Wednesday 30 November 2011

It's True About the Boy Scouts

I was jesting in an earlier post about the Boy Scout "history plunderers badge" but an observant reader has sent me this link (with the comment "the yanks never disappoint"). It's happening folks. "Minelab Ron" says:
Hubby and I are working to see about getting approval for a metal detecting badge for the Boy Scouts. The kids in our troop love doing it! [...] We are working on a simple design (which will most likely be a metal detector :)) and gathering the paperwork to get the badge approved. I am hoping, also, with the metal detecting we are doing at Pipsico...we will get the blessings of BSA through our Cape Henry District and Tidwater Council and up the chain of command. Would any of you be willing to give a lecture on metal detecting, various types of hunting (as some are just civil war, others beach, while others like indian relics, etc...)....and it would be for a troop in your area or if you will be in an area that would be doing such. I would like to see this happen and maybe at our next camporee (Nov 2008)...we can have a merit badge for metal detecting!!!! Just a thought and keep your fingers crossed we can get this approved... step aside ARCHIES...the Boy Scout Metal Detecting Club is Approaching!!!!!!!
According to one member of the forum, "if you go to the FMDAC web site they have gotten some scout troops to give badges for metal detecting. Maybe someone on there can help...". They also have a coin-collecting badge too, I believe.

Metal Detecting Under the Microscope: Gold Coins at Twinstead

A heritage grabfest commercial artefact hunting rally was held in Twinstead, Near Sudbury in Essex, on Sunday 27th November (announced here by "Skunky Paul"). The heritage was being plundered to "raise funds for the Castle Hedingham Scout Group". Some gold coins were found; rather a lot in fact, 100 or according to some 200 (or "hundreds") sovereigns of Victoria and Edward VII. In metal detecting circles there are tales of the finders "not showing them to the organisers, but just disappearing with pockets full in some cases, [...] last I heard only 2 had appeared in the showcase". Another reporter says: "I heard of one [person] finding 10 in a roll / original wax paper, some pe[ople] are thinking it might of (sic!) been a robbery". The story from Detecting Wales ("Jeb"):
A single lad found one sov, and instead of saying nothing and carrying on detecting around the spot, he held it up and let them all around him know he`d just found a Soverign , then amazingly enough he walked away from the spot. Well the rest zoomed in on the spot and from then on the continuation of finds of Soverigns carried on. So the initiall finder got just one . I was there I saw it . It was Gold fever at its worst . I didn`t get involved with it ,although I was there nearby when only the SECOND soverign was found. I watched from about thirty feet away as at the time ,around thirty "vultures" picked at the carcass of land . Thirty or more or on a piece of ground no bigger than 20 -30 feet square. They were like people detecting in a lift , it was amazing spectacle to watch, I walked away eventually and that was at 10.45 or 11am ish. The finding carried on and on. The same amount roughly were STILL there at around 4 PM.
They were only in it for the "history" of course. Another part of the story from the rally UK site:
“Within 20 mins there were about 30 people in that small patch and all pulling up gold sovereigns! There was a jovial atmosphere with people kissing the coins as they came up and others cheering and congratulating them on their finds.The most asked question doing the rounds today was "How many have you got now?" and the replies kept rising.” I did show my coins to the organisers and they were photographed for a 2nd time. I asked the organiser about what happens now (re declaring them etc ) and was told that we were entitled to keep them. The scouts were happy that they had raised the amount that they were hoping for.
And the landowner, was he formally approached and asked? Did nobody think (including the rally organizers) that these coins should have been declared? Of course many artefact hunters think its very much a matter of finders keepers, one "Wayno" who it appears had travelled over to deepest Essex from the Wild West back on the "Detecting Wales" forum expresses it like this:
"As we are paying the farmer I didnt realise that we were in shares with him. If the farmer allowed you on free then I realise we would be on shares but we are paying this is not made clear as yet. The farmer to which the rally was held in question with the soverigns if there was 200 that approx 200X£240 scrap value for the coins so he will [be] entitled to £24000 of the organisers then."
And not from those individuals who actually benefited and made off with them (including those who concluded they "might of bin from a robbery"? The Scottish detectorists are interested too (Wild scenes at "Gold rush" on English rally).
The English based forums are full of it with claims of some detectorists fleeing the scene with 20 or more sovereigns each and the field being left like a lunar landscape. There is now talk of police involvement and criminal charges being made.
The French too are talking of it and wondering at it all. So the farmer appears to have been ripped off by GUESTS on his land, it seems inherently likely (paper still on the coins in a Suffolk field) that this was the result of the recent burial of thieved loot which was thieved again by thieving metal detectorists (so possible evidence of a crime was obliterated instead of being responsibly reported). Two hundred sovereigns buried in the reign of Edward VIII even if buried just after their date of issue can conceivably be traced to a known individual who has an heir. There are certainly grounds for disquiet here, and open and frank discussions how the contract between commercial rally organizers and landowners should be drafted to make sure this thing cannot happen again. Will such a discussion take place on any English metal detecting forums? Not very likely. Have a look and see what their concerns were:
what I suggest---- you make this bit of the forum disappear as soon as pos ----- WHY because all your excuses smart remarks and information will be twisted and used against you and put our hobby in disrepute and make us look like the bad boy ----- some of you have notice from you smart remarks a lot of the forums are closing down on this subject or deleting this is because they dont want the hassle or the embarrassment of showing our hobby in a bad light think about it the less peeps know the less they can hurt us.
Just keep it quiet lads, keep it out of the public eye and that way nobody will be questioning current British policies on artefact hunting and collecting. The Minelabs thread has apparently been deleted for the same reason, the Scottish detectorists are also worried about the negative effects for the all important "image of the hobby". And what image of the hobby does that, in itself, project? Frankly, in order to provide all the evidence that one needs that all is not at all what it is made out by its supporters to be in the world of artefact hunting in the UK, one does not need to "twist" anything these people say candidly. Their words speak volumes for themselves of just what lies below the carefully maintained facade. When are we going to hear it like it is?

Vignette: Boy Scouts learning how to raise funds by metal detecting (for their "heritage plunderer" badge no doubt) Photo: rally in progress photo by "Regis".

Tuesday 29 November 2011

ACCG "Sell the Antiquities to US to pay off Eurodebt"

Economic doom and gloom in Yurope has the coineys over in the US rubbing their hands with glee. They have been banging on for the last couple of months about how Greece and Italy could resolve their 'eurozone' financial problems by the simple expedient of emptying their museum storerooms onto the market and letting private collectors buy the formerly state property (assets) and use the cash raised to pay off their collective debts. According to the BBC, Greece's debt is 340 billion (UK billion 000 000 000) euros. If the US has a population of 312 700 000, that means that to allow this model to function, EACH and every US citizen would have to buy antiquities or work of art to the value of 1091 euros (1453 dollars).

Also according to the BBC, Italy needs 400bn next year to "refinance maturing debt, finance the deficit and pay interest". To pay for that for this year alone, EACH US citizen would have to fork out another 1710 on antiquities and works of art from their museum storerooms.

Of course they'd have to pay more, because the cost of selecting and deaccessioning the works to be sold off would have to be paid for, then packing it, cataloguing it, putting it on sale, the costs of safe transport to the dealer who will market it, insurance during transit. Then the dealer's overheads. And of course we cannot imagine ANY dealer selling a single one of these items without supplying proper paperwork detailing its legitimate origin and transport out of the country, and we all know how much dealers say THAT will cost them to produce. For every thousand dollars earned by Italy and Greece by this means, it seems the end buyer will have to contribute a considerably greater sum.

Now I am sure the dealers in such things would be very happy if suddenly (for the problems of Greece and Italy are urgent) 700 billion euros worth of antiquities and works of art suddenly appeared on the market for them to profit from. Those collectors who already have such items in their collections (maybe bought as a nest egg investment) might not be so happy, as their value would plummet as the market is flooded with quality goods.

But then how BIG is the art market? There is quite a nice Art Market Monitor article on that topic by Marion Maneker from October 1, 2009 which suggests that the short answer is "that the best guess at the size of the art market in 2008 would be $40 billion". Since then of course there has been expansion of the market maybe, but then a recession. The longer answer to the question “what’s a healthy level for the art market, especially in these difficult times?”– is "probably around $15 billion worldwide" (which as somebody pointed out is "puts it roughly on par with the pet food industry").

So, if these estimates (and there are others) give something like a realistic assessment of the size of the market, in order to raise money through the sales of art works "liberated" from state collections to pay off the debts of these two Eurozone countries, the market would have to expand between twenty (generous estimate) and 46 times to accommodate them - not only that, in order for the buyers to not lose money, it would have to be maintained at that higher level indefinitely. It seems to me that before such a move is even contemplated it would be useful to see the ACCG's thoughts on a business plan whereby the size of the art market as a whole can be increased 46 times in the sort time needed to achieve the effects they propose.

Of course this has been done before, for example the Bolsheviks sold off items from the state collections to finance their repressive regime, many of them ending up in US public collections where they remain to this day (Anne Odom, Wendy R. Salmond (Eds) 2009, 'Treasure into Tractors: The Selling of Russia's Cultural Heritage, 1918-1938, University of Washington Press). It seems some antiquity dealers would like to see the return of the days of the Robber Barons.

Egypt: Huub Pragt, el-Hadidi, the "Missing" Artefacts and Borrowed Photos

There is a novel just out about the looting of the Egyptian Museum by Huub Pragt.
Thanks in part to confusing statements by the Minister of Antiquities, mystery surrounds the objects that are missing. In this thriller the reality of the Egyptian revolution and fiction are mingled to a surprising result. English Egyptologist Kevin Savernake, his colleague Isabelle Montet and their friends Marc Spencer and Waldo van Elst distrust the reporting around the break in. It can’t be just coincidence that almost all the missing objects date from the Amarna Period. It is widely known that Rosanne Mubariz, the wife of the president, is fond of the art of Akhenaton and Nefertiti. Or did the Minister of Antiquities hide the top pieces on a safe spot because of the uncertain situation in the country? In any case there is much more going on than Minister Mahmud el-Hadidi presents to the Egyptian people and the international press. Who is really behind this art theft?
I can't read Dutch, but my own feeling is the actual truth about this matter is stranger than this fiction. I think el-Hadidi knows much more than he's letting on (though in my version, neither he nor the Mubariz clan were involved in the staging of this pseudo-break-in) and we've not hear the last of this. A little birdie tells me that after the new government is formed, we may be seeing the return of "a" Ministry... My guess is that a few of those "missing" objects are going to be turning up at a convenient time.

Mr Huub has an interesting photo used on his "Kunstroof" website as a banner. It looks familiar doesn't it? Right down to every last shadow, speck of dirt and nuance of lighting . I have no objection to his using it, though it would have been nice if he'd actually shared the information where he got it and whose photo it is ("Op sommige van de afgebeelde foto’s kan het auteursrecht bij derden rusten") - I wonder how much else taken from this blog found its way into the book?

Meanwhile it seems the Registration, Collections Management and Documentation
Department (RCMDD) and the curatorial staff of the Egyptian
Museum, Cairo, not having managed ten months later to provide an updated list of what is still missing since the latest "retrievals", has now announced they are not going to be answering any more queries about artefacts as they have a "backlog" of something or other. Still, at least it also says they are doing some 'renovation' work, maybe they'll also get around to cleaning those windows and under some of those cases.

Rally Entrance Fees, Artefact Hunting and Landowners

If each artefact hunter attending the Bishop's Burton Commercial Artefact hunting rally spent on the weekend event 46 pounds each (my earlier post 'How much for the heroes?'), why are detectorists up in arms about a landowner who wants them to pay 70 pounds for a licence to enter his land to "metal detect" for a whole year? Indeed, why are so few landowners applying this solution, a licence and an agreement to abide by the national 'Code of Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales' and share the profits on the sale of artefacts and the reproduction rights of photos of objects taken from their land? Since so many hundreds of artefact hunters are willing to pay out for a limited right of access to landowners' property, why are not landowners charging all of them a proper fee, commensurate with the actual commercial value of all the artefacts (and "scrap metal") they remove? How many of them would still be collecting all those artefacts if they had to actually pay more for them than merely the battery money for their detectors? The PAS and heritage organizations would be doing everyone a service as part of a more rounded "outreach" circulating to landowners scans of a few of those "how much your finds are worth" sections of the hobby magazines and the books on the subject to inform landowners just what they are missing, saying in effect "take what you want boys".

Monday 28 November 2011

Another "Haul" of Viking Hack Silver from Britain

Yet another hoard of Viking silver things has been dug up in northern Britain by a metal detector wielding artefact hunter ("An amateur treasure hunter has discovered a "nationally significant" Viking hoard including hundreds of pieces of silver jewellery and coins"). This one was apparently still in its lead box - which to survive more or less intact must have been below plough level.
Darren Webster unearthed "the find of a lifetime" when his metal detector picked up a signal at an undisclosed location on the border of Cumbria with north Lancashire. He could barely believe it when he dug up a casket containing 200 pieces of silver jewellery, coins, hacksilver and ingots. [...] "I got a good signal on my detector so I dug about 18 inches and then I saw a lead pot. It was slightly open. I could see all the coins and jewellery inside. It was a great feeling."
The Telegraph used the right word: "The haul is now being studied by experts at the British Museum who will reveal their findings in December". the annoncement is accompanied by archaeologists and museum folk coming out with the usul trite narrativisation. Sabine Skae, curator of Barrow's Dock Museum, said
she hoped the new hoard would help put Cumbria and South Lakeland on the map as having an important Viking heritage. "Over the past ten years there has been an increase in small finds and now some larger finds which is really forcing people to look at Cumbria in a new way," she added. Stephen Oppenheimer, an anthropology lecturer at Oxford University, said big hoards such as this paint a new picture of what Vikings were doing in England. The discovery of big hoards break down the stereotype of Vikings just coming over here to raid our churches and take valuables back to their own country.
Which is odd, as I am sure I read a stereotype somewhere about this zone of England called the "Danelaw" or something like that. Perhaps I got it wrong. I am sure a flood of big hoards like this is going to give us a truer picture than excavating a farmstead or two and investigating settlement patterns in the landscape. The Coroner's inquest is being rushed through and will be held in "mid-December".

Daily Telegraph, 'Amateur treasure hunter finds Viking hoard', 27 Oct 2011

UPDATE 14th Dec 2011: Andrew Hough, 'Viking hoard provides new clues to 'previously unknown ruler', Daily Telegraph, 14 Dec 2011

Jack Malvern, 'Metal detector forager discovers Viking hoard of silver in Lancashire field', Times, December 15, 2011

The publicity spin being put the new hoard is that it "contains valuable coins bearing the identity of a previously unknown ruler, it emerged yesterday".

The hoard was found in September by company director Darren Webster, 39 (who has a stone tile workshop in Yealand Conyers, Lancashire), using a metal detector on land around Silverdale (and why would a metal detectorist be searching there, then?), in north Lancashire.
""The first thing I discovered was the lead pot it was contained in."When I lifted that out of the hole that's when I noticed silver falling from the pot".
The assemblage contained 27 Anglo-Saxon (of Alfred the Great), Anglo-Viking (Viking Northumbrian kingdom), German and Islamic coins, and some 174 pieces of silver objects, ingots and pieces of silver jewellery (including 10 arm rings, six brooch fragments, two finger rings, 14 ingots, six brooch fragments and a fine wire braid which may have been worn as a necklace), in a lead (-lined?) box. There were also 141 fragments of hacksilver. It is "the fourth largest ever found". the coins date to around 900AD. More narrativisation:
"The hoard was placed in a lead box and buried underground at a time when the Anglo-Saxons were attempting to wrest control of the north of the country from the Vikings [...] around the time the Vikings had been expelled from Dublin and were fighting the Anglo-Saxons to keep control of the north of England.[...] Experts believe the hoard [...] could have been buried by a Viking warrior before he went into battle [and the] jewellery are thought to have been worn to signify rank of the influential owner.
well, except it quite clearly is an early tenth century hacksilver hoard isn't it? Like the whole spread of them that occur from the Baltic across to the Irish Sea in this period. Were there "experts" coming out with this "buried it before a battle" junk from the noomismatic department of the BM by any chance? Perhaps they should look at some of the latest continental literature on these hoards and tell the public what they say rather than feeding them romantic (and nationalistic) news-pap to justify the plunder of the archaeological record by their "partners" with metal detectors. Just to make it more palatable that at a time when we cannot afford to keep other artworks in the country we are yet again going to have to fork out to buy back another bit of needlessly-dug-up-from-the-in-situ-archaeological-record we are given more palliative pap-news:
One silver denier, bears the name Charles [which "Carolus"?]. Others bear the name Airdeconut, a Viking ruler in northern England. Officials said the inscription Airdeconut, appeared to be an attempt to represent the Scandinavian name Harthacnut. They said this was because many Vikings had converted to Christianity within a generation of settling in Britain. On the other side were the words DNS (Dominus) REX, which was arranged in the form of a cross. “The design of the coin relates to known coins of the kings Siefredus and Cnut, who ruled the Viking kingdom of Northumbria around AD900, but Harthacnut is otherwise unrecorded,” a museum spokesman said. “It is a very significant find. It is a very large haul and it is the fourth large Viking find in the UK. Because it is recently discovered there is lots of research to be done.”
Yes indeed, but first it has to be VALUED. Mr Webster said he would "love" the collection to go to his local museum in Lancaster. In order that this could be achieved, so that the British can see the archaeological heritage which he dug up, he was waiving the reward fee and donating all the other objects he has taken from the archaeological record (together with full documentation of the context of discovery) to the local archaeological museum together with a donation to cover the costs of conservation and archivisation of the Darren Webster collection. I made that last sentence up, Mr Warren most likely has not yet decided what to do with the reward money or his other finds.

Jack Malvern of the Times has some details of the discovery. He says that the hoard of silver was "buried one metre down in the earth" and quotes the finder Mr Webster:
"My machine was telling me that I'd found some kind of silver. So I was slightly disheartened when I saw a lead pot. It was as I was lifting it that silver pieces started falling out of it." Once the lead container had been prised open the [silver was found].
Note the total silence about the archaeological excavation that took place to recover the items from in situ in this box, recorded the box itself in situ (a lead box? Lead-lined box? Why?), whether the box had been buried and objects placed in it over a period of time, what the box was buried in and next to. Why the silence? Why the silence, please British Museum?

Looking at the position and geographical setting of the find, could we not be looking at an indicator of a trade emporium rather than the more romantic Blood-and-Glory "before the battle" scenario apparently favoured by the British Museum?

So, due to current policies on Treasure hunting and artefact collecting with metal detectors, Britain has accumulated yet another "haul" of Viking hacksilver to put alongside the ones that they already have as a result of the proliferation of reported treasure finds due to the proliferation of "metal detecting". So, how is the publication of the other ones coming along? Will it be a monographic series like the (soon to be renewed) Polish one? How many more unpublished Viking silver hoards (to put this or that region "on the map") do we need taken out of the archaeological record in the next four decades? Are we not close to reaching saturation point, and if so, what then?

Vignette: The images of the hoard were released to coincide with the release of the PAS Annual Report in December Photos of hacksilber and coin by Geoff Pugh.

So, How Much Raised for "Heroes"?

Some while ago I was discussing here the Bishop's Burton Commercial Artefact Hunting Rally (billed as a "charity" event) where a local MP himself admits he had "had words with" a conservation body on behalf of his pro-military metal detecting friends and made sure the artefact grabfest would go ahead. I am reminded of it because I see from my tracking software tonight that somebody from the House of Commons has been searching this blog for comments on this rally, perhaps Mr Stuart himself, but I REALLY hope its a researcher for a political enemy of his.

According to an article in the village newsletter, apparently written by the landowner, the artefact hunters are described as spreading out across the historical landscape "like ants":
"The attendance was overwhelming [...] in total we had 462 detectors attend the
rally over the three days [...] and with good coverage from BBC Look North, Radio Humberside, ITV and various newspapers we had enthusiasts arriving all weekend".
So, what was taken by these so-called "unsung heroes of the British heritage" (metal detectorists)? How many finds were reported, and how many finds were taken and not reported, and how many archaeological artefacts were dug up but discarded? There are no finds at all listed on the Portable Antiquities Database page here as from this rally. What we are told however is:
Roman artifacts (sic) were unearthed [on the first day] including brooch pins and coins spanning the reign of several Roman emperors. The finding of a Bronze Age coin dating 250 B.C.containing a rare combination of precious metals, ensured the rally got off to a great start. There was a good combination of nice, and unusual, „finds „ flowing back to camp for identification by the British Museum. Of particular excitement for all the archaeologists were a series of Bronze Age artifacts (sic) including a large piece of spearhead dated 1000 B.C., a piece of axe head dated 1800 B.C. and a collection of casting ingots used in production processes that denote the area was of importance and would have been the location for a sizeable well populated settlement [...] All artifacts (sic) were photographed and recorded by the British Museum and will be available to see over the coming months at, go to database, rallies, Burton rally".
Well, the artefacts will not, they are now scattered in a multitude of private personal collections all over the country or on eBay. It is not very nice to see that the landowner was not being kept informed just what was being removed from his property, a "Bronze Age coin" is clearly not what was found.

Apart from how much was made by selling the finds (and photos of the finds), how much money was raised and how much of it went to the landowner, how much the organizers and how much to the "heroes"? Well, the newsletter tells us that at the expense of a hole in the archaeological record, "After all reckoning the final sum stands at a staggering £21,372.00" [raised for charity], that's 46 quid from each detectorist attending.

Source: Guy Ellerington, [in:] 'Bishop Burton News', November 2011

Vignette: What "heroes" do in your name, UK metal detectorists trash the archaeological record in theirs.

Knowing the Law

Dealer Dave of Classical coins takes exception to my explaining what an illicit antiquity is ("Lawyer Barford"):
Barford [...] now seeks to misrepresent himself as a lawyer, despite the fact that his qualifications in that field are just as insignificant as his knowledge of ancient numismatics.
I don't think anyone except Dealer Dave can see anywhere on my blog where I represent myself as a lawyer (or a numismatist, ancient or modern).

I drive a car and thus I know the law referring to that activity, many of us have work in fields which require us to know the relevant laws referring to that business, trade or working environment (even if it is just employment law and Health and Safety). Archaeologists need to know the law on these things too, as well as those that specifically affect ancient monuments and artefacts. Likewise those who sell and buy dugup antiquities should know the law concerning that activity. It would seem however that Dug-Up-Dealer Welsh Dave thinks only a "lawyer" would need to understand these things, and citing chapter and verse to counter what I said seems to be beyond him, so would you buy a used coin from this man?

The problem with collecting antiquities is the same as driving a car on the road, it is those that are ignorant of and who disregard the law on both activities which makes them both so much more dangerous.

Vignette: Dealer Swiss Tony Would you buy a used coin from this man?

Sunday 27 November 2011

The Trade in Dugup Artefacts

A dugup antiquity dealer examines the background to the US trade in dug-up antiquities and exclaims that in this trade:
"Clearly something that cannot withstand the light of day is going on and [...] it is essential to expose it to the full glare of public scrutiny".
I agree, there should be more transparency about the actual origins and passage of the coins here, for example, from a hole in the ground to the US market ("161 Ancient Dealers, 108,549 Items, $23,053,106 Value"). Where did they all "surface", when and how? This information certainly should be made available to public scrutiny.

This seems to be something that bodies such as the Ancient Coin Collectors' Guild should be addressing on behalf of all responsible collectors of ancient coins concerned about the hygiene of their collections.

US Import Restrictions Only Apply to Illicitly Exported Items

The accusation that many coineys with educations gained in US schools have fluff for brains seems to be increasingly confirmed not only by the ease with which their self-appointed leaders manage to convince them with false admonitions of "what the new MOU will mean for YOU" which they never check, but also by the flow of whingeing pseudo-justifications which has recently been emerging from the milieu. Peter Tompa now asks: Do Import Restrictions Only Apply to "Illicitly Exported" Items?
Do MOU's only apply to "illicitly exported" artifacts as archaeo-blogger Paul Barford has claimed? No. In fact, import restrictions as applied by US Customs bar entry of coins openly and legitimately sold in markets abroad merely because they are of a type on a designated list.
Whoah, whoah. What is the CONNECTION between "openly and legitimately sold" within a country and "openly and legitimately exported"? None. As these clowns well know. The coiney lobbyist whinges on:
First, for coins coming directly from the country for which import restrictions are granted, there is an exception if they are accompanied with an export permit.
"OK, your starter for ten, fingers on the buzzers: "what do we call a coin exported from a country which has export restrictions which is accompanied by an export licence?"..." [buzzzz]
"Yes, Oxford Magdalene, "licitly exported". That is the correct answer".

"Fingers on the buzzers, now what do we call a coin exported from a country which has export restrictions which has been taken out of the country without getting an export licence?" [buzzz] "No, I am sorry Wisconsin Numismatic Academy, the correct answer is "illicitly exported", bad luck".

"Fingers on the buzzers again, what is the correct legal term for a coin removed from a country which does not issue export licences for archaeological artefacts and therefore has none? Anyone?" " [buzzz] "Yes, Wisconsin... No... no. No, the correct answer is that we call such a coin 'illicitly exported', or simply smuggled, bad luck again..."

"No, Wisconsin, if it left the source country illegally, it makes no difference whether it passed through another country - since it arrived there illicitly; can we pass on t..."

[inaudible] "No, Wisconsin, the ten year "get out clause" as you put it is just a local convenience, which does not negate the principles established by the international agreement, so if we could... and there is no need for that sort of language, ...".
[raises eyebrow, discretely makes note to producer never to ask these rowdy peabrains back to
University Challenge].

Three days later, the TV production company got an indignant letter from the principal numismatist of the Wisconsin Coin Academy, protesting:
The import restrictions discussed on the programme are both illogical and themselves definitely illicit, according to the 1983 CCPIA implementing US accession to the 1970 UNESCO Convention. That [is a] very clear contravention of the terms of the CCPIA...
They ignored the letter as the writings of a madman of course.

Basically, if you have an antiquity of a type which is on the designated lists (which certainly contain many, many more categories than just a few scrappy coins) and you want to import it into the US either get the seller to obtain an export licence, or failing that as the CCPIA (19 U.S.C. 2601 et seq.) SECTION 2606, Import Restrictions, (a) Documentation of lawful exportation (note that title, Peter Tompa in particular) states: "unless the State Party issues a certification or other documentation which certifies that such exportation was not in violation of the laws of the State Party". Note this has nothing to do with "open and legitimate sale within the country". Neither has it anything in the least connected with its 'provenance' or collecting history. This is purely and simply about lawful export (note that title everybody, Peter Tompa and coin dealers in particular).

All is not lost even if you've not got one of those, the actual text of the CCPIA contains a useful get-out clause [2606(c)(1)(B)] "a statement provided by the consignor, or person who sold the material to the importer, which states the date, or, if not known, his belief, that the material was exported from the State Party not less than ten years before the date of entry into the United States, and the reasons on which the statement is based". Not even on oath, not even asking for any supporting material to be supplied. Basically scribbling down some (could be made-up) story of innocence.

Now the reason the silly whingers are complaining about even this is that they reckon a fellow dealer scribbling such a note on a company letterhead would - they assert - cost "more than the coin itself". So who else, except dumber-than-my-cat coineys, would do business with a seller that would charge you an arm and a leg for putting down a few words on paper why the circumstances of the sale of these particular coins are not breaking the law? How much were Spink's charging to scribble a note about the coins seized in Baltimore on their way to the ACCG? Did they not know the US law on the imports of such items and ignored it? Not very professional, is it?

Remember what article 3 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention, implemented in the US by the CCPIA, says.

UPDATE 28.11.11: Dealer Dave attempts to defend the logic of Peter Tompa by incomplete sentences (at the beginning of his "commentary" to a lengthy cut-and-paste) and tekkie language (at the end of his insulting "commentary" to a lengthy cut-and-paste). Between them however is nothing which refutes the notion that commerce in objects removed from a country in disregard of its export licensing procedures is anything except illicit. Perhaps instead of insulting and merely ridiculing those whose views differ (from those of which he wants to convince coineys and others), it might be more useful to actually indicate, citing chapter and verse, where I am wrong here instead of merely sniping without providing justification [except his wholly irrelevant assertion that Peter Tompa probably earns "ten times as much" as me for lobbying on behalf of the coin sellers. He probably does, that does not make doing what he does right].

UPDATE 28.11.11 (bis)
"Any reader interested in finding out the omitted details will have little difficulty doing that". Yes, I suppose not quoting (this time) beyond the first sentence and not giving a link saves the coiney readers of the coin dealer's blog from having to bother their confused brains about what it says here about what an "illicit export" is. Any readers he has who have not got fluff for brains will take note of his manipulation and whether the Dealer Dave "Ancient Coins" blog or this PACHI blog is a better source of information for responsible collectors on what the law actually says.

Saturday 26 November 2011

Libya Roman Antiquities Seized by Revolutionaries Surface

Libyan revolutionaries, rebelling against the rule of Moammar Gadhafi reportedly took a number of second and third cent. A.D. Roman antiquities from loyalist troops on August 20th, as revolutionary forces were entering the capital Tripoli. It is said they were "seized from a truck on the road to Tripoli's airport" and it is suspected that "Gadhafi's forces wanted to smuggle them out of the country and sell them". The 17 ancient Roman figurines apparently from the collections of the Tripoli archaeological museum were put on display today there as "an important recovery of national treasures. The pieces include a female figurine and several small human busts in marble, as well as two pottery fragments". So where were these "figurines" for over three months and why are they being shown just now?

Moan, Moan, Whinge, Whinge... "Ya' Lost the Coiney Vote Obama..."

Moan, moan, whinge, whinge that's all coineys seem to do these days faced with the prospect that there is political resistance to the open trade in illicitly exported dugup artefacts in the USA. But they threaten to fight back:
Hopefully, then someone in the Obama White House political operation will realize there is a problem at CPAC and the State Department that is threatening to turn ancient coin collectors (most of whom are likely Democrats) against President Obama's reelection bid. Can the President's appointees really afford to alienate at least 50,000 serious ancient coin collectors and the hundreds of small businesses of the numismatic trade [...]?
They are most likely WHAT? Ha ha haa... That certainly is not the impression I get from reading what the loudest of them write. Glenn Beck clones to a man.

Anyway, was not the fashion for the coin-controlling MOUs started under the previous guy? Were not many of those until recently in the CPAC appointed by and serving under the 'Publican President?

The only coin collectors and dealers who consider the State Department a "threat" are those dumb enough to believe the ACCG crap without checking that what the MOUs refer to are illicitly exported artefacts. The only coin collectors "threatened" by the CPAC and CCPIA are those who could not care less whether the dugup coins they buy are licitly brought to the market, or illicitly exported. People like that probably do not vote anyway, and if they did it's sure as my name is not Jane that it'd not be for the Democrats.

A government that helps protect threatened resources will get the vote of the decent folk, and those are the ones that count. What party wants the stigma of attracting the redneck ruffian vote?

Friday 25 November 2011

Athena Protests

David Gill notes ("collectors as blog readers") that some collectors are coming to his blog to find provenance details of items on offer elsewhere because they are dissatisfied with the lack of information on this offered by the sellers. One case that comes to mind are the rather shadowed collecting histories of two extraordinary Apulian volute vases [on custom-made tropical hardwood stands] that have resurfaced on the market. These vessels, with decoration by the rather inaptly-named "Baltimore painter" (who almost certainly lived and worked in a place far from Baltimore Md), are on offer by a New York gallery (Royal [sic] Athena) owned by Jerome Eisenberg. The gallery owner has now left a comment on Gill's post on the topic ("Collecting histories for the Baltimore painter"). He moans "it is in poor judgement that neither Dr. Gill nor Mr. Tsirogiannis did not contact the currrent owner before publishing this blog with its damaging innuendos". I personally would say no less poor judgement that putting such noteworthy objects on open sale without revealing the full known facts of where they came from.

Mr Eiseberg protests that these vases are "clean" since "the Italian Carabinieri, having reviewed that catalogue and others in detail in 1907, have no claim on either of the two vases", the date must be wrong as the objects "surfaced" only c. 1990 followed soon after by their first "publication" (Mr Eiseberg's own catalogue from the original sale where they were bought by somebody before now being resold to the dealer by an "S.B" from San Diego, and one in an art-history catalogue of Greek vases). Probably he means "2007", the year he had to return some objects to Italy because there could have been a claim on them. An issue which is unclear to me is whether these two vases were still in Mr Eiseberg's hands (and therefore catalogues) as late as in 2007? Or were they by that time in unknown private hands having been bought from Royal Athena like many thousands of other antiquities before 2007?

What kind of "claim" could the Italian (or any other) authorities have if the objects were secretly dug up, secreted away in some tomb-looter's outhouse, secretly sold to a buyer who secretly removed them (perhaps through other countries) to the USA where they finally "surfaced"? They "surfaced" (from underground) in a country though that for a decade had been (we are told) "implementing" the recently joined 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. Can the first and subsequent owners of that object demonstrate that the transactions which led to that object "surfacing" were consistent with Act 3 of that Convention and its (moral if not - in the case of the USA - legal) implications? What does the Convention to which the USA became a state party in 1983 define (clue: in Act 3) as an illicit artefact? Does it matter that the USA (under the pressure of the dealer lobby) in effect ignores every single principle of the Convention except its Article 9 in its "implementing" legislation? Maybe it does in legal terms, but surely we are talking here about ethical dealings in antiquities.

Dealer Eiseberg justifies his reticence in the presentation of these two items to reveal their former history:
As Dr. Gill and Mr. Tsirogiannis are well aware, a history of provenance was not required back in 1991 when the vases were acquired [by Royal Athena gallery].
Indeed it probably was not, neither is it now, not by US law at any rate. Surely though the question must have arisen where they had come from and why such remarkable items were unknown to scholarship in the preceding years and decades. What explanation of that was offered to the prospective buyer (Eisenberg) by the seller back in 1990 (e.g., the tired old trope: "from a former East German collection")? Not "required", but of potential interest to a potential buyer and therefore information which a dealer would be expected to be passing on to prospective clients. Antiquitist sleight-of-hand now appears:
Since they were purchased in an auction, Hesperia Arts, the previous year, it would obviously not have been in the best of interest of a dealer to publish this fact in his catalogue and is certainly not the practice of any dealer either then or now. An earlier provenance would certainly not have been supplied if it came from a recent commercial source whether it be a dealer currently in business or an auction.
Well, of course what is in question here is not what was or was not said in Eisenberg's own catalogues when he first had these items on sale in 1991, but what is currently on the Royal (sic) Athena website (here and here) where equally there is no mention of the "Hesperia Arts" sale (let alone a lot number). That of course would raise questions of where they had been before that (see Gill: Looking Back to Athena Fund II ). Now actually mentioning earlier auction sales IS usual, we meet it in coin auction catalogues as well as those dealing with dug-up and "surfaced" antiquities, Christie's, Bonhams and Sotheby's for example do make at least a pretence of offering such things, especially if they have previously passed through their own hands (it is normal practice in the case of other items of fine art).

Certainly readers can draw their own conclusions why they think that on the current antiquities market: "An earlier provenance would certainly not have been supplied if it came from a recent commercial source". Many of us think that some "recent commercial sources" that keep coming up with more and more freshly-surfaced (from "underground"?) antiquities of any type probably have very good reason for not revealing where they actually come from. Which is why those who have no such reasons should be being very careful to separate themselves from dodgy suppliers by deed rather than mere words (denial). It is obviously with suppliers with nothing to hide that responsible dealers should be seen (rather than merely assumed) to have consistently been dealing.

Vignette: Athena has a pot but is a bit cagey about saying where she came by it and why she bought it.

Thursday 24 November 2011

Making Money from Antiquities - at What Cost?

David Gill has a timely piece reminding us that "attitudes towards selling and collecting antiquities were very different in 1990", just two decades ago. This has significant repercussions for the market today and causes one to cast a suspicious eye on collecting histories which - even in the case of highly significant ("art") objects - cannot be traced much further back beyond the previous owner. Read his piece "Looking Back to Athena Fund II" and Bruce McNall's (2003) autobiography "Fun while it lasted" (available from Amazon for a reasonable price). (Really) "Smart money" would probably prefer something else in preference to something that emerged on this sector of the market. That is probably why dealers and collectors with one or more of the very many "pieces" which surfaced there and then would probably prefer to keep it quiet rather than honestly reveal the actual history of the items they are now trying to flog off.

Vignette: Athena and her pot (red figure vase)

Metal Detecting Under the Microscope: So, that would be "No" then?

The "metal detectorists" of the UK all say to a man (woman) that they only do it because they are really really passionately interested in the history. So, on that basis it was pretty understandable that a request should be sent to one of their forums to help gather information on heritage crime:
The Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies (CURDS) at Newcastle University, together with Bradley Research and Consulting, the Council for British Archaeology and Loughborough University have been appointed by English Heritage to establish the extent of crime and anti-social behaviour facing designated heritage assets, including ancient monuments, historic buildings and other important sites and features.

The true extent of heritage crime has proved very difficult to measure. By taking part in this survey you will help English Heritage and other agencies with responsibility for protecting the nation’s heritage to understand better the risks and vulnerability of different heritage assets in different settings. The research also seeks to identify the characteristics of the main victims, and the main perpetrators, of heritage crime.

By ‘heritage crime’, we mean any offence which harms the value of England's heritage assets and their settings and could include crimes such as theft, removal of objects of historic interest, criminal damage, arson and offences of anti-social behaviour leading to harm to historic buildings, monument or spaces.

The types of heritage assets that our research will cover are:
· World Heritage Sites
· Scheduled monuments;
· Listed Buildings
· Protected marine wreck sites
· Conservation Areas
· Registered Parks and Gardens
· Registered Battlefields
· Protected military remains of aircraft and vessels of historic interest)

Many metal-detector users may, through the outdoor nature of the hobby, be aware of local issues, including instances of criminal behaviour affecting the sites known to them, we would like to ask you a few questions about possible heritage crime known about by your organisation.
We note there is no typology of heritage crime here limiting it just to sites a collector might find visually attractive or attract bad publicity if its filled with holes.

Forum members were not exactly falling over each other in their eagerness to help report the "minority of black sheep wot is criminals and wot gets are hobby a bad name". The whole idea of gathering information about the real scale of heritage crime revealed fears among forum members that that this information might be "used against the hobby". This rather obscures the fact that this information is to be used against those who are criminally damaging Britain's heritage and one wonders why artefact hunters fear that if they reveal what they know, this might affect them and their fellows too.

10 000 UK Metal Detectorists to Take the Pledge to "Become Lovable"?

Heritage Action has a proposal of: 'A way for artefact hunters to become lovable', (Heritage Journal 24/11/2011) and it concerns Treasurer rewards: “saving” the find means the museum giving the landowner and detectorist enough dosh to prevent them from not declaring the find and selling it on the side [while], the press reports invariably contain a standard quote from the detectorist -“The money’s not important, it’s the history” Heritage Action give the Treasure hunters the opportunity to "take the pledge".
It’s easier to renounce a portion of a theoretical sum of money than a real one so from today we are asking all detectorists to pledge, via the Comments section of this article, that if they find Treasure in future they will renounce at least 50% of their reward in order to make it easier for it to be acquired by Britain’s financially stretched museums.
(Whatever became of the ACCG "Museums fund" to help resolve the same problem? How many payments has it paid out?)

"Torchbearer" of Ridicule Tires: Asks Tekkies for Help

It is one of the staples of modern heritage conservation policy that the whole thing should be based on wide public debate and consensus. This is at least what policy documents such as English Heritage's 'Conservation Principles, Policies and Guidance' say. In the case of the use of the archaeological record for commercial purposes and as a source of collectables for entertainment, the public debate is a little lost, both in Great Britain and the other big anglophone market, the USA. In both areas the public is being kept somewhat in the dark about the issues, in both cases through archaeological indolence. The only body over there with a voice in the matter, the AIA is a bit diffident in getting its public information programme out among the masses, leaving it up to voluntary bodies such as SAFE. In Britain, there are vested interests in promoting just the one model of dealing with the destruction of the archaeological record through artefact hunting ("voluntary recording") to the detriment of a wider debate about the wider context and overall desirability of the activities involved. Of course it is very much in the interests of both dealers and collectors that there should be no such debate, and should questions be asked, to silence the opposition by any means available (including as we have seen, threats of the use of violence).

Dugup Dealer Dave Welsh says it is essential for collectors to continue the war of attrition with critics of the no-questions-asked trade but announces:
I am getting very tired of carrying this particular torch, and would appreciate some assistance from others in refuting Barford, and holding his disconnection from reality up as an object of public ridicule.
There cannot be many disciplines like US "professional numismatics" which see the way forward as merely ridiculing the views of people who have divergent opinions. Welsh argues that in the recent discussions provoked by his posts about me on Tim Haines' Yahoo Ancient Artifacts Collectors' discussion list (from which I am banned by the moderator from answering such calumnies disseminated on his list), the "public persona" of anyone who presents criticism publicly on a blog, "is fair game for criticism [...] therefore when we answer him back, I believe we are free to say what we like about his views without being guilty of ad hominem attacks". Indeed, Mr Welsh makes very free use of his liberty to say what he feels appropriate to counteract the issues I raise. He has certainly given up trying to provide arguments of substance and reason. He has recently admitted that both Codes of Ethics in dealings in dug-up coins are desiderata only for the denizens of Cloud Cuckoo Land (he said it in German) that both are "unreasonable demands" on the coin trade and accuses me of delusions when I venture to suggest otherwise. So what kind of trade is Mr Welsh and his fellow ACCG Coineys trying to protect? One look at the way they face any attempt to address the problem from the fundamental issues will serve to show that even those engaged in it see no way to defend it by reasoned argument using verifiable facts instead of weasel wording and sleight-of-hand arguments. So they turn to the old ad hominem. Would you buy a second-hand coin from this man? I would not, methinks he protests too much.

Welsh naively postulates ("Detectorists vs., Barford") that in what he calls "the struggle to blunt and defeat the relentless drumbeat of anticollecting and antidetecting propaganda emanating from Mr. Barford":
detectorists have just as much at stake as do collectors. It’s time they were heard from regarding how they view Mr. Barford and his pretensions. [...] The standards that man seeks to hold detectorists to impress me as being just as ridiculously impractical and unreasonable as those he seeks to hold collectors to.
I could not hold back a laugh at that point. Mr Welsh should update his knowledge of the collecting scene by spending some time on a detecting forum or two, preferably ones that have archives going back a decade or so. I think he will find an abundance of evidence that "metal detectorists" have quite a few "views" and express them amongst themselves using quite basic Anglo-Saxon. The "standards" I allegedly "hold them to" are no more and no less than those that are embodied in the Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales and the PAS' assurance that they are doing valid archaeological outreach amongt them and introducing "best practice". What is inherently "ridiculously impractical and unreasonable" in that? (Unless we take the other view, that in fact this is impossible because the whole policy is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what artefact hunting is all about - which I do).

There is actually a good reason the "metal detectorists" (and their "partners" the PAS) do not try to answer the points I make (in fact they try very hard never to actually read any of it) and its the same reason the coineys have. They have no actual answers. Check it out.

Mr Welsh apparently is so wrapped up in his own business that he does not see the wider picture of why he and his fellows are on this blog at all. Perhaps I should explain. A long time ago I got involved in the public debate on artefact hunting in the UK. It's not just me, there are many out there who disagree, both privately and publicly about what is happening. The tekkies do everything they can to avoid this type of criticism surfacing. They have the PAS on their side, and hundreds of jobsworth archaeologists who do not want to see the boat being rocked - wimps. Because of this, they have the entire British media on their side. So the rose-tinted fluffy bunny bla-bla about benign artefact hunting gets spread and believed.

I noticed however some years ago - through John Hooker's attempts to offset the criticism UK detectorists were receiving in fact - that some of the archaeological "partner an artefact hunter and be happy" bla-bla was in effect the same set of arguments offered by the "buy smuggled coins and save the world" bla-bla from the other side of the Atlantic. The more I looked, the more the attitudes converged. How embarrassing then for the UK metal detectorist to put what they do in the wider context and demonstrate that they are comparable to another group which they have no problems in identifying as morally challenged. And more to the point they are Americans, from our old colony - whom deep down in the national psyche the Brits have no problems at all about looking down their noses at. That is why the ACCG is mentioned here, to show that "metal detectorists" are artefact hunters and collectors, and there are serious problems in artefact hunting and collecting, so therefore we really need to take a closer look at what the UK silly media insist on calling "metal detectorists' and ignoring that wider context. (The fact that I got angrier and angrier at the nonsenses being put out by the ACCG whipping boy, and then their personal attacks n better than those of the tekkies, and the discussion with the coineys took on a life of its own here is only secondary to that main purpose.)

Dealer Dave (with Old Man Sayles as I recall) came onto a British (and UK/US) discussion list a few years ago to try and punch holes in the arguments of the critics of no-questions-asked collecting and to orchestrate personal attacks and heap ridicule upon certain individuals who were of other views than two conservatively no-questions-asked coin dealers. They got a bloody nose, and it was interesting to see that among those arguing with them (look in the britarch archives) were "metal detectorists" supporting the PAS. The PAS of course is ALL about "where did this come from?" so wholly the opposite of the no-questions-asked trade engaged in across the sea. So I would say that it would only be the densest of metal detecting thickoes that is going to align themselves with Mr Welsh in this. There are a number of metal detectorists in the UK who are saying (to themselves, or openly) that there are issues raised on this blog which need addressing for the good of the hobby. There are the Thugwits among UK metal detectorists who adopt a more "Welshian" approach. Mr Welsh can find their names on metal detecting forums if he looks.

So yes, coin collecting ACCG-style has a good deal in common with the less reputable sides of artefact hunting - precisely in the area where both overlap with issues connected with site-plunder and looting. I am quite happy for these two groups to show this even more clearly to observers by their joint approach to the issues raised here about "Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage" as long as they do so where the public can see them and I can reply. Let the public - the real stakeholders in the heritage - see just what these two milieus are, let them see how one is so similar to the other, and why that is problematic.

On the other hand, I am sure there are many UK detector users (and who knows, maybe a silent 49 000 or so) of US dugup antiquity collectors (though doubt any dealers) who certainly would not welcome people like Dave Welsh as their "torchbearer" leading them on the already too-long path to irresponsible collecting. I am no "torchbearer" myself, but stand on that path and ask those rushing into the darkness on the coat tails of the ACCG, "which way to responsible collecting?". The ACCG, not stopping, just turns, gives the finger and laughs.

UPDATE This is not the first time Dealer Dave has pretended to throw in the towel, nor I expect will it be the last. For what it is worth he now says:
It's time for others to get involved in the dreary, unpleasant yet very necessary task of answering [...] Barford, pointing out how unreasonable and illogical his fanatical rants are, and justifiably exposing him to the public disdain and ridicule his utterances so richly deserve.
Indeed, it would be nice to think that somewhere in the collecting community (or among the pro-collecting archaeology "partnership") could be found a couple of people who can actually engage in an articulate manner with the logic and reason of the issues raised here instead of the superficial and defensively dismissive non-sense these groups have until now alternated with silence and a pretence they've not understood the question. Otherwise it may well be that it is the nineteenth century neo-colonial views of the atavistic no-questions-asked collectors and antiquity traders that will be held up for the ridicule and public disdain they so rightly deserve.

Vignette: Put the torch down Mr Welsh, you'll only burn yourself.

Wednesday 23 November 2011

Light and Shadows: The Colours of A Collector's Mind....

Kenneth Blair writes on a collecting forum about the story about the Tisbury hoard discussed here on 4th November: "The article below sounds like something of a success story. This is not the first time a hoard or treasure has come to light by way of responsible UK amateurs". He then adds:
One of the problems with Barford's monotonous blogging... [is it is] eternally negative and simplistic. The situation might be seen in a broader spectrum of colours by others. For instance while there are 'night hawk' detectorists there are also those that advance the sum of human knowledge.
And as I point out on this blog - unnoticed obviously by Mr Blair intent on dismissing what is written here as merely "negative" and "simplistic" - between those two extremes of black and white is a huge grey area. One may colourise that as one likes, one could don rose tinted spectacles to look at the whole phenomenon the least demanding and less troubling way to look at the issues (they are I hear given out free by the BM in Bloomsbury). Or one can look at the issues without them which is when a few more worrying factors emerge from the shadows.

What Mr Blair seems not to notice is that the anglophone media tends to be full of the voices of those that take a wholly uncritical view of the rosy-pink picture of artefact hunting and collecting. Those are the colours in which it is presented, figures in snowy-white gowns moving against a background of warm shades of pink and gold. There is no "broader spectrum" there, it is a one-sided picture and therefore a false reflection of the more complex reality. Collectors almost certainly to a man see my presentation here as not as positive about that rosy-pink vision of collecting as they would like, they will not appreciate the attempts to get behind the simplistic one-sided and dichotomic presentation of the collecting lobby. That is because they themselves have no interest whatsoever in the complexities of the whole issue explored in any detail, it upsets the carefully constructed facade which protects their activities from the scrutiny and criticism of the real stakeholders, the wider public who it is in their interests to keep wholly in the dark.

Mr Blair, the Tisbury hoard was discussed here, the reader can make up their own mind whether they agree with what I said on the matter, or whether they prefer the 'pink' version put out on the detecting forums, coiney discussion lists and the British press.

Tuesday 22 November 2011

Coiney Models of Raubgrabung

Peter Tompa once again demonstrates how little he understands about the conservation of the archaeological record. He attempts to create a partial typology of illicit excavations and then "rank them from the most troubling to the least" - though without defining for whom they are "troubling" and from what viewpoint. This seems a rather pointless exercise when the list-maker - encumbered by his stereotypical dichotomic view of an imaginary opposition of "("radical") archaeologists" with the antiquity collector and dealer - really has not troubled to think through what the issues are and what factors are involved. According to Mr Tompa, the "least troubling" type of illegal artefact hunting involves:
"Illicit excavations from private land that already has been disturbed by ploughing."
So that is like the deserted sites of Roman urban complexes such as Verulamium, Wroxeter and Irchester. I presume he means that "nighthawking" on sites like this is "no worse than a traffic offence" on the coiney scale of seeing the world (one has visions of Mr Tompa habitually driving his souped-up red Ferrari ninety miles an hour up Constitution Avenue dodging between the cars moving more sedately). What about Bulgarian Archar, another (once) finds-rich archaeological and - the odd exposed wall excepted - largely featureless site under ploughed fields? Many thousands of artefacts from here have now been scattered in the trays of various dealers and collectors whose money encouraged and financed the utter destruction of large parts of this site.

I have discussed this uninformed "just fields" approach of US coin collectors before (it seems though that the duller of mind among them do little to find out just what it is they are talking about even when the shortcomings of their arguments are pointed out). Mr Tompa fails to take into account (and it is difficult, if you think it through, to avoid the suspicion that deliberately-so) the whole issue of the difference between sites protected by law (as archaeological reserves, or sites of Special Scientific Interest) or those set aside in conservation schemes. He concentrates on what the layman sees on the surface at the expense of paying any attention to the structure of the deposits below the surface. It's like saying we don't need to be concerned with poachers who shoot the rhinos with dirty patches on their skins, "they don't look very nice anyway".

So here we have the second of the two coiney models of looting. The importance of the activity is either (a) determined by the monetary value of the items hoiked out of the sites (so we should not be bothered by looters who supply the market with lots of five-dollar coins from Roman sites), and (b) how lumpy and bumpy the ground is that is looted. Both of these models totally ignore the archaeological damage done. Both of them ignore the conservation aspects of the problem, which is deliberate sleight-of-hand of course as it is the fundamental issue - so best avoided if you are a coiney.

Monday 21 November 2011

Metal Detecting Under the Microscope: HRH and the Metal Detectorists

Prince Charles studied archaeology at Cambridge, he also owns quite a large chunk of the English countryside. As such, he is free to define the terms under which he lets others use it and its resources (which he also owns). The Duke of Cornwall has specific rights over the foreshore too. His plans to charge people for artefact hunting and beach combing with metal detectors on the foreshore of Duchy of Cornwall beaches, between low and high water (a sixty pound annual licence), have met opposition from angry metal detectorists. The Duchy estate has previously not allowed metal detecting in these parts of the county (BBC News: 'Duchy of Cornwall metal detecting fee upsets enthusiasts', 21 November 2011).
The treasure seekers claim a charge is unfair and would be unworkable [...] Cornish archaelologist Jonathan Clemes said: "People could just be walking the beach and finding these things without a detector. There shouldn't be a charge. "You get people who go fishing on these beaches all day and you don't charge them, and how are you going to police it?"
(It would appear however that Mr Clemes is in fact a metal detectorist himself).
Veteran detectorist Mick Turrell organises group expeditions and owns a shop which sells the detector devices. He is puzzled about why he should pay to explore Duchy land, which is owned by the Prince of Wales, when exploring Crown estate land, owned by the Queen, is free. He said: "Our problem is people are thinking of going on holiday. They have a choice; they can go and detect on the beaches on Crown estate land for free. "If they come to Cornwall they have to decide if they can afford it because it is a lot of money they will have to pay out. They are rightfully upset about it."
Mick Turrel owns and runs "Leisure Promotions" in Newbury, Berks. As somebody remarked to me, and I have no reason to disbelieve him: "he has 20 years of creating a hole in the archaeological record that stretches up and down the A34 either side of the M4 junction at Newbury". He is also the guy behind the rallies which will reportedly be seeding fields with imported artefacts.

The Duke of Cornwall has of course every right - like any landowner - to say under what terms he will allow metal detecting on his property, and also what happens to the artefacts found there. It is not "unfair" and the only thing that would make it "unworkable" would be if there were in fact a huge number of metal detector users that are willing to use their machines on other people's land in total disregard of the law of private property and the wishes of and conditions imposed by landowners (i.e., the people labelled "nighthawks"). The Duke of Cornwall permits metal detecting under certain conditions and does not give that permission to those who do not meet those conditions (i.e., applying for, and getting a licence/permit) I am sure Mr Clemes would not like to claim that vast numbers of people will be acting illegally on Cornwall's beaches? After all is not the prevailing mantra that the vast majority of detectorists are "responsible" (and also "law-abiding")? Statements like the above raise the question of just how extensive this illegal detecting is anyway? Perhaps when they start being hauled off Cornwall's beaches protesting "i's not fair, it's me RIGHT to go metal detecting on me 'oliday innit?", we will find out.

Mr Turrel's club newsletter has a lot of bile about the world in general, starting with the Prince of Wales. He suggests a boycott of all "Duchy Originals Produce", and notes that some of his metal detectorist members "have contacted the Cornwall Tourist Board to say that they will no longer be booking holidays in Cornwall whilst this extortionate charge is in place". Good, that will leave the beaches for the rest of the British populace to enjoy without the nauseating sight of some get-rick-quick Jimmy Thugwit, smelling of chips, cheap suntan oil and sweat hoovering up whatever takes their fancy. Mr Turrel urges members to "write in with your own personal points of view to either the Duchy or the Cornwall Tourist Board". Maybe readers of this blog might like to do the same.

In particular they might inform HRH and the administrators of his estate, which the PAS seems to have neglected to do, that there is actually a Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting which says something quite different from the 'shut-the-gate' ones of the NCMD and FID which is all the Duchy seems aware of. Heritage Action mentioned it (scroll down) but the message is taking a long time to get through to landowners, even the Royal ones with an archaeological education.
Vignette: The Landowner with vast tracts.
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