Thursday 28 February 2013

Belize MOU

Belize is no longer an unwilling loophole for illegal antiquities smuggling in the Maya region  (SAFE, "MOU between the US and Belize Closes Loophole" Feb 28th 2013). See also Rick St Hilaire ("U.S.-Belize MoU Signed") and the local news coverage (7newsbelize, "US Will Prosecute Stolen Bze Artifacts" February 27, 2013). The quote by H. E. Vinai Thumalapally - US Ambassador to Belize is noteworthy:
"The MOU demonstrates that the United States is committed to combating the looting and trafficking of cultural property of Belize, just as it is all around the world. As they say, it's the market that you have to address. If you can address the market, protect it, and keep people from buying stolen goods, that's how you make progress towards preventing from stealing in the first place". 
This is something those Black Hat and Black Hearted collectors and dealers opposing such import regulations cannot get their heads around, these import regulations are keeping smuggled goods off the market, protecting consumers. They should note that the USA is far from being alone in instituting such measures, all of the other countries which are State Parties (together with Belize) to the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Cultural Property have already (by becoming parties to it) to do that. It is time for the US to look again at the principles behind its selective "cultural property protection programme" and consider whether they cannoty do much, much better than they do, considering that they are one of the primary markets for dugup cultural property from all over the world, not just a dozen or so countries.

Peru Claims "Art" Planned for Sotheby’s Auction

Peru’s government is seeking to use diplomatic and legal avenues to recover about 67 pieces of "art" (including archaeological objects from the Inca and Chimu cultures) being sold by Sotheby’s (BID) in Paris in March. The sale involves items from the private Barbier-Mueller collection. Peru makes the accusation that the items were taken out of Peru without proper permission decades ago.
 Sotheby’s will auction about 300 works from Mexico, and Central and South America from the Barbier-Mueller collection, which the auction house says has pieces “representative of all the leading Pre-Columbian cultures.” The Peruvian government says that it has no information about how the pieces left Peru for the collection. “It is possible to deduce that their exportation must have been clandestine, given that from April 2, 1822 Peruvian regulations prohibit the removing of archaeological goods without government authorization,” the Ministry of Culture said. [...] Sotheby’s said in an email that [...] “The works in the Barbier-Mueller collection have long ownership and exhibition histories, and matters like this relating to ancient artifacts typically depend on precise facts about the historical background of individual pieces” [...]. 
Robert Kozak, "Peru’s Government Seeks to Recover Art Planned for Sotheby’s Auction", Wall Street Journal February 28, 2013.

Vignette: The creator of the collection Jean-Paul Barbier - Mueller

Federal Court Rejects Bid to Seize Iranian Antiquities at Harvard

Inside Higher Ed: Federal Court Rejects Bid to Seize Iranian Antiquities at Harvard:
"Several Americans with claims against Iran have tried to collect money owed by that nation by going after antiquities at various American institutions. But the appeals court ruled -- as other courts have ruled - that there are very limited circumstances in which artifacts can be seized as assets, and that this is not one of them".

Artefact Hunters and Dealers Arrested in Florida

Like all removal of artefacts from archaeological contexts without proper method, observation and recording:
"This looting didn't just take artifacts from the ground," said Robert Bendus, Florida's state historic preservation officer. "It took history away from this generation and from future generations of Floridians."
According to the Miami Herald, "eleven people from Florida and two from Georgia have been charged in what state investigators called a criminal conspiracy to sell artifacts stolen from state-owned lands in Florida". The age of the arrested men ranges from 25 to 74, search warrants were served on four homes in Florida. In them, artefacts and "other illegal items" were found and seized (two of those arrested were also charged with drug possession). A news conference in Tallahassee included an exhibit of dozens of arrowheads and pot sherds. The arrests were linked by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers to a black market in illegal historical artefacts worth nearly $2 million.
The FWC's Maj. Curtis Brown said those arrested were the "main dealers and looters." "This network is a very tight-knit group of folks," Brown said. "They had collectors they dealt with and they'd sell around the state and around the country." Brown confirmed that the investigation is ongoing. When asked if some of the collectors who bought illegal artifacts would also be arrested, he said, "There may be additional violations found". 
The arrests were the result of a two-year-long investigation called Operation Timacua (named after an Indian tribe that once lived in parts of Florida and Georgia). This began as officials began to note an increase in looting in the last five years of ancient sites around Florida. It was found that the looted artefacts were often openly listed on websites such as Craigslist and were also turning up at trade shows.  A Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission operative went undercover and posed as a buyer. Asking prices for some of the artifacts were as high as $100,000.

It is reported that the arrested men have been charged with multiple counts of violation of historical resources, dealing in stolen property and illegal removal of artefacts by excavation. Some of the men have reportedly been accused of conducting clandestine digs at night on historical sites -mostly in northern Florida.

Damage alleged to have been caused by these looters
(Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission)
 James L. Rosica, '13 arrested in alleged stolen artifacts scheme' Miami Herald 27th Feb 2013. 

Jennifer Portman, "13 arrested for state artifact theft:Wide-scale looting is 'irrevocably destroying the history of the state'...", Feb 28, 2013  - notable for the redneck Comments
Men named:  Staff Reporter, 'Four Locals Arrested Selling Priceless Florida Artifacts', Thu, Feb 28, 2013

The Cultural Property Muppet Show

"Hrrrm... it's easy to imagine scholars like him referencing coins without a provenance dating back to 1970 for their papers, hrrrrm...".
"Anyone who has read the man's diatribe in "All the King's Horses" will understand immediately that this is not someone with a balanced view of social intercourse...".
"What? "
Old Man Wayndorf might like to explain why he considers a relatively balanced account of "The Trade in Fresh Supplies of Ancient Coins: Scale, Organization, and Politics  by

Vignette: Statler and Waldorf 

The UK Scrap Metal Dealers Bill

The UK Scrap Metal Dealers Bill apparently becomes law today. Even if it does help prevent metal theft from monuments above-ground, it is less likely to affect those who steal historical metal objects from archaeology below ground. Still, it's a step in the right direction in raising awareness and fighting heritage crime. 

Watch Out for This One

Well, the world is still waiting for the UK's metal detectorists to refute the arguments of preservationists who indicate that there are serious problems with the UK's policies on artefact hunting and collecting. We were given a clue from a source in Central Searchers that their best minds were on it:
Watch out for a new web site called
We are, indeed, watching out for it, over two years we have been waiting for it. We are all waiting for some proper presentation of the justification for letting the legalised looting for collectables of Britain's archaeological resource continue - day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, from decade to decade. The PAS is remarkably silent. Whose side are they on?

Academic Nastiness Discussed

Thesis Whisperer 'Academic assholes and the circle of niceness', The Thesis Whisperer February 13, 2013

Wednesday 27 February 2013

Polarised and Entrenched Debate. Lots of Emotion, but Lacking in Critical Thought

"Provocateur and paid trade lobbyist Peter Tompa excels at the art of finding subjects to spin and snipe, even the most benign". Tompa has now had a go at an account of a numismatic conference with archaeological content (shock-horror), which he uses as a springboard for a brief ill-considered snipe suggesting that because one can study coins as pictures on a piece of metal, the context from which that artefact was removed has no meaning. Frankly I cannot see the logic in that, neither can Professor Nathan Elkins whose blog post it was that the coiney lobboblogger attacks. In a measured and rational response  ("The Baby and The Bathwater" Tuesday, February 26, 2013) he replies to the schoolboy arguments. He refers to the actual content of the meeting (which Tompa dishonestly or in ignorance ignores) and recent published approaches in numismatics (likewise ignored by Tompa, either dishonestly or in ignorance):
Tompa, it seems, would have us discard the importance of archaeological context simply because there are other ways that coin iconography can be studied too. [...] It is simply wrong-headed to suggest that just because there are other ways of approaching subjects that other methods are irrelevant. [...] The lobbyist's attempt at deception and sniping are characteristic of debate that has become overly polarized, entrenched, and lacking of critical thought though rife with emotion. Would it not be better to acknowledge the importance of archaeological and material context and to seek ways in which both context and ethical collecting can be preserved so that avocational passion and scientific study can continue to coexist? More moderate and reflective voices must prevail. 
For that to happen, there has to be a recognition that there are issues to be resolved. the problem with this is so many interests lie in dismissing the issue. This concerns not just dealers and collectors, but disgustingly also (in the UK at least) the academics who do not want to deal with it and hope that by dismissing the issues (for example by labelling critics as "trolls"), the problem will somehow evaporate. This is a short-sighted approach which is no better than Peter Tompa's.

Tuesday 26 February 2013

CPAC Meets Today

The CPAC will be gathering in Washington today for a meeting on matters including the extension to 2018 of the Cambodian MOU on import controls on archaeological and ethnological materials from the Bronze Age to the Khmer period. There will be an open session on February 27, 2013 at 1:30 p.m.

Monday 25 February 2013

Nord on Art - Iffy Provenances for Knocked Off Sculptures

The Nord on Art blog takes a look at the upcoming Indian and Southeast Asian art auctions in New York ("An Ongoing Problem – Indian and Southeast Asian Antiquities with Iffy Provenance", February 25, 2013). There are on offer "numerous beautiful works and numerous works without a pre-1970 provenance". Nord Wennstrom lists a selection from the many works in the Christie’s sale on March 19, 2013 that lack a pre-1970 provenance. He notes that:
the catalogue does not state if the works were legally exported from the country of origin after the implementation of that UNESCO accord. This is a recurring problem – as noted in a previous blog, 70% of the top ten stone sculptures in Christie’s September 2012 sale also lacked a pre-1970 provenance. Will this affect the sale of these works? We’ll see.
I think the fact that this is an "ongoing/ recurring problem" gives us the answer.

It strikes me looking at the photographs that if I were a (caring, questioning) buyer, I'd like a lot more information about the edges of those broken pieces. what toolmarks are visible? Is there any sign that the object has lain in the soil for centuries after those breaks? Is there any evidence of artificial patination of those breaks? Or is there clear evidence from the state of the piece that the broken fragments lay loose on the forest floor for many years before somebody gathered them up, carted them off and put them on sale? After all, if there is no evidence of that, then how can the present sellers convince (caring, questioning) buyers that they were not broken when levered off the wall by looters last year? I would say any description which does not adequately address that issue when referring to the state of preservation of the object is an incomplete description.

UNESCO “Common Heritage of Cambodia, Laos and Viet Nam”

The opening of a new exhibition “Our Common Heritage: Exploring the World Heritage Sites in Cambodia, Laos and Viet Nam” took place at the National Museum, Phnom Penh on 19th February 2013. This exhibition is the fruition of efforts made under the UNESCO-Japan Fund in Trust project, “Revitalizing World Heritage Site Museums in Cambodia, Laos and Viet Nam”.
The exhibition is composed of four groups of panels – The first introduces the concept of the World Heritage Convention, its history and the location of the participating World Heritage sites and museums, as well as the Outstanding Universal Values of these sites; the second and third panels will showcase the commonly developed themes such as “Nature and Myth” and “Trade and Exchange.” The last group shows a theme specially created by the national museum itself – Khmer Ornament. The aim of this exhibition is to provide visitors with new narratives by shedding light on the historical interconnection between various World Heritage sites and related populations of sub-region. 
It is a shame though that it reportedly does this only through the medium of highlighting - as if that were at all necessary - the sites embodying "Outstanding Universal Values" rather than the more numerous ordinary archaeological sites of these regions and what they can tell us about society as a whole, not just the elite that built the palace and temple complexes of the colonial architecture. This is a problem which results from the UNESCO-approach to the heritage which plays down the importance of archaeology by emphasising the more visible built heritage, portable antiquities and written documents as identity-building elements.  Dumbed-down disneylandism over scholarship.

Cambodia two WHL  sites (Angkor, Temple of Preah Vihear - Koh Ker on "tentative list"),

Lao People's Democratic Republic, two WHL sites  (architecture in colonial Town of Luang Prabang, 'Champasak Cultural Landscape ',

 Vietnam, WHL sites (Imperial Citadel of Thang Long - Hanoi, Citadel of the Ho Dynasty, Complex of Hué Monuments, Hoi An Ancient Town, My Son Sanctuary)

Vignette: Wikipedia.

Iraqi Antiquities Ministry Demands Better Protection for Archaeological Sites

The  Iraqi Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities called on the government to provide better protection for the archaeological sites in various parts of Iraq where constant looting takes place:

The office stated that “the current protection measures for the archaeological sites are not sufficient to maintain or ensure that [...] these sites would be protected from the gangs specialized in looting Iraqi antiquities.
No doubt American and other collectors who buy from the dealers supplied by these gangs will be arguing in coming weeks that this means that they can continue to buy looted artefacts, justifying themselves that the 'Oriental Brown Folk' cannot look after the artefacts, so the commercial markets of the White Man will have to do it "for them". They of course only consider the loose (decontextualised) artefacts in their world view - the continued financing of the looting gangs to continue the destruction of the sites and their stratification to supply the markets of the White Men and their imitators is simply ignored in their self-centred arguments. 

Antiquities ministry demands protection for Iraqi archeological sites   Al-Baghdadia News  February 24, 2013

Sunday 24 February 2013

Focus on UK metal detecting: One Day's Detecting in 2013

Metal detecting naysayers claim lamely that the Heritage Action Artefact Erosion Counter presents a false picture of the scale of damage the hobby is causing. They never set out to prove it is wrong, mind you, but merely glibly claim that metal detectorists "cannot possibly find" as many recordable finds as the model shows. Yet time and time again they keep posting up stuff on their forums (some of which you can see, most of which you cannot) which really give the lie to their lame excuses. Take for example just one real case highlighted by something posted on a metal detecting forum near you by Norfolk member deltron (not his real name, obviously). This anonymous guy obviously thrives on the admiration of other forum members when like a bragging schoolkid in the playground showing off some geegaw, he shows them what he's found. So over the past few days he's been posting up "look at me!" posts reflecting what he's currently finding. The results of his searching and hoiking in the first seven weeks of 2013 are thus visible for all to see. The first of these posts worth noting also adds (though he himself fails to admit the significance of it) the element that the resource he is exploiting is a finite and fragile one ("After a 17 year wait...." Sat Feb 23, 2013 8:46 pm). He has found that his "best field", set aside 17 years ago has just been ploughed, this should be bringing up lots of new finds from the subsoil to replace those already taken from the ploughsoil above. Mr "Deltron" however is disappointed with the results, the destruction of the fragile and finite archaeological resource did not go nearly deep enough for his selfish purposes:
four roman grot, still glad to find them. Years ago, if i didnt find at least 30 nice coins and a couple of brooches i had a bad day. 
He announces that he is going back with a different detector as he cannot believe that after 17 years of doing it, he's "had everything on the field". Well, I think the rest of us can. Finite means finite Mr Deltron, and indeed it is possible that one person can have "had it all" and ruined it for the rest of us.

Note that the Heritage Action counter does not take into account that the resource itself is already running out. In the past (17 years ago?)  Mr "Deltron" was taking up to 30 Roman coins a day from the archaeological record here (where are they all, where is the record of what was taken?), today - with more tekkie experience behind him and no doubt better equipment, he can only find four. That is a seven-fold decrease. Nevertheless that is four items found in one day that should be appearing on the PAS database to go some small way to mitigating the information loss. So where are the objects he's taken? Where is the information from this sustained and concentrated activity targeting a known site?

However there is more.  The same member reports presents a picture showing that he's been finding "A few roman brooches" (Thu Feb 21, 2013 8:39 pm),
"thats all i've got left. i sold the really nice ones to buy toys. I found them over 5 years. In one day i found 28 brooches".

This haul is only part of what he's found. The ("not in it fer the munny, really") detectorist has already flogged off some of what he's found (where are these items now, where are the records of them and their findspots?). We have also the the information that with a metal detector on some sites, he can/could find "28 in one day". Twenty eight eminently recordable items found and hoiked out of the archaeological record in one day, when the Heritage Action Artefact Erosion Counter assumes that he'll find the equivalent just over thirty recordable items a year. In one day "Deltron" can almost fill the model's individual quota, but there are 365 such days in the year.

So, we are not surprised to learn that this is not the end of his archaeology-gobbling activities. On top of the coins and fibulae, we have this: ("Saxon Brooch and siliqua" by deltron Tue Feb 05, 2013 9:22 pm) "First time out with my T2 [ a model of detector], I found these....[Anglo-Saxon brooch and siliqua]" and this ("What is it?  Deltron Sun Feb 24, 2013 3:37 pm) "Hi All, i found this today. It came from my roman field. It's 4cm across". Then there is this: "What is it?" by deltron Sun Feb 03, 2013 8:43 pm): "Hi All, I found this today and i haven't got a clue". Now while the unidentified thing is not a PAS-recordable item (a Georgian personal accessory), he slips in at the end: "Thanks all. i also found a saxon pin head". Now today, Deltron writes "went out for a few hours.... " (Sun Feb 24, 2013 3:41 pm) "this is what i found. Looks like i've got my mojo back" (reply by Gozzy23 [Sun Feb 24, 2013 3:56 pm] " Is this the field you said that if you didn't find at least 30 coins you were doing bad? That's a bloody good haul! They all Roman? Them artifacts are really nice, love the Roman stuff!"). The reply was "Thats the field" and  "All roman mate" and he's already engaged in cleaning the enamelled metal item (he does not say how).

So already in the first weeks of 2013, this particular detectorist has gone a long way to finding the number of recordable metal items the HA Artefact Erosion Counter predicts he will, not only the ones he ("look at me!") shows, but other less spectacular pieces of metal which are nevertheless also archaeological finds. No doubt in the remaining 45 weeks of this year, statistically his hoiking will more than make up for several other artefact hunters who obviously will not find so many things (the Counter is a statistical average). It is clear from the number of times  we see from tekkie bragging on their forums (and in You Tube videos etc) that the HA Artefact Erosion Counter quotas are being met with ease by many detectorists, many of whom are capable of finding much more in the course of a year.

Personally I think these people who are quite happy to brag about how much they personally have taken from the archaeological heritage should be personally accountable for what they have given back. That seems only  fair arrangement. Can the PAS tell us how many of the items found by "Deltron" are in the PAS database? Unfortunately very few of the people from whom Deltron has taken those pieces of the common archaeological heritage can check that for themselves (because those data are hidden from them), but that is a vital statistic if they are to have any understanding of what is happening to Britain's buried past. Information of crucial importance to public debate is hidden from the public by the PAS

In addition, here we have a case where we learn of a field containing a 'productive' Roman (?) site which has been systematically emptied by one man over a period of at least 17 years. If we wanted to pull together all the archaeological information (information taken by that one man over a period of seventeen years) what safeguards have been put in placer by current British conservation policy (I use the term loosely) to allow that? Where are all those finds? From which points in that field did every one of them come from? What can we say about that site from the records Mr "Deltron" made of those findspots and what he found there? What records are there of the material he found ("detected") but did not add to his growing collection or take to sell off ('to buy new toys")? Or has this site - like many others countrywide - simply been destroyed to all intents and purposes through the selfish exploitation of individuals out to add to their ephemeral collections or make a few quid on eBay without anything more than the most basic and simplistic (as well as incomplete) record entering the public (PAS) domain? 

Meanwhile, just a few posts below, we see the pattern repeated today (Post by kopparberg "2 hrs today" Thu Feb 21, 2013 9:4 see also here) and here). He's feeling under the weather today, but anyway went out after work:
and found a few bits of lead and these 3 romans. so was well happy 
So, three PAS-recordable finds (plus other artefacts) in just two hours detecting, Mr Kopparberg no doubt will be finding his quota of 27.3 more within the next few months when the weather is warmer and his cold wears off. 

 Casual remarks like this quite clearly show that the Heritage Action Artefact Erosion Counter is by no means fantasy, but a relatively realistic (and conservative) indication of the sort of damage some 10000 active artefact hunters are doing to the British archaeological record, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year and now decade after decade.

What Does the Heritage Action Artefact Erosion Counter Say? And What Does the British Museum Say?

In the post above I mention the implications of detectorist-bragging for understanding the significance of the Heritage Action Artefact Erosion Counter. It might be interesting therefore to take a look at it as it stands tonight, just before midnight.

A running total of the number of recordable archaeological artefacts removed from the fields of England and Wales by metal detectorists (mostly without being reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme).
  • Today: 776
  • This year: 43,560
  • Since the start of the Portable Antiquities Scheme: 4,703,255
  • Overall Total since 1975:11,575,048
This should be compared with the PAS figures, the addition of 13 new records to their database on Saturday has brought the total up, they proudly proclaim, to:
Even taking the "number of potsherds in a bag" statistic of 842000 objects (instead of the more archaeologically significant number of records), there is obviously a huge recording shortfall of almost four million objects since the Scheme began. Four million objects totally vanished. The HA model suggests we are in fact seeing recording of less than one in five artefact-hunted finds.* Four fifths (80%) of these objects are simply entering ephemeral personal collections, or going onto the market, without any record whatsoever. We are losing 80% of the information and all of the archaeology they formed part of, and its costing millions of quid.

The Heritage Action figures suggest that what is being presented by the interest groups involved as a conservation success is in fact a conservation disaster without precedent
Frankly, I must say I find it moderately surprising that although the Heritage Action Artefact Erosion Counter has been ticking away quietly and revealing its disquieting warning in the public domain since it was created in April 2005, the supporters of the "partnership" approach to artefact hunting and collecting (so basically Bloomsbury's Portable Antiquities Scheme and its camp-followers), remain silent. They assume that they have done their duty towards the public who pay their salaries solely by dismissing such attempts to assess the scale of the problem as mere "trolling". In fifteen years there has in fact never been any attempt made to actually assess the number of items being dug out of the archaeological record to serve the curiosity and greed of the PAS' metal detecting "partners". Why not? A while ago the Scheme claimed it had at its (fifth) aim
To define the nature and scope of a Scheme for recording Portable Antiquities in the longer term, to assess the likely costs and to identify resources to enable it to be put into practice.
Then a few years ago it mysteriously claimed it had "achieved" this aim. How it did this without ever accurately defining how many objects are involved yearly as a basis for these costings was never explained. Like many others, the PAS simply arrogantly ignored such questions. 

Let us have some answers from the British Museum and its Portable Antiquities Scheme. How long do they think that they can continue to spend public money without engaging in some public debate about the way they are doing that? Time for some transparency. Time to discuss what the Truth is. Time to stop the name-calling and get on with telling the public who pay for all this the true and full facts about artefact collecting in the UK.

*not all the finds in the PAS database come from artefact hunting. 

Self-Serving Artefact-Centred Museological Bull

Elginism retweets a text by somebody called "" (I'm not too clear who that is) who writes:
Prize for the most self-serving bullshit seen in 2013 goes to the for this, next to the Elgin Marbles 
Parthenon Marbles label in British Museum (photo by xiij)

The BM says a lot of self-serving bull about its Portable Antiquities Scheme, "partnering" (sic) artefact plunderers countrywide, too. It is actually the same thing.  

Elgin sawed, knocked-off and prized most of those blocks from the structure and material associated with it. The building was vandalised by Elgin to get those still on it into portable form. the ruin he left behind was weakened by these activities (carried out exploitively with no thought at all for the long term consequences for the original site) and parts of it protected by those removed elements were exposed to the effects of weathering and pollution. Hoiking them out of context to juxtapose them with similarly hoiked and decontextualised [looted remains of] "other civilizations such as those of Egypt, Assyria and Persia" (sic) really means nothing at all. Nothing the western European viewing public would not get from looking at the same sculptures in Athens with an art book in your hand or downloaded into your tablet.  Or getting on a plane and travelling to Egypt or the Middle East to look at the monuments (still) in situ there.

In the case of the Portable Antiquities Scheme, British and foreign artefact hunters and collectors are being encouraged to dismember the archaeological record to hoik out what they fancy for their collections, disrupting the archaeological record in a manner that cannot be mitigated. What is left behind by this exploitive hobby has severely reduced value for archaeological inference and interpretation, while the material removed loses a large amount of the information associated with it as it passes undocumented through ephemeral personal collections.  Hoiking them out of context to juxtapose them with similarly hoiked and decontextualised [looted remains of] other sites gives the possessor maybe some fleeting pleasure and entertainment, bragging rights, and maybe financial gain. Archaeologically the gains are minimal.

It obviously is futile to turn to an institution like the British Museum, with its own hangups and agenda, to give the British (or any other) public any kind of a moral lead in the treatment of the archaeological heritage, which consists of sites, monuments and archaeological assemblages and patterns in the soil, not a pile of displayed decontexctualised artefacts, no matter how "oooo-ah!" nice they look. The artefact-centric view of archaeology surely went out with Schliemann and Kossinna. 

German police return smuggled artifacts to Kosovo

Some rather vague reports are emerging about the return to Kosovo of some antiquities by Germany (Nebi Qena, 'German police return smuggled artifacts to Kosovo', Associated Press, Feb. 22, 2013). The seven Vinca period (Neolithic) artefacts, including figurines and a small bowl, were unexpectedly found in a German police raid in the historic Höchst district of Frankfurt, during "an unrelated investigation against two Serbs" seven years ago.
Police in central Germany found them in 2005 during a separate undisclosed investigation, discovering the pieces in a sports bag belonging to two Serbs. It is not clear how they were brought out of the country, but authorities believe they were meant for sale to private collectors. "Most likely they had been illegally transferred to Germany," Memli Krasniqi told The Associated Press. There was no registry for the items and it took investigators years to authenticate them and confirm they belong to Kosovo. [...]  Eckhard Laufer, the German police officer who found the seven artifacts, would not give details on the original investigation saying only it "had nothing to with the traffic of cultural heritage." The investigation into the provenance of the artifacts began in 2007, he said.

 A few more details are given by AFP Wire Service ('Germany returns lost ancient artifacts to Kosovo', 22 February 2013) and in another Associated Press article: 'Ancient artifacts found during German police raid returned to Kosovo' February 22, 2013.

Kosovo lost a lot of artefacts when ethnic Albanians fought a separatist war against Serbia in 1998-99 and it is possible that this is the context of the smuggling of these artefacts to Germany. The conflict ended after NATO's 78-day bombing in 1999 that eventually drove out the Serbian forces who had been fighting the Albanian guerillas, paving the way for Kosovo to proclaim independence in 2008. During these bombing raids, Serbia had relocated some 1,200 artifacts from Kosovo's main museum to Belgrade  (Kosovo's culture minister Memli Krasniqi said "Serbia stole" them). Serbia rejects Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence and ownership of the artefacts is still hotly debated, and Kosovo has pressed for their return.

UPDATE 28th Feb 2013:
Samarkeolog 'Germany’s return of conflict antiquities to Kosovo – looting and murder details unknown'
[...] Hessen Police High Commissioner (and ‘looting expert [Raubgrabungsexperte]‘) Eckhard Laufer ‘would not give details’ about the original raid, he would only say that it ‘had nothing to with the traffic of cultural heritage‘ [...] And Hessian Radio (Hessischer Rundfunk (@hronline)) further revealed that the original investigation was a ‘murder case [Mordfall ermittelte]‘ from October 2005; but it affirmed that ‘the felony and the archaeological finds had nothing to do with one another [...]'. So, the murder was not the result of an antiquities deal gone wrong or infighting amongst the antiquities trafficking team...
 "According to the Hessian Ministry of Science and Art, 'based on the circumstances and the law, it can be assumed, with an almost certain probability, that the objects come from illegal excavations [Aufgrund der Sach- und Rechtslage ist davon auszugehen, dass die Gegenstände mit an Sicherheit grenzender Wahrscheinlichkeit aus Raubgrabungen stammen]‘. (Update: 28th February 2013.)"
UPDATE 5th March
Samarkeolog again: 'Germany’s return of conflict antiquities to Kosovo: unanswered questions' Conflict antiquities 5th March, 2013.

Who owns history, Mr. Cameron?

Op-Ed from India on Koh-i-noor diamond by "Who owns history, Mr. Cameron?"
The world has changed dramatically since the days of Queen Victoria. South Asia cannot be denied of its rich heritage because of its colonial past. Britain with its present status does not own history nor is it capable of defending its history. In all fairness, let Britain understand its own limitations now.

Heritage Action on Kosher Deals

British grassroots conservation organization Heritage Action is almost alone in plugging what the British Museum's "Portable Antiquities Scheme" do not want the public to know, that artefact hunting and collecting in the British Isles cannot in any way be seen as a localised issue, a provincial one, but as part of the whole issue of the collecting of antiquities and the supply of the antiquity market. You'll not find a word on this on the Portable Antiquities Website, hardly a peep on the CBA's. Try and find a proper bibliography of antiquity issues on either. So it is that HA fights the good fight almost alone. Here is one of their latest comments:
Kosher deals: The Cleveland Museum of Art has just hired a full-time “provenance researcher“. Seems a good idea. She can make sure they have nothing they shouldn’t. So should all museums and collectors use someone similar to make sure they don’t buy in dodgy gear? Or would it be simpler for them to just make every supplier sign a piece of paper giving the name, home address and telephone number of the person they got it from? Or if they dug it up themselves, the name, home address and telephone number of the landowner on whose land they found it, together with a letter from him saying he knows about the sale and the price being paid?
That would certainly make provenance research a lot easier.

Heritage Action on 'Shamefully Scary Future' for Britain's Archaeology

Heritage Action ("Britain’s Scary Future") discuss the flaws in the idealistic idea some archaeologists apparently have to release the results of detailed LiDAR surveys to allow the public to "discover new sites”.
The website account talks of archaeologists already working on the next project to open up data recovered from projects such as this to “citizen scientists across the globe.” Sounds great. But not in the British context sadly. Here we don’t just have citizen scientists looking to discover new sites do we? Uniquely, we also have a huge army of legalised “citizen artefact hunters” who have repeatedly shown they are more than happy to utilise every last bit of data archaeologists make available to them in order to locate, target and exploit for pleasure or profit every non-scheduled site they possibly can.
And not a few scheduled or otherwise protected ones.
Imagine a future in which lots of unselfish developers provide ever-more sophisticated means for thousands of unselfish people to unselfishly help themselves to the contents of the archaeological record! That’s what you get if you leave a dodgy laissez faire policy unchanged for 15 years – technological advances (such as LIDAR and deep-seeking detectors) come along and make your policy look shameful and stupid in the eyes of the rest of the world!

Note the total silence of the British archaeological community about this. They are quite happy to see the archaeological record selectively emptied of the collectable diagnostic material from every archaeological site within the reach of the artefact hunters, just as long as said individuals dutifully bring along a few scraps for them to fondle and say, "ooo-ah, thank you Mr Thugwit".

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: Detectorists Present Their case, Where Did the Money go?

Way back in the early history of this blog, I noted ("UK metal detector users get militant" Monday, 8 September 2008) efforts by UK tekkies organized in the FID to offset those evil folk with education in “the archaeological fraternity, their friends in museums, universities and even governments” to put out what they call “heritage propaganda” in their efforts “to either outlaw or control the hobby”. Anyway  “well known and respected author Edward (Ted) Fletcher" announces that he hopes to launch an internet site (apparently to be called "Heritage Fiction") "dedicated to countering the propaganda put out by Heritage Action; and ensuring that the media, politicians, tax payers, landowners, farmers and anyone thinking of taking up metal detecting as a hobby, have easy access to the true facts about the heritage industry". He was collecting money to cover the costs of the 'research'. He was canvassing people who were worried by the "propaganda put out by Heritage Action" to pledge at once money to help him:
Ted ............ I/We want to help you in this struggle to counter Heritage Action propaganda. I/We pledge £ .......... as a one-year contribution to the costs of getting Heritage Fiction up-and-running.
So how much money did he raise, and where did any money paid go? Where, three years on, is that "Heritage Fiction" website presenting those arguments? 

Of course, there is no question of these people admitting that there ARE problems with current policies, and damage IS being caused to the archaeological record and then (as the "responsible" folk they are supposed to be) discussing how to reduce the problem. Instead they just want to shout down the others who point that out, hoping the problem can be dismissed. 

 TAKE A GOOD LOOK at this, for these are precisely the sort of people the PAS wants to grab more and more millions of public quid to make into the "partners" of the British Museum, archaeological heritage professionals and to whom they want us all to entrust the exploitation of the archaeological record. Take a good look and decide what you think about that as a "policy". 

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: What's Behind This?

Illegal metal detecting is a subject some tekkies obviously find intensely amusing. The website "Findspot: a Nighthawker's guide to the best spots in town!" ( created 26 October 2011) is apparently a metal detectorist's attempt at humour and social comment. The welcome page proclaims that this is "the UK’s only website dedicated to nighthawking", adding for some reason a photo of archaeologist Francis Pryor (it would be interesting to know who took this image). The website has just three pages, spot the nighthawker ("You won't"), Spot the farmer before he spots you!! (Coming soon, Field test report on night vision). Then there is a blog. The website's author (anonymous of course), besides a photo of Julian Richards, invites readers:
Click here to comment! I would love to hear your comments and suggestions. Nighthawking – Right or Wrong?? What about the Dayhawkers??
There are no comments, obviously nobody is concerned to debate whether "nighthawking " (theft) is "right or wrong". The latter category is described by the third page: ‘Spot’ the Dayhawker. This reads:
Question: What is a Dayhawker: Answer: An archaeologist that pockets valuable finds in order to supplement his lousy income. Every year, a growing number of attacks are inflicted on archaeological digs.
[Illustration, pinched from here - no link] Gold coin of Carausius* An extremely rare and valuable gold coin of the Emperor Carausius ‘dayhawked’ from an archaeological dig in Silchester [Calleva Atrebatum] Hampshire.  * image for illustrative purpose only ~ the coin found at Silchester disappeared !!
No source is cited for the information about the alleged theft by the alleged artefact-acquisitive archaeologist or when it was supposed to have taken place. It rather looks like the author is trying to make the point that although "every year, a growing number of attacks are inflicted on archaeological digs", the blame cannot be laid on metal detector using artefact hunters. But then, if an archaeologist steals the artefacts from the archaeological record, what does he become? Nothing but an artefact hunter, and a thieving one at that. I'd be grateful for any more information about this alleged theft.

The final page: "Sell your booty" links to the eBay page of a well-known UK antiquities dealer. Surely the anonymous "Findspot" website owner is not accusing them of contact with illicit antiquities?  Surely not, the director heads the AIDA (Association of International Antiquities Dealers) and obviously the Code of Conduct  of this organization would not allow them to touch items not of verifiable legitimate provenance.

TAKE A GOOD LOOK at this, for these are precisely the sort of people the PAS wants to grab more and more millions of public quid to make into the "partners" of the British Museum, archaeological heritage professionals and to whom they want us all to entrust the exploitation of the archaeological record. Take a good look and decide what you think about that as a "policy". 

Vignette: Night hawk.

Saturday 23 February 2013

Invitation to Cleveland Museum

The Cleveland Museum of Art has just hired a full-time “provenance researcher“. Obviously, one of the key objects she will be looking at is the Cleveland Apollo Sauroktonos, "from an old East German collection" which, as David Gill points out ("Focus on Apollo") will be going on show later on this year. If she likes, I'd like very much to invite their provenance researcher to come over and have a look with me at the farm in whose garden the Cleveland's provenance has it lying in the bushes  ("I Found it in My Garden", PACHI Monday, 21 June 2010). Perhaps we could get permission from the landowner to take some soil samples for example to compare with the soil in the object's corrosion products. Then we could pop along to the provincial conservator's office and ask to see their inventorisation of the complex and in the unlikely event that the Sauroktonos is not in their records as part of its appurtenances, ask why they did not notice the life-size bronze sculpture in the bushes until 1994. Or just ask some of the local kids. I'll pay for the petrol.

Friday 22 February 2013

Coenwulf penny

One for the coin fondlers:

A very lovely, and rare, Coenwulf penny from Bedfordshire recorded today. Only 2 others known.

New EU Legislation for Recovery of Illicitly-Removed National Treasures?

New legislation proposed by the European Commission may help EU member states to recover artefacts that illegally removed from their country. The full details of any new legislation seem not yet to be  published, so it is hard to work out what actually in involved (Elena Ralli, 'New legislation to facilitate recovery of illegally removed national treasures', New Europe February 19, 2013). Or indeed if anything has been written even.
The European Commission is planning to help Member States recover national treasures which have been unlawfully removed from their territory by amending its current legislation that has several inadequacies.
Understatement of the year. As a result of this the European Commission Vice-President Antonio Tajani, responsible nota bene for Industry and Entrepreneurship proposed today to strengthen the possibility for restitution available to Member States.
“Safeguarding the cultural heritage of all Member States is of major importance to the European Union. Our proposal is therefore necessary to further strengthen the effectiveness of the fight against illegal trafficking in cultural goods. [...] The proposed changes would apply to cultural goods classified as “national treasures” unlawfully removed after 1993 that are now located on the territory of another Member State.
The suggestions regarding the amendment of the legislation include extending the scope of the definition of cultural goods, extending the deadline for initiating return proceedings in the courts of the country where the property is now located, using the internal market information system to facilitate administrative cooperation and information exchanges between national authorities and finally, asking any possessor of an object requiring compensation for returning the object to prove it was not knowingly acquired illegally.
That last one's likely to put the heebie-jeebies on no-questions-asked dugup artefact collectors. It's basically requiring them to show they've asked all the right questions. This has wider implications also for object 'laundering' (passing looted items through the antiquities market of a third country before importing it to a second market country to make freshly-surfaced material appear 'clean' by obscuring its actual origins). US dealers often plead this "bought in Munich/Spain/Yurope" argument as if they do not really understand the question. If however internal EU legislation makes a certain type of transaction by definition illegal, this increases the chances of punishing somebody outside the EU who handles material deriving from such a transaction. The required internal record keeping also will now lead from smuggler to looter more effectively.   But its nice to see something that will override the outdated and inadequate 1970 UNESCO Convention, even if it is only with regard to "returnism/ restitution/ repatriation" rather than as a measure counteracting looting more effectively.

It is not clear what is meant by "national treasures" if the legislation concerns  cultural heritage as a whole (or "cultural goods/property"), and involves actually "extending the scope of the definition of cultural goods" (but does it also extend the scope of where they came from?). There seems a contradiction in terms, unless everything is a "national Treasure" which then brings the whole lot into conflict with other (for example English) legal definitions (which should be changed anyway). Is Glasgow Uni in any way involved in this?

See the present Council Directive 93/7/EEC of 15 March 1993 on the return of cultural objects unlawfully removed from the territory of a Member State [with amending acts].

Hat tip to 'Elginism'

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: "Digging Up the PASt" Commercial Artefact Hunting Rally Organizers

The organizers of several "charity rallies" is a group called "Digging Up the PASt" (DUTP). Since they are artefact hunters, more appropriate would have been to call it "Digging up and Taking Away the PASt". They have a website here see also the forum here. The whois domain search tool shows the website was created by a "David Hutchings" on 19th Sept 2012. 

This organization has a fixed membership of 100 members, each paying a fifteen pound subscription just to be a member, they then attend the various commercial rallies "hosted" and arranged by the group for which they pay an entrance fee. They proclaim that their aim is the finding and "recovery" of dugup objects which they say "form an important part of our heritage". They claim that by hoiking archaeological objects out of their burial context, they are in some way "preserving our history".

The DUPT artefact hunters and collectors also claim on their home page to collaborate closely (which DUTP claim they "actively encourage") with the Portable Antiquities Scheme, represented by "our local Finds Liaison Officer" (sic). Indeed, they say they pride themselves on what they call their "responsible" approach to artefact hunting and their ability somehow to make a contribution to "improving knowledge" (sic) [eh?]. These claims however are rather contradicted by the evidence of the PAS database itself, where a number of "Digging up the PASt" commercial rallies are listed, but no FLO is listed in attendance and only a few finds have entered the database resulting from this group's artefact-hoiking. Take a look:
Digging Up The Past - Upper Dean, Beds  23rd-24th February 2013 (one 'record' - empty),
Hinwick, Beds - Digging Up The Past  24th- 25th  November 2012  (0 records - which it is interesting to compare with the number and nature of finds illustrated in their newsletter, they report "many" finds of which at least 18 are PAS record-worthy)
Digging Up The Past - Upper Dene, Beds 6th-7th October 2012  (3 coins)
Digging up the Past - Barton in the Beans, Leics 2012
29th - 30th September 2012 (3 coins, one ring)
Digging Up the Past - Yieldon [recte Yielden] , Beds, 9th Sep 2012
  Sunday 9th September 2012 (1 coin)
Digging Up The Past - Keysoe (Pertenhall), Beds
8th - 9th September 2012 (0 records)
Digging The Past - Caldecott, Northants
Sunday 29th April 2012 (3 coins)
Digging The Past - Mears Ashby, Northants
Sunday 15th April 2012 (0 records)
Digging The Past - Shutlanger, Northants
Sunday 12th February 2012 (1 'record' empty)
Digging Up The Past - Passenham, Northants
, Sunday 29th January 2012 (8 Roman coins + another six 'records'  according to PAS website, but inaccessible). 
Digging Up The Past - Odstone, Leics
Sunday 15th January 2012 (1 button, 2 coins)
Digging up the Past - Shackerstone, Leics, 2012
Sunday 1st January 2012 (sic!) to Tuesday 16th October 2012 (one record, Medieval key).

So the grand total of records in the PAS database emerging from 17+ days searching by a club with 100 members (let's say about half turned up for most events, but then some also involved paying non-members) is a mere 31 records, 20 of them coins. The clue to what is happening here is the adjective "significant" attached to the glib assertion that their finds are recorded for them by the PAS . This is a ploy we find in many a detecting club, here, in the case of contrasting what the PAS database actually contains with the report in the DUTP newsletter on the club's rally at  Hinwick, we see what is not being recorded because regarded as "insignificant" by the finders. Scandalous. Does the landowner know or care?

DUTP claims that through their activities coupled with the PAS recording, their commercial artefact hunting rallies are  contributing to the construction of a "bigger picture" (the scare quotes are theirs) of what they call "our local history".  It is difficult to see what they mean by this, given that their activities are so scattersed throughout the Midlands. Most of their commercial rallies are in an area some 40 by 20 km between Northamption and St Neots, while another cluster are a few sites in an area 3km across east of Tamworth. So what kind of "local area" is meant is wholly unclear.

Other justification rhetoric has also been handed straight to them by the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Thus it is said that current threats to the heritage means we should preserve as much as possible, but of course as artefact collectors, these metal detectorists consider this entirely in terms of the loose artefacts contained in the archaeological deposits assemblages and patterns. Most of the rest of us conceive of "preservation" as referring primarily to the latter as a source of information.

According to Hutchings and his tekkie mates, these artefacts in the soil are themselves under threat from increasingly-deep ploughing, as well as the development of agricultural land. These people suggest that metal detecting is the only way to learn something about and record it (merely by hoiking out the collectable and saleable finds you understand). They quote (but wholly misleadingly) a specific local example at Crick in Northamptonshire [see the post below this one] where they claim that the site was destroyed forever by development, presumably we are invited to consider that it would have been preferable for the finds to be hoiked out and into ephemeral and undocumented personal collections.

The DUTP artefact hunting group claims that instead of sites being destroyed by development and deep ploughing, it finds them and in conjunction with the landowner who gets his 'cut', organizes commercial rallies (on sites threatened by development without archaeological mitigation? how so?). These surveys however are not holistic because the website makes clear that only "significant and important finds" are recorded with the PAS. As we saw above there is a very minimalistic and somewhat random aproach to defining what is taken to the PAS and eventually will be of assistance (sic) in constructing and augmenting "the knowledge of our heritage" (sic).

With all the emphasis placed on them being such a responsible group, we may turn to the club rules to see how this is reflected there. Nothing special can be seen there, it's mostly the usual stuff about conduct in the field (fill in holes, close gates, stay within the law) their idea of a Code of Responsible Practice involves merely following the NCMD Code (NOT the CBA/PAS and the other heritage organizations- promoted one) so I really do not see how they can regard themselves as "responsible". Neither do I see the PAS, CBA or anyone else protesting against that. Aparently the code of conduct does not involve not mistreating excavated metal work, there is a section (in "Geek's Corner") on "waxing your finds" and they are not talking of car-boot-sale mahogany card tables... It is interesting to note that most of it is about how to melt wax over a naked flame safely (!) rather than the consequences for the find of smothering it in such a material, rather like the Code of Conduct is about sdhutting gates, not annoying bulls and filling in holes rather than the archaeological aspects of what they are doing. It seems to be in the mentality.

The links page contains links to the usual (PAS, metal detectorist suppliers, coin collectors' suppliers) but some one wonders about (CLASP for example, what has this to do with artefact hoiking and collection?) and something masquerading as an online music store, but if you dig a little deeper is in fact a branch of 'Rocks Off Unlimited', a sex toy manufacturer. You might have known there'd be a link between metal detecting and the sex industry turn up sooner or later.

Then, most importantly comes the DUTP webpage "copyright" . These people quite obviously do not want you discussing what they put on their website and forum, they do not want you to copy and then disseminate any material from their either which includes information (pictures and textual material from the website or the forums unless directly authorised by themselves. So much then for "fair use" and transparency about delings with the common archaeological heritage? Why are they so worried that people may look over their shoulder and comment on what they see? The heritage belongs to everybody, not just a few blokes with metal detectors and deep pockets.Let us all have a good look at what these folk are up to.

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: Tekkies Should've Dug Up Daventry

The artefact hunting group "Digging up the PASt" run by David Hutchings claims that it is rescuing evidence of the past from being lost due to redevelopment. On their "About us" page they demonstrate this with reference to the development "within the last few years" of a site in Crick in Northamptonshire on which was built the Daventry International Rail Freight Terminal. Here there was a settlement of the Bronze Age. They claim the site has been "lost forever" when the archaeological remains were built over and the site is now occupied by concreted areas and a number of warehouses which has led to the destruction of the "information available from such an important site". In such a situation, they argue, if the archaeologists are not going to rescue that information, metal detectorist hoiking is entirely justified.

What is the truth behind this tekkie horror story? About twenty-five seconds on Google reveals that, of course, the tekkies are spreading misinformation. What they mean is that they cannot get to the archaeological record of this site to plunder it for collectables, because its under concrete. But has the site been destroyed? Hardly. Almost at the top of the search results is a document the title of which made me mutter 'uh-oh', but then if you actually read a few pages into it, you realise that (if its true and representative of what actually went on during the construction of the site) that the tekkies either have not understood something, not checked something, or are deliberately telling their readers untruths.

David J. Leigh 2005, An Archaeological Watching Brief on Land at DIRFT Central Northamptonshire, March - may 2005', Northamptonshire Archaeology Report 05/086.

It turns out that over the whole site was a thick enough deposit of recent 'made ground', that the development did not penetrate the archaeological stratigraphy. The site has in effect not been destroyed, but been "Preserved in Situ" and will become available for investigation only some time in the future when the rail terminal (which will not last forever) is redeveloped. This the whole point of preservation of the archaeological resource, to keep as much as possible for future use (we have quite enough of a backlog of excavated material to be getting on with studying). Obviously the less some greedy metal detector waving archaeology-gobbling collectors have been at it before it is sealed, the better for the information recovery in the future. Let nobody kid themselves that the artefacts which detectorists are "preserving" will be available for study retaining their original findspot information by that time. Let nobody kid themselves even that the PAS database will exist as such by that time. 

Its worth noting that there were also earlier excavations here:

Chapman, A, 1994, Excavation of Iron Age and Roman sites at the Daventry Rail Freight Terminal near Crick, Northamptonshire, 1994.
Birmingham University Field Archaeology Unit 1998 The excavation of an Iron Age Settlement at Covert Farm (DIRFT east), Crick, Northamptonshire: Post excavation and updated research design.
Pat Chapman 2004, 'Iron Age settlement and Romano-British enclosures at Coventry Road,
Hinckley, Leicestershire', Trans. Leicestershire Archaeol. and Hist. Soc., 78, pp. 35-82.

So basically, having metal detectorists hoover the site taking out as many of the collectable diagnostic finds as they can get their hands on is not a good thing  when it damages the archaeological record, while producing nothing but a handful of random and decontextualised artefacts, for the most part lacking even the most basic record of where they came from. 

Responsible Tekkies Ask Good Question About Twinstead Case

On a metal detecting forum near you, in a thread called "gold rush", questions are being asked by responsible law-abiding detectorists about what the subsequent developments were in the Twinstead hoard investigation by the metal-detecting PC. As readers will remember a number of responsibility-challenged and pig-ignorant-about-the-law detectorists made off with a substantial number of gold coins. People who nevertheless handed them in within the 14 days allowed were promised an amnesty, while those who sat tight on their ill-gotten gains (or had already flogged them off) were threatened that they'd be found out and treated as the law dictates. So what were the results of the investigations?
What have British law-enforcement authorities to report to law-abiding detectorists? That they have done their job, and... what? For if the police are not seen to be upholding the letter of the law, what hope is there that treasure hunters will? PC Eagle 1?

Previous posts
1st Dec 2011- "BBC on the Twinstead Theft", 
1st Dec 2011- "Twinstead Theft: Followup
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