Sunday 23 May 2010

"Responsible Collecting" a la Yahoo

To judge from material sent me by several well-wishers since I was blocked from accessing this closed-access group, the discussions of the social background to collecting are still going on over on the Yahoo Ancient Artefacts - much to the chagrin of those many members over there who'd rather bury their heads in the sand and forget that portable antiquity collecting has a social context and other stakeholders.

A number of responsible collectors are now leaving the group. Instrumental in this was a thread started by a coiney called in typical puerile low-brow fashion: "Barford is a looney". One of the people who has just left the list (a British collector whose truly responsible attitude to the material acquired has been mentioned on this blog) explained his decision:
Paul Barford has a blog giving an archaeologist's point of view on collecting antiquities:

Dave Welsh has a blog giving a coin dealer's point of view on collecting antiquities:


Paul Barford argues for ethical practice within the antiquities trade in order to preserve the archaeological record from destruction.

Dave Welsh argues for the status quo in the antiquities trade to continue exactly as it is.


Paul Barford has been banned from posting on this Yahoo list.

Dave Welsh has been allowed to continue posting on this Yahoo list.

Both have blogs but only one of them is allowed to post his point of view on this list as well.

Far from being satisfied with what is already an unfair advantage, the one who can post on this list uses the opportunity to ridicule the one who cannot.


I sense a vast imbalance on this list. At best, it is unfair. At worst, it is deliberate prejudice.

Whether you agree with Paul Barford, Dave Welsh, both of them, neither of them, or fall somewhere in between - the current situation is untenable.

With occasional exceptions by Paul Barford,* both exploited this list merely to preach their points of view regarding legalities or ethics. They were not participating members in the normal sense.

In the interest of fairness, either BOTH should be given free rein to vent their views on this list or BOTH should be compelled to vent them only on their respective blogs (or elsewhere).


With both on-list, members were caught in the crossfire between two pulpits. Now there is only one pulpit left - but with nothing to balance it. Members are now subjected to only one stream of propaganda.

The current unbalanced situation gives the impression that the stream of propaganda from the remaining pulpit represents the consensus opinion of the list. I find this worrying [...]

I do not know why Tim allows the one-sided stream of propaganda to continue - whether from a hatred of Paul Barford or from support for Dave Welsh or perhaps a mix of both - but I personally find a biased discussion list unpleasant. Since I do not wish to be associated with such bias, I will no longer participate on this list while it persists.

Since I was blocked, the Ancient Artifacts list has been invaded by the coineys with their gung-ho anti-preservationist ("internationalist") claptrap, several of the usual culprits have reactivated (Sayles, de la Fe, Hooker, Welsh). Recent weeks have therefore seen the continued use of the discussion list with 2000 members to produce a one-sided stream of anti-archaeological propaganda, claims that there is "not one shred of evidence that irresponsible collecting encourages looting" and so on. Since one of the main protagonists on that list of the view there that the two go intimitely together has been blocked from replying, these essentially go without answer from either the general membership or the moderator (a moderator who defensively declared unilaterally that the forum supported responsible collecting). Not that anyone on the outside can see what the Yahoo definition of "responsible collecting" looks like in action, as it is all shut away behind closed doors and anyone discussing it outside the group (such as on a blog about responsible collecting like this one) is censured and expelled. What have responsible collectors got to hide? (register with the site and take a look and write about what you see there on your own blogs, truly responsible attitudes to collecting have no need to hide).

What is galling is that the main "evidence" offered to the outside world that - in contrast to what actually happens in the members-only section of that list - it is dedicated to discussing only responsible collecting is a document which is linked from the home page and is thus one of the few elements of the group that is visible to the outside world. This is a code of ethics. This, the blurb says was "created by group members". It was in fact edited, by just two collectors and one of the few British dealers to consistently offer provenanced artefacts, from a document I supplied. There was some desultory discussion on the list of individual points, but there was not a great enthusiasm for hammering out a text that would truly define "responsible collecting". My post here shows the original text and the yahoo Groups version clearly owes much to that.

It is therefore ironic that the author of the original draft on which this document was based was later blocked for promoting responsible collecting and openly criticising irresponsible collecting and those who advocate it on that list. This is very revealing about what is going on. The facade of responsibility on this key online artefact collectors' forum is only skin deep. The Yahoo group is freely used to promote the sale of tainted and unprovenanced artefacts of unstated origins. There is no commitment to investigating or discussing the current social context of nineteenth-century style collecting on that list, just heads-down (head in sand) talk about the collectables themselves and where to get them cheapest and avoid fakes. Maybe truly responsible portable antiquity collectors need to set up another discussion list with a clear policy on tainted artefacts and leave the recalcitrant hoi polloi of the antiquity collecting world to their howling about their nineteenth century "collectors' rights" and leave Mr Haines and his ranting anti-preservationist dealer friends to stew in their own juices.

*"With occasional exceptions by Paul Barford,"Actually I contest that, there were more than "occasional" situations when on that list I gave an opinion as an archaeologist about the accuracy of the description of an object being offered by one of the many dealers who offered items through the list. Most of the time this was less than appreciated by the dealer trying to flog it under a less-than-accurate description and many collectors also turned nasty when their favourite dealer was challenged, often generating a log-jam of anti-archaeological posts. An Ottoman tobacco pipe sold as seventh century AD Byzantine generated some acrimonious attacks on the archaeologist who pointed out a rather obvious anachronism.
Vingnette: Looking in on Lilliput (Aidan Courtney).

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