Saturday 15 May 2010

An "Environment of Fear" in Canadian Archaeology?

Canadian coin dealer Robert Kokotailo claims a lot of experience sitting down with a representative proportion of the archaeologists in his country (so how many archaeologists are there in Canada?). He has analysed the situation very carefully:
In my experience of actually sitting down and taking with archeologists, over 90% of them have no real problem with the collecting and dealing in ancient coins. They fully understand no[t] only that the market in ancient coins is not the cause of illicit hoards, but rather the solution. Most also understand that the solution is a more open market.

There is just a small minority of archeologist who fight the hardest to stop the trade, because they have not the slightest idea why they are the cause of the problem. But those 10% have largely taken control of the archeological establishment, and created an environment of fear within it, in which the 90% dare not voice their views unless they have tenure. Otherwise all doors to jobs and funding are closed to them.

The "environment of fear" that reportedly exists in Canadian archaeology is a serious cause for concern, as this stifles academic debate. I suggest that any Canadian archaeologist who feels oppressed by this bullying take themselves over to the UK where they will find the opposite of the situation described by Kokotailo. "Over 90% of them have no real problem with the collecting and dealing in [licitly-obtained] ancient artefacts", most feel "that the solution [to looting] is a more open market". In the UK, there is just a small minority of archeologists who are concerned about the ramifications of artefact hunting and collecting who "fight the hardest to stop the illicit trade", because it is damaging the archaeological record. But those few percent are outspoken by the general view of the archeological establishment, and the media who generally draw attention to the benefits of partnership with collectors. Paradise for the browbeaten pro-collecting archaeologists of Canada.

Assuming they don't want to come on over to the UK to live and work (and let's face it, these days, who'd blame them?), they could set up a PAS in Canada, to be "partners" with the looters and collectors. Why not? Now that Robert Kokotailo is a member of the ACCG he will be able to help you, let's get all the collectors both sides of the Canada/US border fighting for "collectors' rights" not just by scrapping existing antiquities laws and setting up a Treasure Act clone with a voluntary Portable Antiquities Scheme clone south of the border, but one in Canada too! That will certainly show the "source countries" of all those collected coins on the US and Canadian markets the way to go. Why not, if we learn from Mr Kokotailo that more than ninety percent of Canadian archaeologists support the market in dugup coins and antiquities? So how much support can Mr Kokotailo and the ACCG collectors get for creating a PAS system and Treasure Act in Canada to replace existing legislation?

The "illicit hoards" reference in the quote above is to coins which go straight from the ground into the no-questions-asked market (let us recall that the ACCG claims that collectors' coins all come from "hoards" because settlement finds are allegedly always in an uncollectable state - which any archaeologist who has worked on such sites in the source countries will recognise as untrue). Of course the solution to that is for dealers and collectors to refuse to buy them unless there is documentation that they have been properly reported and legally exported.

(Canadian) Archaeology according to this coin dealer who claims to know is a dark empire oppressed by an "environment of fear" which is created by those who have "taken power". This conjures up visions of large guys with serious expressions on their faces and bulky suits standing behind Fellows as they cast their votes at the Antiquaries to make sure they "think carefully" who they vote for. This is ridiculous. As in any academic pursuit (or life generally) there are those who are better at getting the positions and funding than others, but it is not really a legitimate use of English to describe this as "taking power".

There is more sneaky wording here too. Kokotailo says that "90%" of Canadian archaeologists "have no real problems with the collecting and dealing in ancient coins". Were they asked about their attitudes towards collecting and dealing in coins with no real distinction made between those long above ground and those freshly dug up on archaeological sites and smuggled out of foreign lands into (for example) Canada? Was the question phrased in those terms? Since that is the current state of the global market, that is what these archaeologists over in Canada with whom Kokotailo discussed this (allegedly) have "no real problems with".

Let us note that Kokotailo considers that those ("just a small minority") who fight hardest to "stop the trade" (that should read, shouldn't it "stop the trade in illicitly obtained antiquities") do so "because they have not the slightest idea why they are the cause of the problem". That is they fight the illicit trade because they do not understand that fighting the illicit trade is the cause of the problem? Well, of course we have seen this argument before, if we establish an "anything goes" trade, where there is no distinction between licit and illicit (which is what dealers and collectors would dearly love) then there would be no problem. Anything goes, we can stop worrying about the problem. I think most of us could see a downside to resolving the problem of the illicit antiquities trade by these means.

Kokotailo adds: "Most also understand that the solution is a more open market". Actually it is not just the 90% of pro-collecting canadian arcaeologists who are for a more open and transparent market, one where dealers are open about where finds come from. An open and transparent and accountable market is what we all want. Not an "end" to the market, but a market which functions in such a way that the passage onto it of illegally obtained freshly dug up material is rendered extremely difficult and increasingly unprofitable. Now I really do not see why any reputable dealer would be fighting that, or attempting to represent it as "stopping the trade", do you?

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