Saturday 30 June 2012

What would a US Coin Dealer Import Without an Export Licence?

In a comment on his blog, I asked Washington ancient coin collector Peter Tompa what he thought about two of the coins depicted (at 44 seconds) by the BBC video of the 2012 Jersey Hoard as being part of the hoard. 
He replies: 

They are Roman Republican issues. It suggests again that Roman coins circulated outside Roman lands, i.e., you can't assume as the US State Department erroneously does that a coin will be found where it is struck.
Republican, eh? Hmm. Whatever, the Coriosolite coins which are found there in large quantities these days were most likely not struck on Jersey either, does that mean that according to US law, one can freely import them from there without a export licence then?

Mr Tompa has not yet answered that question.  I suggest he take another look at those coins and the problem. 

Friday 29 June 2012

Watch Richard Engel on Looting in Egypt

NBC's chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel  reports from Egypt on the looting and building on ancient sites in the chaos which followed the displacement of the Mubarak government in Egypt. It has some interesting material and details. Like for example the information that the number of known looting events is 5700 and the number of foiled attempts to smuggle appropriated artefacts is 130. Obviously the information that has been reaching the foreign media is just the tip of the iceberg. He reports from a house near Giza which collapsed as looters' tunnels caved in killing five. I did not see any report of that event at the time. There are scenes from what purport to be grave-robbers tunnels (the robber is reportedly more afraid of the djinns in the tomb than the authorities outside - reads Koranic verses to keep the former away). Of interest is the interview with Hawass. It would be interesting to know how he got the permits to film inside two Valley of the Kings tombs (Ramesses VI and another). 


June 28th Rock Center with Brian Wiliams show MSNBC [The clip about El-Hibeh to which I earlier drew attention is in the middle of this video]


29 Jun12:44:16

no, taaaak. 

Detecting Under the Microscope: How Green Was my Metal Detector?

If you look on UK metal detecting forums at the moment you might be forgiven for thinking they'd all gone from being resource depleters to "eco-crusaders". they are up in arms about "green waste". They want compost banned in British farming, and can think up all manner of arguments why. There's videos on You Tube showing shock-horror pictures of fertilised landfill with plastic and other rubbish in it, a petition with 800 signatures ("Ban 'Green' Waste being dumped on the Countryside"), a campaign of letter writing to MP’s, attempts to contact the media, the NCMD getting involved. There is a teckie Campaign blog here:

So what's all this about then? Pretty simple really. At the moment, even on the best discriminating metal detectors it is difficult for most users to distinguish between auminium and the signals from certain other non-ferrous metals, so if they get a signal, they cannot tell if it is worth stooping to dig it from the sound or signal alone. So they end up digging up a lot of aluminium pieces.

Now time was when (just after Nigel Swift set the Heritage Action Artefact Erosion Counter ticking away) tekkies kept moaning that they were misrepresented. Ignoring the fact that the blurb to the artefact erosion counter said clearly it was modelling the removal of PAS-recordable objects, dullard tekkies claimed it was "number of metal objects found", adding that "but many of the metal objects we find are modern rubbish, those idjits in HA don't know this, so there!". They even did a survey to show how many modern metal objects they found an hour - trouble was when they put the results up on their forums, embarrassingly for them, it turned out to coincide precisely with what HA were saying - so they took it down).

The problem is now reality is in some areas coming to match the propaganda. There is a lot of extraneous matter in green waste. Some householders are not so fussy about what they throw into the green waste bins when segregating rubbish. A bigger problem is collection of organic waste in parks and road sweeping. In amongst the fallen leaves are all sorts of other stuff. Theoretically this is screened out at the processing plants, but obviously what the tekkies are finding in the fields shows this screening is less than effective. Aluminium is not magnetic, so has to be sorted out by hand.

The result of poor sorting means that shredded aluminium is getting into the fields. And its causing problems for those hobbyists who want to use an electronic tool to hoover those fields for archaeological collectibles. The aluminium is slowing down the searching sites by producing too many signals. Hence the campaign.

A comment that encapsulates the issue and deserves immortalising as the spirit of the campaign:
I have lost a Romano British temple/shrine to it…
What that means is at least one Roman temple will not be so heavily looted of its archaeological content as the rest as a result of 'green' farming methods using poorly sorted compost.

The reason why metal detectorists in the past few weeks have become interested in (even militant about) this issue is because people are now noticing they are losing searchable fields, rather than because they’re suddenly growing a conscience about fragile resources. If they were so interested in countryside conservation, why were they silent when this problem first became prominent some five or six years ago? This is not a problem just in the UK (Deborah K. Rich, 'Taking out the trash: Municipal green waste needs cleaning up', The Chronicle  November 7, 2007). It surely is in improving methods used to screen waste that the answer lies. Why are metal detectorists calling to "ban" it for selfish reasons when the problem should be addressed by improving screening? I think the problem is the simplified black-and-white world many of them seem to live in.

For a rather less extreme response to the problem:  'Contamination of green waste can result in non-collection or the waste going to landfill' St Albans council News release: 18 October 2011.

Vignette: From 'Eco-warrior Chick'

Metal Detecting Under the Microscope: They Must Think we were Born Yesterday

In their campaign against putting green waste fertilser onto the fields the metal detectorists of Britain are raising all kinds of alarmist concerns. Obviously they feel that if they say "this stuff is getting into our food" it's enough to get it stopped. So here we get claims like this for agitators:
“The most important principle that you should highlight are the dangers of aluminium mixing with air to create aluminium oxide, which in turn is getting into the food chain.” 
Perhaps not many metal detectorists made it to GCSE chemistry... those who did like the rest of us know that aluminium reacts very readily with "air" (oxygen) to form an instantaneous and fundamentally inert compact oxide film, which then prevents further oxidation. This oxide is so inert that it is used in a filler in plastics (for food packaging, and in toys), it appears in paint, for example probably in the paint on tekkies' cars. It is also used in stuff their wives smear all over their bodies, it's a common ingredient in sunscreen and is sometimes present in cosmetics such as blusher, lipstick, and nail polish. Aluminium oxide is not on the United States Environmental Protection Agency's chemicals lists. The oxide in crystalline form is called corundum, and that's in sander discs and emery paper, it is also what rubies and sapphires are made of. It's also found in some sands, like the sand their kids play in at the beach (there is silicon dioxide and dihydrogen monoxide in this as well as soil). Aren't tekkies a bit worried that this will "get into the food chain" too? Especially the dihydrogen monoxide.

In fact aluminium and its oxides are in all clay minerals which occur in the majority of British soils. And yes, a bit of it gets into plants, aluminium is needed for plant growth. Certain very acidic soils on certain substrates will however have soil water with too many aluminium cations. In such cases, the plant's root systems do not function well, and they (but then also other elements) are not taken up, which then requires the farmer to take other measures. Firstly the knowledgeable farmer would probably not put green waste (whose decomposition products contain organic acids) on such soils, secondly of course soils containing high quantities of non-ferrous metal cations in them are those which in a short term are highly corrosive to buried metal objects, and would not be the sort of places searched by artefact hunters wanting to find collectable stuff. 

Scare tactics of the most base kind, playing on people's ignorance and fears for selfish ends. They should be ashamed of themselves.

Thursday 28 June 2012

Future Trends in Metal Detecting in the UK

I've been chatting with some metal detectorists (yes!) over the past few days about the probable effects of the projected TV series "Britain's Secret Treasures" and the ongoing barrage of news reports about even-bigger Treasure finds (now the "ten million pound hoard" from Jersey). The biggest concern of the responsible ones is that this is tending to cause a huge rise in people buying detectors. The economic downturn (and consequent rise in people with no jobs to go to) is leading to people turning to Treasure hunting as a way to find their fortune. As one of them said to me last night "this is going to be a terrible time for the archaeology of Britain, indeed Europe, as the news continues to filter out". And I cannot but agree. British policies on artefact hunting and the way they have been handled have a lot to answer for. Whatever the intentions and reasons behind it (together with the barely-noticeable and ineffective means to counteract it), what has happened over the past fifteen years is that the archaeological record has become to be seen by the general public as a source of "easy money". What should be of paramount concern in both archaeological as well as (responsible) artefact hunting circles is that we are going to be swamped by more ‘Treasure Hunters’ who think they too can make their fortune if they persevere, just one lucky find (c. 800 Treasure finds currently made in England alone in a community of perhaps 8-10 000 tekkies, work out the odds, not too bad are they?). Quite apart from the increased rate of erosion of the archaeological record this will lead to, the PAS will be cutting back its recording operations (perhaps tending more to self-recording in the future) as funds shrink not only in real terms, but relative to the increase in 'clientèle', so an even smaller percent of the hoiked-out artefacts will become part of the public record. More to the point, as the number of metal detector users increases, they’ll find that most of the still-searchable land is taken up already, which itself will lead to a rise in commercial operations as well as a great increase in clandestine and illegal artefact hunting.

I think the public has a right to know, just what plans does the British archaeological establishment have in place to deal with this? 

Vignette: British archaeology has a long tradition of ignoring the problems caused by current 'policies' on artefact hunting and collecting.

Four Corners Sequel: Public Reactions

I was quite interested in the stories  about the Redd family's attempts to take the federal authorities to court for turning up at the house in Blanding in connection with artefact theft charges. The family had reportedly been in trouble with the law over this before, the family house was full of ancient artefacts and  in a 'sting' operation the sale of one such artefact was documented. Dr Redd however was not willing to face a US court and committed suicide soon after the raid, and now the family want compensation.
 Judge dismisses Redd family's constitutional claims in artifact raid June 12, 2012 • By Brandon Loomis The Salt Lake Tribune A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit by family members of late Blanding doctor James Redd alleging that government agents violated their constitutional rights when raiding the home over artifacts looted from federal and tribal lands. Monday'... Full Story
June 14, 2012 • By Brandon Loomis The Salt Lake Tribune Federal attorneys on Thursday sought dismissal of a wrongful-death claim in the case of a Blanding doctor who killed himself after his arrest on artifact-trafficking charges. In what amounted to James Redd's posthumous day in court, U.S. Departm... Full Story
While the story itself is only moderately interesting (and yes, if 100 armed officers really did turn up at just one house on that morning to arrest a guy and wife, then that does seem to be overkill), I was struck by the comments. Readers may remember that when the news of the case broke, public opinion in the region was sharply divided. Some were appalled at the looting of Native American graves for the objects buried with the deceased and the trashing of archaeological sites for the artefacts for entertainment and sale. On the other hand, many US folk apparently thought taking stuff from the Injuns was nothing particularly reprehensible, that it was something these (white) collectors were fully entitled to do, whatever the law says. Several ineffective verdicts later (in which the US justice system basically sides with the latter) and we see (at least at the moment) a totally different reaction to the case, people are talking about accountability for one's actions and their feelings that if somebody already has been in trouble for doing something which is against the law and they carry on doing it, then they really should not be too surprised if the police take an interest in what is happening.

The case continues:
Judge finds feds used 'unreasonable' force in artifact bust June 26, 2012 • By Brandon Loomis The Salt Lake Tribune. A judge has found that federal authorities who busted a Blanding couple for illegal artifacts trafficking used "unreasonable" force by deploying more than 100 agents to the home for the arrest. U.S. District Court Judge Ted Stewart on Tuesday dismis... Full Story
but again with similar comments.

New Apointment in the BM

The British Museum advertised recently for "a specialist of academic distinction to provide leadership to and to manage the department of Prehistory and Europe, overseeing the curation of the department’s extensive collections, covering artefacts from the earliest human activity to materials from the present day. The role will involve directing and overseeing the department’s curatorial and academic work, including research and overseas fieldwork and excavations".

Congratulations are due to Dr Roger Bland who it is being reported on metal detecting forums was appointed to this post from 23 July. This apparently means that the Department of Portable Antiquities and Treasure will now be merged with the Department of Prehistory and Europe (perhaps "Department of Prehistoric and European Treasures"?). This may well spell the beginning of the end of the PAS as we know it.

While it existed as an independent entity within the Museum, it had the same relationship to the various departments: Department of Prehistory and Europe, Department of Greece and Rome, Department of Coins and Medals, and Medieval and Later (is that still a department?). All sorts of organizational changes will have to be made when it is part of just one of them, especially as it is the one which (due to what artefact hunters hunt for, collect and report) is currently represented by the smallest number of finds in the database.

From my own point of view, I am a bit worried that through new closer association with this department, this also means the "PAS message" (the PAS legend) is going to get more forcefully propagated in Europe, we've already seen the beginnings of that and (despite what PAS supporters think and say) I think it is ultimately damaging. Vignette: Roger Bland, Head of the PAS

"Documents is History, Old Pots is Old Pots"

In a recent case over in the USA a number of people who were actually observed trashing archaeological sites, destroying contexts, disturbing graves to get saleable ancient artefacts got sentences of six months probation and a wrist slap. Mr Landau found out though that if you move a few relatively modern documents from one place to another, you get seven years in prison AND three years' "supervision". Of course many of the displaced documents had the signatures of the White Man's presidents on them, not the results of the carefree destruction of the material cultural record of 'injun' history, which apparently counts there for much less in the judicial system. That probably goes a long way to explaining the lack of understanding of the issues surrounding dugup artefacts in general.

Rick St Hilaire:  'Landau's Theft of Historical Documents Earns Time Behind Bars', June 27, 2012.

Metal Detecting Under the Microscope: "Plague Hoards", innit?

The media are still plugging the "ten million pound Jersey hoard". Anna King of BBC Gloucester regional radio now wants to know about treasure hunting, how difficult is it to find valuable stuff (she had a metal detector as a kid she says but found bottletops), what are the rules, and who owns the gold and valuable finds. To find out she talked to Steve Taylor of the Cotswold Heritage and Detecting Society (CHADS "A Society dedicated to the promotion of the conscientious use of metal detectors for both enjoyment and historical research"). Taylor (who has a really interesting accent - starts about 16:02) has been detecting thirty years, he began in the early 1970s. In 2004 he found a hoard of Bronze Age scrap metal called the "Poulton Hoard".

He has an original explanation (18:40) of such hoards and the Jersey cache. He reckons that in "the Plague" a third of "Europe" died (not here they did not, and I live in the Heart of Europe) and did not pass on the information where they'd buried the stuff. Hmmm. So the PAS has a huge peak of hoards dating to the 1340s does it? That is about as good an explanation of Roman hoards as the tired old "buried on the edge of battlefields" one trotted out by dealers.

Obviously the woman has talked with Taylor before the interview, several of her questions lead into topics such as his favourite tale of discovering the "Poulton Hoard" and metal detectors' ability to discriminate out iron artefacts (archaeologically significant, but generally of no interest to artefact collectors).

I think it is significant that the interview was pre-rehearsed, because when they get to the crux of the interview, where one can go searching, there are several surprises. Firstly according to this interview with a detectorist there is no mention of not detecting on certain sites (scheduled sites, sites of Special Scientific Interest, certain conservation scheme lands) let alone keeping off sensitive areas such as permanent pasture. No mention of a Code of Practice either, apparently just a free for all, though "you really ought to get the landowner's  permission... we generally go on a 50:50 basis on any finds that come up". The account of the Treasure process is garbled, it is not the function of the coroner's inquest to determine if the state wishes to acquire an object (ie pay a finder's reward). According to the metal detectorist the main problem with Treasure awards (apart from a vague hint to some earlier discussion of the TVC) is that it's the landowner who is invariably greedy when the detectorist (who of course is "not-in-it-fer-the-muunny-it's-the-history-innit") would gladly resign from it.
“You can waiver the find and give it to the nation but I think in these financial times many landowners are suffering like many other people….. and most people would want payment of some sort”. (22.30 minutes)
What a shame that the BBC interviewer did not think to get in touch with the local archaeology unit to ask about hunting for valuable archaeological artefacts. Likewise is there not somewhere in Russel Square in far off (but not as far off as Jersey) London some blokes who are paid lots and lots of public money to provide the public with that sort of information? Or perhaps they feel actually discussing these things is beneath them. Or do they simply not really matter any more?

Vignette: Plague victims, UK detectorist suggests it's their stuff you can buy on eBay. 

Free Tarby

Let the American people speak,
Let Tarby go Free, 
Let her go home to Mongolia.

It is time to say no 
to profiting by taking
other people's stuff.

Where is her Mongolian export licence? 

Wednesday 27 June 2012

Video on El Hibeh on US TV

Tomb Raiders: Ancient artifacts looted after Egyptian revolution After the Egyptian revolution, the lack of protection for many archaeological sites throughout the country has caused an increase in looting and robbery of ancient artifacts. U.C. Berkeley archaeologist Carol Redmont, who has been excavating and studying ancient sites in Egypt for over 20 years, shows Richard Engel the scope of the problem.

Engel's full report airs Thursday, June 28 at 10pm/9c on NBC's Rock Center with Brian Williams.

"There are no guards here, there's no fence around it it is an opportunity that is just inviting looters to come and see what they can find..." so how many archaeological sites out in the desert of California have guards and fences?

Diversifying participation in the historic environment workforce in the UK

A report has been issued which has examined ethnic diversity within the historic environment workforce in the UK.
 The report which was commissioned by the Council for British Archaeology Diversifying Participation Working Group and funded by English Heritage identified barriers to participation for minority ethnic groups in education, volunteer schemes and the workforce. The report also made a number of recommendations to overcome diversity issues through better data collection, greater profiling of ethnic minority involvement and improvement in recruitment processes and professional practices.
Doeser, J, Dhanjal, S, Hinton, A, & Orton, C, 2011 Diversifying Participation in the Historic Environment Workforce. A report commissioned by the Council for British Archaeology Diversifying Participation Working Group. London: UCL Centre for Applied Archaeology (downloadable from here).

Basically the report points out that in Britain there are very few BME (Black or Minority Ethnic) individuals in the heritage industry in the UK. One guy in discussing it on BAJR forum says in several decades work in the UK, he's only met three diggers of minority ethnic origin. Now I think of it, I recall just two in several hundred in my own experience (but one was a staff member - osteologist - on an Ipswichian fossil mammoth dig rather than archaeology, so might not really count).  

A couple of the points made in the discussion on the BAJR forum are interesting, particularly this by "Wax (post # 15):
I have noticed my local Y[oung] A[rchaeologists'] C[lub]'s members do reflect the area's ethnic mix but some how that does not seem to carry on with those who go on to study heritage subjects at University. I think Kevin is right with the lack of decent wages and job security anyone from an ethnic minority aspiring to a University education would probably focus on study that would give them a well paid job and status. Sort the problems inherent in the profession and you might well get a more diverse work force.
Interestingly this is a wider phenomenon, there are very few 'ethnic minority' metal detectorists in the UK (the PAS can perhaps tell us how many), and I think I'd be right in saying there are very few BME ancient coin collectors and even fewer BME ancient coin dealers in the US.

Vignette: Lara Croft

"Free Mongolian Tarby", Defending "Florida Fossils" Sale

I see from Rick St Hilaire's blog that PNG/AIPN Lobboblogger Tompa is going to represent fossil importer Eric Prokopi in his case against Mongolia over the imported Tarbosaurus skeleton sold recently by Heritage Auctions despite a court order forbidding it.
Tompa is co-counsel along with Brooklyn cultural property lawyer and ancient coin dealer advocate, Michael McCullough.  McCullough's LinkedIn profile lists him as past associate counsel at Sotheby's.  Experienced cultural property forfeiture prosecutor Sharon Cohen Levin is lead attorney for the government.
It will be interesting to see what line of defence Tompa and McCullough adopt (though I have an idea...).  I wonder if Mr Prokopi chose Tompa and McCullough himself because of a familiarity with their work, or because the coin dealer "Heritage Auctions" recommended them? Let's see if they do better here than they have been doing in the 'Baltimore illegal coin import stunt' case. Mr McCullough is reported as recommending that dealers keep all the paperwork on imports, hopefully he will find all he needs to defend the legality of the Heritage Tarbosaur sale in Mr Prokopi's filing cabinets. 

"Dinosaur Forfeiture Complaint Now Published in New York Court as Coin Dealer Lawyers File Appearance to Free Arrested Mongolian Tyrannosaurus".
The notion of Peter Tompa "freeing an arrested T[arbo]saurus" conjures up all sorts of images.


Tuesday 26 June 2012

"Massive Wealth up for Grabs Hidden Under Our Countryside"

The UK's Daily Mirror has a piece at the end of its article about the Jersey Hoard which should have every archaeologist in the country reaching for their bullwhip and the PAS head office for the telephone to the Press Department:

Massive wealth hidden under our countryside

£2,500,000 : During his first-ever go at metal-detecting in 2010 James Hyatt found an extremely valuable gold locket.  The profit was split with the landowner in Hockley, Essex.
£1,000,000 : Terry Herbert stumbled on a trove of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver in 2009 near Burntwood, Staffs. Proceeds from 1,500 pieces – weapons, helmet decorations, coins and crosses including 5kg of gold – were also divided with the landowner.
£1,000,000 : In 2009, David Booth, also on his first try with a metal-detector, found four gold Iron Age necklaces near ­Stirling. Scotland has stricter laws on treasure trove, which belong to the crown, but David still made £462,000.
£750,000 : Dad and son David and Andrew Whelan found Viking gold and silver in Harrogate, North Yorks, in 2007. They went halves with the landowner.
£300,000 : Michael Darke and Keith Lewis unearthed 840 Iron Age gold coins from the first century BC, in Dallinghoo, Suffolk, in 2008.  Half went to the ­landowner, farmer Cliff Green.
What I see missing here in the description of each of those sources of "massive wealth" for the finder  is any mention whatsoever that these folk are searching for archaeological finds. No mention that each of these finds has been hoiked out of an archaeological context. That is quite apart from the fact that despite all the money spent on getting these objects in public custody, not a single one of these sites has been investigated and published to a suitable degree that we can say we understand the full archaeological context of the deposition. Note the attention paid here to how profitable artefact hunting is to the landowner agreeing to allow treasure hunting on his property (this article is a ready-made clipping for the "can I come on yer land pleez" knocking-on-farmers'-doors folder). This is important, because in British law it is the landowner who has the responsibility of stewardship of the archaeological sites on their property. Surely from the point of view of preservation, archaeological outreach should be persuading them to reduce the amount of invasive interference, not encouraging it.  So where on the PAS website (or indeed English Heritage website) will the landowner find such a discussion?

This is rapidly becoming the main message that the press carries about archaeological finds of this type, the question of what it is and what it (really) means is skipped over in favour of telling the viewer/reader just how much richer they could be if they bought a metal detector and learnt how and where to use it and cash in on what they find (plenty of 'how-to' books in the UK on all three now). Another example is the channel TV report "Treasure island" (at 1:51)  with its litany of big-number values. This gives out entirely the wrong (archaeologically) message, but what reaction do we see from the UK archaeological world. Mainly a lot of subdued hand-wringing and eye-rolling that "metal detector sales are likely to go up further" and zero action. Action like calling for the country's biggest archaeological outreach programme to the general public to say something and say something loudly about this and joining in. Perhaps they are afraid of being labelled "trolls" by the PAS for mentioning the subject. Sticks and stones are surely of less importance though than what is right and what is wrong.

Detecting Under the Microscope: "without metal detectors, the coins would never have been found."

One "Addedomaros" from Buckingham, an individual who prefers not to give his real name but adopts the persona of a dead ruler, says takes his line from the PAS here at 11:48:
Yet again, that old sourpuss 'he who shall not be named' has condemned the finding of the hoard. Apparently it belongs to the people of Jersey, not the finders/landowner. As ever he misses the point that, without metal detectors, the coins would never have been found. Very easy to condemn from a 'foreigner' who can judge from afar. An Internet troll indeed! 
Yes, the archaeological heritage of the soil of Jersey (like the right to clean water and air there and a whole lot of other things) rightfully belong to the people of Jersey, not the two artefact hunters that deliberately set out to locate it and dig it up for the reward money. It is tekkie coin dealer "Addedomaros" who does not understand that from the point of view of archaeological conservation, the last thing anybody needs need right now is for a hoard as deeply buried as this (requiring a two box hoard seeker to find even as massive a concentration of metal as this) to be dug up. Not only does Jersey now need to find the "reward money" for these two but now needs to finance the conservation, documentation, archivisation, future display, security and insurance (and future continued policing of the findspot) of this find made by two guys working unasked on a known site.

Note the artefact hunter's assumption that his readers will accept that the find belongs to its "finders", rather than being part of the common heritage of the people of the area (and world archaeological heritage).

Nothing shows the utter failure of fifteen years of very expensive PAS "outreach" than the repetition of these same points by metal detectorists in the UK every time a find like this receives publicity. Somehow these artefact hunters (surprise surprise) have failed to be dissuaded from the point of view that archaeological conservation (the "Best Practice" which the PAS was set up to attempt to instil in these searchers) is all about using a metal detector to dig up as much of the archaeological heritage here and now rather than aim for preservation in situ of the unthreatened stuff. Indeed, for fifteen years through insistent propaganda about the "size of its database" (of depleted archaeological contexts) the PAS has strongly reinforced the view among artefact hunters and the general public that hoiking more and more stuff out of the ground is in some way archaeologicalm beneficial and laudable. It is neither.

The size of the whopping big hole, the 30 year search (and equipment reportedly used) to locate it shows that this Jersey Hoard (like many other big finds in the news recently, Frome Hoard for instance) are supreme examples of the sort of find that is not currently under any threat.

Let us note that the "Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting" (though only in "England and Wales") quite clearly speaks of artefact hunting only in disturbed contexts such as the ploughsoil. the photos show how much deeper than the ploughsoil the retrieved part of the Jersey Hoard currently lies. These coins were removed from archaeological layers well below the level of modern disturbance.

It seems to me that the time has long PASsed when the PAS should have explained quite a few things to their "partners" about "best practice" in artefact hunting and long-term management of the archaeological resource. If they can. And if they cannot, what on earth do we need a PAS for if its failing to do its job of archaeological outreach among the public, both artefact hunters and those they are taking the archaeological record from? 

What message does the PAS have - and is willing to give - the thousands of people who over the Daily Mail at the breakfast table and its story of another two who strike it rich are discussing this morning ordering a metal detector through the Internet for the weekend? "Out you go chaps, do some research, target a known site and bring us what loot you find to put up on the Internet"?

By the way, it is worth noting that Jersey is quite interesting as a place where comparatively large numbers of Celtic' coins have been found in the past without the use of metal detectors, in contradistinction to mainland England.

Vignette" Addybdominius tells it as he sees it. 

Third Le Catillon de Haut Hoard Found by Treasure Hunters?

Metal detecting and coiney forums are buzzing with the news that another hoard of Coriosolite and Roman coins has been found on the island of Jersey. It's a biggun, tens of thousands of coins and could be worth, speculation is rife, up to ten million pounds. The finders, veteran metal detectorists Reg Mead and Richard Miles had located the spot back in February and took out 61 (65?) coins at the time before calling the archaeologists in. Kudos for that at least. They however want to keep the findspot secret, because there might be more treasure in the ground there. The island's Minister of the Environment has already declared it protected as a site of 'archaeological potential' and plans to list it. So if he does it properly,  Messers Mead and Miles will not be going back there anyway.

Among all the jubilation and tekkie backslapping, some jabbering tekkies, taking a line from their PAS partner, reflect:
Interesting to see what the internet Trolls make of it. Ten million pounds - that will upset the Trolls who will squabble and wallow in their collective bitterness for months to come.

Personally, I think it is a triple scandal. Firstly, the financial problem for the people of Jersey. It's a shame the local authorities did not protect the site (see below) earlier. Now in order to keep a ten million pound Treasure on the island, instead of scattered on the international coin market, the island's 97,857 inhabitants will have to raise a lot of dosh to pay off the Treasure hunters and their accomplice the landowner. That means every man, woman and child on the island will have to pay them 102 quid each. A hundred quid a head to keep the heritage which is rightfully their from being sold off under their noses.

The finders want to keep it a secret, I suggest there is a second reason. I think they were targeting a known site. The local newspapers are not quite so conspiratorial as the national ones, one of them lets slip that "the biggest Celtic coin hoard of all time has been unearthed in the Parish of Grouville". That name should ring a bell for anyone knowing about the archaeology of the period. Look at this:
Metal detectorists Reg Mead and Richard Miles had been looking for the coins off and on for more than 30 years. In the early 1980s, an elderly lady told Mr Mead a story about buried coins being thrown up into the air when a tree was uprooted in the field 20 years earlier.
Other accounts talk of a 'potato sack' of coins recovered. It seems to me that such a find would not leave any other trace in local lore or the literature. In the parish of Grouville is  place called Le Catillon de Haut. Here was found a big hoard of coins in 1957, and another in 1959. Is this ['twenty' years before 1980] not the hoard the old lady told of (where many coins were left in the ground)? This would be why those two blokes kept coming back to search for the rest with their Rufus Jupitor and Whites TM808, a "two boxes hoard hunter". If you look at the "Sun" cornily-titled article ("Metal detector buffs strike gold with £10m Iron Age 'hedge fund', the fourth photo down shows a closeup of the edge of the hoard showing it had been deposited (in a sack?) in a bowl-shaped depression, but also showing a silver ring like had been found in the earlier Le Catillon hoard. I bet when the proper details do emerge (the archaeologists have to produce a report before their work is done) this new hoard will turn out to have been discovered very near indeed to the the known 1957 and 1959 Le Catillon finds.

So, if I am right, this is a spot where two big hoards had already been found. It is obvious artefact hunters are going to target such spots. Why are they (and a buffer zone) automatically not protected by law to make such searching subject to permits and conditions? It would save everyone a lot of bother and public money, quite apart from protecting the findspots from being ripped apart by treasure hunters with their two-box hoard hunters. And yes. I bet there is more here.

Let's have a look at the hole:

Well below plough level, isn't it?

The top of this hoard looks to be about a metre down.

The treasure hunters with their hoard hunter metal detectors have led to a complex group of artefacts being dug out from the archaeological layers below plough-damage level (at a depth of over a metre) in a hole about three metres square. Clearly a keyhole excavation rendering it impossible to fully understand the context of the deposition of these artefacts. How much the excavation has cost and the conservation and archivisation of the finds will cost is not stated, but however much that is, it is not enough. Targeting this known site by these two metal detectorists is going to cost a huge amount of money, money that need not have been spent to 'protect' these deeply-buried artefacts and their context. Metal detecting has not led here to the preservation of an archaeological context, but the hasty and ill-resourced exploration of one. 

Meanwhile several metal detector owners have, I expect, spent the day looking at Google Earth, they've found that hedgerow and the little bungalow without the dormer windows with the white caravan outside it seen in the background of the photos of the 'secret' location and they'll be watching for their opportunity to get out there when the fuss dies down to have a go at finding more.  Watch out for even more units of the Coriosolites "surfacing" on the market any day now...

Photos: Top BBC, bottom Daily Mail

The Law on Archaeological Finds in Jersey

The 1996 Treasure Act does not apply to the Bailiwick of Jersey. Here (as in Scotland and the Isle of Man) the law of Treasure Trove still applies, which allows the Crown to claim an item of value
whose owner cannot be traced. You need a permit to go metal detecting on Crown or common land.  Oxford Archaeological Unit's Nighthawking survey gives the following information:

3.1.8 Jersey’s Treasure law is based on ancient customary law (Article XVIII Grand Coutumier and Article 211 of the Coutume Reformée). Treasure Trove is gold or silver which is found hidden or buried in some place where it has been so long that it has been forgotten. Treasure Trove objects belongs to the Crown. One of the essential elements of Treasure Trove is that it must have been deliberately hidden or buried by the owner. Objects which have been lost or casually abandoned cannot be Treasure Trove though they may be claimed by the Crown as chose gaives (things not been appropriated to the use of man which have been found and are not claimed by anyone). Wreck, flotsam and jetsam also belong to the Crown. These are objects on the beach washed up by the tide or are in the sea so close to shore that they could be ‘touched with the tip of a lance by a man on horseback’. The Land Planning and Development (Special Controls) Ordinance (2006) in Jersey requires that any person who finds an object that:
 • is of archaeological and historical significance at a protected monument or in its vicinity
 • or is made elsewhere and is likely to be material in determining whether any monument, structure, artefact, cave, ruins or remains become a protected monument
 • or any site that is designated as a site of special significance 
- shall inform the Department in writing, within 28 days of making the find, of the nature of the object and the precise place at which it was found and provide all information required. Failure to report such a find is an offence.
So basically in itself affording no protection whatsoever to sites where hoards of valuable archaeological artefacts have already been found from being targeted by reward-seeking treasure hunters.

See also here: Detecting in Jersey

Monday 25 June 2012

Detecting Under the Microscope: Dealing with the Issues Responsibly

Jonathan Owen, while writing an article about the TV series "Britain's Secret Treasures" contacted the British Museum about its planned involvement. He reports that they "dismissed concerns about the TV series".
"The museum has made it clear that its co-operation is dependent on the issues involved in the discovery of objects by the public – especially metal detectorists – being dealt with in a responsible way," it said.
Now the British Museum and its Portable Antiquities Scheme do very little else but treat any concerns about their activities with offhand dismissal. After all, why would  Bloomsbury care about such things? Archaeologists who raise concerns are labelled "trolls" by those working in the belly of the BeheMoth. 

A question which their brief statement arouses however is what does the PAS understand by the clause: "the issues involved in the discovery of objects by metal detectorists being dealt with in a responsible way"? The archaeologically responsible way to treat artefact hunting and collecting in any one country is surely to see it in the context of artefact hunting and collecting (and trade) as a global phenomenon, and in terms of the damage it does to the finite and fragile archaeological record. Somehow I do not think this really is the way the artefact-hunting and collecting "partners"of the PAS and those involved in the trade in Britain would like those "issues" being dealt with.

Furthermore, I suspect this is an issue the PAS itself would rather dodge. Let us note how the BM uses the word "discovery", shifting attention one step removed from the real issue, which is not only the searching, but the digging up and removal for personal entertainment and profit of the "objects" (components of archaeological evidence). Of course on top of all that, the real "secret" treasures are the tens of thousands of artefacts dug out of tens of thousands of holes dug in tens of thousands of archaeological findspots which never make it into the public record. Most of them probably end up getting thrown away, or surface anonymously on the antiquities market. 

Jonathan Owen, 'Anger as TV show endorses metal-detecting 'plunderers'...', Independent 3 April 2011 

Revisiting Stealing the Past

ARCA on their blog have a link to and brief discussion of a 2011 video "Stealing the Past"   co-produced by; One Planet Pictures; and the Swiss Confederation.
 This English language documentary is intended to create public awareness about the illicit trafficking of cultural property worldwide. This program spotlights Italy, Colombia and the United Kingdom to see ‘what police, museums and auction houses are doing to tackle’ looting of heritage. 
Sadly the video starts with Gihane Zaki (Director General for International Cooperation at the Supreme Council of Antiquities) "talking about how people 'rallied' to protect the collection of the Museum of Antiquities in Cairo during the Arab Spring Uprising in early 2011". As I have pointed out earlier, this story is most likely apocryphal, what actually happened that night is still wholly unclear (and it seems unlikely that there will be a proper parliamentary investigation to sort out fact from fiction soon). Also how can the video claim "the Museum reported only 18 items stolen" when the number of those know to be missing was higher at the time the video was made?

It gets worse though. At the end the video goes on and on about "amateur treasure hunting" in the UK and the wonderful PAS. Andrew Richardson (Canterbury Archaeological Trust) tells the cameras that the reports of big Treasure finds get people into artefact hunting "for the wrong reasons" - without explaining what the "right reasons" are for stripping an archaeological site of metallic artefacts to add to a personal collection.  Chief Superintendent Mark Harrison, Kent Police talks about fighting blatant examples of "nighthawks", while Maurice Worsley (Kent Amateur Metal Detecting Support Unit) says archaeologists "appreciate what we are doing".  Richardson admits that Britain has the most relaxed (that's putting it mildly) laws on artefact hunting and collecting, "but we have gained an awful lotta infermation from that which other countries have not got" he says. He says that the PAS database was a resource of knowledge he would "be very loathe to see us lose". Then the old trope:
What is really annoying and frustrating is this tiny minority of illegal detectorists are actually hugely damaging to the hobby that they purport (sic) to be part of..."

... the professional echoing the comments of the guffawing bloke with the headphones. This ignores totally the fact that what is being damaged with inadequate records (in both cases) are the pieces of the finite and fragile  archaeological record which are being treated as mines for collectables for personal entertainment and profit by both illegal and 'legal' artefact hunting. That is what is damaging. As the commentator (Sara Powell) points out:
One big challenge for the Alliance to Reduce Crime Against Heritage is to convince the justice system (sic) and the public at large to take a harder line...
against what and for what reason? Persuade them that archaeologically speaking it's OK to trash the archaeological record if the farmer agrees - perhaps for a split of the profit, but not heritage-wise OK only if the farmer says 'no'? How are you going to justify that?  I must admit I have not yet located the bit of the PAS website explaining (as part of their archaeological outreach to the public) how a farmer's "yes, all right, but fifty-fifty on anyfink you flog off" makes a piece of the nation's archaeological heritage, information about the past, a bit of non-heritage. Can someone point us to it?

Dr Richardson says its just "some nighthawks" who portray their activity as: "not hurtin' anybody, nobody else to find it". That is not true, the same thing is said by all who use metal detectors to search productive sites for objects to add to their personal collections. So by extension the next bit of what he says applies equally to similar claims made by those stripping artefacts out of sites legally:
they are totally wrong, actually the victims are everybody, you know, because it is part of our collective, global  heritage. 
Yes and some in the global community really have enormous difficulty understanding why archaeologists see the issue of artefact hunting wearing such blinkers. In terms of archaeological heritage preservation, the problem is not those that do it illegally, but that archaeologists in countries like  Britain seem less than bothered that they have a legal system which utterly fails to prevent the trashing of hundreds of thousands of sites by artefact hunters day after day. 

The film ends with  Irena Bokova, UNESCO Director General, going on about there being "political will" in the governments of countries to fight the problems of the antiquities trade and its damaging effects on the archaeological record and cultural heritage of the world... not in the UK there ain't.

Catherine Schofield Sezgin, 'UNESCO promotes public awareness of illicit trafficking of cultural property with 2011 Documentary "Stealing the Past"...', ARCA Blog June 20, 2012

UK Government to Tackle Problem of 'Culture of Entitlement'

UK Prime Minister David Cameron launched today a scathing attack on what he calls the "culture of entitlement" in the British welfare system, indicating a damaging and divisive gap in Britain between those who contribute to society and those currently enjoying privileges inside the welfare system who have "learnt to work the system". He suggests that "it is time we asked some serious questions about the signals we send out through the benefits system".
"Those within it grow up with a series of expectations: you can have a home of your own, the state will support you whatever decisions you make, you will always be able to take out no matter what you put in. This has sent out some incredibly damaging signals. That it pays not to work. That you are owed something for nothing. It gave us millions of working-age people sitting at home on benefits even before the recession hit. It created a culture of entitlement. And it has led to huge resentment amongst those who pay into the system, because they feel that what they're having to work hard for, others are getting without having to put in the effort."

 If these reforms are introduced, it will be interesting to see what effects this will have on the frequency some people of working age currently are apparently able in the UK to go out metal detecting instead of looking for a job. Metal detecting is the epitome of a "culture of entitlement", and through the PAS and Treasure Awards costing the British public purse millions. Perhaps the PAS would like to tell the government just how many of its "partners" include those living long term in the welfare system.

Patrick Wintour and Hélène Mulholland, 'Cameron announces Tory plan to slash benefits' The Guardian, Monday 25 June 2012

Detecting Under the Microscope: Detecting For Every Metal

"Steve, I won't use his surname because he's a metal detectorist" wrote to the local radio station about something he's up in arms about. he got an interview, just after the xenophobe: Listen here 1'50:18
"cos we're metal detecting fer evry me'al, we don't wanta dig the iron, we only want t' dig the - like - nonferrus items ...". 
[ironic script on] Of course iron was NEVER used to make any objects whatsoever in the ancient world, so not collecting information about the iron objects in a site is not losing any archaeological information at all is it? The PAS record will be a full and accurate record of what was in each and every archaeological site searched by their partners [ironic script off].

I'll be talking about the campaign by metal detectorists to "ban green waste" in their search areas later no doubt.

Sunday 24 June 2012

Mobile Antiquities TV Show?

Meanwhile we hear of the various professionals working behind the scenes to bring artefact digging and Treasure hunting to the small screen in Britain, among them one of the writers:
DAVID SYMONDS Experienced Senior Producer, Director and Writer of factual programmes and documentaries [...] SENIOR PRODUCER - ITV Studios 'Britain's Secret Treasures' - Produced, Directed and Wrote Pilot episode for 60 minute prime time series about the British Museum Mobiles Antiquities Scheme presented by Michael Buerk and Bettany Hughes. 
Nice to know the promotion of artefact hunting on the archaeological sites of the UK is in the hands of such knowledgeable people. Is that as in mobile homes, trailer-park archaeology? Of course the 'Mobile Antiquities Scheme' has a database - the MAD.

Detecting under the Microscope: RESCUE makes a statement

Over a year ago the Trust for British Archaeology made a strong statement about the involvement of the British Museum in the production of a television programme ("Britain's Secret Treasures") coming to a small screen near you in just a few weeks [reportedly mid-July] and which will take as its focus the activities of artefact hunters and metal detector users. Let me remind readers what they said:

RESCUE has grave concerns that the apparent endorsement of this destructive activity by a body such as the British Museum will do nothing to lessen its impact on our buried archaeological heritage  [...] There is ample evidence of the damage done to archaeological sites by artefact hunters operating both with and without the consent of landowners [...] Even when the object is not a ‘fast buck’ obtained through the agency of on-line auction sites or the less than reputable end of the antiquities trade, the accumulation of private collections of objects ripped from their archaeological context is of little or no value in archaeological terms. We are, frankly, astonished, that the British Museum is prepared to lend its considerable weight to the furtherance of activities of archaic concept and damaging to the practice of modern archaeology. We urge the British Museum to break off negotiations with the television production company involved and to issue a strong condemnation of the practice of artefact hunting at the earliest opportunity.
That was written and sent to the British Museum well over a year ago. Not only did the BM not "break off" its contacts with the TV company, it has failed to come up with any kind of public outreach comment on artefact hunting, except to call those that do it "our partners" and those that question such practices "trolls".

Let us hope that the  broadcasting of this series will lead to some public debate about just what it is that artefact hunters and collectors are up to and why the PAS and the British heritage community cannot face up to their responsibilities to tell the public like it is. The public whose heritage is being ripped away in front of their noses while the archaeologists look on and applaud and seek some reflected glory.

RESCUE: 'British Museum to endorse TV treasure hunting programme?' (February 20, 2011)

UK Government promotes egg collecting for profit!

Heritage Action has a post on the utilisation of the Portable Antiquities Scheme to promote an upcoming sale:
Anyone that is indignant or incredulous that their taxes are being used to promote the seeking of national assets for personal gain and the positive encouragement of such a desperately crass, low-brow, uncultured, anti-society process should read this.
Now Government promotes egg collecting for profit! 24/06/2012 

I think the idea is that any organization with even a smidgen of respect for public opinion would normally demonstrate that by explaining where the difference between collecting items ripped from a finite and fragile resource differs from the collecting of something else from a fragile and finite resource. I doubt though that the PAS will be addressing the question. They obviously think it is enough to complain that they are the subject of "inaccurate" blog posts by "trolls" and think that solves the problem, and carry on as before.

"Partners' Best Find of the year 2012" competition anyone? An albino Osprey egg? Beautiful plumage, the albino Osprey.

Saturday 23 June 2012

PAS Judge Partner's Coin "Nation's Third Best Find", Now it's Up For Auction

This is like some bad joke. A coin dug up on an archaeological site in a field in Bedfordshire by an artefact hunter was awarded third place in "The Nation’s Greatest Find 2010" competition but is now one of the star lots in a London auction of ancient and world coins and medals.
The coin, a silver miliarensis from the reign of the Roman emperor Constantius II (AD 337-361 [...] is expected to sell for £600-800 in the auction, which is organised by specialist auctioneers Morton & Eden in association with Sotheby’s. [...] The competition, which took place at the government’s Department of Portable Antiquities and Treasure, is organised annually by The Searcher, a specialist magazine for detectorists and treasure hunters. Culture Minister Ed Vaizey paid a visit during the judging. 
The man who found it has "asked not to be named". Not surprising really, they're supposedly "only in it fer th' 'istry mate" so when another breaks ranks and sells his own link with his past to a stranger, he'd probably want to remain anonymous. I'll call him Baz Thugwit. Bazza says "Despite its age, it was in remarkably good condition and none the worse for being in the ground for so long”. So much for the dealers' glib suggestion that all the coins worth collecting are from hoards, while single site finds are never in a collectable state.
Discovered on the same secret Bedfordshire site was a gold solidus from the reign of the emperor Honorius (AD 393-423) [...] The coin is estimated at £300-350. A gold stater from the reign of the late Iron Age Celtic ruler Addedomaros (c. 45-25 B.C.) found on the same site by another detectorist is estimated at £700-900. [...]  All three coins were reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme, as required by law, and the money raised by their sale will be divided between the respective finders and the landowner. 
Hmm, maybe all three were "reported", but if they were, it is notable that only one of them (BM-45DD17  from "Bletsoe")  is found by searching the database.  And of course, unless we are not being told of a hoard, Messers Morton and Eaton who wrote the article for the coiney magazine in which this story appeared should by now jolly well know that reporting is not by any means "required by law". On the other hand, since they are coin dealers, perhaps it would be expecting a little too much to assume they know the law about archaeological finds in different countries. Anyway, you can buy Mr Thugwit's piece of the past if so desirous at the Sotheby’s auction of "Ancient, Islamic, British and World Coins and Medals", July 3-4 2012. Or you could give it a miss and instead pen a letter to the Portable Antiquities Scheme to ask them what they think about this and what they think they are up to getting involved with sellers like Mr Thugwit and Mr Sykes-Luter who found the Addedomarus artefact.

Source: , 'Ancient Coins Found by Metal Detectorists in Bedfor[d]shire Star in London Auction', Coin Week June 22, 2012

Vignette: The archaeological sites of Bedfordshire: within convenient travelling distance from the London auction houses and PAS competitions.  

Coiney Heritage in Old Disputes

A reader has sent me a link to an old Forbes' Magazine text about Heritage Auctions ('2005 Collectors Guide: Top Drawer' by Christopher Helman, 12.27.04) which might be thought to place the recent 'dinosaur auction' in some context:
Jim Halperin is the leading rare coin dealer in America [...] Halperin, 52, is also probably the most controversial professional numismatist of all time. He has had brushes with postal inspectors, the Federal Trade Commission and coin dealers who have sued him for, among other things, sticking them with inflated prices. But then this is a profession that attracts controversy. With an estimated 130,000 U.S. collectors trading $5 billion worth of coins a year, the opportunity for mischief is considerable. 
The text however is mostly about that perennial US coin collectors' obsession - one-upmanship in grading. Worth a read though.
 Hat-tip to anonymous reader-guy over-there, thanks

Objects "Better off in US Museums"?

Carmen Tisch, former drug addict who took bath salts, was caught on surveillance video walking into the Clyfford Still Museum in Denver, Colorado, hitting and scratching a $30 million painting and then leaning up against it and urinating. Video grabs show her with the painting, discussing the incident and showing a tattoo of her daughter on her leg that she says helps keep her sober nowadays. Collectors and dealers over in loot-hungry USA never tire of telling us how much better it would be for the world's artefacts if they could be stored in US collections, no matter how they get there. The argument is falsified by the number of cases where items go missing from US collections, including the story of the Polish Museum of America last week and others I have discussed on this blog. Then we have the events last December in the Clyfford Still Museum in Denver (Ryan Gorman, 'Denver woman says she urinated on $30 million painting during bath salt bender' New York Daily Times, Friday, June 22, 2012). ...

Another UK Museum Theft

Taking Treasures from UK museums seems to be pretty easy these days ('Thieves snatch Spanish galleon treasure from Scottish museum', Daily Record June 23, 2012). Pieces of Eight salvaged from the wreck of the San Juan De Sicilia, which exploded in Tobermory Bay, Isle of Mull in 1588 have been stolen from a Scottish museum.
Museum curator Peter Siddall said: “The theft happened during opening hours and there’s no sign of force entry.” It’s thought a man distracted staff while the thief struck last Tuesday.

Friday 22 June 2012

Photograph of the Damaged Merenptah Stela

The initial accounts did not make the damage sound too bad, but this is appalling (from Kate Phizackerly's "News from the Valley of the Kings" (sic):
Photograph of the Damaged Merenptah Stela
Posted by Kate Phizackerley on Friday, June 22, 2012
Many of us fear that reports out of Egypt might be downplaying damage to sites. That certainly seems to be the case with the Merenptah Stela at Gebel Silsileh. There's a photo of the damage on Egyptological. This is certainly an important photo so please bring it to the attention of your contacts. Reminder: please do not repost the photo without permission.
OK. The saw cuts around the edges of the stela seen in those photos were there before the recent damage (anyone like to tell me who was responsible?). What clearly has happened here is that a botched attempt was made to remove just the inscription at the bottom by hacking an alcove out above it (destroying the lower third of the figures of king and god, perhaps as Muslims they were not so bothered about destroying the image but saw an opportunity to make money by detaching some 'writings'). Presumably after making a deeper alcove they were intending to detach the outcropping block of stone beneath it by a blow from the top. And to think very probably somebody WOULD in the end have bought this - no questions asked - if they'd succeeded in getting it out. But actually looking at what they were doing and had gone about it, I doubt very much if they'd have got anything saleable at all from this wild hacking. Silsileh sandstone is variable in quality, from the "Egyptological" photos this does not look like the most coherent of the beds.

The stela and the damage around its edge are seen in the centre of this Wikipedia photo. The stela is (I would guess) about 1.3 x 0.5 m and its surviving lower edge is about head-height.  

Toledo Art Museum Finally Surrenders Pot

There are several versions of the story that this week Toledo Art Museum has - rather gracelessly - given a smuggled pot back to Italy. The pot was bought from Gianfranco and Ursula Becchina for $90,000 by the late museum curator Kurt Luckner in 1982 but it had been smuggled from Italy to Switzerland and it turns out that it figures in the Medici archive. Efforts to get the Museum to acknowledge the implications of that go back to the 1990s.

Tahree Lane, 'Toledo art museum to give back rare jug', Toledo Blade 20th June 2012 has a fairly detailed account. The pot came with a forged collecting history:
[the] documentation was stunningly scant: a photocopy of two paragraphs typed in German on hotel stationery by the Swiss hotel's owner, stating he had owned it since 1935. A 1939 Italian law said all archeological finds after 1939 are property of Italy. [...] Decades later, Mrs. Becchina would admit that she and her husband forged documents and that he bought antiquities from Italian diggers and others.

Brian Kennedy, museum director seems less than pleased, he is quoted as moaning: "A museum must prove its innocence, he said, but Immigration and Customs Enforcement needs only to provide "probable cause" before seizing an object". Indeed, museums must prove their innocence not just before US authorities, but the viewing public. Are they not just storehouses of looted trophies? Let us remember the attitudes that surround their acquisition, the Art Museum boasts that the purchase of this pot "was a coup for Toledo because the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York had also wanted it". Disgustingly:
Mr. Kennedy [...] noted such cases raise questions: Should people be able to see Italian antiquities only in Italy? Should a one-of-a kind object in Toledo be returned to a country that has numerous similar objects? Should there be an end-date to repatriations? And should Immigration and Customs Enforcement be permitted to seize items from American museums for probable cause?  
I would say the answer to the museum curator's rhetorical questions is stop buying and harbouring stolen artefacts and stop moaning when you are caught out having done so.

He seems genuinely surprised that nobody was interested in coming to some kind of a "settlement" over the fact his museum had bought a smuggled pot of unclear origin and wanted to hang onto it even after that had been demonstrated. 

The Courthouse news Service (Brian Grosh, 'Uncle Sam Seizes Etruscan Vase From Museum' / retitled: 'Italy to Welcome Home Stolen Etruscan Vase', CNS Friday, June 22, 2012) has a different slant on the whole affair citing a federal complaint against "One Etruscan Black-Figured Kalpis, Circa 510-500 B.C." and a press statement by U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach referring to the collaboration of the museum and its willingness to see the object goes back to those from whom it was stolen. Grosh notes the attitude of the Museum:
The "collaboration" and "willingness" Dettelbach mentioned were not echoed by the museum's director, Brian Kennedy, who told the Toledo Blade that Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents ignored requests for additional proof and repeatedly threatened to seize the artifact if it wasn't simply handed over. According to the Blade, Kennedy likened encounter to a drug bust. 

It is interesting to note the wording of the DoJ press release, a point not often made about the passage of objects through the international art trade, Brian M. Moskowitz, special agent in charge of ICE HSI in Michigan and Ohio states that the outcome of this case:
establishes the true provenance of the kalpis and reconnects this valuable artifact to its rightful cultural origin and history.
David Gill notes the wider implications of the affair: 'Toledo to return Etruscan hydria' and 'Toledo and implications for other collections'. The antiquities trade lobbobloggers do not mention this case.

Thursday 21 June 2012

Polish Museum of America Gets Stolen Artefacts Back : No Charges Brought

It is a rare occasion I have to write of the positive role of a US ancient coin dealer, and especially that it is archaeologist-hating Harlan Berk for his part in getting stolen artefacts back to a museum:
The FBI announced Wednesday that they have returned more than 120 important historical artifacts and documents that were stolen decades ago from the Polish Museum of America (PMA). [...] At some point during the 1970s or 1980s, important objects began to disappear. It was done sneakily enough and the collection is large enough that nobody even guessed they were gone until years later. 
Ahem...  what's that American collectors keep saying about foreign museums?
In later summer of 2011, unnamed youths came to [Berk's] store bearing documents filled with Polish names and the signatures of Founding Fathers. They claimed they had found the items in the basement of the house they were renting and that they had many more items to sell. Berk purchased the letters and the sellers came back several times with more impressive artifacts. In a break from the see-no-evil way so many antiquities dealers operate, Berk did his own research to figure out what these documents were and where they came from. 
Jolly good, eh? Of course if they'd just been untraceable coins or Greek pots, there would not be such a need as before you try to sell items in your stock which are "documents bearing the signatures of the founding fathers" brought in by unnamed boys. But... he actually BOUGHT the first batch of documents which somebody admitted were taken from among the things in the basement of somebody else's property? Eh? That's stealing. If my tenants were selling the copper pipes from the bathroom and sold the new washing machine and the bedroom carpet (Persian handmade) from the house I rent them, they'd find themselves up before a magistrate pretty damn quick. As would the person who'd bought them knowing where they came from. Obviously things don't work like that in Chicago. Eventually however the FBI "stepped in", they then:
discovered that the house [the sellers] were renting was owned by the mother of a former curator at the PMA. The identities of the curator and his or her mother have not been released. 
No criminal charges will be filed, neither for the former curator for continued possession (Cf National Stolen Property Act) of stolen goods, nor the thieving tenants, not even for transportation, sale or possession of stolen goods, or failing to report a crime. Nor the Polish Museum of America for not looking after the items that presumably for the most part were the result of donations for people who trusted it to look after them properly.

Source: The History Blog, 'Polish Museum of America gets stolen artifacts back', June 21st, 2012.

UPDATE Friday 22ndJune 2012:
Meanwhile over here in Poland, people are asking just what Polish material this "museum" had and lost without even knowing it, and how and when it left Poland (vesting legislation going back to 1928). The case is linked with the retention by the US of the Auschwitz barrack loan.

Vignette: "Polak mądry po szkodzie" - perhaps time to update the catalogues and monitoring systems over there? 
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