Tuesday 4 January 2011

Truth and deceit About the Antiquities Market

In a text called 'The truth about the antiquities trade....' an antiquity dealer is - not surprisingly - quoted as saying:
"Barford[']s assertion that the trade is huge and large
numbers of antiquities are changing hands every day
is wrong."
The text was written by Candice Jarman, a secretary in Bournemouth whose credentials for making such assessments about the antiquities market are stated to be that he is neither a metal detectorist or dealer but has some "friends' who are metal detectorists.

Jarman claims that the number of antiquity dealers is exaggerated in the literature about the subject. Reference is made to an earlier post of mine talking about an antiquity collecting forum's "good dealers" list by Ernie Krumbein which I suggest readers look at to examine "the workings of the antiquities trade [...] at first hand". It is of course not intended to be even a partial list of all dealers in the western world and Near East.

Then attention is turned to eBay.
Today (4 January 2011) at 21.19, there are 5,120 results for antiquities listed
A search just now shows the number of items on sale on ebay to be 20,229 results found in "antiquities" and a further 27,588 results found under Coins, ancient:
Let us subtract the 701 replicas and reproductions and the books on offer. It is still a substantial number on sale on any one day. The spread of portable antiquities on sale on eBay is similar today:
There is a "slight" difference between the number of 5,120 artefacts claimed to be on ebay last night and the number (more than 40 000) that anyone can find a few hours later. Either there has been a lot of mid-week nocturnal activity by ebay dealers all over the world, or somebody is misleading their readers. I invite mine to check the links above and decide for themselves which set of numbers is the closest to reality on a given day.

The apologist for the trade goes on to suggest that the trade does not matter because "many of the items listed are n't even old, let alone ancient". Indeed, as is well-known, there is a lot of fakery, misrepresentation and scamming going on on Internet sales sites generally and many people buying simply cannot tell the difference between real and fake in antiquity buying. That does not mean however that there is NO trade in genuine looted and legitimately sold artefacts going on through these venues. What the indiscriminate trade of such items does show however are the numbers of buyers willing to obtain stuff without asking any questions about its precise origins. I was discussing the degree that fake artefacts are being represented as genuine on eBay - there was a lively discussion of this (based on statements being made by Charles Standish) well before blogger Candice Jarman came on the scene to brighten up our lives.

Let us also recall that there are other venues for the sellers of dugup antiquities, Trocadero for example and the portal run by ACCG President Bill Puetz, V-coins on which today 148 dealers in ancient artefacts ("5 more Coming Soon") are offering 108,221 Items, mostly coins and dugup artefacts with a total value of $21,929,580. This is not to mention those who contact potential clients through collectors' forums such as Tim Haines' "Yahoo AncientArtifacts" discussion list, Forum Ancient Coins or the several dedicated to putting buyers of uncleaned bulk lots of artefacts and coins in touch with those that stock them. Or there are many freestanding specialist websites and even YouTube videos selling bulk lots.

Returning to the topic of ebay, Candice Jarman also mentions what UK metal detectorists sell there and dismisses it:
most of what is listed is dross - fragments of this-and-that, corroded discs (coins?) and debris and lots of indeterminate metal crap which may or may not be old. If you took most of these to your local museum as finds, then they would probably tell you politely to go away and stop wasting their time.
Candice-not-a-metal detectorist obviously has not read what the PAS FAQ says. The PAS can confirm or deny this, but I do not think it is normal FLO policy to tell members of the public coming forward with items they have found to "go away and stop wasting our time", even politely.

Now it is true that some metal detectorists in the UK may make up a job lot of partifacts which are not archaeological (which rather depends on how you define that of course) artefacts per se. In other words they are not the sort of thing the PAS generally record on their database. Such items ARE however recorded on the UKDFDatabase in some considerable numbers. These Old-Timey pieces are saleable because collectable. Candice however is missing the point, these items are the equivalent of the duplicate coil or headphones a metal detectorist may offer for sale, they are the items they have dug or picked up in the fields which they recognise they can make a few quid on and do not need for their own collections. The best stuff they keep for themselves or take to a specialist dealer (many of whom hang around commercial artefact hunting rallies to make finders an offer). The fact that Old-Timey items are being offered for sale does not mean that archaeological finds are NOT. On this blog I have highlighted a number of egregious cases, I am sure any day's search of British sellers on eBay will reveal many more. Confirmation of this is only a few mouse-clicks away.

As far as UK metal detecting is concerned, the large numbers of PAS-recordable archaeological artefacts being taken from the soil has to be accounted for. Either they are entering metal detectorists' collections, or are being sold to other collectors, or they are being discarded. In the majority of cases this is happening without any record being kept of where the objects came from, what they were found with, and what subsequently happened to them. No amount of "it's not that bad really" special pleading can change that. It is a problem that has to be addressed.

The fact that metal-detected Old-Timey partefacts and misrepresented items and outright fakes are brazenly sold alongside unreported archaeological finds on the Internet does not make the removal from the soil and collection or sale of the latter any less of a problem. No more than the fact that many drivers who get behind the wheel of a car after drinking alcohol have accidents on the way home makes accidents caused by idiots Driving Under the influence... a less serious problem.

The reader of this blog can decide for themselves whether the antiquities market is "much smaller and much less active" than the indications suggest. Perhaps after looking for and through the evidence themselves, they might look at who is making the claims minimising the extent and damage caused by the no-questions-asked market. They can then consider what interests the latter have in presenting it in this way rather than joining calls to clean it up and make the whole process more transparent and accountable.

Again it is clear that the lead should be being taken here by the PAS, informing the public and policy makers about the issues surrounding the current form of the international trade in antiquities.

Vignette: when the PAS start talking opely and frankly about ALL the archaeological issues related to their "partnership".

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