Monday 24 May 2010

No Constructive Dialogue with Collectors

Part time coin dealer Dave Welsh writes somewhat verbosely from California on Yahoo's "responsible" collectors forum: "
I would be glad if someone who really does have the credentials required to be regarded as an authoritative source, would come forward so that issues presently dividing archaeologists and collectors can be discussed in a scientifically valid manner conducive toward concerting effective action with a view toward suppressing looting of archaeological sites. [...] The problem is that the archaeology lobby does not seem to desire to work with antiquities collectors and so far as I can determine, has no interest in developing any solution that would endorse the continuation of private antiquities collecting.
In message #55472 there he writes that he (and others) consider that a "constructive dialogue" should be carried out "between the collecting community and the archaeology lobby".
Such a dialogue is needed. There are many practical measures that can be taken to diminish and mitigate the problem of site looting. To get to the point where such measures can be implemented, a constructive dialogue focusing on developing an action plan is necessary. Nothing will be accomplished by continuing an approach of hectoring collectors and criticizing their ethics. That will only perpetuate a standoff which benefits no one other than looters and traffickers. We need to work together - not attack each other. But every effort to engage the archaeological community in constructive dialogue has been ignored or rebuffed. When will the archaeological community come to realize that collectors will continue to defend their rights and cannot be steamrollered into submission? It is important that someone with credibility in the archaeological community come forward to begin a dialogue.
Well, perhaps it is collectors who should "begin" the dialogue. But about what? It is clear that what actually is needed is only for collectors to take active measures to avoid buying looted objects by patronising dealers who can show up-front that they are supplying only verifiably licit items. Then there would be no need for any "discussions".

Part of the reason there may be in some archaeological circles for any lack of interest in working with "collectors" is precisely that there is currently no physically detectable differentiation between responsible (ethical) collectors and those collecting irresponsibly. As we see in England, one such a distinction is made, archaeologists and society as a whole are willing to work with (in "partnership") with responsible collectors, while they are mainly interested in catching and punishing the "nighthawks". Mr Welsh's ACCG constantly "promotes" the PAS, but is less willing to apply its lessons to their own situation (the PAS also issues guidelines on the ethical buying of antiquities and of course the concept of 'provenance' is central to its very existence).

The PAS of course is a massive government funded endorsement of private collecting of antiquities, just what Mr Welsh wants to see, well, we already have it.

Mr Welsh claims there are "other practical measures that can be taken to diminish and mitigate the problem of site looting", but as far as I recall his only suggestions on this so far mainly concern the dismantling of existing museum collections and scattering them on the market where, to judge from past practice they would almost immediately lose their provenience together with the (collectors' lobbyists insist) thousands of other artefacts which had earlier arrived on the market by legitimate means from licit sources.

We come back to the problems of associating objects with provenance in private collections. This however is something that collectors have to work on within their own community, not have it forced on them from above.

Welsh asserts that the collectors' "every effort to engage the archaeological community in constructive dialogue has been ignored or rebuffed". I think that in order to back up that statement, we might well ask the ACCG to itemise those efforts undertaken in the past six years. Perhaps they would like to publish the texts of the letters they sent and the replies they received. After all after six years of such "efforts", there must be a goodly crop of them.

Just a few weeks ago The Executive Director of the ACCG was in Newcastle at a conference organized by the Council for British Archaeology and the heritage department of a major British university, the PAS was also strongly represented. What "efforts" did the ACCG make to "engage" the cross section of the archaeological community "in constructive dialogue" make there? Apart from presenting the scandalous anti-preservationist US exclusionist "Internationalist" manifesto ("Coin Collectors and Cultural Property Nationalism" - update: new URL) at that meeting. That must REALLY have impressed everybody present with the collectors' willingness to come to the table for "constructive dialogue". In fact it can be argued that it did a lot of damage to the collectors' position (and not just coin collectors). Mr Welsh was co-author of that text.

A couple of years back, the ACCG awarded Roger Bland with the ACCG Friends of Numismatics award. Scandalously he accepted it. I wonder though how long the ACCG will have to wait until he awards them with the PAS "Friends of Archaeology" Award in reciprocation?

Photo: Erich von Daniken also complains that archaeologists will not debate his ideas with him "constructively".

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