Friday 31 August 2012

Restitution des Oeuvres d'Art, Solutions et Impasses

On MSN is a short review posted by Jos van Beurden of a work on the issue of repatriation: La Restitution des Oeuvres d'Art, Solutions et Impasses (Corinne Herskovitch & Didier Rykner, Hazan, Paris, 2011).
Herskovitch and Rykner discuss quite a number French examples of successful and failed returns, among them three examples of Nigerian Nok statues with three different outcomes, Nazi spoliated art including the role of the Vichy government, and Korean manuscripts that were returned recently. They make it clear that even if the legal path is being used, still political arguments can be decisive. They clearly describe how France and other colonial powers contributed to the museum-infrastructure in their colonies and at the same time amassed, during wars, punitive expeditions, collecting for scientific purposes and collecting by private people, huge quantities of art and antiques from these countries. They also depict the stalemate between the former colonial powers and the source countries, but do not come to a conclusions as how to go on with this.
In the review, the comment is made that the authors of this book "do not understand why source countries, gathered in Egypt in 2010, so much neglected the non-retroactivity of conventions".

Dzień dobry

"Candice Jarman"  could never spell Polish right either, nawet jak pisała o Teresie Witkowskiej. That's not the only thing it would seem "she" had in common with a militant vehemently anti-archaeological tekkie "across the pond" (text links) published in Texas. Neither of them could provide any real arguments in support of their case, just the usual name-calling, ad hominem arguments, posturing and innuendo. 

UPDATE 2.09.12
I would imagine the person concerned would know what this is about. Mr Stout apparently has not worked out yet what's going on, I guess that is what happens when you get all these metal detectorists trying to cover their tracks writing under false names. As I have always said, there is obviously room here for much more transparency, and frankly discussing the issues rather than dodging them and deflecting attention by sniping and name calling. 


Where the Tarby Case Lawyers are Going?

The recent "motion to dismiss" submitted in the case "United States of America v. One Tyrannosaurus Bataar Skeleton" falls into the usual "You-cannot-prove-anything-so-there" mould (rather than the "here-are-the-documents-so-there" one), so no surprises there. It also falls wide of the mark, given what the problem with the process of export/import actually are reported to be. But, given what we do know about what the controversial paperwork actually does say, I suggest we pay attention to the insistent use of the terminology "Display Piece" in the document. In my non-lawyeristic opinion, it may well have a crucial significance in the future development of the case. If I am reading this right, I suggest it would be good (for the Mongolians) if in any response, the government's lawyers do not underestimate Mr Procopi's lawyers and define more precisely what it was that they claim was imported improperly. Let's not have another St Louis mummy mask type fiasco.

Now, quite a few people have been looking on this blog among other places for information about what is happening and what people are saying about it. That is to be expected. What I find interesting is who has NOT shown any interest in the development of this case. As far as I can see, there have not been any hits from the unnamed fossil dealer in Dorset who reportedly imported the fossils to the UK and then sent them off to the US.

Thursday 30 August 2012

Israel Bought Smuggled Coffin Lid


The pieces of the painted anthropoid coffin lid seized by the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) from a shop showroom in Jerusalem's Old City in April 2011 will return to Egypt in the coming weeks. It will be restored then exhibited at the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square.

Osama El-Nahas, director-general of the Repatriation of Antiquities Department at Egypt's Ministry of State for Antiquities (MSA), told Ahram Online that [...] lid was stolen and illegally smuggled out of the country and slightly modified to look like a replica. It was first taken to Dubai, from where it was transported to Israel, where it subsequently turned up in a shop in Jerusalem's Old City.[...] the IAA bought the lid from the shop owner and promised it to Egypt.
Presumably this was deemed better in this case than some kind of legal process to seize the smuggled object. Will Egypt be reimbursing the purchase price? The Times of Israel (which states that the seizure was in March 2011 rather than April) gives - apart from a better photo - some additional information: 
the owner of the shop where the sarcophagi were found had claimed to have bought the artifacts in Dubai and legally transferred them to Israel by way of London. According to the IAA, “until recently, antiquities dealers and other entities have exploited loopholes in the law whereby they brought antiquities into the country for the purpose of ‘laundering’ them.’” In Israel, owners of stolen artifacts can obtain documentation that would enable them to be sold in the open market as “artifacts… ostensibly of Israeli provenance.” A new law that took effect in late April aims to curtail the practice. “The new regulation will provide us with the tools… to prevent the importation into the country of antiquities that were stolen or plundered in other countries, thus enabling us to thwart the international cycle of robbery and trade in stolen archaeological artifacts,” said IAA official Shai Bar-Tura.
Presumably the object was imported before this new law (discussed earlier on this blog) came into force.

The object is reported to have most likely come from the burial of "an unidentified 16th Dynasty nobleman". If so, it would most likely have been looted from a tomb in Upper Egypt, perhaps Thebes (also possible are sites like El Kab, Abydos or Edfu). Whatever the case, presumably the sarcophagus lid was not the only thing in the tomb, so who has the rest of the bits?

And what about the 18th dynasty one seized at the same time?  And have any of the people handling these coffins been identified by the investigations and are any of them facing any charges? Or did the Jerusalem dealer "lose" the paperwork?

Source: Nevine El-Aref , 'Israel to return ancient coffin lid to Egypt', Al-Ahram 29 Aug 2012

Gabe Fisher and Asher Zeiger, 'Israel to return stolen sarcophagi' (with the tagline: "Coffin it up") The Times of Israel, August 30, 2012, 9:30 pm

Photo:  Sawn-up sarcophagus, seized in Jerusalem (photo Israeli Antiquities Authority)

The London Connection


Coffin lid, surfaced in Jerusalem
There is some more information on the pieces of the sawn-up painted anthropoid coffin lid seized by the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) from a shop showroom in Jerusalem's Old City in  2011. It is reported to be that of an "unidentified 16th Dynasty nobleman". The Times of Israel (Gabe Fisher and Asher Zeiger, 'Israel to return stolen sarcophagi' (with the tagline: "Coffin it up") The Times of Israel, August 30, 2012 ) states that: 
the owner of the shop where the sarcophagi were found had claimed to have bought the artifacts in Dubai and legally transferred them to Israel by way of London.
The mention of the involvement of a London intermediary is interesting. Readers may remember that when the 'Brooklyn' bust occurred, in which a dealer from Dubai was sought (is still being sought), Zahi Hawass let slip that the investigation was intended to be broader, involving somebody in England, which looks rather like the unintended (unauthorised) leaking of operational information. Also the Pa-Miw (aka "Wenneb") shabtis that I discussed here (not a few of which were in the hands of a dealer accused of being involved in that network) were reportedly being distributed piecemeal to other dealers by a central figure in London (to whom when the discussion on them seemed to be indicating they were most likely looted, dealers like Bron Lipkin returned them without revealing the person's name). One London dealer (an AIAD one at that) however is still offering them, regardless.

The current investigations of the Kapoor case are reported elsewhere now to be investigating a route of some objects through the UK on their way from Asia to New York. 

Some time ago the British government made the announcement that they were going to "do something" about the market in illicit antiquities. All they actually ever coughed up was the "Dealing in Cultural Property (Offences) Act" which has proven to be totally ineffective as a tool, serving [like the US CCPIA] purely decorative purposes. Do the British authorities intend to take this problem seriously? Or are they quite content to allow a constant flow of dodgy artefacts to be 'laundered' under their noses? 

Aussie Tekkies Weigh in on the Discussion

I came across a mention of this blog today on an "Australian Metal Detecting and Relic Hunting" forum. The forum itself is pretty turgid, and the metal detectorists Down Under have been alerted to the existence of my blog by one "DrunkBrother" who writes how he: Came across "HATE" blog of metal detecting... READ ON! » A lot of article. most of them picture detectorists as thiefs and so on.
So we see even down there, metal detector users have problems with forming plurals. The replies are interesting, the Aussies have so little material culture in the ground that they find it hard to get their heads round the idea of the archaeological record (reply #2) which is damaged by removal of artefacts. The attitude seems to be that it's not as if the(ir) artefacts are of great historical (or financial) value - the artefact-centred viewpoint that is the problem with the discussion with the US collecting milieus. There is an underlying resentment of the "greed" of the gubn'mint which is seen in this community too as the reason behind legislation that might protect the archaeological resource by restricting artefact hunting. Then (reply #3) along comes "Son of the Sands" from Melbourne, it says, who has the usual dismissive stuff to say:
Barford...or Barfool as we know him is a thorn in metal detectorists side in the UK. He does not differentiate between law abiding detectorists and nighthawks but uses the latter to call frequently for a ban on "amateur detecting". He does not get the full picture, ignoring the fact that most archy sites in the UK were originally found courtesy of the detecting community reporting finds. He is a chump and I have spent many happy hours winding him up on his site. Luckily, most people in the archaeological community think he's a jeb end as well. 
Well, that as may well be. I'm not too impressed by the UK archaeologists who look on while the archaeological record is emptied under their noses and they call it a fruitful "partnership". If it is true that "most arch[aeological] sites in the UK were originally found courtesy of the detecting community reporting finds", then there would be no sense in companies making information about the location of archaeological sites available to artefact hunters if the latter are the source of the information in the first place! The truth is that the location of many of the most productive archaeological sites in Britain had already been gathered in the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries well before any beeping madmen started to infest them hoovering up the collectables.

 It seems to me there is a certain blinkeredness in seeing this blog as "about" metal detecting. One of the things it is about is artefact hunting with metal detectors and spades seen in the context of other types of artefact hunting and collecting (in other words an attempt to see the "full picture"). It certainly does not consist "mostly" of posts calling artefact hunters "thie[ve]s". It is true that in terms of the effects on the preservation of the archaeological record, law abiding and non-reporting artefact hunters are doing as much (and the same kind of) damage as the illegal artefact hunter. It is a fallacy to say that - on that plane (and surely that is the only one that actually matters) - there is a difference. I challenge "Son of the Sands" to show a single word in the several thousand posts on this blog where I call for a ban on "amateur detecting". That is a prime example of the tendency of such collectors to not be able to tell the difference between a true and a false statement. It also certainly is news to me that "Son of the Sands" has "spent many happy hours winding [me] up on [t]his site [blog]". I cannot say I recall him even visiting.

Given the number of demonstrably false statements in the characterisation of this blog by the pseudonymous "Son of the Sands", I leave it to the reader to decide who is the "fool' and the "chump".  

Winter Discontent

It seems some UK tekkies have very thin skins. On an antipodean metal detecting forum  John Winter complains that though I had said earlier that I was looking forward to some articulate pro-collecting arguments from his blog:
Then he put the boot in ... go to his site if you must and then do a search on John Winter at  top left.
Well, I did that, and really cannot see any "putting the boot in" there. Maybe he means another person on another "site"?

I see on my blog a discussion of a lengthy article of his with which I disagree: "John Winter on the "Detractors of Metal Detecting"... ". Perhaps the problem is instead of just calling him names and dismissing what he wrote like tekkies do, I say precisely why I disagree with him. Is that "putting the boot in" in tekkie-speak?

I see a text called "John Winter has Problems with US Metal Detectorist" and sympathise with him, I do too. I see "Detecting Under the Microscope: A Winter of Discontent" and comment that I think Mr Winter is confusing discussing a complex issue on a blog and amusing fans on Twitter. I mention Mr W. obliquely in three other posts (like "Focus on Metal Detecting: "Where Would the BM be Without the input of the metal detectorist"? "), hardly "putting the boot in".

It really is rather pathetic that in the eyes of UK metal detectorists even those like Mr Winter, somebody who is not a fawning yes-man who pats artefact hunters on the head all the time like some of my compliant archaeologist colleagues is dismissed as "putting the boot in" and running a "hate blog about metal detecting". Anyone (else) can see that this blog is about (all kinds of) Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues, like it says on the box. That people like Mr Winter have no inclination to discuss the issues raised does not mean that such issues do not exist. 

Heritage Action's Open Letter to English Heritage

With reference to their comments on the wording of the press release on the recent nighthawking case (see here), I cannot see that another cogent text of theirs got all that much coverage outside the Heritage Action webpage, so post a link here to it, "Metal detecting: a letter to English Heritage" in their section called "Conservation, Damage and desecration",
Dear English Heritage, [...]
It is dated 22/12/2009. I suspect English Heritage find it convenient to pretend they've not seen it. That way it is easier to justify them not doing anything at all about this. But this publicly-financed conservation body has seen it, haven't they?

Wednesday 29 August 2012

Polish Metal Detecting Rally in Britain

Metal detecting club PHEC Thesaurus announces:
W tym roku spotykamy się w dniach 13-17ty września w Luton pod Londynem. Mamy do dyspozycji część pól na których organizowaliśmy ostatnie spotkanie oraz ponad 200 akrów zupełnie nowych i niezbadanych terenów. Nie muszę Wam chyba mówic jak ciekawa i fantonośna jest to okolica
That is: 
This year, we are meeting on the 13th to 17th September in Luton, near London. We have at our disposal some of the fields in which we organized our last meeting and more than 200 acres of completely new and unsearched land. I do not think I have to tell you how interesting and productive the area is.

So far, 89 participants who would find it difficult getting round the laws which protect the archaeological heritage in their civilized European state back home are coming to the Wild West to dig up and take possession of the archaeological heritage of the islanders-who-do-not-care-what-you-do-with-it. They are exploiting the ignorance and apathy of the islanders with their nineteenth century legislation. This year too will the PAS be on hand to make sure this exploitive metal detecting holiday is a success and has the air of respectability?

Glasgow Takes a Comparative Look at Looters

The Glasgow-based "trafficking culture" project is announcing that among its ongoing projects is going to be one called: "Looters: a comparative study" looking, it said, at "different types of looters across Europe". Suzie Thomas describes her ongoing research in the following terms:
Around the world, there are a number of terms used for people who loot archaeological and cultural material: pothunters (South West USA); tombaroli (Italy), Raubgräber (Germany and Austria), nighthawks (UK and Ireland), huaqueros (Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia). These different terms usually reflect the local language, and sometimes also refer to the nature of the looting taking place (for example a nighthawk always uses a metal detector). However, there are other, sometimes less obvious distinctions, not only between the terms, but around the nature of looting itself in specific contexts. This research project aims to investigate the nature and drivers of looting archaeological material in a selection of countries. This takes into account the typical profile of the looters (for example is it a hobby that has strayed into illegal behaviour on occasion, one of several criminal activities carried out by the looter, or part of a more organised system?). Focussing on Europe, the economic, legislative and cultural contexts of selected case studies will be analysed to assess their impact on the nature and prevalence of looting. The nature, prevalence and financial desirability of archaeological material from different countries is also taken into account, as is the degree of engagement between treasure hunting communities and heritage professionals. The overall aim of this project is to provide reliable cross-country data on types of and motivations for looting, in order to support the informed analysis of current and proposed legal and policy responses to the problem. An in-depth understanding of the social practice of looting, whether as a hobby or as a career, is an important baseline of knowledge from which to analyse regulatory responses to the issue. The range of such contemporary regulatory responses will be reviewed as part of this project, and recommendations will emerge on what works in controlling looting in its different forms.
I think it is going to be very difficult collecting information on the aspects discussed, I really cannot imagine Ms Thomas walking into a "tombaroli club" and asking one of the them: "tell me, Luigi, how did you start this, was it just a hobby which has strayed into illegal behaviour on occasion?". It seems to me that this young British researcher forgets that in most of the countries she mentions, the activity discussed has been illegal from the outset. It is in very few countries that one can go out looting recreationally as a "hobby", and the fact that Britain is one of them seems here to be colouring the proposed research agenda. It seems to me rather odd to consider pothunters and ignore arrowhead collectors, in the same way in Britain to concentrate on so-called "nighthawks" and (apparently) ignore lithics collectors, mudlarks, dump diggers, aeroplane crash site searchers and wreck divers. I look forward to seeing her presentation of "The nature, prevalence and financial desirability of archaeological material from different countries" as there has been very little work of this type done in the past and regional differences in this seem worth exploring. Also the social background to the phenomenon that it will be useful to have more information on, if the researcher can get it. the problem is that the activity is by nature a clandestine one, and the sources of information not so varied (police reports, court documents mostly) and accessible. Still, we wish her luck.

But I hope that before she publishes the results she can step back from that PAS-mentality betrayed by the mention of ascertaining "the degree of engagement between treasure hunting communities and heritage professionals". In many cases, however much supporters of collecting may regret it,  the only "engagement" there can be is through jailcell bars. If the activity is illegal (in order to protect the finite and fragile archaeological resource) why should heritage professionals "engage" with those that wilfully ignore those laws to destroy archaeological evidence and sites and monuments? 


Focus on UK Metal Detecting: "Removal of Part of Our Heritage Will not be Tolerated"

Heritage Action ('Nighthawk caught. Great job, but…', 29/08/2012) read the press releases about the recent conviction of a metal detectorist for theft :
What a crying shame this was said though: “Behaviour such as his removes part of our heritage and will not be tolerated.” Please, Police, English Heritage et al, in future if you’re going to highlight the “heritage loss” aspect of nighthawking rather than the theft aspect, can you not give the public the least reason to believe that illegal metal detecting is the main cause of heritage loss through metal detecting. It isn’t. Legal detecting by those who don’t report their finds is far more widespread and the cause of vastly more heritage loss than nighthawking. And IS tolerated. The public has a right to understand that. Thanks.
Indeed one cannot be under any illusion that Heritage Action is mistaken there. Unless you are the British Museum of course when probably the only comment you will be able to utter is "more trolling

UKDFD Metal Detector Using Thief gets "Lenient" Sentence

He denied all the offences but was convicted of eight offences of theft and of going equipped for theft by District Judge John Stobart at Skegness Magistrates Court last week. Lomas was ordered to forfeit his metal detecting equipment - worth around £1,300 - and was given a 12 months conditional discharge. He was also ordered to pay £400 in costs. The judge said he was being lenient due to Lomas losing his equipment. [...] Judge Stobart added: “Anybody in future coming before me cannot expect anything like this leniency”.
Prosecution said that between 2010 and 2012, there had been reports of 11 incidents of holes being dug on farmland in Lincolnshire, averaging 25 holes in each incident.That's some 300 holes noted.
Lomas’ vehicle had been recorded coming into and out of Lincolnshire late at night - and in the early hours of the morning - on 11 different occasions between April 17 and June 3 2011. When his vehicle was stopped on June 5 on the A158 at Baumber, it was found to contain three metal detectors. After a police raid at his home in July 2011, police found a large quantity of objects - brooches, coins, pins and seals - two of which were found to have precious metal content in excess of 10 per cent which should have been declared as treasure to the Coroner. It also transpired that between July 2010 and May 2011, Lomas advertised 56 items on E-Bay and had sold approximately 30 of them. He had also entered the items referred to in the charges on to the UK Detectors database for recording finds. He stated they had all been found in May 2011 by him in Lincolnshire. In defence, Lomas said his trips into Lincolnshire at night with friends had been to use metal detectors on the beaches around Skegness and he had not gone on to land without permission. He also claimed that items found at his home had been legitimately purchased by him from friends or dealers at trade shows. Defending, Terry Boston said the suggestions the items found had been taken out of the ground were not ‘solid enough’ to be prove and claimed Lomas carried his metal detecting equipment around with him like fisherman carries his equipment.Judge Stobart acquitted Lomas of the charges relating to the two items of ‘treasure’ but convicted him of eight allegations 
of theft and of going equipped for theft with his apparatus. 
So, bearing in mind the emerging definitions of nighthawking, what did Lomas have any documentation supporting his claims to have obtained these items licitly? 

Are the items found by Mr Lomas and now declared the proceeds of a crime still included on the UK Detectiong Finds database? Does this resource allow the legitimisation by publication of illegal finds?  They'd be tucked in between UKDFD Ref. No. - 31302 and UKDFD Ref. No. - 31736, but now this resource hides the finder's names.

Tuesday 28 August 2012

Two Years Ago: UK Treasure Convictions Down

This was two years ago:
Crown versus Kate Harding Overturned Readers might remember the fracas over a coin that was not a coin when the British archaeological establishment tried to convict 23-year old blonde Kate Harding of failing to report a Treasure find which she'd found in her own garden. The whole case depended on when a coin is not a coin, some readers will remember I pointed out another similar case which the PAS/Treasure boffins missed - silence over that one of course. Instead of picking on one of their "partners", the field-hoovering, find-hoarding metal detectorist, they foolishly went for this one and lost a lot of public sympathy. Anyway, Kate Harding's conviction has been overthrown and the inconsistent UK archies will have to look elsewhere to get their first conviction. Try again chaps.
and have they? All sorts of things have gone through in the intervening weeks and months. How many charges have now been made?

Harsher Punishment for Artefact Thieves in Sri Lanka

Looting of archaeological sites for saleable 'artworks' (ie dugup artefacts and knocked-ff bits of monuments) is endemic right across Southern Asia. Sri Lanka intends to get tougher with culprits, the Archaeology Department submitted a draft Bill for the amendment of the Antiquities Ordinance, to the Cabinet, with provision to mete out harsher punishment for artefact thieves and treasure hunters. For example those charged will not be granted bail, and  there will be the introduction of a two- year jail term mandatory for "those who commit artefact thefts or destroy ancient archaeological sites for treasures". It is proposed to raise the fines and sanctions for those engaged in illegal excavations for treasure (suggestions to raise the present fine for artefact crimes of Rs 250000 to  Rs two million).  
According to Archaeology Department sources, over 125 treasure hunting and artefact theft cases, including the Colombo Museum theft, have been reported during the year. Asked if they were satisfied with the investigations carried out by the police into these incidents [Archaeology Department Museum and Maintenance Deputy Director M A J R Madagammana] told the Daily News: "They have been helpful in arresting those who have committed these acts." "For the most part, these are villagers who have been drawn into illegal excavation by some moneyed bosses. It appears that they somehow get away," he said. 

Chamikara Weerasinghe, 'Harsher punishment for artefact thieves', Sri Lanka Daily News, 28 August 2012

Focus on Metal Detecting: Rotherham Nighthawk PAS "Partner"

It turns out that Kevin Lomas, convicted of illegal metal detecting last week, has also been reporting finds to the PAS. In the 2008 Portable Antiquities Scheme Annual Report, page 166 we find mention of a Late Medieval/Post-Medieval silver-gilt pin head from Kettlethorpe, Lincs, reported to the Yorkshire FLO in 2008  and returned to the finder. There is also a mention of him in the November 2007 issue of Treasure Hunter magazine, where in an article on 'mysterious and unidentified objects made of precious metals, found in Great Britain', mention is made of him having found in his metal detecting a "gold-looking jewel with red stones affixed on the surface".
In the rhetoric of the pro-collecting lobbyists a clear distiction is made between  the "them" of the nighthawks (minority) and the "us" the (majority) - responsible metal detectorists. The case of Mr Lomas invites us to reflect whether the distinction is always so sharp, and whether in fact it matters, when what we are talking about is the removal of archaeological artefacts from their contexts. 

Monday 27 August 2012

Metal Detecting Under the Microscope: There's Money Out There, Go and Get it!

Ged Dodd has an amazingly-revealing set of videos about metal detecting. Like this one, 'Ged Dodd Metal Detecting UK (414) Cash for Olde Bronze Coins', where he sells off nine kilos of dug-up artefacts for their scrap value. This is what he says about it:
"Raining again today .. so I cashed in some olde bronze coins .. oh yeah .. money money money .. OK .. I know I upset some prima donna Deus uses by using my Deus for things other than finding hammered and Roman coins .. believe me I would if I had the sites .. but the Deus is so versatile it can be used under any circumstances .. and £90.30 cash in my hand in a couple days can't be bad .. LOL"
(skip the long interlude about the grand daughter) :

'Ged Dodd Metal Detecting UK 'XP Deus - (414) Cash for Olde Bronze Coins' 
(Posted on You Tube by Peace Havens)

He describes the haul as "old grotty coins that are no good to man nor beast" but there are clearly other artefacts there. They take "a few kilos of lead [artefacts]" (and "cooper nickels") too. Ninety pounds for melting down artefacts which this collector regards as "scrap". Who says they are not doing it for the money?

The current justifications of artefact hunting in England (and for the moment) Wales concentrate on what is found and reported. From the point of view of the discussions about what it is these policies are "preserving"  we should bear in mind what is found and discarded - and as in the case melted down and destroyed irretrievably - without record.

There is of course another issue, there are those who see the fact that artefact hunting on a massive scale is going on in England and (for the moment) Wales under the aegis and watchful eye of the Portable Antiquities Scheme as an indicator that it is in some way part of the UK's programme of sustainable management of the archaeological resource. Sustainable management however implies the reduction of damage by making sure that only what is needed is taken from a resource, and what is taken is efficiently utilised so none goes to waste. taking surplus artefacts out of the archaeological resource and then disposing of them by melting them down is not by anyone's logic, except a chortling metal detectorist's, any form of "sustainable management". For an equally egregious example of the same thing see the text on the guy who polishes surplus artefacts for sale as 'wearable' jewellery.

UPDATE  30.08.12
Sorted out the 'embed' link I think, if not, the link in the caption below the frame still seems to give access to the video I am discussing here (if not do a Google search for the title). The other videos by this gentleman are, however, well worth a look with a critical eye too.

Metal Detecting Under the Microscope: Metal Detectorist Charged over Thefts from Lincolnshire Fields

Last year, landowners in the Horncastle area reported damage to crops and artefacts being stolen from the ground. In February 2011 Operation Totem was launched to combat illegal metal detecting in the area. A metal detectorist has now reportedly been found guilty of theft for illegally searching for historic artefacts in fields in the area:
As part of the operation, a team of officers from Horncastle, assisted by South Yorkshire Police and English Heritage, obtained a search warrant at an address in Rotherham. Kevin Thomas Lomas, 41, was arrested following the discovery of a large quantity of coins and historic artefacts at his home, along with metal detecting equipment. Over the next year, enquires were carried out to identify the property seized and gather evidence. Some items were taken to the British Museum and examined by experts. Lomas was eventually charged with 12 offences relating to the investigation and appeared at Skegness Magistrates Court. He was found guilty of eight counts of theft and one offence of going equipped to steal. An order was made forcing him to forfeit his metal detection equipment and associated items. He received a 12-month condition[al] discharge and was ordered to pay £400 towards costs. Sergeant Alasdair Booth, of Horncastle Police, said: “This case send out a clear message that illegal metal detecting and heritage crime will be taken seriously.
No actually it does not, not really. Because it is not taken seriously. If he'd stolen cables from eight segments of railway track, or eight police cars, would he have got the same sentence ?  Sergeant Alasdair Booth, of Horncastle Police also said what he'd been told to say:

"While there are many responsible people who legitimately enjoy metal detecting with the permission of land owners, whilst using the proper channels to register and dispose of items that they may find, there are a small minority who persist in operating outside the law.”
How does Sergeant Booth know its a "minority"? Because they'd only caught one guy? But it is good to see that Sergeant Booth also thinks that registering the finds through the proper channels is the ONLY way that one can define "responsible" - though I am not sure what he has in mind in saying they are: "using the proper channels to [...] dispose of items that they may find"? What are "proper channels"? What on earth is he on about?

Now it is worth noting that the distance from Rotherham to Horncastle is 88km, quite a long way to drive in the dark to find a site.

Barnaby B.[sic], 'Metal detectorist charged over thefts from Lincolnshire fields', This is Lincolnshire August 25, 2012

Lincolnshire police press release, 'Operation Totem, 41 year-old man convicted',  23rd August 2012

Photo:  Kevin Thomas Lomas, metal detector user.

Egypt: Antiquities Minister - UNESCO to Help "Criminalize Copying Egyptian Antiquities"?

I do hope this is an apocryphal story, with no basis. There are thousands of artefacts missing from stores, most of them with no list in the public domain, sites have been looted, smugglers are operating, sites are being encroached upon. What is the Ministry doing about it?
Minister of Antiquities Mohamed Ibrahim affirmed that the ministry started the coordination with UNESCO to issue international legislation that will Criminalize copying the Egyptian Antiquities.
They are trying to stop people selling replicas. Is UNESCO really helping them with this?

'Egypt: Antiquities Minister - Contacts With Unesco to Criminalize Copying Local Antiquities', All Africa, 26 August 2012

Friday 24 August 2012

Treasure Hunter Sought by Authorities

Tommy G. Thompson [...] promised huge returns to investors who backed his search for the SS Central America, which was dubbed in maritime lore as the “Ship of Gold.” The 280-foot ship sank during a hurricane off the North Carolina coast in 1857, taking 425 souls and up to 21 tons of gold to the ocean floor some 8,000 feet deep. [...] When Thompson, an ocean engineer by trade, announced his Columbus, Ohio-based team had found the wreck in 1988, his gleeful backers awaited a big payday. It never came [...].
Joshua Rhett Miller, 'Treasure hunter who found 'Ship of Gold' now sought by US Marshals', Fox news August 23, 2012

UK Metal Detecting Under the Microscope: The Significance of Glasgow's New Definition of "Nighthawking"

One of the benefits for the pro-collecting lobby in the use of terms like "nighthawking"  (as in "we are not nighthawks, nighthawks are not bona fide metal detectorists") is that the term is so vague. We recall explanations like the classic "I'm notta night'awk cuz I go out in the day" and so on.

Anyhow that is now changing, the Glasgow mega-project "trafficking culture" has come up with the (definitive?) definitions of nighthawking in the European (really?) context. I have already noted the fourth. Nigel Swift wrote that he found it interesting as it jives perfectly with what Heritage Action have been saying for a long while about finders' agreements etc all along. Indeed it does. Lets take a look at it. According to this new definition, among other things, a metal detectorist is guilty of nighthawking when they have:
  • Searched on private land with permission from the landowner, but then failed to disclose what was found, especially items of financial value or items of Treasure, constituting theft from the landowner and/or the Crown.
I think quite notable the differences in the UK codes of ethics/practice/conduct on this point. While the Official Code says: "Report[..] any finds to the relevant landowner/occupier", the one most tekkies adhere to - the NCMD one - says "Report all unusual historical finds to the landowner". The FID code is a cracker "Report all your finds to the landowner, even those that must be declared to the Coroner as well" (surely it is primarily the planned removal from their property of potential Treasure finds of  which the landowner must be appraised from the earliest moment!). How often, though, does it happen that tekkies get blanket permission (in writing say) to turn up on remote fields whenever they want, do some artefact collection, and take the stuff home without showing how many buckles, hobnails and Roman grots and pieces of lead they've taken each time? How many after detecting then seek out the farmer, perhaps engaged in activities the other side of an extensive farm? Or drop in at the farmhouse each time to say 'thank you' and lay out their finds? How often does "wellying" take place (showing the farmer the finds in the finds pouch when leaving the field, but avoiding showing him the find concealed about the person - here metaphorically dropped down the top of a wellington boot)? Never happens even though the practice has a name?  

Basically what this is saying is that anyone, whether or not they have an agreement with the farmer, who leaves the site of a bout of metal detecting without showing the farmer exactly what they are taking is a nighthawk. Obviously in the light of such a definition, to make everything clear, it would make sense for the finder to get some kind of itemised release form signed at the end of each search. That would then sort out problems about on whose land something which subsequently is sold on eBay or to a dealer was actually found, whether it was licitly obtained, or was 'nighthawked' according to the new broader definition now being proposed by the Glasgow team. Obviously a find being sold on the open market in the UK which has no release form signed by a landowner that he has seen the object and approves its removal from his land is, by the new proposed definition, potentially nighthawked.  A finder wishing in any way to profit from the exhibition, lending or commercial use of such items would have to show such a form for each of them in order to prove they were not nighthawked. This new definition from Glasgow indeed makes the differentiation of licit from illicit finds in the UK (English and Welsh primarily) context much more precise. 

Thursday 23 August 2012

ONE Person in Maryland Looks up the Scrolls

United States Flag
24 Aug05:53:26  Bethesda, Maryland, United States, ISP details: [...]


As well they might. The Synagogue thought they were getting a stolen scroll, but it seems were mistaken. Have they been talking about how disappointed they were to find out it was not really stolen from Iraq after all? Or are they keeping very, very quiet? Come on, let us know...

Focus on Metal Detecting: From Their Own Lips, "Metal Detecting and Archaeology Have NOTHING in Common"

UK metal detectorist John Howland has a number of choice remarks concerning the sustainable management of the archaeological record in the comments thread to a post on a metal detecting blog. Among them we find this one:
[...] we first have to identify what metal detecting is about. It is a pursuit having its own methodology, terminology and ideaology (sic), where the artefact or the ‘find’ is paramount. Metal detecting is NOT archaeology. Having thus identified the hobby’s parameters, then hobbyist’s rights on a wider canvas can be identified, persued (sic) and protected.

From his other comments in that thread it is clear that Mr Howland is against any kind of 'partnership' with archaeology over best practice and conduct, the need to preserve evidence and the need to make a record of evidence (that is not quite the insulting terms in which he put it though).
I find it interesting that there are still people in the milieu who fail to recognize, or refuse to admit, that for a decade and a half metal detecting has gained a position in the UK second to none due precisely to the image propagated that hoiking finds out of the archaeological record ("done right" ie "responsibly") can help archaeology (and, it is argued, preservation) and therefore should be encouraged, supported, not condemned. Here we have a school of thought entirely opposed to that. Possibly these standards of responsibility are a bit too tough for all, who'd prefer the topic was not raised in tekkie circles. Metal detecting and archaeology have nothing in common, these people say. Finding collectable things is paramount, and to this end there is a "methodology" a "terminology" and an "ideology" all of their own.

Now, I think we would all be very interested in a lengthy essay setting out that specific "methodology of finds-only metal detecting". It would be great to see a glossary of that "tekkie terminology" (Nigel Swift and I started one a few years back, I must dust it off) and it would be really useful to have that separatist "ideology" set down in black and white on paper.

I think it would serve the preservationist cause immensely to have those three documents in the context of a group of people campaigning for support of the "rights" of a group of self-centred hobbyists to pursue these aims and this ideology. It would do our cause no end of good, setting British metal detecting back where it was twenty years ago - which I suspect is what veterans of the Detector Wars of the eighties like Howland and his overseas mentor Dick Stout would really like to see. Go for it Mr Howland!

How many in British "metal detecting" circles would agree with Mr Howland and secretly applauding his crude attacks on the notions of sustainable management of the archaeological resource?

"Junk Science"?

Rather belatedly, Lobboblogger grumpily announces too the launch of the "Trafficking Culture" webpage but calls it "EU Funded Self-Promotion":
To date, any "research" seems to be the same sort of one sided "junk science" one sees on the SAFE website or links to the prior work of the lead researchers in the same vein.

Well, seeing as they have only just started, maybe this time next year we can compare what they have produced with what the US so-called "Cultural Policy Research Institute" has coughed up since it was founded in 2009 (with Lobboblogger on the Board of Directors). Professor David Gill has had a few words on the quality of the science represented by the single report they have managed to produce so far.

Before Tompa gets too carried away with his criticism of those 'backward Yuropeens', let us remind him that at least three members of the team come to it directly from US centres of higher education.

I wonder what actually would not constitute "one sided "junk science"..." in the eyes of the ever-critical US dealers' lobbyist? Maybe he could give us some examples of some "good science" in the same field contributed by the collecting and dealing lobby, and explain what makes the latter superior? 

Photo: a load of JUNK outside the registered address of the American Cultural Policy "Research Institute"  (215 W. San Francisco St. Santa Fe, NM 87501) [Google Street View]

Britain and the 1954 Hague Convention: This is Just Getting Embarrassing

Almost four years ago (Sunday, 28 September 2008) I wrote this post: Half a century on and we're still just talking about it... about the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict” and its two protocols. It strikes me that in fact in those four years, nothing much has changed and the DCMS and English Heritage websites say exactly the same thing as four years ago, "we are STILL talking about it". This is just getting embarrassing. So what are heritage professionals in the UK doing to hurry the process along? Anything? Is it possible the UK is waiting for the document's sixtieth anniversary in just 20 months' time before jubilantly announcing to the world, "OK, we'll agree to ratify it now"? Or will they find another excuse? Scandalous.

Legal Battle to Retain Ancient Artefacts: the Aussie View

There is an interesting report by Ian Cochran on Australian Network News called 'Legal battle to return ancient artefacts', but actually the report is about the Australians' legal battle to RETAIN ancient artefacts, through a new 'immunity from seizure law', which basically means if somebody comes along with information an object on exhibition in an Australian museum is looted, they are sent packing. So much for crowd-sourcing and wikiloot.

This brief report is quite an interesting comparison to the discussions about museum loans and museum seizures in the US, but also introduces the 'indigenous voice' (Garry Murray: "invent laws to return stuff, don't invent laws that give comfort to people who've stolen stuff" - well said).

Sadly I can't embed this, so give the link which works at the moment

Wednesday 22 August 2012

Trafficking Culture Website

Trafficking Culture is a research project based at the University of Glasgow, currently funded by the European Research Council from 2012-16, which aims to produce an evidence-based picture of the contemporary global trade in looted cultural objects.

Their new website  includes links to project team members, publications, and an encyclopedia of terminology, methodology, theory and a variety of case studies from around the world. They promise it will be regularly updated.

For those who prefer shorter soundbite style 'news' they can also be followed on Twitter @CultureTraffic and on Facebook at

There are short bios of the team members here

An impressive five-page bibliography of texts written by team members to date.

and details of current projects:

Neil Brodie: Measuring the International Market in Illicit Cultural Objects

Simon Mackenzie: Understanding the International Market in Illicit Cultural Objects

Suzie Thomas: Looters: a comparative study

(who will be looking at "the degree of engagement between treasure hunting communities and heritage professionals" uh-oh, the PAS again?).

Donna Yates: Illicit Traffic in Latin American Antiquities

(where there is no PAS).

 Jessica Dietzler: Trafficking Cultural Objects: A Comparative Study of Systems of Control in Transnational Criminal Markets

Vignette: the tired old 1970 Convention needs new teeth. 


e-Encyclopaedia of Trafficking Culture

The "Trafficking Cuture" website also has an online encyclopaedia of
"case studies, law, theory and methods and terminology". It seems to me that this has the potential to be very useful, but since it covers such a wide field of topics, when it grows it could be difficult to navigate without a proper index.

I am very glad to see the discussion of "illicit" versus "illegal" since a few years ago I had to explain this to a tedious transatlantic forum owner and coin dealer. The problem, I learnt, is that in Californian coin-dealer-usage at least, it appears that the word "illicit" has a somewhat different meaning in UK English from that which it has (or the manner in which it is used) in US English ("two nations divided by a common language" and all that). This illustrates the point that it is very helpful in a project such as this - and of such wide scope - to have some clear definitions of what it is, precisely, we are talking about.

From this point of view, I was therefore a trifle puzzled by the latest entries in the "terminology" section where we find:  Huechero, Huaquero, Nighthawk and 'Subsistence Digging'  and I'd like to know what the authors feel is the difference between, for example, a Huaquero and a 'subsistence digger'. I suspect that the latter a term used by us as a label for activities where the people concerned have not yet attracted a traditional collective noun to describe them. How is "subsistence digger" different from the (as-yet-undefined) "looter", one owns a car, the other does not?

I'd like to know (given that Suzie Thomas' definition of the term does not include going out in the dark) if one can be a "nighthawk" without a metal detector? What do we call a looter who loots for example flint tools from a scheduled site? Is that a nighthawk? I wonder too whether all metal detectorists in the UK would consider all four of the definitions given as "nighthawking"? Is (fourth definition) the metal detectorist for example who sells photos of even the most mundane finds from a site for 500 quid apiece without informing, agreeing and splitting it with the landowner a "nighthawk", and can they be 'done' for it? The 2009 Nighthawking report is mentioned, and the definitions given in the encyclopedia differ from those used in the official report, which is correct? Oh, and will we be seeing a definition of "metal detectorist" and how it differs across the international spectrum?

It is worth noting that as of yet there is no definition of either the word "trafficking" or "culture", which seems a pretty fundamental starting point here. What actually is meant by "culture" in this context? Does it include dinosaurs?

Also rather puzzling was the inclusion of the Beilitung shipwreck and the Antonine Wall as among the first 'case studies' in trafficking culture to be included. I am not sure what the connection actually is. The section on the Egyptian looting and the Cairo Museum events seem to avoid the issues rather than illuminating them, and again the connection with "trafficking" is unclear as the author does not discuss that aspect of the recent cases (there is quite a bit of information on that collected in this blog, all you have to do is read it). Still, early days yet, I am sure all will become clearer as the project develops.

Since there are so many sides to these issues and so many viewpoints, would the authors not consider it worthwhile to allow comments to these definitions? [I am sure metal detectorists would have a few things to add to Suzie Thomas's remarks on subjects close to them.]

Vignette: Trafficking (looters have cars?)

Bulgarian Transit for Looted Turkish Artefacts

As reported here and elsewhere, ancient sites of Bulgaria have been plundered into oblivion to fuel the extensive western market that grew up as the result of a massive haemorrhage of ancient artefacts from metal detecting and clandestine digging from the country. At least some of this market (if not the greater part of it) was under the control of organized criminal groups. As the supply of 'home-grown' artefacts began to dry up, the suppliers looked further afield - so we saw the same dealers offering so-called "Viking" items from the recent looting of burial sites in northern Russia and the Baltic states. A recent seizure on the Bulgarian-Turkish border seems another manifestation of the attempts of Bulgarian suppliers to obtain fresh material to keep their market alive.

The  National Customs Agency (NCA) of Bulgaria has announced the seizure at the  Lesovo customs checkpoint on Sunday of a smuggled shipment of 488 artefacts - ancient coins, ornaments and ancient arrowheads. They were seized from a jeep with Bulgarian registration entering the territory of the country from Turkey:
The vehicle was driven by a 43-year-old Bulgarian national from the district of Yambol. Customs officers selected the car for a thorough check despite the very self-confident behaviour of the driver and his companion, who said they did not transport anything that needed to be declared before the customs. An x-ray examination, however, detected two plastic bags inside the right front seat of the car. The bags were full of ancient coins with patina. The personal check on the driver discovered two other plastic bags with ancient findings. Authorities confiscated a total of 460 ancient coins, 16 edges of ancient weapons and 12 ornaments at the total weight of 1,745 grams. 
The coins are Roman and Byzantine. The objects seem to have been found by treasure hunters with metal detectors in Turkey and it is surmised that they were destined for western Europe. Yambol is just 43 km from the border, in SE Bulgaria.

FOCUS News Agency, 'Bulgaria busts smuggled treasure-hunter’s artefacts at Lesovo checkpoint', 20 August 2012 t 20, 2012]

Tuesday 21 August 2012

Ruspoli di Poggio Suasa Koh Ker Statue in Court

The title says it all:
Rick St Hilaire- 'Federal Attorneys File Motion in Support of Cambodian Statue's Forfeiture from Sotheby's, Arguing the "Signs of Theft Should Have Been Obvious"...', Cultural Heritage Lawyer, Tuesday, August 21, 2012. 
It seems an attempt was made earlier to argue that these tenth century temple remains at Koh Ker were "abandoned property, free for the taking by anyone willing and able to cut them off their pedestals". Was it the American lawyers or the claimant ('Ms. Ruspoli di Poggio Suasa') that came up with that neocolonial, 'Elginist' cracker?

Plunder Guatemala

David Gill posted up an annoying video of the "Merrin" warrior vase (what is it with these collectors and their obsession with pseudo-ethnic percussion?). I was looking for some kind of commentary on what it supposedly shows (it's obvious that they are ancient astronauts of course) and clicked on YouTube, which when the dum-de-dum dum-de-dum drumfest ended, very helpfully invited me to watch this (If you are an animal lover you might want to skip the final part of the film).

You Tube knows how to make the right connections.
"In the Guatemalan jungle [...] there is a war with the past, the archaeologists and government guards on one side, the Market and the hunger of the poor brutally colonizing a new frontier on the other. It is an unequal struggle".
Like all colonialism the antiquities market exploits the lower classes, employs their physical labour to produce a raw material from which others profit.
Oh and if you were as puzzled as me about the pictures on the vase (anybody now in any doubt how it came onto the market back in <1968?) the You Tube page gives links to a Facebook page and a blog which provide that info. .

Gefässe anyone?

Somebody claiming to be Michel Van Rijn draws attention on MSN to an upcoming auction in Germany of pre-Columbian "art" i.e, archaeological objects, most of them sold without proper collecting histories. And look who it is, recognise the name?

Aktuelle Auktion  24. - 25.09.2012
Auktionen 282-283:
Praekolumbische Kunst / Antike Kunstobjekte

Some fascinating stuff, from "old European collections" 

Monday 20 August 2012

UK Detecting Code of Practice, Who Was Deceiving Whom?

Heritage Action have announced that their recent story about the NDCMD adopting the offial Code of Practice for responsible metal Detecting in England and Wales wasn’t, as some metal detectorists were angrily claiming, a "hoax". I discussed this story here.

What  in fact (as some guessed) we were referring to was the statement of the NCMD Chairman in a joint press release on the PAS website (cached here in case it gets deleted at the request of 'partners'). It very clearly sets out the NCMD intentions:
“The National Council for Metal Detecting will be replacing its existing Code, a part of its Constitution, with the new one. Adherence to the Code when metal detecting is a condition of membership
The point is that is what was agreed back in May 2006. Since then that expression of intent has been neither explicitly amended nor actioned. As HA say:
So to be clear: our article wasn’t a massive hoax, it was ABOUT one.
Of course the pathetic NCMD now makes a half-hearted (for it can hardly be taken seriously)  attempt to explain the discrepancy between word and action. Their spokesman “Remic” explained (August 16, 2012, 09:55:02 PM ) on one forum to confused NCMD members what really happened:
unfortunately a mistake was made in the pre agreed press release whereby the term “replacing its existing code with a new one” was printed and issued as “replacing its existing code with the new one”. By the time it was spotted it had been issued.
Oh dear, its those wobbly tekkie literacy skills again at the root of the problem. Now perhaps before giving them the poor mites the benefit of the doubt and accepting that rather unlikely 'explanation', let's put it in the context of what the press release actually says (I'll replace "a" with its cognate "another" to show what I mean)
Steve Critchley, Chairman – National Council for Metal-Detecting said:
 “This Code is both fair and practical. By adhering to this Code the vast majority of metal-detectorists will be able to demonstrate that they have a genuine interest in the past and wish to benefit from the knowledge they gain from their hobby. The National Council for Metal Detecting will be replacing its existing Code, a part of its Constitution, with [another] new one. Adherence to the Code when metal detecting is a condition of membership”.
For further information please contact Hannah Boulton in the Press Office [...].
Does that make any sense to anyone other than a shallow-minded artefact hunter unwilling to see things in context? "THIS new code is both fair and practical, BUT the NCMD is going to replace the Code they have, NOT with this one, but ANOTHER ONE". Eh? Only a detectorist can see the logic in that I fear. 
Now, as to whether it was a mistake or not, we should note that this wording was on the version of the press release of the NCMD's own website  and there was an ongoing discussion about this at the time. Certainly the Director of the CBA (who - like the representative of the PAS - was at the meetings where this was discussed) was under the impression that the replacement of the NCMD code by the new one was what had been agreed, and was mightily surprised to learn from me several years later that this is not what had happened and their website says something else.

So what kind of an “historic agreement” is it if it never was in fact an agreement because it’s wording, “all parties are committed to ensuring its members abide by the advice set out in the document” was untrue. As Heritage Action point out it seems that NCMD:
signed this agreement knowingly – but then found their members wouldn’t play ball. (There was certainly an unholy row to that effect on the forums.) Then came the real mistake. Instead of honorably withdrawing from the agreement on the grounds they couldn’t deliver, they let it stand. Anyway, they’ve now publicly admitted they aren’t and never were party to the “historic agreement” so it’s incumbent on the The Archaeological Establishment to acknowledge the fact. 
We might all wonder: "How many false claims along those lines have been made since 2006?"

Sunday 19 August 2012

Washington Law Firm Opposes "Free Tarby" Campaign

It is now several weeks since we heard about the "Free Tarby" Campaign, Tarby is a Tarbosaurus Bataar who was spirited away from her home in the Mongolian Desert and placed under the hot lights of a New York saleroom by one Eric Prokopi, a Florida businessman. She was brutally sold with a lot of other stuff at a public auction, despite attempts by the President of her homeland to halt the awful proceedings. Then, before the new owners could take possession of "their" goods, Tarby was forfeited by the US authorities and is now shut away in a dark, sterile store with nobody to talk to.

But there are those who have not stopped thinking about her. Oh no. Peter Tompa of the Washington legal firm Bailey and Ehrenberg has been thinking about her all this time. So has a Brooklyn lawyer Michael McCullough. They have not stopped thinking about Tarby through her long imprisonment, but instead of wanting to send her home, they want to prevent her leaving the USA. They want Mr Prokopi to keep her (despite the fact he's shown he really does not want her in the house and tried to sell her).

Read all about it:
Peter Tompa, 'Motion to Dismiss in T-Rex Bataar Forfeiture Action" Cultural Property Observer, Sunday, August 19, 2012

Ricardo St Hilaire, "Dinosaur Claimant Files Motion to Dismiss in New York Federal Court", Cultural Property Lawyer Sunday, August 19, 2012

Motion to dismiss in the case of United States of America v. One Tyrannosaurus Bataar Skeleton:
"one dinosaur skeleton"? I cannot help thinking that some of this was written not with fossils, but coins in mind...

Tarby and the Lawyers: "Obscure Laws"?

The Motion for dismissal in the "Free Tarby" Case suggests to the US judiciary that:    
It may or may not be time to regulate fossil collecting like antiquities collecting, 
Eh? This case is not about "collecting" but about import of an item which has allegedly (by the president of the country no less) not been legally exported from the country of origin, the legislation of which requires the following of certain procedures. In any case it seems the two lawyers who authored this document do not realise that in the United States of America, the collecting of palaeontological specimens IS regulated in much the same way as the collecting of archaeological artefacts, through the Palaeontological Resources Preservation Act. Here's a little on its history.

Tompa and McCullough argue that the seizure attempts to "regulate collecting" (sic):
 through a forfeiture action prompted by a media frenzy and foreign politics. The Government should not be allowed to seize property based upon obscure foreign laws 
First of all, the sale in the USA of items reportedly removed illegally from Mongolia (nobody has yet produced the relevant export licence) would indeed have an important effect on US-foreign relations, it is not entirely 'just' a foreign political problem. The President of Mongolia himself got involved. Secondly I assumed that the forfeiture was initiated because the USA is a country of law and order which tries hard most of the time to do the right thing. If the object left the country of origin illegally and the people of that country have (the President himself has) asked for it back, then I am sure we are all noting that the US did not ignore them, but is going through the procedure of carrying out investigations.

What however is interesting is this case illustrates clearly the failure of the United States to implement properly the 1970 UNESCO Convention. While the latter can be applied (Art 1) to palaeontological material, the US so-called Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act cannot. It is sham junk legislation intended to create a good impression without having any real teeth. The USA should have the decency to renounce the Convention if they are not going to implement most parts of it and it in fact makes no palpable difference to the pirate market for other people's cultural property.

Instead of a 'motion to dismiss', I would expect to see the people trying to claim this fossil back from US government forfeiture to be submitting the documentation of legal export and transfer of ownership. That is the important question, what do they have?

Perhaps Messers Tompa and McCullough consider laws relating to palaeontological material and other geological specimens (meteorites for example) - being outside their own main field of activity - are "obscure". To those who collect, and deal in, such items they should not be. These people should be intimately acquainted with those laws as they apply to the supply of such material to the collectors' market.  How else can they avoid breaking them?

Mr Prokopi is a member of the Association of Applied Paleontological Sciences whose  'Code of Ethics'  includes the exhortation to "Strive to stay informed of and comply with National, State, and Local regulations pertaining to collecting activities and general business practice", like whether removale of vertebrate fossils from the only country where that particular species has been found requires any kind of export licence. I'd say that was a pretty fundamental piece of information for anyone thinking of importing fossils from abroad. Or does that Code ignore the outside world and only actually in fact apply to US National, state and local regulations?

In passing I'd note the bit in the same code: "Require that fossil materials received from outside collectors are obtained in compliance with the above collecting guidelines set forth by the Association". What "requirements" did Mr Prokopi apply in this case when he admits (claims) he had no idea where the fossils he was buying through a UK source even actually came from? Really interesting however is that the AAPS's Code of Ethics does NOT in fact require its members to ascertain where items came from - but then how can they check the application for example of the second principle ["Obtain permission from land owners or governmental authorities to gain access to collecting sites"]? It looks like this so-called AAPS 'Code of Ethics' is as much smoke and mirrors as those of certain other groups of dealers, not worth the paper it is written on when it comes to actually regulating the market. 

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