Monday 15 March 2010

ACCG Newcastle paper: Some quotable Quotes 1

Some gems from the "paper" recently prepared by a group of US coin collectors (John Hooker, Tom Palmer, Bill Puetz, Wayne G. Sayles, David R. Sear, Peter K. Tompa, David Welsh and Kerry K. Wetterstrom) to educate the outside world at an archaeological conference in Newcastle.

Stripping the universal museums of their art and artifact holdings in that manner would in the eyes of a Cultural Property Internationalist be akin to cultural vandalism, no less barbaric perhaps than Gaiseric’s sacking of Rome or the burning of the Library in Alexandria — nonviolent legal processes notwithstanding. To the Internationalist, these great cultural institutions serve and protect the cultural heritage of the entire world (p. 5).
Of course the British punitory raid on Benin and the sawing off of the Parthenon marbles looked nothing like that.

"Collectors who buy or sell within this licit market are not compelled by any law or tradition, written or unwritten, to seek proof of origin, a record of ownership, or any provenance information. This is understandably a source of consternation to those who support the unmodified provisions of UNESCO 1970 and the mantra that
“unprovenanced = illicit
”. (p. 6)
For normal people, ethical action however does not consist of merely doing what the law obliges everyone to do anyway. The problem is that not all the artefacts shielded by undiscriminating buying and selling ARE of "licit" origins. This seems not to be a "source of consternation" for this collectors' advocacy group.

In some far off golden yesteryear: there was allegedly “a rise in popularity of ancient coin collecting among the educated working class. As the general public became more enthralled with the ancient past, coin collecting became a tactile bridge”. (p. 11 )
Presumably that was when the metal detector came along. This of course did not involve collecting "dugup ancients' everywhere, in the US coin shooting became popular too.

"One claim that vexes all private collectors is that “Collectors are the real looters” [Renfrew]. Through this dictum, Lord Renfrew set a whole community of young archaeologists astir and neither argument nor evidence to the contrary has been able to cool the anticollecting zealotry of some. Ironically, Lord Renfrew has since voiced his support for the Portable Antiquities Scheme which works closely with collectors for the common good. Among the most vocal of these anti-collecting zealots are the internet bloggers. When the “looting” refrain failed to resonate in any measurable way among the general population in America, an even more politically charged dictum emerged: “Collectors of antiquities fund terrorism.” In the mind of many American collectors, this is perhaps the most inflammatory of all claims. It is often taken very personally, as it implies a lack of patriotism, and has led to bitter feelings and resentment that may not fade easily. This affront too has been promulgated among the archaeology bloggers, who are viewed by collectors as being outside the mainstream of archaeological thought". (p. 15)
Collectors who fail to distinguish looted material from the material on the market for generations are indeed quite obviously financing the looting. If all collectors and dealers are equally indiscriminate, the generalisation applies to them all. I fail to see why the notion of "looting" would "fail to resonate" in the US - are there no decent citizens over there that deplore such behaviour? (apart from Judge Waddoups and white-supremacist Charles Denton Armstrong). So where does the money that indiscriminate collecting puts into the pockets of lawbreakers go? The Taliban might be putting it into creches or education packages for the orphaned children of their victims, but somehow I doubt it.

"In the mind of many American collectors, this [...] implies a lack of patriotism...." I am not sure what patriotism is involved in buying looted and potentially looted archaeological artefacts in the first place. I would wonder though what is the difference for these writers between their "patriotism" and the "nationalism" of those from whom collectors steal archaological artefacts.

Coins are not, allegedly, culturally significant objects: "A claim of Archaeological significance is equally tenuous. In the field of archaeology, coins are useful mainly as a way of dating the strata in which they are found. However, even this is of tentative value since coins, like diamonds, arrowheads, and rocks in general (as any farmer knows) tend to migrate to the surface over time. Thus, the accuracy of dating a stratum by coin finds is only reliable when the coins are in some way part and parcel of a fixed object. This is seldom the case, since most coins found in archaeological excavations are scattered finds. […] Of course, archaeologists know this but some still cling to the idea that coins are critical pieces of the “archaeological record”. It’s a convenient argument that the general public can understand logically but cannot challenge technically." (p. 19) Well, I am sure we are all interested in those diamonds that grow out of the soil. I imagine whole bands of trusting coineys going out in their Wisconsin backyards on reading that and waiting...

The Ancient Coin Collectors Guild: "as its name and bylaws imply, the guild is a collector organization, not a trade lobby. There are no full-time dealers in coins serving on the Board, though several of the members are associated in some way with publishing or professional services to the hobby and members of the trade.“ (p. 44)
So lets see if we've got this right... Uh?

I expect there are more, these were those that caught my eye on second reading.

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