Tuesday 13 April 2010

"Paul Barford Has Left the Building"

13th April 2010 - 01:32: "Paul Barford has left the building" is how Worcester shabti collector Tim Haines, the moderator of the Yahoo Ancient Artifacts discussion list devoted to responsible artefact collecting announced that I was no longer a member. Rather an ambiguous statement, I suppose intended to suggest I might have left of my own accord after the serial hounding to which I was exposed there from dealers and collectors because of my views on what constitutes responsible collecting. This serial harassment is despite it being a moderated list.

Well, no I did not leave, I was thrown out. The reason the list owner gave me for his decision is that my what he called "sensible posts" are outnumbered "five to one" by ones he characterised merely as "bickering and bitching". More interestingly the main reason he gave me was that he had had enough of "the bickering and bitching of others caused by your posts and your presence". Caused by my presence. Bickering and bitching.

Now it is a shame that the archives of that discussion list remain closed, despite the suggestions by several members that since there is nothing there to hide (or is there?), it would be useful to open it to allow others to see the discussions there. Then anyone who cared to see whether the majority (80% Mr Haines says says) of my past posts made to that list are unprovoked "bickering and bitching", or whether that is a malicious characterisation of my contributions to that discussion list. I consider that the majority in fact attempt to raise valid points about the way collecting and especially the trade in antiquities, and debate and discourse about it are being carried out today. Many are responses to aggressive posts directly addressed to me, "hey Paul....", "People like Paul Barford would probably disagree...". Mr Haines allowed those posts, but objects it seems when I answered them. I always answered civilly, despite the fact that many of the comments addressed to me (and others who also stood for responsible collecting) were certainly less than civil. It was not I using terms such as "a***hole" and "malicious liar", but it was the group's moderator who was consistently tolerating it. Indeed yesterday even happily adding further comments to the threads of discussion where such language had previously appeared.

I would be the first to admit that my written style lacks tenderness, my views are firm and I tend to write what I think. I have always striven to express my views on collecting accurately and in a comprehensible manner. That those views do not correspond to those of individuals busily and largely indiscriminately collecting away their own little "pieces of the past" or making lots of money selling them did not of course - and perfectly understandably - endear me to the list membership. Neither did the fact that I would mention here some things I had read on the closed list, sometimes continuing a discussion here that I had been involved in over there. In part to make the thoughts there more widely available, in part to cut down the number of contributions I was making to the list as they (my "presence") were apparently a source of displeasure for some members (the ones unable to operate the "ignore" function of their email programs).

Now I am not really surprised by any of this, an archaeologist thrown out of an artefact collector's forum. An unwanted "presence". It has happened on UK metal detecting forums frequently. The entire discourse of collectors' "rights" activists like Sayles, Tompa, Welsh is in essence primarily a monologous anti-archaeological rhetoric. But how sad it is that a "responsible artefact collecting" forum can side with such sentimentas and behave no differently from a UK metal detecting forum (I invite those familiar with the latter who are disinclined to give that any credence to register with the Yahoo group to examine the archives and compare).

In reality, the Ancient Artefacts group was just an ancient artefacts group until it dawned on the list owner that perhaps it would be a good idea to place on the front page the text "this group is devoted to discussions of the responsible collecting of artefacts". Just in case, I guess. After all, using a Yahoo forum to discuss something which in the way it is done these days has the reputation of often falling between laws, and is in part illegal is a bit awkward. Apart from that there was no change made to what went on in there behind "closed doors". The idea of changing the front page it seems came from the fact that a (small) group of list members put a lot of work into creating a voluntary Code of Ethics for collectors of antiquities, which was then published as the group's "credo" (there is a link on the home page). I am now blocked from accessing my old posts on the archive (so I cannot give the reference, so you will have to search it out), but those who can see the archive will see (unless Mr Haines has now deleted it) that this Code was actually my idea. Furthermore not only did I propose it, I also posted on the list a draft much of which was accepted by the compilers of the final text. Many collectors and dealers I suspect were ill-disposed to me for that - despite the fact that the Code actually has rarely been cited, let alone applied, in any subsequent discussions on that list.

The notion that the dealers and collectors of the Yahoo Ancient Artifacts list are any more "responsible" than others by dint of being members of Yahoo and that discussion list is of course illusory. In fact quite the contrary in some cases. The change of the home page and the attachment of a link to a group "Code of Ethics" was it seems to me purely cosmetic. There was still a steady flow of adverts by firms offering week after week bulk lots of arrowheads garnered from archaeological sites in the desert regions of North Africa (illegal in most of the countries where this goes on, and how did they get to Europe?), the sales week after week of complete Roman glass and ceramic vessels, probably looted from graves in either or both the Balkans and the Levant (illegal in both regions, and how did they get to the States?), or metal detected finds ("Free range" as the seller jokingly put it) from Bulgaria (illegal, and how did they get to the States?). At no point did the moderator of the "Responsible collectors list" say that such adverts were against responsible collector list policy, that any adverts now appearing on his list should a least state that finds had been obtained and made available outside the source country in accordance with all applicable laws. I tried questioning a few of these listings, but was given the impression by the reception that this was verboten, so - much to my shame I suppose - I witheld further comments, as requested. That does not mean that I abandoned my principles totally to stand up there for real, rather than merely declared, responsible collecting. But I guess that this was not plat de jour either.

What would be really responsible, for there are more stakeholders in the archaeological record than a handful of collectors in a few of the richer countries, would be for that list to open its archives for the real stakeholders in the past to see what they are doing. By doing that, they would reveal for all to see what kind of "responsibility" is represented by what dealers on that list are offering, and what its members are buying. This I suspect is the real reason the archives of that list remain closed to the eyes of those whose archaeological heritage is being so freely bought and sold like potatoes and disposal of which so flippantly discussed by those involved. Those who are able to understand more fully what is represented by those many decontextualised archaeological objects and the way they are offered for sale and discussed will soon conclude that the type of "responsible collecting" represented there is very different from what is declaratively stated in the group's code of ethics.

That is of course, as anyone will immediately point out, voluntary. So it should be. Ethical collecting is not imposed from above, it comes from inside, it comes from the moral fibre of the individual involved. That should be consistently applied by the customer and respected by the dealer. This is what I have consistently held for at least a decade of the 35 years I have been interested in issues conected with artefact hunting and collecting. Not that collectors themselves want to admit it. Group members consistently tried to present anybody questioning the ethics of the indiscriminate market as some kind of demonised opponent of collecting who was out to "ban" it. That is a motive that cannot be justified by anything I for example have written, thousands of words, but not one on banning collecting of artefacts outright. Making collecting sustainable, yes; making it more responsible, yes; eliminating the indiscriminate buying and selling that facilitates passing looted material off as "legitimate", yes. But these too are uncomfortable concerts when there are dealers around who make most of their money selling in precisely such an indiscriminate manner. So it is easier to suggest that "people like Barford" have some "hidden agenda", one they are conspiring with "foreign governments" over. In support of this, they allegedly engage in some campaign of "disinformation", tell "malicious lies" about dealers and collectors. The Ancient Artefacts list archives are full of accusations levelled at me of such a nature from dealers and collectors who aparently regarded my views as some kind of a threat. Accusations allowed by the list owner and that, like any articulate person set upon in such a way would do, I did my best to answer.

The evidence is there, in the words of dealers and collectors themselves. There is no need for critics of the indiscriminate market to lie, just encourage people to take a look for themselves. To think a little about how the trade in antiquities goes on today, in the twenty-first century. To examine just how far antiquity collectors today are acting responsibly in their collecting, how frank they are in discussing the ethics of collecting. The Yahoo Ancient Artefacts list is the largest of its type in the internet, and would seem therfore to be typical. Take a look.

At the moment I was expelled, there was a lively discussion going on about the renewal of the Italy MOU - something that is being represented (with a fair deal of exagerration and invention) as the nemesis of Artefact Collecting in the Western World. All sorts of claims are being fielded by collecting's looney Right to goad collectors from both sides of the Atlantic into bombarding the US State Department with a barrage of faxes in protest. I guess that my appeals to stick to the facts of the matter, to try and explain that alarmist demagogues are giving gullible collectors a totally false picture of what the MOU will actually concern, and why, are not to the taste of anyone on that list. I suppose excluding me from the list was one way to avoid the list's favourite Collectors's rights advocate actually having to answer my two perfectly pertinent questions about the position of the group he represents vis a vis the wording and intention of the upcoming MOU (I can't give the link because I cannot access my own old posts in the Ancient Artifacts archive, I'll post them up here later today).

Mr Haines, I am not responsible for the way your members behaved towards what I was posting on your discussion list. As moderator you were responsible for that. Moneta-L has four moderators. Perhaps you need help if you are unable to cope with the madness that breaks out on the "responsible artefact collectors' list" when the topic of responsible collecting, and responsibility for words expressed in support of indiscriminate collecting, are discussed. Merely supressing such discussion is the easy way out. You would be mistaken however if you were to think that any of the problems which antiquity collecting faces today (and will increasingly face until the indiscriminate market cleans up its act) will go away by forum owners merely repressing lively exchanges of opinions about the indiscriminate market. A market in which it cannot be denied your forum does indeed play a significant role both materially (in providing a venue for sales offers to be disseminated among the chosen few) as well as ideologically. It seems to me that instead of running from those who have expressed some views on "responsible collecting" to which it turns out your members are all so vehemently opposed, collecting should stand up to them. But not by merely shouting them down, calling them names, trying to intimidate them by mob rule, and then blocking them out, but by actually answering the perfectly valid points made. You and the group of collectors you lead have consistently failed to do this, and your action today has confirmed my opinion that you (plural) in fact find yourselves unable to do so in a civil and coherent manner. What does that say about this type of collecting?
Anyway, thank you and all your members for the opportunity to take part in discussions on your group, allowing me to see for a while the real face of the type of artefact collecting which you and your group represent and enabling me to share here a few of the conclusions I have drawn about it from the experience.

Vignette 1: The manner in which one left a pirate ship in the past. In those days the visciously snapping sharks were outside (Howard Pyle). Vignette 2, Yahoo collectors would apparently prefer to be the only ones talking about collecting.


Dave Welsh said...

I would like to make it clear that I had nothing to do with the expulsion of Paul Barford from the AncientArtifacts list. I would prefer that things had not come to such an extremity. I am philosophically opposed to suppression of dissident opinion, and believe that everyone does have a right to make his or her views known.

Dave Welsh
Unidroit-L Listowner

Paul Barford said...

You will forgive me for saying that this really sounds awfully hollow from somebody who consistently attacks anything a certain group of people have to say with such vehemence and spite.

Everyone is aware that it is very much in your interest that anybody who expresses a different opinion on certain matters is eliminated so you do not have to engage them in open debate. Running from it is a tradition in ACCG circles it seems.

So I think you are being insincere in coming here to my blog and (in the third person!) claiming you are unhappy with the list owner's decision. It also does not tally at all with what people tell me you have been saying about this turn of events over there, but that may just be malicious gossip.

In any case there are numerous occasions when you suggested such a resolution of your problem. I have this one still in my inbox: 3rd march 2010, so just a few weeks ago: this (written in reply to fellow sniper Kerry Drew):

"There is a price for a list allowing Barford to participate - constant acrimony. If Kerry Drew does not like that, let him complain to the listowner".

That pretty obviously is an exhortation to Drew to get the list owner to throw me off the list("price to pay for allowing Barford to participate"). Participate in debate and discussions of responsible antiquity collecting. Which he did. Of course you yourself have never provoked acrimony by arguing your position have you?

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