Tuesday 31 July 2012

Americans Just Love Smuggled Antiquities

In criticising the Texas CBP authorities for their lapse stopping two Egyptian sarcophagi being imported into the US disguised as "sculptures" under non-existent legal authority (Egyptian Coffins Successfully Detected and Recovered by Customs in Texas - Question of Proper Seizure Authority Remains), Rick St Hilaire draws attention to a recent similar case :
Last year, CBP authorities in Chicago misapplied the law in a case where officers seized a Nayarit figurine from Mexico.  The seizure was reportedly made on the basis of a violation of the CPIA because it was presumed that the United States and Mexico had a bilateral agreement in force under the CPIA.  But the U.S. and Mexico did not (and still do not) have such an agreement in place.

So basically - since there are so few MOUs - its perfectly legal to openly import into US and put on the US antiquities market ancient artefacts smuggled out most of the following 206 countries:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_sovereign_states with the exception of the fourteen on this list, when to keep the US antiquities market supplied, you have to mislabel the package and do some dodgy documentation with a very good chance you will not get caught out. It is believed that certain antiquity importers have been doing it for years. To judge from the utter paucity of mentions in sales offers of dealer after dealer in the US of the existence documentation of legal export from the 'source countries' (let alone licit origins) of dugup antiquities, it seems a fair assumption that the majority of artefacts on the US market have arrived there without once having been through the appropriate export procedures on their way there

When are responsible collectors in the US going to demand the market cleans itself up, and lawmakers make laws which protect the US consumer from being faced with a market which is in fact full of tainted goods? Are there any responsible collectors in the US who want this? If so, where are their voices?

Questions About Laredo Seizure

Today Rick St Hilaire lays into US Homeland Security's U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials.  One of their officers at the "World Trade Bridge" on the border with Mexico in Laredo, Texas discovered and seized two ancient Egyptian coffins being imported into the US through Mexico. One was a sarcophagus "with a wooden mask with glass eyes" and the other had "a standing lady of painted stucco over linen' (eh?), and the exporter had labelled the package "Egyptian sculptures".  According to the enthusiastic CBP press release:
CBP on July 9 determined that the artifacts would be seized due to a lack of export documentation to substantiate legal exportation of the artifacts from Egypt. [...]  Proper export documentation from the Egyptian government is required to transport the artifacts out of their country of origin. “This seizure reflects good collaborative work between CBP , import specialists and HSI to ensure enforcement of U.S. law and international conventions protecting cultural property,” said Jose Uribe, CBP Assistant Port Director, Laredo Port of Entry. [...] Egypt is one of the signatories to a 1970 General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. Through the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act, the United States entered into a cultural property agreement with the Egyptian government to help protect archaeological and ethnological materials through import controls.
No mention is found in the press release of any arrests being made and the exporters and importers were not identified. If you Google Earth this border crossing point (27.597291°N 99.537119°W) and look at the shambles it represents, one might wonder just how anything at all gets detected there. What a mess.

St Hilaire however points out  (Egyptian Coffins Successfully Detected and Recovered by Customs in Texas - Question of Proper Seizure Authority Remains): "Meanwhile, the suggested legal authority for seizing the coffins appears questionable". The lack of Egyptian export permits, he states, does not have any meaning whatsoever for the this signatory of the 1970 UNESCO Convention and its Article 3 because "the United States is unable to enforce a foreign nation's export laws [...] The United States and Egypt, however, do not have a bilateral agreement or Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) pursuant to the Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA)". I wonder if the importer is reading his blog? In other words the CCPIA  does not actually "implement" the Convention. Instead, in its present form it is is a cynical example of US hypocrisy, exhibiting the derogatory attitudes of its lawmakers and citizens towards the rest of us. St Hilaire even begins to sound like a certain dealers' lobbyist here:
CBP is to be commended for its detection and interdiction of the contraband Egyptian coffins. Yet it is important that the agency accurately cite the proper legal authority for the seizure of the artifacts. That is because the public relies on government officials for guidance in order to remain compliant with federal law and to avoid the potential loss of property
The public buying antiquities which originate in the archaeological record of other countries - if not a strict code of ethics - should surely be basing their decisions on a bit more than CBP press releases - like actually knowing themselves what the relevant laws concerning that activity in fact say.  

Detecting Under the Microscope: And The "Real Issues" Are?

There does seem to be emerging evidence that metal detector use damages the cognitive processes. Over on a UK forum is a comment on this blog (by one pseudonymous "geoman" - Sun Jul 29, 2012 5:56 pm) which reinforces my conviction that metal detector users over there have difficulty in reading plain n English and joining up facts and ideas. He writes:
I see that the Warsaw Windbag is giving this post [he actually means the thread "Re: What do Saxon Buriel Ground lumps look like please" discussed here] his Internet Troll treatment - i expect he has very little to entertain him these days so its back to PAS knocking mode and of course detectorists. Bet his buddy Swifty will be chipping in a comment so his post is not another nil comment one as seems to be the norm for him. When you read this Paul why not start attacking the real issues such as the destruction of archaeology in the Syrian civil war, the problems in Mali where certain fundamentalist groups are busy blowing up ancient monuments and for some real daring action the illict excavations/looting of artefacts funded by the Mafia in Italy ? Bet he takes the easy route and avoids these real issues. 
On the contrary, anyone with more than a passing familiarity with this blog will see ample attention paid to the activities of organized criminal groups, not only in Italy and Sicily, in the trade which is associated with antiquity collecting - the same antiquity collecting to which I relate metal detector use. That Geoman cannot be bothered to read it does not mean it is not here for others to find.

This pseudonymous "Geoman" refers to the question of Mali that was in the news recently and asks why it is not on my blog. [Before I answer that, I'll point out that I cannot say I have seen floods of ink spilt over this problem on metal detecting forums ("all passinitely intrestid in ther past") or PAS webpage either.] Geoman apparently has not noticed the big orange and white letters across the top of this blog. They spell out (to those that can put them in the right sequence in their head) that this blog is primarily about "Portable Antiquity Collecting Issues". The Mali news items referred to the destruction of above-ground tombs and mausolea. These are not portable antiquities. I really cannot cover every single heritage-in-danger story from all over the world, that is not my aim, and nor do I have the time and resources. I concentrate on those stories that present a picture (as full as possible is my aim) of the issues I see in PORTABLE ANTIQUITIES COLLECTING. This is my blog, my view. In the sidebar on the left however there are links to other blogs and web resources on related issues. They are there not as decoration but with the intent of facilitating access for people who want to look into the related issues in any detail (so not barely literate UK metal detector wavers on the whole). You'll not find such links on any UK metal detectorist's webpage or forum. I am sure there are references to the news stories on pickaxing of tombs there for those who need to see it discussed. When they start digging up antiquities that start appearing on the dealers' webpages or being flogged off alongside metal detected finds, then you'll probably hear lots about that from this blog.

Syria is a problem. Getting reliable information is very difficult. Last night I actually had dinner with the director of the Polish mission responsible among other things for the work of our team out there and he is very frustrated by the lack of information about the state of the site, the storerooms, and the local people with whom they had built up such a close working relationship. Believe me if there was any reliable information from Syria about portable antiquity looting that I could report from first hand sources, Geoman could read all about it here. At the moment most of the stories are very vague and ambiguous. There is information being published on the internet (including an active activist Facebook page) and Geoman obviously missed my post earlier on in the war about it. The issue of Syrian antiquities currently on sale as this war developed has been raised here more than once. Geoman is obviously not bothered enough about checking his facts to note them. Obviously for those who find reading words laborious, it is easier to say what is allegedly "not" here than check to see whether that is true. Who then is the "windbag"? I have a problem with some of the reports currently coming out of the country in that they seem to be in part engineered to influence public opinion about one or the other side, and it is unclear what actually is true. PhDiva had the same problem about a video showing "looting at Palmyra" (where the Poles dig)  which might be real or might be staged. I am more inclined to see it as fake. When I know something with any degree of certainty about Syria I will write about it, but getting reliable information is still a problem.

In some way Geoman would like his readers to believe that a metal detectorist taking a spade to what might be ancient earthworks with absolutely no idea what he is doing is somehow not a "real issue" like what is happening in Mali, Syria and Italy. I think it is. I think it -like the PAS -  is part of the same phenomenon. Those who would like us to believe otherwise are the ones avoiding the real issues.

As for "comments" - the Geoman  is welcome to enter his objections to what I write under my post so that readers of my blog can see what he suggests is the other side of the story. That goes for any of his fellow metal detectorists that can present an argument and keep a civil tongue in their head. the fact that they (obviously) hold other opinions but hope if they refrain from voicing them, the problem will somehow go away (somebody else will deal with it for them?) speaks volumes about the depth of their convictions.

 UPDATE 5.08.12:
the link now goes (at this end at least) to : "The requested topic does not exist"

Monday 30 July 2012

Cultural Heritage Lawyer Examines US Antiquities Smuggling

Rick St Hilaire has an interesting post detailing some aspects of how Subhash Kapoor got loads of antiquities into the US without anybody taking much notice ('Unveiling the Import and Export of Trafficked Heritage: The Kapoor/Art of the Past Case Examined', Monday, July 30, 2012). His point is that:
Examining the import and export methods surrounding the Kapoor case [...] can help policymakers, criminologists, and scholars think about better ways to detect, uncover, interdict, and prosecute future crimes of heritage trafficking. 
Above all there has to be a will and sense of urgency. This I do not really see, even from this case. As a result of his researching this case, St Hilaire has managed to find details of the initial February 2007 shipment (antiquities described as "garden furniture")  that aroused suspicions, and presents all the details, name of the exporter, importer, shipping company and vessel. What we do not learn is what action was taken by the US authorities at the time against that shipment. Did 1400 kg of (allegedly) dodgy antiquities end up on open sale in the Madison Avenue shop despite the early warning? Where are the 2007 antiquities now? Impounded in a government warehouse waiting for repatriation? If they were seized and proceedings started against the importer, how come the latter, by all accounts, continued import of such items by analogous means? Why when the US authorities intercepted a bunch of antiquities imported under falsified documentation, was the Madison Avenue gallery "Art of the Past" not raided then?

Theflow  of such items continued for another two years, involving a guy called Packia Kumar who ran a company called Ever Star (or Everstar) International Services who exported antiquities camouflaged among copies (it would be interesting to know what the US importer did with those copies). The export papers falsely stated that all the statues in the consignment were recently manufactured as "artistic handicraft products". From ICE press releases relating to seizures of "dozens of antiquities" (some pretty massive) made from January 2012, St Hilaire lists: "the types of cultural objects that made their way to Kapoor in the United States, which went undetected by customs officials at the border". The list is quite an eye-opener.

When Mr Kumar was arrested back in India, did the flow of antiquities stop? Or did Kapoor find (on one of his many trips to the Far East) other methods of trafficking these items? Where does the Singapore episode fit in to the story? What about the shipments through Hong Kong? Were they all organized by Kumar, or were other export companies involved too?  What was Kapoor's connection with Europe?

Kapoor is treated by all the jubilant press releases by the US authorities as some kind of "kingpin" - though without presenting any evidence supporting that claim. The implication is the arrest of this single guy by the ever-vigilant (ha ha) ICE will have severely damaged the smuggling of Southeast Asian antiquities into the US. The less Disneylandish interpretation is that - given the quantity of similar artefacts of unclear provenance on sale through US dealers at present - there are probably a considerable number of individuals with nice little personal business arrangements which are slipping through all sorts of antiquities, major and minor (like coins) through the barrier of bubbles that is the US customs "system". A system which when notified in February 2007 apparently failed to prevent the continuation of the alleged smuggling by this one guy and his accomplices (and open sale of such items to collectors and museums, possibly also other dealers) before actually doing something about it over FIVE YEARS later (even though their counterparts elsewhere were taking more effective action well before that). The US dropped the ball on this one (and how many others?) and the constant flow of, mostly repetitive, "good news" press releases we are currently seeing clogging the Internet seems engineered to hide the fact that in this case the US system took an inordinate amount of time to react (and again, one wonders just to what degree this case would have been prioritised had Kapoor not been arrested in Europe).

Vignette: The US border, a barrier of bubbles for antiquities, and what else?

Archeologist James Mellaart passes away

Archeologist James Mellaart investigator of ancient Anatolia passed away on Sunday. Born in 1925 in London, Mellaart worked at the British Institute of Archaeology in Ankara as an assistant in 1951. During a dig he conducted while working at the institute, he stumbled upon the first finds at Çatalhöyük, one of the oldest known sites of human settlement discovered in Anatolia. Between 1961 and 1963, he lectured at İstanbul University’s department of archaeology. Mellaart’s research was stopped by Turkish authorities following the Dorak affair, which involved the controversial disappearance of several artefacts. The archaeologist was subsequently banned from entering Turkey by the government. Melaart was one of my lecturers in my first year at London.

Ripping off the Collectors

Those who have access might like to tune in to "Ripping Off The Rich" on  CNBC (scheduled to run this Monday, July 30th at 8PM EST) about the high value of art and the rising epidemic of art crime facilitated by the unacceptable no-questions-asked manner in which the art market currently functions.

UPDATE 1.08.12

Jessica Joseph, 'Stolen Art And Collectibles Create A Billion-Dollar Black Market', CNBC Business Insider,August 1, 2012

"There are now 11 million millionaires in the world and growing, but there are only so many bottles of 1945 Mouton Rothschild that they’ve made,” said Frank. “So you have a growing number of buyers, a shrinking number of collectibles, prices are going to keep going up.”

Sunday 29 July 2012

Noah Charney on 'The Secret History of Art' ("Looted Indian Antiquities on Madison Avenue")

Noah Charney has a brief piece inspired by the recent Kapoor investigations in the US (or rather the US' embarrassed  attempts not to be left behind by the Indians once they'd learnt he'd somehow been arrested in Germany).
Looted antiquities flood out of Asia, and yet we tend to hear very little about it, with the world of illicit art largely focused on Europe, with Italian antiquities and paintings in major museums.  In truth there are tens of thousands of artworks stolen or looted each year, and that is only what is reported–a far larger amount goes unreported, since antiquities are largely looted from remote sites, taken directly from the earth (or sometimes the sea), with no record of their existence available. [...] Homeland Security agent James T. Haynes Jr. said “These seizures send a clear message to looters, smugglers, and dealers to think twice before trying to profit from illicit cultural property in the United States.”  Yes, absolutely it sends a message that you might be caught.  But the illicit trade is so widespread, that we can only hope that such a seizure will scare other potential wrong-doers straight.  In truth only a tiny fraction of artworks declared looted or stolen are recovered, as little as 2-6% in most countries, and so these admirable efforts by law enforcers are beating against a powerful current.
He remarks that he finds it alarming "just how many Madison Avenue-type galleries have been rocked by scandal" (Sakhai, Knoedler, Kapoor " just to name a few, the batting average is not so good for high-end Upper East Side galleries").

Noah Charney, 'Looted Indian Antiquities on Madison Avenue',  The Secret History of Art  July 29, 2012.

Photo: Kapoor's gallery (now closed) had been selling this stuff since 1976, but the recent events seem to be the first time anyone looked more carefully at where this stuff was 'surfacing' from.  How come? (photo from Noah Charney's blog post)

"Monety Expo Warsaw"

The coin fair "Monety Expo Warsaw" will be taking place in just six weeks time, on the "first weekend of September" (1st and 2nd of September). Any dealer bringing dugup artefacts to the event will have to adhere to the strongest standards of legitimacy:
d) Trade of the cultural objects, e.g. such as archaeological finds, is permitted only in observance of international and national law and only if proof of legal provenance is documented for each cultural object. The advertisement, exhibition or sale of objects displaying the swastika or similar is  not permitted, if such symbols are visible. This also applies for symbols that may be mistaken for the originals. [...]
Let us see how many dealers can comply with that regulation. For each cultural object.

"Outwitted"? A Continent and an Epoch Away

Over on another continent metal detectorist Dick Stout implies that he in some way has provided some kind of answer to the issues raised over here ('The Expected response and More of the Same') which refers to the response to an earlier post of his (which he also has edited).
I Knew it would not be long before I heard back for Mr. Barford and Mr. Swift, and it was quick. They apparently don’t like getting criticized [...] If you prove a point or outwit them, don’t expect to see you thoughts posted. Just the way they  run things. [...] here is their response, tired and old as it is…Potable Antiquities and Collecting Issues, Heritage Journal Response
I am only too happy to engage in discussion with those that disagree with the points made here, that's the whole point of putting them out in this form. Please, be my guest. Now, if anyone comes across anywhere where on "Stout Standards" either Mr Stout or his foul-mouthed sidekick John Howland actually have (ever) produced a well-reasoned response which "proves a point" opposed to the issues  raised by either a Barford or a Swift or "outwitted" them, I for one would be glad to hear and will not hesitate to provide a link. Criticise away, I am not the one shying from reasoned debate on the issues surrounding portable antiquities collecting. I cannot recall seeing Mr Stout even attempting such a thing (though perhaps some consider childish trans-atlantic name-calling some form of schoolyard "outwitting", but not even they could consider it "proving a point"), still less Mr Howland. Mr Stout continues:
I would like to think that at some time in the future this hatred for those of us who own metal detectors will come to an end, but after 35 years of trying, I  have given up. Never mind that we have brought more historical and more dramatic recoveries to light….they will never see us as equals, or people who actually further  and justify their positions and/or salaries.
He then for some reason cuts and pastes a definition for the word "jealousy" from an online dictionary (!).

I think part of the problem is that in their minds people like both Mr Stout and his contemporary Howland still inhabit the world of the late 1970s and the detector wars of the 1980s.They apparently find it very difficult to escape the preconceptions they gained in this period - witness the constant sequence of crude and insulting "archaeologist jokes" published on Stout Standards by those upholders of collectors' rights without collaboration or responsibilities.

The other part of the problem appears to be a real problem some people in certain circles have with reading something in plain English and actually understanding what it means. That requires seeing it in the context in which it is written. I do not think anyone has a "hatred" of "those of us who own metal detectors" (note the insertion there of the identity-forming "of us"). I for example have no issues with those who use them in airports, schools or government offices, I have no issue with looking for lost change or jewellery in the sand of tourist beaches, their use in gold-seeking or meteorite hunting in the desert, those who use them as part of systematic archaeological survey. It is not the metal detector that is the problem. The two problems that concern me (and though I do not speak for him, I am pretty sure the same goes for Nigel Swift) are what they are used for (where and how) in certain hands, and most importantly what is said about it. What I absolutely detest (and what this web-resource is about) are the lies and deceits, evasions, deflections, false logic, and mental short cuts promulgated by almost everybody engaged in supporting and encouraging artefact collecting in any form.

Mr Stout may find that difficult to understand without attempting to get his head around some of the issues seen from the 'other side'. He facilely assumes that the whole problem is some kind of personal "hatred", treating the problem merely as a racial issue. He obviously sees (and wants his readers to regard) people like myself and Nigel as some kind of retarded racial bigots. That is of course the easy way out, no doubt if he thinks that the attitudes of those he opposes are irrational, he can consider that this actually absolves him from having to discuss the issue rationally.

The problem for those who would dismiss opposing views as the rantings of a minority ("who nobody listens to because they are irrational lunatics") is that a deeper reading of this blog and what Nigel writes would reveal that the situation is much more nuanced. I leave it up to the reader to decide whether they can perceive the underlying rationality which it is certainly my aim to present.

Supporters of collecting in its present forms are however not going to read anything here. They obviously would prefer it if others do not either. Hence their constant and repeated attempts (aided and abetted it seems by the staff of the British Museum's Portable Antiquities Scheme) to convince their readers that it would be a waste of time to reflect on what they find written by their opponents, the preservationists. They want the issues to continue to be ignored and simply cannot afford to have the brought out into the open and discussed. Why not? (See above.)

Mr Stout, like many of his fellows (J. Howland included) considers (and we have seen him use this same argument many times before) that the main justification to maintain the status quo over artefact collecting is that artefact hunters can claim:
we have brought more historical and more dramatic recoveries to light…
Nobody is denying that digging up tells in the Near East, Anasazi cemeteries in Utah or Treasure hunting in England with metal detectors produces all sorts of "treasures". In the latter case, how can it not with the Research and Development departments of a number of major equipment producers continually tweaking the design to make these machines increasingly capable of doing just that, and with the cumulative experience of detectorists themselves enabling them to target the more 'likely' areas? That though is not the point. Preservation of the archaeological resource (and contribution to the archaeological record) does not consist of merely finding things. It's no use finding the elusive albino White Rhino if it is as a skin on the floor of a taxidermist's workshop. "Finding things" (extracting them from their context) is not what archaeology or preservation are about.

Anybody who troubles to read what I have written about various "Treasure" cases in the UK (which I assume Mr Stout would never do) will recognize that I see a number of issues in the way this occurs under current conditions. If those issues are resolved (or shown to not have the significance which I ascribe to them) then I too will join in with the general jubilation that "metal detectorists" are the "unsung heroes" they claim to be. But I trust clued-up readers can understand why I will not before then. If these people want universal acceptance of their "bringing Treasures to light justification", then let them - instead of trying to ignore them - do something about the issues raised by their critics, or at least discuss them openly with us.

If Mr Stout wishes artefact hunters and collectors to be treated  as "equals", then why are they not making the effort to actually adopt equivalent attitudes concerning the treatment of the finite and fragile archaeological resource as those whose concern is the sustainable use of this resource for the benefits of all parties, and not just the selfish interest of the collector and those profiting from the collectors' market?  While it is continually rendered impossible for those attitudes to develop among collectors (that's the "best practice" model of PAS outreach by the way), then the majority of metal detector using artefact hunters will be merely selfish despoilers, and from the point of their effects on the archaeological record, it matters not whether they are 'silent despoilers' or 'despoilers with an attitude'.

Of course the other issue is that a discovery that goes unreported is not a discovery, it is knowledge theft. Very many finds made by metal detectorists (and I will suggest that it is not a problem of which the United States is free) simply vanish into scattered ephemeral personal collections without any report (and in many cases without proper documentation). Merely hoiking things out of,  in many cases, an archaeological context in the ground  is not by any measure "bringing them to light". Mr Stout's final justification is also an old one he shares with no-questions-asked coin collectors: 
they will never see us as [...] people who actually further and justify their positions and/or salaries.
Well, neither Mr Swift's nor my "position" will be furthered by any metal detectorists (nor will it be furthered by our current activism in opposing current policies on artefact hunting and collecting). Still less does artefact hunting in any form "justify my salary".

It is an interesting phenomenon that artefact collectors seem to see themselves as some kind of enlightened elite surrounded by a history-hating hoi polloi. The upshot is they think archaeologists should be in some way "grateful" to them for providing archaeology with some kind of an audience - if it were not for collectors, they kid themselves, archaeology would have no public support.  I think they rather underestimate the public interest (at least over on this side of the Atlantic before the PAS got at them) in proper archaeology.

Finally I really find highly amusing [having worked on, among others, sites from the Middle Palaeolithic, a couple of thousand year old hillforts and urban sites in Poland and Norway, Roman villas and forts in England, Anglo-Saxon villages, Late Iron Age saltworks, and more recently digging in Luxor Egypt not to mention in my career working through boxes and boxes of finds writing them up for publication] to have a Texas metal detectorist suggesting that my critique of the conservation aspects of current policies on artefact hunting and collecting is due to "jealousy". Of what? Finding Barber dimes, wheaties and corroded Confederate buckes and uniform buttons? He really has to be joking.


Disregard Sites of Special Scientific Interest, go Ahead and Damage Them

Natural England (English Nature) really cares about birds and trees and little fluffy animals. They could not give a tinkers, it seems, about the preservation of an important part of the historical environment, in particular any buried archaeology. This is the upshot of an email recently published on a metal detecting forum.

The background to this is that one of the basic units of Britain's rather fuzzy and disjointed environmental protection 'system' (I use that term loosely in this context) is the Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) regulated by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 with later amendments. Metal detectorist "Jay76" (Wed Mar 09, 2011 4:42 pm) wanted to go and hoik objects out of the publicly accessible parts of the Hampshire coast and Isle of Wight which are Crown Estate, so foreshore (high to low tide). He apparently already has a Crown Estate permit (and where the area of the coast he wishes to take finds from is leased to a third party - e.g., a local authority - their permission too).  The stumbling block was that some of the areas concerned are registered as Sites of Special Scientific Interest. But he wants to go into them to hoik objects out of them too. Out of Sites of Special Scientific Interest you understand. Now the Code of responsible Artefact Hunting in England in Wales is quite clear about respecting such areas (the phrasing is actually about the "laws" however). Anyway Jay decided to write to English Nature who has stewardship over such sites countrywide and see if he could get permission. What do you reckon his chances were, dear reader? What did the fluffy bunny "conservationists" say?
Dear Jay
I would call, but I think you would probably like something in writing, hence the email.
Just to confirm, Natural England does not need to grant consent for this activity in this instance – we do not believe that it constitutes an operation likely to damage the designated sites, due to the scale of the activity, and the fact that they are all publically (sic) accessible anyway. We do appreciate you coming to us and asking though.
So, feel free to start your metal detecting.
Kind regards
Charlotte Rose
Conservation Advisor
South Hampshire and Isle of Wight
So, I take it that "artefact hunting and digging" are not on the list of Operations Requiring Consent, that is  Potentially Damaging Operations (PDOs)/ Operations Likely to Damage (OLDs), the SSSI? Is that right ? So Natural England does not need to grant consent for digging holes in sites of Special Scientific Interest and removing archaeological and historical interest because they are not of any scientific interest? Is that what the  South Hampshire and Isle of Wight "Conservation Advisor" believes? Is that what her bosses believe? They really do believe that selectively hoiking out archaeological artefacts from such sites does not "constitute an operation likely to damage the designated sites"? Just what DO they believe in fact? Have they talked this over with the CBA and other archaeological bodies (forget the PAS as they are hardly likely to express an opinion that would be seen to be restricting of "collectors' rights' would they)?

Artefact hunting quite obviously does deplete the information value of archaeological sites, and in cases when such a site is contained within an SSSI (ie is an integral part of the structure and history of the SSSI) then surely it is inexcusable for those having "stewardship" of such sites to sign away their responsibilities to protect it and manage any potentially damaging exploitation so blithely. Shame on you Charlotte Rose.

By the way the correct legal procedure is for the landowner to contact Natural England, not the interloper on their property. Charlotte's limitless permit has no legal standing, I thought that worth pointing out since the rest of the thread is about detectorists printing out and laminating Ms Rose's remarks for their own use on other SSSIs dotted around the country - where of course the list of OLDs may be different - for example the guy who was detecting next to the scheduled site at the oppidum of Hengistbury.

Seen it on TV, Can't be Much to it, Eh?

PAS partner artefact hunters claim they really wannabe archaeologists, just they never had the opportunity. Now PAS aims to help them out, giving them a chance to join in. Over in "Northwest" England, Steve "Slow-and-Low" has discovered what he thinks might be "Saxon" (that'd be Anglian I guess) Buriel (sic) Ground lumps"
 these 2 mounds which are fairly even in design they do not look natural and seem to be built by man.[...] They both come out from the top edge of a field on a downward slope but they are flat on the top. One is bigger than the other [...] small one round the corner tucked away. Both mounds come off out of the banking of the higher part of this field which is the last field before a big river. Though they don't seem to have been formed by errosion of land. They big one is Flat on the top [...].
Member (sic) Morgans big organ gives the advice that "Mounds come in many shapes and forms. Burial mounds, Pillow mounds, Spoil Mounds, Prospect mounds to name but a few [...]  have you checked to see if they have already been recorded as monuments[?]". Slow-and-low admits "never heard of some of these other types" and thinks these mounds are not scheduled monuments. Anyway, he plans to do "some detecting on them then ask farmer for permission to do a small excavation maybe". I am sure he believes that it cannot be difficult for anyone who has not the foggiest idea what a pillow mound or prospect mound are to just dig a hole in an archaeological monument (mound). After all we've all seen it on Time Team. Just dig a hole and pull out some old stuff. And make sure to "fill the hole in", jus' like metal detecting but deeper?

This is yet another byproduct of the PAS outreach which basically tells people that archaeology is about getting a few diagnostic artefacts out of the ground and nothing much else. "Anyone with a metal detector can do it". And then everybody is surprised when blokes set out and attack earthworks with spades searching for more artefacts, rather than information gained from observing and interpreting the stratigraphy and the associations of the contained material.

Is the PAS going to try and reason with "Slow and Low"? After all they claim they do their outreach these days through metal detecting forums (because archaeologists began posting archaeological stuff to the PAS forum). Well, let us see how closely the NorthWest FLO is keeping an eye on what happens in her region.  Watch the PAS involvement in this thread (last post currently Mon Jul 16, 2012 11:41 pm).

UPDATE 30.07.12
I see that the digging has started. Another thread also has been started, more carefully written.  No PAS involvement in either.
the Farmer [...]  is going to show me the Geographical Survey he has done on his land when time permits. I have just taken about 10 inches out on the top by 2ft long but thats not a excavation i just dug to see what the earth was under the turf. If on any impression I see anything I would stop and report this to both the Farmer and relevent people ASAP Even if there was a load of Gold I would leave it there though covered up.[capitalisation original]
So, a land surveyor has been over the mounds and that is grounds for digging it. Ten inches taken out of pasture ("under the turf") is not what most of us would call "not excavation". It's a far cry from "only six to eight inches in disturbed ploughsoil innit?". The digger says he'd stop if he saw "anything" but then would the guy recognize an archaeologically important anything (ie soilmark) as opposed to "a load of Gold"? What HAVE these people learnt from 15 years of PAS outreach? That archaeology is "loads of Gold"? There's fifteen million quid down the drain then.

Saturday 28 July 2012

2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony

The 2012 Olympics have gobbled up so many funds that would otherwise have gone elsewhere, including culture. Anyhow after seven years of planning, the Games have finally got underway and even the die-hard sceptics like myself were probably agreeably impressed by the workmanlike job and finish of the opening ceremony celebrating these "Isles of Wonder" with some jaw-droppingly how-did-they-do-that amazing moments. The first part was a dramatisation of the industrialisation of Britain ("the Workshop of the World") following a rather romanticised depiction of British country life with a nod to the older traditions (Glastonbury Tor).

 But what are the two guys in the left middle foreground doing? On permanent pasture?

Friday 27 July 2012

More Looted Artefacts from Nigeria Smuggled to US

The usual speeches were exchanged on the occasion of the US authorities making a big thing of handing over ten smuggled Nok statues and a "carved tusk" to Nigeria the other day after HSI special agents had determined the Nok statues were in fact antiquities "and not just handicrafts and personal effects as was diclosed on the importation documents".
The items were seized by HSI special agents and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers after the importers surrendered the artifacts. HSI special agents at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) first learned of the stolen Nok statues in April 2010 after receiving information from French customs officials. French authorities had detained a shipment of what they identified as Nok statues from Nigeria that were destined for the United States. French officials alerted HSI and CBP who met the shipments when they arrived in New York. HSI Chicago had also previously seized two Nok statues and a carved ivory tusk at Chicago O'Hare International Airport.
What are the chances that they would have stopped this particular shipment if they'd not been tipped off by the French authorities?

Akande notes that "neither US or Nigerian officials were willing to divulge the identity of those who behind the looting of the Nigerian antiquities two years after they were initially detected stolen by French authorities":
[...]  Nigeria’s Consul General in New York, Habib Baba Habu explained that the identities were known but would not be divulged as yet [...]  investigations are still going on to determine whether there are broader networks involved in the national and international crime [...] But Habu [...] disclosed that apparently, the artifacts were stolen from the National Museums in Nigeria for which the Director-General is now being investigated [...]. “These were stolen from the National Museum, but there was no such report from Nigeria that the items were stolen. Now, the DG of the Museum is being investigated because the items were in storage, inventories under his care,” he said. Habu however disclosed that before heading to France where French officials detected the artifacts, the looted antiquities came from Senegal, suggesting that after they were looted in Nigeria, the artifacts were taken to Senegal from where they were sent to the US, en-route France.
I have a feeling that this story is now more likely to appear on the blog run from the offices of Bailey and Ehrenburg, Mr Tompa loves highlighting stories about brown-skinned foreigners stealing from their own museums.
'HSI returns stolen and looted antiquities to Nigeria', HSI News Release, July 26, 2012.

Laolu Akande, Officials Silent Over Looters Of Nigerian Artifacts Returned By U.S. , Nigerian Guardian, 28 July 2012

Roman Sarcophagus Stolen From Church Found in London Collection After More Than 20 years

On 18th July, an ancient Roman alabaster sarcophagus dating from between the second and third centuries BC, which features in relief scenes of chariot races at Rome's Circus Maximus was returned to Italy.  A special team from the cultural heritage protection division of Italy's police force, the Guardia di Finanza, gruppo Tutela Patrimonio Archeologico, lead by Massimo Rossi, conducted the repatriation operation.

The object had been  stolen in 1991 from the Madonna della Libera church in Aquino 100km south of Rome. It was one of Italy’s great, unsolved antiquities thefts, and nobody has ever been charged with its theft. The sarcophagus was rediscovered in an unnamed "London-based collection of an antiquities".
Although official sources have not confirmed this, the Italian newspaper Il Giornale has reported that the private collection in question belonged to the late US antiquities dealer Robert Hecht, who died on 9 February. Hecht had been accused in Roman court of conspiring to receive antiquities illegally excavated and exported from Italy, but his trial ended in January without a verdict when the statute of limitations ran out. Il Giornale also reported that the executor of Hecht's will first contacted Italian authorities.
Hecht, one of the most prominent antiquity dealers of his day must have been aware of the theft and the appearance of the missing object, and if it is indeed true that he had it in his London home, it says a lot about the guy. How many collectors have items that they know for sure were stolen?  What does that say about the "ancient art" trade?

Tina Lepri and Ermanno Rivetti, 'Stolen Roman alabaster recovered after more than 20 years', The Art Newspaper,   Published online: 26 July 2012  

Photo: the Art Newspaper
UPDATE 8/8/12 For confirmation that the sarcophagus was not only bought by Hecht, but in fact the same year as the theft took place, see David Gill's Looting Matters. He adds: "This report suggests that more ex-Hecht material will be handed over to the Italian authorities in due course".

Thursday 26 July 2012

"Britain's Secret treasures", What Went Wrong?

Over the past ten days I have been writing about this prime-time TV attempt at archaeological outreach. I think that, as such, that the "Britain's Got Treasure" format failed dismally, and am gratified that for once I have not been a lone voice in questioning and even condemning the programme. Over the past few days I have made reference to the many comments that had a less-than-awed reaction to the programme, and can honestly say that there really were few more positive reviews (though a plethora of air-headed positive tweets and Facebook 'likes' from the PAS' gaggle of supporters). Questions should be asked about just what it was the BM and PAS thought they were doing, but they have between them done British archaeology a grave disservice, and possibly even damage. Such a project and its aims should have been the focus of a much wider process of detailed consultation within the discipline.

So what went wrong? The most obvious thing is that as somebody else said, it was a "silly idea" from the start. Any archaeologist will tell you the British press/media are incapable of reporting archaeology properly, whatever you say, however carefully you explain it to them, you can write it down on a piece of paper for them to copy out - and they still (100% of the time) get something wrong. It is a fact of life, journalists and media people just do not understand archaeology. But then, whose fault is that? It is of course the archaeologists' fault for having over several decades consistently fed the public with a rather stereotypical picture of the discipline. We saw some of the themes in the programme, gold, treasure, mystery, gory sacrifices, human interest stories. Crap. So anybody setting out blithely to work with the British media is off to a bad start even before they've begun.

Quite whose idea it was to call the programme "Britain's Secret Treasures" is immaterial (though I hope it was nobody in the PAS). The point is the PAS and any archaeologist with an inch of self respect should have refused to participate in such a programme. It was NOT about "Britain" most of the objects discussed were from England (most from the vicinity of London). Why these objects were "secret" was never explained, the objects discussed were those which were in the public domain. The word "Treasure" has a specific meaning in British legislation (it is an utterly stupid term, but it is what the law says). Not all of the items discussed fell under the Treasure Act (as it is applied to England and Wales in its present form) and using the term in the way it was is simply adding layers of confusion upon confusion.

Thus the programme went out under a three word title which in no way corresponds to what the programme should have been, or was, about. Hearing that proposed title was the signal that a strong PAS (and the CBA) should have withdrawn. Why not some equally corny title, like "Digging up the/Britain's Past"? "Finding the PASt", "History Under Your Feet", "Roger's Ripping Yarns"? I think over a beer or two one could come up with several dozen equally commercially attractive titles that would be more suitable than "Britain's Treasures" whether "secret" or not, which is just asking for trouble.

The second obvious mistake was attempting to fit fifty objects into such a time span - given all the padding that was to go around the presentation of the objects. The whole presentation was too rushed and lacking in substance, and some very important information was missed out in several cases (Silverdale, Hallerton, Crosby Garrett and Happisburgh). Thirty objects would have been pushing it.

As I said earlier, my feeling is that the rather pointless "competition" format led to fragmentation and jumping around from topic to topic, when in fact several themes kept coming back ("finds in wet places" was one obvious one). A much more satisfying approach surely would be to look at those themes through a closer selection of the same finds - then the merely frivolous (the toy cannon and the false nose etc) would have dropped away had this been done.

Given that a lot of these finds had been made by artefact hunting, this needed discussing, and not an attempt made to paper over the issue. The absence of ANY reference in the programme to the controversies over this (not all made up by "Trolls") would be excusable if this had been made by Rutland Hospitals Radio, or Pikey TV, but it was not. The PAS was involved in its production from start to finish. The absence of even the briefest section in the programme explicitly discussing best practice in artefact hunting is inexcusable. I really do not see a problem here, send Ann-Marie Ochota up to York, drag Mike Heyworth (or the CBA information officer) from his office for two hours, go out onto a piece of permanent pasture on a hill with beautiful views behind (or on the forecourt of the BM - hell, you could do it with a blue screen in the CBA carpark really) and a copy of the Code of Practice under his arm, and just do an interview. Edit it and stick it in right after Crosby Garrett or the Staffordshire Hoard. Not exactly rocket science, and should have been in the contract.

Vignette: Another false nose - this one would not be found by a metal detector, so gives a more realistic picture of "the way people lived in the past"  (Skinner and Hyde). More to the point, fake noses belong as a space filler on the Antiques Roadshow and their application to the archaeological understanding of the past (want to do "syphillis", show the bone evidence too) has yet to be explained. Dumbed-down and superficial sensationalism was obviously the order of the day when they wrote this series.

Millions of Dollars' Worth of Antiquities Slipped Unchallenged Through US Customs for Several Years

"Since 2007, Homeland Security Investigations has repatriated over 2,500 items to more than 23 countries", or some-such stuff is constantly repeated by the federal authorities in one of the world's biggest markets for dodgy antiquities. The number of people guilty of dodgy dealings with those artefacts arrested and tried is far smaller. Probably, if the truth were known, countable on the fingers of one hand.

The scale of what is routinely getting through is vividly illustrated by the seizure today of a large number of items from the Sofia Storage facility on West 83rd Street, New York as part of a Homeland Security Cultural Property, Art and Antiques Program investigation. Authorities seized more than $15 (20?) million worth of sandstone and bronze statues and other Indian cultural artefacts. A number of the pieces are said to be Chola period, and some reportedly still have dirt on them. A federal source said most of the items being recovered are believed to have been stolen directly from temples in India, smuggled to Hong Kong, and then shipped to New York. There had apparently been another seizure in the same investigation, including the seizure of dozens of antiquities worth nearly $10 million from another storage unit allegedly leased by the same person in New York.

Only News 4's cameras were rolling when federal agents uncovered exotic treasures hidden in a storage facility on the Upper West Side.
“The statues and sculptures recovered today are worth millions in the antiquities business, but they are priceless to the nations that they were robbed from,” said James T. Hayes Jr., special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in New York. “These seizures send a clear message to looters, smugglers and dealers to think twice before trying to profit from illicit cultural property in the United States.”
Bla bla. Guess who these artefacts belonged to? Were they being stored on behalf of a fly-by-night smuggler taking the risk he'd not be caught, but foiled by the ever-vigilant ICE the moment he tried to offload dodgy antiquities onto the US market? No, they apparently belonged an established Upper East Side art dealer, Subhash Kapoor, who opened his gallery the Art of the Past gallery on Madison Avenue in 1976 (and Nimbus Import Export Inc. which has been registered at the same address since 2005) and since then has run a dynamic business selling "art of the past" like the items seized in the warehouses to collectors and museums all over the US, and possibly beyond. In contrast to the ICE/HSI bla-bla, it is clear that the current 'owner' of these objects knew he really would not have too much trouble getting this stuff into the US and selling it there quite openly to no-questions-asked buyers.
Homeland Security Investigations agents executed search warrants issued for the storage units, allegedly owned by Subhash Kapoor, the owner of Art of the Past Gallery. The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office also issued an arrest warrant for Kapoor for possessing the stolen property.
Well, the US is going to find it difficult to arrest Kapoor as he was - as I reported here several months ago - arrested in Germany and by the time the US authorities got around to doing anything had been extradited to India where he is presently held behind bars. Only then did the US authorities decide that they ought to look more closely at what had been happening under their noses, despite having been notified by the Indian Consulate about his alleged activities as long ago as February 2007. If Kapoor had not been arrested while travelling abroad and an international fuss kicked up, one wonders just how long it would have taken the US authorities to get around to progressing the "investigation" that had not apparently advanced very far when he left the US last year. Is it not the case that it's only because Kapoor is pending prosecution in another country that the US authorities decided that they'd look pretty stupid if they did not make the effort to learn what was stashed away in his warehouses?

Kapoor is accused of importing goods under falsified import documentation, for example  it is alleged that the US authorities were informed in 2007 that several crates on their way to the US manifested as ‘marble gardens tables sets’ in fact contained stolen antiquities, it is not reported what the US authorities did about it . Kapoor’s gallery has been closed for at least for a month, according to neighboring business. A sign posted on its door says, "Closed for Inventory, via appointment only".

ICE said that some of the artefacts recently seized had been displayed in “major international museums worldwide,” and that other pieces that match those listed as stolen “are still openly on display in some museums”. According to the dealer's website, the gallery has sold Indian art to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and other prestigious museums. Rick St Hilaire surmises that these museums too may soon have visits from US authorities. And let us not forget the stash of artefacts held in Singapore by Jazmin Asian Arts , some of which - due to an acrimonious court case - are known to have come from Kapoor.

Of course there might be another reason for the warrant, as we all know, American exceptionalism does not like US citizens to be held in foreign jails for offences committed in other countries. Is the warrant for Kapoor's arrest not part of a plan to get him extradited back to the US to face charges against US Customs laws back at home? Since history shows that so few people have been jailed as a result of previous US investigations of this type, we may speculate that any charges against Kapoor in the US might even be dropped the moment he sets foot back on US soil.

Jamie Schram, Laura Italiano and Dan Mangan, 'Feds raid Manhattan storage facility containing 'stolen' art', New York Post July 26, 2012

Marc Santia, 'Millions in Stolen Indian Artifacts Seized in Manhattan: Officials', NBC New York, Jul 26, 2012

Stout's Standards Gets it Wrong

In Poland I have to explain my 'unusual' (ie un-Slavonic) name, "Bar like the place you drink beer, Ford like the car"- they still get it wrong (Barfort, Beerfoot, Bredford, Bradford). Understandable, as it does not end in - ski or -icz like all decent names here should.

You have to have a metal detectorist's brain however to make of my name what metal detectorists do. Still, with PAS staff encouraging them (as reportedly does the Norfolk FLO, among others), perhaps its not surprising.

As Nigel Swift (whose name, short though it is, some of them cannot manage either) points out in an update to his Heritage Journal text on the information people buying metal detectors receive with them, Mr Stout really has the wrong end of the stick. It seems the whole notion of good-versus-bad-practice (which anything but the most superficial of readings of Nigel's post will reveal is its subject) is one which is wholly abstract  to some metal detector wavers. I'd like to think it's just the American ones who only know of PAS and its best-practice outreach mainly through myth and hearsay rather than any actual knowledge of what they do and what they (should) stand for. Regton's though should know better.

The Smuggling and then Theft of the Aleppo Codex

There is an interesting article in the New York Times (Ronn Bergman, 'A High Holy Whodunit' 25th July 2012) in effect summarising the conclusions of Matti Friedman's book, “The Aleppo Codex: A True Story of Obsession, Faith and the Pursuit of an Ancient Bible,” published in May. The Codex survived the trip from Fustat (Cairo) to Jerusalem, the Crusaders' sack of Jerusalem, the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the Second World War and (despite rumours about its destruction) the riots that broke out in Aleppo in 1948. The article discusses the manner in which pressure was put on the Aleppo community to surrender it to cultural property nationalists in Israel:
"Ben-Zvi asked them to help sway the rabbis who remained in Syria, and he appealed to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (an organization whose financial aid was necessary for the survival of the remaining community in Aleppo), to cut the flow of funds if the codex was not transferred to Israel". 
Bergman then discusses (the several versions of), how it was eventually smuggled out of Syria. In the course of this some nefarious double-dealing was done so the Israeli state took it from the people it was intended to give it to. More shockingly it also recounts how - apparently while under the stewardship of Meir Benayahu, at the Ben-Zvi Institute - 200 pages went missing. This constitutes about 40 percent of the codex and whose value is estimated to be in the many millions of dollars. The article recounts a story wherein in the mid-1980s they were allegedly offered to collector Shlomo Moussaieff,  in the Jerusalem Hilton by dealer Chaim Schneebalg, who soon afterwards was found dead in another Jerusalem hotel room in suspicious circumstances. Allegedly the missing pages were bought by an unnamed 'Ultra-Orthodox' London collector of Judaica.    

Wednesday 25 July 2012

Selling Common Knowledge

In the thread about "Britain's Got Treasure", we find the following snippet of gossip - passed on as exactly that. Geoman (Sat Jul 21, 2012 8:29 pm) writes:
[...] It is also common knowledge that the BM and the PAS are tied to a contractural (sic) agreement not to become involved with similar programme initiatives with other TV companies. The smell of money has intoxicated the BM and the PAS to sell their souls to the devil !!!
I suppose we might ask how much money, and whether the PAS is in the position to sell access to information which was gathered at public expense.

Sean the Detectorist Patiently Explains to the PAS What Its Role Ought to Have Been

It comes to something when even artefact hunters are saying PAS’s outreach is dreadful. Sean the detectorist patiently explains to PAS what its role OUGHT to be. But will his outreach be heeded? “Seanthecelt” writes :from Canterbury (Thu Jul 19, 2012 11:42 pm):
Regarding newcomers to the hobby, so far this series hasn't made a single reference to the law, Scheduled sites, getting landowners permission or any of "minor details" involved. It's going to cause a lot of problems for us if the programme-makers don't make the rules clear [...]. Those [a]ffected by gold-fever will simply buy a detector and go where they fancy, their defence "well no one said anything about laws on that telly programme". A case of damage-limitation missed.
For once I am in total agreement with what the metal detectorist says. I think the PAS owes us all an explanation.
Hat-tip to Nigel Swift for the heads-up

Prehistory of the PAS: Hansard 2006

Portable Antiquities  16 Dec 1996 : Column WA102
 Lord Pilkington of Oxenford asked Her Majesty's Government: When they will announce what action the Government intend to take in response to the discussion document on portable antiquities which the Government published in March. 
Baroness Trumpington:
In the discussion document on portable antiquities published in February 1996 we sought views on proposals for a scheme for the recording of all archaeological finds, of which perhaps as many as 400,000 a year are currently being discovered, in the belief that there was an urgent need to improve the current arrangements. We received a total of 173 responses and we would like to pay tribute to the care which many of the respondents took with their replies. There is a great deal of invaluable advice in the responses which will guide us as we take the initiative forward. We would like in particular to single out the detailed statements from the Standing Conference on Portable Antiquities and the National Council for Metal Detecting. Copies of the responses have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. Everyone who responded agreed on the importance of recording archaeological finds and on the need to improve the current arrangements, while the balance of opinion was strongly in favour of a voluntary rather than a compulsory system. This means that for the first time we have a broad consensus for the way in which this should be taken forward.

In the light of these responses and following further consultation by the department, we can now announce that we intend to establish a two-year programme of pilot schemes to commence on 1st September 1997 and that we are making £50,000 available for the eight-month period that falls within the year 1997-98. The scheme will be co-ordinated directly by this department and the funding will be channelled through the Museums and Galleries Commission. The aim of the pilot schemes will be to enable an accurate estimate to be made of the resources that would be needed to extend the scheme across the whole of England. The funding will be directed towards employing additional staff in three or four areas to record finds. Our first step will be to invite any suitable body-museums but also perhaps county planning departments or other archaeological bodies--to express an interest in bidding for funding and we intend to do this early in the new year.
Note that their original assumption was that a voluntary scheme would recover information on ALL finds being made across England (only) and the amount that would be needed to cope with was 400 000 a year. The PAS actually has averaged about 90 000 records a year.

Thanks to Nigel Swift for the link

The BST Archaeology of the PAS

It probably is pretty uncontroversial to state that British archaeology is among the most developed and dynamic forms of the discipline in the world, even compared with those that at various times have led the field in previous decades. In the past half century, we have gone from a discipline with its own strong traditions of fieldwork through the theoretical developments associated first with the debates around Processualism, and especially Post-Processualism and beyond. These are among the factors that give British archaeology its strength, dynamism and identity. It would not be unjustified therefore to expect to see that reflected in the way Britain's biggest archaeological outreach project presents the discipline to the public. The public whose past it is, and who pay for archaeologists to do archaeology with it. So what kind of "archaeology" was presented to the British public in seven hours of prime-time TV by the British Museum's Portable Antiquities Scheme?

It has to be said a rather antiquated form, a retro-archaeology, whose forays beyond the artefact-centric normative empiricism consisted mainly of wild speculative "what if" narratives unsupported by any presentation of the inferences (if any) behind them. An 'anything goes' approach which almost might be said takes the discipline right back to William Stukely. Making the presenters strut about the forecourt of the columned old BM a befitting place to present such an atavistic vision of the discipline.

The objects very clearly were being used throughout the programme to provide illustrations for a "what it was like in those days" history, a history already derived from the written records, rather than in many cases as a source of historical knowledge in their own rights. In the cases when an attempt was made to present the latter, it was where the object involved (the Kentish stater, the Domitianus II coin) had writing on it. Furthermore the "history" being presented was very much a "kings and battles" version; object after object was linked with the name of a king, prince or saint. Hoards were interpreted as buried as a result of military activity, it was "soldiers" who dropped or deposited many things, the "here's another picture of grown men playing Roman/Dark Age/Medieval soldiers" motif was ever-present.

The PAS is very fond of applying ethnic labels to finds in a manner that would have warmed the cockles of the heart of Gustav Kossinna and is still the basis for provincial museum displays in Germany. But this totally ignores a whole load of discussions that have been going on since at least the 1960s (1950s over here) about the material correlates of identity. A piece of metalwork with scrollwork ornament of a certain style does not  make the person who used it and deposited it in the ground a "Viking", yet this is the sort of labelling that goes on all the time in the PAS records, and it was glibly trotted out in the discussion of portable antiquity after portable antiquity.

A lot of the information (I use the term loosely) provided in the discussion of the items shown on the programme was at best what Polish theoretician of historical source Jerzy Topolski called "extra-source information", at worst mere speculation. At no point of the programme was anything presented which showed the process of archaeological inference, or the testing of hypotheses, the manner in which the discipline goes about building a picture of the past. Just the glib presentation of "this is what the experts say" story. At times this was presented by an invited celebrity as "this is what I've discovered" [archaeology for all, anyone can do this] - the Brian Blessed sequence springs to mind here, which confused the issue even more I feel. 

Another fave technique of the PAS (which it also shares with Gustav Kossinna and his school) is the dot distribution map. Sadly we saw none of them in the programme. The distribution of 'celtic coins' is a frequently cited and easily legible example (and the BST presentation of the Hallaton finds for example would have been an ideal vehicle for using this) - though sceattas or "Viking" metalwork would work equally well. But we know from their annual reports that the PAS has been doing a lot of work with fieldwalking flint collectors (in Wales in particular) and it is a shame that nobody thought of using as a "treasure" a well-recorded assemblage of finds from an area recovered by gridded fieldwalking to show the extent and activity areas within sites recovered through systematic collection of data from surface contexts. We saw none of that, not even when the blokes were hoiking finds assemblages out at Piercebridge did we see anyone documenting where the material was coming from. Surely the whole point of the PAS is awakening the attention of "finders" to the importance of findspot and associations, and how is this to be done by just showing hoiked out stuff with no attention paid to spatial context? This only serves to reinforce the picture the programme already established that archaeology is just about getting 'interesting things' out of the soil, to look at and narrativise in their own right.

The Scheme also seems to be firmly embedded in a positivist mindset, the quality of data is not as important as their sheer quantity (parodied on this blog by the phrase: "wotta lotta stuff"). According to such a world-view, the 'truth' will be revealed by accumulating vast numbers of repetitive data, irrespective of the manner in which they are collected, irrespective of the aims of those producing these data through their exploitation of the archaeological resource. The assumption is made that all people producing these data are in it 'for the love of history' which provides a 'common ground' which should reduce the need for any discussion of methodological issues. That this is not so has been manifest for the last dozen years or so, yet only recently has the PAS decided to actually take a look (through two post graduate research projects) at the aspirations and working methods of artefact hunters whose activities are responsible for producing the data they extract. This is despite the fact that the question of sampling strategies and data gathering and retention as well as source interpretation have long been topics of discussion and debate in British archaeology (and in a different form central European archaeology for much longer). 

Finally, and this is something that might be more apparent from the outside than to those sitting in the middle of it all, I was dismayed at the amount of jingoistic nationalist sentiments inserted into some of the narratives. Those who claim themselves to be "cultural property internationalists" decry this sort of thing, and hold up as an example the "enlightened approach of the British" (sic) to the issue of artefact hunting and collecting, which their preferred world-view opposes to all those nations trying harder to preserve their archaeological record (which are, by that fact condemned as 'nationalist'). It therefore might surprise them to see exactly the same sort of insularism and exceptionalism reflected in the wafflings  that the script-writers have put into the mouths of the BST presenters. 

I think it very odd that the PAS apparently does not pay more attention to the extensive debates taking place right across our continent (and not just in archaeology) which are leading to far more sophisticated appreciation of the complex relationships between culture and things, but are merely chugging along churning out for public consumption (and at their expense) of an "archaeology" which differs in few respects from that done ninety to a hundred years ago.

Tuesday 24 July 2012

Britain's Secret Treasures Faked the "Viewers' Competition"

It turns out that the members of the panel of experts on the "Britain's Got Treasure" show faked the much-vaunted viewers' submissions "competition"! The object they chose ("a bronze booklet with an amazing story (sic)") was already in the PAS database and had been for more than a decade.
[...]  always on the lookout for new archaeological finds [...] The experts at the British Museum, in conjunction with the Council for British Archaeology, will look at them closely[...] 
and then tell the public lies about some of them. 

Audit data

Created: Wednesday 15th November 2000
Shame on you all. Can we not have the TRUTH on artefact hunting anywhere at all?

Metal Detecting Under the Microscope: "Almost a Million Finds"

Incessantly through the hype given to the dreadful "Britain's Sceret Treasures" the figure of "nearly a million finds" found by members of the public and recorded by the PAS was waved in the public media to attract attention. What "million finds' are the publicists talking about? Prominently on the PAS webpage is a counter - obviously aping the Heritage Action Artefact Erosion Counter - which reveals that today in the PAS database ore records of:
800,516 objects within 511,420 records. 
If we take into account that these are the cumulative figures of 15 years work, neither of these figures is "nearly a million" really is it? This is just unjustified spin.

The reality is that the number of records is the number of findspots reported/recorded, if a finder comes in with a handful of Roman potsherds picked up on a villa site, it is one record ("group of 24 Roman potsherds") but 24 "Finds" [though I have seen attempts even here to make more records by splitting them into fabric groups, amphora, samian etc]. I argue that the record is the important number, and not how many times the finder stooped to pick up pottery before he got bored, or the bag too heavy. Twenty four is therefore a less significant figure in terms of archaeological information than "one investigative activity at one findspot". But the PAS in claiming "nearly a million finds recorded by the PAS" are representing to parliament and the Exchequer the group of 24 Roman potsherds as "24 finds" in order to justify funding.

Now I am sure that if they deemed to answer the implicit question, the PAS would claim that the shortfall of 200 000 "finds" (but I guess not the 489000 lacking records) is achieved by adding the count of Treasure finds, some of which are individual coin hoards with contents of "finds" running into the thousands. This however is confusing the issue, these arrive in the public record by a different mechanism and a different route, their reporting is mandatory, they should not be presented in a manner which confuses them in the public eye with the PAS mechanism for reporting non-Treasure finds.

Metal Detecting Under the Microscope: Run on Treasure Hunting Tools

It seems that the encouragement given by the PAS to looking for interesting and potentially valuable artefacts as their "partners" is affecting metal detector sales in the UK. Detectorists are commenting on it, such as this remark from "Matt" on Detecting Wales:
“Two weeks ago I was watching decent second hand detectors going for between 40-75% of their original value. Now we've got idiots buying second hand machines on EBay for up to a couple of quid below the price of a brand new machine.”
Now, where are all these new people coming into the hobby going to find 'productive sites' to search and hoik from?

Michael Brand on Leaving the Getty

Michael Brand, the ex-director of the Getty Museum, has revealed more about the reasons for his abrupt departure from the Los Angeles institution in January 2010
Elizabeth Fortescue, 'Ex-director of Getty Museum reveals why he was ousted', The Art Newspaper online, 19 July 2012

Brun, baby, Boom: "BST a Silly Idea From the Start"

Worried by the effect that the ITV-PAS "secret treasures" joint venture would be having on the archaeological heritage, conservation group Heritage Action decided to do some investigative reporting and what they found was predictable, but still disturbing (Heritage Action, “Britain’s Secret Treasures” creates Brum boom!", 24/07/2012). They visited Regton’s in Birmingham, the UK’s largest metal detecting shop. What they found out is that "sales, especially of “starter” machines, have rocketed. Not just shop sales either – packing [of internet sold items] was going on non-stop during our visits".

So, after watching "Britain's Got Treasure", a lot of people seem to be taking up metal detecting (ie Treasure hunting) and it is fair to link that with the positive propaganda provided by the recent prime-time "Britain's Secret Treasures"  put out by none other than the PAS. Heritage Action were especially concerned that "Regton’s aren’t swamping these newcomers with “best practice” advice". They note that although the company's “Newcomers Guide” includes a detecting code, " it’s not the ethical principles CBA has laid out or even the “best we can get” words of the official Responsibility Code, it’s the slippery NCMD Code, the one that doesn’t ask members to report finds to PAS or even mention PAS at all!".
So the only hope all these new treasure hunters would hear about best practice was if they heard it via the programmes. Do you recall such messages? We don’t. (Perhaps that’s why CBA have suddenly voiced some ethical home truths and English Heritage have supported them?) A young man outside Regton’s hadn’t picked up any best practice messages either. He’d driven 50 miles to kit himself out as a treasure hunter plain and simple because he’d heard on the programme (from an archaeologist!) that a first time detectorist in Scotland “took seven steps from his car and ping! There was a gold hoard worth nearly a million!”
Heritage Action raise the point that there was one factor that the archaeologists who so enthusiastically got involved in the series failed to allow for: "even if best practice messages are voiced people don’t necessarily give a stuff (see the Erosion Counter!) but show them seven steps to a million quid in gold and they’ll remember THAT!".
Just how many new treasure hunters like that fellow have been created, some of them long-term? People who will be in the fields this weekend indulging in every sort of bad practice as they know no better or simply don’t care? A lot, we must presume. There was scant  mention of recording finds (whaaat!!) and then only in a vague way and there was not a word about avoiding undisturbed pasture, not digging deep, how unacceptable rallies are or even the importance of keeping off certain sites.
Omitting to tell people those things is unforgivable enough but coming up with the concept in the first place was even worse. Dangling the prospect of millions in gold and hoping the sort of people attracted will mostly act like archaeologists was a silly idea from the start. Should’ve asked a psychologist. Not sensible outreach at all. In fact, dare I say, hardly responsible. Whose heritage is it to take risks with? Not PAS’s. And – which is what matters most now – who will ensure it doesn’t happen again?
Vignette: Get all your your Treasure Hunting needs here. Regton, the UK's leading supplier (photo courtesy PAS - no, only kidding, Heritage Action)
Britain's Secret treasures, ITV 1 16th-22nd July 2012

BBC English from the British Museum this is not....

From the British Museum's Portable Antiquities Scheme Facebook page:  
You might not of noticed, but our website has had a massive overhaul: http://finds.org.uk/ Faster, faceted search, new features ....
too much "partnering" of semi-literates going on?

Monday 23 July 2012

Modern Antiquities - The Looted and the Faked

Dr. David A. Scott, Professor, Department of Art History and Founding Director of the UCLA/Getty Conservation Program is currently devising a course on the subject of "Art: Fakes, Forgeries and Authenticity", and will be presenting some of his ideas in a lecture co-sponsored by the Bay Area Art Conservation Guild and the Ancient Art Council of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco: 
Modern Antiquities: The Looted and the Faked
The talk will discuss the perception of theft as it pertains to ancient art and the current crisis in terms of museum acquisitions or holdings acquired after the UNESCO convention date of 1970.  The conflicting arguments in favor of repatriation of art and its retention will be highlighted [...] The modern redefining and expansion of what we call theft complicates the status of these objects and their rightful ownership.  The increasing prevalence of art in our modern world which is either faked or looted, enhances the concept of using displayable copies much as Roman copies of ancient Greek sculptures came to be admired as authentic. The problems of copies and their use will be discussed in the context of the disputed origins of ancient art and the input which conservation has had on several of the important aspects of this subject.
This should be interesting.

The Dead Dad Provenance

The case of four men accused of dodgy dealings with dugup antiquities from Egypt goes on. The key defendant in the case, Mousa (Morris) Khouli of "Windsor Antiquities", pleaded guilty to charges in April (and his sentencing is due next month). The fourth alleged conspirator, Ayman Ramadan, remains - according to US authorities "a fugitive at large". Rick St Hilaire has detailed  (Objection Filed: Prosecution Outlines Factual Claims in U.S. v. Khouli et al., 23rd July 2012) the further developments in the case ("U.S. v. Khouli et al.") against Salem Alshdaifat of Holyland Numismatics and in particular collector Joseph Lewis, II (CEO of a major cosmetics company). The defendants "are presumed innocent unless the government proves beyond a reasonable doubt that they had knowledge of the illegality and acted unlawfully".  After all, what kind of man would lie about his recently deceased father?

Readers may recall that Joseph Lewis II's lawyer argued a motion to dismiss the case against Lewis, maintaining that he was never directly part of (had any knowledge of or agreed to participate in) the alleged illegal importation process.  In the presentation of the recent objection to this motion, the government  outlines an interesting narrative of events describing the movements of certain pieces bought by Lewis some of which were found in his home when it was searched (a Greco-Roman coffin, a mummy board, a 3-piece nesting Egyptian coffin set, and Egyptian boats and limestone artefacts).  These were allegedly smuggled and supplied with provenances which the government charges are false. This is worth outlining as it gives some interesting insights into how "property of...." collecting histories and even documentation appearing to corroborate them are created in the antiquities trade. It also indicates that some dealers are capable of dismantling (ie intentionally damaging) antiquities to "portablize" them in order that they can be more deftly taken across international borders without attracting the attention of customs officers. How widespread are such techniques in today's international market? Of course many of the so-called "minor antiquities" like coins, intaglios, shabti figures, scarabs, and Greek pots are already available as smallish easily portable (postable) pieces). Larger objects need to be fragmented in order that they may be smuggled.

Mummy board,
The first artefact reportedly purchased by Lewis from Khouli was a mummy board (a decorated wooden board that fits inside a coffin along with a mummy). Lewis apparently purchased it in January 2009 from another customer of Windsor Antiquities for $60,000 before it had even left Khouli's hands. It seems that the bill of sale identifies the third party and a previous owners, and the origin was stated as Windsor Antiquities, "and previously, a private Dutch collection that [had] acquired the item in the 1960s". The object in the photo had apparently been sawn in half and in February on learning that the object had come back from "a restorer" and was ready for shipping to Lewis, the latter reportedly "[e]nquired as to whether the repair at the 'joints' was invisible, referring to where the cut pieces were joined together".

Greco-Roman coffin,
The day after that (February 11, 2009), Khouli reportedly offered Lewis two Egyptian antiquities: a Greco-Roman coffin and a bronze figure, claiming they were both from his father's collection. He was asking  $65,000 for the coffin, Lewis agreed to purchase it for half that sum. Khouli subsequently offered Lewis a mummy linen and mask, writing in an e-mail, 'I just got th[e]s[e] items[;] i described them to you last week . . . .' [...] 'It is very interesting[;] it was inside the coffin you bought from me according to the owner but he sold I[t] to me separately son of a gun.' Such a statement would apparently be wholly inconsistent with Khouli’s earlier claim that the Greco-Roman coffin had been in his own father’s collection for decades. Despite learning this, Lewis - trusting the dealer - went on with the acquisition of the Greco-Roman coffin without requesting clarification of the collecting history, indeed he reportedly went on to buy the mummy linen and mask.  Lewis’s records for the mummy linen and mask’s collecting history reportedly include a bill of sale from Khouli's Windsor Antiquities stating that these items were 'legally acquired by the late Jack Khouli in Israel in the 1960s' which Lewis seems not to have questioned, despite the information he had been provided at the time of the sale. Prosecutors allege that Khouli and Ramadan smuggled the Greco-Roman coffin into JFK Airport in New York by transferring two payments of $10,000 and $3400 and submitting false customs information (the customs papers listed the Greco-Roman coffin's country of origin as United Arab Emirates and not Egypt and described the coffin as "antique wood panel" valued at $3400). Although the actual seller reportedly was Ayman Ramadan/Nefertiti Eastern Sculptures Trading, it is alleged that the sales invoice attached to the customs papers had not originated from the actual seller. The Greco-Roman sarcophagus was reportedly seized during a search of  Lewis’s residence in July 2011.

3-piece nesting Egyptian coffin set,
Shortly after, on March 7, 2009, Khouli reportedly offered Lewis three nesting Egyptian coffins (saying the inner coffin had already been sold to another buyer who was willing however to part with it). Lewis agreed to pay the Dubai seller $310,000 for the set (including $150,000 for the inner coffin to avoid breaking up the set). There was no indication that the coffins now in Dubai had previously been in Mr Khouli's father's collection in Israel. According to the prosecution, Lewis’s terms for the purchase however reportedly included that Khouli would provide “[p]rovenance from [his] late father’s collection, Israel 1960s” and a guarantee that the items would be cleared by Customs within 30 days of arrival. The coffins were split up by the dealer which would avoid attracting attention, and arrived in the United States in pieces using various transportation methods through separate points of entry, and reportedly were variously described for Customs as wooden panels, Indian furniture, purchased by a Connecticut third-party, or valued at $900. Prosecutors further allege that Lewis knew that the Egyptian coffin parts required reassembly, Khouli reportedly sent an email to Lewis on April 29, 2009:
"“i (sic) got the first half of the cut inner coffin the second half is on the way, shall I send it to you or should I wait for the second half and have [a certain person] look at it and have it fixed?” (Gov’t Exh. 6; emphases added). Lewis responded, “[The certain person] needs to put them together, when will the other two coffins arrive?” (Id.; emphasis added)." 
The innermost coffin of the nesting set was seized during a search of Khouli’s residence in September 2009. The middle coffin and most of the outer coffin lid were seized in November 2009, after they arrived via sea cargo at the Port of Newark, New Jersey.  Hieroglyphics on the coffin indicate that the name of the deceased was “Shesepamuntayesher” and that she bore the title “Lady of the House.”

Egyptian boats and limestone artifacts.
In May 2009, Salem Alshdaifat allegedly sold Khouli two ancient Egyptian funerary boats and five limestone figures for $40,000. These were sent by Ramadan to Khouli by international mail and then to Lewis, but he reportedly sent the shipping documentation, which described the package as "antiques," to both Alshdaifat and Khouli. The funerary boats and limestone figures were seized during a search of Lewis’s residence in July 2011.

Although not mentioned in this case, readers may recall that Lewis' name was involved as the purchaser in the attempted importation of an Egyptian coffin found in Miami, Florida in 2008 the export of which was challenged by the Egyptian authorities, though the case never came to court.

Vignette: Joe Lewis, skin care product producer (' the pioneer of Cosmeceuticals') reckons he can stop the ageing process. Do you believe that?

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