Thursday 29 May 2014

One or More More Anglian Cemeteries Emptied onto EBay

A bulk lot of legally, one assumes, dugup geegaws: '20 ANGLO SAXON STYLISED HORSES HEADS BROOCH PIECES [LOT B ]', twenty pieces of PAS-partner pilfered pieces of trashed history, yours currently for only £6.50 [2 bids].

If you prefer the other end of the brooches, there's currently a HUGE AMOUNT OF ANGLO SAXON BROOCH PIECES 58 IN TOTAL [LOT A ]' with a couple of cruciforms, square headed and goodness-knows-what-and-where-from, only £5.50 at the moment [2 bids]. All perfectly legal too, no doubt.

Hurry now, get your bid in for some legal decontextualised grave-robbed goodies, of no archaeological use any more now the looters have hoiked them. No mention of any PAS numbers of course - some could-not-care-less oik has apparently just hoiked as much as he can, probably kept some for himself  and contemptuously offloaded the more fragmented rest onto an eBay dealer, who'll flog British heritage and ex-archaeology to the highest bidder (this one has no geographical preferences where he'll send it by Royal Mail International Tracked). 

Big round of applause for the heritage heroes Baz Thugwit and "Dirty Dan" Braghoard, and their dealer pal Stycca 1234 from Durham for spreading a bit of British 'Kulcha' around. ("Not in it fer the munny" you understand. "There's no munny in this lark". Well, except the value of the pieces still in their personal artefact stashes that did not make it onto eBay). 

From an archaeological, rather than commercial, point of view, every single one of these artefacts is what you'd call 'diagnostic'. Even as surface finds they could yield a lot of information about the spatial development of the (unknown) site which they had come from - and every bit of information we can get about Anglian cemeteries in the northernmost parts of England are very valuable. But Thugwit and Braghoard have just hoovered up loads and loads of bits, and none of them are mentioned in the sales spiel as even having been seen by the PAS. This is particularly destructive exploitation of sensitive sites for mere personal entertainment and profit. No archaeological information will survive this kind of treatment of such a site.

And what are British archaeologists doing about this?  Absolutely NOTHING. EBay has existed since 1995, this has been going on day-after-day, week after week, almost since the beginning. Today there are 2,004 British antiquities on sale on eBay UK alone (not counting items listed in other categories such as ancient coins). next week, there'll be another few thousand. Where will it end? Is anybody bothered? Is anybody counting? Is anybody compiling a report to submit to British lawmakers?  Is anybody writing to the newspapers trying to prod journalists to do some investigative reporting to rouse public opinion? Is anyone contacting UNESCO to ask them to write someone a stiff letter? Actually, no. No. We do have fifteen-million quid scheme staffed by archaeologists whose job it is to pat Baz and "Dirty Dave" on the head and tell them "you done well" and nothing else, but nobody doing any activist work highlighting what is going on.  Apparently several thousand British archaeologists and heritage professionals have other things to do than worry about the emptying of entire archaeological sites onto eBay.

And people, not being informed by anyone whose business it should be to inform them, continue to buy. People get caught up in the network of deception and destruction. People also get ripped off because of the same 'professional' archaeological apathy towards this whole sorry business (ripped off that is only if they actually cared about the real nature of the 'cool stuff' they were buying).$_3.JPG The same dealer has a notched projectile point listed [£5.50 2 bids] under   British Antiquities which would be entirely aberrant (formally, the material it is made from is not defined) from such a context. This looks North American, and more specifically a piece of "flint-knappers' art" (sic) but its a piece of junk knapping with scraper retouch along at least one edge and the notch most likely made with a metal point. Let's be charitable and assume its misidentification is from it being from an estate sale of a detectorist who kept poor documentation and the dealer assumed that all the stuff he had, he'd found himself. This is why poorly-documented personal collections - apart from being destructive of the archaeological record - are simply irretrievably contaminating the market with huge amounts of dross. Despite the resistance from UK artefact hunters and just about anyone else, we need a push for collectors, if they are to be tolerated at all, to aim for much better documentation of what they have and retaining that record during subsequent changes of ownership.

[In a council office in northern England a slightly bearded archaeologist half-glances at this in his tea-break, half-shudders at the colour of the photos' background, half-raises a quizzical eyebrow, takes a sip of luke-warm green tea, and dismissing any further thoughts about the antiquities trade from his head, gets back to doing the Guardian crossword].

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