Wednesday 26 May 2010

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)


Damien Huffer said...

Black Adder comes to mind...

Paul Barford said...

"Spartacus, the ballet" to mine, I'm afraid.

Unknown said...


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