Monday 31 May 2010

Bulgarian Police Bust Priest for Illegal Antiques Trading

'Bulgarian Police Bust Priest for Illegal Antiques Trading', Novinite May 29, 2010

A 41-year-old priest has been arrested by Bulgarian police, he s accused of having organized illegal antiquities sales over the internet. The Ministry of the Interior says that the priest, employed by the Vratsa Eparchy and identified only as "D.I.", had managed to conduct over 1 000 illegal deals in the course of just several months. Pre-trail proceedings have been launched.
The police have raided four locations in the capital Sofia, the northern city of Vratsa and the town of Oryahovo, and located 53 Thracian, Rome and Byzantine coins, jewelry and antique vessels along with a bust of Heracles and a marble head of Venus. The authorities have also confiscated an illegally owned rifle, metal detectors, and computer software. The priest in question is from Vratsa, but since 2002 had worked at the Oryahovo Church. 

"Scale of Damage Much Greater": UK Detectorist

Lee Connor writes:
20 years ago, 90% of bronze roman coins came out in fine condition. now only 5% do. if you want to save the artifacts in the ground get on to the companys the make fertilisers ect as in the next 20 years there will be nothing left to rescue.
What an eloquent defence of the heritage heroes busy pulling stuff out of the ground in the UK! Well, I am not going to bother with the "artificial fertiliser" nonsense (which I have talked about before and written about elsewhere). I'd ask how Mr Connor is so sure its the fertilisers and not that earlier tekkies got all the good stuff, and what's left now for later tekkies (with more sensitive machines) and the archaeologists is the leftovers?

What is FAR more interesting are the statistics. Most of the British coin finds put up for sale on eBay are in fine or better condition. I really cannot see there the evidence that 90% of the coin finds are in such a bad condition as Mr Connor describes. What this must mean therefore is that the 2110 dugup coins being offered by British dealers on eBay today are the selected 5% of nice stuff, the other 95% (40 000 items found at the same time, looking at the coins alone) has gone somewhere else (landfill, the scrap merchant?). If Mr Connor is correct, that means that the Heritage Action Erosion counter is currently ticking away at much too slow a rate.
"Current running total of recordable artefacts removed since 1975 by metal detectorists: 10,783,042"
Mr Connor's testimony means it should be greater. Thank you Mr Connor for your honesty.


"Prince of Liars", Please Drop in and Have a Chat With Our Members

Is the world not a surprising place? Just a few weeks ago one Dave Welsh announces he's done with talking to preservationists and wants to see them in court. Then he slags off Dr Gill, compares me to Torqumada, calls me a liar and a rabid nobody (among other things). Then on a separate occasion he labels me "Prince of the liars" and fantasizes about blowing my head off with a duelling pistol, then wonders whether I would like to have a nice cosy chat.
Should Mr. Barford wish to advance his controversial opinions in a public forum in which rational discussion is still possible, the Unidroit-L list is available.
You know, I really do not see my opinions about the trade in illicit artefacts and ethical collecting at all "controversial", and I am assuming that many people looking in here will be of the same opinion. It seems to me that my blog is a perfectly adequate public forum, not closed away and "members only" like some porn ring and antiquities forums. Equally it is not in anyone's face, nobody who hates the idea of ethical collecting has to read a word of this.

Frankly, having been there, done it got the scars to prove it and already deposited a goodly number of well-considered words in the archives of mr Welsh's anti-preservationist "Unidroit-L" discussion group, I am not sure that I would describe it as a place "in which rational discussion is [at all] possible".

Let us see the list members discussing a few things by themselves first, and once we seem some rational points being made there, I'll join in if I feel I have something to add to any constructive dialogue about ethical collecting which the list members may start. As we know there are reputed to be many "Phd's (sic), university professors and museum curators" over on the Yahoo Ancient Artifacts list, it should not be much of a problem to bring them over to Unidroit-L for some reasonable discussion with the collectors and dealers there, should it? The more reasonable people over there the better for the flow of constructive discussion I would say. I cannot for the life of me work out why I am the only one invited in a message cross-posted on the AA forum.

Vignette: Dalziel woodblock illustration - the spider and the fly.


Sunday 30 May 2010

"High Weirdness on the Giza Plateau"?

This is an article I am sure we will be hearing more on from the anti-preservationists, if it is not on Peter Tompa's blog already. In his "High Weirdness on the Giza Plateau" (30 May 2010), Clifton Bertram purports to tell us what Red Bull, Dr Zahi Hawass and Edgar Cayce "have in common" and asks "What’s Going on Beneath the Sphinx?". Irrespective of the mumbo-jumboish aspects of this strange article, I was wondering about the video it showcases.

Lots of elite tombs and information about the search for information on newsworthy individuals, but what about ancient Everyman, what new evidence is there for the development of urban life not just in pharaonic times, farming practices, the landscape archaeology, coin circulation and local markets? Where are the graves of the average person in the Eighteenth dynasty (you know the guys that made King Tut possible)? What new discoveries can Dr Hawasss show us about things other than the tombs of glittering personalities full of nice "things" to put in museums. They too are archaeology.

"Easy Prospecting", Treasure Hunting Acceptance Advert

John alerted me to this, saying it was a "bad ad".

Easy Prospecting with Online Stock Checker

Actually I think its a good one - how was it filmed? (The signs presumably are computer-generated).

Saxon Crown, Gold Coin, **** sword, seeking "history" or Treasure?

We note he's out there in the early morning, but was there some consultation which suggested that beach-detecting was less archaeologically inflamatory than a field would be? (Or was it just so there'd be a picturesque background?).

Sartorial Elegance in the Field...


This is how the British gentleman "takes the air in the country" these days. The very picture of sartorial elegance: townie in baggy track suit bottom tailored to go over the wellies, rustling polyester knee-length hooded anorak carefully colour coordinated to blend in with the background, fluffy yellow mittens, squeaking box on a stick and his own pooper scooper.

I wonder how much of the archaeological record of this piece of grassland he took home?

Are those yellow spots wild flowers he seems to be trampling? Were they recorded too?

Photo: Courtesy Heritage Action. Twywell/Slipton, Northants Commercial Artefact Hunting Rally.

.....and for that 'Robocop' Look

Of course if you are one of those industrious heritage collectors who gets up really early in the morning to take advantage of the empty hours of the day just before the sun comes up, you will need one of these night vision aids from Gary's metal detecting supplies. Not only will it help you to peer into the deepest hole, but it will enable you to see the farmer coming (so you can make ready the envelope with the proceeeds of the previous week's metal ebay sales and the bouquet of flowers you brought for his wife).

Photos: Night landscape (no hawks in the sky at that time of morning eh?). Night vision apparatus with specially adapted headband for metal detectorist use.

Saturday 29 May 2010

Finland is Striking Coins commemorating "the Ethical Collector", I Wonder ....?


The Mint of Finland has struck two (I think) coins so far in the "Ethical Collector Coins" (Ethik-Gedenkmünzen) series it started next year. The Ethical Collector Coins are inspired by themes related to topical issues and phenomena of the moment. Themes for each coin are chosen by the Collector Coin committee set by the Finnish Ministry of Finance. The first coin featured a theme of "Peace and Security", and was the first time the Mint of Finland had issued a silver collector coin with a nominal value of 20 euros.The second coin issued earlier this year was "Children and creativity". I wonder when they will get round to "ethical coin collecting helping to preserve the archaeological heritage"? Maybe collectors would like to get together and submit some draft designs?

Photo: This one has a hole in it and looks as if someone has driven a steamroller over it on concrete. Amazing what geegaws some people collect.

Finland's "Ethical Collector" Coin Design

"I wonder when they will get round to "ethical coin collecting helping to preserve the archaeological heritage"? Maybe collectors would like to get together and submit some draft designs?"
They'd have to do it in a closed forum though wouldn't they? Members' only (like a porn network).


Looting "Lies" in "Antiquity"? What Next?

I've just spotted this article by Daniel A. Contreras [Archaeology Center, Stanford University] 'Huaqueros and remote sensing imagery: assessing looting damage in the Virú Valley, Peru', Antiquity 2010, Vol. 84 (324), pp 544-55. The online abstract says:

This article presents a new initiative in combating looting from the air, building on previous work in Iraq and Jordan. Looted sites in the Virú Valley, Peru, are visible as pit clusters on dated versions of Google Earth. Compare these with earlier air photographs and Gordon Willey's famous survey of the 1940s, and we have a dated chronicle of looting events. This makes it possible to demonstrate that modern looting is certainly taking place and linked to an upsurge in the antiquities trade. As well as being a new instrument for managing heritage, the author shows that the looting survey offers an important research dividend: the location of cemeteries not previously systematically documented, with potential for more thorough investigation even of already looted areas.

So a bit like the PAS then. Now I am sure therefore that the "professional numismatists" will want to contact the editor (Professor Martin Carver of York University in the UK, I can give them his full details) to demand putting in their rebuttal, after all they claim in posts like "Looting: the essence of the lie" that: "No one has ever advanced scientifically valid evidence demonstrating that private collecting of antiquities actually causes looting". Here however we have an editor from a respected British university, accepting for publication in a respected (and that is worldwide) peer-reviewed archaeological journal an article from an academic in a respected US university which according to the ACCG activists perpetuates "the Big Lie" to which I subscribe (they give the impression that I started it as the Father of Lies, but that is not true, it was being taught in universities well before I started blogging).

Obviously the ACCG will want to point out that this is a huge lie being spread by those who want only to "stop antiquity collecting". They will also demand to know, no doubt, the colour of the helicopters from which the new aerial photos were taken and which agents of influence of foreign governments contributed to financing this work and its "deceits". Let us see the fresh demands of the US coin-collecting community for transparency and accountability while they jealously guard all their own secrets.

I would really like to see the ACCG mob try and get one of their texts published in a proper peer-reviewed journal. After all, if they want to fight archaeologists, then where better a place than publishing in "Antiquity"?

China’s artefacts come home

Elliot Wilson, 'China’s artefacts come home', Financial Times, May 29, 2010.

America might have its vaunted military-industrial complex but China, fast becoming the world’s other great power, has its own version: a state-funded military-cultural complex charged with repatriating antiquities lost to foreign looters and returning them to mainland China.... [more here].

Friday 28 May 2010

Scientific Proof: Show Me the Coin Fairies

In the last (?) of a consecutive series of four posts on "ancient coins" on his so-called "Ancient Coin" blog called, notably "Looting: The Essence of the Lie", vindictive Californian coin dealer Dave Welsh accuses me of deceit:
it is in every respect justifiable to declare that the whole attack upon private collecting is nothing more than a lie.
I suggest that the ACCG should buy each of the people who write on their behalf a dictionary and encourage them to use it. Welsh is illogical here. A lie is of course the deliberate use of a falsehood. Welsh claims there is no "scientific proof" of the connection between indiscriminate collecting (which is what I am writing about here) and looting. He himself argues that to say there is - as I clearly do - is therefore a belief; a belief he does not share. A devout Catholic may tell an atheist that when a Catholic dies, they will go to Heaven and sit among the angels singing "gloria gloria in eccelsis", or when they pray they are talking to an invisible all-knowing being who lives in the sky. Would it be a correct use of English for the atheist to accuse the Catholic of telling a "lie"?
(answer for those who - in ex-Minister Lammy's words - "feel challenged by formal education": No)

Welsh boldly asserts that I am a "liar" because:
No one has ever advanced scientifically valid evidence demonstrating that private collecting of antiquities actually causes looting. If Mr. Barford desires to establish that point, he would be well advised to adopt an approach that demonstrates that his views are sustained by evidence conforming to the scientific method and by arguments conforming to the rules of logic.

Well, I prefer to see this in terms of the argumentation which predicts that up there in the sky, between us and the Divine, are things called 'black holes'. So down here on earth in "Corner A" we have holes dug in archaeological sites and the physical evidence shows observers that they are the traces left by artefact hunting (looting). The evidence from those caught red-handed shows that the items being sought are things like cuneiform tablets, cylinder seals, flint tools, statues, knocked off bits of figures and figurines (heads especially). Over in "Corner B" are dealers and collectors anxious to get their hands on artefacts precisely like those dug up by the looters and not terribly bothered about asking for the collecting histories or provenance of items that they are offered by the middlemen who supply them.

Mr Welsh would have us believe that between "Corner A" and "Corner B" is something that acts as a black hole. This means that any looted artefacts are sucked into it without a trace and none of them reach the other side to the people waiting in Corner B. Being an engineer, maybe Welsh can construct some kind of scientific model that explains the nature of the Black Hole between corners A and B of the Looting-Collecting continuum. Also we need some kind of a (parallel Universe?) explanation of the materialisation of artefacts in Corner B, despite the proximity of an artefact-attracting black hole. Why are they too not sucked into the Black Hole? Why do they behave differently in the presence of the Black Hole from the artefacts obtained by illicit means that are disappearing into it without a trace? Do they have some metaphysical qualities that prevent this, some aura that we can measure?

This is a great mystery, and I think we all look forward to the antiquity dealers' further elucidation of the Black Hole phenomenon. I hope it's a better one than the Coin Fairies which is the model that has been employed since Petrarch's day. Let us see a proper explanation of what happens to all those looted artefacts, commensurate with the realities of the twenty-first century in which we live today.

If however the dealers of the ACCG are incapable of advancing "scientifically valid evidence" demonstrating that the indiscriminate private collecting of antiquities does not in fact cause the digging over of "productive" sites to obtain them, then I would say that they are just playing on the emotions of collectors who want to shut their eyes to the implications of accepting the other point of view to avoid accepting responsibility for their own actions.

If ACCG dealers desire to establish that indiscriminate private collecting of antiquities does not in fact cause the digging over of "productive" sites to obtain them, they would do well to take to heart the advice of their own representative, Mr Welsh. They would be well advised to adopt an approach that demonstrates that such views are refuted (falsified in Popperian terms) by evidence obtained conforming to the scientific method and by arguments conforming to the rules of logic. No unexplained "black holes", no "it was not me, it was them miss", no "coin fairies". Where are the looted artefacts, if not secreted away behind the scenes in a multitude of scattered ephemeral personal collections of no-questions-asked collectors? Where are they Mr Welsh?

Well of course the lack of openness, accountability and transparency in the trade and among secretive collectors is not going to help collectors' lobbyists rebuff the accusations, maybe the ACCG should start by urging more transparency so that the public in general (the real stakeholders in the heritage) can verify that what is said about indiscriminate collecting is (or is not) true. Hiding things away can only reinforce the impression that dealers and collectors have something to hide, even if it is only reprehensible indifference to matters of the collecting history and origins of objects on the trade.

Vignette: an artist's impression of the coin fairy postulated by collectors to explain the otherwise inexplicable disappearance of looted artefacts in the "it was not me" model (by IceMaiden71)

The Big Lie in Action

A Californian coin dealer who has had ample occasion to learn my actual opinion, even if he apparently has a regrettably short attention span and capacity for absorbing and remembering information writes:
Mr. Barford would, consistently with his past excesses, portray such a result as supporting his view that no one should be allowed to collect unprovenanced artifacts.
I suppose it will come as no surprise to anyone that the ideology of "Internationalist coin collecting" incorporates the Big Lie premise (if a lie is big enough and repeated often enough the gullible hoi polloi will come to believe it). But that in itself indicates to whom Welsh and all the rest see themselves as addressing; the intelligent and critical reader will see through the big lies they tell and try to get to the bottom of the issue.

Why would, despite all I write here (and elsewhere) the Big Lie-spreading coin dealers want uncritical collectors to think that what I am saying is that "no one should be allowed to collect unprovenanced artifacts" rather than what I am saying is that an ethical collector would only buy antiquities which have a verifiable collecting history showing they were licitly obtained? A moment's thought will inevitably suggest at least one reason why a certain type of dealer might be concerned to scare collectors off from listening to such talk, to shut such ideas from their minds. To cover up their own shortcomings by distorting what the proponents of ethical collecting are saying to make it sound "radical", when in fact it is nothing of the sort.

Oddly enough Welsh's post is called "Looting: the essence of the lie".

Antiquity Dealing: Provenance Cowboys and the Hoi Polloi

In a highly eloquent post on Looting Matters "Provenance ... has become paramount" , David Gill quotes a recent interview with Max Bernheimer, International Head of Antiquities at Christie's who says:
Provenance has always been important, and in light of recent repatriation issues, it has become paramount. In a way these issues have helped the auction business because of the transparency of our operations; buyers can have complete confidence when buying at auction. Everything we do is published, and source countries have the opportunity to review our catalogues long before the date of sale.
Clients too of course. Having the information presented up front allows the client and observers to ask questions. Not having the information presented honestly up front immediately raises questions; given the perceived nature of this trade, one cannot help but have the feeling, what have they got to hide?

If a reputable antiquities dealer presents up front the collecting history of the objects it offers to allow verification of its legitimacy, what can we say of an antiquities dealer that does not? The many dealers for example who insist that "traditionally" dealers do not offer any information on where their pieces came from, where they "surfaced" (from "underground") and when and where they have been in the meantime? This is how it was done in the nineteenth century but is there a place for nineteenth century practices in modern times when the antiquities market itself and the material offered on it has changed so dramatically?

It seems that the reputable antiquities market is accepting that a reputation for ethical dealing is based on upfront declarations of the collecting history of the items offered, what then to say of dealers who stubbornly insist that the legitimacy of an item on sale should be considered as "innocent until proven guilty" and appearing deaf to the protests concerning why they do so without offering up front any information whatsoever that would allow formulation of the question even?

One such dealer criticises me, among other things, for insisting that it is the business of the reputable seller to be offering this information, not a third party.
Mr Barford has a very simplistic and inherently irrational approach[...] it is not economically possible for every artifact to have a documented provenance unless some governmental authority creates that provenance. Mr. Barford has consistently attempted, in his remarks on provenance, to present that as being the responsibility of the trade. This is however simplistic and unrealistic. The trade cannot unilaterally set provenance standards, they must first be agreed upon by the collecting community and by relevant authorities.
This is just sidestepping the issue. The person who is capble of saying where the item they have in their stockroom, and how they ascertained that it had not been illicitly ovbtained 9ie by establishing its prior collecting history) is the seller. This needs no "some governmental authority" to "create" (sic) that provenance. I really have no idea what kind of governmental authority Welsh has in mind, merely note that this is entirely in line with a consistent trend in what ACCG spokesmen write to see this always as "somebody else's problem". Something that somebody else should step in (at taxpayers' expense) and do for collectors and do for dealers. The trade in antiquities however is a very lucrative one, so I do not see why it cannot finance itself, but needs government subsidies and help. It is not at all "simplistic and unrealistic" to see increasing vigilence and adoption of more stringent ethical measures for the dealing of portable antiquities to reduce the amount of illicitly obtained material on the market as the responsibility of the reputable dealers involved in the legitimate market in licitly obtained antiquities. One which it is the ethical collector's responsibility to see are upheld by avoiding the cowboys and patronising only the reputable dealers who take full responsibility for the ethical standards of their business in precisely this regard.

Last June Bernheimer was quoted in a Christie's press release saying that“[...] objects with clear provenance continue to perform exceedingly well at auction”. Objects without clear provenance at the moment can be sold to undiscerning collectors willing to run the risk of the integrity of their collections being compromised by the inclusio of illicitly-obtained items (after all "who is to know, innocent until proven guilty"). Such transactions however are increasingly being seen as undertaken by cowboy sellers supplying cowboy antiquity collectors, pseudo collectors. The hoi polloi of the dealing and collecting world will continue to thrive in the secrecy of the market which shields their activities from scrutiny. They will continue to protest their innocence of any connection with the passage onto the market of illicitly obtained goods using all sorts of arguments designed to appeal to their lowbrow supporters. They will continue to operate according to weasel-worded antiquity dealing codes of ethics according to which in efect "anything goes" and which are in any case rarely enforced.

If reputable antiquity dealers offer collecting histories and provenance up front, can buyers have "complete confidence" when buying from a cowboy antiquities dealer that does not and provides all sorts of excuse why he fills his stockrooms with items for which - for one reason or another - he cannot do that? I would suggest not. I would suggest that a reputable and discerning collector should avoid patronising such cowboys and take their custom elsewhere, like discerning fashion shoppers would not buy items apparently produced in child-labour sweatshops. Whether or not the cowboys survive depends on keeping the market indiscriminate, undiscriminating, fostering hoi polloi attitudes in collecting circles.

We see a lot of that among antiquity dealers and collectors these days.

"Barford, Prince of Liars" (sic)

Ooo fisticuffs. I do hope "Classical Coins" has a good lawyer. Dave Welsh writes:
Barford: Prince of the Liars, Quote:
Barford is a liar, and anyone who credulously believes what he has to say,without first carefully verifying all of the particulars, is a fool.
Certainly they'd be being uncritical, and I am hope I am not being read by the credulous and limited of intellect (away with ye!). It will be observed that I always try to give the sources for the material I discuss (and any omissions are unintentional), use direct quotes and source them. However as we have seen, the collectors do try to prevent people from accessing the information to which I refer.

The appearance of this post by coin dealer Welsh is concommittant with the closure of the Moneta-L archives.

Please, intelligent reader, do not on any account take my word for any of this. Please register on a few of the closed collectors' and metal detectorists' forums and see for yourself what these people are up to and what they themselves say (and do not say) . I am giving my own opinion here, make up your own minds, not based on what I say, but start finding out for yourselves, find the things the collectors and dealers do not want you to find out, read between the lines and think outside the box.

But also, PLEASE read my exact wording very carefully, believing that (despite the typing errors) they are chosen carefully and used sincerly and not used loosely. I believe Mr Welsh's accusations stem either from his own lack of ability to do so, or his belief that his readers will not have the attention span to do so and will just take his word for it.

Who does he mean?

Barford, Prince of the Liars declares the belligerent coin dealer on his "Ancient Coins" blog which long ago ceased to be about ancient coins. I wonder what he meant by that title? One would assume that the former student of the Jesuits had in mind something along the lines of one of the titles of the Biblical ha-satan (the accuser/ the obstrctor), which would have fitted, except Satan is referred to there (like Herodotus elsewhere) as the FATHER of Lies (Matt 8:44), but "the prince/ruler [archon] of this world" (John 14:30) and "the god of this age" (2 Corinthians 4:4). I have ascertained that the notion of the "prince of lies" however occurs in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, maybe that is where Welsh got it.

Vignette: A William Blake illustration to the book of Job. The Accuser is allowed to try the faith of the righteous man.

US Coin Dealer "Justifies" his Slander and gets the ACCG into Hot Water

Some coin dealers obviously have a few problems with accepting critisism:
Self styled "Archaeologist" Paul Barford is a liar. Not merely an occasional or accidental liar, but a chronic, habitual liar whose delusions and lack of respect for truth distinguish him as among the most prevaricating, untruthful, and unscrupulous individuals I have ever encountered. [...] That's a significant indictment which no fair minded person should accept without evidence to back it up. Here is that evidence:
1) Barford has consistently and continually accused collectors of antiquities, and the trade that supplies them, of trafficking in "illicit" artifacts.
There is no point number two. That's it. The evidence for saying I am a "chronic, habitual liar" is that I accuse some people of selling illicit antiquities. Hmmm (I suppose he'd have us believe they sell themselves). There are several hundred posts here (hundreds more scattered all across the internet forums too) stating exactly what I do say about collectors, dealers and illicit antiquities, and I think much of it is very much more nuanced than the way Welsh summarises it, but actually that is not his point. For below this "evidence" are enumerated four reasons why what I call illicit artefacts are not really illicit artefacts at all (by US law). THAT is why allegedly I am a liar.

I find what Welsh says really strange. Really strange. For two reasons. Firstly I am British (English actually) and writing in what clearly is UK English. I am writing this from the middle (literally) of Europe. So I am not writing solely about antiquities in the Americas, [even though the excesses of the US "collectors' rights" lobbyists have attracted a lot of my attention recently]. There is therefore a problem in that the word "illicit" means one thing in UK English and another thing in the US English which Mr Welsh clearly, but falsely, assumes I am writing. The second reason why this is strange is that I have already pointed this out (note the present perfect) to Mr Welsh and that is archived on his own Unidroit-L discussion list (January 3rd 2007). So the problem here is Welsh's own capacity to understand and retain information, rather than any "chronic, habitual" deceit and "lack of respect for truth" of mine which is the question.

What is fascinating about this is the intellectual puzzle it creates. Is Welsh so blinded by his hatred that (although I see he claims to be a chess player) he does not see the consequences of his actions (below)? Or is there (conspiracy theory helmet on now) something deeper behind this apparent rash challenge? I suppose it hinges on how good a lawyer "Classical Coins" has. Any writer writing something like that would be prudent to show it to a lawyer, that much is clear. So why did Welsh's legal advisors not sound the alarm? I'm not so much talking about damages for slander. I'm talking about if I took him to court over this, in order to settle the case, a US court would be deliberating about what the term "illicit antiquities" means which would then enter common law. If I lost the case, then I'd be no worse off (already branded a "liar", but look who is making the accusation). If I won the putative case however, for example on the basis of the court taking into account what I have indeed written here, the US antiquities (including coin) trade would be placed in a very awkward position of future courts having a precise legal definition of the word "illicit" antiquity. One in fact along the lines of that used here. Now that would be a jolly useful outcome of this scandalous behaviour.

I wonder whether Welsh agreed his post with the ACCG since the effects could be far reaching, if nothing else this behaviour of one of its officers is a serious detractment from the reputation of the ACCG as a "serious" organization representing a group of people who would prefer to be taken seriously.

Twywell/Slipton Commercial Artefact Hunting Rally

Heritage Action describes a Central Searchers commercial artefact hunting rally at Twywell/Slipton, Northants as a Bank holiday Crassfest…. Well, goodness me, if they are going to be metal detecting on medieval earthworks (for preserved Ridge and Furrow is nothing less) and Iron Age barrows under pasture ("Adjacent to the parking area is a Saxon burial site [...] so a good area to search"), then that is a perfectly adequate label. Grave robbing also comes to mind. They say as if it's an excuse: ”We have now run out of cropped land to search…" [so the responsible thing to do would be STOP until more becomes available].

HA also discusses a club rule that the proceeds of the sale of only those finds worth more than £2,000 will be split with the landowner. It is not however not explained what happens if the finder does not want to sell it, do they have to give the landowner £1000 to keep it? Who is to know if they just pocket it? Also who values the non-Treasure find and whose valuation is binding?
So what think you dear reader? Does it seem like a Rule designed for a gathering of people whose main interest is “history” – people that British archaeology should flatter and get itself in “partnership” with? Or does it seem like a Rule designed to attract primarily acquisitive people, out to grab what they can get? Is it fair or unfair to call such an event a crassfest that brings profound shame upon our country? You choose.
And what about any archaeologists going along to record the finds on this bank holiday weekend, what do they think?

Thursday 27 May 2010

Ancient Coin Collectors Like Porn Network: "Closed, Members Only"


A few days ago several readers anxious to check up on the true context of things I was writing about asked me why they could not access the Moneta-L ancient coin collecting forum from the links in my blog. I replied that I did not know, since Moneta-L has an open access format, and being a group member I had no problem with access, so I could see all the old posts. There had been no announcement made that the archives had been closed, so these difficulties which my readers were having were inexplicable.

I therefore wrote (a perfectly civil letter) to Kevin Barry, a moderator of the group with whom I had previously had some friendly exchanges and seemed like a reasonable bloke. I asked what the problem with access to the archives is and whether this was a technical glitch. I received no reply. Last night therefore I contacted two other group moderators with the same request for information. I received no reply from either of them. Instead I find this morning that my own access to the group and its archives has been blocked. This was after I had already been asked earlier not to make any more posts there - a request I honoured, keeping my replies to items discussed there here, off-list. Now I am prevented from seeing any new or old posts. Presumably that is to prevent me from being able to keep up to date with further developments in the "Culture Property War" the collectors of ancient coins (or rather the dealers that supply them) have unilaterally declared on the rest of the world.

Let it also be noted that I have as yet received no notification from the moderators [Messers Robert Kokotailo (; Kevin Barry (; Thom Bray (; Dave Garstang (] that my account is blocked, let alone any explanation of why. What, gentlemen have you to hide by not doing me the courtesy of even answering my request for information and a statement on current group policy but instead reacting in this manner?

Obviously, one can only conclude that the dealers who run that group now feel that the public should not see what goes on in their discussions of ancient coin collecting, furthermore that archaeologists who blog about responsible antiquities collecting should not see what happens in that group. That says volumes about the collectors of ancient coins (or is it just the dealers that supply them?).

If coin collecting (if antiquities collecting in general), are all that its advocates claim, there should be no need for such secrecy. Antiquities are not kiddie porn that they cannot be discussed out in the open, are they? The Moneta-L forum is supposed to be the visiting card of ancient coin collecting. Instead it is a door shut in the face of the main stakeholder of the heritage these people want to accumulate in their own hands, the general public. It is a door shut in the face of policy makers also, who may want to know just what is being hidden there from whom.

This is typical, the metal detectorists in the UK have always done this, but one by one the forums where the collecting of portable antiquities is discussed are shutting their doors to external scrutiny. An iron curtain is coming down between "Internationalist" collectors and the public who have a right to know what they are doing. Only those individuals approved by the gatekeepers can look behind the curtain and see what is happening, swap information and opinions. It is interesting that it is precisely Moneta-L that is going this way, this is the response to open discussion from the very community that is shouting loudest about "transparency" and "accountability" as being fundamental to "collectors' rights". It seems this is to be unillateral, while collectors and dealers are doing everything to hide their own doings behind a veil of secrecy. We saw how the ACCG pounced on dissident collectors who questioned the wisdom of the measures they were forcing on collecting over illegal exports, now this. This is hypocrisy of the highest order.

I challenge the ACCG to issue a full statement on behalf of the coin collectors whose interests they claim to represent about the issue of transparency in the coin collecting milieu. I think the public and lawmakers have the right to know whether the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild support this kind of censorship of information and suppression of free speech about collecting of ancient artefacts and educational outreach about coins and the effects of looting. Does the Guild think the public should be included in or excluded from the discussions about the future of the antiquity collecting hobby? They will not of course, its members do not read this blog, do they?

What was once the hobby of kings is now democratised and in the hands of the sort of people who cannot even do the courtesy of acknowledging a letter, let alone provide articulate answers to justifiable criticism. Instead they rely on secrecy when not indulging in their name calling and insults. Shame on you.

Some porn on numismatic items which Monetans want to swap information about in secret. These ones from Thasos could be showing ancient abusive non-consentual sex between species. Some of it even seems from the pictures to be same sex stuff. is it images like these that Monetans want to keep hidden from tender eyes? I suspect that is not their only motive for closing their discussion list to outsiders...

[meta tags: illicit antiquities, looted antiquities, coin collecting, ancient coins, porn ring, secret organizations, elitist organizations, cultural property policy, transparency, smuggling, accountability, public policy, censorship, Collectors' rights, illegal immigrants]

UK Responsible Collecting and the US "Collectors' Rights" Smokescreen

I have mentioned ancient lamp collector David Knell's 'Ancient heritage' Blog here before; I now recommend taking another look at it now he has a few more posts up. There are some thought-provoking comments there from a truly Responsible collector, a rare bird in the blogosphere. I hope he will be making more such posts there soon.

The structure of the document of his views is quite interesting.

Minor antiquities: the importance of keeping records (14 Feb 2009) This attracted two comments to which Knell replies.

False dichotomy: you're either with us or against us (18 Feb 2009) That phrase "you're either with us or against us", [...] always seemed to me to have overtones of the playground bully’s "you’re either part of my gang or you’re the enemy" mentality. It makes good rhetoric but its basic fallacy is soon revealed under close analysis. In reality there is nearly always a middle ground.

This attracted 2 comments, one (critical) from Peter Tompa just nine hours after it was posted (discussed in the post below this one) and one from Tarquin.

Ratiaria Appeal (2 Aug 2009) About the appeal to help stop looting of this important site from which so many artefacts recently on the market have clearly come. This attracted 0 comments.

Then there was a draft proposal for an International Antiquities Registry (IAR) (23 September 2009) No comments were received on this.

Heritage destroyed - and a missed opportunity (2 October 2009), The destruction of the ancient heritage of Bulgaria is a tragedy not only for Bulgarians but for all mankind.

Concerned collectors – just a tiny voice in the wilderness? (8th October 2009)
Well, my draft proposal for an International Antiquities Registry went down like a lead balloon on the forum I posted it to. It seems there is no real wish to consider such a scheme... [...] some American coin dealers (who represent a large proportion of the trade in antiquities) have indeed organised a lobby which actively campaigns not to upset the status quo. Concerned collectors, on the other hand, have no lobby and no organisation. It is true of course that dealers rely on collectors for their livelihood. But until concerned collectors become a large and organised group with a united front many in the trade will continue to ignore them.
Then there was "Reaching out?"(23 may 2010) "I very briefly submitted a blog post about the polarised camps in the debate on looting back in February 2009. I removed it and stored it as a draft only a few hours later because I realised I would be too busy on other projects at that time to reply to any comments. I now have a little more time and I have re-posted it (this was "False Dichotomy")". In this post answering Peter Tompa's comments to the earlier post, he deals with the four "proposals" made by the ACCG to "deal with looting" with admirable succinctness, concluding "they are not going to fly" and suggesting that the reason why the US coin dealers' "outeach" attempting to influence the rest of the world is not met with enthusiasm is because these "proposals" are a smokescreen for not doing what needs to be done.

The Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG) and Archaeologists (23 May 2010) "What is it with the ACCG obsession with archaeologists [...] (see my previous Reaching out?)? The archaeologists and other preservationists saw the real audience years ago and vaulted over the dealers straight to them before the ACCG was even founded. To mimic Clinton's election mantra: it's the public, stupid!".

Knell, who lives in England where the PAS is doing outreach in favour of responsible collecting and artefact hunting, has obviously thought deeply about these issues and reached his conclusions independently. I think we can see here that not all collectors are misled by the smokescreen set up by a vociferous group of US ancient dugup coin dealers intent on maintaining the damaging indiscriminate market for antiquities in the US for as long as possible. Knell here makes the point very clearly that this stance is not to the advantage of collectors, is damaging to the archaeological heritage, nor does it serve the general public. In my opinion, he is 100% right in all of those things. The ACCG presents itself as fighting for "collectors' rights", but it seems that in fact what they are fighting to preserve is merely a damaging business model which is not for the long term benefit of anyone except antiquity dealers and profiteers.

Keep it up please Mr Knell, don't let the oafs promoting irresponsible antiquity trading and collecting bully you into submission to their nineteenth century colonialist attitudes masqueradinbg as "internationalism".

Bullying Tactics within Archaeology

As I mentioned above, just a few hours after collector David Knell made a post on his 'Ancient heritage' blog, Peter Tompa pounced on him, posting a comment castigating him for being "a bit naive". He claims that "collectors and dealers groups have attempted to reach out to the main archaeological groups to discuss the issues, but without any success or even much interest". He uses the plural but then continues to discuss the Archaeological Institute of America, which "bullies" organizations like the American Association of Museum Directors.
One of the truly sad things is that archaeologists that do want to continue good relations with collectors and reach some accomodation have been intimidated from pursing the issue openly. [...] the ACCG and coin dealers have no power to blackball collectors who disagree. "Hardline" archaeologists do. The prospect of having one's excavation license pulled by a source country based on complaints that an archaeologist is "soft on looting" by being "soft on collecting" has been enough to keep the silent majority in the archaeological community silent indeed about reaching an accomodation with collectors.
Really? The phrase "archaeologists do" implies that lawyer Tompa can produce evidence that this is the case, that individual US archaeologists have had their excavation licence "pulled" (eh?) because of a complaint to a foreign government by the AIA (?) that at home they are "soft on collectors". Any continent Mr Tompa, take your pick, but some hard evidence to back up these continuing claims that an alleged substantial body of "collector-friendly archaeologists" are bullied into submission by "radicals". I have a simpler explanation, that while indiscriminate collecting continues to shield the trade in illicitly obtained artefacts, most archaeologists look askance at anone involved, directly and indirectly in it. No bullying, simply distaste for poor hygiene.

Historical Revisionism Writ Large: ACCG Denying the Archaeological Record

Among the weed seeds being scattered abroad on the Internet in the hope of finding fertile ground in the vacant gardens of peoples' minds is now a verbose text of ACCG's John Hooker called (though I am not clear why)"Expanding the Context". This started life as a post on coiney forum Moneta-L [though it borrows bits from earlier Hookerian posts on Britarch where we've seen all this same stuff for about the last seven or eight years). It was then cross-posted to various forums, and now has ended up as an ACCG editorial ("since it has direct relevance to the views of ACCG").

We have earlier seen another ACCG board member deny that the archaeological record can be archaeological heritage, now Hooker tries to deny the existence of an archaeological record at all.
To read what some archaeologists claim (although not truthfully)-an archaeological site has a "record" that has an independent existence. This is pure bunk. The archaeological record exists only in the mind of an archaeologist. The archaeologist uses what he or she finds in excavation to actually construct an archaeological record.
Well, first of all this totally ignores the fact that "excavation" is not the be all and end all of what archaeologists "do". But I think Hooker is labouring under the misapprehension that he can summarise in four words the interdisciplnary discussions about the nature of archaeological sources that has been going on right across Europe since before he was born. His artefact-centric opinion is akin to saying there is no historical record, "only words in old books". An artefact in the ground exists in a physical not imaginary context, and is associated there with other physical items and relationships which are real and not imaginary. These are the products of a whole series of processes, the purpose of archaeology is to understand these and interpret them according to the methodology of archaeology (within which typology of - for example - coins is just one tool). Ripping artefacts out of that context, those relationships has no chance of "constructing an archaeological record". it is just looting, pure and simple. No amount of demagogic claptrap about "archaeologists lying" can disguise that. By the way, the post-processsual book which Hooker no doubt found an extract or two of on Google Books would have been written by an archaeologist for archaeologists. No lies, just a selected part of a wider discussion.

To support his negationist views, Hooker harnesses a 1987 (!) book by Colin Haselgrove (Iron Age Coinage in S.E. England: the Archaeological Context, British Archaeological Reports 174, Oxford, 1987). He says "I know of no work even remotely similar", but then it seems his knowledge of the literature from the periods and areas outside his somewhat blinkered world view might be the explanation of that. Anyhow apparently Haselgrove's research "paints a very different picture from the "loss of context" mantra's (sic)" and "Haselgrove wrote that a single archaeological site could tell us only so much" (without noting that objects ripped from that site will tell us even less, while the information content of the site itself is also compromised). It seems the key point for Hooker is that "Haselgrove does not equate every coin find with "context"...". But then how could he when the majority of the records he was dealing with 23 years ago were from accidental finds? I really do not see the logic of what he reports from Haselgrove's book and why this means there is no archaeological record and that context is not lost when coins are taken from the archaeological record. Either I am thick, or Hooker is.

Colin Haselgrove works consistently with "Coins in Context" and I am pretty certain he would not agree with Hooker's twisting of the issue. Nobody who does serious work with coins (be they Iron Age, Roman or Early Medieval) in the twenty-first century can ignore context. Let us recall von Kaenel's comments in the book which apparently Hooker has not yet read but is reviewed extensively on Nathan Elkin's blog, about how in Iron Age numismatics no one seriously asks the question of "numismatics OR archaeology" but rather "numismatics AND archaeology". Hooker is willfully perpetuating the petrarchian paradigm of coins used to construct or illustrate a "kings and battles" history.

Photo: No archaeological record here? "This cut by a bulldozer illustrates different layers of soil in the Yukon Territory in Canada. The white layer near the surface is ash from a volcanic eruption". No, no it's all bunk and lies according to ACCG's Mr Hooker, what's important he says are the COINs, coins, coins and more coins.....

Wednesday 26 May 2010

A Sword, a Sword

Amateur sword wavers really should not be using authentic artefacts to practice their tameshigiri at home. Sword collecting is quite a popular hobby in Poland (home after all of the winged hussars). There are a lot of copies and fakes around, which of course is fine if all one wants is a decorative item to give a home a particular "feel". I was quite taken with the products of a Polish blacksmith who I came across on the Internet (Edward Pajewski of Stargard Szczecinski, trading on the internet as murarz-kazik: 'Kazimierz the bricklayer') who has taken this a step further. Among his other activities, he produces near-copies of Early Medieval and Medieval swords but treats them in some way to make them look like dugups that have been "cleaned" (stripped) electrochemically and the effect is quite realistic. An interesting addition to home decor. The one pictured here (auction ending today) is not a very convincing copy technically, but some of the "Viking" swords he was offering earlier were closer to the originals in concept. I liked his work so much I am going to give him a free plug here (spelling corrected):
Witam, od wielu [lat] zajmujemy się prawdziwym kowalstwem, wykonujemy ogrodzenia, bramy, balustrady schodowe i balkonowe, mebelki, wieszaki, lampy, świeczniki... oraz mieczyki, o których dwa lata temu było bardzo głośno, kiedy to pewne organy ścigania odzyskały miecze robione u nas, a ogłoszono sukces - odzyskania skarbów narodowych. Ze wstępnych badań wynikało, że mają po 1000 lat, więc jak widać przy robocie się staramy : ). Cena 150 [zł] jest ceną za metr prostego ogrodzenia bez cynku i malowania. Wykonujemy indywidualne projekty klienta. [...] Zobacz inne moje aukcje .
For those who do not read the lingo, he boasts that two years ago "certain authorities" seized swords he had made and announced that national treasures had been saved, and that initial investigations showed that they were "a thousand years old" - "so you can see that we try hard in our work".

Among the many re-enactment groups we have in Poland, "being a Viking" is also very popular. There is a reconstructed "Viking fort" to the north of Warsaw where various events are organized in the summer). If one wants to wave a newer-looking Viking sword around dressed in the authentic kit to get the "feel", these too are available on the Internet from specialist suppliers.

On Friday I came home from work on the underground with a group of long-haired pikemen in linen tunics and pretty authentic looking turnshoes on their way to the station to go to some medieval battle or other. I have friends in the reenactment community, and while some treat it just as a bit of fun, or have some rather romantic notions, when you talk to some of them, they have a deep knowledge of various aspects of the past they are trying to recreate (as do many reenactors generally). Unlike collectors, these people of course (also "passionate about the past") have absolutely no antagonism towards archaeologists or historians. On the contrary.

I really do not see that one has to participate in the antiquities trade to "express a connection" with the past or get the feel of a period or whatever. Even if mere "book knowledge" is not enough, or beyond you.

Dancing with the Culture Thieves

Collector Kenneth Blair writes on Dave Welsh's Unidroit-L discussion list that he sees nothing wrong with the use of dug-out ancient artefacts as raw material from which to make craft jewellery: "wearing an ancient coin around your neck might be an expression of connection or attachment to ancient civilisations, just like people wear charms, icons, or motifs on a pendant. So why not?". I would argue that one can "express the same connection" to an ancient civilization by other means than providing finance to people as a reward for trashing archaeological sites of that culture. I am not clear however to what extent a Californian girl is "expressing a coinnection" to anything by hanging an exotic pendant around her neck when she goes out clubbing. What connection does a shark's tooth pendant establish? A netsuke of a rat? A figure of the Lord Buddha, or a swastika? Or a "fossil" echinid spine? Perhaps Blair sums the actual motive up more with his: "people thinking: "cool, I would like something like that"...".

Kenneth Blair lives in New Zealand and aggressively defends the "right" to collect on several online forums. He purchases (for example at an "antiquities market in Xian") what he assures us are authentic dugup ancient Chinese bronze objects, bought at source (as would appear from what he has written of his collecting escapades in Yahoo's Ancient Artifacts forum). He seems to delight in buying and writing about weapons (what kind of "connections" does that express?) such as on the Sword forum International and China History Forum. There we find the thread "Chinese bronze swords 5th to 3rd century BC" illustrated with photos of swords in private collections which the collector admits that he is aware: "Such items are certainly taken from ancient tombs" (where is the rest of the assemblage from which they were separated?).

Among the photos illustrating this long discussion by Mr Blair which anyone can find in the internet is one showing the author "expressing a connection" with an ancient civilization apparently with an ancient artefact in hand. No PAS-issue cotton gloves here. Now I can think of a few reasons why waving it around in the open air on the back lawn like a ninja-sword dressed in a poncy outfit ("wristwatch!") is not a good, let alone ideal, way to treat authentic grave-robbed ancient artefacts. That is whether or not their export from the source country was ethical and legal in the first place.

Of my comments on this manner of treatment of artefacts which collectors insist they accumulate to "study", Mr Blair comments: "I am not sure general academia will share his indignation". I wonder though what the PAS would have to say about these various "uses" to which collectors and other people put ancient artefacts, including those robbed from graves. I think we do need to know before metal detectorists start digging up inhumations in order to wave corroded Early Medieval swords around on their back lawn shouting: "hey look at me, I'm King Arfur!".
Vignette: Striking up a nice pose, don't I look butch with my little sword? (Photo from public thread on Sword Forum International)

"Messy, murky issues clouding the market"

David Gill's "Messy, murky issues clouding the market" on the Miller article I discussed here earlier is worth reading. He picked up a couple of aspects I overlooked.

Wayne Sayles (for that is who no doubt hides behind the initials "wgs") has replied on the original article using precisely the kind of muddying rhetoric to which Gill refers:
It is glamorous to argue for the retention of national treasures. However, few who read this sort of "news" realize that the laws and administrative processes designed to prevent genuine travesties are indiscriminately and capriciously being applied by bureaucrats, in nationalist countries and in the U.S., to some of the most innocuous and incidental types of objects from the past. This returns us to the cloistered elitism of the Middle Ages, where the common man is fed only institutional propaganda. Under the guise of "protection", state politics and special interests have taken culture and its heritage away from the very people who create it and rightly cherish it.
No, that is looters, Mr Sayles.

(The looters from whom western collectors indiscriminately and [directly or indirectly] buy the things they collect).

Cuno's institute in Financial Trouble

James Cuno, the guru of "Internationalist" private collectors has had to fire 65 members of staff in his own Universal Museum, the Chicago Art Institute, the second round of layoffs at the museum since June 2009, when 22 employees were cut (Lauren Viera' Art Institute lays off some 65 staffers' Chicago Tribune, May 24, 2010). The layoffs are the result of a massive budget deficit, due to endowment losses. I am sure collectors are wondering why Mr Cuno does not simply sell off some of the "duplicate" objects in the collections to private collectors, which is whaty they urge on all other public institutionsholding collectables they'd like to get their hands on.

Korea and a"threat to Our Hobby"

We must take a stand against North Korea, says US Secretary of State Clinton. I idly wondered then which way patriotic coin collectors will go. They could patriotically stop buying Korean coins to reduce outside financing their economy, or they could equally "patriotically" buy more illegally exported Korean coins to take away their culture.

I was wondering just how much Korean cash coinage was on the US market at the moment and the obvious first place to look was Scott Semans' online store. Nothing much there at the moment though. Then I saw the right sidebar with the usual Grading standards, pricing policy, Authenticity Guarantee (no mention of export licence guarantee), how to get pricelists, Northwest US coin shows, bla bla and then... "A Threat to Our Hobby". What is the greatest threat to the coin-collecting hobby? Click on the link and see.

Tuesday 25 May 2010

More on "Classical Coins" and Ancient Geegaws

Californian part-time antiquities dealer Dave Welsh claims that:
Rabid (sic) anticollecting (sic) archaeologist-blogger Paul Barford took his irrational (sic), corrosive (eh?) hatred of private antiquities collecting (sic) to an all time low with this below-the-belt screed: "Coin-Scholars, You Can Even Wear Your Data!
[It seems to me that a single sentence which requires four 'sic's and an 'eh? is an "all time low", even for Mr Welsh].

This is really tiresome. I am really tired of explaining to people who simply cannot understand plain English that I am not "anticollecting" but against indiscriminate (irresponsible) collecting. (So is the PAS Mr Welsh.) Whether or not it is me who is "rabid" and "irrational" or those that glibly claim that indiscriminate antiquities collecting and archaeological site looting do not go hand in hand I leave up to the reader to judge.

Mr Welsh takes what I wrote to be an attack on "private antiquities collecting". What however I was writing about on my blog was commenting on what somebody (who we now find is his wife) was doing with archaeological artefacts. The post is about making them into jewellery, into "ethnic" dingle-dangles, geegaws. This is not my idea of "antiquities collecting"; it is not my idea of stewardship, it is not my idea of curation, it is not my idea of the best conservation practice 9the human body has more chlorides than any PVC envelope); it is not my idea of respect for the object, nor of responsible handling of the object. Neither is it "numismatics" (though justifies my use of the term "numismophilic"). It does not advance in any way our understanding of the past - which we remember is Mr Welsh's main justification offered for private collecting. That is my opinion and I do not see why I cannot express it on a blog concerned with "portable antiquity collecting and heritage issues".

Quite interestingly Welsh's reply only concentrates on what a nasty person I am for reading this information in a totally public resource and commenting on it here. As anyone can see, I found these items described on an internet business advertisment of a firm which claims to be a 'division' of Classical Coins, a claim that seems to be confirmed by the fact that the page is accessible through a link at the bottom of the homepage of Welsh's own "Classical Coins" company website. Let us note that the coin dealer and "collectors' rights" activist does not, and I think this is significant, actually address the meritorial issue of the way a subsidiary of his company Classical Coins treats the ancient artefacts which he handles. I am of the opinion that this type of use of ancient artefacts is totally unethical. "Collectors' rights" activist and coin dealer Mr Welsh offers no defense of his position over this, just insults me for drawing attention to it and having an opinion about it.

I was of course not disputing whether or not "the items in question were licitly acquired under the laws of the United States of America". I was discussing the use to which they were put by a subsidiary of the "collectors' rights" activist's own coin-dealing company. It would be equally legal under the laws of the United States of America to produce "hobo-denarii" out of them or "elongated prutahs", or stick them on the outside of a Lamborghini with epoxy glue, but that does not make any of these things an ethical way to treat ancient artefacts.

It is not me that is involved in "abuse" (as Welsh would have it) of the archaeological heritage, but those collectors and dealers who loudly proclaim their "rights" to do anything they want behind the curtain of local law (in this case US law, which they themselves challenge to get it lifted still further) without any thought for the consequences of their actions. A "division" of Classical Coins is obtaining ancient artefacts [which they make no efort to demonstrate they were not produced by the trashing of archaeological contexts or involved in illegal export] merely to make geegawish jewellery. I think that is wrong, and I think that contrasts very sharply with the justifications the coin dealer makes in other contexts for the unrestricted private collections of such objects. That is an opinion I maintain.

In reply to Welsh's emotional accusation, I certainly do not think I actually say anything "foul" about the maker of these necklaces and earrings. I personally do not like them, nor the idea and I would not wear them myself, and I'd only consider buying one for a lady in my life if the ancient coin in them was (a) pretty and (b) most definitely fake and that the maker was not using elephant ivory in any of them (a question unanswered).

Welsh reveals a gangland mentality when, instead of discussing the merits of wearable jewellery made of dugups he says he regrets it is not possible "for me to invite Mr. Barford to "take the air in the country"." (That by the way sounds like a threat of violence which is forbidden by Yahoo list policy, whether on a closed or open access list, which is interesting as he has also posted this on a yahoo list of which he himself is moderator).

So instead of his usual emotional, insulting and now threatening behaviour, perhaps Mr Welsh might like to try and answer the points I actually made, and especially why his frequently loudly repeated claims for the scholastic implications of coin collecting are not mere hypocrisy when contrasted with what a division of Classical Coins actually does with ancient coins. If he can; I rather suspect that the pretended indignation (now being cross-posted on various forums) is an attempt to distract attention onto the personal level to disguise the fact that the "collector's rights" activist cannot explain away the activities of a division of his own company when attention has been drawn to them in a discussion of the way antiquities are treated by dealers and collectors.

I would also be interested in hearing of any discussion among serious ("responsible") collectors whether this kind of treatment of ancient artefacts by a company affiliated to one of the spokesmen for the industry really does enhance the reputation of portable antiquity collecting as a form of study of the past, or whether it diminishes it. Not that I really expect many collectors to actually discuss such a thing - too much like "politics", eh? What's the position of the PAS (and responsible UK detectorists) on this? "Roman grot" or "hammie" cufflinks anyone?

The Ancient Coins blog is rapidly becoming a "kick the watchdog" blog, nothing there about ancient coins at all these days. Here however I will stick to my take on the intended theme of "Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues".

Vignette: Coineys' dream car? Is this "ancient artefact collecting"?

Dug Up "Art"

There is an interesting article by US journalist Michael H. Miller discussing the "ancient art" trade in the New York Observer ('Digging Up the Past', May 25, 2010). Due to various factors, including, as he put it, the activities of "self-appointed looting watchdogs"(David Gill is named):
"never has the tension between collector, dealer and so-called "source" nation been higher".
Recent disputes over the "surfacing" (from "underground") of unprovenanced artefacts on the market:
have pulled in collectors and chilled the climate for buying certain works, regardless of quality, dealers and auctioneers report.
These "certain works" of course are those for which there is no evidence that they were licitly obtained and legally exported from the "source country", which is how of course it should be. Rather self-righteously Miller notes (utilising the art-market use of the term "provenance") that:
If an object's provenance - that is, its history of import, export and ownership - cannot be traced back to November 1970, many people in the U.S. antiquities trade won't deal with it.
Ha! Not so Mr Miller. Not so at all, unfortunately. You've not been reading what collectors and dealers themselves say about this. Take the ACCG for example. The collectors of Yahoo’s AncientArtifacts group who (despite labelling themselves unilaterally "responsible") prefer to ignore discussions of such issues "like the plague". Then there is ACCG President Bill Puetz’s V-Coins where currently 145 Ancient Dealers ("8 more Coming Soon") are offering 104,181 ancient coins and items valued at $20,021,412 with no more than a very small percent offering up-front any information about provenance or legal export. As Miller notes defensively the:
1970 provenance is merely an ethical standard, not a legal one.
Indeed, this is a discussion of the ethics of and in a trade that prefers to argue most vehemently against tightening up its own very loose definition of that concept. The antiquities trade is an area where we really do need more public watchdogs, whether "self appointed" or institutional (such as the PAS) to scrutinise the ethics of buying and selling archaeological evidence ripped from the archaeological record at both extremes of the continuum of the trade, from those that sell them like potatoes by weight, to those who when they've been tarted up sell them like exclusive special edition Rolex watches.

Worth a read, and then thinking about.
Vignette: Dealer! Watch out for those Looting watchdogs, because they might be watching you.

Muscarella on Raping the Past

There is an interesting quote by Oscar White Muscearella, another of those watchdogs, in the New York Observer article of Michael H. Miller 'Digging Up the Past', May 25, 2010. "Archaeology is love," he said. "Plunder is rape. People are hung up on collecting art as an expression of their wealth". I would add to that "power". Rape is an act of violence committed as an expression of lust and greed but also the power to take what the rapist wants against the will of its victims. In the same way the clandestine taking (or purchase) of "forbidden" archaeological collectables can be seen as nothing less than the rape of the archaeological heritage.

Vignette: Giovanni da Bologna The Rape of the Sabines(1581-3)Not in a private collection, but in a museum in Florence.

Coin-Scholars, You Can Even Wear Your Data!

California "professional numismatist" Dave Welsh says that archaeologists do not "understand" coins and that the so-called "numismatic context" needs to be protected AGAINST them. Welsh also claims in his lobbying activity that restricting coin sales to those that are of demonstrable licit provenance would "destroy" a discipline that has been developing snce Petrarch collected coins all those years ago, the science of numismatics. One research scholar from his circle protested that he does not need to know where the data he uses in his research come from. Now somebody has drawn my attention to a subsidary of Mr Welsh's "professional" activity which suggests you can wear them too.

A Susan Welsh of "Santa Barbara, California" has a firm called "Classical creations" which makes bead jewellery, necklaces earrings etc. Interestingly it has the same phone number as Dave Welsh's coin shop in Goleta, 11 km from Santa Barbara. Its
website describes Welsh's "Classical Coins" as its "parent company". ("Classical Collections is a division of Classical Coins"). The pendants frequently have Middle Eastern or Far Eastern connotations, which is interesting given the general preponderance of ancient coins from the same region in Welsh's coin shop stock and no explanation of how they got there.

Collections include:

▪ Caravans – Exotic jewelry with Middle Eastern themes.

• The Goddess – featuring amulets and talismans that celebrate the feminine.

•Jurassic – beautiful pieces created from the fossilized remains of ancient and mysterious creatures.

• King Solomon’s Mines – precious gems at a reasonable price.

▪ Kowloon Kollection – jewelry with a Far Eastern look.

• Lost in Time – jewelry featuring ancient coins from our parent company, Classical Coins.

• Maharani – Indian themed jewelry with an exotic flair.

• Nas Bod (sanskrit for "from Tibet") – exotic Tibetan themed jewelry.

• The Sacred – a collection of religious icons gathered from around the world.

The range incorportating wearable ancient coins is disturbing. These seem to be genuine dugups. In answer to the FAQ question "How do I know that any of the ancient coins used in your jewelry are real?" Ms Welsh replies:
All of our coins have been verified by our parent company,, one of the largest and most respected ancient coin companies on the internet. We certify their authenticity. You may rest assure that these are not fakes.
Can the buyer expect to receive a copy of a valid export licence for any of them, or any proof of provenance which shows for what reason they do not require them?

So the Welshs have on show today:

Denarius of Lucius Septimius Severus in Watermelon Crystal

Denarius of Lucius Septimius Severus in Blackstone

Drachma of Orodes I of Parthia on a necklace of 10mm pumpkin carved blue aventurine beads interspersed with Berber silver spacer beads.

Drachma of Orodes II of Parthia on a necklace of rough turquoise heishi beads and Tibetan silver pumpkin beads.
A sales spiel
narrativises the Parthian coins, but fails to explain what either Parthian ruler had in common with either Tibetans or Berbers.

It is one thing to attempt to jusify the digging up of ancient sites to provide a discipline with material to study, but another to trash sites to produce dingle-dangles for Californians to hang round their necks, the sort of woman who needs explaining what a "sea urchin" is. Neither is any argument whatsoever for the trashing of sites and illegal export of artefacts for the foreign market. It seems the US collectors have too many ancient coins if they are casting round for ideas how to make money from them other than selling them to numismophilic "researchers". Not so long ago, the ACCG was getting annoyed with me for pointing out the some of its members were collecting ancient coins as geegaws, now we find one of its principal mouthpieces selling them precisely as geegaws, not as aids to "research about the past", not as "educational tools" but geegaws.

(Ms Welsh: Are those unspecified "Netsuke" of ivory? Those echinid spines are not really fossils are they, and what is "fossil agate"?)

Anyway my Daughter makes similar jewellery from Bohemian glass and natural stone beads and silver, just as glittery. The themes include Polish Constructivism, Bigos Style, Fluffy and Colourful and "Just Fun". No ancient sites or cultural objects were damaged in their production, no elephants killed. I think I'll start marketing them through the website "Save A Site, Don't Buy Wearable Antiquities from Bad Taste Dealers".
Vignette: MTV's Brittany Taylor gets classical.

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