Tuesday 16 March 2010

CBA Conference: A New Bridge

The ACCG has just released a press release "Collectors and Archaeologists Find Common Ground on Cultural Property Management at Newcastle, U.K. Conference " about its participation in a two-day event hosted by the CBA and Newcasle University, "Portable Antiquities: Archaeology, Collecting, Metal Detecting" held in Newcastle. The press release tells the world that at the event, the Executive Director of the ACCG representing all coin collectors presented a
61-page paper, (update: new URL) "Coin Collectors and Cultural Property Nationalism" [...] covering cultural property history, law and philosophy a collaborative ACCG effort prepared in response to the event".
Well, I've read the text twice and a bit and canot say I noticed anything that might be termed "philosophy", it's short enough on logic. According to Sayles, the event
might well be characterized as the construction of a fresh bridge between archaeologists, museums, metal detectorists and collectors. Two days of hearing and discussing weighty cultural property issues, in a friendly and meaningful way, left the participants with broader perspectives and a genuine interest in moving forward.
Cute, eh? It's a good job then, isn't it for those nice cosy chats that the co-author of that collaborative philosophical paper, Dave Welsh was not there. He announced recently on his blog that he'd given up dialogue with the other blokes and, in the spirit of the Coin Collectors' manifesto which Sayles presented at Newcastle, will fight to defend his rights to sell what he likes through the courts alone. Mr Sayles makes no mention of friendly chats with the officers of the PAS sitting in the front row, nor that the paper he delivered was an apologia for the Baltimore Illegal Coin Import stunt (the coins of which were reportedly bought from an unamed British spplier). Neither is it mentioned how many metal detectorists Mr Sayles was able to network with.

Perhaps Sayles was too busy chatting up finders to ponder the involvement of Chief Inspector Mark Harrison, seconded to help English Heritage combat Heritage Theft. Oh, so it happens in England does it? Ooooo...

Obviously though he was busy with doing something like that, too busy to read the conference pack - or perhaps he did not understand the import of the letter from the National Council of Metal Detectorists which it contained. John Wells of the NCMD was due to talk on the first day on "The National Council for Metal Detecting and the Portable Antiquities Scheme: The Way Forward". He refused. Clive Sinclair from the same organization was also supposed to be there (I'd have liked to heard him, so I am glad I did not go to the UK to do so).

The Executive Committee of the NCMD made a last minute decision not to attend the conference. A letter outlining the reasons for this was included in the delegates' conference pack, which was the first opportunity most members of the organization had of learning why their representatives were abandoning them. Wells wrote that "little benefit would be gained from participating in a gathering more overtly focussed on the restriction and control of the legitimate hobby”. Mr Wells perhaps is the sort of person who must sleep with the lights on so the monsters do not come out from under his bed and attack him at night. Talk about paranoia... The NCMD have a long history of such histrionic withdrawals from almost every single important initiative which resulted in stronger collaboration between archaeologists and artefact hunters. Almost every single one. They claim to be the national representatives of the artefact hunter/collector and yet at every stage of any discussion head straight for conflict. (Rather like certain people on the board of directors of the ACCG then; it seems that collectors both sides of the Atlantic have a lot in commmon.) One collector in the UK was aware enough of the stuation of collecting today to notice that "the NCMD is not fighting our corner, but sidelining us from the leading edge of debate and developments". I wonder how long the US coin collector will take to realise that the ACCG is sidelining them in exactly the same way in the pursuit of the short-term aims of those who run it, a handful of (part-time) dealers in ancient artefacts dug up from sombody else's archaeological heritage and bought and sold no-questions-asked.

One detectorist went away from the conference having learnt a lesson which it is taking the ACCG and its member collectors an awful long time to grasp:
"Its already accepted that the genie is out of the box
and it isn`t going back in. No bans, no licencing but an acceptance that we cannot continue to remove a finite resource without taking on board some responsibility and that responsibility is to record the item as accurately as we
are able too
He is of course referring to the provenance of the artefact, not its mere existence.It seems a bit unlikely to me that anyone of normal intelligence could sit through two days of PAS-talk and NOT realise one simple fact. The collectors that are "on the bridge" with archaeologists are those who record the provenance of the objects they collect, pass that information on and record it in a permanent form. The ones that persist in collecting stuff without noting that information, hiding it or otherwise rendering it unavailable to study are an anathema. They are the ones who are destroying the archaeological heritage for mere personal entertainment and profit. It remains to be seen from his "report" whether Sayles actually understood that the PAS is actually set up to record provenance. It is around this alone that all the co-operation between archaeologist and artefact hunter in England and Wales is built. So what does that mean for coin dealers and coin collectors that too want to exhibit a "genuine interest in moving forward" along the path shown by the viable model of the PAS they so extoll? When will they leave the nineteenth century behind them?

The ABSTRACTS of the conference papers can be found here.


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