Wednesday 31 March 2010

PAS Announcement: This blog now closing


Closure of Portable Antiquities Collecting and Heritage Issues Blog.

LONDON 31/03/10: In a surprise announcement this evening to coincide with the end of the 2009/10 financial year, Roger Blend, the Head of the Potable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) indicated that at there would be no more funding for the continuation of the highly unpopular Portable Antiquities Collecting and Heritage Issues blog, and that it would now be closing.

The blog had been a collaborative effort of members of Department of Public Education and Outreach of the PAS and had been appearing since 12th July 2008. The format of the project was intended to resemble the personal blog of a fictional archaeologist, a “Paul Barford” who was a serious opponent of certain traits in artefact collecting. “The idea”, explained Michael Lewes, deputy Director of the Scheme which is based in the Brutish Museum in central London, had been "to show collectors in the United Kingdom what kind of ideological opposition collecting could soon be up against, in order to encourage them to work more closely with the Scheme, in a partnership which would serve to create a form of legitimization of this archaeologically useful hobby”.

Lewes said the project had certainly done much over the past two years to cement relations within the hobby and to some extent between hobbyists and archaeologists, “but it outran its usefulness”, he confessed. “We found that some collectors, particularly the younger ones were taking the rants too seriously and were being induced to leave the hobby, and this was leading to the fall in numbers of objects recorded”.

Another factor which Lewes said had led to the decision to call a halt was the sheer amount of work that was needed to keep up the pretence. The problem that nobody had ever met its author was resolved by making him an ex-patriate, but the lack of material to write about was a problem. “We were let down by our own side” Lewes admitted, “very little useful counter-debate was emerging from the collectors, who seemed to find nothing to say in their own defence”. Much of the writing was actually done by Adam Doubney, Finds Liaison Officer for Huntingtonshire helped by the PAS information technology specialist Dan Peat working from home. Dr Roger Blend thanked them tonight for all their hard work and added that the blog had been a useful exercise not only because it had helped cement relationships within Britain's archaeological-artefact collecting partnership, but also showed members of the UK public "how ridiculous and illogical are the claims of the conservationists who decry collaboration with collectors which is going swimmingly, we are seeing more objects removed from archaeological contexts than ever before".

Note for editors:
1) The Potable Antiquities Scheme is a voluntary scheme to record archaeological objects found by members of the public in England and Wales. Every year many thousands of objects are removed from their archaeological contexts by by metal-detector users. Such discoveries, properly recorded can offer an important source for understanding our past, and since September 1997 the Potable Antiquities Scheme Finds Liaison Officers have examined over 544163 such objects, but many more are removed which go completely unrecorded.

2) Dr Roger Blend has an OBE for "Services to Heritage".

Not for release before 18:00, Wednesday 31st March 2010.


PAS success in Numbers

Since it started in September 1997, 13 years ago, the Portable Antiquities Scheme has generated 383668 records containing information on 544432 objects discovered by members of the public, most of them through artefact hunting and collecting with metal detectors. In that period 17068 people have been “involved”, that is 1288 people a year. There are now 1171 user accounts made by members of the public who have reported finds to the Scheme. Real "bang for buck".

Quotes on the Portable Antiquities Scheme

On the Portable Antiquities Scheme homepage a series of randomly generated quotes highlight the effectiveness of the PAS as a means of reducing the damage to the archaeological record by clandestine removal of artefacts by metal detector users
:...the scheme has been a win-win for everybody,
Margaret Hodge.

As a dedicated metal detectorist and amateur archaeologist, I have recorded all my finds with the PAS since I took up the hobby. The dedication and professionalism of the organisation's staff has been an inspiration,
Tom Redmayne, Detectorist, Lincolnshire.

There is nothing else like the PAS anywhere in the world. The scheme has produced some impressive and unexpected benefits...and created a massive and unprecedented community archaeology project,
Derek Fincham.

I regard the Portable Antiquities Scheme as a flagship for archaeology. It's got enormous support from enthusiasts, it's very highly regarded. There was this worrying note from a board meeting at MLA [Museums, Libraries and Archives council] saying that its future funding couldn't be guaranteed. As far as I'm concerned, in the great scheme of things, it's chicken fed (sic)in terms of its financing, and in terms of bang for buck, it's immensely successful. I would do my best to protect it, because the sums involved are very, very small,
Ed Vaizey, Conservative Arts spokesman.

..through the excellent work of both the Portable Antiquities Scheme and the Treasure Valuation Committee, metal detectorists and archaeologists are working more closely together than ever before,
Estelle Morris

The Portable Antiquities Scheme is an excellent instance of archaeologists working together with members of the general public to shed more light on our shared past,
Stula (detectorist), Guardian online comment.


The Welsh Rosetta Stone? "Y Gymuned Ffyliaid Ebrill" and Repatriation

Just to show that it is not just third world "source countries" which may be accused of "cultural property nationalism" David Gill ("Call for Bluestones to return to Pembrokeshire") draws attention to a breaking news story that seems analagous to the controversy currently being whipped up over the Rosetta Stone and the Parthenon Marbles, activists from the aptly-named "Y Gymuned Ffyliaid Ebrill" has called for the symbolic return of one of the bluestones from Salisbury Plain and is sending a delegate to the upcoming Cairo conference on the restitution of cultural property removed from its country of origin. Meanwhile a group of Dolmen enthusiasts is opposing the move and argues that now the stones are removed from their original context, they should stay in their new home where they can be appreciated in the context of the other elements gathered together at this spot in the past. It is this new assemblage which, they argue, is important - rather than the place from which the objects were removed. This story seems worth watching for the drama played out within what is still a United Kingdom may well give insights into the battle over the movement of cultural property across national borders about which there is so much ongoing debate these days. Thanks David for bringing our attention to this weighty (pun intended) issue.

Tuesday 30 March 2010

Elginism and the Indiscriminate Trade in Antiquities

On March 26, 2010 the superb "Elginism" blog celebrated five years of operation. While restitution of artefacts taken from sites, monuments and places long ago is not one of the "Portable Antiquity Collecting Issues" I as an archaeologist am primarily concerned with, it is certainly a heritage issue.

I am ashamed to admit that even not so long ago I was persuaded that the Parthenon (aka "Elgin") Marbles should stay in London. This was mainly because I guess when I was younger I lived within spitting distance of the BM and spent man an afternoon wandering its corridors and galleries drinking it all in. Now I am of the opposite view. I think they should go back, despite the argument that they were - perhaps - obtained in accordance with all that passed for correct behaviour at the time. The construction of the new Acropolis Museum (which I have not yet seen, maybe this year) has been a key factor in my own change of mind.

I have always believed that the Benin bronzes etc. however should be more equably handled (should have been long ago). For a number of reasons, I am not personally so sure these days about other contested items, the Rosetta Stone for example, or the disputed Nefertiti bust.

I think there is a danger that in public opinion these "repatriation" issues tend to get confused with another phenomenon entirely, the seizure of illictly traded artefacts from other countries by national agencies such as the ICE of the United States. Newspaper items talk there of the objects' subsequent "repatriation", which is where confusion of issues can creep in.

The return of what is clearly recently stolen property to the territory and people (generic) from whom it was stolen is quite a different thing to debating whether our 2010 concepts of what cultural thievery is can be applied to Elgin's men sawing up the Parthenon and levering out caryatids for example. In the one case there are very clear reasons (both legal and moral) why the seized objects should go back, in the latter the argumentation is far more complex and involves a vast array of factors and interests.

Of course it is very much in the interest of those involved in the current no-questions-asked antiquities trade to try and conflate the issues. This is why the scribblings of James Cuno are a preferred quarry for quotes for the pro-collecing activists who (deliberately?) confuse what Cuno is saying about museums with what they would like to hear about the current sordid indiscrimacy of the antiquities trade to private collectors.

Let us be clear however that what is (or is not) applicable to collecting in the period before the 1970s or 1980s is not at all applicable to the situation on the antiquities market in the subsequent century of which a decade has already passed without any significant change for the better in the antiquities market.

Market Drought in Dugup Coins in the UK ?

On the Yahoo EnglishHammered [coins] discussion list, veteran collector and dealer Chris Brewchorne says:
For anyone in the UK with our devalued currency, who wants to acquire G[ood -] V[ery]F[ine] rarer Saxon/Norman coins at around book price, these are hard times. None of the main UK dealers have stock, auction prices are in fantasy land, and the currency makes buying from US or other sources expensive. I can't remember such a drought in the last 10 years.
'Book prices' are catalogue value of course, meaning prices have rocketed since the last edition of the standard price-lists. One contrtibutor suggests "Could be a good time to go searching for your own coins. Get yourself a detector and some permission on some land close to a Saxon/Norman village and your (sic) off". I am sure that is precisely what is happening. Despite this however Niall (Lombard?) adds:
It is just not Saxon/Norman coins that are in short supply.Virtually all types of English (and indeed Irish) hammered [coins] have disappeared with few exceptions: Charles I and Eliz[abeth] I silver most notably. Lists are smaller and less frequent than heretofore and I agree that auction prices for much material has entered fantasyland. Even the fact of being in Euroland hasnt helped much here as the material in unavailable in any event. Maybe I should start digging... Seriously though this drought has now lasted nearly two years. Does anyone know where the material has gone?

There are two possible explanations. The first is that there are only a finite number of accessoible sites which produce these coins and they have been deprived of them up and down the country since the mid 1970s when metal detecting began to become a very popular hobby in Britain. Since it is a finite resource, the dearth of material on the market could actually reflect the drying up of that resource is happening in our times rather than that of our children. The Heritage Action Erosion Counter ticking away is not an abstract concept, whether or not you agree with the figures (and I do), it highlights a very real problem of the unmitigated erosion of the archaeological record merely for entertainment and personal gain.

A second cause is equally alarming. The observation that there is currently a dearth of material on the British market may be a reflection of how popular the collecting of hammered coins has now become in Britain (and possibly beyond). There is not enough material to go round and supply cannot keep up with demand. Archaeological assemblages of Dark Age, Medieval and later date are being emptied out so increasing numbers of collectors can have some geegaws to trade and handle.

Is this collecting of just one type of dugup artefact an expression of an "interest in the past"? To some degree yes, but it is also and more obviously an expression of cupidity. Big Game Hunting was not an expression of interest in ecology or even zoology. Certainly neither are a form of "interest" that conservationists would like to see being encouraged.

To what extent these thousands (?) of people are all "contributing" to numismatic research (or the more holistic understanding of the past) by publishing the decontextualised heaps of coins in their collections remains to be seen. Is the scale of the "gains" to knowledge by coin collectors commensurate with the scale of losses to the archaeological record by the trashing of archaeological assemblages in search of saleable goods? Is a handful of National Grid References adequate compensation for the trashing of these sites? How do we measure "archaeological value" in such circumstances anyway? The PAS should be leading the field here, but of course such abstract theoretical notions are beyond their simplistic "look what/ how much we have found now" approach...

Chippindale on Collecting and the Classical World

Over on the SAFECorner blog, archaeology student Damien Huffer reports on a recent guest lecture by Dr. Christopher Chippindale in the School of Archaeology and Anthropology at the Australian National University, Canberra. It was given the title: "Illicit Antiquities: Scandal of Our Age". Huffer summarises the lecture neatly:
At its heart, he [Chippindale] argues, the modern antiquities trade revolves around the boost to one's appearance of wealth, prestige, status, and power that the ownership and display of antiquities is deemed to convey, especially amongst the collecting and dealing 'elite.' Underpinning this stance is what Chippindale has dubbed the "Connoiseur's view", defined as the idea that things (objects) have instrinsic merit and can reflect 'cultural universals', or 'eternal values', as tangible to the ancient people who made the object as to any living person today. Holding this view would then lend the collection of antiquities much "sophistication". This can be directly contrasted to the "Archaeologist's View", which defines artifacts as sources of information in context first and foremost, "worthy of celebration and care. [This view is...] that, while some meaningful information is inherent in the object itself, it is outweighed by contextual details, and greatly diminsed without them. [...] "these attitudes are not opposed, but the loss of context leaves the connoiseur's view intact, but 'wrecks' the archaeologist's view." To Chippindale, this exposes the fundamental self-centredness of the connoiseurs view from its inception, but especially after, World War II, when looting and modern, global, collecting really began to flourish. As he then goes on to show, the missconceptions of connoiseurs and the demand they create continues to profoundly affect [our ability to contribute to understanding of] the Classical archaeological world.
" Because it is much more difficult to openly sell stolen art [...] collectors have been turning to easily transportable small items; both recent and ancient, especially since the 1980s when looting increased world-wide". Chippindale cited the examples of Cycladic art: "of the 1,369 artifacts assessed for provenance history in Gill and Chippindale (2000), only 39 were traceable...the rest just "surfaced" during the 1980s or 1990s!" Other cases dealt with are the Medici/Hecht affair and others.

Chippindale asserts that "there remain no large stockpiles of authentic Classical antiquities available for the market and museums, outside of forgeries and newly looted pieces". Given his expertise in studying the market, I would say that this is a judgement that we can accept as reflecting the truth.

Damien Huffer adds that archaeologists must urgently continue, and in fact 'step up,' our "watch dog" roles in this crisis. (He is studying in Australia, so he did not add that this is unless you are a British archaeologist, when you just unthinkingly join in as "partners" with the collectors). He adds that
"activists in general must continue to find ways to take the "hip" and "chic" (if you will) out of antiquities collecting. Easier said than done, but only further education will continue to make a dent".
Chippindale and Huffer conclude: "We must continue to learn from the past, not consume it". Read the original piece and judge for yourselves to what degree the current state of the antiquities market is contributing to both these processes.

Blood Antiquities Update

A few weeks ago I made a post here about the Journeyman TV film "Blood Antiquities" and moaned that I could not find a transcript. Somebody has added a comment to that post with the link to a full transcript of the programme. Very thought-provoking stuff.

Two More Guilty Pleas in Four Corners Artefact Case

Two of the defendents in the Four Corners Artefacts case pleaded guilty Monday before U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball to illegally trafficking in American Indian artifacts and stealing government property. Each faces a maximum of 12 years in prison and maximum potential fines of $500,000 each. Brent Bullock and Tammy Shumway, both residents of Moab, had initially pleaded not guilty to several felony charges. Sentencing is set for 7th July. After the hearing, federal officials declined to say whether they expect further guilty pleas in the case.
Bullock, 61, sold several ancient Indian items to an undercover operative in 2007, including a blanket fragment for $2,000 and a hoe- like tool for $500, according to court documents. He also offered to sell several ceramic figurines taken from U.S. Bureau of Land Management land. Bullock said he wanted to sell the items because he was in debt, according to a search warrant affidavit. Investigators said Bullock acknowledged to the informant that the items came from public land in Utah but filled out paperwork saying they were from private land in Colorado.

Shumway, who introduced Bullock to the informant, was charged because the 40-year-old woman aided and abetted the deals and signed a falsified paper about the items' origin as a witness, federal officials said.

In U.S. District Court on Monday, Bullock and Shumway acknowledged they knew the items had been illegally dug up from public land in Utah. As part of a plea deal, they each pleaded guilty to one count of trafficking in stolen artifacts and theft of government property. Prosecutors agreed to seek a reduced sentence. [...] Bullock's attorney, Earl Xaiz, said his client was never into artifact collecting for the money and hadn't planned to sell any of them before he was approached by the government informant.
Bullock had reportedly displayed the blanket scrap, fire board and digging tool at the centre of this case in a frame on his living-room wall where anyone could see them, but Bullock had not dug them up himself. His decision to sell them was a financial issue: "He was introduced to someone who was looking for things to buy" said his lawyer. The figures that he also offered to sell Gardiner did not turn up in a search of Bullock's house.

These were among the earliest to be resolved following one of the USA's largest investigations into artefact looting on public and tribal lands in the Southwest. Of the 26 indicted on June 10th, two defendants committed suicide shortly after the charges were announced. Two others, a mother and daughter from Blanding, pleaded guilty and were sentenced to probation in September. The State's informant Ted Gardiner died March 1 from a self-inflicted gunshot after a standoff with police in a Salt Lake City suburb. This has apparently delayed the trial of antiquities dealer Robert Knowlton. Trials for several other defendants are scheduled for this spring and summer.

Patty Henetz "
Two plead guilty in artifacts trafficking" Salt Lake Tribune 30th March 2010.
Mike Stark (The Associated Press)
2 Utahns plead guilty in sweeping artifacts case Mar 29 2010.
Fox News Video here:
2 suspects in Utah artifacts case take plea deals
Tammy Shumway is apparently the widow of Earl Shumway, convicted 15 years ago of looting graves for artifacts to sell.

UPDATE: Derek Fincham writes (this is also featured on the new DePaul's Art and Cultural Heritage Legal Society blog):
Neither of these defendants will likely receive anything close to the statutory maximum. That is because when a defendant enters into a plea deal, they do so in most cases to achieve a recommendation from prosecutors on sentencing; which will often fall far below the maximum sentences. This should not be construed as authorities in the United States not taking these crimes seriously — rather a reflection of the general criminal procedures when plea agreements are reached.
He also fills in some of the details for his readers on notorious antiquities looter Earl Shumway:
Shumway became a national figure in the 1980's, who boasted that he began looting at three years old with his father. He sold a large collection of over thirty prehistoric baskets and sold them for a great deal. Though he was prosecuted for selling those baskets, he cooperated with authorities and only received probation. He went right back to looting, using a helicopter and even lookouts to avoid authorities. He boasted to the media that he could never be apprehended. Though he was not caught in the act of looting, authorities did secure a conviction using DNA evidence found on Mountain Dew soda cans he left in the areas he looted. In 1995 he received a 5-year prison sentence which sent a message that Federal agents and prosecutors took this kind of crime seriously.

Earl Shumway: here (New York Times), here (DNA on cigarette butt), here , picture of him leaving court, and here.

Monday 29 March 2010

A Visitor's View, English Archaeologists: "Elitist Idiots"

In the comments section to another post one anonymous "David" (profile inaccessible) states: "After visiting England many times it is my opinion that UK archeologists are an elitist bunch of idiots. Hmm. Are they? I think, though I would not label them as such personally, as a whole they currently have a totally idiotic approach to artefact hunting and collecting. In contrast to what anonymous foreign visitor "David" thinks, this is precisely because many of them are trying not to be elitists, they see this (misguidedly in my opinion) as a way of allowing "everyone" to "engage with the past". In support of his assertion "David" alleges without giving any proper details:
I once witnessed a state funded excavation in the north of England where the top three feet of soil was trucked off to the local rubbish dump. The local metal detectorists went to the dump and found several thousand coins and artifacts. One find was a bronze bust of Mars. All of these finds were turnd in to the local museum. The director of the dig tried to ban the detectorists from the rubbish dump. A court order stopped this from happening. After the dig the director was pictured in the national press holding the bust of Mars. Go figure!!!
So this is a metre of stratified archaeological deposits, or a metre of mixed overburden with redeposited Roman and other finds? What was the name of the site "David"? When was this? What is the name of the director involved? Also what is meant by the phrase "statefunded"? This was an English heritage funded research project perhaps? Finally I really do not understand by what elements of English law the archaeologist (unless he was also the owner of the landfill site itself) could seek to "ban the detectorists from the rubbish dump" 9and more to the point how a "court order" could force te landowner to allow artefact hunters to search there against his will). In short this is typical of the sort of anonymous metal detectorist archaeological hate-tale that is put about to try to justify the current state of artefact hunting. Basically there really is no real "elitism" among archaeologists in England towards metal detectorists, whom the community as a whole (to their shame I would personally say) treats as their "partners". Hate tales like this however serve the metal detectorists to justify why, after so many years and so many millions of quid of public money spent on "liaison" and entering into "partnership", a large number of artefact hunters in the UK 9as a whole, not just England and Wales) are refusing to report more than the absolute legal minimum of their finds to the relevant authorities, and sometimes not even that.

What are the actual details behind this story, anyone know?

UK Detectorist Forum Publishes Information Useful to Researchers

. One of the moderators from the UKDN detecting Forum (one "Puffin") decided it would be a good idea for the benefit of any metal detectorist within reach of the M6 who fancies a bit of nocturnal artefact hunting to post a Google Earth image of the "Staffordshire hoard" findspot near Brownhills nine km to the east of Cannock. "Puffin" says the site is "known to locals". Well, its known to more than that. It was pretty easy to put together the information legitimately available online (the farmer's name and therefore address, the photos of where the police set up a roadblock to stop people visiting the site and the background of the film that was put out on the internet of the digging - though the video makers tried to camoflage it). The location of the site was known in Warsaw a few days after the news broke. The image of "Google Earth" that accompanied that text was not - for obvious reasons - the actual site. So, are the police still guarding the crossroads? The site is an obvious place to search for artefacts, a low spur overlying the place where the old straight road from Lichfield a major nearby Early Medieval centre crosses a boggy stream valley. Probably an early estate centre lies just below the hoard find site. Anyway, why should it be just the metal detectorists who have access to this information? Here is the link for those with a desire to find out more about the place where this important piece of evidence about the landscape history of this part of the midlands was found, to do their own exploration of history - preferably without a metal detector and spade please. As the findspot of nationally important archaeological evidence I hold that Treasure findspots should automatically be scheduled with a suitable buffer zone around them to curb treasure-seeking around these findspots. . Vignette: Puffin without his metal detector (RSPB)

"Decomposing Inca Corpse, Going Cheap For a Quick Sale"

The Latin American Herald Tribune ('Peru Police Seize Looted Mummy' March 30th 2010) carries an Andina news agency report that as the result of investigations by Cuzco police intelligence agents several people are expected to be charged with crimes against national heritage:
The mummy of a child along with several pre-Columbian ceramics were seized by Peruvian police from traffickers who planned to sell them on the black market [...] the looted antiquities were recovered last Friday from two residences in the southern region of Cuzco [...] The mummy was discovered in the first home to be inspected, and was found covered with an Inca cloak and in an apparent state of decomposition.Found in the same residence was a fabric of the Paracas culture, along with 23 pre-Inca ceramics from the Chavin and Mochica cultures.Confiscated from the second home that the police entered were 15 Inca ceramics.The objects seized were apparently to be shown to potential buyers and sold to the highest bidder, according to police.

A similar story with picture of naked child mummy in a cardboard box can be found Police recover Inca mummy among artefacts to sold on black market: EnPeruBlog, March 29, 2010 This adds the comments:
Poor rural Peruvians are disconnected from their heritage, so much so that the vast majority of archaeological sites in Peru have been completely destroyed beyond all hope of recovery. Most sites look like the lunar surface, covered in holes dug by the tomb robbers. If you wonder why we know so little about pre-Columbian cultures, ask the guy who lives down the street from you.
Actually its not so much "disconnected from any heritage" that is the problem, it is that others are willing to give them money no-questions-asked for whatever dug-up saleable goods they can bring them. Looting pays. More controversially "As soon as ancient artefacts are safely out of Peru, they are openly sold through large auction houses like Christie’s who support the illegal trade in cultural heritage". I do not think a Christies spokesman would be too happy about the way that is phrased.

Nevertheless dealers in and collectors of complete pots of whatever culture are well aware that the most frequently ocur in graves and tombs. The indiscriminate buying of antiquities in a trade fuelled by the commercial robbing of graves for collectables is well illustrated by that decaying corpse in southern Cuzco. The antiquities trade in its present form stinks.

Vignette: Not for collecting for entertainment and profit, these are the remains of real people (National Geographic)

Looking over the Detectorists' Shoulders: the UKDFD

Over on another post there is a string of comments to some remarks I made about an Anglo-Saxon coin found in Hampshire. The finder Steve Rourke, aka "Kyarra" is very concerned that I write that a find was taken to the UK Detector Finds Database, a privately-run showcase of the highlights of detectorists' collections, for "identification" rather than recording.

The Portable Antiquities Scheme was set up for the identification and recording of portable antiquites found in the fields of England and Wales and the question arises why this finder took the "rare" coin to the UKDFD and not the PAS. Well, in fact if you search the private "database", it can be seen that this finder, Steve Rourke, is displaying 24 of his recent finds there. If you look through the "recorded elsewhere" field apart from the coin he took to the Fitzwilliam yesterday, and a gold ring and a silver ring which have been reported to the Coroner as British law requires, the UKDFD record shows that he has not gone beyond the bare minimum required by law and none of the other finds made by Mr Rourke and shown there have been recorded anywhere else.

Now most of what he shows consists of old-timey/byegone type stuff (data on which is not gathered as a rule by the PAS), but there are a number of medieval coins, a buckle and some mounts that certainly should be in the PAS record for Dorset, Hampshire, Hertfordshire and Oxfordshire. It is interesting too to note how this finder has in his collection material from a wide range of geographical locations, showing how finds from sites are being scattered in a multitude of ephemeral personal collections with no record of their subsequent fate being kept.

Records like this raise a huge number of questions about current British policies on artefact hunting and collecting and the "management" of the archaeological resource.

Archaeological collection discovered after relic hunter’s death

This article from Prague Radio of January 2008 seems worth posting here as an example of the size of some of the collections built by metal detectorists. Note that the photos show only relatively large pieces or nearly complete objects, this is obviously a selection of the sort of things that the detectorist was digging up. The rest was presumably deemed "uncollectable" and discarded - despite the fact that they too were archaeological finds. Once again note that there is no information about provenance preserved in this collection.

Listen to the radio broadcast here.
When a young man died in his Prague apartment two years ago after a cigarette set his bed on fire, the firemen who came to help made an unusual discovery. The man’s one-bedroom apartment was chock-full of strange-looking metal objects, obviously from prehistoric times. As the amateur archaeologist had no relatives, experts from the Czech Academy of Sciences’ Archaeological Institute were asked to go through more than 3000 items which would be worth millions on the black market. Miroslav Dobeš of the Archaeological Institute explains what some of the most precious pieces are.
"First I’d like to mention this spectacle-shaped pendant. It is one of the oldest copper objects in Central Europe - we are talking here about the period around 4000 years BC. Roughly ten such pendants have been uncovered in Bohemia, Moravia and Western Slovakia. Since we don’t know where it comes from, its information value is practically non-existent although its material value is incalculable.”

The archaeologists searched the apartment for any records that would show where the artefacts came from, but found nothing about the origin of all the bowls, cups, clips, bracelets, pins, rings and axes. Amateur treasure hunters don’t care about the analytical part of the job and dig wherever their detectors start to beep. This is one of the reasons why professional archaeologists see red when they come across these people at work. Martin Kuna is the deputy director of the Archaeological Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences. “Another reason is that most of these finds eventually end up in private collections where they lose most of their information, or scientific, value. And few are perhaps aware of yet another reason why using metal detectors for this purpose is harmful – when large amounts of metal objects are regularly brought to light, there are simply not enough archaeologists to examine them properly.”

Experts warn that the case of the dead collector with a huge heap of anonymous items is just the tip of the iceberg. An estimated 10,000 metal detectors are currently used in the pursuit of this hobby in the Czech Republic, and hundreds of thousands of treasures are thought to be stashed in private collections. Some treasure hunters cooperate with museums and only explore locations designated by experts, but on the whole, Martin Kuna says, something should be done to prevent people with metal detectors from causing more damage in the future. 

The law is too weak in this respect. Even when you catch one of those people at the site with a detector and a golden coin in his pocket, you cannot prove that he dug it out right there. Perhaps access to archaeological sites for people with metal detectors should be banned, and perhaps users of metal detectors should be registered.”
I cannot quite see how you'd ban access to sites to only "people with metal detectors".  

Saturday 27 March 2010

Earth Hour (1): in the dark

An hour with the lights turned out to make a statement. I previously had joked about "blogging by candlelight" but was saved from that inconsistency by the Internet server packing up for an hour or so last night (I'd like to believe they'd turned it off, but such breakdowns are too frequent lately to believe that). So the Barfords bumped around the flat in the dark, trying not to make toast or turn the kettle on and struggling to read by candlelight. One of us went out for a walk. Out there you could see none of the neighbours bothered, or even noticed sitting there with their lights blazing in front of their plasma TVs and computers. I guess we'll not be hosting "World Environment Day" in the near future.

It is not as if there was no publicity. It seems that many of those with their lights on in Warsaw were making a self-centred statement that they could not care less. Very much the same I think as the antiquity collectors who refuse to recognise that indiscriminate collecting is a major cause of the looting of archaeological sites for saleable items. That they continue to collect in the same way as in the nineteenth century is also a powerful statement about their self-centred attitudes to the world around them.

I am betting that very few ACCG members over the Ocean had their lights off last night. The way they allow the finite and fragile archaeological resource to be gobbled up to feed their personal obsessions does not create the impression of them being particularly environment conscious. I could be wrong of course, after all, holding a piece of the past in your hand by candlelight (or better still, olive-oil-lamp-light) is indeed a way of "experiencing the past" as it was experienced by those for whom those objects were made.

Vignette: from Wikipedia.

Earth Hour (2): The Anthropocene

For millennia man managed to live on this planet and affecting it in just a few ways. Man hunted a few species out of existence locally or globally at various times. Deforestation of some regions caused soil erosion, choking of valleys with alluvium. The archaeological record shows we have done a lot of damage in many regions. Today however - whatever one's position on global warming and turning lights out etc. - there is no denying that Man has changed the face of the planet irrevocably. Over almost the entire face of the planet. Something which we've been working at for millennia, but the effects are cumulating in our own times. The legacy of past "couldn't-care-less" is now our problem and more particularly the problem of our children.

The term "Anthropocene" is now being bandied about to describe the period of the planet's history when Man has been a major source of geological change. The term was coined in 2000 by atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen, and has gained currency in recent years (Crutzen and Stoermer 2000; Zalasiewicz 2008). The concept is interesting for an archaeologist whose working life is often focussed on information contained in anthropogenic deposits and relating them to earlier deposits.
I think we might have problems defining when the anthropocene began, when widespread soil erosion for example started (for example here in central Europe) with the first farmers. Probably it will vary from region to region if we take indicators such as alluvium formation in valleys as the marker. Certainly by the nineteenth century we were capable of producing vast changes in the environment by agencies such as altering ground water levels (drainage), affecting soil development (deep ploughing, artificial fertilisers), changing the flow of rivers (Stalin's great projects in the Russian North), not to mention pumping large amounts of sulphur compounds into the air (erosion of historic stonework by acid rain) and carbon dioxide. We are seeing the endangerment and extinction of species on an alarming scale, and a lot of it is our fault. A fault in many cases of not thinking through the consequences of our actions - even when the knowledge to do so was already in existence - and a lack of concern about the longterm effects, followed by a lack of political will to do anything effective about it in the face of other interests (indeed, the antiquity looting problem is a microcosm of this general problem).
Some of my archaeological colleagues subscribe to a rather naive view that "understanding the past" will in some way benefit us all as it will "help us plan for the future". Frankly, I do not believe that one bit. Neither though do I follow the extremes of post-Processualism that our "past" is entirely a back-projection of our present. What I do think however is that archaeology and good archaeology in conjunction with the various Earth Sciences can at least help us (us meaning not just archaeologists but the people wo read their books and watch them on TV) to be aware what changes are occurring. To be aware of how long we have been severely stressing the system, and to make us aware also of the extreme fragility of the ecosystems on which our cultural systems are constructed (some alarmist tales of this in the annals of archaeology too - some more based in science and logic than others). I do not think archaeology can "save the world", but the investigation of the past is a necessary element of understanding the world and our place in it.

And, here's the punchline inevitable from the point of view of this blog, obviously we cannot do that if all the accessible sites have been dug over so some selfish, indiscriminately artefact-hungry, resource-gobbling dunderheads can have a few ancient geegaws to fondle and sell.

Earth Hour (3): an Archaeological Resource Awareness Day?

Sitting there in the dark watching the candles release fossil fuel-derived hydrocarbons into the atmosphere during Earth Hour, I remembered making a flippant remark last year about metal detectorists going out on that day "with no batteries in their detectors". But what positive action could we take to raise awareness about the fragility and nature of the archaeological resource?

Perhaps it would be an interesting thing to do to organize some kind of a World Archaeological Resource Awareness Day (WARAD?). Like the "join the millions turning lights off around the world" idea of Earth Hour, or SAFE's candlelit vigils, it could encourage people to think about these issues by engaging in a practical action with symbolic meaning. Perhaps it could be timed to coincide with Earth Day (founded by Gaylord Nelson, a US senator from Wisconsin), usually held on April 22nd each year.

I suppose on an "Archaeological Resource Awareness Day" some of us so-called "radicals" could live up to that name and go and picket antiquities dealers and coin shops selling dugups. But a leaflet campaign would sacrifice too many trees. Or maybe we could organize an action of sending people, while members of the public look on, into these shops every twenty minutes to persistently ask awkward questions about the same items: "where does this come from?" "I read in the paper there are a lot of stolen artefacts around, how do you know this one is not stolen from an archaeological site?" ("and this one?"), but with a dictaphone turned on in the pocket (recordings gratefully received here and at your local police station and newspaper office). What shopkeeper would refuse to answer such questions as fully as he can? (In some states you'd have to ask "do you mind if I record your evasive answers?" to be the right side of the law doing this). I tried it once(without the dictaphone), got thrown out of the shop - it was mostly old tat on sale and some obvious fakes anyway. The guy was most unpleasant.

As the candle started to splutter and the light in the room grew dimmer, I recalled Renfrew's suggestion of "recontextualisation". Perhaps, since the surviving bits of the ancient archaeological resource are being depleted at an alarming rate, we could encourage people as part of the event to "make a new one, for archaeologists of the future", thus highlighting why the old one will not survive for them to do anything useful with.

What small group of small objects buried in the ground together would, by virtue of their association and surroundings, convey information to an investigator about our society or local community? Just to make it more interesting, they must be "non-addressed sources", so no letters sealed in bottles, CDs with the entire contents of your computer downloaded onto it. Nothing with writing or pictures intended to convey information (let's make coins and packaging with pictures or writing on them an exception to that though). To be used as an archaeological resource in the future, the objects have to be something that has a chance of survival in a context that will not be disturbed for - let us say - the next three hundred years. To make the point that it is artefact hunting that is the main concern here, they'd have to be within six inches of the current surface (the depth of a metal detector pentration). Most importantly, the place that is chosen to put them cannot be a historic monument protected by law (we don't want people contaminating them) or cemeteries (too easy and disrespectful).

Such an exercise would get people thinking about context and association, rather than the individual objects themselves. Deciding where to put the group of objects where they will certainly not be disturbed in the next three centuries is in fact very difficult, if making a risk assessment was treated seriously, it would be seen just how vulnerable any surviving bits of the archaeological record are under our fields, streets and pavements.
There is nothing new to the idea, people have been burying "time capsules" for generations. There is even advice on how to do it on the Internet. Here though the newly-created archaeological assemblage would itself be the "capsule".

Of course there is nothing to say that when an archaeologist in three hundred years time finds the hole in which somebody apparently deliberately buried an odd selection of objects it will not be described as a "ritual deposit". Which I suppose it is, a ritual of affirmation how important we feel the past is to us. What would an ancient artefact collector bury?

What other suggestions are there for drawing attention to the fragility and importance of the archaeological record on an Archaeological Resource Awareness Day?

Canada dumping ground for stolen art

According to an article in The Star (Greg Quill, Canada a dumpinbg ground for stolen art Mar 26 2010), art thieves and black market dealers in cultural heritage material have a good chance of unloading their valuable booty — and avoiding prosecution — in Canada. There are no specialist art theft investigators in the Toronto police force, and none in the OPP or the RCMP. There is however a small art theft investigation unit in Montreal. Because of the paucity of specialist investigators and prosecutions for art theft in Canada, there’s a considerable illicit market for stolen art there.

Toronto cultural law specialist Bonnie Czegledi is the author of the book Crimes Against Art: International Art and Cultural Heritage Law (Carswell). She is founder of the Institute of Art and Cultural Heritage, which works on behalf of museums and collectors around the world to verify the provenance of acquisitions and donated art works.
Czegledi says that art theft preferences are generally driven by supply and demand, “Thieves will steal if they know people are willing to buy. Sometimes you can see trends — a rash of Group of Seven thefts not so long ago,and First Nations cultural objects usually find plenty of buyers south of the border. It varies from country to country” [...] “we simply don’t have
the specialist law enforcement, investigators and prosecutors necessary to provide a viable deterrent in this country. [...] Even when art thieves are prosecuted in Canada they get very light or conditional sentences. There are no guidelines for the prosecution of cultural theft, unlike in the U.S., where the FBI has 13 special art crimes investigators, and cultural heritage crimes are considered more serious than most other kinds of theft.”
Those 13 FBI agents are said to be the only dedicated art-theft investigators in the English-speaking world. According to the article, the illicit trade in stolen art worldwide is a $6 billion (U.S.)-a- year business, said Czegledi.

[Czegledi is also the author of Remember you’re a lawyer when buying art on your summer holidays, The Lawyers Weekly (14 July 2006) Vol.26 No.11 ].

Friday 26 March 2010

Treasure rewards on Assemblage

Yesterday Will Anderson published a short text on his "Assemblage" Political Archaeology blog called "paying for what?", another comment provoked by the controversial Staffordshire Hoard.
No longer can the state claim direct ownership of the finds – it has to pay – we, you have to pay. For something found in ‘our’, ‘your’ land. As metal detectorists become more willing to report, the cost to the state of sustaining this hobby is mounting. The standards for what is considered worthy of state purchase must be rising. And the underlying premise – that antiquities have high financial value, that treasure hunting is good, that it pays, and that treasure hunters are ‘unsung heroes’ of the nation’s heritage is promoted. Instead of celebrating a fantastic purchase for the nation, this episode should prompt open debate on whether people should be rewarded financially for cherry-picking the archaeological resource.
He has a point.

Renfrew: Combating the Illicit Antiquities Trade: Progress and Problems

Renfrew: Combating the Illicit Antiquities Trade: Progress and Problems. I thought I would have a go at summarising the main points (see also the two posts below on specific aspects).

There has been real international progress in combating the illicit traffic of antiquities in recent years in which the Italian authorities have taken an outstanding role. In addition, two recent court judgements, in the United States and in Britain (United States v. Schultz ; Islamic Republic of Iran v. Barakat Galleries Ltd.), have recently and significantly recognised the right of nations to claim illegally removed artefacts as national property and to achieve restitution.

But the question arises: how can we ensure that these encouraging initiatives really do go on to have, as their successful conclusion, the reduction in the international traffic in looted antiquities? How far can these measures be made to apply on a truly international basis? Renfrew argues that the return to Italy of major antiquities from a number of museums in the United States should have a deterrent effect against the continuing looting of archaeological sites. The world of collectors internationally, should themselves draw what seems the obvious ethical conclusion from this: that they should therefore desist from purchasing antiquities without secure provenance and the ongoing looting of antiquities should cease.

The next stage, on an international level, must be to seek wider application of the principles which have now restituted material when this could be shown to have been looted after 1970 (Renfrew 2009). There should be the formal and published acceptance of the 1970 Rule by museums and then by private collectors in all countries. If the 1970 Rule were universally and scrupulously followed the looting of archaeological sites would suffer a sharp decline. Its application should make recently looted antiquities completely unsalable. When the 1970 Rule is applied, the ‘due diligence’ required of the good faith buyer requires more than the absence of dubious circumstances currently required. The buyer actually has to see and scrutinise documentation that the antiquities in question had been unearthed before 1970 or see a very detailed account of their provenance following excavation if they were excavated after that date.

There should follow the true internationalisation of such a position. National authorities should take a more active role in influencing collecting policies of museums and private collections if it is seen that there is a flouting of either international law or the widely shared ethical standards implied by the UNESCO Convention. Only then can progress be made.

Renfrew stresses that the seizure and returning to the country from which they were taken of illicitly obtained antiquities is a separate issue such as the Parthenon marbles, removed by Lord Elgin more than a century ago, or the Benin bronzes seized by Britain at the end of the nineteenth century, both understandably matters of concern for the countries of origin. The issue of restitution of items such as this, taken well before 1970 is not at all the same as the need to put a stop the ongoing destruction of archaeological sites through looting.

Brodie N. and Renfrew C., 2005, Looting and the world’s archaeological heritage: the inadequate response, Annual Review of Archaeology 34, 343-61

Renfrew C., 2009, Ethics in archaeological research: international responses to the illicit trade in antiquities, in D’Agata A.L. and Alaura S. (eds.) Quale futura per l’archeologia?, Roma, pp. 235-47.

UPDATE: See also David Gill's discussion of this text: "Renfrew on n Post-Disjunctive Forensic re-Contextualisation

Renfrew on the griffins of Ascoli Satriano

In the paper summarised above, Renfrew gives some reflections on seeing the exhibition ‘The Secret of Marble: the Painted Marbles of Ascoli Satriano’ at the Palazzo Massimo during the December 2009 symposium which I would like to discuss. Renfrew reflects on the "despicable role" of Giacomo Medici, the illicit dealer and middleman involved in the splitting up of this assemblage and also the "foolish irresponsibility" of those at the Getty who authorised this purchase of an evidently looted antiquity of major importance.

This exhibition contained two important antiquities returned to Italy by the Getty Museum: the marble Griffins (marble table decoration) and the painted ceremonial basin (‘podanipter’: Bottini and Setari 2009, 44 cat.1 and 60 cat. 10). Initially when Renfrew saw the marbles in the Getty Museum, so striking and unexpected was the impression they made on him that he was at the time quite doubtful of their authenticity. "That is one of the prices which one pays when antiquities are clandestinely removed from their context of discovery".
And now, at the Palazzo Massimo I saw not only the Griffins and the remarkable painted marble basin but a whole assemblage of marble artefacts, including the painted calyx crater and the splendidly severe group of marble vessels (loutrophoros, epichysis, oinochoe) which apparently formed part of the original tomb group. A single de-contextualised artwork now had an important series of accompanying pieces. These added greatly to the significance of the extraordinary Griffin piece. But in addition they themselves became of vastly greater importance. [...] Now this wonderful assemblage of objects had been re-constituted. As a result we see not just a single, perhaps rather anomalous art work, but a whole remarkable assemblage of objects: the partial reconstruction of one of the most remarkable tomb groups recovered from Magna Graecia, safely assigned to the fourth century BC and to Ascoli Satriano.

So these important finds are in process of becoming to some extent re-contextualised after the disastrous disjuncture of the looting episode. Renfrew was prompted to believe that there is hope that more can be achieved in the near future. When in future investigations the location of the tomb looted between 1976 and 1978 is found it may prove possible to find associated fragments matching those in the Palazzo Massimo assemblage. This in turn would allow a fuller (though still partial) reconstitution of the association of objects. The objects remaining in the tomb will be more 'minor' antiquities, "since the tombaroli will have taken the obviously saleable pieces, but they might include many significant artefacts and associated materials". Renfrew argues that it should be emphasised that the great academic and cultural significance of the investigations which brought the finds back to Italy is not the act of restitution ("repatriation") but the successful act of re-contextualisation through the investigation of the passage of these items through the clandestine market in illicitly obtained goods.

Post-disjunctive forensic re-contextualisation

This triumphantly successful episode or re-contextualisation carries wider implications. For it exemplifies a process of recovery which can be highly significant on occasions when looted antiquities are successfully returned to their area of origin. Each act of looting represents a disastrous disjuncture, a destructive episode in which the artefacts are illicitly and clandestinely removed from their original context of discovery, with its rich and informative associations. The information crucial to the effective archaeological interpretation of the excavated assemblage is lost in this process: a disaster for any attempt to increase our understanding of the human past. For the interpretive process can only work when the context of discovery can be carefully researched.

There are occasions, however, when the looted antiquities can be subjected to forensic study (in both the legal and scientific senses) in such a way as to allow the partial reconstitution [my emphasis PMB] of that original context. This is well exemplified by the case of the Ascoli Satriano Griffins. This piece and the painted ceremonial basin reached the Getty from the same dealer (Medici). But it was the forensic work (in the historical and legal senses) which led to their reunion with the other marble pieces from their original find spot. And it was forensic work (in the scientific sense, namely the study of marble and of pigments in the painted decoration) which confirmed their original association and their association with the calyx crater and the other pieces which had remained in Puglia.

It is perhaps worth recognising this process and of giving it a specific designation: ‘PDFR’ or ‘post-disjunctive forensic re-contextualisation’. This refers to the possibility, after a catastrophic episode of looting (the ‘disjuncture’) to use investigative (forensic) techniques to bring about the restoration of aspect of the original context of discovery. In this way important information can be recovered, and the catastrophe of the looting at least partly mitigated.
The same approach has been applied, although not yet with great success, to the Euphronios calyx crater returned from the Metropolitan Museum (Silver 2009). Recently attempts have been made to apply it to the Early Cycladic marble figures looted in the late 1950s from the site of Kavos on the Cycladic island of Keros (Sotirakopoulou 2005; Papamichelakis and Renfrew 2010), For there are many cases where at least partial forensic re-contextualisation can be attempted after the disjuncture occasioned by looting.
Like Renfrew, I am convinced that cases of illicit trade should not end with the mere restitution of the "out-of-place artefact" to the country in which it was dug up. In my opinion, these cases do not finish there, they should each be followed back to identify who was responsible for the items getting there, which means doing that "forensic" footwork and tracing the route of the object back to source. I am less convinced however by Refrew's suggestion that the uniting of scattered objects in itelf is "re-contextualisation". Archaeological context cannot, surely, be reconstructed, recreated just by bringing two decontextualised objects together in the same room or exhibition case. There is more to it than that.

Bottini A. and Setari E. (eds.), 2009, I Marmi Dipinti di Ascoli Satriano, Roma, Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali.
Papamichelakis G. and Renfrew C., 2010, Hearsay about the ‘Keros Hoard’, American Journal of Archaeology 114, 181-5.
Silver V., 2009, The Lost Chalice, New York, William Morrow.
Sotirakopoulou P., 2005, The “Keros Hoard”: Myth or Reality? Searching for the Lost Pieces of a Puzzle, Athens, N.P. Goulandris Foundation.
Watson P. and Todeschini C., 2006, The Medici Conspiracy: the Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities from Italy’s Tomb Raiders to the World’s Greatest Museums, New York, Public Affairs.


Renfrew Summarises two significant cases

The text by Renfrew summarised above included a succinct statement on two significant court judgements, in the United States and in Britain, which I think worth quoting for future cross references. These recognised the right of nations to claim illegally removed artefacts as national property and to achieve restitution.
The first of these is the United States v. Schultz case, where on June 25th 2003 the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York upheld the conviction of the dealer Frederick Schultz on the charge of conspiracy to receive stolen property. (Gerstenblith 2003; see Silver 2009, 211). The property in question was an ancient Egyptian stone head. The key point was the provision of the National Stolen Property Act which held that anything deemed stolen by a foreign country would also be considered stolen under U.S. law. For Egypt is one of the many nations which has legislation determining the buried antiquities are the property of the state [...] It was against the background of the Schultz ruling that the Metropolitan Museum and the Getty Museum decided to return to Italy the antiquities which had been claimed. It is likely that without the Schultz ruling the position would have been much less satisfactory.

Gerstenblith P., 2003, The McClain/Schultz doctrine: another step against the trade in stolen antiquities, Culture without Context 13, 5-8.
Silver V., 2009, The Lost Chalice, New York, William Morrow.

The other case was in England:
A comparable decision was made by the English Court of Appeal on 21st December 2007 in the case of Islamic Republic of Iran v. Barakat Galleries Ltd. Here the court decided that Iran could indeed show it had good title under Iranian law to antiquities excavated in Iran, and could therefore seek to recover such antiquities. The judgement of the court explicitly recognised that Britain had ratified the 1970 UNESCO Convention against the illicit traffic in cultural property and was formulated with that as an underlying and relevant factor. The decision opens the way for Iran to recover the looted antiquities held by the Barakat Galleries which were subject to dispute. The ruling, like that in the Schultz case in the United State, has wide general applicability.

Detectorist selling up

Metal detectorist waltzerlad_123 from Loughborough, Leicestershire, has a somewhat inarticulate offer on eBay at the moment:


It is rather odd though that according to the feedback, the same seller has been buying metal detector finds, mostly in private sales... including just a few days ago. Now why would one want cash in hand payment that do not show on the bank account? I've met this a number of times with UK metal detectorrists. Are they doing this while on social security benefits? Or perhaps they do not want the solicitors of an estranged partner knowing how much money they make from selling antiquities?

Sadly we do not see the extent of the whole collection to get an idea of how many finds waltzerlad_123 had made in his detecting career. So I guess this means that he has stopped being "passionately intrestid in the past" then? Of course not all of the material visible in the photos is PAS-recordable, some of it seems to be Old-Timey bygones type stuff, collectable, but not as archaeologically significant as the rest.

The photos show some of the "collection" heaped on open glass shelves, no order discernable. Not a single one has a label atached saying where it came from (neither does the seller see fit to tell the prospective buyer where any of them might have come from). There is no mention of a catalogue accompanying the sale. So basically what is on offer are a heap of totally decontextualised artefacts stripped out of any number of sites and assemblages, who knows when. The coins are in PVC coin envelopes, again we cannot see any national Grid References or even parish names on the labels that can be read. Is this typical of the average British metal detectorists' hoard of archaeological geegaws? If so, what kind of curation of the remains of the past are they offering? How many of these objects have had their findspots recorded with the PAS?


Responsible Collectors and MILIs


On the Yahoo AncientArtifacts list which promotes responsible collecting, Californian part-time coin dealer Dave Welsh to provoke more conflict on the list by Wayne Sayles' recent blog post“Dealing with the Mentally Fixated Ideologue” to the list. He justifies this and claims it is (somehow) on-topic "because of the significant common sense merits of Mr. Sayles' reaction to some very provocative and (in my opinion) unwarranted remarks in Paul Barford's blog". (Sayles suggested ignoring the points I made). One list member responds "So you posted all that drivel to defend someone who is not a member here regarding something that was not written here? Does that about sum it up?" (yes, just about).

Another collector, Ramon Saenz de Heredia responds by using Sayles' words to define:
the Mentally Inclined to Looting Ideologue (MILI), a sociopath whose main objective is to influence responsible collectors [...] to put aside any ethics when buying ancient artifacts or coins and to disregard or fight any existing national or international laws and/or treaties. This activity can reach orgasmic levels when lobbying against those laws and/or treaties (in or outside this group) and the prohibition of some definite types of artifacts and coins. As painful as it may seem on any given day, in any given instance, the only effective way to deal with MILI(s) is to ignore him/them.
Neat. That just about sums up what Sayles and Welsh are after.

"Provocative" some of the things here may well be, whether or not they are "unwarranted" really depends on where one stands with regard to the indiscriminate digging up and trade in archaeological artefacts. From where I am standing, the position of the no-questions-asked dealing in antiquities certainly seems to warrant very close examination and questioning. Of course both dealers, Mr Sayles and Mr Welsh are quite at liberty to stop "ignoring" the questions, hoping they will go away, and actually engage with them, including here on my blog.

Portable Antiquities New Website

The Portable Antiquities Scheme’s new website was launched on the 24th March. Dan Pett says it:
brings with it a whole new range of features for analysing archaeological objects found by the public of England and Wales. The new website now holds a substantial number of artefact details which can allow for critical analysis on a large scale.

Over the last year, I have been building this site by myself on opensource technology – php for the programming language (and the awesome Zend Framework to tie it all together) and various packages that I have found on the internet. The site builds on the work that Tyler Bell’s team at Oxford ArchDigital executed for us back in 2003 until they were liquidated in 2006. After they ceased to exist, I took on all responsibility for our IT and looked into how to replace our system with something more on the edge. With no budget available, I decided to build the site! Funding for the site came in the way of a grant from the British Museum Research Board (£10,000) and this paid for 2 new servers. The rest of the site has cost the Scheme my salary and a two year flickr licence, and the lowest level of the getsatisfaction widget.

It has a new blog, a feedback facility ("Submit a complaint about the Scheme"...)
and information that today there are: 383129 records,543830 objects,17044 people involved,1149 accounts. What does it mean "people involved", why not recorders?

It also sets out the "aims of the Scheme", nota bene the OLD ones, pre Clark Report ones. So what happened to them then? Also notable is that after seven years they managed to correct the spelling mistake that had been cut-and-pasted throughiout the life of the national Scheme.

The aims:

1) To advance knowledge of the history and archaeology of England and Wales by systematically recording archaeological objects found by the public.
2) To raise awareness among the public of the educational value of archaeological finds in their context and facilitate research in them.
3) To increase opportunities for active public involvement in archaeology and strengthen links between metal-detector users and archaeologists.
4) To encourage all those who find archaeological objects to make them available for recording and to promote best practice by finders.
5) To define the nature and scope of a Scheme for recording Portable Antiquities in the longer term, to assess the likely costs and to identify resources to enable it to be put into practice.

Antiquity collecting: "It's arrogance in its purest, simplest and most lustful form"

The State We're In, 20 March 2010 Radio Netherlands worldwide: Jonathan (who the journalist refers to annoyingly throughout as "Jonty") Tokely-Parry a convicted smuggler of "ancient art" spent three years behind bars for his role in smuggling artefacts out of Egypt. He is unrepentant, arguing that smuggling antiquities is the right thing to do if it gets them out of the hands of "corrupt, incompetent officials". Matthew Bogdanos, a US Marine Reservist has risked his life combating the illicit trade in ancient artworks and disagrees . He says that a collecting is: "arrogance in its purest, simplest and most lustful form".

See Jonathan Tokeley's, "Rescuing the Past: The Cultural Heritage Crusade", which apparently contains very much the same type of arguments as collectors' lobbyists like the ACCG.

Bogdanos speaks very powerfully, logically and passionately in the second part of the programme (after 31 minutes). His examination of the underlying premises of the indiscriminate market are convincing enough to me.

Download or listen to the whole programme here.

Thursday 25 March 2010

Labelling Preservationists

Over on the Wayne Sayles blog there is now a sympathy-seeking article about "attacks" on him by a group which he labels as "Mentally Fixated Ideologues" (MFI). Who are these people? We can only assume he means the preservationists who oppose the stuff and nonsense dealers in ancient dugups try to pass off as justification for the continuation of the 19th century indiscriminate market in antiquities. So, nothing new, more name calling by Sayles.

Is the stance of dugup artefact dealers and collectors as represented by Sayles in fact any less ideological than our own? Are not the writings of certain coineys evidence enough that they are fixated on certain issues? The ACCG bloggers (Sayles, Tompa, Welsh, Lueke, Hooker) clearly have a fixation on attacking "archaeologists", for example, which they indulge in at every opportunity.

Now MFI is not a term I'd come across before so I googled it. It turns out that the term is used primarily by the ultra-radical right in the US, and mainly to describe their President. A prime example is James Lewis, "Obama's Strike Three: The Iranian Bomb", or in his: "Is Obama steering the ship of state toward the rocks?". Both from "The American Thinker". Then there is Kelly O'Connell, "Global Warming hoax response reveals Obama’s shaky mental acumen". Now I thought Mr Sayles prided himself on his patriotism, on Flying the Flag. If this is where he read about the disorder (which apparently does not appear in any official classifications of mental disorders), just look at what he reads about his President.

Sales once again announces that he is going to "ignore" what the Other Side say about the efforts to prolongue the indiscriminate trade in artefacts. He has said so before ("Drivel control") so this is getting a bit repetative. Fellow ACCG board member Dave Welsh also publicly announced he would no longer take part in discussions with the Other Side ("until I see them in court"). Mr Lueke seems to have got tired of his propagandist blog, Alfredo de la Fe's anti-preservationist blogging is flagging, Mr Hooker is lying low still trying to produce the first ACCG newsletter. But Mr Tompa bravely soldiers on, churning out his anti-archaeological, anti-preservationist, anti-establishment opinions.

Basically I think Sayles fails to recognise that why his ideas and the actions of the organization which he heads (the ACCG) are discussed is because they are presented in the public forum. Sayles presents his view of the world to the world as a whole and one assumes that he does so in order that they can be assessed, evaluated, pondered and discussed. That is what the democratic system that I assume he supports is built on, surely. Mr Sayles does not shrink from saying what he thinks of the actions, words and opinions of those who hold different views on the indiscriminate trade in ancient dugup artefacts. He has not in the past been averse to denigrating his opponents, to misrepresenting their opinions, to calling them names (some since removed from his blog). Mr Sayles attempts to bring public opinion around to his point of view, starting with the more gullible coin collectors and numismatic journalists. This is achieved by manipulatingly using alarmist techniques (such as what I have termed the 'Article 1 lie', or climbing on the ACCP or Cunoesque band waggon) and trying to disseminate these views as widely in the media as possible.

Should that go unremarked? Should not the tactics used by individuals like Mr Sayles not be challenged? Surely the ACCG would welcome debate in which they can show the "fallacies" of the arguments advanced against them? Surely instead of running, or "ignoring" these comments, they should be facing the challenge of explaining where the preservationists are wrong and they are in the right? I think if Mr Sayles was at all sure of the truth and universal validity of what he propounds, he would be prepared to defend these views against all comers and do so in the public eye.

I would not be surprised to find that many US ancient coin collectors are great fans of Fox's Glenn Beck. Beck has a book out (Sept 2009) called "Arguing with Idiots: How to Stop Small Minds and Big Government" in which with facts and figures he tries to support his "conservative" views (the subtitle also sounds like the credo of the ACCG doesn't it?). I suggest that dealers such as Sayles and Welsh might take a leaf out of Beck's book and counter the points made against their position with facts and figures, attempt to engage logical arguments with logical arguments actually addressing the points made by the preservationists with more than their usual glib propagandist dismissals. One may not agree with the views of Mr Beck or the way he expresses them, or accept the "evidence" he marshalls to support them (I most certainly do not, what I have seen and heard of them), but he at least is not running from engaging with his critics. Unlike the artefact collectors of the ACCG who can only try to think up more names to call their critics, "goose steppers", "retentionists", "nationalists", "mentally fixated ideologues" - what next?
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