Friday 31 December 2010

Happy New Year

I would like to wish a Happy New Year/ Szczęśliwego Nowego Roku/ to any readers who have taken a break from the shopping and getting ready for the party to look in. I'd like to thank you all for taking an interest in some of this stuff, whether you agree with me or not. I've had some fun and found it useful putting it down on paper and it is satisfying that readership figures are for some reason taking off quite noticeably.

I was hoping to do a review of the year on the "PACHI" blog, but when I wrote it, it was neither very interesting, nor very edifying. In fact it was downright discouraging. But that in itself encourages thinking more about a way forward, doesn't it?

So here's a topical picture of a Slavic-looking Janus looking back at a difficult and somewhat dissatisfying year when seen from the point of view of collecting issues but looking forward with brighter expectation to some long overdue changes in the situation surrounding no-questions-asked and irresponsible erosive collecting of archaeological artefacts.

Wednesday 29 December 2010

Why no Light? Who is Keeping the PAS Under a Bushel?

"Gill obviously drove the agenda: some faint praise for the system combined with much rehashing of various (mostly old) complaints about it"
opines a Washington lawyer about the Papers from the Institute of Archaeology forum I discussed earlier. If the PAS was doing its job (and doing what the Hawkshead Review specifically told it to do - which was to engage with the archaeological milieu over issues like these) then there would long ago have been discussion of these "old" queries about its precise role in the protection and preservation of the archaeological heritage of England and Wales.

In fact some of these "old" points were specifically noted in the 2004 "Hawkshead Review" of the Scheme (pp 33, 45, 48, 54-5, 60-1) and the PAS urged to address some of the concerns even then being expressed by those in the archaeological and heritage management communities (pp 34, 45-6, 56, 60-1). The report urges the PAS to make "protecting the public interest in safeguarding the historic environment" a key aim (p. 61). Gill's discussion six years on raises the question of to what degree the PAS heeded the specific recommendations of the report in these regards.

As it is, what happened was that some texts were published in an archaeological peer-reviewed academic publication in which the voice of the PAS is missing. This is not because anyone "organized" it this way, my understanding is that the PAS refused to engage in this discussion. One may speculate as to the reasons why that is.

The lawyer seeks shock-horror scandal even in an academic publication, but seems to be unaware of even the basic features of how formal round table debates of this type are organized by the editors of academic publications. Brian Hole should be given the credit for all his work to make this happen.

CPO: Gill Inspired Papers Provide More Heat than Light on Benefits of PAS

Bush on Antiquity Looting in Iraq

Larry Rothfield (author of 'The Rape of Mesopotamia', 2009 - ISBN: 9780226729459) has an interesting post on his 'Punching Bag' blog. In it he takes a good hard look at G.W. Bush's own account in his autobiography "Decision Points" of his "surprise" at the looting in Iraq associated with the US-led invasion ('Bush's ghostwriters on the looting of the Iraq National Museum'). Bush skims over the topic.

PAS has Set Targets?

In his reply to David Gill's paper, Trevor Austin of the National Council of Metal Detectorists asserts that there is a reason why more finds are not being reported by the PAS, despite the high values of the "guestimate[s] of yearly detector finds promoted by some protagonists". Apparently the total number of such finds would in any case "be impossible for the PAS to ever record" as mitigation for the information loss. According to Austin, "to blame detectorists for under recording is totally without foundation as the resources of the PAS are simply too few: accordingly at this funding level it can only ever achieve a token figure". Austin seems to lose sight of the fact that to carry on causing erosion of the archaeological record knowing that there is no possibility of mitigating that damage by recording is hardly what one would term "best practice" or responsible behaviour. Austin says however that information loss is not the fault of the metal detectorist, but the fault of the PAS, or rather the MLA, for according to Austin,
Under its current funding masters, the Museums Libraries and Archives Council, the PAS has a set target of 55,000 items recorded per year.
I am not clear whether he means "artefacts" or "records". Let us assume he means the latter (recording the findspot details of a bag of twenty Roman sherds, or a pot of Roman coins on the database takes little longer than the handling time required to do the same for a single find). What that figure represents is 25 objects recorded a week (five a day then) by each FLO [not counting attendance at rallies] and each one costing the taxpayer 23 quid.

The latest of a series of figures for annual recording numbers to emerge from the PAS reveals an interesting contrast to what Austin asserts:

Records Finds recorded Year of recording
3476 4588 1998
6128 8201 1999
11323 18106 2000
11481 16368 2001
8164 11996 2002
14657 21684 2003
26383 39000 2004
33919 52202 2005
37502 58311 2006
49308 79052 2007
37455 56449 2008
39981 66481 2009
112893 190091 2010

Basically there is not a lot of evidence from this that the PAS has been reaching that alleged upper limit of the annual number of records, only in 2010 is there more than Austin's figure of 55000 records coming onto the PAS database (this was achieved by incorporating a pre-existing database compiled by somebody else). Even if we take Austin's words literally and look at the number of individual objects represented by those records, we see that only from 2006 onwards the alleged upper limit set by the paymasters of the PAS has been exceeded, in 2007 and 2010 quite considerably. In the years before 2006 however the alleged upper limit set by the MLA paymasters cannot explain the smaller numbers of both records and finds entering the PAS database from the collecting activities of 10 000 metal detectorists over a period of thirteen years.

If the PAS was receiving enough artefacts to keep it working to a 55000 objects/year capacity, it would have reached its 400 000th record within seven and a half years and not thirteen.

This is just another of those self-justificatory deceits put out by collectors isn't it? It's yet another attempt to shift the blame from the artefact collector (portrayed as a victim here) to the archaeological establishment. We've seen this so many times before with the ACCG, British metal detectorists are no better. Austin's texts like the detecting forums are full of this "it's not are fault" nonsense. I suggest if collectors (and that goes for metal detectorists as well) want to be seen as responsible, they should take responsibility for the way they conduct their hobby and take responsibility for the effects of what they do, and not constantly attempt to show that it is the 'other side' that is responsible for what can only be seen as their failures.

Nobody MAKES them go metal detecting. What is asked of them though is that they do so in a manner which is sustainable and as non-damaging as possible, and where even minimal erosion of the archaeological resource is mitigated by proper and detailed recording. The reason why the PAS is not getting more records in its database is that (though it busts a gut to get them), the truth is not all detectorists are showing all their finds. But then the "number of objects in the database" is not the most important characteristic of PAS outreach. Austin's text shows clearly just how much of a failure those other aspects have been and are likely to ever be too.

I bet neither Trevor Austin nor any of the metal detectorists he represents (so that's ten thousand of you) can post up here in the comments a single reference to a document in the public domain which confirms the existence of an official '55 000 objects a year' fixed limit to PAS annual activity set by the MLA, beyond which the PAS is not permitted to extend.

Cyprus Policy on Looted Artefacts

There has been some discussion surrounding Sam Hardy's recent text 'archaeologists accepted Greek Cypriot looting of Alaas, Cyprus?' based on the evidence of the archaeological documentation of material in private hands. I mentioned it here ('Cyprus like PAS'), drawing attention to the parallels between the object-centred approach exhibited by the Cypriot authorities here and that of the PAS in the UK. Peter Tompa disagrees with this ('Cypriot Corruption Not Like PAS ') and rather oddly says the differences lie in the "corruption" which he suggests these foreign collections embody. I questioned what Tompa had said, in one post ('UK Treasure Act "Predicated on the Rule of Law" - Eh?') pointing out the discrepancy between what the Washington lawyer had said about the legal position in my own country and the real legal context; in a second ('Cyprus Collections Against the Law?') citing the Cypriot legislation on the basis of which - despite what Tompa thinks - the private possession of antiquities is not forbidden, Sam Hardy has now clarified the reasons behind the Cypriot policy (which I for one was not questioning, though I think they are wrong-headed). Barford on Cypriot antiquities looting policy logic: clarification.

Once again, we see that the xenophobic obfuscations of the collectors' lobbyists act to deflect discussion. We do seem to be getting far from the original topic which is that of archaeological ethics and the handling of looted and potentially looted material. I am glad to see that Hardy has brought the discussion back to that point.

I was taken by the concluding comments in ' online essay "International Trade in Looted Antiquities, www.plunderedpast". Though concerning a totally different part of the looted past, they seem to fit perfectly the situation here:
We need to present forcefully [...] the idea that the past is not disparate things, things which are owned by individuals, that it is those things in their cultural context which permits an understanding of the past. We need to present graphically the destruction that looting causes, the racist attitudes involved in dealing and collecting, and the corruption of virtually everyone this activity leads to. [...] In the long run it is only an informed public that will make the antiquities market unprofitable and hence nonviable.

The opinions expressed by those US collectors like Mr Tompa and his sidekicks that self-declare themselves to be "cultural property internationalists" are in fact deeply embedded in a corrupt colonialist and imperialist ideology, and in fact if one examines its philosophy in any detail is the purest expression of cultural nationalism.

UPDATE 2/1/11

Sam Hardy, the author of the original post about archaeologists recording privately owned artefacts in Cyprus has asked Tompa to clarify his position (Tompa's incorrect claim on looted Cypriot antiquities collecting). He says Tompa's words indicate that he and his fellow American collectors want to have the same access to looted antiquities as Cypriot collectors.
If you object to the fact that 'the connected few are allowed to collect as much looted material as they want', do you object to anyone collecting looted material, in which case you would surely support American import restrictions, as well as [additional] Cypriot acquisition restrictions? Otherwise, does your objection have nothing whatsoever to do with Cypriot collecters' purchases underwriting looting? Instead, do you object to the fact that you were not able to buy looted Cypriot antiquities?
This cuts to the core of the matter. Despite all the talk of "fairness" and "discrimination", so-called enlightened "cosmopolitanism"/ "internationalism", when you strip away the facade what the US antiquity dealers are campaigning for is the "right" to legally import illegally exported artefacts, no matter where they come from. This is nothing more than colonialism. And these dealers and their supporters accuse others of being corrupt!

Tuesday 28 December 2010

Gill on the Portable Antiquities Scheme as Preservation

The Papers of the Institute of Archaeology volume 20 (available online) have a forum with the keynote paper by David Gill "The Portable Antiquities Scheme and the Treasure Act: Protecting the Archaeology of England and Wales?". Apart from the editor's introduction, this comprises the following seven components:

Keynote text by David W. J. Gill: The Portable Antiquities Scheme and the Treasure Act: Protecting the Archaeology of England and Wales?"

Trevor Austin: The Portable Antiquities Scheme and the Treasure Act: Protecting the Archaeology of England and Wales? A Response.

Paul Barford: Archaeology, Collectors and Preservation: a Reply to David Gill

Gabriel Moshenska: Portable Antiquities, Pragmatism and the ‘Precious Things’

Colin Renfrew: Comment on the Paper by David Gill

Sally Worrell: The Crosby Garrett Helmet

David W. J. Gill: Reply to Austin, Barford, Moshenska, Renfrew and Worrell

I understand that Roger Bland, head of the PAS, was invited to comment, but did not avail himself of the opportunity (" Unfortunately due to the sensitivity of the subject, PAS itself was less willing to contribute"). The five comments are notable for their varied approach. Renfrew's was quite short, Worrell's concentrated on a single aspect, my own was typically long-winded. Austin's and Moshenska's were real eye-openers.

I'd like to comment on several of the responses in more detail below (Austin, Barford (!), Moshenska, Worrel/PAS).

Gill on PAS as Preservation (2): Trevor Austin responds

Austin has written a somewhat confrontational and at the same time defensive response to Gill’s article. The text shows very well the mindset of collectors which one is up against in any attempt to collaborate with them. It will be noted that while Gill wrote about current policies and how they reflect the protection of the archaeological information contained in the archaeological record, Austin has concentrated his reply on protecting the hobby he represents from any kind of questioning. I would have thought however that one of the characteristics of the "responsible detectorist" (which is what Austin's NCMD claims to represent) is to be concerned about the sort of issues that Gill raises. Austin has set out instead primarily to show why PAS recording figures are not as high as might be hoped. In this sense the choice of Austin as the respondent was a particularly good (or bad) one depending on one’s position in the debate.

Instead of discussing what Gill wrote about site preservation, Austin expends a substantial amount of the space alloted to him to showing „when and why the PAS came into being” as an antidote to what he says is a text based on „rely[ing] on selective published PAS statistics or anecdotal and bigoted statements made by uninformed self opiniated groups who have no practical knowledge of the hobby to support his hypothesis”.

Austin's historical presentation is somewhat one-sided, the reader would do well to see it in the context of Addyman 2009 and Thomas 2009 and earlier literature. Significant is Austin’s conclusion that information loss is the result of „decades of archaeological non-co-operation” (in what?) and a refusal of archaeology to see the „opportunity metal detecting presented them with” (what, to have all exposed archaeological sites stripped of metal objects?). This is not really true. What however is true and can be documented is that when the archaeologists (CBA and EH) set about creating a report showing the potential benefits of that co-operation, it was Mr Austin’s organization, the NCMD, which refused to take part in its writing. Austin has tried this "we wanted to build bridges but it was the archaeologists who turned us away" ploy before (Austin 2009), but in fact the antagonism had its origin in both sides, it was the artefact hunters who saw archaeology as the threat to their new hobby.

Austin is derisive of the HA artefact erosion counter mentioned by Gill, but offers no figures of his own. He however offers several excuses why the PAS database does not contain all of the finds taken by artefact hunters:

1) the above-mentioned perceived antagonism of the archaeological world to artefact hunting and collecting,

2) the landowner may withhold permission (but then the responsible detectorist would avoid working such land),

3) The PAS does not record finds less than 300 years old, so such finds do not appear on its database (but then, neither do they appear in the HA erosion counter, do they?),

4) The problem is the low funding level applied to support metal detecting. The PAS has limited resources and Austin alleges that when it has reached its annual target (55000 objects), it turns artefact hunters away. That is just five objects per detectorist per year. (Frankly that is the first time I've heard anything like this, certainly this calls for PAS clarification, are they turning detectorists away?)

Nowhere does Austin acknowledge that a reason why the PAS database contains only what he admits is a „token figure” of records is that UK metal detectorists are digging stuff up they have no intention of reporting. Eighty percent of the material on the UKDFD last year was not reported to the PAS.

Austin simply does not accept that artefacts are sometimes removed by metal detectorists and other diggers from undisturbed archaeological deposits from below topsoil/ploughsoil levels. This is according to him „mere speculation and just another example of the uncorroberated statements levelled at the hobby and PAS alike”. Well, there is plenty of evidence otherwise (some of it mentioned in this blog). Personally, having seen the deep holes dug into sites by artefact hunters (both in the media they themselves produce as well as in the field) I would see the opposite statement as an uncorroborated one. But then, if this were not so, why would artefact hunters be interested in getting „depth advantage” machines like the GPX 5000?

Austin is derisive of the mention of the Icklingham bronzes (notable for the puerile interjection: „(excuse me while I pick up my violin)” which the Papers' editor thoughtfully left) and dismisses mentions of illegal artefact hunting as mere „scaremongering”. He suggests that the mention of this egregious case of looting by Gill is a result of „archaeology” having „little new information to add to this issue”. He also states that the farmer at Icklingham whose land is raided „remains a single example”. Well, first of all it is not archaeology but the police which investigate illegal artefact hunting, secondly he fails to note that the background of Gill’s research was the reason why it is mentioned. Thirdly that this is not an „isolated” instance, whether or not he wishes to acknowledge it, is known to many metal detectorists, some of them no doubt in Mr Austin’s own organization (for example here). Far from being a defence of the hobby, the pretence that in the whole of the UK only one farm is ever raided by illegal artefact hunters only lays the hobby open to ridicule.

Even more ridiculous is the suggestion of the spokesman for the metal detectorists (wholly illogically and in fact libellously) that „the archaeologists” are deliberately encouraging the looting of this one site to discredit artefact hunting ! According to Austin, „a protected site of national importance has been sacrificed whilst EH turned a blind eye to the long term loss of material and damage to maintain this opportunity”. It is unclear what he expects English Heritage to do on this private property to stop metal detectorists searching this land illegally.

Austin seems to count Gill as one of „those who oppose [...] the Treasure Act” who is „pursing some dogmatic fantasy”. He presents a whole load of figures to show that under the Treasure Act more Treasure than ever is being dug up by artefact hunters. But to what degree is this a symptom of „success” and – given the fact that large number of these „finds” are retrieved under less than ideal conditions - to what degree is it a sign that a certain portion of the finite and limited archaeological resource has in the past decade or so been irrevocably damaged by the increasing scope and quantity of officially sanctioned artefact hunting?


Addyman, P. V. 2009, ‘Before the Portable Antiquities Scheme’, pp 51-62 in: Thomas and Stone (eds) 2009.

Austin, T. 2009, Building Bridges between Metal Detectorists and Archaeologists, pp. 119-123 in Thomas and Stone eds 2009.

Thomas, S. 2009, ‘Wanborough Revisited: the Rights and Wrongs of Treasure trove law in England and Wales’, pp 153-165 in: Thomas and Stone eds 2009.

Thomas, S. and P. Stone eds 2009, ‘Metal Detecting and Archaeology’, Boydell Press, Stowmarket.

Gill on PAS as Preservation (3): Barford responds


One of the respondents to David Gill was archaeoblogger Paul Barford who overran the word limit with his long-winded response to the topics raised ('Archaeology, Collectors and Preservation: a Reply to David Gill'). Anyone who has read what this bloke has said elsewhere will recognise that there is not much there which he has not already said many times.

It is' however, worth drawing attention to the fact that although Barford is often labelled "anti-PAS" by his opponents (and the PAS refuse to talk to him !), his text actually contains a call to strengthen PAS by incorporating it into legislation with a permanent place in the heritage preservation system and a permanent budget, which would strengthen its position immensely.

Gill on PAS as Preservation (4): Gabriel Moshenska responds


Gabriel Moshenska of London University's Institute of Archaeology sent a text, „Portable Antiquities, Pragmatism and the ‘Precious Things’ ” which I have to say, and typically for the supporters of artefact hunting, totally misrepresents the nature of the debate. It uses a series of straw man arguments to engage with some imaginary hysterical critics of artefact hunting, failing to engage with their real arguments and concerns (which he dismisses as "staggeringly unimportant") and ultimately failing even to engage with what Gill wrote. One is left to wonder why this is.

Moshenska fetishises the “finds” at the expense of allowing the question Gill asks about the site they come from to surface. This is well demonstrated by the analogy the author chooses in his response to Gill to describe what he sees as a form of “hysteria” surrounding the debate on policies connected with artefact hunting: “Within archaeology the small faction of anti-metal detector zealots often resemble the grotesque Tubbs in The League of Gentlemen clutching her snow-globes and shrieking ‘Don’t touch the Precious Things!’ (BBC 1999-2002)”. Gill however was talking about sites, not who owns the artefacts taken from them which it is understandable is the focus of the collectors and dealers’ debate, less understandable is to see it here from the pen of an archaeologist – albeit, as can be seen, a supporter of the PAS.

Moshenska declares himself to be a “pragmatist”. He states that “the campaigns against […] metal detectors” (sic) are characterised by an “unwillingness to consider the wider context”. Actually, I would disagree, it is supporters of the artefact hunters like Moshenska who are quite demonstrably failing to see it and Britain’s limp-wristed response to it in the wider context of its relationship to the wider debate on commercial looting of the global archaeological heritage. I do not know if Moshenska has heard of the Monuments At Risk Surveys. He makes no reference to it when writing:

It would be instructive to create a […] chart ranking the various threats to archaeological heritage in Britain; from coastal erosion and ploughing to worms and moles. Despite serving as a lightning-rod for knee-jerk heritage protectionism I seriously doubt that metal detecting would make a prominent appearance on any such ranking. Thus not only is the metal detecting debate needlessly divisive and intemperate, it is also staggeringly unimportant.
Astoundingly we are told as if it needed no explanation or justification:
There are parts of the world where looting poses a serious threat to archaeological heritage and our ability to interpret the past. Britain is not one of these places. Nonetheless there are serious threats to archaeological heritage in Britain. Metal detecting is not one of these.
For Moshenska the consideration of artefact hunting as in any way related to looting is therefore “unhelpful”. Like US coiney Dave Welsh, he points out that metal detecting is done in fields and in ploughed fields “buried artefacts are annually shuffled through the upper half metre of topsoil, bringing them within the limited range of most modern metal detectors”. Like Austin he denies that “some undisturbed archaeological material is being removed from its archaeological context” below the ploughsoil. He thus ridicules the concern expressed about the implications of “depth advantage” metal detecting (discussed elsewhere in this blog) as “incongruous” and makes the astonishing statement that: “if we are truly concerned with the protection of archaeological heritage then this is of roughly equivalent unimportance to the question of whether rabbits are digging deeper burrows in response to global warming”. Except rabbits are not doing what they do in response to UK government policy on archaeological heritage mismanagement.

In response to Gill’s concerns, Moshenska seems to be expressing an opinion that it is not important that the Scheme is not providing much mitigation of information loss due to artefact hunting, because it is a “voluntary recording scheme”. This rather misses the point of whether better mitigation would not be provided if it were not. The respondent accuses Gill of “explicit injustice towards PAS” and “its hard-earned relationship with the metal detecting community [which] offers a practical, pragmatic and proven solution to this problem [“metal detecting without reporting finds”]” (except it does not) as if that was the only concern that Gill had raised. Moshenska also points out that “making money from selling finds is not inherently illegal in Britain”. But Gill was discussing an ethical issue.

Moshenska considers that rather than “to bridge the gap between the archaeological community and those involved in metal detecting”, the task in hand is “to mend the divide within the archaeological community” caused by debating collecting issues. He falls into the well-worn trope of referring to the archaeological community’s “widespread elitism and class snobbery” concerning artefact hunters. (There is an egregious example of a twisted sentence when he says: “The amateur’s disdain for the professional has no place in twenty-first century archaeology”, I’m pretty sure he meant that to go the other way round.) He dismisses those who question current policies on collecting as “doom-mongers wringing their hands at what they no doubt regard as metal detectorists’ proletarian insurgency into the archaeological domain” – perhaps he could do well to read what the concerns are, they are rather of the inability of PAS outreach to bring ten thousand (or how many it is) artefact hunters and collectors, proletarian or not, into the archaeological fold. Moshenska therefore also sees non-compliance as a legacy of the “the history of the ‘STOP’ campaign and the long-standing animosity between metal detectorists and the archaeological establishment” (“some opponents of metal detecting would like to see it made illegal, or at least severely restricted”). He reckons that “doom-mongers wringing their hands” at the damage artefact hunting is doing to the archaeological record and archaeology as a discipline should turn their attention instead to what he regards as “the real, tangible threats to archaeological heritage”. As if looting for entertainment and profit was not in fact a real and tangible threat to the global archaeological heritage.

Frankly I see Moshenska’s response as an archetypical expression of the failure of its supporters to see UK metal detecting in its wider context and I consider this a disappointing, rather flat and flippant contribution to the discussion.


Any non-British reader confused by the "precious things" reference might (or might not) appreciate this You Tube clip from the BBC series to which Moshenska refers:

I understand there's good metal detecting land around Royston Vasey (aka Hadfield), but (unlike Crosby Garrett 130 km up the M6) apparently some of the locals do not take too kindly to 'outsiders' in their fields.

Gill on PAS as Preservation (6): "Response" from the PAS?


Well, this is an ODD one ! Very very odd. Ms Worrell is accredited as: "Prehistoric and Roman Finds Adviser, Portable Antiquities Scheme, UCL Institute of Archaeology". Sadly she is the only member of the PAS staff who responded to Gill, according to the editor Brian Hole, "Unfortunately due to the sensitivity of the subject, PAS itself was less willing to contribute". That can only sound extremely comical. Fifty staff members of the PAS are out there in the midst of the general public engaging with treasure hunting clubs, for example in the roughest areas of Essex, and with cultural philistine "what's this archaeology for then, anyway?" diehards like my Mum, explaining to them the importance of what they do. And yet when David Gill ("the polite one") writes a text involving a few gentlemanly arguments, the PAS cannot muster up an answer? The PAS cannot spend a few hours at most discussing these issues with archaeologists in a proper archaeological journal, giving its response to what David wrote? Why not? Why run away from the opportunity to discuss with the very milieu the PAS is suppodedly representing as archaeology's "outreach" to the wider public? Was the venue, a proper journal produced by an academic institution, not in some way suitable? If they were invited to talk to metal detectorists I bet they'd find the time and the words and petrol money...

So after all that effort, all we get from the PAS is this brief text by Ms Worrell. David Gill initiated a discussion on current policies towards artefact hunting in England and Wales, in which the recently discovered Crosby Garret Roman helment is mentioned several times. Instead of addressing the issues Gill raises, she summarises events surrounding the discovery and sale of this single object (this is in fact similar to her text in British Archaeology published about the same time). What is notable however is that Worrell does not add any depth to the discussion on how the problems which obviously occurred here could be resolved. The text seems more of an apologia, explaining why the finders and landowners cannot really be accused of doing anything wrong. Surely that was not the point that Gill was making.
One might say, taking the lead from metal detectorist Candice Jarman: "How about answering some questions, Dr Bland?" Well, I have answered hers, now let Roger Bland give David Gill the answer his thoughtful contribution deserves. Shame on you PAS.

Ton Cremers Retiring Fully from MSN

Ton Cremers has just announced on MSN that:
After almost 15 years I will finish my WWW activities as owner and moderator of February 1, 2011.
The end of an era. I am sure many of his devoted readers will join me in heartily thanking Ton for all the work he has put into the running of MSN and making it what it is today, a prime resource full of thought-provoking material. May I wish him all the best for his well-deserved rest and every success in future endeavours.

More Problems with Numeracy

In good old PAS-mode, the pirate metal detectorists' "recording" system, the UKDFD claims on its website that the database now has "1,920 Users" and "25,709 posted records". Well, I have not counted its records, but it can easily be seen that the membership list contains 747 individuals and not 1920.

Monday 27 December 2010

Five Years on: Traders of looted antiquities have little to fear in UK

Five years ago the Times published an article, mostly about the 2003 Trading in Cultural Property (Offences) Act, in which it concluded "Traders of looted antiquities have little to fear in UK".
The market in illicit antiquities is international and, along with trafficking in arms and drugs, it is a widespread crime. In the global picture, London and Geneva have long been suspected as significant centres through which stolen items pass, but the UK has been slower than others in reacting to the problem.
It is salutary to note that the situation has not changed one iota since then.

Maybe it is time that the decent citizens of the UK, including those collectors so "passionately interested in the past" pressurised the government to do something about it.

Jeremy Summers,'Traders of looted antiquities have little to fear in UK',The Times, October 18, 2005

Gill on the Portable Antiquities Scheme and treasure Act as a Means of Protection of the Archaeological Record of England and Wales

The Papers of the Institute of Archaeology volume 20 (available online) have a forum with the keynote paper by David Gill "The Portable Antiquities Scheme and the Treasure Act: Protecting the Archaeology of England and Wales?". Apart from the editor's introduction, this comprises the following seven components:

David W. J. Gill: The Portable Antiquities Scheme and the Treasure Act:Protecting the Archaeology of England and Wales?"

Trevor Austin: The Portable Antiquities Scheme and the Treasure Act: Protecting the Archaeology of England and Wales? A Response.

Paul Barford: Archaeology, Collectors and Preservation: a Reply to David Gill

Gabriel Moshenska: Portable Antiquities, Pragmatism and the ‘Precious Things’

Colin Renfrew: Comment on the Paper by David Gill

Sally Worrell: The Crosby Garrett Helmet

David W. J. Gill: Reply to Austin, Barford, Moshenska, Renfrew and Worrell

I understand that Roger Bland, head of the PAS, was invited to comment, but did not avail himself of the opportunity (" Unfortunately due to the sensitivity of the subject, PAS itself was less willing to contribute"). The five comments are notable for their varied approach. Renfrew's was quite short, Worrell's concentrated on a single aspect, my own was typically long-winded. I'd like to comment on the responses of Austin and Moshenska in more detail.

A Christmas Present for US Site Looters

Brandon Loomis: '18 months after Utah raid, do artifact laws stop theft?', The Salt Lake Tribune, Dec 25 2010.

A longish article about Action Cerberus and how after all the effort and expense it seems unlikely to have an effect on deep-grained attitudes among diggers and collectors. This begs the question, what will?

the supporting matter to the text contains a summary of "who has been sentenced so far":
Probation » Jeanne Redd, Blanding
Probation » Jericca Redd, Blanding
Probation » Dale Lyman, Blanding
Probation » Brent Bullock, Moab
Probation » Tammy Shumway, Moab
Probation » Nicholas Laws, Blanding
Probation » Robert Knowlton, Grand Junction, Colo.
Probation » Ray Lyman, Blanding
Probation » Aubry Patterson, Blanding
Probation » Brandon Laws, Blanding
Prison (for threatening undercover operative) » Charles Denton Armstrong, Blanding

Ethical Purchasers of British Portable Antiquities Unite - You Have Nothing to Lose But The Shackles of the Unethical Trade

Heritage Action's Heritage Journal has announced an interesting new initiative, the creation of an Association for the Ethical Purchasers of British Portable Antiquities (AEPBPA).
Under our [British] system “looting” is defined very narrowly – or to be precise, many things that are defined as criminal elsewhere are perfectly legal here – including the removal, taking home and selling of artefacts from more than 90% of our known archaeological sites. By any reasonable yardstick, that is looting – particularly since, as the Portable Antiquities Scheme openly admits, most detectorists don’t report most of the details of what they find and therefore offer zero mitigation for their actions. For any would-be ethical purchaser of British antiquities an appreciation of this reality is obligatory: ILVUD (information loss via unethical detecting) is far, far worse than ILVID (information loss via illegal detecting) ...

I see I get an honourable mention :>) This initiative has been the result of several discussions over the past couple of years and which has taken into account the attitudes of dealers of ancient artefacts such as dug-up coins which treat the existence of the PAS as some kind of protective umbrella shielding their parochial activities from scrutiny (in particular several US dealers' lobbyists who pay lip service to "supporting" the Scheme, but constantly misrepresenting it in their propaganda and ignoring it in the pragmatics of their commercial exploitation of the archaeological record).

The actual website is here: [now isn't it interesting and indicative of something that this domain was still free for use?] This notional association has three purposes, above all to point out that after thirteen years of PAS outreach the British archaeological establishment has not produced sorely needed detailed guidance for the purchase of British portable antiquities despite there being official encouragement of artefact hunting and collecting as a means of "engagement with the past". The Association serves to indicate to collectors (both in Britain and abroad) what ethical purchasing of British Portable Antiquities entails. It is postulated that collectors are often ill-informed (and constantly misinformed by dealers) about this. Thirdly the aim is to promote the belief that in Britain (where most detecting is legal but subject to voluntary reporting), the would-be ethical purchaser must not only avoiding buying looted artefacts but far more urgently must avoid buying recently unearthed but unreported artefacts.

The members of the Association are pledged to the following:
1. We accept that as ethical purchasers we have a general duty of care towards the British archaeological resource which is both finite and fragile. We see proper enquiry as integral to this duty and follow the well documented mantra: “The Good Collector casts a jaded eye upon those dealers who insist that their reputation take the place of details of provenance”.
2. We recognise that the British system is unique in that what is protected by law elsewhere is often only subject to voluntary arrangements in Britain and this imposes additional duties of care upon us: we hold ourselves obliged as ethical purchasers to buy only if voluntary requirements have been met and not to regard legality as an adequate measure of ethicality.
3. We will never buy anything we know or suspect is a recent British “dug-up” unless: (a.) it has been reported to PAS (and has a legitimate PAS reference number), (b.) any Treasure Act and export requirements have been complied with and (c.) the landowner upon whose land the item was found is aware of the item and the price and consents to its sale.
4. We will always establish, through enquiries to PAS or the local archaeological curator or both, that the circumstances of the recovery and the location of the find spot have raised no concerns regarding damage to or lost information from the British archaeological resource.

Sunday 26 December 2010

UK Treasure Act "Predicated on the Rule of Law" - Eh?


Blogger Peter Tompa takes exception to my comparing the recording of artefacts held in private hands in Cyprus with the recording of artefacts held in private hands by Great Britain's PAS. Tompa presumes ('Cypriot Corruption Not Like PAS') to lecture me on what the PAS is and does:
No, Mr. Barford, the Treasure Act and PAS is predicated on the rule of law. Everyone is treated equally and society as a whole benefits.
Well, with respect, this is just complete nonsense. The Treasure Act is as its name implies an element of the legislation, the PAS is not. It is a voluntary Scheme not supported by any "rule of law' whatsoever. In the United Kingdom there is not this "equality" that Tompa imagines, the border between England and Scotland demarcates two regions where finders of artefacts are treated entirely differently. On one side of the line they get to keep the majority of the finds for their own collections or do with as they please, on the other side they do not. That Tompa finds my comparison "inexplicable" in fact stems from his own lack of understanding what the PAS is and is not. It also has a basis in an incomplete understanding of the relevant articles of the Cypriot Antiquities legislation as will become clear in the post below.

The recording of artefacts held in private hands in Cyprus is directly comparable with the recording of artefacts held in private hands by Great Britain's PAS. To what extent is the private ownership of artefact hunted artefacts from the archaeological sites of Britain rather than their curation in public collections an expression of equality of access to them and to what extent does society as a whole benefit? Surely locking them away in so many garden sheds and back bedrooms is not actually benefiting present generations of wider society in any way at all, let alone the ability of future generations to study an archaeological record that our generation is in the process of trashing to get the collectable bits out.

Cyprus Collections Against the Law?

Blogger Peter Tompa takes exception to my recent comparison of the recording of artefacts held in private hands in Cyprus with Great Britain's PAS. He says they are not the same thing at all and finds it "inexplicable" that somebody should say they are. Cultural Property lawyer Tompa seems to be suggesting that that the private collecting of antiquities in Cyprus is forbidden and only survives due to "corruption". ("...the fact there is one law for the wealthy collector, another for everyone else"). The Cypriot legislation ('the Antiquities Act') however does not forbid the private ownership of single items or collections legally obtained . It also stipulates (Art 3-5) a financial reward for any objects reported and retained by the state (which the UK law does NOT, it is discretionary). So if we check out the facts he, for some reason, neglects to take into account it is rather Tompa's line of argument here which is "inexplicable".

Tompa's verdict that the Cypriot antiquities legislation is in some way inferior to the relevant UK ActS that correspond to this law more on prejudice than any specific analysis of these laws. He assumes that the system run by these brown-skinned people must be "corrupt" and then postulates that
the archaeological community's unqualified support for import restrictions on behalf of the Republic of Cyprus only helps prop up such a corrupt system.
Though Peter Tompa and the people he represents seem not too keen to differentiate between the two, what archaeologists in fact support is not the restrictions of imports of legally exported Cypriot antiquities, but the import of illegally exported Cypriot antiquities. This raises the question of whether it is the Cypriots or the US antiquities market that is here "corrupt"?

Tompa adds:
Hopefully, the State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and CPAC will take notice when the current Cypriot MOU comes up for renewal.
Yes, let them take notice of what their own antiquity dealers are doing and recommend that the US withdraw from the 1970 UNESCO Convention if its dealers are simply not willing to forgo the import of illegally exported material from the few countries with which the US has such MOUs (and employ lawyers like Tompa to fight to secure that as a "right" by fair means or foul). Let the pirates not trade under a false standard, let them fly their true colours, the Jolly Roger.

Vignette: The true colours of the US antiquities trade represented by Mr Tompa, wants the freedom to trade in illegally exported antiquities.


Sotheby's Retract Benin Mask From Sale at Request of Consigners

Well, here's a piece of good news, it is being reported on MSN this evening that Sotheby's has withdrawn a controversial sale of a Benin ivory hip mask from sale. For the controversy see several recent texts by Kwame Opoku and also Tom Flynn's coverage: ' Sale of looted Benin treasures "reprehensible and unconscionable", say Nigerian cultural activists (don't miss the Open University film embedded in it). If this is true, it shows that public opinion can sometimes hold sway over commercial interests.

Hat-tip to MSN

"The Numbers" and Diligent Research Show that Coin Elves Really Do Exist?

In the comments to an old post, one NormanW has joined the discussion on looting and coin collecting. As is typical this is a fresh profile giving no information about the poster, so we really do not know who this Norman "W." is though he boasts that he not only knows shoot-to-kill Texan Pastor Scott Head, but is also "personally acquainted with more than one European coin hunter who only metal detects on private lands" (a bit difficult not to in Europe I would think where all land has an owner). ["Coin hunter"?]

Mr "W." reckons that he believes that I have "overgeneralized" about the relationship between the bulk lots of what are quite clearly freshly-surfaced "minor artefacts" circulating on the antiquities market and the commercial looting of archaeological sites. He states - though without entering into the specifics - his belief that:
your claim that the bulk of uncleaned coins currently available on the market are the product of looting is not true. The enormous number of uncleaned coins entering the market annually is far beyond what could be produced by the number of archeological sites being looted. Diligent, open-minded research reveals that the numbers simply do not add up. There can be little doubt that some illegally obtained coins do end up in uncleaned lots, but they constitute a tiny fraction of the whole.
So once again we see recourse to the coin elves argument (12 April 2009, 'To all you young collectors out there'). According to collectors who believe in this model, bulk lots of so-called uncleaned, unsorted coins just materialise magically from thin air. Kilogrammes and kilogrammes of them. Mr "W." however does not explain where his "diligent, open-minded research" determines the coins and other kilogrammes of artefacts are coming from, he is simply in denial of the most obvious explanation, that these are the leavings of the coin dealers who cherry-pick the products of commercial artefact hunting of archaeological sites in various areas of the ancient world (most notoriously in Bulgaria). There was even an article on coin cleaning forums explicitly stating the origin and bearing every sign of having been written by somebody who knew what she was talking about (Susan Headley's 'The Saga of an Uncleaned Coin' discussed by me here 1st march 2010). This was distributed in multiple copies a few years back but as far as I can see every last copy has now been removed from the internet.

Mr "W." talks of the "enormous number of uncleaned coins entering the market annually" so where are these fresh coins "surfacing" from, if not underground?

It really is a huge stretch of credibility to claim that the dirt encrusted coins now being sold as bulk lots had at some stage formed part of some "old collections". Old collectors, not even brown-skinned non-American ones, did not buy mahogany cabinets to store thousands upon thousands of unsorted featureless and muddy coins. In fact such coins were not on the market in the days before metal detectors and internet-trading. There are a plethora of "how to" guides to coin collecting from pre-metal-detector days (I have a few in my own library) and I would be interested if somebody could post on the Internet an extract of even one of them which talks about the bulk lots before the 1970s. I have certainly never seen such a reference. So where were these coins before 1970 if not still in the ground?

Mr "W." suggests that the "enormous number of uncleaned coins entering the market annually" is far beyond what could be produced by the number of archeological sites being looted". Since archaeological site looting is an illegal activity and therefore for the large part a clandestine activity, how on earth can our putative Texan say what is the scale of site looting in in various parts of the coin-producing ancient world? How "many" sites does he think are looted (and how does he define that term)? Perhaps we should turn that round and suggest (since no other origin has been determined for them) the "enormous number of uncleaned coins entering the market annually" is in fact an index of the amount of commercial archaeological site looting that has been and is going on. Mr "W." also omits the fact that bulk lots of coins are just part of the picture, we also have bulk lots of "partifacts" on sale by US dealers such as Empire Danny who used to be more candid about where they were coming from. They are less so now, so goodness knows where their clients "believe" (like Mr "W.") that they come from. Perhaps instead of clinging to baseless beliefs, the collectors of such items should take a close look at the wider context of the activity and think a little harder about the consequences, which brings us back to what I was saying about the blogging pastor whose dismissal of the issues was the basis of my original comments.

I would say that if they were to do this, they would indeed conclude that "diligent, open-minded research reveals that the numbers simply do not add up" and they'd have to abandon both the "coin elves" and "old collection" models as an explanation of the origins of commercial offers of bulk lots of "uncleaned coins".

Its the no-questions-asked collectors of ancient artefacts who are putting money into the pockets of the looters.

Saturday 25 December 2010

Christmas Greetings

I would like to wish a Happy Christmas from a snowy but warm Warsaw to all readers of this blog, for and against, casual and returning visitors.

Warsaw Christmas illuminations with mixed up music and obligatory advert. [1:26 Baroque church like Disneyland in Grzybowski Square and in background Soviet-built Palace of Culture]. A number of "heritage" questions here.
Video from Gazeta Wyborcza.

The Questions Metal Detectorists Ask (1)

Some metal detecting bloke called P.A. Hewitt sent some comments to Candice Jarman's blog which the blog owner regards as "pertinent" (to what?) and "important", so Candice repeats them, in a post called: 'How about answering some questions Mr Barford!' (for somebody who claims to be a secretary in a legal firm, Mr Jarman's lack of a firm grasp on the punctuation of written English is puzzling). The fourth question is a renewed call for personal details, and querying the right of an observer to question or comment on what he sees happening. I'll deal with the other three in consecutive posts.
1. Most finds by detectorists (and fieldwalkers) are made in soil disturbed by ploughing and are therefore NOT in archaeological context other than in very broad area. Indeed, many items found are probably isolated losses, dropped long ago, with no archaeological context anyway. So how are the finds 'decontextualised'?
This is the argument trotted out by the ACCG too. Many finds made by artefact hunters are coming from them searching 'productive sites', the location of which they guard jealously (there would be no reason NOT to release findspot details of genuine isolated chance finds, searching the spot would find no others, yet detectorists guard ALL findspot information of all of their finds). The precise distribution of finds in ploughsoil is often the subject of archaeological study the bibliography of the works in English on the 'archaeology of the ploughsoil' which discusses this and which I put on the PAS Forum a while back seems not to have made much of an impact in the world of metal detecting [I hereby give the PAS permission to put this up as a stand-alone page or incorporated into a broader resource on the topic on their website to explain this as part of their outreach to "finders"]. The objects entering private artefact collections are decontextualised by being taken from these complex patterns without the information on the distribution of other components of the pattern not fully documented because the finds are not "collectables" in the commercial sense. This is what makes the difference between what an artefact hunter does and the work of a true amateur archaeologist (some of the works in the above-cited bibliography were written for the latter). Potential archaeological data contained in ploughsoil is none the less potential archaeological data, which is precisely why the PAS is being funded to record its findspots. The sad fact is however that in few cases is the quality of the data thus recorded sufficient to do more that the most basic of archaeological analyses.

The ignorance of the variety of techniques, research strategies and what archaeologists really do exhibited by this post is typical of the sort of results achieved by thirteen years of PAS "archaeological outreach" to this milieu. Please do not take my word for it, make 2011 the year you all log onto a closed-access metal detectorist forum or two to see what attitudes and depth of knowledge about the wider context of artefact hunting they reveal.

Frankly, I do not see this so much as a "question for Barford" from UK metal detectorists as one which after thirteen years of PAS outreach is somewhat misdirected. This really IS a question for the PAS [if the PAS would like to pay me a fee for doing their work for them, that is fine, but I bet it will not], so my question is, why are these people coming to me with these questions and not to the PAS? Is it because they are observant enough to notice that PAS "archaeological outreach" has for thirteen years consistently failed to address such questions?

UPDATE 30/12/10:
Mr "Candice" (who claims not to be a metal detectorist) boldly lies in answer. He claims that I am inventing the notion that metal detectorists do hours of research to try and locate what they call 'productive sites'. He paints a picture that UK metal detectorists wander aimlessly about the countryside in areas totally away from any indications of past human activity in the hope of finding the odd off-site find which has as much archaeological significance as a "50p dropped in the street" and that "hoards are rarely found". This is in effect the same argument used by the ACCG (Dave Welsh in particular) and it may be significant that Candice (not a metal detectorist) uses US spelling in his posts. In fact any familiarity with what bona fide artefact hunters do shows that Candice is trying to pull a fast one. Look at any "how to" guide to the hobby of "metal detecting" (David Villenueva wrote a couple worth looking at in this regard), look on the websites, look at how commercial artefact hunting rallies are marketed to see the fallacy of what Candice glibly asserts. Don't take my word for it, check it out by joining an MD forum or two and see whether the "finders" are talking there about "their" 'productive sites'. Those of you who live in the UK, go out and talk to a metal detectorist in a field near you. Go out and see what they are doing.

Given that ninety percent of all archaeological sites in England and Wales (both those known and those yet to be registered) are on private farmland, it really is irrelevant to whether the finds collected by artefact hunters come from archaeologically significant patterns that as Candice says: "most metal detector finds are found on private farmland". Work (only now) being done under the aegis of the PAS will show to what extent the areas targetted by artefact hunters in England and Wales are "far from known archaeological sites".

Finally if most of the finds being made by artefact hunters "represent isolated losses. [...] that happened long ago" of no more archaeological significance than a modern 50p coin dropped in the street what in blazes does the PAS think it is doing recording all those meaningless data at great public expense and thereby also legitimising artefact hunting?

This really IS a question for the PAS, why are these people coming to me with these questions and accusations about what the PAS do and not to the PAS? Is it because they are observant enough to notice that PAS "archaeological outreach" has for thirteen years, while being very supportive of this hobby and these hobbyists as long as they "show them the stuff", has consistently failed to address such questions?

The Questions Metal Detectorists Ask (2)

This is the second of three posts dealing with the questions on metal detectorist Candice Jarman's blog ('How about answering some questions Mr Barford?').
2. How would Mr Barford propose to prevent the items within the ploughsoil from being further damaged by modern machinery and chemicals? I am told that coins found long ago were generally in much better condition than those found now, due to widespread use of fertiliser.
First of all, mere anecdote is not enough to "prove" that this effect is either general or significant. I question whether the evidence has been properly marshalled to achieve this - in the forthcoming book there is a whole chapter discussing the evidence for and against this based on published studies. It is concluded that this is a myth, but the reader will have to await the full presentation in the book. "Fertiliser" has of course been used throughout farming. The qualitative change in finds now being made is due to the improvement of detectors and detectorists able to find more and more mineralised finds in the soil. the changes in the nature of finds coming onto the market as a result of the spread of metal detecting has been discussed here before.

What I would "propose" doing in cases where a threat is recognised and there is no means (for example through the conservation-bases Stewardship Schemes) to prevent it, is to conduct the work in accordance with the procedure laid down in the English Heritage document "Our Portable Past".

It is notable with regard these conservation schemes that there is discussion on metal detecting forums (for example the thread "No-Till farming methods") where these schemes themselves are presented as a threat to metal detecting. No ploughing means no artefacts brought to the surface from the erosion of buried archaeological sites! (let us recall too the recent discussions about the "depth advantage"). Things like this suggest very strongly that the "concerns" expressed about plough damage by metal detectorists is really just a front to allow them to continue hoiking stuff out of sites as they want. Please do not take my word for it, make 2011 the year you all log onto a closed-access metal detectorist forum or two to see what attitudes and depth of knowledge about the wider context of artefact hunting they reveal.

Frankly, I do not see this so much as a "question for Barford" from UK metal detectorists as much as one which, after thirteen years of PAS outreach, is somewhat misdirected. This really IS a question for the PAS, so my question is, why are these people coming to me with these questions and not to the PAS? Is it because they are observant enough to notice that PAS "archaeological outreach" has for thirteen years consistently failed to address such questions?

UPDATE 30/12/10:
Candice tells his readers that my answer is a "cop out":
Instead of quoting published studies that we could all look up, he refers to his forthcoming book - where according to the old wind-bag all will be explained. Well Mr Barford, I have news for you. Very few people are going to buy your forthcoming book - a few University libraries might buy it, but that will be about all! So why not quote these published studies in your answer, maybe for once we could learn from you!
Perhaps it is a cop-out, but I really have no time for discussing the ins and outs of soil science and corrosion studies carried out in Scandinavia and elsewhere and field studies by English Heritage here (especially with spiteful metal detectorists who cant even write under their own name and pose as blonde secretaries). I think that the PAS is there for metal detectorists to go to with such questions and it is their business to be able to back up what they say with the literature in a transparent manner so we can all see how they arrive at their conclusions. I've looked into it carefully and will be publishing in full the reasons why I have concluded that the situation is not at all as the metal detectorists and their supporters would have us believe.

But of course Candice totally ignores the other points I made in the post above, IF there is damage occurring by the mechanisms Candice claims, they why does this have to be mitigated merely by letting artefact hunters liberate the material onto eBay? Let me repeat: What I would "propose" doing in cases where a threat is recognised and there is no means (for example through the conservation-bases Stewardship Schemes) to prevent it, is to conduct the work in accordance with the procedure laid down in the English Heritage document "Our Portable Past". But then, that is not the answer artefact collectors want to hear is it? (see the penultimate paragraph of my post, also ignored by Candice, claiming a cop-out, who is copping out here?). Where is the collectors' interest in "conservation" when it involves NOT collecting the stuff away to their scattered ephemeral little hoards of geegaws?

Frankly, I do not see this so much as a "question for Barford" from UK metal detectorists as much as one which, after thirteen years of PAS outreach, is somewhat misdirected. This really IS a question for the PAS, so my question is, why are these people coming to me with these questions and not to the PAS? Is it because they are observant enough to notice that PAS "archaeological outreach" has for thirteen years while being very supportive of this hobby and these hobbyists as long as they "show them the stuff", has consistently failed to address such questions?

The Questions they ask (3)

This is the third of a series of three posts addressing the questions raised on Candice Jarman's metal detecting apologist blog ('How about answering some questions Mr Barford?').
3. When does Mr Barford propose that the archaeological fraternity will be able to bring into the national heritage the equivalent number of finds currently being recorded with the PAS (and the subsequent information it provides for research)?
Mr Barford proposes that getting decontextualised finds out of the ground in huge numbers and thus eroding the archaeological record is not the aim of (my part of) "the archaeological fraternity". This is the approach of the artefact fetishist (more on that later).

It is not clear what Jarman and Hewitt understand by "research". Despite being 'recorded' in the PAS database, there are huge gaps for example in the documentation of the Crosby Garrett helmet which do not allow much detailed "research" to take place on it, neither as an isolated artefact, nor in terms of an object in a context of deposition. In the case of the majority of the 800 or so "Treasure" finds dug up annually by Treasure hunters and now "brought into the national heritage", where are the full publications of the results of that "research"? For example all the coin hoards with full inventories and die link details? The truth is that such research is NOT going on on the thousands of "Treasure" finds hoiked out of the ground, except perhaps for individual select cases. Neither is there anywhere for it to be published in any detail.

"Numbers" of course is not really the most important quality where data are concerned, reliability is a more important characteristic. How "reliable" are the data reported to the PAS by artefact hunters when we know that this can considerably increase their saleability?
It's hard to escape the opinion that Mr Barford would prefer artefacts to lie in the ground and never to be found! Further, where would the funding come from for archaeologists to excavate all these objects, write them up and conserve them etc?
Where is the money coming from NOW to get the finds found in uncontrolled digging by artefact hunters to be written up and conserved (how many metal detected finds from Britain in private hands are ever submitted to a trained conservator to stabilise, and under what conditions are they curated?). The whole point of conservation of a finite and fragile resource is exactly that, refrain from exploiting it away for short-term gain in favour of sustainable management and preventive conservation. According to the principle “Primum non nocere” yes, we would like the archaeological heritage left where it is when it is otherwise unthreatened, for future generations to deal with as they see fit, and not leave them an archaeological full of holes and wheelbarrow-loads of by-then totally decontextualised artefacts in the antiquities market.

Frankly, I do not see these so much as a "question for Barford" from UK metal detectorists as ones which after thirteen years of PAS outreach are somewhat misdirected. This really IS a question for the PAS, so my question is, why are these people coming to me with these questions and not to the PAS? Is it because they are observant enough to notice that PAS "archaeological outreach" has for thirteen years consistently failed to address such questions?

UPDATE 30/12/10
Candice seems not to understand the notion of "conservation".
Mr Barford would rather objects were never found - just left to rot in the ground.
in the same way as I do not think pandas, tigers and whales cease to exist because they are out there in the wild doing their thing and not locked away in a zoo or aquarium. Conservation is surely about creating conditions allowing their ability to stay out there in the wild doing their thing. I really cannot see what is so difficult to understand about this - well, I can, because of course we are seeing here again fetishisation of the object, decontextualising it from the more complex context as a component of something else. Finding ("having") the object is not the aim of conservation of the archaeological record (which is what David Gill's PIA article discussed here in adjacent December posts - but which the PAS refused to respond to - was about).

Candice reckons:
As said previously, most finds are made on private farmland and would never ever be excavated by archaeologists, because there is nothing to indicate to future generations that there is anything of interest in the soil there, except a 'beep' on a scope.
Well, let "detectorists" do us all a favour and map all the "beeps" but leave the objects in the ground, then we can have the best of both worlds, they can "detect" and we can have our in situ preservation. But of course that is not what the hobby called disingenuously "metal detecting"; is about, its not about just "detecting" but "hoiking and having".

It really seems to me that Candice is saying the equivalent of: "what's the point of having all those rare wild orchids growing in a field where nobody can pick them and stick them in a vase?" Except of course orchids are slightly more renewable than the archaeological record.

Again I see these queries about "what conservation is" not see these so much as a "question for Barford" from UK metal detectorists as ones which, after thirteen years of PAS outreach, are somewhat misdirected. This really IS a question for the PAS, so my question is, why are these people coming to me for an explanation about how to understand the notion of conservation in archaeology, and not to the PAS? Is it because they are observant enough to notice that PAS "archaeological outreach" has for thirteen years while being very supportive of this hobby and these hobbyists as long as they "show them the stuff", has consistently failed to address such questions?

"Sales of Potentially Illicitly Exported Items Should be Frozen"

Cristina del Rivero has a blog called 'Art Meets Law', and discusses the upcoming Sotheby's auction of the privately held Benin Idi hipmask taken by one of the participants in the 1897 British looting in Benin as part of the infamous 'punitive expedition' (Another auction record price expected, albeit tainted by claims of illicit provenance'). In it she raises the question:
what of the allegation that Sotheby's is actively participating in trafficking illicit antiquities? When it comes to antiquities, the statistics are staggering -- it's been held that the provenance of approx. 80-90% of antiquities on the market would raise legal issues (S.M. Mackenzie), the resolution of those issues often being impossible given the origins and age of the antiquities. While it would not make sense to freeze virtually all sales of antiquities, sales of those that are suspected to have been illegally exported from their country of origin should not take place unless and until those suspicions are put to rest. Otherwise, the auction houses and dealers involved will be feeding the market demand fuelling looters all over the world (the causal link between market demand and supply for looted antiquities has been conclusively proven in my opinion).
That'll please the no-questions-asked dealers and collectors' lobby.

Thursday 23 December 2010

Culture in Peril: Commercial artefact Hunting a Fund Raiser for US Historic Preservation

I have discussed this myself on this blog a while back, but its good to see another blogger with a similar viewpoint:
Culture in Peril: Archaeological Resource Preservation: Museum-Archaeology Community and...Metal Detectorists??

Vignette: Twilight for the heritage.

"They tore it up and binned it immediately"

News travels very slowly in British archaeological circles it seems. Only yesterday on the British Archaeological Federation forum did somebody notice that I had discussed a TV programme proposal in which the Portable Antiquities Scheme was participating. List owner David Connolly concluded immediately without looking into it that it was a spoof, while one "Madweasels" (its not just metal detectorists that like to hide behind pseudonyms obviously) announces:
Someone in the PAS in the BM itself told me that when this proposal came to them they tore it up and binned it immediately. They are still working with Digging for Britain or whatever it is called.
Well, that is good news then isn't it? So there were not two meetings with PAS staff and a TV producer which led to the proposal that Roger Bland sent to every single FLO on the PAS mailing list then? Who is pulling whose leg here?

I suggest that if anyone is interested in getting to the bottom of the kind of archaeological outreach the PAS is providing, they ask a friendly FLO whether they can see the email they received on 10/12/10 12:56 and can decide for themselves whether it refers to a "binning" of the matter, or inviting them to London to discuss it with the producer before lunch on the 17th Dec.(and the Digging for Britain team after lunch).


The guy who "checked" is now moaning:
Hey! I've been Barfordised - you know, report something to the assembled innocently and with good intent and then feel Paul's wrath for getting it, allegedly, wrong. Yay!!!!
Does anyone know what he means? Something about an email the FLOs received on 10/12/10 12:56. I am scared of writing on his comments section of his blog asking for more detail - he might be horrid to me! Seriously, just as I haven't got time to look into the detail of his post, I really haven't got time to lock horns with Paul.
Oh dear, he means the actual subject of what I actually wrote in the original text about the contents of an email. It seems he did not even know what it is was being discussed. So much for the "research" of British archaeologists and the basis on which they make their judgements. Maybe its just when its metal detectorists involved. [My "wrath" at Madweasels is not for "getting it wrong", it's for not checking properly, ie the superficiality traditional in Brit archaeologists' dealings with portable antiquity issues, and in this case refusal to determine what the issue is that is being addressed].

Some weasels are apparently just gullible and obviously take an anonymous somebody's post-dated word for it and are not so concerned to check out for themselves the facts I gave. Perhaps they just expect everything on a plate? Maybe, now the project has - in the words of the BM - been "binned", some kind FLO will 'leak' that mail to the BAJR forum owner so the Doubting Thomases there can see what it actually said, and whether on that basis the concerns I expressed about a lack of wider consultation were justified. For where better a place for part of the discussion of the proposal than on the BAJRFed Forum?

[This new verb "to Barfordise", I hope the weasel is using it to mean "to check out facts about claims made about antiquity collecting and related issues and attempt to discuss them". Something he, like many Brit archaeologists, it seems cannot be bothered to do themselves, preferring to run away from the issues, ostensibly to avoid conflict, with the consequences we see.]
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