Tuesday 11 May 2010

Another Coiney Misleads the CPAC

It seems that there was a veritable gabblefest of coiney misinformation at Thursday's CPAC hearing in Washington. Rick Witschonke, collector of Republican coins and staff member of the American Numismatic Society posted on Moneta-L just now the text he himself delivered at the CPAC public consultation. He's another one who thinks Italy should scrap her laws and institute something like Britain's limp-wristed nineteenth century measures. That would no doubt benefit artefact collectors, but would it strengthen archaeological site protection? (No).

Anyway in order to persuade the CPAC to recommend the US not to heed Italian requests for help protecting its archaeological heritage from being bundled up and clandestinely sold off abroad, he feels it germane to give the CPAC a lecture on the British legislation. Sadly, he obviously has no idea how it works. According to him the British Treasure Act of 1996:
provided that finders of ancient objects who had the permission of the landowner to search would receive a full market value reward for any finds determined to be Treasure, and retained by the Government. Non-treasure finds, and Treasure not retained by the Government are returned to the landowner and finder, who are then free to sell them on the licit market. In addition, the UK also passed legislation establishing a Portable Antiquities Scheme, under which finders would be encouraged to formally report non-Treasure finds so that they could be properly recorded. PAS also established a network of Finds Liaison Officers who work with metal-detectorists, museums, and other groups in each area of the country; it is their relationship with the local communities which makes the Scheme work.
Despite the fact that he is a bosom buddy of Head of Treasure Roger Bland and further parts of his text show Witschonke to be a keen consumer of PAS propaganda, it might be observed that there are as many as six errors of fact in that short passage. Witschonke also takes an optimistic approach to other factors claimed to be the effects of PAS successes, when they are capable of a totally different interpretation (such as numbers and types of Treasure reported and the Nighthawking Report both discussed here). Witschonke says that in other countries, systems:
involving market-based rewards and outreach tended to be successful in encouraging the reporting of found objects, while programs lacking those elements were largely failures.
But then the coiney has not thought through that it is not actually in the CPAC brief to recommend to foreign countries ways of increasing "reporting of found objects", but to advise the US government whether the US is in a position to help cut down on the looting and illicit trade. To those whose minds have not yet been clouded by coin fondling, this is quite a different topic. Witschonke also presumes to deny that preservation in situ - on which modern heritage management and developer funding are based - is a useful concept. The only thing he suggests replacing it with is "dig it all up now", and let the diggers be metal detectorists serving the antiquities market.

Witschonke is certainly guilty of foggy thinking when he then intones in all seriousness:
"One could argue that such a program might change the behavior of “innocent” finders of antiquities, but would do little to stop the illegal digging of professional looters. But most of this digging in Italy is done on private land, often with the concurrence of the landowner (in return for some consideration). If, instead, the landowner saw the prospect of a market-based reward for any antiquities found on his land, he would have a strong incentive to cease dealing with the illegal diggers, and protect his land from them.
Umm, and... what? Protect the site from ever being disturbed, or go over it a couple of times with deep ploughing and then get a few mates with metal detectors (in full daylight and with the landowner's full knowledge, permission and encouragement) to claim the market rewards for objects "found" on his land? Like for example organizing a commercial metal detecting rally on his land maybe? How does paying people to dig things out of them protect archaeological sites Mr Witschonke?

Witschonke concludes:
I would suggest that Italy should be strongly encouraged, if it wishes the US to continue import restrictions on Italian antiquities, to modify its antiquities legislation to: 1) provide for prompt market value rewards for reported finds; 2) support a robust, licit market for objects that are not claimed by the state; and 3) establish an effective outreach program, with representatives in each of the regions, to encourage the reporting of finds. [...] I urge the Committee to strongly encourage Italy to adopt the later course.
Well once again, Witschonke seems to think that preventing looting is all about "reporting finds" - presumably after looting. But as for the idea of urging Italy to change its legislation, just who do these people think they are? Collectors urging a US governmental advisory body to apply pressure (blackmail even: "if it wishes the US to..." it must...) to a sovereign foreign state? To do what? To make it easier for collectors to buy archaeological material taken from archaeological sites?

But Witschonke has thought of that, he asks: "how can the US justify interference in Italy’s national antiquities policies in response to an MOU renewal request?". Unfortunately that is not a rhetorical question of a culturally-sensitive someone aware of how that sounds outside the US. He instructs the CPAC (in case they have not actually read the CPIA which set up the committee):
Under CCPIA, one of the determinations which the US must make is that the requesting “State Party has taken measures . . . to protect its cultural property”. I would suggest that the measures proposed here are reasonable and necessary if looting is to be reduced. And there is clear precedent for the US to require certain actions on the part of Italy (e.g. paragraphs II.B , C, and F of the revised MOU). Italy faces a clear choice with respect to its archeological heritage. It can continue with its present policies, and have virtually all objects found in other than official excavations leave the country illicitly, with their contextual information lost forever and with little prospect of return, or it can adopt policies which will positively encourage finders to report their finds, and preserve at least some of the objects and information now being lost. I urge the Committee to strongly encourage Italy to adopt the later course.
But surely the idea of checking if objects entering the US have been legally exported is the measure that prevents illegal export to the US from being viable. Not that "finders" report or do not report finds back home before putting them in a padded envelope addressed to ANS headquarters or wherever. This is simply insulting. The Italian state has a national antiquities service, the US has not, Italy has a well-equipped specialist antiquities and art police force, the US has not. We have seen how BLM men are too thinly spread on the ground in the US to make any difference, whole petroglyphs are reportedly being stolen out there. The judiciary does not uphold the ARPA, the first sentence in the very costly Action Cerberus trials in Blanding was six months probation because the judge was of the view in effect that "stuff happens". It really is very insulting of the US to consider it has the moral right to dictate to Italy the measures it should take to protect its cultural property when the response of the US to looting at home is so pathetically inadequate and whose culture scavenging collectors (and now we see numismatic associations like the ANS and ANA) are currently screaming blue murder because somebody suggested that US collectors should be made to buy only legally exported material from Italy. The very idea !

Mr Witschonke, FIRST get your own country to adopt such a system to apply to the artefacts such as those which are currently the subject of trials in Blanding because "finders" found them on public land (public, Mr Witschonke). Why should Italy abandon state ownership at the behest ("encouragement") of US collectors when the US claims state ownership of artefacts found in the deserts of the West on public land? Look to your own house before you start dictating what others should do in theirs. [For an application of the Witschonke/ANS arguments to the US situation see the post below this].

No comments:

Creative Commons License
Ten utwór jest dostępny na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa-Bez utworów zależnych 3.0 Unported.