Tuesday 14 December 2010

Does Roger Bland Say One Thing to UK Detectorists and Another to US Coin Collectors?

Over on Tim Haines' Yahoo AncientArtifacts collectors and dealers discussion list, coin dealer Dave Welsh is still holding forth on how wrong it is to criticise the no-questions-asked trade in dugup ancient artefacts.
The whole argument against continuing the present licit trade in unprovenanced artifacts is based upon loss of context. [...] Roger Bland, an archaeologist [and numismatist] who has outstanding and verifiable credentials, profoundly disagrees with Mr. Barford regarding loss of context involved in detectorist finds (the vast majority of discovered coins, for example). Dr Bland is Head of the Department of Portable Antiquities and Treasure at the British Museum, in which capacity he is responsible for the Portable Antiquities Scheme, a project to record all archaeological objects found by the public in England and Wales, and for the Museum's operation of the Treasure Act. Dr Bland has observed that "Most of the finds come from metal detectorists working cultivated land. This is significant. The archaeological context has already been disturbed and removing the artifacts helps save them from damage from deep plowing and/or chemicals used in food production." [Presentation to members of Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington DC on June 26, 2007]
Well, I am sure Dr Bland said "ploughing", but is that all he said? So Welsh's point seems to be that when he went to the States the Head of the PAS was telling coin collectors and dealers and US policy makers that context is not important because most artefacts coming onto the market do not have a context? Is that REALLY what the head of the UK's PAS said? Who paid for his trip, the British or Americans? So it does not matter that V-coins dealers are selling coins dugup by British metal detectorists and sent off overseas without passing through the PAS system because "95% of them" have no context anyway? This seems to be diametrically opposite to what Bland and his employees are telling UK metal detectorists. Furthermore, if 95% of these finds on thePAS database have "no context", just what is the point of "recording" them at great public expense? One might as well be recording decontextualised items bought on eBay. What a waste of taxpayers' money that would be. If only 5% of the finds on the PAS database provide any information, for only they have some kind of context, then what on earth are we funding the recording of the other 95% for? We could make massive savings in the PAS by just concentrating on recording those items which have a context and we could justify omitting to record the rest of the stuff which is just bulking out the records.

Is that what Roger Bland said in Washington? If so, then making the Brits fund a recording scheme which is 95% ballast seems a little excessive.

Or is it rather the US coin dealer which has misunderstood and misreported?

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