Wednesday, 27 July 2011

A Coiney's "Way Forward"

A few days ago I was being berated in the comments to my blog because I do not speak in awed terms about the intellectual ability of those that can only understand the past by building huge collections of decontextualised ancient artefacts. Then I found the collector who'd come here ostensibly to engage in "dialogue" subsequently made a post over on Moneta-L further demonstrating the same lack of capacity for independent thought on the wider context of the issues connected with the collecting of portable antiquities. Awkward though scattering the discussion may be, I cannot answer over there as my views are excluded from that forum. So I’ll have to cover what he said there here. I’ll do it in three more shorter posts so as not to overload the attention span of anybody from over there that may care to try and read it.

Let’s start at the end, after giving a very object-centred account of what he believes, Chris Rose (Chris Exx) ends up by saying that collectors may “put ACCG in our wills”. The ACCG is currently doing nothing other than fighting US government regulation of the antiquities market. Frankly I do not think they will be able to keep it up long enough to benefit in anybody’s will. Certainly these people are doing nothing good for the trade, collecting and most of all efforts to preserve the archaeological record from commercial looting.

More to the point the writer suggests somewhat simplistically that since “the enemy” is clearly those dastardly ivory tower “radical archaeologists”:
no university can expect a bequest from me if it has a department that stands against our hobby. Maybe we can endow chairs of Numismatics at prestigious universities and engage archeology on its own ground”.
Excellent idea. But first, let us consider where in the structure of the average prestigious university this chair would be situated. In the Department of Anthropology, like archaeology often is? I cannot see much in current coineyism that is particularly asociated with an anthropological approach. Maybe in the department of humanities, perhaps as part of Classical philology? Or should it be in the science department? Would it be numismatics in general, or is Mr Exx thinking of some kind of dugup numismatology? Obviously the study of European Thaler and other milled coinage is somewhat different from the problems involved in the conflict between ancient coins as collectable geegaws and a component of archaeological information.

Secondly, in order to engage archaeology "on its own ground", this academic discipline of dugup numismatology would have to show an independent methodology and body of theory which seems on the whole to still be lacking and what there is is derivative. So in order to counter (or work with) archaeology as an independent discipline, it would have to develop one, but of course that is in part the function of academic institutions. It would have to produce textbooks for teaching applied numismatics. I think given the current attitudes within the academic milieu, very soon questions of professional ethics of this discipline will begin to arise, as we have seen for example in archaeology and ethnography. This can only be a good thing, with numismatic scholars (real ones) advocating more ethical means of obtaining the raw material for their research – which hopefully will eventually come round to realising that context, pattern and associations of deposition are sources of information about many aspects of the past which is lost by heap-of-coins-on-a-table typological approaches.

More to the point, maybe Chris Exx/Rose can actually point to a single university department (can be anywhere in the world, not just the USA) that actually „stands against our hobby”. The problem is surely NOT “the hobby” but the way hobbyists currently do it. While there may be many that advocate change and bringing the collecting of certain categories of coins (and dugup artefacts generally) out of the nineteenth century, I am not sure who among them are producing material advocating complete abolition of coin collecting. But maybe Mr Exx knows differently.

I'd also like to ask whether it is just criticism of the current form of the dugup coin trade which can be countered by founding chairs of dugup numismatology. Maybe we need chairs of Shabtiology and Scarabology? Those collecting Roman brooches from the dealers with Balkan artefacts might like to endow a chair of Classical Fibulology. Why not?

(More on Moneta-L # 100262 to follow)


Chris Exx said...

Hi Paul,

I have been enjoying your blog and I applaud that you link to others concerned about the historical record that may not exactly agree with you.

I have found some interesting reading. I especially liked the basically favorable review of PAS by Derek Fincham.

I also appreciate that you let us "intellectually challenged" "coineys" participate in your blog although lead leaching from coins or such -- we really shouldn't kiss them and sleep with them -- has obviously diminished our mental capacity!! ;-)

If you check back on Moneta-L you'll see that there has been quite a bit of conversation recently concerning how we can address the concerns of archaeologists and others, particularly relating to illicitly obtained coins. Truly this in in the interest of those of us who wish to continue collecting. No, no breakthroughs, but perhaps you could use your superior intellect to suggest a system we could employ.

Or is all collecting simply unacceptable to you? It seems like your attitude shifts. Is there anything we could do that in your opinion would allow us to collect ancient coins at all? I realize that you may not have the solution, but is a solution a possibility that you are willing to consider?

Also, I am wondering what archaeologists do with coins that they excavate after they have been suitably documented? Are they ethically committed to preserving them (say by professional organization rules or general practice)? We collectors fear than your disdain for objects leads to buckets of coins rotting (through bronze disease and corrosion) in dank basements somewhere. Can you reassure us?

In any case keep up the good work!! My occasional sarcasm aside, I have learned a lot from your site.

In a spirit of constructive engagement,

Chris Rose

Paul Barford said...

The post to which this was a comment is about UNIVERSITY CHAIRS OF NUMISMATICS. Why is the comment to it on a totally different topic?

Linking, I try always to cite my sources as I do want people to check out for themselves what dealers, collectors and artefact hunters themselves write/say. I don’t want them taking my word for it. Of course the forums of such people do not exactly welcome such scrutiny from outsiders. Moneta-L for example.

You may have “especially liked the basically favorable review of PAS by Derek Fincham”. I did not, for the reasons I give in at least two largish posts on this blog. How does the PAS protect sites from looting? I think Fincham misses a lot of the nuances of the argument, and again concentrates on the "objects" and not the issue of where they come from.

“on Moneta-L you'll see that there has been quite a bit of conversation recently concerning how we can address the concerns of archaeologists and others, particularly relating to illicitly obtained coins” ,. Hmm. How many archaeologists and “others” did they invite in to take part in the conversation?

“perhaps you suggest a system we could employ” . Have done, several times, got shouted down by people who clearly did not understand what the issues were and then banned from Moneta. Try looking on Unidroit-L where the same thing happened - but not before I giot some way to presenting concrete ideas on this. That actually took me a lot of ytime and effort to put in order and on paper - not hgelped by the disruptions caused by coineys intent, not on serious discussion, but disruption.

After that experience, I am really loathe to waste any more time trying to do it all over again, just because nobody can be bothered to search for what was said earlier. Banging my head against a brick wall is intellectually more satisfying than talking to the coineys I have come across in such "discussions".

If Moneta-L invited me back, then I might make the effort, but basically I think that while collectors themselves do not demand it of the dealers, then it’s a waste of time going through the motions of a pretended discussion directed by insincere dealers, because that is all the coineys are involved in at the moment.

“Or is all collecting simply unacceptable to you?” Oh, bollocks. HERE WE GO AGAIN. Yes, it’s lead corrosion products or something.

Can you show me on complete sentence in the thousand or so posts on this blog where I even hint at such a thing? Watch the lips, “what I think is unacceptable is the way collecting is done today”. Got it?

It seems like your attitude shifts.
Not on that it does not. There has been an evolution of the terms I use through me trying to make the phrasing more adequate, also I have come now to a wholly different attitude about US implementation of the 1970 UNESCO Convention than when I started exploring the issues by blogging about them, but on collecting antiquities and metal detecting in the UK, I do not think there has been a “shift”.

" Is there anything we could do that in your opinion would allow us to collect ancient coins at all? I realize that you may not have the solution, but is a solution a possibility that you are willing to consider?"
Yawn, see above.

Paul Barford said...

"Also, I am wondering what archaeologists do with coins that they excavate after they have been suitably documented? Are they ethically committed to preserving them (say by professional organization rules or general practice)? We collectors fear than your disdain for objects leads to buckets of coins rotting (through bronze disease and corrosion) in dank basements somewhere. Can you reassure us?

Why should I? If you are not content like most coineys to listen to what the likes of Sayles, Welsh, Kokotailo (common denominator....?) tell you is the case? Or do you want me to put it on a plate for you? Or PERHAPS you could try to find out something about museums in the great wide world yourself.

What "disdain"? What are you now accusing museum professionals of?

Look in the Internet to see if there is a code of ethics for archaeologists, museum professionals? What do you reckon, that there are no such things? There are whole BOOKS written about Museology (I do not know if you'll find them in Google books, thus avoiding those dreaded "library" things, but I bet you've never even tried)

I cannot speak for the "Provincial Museum of Natural History, Archaeology and the Agriculture of Wongawongaland", never been there. The Museums I am closely familiar with (like my own native Colchester and Essex Museum where I have spent many happy days working in the stores) and in Norway and Poland where I have worked and archaeological stores (like LAARC=London Archaeological and Archive Resource Centre) have special environmentally controlled stores for metal - which includes coins. They also have in-house conservation labs with trained personnel who are responsible for the state of the collections - all of them.

It is collectors who buy freshly metal detected coins packed in sealed plastic bags by the kilo. Today excavated coins are bagged and boxed separately each one catalogued and labelled to identify the layer they came from. Archiving them mixed up in mythical "buckets" would serve no purpose I can think of.

Now if you find out there is a museum somewhere that is mistreating dugup coins and this concerns you, is the answer to say "all museums are evil"? Is the answer - we must scrap all museums and give the coins to people who care (Us)? Or is the answer to start an active campaign to convince the people of Wongawongaland - or wherever - that this is not the way people should treat artefacts like coins? Holding up the good museums as an example. Telling international agencies to get out there and help these people get their house in order. That is what people truly concerned about the remains of the past would do, not simply say "gimme, gimme".

There ARE books on such topics as organizing post-excavation work and archives, manuals of the various stores (LAARC has a two volume one I understand, though have not seen it). They deal with storage conditions and all that.

It is dealer who come out with these anecdotal instances and talk of the "buckets" and dank basements" and "mouldering". Do you reckon Sayles or Welsh have actually been in a proper archaeological store in the past two decades? Sayles may have seen some crap museums in Turkey when he was stationed over there, they may still be crap, but we should not generalise that all museums are crap and abuse the material in their collections without checkjing what in fact is the case.

Why not write to ICOM or the Museums Association (not forgetting the AAMD), or maybe the European Council with these questions, they might send you some free brochures or something and you can find out yourself. But then, please tell the unthinking oiks who cant be bothered to look what you have found out and try and stop the coiney rumour mill in its campaign of defamation and spreading ignorance.

Chris Exx said...

Hi Paul, Thank for your answers. I am sincerely trying to find out your position. There are collectors who are archaeologists on Moneta, but they obviously can't speak for you because they have a totally different position.

I am sure that there are a lot of distorted representations of cultural property concerns. That is why I decided just to ask you directly.

I searched Unidroit-L (as you suggested) for your posts but only found Dave Welsh's reactions to this blog. Could they have been excised?

Your blog is organized around news rather than topics. It is not easy for me to find the information that I look for. I am very interested in reading
whatever suggestions you have made for solutions. A link would be appreciated.

I am sure that there is a history of rancor and disappointed efforts. I can't change the past. But if there is really a system that you think collectors could employ to avoid looted and illegal objects I am very interested in hearing about it.

I realize that I do not know a lot about archaeology. Cultural property is not my specialty nor the focus of what I do. I am basically trying to find out what I can do for my own personal "due diligence" and what I can constructively advocate to my peers. Most people cannot make a career of this question. So I am going to an expert, you, hat in hand, and asking for help.

It is easy to take potshots at me, but all I am doing is trying to learn. Is it too much to ask for what approach you suggest? I would think you would have that at hand. Otherwise collectors like myself have to keep guessing and getting slapped down which just leads to more rancor and no progress.

Yes, actually saying something concrete rather than just rubishing what others are saying is risky. The more you say the more there is to criticize, regardless of the worth of your contribution. I cannot speak for others, but I promise to respectfully consider whatever you have to offer.


Chris Rose

Paul Barford said...

Well obviously there is a difference between "archaeologists who are collectors " on Moneta-L (Rieske - discussed on this blog) and archaeologists off it.

Unidroit-L: November 2007 onwards, pay attention to the reactions of others. Welsh, Assar, and de La Fe for example.

One day I will do a book on this, but not just yet. I have another research project (on the early Medieval Slavs) to do now.

I think for now though I am saying a lot of very concrete things. As I said, sorting out the mess the antiquities market is in is not my responsibility, I am no part of it. I really do not see it as my personal responsibility. You have to work these things out for yourselves.

This blog is not FOR collectors and dealers, it is ABOUT them.

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