Sunday 9 May 2010

"Fighting to Halt Learning About Mankind's Past"

In a response to a recent Washington Post article on coin collecting, Andrew McCabe, veteran collector of Republican Roman silver coins writes that:

Those fighting against private ownership are also fighting for a halt to learning about mankind's past. Naive, dangerous and the opposite of learned.
Hmm. This is typical pigeon-brain coiney cant. Let McCabe actually indicate those "fighting against private ownership" (we presume he means of archaeological artefacts) to which he refers. It is astounding that after so many years discussion, the statements of even the more articulate coin collectors like Mr McCabe show they still have not the foggiest idea (or maybe no intention of admitting) what the problem with the current mode of collection of antiquities is. In actual fact what escapes the people constantly uncritically coming out with nonsense like this is that nobody is discussing "ownership" as such. People outside museums and source states do own these artefacts and will continue to do so. What is under discussion is ethical ownership. The discrimination of legitimately held licit material from the tainted. The need for the adoption of standards of collecting behaviour adequate to the times and situation we now find ourselves in.

The days of squires and vicars buying finds from country ploughmen are over, replaced by artefact hunting and commerce on an industrial scale. We need to define forms of ownership and acquisition which are sustainable and are free of any association with the erosion of the archaeological record. Is that really a concept so difficult to grasp? I cannot see why, but time after time the coineys come out with their glib little ritual superficialities like McCabe's indicating that they indeed have problems grasping this.

What IS "naive, dangerous and the opposite of learned" is precisely the attitude of collectors that we can continue taking collectable artefacts from the accessible bits of a finite and fragile resource like ancient archaeological sites and after this has been going on at the pace we see today, that there will be anything left from which to use any method to learn about "mankind's past". A heap of contextless coins ("once owned by John Quincy Adams/ Ronald Reagan" or not) is no substitute whatsoever for the archaeological evidence trashed finding them and hoiking them out of the archaeological record. This too, and the fact that this archaeological record is at all important, seems a concept totally foreign to the self-centred acquirer of pretty ancient geegaws and the dealers that supply their greed.

McCabe ignores the fact that through most of human hstory, over most of the globe, coins were not in use at all. In areas where they were (even in Europe), they were not always in use by all sectors of society. In fact coins taken by themselves are a very limited source of information about human society, their typological and metrological study taken alone also fails to extract all the potental information those coins in context had. Another concept -pretty obvious in itself one might have thought - collectors obviously have great difficulty in grasping.

It is no-questions-asked antiquity collectors who are naive. It is no-questions-asked antiquity collectors who are dangerous, and it is the no-questions-asked antiquity collectors who have such great difficulty grasping simple concepts and taking responsibility for the effects of their actions who are in fact the opposite of learned.

In encouraging the destruction of archaeological sites so a selfish minority can accumulate heaps of pretty geegaws as pieces of the past, it is collectors' advocates like the ACCG who are in reality those who are fighting for a halt to learning about makind's past.

Vignette: Louis Marx collectable figure evoking the heritage of the past(ebay).

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