Sunday 31 May 2015

Ancient Roman City Ratiaria in Bulgaria’s Archar Assaulted by Brutal Treasure Hunters Yet Again

The ancient Roman city of Ratiaria (Colonia Ulpia Traiana Ratiaria), near the northwestern Bulgarian town of Archar on the Danube River, has suffered major new damage from looting treasure hunters. The treasure hunters “worked” at night, and dug up over 10 pits at a depth of more than 1 meter each. 
 The archaeological excavations at Ratiaria were terminated for lack of funding in 1991, and in the following years the once well preserved archaeological complex has been brutally looted and excavated by scores of treasure hunters – from poor local diggers to well-organized antique trafficking mobsters. It is alleged that in the 1990s the Roman city was bulldozed by the local mafia with the alleged participation of some government officials, while local Roma clans have been picking at the archaeological site by hand for decades.
The treasure hunting plight of Ratiaria (and Bulgaria, for that matter) was documented in a 2009 documentary of Dateline on Australia’s SBS TV entitled “Plundering the Past”. This film pretty much makes it clear that the looting of Ratiaria keeps taking place on an hourly basis so announcements about new damages are no news. The overall damage sustained by the Roman city from modern day treasure hunters can hardly be calculated.
Yet collectors still buy loose artefacts from the Balkans with not a thought, or even question, about where it came from and arrived on the market.

Ivan Dikov, '' Archaeology in Bulgaria May 31, 2015


What is there to Hide? The Tactics of the No-Questions-Asked Antiquities Trade Lobby

The no-questions-asked trade in dugup antiquities of unknown provenance probably has too much to hide to join in with any discussion of responsible, transparent and accountable trade practices. Thus it is that when the subject is raised, these people go bananas.

Professor Nathan Elkins has been a favourite target for the sniping of the lobbyist financed by the International Association of Professional (sic) Numismatists (IAPN). Now, Elkins has dissected the tactics used by the IAPN's hired poison-pen  ('The Tactics of a Dealers' Lobbyist' Numismatics and Archaeology 26th May 2015) and it makes disturbing reading. Professional numismatists surely can afford better to publicise and present their cause. Apparently it does not bother them that the tactics used are not exactly reputable. Professor Elkins lists (with justifications given): Personal attacks, Dismissal, Denigration, Deception, Straw Man arguments, Misrepresentation, Deflection, Innuendo, and Intimidation. Hardly a very edifying approach to the heritage debate. Elkins attempts to discern why the IAPN lobbying effort would descend to such levels He fails to come up with a satisfying answer. One reason may be true ignorance of the issues or a misunderstanding of them. This I think we can take for granted; coineys do not give the impression of being the sharpest knives in the drawer. They may well be gullible enough to accept unquestioningly the arguments of the lobbyist representative of the IAPN. That the whole milieu has problems with reality is illustrated above all by their lobbying" efforts, and their choice of a most incompetent way to represent their cause.

UPDATE 31st May 2015 The IAPN representative lobbyist Peter Tompa attempts to respond, but not in any meaningful way, further demands for attention, "innuendo of a hidden conspiracy" and a total failure to engage with what Elkins wrote.As Elkins notes:
It is truly a pity that organizations have spent good money to support such a despicable and painfully transparent modus operandi. At least its transparency and lack efficacy will only hinder the cause to protect the damaging status quo.

Saturday 30 May 2015

Calling IAPN Dealers: Licitness in Question

Peter Tompa ('Trade Professionals Speak Common Sense') has provided an opportunity for all IAPN dealers to show their licit trade practices to heritage stakeholders worldwide. Ed Snible suggested a contest sponsored by the ACCG with a cash prize of $50 for a photograph from a dealer of a "21st century export certificate from Greece of a $100 ancient Greek coin". IAPN's lobbyist added an open invitation for any CPO readers out there to send him a photograph of a Greek, Cypriot, Egyptian, Turkish, Syrian or Ruritanian export certificate for a coin bought through an IAPN dealer. And an
"extra bonus for anyone who sends me a picture of a license of one issued before 1970. Please send image along with any information you have about the export certificate to my work email address,".
James Ede has some pre-1970 export licences from Egypt, he says. But that is the IADAA, what about the IAPN? How many of them are in a position to claim their $50 rewards?

 I've handled some Bulgarian ones for coins, there are Israeli ones too. Of course Bailey and Ehrenberg's "cultural property lawyer" should know that in the case of Greece the key date is September 5th, 1981, Cyprus January 19th, 1980, Egypt July 5th, 1973, Turkey July 21st, 1981, May 21st, 1975 (and Iraq, May 12th, 1973). This is when the Convention (and therefore its Art. 3) came in force.

The reference to Ruritania is a bit of an aberration, as is well known that the Ruritanian state banned coin exports when the borders were opened in 1918 on the insistence of the "Ruritanian National Guild of Associated Professional Numismatists and Collectors" and any coins in a modern collection are most unlikely to be legal exports, so there will be no (genuine) export licences from there, but of course no reputable foreign dealer would dream of holding such coins in their stock anyway, that would be supporting criminal activity (smuggling).  

So, all you 98 IAPN dealers out there, here's your chance to show how many Greek, Cypriot, Egyptian, Turkish and Syrian items in your fresh stock are licit and win fifty dollars from the ACCG into the bargain! A win-win situation, all you have to do is show some export documentation for your fresh stock.

Distribution of IAPN members
(none in Greece, Turkey, Syria, Iraq and most of Southern hemisphere)
UPDATE 31st May 2015
Dealer Dave admits he does not understand the implications of the above. I believe him, he is after all a coiney, an area of human endeavour which seems to attract many of those who are not overly-endowed with mental agility. Welsh adds to his confession:
collectors of ancient coins, and the professional numismatists who supply them, are simply continuing the normal and traditional practices that have defined this avocation for centuries
and centuries ago, there were no export licences. Alles klar. But this is the twenty-first century now and times have changed. Keeping slaves to do the work is no longer the normal and traditional practice on American farms, either.

US Department of State Officials Discuss Stopping Trade in Looted Goods in Paris

Between June 1st and June 3rd (just in time for the Hopi masks sale), Richard Stengel - Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs - will be in Paris with Evan Ryan (Assistant Secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs).
A principal focus of their meetings in Paris will be discussions with international partners on the trafficking of looted antiquities. While in Paris, they will meet at UNESCO with Director-General Irina Bokova and participate in a roundtable with stakeholders to discuss measures that the international community can take to cut off trafficking in antiquities, especially from Iraq and Syria.
Well, we already have a blueprint for that: "take appropriate measures to ensure that all actors involved in the trade in cultural property, including but not limited to US ones, are required to provide verifiable documentation of provenance as well as export certificates related to any cultural property imported, exported or offered for sale". Easy. Decent guys in Washington need to just get the responsible dealers on their side and pass a law implementing it. Let us see if the cumbersome US cultural property protection legislation can grind through the process before the war ends and Syrian and Iraqi sites are dust.

Meanwhile, instead of following the developments as they unfold and the comfort zone of the no-questions-asked market starts to collapse, the International Association for Professional Numismatists' (IAPN) lobbying effort is directed towards launching more personal attacks on advocates of best practice and the Association of Dealers and Collectors of Ancient and Ethnographic Art (ADCAEA) is ignoring it. Only the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art  (IADAA) -  whose dealers tend to pay attention to presenting the collecting histories of the objects they sell - (say they are) interested in 'working together'. But then, they have only 34 members.That's not going to make much of a dent in the overall philistinism of the no-questions-asked-antiquities merchants.

Friday 29 May 2015

World Heritage Hostage of Big Politics?

Cara Anna ('UN resolution on protecting Iraqi antiquities excludes Syria' Times of Israel May 29, 2015) reports that despite its sites and artefacts facing similar threat from ISIL, diplomats were wary of including Syrian cultural property in the UN resolution because it would be in some way tantamount to 'rushing to defense of Assad regime'. So much for the notion of a global heritage, eh?
Syria’s UN ambassador said Thursday that a newly adopted General Assembly resolution on the Islamic State group’s threat to Iraqi cultural heritage doesn’t address the same threat to his country because member states threatened to reject the measure. Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari told The Associated Press that “the Europeans” made the threat. [...]  Iraqi Ambassador Mohamed Alhakim told the AP that “it would have been a bit more complicated politically, let’s put it that way” to make the resolution about Syria as well.
and because it is "complicated", in the eyes of the UN, antiquities can be trashed and traded with impunity when they come from territory one side of a line drawn on a modern map, and not if they come from the other side of the same line. That division applies in the eyes of the UN also to sites included on the UNESCO World Heritage List, which rather calls into question the value of that Convention which so many  have worked so hard to promote. Bonkers.

Antiquities and the Fog of War

Radio Free Iraq and others are quoting local witnesses saying ISIL has attacked the ancient site of Ashur near Tikrit. As far as I have heard, there are few statues displayed there, and most of the above-ground remains are reconstruction. The report has been going the rounds for three days now, each of the sources saying it's unconfirmed. Like most of the news of this type surfacing with depressing regularity, I'm taking this with a pinch of salt for now. Like the definite reports (replete with detailed eye-witness report) of ISIL already having started statue-smashing at Palmyra and then the denials from the antiquities service that this was the case. Who knows what and who to believe? Whose interests are served by misdirection? This blog will continue to attempt to disentangle fact from fiction, reality from spin.

Vignette:  Fog of War

"The End of Ancient Coin Collecting as a Scientific Pursuit".

To continue the butterfly brain theme, instead of going through the weighty issues raised by the recent UN Resolution, the coineys seem this week to be distracting their readers having a go at both myself and Professor Nathan Elkins. Mr Welsh oddly and groundlessly implied yesterday my ignorance of UNESCO procedure, and Professor Nathan Elkins "must have something to hide" according to Peter "undisclosed Hungarian coin collection" Tompa.[*]

These ridiculous antics contrast with the efforts from within their own milieu to present US dug-up artefact collectors' coin fondling as some kind of "scientific pursuit". The argument goes that responsible (ethical) collecting will somehow bring an end to this kind of "science" and therefore to avoid this, coin fondlers and the dealers they buy from should be exempt from such concerns. Like they were in the Middle Ages. That is an idiotic argument. We are not in the Middle Ages, the rest of the world has moved on from there.

I have asked time and time again for some kind of a textbook defining the methodology of this heap-of-loose-coins-on-my-kitchen-table "science" in its 21st century form and nobody has come up with anything that does it. I cannot see how heaping decontextualised material, even if it has pictures and writing on it, and ordering it typologically and/or according to the pictures and tables in some pre-existing catalogue is any kind of "science". I also cannot see how the coiney spot-the-difference games with these things would in any way be compromised by them having to obtain the material they use as evidence in accordance with some kind of ethical or methodological standards as most other disciplines apply. Let us see the modern textbook which explains this in terms of today's market and how it affects our ability to study the past properly.

Dealer Dave however has a different view of what "science" is, and - nota bene - has published it on the Washington blog used for International Association of Professional Numismatists (IAPN) lobbying.  Let us examine what he wrote there.

First of all let us dismiss the moronic slur that anyone who calls for higher standards in, for example, medicine (plastic surgery for example) is de facto against medicine ("anti-plastic surgery") itself. Calling for higher standards to avoid undesirable consequences is only opposition to bad practice in something, not against the activity as a whole.  So we can dismiss as cheap and meaningless rhetoric Welsh's dismissal of advocating best practice as the work of "anticollecting archaeologists" and labelling those who call for responsible collecting of artefacts as a "claque" (a claque by the way which would have to contain the entire British Portable Antiquities Scheme and all the archaeologists that support it).

Since "provenance is not required by law", Dealer Dave Welsh does not see it as any kind of best practice to pay any attention to it or document it. Again this is disregarding what the pro-collecting archaeologists of the PAS and its supporters are saying, in the UK it is not required of artefact collectors by law either. Mr Welsh should take the issue up with them. Dealer Dave Welsh says it is a "very salient fact" that since the introduction of the 1970 UNESCO Convention defining illicit exports in accordance with the measures it postulates, the countries "bordering the Mediterranean Sea, and Middle Eastern nations such as Iran and Iraq, never (or almost never) issue export certificates for antiquities".  Yes, I would say that is a very salient fact in this discussion. We all know that the US does not fully implement the Convention, but still, in what way would freshly-surfaced coins be reaching the US licitly if the source countries are refusing to let such cultural property (which is their right) be legally exported since they instituted their antiquities/cultural property protection laws? Surely for freshly-surfaced coins to be shown to be licit, there would have to be documentation that they were exported and in a collection before a certain date.

Is buying smuggled coins best practice? Is buying 99.9% of the coins entering the market (see here) blindly, with no ability to check their collecting history best practice? Would it be considered even acceptable practice in any other "profession"? 

What is notable is the coin dealer's definition of what would be rendered "impossible" were coin collectors and dealers to be held henceforth (or henceforth hold themselves to) to the same measures of responsibility as US, UK and other museums apply to their acquisitions voluntarily. He says this would render "impractical": 
forming a comprehensive typological collection in any significant area of ancient coinage 
Further down he gives a somewhat different definition of the aim of the kind of collector he has in mind:
It would be virtually impossible to form a comprehensive thematic collection that would be important as a reference and study resource.
and this, he says, would "almost certainly mean the end of ancient coin collecting as a scientific pursuit".

But this brings us back again to what we (or self-interested coineys) think of as a scientific pursuit. His two statements above restrict numismatics to "typological ordering" and "thematic ordering" ("Camp Gate type B1 var" and "Roman coins showing deities").

I have worked closely with real professional numismatists here in Poland over the years and am aware that real professional numismatics studies a whole lot of other things, including making considerable use of context data. I do not think any real professional numismatist here in the University, Archaeological Museum or Academy of Sciences would recognize mere spot-the-difference typology or any kind of topic-related thematic collection with their show-and-tell associations as  a "scientific pursuit" or even a minor part of a more holistically conceived numismatics. Like much antiquity collecting it is just a variant form of stamp collecting. Still more those real professional numismatists for whom context data and spatial data are an important part of their research with numismatic material would not only not recognize the blind heritage-grabbing activities of these amateurs and shopkeepers as any kind of science, but they too see the knowledge theft implied in the constant decontextualisation of the resource needed for their own research as destructive. This is why many real professional numismatists support the Portable Antiquities Scheme and findspot-recording databases (both institutional and private) like it and understand their underlying purpose. That is why many real professional numismatists (like Professor Elkins) believe in upholding, enforcing and improving (as opposed to the amateurs' disregarding or trashing) the laws which are designed to protect the archaeological record from destruction by commercial exploitation, clandestine commercial deals and stipulate a duty to declare fresh discoveries so they can be properly studied.  

Anyway, despite complaining about the "tenor" of other comments to the blog,* the IAPN lobbyist has approved Mr Welsh's comment advocating continuance of documentation disregard and documentation discard justified by the need to preserve an imaginary "science". I think the IAPN need to take a good look at these underlying elements of the discussion. It is their attitudes to the amateurish arguments of the opponents of best practice that will define how "professional" IAPN "Professional numismatists" may considered to be. It is that which will differentiate them from could-not-care-less heritage-grabbing shopkeepers. Let us see if the IAPN can join the discussion of what "responsible collecting" really means or whether they are content to set their lobbyist snapping at the heels of those that raise an issue their members apparently shy away from discussing properly.   

[*] by the way it is a matter of record and easily checked what was the "tenor" of the comments I sent to his blog before he banned me. They were consistently polite and to the point - which is more than one can say about the comments by metal detectorists Howland, Stout, Dealer Dave  and the "Arthur Houghton III" sock-puppet which is mostly what the IAPN lobbyist's blog carries these days. 

Silence from the Dealers

UN assembly hall - dealers' arguments
do not cut much mustard here (Wikipedia)

The UN General Assembly unanimously
urges all States to take appropriate measures to ensure that all actors involved in the trade in cultural property, including, but not limited to, auction houses, art dealers, art collectors and museum professionals, are required to provide verifiable documentation of provenance as well as export certificates related to any cultural property imported, exported or offered for sale, including through the Internet
The abuses of the antiquities trade have gone on long enough. Anyone who, 45 years on, has ignored the implications of the 1970 UNESCO Convention, and 45 years of discussion resulting from it and filled their stockrooms and collections with junk coins and junk artefacts which cannot be verified as licit, deserve to be stuck with them for the rest of their lives. Let us see how much they want to 'care for' and 'preserve' the artefacts they cannot profit from. Meanwhile those dealers and collectors that paid attention to the paperwork when they had a chance to will not be affected, indeed the value of the 'papered' objects will most likely sharply increase in coming years as standards are tightened and we get a truly responsible, transparent and accountable antiquities trade. That should be everybody's aim, even the dealers - however much they may be unwilling to play along and accept the consequences of their own past actions.

1970 Convention: The World does not Revolve Solely Around Washington Nasties, Far From it

Dealer Dave, presumably with many years of close co-operation with UNESCO behind him, accuses me of making an "uninformed statement", to whit that in a recent text [about something else - please note], I expressed (not for the first time) my belief that the current wording of the 1970 UNESCO Convention is an anachronism in today's antiquities market and needs changing to take account of the changes to the market and threats to the cultural heritage. The coinshop owner reckons "changes to the text of the adopted 1970 UNESCO Convention are not allowed". He states that to do that you would have to have what he calls "a revising Convention". Not so. Mr Welsh's work with UNESCO has not prepared him for the task of arguing this point. Article 25 of the Convention itself not only allows revision of the wording of the document but also supplies an additional mechanism for changing it.

This is rather like the Valletta Convention is a revision of the London one. In the same way there could be two parallel conventions stipulating measures which would be binding on the states that ratified one or both of them. Mr Welsh reckons it would be "very surprising if the USA signed or acceded to" any later document, but if the USA wants conservatively to stay in the 45-year old one, then it can while the rest of us go forward into the 21st century with a Convention better suited to the market and threats - and possibilities - of the 21st century. Welsh though thinks that the USA would pull out of the 1970 version too:
it is quite possible that the firestorm of controversy that would culminate in the defeat of efforts to secure US approval of or accession to such a revised Convention would eventually lead to revocation of, or modifications to, the deposited US instrument of accession to the existing Convention
My readers will know that I think the USA should either implement the Convention properly (i.e., without the institutionalised hypocrisy that is embodied by its current application - see the Hopi masks issue now being played out because of it) or get out and show the world just what its Wild West antiquities trade is. US dealers and collectors should not have it all their own way as they have up to now.

Actually, who cares about what Neocon nasties in America think (or fail to think through)? There is a whole world out there beyond the bounds of Washington, a world full of culture, ancient civilizations and their remains, and reasonable people with a long tradition of cherishing it. The  rest of us can sort out the issues concerned with the trade here and now and not the imagined once-upon-a-time trade of some transatlantic Philistine heritage grabbers with their patronising colonialist attitudes, foreign to the rest of us (and a good number of decent Americans too). A revision of a Convention for the global community does not need "US approval", Mr Welsh. Especially when you lot are still not paying your dues to UNESCO because we (the rest of us) by democratic decision accepted Palestine into it without "US approval".

Meanwhile note how silent US antiquity dealers, including coineys and their lobbyists are about the other issues I raised in my post about the UN General Assembly resolution.

Vignette: US Go-ahead not needed.

U.N. Resolves to Combat Plundering of Antiquities by ISIL

Increasingly frustrated over the Islamic State’s brazen pillaging and trafficking of artifacts in the Middle East, all members of the United Nations agreed on Thursday to take new steps intended to thwart and prosecute antiquities smugglers, ensure the return of plundered ancient treasures and counter what diplomats described as “cultural cleansing,” a new tactic of war to spread hatred and erase the heritage of civilizations. The resolution adopted unanimously by the 193-nation General Assembly was focused on the threat to Iraq. But it amounted to the broadest international condemnation so far to the cultural destruction and vandalism wrought by the fighters of [ISIL] [...] The resolution is nonbinding, meaning it does not have the enforcement power of a Security Council resolution. [...] The General Assembly resolution came more than three months after the Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution, 2199, aiming to prevent the Islamic State and other extremist groups from profiting through illicit trade in oil, antiquities smuggling and ransom for hostages.
Rick Gladstone, 'U.N. Resolves to Combat Plundering of Antiquities by ISIS' New York Times May 28th 2015.

Foreign Policy: Rouge Archaeologists Involved in ISIL Antiquities Trade

David Francis has just produced 'A How-To Guide To Buying Artifacts Looted by the Islamic State' (Foreign Policy May 28, 2015) and begins it like this:
Let’s say you’re a rich Manhattan hedge fund manager in the market for an artifact from Palmyra, the archeological wonder in Syria currently being pillaged by the Islamic State. How, exactly, would you go about getting your hands on one? First, a word of caution: Purchasing antiquities on the black market is illegal. And it’s the second largest source of funding for the Islamic State, so your money would be directly supporting terrorism. Relics taken from one region of Syria alone reportedly enriched the Islamic State by $36 million, and Americans are among their biggest buyers. In other words, under no circumstances should you do what I’ve outlined below. But because stolen artifacts are such an (sic) key part of the Islamic State’s finances, it’s important to understand how the trade works.
Well, first of all that "second biggest source" junk was debunked a while ago, and it is disturbing to see the magazine's editors letting that through. That "$36 million" came from the Iraqis and given their subsequent record in palming heritage-related factoids of 'dubious verisimilitude' off onto the international media (now the "100 billion dollar" figure), I think we all take that one with a mighty pinch of salt these days. And actually, according to US dealers and their lobbyist mates  if "no US law is broken" then buying dodgy black market stuff is not illegal in the US (where article 3 of the 1970 UNESCO convention is merely superciliously sneered at).
If you’re willing to set aside your moral scruples, experts told FP Thursday that getting into the market for relics looted from Iraq and Syria is a relatively straightforward process. It takes some shady dealings with some even shadier characters, and you’re not likely to be able to flip the artifact any time soon. But if you’re determined, relics are out there for the taking.“
It turns out the experts he's asked are Michael Danti (the originator of the "second biggest" claim) and  Amr Al-Azm. According to them, all you have to do is "go to your dealer" and for example "say you have a Palmyra-specific interest” (according to Danti). Now Danti knows, as do the rest of us, that Palmyra-specific objects were on the market well before ISIL or even Bashar Assad came on the scene. Just the other day I was discussing one which had an export licence suggesting it was in the trade in 2006 for example. So I really do not see how what we are presented with is in any way a "how-to guide to buying artefacts looted by the Islamic State'. Anyway, according to the FP journalist, "Here’s how a typical purchase would unfold:"
 It begins with the Islamic State looter, who actually steals the piece from inside Iraq or Syria. Then, this looter would contact a smuggler, who would pay the finder a tax as high a 50 percent of the artifact’s suspected price and use existing rat lines to get it out of the country. It would most likely end up in Turkey, according to Amr Al-Azm [...] Smugglers are “really well connected with the Turkish mafia,” [...] These smugglers then get in touch with traffickers, who peddle the objects to dealers. [...] if a dealer is interested, rouge (sic!) scholars and archaeologists will then begin to create what he calls a (sic) “a thin veil of legality” to create a false origin for the object.
Quite apart from the fact that the word is misspelt, I would like to see some backup for the next statement.  
“There’s a scholarly community that’s complicit with the dealers and the buyers who will authenticate. It’s pretty hard to tell the difference between legal and illegal sometimes.” 
They seem to be referring to activities in Turkey and unspecified "other countries near the conflict zone'. If that is so, then there is there no question about what is legal and illegal. But I think there is a confusion here between authentication of dodgy artefacts (ie picking out the fakes) and providing a paper trail of legitimacy (which in the case of illicit artefacts must necessarily be forgeries). Is Danti accusing the archaeologists of being the authors of these forged documents too, creating a thin veil of legality and a false origin for the object? Please Professor Danti, more data on this the next of your claims.  Let us hear more about these "rouge archaeologists" - who are they, where do they work? Where can one see one of their certificates of authenticity and that forged paperwork? There are tens of thousands of metal detectorists and coineys out there very eager to hear more. Anyway, to get back to the narrative:
Once a backstory for the relic is created, and the dealer and smuggler agree on price, the buyer hands over the cash [...]  and voilà, they’re the proud owners of an illegal artifact. But the purchaser still has to get his or her prize out of Turkey or other countries near the conflict zone. This is usually done through existing black market channels. If the buyer is willing to pay more, he or she can pay to speed up the process. According to Al-Azm, once the buyer has an the piece, there’s not much he or she can do other than to show it off to friends. He said reputable antiquity stores aren’t likely to buy anything with even the slightest hint of a false origin story. “It’s traded from dealer to dealer and buyer to buyer,” he said. “Most of it is going to sit, lay low for 15 years, then
The problem is this gets us no nearer to the ISIL looted stuff. The same goes for any artefact illicitly and clandestinely excavated in Iraq or Syria since 1970. It all went/goes through the same hands in the same way, the origins obscured, any incriminating documentation thrown away, and any paper trail the objects have more than likely faked or fiddled. I really doubt that Danti is right suggesting the paper trail is created by the middlemen. The reconstructed collecting histories cases we have been able to study (Ka Nefer Nefer, Cleveland/Leutwitz Apollo, the "Kalmakarra" rhyton, Mr Kapoor's stuff, the Koh Ker statues, the Medici and Becchina archives, the  Elias S. David stuff coming up in a few days at Christie's etc.) all involve documentation such as affidavits secured by the dealers offering them to outside buyers. Where is Professor Danti getting this information about how the antiquities market in ISIL-generated material from?

Now, let us identify these "rouge archaeologists" supporting illicit collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record and get them locked up. All of them. Who are they Professor Danti?

Vignette: Rogue windmill

Thursday 28 May 2015

ISIL destroys 2000-year old lion statue outside Palmyra museum

John Hall, 'ISIS 'destroys' famous lion god statue in captured Syrian city of Palmyra... just days after promising locals they would not obliterate ancient monuments' Mail Online may 28th 2015.
Militants fighting for the Islamic State have reportedly destroyed a famous statue of a lion in the captured city of Palmyra - despite promising locals they would not obliterate the ancient city. Following their capture of Palmyra last Thursday, ISIS militants are understood to have won the support of much of the local population by promising not to destroy the city's famous monuments. But it appears that promise was too much for the jihadis to keep, with eyewitnesses claiming they destruction of millenia-old Statues and buildings is already very much under way, with the most significant loss so far being the celebrated Lion of Al-Lat, which dates back to the first century AD. The lion statue was destroyed by ISIS militants on Saturday, according to the International Business Time, who quoted eyewitnesses on the ground in Palmyra. 'I heard a loud noise, so I went up to the roof to see what is going on,' one local man said. 'I saw Daash crushing the 'god lion' statue with construction machines. There were many other crushed statues but I could not recognise the rest of them because they were totally ruined,' he added, using an Arabic acronym for the terror group.

UNGA draft resolution "Saving the cultural heritage of Iraq"

Here is the text of the UNGA draft resolution Saving the cultural heritage of Iraq. I guess protecting the cultural heritage of Syria will be a separate one then? The UN seems to accept as proven that the sale of antiquities here is "generating income for terrorist groups, which can support their recruitment efforts and strengthen their operational capability to organize and carry out terrorist attacks" (preamble). Glasgow's Donna Yates will probably not be pleased to hear that. Anyway the sixteen articles include:
9. Calls upon all States to assist the Iraqi authorities in fighting against trafficking in cultural property illegally excavated from archaeological sites and taken from museums, libraries, archives and manuscript collections, as required under Security Council resolutions 1483 (2003) and 2199 (2015), including through international cooperation regarding the restitution of stolen or illicitly exported cultural property, as appropriate, as well as in criminal justice matters and in meeting the challenge of repairing, restoring and conserving damaged or destroyed cultural heritage when security conditions allow; 
So that's an MOU from you, then, America. Note the phrase "as appropriate". Dealers and their lobbyists, it seems, rarely do.
10. Expresses concern that ISIL and other individuals, groups, undertakings and entities associated with Al-Qaida are generating income from engaging directly or indirectly in the looting and trafficking of Iraqi cultural heritage items, which is being used to support their recruitment efforts and strengthen their operational capability to organize and carry out terrorist attacks;
Article 11 reminds of the obligations placed on Member States by Security Council resolution 2199 (2015) and related regulations.
12. Urges all States to take appropriate measures to ensure that all actors involved in the trade in cultural property, including, but not limited to, auction houses, art dealers, art collectors and museum professionals, are required to provide verifiable documentation of provenance as well as export certificates related to any cultural property imported, exported or offered for sale, including through the Internet;
Now there is something to gladden the heart of the lobbyists of the dugup antiquities trade. For years they've been banging on about the 1970 UNESCO Convention (and the US's atavistic CPIA) requiring "provenance" when they do not. But making silly claims like this year after year is a source of not a few bucks from the dealers' associations and other sponsors. Now the UN has obliged and added "provenance" (whatever that means here) so they can make some more money without even changing their tune. OK, UNESCO, time to rewrite that 1960-ish document the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.

Dodgy Cultural property returned to Italy, False provenances, Garbled Paper Trails

Elisabetta Povoledo, '25 Looted Artifacts Return to Italy' May 26th 2015.
At first glance the 25 artifacts displayed in the courtyard of a former convent just off the Tiber River here on Tuesday seemed to have little in common: three first-century B.C. fresco fragments from Pompeii were exhibited alongside fifth- and sixth-century B.C. Etruscan and Attic vases, a 17th-century Venetian cannon, a 12th-century mural fragment depicting Christ and three rare 17th-century books. What they shared was a nefarious past. Each had been looted from Italy and smuggled into the United States in recent decades, only to be recovered from American museums, auction houses, private collections and even a university.
The articles were found in a number of regions of the USA, Homeland Security agents from New York City, Buffalo, Baltimore, Boston, Miami and San Diego were involved in the investigations leading to the returns.
Each artifact returned to Italy had its own story. The three first-century B.C. fresco fragments depicting human figures, for example, were stolen on June 26, 1957, from the Culture Ministry offices at Pompeii. Tracked to a San Diego warehouse, they were taken by agents in September 2012 from the private collection of an unnamed “American magnate” before they could be sold at auction, Italian officials said. The authorities later identified the frescoes as belonging to the Allen E. Paulson Trust, which forfeited them to the United States government, which then returned them to Italy.

An Etruscan black-figure vase with dolphins, dating to 510-500 B.C., was seized from the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio. The museum had acquired it in 1982 from Giacomo Medici, an international antiquities dealer. Mr. Medici had provided the museum with “false provenance documentation,” Italian officials said in a statement.

An Attic red-figure vase, acquired from Mr. Medici in 1983, was recovered from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, which returned the piece once its illegal provenance was determined. Several artifacts were seized from auction houses and art galleries.

[...] no criminal charges had been filed regarding any of the returned artifacts. In some cases, the statute of limitations on any crimes would have expired. In others, the paper trail for an artifact’s import into the United States was too garbled to reconstruct.
Dealers and collectors seem remarkably prone to problems keeping those paper trails free of garbling and loss... A cynic might begin to suspect that there is some ulterior motive in this rather than just sheer carelessness and poor business practices.

Wednesday 27 May 2015

Last Month's London "Culture in Crisis" Conference Online

The videos from the "Culture in Crisis" conference organised by the Victoria and Albert Museum in collaboration with the Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage, Yale University under the patronage of UNESCO are now available online.  The videos are filed here (Yale University You Tube channel, label "Culture in Crisis"). Here is the programme (from here) so you can see in what order they were presented:


There are some interesting reflections from the meeting here: (Roya Arab, ' Reflections on the Culture in Crisis Conference, April 2015' Media Diversified May 15, 2015).

and of course the dealers' friends are trying our patience by calling foul play as per usual (Anon. 'Culture in Crisis Conference: Platform for Restrictive German Law'. The Committee for Cultural Policy Updated May 27, 2015. And they wonder why only one dealer got to talk there. Ede's performance was hardly stellar, the usual moans and he apparently thinks it's all about "repatriation" and the Art Loss Register. Waste of time (oh and do compare what he actually said with the bowdlerised version printed by said THE (sic) Committee of Cultural Policy.

Yemeni War Leads to Massive Destruction of Cultural Heritage

Laura C. Mallonee, 'Yemeni War Leads to Massive Destruction of Cultural Heritage' Hyperallergic, May 27, 2015.
In the past few months, a deadly civil war in Yemen between the Saudi Arabia-backed government and Houthi militants has claimed the lives of nearly 2,000 civilians and led to the state’s collapse. But as with other current conflicts in the region, it’s not just the country’s future that’s at risk, but also its past.

Coineys, Curios and Butterfly Minds

The paid lobbyist for the International Association of Professional Numismatists (coinshop keepers) once again has written on what his clients mean when they call the coin trade a licit business. You see, according to him it is "Trade Professionals Speak Common Sense", while "Ivory Tower academics of the archaeological lobby" who consider that these claims require production of supporting documentation do not realise that such documentation does not exist. I suspect I am not to only one who fails to see in what way a trade which systematically obscures the origins and status of the commodities traded can in any way be regarded as  legitimate.  In a comment under that Dealer Dave ventures:
It is only recently that this "responsible collecting" campaign has been organized [...] . Those behind it [...] in my view have little understanding of the actual workings of the numismatic and antiquities trades, and of numismatic and antiquities collecting. [...] traceability has been difficult because there are good, sensible reasons for sellers to insist upon anonymity
Well, yes. That is the point, isn't it? There are good reasons for the origins of some of that material to be hidden. How much? Dealer Dave asserts:
Recently unearthed "illicit" coins and antiquities are very far from being the majority of items traded.
That sounds like an admission that such items are handled by the trade. But how can Welsh say how much of it there is, if the items he handles have absolutely no documentation? Dealer Alfredo suggests [on if you please] that in the case of the coins he comes across in America, it is one in a thousand which has papers.These people ask us to accept that this is perfectly normal and acceptable that they and collectors have been throwing away the documentation of 99.9% (ninety-nine point nine percent!) of objects entering the collectors' market. How on earth can one refer to that as ethical or responsible business practices? This is especially the case when the trade has a definition in Art 3 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention specifying what the term "illicit" is taken to mean - something the documentation-discarders in the international dugup antiquities trade have been ignoring since 1970.

However, not all collectors are so blasé about collecting history. Serious collectors of geological and palaeontological specimens require the name of the findspot from where the specimen was collected as the barest minimum on the accompanying label. It is the same with meteorites. These are classified according to their findspot - which has to be recorded, and the authenticity is determined by the labels showing who collected the specimen and then which collections it passed through. No meteorite collector would dream of throwing away those slips of paper detailing that, because the value (as a collectable and as material for study) would drop immensely. Of course there are teenagers who collect bits of unprovenanced stone with a visible ablation crust as "cool, rocks from space". In other words as trophy bragging pieces and curios.

Its the same with shells, herbarium specimens, and butterflies. Serious conchologists want a specimen to have not only the name of the species, but where and when it was collected. Serious botanists go a step further, they want the name of the botanist who collected the specimen and the date. Serious lepidopterists have similar requirements, they too want the name of the entomologist who collected the specimen and the date. Without these details on the label beautiful animals have died for nothing, so their carcasses can become a curio in a collector's display case. Again none of these collectors would dream of separating the specimen from its label containing these data. It has been like that almost since the beginning of this collecting in the nineteenth century (and beyond). Serious conchologists and serious lepidopterists use this information to do amateur scholarship, often of a very high standard, but to do this their reference/study collection has to be properly arranged and documented. Other people just put an unprovenanced moth transfixed cruelly by a steel pin in a case on the wall to 'decorate' the room as a curio.

So these numismatic collectors who give not a thought to documenting the coins in their possession, are they collectors of evidence  or curios? The people that sold them those items without the documentation, professionals or curio sellers?

Tim Pestell in a recent video made the point that recent studies suggest that in pre-Roman East Anglia, there were many thousands of coin dies in use. Yet of their products, only a relatively few have any kind of findspot data recorded when they have been through the hands of the archaeologists of the Portable Antiquities Scheme. If one wanted to do a study of not only the characteristics but the spatial distribution of products of a hypothetical 'Pestell group X variant 132 die', the coin market is no help, they've thrown away the documentation of 99.9% of the finds. The best the coins on the market can achieve is "here is another one". That is hardly likely to advance our knowledge of the past in any useful way.

China: 175 arrests for Looting

In one of the largest such raids in the history of the modern state, Chinese authorities arrested 175 people on 26th May for the theft and trafficking of more than 1,000 artefacts worth an estimated $80m.
Those arrested include four archaeologists and one “master raider”, identified only by his last name Yao, who used feng shui to find the best places to dig for objects. The Chinese Cultural Relics Protection Bureau began investigating the illegal operation in June last year when they found signs of digging near Neolithic ruins in Liaoning province. According to the New York Times, police arrested three people who led them to the larger network.

The operation spanned six Chinese provinces and involved a police task force of over 1,000 officers. The looted artifacts range from Neolithic times up to the Qing Dynasty. The looters were split into 10 gangs that handled everything from site excavation to sales. The thieves reportedly used knowledge of traditional feng shui, state of the art devices, and the help of archaeologists to find and dig for saleable relics.

Richelle Simon, 'Chinese police arrest feng shui master and 174 others for looting antiquities ' Art Newspaper 27 May 2015

Austin Ramzy, 'Chinese Tomb Robbers Used Feng Shui to Steal Antiquities' Sinosphere May 27, 2015.

Egypt: Museum Store Raid Suspects Arrested

A stolen limestone statue of a seated priest and his wife of the Middle Kingdom is back in Egypt and the alleged thieves in Egyptian custody pending investigation: Nevine El-Aref , 'Suspects arrested in case of stolen Memphis statue' Al-Ahram 26 May 2015
The Tourism and Antiquities Police on Tuesday arrested several men, accusing them of having stolen an ancient Egyptian statue last year from the warehouses of the Memphis archaeological site, near the town of Mit Rahina 20 km outside Cairo, Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh Eldamaty has said. The suspects included an archaeological inspector from the site, who stands accused of having stolen the statue from the warehouse, before replacing it with a replica, and illegally smuggling it to Brussels, the minister added. The ministry managed to retrieve the statue and bring it back to Egypt a few months ago, the minister said.
The Ka Nefer Nefer mask was said to have been taken to Brussels too. How did it get there (if it did)? SLAM, any new leads on the TRUE story of this piece?

Coiney Straw Men Speaking Again

The IAPN has spent tens of thousands of dollars of their members' money retaining a lobbyist as an "observer" who has not the faintest idea what the others (the ones he's lobbying against) are talking about. Here is Peter Tompa in full flow:
The Ivory Tower academics of the archaeological lobby often speak about requiring "provenance information" and "export certificates" as proof that items are not the products of looting. 
We are talking about collecting histories and export licences are  proof that an object was not smuggled. It is the easiest thing in the world to construct straw men arguments, the question is whether that is an efficient use of IAPN funds to continue to do so. 

US Ancient Coin Collectors, What is there not to Understand?

Intelligence of a cat...
I've been talking about responsible collection since 2000, and blogging here about it since summer 2008. You'd think by now that those who want to write disagreeing with what I propose would at least have had the opportunity to find out what it was. But to do that you would have to be able to read English and have a bit higher IQ than my cat.

Ed Snible over on the IAPN paid lobbyist's blog recounts his awful experiences with a coin he bought from a well-known dealer (Palmyra Heritage Morris Khouli Gallery). They are talking about "provenance" (they mean collecting history) and that responsible collecting is allegedly a "misnomer". Snible moans
I recently blogged about a coin with a provenance back to Pakistan in 1963. I was crowing online about the long provenance, and P[aul] B[arford] immediately called me to task for not seeking a 1963 Pakistani export license (this is for a sub-$30 value coin in 2015 dollars).
Nonsense. What I wrote about was collectors buying irresponsibly. In order that the coin in question had been exported legally, there would have to be documentation. Snible had no such documentation for his coin. I wrote of responsible collectors taking responsibility for the hygiene of their collection by buying only from dealers who have in their stockroom artefacts which have the paperwork allowing verification of their claims that they are licit. Such collectors would avoid the cowboys that continually palm off on them second-best. If a dealer cannot secure a supply of licit artefacts, then he's not the kind of dealer responsible collectors want in the market. What, actually, is so difficult for US coin collectors to understand here? It is not exactly rocket science, so why do they keep getting it wrong?

Perhaps the reality is they simply do not want to address the plain truth which seems to be that 99.98% of them are not in the slightest bothered about whether or not they are buying coins that have been smuggled and do not really care at all where that coin came from and how it got out of the ground and onto the market. That, certainly is what their actions, and constant attempts to dodge the issues, seem to suggest with utmost clarity.

Get Involved in Heritage Action

"The Heritage Journal - What we are About - Get Involved!" Video created by Alan Simkins

Staffordshire Hoard Fragments missing

"Staffordshire Hoard helmet band, pommel pieced together" and the missing bits? In whose collection are they now?


Tuesday 26 May 2015

US: We will not help you, but you must help us

The Museum Association of Arizona has issued a statement in support of the Hopi Tribe of Arizona in their efforts to halt the sale of Hopi 'ethnographic art' at the EVE Auction House in Paris on June 1, 2015. 
We are dismayed by the continued inaction of the French authorities [...]. We urge both the US and French authorities to find a way resolve these issues in accordance with the accepted principles of international law and U.S. interests.
Sadly they do not go the extra step of advising US authorities what they need to do to protect such US cultural property. It does not take much mental effort to see that the problem is there is no export licensing system to define legally exported from illicitly exported cultural property from the US, despite in being a state party to the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property since the early 1980s. The sooner the US implements that convention properly at home, and not just one article of it, the sooner US citizens can enjoy the rights of those of other nations whose cultural property is exported to feed the "ancient and ethnographic art" market.
By the way, the US has not signed a bilateral cultural property MOU with France, either, apparently that is not thought to be in any way "in accordance with US interests". Come on America, come on Museum Association of Arizona, do the decent thing before you expect others to do it for you.


ISIL Spokesman Statement on Palmyra

ISIL will not bulldoze historical monuments in Palmyra, but will destroy statues says Abu Laith Al-Saoudi, ISIS Military Leader on Radio Alwan:

Posted on You Tube by Alwan Syria 

The western media concentrated public attention on the postulated fate of the ruins probably to deflect attention from the loss of a highly important strategic position right in the middle of a US-led campaign intended to 'cripple' ISIL. By this announcement, ISIL has drawn attention to the future administration of the region as part of the Islamic State. Letting the ruins stand for now is also an expression of power.

Nameless Tycoon had Pompeii Frescoes Stolen Sixty years ago

'US finds Pompeii frescoes robbed in 1950s' 26 May 2015
Frescoes stolen from the ancient site of Pompeii in the 1950s have been found in the US after their wealthy owner died. The three frescoes were due to go up for auction after an American tycoon passed away, leaving his valuable private collection, Il Sole 24 Ore reported on Tuesday. The artworks have been missing for nearly 60 years, since being stolen from the superintendency of Pompeii in 1957. They depict a young woman with a cupid on her shoulder, a woman carrying a wine pitcher and a male figure. [...] The find marks the end of a lengthy operation to find items stolen in the 1957 raid, with other pieces recovered previously in Europe and the US. A fresco of a peacock was discovered in Switzerland, one of wine god Dionysus had been taken to the UK, while an sacrifice fresco was found in the US.
And just by coincidence the name of the grabbing "tycoon" and his or her efforts to check where the frescoes came from, thereby wasting police time, is nowhere revealed.

Dhamar, Yemen Museum Destroyed

The Dhamar Regional Museum in Yemen, the main museum of the Dhamar governorate, was destroyed in a Saudi airstrike last Thursday. The Museum, built in 2002, is the repository of all work done in the province. Together with the building, it is not clear how much of the collection of pre-Islamic antiquities, including a number of  dedicatory stelae  and also the material produced by the Chicago Oriental Institute's work from 1978 onwards (see here too) have been lost. Some of the museum's artefacts were recently digitalised by CASIS an EU-funded project. 
Saudi Arabia has been bombing Yemen in the last 62 days to bring its ally, fugitive president Mansour Hadi, back to power. The airstrikes have killed, at least, 3,912 Yemenis, according to FNA's independent tally. According to a recent report by Freedom House Foundation, most of the victims of the deadly Al Saud campaign are civilians, including a large number of women and children. Thousands of residential buildings have been destroyed, and hundreds of civil and public facilities were reduced to rubble as a result of the bombardments by Saudi warplanes on the Yemeni cities and towns, the group said.

The city of Dahmar, 100 km to the south of Sana'a, was one of the famous Arabic and Islamic culture and scientific centres in Yemen.

'Saudi Warplanes Fully Destroy Dhamar Museum', Fars News Tue May 26, 2015

Museums in Yemen.

Sunday 24 May 2015

Antiquities Seized in Abu Sayyaf raid

US assassination squad in action?
Larry Rothfield has spotted an interesting piece of news reported in USA Today ('Killed ISIS leader had a trove of antiquities in his compound' Sunday, May 24, 2015). Last week, a top ISIL operative, Abu Sayyaf - who had a senior role in overseeing ISIL's illicit oil and gas operations - was reportedly killed by U.S. special operations troops in his compound in eastern Syria. In the raid, it is claimed that some objects were seized, among them reportedly:
was a trove of antiquities, including ancient coins and a bible. ISIL fighters apparently had plundered the priceless relics during their sweep through Iraq and Syria that began last summer. It appears ISIL planned to sell them on the black market to fund its operations rather than destroy them, the first official said.
First of all, I would like some confirmation of this story. Is it not a little convenient for the US-propagated "antiquities fund terrorism" narrative? What, actually, was found? What "Bible"? What kind of coins? Where were they found in a rushed raid in the middle of ISIL territory, lying laid out on a sideboard by the TV guide in the sitting room? Anyway, the US is believed to have the man's computer records and perhaps some more interesting facts will emerge about ISIL's dealings in various resources including, perhaps, antiquities. Or perhaps not.

"It's always Brits" - the bitter harvest of UK's Hoik-friendly Artefact Policies

Roland Hughes, 'Eurostar's problem with artillery shell collectors', BBC News 12 May 2015
When the Gare du Nord was evacuated on Monday after a passenger tried to take a disarmed artillery shell onto a Eurostar train, rail operators may well have let out a deep sigh and thought: "Not again".[...] An official with SNCF, France's national railway, told the BBC that such incidents were happening "fairly regularly". "It's always Brits," he said. "We have to teach them that it has to stop, [...]". A Eurostar spokeswoman noted that there were also "clear posters up in Paris Gare du Nord letting people know what they can and can't carry when it comes to war artefacts".
But of course British artefact collectors feel that such regulations do not apply to them, personally. They are, in their own minds, an exception. Like all antiquity collectors. The PAS was set up to educate the public about portable antiquity collecting issues, but seventeen years on, it does not seem to have made much headway in that regard. So, do you reckon the French will be adopting one soon?

Saturday 23 May 2015

Syria Finally Facing the End? Russia to Help Iraq.

Martin Chulov asks whether, 'Amid the ruins of Syria, is Bashar al-Assad now finally facing the end?' (Guardian 24th May 2015). The US is rapidly losing any influence it had in the Middle East to control events and the Syrian government is under increased pressure from on the one hand the rebels backed by neighbouring countries and on the other ISIL. The evacuation of cultural property to 'safe' areas within Syria becomes pointless once those regions too are the scene of military activity and then overrun, as is looking increasingly likely. The only question is which rebel group will get their hands on the evacuated  cultural property and will any of it find its way back to the places it had been evacuated from?

Meanwhile 'Russia ready to help Iraq defeat Islamic State: Lavrov':

Russia is ready to supply weapons to Iraq, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday, as the country struggles to halt advances by Islamic State militants. [...] Moscow would make every effort to help the Baghdad government push back the militants. Islamic State insurgents overran the Iraqi city of Ramadi last weekend in the most significant setback for the Baghdad government in a year, exposing the weakness of Iraq's army and the limitations of U.S. air strikes.

A History of metal detecting in 3 flyers

Heritage Action, 'A History of metal detecting in 3 flyers', The depressing cul-de-sac that is Britain's portable antiquities policy can be deduced from just three flyers. With one to print out and distribute yourself.

Tracking the Antiquities of ISIL Funding?

Now they have occupied and pacified Palmyra, Pamela Engel declares in Business Insider that "ISIS is about to make A LOT of money off (sic) 'the archaeological equivalent of a beheading'..." May 22, 2015.
Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Business Insider that ISIS makes most of its money from racketeering, which includes collecting "taxes" from the residents who live within the borders of the territory it has taken over, plundering people's homes, and looting historical sites and selling antiquities on the black market. "It’s a racket. And that’s how ISIS continues to survive and thrive," Schanzer said. "They need to jump from community to community in order to sustain themselves financially." Smugglers who talked to BuzzFeed News described Palmyra as a potential windfall to their business. One Syrian smuggler said he was sure ISIS would sell the artifacts they could get their hands on in Palmyra.
 Maybe, but only if they can get somebody to buy the antiquities. So, who is going to buy them? The hysterical warnings that "terrorists"are selling antiquities have now been trundled out almost daily for a year. ("terrorists" =ISIL, nobody else in the region with guns, because after all the US have been financing some of the others themselves).  Fine, it gets people looking askance at those no-questions-asked transactions on our antiquities market.  Certainly that is needed, and this manner of dealing in cultural property needs to end. We have seen the dealers do not take too kindly to such a notion and are putting up a (weak) fight. But the longer the story is put out, the more people other than dealer are going to ask about the details - like where are those "millions of dollars" worth of antiquities? Where are they going? Even if the market is entirely clandestine and underground, if it is on such a scale, why are not "accidents" happening and one or two shipments being seized? When journalists go on a search for the proceeds of digging, all they ever come up with a re a few scraps (handfulls of metal detector finds) and above all fakes? Is that because these journalists (or their local fixers) are no good at their job, or is there some other explanation? Or are we looking in the wrong places?

Here's a map (from Business Insider) showing a current interpretation of what ISIL holds:

ISIL terrirory (May 2015 - Business Insider)
How can ISIL make money if the material is not, in fact leaving Iraq and Syria at all? How, actually is it postulated that this stuff is leaving ISIL territory? Can somebody give us a realistic suggestion of the routes used? It's all very well making the "assumption" that it is all going across the "wild" (sic- as per Business Insider) Turkish border, but which antiquities dealers have direct or indirect business contacts with, for example, Turkey? But if that really is so, who is selling artefacts that have come onto the market through Turkey? If we believe that the contact zone between ISIL territory and Turkey is the area where this material is surfacing, maybe we need to be searching online markets for material of types found in precisely this area to see who has suppliers there. But perhaps is is wrong to concentrate our attention on this border. What about material leaving across the porous borders in Iraq? Down the Persian Gulf (to Qatar or Dubai for example)?  Or into Jordan or Saudi Arabia? Or perhaps the material is not leaving the territory of ISIL at all? Who is to say when there are assumptions, no information, and a market which hides everything? 

Friday 22 May 2015

Thoman Love Peacock's Palmyra

Palmyra (2nd edn 1812)
Thomas Love Peacock [extract]
So swift is Time's colossal stride
Above the wrecks of human pride.
These temples, awful in decay,
Whose ancient splendor half endures,
These arches, dim in parting day,
These dust-defiled entablatures,
These shafts, whose prostrate pride around
The desert-weed entwines its wreath,
These capitals, that strew the ground,
Their shattered colonnades beneath,
These pillars, white in lengthening files,
Grey tombs, and broken peristyles,
May yet, through many an age, retain
The pomp of Thedmor's wasted reign.
But Time still shakes, with giant-tread,
The marble city of the dead,
That crushed at last, a shapeless heap,
 Beneath the drifted sands shall sleep.

Thursday 21 May 2015

A Museum Curator and Some Metal Detectorists

This film would not be possible
without the help of .....
The replies to my query of 25th April about the appearance of three English local authority archaeologists in an anti-legislation campaign video by metal detectorists are coming thick and fast now. Hot on the heels of the response by a professional numismatist and an archaeologist, I now have an answer to my query from Dr Tim Pestell (Senior Curator of Archaeology, Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery). It was a very informative answer and touched on several different topics, but my main concern was to check the veracity of the film's claim that the objects hoiked by unregulated collection-driven exploitation of archaeological sites ends up in Norfolk's museums. The film producers edited what he said (0:55) to produce something like that falling from the curator's lips. In my response to this, I pointed out in reply that whether or not he sees himself as campaigning for anything, it cannot be denied that in the film under discussion, three Norfolk heritage professionals are engaged in a shallow and one-sided presentation of the issues surrounding heritage policy in a manner intended to influence public opinion. I question whether that is appropriate. Also in my reply I remarked:
In the video you say (twice) that "countries that do not record" are missing out on (object centred) information (8:12). What those watching do not learn from you includes the implications of getting that “information” from the random stripping out of diagnostic finds from surface sites by collectors. Those countries that regulate intervention on archaeological sites do so for a reason, and of course do record that which is recovered as a result of searches under a permit, and often the material is deposited in a public collection. That includes Flanders which you mention which has not repealed its 1993 legislation (unless you know otherwise).
It seems to me that Pestell is guilty of propagating myth engendered as part of PAS spin, which takes one aspect of a foreign system for heritage protection in isolation and then criticises the whole - without really understanding it. So for example in my country we have no PAS, metal detecting on archaeological sites without a permit is illegal, but we do have the AZP (which - for the record - I am not saying is without its own problems). How many British archaeologists even know what that is? Yet Poland falls into that category of (allegedly "unenlightened") places that "do not record metal detectorists finds" criticised here alongside Ireland.

Dr Pestell then explains that of the material we saw in the video (allegedly most of which was on its way to a museum where all members of the public can "learn from" it), he estimates the Museum actually only ever receives 0.5% (half a percent) of the 10000 hoiked objects reported annually. A very different picture from that presented by the tendentious propaganda video in which he appears. This is precisely what I suspected was the case. Pestell, like Marsden and Rogerson justifies (feels he has to justify) this:
This depends upon the generosity of landowners and finders and, typically, the financial value of the items found. [...] However, it would also be true to say that the vast majority of material recovered [by metal detctorists] is of limited interest to us even when recordable by the PAS. This is because it either duplicates material we already hold, or because (as with excavation), preservation by record is frequently sufficient for us to understand particular aspects of the archaeology.
I suspect here he is talking about limited use for display rather than research purposes, having two or fourteen items of the same type of brooch is far more useful in studying - for example typological variation - than having "one typical" example. Or a badly-preserved one can have a bit cut off for metallurgical analysis for example. Researchers studying groups of objects have the chance of spotting things earlier examiners missed. Kershaw in her study of Viking ornaments (to which I referred in an earlier post) gives some examples of this and points out that if 'duplicate' objects are not made available for study by being curated, the original records cannot be checked and the object examined from the point of view of aspects not originally considered - that is one of the functions of museums.

 'Preservation by record' is a fine notion only if that record is one which is properly observed and properly detailed. The superficial three-line 'descriptions' of an object passing through a recorder's hands between club meetings with no photos which we saw in some of the NMDC records to which Drs Marsden and Rogerson pointed us yesterday are  not preservation by record. If savings are made on proper storage and archiving, then adequate resources need to be in place to create an acceptable alternative. But as I remarked in response to what Dr Pestell had written:
You do not take the ‘overflowing museum storerooms’ argument to its logical conclusion. It cannot be “responsible detecting” (or anything else) for anyone to continue wanton exploiting sites for collectables in this way and generating loose material if the museums have no room to store more than a small fraction of them (and that is before we even begin to think about the costs of Treasure acquisitions etc.).
The same goes for ability to adequately document material in private temporary curatorship. But this half percent figure is very revealing:
Despite what the film says [...] your estimate indicates that 99.5% of the objects found by these people goes straight into their pockets, and not into public collections. And this is probably what Mr Nolan and his pals want – not really for learning at all, but so they can flog it off. That is the implication of your comment on the relationship between donations and "the financial value of the items found".
Has Mr Nolan ever sold - or attempted to sell - any archaeological artefacts? Maybe Dr Pestell knows the answer to that question.

What can archaeologists, professional archaeologists, do to avoid becoming entangled in the social media manipulations of interest groups such as that represented by Mr Nolan and his 'Green Light to Scrap Heritage Legislation in Ireland' campaign? Is this not covered in the UK by the Museums Association Code of Ethics and those for archaeologists (museum archaeoogists and others)?  

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