the deceits of the collectors and dealers. While I have indeed worked in the past for foreign governments and UNESCO, I am not as far as I know currently an agent for any regime. Though it is possible of course that unbeknownst to me, in accord with conspiracy staple, "they" have implanted a chip in my brain which makes me do things and say things which I do not know about... After all US coin dealer and forgery watchdog Alan van Arsdale claims to have one (here too).

By the way, there are nine "SAFE associated bloggers", it is odd that Mr Tompa keeps harping on about the same three.

„Collectors Guild” shows how much it cares

The Ancient Coin Collecting blog of Wayne Sayles the Executive Director of the Ancient Coin Collectors’ Guild” (ACCG) has long since stopped having any titbits about ancient coins per se. It now contains a response to my posts here and here and on Nathan Elkins’ blog (here) concerning the recent stunt the ACCG performed with the attempted illegal import into the USA of some unprovenanced ancient coins.

Readers of the blog posts referred to will know that among the points made were (a) whether deliberately engaging in illegal action is really the best way to convince public opinion that US ancient coin collectors are responsible law-abiding folk, (b) that this action is clearly against the “code of ethics” of the ACCG which is thereby shown to be worthless, and (c) this attempted illegal act should rightfully lead to investigations of the stockrooms of dealers associated with this ACCG action and maybe some of their client-supporters.

Anyhow, Mr Sayles is having none of that. He “replies” to our observations only by discussing whether the ACCG really represents all 50 000 US collectors of ancient coins (his estimate) and not just those of no-questions-asked dealers. Sayles claims the provocative act of attempted illegal import represents the will of 5000 coin collectors affiliated to the Guild (really? Is it too much to ask to have a referendum whether they really do support openly illegal acts by the dealers representing them? How many of them were actually informed beforehand of the nature of "stage two" of the Grand Scheme?).

It seems Mr Sayles feels it is beneath him to actually address these points, not even for the benefit of those of his Guild's members who might be wondering how he would answer them. His blog post instead totally avoids the issue and does not even have the courage of his convictions to supply the reader of his blog with the links to the posts to which he refers. After all, he can hardly have them actually referring back to the original posts and discovering that the ACCG Director is totally failing to answer the points made, can he?

It seems to me that just this sort of "response" is the best possible confirmation there could be that the ACCG is just losing it. The ACCG is not representing the interests of collectors at all, the ACCG are simply trying to protect the interests of dealers and the middlemen of the no-questions-asked antiquities market and their connections. The ACCG is unable to answer the points made about this stunt so its executive director simply tries to ignore them.
Let us note, in order that those 23 coins pass legally and legitimately through US customs, all that is needed is a piece of paper. That's all.

The ACCG still have the option of getting the piece of paper before their ninety days are up and save the spectacle of the portable antiquity collectors of the USA potentially getting soundly trounced. Otherwise they are going to have to raise another few thousand dollars by selling more unprovenanced coins supplied by US dealers eager to confront society with their demands to retain the damaging status quo of the no-questions-asked antiquities market.
Photo: The ACCG in action.


A chance to interact with archaeologists that know little or nothing about metal detecting.

A couple of British metal detectorists are boasting over on one of their forums that they have been invited by the University of Michigan to take part in a metal detecting jaunt in Italy, as part of the excavation project at Gabii. They say:

The Italians do not use detectorists on their sites and this will be a first.....a very important chance to show them how useful they can be and a chance to interact with archaeologists that know little or nothing about metal detecting.
How odd that while geophysical survey (magnetometer, resistivity, radar etc.) are routinely used in the study of whole landscapes and individual sites by the British School at Rome, nobody thought of importing Britains's "heritage heroes" to do a spot of "tekking" across the sites to hoik out the goodies. Not even on the sites being investigated by the PAS-touting British Museum. But never mind, the PAS has stepped in and organised a trip to Gabii for a couple of their artefact collecting partners. All good propaganda for the cause eh?

I've seen metal detecting in Michigan with my own eyes. Apparently however archaeologists from the University of Michigan know "little or nothing" of metal detecting. I expect in June and July they will have a chance to find out at least half the truth. I suppose having the metal detector using artefact hunters on their site saves their students having to dig carefully and cleanly in the limited time they will be over in Europe. After all they'll have these blokes to go over the spoil to make sure they've missed none of the "important" (metal) stuff. Somehow I think an important point of archaeological methodology is being overlooked here - perhaps more than one (I wrote about it ten years ago).

Reference: P.M. Barford 1999: ‘Wykrywacz metali jako narzędzia archeologa’ [metal detectors as an archaeological tool] in W. Brzezinski and Z. Kobyliński (eds.) "Wykrywacze metali a archeologia", Warsaw. pp. 131-143.

Vignette: 1997 geophysical survey at Forum Novum/Vescovio, Italy.

Thursday 14 May 2009

Iconic equestrian portable antiquity in the news again

A few months ago the much-awaited PAS review was published [the one which will go down in the annals of archaeological infamy as the one that established that British archaeology was in some way "in partnership" with artefact collectors]. I pointed out on this blog the unfortunate choice for the cover of an object which was found by a metal detectorist on some Roman site and recorded in Suffolk by the Scheme under the number of “SF-99E3E4”. It was merely given the provenence “Cambridgeshire” and the information it was found by an anonymous finder “about 10.2006”. It seemed to me that using in the review as a symbol of the Scheme an archaeological object that could have been found anywhere within a general area of 3389 km² really was not giving out the right message on the nature of the record that was being compiled for the expenditure of 9.78 million pounds and which the review was supposed to be assessing.

But the story does not end there. By no means. The item is back in the news. When the PAS record breaks off, we are told it was “returned to finder” (anonymous/access restricted - but in fact a man called Duncan Pangborn). Pangborn is quoted in the newspapers when this item was being feted as a 2006 PAS "success" as saying “It’s about finding something that hasn’t been seen, in this case, for 1,700 or 1,800 years. It’s about being the first person to handle it since the Roman owner, the link with the past” and "" This is part of our history and it was fantastic to find and hold it," he said, adding that it now occupied pride of place on his mantlepiece at home." Not for long though.
Already by May 2008 (as David Gill spotted, thanks to him for the information, see also here), the metal detecting owner of this archaeological find so "passionately interested in the past" had tired of having the object on his mantelpiece. It was sold at an auction at Bonhams in London's New Bond Street (Sale 15940 - Antiquities 1 May 2008 -Lot 278. The online catalogue entry presents information not available in the PAS 'report' (but also spells archaeological "site" as "sight" - duh!). Interestingly from the auction catalogue we learn something that is absent from the PAS 'report'. The object now gets a slightly more precise provenance, the entry says it was "a metal detecting find made in Stow Cum Quy, Cambridgeshire, October 2006".

We are not told who bought this object, but just six months of so after it was dug up in a field it had managed to fetch the 'not-in-it-fer-th'-money' detector user £10,200. I presume he will be splitting it fifty-fifty with the landowner. The object was given added value by being “accompanied by a full report, technical drawings and a British Museum report of '2006 Finds Highlights'” supplied courtesy of the publicly funded PAS. This paperwork could have been treated as a Certificate of Authenticity were it not for the fact that the PAS says the object is 94.12 mm mm long, while Bonhams (and later the DCMS) both say it is 89mm long. The horse figurine on the PAS website photos measures 92mm according to the scale (and is said to be from “Suffolk”). The PAS dates the one they saw to between 43AD and 410 AD while Bonhams dates it to “c. 3rd-4th century AD” (a date accepted by the DCMS who thus ignore the earlier PAS dating). The Bonhams photo shows details not visible in the PAS one. The buyer may well wonder if we are really dealing with the same horse. I think we are, this is just careless description by the PAS. This is no way to do “preservation by record” of such an object - certainly not ten million quids' worth.

By the way, in case anyone wants to use the tired old "plough damage/ agrichemical erosion damage" argument to suggest that hoiking this archaeological evidence out of its context is "preserving" it, one look at the Bonhams photos shows that despite coming from an arable field in one of the most heavily exploited hedge-stripped chemically-doused agrarian regions of the United Kingdom, the object in question (like so many others) has not been suffering any damage of that nature, all the breaks are (explicitly recorded as) old breaks, the corrosion is a stable patina.

The new owner has now applied for an export licence for this "piece of our history". In April this year, the issuing of this licence was deferred (DCMS press release ‘Culture Minister reigns (sic) in export of statuette of horse’) on the grounds that:
It is one of a very small number of such statuettes known, and its elaborate composition and high quality of workmanship make it a key piece for the study of this group of objects. The juxtaposition of stylised horse and classical rider will throw light on the study of art in Roman Britain, and it will also contribute to our understanding of the relationship between native and Roman religion. Dr Catherine Johns, Reviewing Committee member, said: “This statuette is of outstanding significance for study because it expresses the complex fusion of native and classical elements in the art and religion of Roman Britain.
In the DCMS press release about the licence deferral we read yet another piece of information which is lacking from the PAS ‘report’ (and this has not been modified to include this new information, despite it being made public elsewhere). The object was “found by a metal detectorist in Cambridgeshire, and associated with a temple site” (and the DCMS repeats the information from the Bonhams catalogue rather than the PAS 'record': it “was a metal detecting find in Stow Cum Quy, Cambridgeshire, in October 2006”). The deferral of the issue of a licence until June is to allow a British institution to raise the estimated market price (now, mysteriously “£22066.81”). So far it seems that the money has not been found.

So, we may well ask what this case shows the British public - a stakeholder in the portable antiquity heritage is actually getting from the current laissez faire system in England and Wales. This object which is clearly an important part of the archaeological (and I suppose "artistic") heritage was up for grabs at Bonhams. It was not being cherished by the artefact hunter "passionately interested in the past" who took it from an archaeological site (temple?) in Stow cum Quy. Because it was not shiny gold or silver it slipped through England's leaky "Treasure" system. More to the point, if there is a temple site known at Stow cum Quy (a parish by the way noted on the ARCHI database for metal detectorists as containing a "Roman villa") why is it being denuded of who-knows-what artefacts, some of which are turning up at Bonhams, and the rest... well, who knows? What kind of "preservation" of the archaeological record is that?

Thanks to Nigel Swift for reminding me of the finder's name and supplying the quotes supposedly giving the finder's motives.
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