Saturday 30 April 2011

Will sentencing continue to disregard Federal Guidelines in Four Corners cases?

Over on SAFECorner is a post titled, wholly rhetorically: "Will sentencing continue to disregard Federal Guidelines in Four Corners cases? because we all know the answer. As the letter SAFE sent to the Looter-friendly Judge says, the leniency shown in these cases "sends the message that such laws are unimportant or do not apply to the Four Corners region, and will encourage rather than deter looters". The Judge of course did not answer.

Vignette: Not everyone in America is as tolerant of looting as Judge Waddoups, of course this concerns material property, not cultural property - who apart from SAFE gives a tinker's about that over there? 'Looting 101' from the "New America" website

Friday 29 April 2011

Observer: "The Chances of Further Hoards of Large Gold Coins are Slim"

In collecting of ancient coins there is an underlying current of tension between the 'pure' collector and those buying coins as an investment (the latter of course of concern to the collector as it takes items off the market and affects prices) so collectors are particularly interested in the supply of newly-surfaced items from the searchings of metal detectorists. A collector on the EnglishHammered forum observing what metal detectorists have been doing in the UK notes a recent slowdown in large gold hoard coins coming onto the market (Treasure Act, anyone?) and has come to a conclusion which he wants to check:
Can anyone with knowledge of detecting confirm what I suspect - that gold has a good response on a detector and is relatively easy to pick up if there. So the chances of further large gold hoards is slim.

As a collector his concern at the apparent completion of the depletion of this finite resource has the significance that it will make filling of gaps in his collection much more expensive in future as prices go up as the new collectors compete for a finite amount of material, but it also means (yay!) for the same reason that the resale value of coins in his collection will have kept up with inflation. For those of us more concerned about another aspect of that finite quality of the resource in the ground, the vision that by 2011 thousands of metal detector using artefact hunters hoovering the fields for collectables will by now have covered every possible site in every possible field is a very real possibility. This collector is suggesting that as a result of current policies in Britain, this particular part of the archaeological resource may have already gone. Even if he is wrong, we are well on the way to this happening.

[The PAS might like to do collectors and investors a service and produce a chart on whether the reporting of particular types of portable antiquity groups as Treasure is on the increase, decrease or relatively stable as likely find spots are searched dry. I do not think the trend for large gold hammered coins will prove to be as the collector predicted]

A while ago an insistent journalist for a big British national was beggaring me with questions for an article he will be writing (yet to materialise I see), they included such gems as: "how many sites have metal detectorists damaged in the UK?" Answer number one, ask the PAS. But that was no good, they'd never have told him even if they knew the answer (and do they?). So I sat down and did some thinking how to answer ("Nobody really knows, but look at this, if...."). I'll post it up here one day, but even a conservative estimate (didn't want to be quoted giving an alarmist one) was a very depressing and very frightening prognosis. And the Brits do nothing as a major part of the archaeological archaeological record is emptied onto eBay...

More Guilty Pleas in Four Corners Looting Case

Three Utah residents have pleaded guilty in a federal court on Friday to trafficking stolen artifacts from federal and tribal lands in southern Utah. Reece Laws, Tad Kreth and Joseph Smith, Blanding residents, pleaded guilty, "taking American Indian artifacts from public lands". The mere formality of sentencing is set for July 18.

"A federal prosecutor says an indictment for a fourth defendant, Meredith Smith, will be dismissed if she doesn't commit any crimes for next six months".

Chi-Chi Zhang, 'Several Utahns plead guilty to American Indian artifact looting' Associated Press, April 29, 2011

Back in July last year (San Juan Record - 'Antiquities cases work way through court system '): "To date, there have been no trials related to the charges, but several are planned. An October trial date has been set for Blanding residents Joseph M. Smith, Meredith Smith, Tad Kreth, Reece Laws and Brandon Laws before Judge Stewart".

These cases had a bit of a 'twist' in them in that for some months there was some wrangling about the value of the objects involved and whether or not Arizona antiquity dealer Dace Hyatt could testify for the defence in the case (the prosecution argued he could not be a court expert as he had no archaeological training, and had earlier been quoted in newspapers calling the Operation Cerberus 'entrapment'), the court decided he could testify (Artifacts Dealer is an 'Expert' Says Federal Judge). The defence of the accused argued that establishment of the monetary value of the items concerned was important because there is a minimum value in federal law for felony charges. Loss of archaeological value of course cannot be measured.

Fighting Antiquity Abuse: Get Involved

The destruction of the world's cultural heritage
is not a problem for scholars, professors, legislators and members of law enforcement alone.

It is a societal problem that attacks the very core of who we are.

It requires collective action and creative solutions.

Because the ancient past belongs to all of humanity, we must share stewardship and responsibility for protecting cultural heritage, ancient sites and antiquities no matter where they are found.

No matter who you are or what you do, you can make a difference.

SAFE provides you with the framework for action. Join SAFE now and get involved in its efforts to raise public awareness.

I thought it was time I plugged that again, I'm getting a lot of readers at the moment, getting some enquiries about what people can do. Interestingly (as far as I am aware) there is not a corresponding organization in the UK (Heritage Action has a somewhat different focus, the PAS a totally [!] different profile). Given the size, nature and influence of the British antiquities trade, maybe its time somebody thought about starting a British SAFE, thought it will be an uphill battle - you'd be opposed by the local metal detectorists (aided most likely by transatlantic coineys) every step of the way, and probably can't expect much help from the media. Not for the faint-hearted. But until somebody takes on the task, please support the efforts of the US one every way you can.

Thursday 28 April 2011

How Does this Sort of thing Happen?

Rather embarrassing, but I am sure it was dealt with consummate diplomatic delcacy by the recipients of a rather special gift. A delegation from the Gaza strip led by former Palestinian minister of foreign affairs Mahmoud El-Zahar delivered some objects they believed had been looted from Egypt to Egypt’s Minister of State for Antiquities on Thursday. The pieces were found in the Gaza strip "with Palestinians who were caught red-handed and accused of smuggling antiquities". The pieces concerned are black "granite " (sic) statues apparently "depicting an ancient Egyptian god" and "an ushabti figurine". But this is apparently what they look like:

It probably did not however take very long for the MSAA ("an archaeological committee from the MSAA, led by Mohamed Abdel Maqsoud, general supervisor of the Minister's office") to determine that these objects were replica statues and not genuine pieces. If this was the only evidence against the "smugglers" from whom they were confiscated, then they are owed at the least an apology. These fakes are not even good fakes, the head is a ridiculous fake. Now its not the fault of the former Minister of foreign affairs, recognising authentic and fake antiquities is not one of the tasks normally expected of a minister. But surely the Palestinians have archaeologists who should have been consulted before a diplomatic mission made a bit of fool of itself... but of course the intended gesture was indeed praiseworthy. This is not the only case, there's some doubt in my mind about the Mexican relief due to come back soon if it really is the one pictured in the newspaper article about it the other day, then we have the Jordanians crowing that they got some leaden tablets forming part of the same assemblage as the David Elkington ones....

All of this only goes to show how many FAKES there are on the no-questions-asked market masquerading as authentic and looted. Caveat emptor- verifiable documentation of legitimate provenance at once sorts out the wheat from the chaff.

Could diplomatic exchanges not begin in future with an exchange of photos of the antiquities that are being returned, so diplomats receiving them know what to expect and newspapers can have the photos to show citizens what they are getting back?

Nevine El-Aref , 'Palestine handed over to Egypt two objects thought to be antiquities', 28 Apr 2011.

UPDATE: This case is discussed on Dr Hawass' blog: 'Objects Returned to Egypt', Apr 30th 2011. It turns out that the men accused of smuggling had been jailed, Dr Hawass said he asked the Palestinians to release them because these objects were not antiquities and no law had been broken.

It turns out that Mahmoud al-Zahar's journey to Hawass' office was the first stop in a journey from Gaza to visit Sudan, Syria and Turkey — a trip they could never have taken under Mubarak, and indicating a significant realignment of Egypt's foreign policies. So the delivery of fake artefacts may have actually been only a cover.

More Museum Problems

Over the past few weeks there has been discussion of the role of museums in Britain, prompted among other cuts by the announcement that the Museum of London (MoL) is planning to axe curators and conservators from its staff. The MoL was opened in 1976 and has collections containing 7 million objects documenting the history of the nation's capital from prehistory to the present day. Up to 17 posts have been targeted, cuts which are expected to save £1m. This has sparked outrage from eminent scholars who are suggesting academic expertise no longer counts for anything among today's policy-makers and that such proposals will "cripple" curatorial work.

Dalya Alberge, 'Job cuts at the Museum of London 'will cripple its vital academic work', London Evening Standard 12 Apr 2011.

Rebecca Atkinson, 'Museum of London Confirms 11 redundancies', Museums Journal,19th April 2011.

In connection with the overall theme of the blog, it is worth noting that soon after its creation (from the London Museum and Guildhall Museum), the Museum pioneered collaboration with artefact hunters who were fossicking around in the Thames waterside mud in the City (so-called 'mudlarks') and recovering masses of everyday items. It was the beginning of research on these by curatorial staff of the Museum collaborating with these collectors and a series of publications of such material (I'll try and find a bibliography somewhere) that led the way for a recognition of the role the artefact hunter and collector can play in the expansion of knowledge about life in the past.

Today museums in Britain are losing their academic role (not just in archaeology this is happening in other fields too like geology and natural history) as part of the general dumbing down of society. The karaoke/wikipedia society no longer needs or values specialists. Museums are less storehouses of knowledge than places of entertainment, where the more those dreary pots and bones can be bulked out by glittery gold and silver treasures found by members of the public ("like you, sir, get your discount metal detector vouchers by the exit") the better. After all the latter do not need any fancy academic interpretation, they have an instant coo-value mixing the "how-much-it's-worth" with "jus'-think-all-those-years-ago" elements so easy to exploit in excited press releases, but with no substance behind them. Museums can return to the old model of rows of attractive objects shown laid out one after another in a gallery with minimalist labelling, meaning little more to the viewer than a row of attractive objects shown laid out one after another in a gallery for gawping at quickly before dashing down to the gift shop on the way to Starbucks or McDonalds.

The current emphasis on public outreach which basically says, "if you want contact with the past go out and dig it up yourself, you may even find something that makes you a millionaire and gets you in the papers and on tv" is fundamentally damaging to the academic values of archaeology. But then, all that book-lerning 'n stuff are so "middle class" and "elitist" anyway aren't they? Like proper museums.

Photo: The Museum of London, one of my favourites it was new and innovative in the seventies and eighties, doing a fantastic job.

The Hackney Hoard Again

Here's one for US coin buffs. The Hackney Hoard: Coroner to Rule on Unique and Historic Treasure Case Found in Garden
On 18 April 2011 the Coroner for Inner North London resumed an inquest in relation to a hoard of American gold dollars found in Hackney in 2007. The hoard consists of 80 coins which were minted in the United States between 1854 and 1913. They are all $20 denominations of the type known as ‘Double-Eagle’ and the find is totally unprecedented in the United Kingdom. [...] This represents the first time since the Treasure Act came into force in 1997 that an original owner or direct descendent has lain successful claim to an item that would otherwise have been ‘Treasure’ and the property of the Crown. Dr Roger Bland, head of the department of Portable Antiquities and Treasure at the British Museum, said ‘The case of the Hackney gold coins is one of the most unique and compelling stories that we have been involved with. There is an incredibly human element to this story that is absent from many archaeological finds and we are pleased to see the coins reunited with their original owners after so many years. The finders are to be congratulated for acting responsibly and helping to add further vital information to the corpus of material about the Second World War, Jewish immigration, and the history of Hackney borough’.
Archaeologists from the British Museum and University College London have investigated the site to ensure that no further deposits remained - which is not a luxury present resources allow us in the case of other Treasure finds in the current system where the funds are channelled most often merely to rewarding the finder, and not research into the find itself. But nice to get the background story to this one, pity its so sad.

Vignette: Double eagle (this is the infamous Saint-Gaudens 1933 one, sadly none of these were found in the Hackney Hoard)

"Absolutely Wrong, but I'm Not Telling You Where"

Cairo based Egyptologist Nicole Hansen (28 kwietnia 15:37) talking about antiquity looting in Egypt and the Egyptian Museum in particular says:
Paul [...] You may be trying to make sense of things, but the one part of your latest blog post with which I am intimately familiar,I am 100% you are absolutely wrong. History will tell us what really happened and those who are really concerned about what is happening are doing things you don't see to deal with them, not spending their time on a soap box.
Less concerned about the "soap-box" jibe (another one who does not understand a blog is a blog, is a blog), I suggested off-list that it would be helpful if she would indicate where what I have said here in previous posts is misleading so I can deal with it. Sadly she declines, preferring to maintain an unhelpful I-know-something-you-don't stance, replying:
"You will know when the rest of the world does".
Well, that really "supports the Cairo Museum"! So Barford is wrong, but the accuser cannot say where exactly. Where have I heard that before? (All the time from antiquity collectors).

I really cannot see that in the post to which she refers (bears the tag 'personal') there is much to get "absolutely wrong", since it addresses the points on which I was chastised by Dr El Shazly and quite clearly mostly describes what I myself felt upon the news about the looting of artefacts from Cairo's museum and observing the embarrassing farce surrounding their "recovery", so beats me with what there Dr Hansen feels she is "intimately familiar". Still, its nice to see that somebody is confident that we will ever learn what really has been happening in the Museum.

So until then, readers are warned that somebody called Dr Hansen says that somewhere here is a gap between what I have suggested about the Museum looting and its background and what she knows is true. And since she is not willing to share this information with her professional colleagues, only time will perhaps tell where the discrepancy lies (lay). Perhaps she has proof that the "big black bag" story was true after all?

Vignette: Coy Dr Nicole claims to know something about antiquity Looting in Egypt we do not... and is not telling.

Good News from Egypt: Antiquities Security Expertise Sought

Good news from Egypt, the Minister of State for Antiquities Affairs, Zahi Hawass, met today with an Iraqi delegation representing their foreign affairs, interior, justice and museums ministries (Nevine El-Aref , 'Egypt to share expertise with Iraqi museums and archaeologists in the staging of exhibitions and reclamation of artefacts abroad', Ahram 28 Apr 2011). several topics were discussed during the meeting, "among them Egypt’s contribution in protecting [Iraq’s] archaeological heritage and retrieving its illegally looted and smuggled antiquities as well as the construction of new museums and storehouses".
The Iraqi delegation asked the ministry of state for antiquities affairs to provide them with Egyptian experts to help them in the establishment of exhibitions and administering archaeological exhibitions abroad. They also discussed different means of cooperation between the museums and field of antiquities in both countries. Hawass was more than ready to help the Iraqi people in their efforts to return back their artefacts from foreign countries and museums abroad [...] [Dr] Hawass also asked the Iraqi team to provide a list of all the required Iraqi objects to distribute it among museums around the world and the international media.
Along with his own of the objects missing from the storerooms and monuments recently looted no doubt. Maybe instead of a paper list, this should be set up as a searchable website for museums and dealers to check, like a specifically archaeological version of the "stolen Art register". There was another heartening snippet of information:
He also invited Iraq to attend the second international conference for the restitution of artefacts to be held soon in Cairo.
I recall a revision of the 1970 UNESCO Convention was due to be on the cards for that one, a topic which Iraq has recently also been broaching, this could be interesting.

There is a much fuller account with slightly differing details on Dr Hawass' blog

Vignette: The Iraqi delegation arrives at the ministry...

"Then alot": comment rejected

Beats me why they bother trying, comment rejected:
Jackoface has left a new comment on your post "Metal Detector treasures: "Get A New Site"": So true. I dont know who started the movement on get the newest and latest metal detector if you want to do good. You can use a bottom price detector and do just as good if not better then alot of the espensive ones.
Not there real a'dress of coorse.

If you want to "do good", you don't buy any metal detector at all. Ask the PAS.

Collectors Rejoice in Strife

On a metal detecting forum just a mouse click away we can all see how antiquity collectors like one "diomedes" see the influence of current world affairs on their own interests:
syrias kicking off think of all those lovely antiquities hitting ebay soon best save it from being lost for ever espeially as the iraqi ones have got so expensive
These are the people the British Museum's Portable Antiquities Scheme has at times called "partners" and "responsible". Maybe PAS outreach on portable antiquities and artefact collecting best practice and all that might extend to having something on their website about all this and actually using the L-word that seems to be missing from discussions about archaeological artefact collecting in the UK...

Vignette: Smug UK antiquity collectors make light of the effects of events in potential 'source countries"

Wednesday 27 April 2011

Seized pre-Columbian Artefacts Return to Panama

Investigations by the U.S. Customs Service (later US Immigration and Customs Enforcement) began in 1998 when they received a tip from Panamanian investigators that an employee of the U.S. government agency, the Panama Canal Commission was smuggling pre-Columbian artefacts out of Panama into the United States ( Goverment Officials Returning Seized pre-Columbian Artifacts to Panama, April 27, 2011). Four large shipping containers being shipped to Oregon and declared as household goods were searched and six pre-Columbian artefacts were found, seized and returned to Panama. A search of the man's home in Panama revealed a further 148 pre-Columbian artefacts.
The man was indicted in 2003 in Oregon for smuggling and conspiracy to transport, receive, possess, conceal and store stolen property. The individual pleaded guilty to smuggling and was sentenced to probation. Two other individuals were also identified as part of the employee’s conspiracy. ICE HSI agents intercepted shipments of pre-Columbian artifacts destined for the United States addressed to one of those individuals, a professor at a U.S. university. Both individuals were indicted for conspiracy to transport, receive, possess, conceal and store stolen property though the charges were ultimately dismissed. The professor agreed to turn over 99 Panamanian pre-Columbian artifacts that he illegally imported into the United States from Panama as part of the plea agreement. In 2005, ICE HSI agents in Los Angeles and Portland supervised the authentication, inventory and seizure of the 99 artifacts.

The artefacts were mostly pottery vessels (which "represent a very complete sample of most of the pottery styles in pre-Columbian Panama from the period A.D. 1 through 1500") pedestal plates, metates and figurines, valued at approximately $100,000. They were probably looted from graves in south-western Veraguas around the shores of the Gulf of Montijo. The items were handed back to Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli at ICE headquarters.

The usual speeches were made.

Is this story related to this?

"The staff of the Egyptian Museum has seen very little support " (1)

On Facebook, the following text apparently by Dr Yasmin El Shazly, Head of Documentation at The Egyptian Museum Cairo has been posted with the enjoinder "please circulate widely". It is dated 16th April 2011, but I only became aware of it today. In it we read:
I must admit that I am very disappointed at how some members of the international community have reacted to the looting of the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. The staff of the Egyptian Museum has seen very little support (there are a few wonderful people who did offer a lot of support, which we very much appreciate), and a great deal of attacks, nitpicking, sarcasm, etc... without any effort to actually understand what's going on, or how much hard work the museum staff is putting and how very very difficult this has all been for all of us. All the negative postings and articles have put a lot of pressure on us. If this material contained any constructive criticism, and was actually sent to us, so that we could try to use it to improve things it would've been very much appreciated, but most of it is in the style of the notorious Paul Barford, who posts material with nothing but criticism, and is clearly far less interested in the actual wellbeing of the Egyptian Museum than in promoting himself. OK, so it's world heritage, but why doesn't the international community react that way when thefts happen in museums in other parts of the world??? Why are we being treated like we had borrowed these objects from them and that we need to constantly justify everything we do? Why are we being treated with so much mistrust? Like we are always lying or trying to hide something???? Don't people understand that the museum has close to 200 000 objects? Don't people understand that the army only allowed us into the museum on February 6th, 2011, and even then, we had no access to the database? Don't people understand that the army only allowed a very small number of people into the museum, before it was reopened to the public, and that we had to walk in groups of 10-15, escorted by army commandos? Not to mention that we had a revolution and spent some time without a minister or a head of the SCA! If the looting had happened in Paris, London or the US (without a revolution) would people have reacted the same way? I wonder!
Well, I am very sorry that Yasmin feels that "the staff of the Egyptian Museum has seen very little support" from outside. I am not quite sure what kind of help the international community could have offered in the circumstances. There were calls for international action to look out for the stolen artefacts if they had been smuggled out of the country, but we only learnt what was missing from the museum weeks later (much later than Feb 6th). It was impossible for outside specialists to come to the museum to help while the unrest was going on, and when there was an international mission in Egypt, it was strongly criticised by the Egyptians that it had come. Its not clear what the writer thinks is needed, money, advice, moral support only, being left alone? What kind of constructive advice could we offer Egyptian museum professionals? Has anyone seen any actual request for help from the Museum?

Certainly Yasmin, a lot of people - myself included - were (and are) deeply concerned for the safety of the Museum, the objects in it and the people who work in it in the current situation. We are, I would have thought, on the same side in this concern for what happened and why.

You mention me by name, critical of my commentary here on these events. I am going to answer those points below.

Let me assure you however I have deepest sympathy for those of my colleagues who have to work under such conditions and that I am very concerned indeed about what happened on 28th January, and about what has happened since. And it is precisely because of that concern that I do not think we should pass over such things in silence, and strive to get to the truth about what happened and why.
Vignette: Wsparcie.

"The staff of the Egyptian Museum has seen very little support" (2)

I am called to the blackboard and accused by name of having a negative attitude towards the looting that happened in the Egyptian Museum on the night of 28th January. It is not quite as simple as Dr Yasmin El Shazly would like to make out. Perhaps it would help her understand what she clearly does not about what I have written if we look at the development of my blogging on the matter in the context of events.

Back in January the world was shocked to hear about the violence which had broken out on Cairo's streets as a wave of protests started to sweep the country. I was watching this pretty carefully as I was supposed to be going out there a few days later. Then came the equally dreadful news from the media on 28th Jan that the police had withdrawn from the streets and there were thugs, including 'escaped' prisoners and looters abroad. The internet and phone lines were down and there was no contact with our friends in Cairo, let alone friends and colleagues in Luxor. Then the world heard, at first very confused, accounts that the Egyptian Museum in Cairo had been looted. I remember feeling physically sick at the news and I am sure that I was not the only archaeologist who took that news very badly and - whether Yasmin El Shazly likes it or not - very personally. I started several posts here on that topic, and finished one that day; now actually in hindsight considering what we had to work with, that was not a bad account. I was one of several bloggers trying to make sense of the fragmentary information (see links to some of the others here). There are a series of posts on my blog for the next few days expressing deep concern about the fate of monuments and antiquities in the civil unrest that was developing. I posted a text on the 30th suggesting that it was likely that the looting of sites could follow and hoping that they were going to be better guarded. The next day it turned out those fears had already been fulfilled. The information emerging from the Egyptian Museum and the Ministry of Antiquities over the next days and weeks was wholly unclear and contradictory and there was much questioning and speculation about what was going on. It stands to reason that anyone who cares, whether they are Egyptian or not, is going to want to try and understand what was going on. Why does that disturb Yasmin?

Like many other people, I had difficulties following the various pieces of contradictory information that were coming out of the Ministry of Antiquities, and occasionally the Museum. I was however privileged that I had the opportunity almost as soon as the Museum re-opened to go there and see for myself, and within a few hours of getting off my plane I was in the museum doing just that. I suppose its a professional disease, trying to make sense of past events by their material traces, it does not matter if its the robbing of a tomb in the 20th dynasty or a museum in 2011, there are traces there and a story to try to unravel. I was the first foreign archaeologist to enter the Museum since it was closed in late January the lady at the door checking my papers said. Let it be on record that before I flew to Cairo, I wrote to Dr Yasmin El-Shazly through Facebook perfectly civilly asking if we could meet when I was in the Museum. I received no reply. I did, however, meet several very interesting people, including some journalists both international and Egyptian who were able to give me their take on what was happening, I met the wonderful Salima Ikram there by chance and we went round together for a while and I was privileged to be shown her favourite pieces (none of which were touched by the looters) and we talked about what had happened. I also bumped into Albert Ghaly of the Museum staff who first agreed to show me where the looters had been, but disappeared when I started, perfectly civilly and wholly innocently, asking certain questions - like how the mummy heads had got into the Museum where the journalists saw them on the 29th. I met him three times in the next few days and he gave extraordinarily conflicting stories about the mummy heads each time before darting away again on "urgent business". To be fair to him, he was (he says) abroad when this happened, but still clearly will have known more than he was apparently prepared to say.

Wandering around by myself, I found out where all the cases were that we'd glimpsed in the film reports of Al Jazeera and a few days later CNN, and found the places where the well-known publicity photos had been taken. I tried to trace a route (one guy) or routes (the nine-guy version) that led from one smashed case to the next and tried to imagine covering them in the dark by men knowing/suspecting there were somewhere in the building security guards who would be reacting to the sounds of the breaking glass. I reconstructed in my mind where the objects we had seen in the photos had been removed from cases and where they had ended up (we did not have all of this information, and still do not, of course) and where possible tried to surmise their route through the Museum. It then slowly started emerging that the stories we were being told simply did not make any sense when confronted with the evidence on the ground. Puzzled by this, I spent many hours re-examining and trying to make the stories fit. They did not. Which is what I wrote what I wrote. I even went back there again on my way out of Egypt because I wanted to make sure I'd not imagined it. So I do not make the statements about what I saw lightly.

Now apparently Dr Yasmin who so objects to me expressing an opinion based on what I read and saw has a different view, she's walked around those galleries more times than me. Since she objects so strongly to me offering a version opposed to it, it would seem she has no doubts in accepting the official story. It would be useful for historians of Egyptian archaeology and others (and settle this once and for all) if she would set down in writing what she thinks the traces left behind show. Where she says the looters were and what she thinks they were doing there. After all, she would have been one of the persons actively removing and - one hopes - fully documenting the traces of the events (the scattered objects and their fragments) which I was interested in examining. Perhaps I missed something that is in her documentation?

Yasmin El Shazly's critical text on Facebook was written on the 16th April 2011. Let's see what was happening about that time. On the 12th April I was absolutely overjoyed to learn that four more objects had been recovered. Literally because I was sure until then that the harpooning statue (which really is one of my personal favourites from Tutankhamun's tomb) was lost forever. That was fantastic (I even posted it on my facebook page saying so) - and I was quite happy that this meant that one of my earlier deductions about the theft had been disproven. I think that can be seen in the first part of my post about it. No "criticism" there. I was puzzled that nothing had been said about how they had been recovered. Odd, I thought.

That joy turned to disappointment and anger when we were told the first version about "how they had been recovered". Dr El Shazly's Museum Director appeared at a press conference (see the video in my blog post) announcing to all the world in an offhand manner that four objects had been found in an unattended bag just ever-so-coincidentally but also extremely conveniently on his way to work by Salah Abdel Salam, who just happens to work at the ministry. I do not think I am the only person in the world who feels insulted that we (and in that I am not excluding Egyptians) were expected to believe that. That is simply demeaning - not surprisingly the story later changed in its details.

I really cannot help it that I do actually have at home in my upstairs bookcase next to my desk a big red folder with a printout of the Egyptian Museum's missing objects list (because Yasmin, I do care about the missing objects - right?). When I was joyfully ticking off these four newly recovered items, I realised that the shabti which the Egyptian authorities said had returned was in a different state from the depiction in the picture in the list, and I posted about that, registering my concern (concern, Yasmin). It seemed from the photo which we were told was JE 68984 that the object was splitting because unstable (note the problem arose because I accepted what we'd been told). It turns out (after I went to bed) somebody over the other side of the world, equally concerned no doubt, found out that the people announcing the miraculous find of just four items had got it mixed up with another. Well, jeez Yasmin, what can one say - but "shambles"? [Your "Missing objects" lists still lack a title page, date of publication, page numbering and still contain a number of apparent errors and inconsistencies].

Then there was that needlessly stupid anti-Hawass bru-ha-ha about the Museum shop lease and a fashion collection. I posted on the one, not the other as I recall, pretty disgusted by people's reactions to both (I really see nothing to get worked up about with the clothes line and photography and I really liked the Museum's new gift shop - best thing in the Museum and they wanted to put the guy in jail for creating it).

Then on the 16th April, I posted a text on the changed story about "how the bag was found" and the mysterious offhand mention that somebody-or-other had already been sentenced for some theft-or-other in the museum, leaving it wholly unclear (to me at least) how that related to any of the other stories. This was the day Dr Yasmin El Shazly wrote about the "notorious" Paul Barford and his criticisms. Now I really do not see that any of my criticisms were unjustified. Maybe Yasmin would like to explain what a blogger should have praised?

Perhaps it is worth noting that between these posts on my blog there are a whole load of others about other portable antiquity issues. Including quite a lot expressing concern about what was happening in Egypt outside Cairo. This is not a blog about one museum and its problems, however interested I am in (and puzzled by) them. It is a blog about portable antiquities and issues, and the Cairo museum looting story involves a lot of rather knotty issues connected with portable antiquities.

As for being "clearly far less interested in the actual wellbeing of the Egyptian Museum" that is simply not true, Yasmin. Of course any archaeologist is extremely concerned about the wellbeing of the Museum. Anyone interested in ancient Egypt (and I am) is going to be particularly interested in the wellbeing of that particular Museum, aren't they? (I even bet some collectors and maybe even antiquity dealers are too, though you'd not see it in the blogs of the usual culprits.)

Yasmin also accuses the foreign devil Barford of "promoting himself" by writing about the Museum. Yasmin, a blog is a blog. A blog is what a bloke writes about what interests or concerns him. Some people write about what they had for breakfast, others about what Lady Gaga had for breakfast, some what they saw in a demonstration outside a courthouse. I write about "portable antiquities" because it is what I like writing about and feel very strongly about. Nobody makes Yasmin or anyone else read this. (Anyway, I would not bother too much, if you look over at the "popular posts" sidebar, I am currently mostly visited by UK metal detectorists who don't care about anything much and the global tarantula-breeding community.)

I don't know whether this is really "promoting" myself. It serves primarily to get me to set out my random ideas in a coherent form, and also get those ideas out where they might eventually be seen, thought about and - please note Yasmin - challenged. I rather think that as a means of "promotion", this blog does me no favours at all. It certainly makes me rather a lot of seriously vindictive enemies among collectors, dealers and antiquity smugglers, museum staff who've got dodgy objects in their collections, and archaeologists who don't like me criticising metal detectorists. Even the UK's Portable Antiquities Scheme have threatened to have their lawyers on me. Twice, so I hear. So does that mean I should not speak out about what concerns me as an archaeologist (or as anyone else)? Somebody ought to. I think we have far too many jobsworth archaeologists who do not speak out about various things because they are afraid of the reaction. Is that not the case, Yasmin?

Jordanian Police Recover Ancient Manuscripts: Oh, What?

There is an odd article being duplicated in a lot of places today (Associated Press: Jordanian Police Recover 7 Ancient Manuscripts, Art Daily April 28, 2011). According to this, Jordan's archaeology chief Ziad al-Saad has announced that security police have recovered seven ancient manuscripts from local smugglers. It then asserts that:
The writings are part of 70 manuscripts that Jordanian archaeologists discovered five years ago in a cave in the north. Later, they were stolen and most were believed to have been smuggled into Israel. Jordan has demanded Israel return the manuscripts but has gotten no response. Ziad al-Saad says the manuscripts were reportedly found by a Bedouin. He says the relics could be among the earliest Christian writings in existence but tests are under way to date them and check their authenticity. Al-Saad said on Tuesday that if verified, the relics could be the most significant find in Christian archaeology since the 1947 discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
And if they are not, is going to look pretty stupid. So, let's get this right, now the Jordanians are claiming it was archaeologists who discovered these? If they are the same as those in Israel which David Elkington is plugging, then it was Jordanian archaeologists who claim to have discovered these palpable fakes? Perhaps we may learn the names of these scholars who discovered such world-shattering finds and then rather carelessly for professionals left them on a bus or something? Go on Jordan, give us a laugh, sell the photos of your tablets to the Daily Mail.

Cartoon Relief the Centre of International Repatriation Effort?

"After three years in custody at the customs office in Mexico pending bureaucratic paperwork and permissions, Egypt is soon to recuperate one of its genuine artefacts" says Nevine El-Aref ('Looted Egyptian artefact due to return this week from Mexico', Ahram Online 27 Apr 2011). "Ahmed Mustafa, head of the retrieved antiquities department, said that as soon as it arrives the relief would be restored in order to be put on display at the Egyptian Museum". Apparently
"The object is a New Kingdom limestone relief depicting an unidentified face of a private individual. The relief, which was illegally smuggled out of the country, is now at the Egyptian embassy in Mexico waiting to be brought back to Cairo as a diplomatic package. According to Zahi Hawass, minister of state for antiquities affairs, the relief was caught in the possession of a Mexican male who tried to enter Mexico with it. The police caught him red-handed and informed the Egyptian embassy in Mexico of the incident.
Well, if the pictured one is the items concerned, it seems to me the Mexican police have not got much of an eye. It looks like a dreadful tourist fake to me. Or is this a stock photo?

Photo from Al-Ahram (the best I could find)

UPDATE: Christine Fößmeier has posted elsewhere a link to this article from a Mexican newspaper with a better photo ('México devuelve pieza histórica a Egipto'). Sadly, it appears this was not a stock photo.
Sadly clearly a tourist fake.

Looting Matters: Due Diligence and Auction Houses: the Italian Dimension

David Gill asks on his Looting Matters ('Due Diligence and Auction Houses: the Italian Dimension'):
I observe that three separate organisations have pressed ahead with sales even when they were aware that there were issues relating to objects. Are those concerns being passed to potential vendors?
I assume the phrasing is deliberate, raising an interesting question of long-term responsibility, applicable to all who deal in dugup antiquities. I suppose the next question is the real difference between being "aware of issues", and "not being aware of issues because nobody bothered to ask" and the degree to which, given the nature of the several potential sources of supply of the commodity involved, the latter constitutes culpable professional negligence.

Reporting at Raunds: Warning to Landowners

Metal detectorist Mr Cameron752, who assures us he does not drink beer also assures me that in the case of the commercial metal detecting rallies at Raunds, Northamptonshire:
for your information all the brooches and the votive axe were recorded,
which can of course be checked.

The Portable Antiquity Scheme Database searched provides the information that only 67 finds have ever been reported by metal detectorists and finders from the entire parish since the Northamptonshire FLO was established in 1999 (five finds a year). Sixty seven finds in total. even though there are active metal detectorists actually living in the town and we know there were such fruitful commercial rally searches there? So it seems the FLO does not often get along to Central Plunderers' (based in Raunds) commercial artefact hunting rallies at Raunds after all.

Of these 67 reported finds from Raunds, thirty six (so over 50%) of them are coins. Yet coins are generally in the minority compared to other metal objects and non-metallic finds both in on-site and off-site assemblages. This means that the record in the PAS database of what is in the fields of Raunds is highly selective. Lots of other finds being made by these people (both those kept and those sold or discarded) are apparently simply not appearing in these records.

There is, interestingly some Roman and Medieval pot in the record, nine individual sherds which make nine individual records, bumping up the recording figures... By the way, the descriptions of these sherds suggests that the FLO is not exactly at home with the dating of the pottery fabrics of her region, I'd say they suggest she needs to spend some time analysing stratified assemblages to get more of a 'feel' for the local products. These sherds may have been handed in to the FLO singly which explains why each sherd is a single record, but were they really the only ceramic finds in the fields producing all the reported metal objects? Again this is totally at variance with what anyone who has ever done any fieldwalking in lowland Britain would expect. Again, it seems to me we see selective collection at work. Artefact hunters are collectors not landscape archaeologists. But its another nine records for the PAS statistics which so appeal to the collective imagination.

Then we have the clay pipe bits NARC-E0BE04 - how does the typology of these fit the 300 year cutoff date for PAS recording? Well, not at all, they are not pipes of the early 1700s, far from it. But its another record for bumping up statistics. Maybe the metal rod "found with" them was the attraction. This is described as " a possible pipe piercing rod, used in the manufacture of clay pipes", but nothing is given in the description to indicate that the 80 grammes of fragments reported can in any way be connected with a clay pipe kiln. Are any of them wasters? Any kiln furniture? Any evidence whatsoever, or is this just a case of FLO speculation? But speculation that can mislead if not treated with reserve.

None of the information presented in the PAS record taken by itself helps us to understand settlement patterns in Raunds. Quite apart from the fact that the normal viewer sees none of the fine detail of findspot, it is clear that these are random finds handed in at various times and random coin losses and finds for example do not pinpoint sites. Single sherds do not pinpoint sites. Some odd finds have been recorded from the region, but what they mean, and whether any analysis can make them "mean" anything is anyone's guess. How many of them in any case come from previously-identified sites?

Well, anyway, we can search the PAS record of 67 finds reported from Raunds in vain for any "brooches" . There is one brooch LON-92C151, found in or before November 2007 (so not from the Christmas rally in question) and reported not to the Northamptonshire FLO, but a London one. So the broocHES found at the rally mentioned in my post seem to have disappeared without record. The "information" supplied by Mr Cameron is false. The metal detectorists taking part in the rally and who found these items have not responsibly reported the finds they took away.

We can also search in vain for a votive axe from Raunds. There are six of them reported from Northamptonshire, but none of them come from Raunds or anywhere near it. Again the "information" that Mr Cameron supplied that the object has been responsibly reported is false.

I wondered if he meant the private pirate "database" the UKDFD set up in 2005? It appears not. On two pages here and here, we can see 24 items from Raunds listed there (that's four finds a year). Ten of these items (so again about half) are coins and one medallion. And, yes, there are four brooches shown there from Raunds. Again however these cannot be those mentioned in my post, two of them were found in or before 2005, one in 2008 and the fourth in 2009. What is interesting is that of the 22 searchable records of finds made by the metal detectorists of the UKDFD taking artefacts from the archaeological sites around Raunds, NONE of them had been reported "anywhere else", that includes the PAS. Showcasing found geegaws in the pirate database the UKDFD is no substitute for reporting items to the official scheme set up with public money for recording finds made by members of the public which has been running now for a decade and a half.

Central Searchers is based in Raunds and was set up in September (I think) 2005, so it has been operating now five and a half years. They organize fortnightly club digs "when land is available and not under crop growth. We try to offer between 60 and 100 acres to search on each outing, shared amongst a turn out of around 30 to 50 detectorists" (it used to say "weekly"). So that's twenty or so rallies a year, 110 or so attended by (let's say) 30 detectorists. By my maths that is at least 3300 days detecting since they have begun (at eight quid each and enrolment fees of 25 quid a year, that's a minimum of 33 000 quid these people have made out of this organization selling off bits of Britain's archaeological heritage at weekends - probably much more as many rallies are "sold out"). How many finds have been removed from the fields of "Northants, Cambs, Leicestershire, Bedfordshire, South Lincs, West Norfolk, West Suffolk, North West Essex, North Herts, Norths Bucks, North East Oxfordshire, East Warwickshire and maybe into South East Staffs" by Central Searchers Members and NOT reported like it seems (despite the false "information" supplied by Mr Cameron) many of the finds from the rallies they have held in Raunds?

So, Mr Cameron, why say these objects are reported when anyone can check that they are not? Or did you just say the first thing that came into your head like most detectorists (and their supporters) do, not realising that some people prefer the facts to glib, false and meaningless assurances from metal detectorists? Please supply the references to where you assert these items are properly "reported" and I'll put them up here.

Until such a time:

CENTRAL SEARCHERS Warning to Landowners
: Please don't let these people on your land, they are exploitive commercial artefact hunters and have demonstrated that they cannot be shown to be trusted to act responsibly in terms of the 2006 Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales agreed with a number of national organizations including landowners' associations and the NFU. Note there is no mention of this code in the club's "rules" and at the time of writing not even a link to it on the club's home page. Environmentally committed landowners will want to keep this kind of irresponsible and exploitive unmitigated commercial erosion of the archaeological heritage off their land. If in doubt, check with the Portable Antiquities Scheme if a given metal detectorist asking to come onto your land has a long and consistent record of responsible behaviour and recording their finds to the official body set up at public expense to do that.

Photo: Copyright Paul Barford

Tuesday 26 April 2011

Museum Looting: "An Extraordinary Event"

Cairo-based egyptologist and Glyphdoctor Nicole Hansen criticises those like me for attempting to untangle the convoluted story (stories) about the damage done in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo in January this year and the farcical events following. She admonishes:
everyone needs to realize there are bigger issues involved here and if you keep looking at the broken window and what shabti was returned you will never get your questions answered. Of course what happened at the museum doesn't entirely make sense but you need to take a wider view to even begin to contemplate it and understand it.
I rather think that some of us that have been following these stories (about 'looting that is not looting and then is' and 'the great red mercury hunt' and the 'mysterious wandering mummy heads') and are worried about the damage to and loss of antiquities from this collection have been trying to see it in the wider context of the events of the previous few days and subsequent events. But Ms Hanson should go and check that window, which was still not broken when I stood under it on 18th march. Maybe it is now?

Dr Hansen apparently considers that the recovery of items from Cairo Museum theft has been "commented on to death. I wish people would move on to the real issues". To illustrate what the latter might be she suggests:
The looting at the museum may very likely have been a political act carried out by any one of a number of parties (Egyptian and foreign) and therefore an extraordinary event that is not likely to be repeated. And the consequent international hoopla about it may also have a political purpose.
She then admonishes that anyone who thinks "this is all about antiquities then you are being very naive". Well, it is nice we can at least agree on that. Certainly, as I have said previously, I do not think that the intruders in the museum on that night were primarily there to loot the antiquities, I think that was a secondary act.

Dr Hansen failed to enlarge on which "foreign parties" she thinks may have been involved in the looting, whether Egypt's neighbours (Syrians, Jordanians, Jews) or further afield (USA). While I am sure we can agree that this was an "extraordinary event" (not to say, almost unprecedented) I really do not see that - until we know precisely what happened - anyone can be certain that this scenario is unlikely to be repeated, here or elsewhere.

There seems to be the germ of a conspiracy theory in the suggestion that the "international hoopla" (sic) "may also have a political purpose". I admit I do not follow her argument, sounds like she's been talking to Peter Tompa or Egyptian nationalists. Certainly I have no political axe to grind, I just want to know what happened and why and what measures are being taken to secure the sites and antiquities of Egypt against this sort of damage. Is that such a bad thing for anyone to want, no matter where they live?

Monday 25 April 2011

Smithsonian Ponders Ethics of Showing Treasures

The Smithsonian has been planning to host an exhibition: “Shipwrecked: Tang Treasures and Monsoon Winds", showing the contents of an Indonesian shipwreck discovered by fishermen off Belitung Island in Indonesia in 1998. The problem is that instead of being properly investigated in a multi-disciplinary project according to established methodology, this historically important shipwreck was commercially mined within a period of months by a commercial treasure hunter, and thus much of the information it might have provided about the ship’s crew and cargo was lost. This has been likened, even in the US, to modern-day cultural piracy (Kate Taylor, 'Treasures Pose Ethics Issues for Smithsonian', New York Times, April 24, 2011).
The exhibition was conceived by the government of Singapore, which owns the artifacts, and Julian Raby, the director of the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, the Smithsonian's two Asian art museums. It is on display in Singapore through July and will then travel internationally. Although the Smithsonian says it has not made a final decision, the exhibition — which includes glazed pottery, rare pieces of early blue-and-white porcelain and the largest gold cup ever found from the Tang Dynasty (618-907) — is tentatively set to arrive at the Sackler in the spring of 2012.[...] The ship, which is believed to be Arab, was filled with a cargo of ninth-century Chinese ceramics and gold and silver vessels. Its discovery suggests that Tang China had substantial sea trade with the Middle East; scholars had previously thought that the trade routes were primarily over land, along the Silk Road.
The company that salvaged the Belitung wreck, Seabed Explorations, is run by a German engineer, Tilman Walterfang, former director of a German concrete company who saw economic opportunities in wreck hunting in Indonesia.
when fisherman first discovered the shipwreck in early August 1998, the Indonesian government, fearful of looting, ordered Seabed Explorations to begin an immediate round-the-clock recovery operation. It started within days. Although Mr. Walterfang eventually brought in a pair of archaeologists, including one, Michael Flecker, who wrote two journal articles about the ship, Mr. Walterfang conceded that, from an academic standpoint, “the overall situation would without doubt be described as ‘less than ideal.’ ”[...] Seabed Explorations sold the majority of the 63,000 artifacts recovered to a company owned by the Singapore government, for $32 million [...] Some artifacts have ended up on eBay and other online sites.
On April 5th a group of archaeologists and anthropologists from the National Academy of Sciences — including Robert McCormick Adams, a former leader of the Smithsonian — wrote a letter to G. Wayne Clough, the director of the Smithsonian, that proceeding with the proposed exhibition would "severely damage the stature and reputation" of the institution. This opinion has been shared in recent weeks by the Society for American Archaeology, the Council of American Maritime Museums and the International Committee for Underwater Cultural Heritage, as well as groups within the Smithsonian, including the members of the anthropology department and the Senate of Scientists at its National Museum of Natural History.

The salvage firm's director Walterfang was dismissive of the exhibition’s critics, suggesting that the exhibition was being used as a “Ping-Pong ball in yet another political game for the social climbers in Washington, D.C.”. Archaeologist Flecker is reported as having argued that the "purist approach of many archaeologists" is simply
not practical in developing countries like Indonesia, where governments are poor and the risk of looting is high. In those circumstances, he wrote, archaeologists and commercial salvagers should cooperate “to document those sites and the artifacts recovered from them before too much information is lost.”
So a bit like an underwater Portable Antiquities Scheme then.

It will be interesting if the Smithsonian decide today not to host this ethically-questionable exhibition. If the haste and unmethodical manner in which they were excavated in our times is a criterion disqualifying Treasures from being exhibited in a proper museum, what are we to say of the hundreds of hoards and other finds hoiked out of the ground in Britain by metal-detector wielding treasure hunters? I wonder whether the Smithsonian will be seeking opinions form the British Museum and their Portable Antiquities Scheme and treasure Unit about their ethical dilemma?

Let's see if the Smithsonian allow a little thing like ethics to interfere with their exhibition plans.

An announcement on whether or not it will proceed with the show is expected in late May.

True Conspiracies, not an Illicit Coin Import in Sight

It is interesting to note that the people claiming that (desultory) US government attempts to clean up the antiquities market are part of some kind of conspiracy agin' the People are some kind of fringe of even the (oddly big in America) conspiracy movement. Looking through some typical examples such as here (True Conspiracies, the Illuminati and One World Government) fails to bring up any mention of regulating imports of illegal antiquity exports as a means of enslavement.

Don't Become Slave Oil: Support the ACCG

Another version of Evil Gubn'mint Catastrophism from the coiney camp, this time with an environmental twist. If ya don't want to see 45% of the world population in chains as Slave Oil runs out, ya'd better start supporting the ACCG in its aim to keep illegally exported ancient coins on da market. A classic of the genre which I suspects well illustrates the thought processes of the average ACCG supporter.
This is not tin hat stuff either, you just have to look and dig to find this out.
I beg to differ. (We note that the writer's pitchfork and torches environmental alarmism does not run to thinking of ways to slow the rate at which oil - a finite resource too - runs out.) I think somebody's going to have a lot of free time on their hands when Fox takes Glenn Beck off the air.

All this, let us note, is to justify coineys digging around in a dead woman's email correspondence to bolster their case for allowing the import of illegally exported archaeological artefacts onto the US no-questions-asked antiquities market.

Iraq Museum, the Donny George Gallery

It is reported that the Antiquities Department of Iraq has announced that Baghdad Museum will be re-opening soon, and when it does it will have a special gallery to house thousands of artefacts that were retrieved following the museum’s looting shortly after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. One room will be dedicated to the memory of the late Dr. Donny George. The department’s spokesperson, Abdulzahra al-Talaqani,
said the museum received recently 32 more stolen items from Syria. More than 750 pieces have been handed to the Museum by the Syrian authorities so far. Jordan has sent back to Iraq 2,466 stolen pieces. More artifacts were recovered in the U.S., Holland, Sweden, Germany, Poland and Peru.
Shaymaa Adel, 'Iraq Museum to devote special hall to artifacts recovered after looting', Azzaman, April 25, 2011.

Egypt Looting: Myth-Making in Progress

Larry Rothfield has an interesting footnote to recent events: HarvardEgyptologist's Newsweek Essay on Protecting Egypt's Heritage Post-Revolution: What It Gets Wrong and Why the Facts Matter, about Peter Der Manuelian's opinion piece published recently in Newsweek, Protecting Egypt's Heritage Post-Revolution. Needless to say I agree with the chronology of events which Larry gives, which can easily be checked - including through Hawass' own blog.

Metal Detecting Discussed Frankly in Heritage Journal

Heritage Action's Heritage Journal is the place to go for some sensible words written about artefact hunting ("metal detecting"). I recommend the discussion here, the latter part. Nigel Swift is a great writer, this post in particular a good example of Swiftian style drawing on a great deal of reflection. The other reason why I was so taken by it was Peter Twinn's statements. Pete and I go back a long way, way back to when I used to "engage metal detectorists" in discussion. He was one of a number of keyboard-tapping tekkies with whom in the old days I used to have some huge online verbal punchups which I found enormously helpful in challenging and shaping my views on artefact hunting. Pete was a good opponents as he was a better writer than most of the rest. He was also unusual in the "metal detecting" world as he was encouraged through his contact with the PAS to go and study archaeology. It is quite gratifying to see Pete now writing things which have me nodding my head in agreement (rather than shaking it in disbelief). Sadly he is the only one of that original group of stalwart naysayers on the metal detecting forums that seems to have shown any real change of approach in that decade or so. PAS was set up at great cost to instil "best practice"; it has worked in the case of Pete Twinn and a handful of others (Corinne being another notable example), why has it not really worked at all with the other few thousand? The HJournl discussion gives a few views on that topic. Worth reading.

Coineys Should Read the Book Before they Seek the Emails

"This case is far from over" warns Sayles, suggesting that the ACCG really are going to ignore the voices of reason in the numismatic community and try to access and go through the e-mails of the late Danielle Parks in the search for the elusive snippet of information that exposes the evil that the coineys are convinced stalks the corridors of the US State Department. I suggest that before they do that, they consider how appropriate it would be to consult this scholar on the archaeological status and significance of ancient coins in Cyprus. As I am sure even the home-based numismophiles of Missouri and Wisconsin know, Danielle Parks was an expert on Roman coins in Cyprus. Before her death, she published a 300-page monograph book on the Roman Coinage of Cyprus (Danielle A. Parks 2004, 'The Roman Coinage of Cyprus', Nicosia (Cyprus Numismatic Society). ISBN 9963-9070-0-8). One point that she raises is that these coins circulated primarily on the island and compared to what is found there, everything found outside of Cyprus is minute in comparison. A point made in at least one of the reviews was that the author was unable to cover the whole field because of the large numbers of such coins that were inaccessible due to being shut away in unpublished private collections. So much for all the "research" private possession of illegally exported coins is supposed to produce. Maybe before the ACCG start laying into Danielle Parks for sharing information with the State Department they might like to produce a bibliography of works produced since her book was published by private collectors in the United States showing how much (or how little) they add to what she wrote.

Saturday 23 April 2011

Egypt Proclaims Reward for Antiquity Finders

The Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities is offering a reward of between LE5,000 and LE50,000 to any citizen responsible for stolen antiquities being returned to the State (The Egyptian Gazette Online, Egyptian stolen antiquities incentive, April 23, 2011). That's what it says, not apprehension of any more of the abseiling thieves and return of the objects.

Vignette: Money for information.

The Antiquity Dealers' View on Stewardship

Coin dealer Wayne Sayles explains to a list member on coin dealer Dave Welsh's coiney microforum Unidroit-L his views on stewardship of the archaeological heritage. The occasion for this was that member's questioning of the ACCG challenge to the US government over the import of illegally exported dugup artefacts. Sayles suggests:
In my view, import restrictions are not the beginning of the end of civilization as we know it. The mentality that imposes import restrictions on any and all utilitarian objects simply because archaeologists want to be exclusive stewards over them IS potentially the beginning of the end.
First of all nobody is planning "import restrictions on any and all utilitarian objects" bought fresh from the factory in Turin, just certain types of dugup and ethnographic collectables. This is because their production involves the depletion of a resource.

So the problem is not that archaeologists want to be stewards of "them" (objects) but the archaeological record which is trashed in the production of the commodities that Sayles wants to be allowed to import even if it has been illegally exported from another country.

This is the fallacy which collectors want to propagate, that this is about the "ownership" of objects as property, but the truth is that it goes deeper than that. What is the problem for the archaeologists is the origin of the objects dealers like Sayles and his collector clients want to own, to buy and sell. The archaeologist wants to protect archaeological sites from illicit exploitation as a source of illicitly-obtained collectables. The actions of the ancient Coin Collectors Guild in opposition to the CCPIA show that collectors of the United States are not only willing to lay hands on such illicitly-obtained finds, but in fact positively desire to get their hands on them. If this were not the case any curbs on the import of illegally exported antiquities would have no affect on them whatsoever.

Vignette: Stewardship, not just about the squirrels in the park...

Al and Wayne

Coin dealer Wayne Sayles tells Al Hickey on the coiney Unidroit-L forum what the ACCG case is all about. Hickey had questioned why the ACCG wants to import illegally exported coins, I'd say that was a reasonable question... Sayles disagrees.
The coin import restrictions are a very small part of a much larger issue. [...] there are a significant number of people engaged in the defense of similar issues and it is becoming a momentous reaction to what many view as oppression. [...] The point is that something is wrong in government and ACCG will challenge that with every tool available.
Gotta fight the gub'nmint conspr'cy against the People. It seems to me that the coineys have fallen in behind a bitter and suspicious old man, willing to see an enemy around every corner.

I am sure that Sayles is right when he says that there are many people who consider that there are indeed many things wrong with the US and the way she is governed, but I suspect that among them there will be considerable disagreement whether or not its relationship to the hobby of coin collecting is one that should be given any sort of priority in dealing with them.

As if in confirmation, we can look no further than the papers leaked apparently from State Department sources the day following my post. I think if we are looking for things about the US government that should be questioned, and about which there should be more transparency and accountability, then ranking somewhere at the top must be:

This is sickening. I think there really are far more important things the US people should be taking their government to task over than whether emails of this or that person mention a secret agreement involving ancient dugup coins, or whatever it is the silly, self-interested and superficial US coineys are contesting. Yes, let's get those State Department secrets out in the open.

Vignette of Fortress America from the Guardian.
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