Saturday 30 November 2013

“Michael!…Stop what you are doing ...”

Michael!…Stop what you are doing Shamah Junior!
You are meddling with powers you cannot possibly comprehend!

I missed this one when it came out, but spotted it in a review of recent SAFE writings (subscribe now!), and quite enjoyed it: Michael Shamah, 'Confrontations #1: A Young Boy’s Temptation', November 11, 2013. It's perhaps a situation many of us can recognize. I think many no-questions-asked buyers of dugup antiquities are risking getting involved with dark forces of which they have no idea. 

Looted from Zagoria, on Sale in London, Amsterdam, Dusseldorf and Maybe a Shop Near You

Icons for sale (Greek reporter)
Some  icons stolen from Greek monasteries and churches of Epirus were identified recently in a gallery in Düsseldorf that had them for sale and were showing photos of them on their website. The prefect of Epirus, Alexandros Kachrimanis talks about 600 relics taken by looters between 2006 and 2010. This looting had focussed on in the villages of Zagoria. The prefecture has posted the photos of the stolen items on their website which has been effective in identifying items as they surface ("from underground") on the market in dealers' showrooms a number of years after the theft. Since then they have received information about a number of the stolen items on the no-questions-asked art market.
 in 2011, we were informed that galleries in London were selling many religious icons. Specifically, the owner of the gallery in London had 50 to 60 images. The Ministry of Culture, the Greek Embassy in London in collaboration with Scotland Yard did a great job and 18 icons returned to Greece. Then, two more pictures were spotted in galleries in Amsterdam, Holland. There, they sold a total of 19 pictures stolen from the church of Theotokou in Koukouli.” The prefect of Epirus believes that there is a criminal group which is responsible for abduction, transfer and promotion of relics abroad. A voluminous file, formed after years of research by the authorities, on the pillage of monasteries and temples of Epirus, is in the hands of a trial judge.
From the distribution of the finds so far, this criminal group would seem to have had contacts in a specific area of Western Europe. Or rather, dealers in a specific area of Europe have been (are?) buying such items no-questions-asked from criminal groups who are smuggling stolen artefacts.

Sotiria Nikolouli, ' Düsseldorf: Antiquarians Selling Stolen Relics from Greek Monasteries', Greek Reporter November 26, 2013

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: Now Consider This...

In Heritage Journal while representatives of official bodies are bandying about terms like "heritage heroes" with respect to some ill-defined notion of "responsible metal detectorists", there is a very welcome explanation by Nigel Swift himself on "What exactly is our problem with artefact hunting?" (30/11/2013 ). Metal detectorists, "responsible" or not, are somehow unable to read through what HA have written ("too many words") and are constantly asking to have it presented as a short easily digestible message on a plate. Here it is. For the umpteenth time.
Most amateur archaeologists borrow the defining characteristics of archaeologists whereas artefact hunters reject them. That really matters if Archaeology is seen as a finite resource from which maximum knowledge should be extracted whenever possible [...] Take just one of the defining characteristics, a code of ethics [...].

Consider this:
Number of detectorists who have adopted our suggested Ethical Detecting pledgesZERO.
Number of detecting clubs who insist on their members adhering even to the severely emasculated standards of the Official Responsible Detecting Code:   ONE.

Number of detectorists and detecting clubs who say they are committed to the NCMD, FID or similar detectorists’ “Codes” none of which even require adherents to report all finds to PAS:   ALL OF THEM.

Next time you hear talk of heroism or what a lot of finds PAS has recorded please bear in mind those three numbers – zero, one and “all of them” and ask yourself why – and how much loss of knowledge they hint at.
UPDATE 2.12.13: I would have thought the context of those remarks was pretty clear, the reference is to the vague notions of what constitutes "responsible artefact hunting" and Edvaisseyian misconceptions of what constitutes a "heritage hero" discussed earlier on Heritage Journal and here. Of course nobody counted on the total inability of some (many?) UK metal detectorists to see anything in the context of anything at all. See the comments.

Vignette: Edvaisseyan Heritage hero (Marvel comics)

That Rhyton Again

Christi Parsons ("The chalice that helped make possible the Iran nuclear deal" LA Times November 30, 2013) explains the connection between US foreign policy and antiquities repatriations. US collectors who oppose repatriation and respecting the cultural property laws of other nations are damaging US interests.
"In gesture of goodwill that helped lead to talks, the U.S. presented a gift to Iran: a silver chalice in the shape of a griffin that is thought to be an antiquity looted from an Iranian cave...". [...] One expert suggested that President Obama shake Rouhani's hand at the fall summit of the United Nations. Another posed the idea of a video message from Obama to Iranians. But an Iran specialist came up with another possibility; returning the silver ceremonial chalice. [...] Meeting that demand, the Americans thought, could build goodwill for the U.S. and thereby strengthen Rouhani, who had won the presidency in part by promising to improve relations. Bolstering Rouhani, they thought, would be key to reaching any deal on the nuclear program, which hard-liners in both Iran and the United States were sure to oppose. "This wouldn't just be a gesture for government officials," said a senior administration official who took part in the meeting. "This would be a gesture with meaning for the people of Iran."
The object was allegedly part of a cache of antiquities found in a cave near the Iraqi border in the 1980s, shortly after Iran's Islamic Revolution. In 2003, the chalice surfaced in the hands of antiquities dealer, Hicham Aboutaam.

Museum Loans, not as easy as they say

Alongside the usual "me-me-me" cravings of US lobbyists for the whole world's cultural heritage to be packed up and sent off to a collection conveniently near to them, a timely article from ArtWatch UK ('Bubbles burst', 25 November 2013) sets forward the other side of the story. Basically, it demonstrates that the antiquitist lobbyists have no idea what is involved (so, no surprise there). The article addresses the issues surrounding the current trend for "blockbuster" travelling exhibitions of art, but: 
as more and more of Art’s Flying Dutchmen encircle the globe, an awful lot of holes are appearing in the collections of great museums – as at the Louvre, as Didier Rykner has eloquently demonstrated (“The Louvre Invents the Gruyère Museum” ). This development is perverse as well as regrettable: a chief defence that museums make when seeking funding for expensive acquisitions is that they are needed to fill crucial gaps in a collection.
In the article, Michael Daley talks therefore of "museums gutting themselves to feed international loan exhibitions". It seems US collectors fail to appreciate that a museum's collection should be the reflection of a specific collecting policy, in which each work has (should have) a specific place and purpose to fulfil, packing individual pieces off to America for any time weakens the story the museum has to tell. The increasing numbers of objects loaned out by the Victoria and Albert and British Museums are cited as examples. 
It would seem that nothing in museums is now safe from this international exhibitions jamboree – no work plays too important a role within a collection, or is too fragile, or too unwieldy, to prevent curators from taking a gamble with its welfare (in hope of reciprocal loans and a curatorial buzz). The Metropolitan Museum in New York is one of the most voracious recipient/organisers of exhibitions. It needs to be. Its special exhibitions, which are free, are the biggest justification for the museum’s whopping “recommended” $25 entrance charge (the legality of which is under challenge).
Another phenomenon of our times is the creation on an increasingly large scale of foreign branches of established museums (citing Ruth Osborne, “The Dismemberment of the Louvre: Travels to Louvre Abu Dhabi promise damages and leave Parisian Museum-goers in the Lurch”). This becomes:
part of international “rebranding exercises” in which museum annexes are created in improbable but rich centres so that museums may present themselves as pan-national or global brands (along with Gucci now read Guggenheim). A lot of money is being made and a lot of careers advanced.
The article discusses the problems of getting the objects out of the country. Analogous to the recent Sicilian issue there are problems with loaning objects from the Burrell Collection in Glasgow, where first the Scottish Parliament has to overturn "the prohibitions in Sir William Burrell’s bequest on all foreign loans".

Then there are the issues of the vulnerability of many objects in transport. The examples discussed are modern, such as Matisse's collage "The Snail" and mural La Danse. The former has yet to travel (and in the case of such a bulky and fragile work, it is unclear how this will happen), while the latter when "detached from its permanent home at the Barnes Foundation, Merion, and sent off at  [...] it was to return home badly damaged".  

Due to the manner in which they are painted, the paintings of the British artist JMW Turner are exceptionally vulnerable: "He is not a resource that can be exploited indefinitely…” the Turner scholar, Andrew Wilton is quoted as saying. The Boston Museum of Art’s Turner ("Slavers throwing overboard the dead and dying – Typhoon coming on") was loaned to Britain's Tate in 2000. On arrival in London, it was examined thoroughly, and its condition was stable. After display in the London gallery, it was repacked and sent back to America/ On arrival there, it was found that found to be damaged and “extremely unstable” , the picture had "reacted significantly to the voyage” and lost flakes of paint. It is reported that the British replied sanguinely "Turner’s paintings are notorious for becoming unstable”. So, Daley asks, why are objects like this being loaned out?
There is a really eye-opening expose of another issue at the bottom of this article. This concerns a discussion in 2003 and 2004 of the present state after "conservation" of a painting by Turner ‘Rockets and Blue lights (Close at Hand) to Warn Steamboats of Shoal Water’ which was once a painting of two steamboats in distress, not of one. The second was removed (together with making huge alterations to the sky, and the removal of storm-driven smoke from the funnels of the original pair of steamboats) by twentieth century restorers apparently after its acquisition by the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute of Williamstown, USA. If that is true, this raises the question about the care many exported artworks receive at the hands of US collectors. Why was this painting altered so extensively, and where is the documentation of this work?


Friday 29 November 2013

Libya Workshop on Antiquities Smuggling

The Libyan Department of Antiquities, in collaboration with the United Nations Organisation for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO), Interpol, and the World Customs Organisation (WCO), organised a 9-day training session about preventing antiquity theft and smuggling. 
There were panel discussions about the theft of archaeological heritage, how to build international co-operation and implement international laws to reduce these thefts, as well as methods of classifying and archiving artefacts[...].  UNESCO Libya contributed to two other similar workshops during this year in the fight against Libyan antiquities theft, especially after an increase in robberies. The most famous stolen items were the Quryna treasures, a collection of gold and silver coins, beads, agate necklaces, earrings and bronze statues housed by the commercial bank of Benghazi. They vanished in May 2011.  
Source: Ali al-Gattani, Libya to curb antiquities smuggling, Magharebia. 29/11/2013.

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: Cricket Pitch Targetted, Nothing is Sacred

"Anti-social metal detectorists" are blamed for digging-up pitch at Lacock Cricket Club - "Lacock cricketers' anger at treasure hunters' damage", This Is Wiltshire 26th November 2013

Swedish Archaeologists More Alert than Dozing British Counterparts

While Britain's Portable Antiquities Scheme is part and parcel of telling people wotta-lotta Treasure is out there to be had with a metal detector through the iffy dumb-down of "Britain's Got Treasure" and nobody lifts as much as an eyebrow, let alone a finger, archaeologists in other countries take action when the media start talking about the same thing over there. Take Sweden for example ("Treasure hunting and archaeology" Liv Westring's blog, November 28, 2013). There's lots of gold there too, but there are restrictions on how and who is allowed to excavate on archaeological sites over there (and on the sale of  found historic items of rare metals as gold, bronze and so on). In Sweden to search for archaeological artefacts in the earth you need a license and permit from the county is necessary. There is a total ban on metal detectors on Gotland due to the large amount of looting on ancient sites.

So there was some alarm when the newspaper Aftonbladet wrote an article (about the miniature golden figures recently found at an archaeological site in Blekinge): “Here lies the hidden golden treasures!” accompanied with a map of Sweden and some sites marked with golden coins. Pretty quickly this was being posted around the social media by and among Swedes interested in cultural heritage. Immediately a couple of them got onto the newspaper, which at first tried to dismiss the concerns, but obviously enough did it that in the end Aftonbladet added a section named “The rules that apply” which briefly explains the key-points of the cultural heritage act and how the usage of metal detectors are restricted. And I wonder how many English archaeologists even bothered to dash off an email of protest to ITN or the PAS?

Vignette: Archaeologist dream Barbie

Macedonia: Museum head sent to jail for coin theft

Macedonia Press Review – November 26, 2013:
UTRINSKI VESNIK The head of the museum in the central Macedonian town of Veles, Petre kostov, has been sentenced to two years in jail for theft of two coins dating back from the time of Alexander the Great. Kostov, who pleaded guilty and showed remorse, had stolen the two valuable coins this summer while the collection has been prepared for an exhibition.

Destruction of Heritage and Spikes of Violence in Iraq

A Melbourne academic is in Iraq helping to restore as much as possible of the country's ransacked cultural heritage resulting from the widespread destruction and looting of the archaeological sites of the country to fuel the global no-questions-asked market in dugup antiquities. He hopes to identify those sites damaged between 2003 and 2011, the years of the U-S-led occupation.
Ben Isakhan aims to create the world's first database of those damaged heritage sites and create a path to restore what can be restored. Dr Isakhan, working with a grant from the Australian Research Council, has enlisted a team of Iraqi and U-S specialists to conduct the sweeping, three-year project. The estimation is that there's about half-a-million archaeological sites across Iraq. [...] But Dr Isakhan is also pursuing another goal with his project, revealed in its title: Measuring the Destruction of Heritage and Spikes of Violence in Iraq. He and his team want to find if there is empirical evidence that can establish a clear link between the destruction of heritage sites and increases in the human toll in a conflict.
The idea seems to be to investigate the proposition that "failure to protect cultural heritage sites will lead to an escalation in violence", and if this is proven, to use the results to get nations to adopt policies and protocols that make sure that heritage sites are protected during times of conflict, because it's in everybody's best interests.  He cites the example of the renowned Islamic mosques and shrines hit by bombings during the occupation as certain groups hoped to benefit from turning Shiite Muslims against Sunni Muslims and vice versa.
In 2006, the bombing of the Shiites' revered Al-Askari mosque, a stunning, golden-domed mosque from the Abassid era, appeared to trigger an abrupt rise in killings. Deadly reprisal attacks on other religious, cultural and historic sites followed, and the trusted, independent Iraq Body Count lists soaring death tolls over the next two years. Research so far in Dr Isakhan's project shows, within the first 24 hours after the Al-Askari bombing, 35 mosques were targeted -- and so were Sunni citizens. The project will use the Iraq Body Count database in trying to prove the relationship between the targeting of the ethno-religious sites and ensuing spikes in violence. But even if the long-assumed connection can be proved, Dr Isakhan admits it will be hard to influence militias, sectarian groups and what he calls other bad guys.
There is however another interesting point made in the article: 

Isakhan suggests, once antiquities are taken from the ground, they instantly lose 90 per cent of their scientific value. And he says, to fully understand the loss, the short history of archaeological excavation in Iraq and the slow, painstaking pace of archaeological excavation must be understood. Dr Isakhan says everything archaeologists know about ancient Mesopotamia is based on probably less than half a million objects excavated over a century. And he suggests what takes archaeologists years to excavate scientifically, in pursuit of context, can take looters days to dig up in pursuit of items for the black market. "In the time since 2003 that the looting has gone on across Iraq, there would be many times more than those relics that we have that have been unsystematically taken out of the ground. Now that means that, if everything we know is based on less than half a million objects, and let's say two million objects have been taken out of the ground, then four times as much as we know about ancient Mesopotamia we know we don't know." 
Ron Sutton, 'Aussie leads project to measure Iraq's heritage destruction' World News Australia Radio 25 Nov 2013

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: Gobbling up Britain's Cultural Capital

The recent independent report, “Rebalancing Our Cultural Capital: A contribution to the debate on national policy for the arts and culture in England” studying UK government arts spending
found that in 2012 to 2013 the Arts Council distributed £320m to the arts, with £20 per head of population going to London and £3.60 per head to the rest of England. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport gave £450m to “national” arts institutions (primarily museums), with £49 per head to London and £1 per head to the rest of England. Taking the two figures together works out at £69 per head for London and £4.60 per head for the rest of England. There is also Arts Council lottery money. Since 1995 it has totalled £3.5bn, which works out at £165 per head for London and £47 a head for the rest of England.
Unless of course the "head" belongs to a metal detector-using Treasure Hunter, in which case they get considerably more (tens of thousands sometimes hundreds of thousands of pounds) more that the rest who do not go out emptying archaeological evidence out of archaeological sites into their pockets. Each year now we are at the level of 800-900 such finds have to be the subject of inquests and potentially Treasure awards, all at the expense of money including from precisely the same funding bodies which is not available for other areas of heritage and arts. This unregulated metal detecting is emptying archaeological sites and is emptying the public purse all for the selfish gain of a selfish minority.

Thursday 28 November 2013

"Britain's Got Treasure", Episode Seven - The Making of Scotland

In this - thank goodness - penultimate episode 7 of the second series of "Britain’s Secret Treasures" the focus now shifts to Treasure Trove Scotland. This time there were just two celebrity presenters and they mentioned the "metal detector-word" a bit more frequently. (Is this due to the different legal status of the finds up there maybe?) The human interest story starts off "In 2007, landscape gardener David Booth bought himself a metal detector for his birthday. Incredibly, the first time he used it he found four 2000-year-old gold torcs. It was the greatest hoard of gold ever found in Scotland and was valued at £1m" says the ITN blurb. What I heard (I thought, somebody might clarify) is that the award was £462000 and for some reason the finder "got all of it", that's what they said. Then there was a "900-year old" silver Medieval seal matrix the same guy found (of course some dumb-downing had to be done - so viewers were told by Bettany Hughes it was "like a medieval credit card" - um, no....). What was interesting is that it had a Roman intaglio in it which led to some very facile stuff about what it means for Scottish history. Pity they did not mention that (if they got the date right) this happens quite a lot in contemporary Europe.

Things really got going when Michael Portillo presented some mid eighteenth century toy lead soldiers from Fort George near Inverness that allegedly "highlight relationships between Scottish Highlanders and British soldiers". Somehow, the narrativisation takes us to the battle of Culloden and Bonnie Prince Charlie.
Afterwards the British took control of the Highlands and built Fort George. The years following Culloden were difficult for the Highlanders living alongside the British soldiers but over time relationships developed. Experts believe the toys were made by the British soldiers for local Highlander children.
Now, quite how the "experts" came to that conclusion and how much reliance can be placed on the trite story is not explained. Presumably the programe makers do not anticipate having in their audience anyone who might ask such a question. Instead of a presentation of the argument/inference, there is a persuasive costume re-enactment with some "nice British soldiers" making lead soldiers in an open mould just as some very clean little boy apprehensively approaches them and smiles gratefully as the soldier chucks a hot piece of lead at him.

It now emerges this programme is all about Scottish identity. I've pointed out the Kossinnist roots of other things the PAS and its supporters do with archaeological artefacts, here they go the whole hog, Vorgeschichte - eine hervorragend nationale Wissenschaft in all its dubious glory."Topical" reference is made to the upcoming referendum about Scottish independence, breaking the Union. The archaeological artefacts are dragged into the argument, explaining how the United Kingdom is "not such a bad thing", after all - the narrativisation goes - just a few decades after Cullodden, the archaeologists insist their stories show that "the Scots" were quite happy to be in it. So it is that the next find too is roped-into the feelgood narrative:
A second treasure found in the same area is also evidence of improving relationships between the Highlanders’ and British soldiers. Treasure hunter Jack Mackay found a belt buckle from a soldier’s uniform in the fields around the fort last year. The buckle was dated as being from 50 years after Culloden when Britain was at war with France and Napoleon. On the badge is the name of a regiment called the Fort William volunteers made up of local Scottish men. So just half a century after being defeated by the British Army, the Scottish Highlanders were volunteering to fight for them suggesting they had finally accepted a unified Britain.[...] Michael said: “It’s a new world now as I gaze out on a tranquil Scotland where in 2014 the people will vote on whether to maintain the union. These objects illustrate a crucial stage in the long running relationship between England and Scotland and they also demonstrate how old enmity can melt away to be recast as friendly rivalry.”
So can we take it that there is absolutely no reference to these soldiers in any written source? I mean it's only the finding of this shoulder belt plate that tells us about them is it? Somehow that information seems not to have reached the viewer.

There were two 2nd century silver coin hoards and a prehistoric log boat also discussed. Michael Burks comes dangerously close to questioning how it is archaeologists make up their stories, but quietly accepts the bluff as they paddle him off in a replica logboat that they are the "experts", so everything they say must be true.

What delightful pseudo-archaeological nonsense will they be dragging out for the entertainment of the slack-jawed viewers in the final episode?  Will there be any dot-distribution maps?

Focus on Metal Detecting: Sock-Puppet "Balenim" et al.

Evil Tekkie Sock Puppet
In recent weeks, there has been another outbreak of tekkie sock-puppets trying to disrupt and deflect discussion on this blog and Heritage Action's. Metal detectorists (like US coineys) garner succour from belonging to a group of like-thinking individuals all focussed on a single aim, hoiking and having pretty bits of the archaeological heritage for themselves in their own personal collections. When it turns out that there are not enough of them able to write coherent thoughts on the issue in response to points made by the preservationists, it seems certain individuals attempt to employ multiple assumed identities to counteract the shortfall. They forget that their computers can be tracked, no matter what measures they attempt to employ to ensure anonymity. Not only the NSA knows all about you.

In the comments to a blog, I spent some time discussing some issues with one such individual who went by the name "Balenim" who was clearly one of these folk. On checking, it turns out that the same person was writing to Heritage Journal under a number of other assumed identities. Some of the comments under some of these assumed identities  (sleepers?) used by this writer were agreeing with the posts on the blog and were intended to lull the moderators of the Heritage Action blog into a false sense of security. Others, on the other hand, were intended to deflect the public discussion on that web resource onto a side-track (a typical deliberate tekkie tactice, rather than a lack of focussed thinking).

But this person's destructive activities went even further, when you look up the ISP number revealed by the tracking software (, it turns out that the same address has been associated with sabotage on Wikipedia and has had two accounts blocked/disabled there for this (including for "insulting other editors"). This address was also the source of some foul-mouthed comments to a recent news item on a newspaper, and sending death threats to another. The same address is associated with somebody stalking somebody else across several discussion boards.  It is connected in some way with a porn site. More disturbingly, on top of this abusive behaviour, the address figures in a list of people who have been banned from the servers of a discussion group (reported reason: "administrator of who approved of child porn and known hacker"). Nice people these metal detectorists associate themselves with.

 It would seem that the opponents of Heritage Action and PACHI include those that are associated with some pretty nasty folk who quite simply have nothing to say that they could put under their own name, they have to hide themselves, pretending to be somebody else. These fantasy existences seem quite common in UK metal detecting, where very few individuals write to a discussion forum under their own name. A selection of the screen names from the home page of a metal detecting forum near you will illustrate the point:
Allectus, alloverover, oliver, Philthy Phil, Maximuswarks, Danzigman, lord lovell, kopparberg, Tomo, lordofthecoils, Glenfiddich, Fishermansam, Mega B, mrix, Daniel o' Beirnes, coal digger, The Ferret, coinhunteruk, slowsweep, coil, stevieB, Dave, slippery, FUBAR, busterhamer, paul, liamnolan, Jason, janner, ironage, Donington Mudman, Cantiaci, beaubrummell, cord, Fusion, stanslad, Geeza, TDEVON, stargazer, east coast stu, slinky, Verulamium, Machinist, yellow, FisherX, sweepstick, GREGGOWREX, alfaowner, roamingrob, NeverWntdDance
What is it that these people have to say about their hobby, what they do and what they think, that cannot openly be said under their own name? Why can they not use the names on these forums and in discussion here which they use in real, not fantasy, life, the names they use at work? Metal detecting is legal in the UK, there is no need to hide the fact that one is a metal detectorist in the UK, so why all the secrecy?

TAKE A GOOD LOOK at this behaviour, 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".  

The Changing Face of the "High End" Market for Art and Antiquities

A mighty wave of new billionaires crash through the art world (Katrina Brooker, "Can Sotheby's Stay in the Picture?" Newsweek, 15 Nov 2013).
 Over the past five years, a huge wave of global wealth has been swelling, transforming markets and industries across the globe. Since 2009, the number of billionaires in the world has tripled, to 2,170. Last year, Asia produced 18 new billionaires and is on track to pass Europe's total by 2017. Many of the new rich are from parts of the world unaccustomed to this proliferation of wealth: Brazil, China, India, and Russia. Those 2,170 people control some $6.5 trillion and each year, on average, spend $78 million apiece on real estate, $60 million on yachts, $22 million on private jets, and $16 million on art. "These are people for whom five- or ten-million dollars is like you and me buying lunch," says Philip Hoffman, president of the Art Fund, an investment pool for buying art.
Auctioneers, art dealers, and collectors tell stories of new buyers who scoop up four or five items in a single auction, spending tens of millions of dollars. A Brazilian man who had never bought a major work of art recently plunked down $67 million at his first auction. An Asian collector bought one item for $1 million last spring, then jumped to a $10 million work in the summer sales, and most recently bought something for $30 million. During the sale of a Mark Rothko painting last spring, there were 10 bidders still in the running at the $50 million mark, and they pushed the price of that canvas to $86 million.
Obviously when these people set their sights on dugup antiquities, it spells big trouble for preservation of the sites from which such things come.

Sicily: Cultural Exchange the Washington Way

US art-lovers, come to Europe, see the art in its context
As was pretty easy to predict, Hugh Eakin's NYT article about Sicily ("Citing Inequity, Sicily Bans Loans of 23 Artworks" New York Times, November 26, 2013) was followed by the usual snideness from the antiquitists' lobbyists. Peter Tompa's Amerocentric text "More Evidence MOU with Italy is a Fraud " was a foregone conclusion:
 I heard it for myself at CPAC hearings concerning the MOU with Italy. Here was the deal as spun by the allies of the Italian Cultural Bureaucracy and the State Department Cultural Heritage Center in the Archaeological Institute of America and related groups: American collectors and museums would no longer be able to import unprovenanced artifacts. In return, the Italian Cultural Bureaucracy would allow long term loans of artifacts to American museums. But what is the reality?
No, this is not about "provenance", but about documenting export. It also only refers to fresh imports of specific types of artefacts, not collecting artefacts in general. I find it odd that the lobbyist considers that the US is doing what they (everybody except a minority of diehard self-interested collectors and dealers of course) think is right only "in return for" something. Why not doing right because it's the right thing to do?  Shock, horror:
now, even this "cultural exchange" is in jeopardy as Sicily has decided to ban loans of important pieces from its own museums [...] this turn of events again shows the MOU with Italy is a fraud. It is surely time for it to be scrapped.
Wow, eh? So the US antiquities market doing the right thing (abiding by the LAW) is its contribution to "cultural Exchange"? Let us note that one province with cultural policy autonomy (as each state has in the US)  has placed restrictions on just 23 of the island’s most important artworks (includes paintings by Caravaggio and Antonello da Messina) and suddenly the the balance of so-conceived US "cultural exchange" with the whole of Italy is in some way compromised? How many tens of thousands of items of Sicilian cultural  property are not on that list-of-23? How many exhibitions of various aspects of Sicilian/Southern Italian/ Western Mediterranean [...], European, Roman, Greek, Bronze Age, Early Medieval etc. etc. etc. art and culture can one put on by borrowing items not on that list?

It seems to me that this reaction is a reflection of dumb-down US celebrity culture. The only works of art that "matter" to the gawpers is the ones with a name everyone recognizes. No minor Mannerist artist whose works are in a Sicilian collection will do, nothing to boast about seeing at the next coffee morning there, it seems from what is being said here that only "Caravaggio" counts for US gawpers. For Mr Tompa and his ilk, restricting the movement of just 23 articles totally removes any possibility of ever having a meaningful exhibition outside Sicily. It means that in order to see the 23 celebrity items, the American gawper will have to get up off his fat bottom and get over to Yurope. Like they would if they want to see Palermo Cathedral, any of the Sicilian Baroque churches, the Late Baroque towns of the Val di Noto, Mount Etna, the Valle dei Templi, Villa del Casale (Piazza Armerina) and its mosaics or Syracuse.

Let us note that the question of loans cannot be treated in such a one-sided manner as the US collectors seem to see it, it is not restricting smuggling by US customs that should be the motivation to such loans (that's what the US customs should be doing anyway, it's their job). Sicily has explicitly stated that their decision to keep 23 selected 'national treasures' at home is in part the result of the perception that:
loans to foreign museums “have not produced benefits” for Sicily and have not occurred under “conditions of reciprocity with the borrowing institutions, which often offer in exchange works of inferior cultural value and renown. 
So when will the US be loaning Sicily some of those fantastic canvasses and panel paintings, limewood sculptures crafted in the US by sixteenth and seventeenth centuries for the churches, castles and monasteries of the new colonies? All that amazing Renaissance, Mannerist and Baroque art made over the other side of the Atlantic, shown to European audiences in exchange for the sending of European masterpieces over on loan to the US. What was the name of those celebrity artists of the colonies again? Reciprocity Mr Tompa. Or if you cannot manage that, then if you want to see other people's stuff without going to the trouble of shuffling along to the airport, what about saying "please" very nicely instead of trying once again to dictate terms to the rest of us? 


The Portable Antiquities Scheme and Roman Britain

Pre-order now:
Tom Brindle The Portable Antiquities Scheme and Roman Britain ISBN: 9780861591961 Published by: British Museum Press Series: British Museum Research Publication 196 Year of Publication: 2014 206p, 70 maps "A comprehensive evaluation of the Portable Antiquities Scheme and the archaeological value of its findings particularly in relation to Roman Britain". Does the PAS have "findings"? It could be interesting to see how that is presented. Anyway, if other PAS-centred works (Moorhead coins) seem anything to go by, lots of dot-distribution maps seem likely to be in the in the offing. I doubt I'll be getting a review copy, but I bet the tekkies will be gobbling it up.

UPDATE 21.6.14
My copy came today, and am browsing it now. It's well-organized and quite clearly written (though at the cost of being awfully repetitive). It also overlaps in some areas with Walton's thesis and one wonders what is going on there (seminars?). What is interesting is it presents the information in a way that seems intended to aid the non-British reader to understand what's going on, though some of the detail of the case studies is hardly intelligible at a distance. Anyway, interesting.

Wednesday 27 November 2013

More and More Art Leaving Britain

The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest has for the past 60 years been regarded as Britain’s “cultural safety net” – a means to save some of the country’s most precious works of art from being sold abroad and disappearing from public view. It recommends which of the many thousands of artworks destined for export should be "saved for the nation". In the last two years, less than a third of the antiques, paintings and manuscripts thus identified actually remained in Britain. Instead many items have been lost to collectors abroad because the funds could not be found to keep them in the country. As a result, pieces of outstanding significance are leaving the country and posterity will come to regret not doing more to save them (Oliver Wright, "Not 'saved for the nation': Britain selling more art than ever before", Independent 18 November 2013).

In a way this whole sorry business is an echo of the Treasure Process and the way Britain's archaeological heritage is trashed day after day with the nation "saving" just a few of the more glittery pieces and abandoning any hopee of doing much about the problem as a whole. Likewise one may be sure that "posterity will come to regret not doing more" in the face of such destruction.

Riesco collection Sales On, Croydon Out of Museums Association, Reportedly Cannot Account for 89 Objects

The Riesco Collection of antique Chinese ceramics was a gift to Croydon from local businessman Raymond Riesco half a century ago, on condition that the collection he had spent his lifetime curating should not be broken up, nor should it leave this country. It seems that the sale of parts of the collection  is going ahead as planned: Christie's Announces the sale of 24 Works from the R.F.A. Riesco Collection of Important Chinese Ceramics. Meanwhile, it was announced that Croydon Council has already resigned from the Museums Association after the MA's ethics committee ruled that the auction was in breach of the association's code of ethics.

More scandalously, according to Geraldine Kendall, ('89 objects missing from Riesco collection', Museums Association 16.10.2013) a FOI request reportedly uncovered gaps in Croydon Council's records. It seems that the Museums Journal learnt several weeks ago that 89 Riesco Collection objects are unaccounted for. Of the 650 items originally acquired, now only 230 pieces remain in the council’s ownership (180 pieces were sold in 1970, 112 were sold in 1984 and 39 were stolen at an unspecified date, which leaves another 89 items apparently missing with no record as to their whereabouts). Is this true? What on earth is going on in Croydon?

UPDATE 27th Nov 2013:
Results of the sale:
Hong Kong, 27 November 2013, Sale 3266:  24 lots offered, 17 lots sold  ("71% sold by lot, 74% sold by value")  The council’s asset-stripping exercise failed to sell all of the items. Seven of them failed to achieve the reserve price placed on them by the auction house. When this happens an auction house sometimes negotiatiates private deals with interested under-bidders.
Total dosh made:  US$13,276,224 (that's £8,236,176 and €9,834,240). This however is below the estimate.

Chi Fan Tsang, Specialist Head of Chinese Ceramics & Works of Art Department, said, “We were honoured to have been instructed to offer The R.F.A.  Riesco Collection this season, formed with such passionate connoisseurship, and not seen on the market for many decades.   In particular, we were pleased with the results of the top lot of the sale - the rare Xuande blue and white double-gourd moonflask, Ming dynasty, Xuande mark and period (1426-1435), which realized HK$28.1 million/US$3.6 million, and for the two rare Jun bowls. 

UPDATE UPDATE 28th Nov 2013:

'Council’s cultural vandalism leaves borough short-changed', Inside Croydon November 27, 2013
 Tony Newman, the leader of the Labour group on Croydon Council, was available to air his views of the Riesco auction. “Not only has this incompetent Tory council sold off the treasured family crockery, but it has let it go at a bargain basement price,” Newman said.  “[...] Croydon Tories’ act of cultural vandalism is now complete.”
'Council’s botched attempt to airbrush Riesco from web history', Inside Croydon, November 22, 2013
Tory-run Croydon Council has been trying to airbrush history on their own website, to eradicate embarrassing references to the Riesco Collection. And as you might expect of Croydon Council, they can’t even do that properly.[...]  Until very recently, the Croydon Council web page explained – accurately – how millionaire Riesco’s world-famous collection of Chinese porcelain had come to be given to the corporation. The council’s website specifically referred to Riesco making a “gift” of his collection, [...] "on the condition that they were not split up" Now you see it…[...]  But as if by magic, just recently, the council’s Heathfield web page has undergone a change [...]  with the embarrassing truth about the Riesco Collection (almost) all removed ...

Lack of Respect for Ancient Monuments in Today's Britain

Referring to recent "additions" to the Uffington White Horse and the moustache added to the Cerne Abbas Giant, Heritage Action ask: "Stunts at monuments: is there a policy on the subject?" 27/11/2013. They argue that such modifications hardly foster any respect for ancient sites and monuments (what's new in dig it all up Great Britain?) and whether such stunts "carry a risk of damaging copycatting elsewhere".

One thinks in this context in particular of the vandalism of an 1844 equestrian monument to the Duke of Wellington by the important nineteenth century sculptor Carlo Marochetti in Glasgow. Pranksters continually clamber up to place a traffic rod cone on the head of the person commemorated and/or his horse damaging the fragile bronze cast and its patina:
According to Gary Nesbit, a leading expert on Glasgow's public statues, damage is being done to the duke by decades of being climbed upon [...] He said: "His sword is damaged, the plinth is scuffed, it's covered with stickers and biological growth and how we treat a monument to a symbol of all that is wonderful about the British military is a disgrace [...] What's needed is illumination and cameras".
Earlier pleas have gone unheeded (Stephanie Todd, 'Council in road cone statue plea' BBC News Scotland, Wednesday, 16 February, 2005): "The Duke has lost his spurs and half his sword as a result of pranksters trying to scale the structure", one of course not meant to be climbed on. Recently moves were afoot by those entrusted with care of the monument to restrict access of vandals to the monument, but they were opposed by a campaign led by a Leverhulme fellow at Glasgow’s Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research, a member of the Glasgow "Trafficking Culture" project. Personally, I think this raises a number of questions which need discussing.* If this was a stele in the Central American jungle getting its glyphs scuffed and knobs knocked off by drunken local businessmen, foresters and farmers continually climbing onto it to place an empty tequila bottle comically on top of it, would it be so "funny"? Does the fact that its in 'everything goes' Britain make it any the more acceptable? What attitudes lie behind encouraging such acts? Cultural expression or lack-of-culture? Use of a public monument or misuse? Respect for historical sites and monuments or disrespect? Do we look after the remains of the past, or let people clamber all over it doing what they feel like doing at the time? Is today's drunken dumb-down disrespect for a work of art which has come down from the past a substitute for respect for (and understanding of) the artist's original message and the intentions of those who paid for the creation of the monument? When we talk of preservation, what is it we are trying to conserve and pass on to our children and why?

* Not least because the act itself is an offence.

Vignette: The White Heritage Hero of Uffington  ("Detectorist Stunt 'A Desecration' Say Residents", Saturday, 10 March 2012

Deaccession: Croydon Leaves Museum Association Over "Unethical Disposal"

The planned sale today of part of the 'Riesco Collection of Chinese Ceramics' is causing a bit of controversy, Geraldine Kendall, 'MA to bar Croydon from membership over unethical disposal', Museums Journal 11.11.2013:
The Museums Association (MA) is to bar Croydon Council from future membership if it proceeds with its planned sale of Chinese ceramics at Christie’s in Hong Kong on 27 November. The MA’s president David Anderson [said] “The decision by Croydon council to remove items from its museum collection and sell them at public auction is in clear breach of the Museums Association code of ethics. I urge Croydon to revisit their decision. It is not too late for them to change their mind. However, if the sale goes ahead they will be barred from membership of the Museums Association. We will also call on Arts Council England to revoke Croydon’s status as an Accredited museum”.
Collectors who urge museums to sell off "duplicate" objects to them would do well to note this case. In particular it would be interesting to see a discussion in such circles of the selling off of part of a collection assembled by a named individual and deposited as such in a museum. To what degree should a museum interfere with the content of such a collection which reflects the tastes of its original creator and the circumstances of compiling it?

Here's the Facebook page:  'Save Our China Riesco Collection'. 

Tuesday 26 November 2013

The Bay Psalm Book Sale

There has been some controversy in the US over the sale of some articles belonging to a church:
The congregation of the Old South Church, founded in 1669 in Boston, has voted to sell one of their two copies of the Bay Psalm book, first printed in 1640 in Cambridge, Massachusetts and which is known as America's first book. The book, which takes as its full title The Whole Booke of Psalmes Faithfully Translated into English Metre, has been valued at $20m (£12.5m), according to reports. Hundreds were printed when it was first published in the 17th century, but only 11 are known to remain. The church is also set to sell 19 pieces of colonial silver in order to pay for repairs and continue its outreach work, but the move has been controversial. [...] "Once we break the faith with our forebears, it's all out the door," church historian Jeff Makholm told the Associated Press. "How easy is it to spend somebody else's money?"
The print run was reportedly about 1700 copies, only eleven remain in existence, and nine of them are in major collections or libraries. Sotheby's, which auctioned the Bay Psalm Book (26 November) originally estimated it would fetch  $15-30 million, but in fact it only sold for $12.5M hammer price ($14,165,000 total) to US financier and philanthropist David Rubenstein (who says he plans to loan it to libraries across the country). Even so, the price raised is said to have made it the most expensive printed book. The Old South Church has one other copy, which it says it currently has no plans to sell.

Although this ill-printed thing has mainly local appeal, I think that in a way it is rather a shame that the buyer was not a foreign collector who wanted to take the book to a major Japanese, or Gulf State collection. This might have roused a bit of debate in the US where, it seems if you follow much of what they say, collectors, dealers and others seem to regard themselves as having an indisputable God-given "right" to accumulate in their homes and museums just about everything they want and can get their hands on, without a thought for the needs of those from whom they are taken. US collectors and dealers, living in a new country not having very much of its own material cultural heritage to lose, apparently find it very difficult to get their heads round the issues and see the other side of the story (from the point of view of a "source country" whose heritage is being drained away by outsiders). The threat of losing one of the few things that really has a claim to be important US cultural heritage might have provided a platform for such reflection and debate.

Alison Flood, 'America's first book set to be sold amid holy rowChurch votes to sell Bay Psalm book, printed in 1640, despite protests from some congregants', The, Wednesday 5 December 2012

'Bay Psalm Book is world's most expensive printed work at $14.2m' BBC 27 November 2013.

Nine Nineteenth Century Korean Seals, US 'War Booty' in Government Hands

Rick St. Hilaire has draw attention to the issue of the the legal basis of the US Government's seizure of some valuable Korean seals from the family of a deceased Marine who brought them back after doing military service in Korea (Cultural Property Lawyer Blog 'Korean Artifacts Seizure Prompts Question of Legal Authority ' Monday, November 25, 2013).  He suggests that "the legal authority justifying the seals' seizure remains unclear, requiring further explanation by ICE". The US serviceman had found the seals in 1950 lying in a ditch near the Deoksugung Palace, which had just been ransacked by Chinese and North Korean soldiers and instead of handing them in, took them home with him when he returned to the States. After his death, the family tried to flog them off. According to the November 20, 2013 ICE press release  ('HSI seizes 9 ancient Korean artifacts in Southern California'): 
In September, HSI Washington special agents received information from a Washington, D.C., based antiquities expert that a man residing in Escondido, Calif., had contacted them in an effort to find out if the seals were valuable.
Photos of the object were forwarded to Korea and the objects identified as Korean national property, which is illegal to transfer or export without the proper papers, which one presumes the family could not present. The objects were reportedly "seized pursuant to abandonment of property form and in violation of the Cultural Property Implementation Act", though it is not recorded whether or not the family agreed voluntarily to surrender the items when their legal status was explained. This might be suggested is the significance of the phrase used in the press release, stating that the: "seals were seized pursuant to [an] abandonment of property form ....". It may be that what is at the heart of the issue is imprecise phrasing of the press release trying to cast the ICE in a dynamic pro-active role, "seizing" something that had in fact been quietly surrendered by the family quite understandably not wanting to profit from something done by their deceased relative which may turn out to have been illegal or wrong.  US soldiers were not in Korea to loot its heritage.

The ICE press release cites:
the Korean National Property Act, enacted April 8, 1950 and
the Korean National Property Act-Enforcement Decree, enacted June 10, 1950.

Vignette: central building of Deoksugung palace, Seoul.

A Joson Dynasty seal Acquired by Los Angeles County Museum of Art Korean War Loot?

After the case of nine seals lifted from Korea by a returning US serviceman reported earlier in the week, news is breaking that a 16th century (Joson dynasty) gilt bronze turtle-shaped royal seal in the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art since 2000 may also have been stolen during  the 1950-1953 Korean War. This one is thought to have been stolen from the Jongmyo royal shrine in Seoul, according to South Korean officials. The seal, which had belonged to collection belonged to Queen Munjeong, who ruled as regent for her young son King Myeongjong from 1545 to 1553, was confiscated by US authorities in January. The Korean government has long thought that similar Joseon Dynasty items that went missing after the war were stolen by American soldiers.

Wall Street Journal, 'U.S. May Return Korean Royal Seal', September 20, 2013

'Korean Royal Seal Now In LACMA Collection Might Be A Stolen Item', Associated Press - November 26, 2013

Sicily Discriminated by Foreign Museum Loans

New York Times' Hugh Eakins seems to delight in stirring it with collectors, he phrases a lot of his articles on heritage issues in a manner guaranteed to get them all riled-up. Perhaps it sells newspapers, but does it help informing readers in general? The latest, discussing a new policy formulated in Sicily in the summer adopts such a standpoint (Hugh Eakin, 'Citing Inequity, Sicily Bans Loans of 23 Artworks', NYT November 26, 2013), and I am sure that before long, we will be hearing about this from the dealers' lobbyists opposed to restrictions on the import of dugup antiquities without the proper paperwork:
Sicily’s regional government has set a travel ban on 23 of the island’s most important artworks, a decree that says such works, many of which were recently lent to museums in the United States and elsewhere, should not circulate abroad except under extraordinary circumstances.[...] The policy shift, enacted in June but largely unnoticed outside Italy, reflects growing concerns by Sicilian officials that their most important treasures are too often out of the country, while their own museums suffer. The decree says that loans to foreign museums “have not produced benefits” for Sicily and have not occurred under “conditions of reciprocity with the borrowing institutions, which often offer in exchange works of inferior cultural value and renown.” [...] A new administration that took power in Sicily in the last year has expressed disappointment with existing loan practices[...]  “It’s perfectly understandable,” said Philippe de Montebello, the former director of the Met [...]  “Sicily doesn’t have the depth. If you take away one of these top pieces, you’ve created a big gap.”
Sergio Gelardi, the general director of Sicily’s culture administration, says that he measures to keep the most iconic works in the region is to ensure that tourists coming to the island to see such items are not disappointed many of the works reside in small regional museums that struggle to draw visitors at the best of times. Sicily’s regional government has an autonomous status within the Italian system. This means that it is free determine its own cultural policies. An additional issue created by these new measures involves loan fees:
for any works approved for loan, the Sicilian decree institutes substantial fees, calculated as a percentage of the insurance value of the work, to be paid by the borrowing institution [...] Loan fees of this sort are not unheard-of, but Italy does not charge them, and American museums that borrow from foreign institutions typically pay only for insurance and shipping.[...] Timothy Potts, the director of the Getty Museum, expressed concern about the new loan restrictions, noting that American museums have often contributed in other ways, including costly conservation work on borrowed objects, and that fees could be prohibitive for smaller museums.
Eakin sees only the US side of the argument, he suggests these measures in some way:
fly in the face of a series of restitution agreements over looted antiquities in American museum collections, including the landmark 2006 accord between the Met and the Italian culture ministry. In exchange for turning over to Italy and Sicily 21 disputed antiquities, the Met has received a series of loans from Italy “of equivalent beauty and artistic/historical significance.”
But then what (apart from surrendering artefacts they had no business acquiring in the first place) have they sent back to Sicily in exchange ? Potts is quoted as saying that it was “naïve to think that, once the restitutions had been made, there would automatically be a huge increase in loans”. I bet that's not how the ACCG et al. see it...


Morgantina Treasure Loan to be Renegotiated?

Hugh Eakin ('Citing Inequity, Sicily Bans Loans of 23 Artworks', NYT November 26, 2013) signals an upcoming problem over the Morgantina Treasure, a rare ensemble of Hellenistic silver that was returned to Sicily in 2010 by the Metropolitan Museum of Art as part of an earlier restitution agreement in 2006 accord between the Met and the Italian culture ministry.
In exchange for turning over to Italy and Sicily 21 disputed antiquities, the Met has received a series of loans from Italy “of equivalent beauty and artistic/historical significance.”[...]  the Morgantina silver, was [to be] subject to a continuing loan arrangement and is supposed to return to the Met for four years in 2014. Harold Holzer, a spokesman for the Met, said that the loan of the silver would take place when the Met returns other material borrowed from Italy. But in an email on Tuesday, Mariarita Sgarlata, Sicily’s highest cultural official, said that Sicily hoped to modify the terms of the silver loan. “At the moment, we are looking for an alternative solution to propose to the Met, one that would be mutually advantageous to Sicily and the New York museum.” Asked about that statement, Mr. Holzer said, “We have not received any notification from Sicily and we will review any such proposal with an open mind.” Malcolm Bell III, an archaeologist at the University of Virginia who is co-director of excavations at Morgantina, a site near Aidone, Sicily, from which the silver is believed to have been looted, said: “The flaw in the agreement, from the Sicilian point of view, is that during the period when the silver goes back to New York, there is nothing in its place at the little Aidone museum. But when the silver is in Sicily, Italy must lend the Met works of equal beauty and value.” 

Objects Stolen from Macedonian Museum Found Foreign Buyers?

Macedonian police are questioning museum staff after the discovery that 166 artifacts, have been stolen from storage in the country's biggest museum. The missing items include gold and silver jewellery, dating from the 4th century A.D.
Police said Tuesday that an organized crime ring is thought to be behind the theft, and the antiquities are believed to have been sold abroad. Authorities are still uncertain when the pieces were taken from the Museum of Macedonia in central Skopje. Last month, curators reported that 60 artifacts, mainly earrings, pendants, rings and bracelets from two cemeteries in central Macedonia, had gone missing. They later added another 20 artifacts to the list [later] a full investigation raised the number of missing artifacts to 166.
So who has been buying from an organized criminal gang looted ancient gold and silver items looted from a Eastern European museum collection, no-questions asked? Who has been buying ancient gold and silver items from Eastern Europe, no-questions asked? It's the same question.

'Macedonian police say 4th century artifacts stolen from country's biggest museum', The Associated Press November 19, 2013

Sunday 24 November 2013

What is damaging the US Dugup Antiquities Market

Peter Tompa ('Running Amok', CPO Saturday, November 23, 2013) claims:
" Overregulation based on politically correct thinking is damaging ancient coin collecting in the United States.
The actual evidence of that is....? There seems to be no evidence whatsover that the US coins and antiquities market has in actual fact been in any way damaged by anything done to regulate in a somewhat minimal manner the import of fresh coins. The only real damage that has been done is to its reputation, tarnished by the antics of groups of dealer-interest groups like the ACCG.

Ever-eager to present themselves as the victim, Mr Tompa persuades fellow coineys that this is solely a politically-correct imagined:
moral imperative to expiate our "guilt" for being a wealthy market country for antiquities and coins.
No, the guilt actually is in the irresponsible way the market continues to be run. If the market had cleaned itself up when international concerns were raised (with the 1970 UNESCO Convention) there would be absolutely no problem now with a no-questions-asked market shielding looting and smuggling from view. Heck, had they wanted to, American dealers and collectors could even have led the way, they could have been setting the moral goalposts for the global market to follow for the last forty years, instead of being over those decades a significant part of the problem to be dealt with (and another factor tarnishing the image of their country and the values it is seen to represent). 

Interim Iran Deal

If the interim agreement holds up and leads to a final pact preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, could avert years of threats of U.S. or Israeli military intervention. It could also prove a turning point in decades of hostility between Washington and Tehran - and become a crowning foreign policy achievement of Obama's presidency.
After a lot of indecision and inconsistency in the Middle East, he needs one. So now we have the context of the return of the Queen's Rhyton and all the rest. Pity it's probably not real. One wonders whether the effects of certain sanctions being lifted will be the flow of more ancient coins and artefacts into Europe and the Americas from Iran. Not that the sanctions seem to have hindered a number of dealers getting their hands on material which they then placed on sale with no indication that it is licitly obtained.

Bradley Klapper, Julie Pace, Matthew Lee, 'Secret US-Iran talks set stage for nuke deal', AP News 24th Nov 2013.

State Department fact sheet [probably, just some of them]. 

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: "Britain's Unique Shame"

Nigel Swift refers to the comments of Britain's Culture Minister who in a moment of gold-fever ill-advisedly used the term  "heritage heroes" to refer to so-called "responsible metal detectorists". As I have done on this blog a number of times, Mr Swift returns to the definition of the term "responsible metal detectorists" ('No, Mr Vaizey WASN’T taken out of context. He took the context out himself!', HJ 24/11/2013). He suggests Vaisey's comments need to be placed in the context of certain facts about Treasure awards and the financial rewards of being an artefact hunter with a metal detector in Britain:
That’s quite an omission if you’ re hailing them as heroes is it not? It’s not us who are failing to present things to the public in context, is it? If reality is to be spun so blatantly what’s next? [...] I can’t adjust to the idea that these days 9 out of ten finders screech uncouthly for a maximum reward and STILL get falsely called heroes by two Culture Secretaries. I’m afraid I find that crass and stupid and wrong and whatever the Government and a few others say it brings unique shame on Britain.
Cue a whole load of sly tekkie nastiness and the usual sock-puppetry that Heritage Journal suffers from those that serve as the only voice of the community. Or will we instead hear from some of the truly decent metal detector users who too are disturbed by the all-too-vague notion of "responsibility" used in blanket form towards this exploitive and destructive hobby? Are there any out there?

Vignette: Tekkie sock-puppet hecklers, the only voice of metal detecting in the UK? 

True Dick, Anonymous-FacebookGuy and the Discussion of the Erosive Effects of Metal Detecting

Over on the "I am an artefact hunter and I vote" Facebook page (check it out), in response to a comment I posted in reply to something somebody there had (of course anonymously - and using the first person plural) said about me, a fellow metal detectorist urges "Anonymous-Facebook-Guy":
Do not respond to this guy. He is nothing but trouble, and never has a kind word for anyone. A troll of the highest order and even his fellow archaeologists disown him.
Of course in metal detecting circles, it is the trolls of the highest order that get noticed and create the public image of the hobby. They never get "disowned" by their fellow metal detectorists.

Yes,"Anonymous-Facebook-Guy", do not respond. Just throw out some unsubstantiated crap and when somebody asks you what lies behind what you said, just don't respond. Or if you do, just bring it down to an ad hominem like your peers. Nobody expects anything else from metal detectorists these days. No answers. Ever. Just sniping and trolling.

UPDATE 27th Nov 2013
So it will be no surprise to anybody that "Anonymous-Facebook-Guy" decided, instead of explaining his point of view when challenged, simply to delete the topic where he wanted to try and gain some support for his cause by trying to raise outrage over "something Paul Barford had said". That's pretty pathetic. How can they fight their cause if they are going to collapse every time their ill-conceived tub-thumping glib crap is challenged?

Saturday 23 November 2013

Peruvian Textile Smuggling Attempt Thwarted

Peruvian customs officials at Lima’s Jorge Chavez International Airport recently recovered four pre-Columbian textiles hidden in baggage as it was about to be loaded onto an international flight. The items ("a cloth fragment made of animal fiber with designs of birds colored black, pink and yellow ocher, two flared caps, decorated cotton textiles and a quantity of loose threads, also of pre-Columbian origin") were "in the Central Coast style” of the Late Intermediate period (c. 1100-1450), perhaps of the coastal Chancay or Itchma cultures. They were discovered hidden under framed, glass-covered family photos that were being sent to Spain. The consigner is still at large. No information is given about whether the textiles were being sent to a collector or a dealer, but one thing is sure, this is the way many pre-Columbian artefacts end up on foreign (for example European) markets, to later "surface" (from "underground") as from "an Old European Collection". 

'Peru Thwarts Antiquities Smugglers', Latin American Herald Tribune November 23, 2013

Facebook page "I Am A Metal Detectorist and I Vote"

Since I see that the (anonymous) "I Am A Metal Detectorist and I Vote" Facebook page has generously given a link to this blog ("to let others voice their opinions and to read his other concerns:") I will return the courtesy. Have a look at what concerns metal detectorists in the USA - apart from the latest post there which reveals an apparent lack of understanding of what constitutes a "conflict of interest" in professional archaeology.

The "I Am A Metal Detectorist and I Vote" page is about:  Sharing legal matters concerning metal detecting, prospecting, and collecting. Members are urged to vote against those who vote against our hobby! Oh and engage in personal attacks on those who have concerns about the way that hobby is practised and the effects that is having on the conservation of the archaeological record.  

Anyone want to set up a "Millions of us do not Collect Portable Antiquities and we vote" page?

Vignette: the banner from the "I am a Morris Dancer and I vote" webpage.  

Artefact Hunting in Norway

Elise Hazel Asbjørnsen,' Boom av skattejegere skaper hodebry for profesjonelle', Norsk rikskringkasting 22.11.2013
"A growing number of enthusiasts acquire metal detector in search of the past   Some of us are out looking for old coins several times a week, says Harald Kjelstad in the Norwegian  Metal Searchers Association. The association now has 340 members, an increase of 40 percent since last year" 

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: Bloomsburian jubilations

Bloomsburian  jubilations, Dan Pett of the Portable Antiquities Scheme tweets:
Looks like we’ll surpass 2012’s total of recorded objects/records on in 2013. Good work team PAS.
Yet once again another year of liaison passes without any official estimate of the number of artefact hunters actually out there hoiking away day after day and finding, discarding, selling stuff without any record entering the public domain.

There is total Bloomsburian silence on this, even though in 2003 they set finding this out as their Fifth Aim (subsequently silently dropped - they said they'd "achieved" it, but the results were never made public). When anybody concerned about this asks for those figures, they risk getting called a "troll" by the British Museum.

In the meantime, the Heritage Action Artefact Erosion counter ticks away challenging them to produce the official figures. Metal detectorists and their archaeological supporters may claim (though never demonstrate) that these figures do not reflect reality, neither will they answer the question of by what degree must the results be "wrong" in order to make the shortfall an acceptable one by any measure other than "summat's better than nuffink".

In this context, let it also be noted that this was constructed using an estimate from a decade ago that there were 10000 active detectorists in the UK, my own recent work has led me to believe that figure has now grown, largely as a result of short-sighted PAS "outreach", to nearer 16000. If so, that erosion counter is ticking away far too slowly, and whatever the increased data-recording rate of the PAS is in that period, it has wholly failed to keep pace with the rise in number of artefact hoikers.
Our numbers: 
This year (so far), 258,237 recordable archaeological objects hoiked.
Bloomsbury numbers:
Hooray, we recorded
72642 items (in 50031 records)* so far in 2013
Hooray for Bloomsbury, for their audacity claiming this as a resounding success:
ONE FIFTH recorded this year, FOUR FIFTHS (80%)
Bloomsbury, do us all a favour, either in 2014 produce your own figures for global loses, or just shut it. You are just making an undignified exhibition of yourselves and taking us all for fools.

Vignette: Number 41 (Caroline Reeves).

*the discrepancy is going to be counting the number of potsherds/flints/tile fragments in a bag, ten finds, one record.  Most metal detector finds will be produced and recorded individually (and groups of associated objects - a hoard for example - count as a single piece of archaeological information anyway).

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: Hoards from Pasture

One of the main principles established between the Portable Antiquities Scheme, CBA and all the other interested bodies when they compiled the Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales was stay off pasture. Here archaeological sites and assemblages have a chance of surviving in better condition than on land being ploughed now. In some of these sites (like the Crosby Garrett helmet findspot), the archaeological layers may begin just under the turf. Although responsible detecting is part of the deal, and is supposed to be going on everywhere the beep-beep boys go out, the truth is somewhat different as any visitor to a metal detecting forum will quickly learn. Take for example the thread started by forum member "Targets" (Tue Jun 25, 2013 5:50 pm): "How many hoards from Pasture /how many from ploughed?" ("my mates always on about finding a hoard but he wont do pasture ! so i say to him more hoards have been dug from pasture and scrubby areas than ploughed. so is that right [?]"). Then other members start sharing their pasture-hunting stories: "oneProducer" (Tue Jun 25, 2013 10:36 pm): "I managed to find 113 more pennies in 4 days! 56 in the first 4 hours[.] All the coins were at exactly the same depth (8-10 inches) and I think they just settled at a level where they could physically not sink any more". There is obvious from this thread a total lack of understanding about the context of deposition of the objects being hoiked out of the archaeological record for personal entertainment, gratification and profit and the detectorists concentrate on the context of discovery aspects, which rather undermines the notion that these people really are (as the PAS insists is their purpose) "learning about the past" from their hoiking.

Member Tony Hunt by Tony Hunt (Fri Nov 01, 2013 6:40 pm) tells of a hoard on the cover of a well-known hobby magazine this month which was found on pasture ("so have some of my best Roman finds as well"):
 Never underestimate Pasture, stuff is down there waiting to pick up, very slow and low is the order of the day on pasture. To get the best on pasture you need a deeper than normal seeking detector with a larger coil fitted also. Normal run around flat out and beep on rally fields detectors are pretty useless on the deep stuff below 6-8 inches. Ive had four hoards on pasture now [...] The recent stater ones were 10-12" 
That's the deepseeker site-wrecker metal detectors are what these people are using on pasture sites, just to get those finds lying in the undisturbed layers created by many decades of natural worm-sinkage.  Just hoiked out blind with not a thought for the subtle patterning within the site.  Obviously the use of such tools on such sites does even more 'blind' damage to the buried archaeological record than machines with more shallow penetration which also should not be being used on such sites by truly responsible metal detectorists to avoid damage. That is part of what "best practice" is really all about - whatever the dumbing-down and passive PAS may say otherwise.

 TAKE A GOOD LOOK at this behaviour, 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".  

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