Saturday 31 March 2012

Something Wrong with that 'Goat Pen Kore' from Fyli?

I try to keep up with the news in this field, but do not always have time to comment on everything I would like to - the field is wide. So I put off writing about this one for later, and did not look too carefully at the photos. It got a lot of coverage elsewhere (Guardian, Washington Post, Houston Chronicle) all closely based on the original AP release (by Nicholas Paphitis). According to this Greek police report recovering:
an ancient statue worth €12m (£10m) that was illegally excavated and hidden in a goat pen near Athens, and arrested the goat herder and another man who were allegedly trying to sell the work for €500,000. The marble sculpture of a young woman dates to about 520BC and belongs to the kore type, a police statement said on Wednesday. The 120cm (4ft) work was largely intact, except for a missing left forearm and plinth.[...] Archaeologists who inspected the find estimated its market value at €12m. A spokesman for Athens police said: “They told us that this is a unique piece.” Still bearing traces of soil, the statue has the hint of a smile on its lips, elaborately braided hair and an ankle-length gown. Police said it had been concealed near the village of Fyli, in the foothills of Mount Parnitha on the north-western fringes of Athens. The goat herder, 40, and a 56-year-old man were arrested.

I am glad I waited. It turns out matters are not so cut-and-dried, see the  interesting post over on RogueClaccicist ('Goat Pen Kore?', March 30, 2012), various scholarly discussion lists (most notably Classics-l and AegeaNet) have been questioning the authenticity of the piece:

 As Elena Drakaki (and others) astutely noted early on, the Goat Pen Kore is an obvious copy of the Peplos Kore in the Acropolis museum, right down to the ‘damage’ being duplicated (along the bottom and the left arm). As of this [morning], assorted folks are wondering what the thing is made out of, and plaster seems to be the most frequent suggestion. Whatever the case, it probably isn’t worth whatever the goatherders thought they could get for it, much less what the police seem to be valuing it at. 
Red faces all around, this blog has reported several other instances of police in source countries making a loud fuss about the seizure (or return) of obvious fake items. In some cases genuine mistakes are involved. In this case it has to be wondered whether even the most ignorant policeman in Greece really cannot tell the difference between 'marble' and what seems from the photos fairly soft eroded plaster. Nasty sceptic that I am, I wonder whether the whole news story is not staged from front to end for for its 'feelgood' effect in the wake of the recent disastrous museum thefts and to keep looting - and the need for resources for effective police action - in the public eye.

It is worth noting that we never heard of the outcome of the reported arrest of one of the suspected Olympia Museum robbers. If the arrested man had been involved, one might expect he'd have given them a lead by now as to where the stolen objects now are. The fact that they have not been recovered suggests that they got the wrong man.

Photos from the Washington Post article (Getty)

UPDATE 3rd April 2012:
From the BBC: 'Ancient' Greek statue found in sheep pen is fake':
At first, archaeologists at Greece's Culture ministry thought the figure of a woman dated from the 6th century BC. Now, a closer examination has found moulding marks and traces of bubbles which prove it is a copy, sources at the ministry told news agencies. Two men were arrested last week [...] are currently awaiting trial on charges of looting antiquities. 
The question is whether they knew that the object was not an authentic antiquity. This could be an interesting case. 

What it Means to be British: Sponsor a metal Detecting Programme in Britain too

 Advertisers should hurry to get their slot and be associated with the Brit-tekkie reality show: "Britain's Secret Treasures". ITV Media are seeking sponsors
Britain’s Secret Treasures promises to bring together community history, British heritage, human interest, a little detective work... and some serious treasure. [...] In a year when we’re all celebrating what it means to be British, and in association with the British Museum, we’re counting down the 50 most interesting finds – and how their stories have shaped our past and the nation we are today.
Not a very edifying picture then, a nation which in nationalistic tone glorifies letting ten thousand or more people to plunder the archaeological record for geegaws to add to their own personal, private collection or flog off on eBay and calls them "partners" of Archaeology. So, who is going to be anxious to have their products advertised on ITV alongside such a spectacle? Let us see.

Friday 30 March 2012

UNESCO Appeals for Preventon of Smuggling of Syrian heritage

The government crackdown on an opposition uprising in Syria has been going on now for over a year. Sanctions have now been imposed. The U.N. estimates the violence has left more than 9,000 people dead. Reports are also appearing of damage to ancient sites among the property affected.  Now UNESCO is calling on member states and international bodies: 
to help make sure that elements of Syria's rich cultural heritage are not pilfered and sent abroad for sale amid violence in the country. The U.N. cultural agency says director-general Irina Bokova has alerted agencies such as world police body Interpol and the World Customs Organization that objects from Syria could turn up on the international antiquities market. In a statement Friday, Bokova said UNESCO is ready to look into media reports of damage to Syria's cultural heritage "as soon as this becomes possible." 
And of course depending on the limitations on the effectiveness of its activities caused by the funding crisis due to the USA withdrawing its contributions last year. 

So, how long will it take the US to do its bit "to help make sure that elements of Syria's rich cultural heritage are not pilfered and imported into the US for sale"? Emergency restrictions? And how long will they take, when they've instituted none for Egypt still a year and two months after the looting started? Or will they go through the long drawn-out CPAC/MOU process - with the antiquity dealers and collectors as usual kicking against it all the way? I suspect that by the time that gets put in place, a huge amount of stuff will have passed through the barrier of bubbles that is US customs control when illicit antiquities are concerned, to be "legally bought and sold" no-questions-asked by undiscriminating US dealers and collectors.  

The rest of us of course will be applying the principles embodied in the whole 1970 Convention, not encumbered by cumbersome 1980s pro-dealer "implementation" legislation and simply seize tainted artefacts at point of entry when encountered.  [This is the background to US-exclusionist collectors' lobbyists suggesting that in some way they are in some way "discriminated against" by the current US legislation, presumably they'd prefer the no-questions-asked buying of potentially illicitly exported cultural property to be indefinite for US dealers and collectors]

Huffington Post, 'UNESCO appeals for saving Syrian heritage', March 31, 2012 

Lobboblogger: "American Digger Worth A Watch"

Clearly, there is no accounting for tastes. "Cultural Property Observer" watched ex-wrestler Ric Savage's metal detecting programme "American Digger" and pronounced it "Worth A Watch". He says "I wonder what all the fuss was about", which basically tells us a lot about his ability to act as any kind of "cultural property observer". To judge by their reactions on the forums (see here for example), not many US metal detectorists share the "collectors' rights" lobbyists's taste in TV entertainment. Metal detectorist Dick Stout for example clearly is far more discriminating in his viewing than a coin-collecting Washington lawyer:
WHAT WAS I THINKING? Against my better judgement I decided to give the Spike TV show, 'American Diggers', another look last night. Not sure why....maybe I was thinking it couldn't be any worse than the first episode. Boy, was I wrong! What continues to baffle me are the story lines or plots involved. So far they have looked for items miners dropped in Alaska, and last night they were in Detroit, looking for items the auto workers may have lost years ago. Huh? The overacting, the "staged" drama, the "supposed" monetary return on their finds....? Absolutely stupid, and once again I felt embarrassed that I was actually sitting there watching it all. Won't happen again... Hopefully Spike TV will pull the plug on this show, and the faster the better for all of us...
You can see the first episode online: American Digger Season 1 Episode 1 - Blood, Sweat, and Money - Part 1/3 (warning: odd popups - at viewer's own risk)

On You Tube, there are already lots of 'promotional' excerpts like this one, showing how the big guy deals with landowners and "permission": - real hammy acting.

This is apparently what entertains a coin-dealers' lobboblogger. Note, no mention of "regulation"  of  American artefact hunters with metal detectors, that's only what the lobboblogger says the US should try to impose on the brown-skinned detectorists of southern Europe instead of dealing with artefact smuggling.

The Curse of Ka Nefer Nefer and "Collectors' Rights"

For the details of the latest instalment in the Ka-Nefer-Nefer scandal I refer readers to Rick St Hilaire's blog ('Ka Nefer Nefer Case Resumes After Lengthy Hiatus'). It beats me how the staff and Trustees of SLAM can sleep at nights. The most significant piece is the argument, which one would have thought should be being widely discussed in collecting circles:
"SLAM adds that the mummy mask is not contraband per se (such as illegal drugs) "as [artifacts] may be lawfully owned and become contraband only based on a connection with a criminal act."
The coiney lobbobloggers are staying off the subject though. Should the case go against SLAM on this point, this obviously sets a wonderful precedent - and if I were a collector supporting the import of smuggled dugups I'd be watching the unfolding of this one with great foreboding.

As it later turned out, as I was writing that, a US judge was checking the punctuation on a nine-page ruling that was to be read the next day and overturn all that optimism. and of course when that judgement was read, suddenly the coiney lobboblogger and all the rest took great interest. The battle is not yet over however.

UK Must Ratify the 1954 Hague Convention

This letter was published in the British newspaper, the 'Independent' on Friday March 30th:

Back the world ban on looting
The March 2003 invasion of Iraq by a coalition led by the US and the UK failed to prevent the immediate and appalling looting of museums, libraries, archives and art galleries, followed by years of looting of archaeological sites across the country.

On 14 May 2004, the UK Government announced its intention to ratify the 1954 Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, and its protocols of 1954 and 1999.

Today, on the ninth anniversary of the invasion, it has still to honour this commitment. This is despite all-party support for ratification and recently reiterated support for ratification from the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. The USA ratified the Convention in 2009. This leaves the UK as arguably the most significant military power, and certainly the only power with extensive military involvements abroad, not to have ratified it.

The Secretary of State at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (the ministry responsible for the issue) has recently informed us of his determination to find parliamentary time to pass the necessary legislation to enable the UK to ratify the Convention and its protocols. We applaud this initiative and urge the Government to support the Secretary of State and to pass the legislation before we reach the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.

Peter Stone - Professor of Heritage Studies, Newcastle University

Nick Poole - Chair, International Council of Museums UK

Margaret Greeves - Chair, Collections Trust

Professor Sir Adam Roberts - President of the British Academy

Sir Simon Jenkins - Chair, National Trust

John S C Lewis - General Secretary and CEO, Society of Antiquaries

John Dolan - Chair of Council, The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals

Martin Taylor - Chair, Archives and Records Association (UK & Ireland)

Sue Cole - UK &  Ireland Committee of the Blue Shield

Dr Mike Heyworth - Director, Council for British Archaeology

Peter Hinton - Chief Executive, Institute for Archaeologists

Mark Taylor - Director, Museums Association

Dr Eleanor Robson - Incoming Chair, British Institute for the Study of Iraq

Mike Williams - Secretary, the Nautical Archaeology Society

Jane Sillis - Director, Engage
I guess Dr Roger Bland was inaccessible (sorting out his slides for his US trip perhaps) and where is Lord Renfrew's signature? There are no representatives of the antiquities trade associations here either, were they asked to support this initiative?

Thursday 29 March 2012

Egyptian Archaeology in Crisis?

There is an online article worth reading ('Cairo: Egyptology in crisis'). It is a long extract from the full article published in Current World Archaeology Issue 49. It mostly focuses on the personal role one man had in holding Egyptian archaeology and monument protection together:
After the dramatic departure of President Hosni Mubarak, attention swiftly turned to one of his high-profile ministers, the world- famous archaeologist Dr Zahi Hawass. No stranger to the glare of the media spotlight, Hawass quickly became tainted along with the crumbling regime and was engulfed by damaging charges of corruption and mismanagement. On Sunday 17 July, Hawass was abruptly sacked as the Minister of State for Antiquities Affairs in an overhaul of the country’s cabinet, and his controversial reign as one of the most powerful men in the archaeological world finally came to an end.
Controversial he may have been, but the article contrasts what had been the case in the decade after he became Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) on 1 January 2002, and what followed the 28th January breakout of looting. Readers of this blog may be aware that this was the position I took back in the spring of 2011.  Hawass' position was undermined by his colleagues, both Egyptian and foreign, and destabilisation was the only possible outcome.
SCA’s newly appointed Secretary General [...]  has a tough task ahead of him. [he] needs immediately to curtail the increased looting of sites across the country. Many archaeological locations have been 
left vulnerable to opportunistic raiders following the uprising, with dozens of sites looted, including tombs and storage magazines in Saqqara, Dahshur, and Giza. [The new head] urgently needs to bring a steady hand to the SCA, which has been weakened by the departure of Hawass and the uncertainty of a new era in Egypt’s history. With a demoralised and disgruntled archaeological workforce, an appropriate balance of preservation, promotion and clear leadership is required to ensure the priceless heritage in Egypt is protected for future generations. 
Sadly, the article seems to have been written in 2011 and not properly revised before publication. It gives the revenue for tourism before the revolution/coup as "last year" and naming the Secretary General of the SCA as Mohamed Abdel Fattah (in the post July-September 2011) rather than the present incumbent (Mustafa Amin, 29 September 2011-present). Neither does it make any reference to the new Minister of State of Antiquities Dr. Mohamed Ibrahim Aly (appointed c. 7th December 2011). Nevertheless with that caveat, it is still worth reading to balance the rather negative press that Zahi Hawass has been receiving over the past year.

"Emma", 'Cairo: Egyptology in crisis', Current World Archaeology online, March 29, 2012 World Archaeology, 49

Vignette:  An Egyptian soldier stands guard inside the tomb of Maya the treasurer. Photograph by Reza

“End to Antiquities Trafficking” Exhibition - Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki

In April, the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki will host a temporary exhibition, open until September, entitled “End to Antiquities Trafficking”. The exhibition will highlight the sensitive issue of antiquities smuggling by showcasing 170 stolen artefacts that have been confiscated. These artefacts are now in the collections of the Museum, the 6th and 7th Ephorates of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities and the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities. Moreover, archive material from the Directorate for Protection of Cultural Heritage of the Tourism Ministry will also be on display. The exhibition will feature six sections.The first three deal with the destruction of history wrought by the illicit excavation and trade in antiqities.
The Abduction of History” is the title of the first section of the exhibition, which will feature an overview of antiquities smuggling from antiquity to the present. 101 artifacts from recent antiquities smuggling activities will be featured in this section, most probably coming from an ancient cemetery of Macedonia.

The second section, titled “Antiquities without a Past”, will showcase two stolen and retrieved golden wreaths: a golden wreath from a Thessaloniki Aristotelion University (AUTH) excavation at the Vergina archaeological site, which belongs to the permanent collection of the Archaeological Museum of Pella, and a golden wreath returned by the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles in 2007.

Lands without History” is the title of the third section featuring five stolen Cycladic statuettes that now belong to the Thessaloniki Archaeology Museum’s collections.
The other three sections focus more on the criminological elements of culture crime - including that involving ancient coins - it will demonstrate to the viewing public the economic dimension of antiquities trafficking and its linkage to global economic crime.
The fourth section “Nostos without Homecoming” showcases an ancient Macedonian bronze shield, a male statue, documents and photographs regarding the first restitution of a stolen Greek antiquity in 1946, and reports to the international conventions of the International Court of Justice and UNESCO. Τhe fifth section titled “Forged Antiquity” will display 56 confiscated golden coins and will place emphasis on the economic dimension of antiquities trafficking and its linkage to global economic crime. “Learn and Save - Time for Action” is the title of the last section of the exhibition, which showcases the various ways of protecting antiquities, the relevant legal framework, prevention, information and education of citizens on the protection of cultural heritage artifacts.
It seems to me the people who need "educating" are those who buy the stuff no-questions-asked and deny their responsibility for the consequences. It would be nice if there was a website (funded by the EU for example) which got that point over to a wider audience than visitors to this museum. Stella Tsolakidou, 'Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki to Host “End to Antiquities Trafficking” Exhibition', Greek Reporter March 29, 2012

Focus on Metal Detecting: Unaware of the Legal Status of the Land

Tony Burcombe, 30, and Lara Sparrow, 37, were artefact hunting in an area near to the windmill on Wimbledon Common, with their metal detectors: "Mr Burcombe and his sister said they were unaware of the [legislation] which prevented them from metal detecting on common land". One supposes he might have added, "We've had 40 people partnering, liaising and educating us but it's early days, you can't expect us to understand words and that". Together with Putney Heath and Putney Lower Common, Wimbledon Common is legally protected from being enclosed or built upon (by the Wimbledon and Putney Commons Act of 1871). The area is reserved for the benefit of the general public for informal recreation and the preservation of natural flora and fauna. Most of the Commons are a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation which is an important European designation. Lauren May, 'Explosive find for Wimbledon treasure hunters', 29th March 2012
Vignette: A metal detectorist all togged-up (This is Local London).

"I Will publish no More From You"

Mr Tompa and I were discussing (in the context of his ever-changeable views on metal detecting)  the Convention which is about the "Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property". My last comment sent to the Tompa blog (would have been the seventh, but apparently will not be since he refused to publish it):
No, you are the one who is changing the subject. As I am trying to point out, the 1970 UNESCO Convention clearly deals with smuggling not artefact DIGGING.

"I will publish no more from you" may be the easiest response, but it does not answer the point I made.
Once again, we have before us the unedifying spectacle of the professional coiney lobbyist trying to twist the wording of a published document in the pretence that it means something other than what it does, and getting frustrated when somebody actually challenges what they assert about something anybody can check for themselves. Let it be noted that Washington lawyer and Lobboblogger Peter Tompa indicates from his reply that he is unable to justify his own, personal, interpretation of the text of the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

He says metal detectorists should be regulated so there is no need for import controls on illegally EXPORTED coins from other countries. "Do metal detectors write export licences?" I ask. It really beats me why Tompa and his coiney pals cannot accept the simple fact that  "the State Department's process for imposing import restrictions on coins" applies to those without documentation of legal EXPORT, not legal digging up.  The 1970 Convention is on the "Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property". As anybody who properly observes the cultura property debate will know, there are other international documents about the digging up of antiquities Delhi 1956, London 1969, Valetta 1992 etc.

With a stubbornness that does not surprise me any longer, Tompa pretends he has not understood the point made and all he does in "answer" is to refer me to: 19 USC section 2602 Section (a)(1)(C) (ii). But of course anyone who checks it can see that 19 USC 2602 refers to "AGREEMENTS TO IMPLEMENT ARTICLE 9 OF THE CONVENTION" [ie, to spell it out, the Convention  which is about import and export of cultural property, not about controls over the manner in which culture criminals get their hands on it].

But it seems that although 120 other nations have understood it to be about smuggling and export licences, and accordingly signed and ratified it, certain groups in the United States insist on the "right" of the USA to force their own entirely idiosyncratic interpretation of the Convention on the rest of the world (another example of those imperialistic tendencies that do so much to damage the image of the USA in the outside world). 

This is very much a case of "Coiney Blather Obscures Rational Approaches to Smuggling". While the antiquity dealers and their lobbyists insist on talking around the subject and not addressing the issues at hand, there will never be a resolution of the problem of the trade in illicit antiquities. But that, of course, is exactly what dodgy dealers want isn't it? Surely Peter Tompa's firm, Bailey and Ehrenburg , are not intentionally lobbying on behalf of the latter are they? 

[And yes, to answer another point, Southern European Greeks and Bulgarians have complexions somewhat darker than pasty-faced Washington lawyers who from what they write clearly have a wholly Orientalist disregard for the citizens of every single 'source country' for the ancient coins and portable antiquities they covet (except the UK, because of the special friendship between US numismatists and the UK with its all-too-liberal heritage laws and its PAS) .The coiney position over other people's heritage is less "racist" as Tompa would have me say than utterly neo-colonialist]

Portable Antiquities Scheme On Show in America

Dr Roger Bland OBE, head of the Portable Antiquities Scheme has been awarded the Archaeological Institute of America's Metcalf lecturership for 2012. He will be travelling across America from 11th April to 26th April 2012, mostly to centres near ACCG members with three titles: Coin hoards and hoarding in Britain: buried with the intention of recovery or votive deposits? (Berkley CA, Springfield Ohio, Boston Mass, New York (twice), Yale Conn.),  New light on Roman gold coins found in Britain (just in Boston) and - most interestingly - A licence to loot or archaeological rescue? The Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme in England and Wales (San Diego, Los Angeles, Kansas City).
The last of the three is disturbing. It seems Dr Bland is going over there (since I do not think for one second that he's going to betray his "partners" by saying that British legislation is a "licence to loot") to tell the coin collectors of America that hoiking metal artefacts out of the ground is some warped kind of "archaeological rescue". Oh yes, the abstract announced joyfully that: "England and Wales have developed a unique system of protection". It would seem Dr Bland has a rather different idea of what archaeological "protection" is from the rest of us. His approach is apparently entirely artefactocentric, rather than archaeological. I bet lots of "artificial fertilisers" and "plough damage" will be involved in his arguments, just like the tekkies do. Maybe he's getting his slides of battered hammies and green crusties together as I write. Dr Bland suggests that: "This lecture looks at the problems surrounding these issues and the concerns of archaeologists", actually I rather doubt that he does that, look at the bibliography he cites, where are those "archaeological concerns" referenced there? Why is David Gill's recent forum piece not included for example? Perhaps he will find a few sceptics who've read this blog and thought about the issues more deeply in his audience. Unlikely though, isn't it? They'll probably mainly be coineys who in the US tend to do neither.Still, Dr Bland will have a nice opportunity to meet all his "friends" from the ACCG.
The Metcalf Lectures are on the subject of numismatics and their role in archaeological research as well as in art and historical research. The donors [Robert D. Taggart and his wife Anna Marguerite McCann] believe that coins, with their images and legends, are an essential source for any archaeologist dating a site or studying portraiture, architecture, religion or history and desire that numismatics be a part of the lecture program being provided by the AIA. Although much of numismatics is related to the ancient world, the lectures need not be limited to the ancient world as coins are relavant (sic)  for other areas and times as well. 
As a medievalist I would rather take exception to the idea that "much of numismatics is related to the ancient world" or indeed that coins are only usable for "dating sites".

Anyway I hope "buried an edge of battlefield" diehards like Dealer Dave manage to get over to one of the "hoard" lectures to learn that their simplistic boy-scout interpretations are just that, though I find it bit odd that Insular numismatists like Dr Bland would be promoting the idea of votive coin hoards as some kind of novelty when such interpretations have been around in the literature Central and Northern Continental Europe (where there is obviously closer contact between numismatists, archaeologists and anthropologists) for a long while - and I know that some of the texts in the subject have had English abstracts, as I produced them for the authors...

Wednesday 28 March 2012

FLO Filmed Trying to Buy Antiquities?

Metal detectorist Graham Chetwynd  made the following announcement on the Heritage Action Facebook page a while back:
 you do have good and bad in everything i have a FLO on dvd film of my mate's pocket camera offering us under counter deals for his own collection for item's we have found 1 being a palistave axe head and 1 socketed.
Mr Chetwynd claims that "the footage" (surely it would be a digital file, or do metal detectorists have Stone Age video equipment?) "will be seen when it is arranged to have the biggest impact". I would say the eve of "Britain's Secret Treasures" coming out was just such a time if Mr Chetwynd wanted to do the PAS maximum damage.

If the FLO was offering to buy items he knew were stolen (nighthawked, from an unreported hoard) then yes that would be illegal (although how do we know that he did not also have a hidden camera running and this was part of a PAS sting?). If however the two objects were the product of legal metal detecting, then there is in fact nothing illegal about an FLO offering to buy them for a collection. Collecting artefacts is not illegal in England and Wales. That is the whole point of the PAS. I would not be surprised if a number of FLOs had private collections of archaeological artefacts (perhaps the PAS could supply some figures on that). If they have been legally obtained and properly dealt with, there is not even anything in the IFA Code of Practice which says they cannot. So what is the problem, what will this alleged "film" achieve? It might open up the debate about collecting though. Bring it on.

Vignette: caught on camera

Tuesday 27 March 2012

The Deceits Behind Lobbying for No-Questions-Asked Antiquity Dealing

Both sides of the portable antiquities debate accuse the other side of misleading their readers, both sides claim the verbal opposition is making a noble cause look bad (the White Hat Guys say the lobbyists for the no-questions-asked are misrepresenting the nature of that market, the Black Hat Guys say the preservationists do not recognise the "benefits" that no-questions-asked collecting bring to the world). Let us have a look at how they go about constructing their argument. My text is the latest post ('Witches, Warlocks and Trolls', Mar 26, 2012) on coin dealer and lobbyist Wayne Sayles' blog. Here it can be clearly seen how the readers attention is misdirected by sleight-of-hand from a fuller understanding of the issues. This is typical of everything the whole group write, so worth a little attention.

The Convention
For dugup dealer Wayne Sayles, the year 1970 "witnessed the apogee of [...] cultural extremism in the world". By this he means that the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property was written. According to the dealer, this Convention to regulate the illicit trade in cultural property was created by "persuasive fanatics that lacked common sense and foresight" and it was a "social outrage" which "totally ignored the basic rights of individuals". He says for some reason that "stewardship of [cultural] preservation is not a fitting topic for government intervention". Eh?

Somehow I think Mr Sayles is looking at a different version of the text of that Convention or looking at it in a different way from the rest of us. Like a number of other conventions of the same genre, it talks of simple things, like education, the universal values of culture and the right of nations to define and protect their own cultural heritage. Like the other international documents of this type, it urges governments to protect the cultural heritage for its citizens and the rest of us. I really do not see where anybody who claims to be "interested in culture" (and goes on to the extent Mr Sayles does about the role of individuals in its stewardship and protection) can take exception to a convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. What is the problem to an entirely licit trade? I can see where it might be a problem for dodgy dealers who want to 'cut corners', but this would not be anyone with whom Mr Sayles would want to be seen keeping company, would it?

Sayles has some problems with calling a spade a spade. He writes:

Pressure from the archaeological community led to U.S. legislation implementing the UNESCO convention's resolution regarding import, export and ownership of cultural property.
We do not have to take his word for it, let us just remind ourselves of the proper title: "Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property". Not "import, export and ownership of cultural property" but the "illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of cultural property" (the convention does not deal at all with "ownership of cultural property" per se). It seems clear that the coin dealer is trying to mislead his readers as to what it is the US legislation concerns: illicit dealings in cultural property (and so not just dugup antiquities, but stolen paintings, silverware, church fittings and Napoleon memorabilia etc.).

The Opposition

Dugup coin dealer Sayles insists that back in Ronald Reagan's day: "The U.S. law, however, did not give carte blanche to the warlocks of self-righteousness. Specific protections within the law provided barriers to excess", so presumably allowed a little bit of illicit trade to continue? How so? He deplores:

The ink was hardly dry on the UNESCO resolution before the crusade against private collecting began, [...] Today, the level of attacks against those who oppose national control of their personal cultural freedom [to benefit from the illicit trade in antiquities - PMB] has seriously escalated and that "crusade" is being led by ultraists.
There is in fact no "crusade against private collecting" any more than questioning some of the acquisitions of US museums in recent years is a "crusade against museums". Both are an attempt to raise awareness about the illicit trade in dugup antiquities. Obviously a campaign which is hitting home.

The Wedge

Despite what dugup dealer Sayles asserts, it is not the Convention to combat the illicit trade in antiquities which [in the US] has driven, as Sayles would have it, "a deep and perhaps permanent wedge between archaeology, museums and the private sector of collectors and independent scholars". It is the refusal of US dealers and collectors (both of whom like to think of themselves as "independent scholars") to face up to their responsibilities in the light of the continuing and perhaps even escalating illicit trade in antiquities.

That's what the wedge is. It is between those who admit there is a problem, and - "personality defects" or not - are determined not to let it pass without comment and to do something about the issue, and those who try to pretend (and persuade others) that there is "no problem" and refuse to contemplate doing anything about it. The latter want us to believe that they are supplied harmlessly and sustainably by the coin elves. Now it seems they are claiming that looting and smuggling of dugup antiquities are myths created by "Trolls with personality disorders". They do love their myth-making and fairy tales, do coineys.

Sayles bemoans the fact that:

All of the advocates in this confrontation suffer from the breakdown of interchange in ideas and knowledge that the pre-UNESCO world enjoyed.
Well, we have seen the level of argument the coineys can offer as justification of maintaining the no-questions-asked status quo and their inability to back up their statements when challenged. I do not know if this means they are stuck in the 1960s, pre-Convention world, but it is clear that there is nothing to regret that there is these days their is limited interchange of their ideas and knowledge due to their insistence on maintaining their hobby in the same modus operandi as pertained in the nineteenth century ("goes back to Plutarch don't y' know"). They are isolating themselves by their refusal to drag themselves out of the nineteenth century into the modern world with its modern problems (including the current form of the antiquities market). And there are many examples which show clearly that, instead of the objective truth, they are backing up their position and trying to drum up support by employing misdirection and deceit.

Preservationists with "Personality Disorders"


Dugup coin dealer Sayles tries to transform a campaign against the trade in illicitly and illegally obtained artefacts and the indiscriminate no-questions-asked practices which shield it into one against "collecting" generally. That of course does not bear scrutiny, the evidence of the deceit is far too abundant. So, running out of other arguments, he tries the ad hominem. He calls calls to clean up the antiquities trade from the 1980s "a hysteria of ideological excess":

Since then, any opposing thought has been ruthlessly ridiculed and attacked with increasing hostility. Today, the level of attacks against those who oppose national control of their personal cultural freedom [to benefit from the illicit trade in antiquities - PMB] has seriously escalated and that "crusade" is being led by ultraists. Not the least of these are a group of internet trolls who suffer from acute personality disorders and lack any other purpose in life.
Typical ad hominem, and reliant on his readers accepting uncritically the assumption that anyone who opposes the illicit trade in antiquities must in some way be mentally challenged. After all, it seems apparent from their reactions that for many of them, the disappearance of such artefacts from the market would means "the end of the hobby".

Another assumption accepted by the coiney readers of such things is that there would be nobody on the other side (their side - working in support of the maintenance of a no-questions-asked market) who could be considered as "ultraist" or one could suspect of having any kind of personality disorder. Such as one leading them to write of "goose-stepping" archaeologists, dressed in "space cadet" uniforms, and who will be hanging by the neck from a "lamppost on Constitution Avenue" when the oppressed American masses rise up against a corrupt political system and other such stuff (most of the posts to which I link have been deleted by their authors when attention was drawn to them). Then we have the comparison between attempts to clean up the antiquities market and the most shameful of the US witch trials of the seventeenth century. These are things written by supporters of no-questions-asked coin-dealing, and by members of the Board of Directors of the ACCG. Perusal of such lists as Moneta-L, Unidroit-L (especially) and Numismatica-L will soon reveal a number of people with a style of writing about preservationists and their own (and others') governments which also betray some sort of serious problems with coping with reality.

To return to preservationists, Sayles' own closests sidekick Dealer Dave had his psychologist wife diagnose "one notorious anticollecting archaeo-blogger" on the basis of - not an interview with him, nor any extensive reading what he himself writes and publishes - but "some of what was posted in my blog regarding the utterances" of the subject. So the methodology of Californian psychologists is to diagnose subjects on the basis of hearsay, what others say of them (perhaps on learning that we might think it fortunate that Susan Welsh seems from her internet profile not to be working in psychology anywhere). Her diagnosis of this person's personality based on such sources can be read online (apparently she concludes that "he is psychologically "very interesting"...). Peter Tompa calls some preservationists who have different views from his own unstable ideas "cranks" who are not to be taken seriously.

This is it, isn't it? By trying to label those who question policies that encourage and shield the trade in illicit antiquities merely "cranks" and "trolls with personality problems", Sayles, Tompa, Welsh and their ilk try to persuade onlookers "not to take such things seriously". They hope that by using such misdirection to persuade readers that there "is no problem", that the problem is wholly made up by hostile and mentally unstable individuals. That the holes in the Roman town of Archar and the Egyptian site at El Hibeh are all imaginary and in no way connected with the artefacts freshly "surfacing" (from underground) on the market. Why, those they will tell anyone who asks - but few do - were made Once Upon A Time by the Coin Elves under the secret mountains. No "Troll" has ever seen a Coin Elf (well, they wouldn't would they?) , but the coineys know this magical sustainable source of artefacts is there.

Monday 26 March 2012

"Snazzy" Graphics, Too Difficult for Coiney to Navigate?

I mentioned the revamp of the SAFE webpage and Lobboblogger Pete decided to take a look and have a grumble. After all that is what he is paid for by the coin dealers association. According to Tompa ('SAFE: Keeping its Own Secrets Safe?' Monday, March 26, 2012), there is some nefarious conspiracy of silence here too. SAFE "must be hiding" something:
the snazzy graphics can't hide the fact that the website tells little about who really runs the operation or how it is financed. There is a ghostly drop down menu under "about us," but it is difficult to access. After a few tries, I was able to access this page entitled, "Who is Safe?"
Is it really such a difficult hand-eye-coordination task to navigate the SAFE website? I had not noticed any difficulties earlier in the evening, so I thought I would test it out again with a little help. I can report that "Socks" had no problems. What a brainless cat can do, a coiney surely should be able to do too.

The coiney lobbyist-blogger sees something suspicious in the fact that the advocacy of an organization called "Saving Antiquities for Everybody" (ie from looting, smuggling, the illicit trade etc) "seems to mark SAFE as merely an adjunct of the AIA". I would say it is hardly surprising that one US-based organization advocating sustainable management of archaeological resources advocates ideas similar to another US-based organization advocating sustainable management of archaeological resources. It surely would be more suspicious if they did not, if they were trying to undercut the efforts of the Archaeological Institute of America. "Socks" says he understands that too. Mr Tompa and his coiney followers are going to need to have it explained to them.

Lobboblogger Pete demands to know:
And who exactly funds SAFE? [...] are there any direct or indirect governmental funders?
Ah, the nefarious secret government conspiracy he means. "Socks" says he doubts there is any such thing, and directs Peter Tompa's attention to a little drop down menu he found about something called "fundraisers" where there is no mention of going cap-in-hand to the US Gubn'mint. Just people getting together to try to do something about the current state of the antiquities market in the USA and related issues.

So who runs SAFE? Here is the envigorating smile of Brooke Todsen, the Executive Director, and over on the right is Peter Tompa trying to smile at an ANS gathering. The Executive Director of the Ancient Coin Collectors' Guild has little to smile about these days too. I'm on the side of the lady on the left. So is "Socks".

Photos: "Socks", Brooke Todson, dealers' Lobboblogger Pete.

UK TV "Archaeology": Britain's Secret Treasures

It seems that ITV went ahead and produced the "Britain's Secret Treasures" programme that the PAS reportedly says was "binned" by them two years ago. Three posts below discuss the information that has been released so far. I am sure they will not be the last here and elsewhere.

UK TV "Archaeology": Britain's Secret "Secret Treasure" Programme

I see the British Museum has already been on this blog four times to see if I'd mentioned their secret little ITV programme today. I had not at the time they looked, I have now. Here's a little something for those who've not been following the sage, some links to a few old posts about the affair.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010
TV Antiquities Roadshow: Archaeological Catastrophe

Wednesday, 15 December 2010
Conservation-Friendly TV Programme on British Portable Antiquities?

Thursday, 23 December 2010
"They tore it up and binned it immediately"

20 Feb 2011
British Museum to endorse TV treasure hunting programme? ... a
television series for ITV entitled 'Britain's Secret Treasures' which
will take as ...British Museum to endorse TV treasure hunting
programme? | Rescue

29 Mar 2011, Portable Antiquities Scheme to endorse TV treasure hunting
any case are not Britain's secret Treasures the ones that are not
reported by artefact hunters? Now I'd like to see a programme
focussing .

3 Apr 2011, INDEPENDENT: Jonathan Owen: Anger as TV show endorsesmetal-detecting
'plunderers' - TV .. "Britain's Secret Treasures, a series being developed by ITV 1, sets out to tell the stories of people who have struck gold, such as Terry Herbert..."

6 Jul 2011, 'Britain's Secret Treasures' : So, it IS going ahead then... "Hi there, My name is Sinead and I am working on a new pilot series at ITV called 'Britain's Secret Treasures'. In conjunction with the
British Muiseum..."

20 Aug 2011
"Britain's Secret Treasures": Complete Silence from British ... "Six months ago, RESCUE The Trust for British Archaeology wrote to ..."

14 Sep 2011
Britain's Secret Treasures" Out This Month? Or Next Year? "The news about this programme broke here with a shocking leaked email from ..."

Thursday, 22 March 2012, 'Focus on Metal Detecting: Respect Our History', "Allow me to quote something from the SAFE blog: Respect Our History: End Production of American Digger and Diggers!"

You will not read stuff like this over on the CBA's "Britarch" (where they do not discuss metal detecting issues) or the BAJR Federation forum (ditto), nor the PAS forum (because they pretend not to have one - but they still do).

UK TV "Archaeology": Travesty Heritage - Not "Rolling Over" but "Partnering"

So, like Spike TV's "American Digger" and the National Geographic Diggers", Britain is not going to be saved the spectacle of televised pandering to the treasure hunters. Apparently the UK too is going to be subjected to:
over a week of primetime television programmes [on metal detecting] being made for ITV, Britain's Secret Treasures, to be broadcast in July and presented by the historian Bettany Hughes and the veteran journalist Michael Buerk in his first appearance on the channel. Although filming continues, the arguments are already passionate as the team attempts to narrow down almost a million objects recorded by the British Museum to a shortlist of 50. Most were found by amateurs using metal detectors, but others were uncovered by the mudlarks who comb the muddy foreshore of the Thames at low tide [...] All the objects, from the most corroded Roman hob-nailed boot stud or lumpy fire-blackened pot to the gold and garnet glory of the Anglo-Saxon jewellery, are logged in the now vast treasure and portable antiquities databases held at the British Museum. Since the antiquities scheme was launched 15 years ago thousands of amateurs using metal detectors have been encouraged to report everything they find through a network of officers covering the country.

Well, this is not exactly what a leaked document I saw had projected, but it still sounds gruesomely antiquitist enough to make me think that this is going to be an archaeological public relations disaster. It is clear the PAS is deeply involved in this and as archaeology's "biggest public outreach" this should have been more widely consulted than it obviously was (has the PAS answered RESCUE's letter yet? Last I heard they had not stooped to do so).

Roger Bland, keeper of portable antiquities and treasure at the British Museum, said they were excited about the chance to highlight the success of the scheme, the programmes will also inevitably revive the passionate debate about the ethics of metal detecting for antiquities, which some archaeologists regard as no better than looting.

Too blooming right it will. On the "success" of the PAS, the brief post this afternoon by Heritage Action (simply called "Sickening") says it all. Still, it is nice to see the British media for once looking a little bit further than the PAS press-releases handed out by the Bloomsbury sub-office of the Ministry of Tekkie Propaganda and looking to see what else is happening outside Russell Square:

Paul Barford, a British archaeologist based in Poland, who runs a fiercely anti-metal-detecting blog, has already described the series as "a travesty", and one commentator posted on his site saying: "All archaeologists in this country should be speaking out against this rape of our heritage instead of just rolling over and letting it go on." A similar row has broken out in the US about two programmes on cable channels about antiquities finders: American Digger on Spike TV, starring Ric Savage, who has abandoned wrestling and his former alias Heavy Metal to take up metal detecting, and Diggers on National Geographic, which has been accused in a letter from the Archaeological Institute of America of encouraging looting and destruction.
"Fiercely"? I do not recall the exact comment Maeve Kennedy quotes, but it sure sounds like Nigel Swift. And yes, what excruciatingly bad timing, the PAS ITV special coming out at the same time as American Digger!! A massive home goal for the pro-artefact-hunting lobbyists among my archaeological colleagues. Let us see the difference between the reaction of the US heritage professionals and conservation-minded public and the British heritage professionals and conservation-minded public. Shame on ALL involved in this, and all who stood by and watched.

Maev Kennedy, 'TV treasure hunt show to pick Britain's most important archaeological find',, Monday 26 March 2012

UK TV "Archaeology": PAS Reality Show - Britain Got Antiquitalent

According to apparently exclusive material that it seems only Maeve Kennedy received (three guesses, from whom) this new programme about archaeology ("Britain's Secret Treasures") is conducted at the intellectual level of a talent show:
Historians and archaeologists are arguing over the single most historically important archaeological find among almost a million objects discovered in the UK in the last 15 years.
Almost a "million objects" found by whom turns out to be those found mainly by metal detectorists. And the institution insisting we look at individual decontextualised artefacts to see which ONE of them is "the most important" (ie justifying spending 14 million quid on providing a supporting role for metal detectorists) is the very same supporting role, the metal detectorists' "partner" the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Which "one" artefact taken on its own merits is the most HISTORICALLY important? What do we mean by "historically important" anyway?

Is this antiquitist talent-show winner going to be, as the journalist suggests:
1) the heap of glittering Anglo-Saxon gold of the Staffordshire Hoard,
2) a scruffy little coin that proved the existence of a previously unknown Roman emperor,
3) a bronze token that some claim entitled the bearer to the illustrated services in a Roman brothel,
4) a stone hand axe, or
5) the Crosby Garrett Roman helmet...

If we are talking about "Battles and Kings History", then a new emperor must be a strong contender, but is a nineteenth century fixation on a battles and kings historiography where British historical sciences are in 2012? Top of the titillation stakes must be the so called "brothel token" - but is it history? Is it a new fact that there were brothels in Roman times, or - if it actually was a brothel token - is this find merely an illustration of this fact? (As is the Domitian the umpteenth coin an illustration that there were many short-lived usurpers in the Roman Empire). The Crosby Garrett helmet in its polyfillered form is wonderful, but what does it add to the "history" of anything when we do not even know where it was found and how it got there? It again is just an illustration of certain facts known from other sources, but as an independent source of information its use is limited by the way it was found, then treated and the lack of any proper archaeological followup. So, what kind of "history" is the PAS engaged in writing? What kind of 21st century archaeology is it engaged in producing? Most of what I have seen them produce (when it is not pure whimsy for the benefit of the awed journalists) is in the old-fashioned positivist ethno-cultural-historical mould very much to the tastes of the likes of Gustav Kossinna, but hardly cutting edge stuff. So is this the best heritage TV it can offer the British public for its fourteen million pound investment in archaeological outreach? Because if it is its a pretty poor showing for fourteen years of money thrown at the problem.

Roger Bland is allegedly afraid that "the programmes will also inevitably revive the passionate debate about the ethics of metal detecting for antiquities, which some archaeologists regard as no better than looting". Well, goodness' me, should not the fourteen-million pound Portable Antiquities Scheme be LEADING and encouraging this debate and not afraid that somebody else might mention the subject? Let Mr Bland first start out and explain to the general public the actual difference between what his "partners" and their fellows do and "looting" (one which goes further than the tekkie: "it's legal innit?"). Can he do that for fourteen million pounds?

Maev Kennedy, 'TV treasure hunt show to pick Britain's most important archaeological find',, Monday 26 March 2012
British Museum Press Office: 'ITV and the British Museum to reveal the 50 greatest treasures discovered by the British public', Monday 26 March 2012

SAFE Gets a New Face

SAFE announces the relaunch of their web site (still and blog, now fully integrated as part of the site. All the posts (and corresponding comments) have transferred to the new site at

Our web site has a new look, but the more important goal with this relaunch is to provide an easier user experience by bringing nearly 200 pages of content more upfront and visible. To present an easier platform for your participation many of the new pages have an area for comments. Frequent visitors to the previous site (that we launched in July 2003) will notice a reorganization of the material, addition of graphics, interactive tools, and easier access to our ever-growing social media presence. Blog posts are now put into categories. Take a tour of our new resources section where items can now be searched by topic, region and date. The news section on the home page has up-to-the-minute reports, and polls are now on their own separate page. These are a few of the new features; please peruse the site to make your own discoveries.

Every piece of content has been reconsidered and displayed in a new way with these goals in mind; but if we missed anything please let us know. We think that our new site is an improvement, but it is your opinion that truly matters. SAFE is a dynamic organization, and we take your comments seriously (eg. our brand new Teaching Tools section exists because of one of your suggestions). As with any web site, ours is an organic process; as such, it is always a work-in-progress. We welcome and appreciate your ideas and contributions. To get involved, click on one of the red arrows to your right.

Thank you, Brooke Todsen (Executive Director)

Looks good. Drop in and see what you think.

Sunday 25 March 2012

American Ancestors: Mine and Yours

Who spotted the discrepancy? Over twenty people were convicted in recent years as part of an antiquities bust of digging up collectable and saleable antiquities including in some cases desecrating countless graves - and amassing huge (in at least two cases, 'lorry load' huge) collections of complete pots, baskets and personal items, some of which they sold for substantial sums. Over in the Four Corners area the collectors got no jail time and merely a few months probation from Judge Waddoups and later counterparts.

As part of another antiquities bust, a single unemployed guy was convicted under the same laws of running a metal detector over a battlefield, and possibly disturbing some graves into the bargain. John Jeffrey Santo, was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge James Spencer to 366 days in prison followed by three years of supervised probation, he lost his collection and was ordered to pay hefty fines, reportedly $7,346.

Two different countries? No, both in the (supposedly) United States of America. Both groups of looters were white, too. The convictions were made under the same legislation. The only difference is that the first group of people were digging up "injun" graves in the archaeological resources of the USA and the second guy was digging up the White Man-past of the USA. Cases like this suggest to me that the US justiciary recognize two distinct types of heritage in their territory. One that they are prepared to accept the responsibility of protecting and concerning which they will enforce the law, and that of "the Other" where it seems they are not.

What do you do when you leave the PAS?

Something I spotted in the news made me realise that many of the PAS staff whose names were familiar from various matters on their (now defunct) forum and requests for information are no longer with the Scheme. The PAS seem to have quite a high turnover (and let's face it, it cannot be pleasant work working with such "partners"). Anyhow this is part of a text "Losing the jewels in our heritage crown" in the Telegraph (which seems otherwise to have an unhealthy fascination in the York urination problem) tells us what has become of Kent's former FLO:
And in Canterbury, another historic jewel, you find Andrew Richardson and Michele Johnson, first of a new breed we might call “heritage detectives”. They’re professional archaeologists working as accredited police support volunteers. They use their knowledge to help officers secure convictions, and prepare “impact statements” so courts realise just how much harm has been done. “As a nation, we were dismal at this stuff,” said Dr Richardson. “There was a sense that it wouldn’t be investigated and the law wouldn’t be enforced. Now, we’re becoming world leaders at it.”

When they go to, say, a prehistoric barrow that’s been trashed by vandals, “we now treat it as a crime scene,” says Dr Richardson. “We turn over the spoil heap for cigarette ends, anything with DNA, discarded wrappings, footprints.” At Thurnham Castle, near Maidstone, they followed a man digging a mysterious trench as he went back to his car. Armed with his registration number, they and the police raided his girlfriend’s house – uncovering a massive hoard of stolen artefacts from dozens of sites around England. “The criminals network, so we need to network too,” Richardson says.

The analogy sometimes made is with bird-egg collecting. When the RSPB mounted a few high-profile prosecutions, an entire subculture suddenly took flight, and birds’ nests became a whole lot safer. High-profile prosecutions of heritage thieves, too, are now imminent, and sentences have already got tougher. The Thurnham Castle man only got a conditional discharge – but more recently, a youth who spray-painted Cliffords Tower in York collected four months in jail. [...] Not before time, thinks Andrew Richardson. “The importance of this is that the harm is irreversible,” he says. “When an item of our heritage goes, you can’t make a new one.”
Britain "becoming world leaders at [fighting heritage crime]”? That's a laugh and a half. With a legislative system unlike that anywhere else in the civilized world allowing (and a government "partnership" Scheme set up to do nothing to stop) 10000 people plundering sites for collectables?

Lebanon gives back 78 stolen relics to Iraq

On Saturday, in a ceremony held for the occasion at Beirut's National Museum, the Lebanese government returned 78 confiscated Mesopotamian artefacts smuggled into Lebanon from Iraq. The usual speeches were exchanged between Lebanese Culture Minister Gaby Layyoun and the Iraqi Ambassador to Lebanon, Omar Barzanji. As usual, there was no mention of any arrests made and the consequences.

Ahlul Bayt News Agency, 'Lebanon gives back 78 stolen relics to Iraq', March 25, 2012.

A US "Coin Elf Law" in the Offing?

There are strange rumours floating around the portable antiquities blogosphere. I have heard it alleged that the dealers' lobby group, the ACCG had been discovered lobbying a congressman to introduce legislation that would exempt coins from import restrictions and the CCPIA. This morning Dealer Dave let something slip on the Moneta-L list which almost inclines me to believe that there is something in these rumours. If so, it would make it official, the ACCG would be trying to tell Congress that ancient coins do not come out of the archaeological record at all but are instead made by the Coin Elves under the mountains (apparently near Munich).

I wonder if the US Congress will swallow that as easily as they did the story about Saddam's fictional WMD? In that case they ended up sending many thousands of brave young men over the seas on a fruitless and destructive hunt to save the world from them in which many lives were lost. While challenging the origin of dugup coins will not have such serious consequences as some of their other reputation-damaging mistakes, certainly if Congress passes any "Coin Elf legislation", it will do no good whatsoever for the vision of the US from outside.

Maybe the Congressmen - before allowing themselves to be persuaded to compromise themselves by the industry's lobbyists - might like to come over here and see for themselves where coins come from. To check the facts on the ground. Maybe Chicago Ron can arrange a metal detecting holiday for them.

Saturday 24 March 2012

Metal Detectorist Engaged in "Heartbreaking Destruction" of Civil War Site

An unemployed Virginia metal detectorist was convicted on Wednesday of taking more than 9,000 artifacts from the (Civil War period) Petersburg National Battlefield. They included bullets, buckles, cannonballs, breastplates and buttons. John Jeffrey Santo, 52, pleaded guilty in December to two counts of damaging archaeological resources and one count of pillaging Petersburg National Battlefield. He was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge James Spencer to 366 days in prison followed by three years of supervised probation. Santo was also ordered to pay $100 for each of his three charges: two counts of damaging archaeological resources, each of which carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, and one count of depredation of government property, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. It seems he must also pay $7,346 restitution to the for damage caused by his excavations. Although the newspapers do not say so, it goes without question that the man also lost his extensive collection of Civil War period artefacts from the Petersburg site. In the raid on July 10, 2011 on the man's girlfriend's home, apart from the artefacts, investigators
found a handwritten journal the man kept of his illegal excavation trips, which happened regularly between 2006 and 2010. "The defendant's journal is a tell-all of his misconduct, identifying with a high degree of specification where he engaged in metal detecting/relic hunting and when and what he recovered," Assistant U.S. Attorney N. George Metcalf wrote in federal court papers. "He even kept a running tally of the items he found from day to day on a yearly basis." Blankenship said in one instance Santo wrote about discovering five buttons in one place, which suggests that a previously undiscovered body of a soldier had been buried there.
The journal itemized more than 18,000 bullets, 31 cannonballs and explosive shells, 13 belt buckles, seven breastplates, and 91 buttons. Yet when authorities arrested him last summer, they found only half that number of bullets when they searched his home.

On several occasions, park rangers spotted Santo and gave chase, but he managed to elude them, leaving freshly dug holes. His journal entry for November 10, 2010 states, “Ran into Park Ranger. Ran away.” In October 2007, Santos was charged with illegal relic hunting on property owned by the city of Petersburg, but it transpires that the experience didn't deter his plundering. Santo's journal shows that on the day he was charged in Petersburg, and again on the day he was convicted, he went to the battlefield park with his metal detector to hunt for relics. Experts say the destruction of American history done by this metal detectorist was "heartbreaking":

Relic hunting is like ripping a page from a book, Randy Jones, spokesman for the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, told Part of an an artifact's true value comes from the context it is discovered in, he explained. "It happens more than we know about," James Blankenship, a historian at the Petersburg National Battlefield, told "The biggest loss is the loss of historic information." [...] "It's just heartbreaking," Julia Steele, an archaeologist and the battlefield's cultural resource manager told Steele said Santo systematically pillaged several sites to the point that the scene made her physically ill. With TV shows such as the recently launched "American Digger," Steele said pop culture tends to glorify relic hunting. Many people see it as a "treasure hunt," she said [...] Blankenship said relic hunters are secretive and their transactions rarely leave a paper trail. "This guy was in it for profit," he said. Hidden cameras captured Santo in the act, and Blankenship hopes more will be installed throughout the park. He said law enforcement officers sometimes organize stakeouts, but relic hunters tend to hide in the harder to monitor wooden areas. Blankenship says Santo's acts were "thievery and robbery" and hopes his sentence sends a strong message to other relic hunters.
Santo's attorney argues that due to certain personality disorders - he says his client was a "recovering alcoholic who has an extreme anxiety disorder that prevents him from working or socializing with people" - "his walks and metal detecting in the National Battlefield with his dog w[ere] his only outlet".
"His attorney wrote that Santo always backfilled the holes he dug and never sold anything he recovered. But federal prosecutors said the evidence strongly suggested otherwise. Santo has no means of support other than his girlfriend's Social Security check, and "the circumstances strongly suggest that (Santo) supported himself by selling these artifacts," prosecutors said.
Sources:, 'Battlefield relic hunter sentenced to federal prison',, March 21, 2012

Mark Bowes, 'For battlefield thefts, man gets 366-day term', Richmond Times-Dispatch, March 23, 2012

Becky Bratu,'Civil War relic thief engaged in heartbreaking destruction', MSNBC, March 24, 2012

Gregg Clemmer, 'Pillaging Petersburg National Battlefield Park gets Virginia man prison time',, March 25, 2012

see also: 'Metal Detecting Battlefields: Some "Stout Defence" Required?', PACHI blog, Saturday, 21 January 2012.

Photo: John Santo ( ); canisters full of minnie shot from Santo's home, all removed from the site without detailed recording, turned into buckets of scrap lead - but probably saleable to no-questions-asked collectors (MSBNC Petersburg National Battlefield); Union Army soldier's belt buckle. Did this come from the disturbance of a soldier's grave? (MSBNC Petersburg National Battlefield).

Friday 23 March 2012

Kentucky Treasure Hunters' Legislative Proposal Blocked

Amendments to archaeological resource preservation laws (Kentucky bill HB352) were going through the Kentucky legal system. This would have allowed artefact hunters with metal detectors to hoover up buried relics from state parks and historical sites. Preservationists had raised concerns that allowing treasure hunters to comb public land with metal detectors could allow artefacts that belong to the people of Kentucky to fall into private collections or be sold for cash. It was reported on Thursday that the measure (which had initially seemed to be a longshot but initially squeaked through the Senate on a 20-16 vote) had hit a roadblock in the Kentucky legislature. Tourism Development Committee Chairwoman Leslie Combs refused to call for a vote, essentially quashing the measure with only days remaining in the legislative session.
Nancy Ross-Stallings, a professional archeologist, was among a growing chorus of critics who called on lawmakers to oppose the proposal to keep people with metal detectors from damaging historical sites. "It's kind of reprehensible," she said. "Nobody would dream of walking into a state museum and say, 'Can I have the artifact in that case,'" Ross-Stalling said. "But that's what they're doing in essence with the artifacts that are still in the ground. It's kind of reprehensible."
Yet that is exactly what some "collectors' rights" movements in the US are urging. They want the right to go onto state property and take away some of the 'property' which constitute its historical resources. Many of these parks were set up to protect the varied resources of this land from just such exploitation.
Kentucky Archeological Survey Director David Pollack said he's cautiously optimistic that the proposal won't resurface in the final days of the legislative session. Archeological sites are a non-renewable resource," Pollack said. "Once you've destroyed them, they can't be reconstructed. So, these sites are there to be preserved and protected." Pollack said he's aware that the popularity of metal detectors has grown in recent years and that hobbyists have been looking for additional places to use the devices. But they should not be allowed to search for artifacts on Civil War battlefields or other historically significant sites owned by the state. The state owns those artifacts," Pollack said. "So does an individual really have a right to go onto the state property and take artifacts, keep them as their own, and then, theoretically, put them on eBay and sell them?"

No doubt this latest event will have the more militant metal detector owners of the USA up in arms against these "archaeologists", but they should reflect whether or not the conservation-conscious public at large are not on the side of protecting the historical resources of state land. After all the 18600 signatures on the petition about the Spike TV "American Digger" show urging a more responsible attitude to the buried heritage are not all only of "archaeologists". Or are they?, 'Treasure Hunters' Proposal Hits Road Block In Ky.', Mar 22, 2012
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