Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Coineys and Archaeologists: one View

Coiney Chris Exx wanted "dialogue" about [dugup coin] collecting and how to stop it being denigrated by conservationists. In the recognition that "cultural artifacts are a common resource and should not be gathered en masse without consideration of all interested parties" he says in a post made over on Moneta-L that he would be willing to:
pay a surcharge for an export license for coins I buy assuming that this could be done efficiently and with minimal corruption. I would pay a surcharge to support archeology if they would stop calling for the destruction of our hobby. Certain limited archaeologically rich areas should be set aside and protected in the same way as we preserve natural parks
Yipes. He seems to be suggesting he quite happily buys coins without receiving an export licence now. So where do these coins come from? Surely that is the issue the responsible (thinking) collector of such things should be concerned about. It is odd that he seems to think that archaeology might be bribed into not saying anything about the manner in which the no-questions-asked market works to the detriment of the archaeological record and the cultural heritage. As I have said before (most recently two posts above this but on a number of cases earlier), I really think this "calling for the destruction of our hobby" trope is a collector's myth, an identity-forming mantra. So, keep your money Mr Exx, just collect responsibly.

What does it mean when he suggests that "Certain limited archaeologically rich areas should be set aside and protected in the same way as we preserve natural parks"? First of all, "we" preserve national parks? Leaving aside the question of how well the US protects the archaeological resources in their national parks and on public land in general, is Mr Exx actually suggesting that only the US is enlightened enough to have come up with such an idea as protecting land in this form? Whether or not that is the case, certainly there are "Certain limited archaeologically rich areas" which already ARE set aside and protected. The problem is that looters get in there too. When collectors like Mr Exx are buying coins with no paperwork saying where they are from, then there is a good chance that some of the coins mixed in the stocks of many dealers come in part from just such commercial "enterprise". Of course that is totally against the codes of practice and ethics of the coin dealers (see the ACCG Code of ethics, or the V-coins one), but if there is no real documentation of where ANY of the coins they sell comes from to speak of, how on earth is anyone to know? Basically it is a postulate not worth the paper its written on, isn't it?

Mr Exx goes on:
But, based on what I read on the ACCG site, it seems that American archeology (at least) demands the complete destruction of our hobby.
Well, it was Mr Exx who was castigating me the other day for making robust comments about the ability of collectors of dugup artefacts like coins to do any real exploration of any of the issues. Why on earth would he form a judgement based on what the ACCG presents without going to any of the material produced by those American archaeologists? Did Mr Exx even make the effort to look? Now, I admit it is a fact that the Archaeological Institute of America webpage actually has absolutely nothing which I could see on that topic. That is a serious omission which I admit I find hard to understand in the circumstances. I also wrote two or three days days ago to Sebastian Heath asking where I can see an up to date policy statement of the AIA on this matter, but so far I have received no reply. Nevertheless before coming out with a statement like that, it behoves the writer to at least make the effort and go a little further than one coiney webpage in formulating an opinion. It is this superficiality of the coiney milieu as a whole which I find so annoying.

Certainly, whatever its policies are/were/will be, it would be very interesting indeed to see a debate between US and UK archaeologists on this topic, hardline anti-collectors in the US (if such really exist) and hardline pro-metal detectorists from the PAS. When Roger Bland was in the States twice, I think I am right in saying that he only gave a presentation to the coineys, not the archaeological establishment, which is a shame.

UPDATE 30th July:
Sebastian Heath has not deigned to reply, from which I think we can take it that the AIA currently has no prepared statement on this issue. But that is their problem, not mine.

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