Friday 18 November 2011

Failure to Differentiate Looting and Smuggling

Dave Welsh shares his own (disturbing) vision of the future deserved by looters who "venture to feloniously dig up designated archaeological sites and other sites which might be so designated, in order to illicitly obtain valuable ceramics, statuary and the like" (note the coin dealer's omission of the words:"hoards of precious metal objects"). It seems to me from the frequency of the graphic violence with which this ACCG officer decorates his writings on cultural property issues that he needs to seek professional medical help. Welsh is not so clear about how to treat those who plunder archaeological sites with metal detectors to get collectable metal items like those he sells in his shop, he apparently thinks that their "putative, perhaps questionable misdeeds" are not in any way damaging because "they do not ever bring in heavy excavating machinery such as backhoes, bulldozers and the like to dig up their perhaps illicit findings, but instead rely upon far less destructive hand tools". So a 'perhaps illicit' hole is not a hole (or illicit) when it is hand-dug? He also skips the issue when he writes that "metal detectorists" allegedly have their activities "closely supervised [...] by their associations and clubs" and also by "the PAS which has done great good in educating amateur treasure-hunters". Two points, first he is extrapolating from the situation in England and Wales to the rest of the world these "associations and clubs" as well as the PAS of course have no remit over all metal detector users on the five continents. Secondly Welsh obviously has no idea what these British "associations" (such as the NCMD) actually do (most of the time kicking AGAINST the PAS) or of the ability (or will) of the PAS to influence the majority of the artefact hunters in the UK even, let alone anywhere else.

It seems the whole purpose of the text Welsh wrote is to assure everyone that his "Classical Coins is OK".
I do hope that everyone very clearly understands my own personal code of ethics which is not for the most part required by US law, but which I have independently decided to be essential to my personal standards. I will not knowingly acquire any antiquity, including ancient coins, whose exportation from the nation of discovery appears to me to be in any way suspicious, and which (in the event that the exporting nation restricts exportation of antiquities) is not accompanied by a valid export permit satisfying the requirements of the 1970 UNESCO Convention.
While that is very comforting to hear, the logical fault line is obvious. An export licence cannot be a "not looted certificate". Artefacts exported from Israel with an Israeli export licence have most likely been looted in neighbouring countries and laundered through being sent out from a Jerusalem warehouse (I've discussed this problem here a number of times). An object may be legally exported from Dubai, which does not mean that it was not illegally excavated in another country and smuggled out of the source country to Dubai. All it means is the Dubai export procedure (apparently virtually 'none' in fact) is followed. The same goes for removal of artefacts from one European country (eg Bulgaria, Greece, Italy) to another. For example the Coiney Wunderland of Bavaria where all sorts of antiquities can be found being openly sold - like in Munich - and exported from that Land with the usual EU lack-of-formalities. This in NO way means that the artefact "surfaced" on that market licitly. A truly ethical approach to the trade in such items would not only look at whether the items has an export licence if it is needed (by local law of the country of export) but look beyond that to the mechanisms of supply being exploited by the market supplying the commodities. If the object is freshly surfaced and its origins cannot be determined, given the scale of looting we know is going on, it obviously should be treated by the responsible buyer as potentially looted and no responsible buyer would go anywhere near it. That is not "Cloud Cuckoo land", that is the practical way that responsible collectors can promote responsible dealing practices in today's market, which in turn would do a great deal to cut down the illicit trade.

UPDATE two hours later. It seems that Mr Welsh's blog is not so much about " What being an ancient coin dealer is really like", but seems mainly to be about how much he disagrees with what one guy in Poland says ("Emperor Barford"). He seems to lose sight of the fact that I was discussing codes of ethics, and not what US law lets US coin dealers get away with. I was talking about due diligence, something Welsh has on other occasions insisted he does, and now says he does not because US law does not demand it and anyway "it ignores the utter impracticality of attempting to carry on a trade in that manner in the real world". Well, we are in the real world and I jolly well hope that people OTHER than Mr Welsh have made strenuous efforts not to sell me stolen and smuggled goods and have not shrugged their shoulders declaring it an "utterly impractical way to carry on a trade". Frankly I would not buy a second-hand coin from a guy who declares publicly that he's not going to do any due diligence, and if I were asked, I'd not recommend such a dealer who publicly insists due diligence and codes of ethics are "Cloud Cuckoo Land" to anyone. It is precisely such dealers that in my opinion responsible collectors (and responsible dealers to0) should be keeping away from.

Vignette: Cuckoos on the mind.


Anonymous said...


Mr. Welsh's adressing you-sorry for taken out of context:

"to study the actual operations of the numismatic trade, ... (to) educate himself on if he were willing to take it seriously as a social institution to be respected and studied"

is unbelievable! We should RESPECT a "social institution" of illicit trade in antiquities? Is this guy gone totally nuts?

And these "emperor" musings? What a palaver! I do not understand any word.

Mr. Welsh, please consult a doctor!

Damien Huffer said...

Let's go visit Cambodia or Vietnam David, and take a look at the moonscapes made by people 'harmlessly' digging holes by hand. Try not to step on the shattered remains of the skeletons these burials once contained, if you don't mind.

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