Saturday 31 July 2010

Is Provenance only for "Morons"?

Over on Tim Haines' Yahoo Ancient Artifacts closed access discussion forum, the next victim is singled out for attack. A collector mentioned on this blog a number of times has just labelled David Knell a "moron" and illiterate (that's not against Accepted Use Policy over there on that moderated list it seems). That is because he wrote this a few weeks ago: Object-based Universe - the danger of a blinkered view . Do please take a bit of time to read it yourself and decide if what Mr Knell (who seems from what contact I have had with him to be anything but a "moron" and does seem to be quite well-read) has written makes sense to you. So why the pejorative labels? What is the matter with antiquity collectors? Who would have thought that a simple idea like it being a good idea to find out where the things one collects come from would arouse so much bad feeling and aggression among collectors? On a "responsible collectors" list as well !

UPDATE: 1st August.
Apologies for continuing this here, for reasons explained earlier as an archaeologist who talks of responsible collecting I cannot reply on Tim Haines' "Ancient Artifacts" list and Mr Hooker refuses to comment over here.

Tim Haines' "AncientArtifacts" forum hosted by Yahoo continues to develop as a venue where the collectors' mentality can be explored (I'd encourage enquiring readers to join and look for themselves). The discussion of a Canadian collector's purchase of an unreported metal detecting find allegedly from "Oxfordshire" continues to generate enlightening material.

John Hooker has just posted up there a lengthy expose of his "methods and attitudes" - though actually only attempts the latter starting off with a self-indulgent depiction of the author's "psychological type" ("My own psychological type is INFJ" with the strongest emphasis on intuition with judgement being the weakest - yeah, right, could have guessed from the collector's fanciful description of a depiction of "life and death" on a thumbnail-sized fragment of dugup copper alloy). According to Hooker his psychological type "often annoy the hell out of people who are not of our type, because we appear to get answers out of thin air -- instantly. It is even more annoying to them when we are proven right -- and we usually are". Hmmm. Well, I'll go along with the "ideas out of thin air" bit.

The message of pointing out how "special" are the mental abilities of this particular collector is to reinforce his earlier point about how much better he is suited to making intuitive pronouncements about his "Precious" than most others (because only 1% of the population he says are IFNJs). These are the ones he labels "morons" who are weighed down by lesser intellectual abilities (of other "psychological types") than his own.

Anyway after a plateful of this self-indulgent stew, he then dollops out a dessert of generous helpings of stodgy goo about how unimportant for him is knowing the provenance of the object which he has at home. All special pleading to show why, in his particular case, the very simple requirement of knowing where something came from allegedly do not apply. None of this is very convincing, and totally misses the point that the issue under discussion is not whether it is important to a single person, no matter how well endowed pychologically. It is about the responsible collector taking into account that in coveting for themselves pieces of a common resource, other interests should be satisfied and not trampled upon out of their own unethical individual greed and desire to possess something nobody else has. Jung would have had a few things to say about that, but Hooker is silent on that issue.

Confusingly, Hooker claims he has arrived at something he calls "my specific provenance data" (which are not data at all) "gathered through empirical means" which is "of a different class than declared provenances"; in other words, where an object physically came from. Yes, yes it is, quite a different concept altogether. Once again, we see an ACCG antiquities collector avoiding a relatively simple issue. In this case covering the basic idea with lashings of verbiage and set on a bed of par-boiled psychological pseudo-intellectualism.

It will be noted that in this self-justification, Hooker totally avoids the main issue which is that purchasing this item, an employee of the ACCG undercuts the ACCG's main argument that through the recording of items in schemes like the PAS the interests of the collector and conservation of and responsibilities for the archaeological resource can be satisfied. This would be the case only if collectors are firm and only buy items that have been through the system. Otherwise the system is not working. Hooker has just kicked the ladder from under the ACCG and the PAS.

Also Hooker totally avoids discussion of his "methods" for divining the meaning of the decoration on his finial, his interpretation of the "ivy scrolls" for example.

Hooker concludes a long and rambling post with the words:
I sincerely hope that the above will register with those who are not afflicted by a conscious or unconscious "world view agenda". Those who are, however, will be unable to understand most of this and will never change without considerable effort on their part and this rarely happens as they are inherently unable to abandon unworkable models.
Well, the whole point of this is that the ACCG who employs Mr Hooker to edit their newsletter does not regard PAS recording to be an "unworkable model". It is apparently part of their world-view that such systems should be extended rather than or bypassed and ignored - or is it the case that Mr Hooker has demonstrated that in reality the whole of this "if only other nations would adopt a PAS-like system" nonsense is just an ACCG smokescreen for inaction over the no-questions-asked market?


Friday 30 July 2010

"Let the Treasure Hunters Rampage on, Ripping Out the Evidence"


On the basis of the latest piece of 'propaganda of Success' from England's Portable Antiquities Scheme, ACCG's Peter Tompa admonishes the Italians ("PAS Reaches Milestone") that:
PAS is a system better able to weather lean budgets because it relies on finders to help record objects and the State only retains for its own purposes those objects it deems significant. There are no curatorial expenses associated with most objects as these are returned to the finder and/or landowner after recordation.
Well, the PAS did not well weather its own financial cuts a few years back (in which the ACCG lent its support to its Friends) it lost its education officer for example, cutting right at the roots of its primary mission of "outreach" (recording finds is just one of its aims).

Tompa claims that "the idea that restrictions on collectors will further archaeological research was always a fantasy". That is an odd thing to say, that is like saying "the idea that restrictions on big game hunting will further ecological research was always a fantasy", isn't it? (you can put whale hunting, illegal export of threatened species and a few other environmental protection measures in that and it would make about the same sense). The idea of placing restrictions on the exploitation of the fragile and finite resource that is the archaeological record (what is left of it) as a mere source of collectables which are then illegally exported and sold on foreign markets is there to protect the resource.

From that point of view, is the PAS actually achieving much? Well, if we look at the "recordation" (sic) of artefact hunters' finds, there is a counter which suggests the answer is no, and that refers only to the 'recordable' finds, it does not refer to the 'collateral' damage done to archaeological sites by the digging of metal detector signals which produce nothing collectable or saleable (except as non-ferrous scrap for melting). Is the PAS allowing the state to get all the "important" finds into publuic collections? Well, no, quite the contrary - ACCG's only employee, Canadian collector John Hooker boasted two days ago he had bought what he argues is an extremely important metal artefact from a dealer selling the products of UK metal detecting, and it had not even been seen and assessed by the PAS (which is merely voluntary).

Is protection of the archaeological resource merely a matter of "recordating" the objects taken out of the ground during its destruction? That is akin to a group of iconocalsts smashing out the Medieval stained glass in a cathedral saving all the saint's faces so that they can be photographed by art historians before they disappear too on the scrapheap. Better than nothing? Surely wouldn't it be better to stop the window-smashing so the whole decorative scheme and its message be appreciated by future generations, not just a few isolated sherds? Would it not be more sensible to stop the wanton destruction of archaeological sites and assemblages by artefact hunters (Tompa calls them "finders" ) rather than rejoice that we now have 400 k "records" of isolated sherds of information? Especially as the Heritage Action Counter sugests that some ten MILLION more have already gone to the scrap heap, like Joohn Hooker's finial, without record?

Why would Tompa praise destruction on this scale? Well of course the scattered ephemeral personal artefact accumulations of ACCG members acquired like Hooker's finial no-questions-asked from an unknown source are the 'scrap heaps' of the analogy. Tompa is no "Observer" but the guardian of the scrap heap owners.

There are indeed no curatorial expenses associated with keeping the archaeological evidence which is not only "returned to the finder and/or landowner after recordation", but often disappear as they are sold off soon afterwards. The costs however to the curation of the fragile and finite archaeological resource they come from however is uncountable.

Tompa asks:
Isn't it better to engage interested members of the public by recognizing the interests of finders and collectors?
I say the interests of the preservation of the archaeological record in Britain and elsewhere and thus the interests of the main stakeholders in it, that is the public as a whole - living, dead and yet-to-be born, is best served by an organization which engages members of the public by drawing attention to the deleterious efects of the careless and indiscriminate exercise of self-interests by irresponsible finders and collectors. THAT the PAS is signally failing to do to any significant extent, both in Britain and especially in its outreach abroad. Merely trumpeting the next "milestone" on the failing race to keep the records up to the pace of erosion is only serving to promote the image of the protection of the archaeological resource, of the aims of modern archaeology, as a race to get as many barely-contextualised "goodies" out of the ground and into private collections as possible and as cheaply as possible.

If Mr Tompa and his fellow collectors persist in their belief that archaeological context is unimportant and hoiking as much stuff out of context now for as few pounds as possible is what archaeology and conservation are about, the PAS has clearly failed in doing what it was in fact set up to do thirteen years ago. It is time to take stock of the way PAS is currently being run and what the longterm effects of that are likely to be on the archaeological record and public perceptions of the discipline of archaeology, ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam.

Illustration: Artefact Hunters expressing their collectors' interests in the historic enviroonment in the Netherlands, but its OK, we have photos of 400 000 broken bits in a database somewhere and nobody now has to pay the costs of upkeep of this heritage.

US Coiney Patriots want Complete transparency from the US State Department

US coiney fair-weather patriots expect complete transparency from the US State Department; they still want them to reveal the contents of correspondence with foreign governments about what illegally exported material the US will and will not try to stop at its borders. Michael Hayden has a piece about the wider implications of the same sort of "transparency", the leaking last week of 75 000 government documents about the war in Afghanistan. One passage of his sobering and thought-provoking text struck me as totally applicable to the "internationalist" coineys and their pathetic arguments against regulation of imports of illegally exported material:
foreign [organizations], with whom we have established productive and legitimate partnerships, will ask, "Can I trust the Americans to keep anything secret?" [...] what liaison service in the world will now accept any assurances that we can protect their secrets? Or protect their identity? Or be consistent in our policy? [...]And all of this because of some corrupted view of the inherent evils of the modern state, a pseudo-romantic attachment to the absolute value of transparency, a casual indifference to inevitable consequences and a neurotic attachment to one individual's self importance. Rarely have we seen such a dangerous combination of arrogance and incompetence.

Michael Hayden, WikiLeaks disclosures are a 'tragedy', CNN July 30, 2010

Polish museum debuts 3-D movie about World War II

This looks quite an interesting idea: Polish museum debuts 3-D movie about World War II

The film will perhaps speak to the computer game generation for whom this event must be ancient history.

Obviously the people with the blinkers on who made the trailer did not realise that not everybody who reads the English subtitles will know that 1st August was the day the Warsaw Uprising broke out, for them it is "obvious".

I am a little puzzled by the aerial shots. The final complete series of Luftwaffe photos (taken before the 1945 date chosen to show here) show almost the entire Ghetto area [the third aerial sequence] flattened and the bricks carted off in railway trucks to the Reich. I had an opportunity to see them as I was working on a translation of a book on the topic a few years back and they made a great impression. In fact Google Earthers can see an underlay photo of Warsaw in Dec 1945 - and since I last looked - now 1935 too (the little "time/historical imagery" icon). Yet this animation (reputedly made on the basis of 1945 Soviet aerial photos) shows the area with upstanding walls and uncleared ruins. All very odd.

If you are visiting Warsaw, the Museum of the Warsaw Uprising (for which this film was made) is worth seeing, some innovative ideas and a few things to criticise. I personally would not say it gives a wholly balanced picture, but its still thought-provoking, good for kids.

False Provenances

Over on Looting Matters is a very important post Corrupting knowledge: inaccurate information ("One issue surrounding recently-surfaced antiquities is that the objects may be supplied with misleading collecting-histories"). Please read it.

One of my own first experiences with liaison with artefact hunters several decades ago was being led on a wild goose chase tramping round a muddy field in the depths of midwinter on the basis of a falsely reported findspot. This was because a metal detectorist had good reason to hide where an item had actually come from, which was miles away from where he originally told museum archaeologists it had come from. I suspect this practice is far more prevalent in the milieu and among dealers than we give credit for. Even in the old pre-metal detector days artefacts were put on sale with the same popular "provenances" ("Lakenheath", "Icklingham" and "Colchester" in East Anglia in the 'seventies) to make them more saleable, probably still are today.

Thursday 29 July 2010

Seeking Pearls in the Fog of the No Questions Asked Antiquities Market

Another post to Tim Haines' Yahoo Ancient Artefacts Collecting discussion list caught my eye, its from a US member not using their real name and calling themselves "Pearlquest1" who is writing to the "responsible" collectors' list to ask for advice how to spot if they've been buying fake artefacts:
I have been actively, well too actively in hindsight, acquiring artifacts (mostly Roman and some Egyptian) over the last 8 months or so on eBay. Most of these pieces cost less than $100 but a few cost me more. I had also bought 30 pieces from Sadigh but I was fortunately able to return those for a refund. It is the eBay pieces which are amulets, brooches, pendants, hairpins, rings, terracotta oil lamps and some other miscellaneous items that concern me at this time. [...] After returning the Sadigh pieces I now have maybe 140 items which is a considerable amount to try to to get authenticated.
The last eight months is 240 days, and Pearlquest bought 170 "mostly Roman and Egyptian" pieces from New York's Sadigh Galleries [reputed in collecting circles as a notorious seller of tourist tat for the undiscerning] and through the Internet at a cost, presumably, of several thousand dollars. This is quite interesting, and is one of the sort of statistics that collectors want to keep out of the public eye by keeping forums like "AncientArtifacts" as closed access groups. One collector binge-buys an artefact every two days over a period of eight months, how typical is this? If the Yahoo group has two thousand members and they all behaved like this, that would be some 514 000 objects bought annually by members of a single artefact collecting forum. That's quite a substantial amount of erosion of the archaeological record. A decade of that is enough to empty an entire landscape of collectables items, in the course of which millions of non-collectable artefacts will also be hoiked out of the ground, assemblages disturbed and damaged, stratigraphy trashed.

Of course we have no evidence that all collectors behave like that, some do not have the money, but little snippets of information like this tantalise in that they reveal how little we actually do know about collecting patterns, even among (self-declared) "responsible collectors".

Another interesting mechanism emerges here, it was only after collecting some 170 "mostly Roman and Egyptian" objects that this antiquity collector started to try and find out something about them, in the course of which it emerged that many of the things (s)he had bought did not look quite right. While mantra of collector's is "get the book first", I get the impression that many antiquity and ancient coin collectors cannot cope with books. Pearlquest realised the objects were stylistically wrong by looking on the Internet (perhaps for the Roman ones, the Portable Antiquities Scheme database which statistics in the Scheme's own annual reports reveal serves mainly as a source of information for other collectors these days). This rather goes against the picture presented by the pro-market lobby which claims that collectors and collections "generate knowledge about the past", that collectors are (all) researchers, and that is why they are collectors. Pearlquest clearly is not.

Again, we still have a dearth of detailed information about why portable antiquity collectors collect antiquities. They keep this information to themselves, which is why collecting lobby groups can pull the wool over the public's eyes and present collecting as something it is not, as a scholarly enterprise as a whole.

Looking at eBay and the misshapen styleless monstrosities offered as "antiquities" [with varying degrees of 'small print' honesty] by many sellers (even those claiming a 'reputation'), and which are daily finding purchasers, it is clear that many antiquity collectors really have no idea at all what they are collecting. (A separate point is how many 'dealers' know what they are selling.) This would be fine if everybody was happy with that and the buyers only end up with fakes. No archaeological sites are trashed, the collector's vanity and greed are satisfied, they can make up their stories about the past, imagine "what it was like", and imagine they are "discoverers of lost truths" or whatever.

This however is not the way it is, indiscriminate collectors will buy the fakes (not eroding the archaeological record) thinking they are ancient, as well as real looted artefacts (thus the product of the erosion of the archaeological record). They will often be mixed up in the same personal collection, they will come back on the market together in the future, the difference between real and fake will be blurred, as it will be impossible decades from now to determine without expensive tests and attempting (and probably in the vast majority of cases failing) to trace collecting histories which objects are fake and which not. Given the vast numbers of fakes coming onto the market today, it may well be that any artefact which cannot be traced back beyond "bought on eBay March 2010" might as well be disregarded as a fake in the absence of any information about its provenance showing otherwise. Irresponsible collecting, irresponsible dealing, obscuring the provenances of the objects currently on the market will be responsible for the loss not only of the information about the context of discovery of the items themselves (and the layers of archaeological information that holds) but also will undermine any confidence in the reliability of any of the decontextualised objects circulating on the market at the end of the twentieth century and beginning of the next as a source of any kind of "information" about the past at all. They will just be antiquity-shaped geegaws.

Some fakes are bad and laughable and easily dismissed as such, some are very good copies or plausible and potentially confusing. As Muscarella and others have shown, the archaeological record is already contaminated enough by fakes and dubious items from the antiquities markets of yesteryear. The situation in a few decades time will be worse. More importantly this totally indiscriminate and mass market buying of decontextualised colectables is already trashing what little of the accessible archaeological record there is left. All in the pretence that collectors are "responsible".

Plastic Monsters and Death on a Collector's Unprovenanced Finial (part two)

In the post below I discuss a Canadian collectors fantasies about one of the decontextualised objects he owns published on the Yahoo Ancient Artifacts list. Instead of addressing my comments here, John Hooker has replied to his fellow collectors on the same secretive artefact collecting discussion list. His reply is a rambling name-dropping post with the general theme:
I see that [....] Paul Barford [...] has been making some odd claims about an object that he has never seen.
Not only I have not seen this bronze fragment, because Mr Hooker, being a private collector, has kept "his Precious" private, and did not even put a photo on the Ancient Artifacts list, and the piece is not published on the PAS database for us to see and judge the accuracy of his descriptions and believability of his fanciful ("jungian") interpretations. This is of course the whole problem with the digging of ancient artefacts from archaeological contexts and scattering them in a myriad of ephemeral private collections before any record is made. But what do we mere bread eaters know about the art? He reminds his readers that we are not experts like he himself. The "interdisciplinary" Good Collector, using psychology, Dionysiaan imagery, Jungian mandorlas and their interpretation through Hindu mythology and all sorts of other decontexctualised material to create a new imaginitive ("anything goes") New Agey context for his little piece of internet-purchased "ancient art".

In reply to my comments on the importance of context for the fuller understanding of the significance of this piece, Hooker writes accusingly:
Paul Barford also makes a very pertinent mistake when he discusses archaeology [sic]. I don't know if he is misinformed, or is just attempting to pull the wool over the eyes of his readers [....].
This "mistake", is somehow "revealed" by juxtaposing my comments on provenance with something Vincent Megaw had written on a group of red enamelled objects from Manching (Eh?). Hooker is confusing two different things (and one might ask who is trying to pull the wool over whose eyes). This has no relevance whatsoever to the point I was making about the collector's self-justificatory assertion that the provenance of the object he had bought was "probably unimportant". The PAS have been trying to get the opposite view over to finders and collectors for thirteen years without much success it seems. Maybe collectors like Hooker feel they too are "mistaken" and "misinformed"?

Hooker sums up his non-argument by stating blithely:
The facts of the matter are quite different. Looking at the nature of such finds, I would say that the chances of there being any datable context for this find are far less than 01%. I cannot even imagine what such a context could possibly be [...].
Well, even though the collector's imagination falters here, oddly enough "dating" is not the only thing that modern archaeology studies, we've come on quite a bit since the last decades of the nineteenth century (but has antiquity collecting?). I was instead making a totally different point. I really cannot see how even a visionary collector able to "see" all those themes in a scrap of metal can "say" that there would have been next to no chances that this object came from a significant context if in flagrant disregard of best practice he bought it from a silent dealer knowing nothing at all about that context. That is just what we in the trade call "wishful thinking", and such blasé attitudes to context amongst collectors is at the heart of the dilemma in working with antiquity collectors. The PAS have been trying to get this over to finders and collectors for thirteen years without much success it seems.

Still, I see from other posts there that other Yahoo Ancient Artifact collectors over there are jolly impressed by Mr Hooker's decontextualised "precious" (even given, or perhaps because of, the lack of a photo) and home-grown eroodishun. What happened to being a "responsible collectors'" list then? Methinks the PAS ought to be doing some of its "outreach" there.

UPDATE: Canadian collector Hooker is still justifying his purchase of a decontextualised item of metalwork from over the seas:
Data is (sic) often imperfect and we develop methods to overcome these deficiencies and thus the subjects move forward as they are supposed to. Perhaps you feel that I should not have bought it in the first place, but my collection is a research collection and I feel that to ignore the publication of a telling object is totally irresponsible. What would have happened if I had ignored it? There are very few who understand this stuff and it could have been bought by a tyro who would have no idea of its potential importance.
Someone who does not see the images of the passage of time and life after death as they turn it round in their hands as Hooker does? Maybe they would "see" something else. So what? An archaeological assemblage in the UK (we presume) has been trashed without record, Mr Hooker's money went to reward that, and he is bragging about it on a "responsible collectors' forum", and frankly it makes not a bit of difference what he "sees" on it. Now he says it does not matter because data are imperfect so "we develop methods to overcome these deficiencies", this method which Hooker claims he has developed is called "speculation".

This passage illustrates well exactly the self-serving justification which people offer themselves as a reason for ignoring best practice. Hooker models himself as the Good Collector, one of the few enlightened ones that should have immediate access to this privately owned object as "Only-I-Know-what-this-really-is", and "I-spotted-what-the-"experts"-overlooked" (that's what Erich von Daniken says). He intends to analyse it, publish it, donate it to a museum (where, no doubt, he hopes it will not be in the research collection there, but be displayed with a nice label, "Kindly Donated from his Research Collection by John Hooker Esq."). The question is, to what extent are there "good collectors"? As far as I can see only one member of the Yahoo "responsible collectors" list has so far questioned the ethics of buying an object like this which has quite clearly come onto the market as a result of irresponsible artefact hunting. One in two thousand.

So that's what collectors do...

"The monster looks at you -- one eye made extra wide, the other normal. Then he grabs the triskeles with its rotating "motion" emphasized by the central snail coil and shows it to you. This snail-coil had just been the widened eye, now it is a lively banner which shows the ebbing of life. The other eye of the monster now peers at you from behind this banner. What happens after death, occurs in another dimension -- the side that cannot be seen at the same time as the triskeles".
No, not a review of the latest blood and gore-monsters video game in a teenager computer magazine, but an "analysis" of a "finial" in the cabinet of collector John Hooker Esquire which he has posted on the Yahoo "AncientArtifacts" discussion list.
A smith capable of such work would have been of the druid class. [...] Eventually, the design ceases its peregrinations and returns to the above world of the top design its "soul" transmigrated back to the world of the living where death waits, once again, to show you the way around yet again.
The nonsense about life and death forces and invisible themes goes on for a few pages, what is so odd is the object on which Celtophile Hooker sees all this played out is a fragment of what he describes as a "finial" in the 3rd cent. B.C. "plastic style" and the surviving bit is only 23mm tall. He says the (unnamed) dealer misidentified and misdated it, only he, Hooker, knows the real identity.

It was bought from "a U.K. antiquities dealer". It was said to have come from metal detecting "in Oxfordshire", no more specific find spot was given. Says Hooker: "As far as I know, this is the first object in the plastic style to come from British soil" ("Only a handful of objects in this style are known, and they are mostly bracelets and anklets"). The object of course does not figure in the PAS database (nor the UKDFD one) and its current owner in Canada is jubilant: "I said to a friend at the time "If I were a person who issues export permits, I would never give one for this!"." Yeah, well they did, because its not gold and sparkly, and anyway the PAS has not seen it to say how important or otherwise it is/was.

Hooker typically for a collector reckons:
After contacting the dealer in England, I was no closer to learning where, exactly, it was found and who the finder was. [....] Too bad, but not terribly important for a piece like this. Oxfordshire had some significance, but a specific find spot would be highly unlikely to provide any more real information.
On the contrary a piece of datable metalwork as part of a specific site assemblage may have yielded information if that findspot was noted, reported and information collated before the piece was shipped off to a delighted and uncaring collector overseas. Perhaps there is a reason why the metal detector user does not want his identity known and why he's keeping quiet where it was found? Maybe it was found in pitch darkness in a remote location where nobody should be metal detecting, day or night. Or maybe it was one of a group of bronze objects found in a pot split up quietly between detecting pals? Or sold from an address in Oxfordshire on behalf of an metal detectorist operating illegally outside England? If all is legitimate and above board, why actually can there not be any openness about this in the case of a find from England where metal detecting is legal? The fact that the information is nevertheless hidden should be ringing alarm bells in both dealer and collector. But as we see, the collector does not care, "it's probably not important" he persuades himself. The important thing (which comes over very clearly in his message to the discussion list) is that he's got his hands on what he calls the "ultimate" artefact (actually this is the third time I recall hearing that the findspot of an unprovenanced "Celtic" object in the possession of this same collector is "probably not important", the others were a decorated lead spindlewhorl and a linchpin terminal). And now he's bragging about having it, dropping the names of all the Big Boys in the rather incestuous little world of Celtic metalwork studies who have been "enthusiastic" when shown the photos, and now he's bragging to fellow collectors what a clever chappie he is to have got his hands on this little goodie.

And I think establishing the findspot is important if one is going to pose questions like: "Did its owner bring it to Britain [...] Did he arrive as craftsman seeking a new patron? and did he eventually change the course of British Celtic art?". For all we know the field from which it came might be full of continental coins and potsherds because it came with the soil in the flowerpots of imported plants used to lay out the hall gardens.

Frankly I find the discussion typology of fragments of motifs, a boss here, a squiggly bit "like one on the Weedly Bottom Torc Finial" terribly sterile, and all the imagnative narrativisation that Hooker attaches to them mildly amusing. But what angers me is the totally cavalier attitude to best practice in collecting which is what the PAS is supposed to be propagating in England and Wales and has been doing so at public expense for coming up to thirteen years. Where is the evidence of this in this case?

If this object is so "unique", no responsible collector has any business buying it before he gets the full details from the dealer, who got it from somewhere. But of course the Gotta-have-it attitude of the indiscriminate collector - who will of course see himself as the "Good Collector" (giving it the "best possible home" "because only I can appreciate it for what it is" when the experts cannot).

If I was the boss of the PAS (or the Oxfordshire FLO), and am sincerely glad I am not, I'd be on to Hooker for the name and address of this "dealer" and then I'd contact them to trace this find back to the finder to get a record of it (unique or not) in the PAS database. That is the least PAS could do. Of course they will not, after all, reporting finds made during artefact hunting with a metal detector for collection or sale, no matter how interesting they are, is only voluntary isn't it? It is a policy open to abuse by artefact hunters, dealers and irresponsible collectors, who nevertheless (as Hooker himself has on more than one occasion) hold it up as a "model of good practice" that other nations should follow. If it does not work in the UK (If collectors don't make it work in the UK) then why should it be?

Vignette: Another plastic monster.

Controversial Sales at Numismatic Convention

At the 1988 New York International Numismatic Convention a hoard of Apollonia diobol coins came onto the market ("The Black Sea Hoard"). Controversy broke out as it turned out that the coins were all fakes (though the dealers that had bought them continued to deny that for some time). It later turned out that they had been produced in Bulgaria in 1988 (or 1986?) as part of the first wave of Bulgarian fake artefacts to hit western markets.

In 1999 a large quantity of forgeries of Apollonia Pontika drachms were dispersed at the New York International Numismatic Convention. Controversy broke out as it turned out that the coins from this so-called "New York Hoard" were all fakes.

How interesting it is that in two conventions well attended by international numismatists the question of where precisely these coins had “surfaced” from did not arise. I guess they all shrugged their shoulders and accepted the “old collection” explanation for them and walked on. Interesting isn’t it that the only controversy was whether they were real or not and not how they came to be offered openly on sale in the US without anybody asking for evidence that they had been legally obtained and legally exported from Bulgaria. Why not? How interesting that the organizers of the Convention did not try to stop these sales. How many more illegally exported groups of freshly "surfaced" coins are being offered openly on the US market by US dealers quite openly without anyone batting an eyelid? Is this the "freedom" that the ACCG is fighting so strenuously to maintain?

Wednesday 28 July 2010

Smashed up bits of Angkor from US Market Given Back

Seven stolen antiquities returned to Cambodia by the United States were handed over in a ceremony on 18th July after being found on the no-questions-asked market there. They included an engraved plinth from the 11th Century weighing nearly 500 pounds and a sandstone carving of a head from the 12th Century (I discussed these pieces here earlier).

The objects had been looted from the Angkor complex in Siem Reap and had arrived in the US after being smuggled through Thailand. Officials of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the Department of Homeland Security recovered the objects in 2008 as part of an operation imaginitively codenamed "Operation Antiquity", a special program to investigate cultural antiquities trafficking from Southeast Asia to the United States. In 2003 the United States and Cambodia had signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that protects Cambodian artefacts and prevents the import of illegally exported items into the United States. In 2008, the MOU was renewed and expanded to include artefacts from the Bronze Age to the Khmer era. All of the recent batch of returned items are from the Angkor period.

U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Bill Burns symbolically handed over the pieces to Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Mem San An at a ceremony at the National Museum in Phnom Penh on Sunday, July 18, 2010.

The State Department news releases concentrate on the handing-back ceremony and offer no details whatsoever of in whose hands the items were found in the US or what their intended destination was, nor whether the people who had supplied them were investigated.

Most likely it will never be known from which parts of the monumental complex these "collectable bits" had been taken, Cambodia's past is being shattered by unscrupulous looters who have contacts willing to buy them and smuggle them out to the no-questions-asked foreign markets which provide the financial motor. Instead of smilingly handing back a few bits and bobs American dealers did not manage to sell, maybe the US should be doing something to clean up the no-questions-asked market which allows others like it to pass through without a hitch. Merely handing back a few loose bits for a photo opportunity and chatter away about "international cooperation" is not preventing the ongoing destruction of the archaeological record to fill the needs of one of the world's largest no-questions-asked markets for dug-up and knocked-off "antiquities" in the United States of America.

Photo: Uncle Sam graciously hands out largesse to the little people of the Third World. At a ceremony at the National Museum in Phnom Penh on Sunday, July 18, 2010, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Bill Burns hands over a sandstone carving to Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Mem San An [Photo: US State Department].

"Balanced"? Bibibliographies, the "Looting Question" from the Collectors' viewpoint

Since he labelled Hugh Jarvis' extensive online bibliography on the "Looting Question" a "disgrace to academic research" which "does not even attempt to address the vast published scope of private and public collector thought on the subject", Wayne Sayles offered to put up a "more balanced" bibliography on the topic to supplement that of Jarvis. He has now carried out that intent:
There are many bibliographies online that highlight the archaeological perspective in the cultural property debate. The bibliography that follows is supplemental to those as it focuses on resources with a more balanced perspective.
More balanced? Judged as a reading list from a US "collectors' rights" lobby group opposed to “archeologie uber alles” as they put it, there is very little here about collecting in the US of archaeological artefacts. There are three or so references to metal detecting in the UK, but nothing about metal detecting in the US (and there is a debate on this over there). Nothing about the debates on pot-digging in the US (such as those emerging from the Blanding case) or arrowheads. So much then for a large part of US "collector thought" on the subject. In fact one learns more about this from Jarvis' bibliography than Sayles'.

It may be argued that the ACCG is all about coin collecting, and elsewhere has a lot to say about the "public benefits of coin collecting". So where is "collector thought" on this reflected in the bibliography? In fact very few of the listed items refer to coins at all (I counted just five), which is rich as this was one of Sayles' specific criticisms of Jarvis.

A dominant theme is texts on the broad theme of how jolly silly US customs regulations on antiquities imports are and a series of legalistic articles, but while - revealingly - this is almost the entire focus of the ACCG's activity, this is actually getting well away from the topic of "looting" isn't it?

There are also an awful lot of "who owns..." texts (presumably referring to the 'other end' of the collectors' supply chain in the 'source countries'). Well, the answer is obvious, we all do, but the key to the argument is how dealers and collectors (private and institutional) come into posession of what they have. The issue here is not ownership per se, but chain of legitimate ownership. There is not a word about any of this in Sayles' bibliography, which perpetuates the manner in which collectors misrepresent the topic of major concern. And I really cannot believe that this means there is NO "collector thought" on this topic.

Also as I predicted earlier Sayles in his bibliography equates museum collecting with private collecting, which is by no means as valid as it might have been a few decades ago.

Then there's the inevitable thread represented by a few works on "the current market is not doing any harm and is good for artefacts" and the somewhat unneccessary what a lot of idiots archaeologists, anthroplogists and all the rest are as they don't know what "culture is" and they are all radical nationalists thread.

Not a single work by ACCG mouthpieces Dave Welsh or John Hooker or the current ACCG President referenced I note. Nor anything on or emerging from the ACE. David Gill notes other obvious omissions. I would add my favourite piece of antiquitist special pleading, Tokely -Parry's Rescuing the Past: The Cultural Heritage Crusade, why is THAT not on Sayles' list (is it because he was put in prison?). Tokely says exactly the same things as the ACCG dealers. I am sure it would not be so difficult to find other notable omissions.

And all but one of the references Sayles cited are in English, as if there were no "collector thought" on the international market anywhere else in the world .I find it very odd that some of the entries in Sayles bibliography make reference to the online versions, while others do not even though I know that many other references he cites are in fact accessible online. Did he want to hide this, or did he simply not check?

Jarvis' bibliography incorporates a number of online resources including blogs, forums and webpages. Sayles omits use of any of these, which is odd because it is precisely through forums like the Yahoo "Ancient Artifacts" forum, or in coin collecting terms "Moneta-L" as well as for example UK "Metal detecting" forums that those interested in the issues can find "collectors' thoughts" on them, written down by the collectors themselves. It is symptomatic though that virtually all of these resources are kept as closed access media, preventing outsiders from learning those "thoughts". As a result, the outside reader is unlikely to be able to penetrate very far into the issues. There is a "vast body of private and public collector thought on the subject" which is thus inaccessible to the public - the public who is the beneficiary of the "who owns..." questions. The compulsive need for secrecy in the antiquities market is not - to my knowledge - addressed in any detail in any of the bibliographic items Sayles cites. Why not?

It would have been nice also to see mentioned T.J. Buggey's webpage "Ethics and Coin collecting", even though it is both dated and superficial, it is notable as one of the few accounts I have come across in this milieu which even acknowledges that there is an ethical (rather than merely legal) issue. Perhaps that is why Sayles ignores it. He does not like reid oldsborough, so that's probably the reason his page on the topic (which, whether you agree with what he writes, is "collectors' thought" too) is also ignored.

Also since the 'rival' bibliography to which this is intended as a supplement (allegedly - because I do not think it is true) considers "the archaeological viewpoint" and in the works there cited some quite specific accusations are made about collecting and the effects of the current trade and current modes of collecting on the long-term survival of archaeological sites and assemblages, it is surprising that there are very few items ciited in Sayles list which actually refute those arguments in any detail. In particular ACCG mouthpiece Welsh has several times stated the collectors' view that "there is no scientific proof that collecting causes looting" (what he mis-terms "the Renfrew Hypothesis - it is in fact Elia's). There is not a single work cited by Sayles in his balanced bibliography which sets out the views of this school of thought and the argumentation behind it. Neither is there a single work cited setting out the details of the stupid argument that the coins collected by collectors do not come from archaeological sites because they all come from hoards buried in the middle of a campaign by soldiers on the edge of battlefields. There is a whole load of collector lore which is bandied about in the literature (and especially these days the coiney literature and 'discussions') which is simply not represented in Sayles' bibliography. Why not?

Perhaps Sayles, calling Jarvis' efforts a "disgrace" did not have much of a concept of how difficult compiling a resource like this actually is, let alone making it reflect all possible points of view. Now I suspect he does. As Tom Flynn noted, the cultural heritage field is "divided and polemical enough without those divisive and entrenched positions being brought into the classroom", perhaps now the ideologues of the collecting world could take a cold look at Sayles' bibliography and work out what is missing - or more importantly what has not yet been written and published in a formal form.

Tuesday 27 July 2010

Collectors' tip: If your Dealer is Arrested, go and Visit Him in Jail

A case in Korea illustrates the power of the close relationship which develops between dealers and no-questions-asked collectors ('1,200 plundered artifacts recovered', by Jeong Seon-eon from the Joongang Daily, heads-up from MSN). Three antique shop owners and a collector were arrested on Monday for handling stolen artefacts. The information which led to the arrests came from another antique dealer who had been jailed for the same offence:
The story began in 2005, when a group of 16 thieves stole 4,000 cultural artifacts such as books, scrolls and folding screens used in the royal court, from more than 100 historical sites over a two year period. The thieves sold the stolen treasures to antique dealers before being arrested in July 2007. After the thieves were behind bars, police questioned the antique dealers, and some revealed names of their customers or where the stolen artifacts ended up, leading to the recovery of 1,900 artifacts. But others refused, including a dealer surnamed Kim, and because of his lack of cooperation with the police, Kim was detained and imprisoned for two and a half years. “Other cultural artifact traders who were arrested cooperated with the police in the investigation,” said a source at the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency. “If Kim had also revealed information about who he sold the stolen artifacts to, he would not have been detained.” [....] “Those who deal with cultural artifacts are very tightly connected, so it’s difficult to get information,” said the police.
A feeling of betrayal of the trust between dealers and collectors was the key to the next step of this investigation:
Last March, Kim visited the policeman who investigated him in 2007 and said he had had a change of heart. “I will tell you all the names of the people who bought stolen cultural properties from me,” Kim told the policeman. “I protected their identities then, but they betrayed me and didn’t even visit me once when I was in prison.” With the information Kim provided, the police recovered 1,200 stolen cultural items in April, including books written by Sukjong, the 19th king in the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), books from the Sejong period, and other scrolls and folding screens. Police could also catch three antique shop owners who allegedly sold the goods, and a professor of Chinese classics at a university in Asan, South Chungcheong province, who was a customer of Kim [who... ]allegedly purchased 900 books from Kim for around 12 million won ($10,158.3).
Interestingly the article says that the professor allegedly told Kim: “As I am only a collector of old books, I am not going to resell any of them. So I’m fine even if they are stolen.” This seems a pretty common attitude among collectors.

We are also told that as part of this investigation
"The police also discovered a Web site called “Kobay,” the biggest cultural property auction Web site in Korea, on which many of the stolen artifacts were traded. Kobay was operating without a license, and the police booked its owner for running a business without one.

Internet Artefact Dealers to be Exempt from Sales Taxes?

The rise of internet dealing has over the past decade and a half given the trade in antiquities a totally new dynamic and form. Over on Tim Haines' closed-access Yahoo "AncientArtifacts" discussion list members are being urged to sign a petition to reject a US law, called the Main Street Fairness Act, which would mean that online traders will be penalised for not paying sales taxes like bricks and mortar small businesses and thus by avoiding these surcharges undercutting their prices:
On July 1, a bill was introduced in the United States House of Representatives that would impose complex sales tax collecting requirements on internet retailers and entrepreneurs, including our eBay sellers. If passed, HR 5660, the so-called, "Main Street Fairness Act," would require small online retailers to comply with varying and regularly changing sales tax rules and rates for thousands of tax jurisdictions, and to collect and remit sales taxes from each customer. This new sales tax scheme would be extremely burdensome and costly to small online retailers like you who have set up shop on the internet. A similar bill is expected to be introduced in the Senate as well. [...] Please join our effort to stop the passage of this anti-small business bill. In three minutes or less, you can sign this petition urging your lawmakers to protect small, online retailers [...] Together we can make a difference!
So the no-questions-asked dealers in dugup antiquities already want to avoid being subject to laws concerning legal imports, now they want to avoid paying the same taxes as other sellers just because they do it over the Internet.

Note the use of emotive phrases like: "complex sales tax collecting requirements", "varying and regularly changing sales tax rules and rates for thousands of tax jurisdictions", "extremely burdensome and costly to small online retailers", like they are no doubt to high street stores already which do comply, which is presumably why they want laws to prevent the internet cowboys undercutting them. If law abiding shop keepers are paying the taxes, why should other traders ignore these laws? That is simply unfair competition.

US Collectors: What is the Cultural Property of the US?

In a longer post here I discussed the views being propagated in US antiquity collecting circles ('Unidroit-L SS and Stolen Cultural Property where Scott Semans writes that the notion of cultural property is a "bastard concept" with "idiotic precepts" used only by "radical archaeologists and grasping third-world politicians". Nobody else on that "discussion list" has demurred. We may well ask then what is the cultural property of the country where these collectors live and expound such views? Does the United States not have any cultural property then?

Mr Semans? Mr Welsh? Mr Tompa (who "observes" it - presumably from afar)?

Vignette, cover of A. R. Crite's Towards a Rediscovery of the Cultural Heritage of the United States.

Support A Fundamentalist Regime, Buy an Artefact or Two...

The London-based Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies (CAIS) is not terribly enthused about the 'Iran Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organisation', the state department responsible for the protrection of the heritage:
Since March 2009, Iranian archaeologists are banned giving interviews or reveal any information about the ICHTHO or the status of Iranian archaeology. By implementing such a ban the theocratic-totalitarian regime has closed the only reliable avenue for obtaining the accurate information about the status of the archaeological discoveries and the cultural treasures recovered from the sites. By some reports, the number of priceless artefacts passed to the Iranian museums by ICHTHO, especially those made of precious metals recovered from the sites have been fallen drastically. The illicit antiquities trade and selling Iranian historical relics to the European markets and private collectors worldwide has become one of the most lucrative revenues for the ruling clerics and their families. Since the rise of the Islamic Regime to power in 1979, not only the smuggling and looting of Iranian art and antiquity, but a deliberate destruction, mainly Iran’s pre-Islamic heritage have been systematic and widespread. These destructions have been increased since the appointment of Mahmood Ahmadinajad as the president by the Ali Khamanei, the regime's Spiritual Leader.
So would you buy an artefact from Iran, whether it had been imported legally or illegally? Does the money go to some poor peasant farmer "subsistence digging", or to "the ruling clerics and their families" and the international dealers trading with them?

Or is this another of those pieces of anti-Iran propaganda we hear so much these days?

The Global Top Ten Looted Artifacts?

Over on something called Mujipao's Blog, "Just another weblog", there is a post called "Tracking the global top ten looted artifacts" which despite its somewhat dodgy translation into English from, I imagine, Chinese may be of iterest. They are:

1)The Nefertiti bust from the Amarna excavations,
2)The marbles ripped off from the Parthenon in Athens,
3)The body of Sarah Baartman, The "Hottentot Venus",
4)Mummy of Ramsses the Great (eh?),
5)The Euphronios Krater, stolen from Italy, for a time in the New York Metropolitan Museum,
6)"Priam's Treasure" from Schliemann's excavations at Hissarlik, Now in Sankt Petersburg as war-booty [sort of] (I think that's what he means),
7)The "Koh-i-noor" diamond 'acquired" by the British in 1849,
8)Geronimo’s skull
9)Everything still missing from the Iraq National Museum
10)The animal heads from the 1860 looting of the Summer Palace Haiyantang water clock made for the Qianlong Emperor has to be "number one".

Hmm. A varied list and interestingly selected. Number two I can agree with. I do not accept that (however reegretatable that it is not in Eypt) the nefertiti bust was lost through dishonesty, rather carelessness on the part of the relevant authorities. Number three is a dark shadow on European "science" but surely not "looting as we know it", number 8 is just disgusting, but again not really looting as such. Number five, another stain, no doubt that it should be in the list symbolising all sorts of evils of the antiquities trade. No doubt about number nine, another stain and another symptom of the evils of the no-questions-asked collectors' market. I'm not sure about Ramsses the Great being on this list, another cadaver. It came from the investigation (that should be in inverted commas really) of the Deir Cache and is in Cairo Museum. Maybe Mujipao does not think he should be on display? I have mixed feelings about this myself. Should he be in a box? Should he be back down in the crumbling Theban cache tomb? "Priam's Treasure", perhaps it should not be in either Germany or Russia, but back in Turkey. Keeping it as war loot is not really on. Koh-i-Nor, that's a difficult one, its owner was "made an offer he could not refuse" buy the Brits, but then was it his to own?

Then we come to those animal heads... not that I am not sympathetic, but not quite the same class as the Parthenon Marbles as looting, and only a small fraction of what was lost from the summer palace looting. But yes, it would be nice to see all twelve back in place, though I'd not place it at number one myself.

Which of course illustrates how subjective such a list could be. It seems that its author has chosen an interesting range of problems, but there seems an interesting concentration on "items taken for dominance" in keeping with the placing of the Haiyantang heads at the top of the list. "Academic greed/kudos seeking (items 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, perhaps 2) also figures as another leitmotif.

So perhaps readers might like to give some though to their own top ten?

Sunday 25 July 2010

Unidroit-L SS and Stolen Cultural Property

Well, there was little chance of reasonable discussion breaking out on either Unidroit-L or Tim Haines' closed-access "AncientArtifacts" list after Dave Welsh's attempted dissection of my views on cultural property. Several people, including Mr W., seem to have had difficulty grasping the core concept. John Hooker also replied to Welsh, but after a few dozen lines like a stuck record got onto his hobby horse of his "method" of studying the inconography of "Celtic coins" and something he wrote a decade ago, the relevance to the question in hand is totally a mystery to me.

One person who has no doubts about what he thinks about it all is Unidroit-L member and fellow coin dealer "SS", who writes (among other things):
Defining "cultural property" is of great importance only to those who would use the bastard concept in their own interest. [...] But however defined, or left undefined, CP is not the main issue. The best arguments against confiscations and repatriations are broader, and have been raised in this forum many times: importance of context in archaeology, importance of archaeology, public education better served by distribution, visibility of objects, objects better protected in private ownership, overly-narrow concepts of what a culture is, issues of sovereignty and private property, etc., etc. Focusing on "cultural property" and giving the term legitimacy by trying to define it is playing THEIR game. Instead, why not speak of the issue of (or debate over) RETENTIONISM? [...] By giving this agenda of radical archaeologists and grasping third-world politicians a name and identifying its idiotic precepts, we can, in some measure, take it back. Why not put effort into defining them and their agenda, rather than helping refine their ideas about what they want to steal from us?
well, it is easy to see here that the philosophical issues are not as much interest to Scott Semans as the problem of those nasty US authorities "confiscating and repatriating" items at the behest of "radical" archaeologists and "grasping third world politicians" (Italy "third world"?). Well, since that which is confiscated and eventually repatriated is cultural property which is in the US illegally (ie. in some sense at least stolen cultural property), I think many will be surprised that Mr Semans is so adamant that these items are being "stolen from us" (North American dealers and collectors).

Oddly enough, while Welsh has been quite vocal on his own and Haines' list in explaining that in broaching this subject he really was not intent on criticising me ("really, honest") and my views, just raising something collectors should know more about, he fails to put Semans right about the origin of the use of the term "cultural property". It is neither a "bastard concept" nor does it need to rely on coin collectors and dealers using it to be regarded as a legitimate term.

But yes, I think it would be a jolly good thing to have a precise definition of this collectors' concept of "retentionism", and a definition of what its opposite is. Presumably - given the origin of this pseudo-debate - the latter will apply to the United States of America's Cultural Property (or maybe lack of it, does the USA have "cultural property" Mr Semans?)

Also I would like to hear more about this notion that "the importance of context in archaeology" is "one of the best arguments against confiscations and repatriations" (eh?)
the "importance of archaeology" likewise. Perhaps the dealer means the (from his narrow perspective) "unimportance"?

I think we get the drift of "public education being better served by distribution, visibility of objects" being "one of the best arguments against confiscations and repatriations"> Sort of ACE stuff then? I would counter by remarking that public education in the source countries would be best served by this cultural property being distributed and visible there, rather in some foreign land across the Atlantic. So the US dealer is thinking here only of his own back yard, hang the rest.

Also we get the drift of the "objects better protected in private ownership", though I do not believe it. Objects in museums and public collections are frequently much better documented than what we see coming onto the market as old collections are split up. Conservation standards among private collectors leave a lot to be desired too. There is more to curation than putting an item in a secure place like a bank vault or home of a gun-owning padre.

Mr Semans thinks that US authorities have "overly-narrow concepts of what a culture is". But really that has nothing to do with whether an object on the US market has a valid export licence or not, does it?

Finally another of those "best arguments against confiscations and repatriations" are "issues of sovereignty and private property". Well, surely importing material which has been illegally exported is indeed one of those issues of sovereignty. The right of a sovereign nation to define what is and what is not its cultural property, and what it will allow to be exported and what it will not. A right US no-questions-asked dealers not only ignore but also trample upon.

Mr Welsh and all the rest of his motley crew are perfectly welcome to discuss this here in the comments section as long as they keep it reasonable.

Saturday 24 July 2010

Extreme Views of an Antiquity Collector About the Past

Tim Haines' closed-access anti-archaeological Yahoo "AncientArtifacts" discussion group is one of those places where we can see the views of the people who claim they are "educating themselves" and "deepening society's knowledge about the past" by collecting unprovenanced archaeological finds and discussing them among themselves without the participation of archaeologists. Haines a few days ago posted there an article which claims (see warning*): King Tut’s DNA is Western European. A contentious enough claim one would have thought, but look where he found this reading matter, the so-called "European Union Times". Even a cursory glance through the other articles o this website casts some doubt on the judgement of a moderator who thinks it appropriate to post an article from a racist hate website onto his own group.

The article "reveals" that the DNA of the 18th dynasty pharoah is consistent with R1b apparently the most common Y-chromosome haplogroup in western Europe. The (anonymous) author of the article concludes: "So much for the Afro-centrists and others who have derided the very obvious northwestern European appearance of a large number of the pharonic mummies. It seems like March of the Titans was right after all..." (for an online version of Mr Kemp's nonsense, see the March of the Titans website, and several refuting the author's arguments). In other words, ?Tutankhamun was white.

The comments on the website are revealing of who else apart from Mr Haines reads it, among them was the one by "Professor Demetrius" from the USA, perhaps another antiquity collector like Haines with his own "hands on" interpretation of ancient history. According to him the very reason why the Egyptian civilization fell was that "it was eventually overrun by Blacks and Semites – if there had been none of those racial groupings present, the white- Egyptian civilization would still be going!". The 25th dynasty "was a colored one – and also, of course, the LAST Egyptian dynasty. This colored dynasty was the result of racial integration which diluted the original White population of Egypt, which then led to the disappearance of the Egyptian culture". Well, I guess if you ignore the 26th and then the other five dynasties its the last before the Ptolemies (wasn't Egyptian culture still surviving then?).

Over on Amazon, we find Mr Haines has reviewed two books, one is about shabti collection (its what Haines collects), and the other is revealing. Its The traveler's key to ancient Egypt: a guide to the sacred places of ancient Egypt by John Anthony West (one of the principal initiators of the "the Sphinx-older-than-Egyptologists-think" theory) which he describes as "For any mind that is even slightly ajar, let alone open...", noting that "West gives an alternative account of the meaning of the monuments and antiquities to be seen in Egypt, [...] and has a different viewpoint to the orthodox school in many cases [...] I felt rather sorry for tourists in groups with official guides, because they seemed to be missing out on at least half of the story, and in many cases the whole point [...] questions which conventional Egyptology has either glibly brushed under the carpet or failed to address at all". Yeah right, like his "analysis of the architecture of the Temple of Luxor, based on the work of Schwaller de Lubicz, [...] once it was pointed out how the whole building maps onto a plan of the human skeleton, I found it very difficult to refute". [Well apart from the fact that the parts of the temple making up that plan are of different phases].

What is interesting about this is that it shows what is happening to all the loose ancient artefacts on the market, they are going to collectors who believe things like this and spread it about. What kind of "learning about the past" has Mr Haines' accumulation of dugup antiquities produced one wonders. What theories is his personal collection required to bolster?

Mr Haines, you probably already know, but there is a LOT of similar DNA based material on the Stormfront website (and no, I am not providing a link) and other White Supremecist resources. They love the spurious "scientific" air that using this material to prove their various theories gives.

As for the DNA "evidence" about Tutankhamun being "white", have a look at Kate Phizackerley's website, expecially the article Was Tutankhamun European? (Consideratons of Haplogroup) .

* Warning Kate Phizackerley says that her anti-virus program warned her that there is some (unspecified) threat on the "EU Times" website, my updated anti-virus program did not detect one. I do not give a link to the "news" website itself however just in case, and click on the article itself at your own risk.

Friday 23 July 2010

Hoard From Frome: Not The Only One?

I see from the news that the Frome Hoard mentioned here a number of times has been declared Treasure, not really all that surprising. What does surprise me however is another piece of news reported by the BBC.

Mr Crisp found a hoard that was buried in undisturbed archaeological deposits in a pit and was well below the base of the ploughsoil. Despite the fact that an excavation was carried out here, we still know very little about the actual archaeological and landscape context of its deposition, it is still a load of coins in a pot in a hole.

Just after the official announcement was made, in connection with ongoing discussions here about to what degree artefact hunters make finds at random and to what degree they concentrate their searching on sites known from the archaelogical literature to be likely to be "productive", I wrote to the Somerset archaeologists specifically to ask whether this hoard had been found by searching a known Roman site (at the back of my mind is a fuzzy and possibly false recollection that Frome has a villa or temple site).

I received three very nice polite and helpful replies first from Steve Minnitt Somerset County Council and then from the FLO Anna Booth assuring me that this was not the case. That Mr Crisp was just searching a random field. Both assured me that Mr Crisp was searching a field where "nothing" had previously been discovered, that it was a site which produced very few finds, a small amount of pottery, "a few coins" and "very little metalwork", but (Ms Booth pers. comm. 14.07.10) that a siliqua hoard had been found somewhere in the general area in the nineteenth century.

The BBC however reports "Mr Crisp had earlier found a hoard of 60 silver coins in the same field before he discovered the larger pot of coins. That find was also declared treasure earlier", but this is in conflict with what two archaeologists from Somerset County Council, one of whom works for the PAS too assure me, that nothing had been previously discovered here. Indeed Mr Crisp on TV himself protests he'd "found nothing like" a hoard before.

The question is whether Mr Crisp was targetting a site known to have produced important artefacts in the past. The BBC account suggests that not only was he searching an area suspected of producing a coin hoard known from old records, but a site from which he himself had already recovered Treasure. So what is the truth?

Not the Only Treasure on Treasure Findspots

The findspot where an object or group of objects which is declared Treasure because of their legally defined national importance deserves more protection than merely trying to keep them secret. At this moment there are probably all sorts of folk waiting for the crops to be cut on certain fields in Staffordshire and sharpening their digging tools and making sure their night vision goggles work. The environs of the Staffordhire Hoard beckon.

There are several cases reported (and goodness knows how many unreported) where later searching around where a Treasure find has been made has produced other finds. Sometimes very valuable finds, and searching such sites is potentially a lucrative opportunity. On the other hand, very few Treasure findspots (and that includes the Frome Hoard and Staffordshire Hoard) have had sufficient survey and investigation to allow us to say we fully understand the context in which they were deposited. Obviously any further artefact hunting of the environs of such findspots is damaging the archaeological record (and let us emphasise, these are sites from which a legal process has already determined can be obtained nationally important archaeological resources, not just any old site).

Should it not be the case that when a site produces Treasure, it should receive automatically legal status equivalent to scheduling (which can be later removed should the Secretary of State so decide)? There are at least two good reasons for this, the first archaeological, the second financial.

Such a procedure would make it incumbent on any future would-be searcher to obtain scheduled monument permission to dig up more treasure, and thus allow such a procedure to be refused in order to protect the surrounding archaeology (the archaeological context of the nationally important finds' findspot). Such an automatic scheduling process would make wild searching there without such a permit illegal - but more importantly actually render it easier to charge so-called "nighthawkers" found on a site with an actual offence in contrast to the current laws of "trespass".

This would also make good financial sense, these Treasure rewards are a great strain (and will continue to be) on the resources available for "culture" in general. If any archaeological remains are out of harm's way below plough level on a site legally protected, there is no need, on a site where it is already known such finds may be made, to pay a treasure hunter to hoik more and more of them out of the ground just yet. They can wait for the institution of a more subtle, cost effective [archaeologists do not get a Treasure reward] and academically driven approach to their eventual recovery. Let us try to get the UK Treasure system dealing mainly with accidental finds, and not rewarding people for going out and deliberately targetting sites known already to produce archaeological "Treasures".

Thursday 22 July 2010

Balancing the Bibliographies: Private Collector "Thought" on Looting

Re: the recent coiney discussion of Hugh Jarvis: The "Looting Question" Bibliography: Web and Literary Resources on the Archaeological Politics of Private Collecting, Commercial Treasure Hunting, Looting, and "Professional" Archaeology.

There has been an online reading list by (lithics specialist?) Hugh Jarvis about "archaeological politics" including looting available on the internet for quite a while now (a link to it has been included in my sidebar link section for as long as this blog has had one). This bibliography is extensive, but not comprehensive; it is an overview, and as the author himself admits "the main focus is on North America". It also covers a wider range of topics, the ethics of "commercial - i.e., developer funded - archaeology" included (the coverage of this is weak seen from even just the British perspective and it seems to me that this topic really deserves a bibliography of its own anyway). I also wonder what the author thinks is the difference between "looting" and "commercial treasure hunting"? Jarvis' compilation also has an internal stratigraphy, the original resource forms its skeleton, now perhaps a little anachronistic, with periodic, but understandably (given the author's current employment) not always comprehensive updates. Nevertheless unquestionably as a preliminary reading list, as a source of places to look for information - many of them online - a useful compilation well worth browsing.

Anyhow, this resource was recently discovered by lawyer Kimberly Alderman who enthusiastically put a link to it on her blog too. There was a swift and sharp reaction to that from the coineys (the usual culprits: Sayles and Tompa). Wayne Sayles ripped into it in the comments and then put a whole post on his blog about it ("I'm always looking for cultural property related resources and materials" he says - not "always" enough it appears to have found it earlier). Sayles opines:
In my view, this site and its bibliography are a disgrace to academic research. It is merely a list of publications by and for archaeologists and does not even attempt to address the vast published scope of private and public collector thought on the subject. Just take a look at the list of contributors and you can see in a heartbeat how “comprehensive” it is. Better yet, do a search for “ancient coin” in the bibliography and see how much dialogue you get. My search yielded zero.
("site and its bibliography"?). Well, hey, we do not find the names "Sayles", "Welsh", "Hooker" or "Tompa" mentioned there. Should they be? Once again the coineys are marginalised and protesting about it. As for "ancient coins", I thought the ACCG position was that the vast amount of coins on the market today result from the splitting up of "old collections" and that they do not come from looting, so why are they complaining that a search does not reveal them as the products of looting?

The "disgrace to academic research", "fails the test of academic credibility" (or its variant, the "lack of qualifications" personal attack) is a familiar trope of the antiquity collectors, in fact addressed to anyone who writes things about collecting they'd rather not see in black and white on a page.

On his blog, Sayles moans that in this overview there is
very little to do here with the philosophical or legal questions regarding the transfer of cultural property between individuals or states, or with the distinction between art theft and archaeological site looting. No coverage whatever of the legitimate market and issues facing law abiding collectors nor of the raging debate over application of nationalist laws in an international market.[...] None of the well known collector blogs are cited, nor are any of the moderate archaeology blogs like that of Derek Fincham.
[I do not know how Derek Fincham would feel being lumped with the "archaeologists", a term most frequently used with pejorative meaning by Sayles]. As for how "well known" the collectors blogs are, I think Mr Sayles rather underestimates the degree to which the collectors have been marginalising themselves from current debate by the tone they adopt in their public writings.

There is no sign, Sayles says of the:
classic collector perspectives written by Cuno, Merryman, Fitz Gibbon, De Montebello, Alsop, Boardman and others
and "no collector group or museum codes of ethics are mentioned". Sayles announces:
To balance this bibliography with a list of publications and articles reflecting the collector/museum viewpoint I will create a supplemental bibliography over the next few days and post it on the ACCG web site.
That should be worth seeing, for balance, let it include some UK metal detecting forums and "publications".

The observant reader will note an interesting tendency here. Sayles persists in subsuming private collecting (which includes the no-questions-asked approach of the majority of the current trade) in the same milieu with institutional collecting as though they are the same thing. On the contrary, there are very few private collectors I would suggest that actually and consciously apply any of the several codes of practice and/or ethics of museums to their collecting (David Knell is one exception here). On the contrary, there is very little discussion of these codes of ethics on collectors forums (such as Tim Haines Yahoo "AncientArtifacts" group, or Dave Welsh's Unidroit-L, or indeed on the pages of the ACCG webpage run by Sayles), which gives a fair measure of the interest there is in these matters in this milieu. Indeed, I imagine that any attempt to hold private collectors to these standards (concerning not only acquisition but also documentation, but also matters such as the treatment of human remains - see here, here and here) would not be met at all favourably in such milieus.

The ranters of the private collecting world are all too willing to cite, for example, Cuno's defence of the universal collection [ Who Owns Antiquity?: Museums and the Battle over Our Ancient Heritage] without noting that Cuno's vision applies to institutional collections which he clearly sees as separate from ephemeral private collections. They are indeed quite seperate phenomena, and as the museum world becomes more conscious of the ethical and political issues which private collectors consistently insist on ignoring, are becoming increasingly separated.

I wonder to what degree the museums would accept the equation which private collectors like Sayles are currently making? From their point of view - and disregarding for the moment the matter of collectors' donations (not always free of course of problems and controversies)- is the largely indiscriminate accumulation in undocumented ephemeral personal hoards of archaeological artefacts of unknown provenance to any degree fulfilling the same mission as their professional museum curation of cultural property? Virtually everything about the current form of no-questions-asked private collecting of archaeological artefacts is the opposite of the standards set by modern museum practice: from the acquisition policies, documentation, proper storage and conservation facilities to the issue of accessibility.

Sayles wants to see more in Jarvis' bibliography about "the philosophical or legal questions regarding the transfer of cultural property between individuals or states", and of "the raging debate over application of nationalist laws in an international market" ("there is a huge corpus of material informing the anti-nationalist view, one would think that an odd reference or two might have cropped up somewhere amidst this assemblage"). I think the former is already covered in Jarvis' bibliography, and it remains to see what Sayles actually comes up with (apart from his own Wikipedia-generated "paper") on the latter (especialy with regard transfer of items between private "individuals", i.e., the collectors ACCG claims to represent). Also it will be interesting to see what academic bibliography Sayles supplies to cover the topic of "the legitimate market" and "issues facing law abiding collectors". Sayles hints that there is a "vast published scope" of "private collector thought" on the subject, let us see the published evidence of this reflection and thought, and see whether it comes up to the academic standards he demands from Dr Jarvis.

I had to laugh when I saw Peter Tompa's comments on Kimberly Alderman's blog: "A number of the sources cited in the bibliography are only available on the web", see here. I think, looking at where Mr Jarvis works (as a "cylibrarian"), providing a largely online resource was precisely the intent.

For other responses to the coiney reaction to Kimberly Alderman's post see Gill on SAFE, (and while there take a look at the SAFE reading lists). In my sidebar there is a series of links to other sites providing further informatuion, and down at the bottom you will find a selection of the blogs and other online resources presenting the collectors' views, but I am not holding my breath waiting for acknowledgement of the coineys that this blog has made the effort to show its readers that there is another side to the argument.

Anyway, in order to achieve some 'balance', we await with bated breath Wayne Sayle's contribution to the academic debate on the no-questions-asked private collecting of unprovenanced archaeological artefacts. Watch this space. :>)

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