Tuesday 31 March 2015

Conservation of Illicit Antiquities a Collaborative Crime

According to Conservation Skills: Judgement, Method, and Decision Making by Chris Caple, there are two reactions a conservator might have when presented with a potentially looted object. He or she may choose to conserve it, thereby ensuring that information about the object, though devoid of archaeological context, becomes available to the public. In an interview for the New York Times, Timothy Potts stressed, “If [the ancient art] goes on view with other like objects, then scholars get to see it and study it; the public gets to come; the claimant, if there is one, gets to know where it is and file a claim.” [...] If a conservator turns away a looted object, however, he or she may be dooming it to obscurity, thereby diminishing the possibility that it will ever be returned.
But the issue is not merely sending the object back (repatriation) but that engaging with the illicit antiquities market one is endorsing and providing support for it. Conservation and restoration enhance the value of the object, its marketability.

See Einav Zamir, 'The Conservation Laundering of Illicit Antiquities' Artwatch UK 29 March 2015

UPDATE Artefact Hunting "Partners" According to a PAS FLO

[UDATE 2nd April 2015: I think how much the PAS FLO "welcomes" discussion of the PAS and heritage issues raised by the Treasure Act and UK artefact hunters' reactions to it  can be judged by her failure to respond to anything said over here. What's the problem with discussing the issues in 'outreach' instead of just dismissing them Ms Byyard?].

In a post yesterday ('FLO Attacks Heritage Action' PACHI Monday, 30 March 2015) I discussed the insulting and dismissive remarks which Oxford-based PAS FLO had addressed to Heritage Action ("somewhat prejudiced and ill informed"). In the circumstances, I found her comments unacceptable. I still do. As we have seen, the PAS refuses to engage with a lot of the external discussion of heritage issues and policies in the social media but only hurl insults at what they are desperately trying to ignore. Chris Cumberpatch posted a link to my post on the RESCUE Facebook page (thanks, Chris) so Ms Byard, unable to claim like most of her fellows do that she did not see it, so felt that this time she had to reply:

Anni Byard My comments simply come from experience of actually working with detectorists; I take exception to the comment in the HA article 'the playground mentality of most detectorists'. This is so wrong, ill-informed and yes, prejudiced. You suggest this of 'most' MD'ers - the metal detecting population consists of all sorts of people, from those who have worked full time since leaving compulsory education to those who are far more academically qualified than I, and everyone in between. Paul please feel free to update your blog with these comments - although I welcome discussion on such topics I object to such a broad-brush attack on what is a lawful and often very useful activity in the UK.
So here's your update Ms Byard, now I invite you (or any PAS colleagues that feel up to it) to the discussion which you claim to 'welcome' from people other than metal detectorists. That's what "liaison' is all about. Please, be my guest (comments or guest post - you choose). 

1) I cannot speak for why HA wrote on their blog  about Treasure valuations: "of course anyone other than those with the playground mentality of most detectorists will know that valuations comprise a spread of probabilities".

I can myself observe though that Treasure Valuation Committee valuations are a frequent topic on the ("not in it fer the munny") detectorists' discussion lists and forums. I have in the past linked to a number of these discussions in my blog and said what I think we can deduce from them. More often than not the general theme is either central to the discussion or raised in it that the TVC deliberately undervalue finds which the finders and most of their mates are sure are worth more. All sorts of conspiracy theories are evoked to explain why this allegedly is. Most of these discussions fail to grasp how the TVC reaches its decisions.

Frankly, looking at these discussions and many more in detecting forums, discussion lists, blogs, contributions to other discussions, I personally think that the adjective "childish" is indeed an appropriate description of the online behaviour of many artefact hunters in the UK. It is not the only adjective I would use, but I think "playground mentality" is an entirely appropriate one to a lot of what we see from this milieu as a whole, especially their reactions to criticisms of the effects of current policies on artefact hunting and collecting. Two of their own codes of practice point out that they are all and individually the "ambassadors of the hobby" and the hobby will be judged by their behaviour. They are, and it is perfectly justifiable to judge the hobby by what we see.

2) There is nothing "wrong, ill-informed  [or] prejudiced" in making an observation on the basis of what we all see in the way metal detectorists behave, in particular when discussing Treasure valuations between themselves.

Both Nigel Swift and I have been closely studying what UK metal detectorists do and say since at least 2000, and in my own case that interest goes back two decades further. Any conclusions we have reached on the issue of how metal detecting is and is not done in the UK are based on continued, constant, careful observation of as may sources as possible, in the way anyone would conduct any sociological or ethnographic study of the activities of any community, whether they be Metal Detectorists, Heavy Metal fans, Mennonites, Macedonian Roma, Makonde sculptors or any other group. Both of us have listened to what seems (from the degree to which they are repeated) every single argument the pro-collecting crowd have ever come up with in that time, and examined them carefully. Do they hold water? In our opinion, no.  I personally have come to the conclusion that few of them even reflect anything like the full truth of the situation - much of my reasoning for that is fully addressed in this blog and available for falsification - nobody has tried. Can Ms Byard? We will see.

3) Ms Byard is not the only person "working with metal detectorists". They are not on the Moon, they are in the fields all around us, anyone can meet and chat with artefact hunters about what they do. My first visits to detecting clubs in England, for example, were at the end of the 1970s. FLOs are not particularly 'special' in that regard. Besides which it is very easy for anyone now through online resources made by detectorists themselves to come in contact in a number of ways with what artefact hunters are saying and doing. I encourage anyone who doubts the picture Nigel Swift, David Gill and I paint of them to check out for themselves those online sources a mouse click away.

I gave a list of 17 sources I recommend as most suitable for that purpose here: ('Pointing out Propagandist Fallacy 'Negativity', or the Only Realistic Basis for Discussing an Issue?' PACHI Monday, 1 September 2014). I invite Anni Byard and the massed ranks of the PAS to provide a competitive list of the sources not on my list where we see the activities of the 'other' kind of metal detectorist they want us to believe in. Please. [Where is the detecting blog of that artefact hunter "far more academically qualified than I"? We must see this one. I hope he can use apostrophes and auxiliary verbs.] 

Having said that, my bet is that nobody in the PAS will produce such a list, because the PAS (and archaeologists in general) do not in general participate in metal detecting sites and blogs. This is the substance of  'The Lepidop Question' (PACHI Friday, 21 March 2014). The PAS do not see any potential of social media like these to spread the message about best practice. I think there is a reason for this, and it lies in the sort of behaviour we see in the 17 web resources indicated above. The PAS have of course give a different reason for this, but take a look at the sites for yourself and try and predict what would happen in the PAS started using them for their "outreach" if they go even a little beyond glib back-slapping and head-patting camaraderie.  Take a look and guess what they'd actually face if they did, and decide how the PAS-mythos would look. That's why instead they chug up the A40 in their little cars to clubs where they are welcome, and stop going when they sense they are not.

4) Artefact hunting and collecting with metal detectors  (in England and Wales) is "lawful". Nobody disputes this, what is - and should be - in question is whether it should be, and under what conditions.  We may note that in general, the PAS keeping well away from any discussion of this. The conditions under which it is done in almost every other country in the world differs from the situation in the UK, who is to say who is right and who wrong, and on what grounds? There is the Valletta Convention which the rest of us in Europe go by, does it mean nothing to the Brits? Are there not problems with UK law (including salvage of wrecks as we saw in the Sussex and Victory cases)? These are portable antiquity issues and we should be discussing them.
Saying so is not an "attack".

Saying where problems are perceived to exist is not an "attack"

Saying where reality differs from PAS "spin" is not an "attack"
(it is however a signal that its time to have some real addressing of the issues by these public servants)

5) Neither is it an "attack" for an archaeologist (or anyone else) to challenge the received wisdom (which here is another word for spin) that artefact collecting is "often [a] very useful activity in the UK". The PAS is a symptom of bad laws, not the reason for them. Artefact hunting and collecting are nowhere very "useful", Egypt, Italy, Afghanistan, France, Syria and Iraq - which is why most states have legislation against it. Funnily enough, 17 years of PAS saying to everyone "wotta lotta stuff we got - aren't we all doing well?" has not persuaded a single country to leave any of the international conventions, tear up their heritage protection legislation and write a laissez faire law like that in England and Wales. It is not difficult to work out why - it goes with metal detecting being called "the English Disease" across quite a large part of our continent. Having looked at the arguments offered by the supporters of the PAS, I conclude that artefact hunting is not only not anywhere near as "useful" as is claimed, but is instead doing a vast amount of totally unmitigated and barely-acknowledged damage of unknown qualities. Neither do I consider it in any way "useful" for anyone (least of all heritage professionals or professional archaeologists) to ignore that and other fundamental issues and fatal flaws in the current status quo. Yet that is exactly what all the pro-collecting supporters of the PAS are daily doing. Shhhhhhhhhhh......

6) Of course it is the easiest thing in the world to dismiss another's argument as simply "prejudice' and "ill-informed", to use names dismissing those drawing attention to issues which some heritage workers in the UK consider uncomfortable ("Trolls", "Warsaw Moaner" etc). A recent FOI request reveals that Bloomsbury is almost as prone to such unprofessional tactics as the metal detecting artefact hunters they "partner" in order to dodge the debate. 

However, whatever names Bloomsbury and the antiquities trade might like to throw at us, this blog, and the Heritage Journal, as well as Looting Matters address real problems raised by real cases, things out there which are happening now.  Everyone, ever stakeholder in the heritage of England and Wales can, if they want, check what we say for themselves and check out where the information we use comes from. Every one of them can check for themselves what the response of the PAS and their "partners" the artefact hunters and artefact grabbers has been, they will find that, apart from a few insults, for the most part it has been a consistent and conspicuous silence. Stakeholders can make up their minds what that means and what value the multi-million pound PAS and its opinions holds for them. 

Government Cannot Reasonably be Trusted any longer to Properly Care for UK's Historic Environment

Today is last day of English Heritage as we know it. RESCUE have published a statement which sums up what has been happening to the heritage in Britain depressingly well: A New Era for England’s Heritage: A statement by RESCUE – The British Archaeological Trust March 31, 2015.
Despite a number of misgivings, virtually all commentators have concluded that these proposals are both necessary and should be welcomed. At the disappointing heart of this conclusion is the appalling realisation that our Government cannot reasonably be trusted any longer to properly care for our historic environment. The National Heritage Collection, and the other heritage resources of the country, belong to all of us, and we, through the long historic process of creating the institutions of Government, have entrusted our elected representatives and organisations of state to care for them. It is their job. This is not a dubious theological position that should be subject to high-­level debate or a situation that requires the examination of new ways of working or some kind of discursive ‘national conversation’ about 21st century heritage management. Whatever the composition of the next government, it will inherit an obligation to ensure that the incalculably important resource of historic buildings and archaeological sites bequeathed to us from past generations for the enjoyment, edification and education of the nation and its people are cared for, protected, enhanced and made accessible. Welcoming this proposal represents a tacit and shared admission by us all that successive Governments have dismally failed in this obligation.
Our national historic buildings are crumbling away for want of repairs. Our archaeological sites are not properly researched, protected or cared for. Our heritage is not fulfilling its true educational potential. Our heritage­-protection legislation is weak and confusing and full of both holes and loopholes.
[...] the Government should be ashamed that both it and its predecessors have mismanaged our irreplaceable national heritage with such an abject lack of enthusiasm, care and pride that they have collectively brought us to this point at all.
Nowhere of course is this neglect and the weak, confusing legislation full of holes and loopholes seen more clearly than at the interface between archaeological preservation and artefact collecting and commerce. Perhaps thinking on this too might be entering a new era in April 2015? It's about time...

"Geese of Meidum" Challenged

Le “Oche di Meidum”,  (foto © Sandro Vannini).
This one initially made me suspicious, coming just a day before April Fool's day. The author of the idea is working near the Hatshepsut Temple in Deir (Tomb of Harwa) and... but the same thing has been published in Italian a day earlier, so - unfortunately - it seems he might have a point. This has long been one of many people's favourite pieces of Egyptian art, and it is sad to learn that not all might have been as it seemed.
Tiradritti is set to publish his findings on April 5 in the art specialty papers Giornale dell'Arte and The Art Newspaper, in Italian and English, respectively. [...] Tiradritti said he hopes that his research will help scholars think more critically about ancient art, especially pieces being sold today on the art market. "I would like to alert my colleagues and invite them to look at the Egyptian art in a different way. We strongly need to revise it."
Owen Jarus, 'Shocking Discovery: Egypt's 'Mona Lisa' May Be a Fake' Live Science : 31 March 2015.

UPDATE 10th April 2015

A few days later: 'Meidum Geese painting authentic: Zahi Hawass' Cairo Post Apr. 10, 2015 
Finally, Hawaas argued that Tiradritti should have discussed his conclusions with Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities before making them public.

Monday 30 March 2015

FLO Attacks Heritage Action

I assume that the attack of Annie Byard, Oxfordshire FLO on "this site", was on Heritage Action  (rather than Rescue). In reply to the eminently reasonable observation HA made about the so-called "Ebroacum Hoard" of shattered pennies sold by metal detectorists at Spink's, she's banging on about "the detectorists that do waive their right to reward and donate to museums, or donate objects that aren't governed by the treasure act". She then refers to those who think rather less of this phenomenon than she does as "somewhat prejudiced and ill informed". This is typical of the PAS. They refuse to engage with any sensible discussion of a topic, and then shout insults down at the grassroots folk from the top of their ivory tower. "Trolls!", "Prejudiced and Ill-informed!", "Buzz off and leave us alone!". 

"Ill-informed" Heritage Action are not. The only prejudice here seems to be coming from another quarter, if you ask me. The PAS gobble up millions of pounds of public money to liaise with artefact collectors, and you would think we'd be able to get some simple facts and figures out of them about the effects of current policies on portable antiquities after seventeen years of this liaison and partnership.  But that kind of factual interaction seems not to be what Bloomsbury sees to be its function. 

I really wonder whether Ms Byard has actually cottoned on to what Heritage Journal is about. She seems to think that a blog t"o promote awareness and the conservation of the incomparable but often-threatened prehistoric sites of Britain, Ireland and beyond" should carry stories that highlight "the detectorists that do waive their right to reward and donate to museums". She seems to be confusing an artefact-centric view of the past with site preservation. A hoard hoiked out of a site is a hole in that site, whether or not the hoiker gets a reward. A hoard hoiked out of a site by metal detectorists digging blind from the top down is not a hoard recovered in any way that enhances out knowledge about the stratigraphy of that site. It is not "prejudiced" or "ill informed" to consider - like the conservation group HA - that archaeological preservation is not about saving artefacts, it is about archaeological context - I though that is what the PAS were saying back in 2003 was their main "aim" (now dropped in favour of another set off ":aims" stressing "partnership". Partnership in what? 

As Heritage Action point out
we aren’t in the PAS game of pretending the majority (in this matter and in the whole of best practice) are well behaved and responsible. They aren’t, and even PAS has conceded that in its published figures. We aren’t apologists for metal detecting and our continuance isn’t dependant upon praising them. Can PAS say the same? “Prejudiced” means taking a particular line in defiance of the evidence. Hasn’t PAS done that for 17 years?
There are many places on the Internet where one can hear all manner of 'good news' stories about metal detecting. Many of them originate in British Museum Press Office press releases. They are plastered all over the newspapers, national and local, on Facebook, twitter, metal detectorists slap each other on the back posting links to them on dozens of forums and blogs. There is no shortage of "news" online and on paper about this or that detectorist who is a "hero of the British heritage". The question is why is Ms Byard expecting Heritage Journal to be repeating them too, and in the name of what?  It's called Heritage Action, not Heritage Parrot. I think she's getting confused, I do hope she's not been complaining in the same vein that the WWF website carries no stories on the humane side of fur farms.

UPDATE 31st March 2015
As Ms Byard requested, I have updated this post referring to her response, but decided to make a separate post of it. You can find it here

Export Licence Application on Sekhemka

It (only) now transpires that Northampton Borough Council sold the Sekhemka statue to an overseas buyer, but while the current owner's identity and location have not been released (it is rumoured to be one of the Gulf States), Ed Vaizey has placed a temporary export ban on the statue following a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA), which is administered by Arts Council England. Here is a statement by the Save Sekhemka Action Group.  Sekhemka's statue stays in Britain (probably in rich-man's storage somewhere) until 29 July. Still, at least the new owner asked. One suspects certain other people would try to get him out in a shipment of 'garden furniture' or something and other collectors apparently simply do not understand the notion of "export licence". 

UPDATE 31th March 2015
There is a good summary of the ethical problems involved in the export ban by 'Pipeline' (Andy Brockman) here: 'Ethical Dilemma as Vaizy [sic] blocks export of Sekhemka', the Pipeline March 31 2015. It transpires from this that Cllr David Mackintosh (Leader of Northampton Borough Council) who was behind this sale is Prospective Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Northampton South. Meanwhile local authorities in Northampton continue to exhibit a shocking degree of cultural philistinism. I am glad I do not live there.

Sunday 29 March 2015

UNESCO calls for the protection of cultural heritage in Yemen

The old city of Sana’a. Photo: UNESCO/Maria Gropa
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) urged combatants not to neglect the protection of Yemen’s cultural heritage in the wake of the human tragedy unfolding in the country and the escalation of armed conflict there :
In a statement, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova urged all parties involved in military operations to preserve the Yemeni cultural heritage. “Experience shows that cultural heritage is never more vulnerable than during times of conflict. It is crucial that all parties refrain from targeting, by shelling or by air strikes, or using for military purposes cultural heritage sites and buildings,” Ms. Bokova called. She emphasized the originality and importance of Yemen’s cultural sites. “The heritage of Yemen is unique, reflecting centuries of Islamic thought, rich exchange and dialogue. I call on the people of Yemen, as well as on countries in the region engaging in military operations in Yemen, to do all they can to protect Yemen’s invaluable cultural heritage.” The Director-General recalled the obligations under international humanitarian law to protect cultural heritage, especially the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict.

'UNESCO calls for the protection of cultural heritage in Yemen', UN Press Centre
27 March 2015.

PAS Hitting the Road versus Social Media

PAS prefer cars
An exchange on an Internet near you:
Digger Dan ‏@MetalDetectorUK Mar 21 Facebook needs an ambassador from @findsorguk to encourage people to report finds! I daily see amazing items being posted! 1 retweet 0 favourites
and the response:
Portable Antiquities ‏@findsorguk @MetalDetectorUK we don’t have the resources to dedicate time to every platform I am afraid. Privacy controls also prevent things being seen
This raises two issues, first is if metal detectorists were as "responsible" as people say (the PAS included even though they know it is not true), every time an unrecorded find was posted up on Facebook, a metal detecting forum etc, there would be five posters asking "have you reported/when are you going to report this to the PAS for recording?" The fact is this is very rarely raised by forum members after a "look-wot-i-found-this-weekend-M8s" post. If "responsible" detectorists instead of being merely declaratively responsible really took responsibility for the health of the hobby themselves, there would be no need for a PAS "ambassador", all responsible detectorists would be ambassadors for the responsible hobby and ensure it was kept that way.

The second point is that the reluctance of the PAS to engage with the broader public using the social media is increasingly puzzling. Outreaching to that public is what they are given those resources for.  By the public, for the public. So why are they not using the capabilities of these media to better advantage? The PAS secret blog is secret and seemingly avoids discussing weightier issues raised in other social media, the public blog has deadeningly boring content, the Facebook page desultory, the webpage a dog's dinner.  Most of what they do (Britain's Secret Treasures) is dumb-down show-and-tell in the worst traditions of peasant television and tabloid journalism. When are we going to see some proper and well-conceived use of social media by the PAS potentially to reach thousands of members of the public? Instead, it seems the PAS prefer to spend their resources paying FLOs overtime and expenses to chug around the countryside in their little cars visiting scattered metal detecting clubs and commercial rallies and outreaching to a few dozen tekkies every so often, and in the process maybe get to do a little Treasure-digging themselves.

Hat tip to Nigel Swift

Bulgarian Artefact Bust - Shumen

A trafficker's garage

'Archaeology in Bulgaria' has two recent articles about an antiquity bust which saw an 'impressive' haul of artefacts confiscated from treasure hunters and antique traffickers by the police in the northeastern Bulgarian province of Shumen (in Shumen itself, Novi Pazar, and Ivanovo as well as Veliki Preslav ) which had been destined to be trafficked to other EU states. Associated with the article are some helpful Background Infonotes:
Treasure hunting and illegal trafficking of antiques have been rampant in Bulgaria after the collapse of the communism regime in 1989 (and allegedly before that). Estimates vary but some consider this the second most profitable activity for the Bulgarian mafia after drug trafficking. One recent estimate suggests its annual turnover amounts to BGN 500 million (app. EUR 260 million), and estimates of the number of those involved range from 5 000 to 200 000 – 300 000, the vast majority of whom are low-level impoverished diggers
The haul included Greco-Roman works from the 1st-2nd century AD (19 Ancient Greek and Roman statues and figurines, marble and stone slabs, including one engraved stone altar), and nine thousand authentic and forged ancient coins as well as matrices for the forging of ancient coins. A number of the sculptures come from grave-robbing, they are from sarcophagi. One of them is a fragment depicting the Gorgon Medusa. There was also a sculpted lion's head and an altar with the images of a family and an inscription in Ancient Greek. The items were confiscated from 51-year-old citizen of Turkey, Veisal Sanli, who had been followed by the Bulgarian police for 2 months before he was arrested. It is not clear how many of the artefacts had been dug up in Bulgaria, or how many of them had been smuggled into the country for selling on the networks established by Bulgarian-based organized criminal groups. This is still being investigated.  The investigators have not discovered evidence linking these traffickers to an organized crime group, which raises the question of their access to the markets and where they were being supplied with objects from. Some of the photos suggest the bronze artefacts are the sort of thing you meet on eBay. It is worth noting the condition of the objects:

Cruddy dugup coins in trafficker's stock
The marble slabs have traces of soil and limestone deposits [...] “Among the coins there are some that authentic, some are even in the condition in which they were found in the ground, but there are also some that have been produced recently,” explains Zhenya Zhekova, who is the head of the Department of Numismatics in the Shumen Museum, as cited by Darik Shumen. She has also mentioned that most are copper coins.
In other words, all those US coin dealers and coin collectors that swear blind that the items that are "collectable" by them and their fellows (unlike all the other dugup artefacts from the same period sold by middlemen-dealers like this) do not come from metal detecting on ancient sites are simply unaware, and/or willfully ignorant of what actually is found on raids on artefact traffickers in the source countries that supply them. The coin-exceptionalism argument is a false one. Let us note that this willful ignorance of provenance ('grounding') means that numbers of fake coins reach the market they patronise.

Psst...wanna buy some fake Iraqi loot too?
One of the two articles on the haul devotes much space to a stone slab with relief carving of figures in Sumerian/Akkadian style on it and a neatly-drilled hole in the middle. Bulgarian archaeologists (including Prof. Nikolay Ovcharov) say this is a Mesopotamian artefact smuggled by culture criminals into Bulgaria. I disagree, the photos are a bit lacking in clarity, but to my eyes this piece looks like an 'in the style of' fake, and a not very good one either. The carving is flat, the hole drilled with a power-took and shows no erosion around the edge, though the slab edges and surface do. Fake.

The problem is, I do not think it is the only one. The stone items shown in the film here look a mixed bunch to me. For a start it seems almost as if they are all (the 'Sumerian piece too) in the same type of stone except one marble foot in crystalline marble. I suspend judgement in the case of the several objects we see in the first fifty seconds of the film, I have a bad feeling about one of them. The stela at 52 seconds though, looks highly dodgy to me on this video, it looks rather too much like the scene has been copied from a book on Roman art and to me has the same flat mechanical 'feel' as the Sumerian piece which follows it in the film. I have the same reaction to the lumpy tombstone (1:26), look down the right side, that bird for example. Nasty. Then there is a very block-shaped medieval king (from a window or door jamb?), which is followed by a series of small fragments. I think there are real archaeological dugups here mixed in with antiqued modern pastiche and perhaps two pieces which might turn out to have come from post-medieval garden sculpture rather than ancient cities.   
The police arrested three men for treasure hunting on March 11, 2105, after raiding their homes and discovering the Ancient Roman artifacts. [...] After they were tipped off about illegal trafficking and ownership of cultural treasures, the Shumen police first raided the home of a 56-year-old man in the city of Shumen where they found a total of 19 Ancient Roman marble and stone slabs with inscriptions and figurines and parts of Roman statues hidden in his garage. They followed-up with a raid in the town of Novi Pazar where they found about 9,000 ancient or ancient-looking coins as well as matrixes for forging ancient coins in the home of a 52-year-old man. They also discovered ancient metal items and about 80 ancient coins in the home of a 32-year-old man in the town of Ivanovo as well as ancient coins and the head of a statue in the home of 51-year-old citizen of Turkey residing legally in the city of Shumen.
It is not clear if all of these men were involved in digging up and selling artefacts, were any of them buyers who'd had dealings with the others? Four men are mentioned, but three arrests. The articles suggest that there is a connection between the activities of these four men and the arrest of one seems to have led to the next (yes?). It is also interesting to speculate on who tipped the police off and why. To be honest, on the basis of what these articles are saying, it is difficult to accept  the local police assessment that these are just "individual treasure hunters".  Metal detectorists don't generally have huge hunks of carved stone in their garage, they do not generally have engraved dies and equipment for striking fake coins and then the chemicals to patinate them. I hope more information emerges in the future.

The IAPN and PNG (through their paid lobbyist) insisted at the time the MOU was being discussed that there is a free and open market in antiquities, including coins, within Bulgaria. Maybe then, they would like to tell us why these men were arrested.

Ivan Dikov, 'Bulgarian Police Seize Ancient Roman Archaeology Artifacts, Slab with Sumerian Motifs from Treasure Hunters' Archaeology in Bulgaria March 24th, 2015. [lots of photos]

Ivan Dikov, 'Bulgarian Archaeologist Finds 5000-Year-Old Relief from Ancient Mesopotamia among Artifacts Seized from Treasure Hunters' Archaeology in Bulgaria March 27th, 2015.

'Пресякоха канал за трафик на културно-исторически ценности в чужбина' http://news.ibox.bg/news/id_995338988  

Collector Beware: The importance of your Documentation Assuring Title

Don Miller, the Indiana collector, 91, died Sunday, nearly a year after federal agents surrounded his rural Rush County home and began removing thousands of artefacts ("FBI Examines Antiquities at Rural Indiana Home"  PACHI, 3 April 2014;' see also "What a Collector Had in His Cellar"  PACHI, 7 May 2014). Officials at the time cited a desire to catalogue the artefacts and return any that had been illicitly obtained to their countries of origin.
Miller never faced any charges related to his collection. No lawsuits were filed against him in the year since the seizure. [...] after his death, progress of the federal investigation remains shrouded in mystery. FBI Special Agent Drew Northern declined to comment about the case Tuesday night. Officials from the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis anthropology department, which is assisting the FBI in identifying and preserving the artifacts, also would not comment. But a legal expert told The Star it could take years, if not decades, before experts can sort out the legalities of the thousands of objects seized by the government. "Even just figuring out which ones are illegally possessed in the United States is an enormous task when he's purchased them over so many years, so you can see why this is such a difficult problem to solve," said David B. Smith, a Virginia-based attorney with a background in asset forfeiture. "Without his help, it's just going to be enormously difficult to figure out which ones he legitimately purchased, which are legal and which ones aren't," Smith said. "It's a huge problem."
Of course, there will have been paperwork, wouldn't there? Any collector who is intent on "preserving" these remains of the past will have documented the accessions properly establishing title and to sort out precisely these sorts of problems on their demise.
"Here's the problem," Smith said. "The illegal extraction is usually done by some guy in Europe or South America, and then it goes through a chain of dealers and it ends up in the possession of some rich American who's not a crook, but has purchased an object that was stolen or taken illegally from some other country." Even before Miller's death, Smith said the case would have likely taken years to resolve. Each item needs to be evaluated on its own merits, and must include factors like the date of purchase, trade law for each country at the time of purchase, and cultural significance. For thousands of items, that presents an incredible logistical challenge, Smith said. "You can understand why this case is going nowhere," Smith said. "They just don't have the resources to spend 30 years going through this stuff."
Mr Miller is just one of thousands of collectors in the United States alone. Who is going to pay for going through all their loose undocumented artefacts when they die? Or will their heirs just dump it all on a museum or dealer and hope nobody asks where they came from and whether they were all obtained licitly? That goes for coin collections too.

Saturday 28 March 2015

UK Metal Detecting: Fiction Relentlessly Presented as Fact

I was amused to see that about the same time as I pressed "send" on my "Metal Detectorists Get Confused", a new post appeared on The Heritage Journal ('Metal detecting: all’s well that’s Orwell?', 28th March 2015, where both mention detectorist-blogger John Winter's comments on the Lammy gaffe:
fiction relentlessly presented as fact [...] Mr Winter benefits from the fact some of his readers are pretty uninformed so it's easy to play to the gallery. Thus he has just resurrected Minister Lammy's "heroes" statement using the same selective justifications, emphasising the positives and totally ignoring the massive downside, the widespread knowledge theft. That might get you backslapped Mr Winter but it's not being honest with the public.
They go on to make a similar point about the PAS:
Who can fail to notice that much of what it says and does is devoted to delivering a relentless propaganda of success, presumably to promote its own continuance? [...] Metal detecting is simply not as heroic or educated or moral as PAS constantly portrays it to be. Like in the case of Mr Winter, presenting a concocted account is not honest, it's Orwellian. 
The example is given of the Lenborough Hoard Fiasco, which Roger Bland represents as
"a rescue job and Ros, as our sole FLO at event with about a hundred metal detector users, did a heroic job in the circumstances and ensured that all the coins were recovered".
HA comment on this in their usual trenchant form:
Note the use of the H word, heroic, instead of hurried, echoing Minister Lammy. Pure Nineteen Eighty Four! It was a rescue alright, but presented like a corkscrew. Why not tell the public straight out (rather than coyly hinting it to those in the know) that the main peril was from some of those present? And why not admit that the FLO's otherwise inexplicable and otherwise unprofessional decision not to ensure the hoard was guarded overnight was due to pressure and opposition from those around her? Had they been amateur archaeologists the matter would have been dealt with properly. Fact.
Fact, not fiction. Why can we not have the facts about current policies n UK artefact hunting out in the open instead of the boxload of fob-off fictional mantras and refusals to discuss the issues frankly and openly which is all the PAS and its metal detecting "partners" have to offer stakeholders?

UK Metal Detectorists Confused

Detectorist-admiring MP
Thinking comes hard to many metal detectorists. They cannot really work out what the issues are with their hobby ("it's legal innit?"). Attempts to explain it go in one ear and out the other, as what they say and write proves time and time again. They prefer to listen to people who say "you done good" of other-such FLO fluff. Detectorist John Winter well remembers a winter day back in 2007 when somebody said something nice about artefact hunters ('Bazza Thugwit … still a National Treasure!', 15 March 2015). It happened at the launch of the Portable Antiquities Scheme and Treasure Annual Reports held at the British Museum. They stressed that there had been a huge increase in the recording and reporting of Treasure over the previous few years.
David Lammy MP, the then Minister for Culture, said in his introductory speech [...] referred to metal detectorists as “… the unsung heroes of the UK’s heritage”, and “detectorists are finding more than ever before [...]” That was our finest hour. 
Mr Winter then presents what he says is the "continuing contrivbution" of artefact hunters to "how our understanding of our history owes a lot to the metal detectorist", annd [this is a common theme in tekkie rhetoric] "All this has been accomplished not because of archaeologists or academics but in spite of them". He then shows a"selection of “Nationally Significant” Detectorist finds of the last few years". We note they are all Treasure finds, the reporting of which is mandatory:
1.  a hoard consisting of 17 gold staters and 9 silver units Record ID: BUC-6877F8 
2 – hoard of Roman gold coins found by a metal detectorist in Hertfordshire. 
3 – The Shrewsbury Hoard of 9,315 bronze Roman coins 
4 – The Silverdale Hoard 
5 – The Jersey Hoard of 70,000 late Iron Age and Roman coins
6 – The Lowside Quarter Hoard
7 – The Lenborough Hoard of 5,000 late Anglo-Saxon silver coins
8 – The Frome Hoard  160kg Roman coin hoard
10 – The Big Scottish Coin Hoard Tywnholm, 

Quelle suprise, eh? Some 16000 folk go out with an electronic tool to find metal, and... they find metal! Now there are two types of archaeological metal in current UK policy, those that any finder has by law to report to the Coroner (but then he gets a big juicy cash handout - you don't get them from reporting dead bodies to the Coroner) and there are those you don't. For the latter there is a voluntary system for reporting. Now I imagine that the cash handout means that most hoards that are found get reported - as above. We get the knowledge (oh yes, people in the past minted coins and sometimes buried large numbers of them in one place - that is basically what we are "learning" about the past from the above hoards - but we already knew that from hoards found and reported since the eighteenth century). What we are not getting is preservation or even proper investigation of the below-ground stratigraphy from which every one of those hoards originated, or their surrounding context.  Sites like the Staffordshire hoard having been located by the metal detectorist searching the brow of a hill overlooking a Roman road where it crosses a stream are now being pilfered of anything that the wider context provides, disappearing into the pockets and collections of people with metal detectors and leaving the field trampled and full of holes (some even infilled in the dark).

What about all the unreported non-Treasure finds being removed randomly from various bits of the archaeological record? How many are there? The PAS have done some calculations and according to their figures (which more or less correspond with those predicted several years earlier by the HA Artefact Erosion Counter) it comes out that these heritage heroes might be making off with three quarters of the reportable artefacts they hoik out and these are simply disappearing without anyone seeing them. Now I call that knowledge theft, I do not consider that any form of heritage heroism, and it certainly is not only not adding to our ability to learn about the past from the bits of the archaeological record thus exploited, but by selectively removing most of it, is distorting in a manner which is unmeasurable, what is left. These are facts. This is the problem with current policies, they are not producing the results glibly claimed. What is actually happening pure selfish oikism by small minded men with their tunnel vision and artefact-searching tools, which do a huge disservice to Britain's national heritage and those detectorists who do report their finds.  And I challenge John Winter to show it is not - without the ad hominems and childish pretended horror of using the names of those who raise these issues. 

Detecting trouble: The Treasure Hunters Digging up our Heritage

Artefact hunters with metal detectors trespassing on historic sites or across farmers’ fields are once again causing a headache for landowners. But now police are cracking down and the heritage crime programme has handled more than 130 cases since 2011.
According to Kevin Attwood, of the National Farmers’ Union: “It is a problem in the county, and there are two levels. The first one is the low level, individuals with metal detectors looking around on land they are not meant to be on. “They are more of an irritant than anything, and when approached, they will generally leave. “The other level is more organised and tends to be on farm land, or where there are listed monuments. It’s more illicit, usually at night and can cause a lot of damage. We do see both levels across parts of Kent, and it ebbs and flows.”
The damage caused by illegal artefact hunting can have far-reaching 
A spokesman for English Heritage explained: “Removal of archaeological material can irretrievably distort the archaeological ‘signature’ of a site, or even destroy it altogether. “Artefacts retrieved from primary contexts in this way lose much or all of their potential to inform about the past, and may suffer substantial 
damage. “Destruction of archaeological layers and the removal of objects does not just affect the archaeologists’ understanding of a site but also destroys that information and knowledge of our shared heritage, which should be available to all.”
But of course the spokesman - eager to play the political correctness game ["Nighthawkers [sic] can also bring the practice of metal detecting into disrepute, although they are two very different activities"] - illogically skips mention that artefact hunting does that anyway, legal or not. They are not really such "different activities", the difference being only two slips of paper, a search agreement with the landowner, and a finds release document for individual artefacts, giving the legal finder title to it.  Without those documents associated with the products of the hunt, there is no difference when seen from the point of view of what happens to the archaeological assemblages and sites exploited by these collectors.  

Maria Chiorando, 'Detecting trouble: The treasure hunters digging up our heritage', Kent News 28th  March 2015.

Friday 27 March 2015

Checking of Sources of Antiquities on the London Market?

Roberta Mazza [From Egypt to London: looting in Antinoupolis (el Sheikh ‘Abadah) March 27, 2015] reports the content of an Analecta Papyrologica article by Rosario Pintaudi et al (Pintaudi, Rosario ; Silvano, Flora ; Del Corso, Lucio ; Delattre, Alain ; Spanu, Marcello “Latrones: furti e recuperi da Antinoupolis”, Analecta Papyrologica XXVI 2014 pp. 359-402) discussing illegal excavations and looting in the area of Antinoupolis. The text includes the information about a
Roman glass inlay stolen from the excavation site and later found on sale in an auction catalogue. This little and beautiful piece traveled from Egypt to the showrooms of Bonhams in London, where the sale was stopped by the police, after the object sold for about £ 5,000. [...] As often happens, in the auction catalogue provenance was recorded as “English private collection, acquired in the late 1960s.”
I am not clear whether this meant that the inlay came from illicit and clandestine digging of unexcavated layers of the excavation site, or whether this was an excavated object (and therefore in the site documentation) which was recently stolen from the stores. I presume that the fact that the sale (which took place in October 2013) is reported as cancelled would indicate the latter. Did any prosecutions result from this? In any case, how did Bonhams verify the claim they published in their sales catalogue?

UPDATE Mar 28th 2015.

'Mosaic glass: from Antinoupolis to London', Looting Matters Saturday, March 28, 2015

"Italy Should Sell Recovered Antiquities" Eh?

For some, it's the money...
Anna Somers Cocks opines "Why Italy should sell the 5,000 antiquities recovered by the police" ("Improperly excavated artefacts could be auctioned to help cash-strapped museums"). There has been a lot of discussion of this idea. The Italians are not impressed with her logic: "La fondatrice di The art newspaper lancia una provocazione". Over in America it is a different story. Peter Tompa representing the dealers associations is all for it. Derek Fincham too, and Francesca Tronchin is enthusiastic. Professor Tronchin's title is symptomatic of the main problem, she ponders "What to do with recovered antiquities?" as if this was a problem for America. The issue is one for the Italians to sort out - on their own terms - and not something Washington (or Rhode College, Memphis, Tennessee) decides for them.

I fail to see what the legal basis underlying this whole concept is. Somers Cocks is suggesting taking "improperly excavated" (that's art-talk for "looted") off the market, sending them back to Italy as stolen goods (as per US law) and then through some transmogrification which she does not detail, the items are released onto the open market for museums, collectors and dealers to profit from as "legal" artefacts.
"choose a small number of masterpieces from the carabinieri’s hoard" [so that] "collectors and the trade would be able to acquire legally validated pieces".
How's that?  In any case, as we all know, very soon after coming on the international antiquities market in its current form most artefacts lose any "passports" (export documentation, transfer of ownership documentation), within a few years. On that form, most of these postulated 'released' artefacts will also pretty quickly lose all documentation of legality.

Tronchin goes a step further. She reckons that if Italy "floods the market" with lots and lots of these "legitimate" artefacts (how many looted and smuggled items does she think are seized each year?), they will somehow push out the "illegal" ones. Again the American does not explain the mechanisms by which this works.

If it were true that flooding a market with lots of cheap originals was a way to limit the illicit trade in antiquities by creating a massive licit trade in them, there would be no looting at all in Great Britain, with 10-16000 metal detectorists ripping stuff out of the ground perfectly legally day after day, year after year and a lot of it turning up on the market. But that is not what is happening. Sites are being illegally raided by night. In Great Britain, there never has been any real "cachet" in owning dugup antiquities, many farmers have the odd polished axe on the windowsill. On the contrary, artefact hunters see digging them up as a "right", and collection-driven exploitation of archaeological sites goes on.

As for "creating a massive licit antiquities market", I wonder if the Assistant Professor of Ancient Mediterranean Art and Archaeology has ever seen a dealer offer an artefact labelled "illicit"? By definition, the entire market is a "licit" one to those in it. And it is already huge.  Increasing the quantities of material on the market and a consequent dropping of price will only encourage more collectors, thus creating a bigger market. This is what we saw in the 1990s.

Adding more low-price material to what is already circulating will merely dilute what is coming onto the market, not replace it. This is because looters and middlemen only supply what is saleable - the rest, for example that duplicating material already commonplace on the market, is discarded on site (see Atwood's book 'Stealing History', for example, on this). Merely making some kinds of collectables common will not stop the search for the uncommon and rare. If the coveted - and therefore profit-generating - material is not available in quantity, then the looting will increase to meet demand.

I really do not see how Professor Tronchin sees this working, no dealer is going to fill their stockroom with stuff they cannot sell. To get it in their stockrooms for them to then sell for a pittance (as she naively suggests will happen if the market is 'flooded'), the Italian authorities will have to sell at 'dumping' prices, which defeats the object of what she is proposing (to make cash for the state by capitalising on the high market values). The two simply do not make sense.

But the market already seems to have a mechanism to deal with this, we see antiquities from the so-called "Grande Razzia" surfacing only now after decades of storage "somewhere" and slowly released on the markets in order to keep prices up. The same goes for antiquities looted in Iraq in and around 2003. Where are they now? On the market, or still in storage, trickling out? If huge quantities of recovered stolen artefacts are dumped on the market at ridiculous prices, speculators are most likely to buy them up, put them on ice a while and then release them slowly in coming years after the museums have given up trying to flood the market.

Professor Tronchin ignores the issue of motivation. Why would dealers actually go about selling at prices that destroy their own market?  While you may saturate the market with "Roman grot" coins (of which there are hundreds of thousands already in circulation without threatening the stability of the market) and greyware bodysherds, that does not affect the market for complete amphoras from wrecks and bronze statues of Hercules. These are different markets, different clientele. Simply shifting more artefacts at the low end of the market does not touch the dealers and their clients at the top.

It seems the American advocates of such moves would benefit from taking a look at the British Museums Association policy on deaccession. This emerges from precisely such sales (a pottery collection and Egyptian statue). This is in Britain, with its all-too-liberal attitude to antiquity sales. Why should Italian museums be any different from UK ones? What about museums in the States, do they sell off "duplicate" material in their care, much of it donated by collectors for hefty tax refunds from the state? How would that be organized? I want to know what makes the US feel that it can dictate what others should do with their cultural heritage without first installing the same system at home.

Professor Tronchin also suggests that making cheap antiquities available from the items recovered from culture criminals will in some way "bring antiquity to a broader audience". This is a typical American collectors' argument. I really wonder whether people have to possess artefacts at home to "appreciate antiquity" any more than you have to keep a lion on the back porch to bring nature to a broader audience. There are surely other ways than the consumerist buy-buy-buy past to achieve this aim. We used to have things called books...

Text of HR 1493, Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act

In the USA a fresh attempt is being made to get some legislation to supplement the creaky old CCPIA. This is HR 1493, Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act, "To protect and preserve international cultural property at risk due to political instability, armed conflict, or natural or other disasters, and for other purposes" introduced into the House of Representatives, March 19, 2015. The dealers and their lobbyists are not happy... The wording is a bit of a mish-mash.

Returning the Loot in the 21st Century

Kwame Opoku, 'Man with a conscience Returned his Grandfather's Looted Benin Bronzes' 27th March 2015.
[...] there are not many persons in the Western world who, plagued by their conscience for holding looted art of other peoples, are in a hurry to return the objects to the legitimate owners. Since Walker returned two Benin Bronzes last year, there has not been a similar gesture in the whole of the Western world. This is a sad commentary on the prevailing morality. But this should not come as a surprise since in this 21st Century we have powerful institutions and leading academics that seriously argue that artefacts that have been wrenched from former colonies with violence and other illegitimate methods should be kept by the holders in the West. This position provides evidence and confirmation that not everyone has rejected colonialism and its effects despite the various United Nations resolutions. Many Western scholars seem to have banned morality from discussions on restitution.

Two more objects surface from Medici and Becchina archives in London auction houses

cute, but Becchina
University of Cambridge researcher Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis has reviewed the catalogues for three upcoming London auctions of antiquities (Bonhams on April 1; at Christie's on April 2; and again at Bonhams on April 3) and he has identified two objects as having figured in photos of objects in the archives of two art dealers, Giacomo Medici and Gianfranco Becchina. These archives were confiscated by Italian and Greek police and have been used to identify objects handled by these two dealers which had been looted and smuggled from at least 1972 until 2006. Obviously the continued surfacing of objects that have passed through these dealerships is of interest and concern.

1) Lot 173 in Christie's Sale 1548: Greek Core-Formed Glass Oinochoe "from the Eastern Mediterranean", circa 2nd-1st century B.C. Tsirogiannis has determined that the object figures in the Medici archive, but the declared collecting history is vague in the extreme: "Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 11 July 1988, lot 198".

 2) Lot 22 in Bonhams April 3 sale (#21926): Canosan polychrome painted lidded pottery pyxis, circa 3rd century B.C. Tsirogiannis has determined that the object figures in the Becchina archive, the declared collecting history is not much better: "American private collection, New York, acquired from Ariadne Galleries, New York City in the late 1980s". Tsirogiannis indicates documentation which suggests that Ariadne Galleries bought the items from Becchina.
"Why do Christie's and Bonhams still fail to supply the full and correct collecting history of the objects, especially when they advertise their due diligence before the auctions?" Dr. Tsirogiannis wrote. "Why are these objects depicted in the Medici and the Becchina archives?"
Catherine Sezgin, 'Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis matches two objects up for auction in London with objects identified in the Medici and Becchina archives', ARCA Art News blog March 27, 2014.
Creative Commons License
Ten utwór jest dostępny na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa-Bez utworów zależnych 3.0 Unported.