Thursday 31 December 2015

Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities Suffers Budget Cuts

The Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities has been under financial strains and is running a “huge deficit” due to severe budget cuts in recent months Minister of Antiquities Mamdooh el-Damaty announced last October in a Kafr El-Sheikh conference.
The ministry lost 90 percent of its financial resources, which has in turn stalled renovation projects and the building of new museums, he added. Al-Damati also said that the ministry's budget fell from EGP 1.3 billion to EGP 125 million and that it relies entirely on self-financing through four projects for funding. 
Apart from this, the fight with looting and trafficking takes up a lot of the Ministry's resources.

'Amenhotep III statue found in Aswan village', Aswat Masriya Thursday, December 31, 2015

Statue Found in Dealer's House

Was this photo (Al Ahram) taken 
in the dealer's house or the
antiquities storeroom?
An apparently ancient statue has been found in a raid on a house in the village of al-Nakhel near Edfu in Aswan Governorate in Egypt (Nevine El-Aref, 'King Amenhotep III statue accidently recovered in Edfu', Al-Ahram online Thursday 31 Dec 2015; 'Amenhotep III statue found in Aswan village', Aswat Masriya Thursday, December 31, 2015).
Minister of antiquities Mamdooh el-Damaty announced Thursday [...] that Public Prosecution has previously said that they had found the statue during a raid on a drug and weapons dealer’s house. [...]   the statue is made of black granite, and is in well-preserved condition. It stands at 150 cm long and represents the king, Amenhotep III, standing wearing a short kilt [... and is inscribed with] the names of the king and his titles. The minister stated that the statue has been transferred to the Edfo museum storage temporarily before the process of restoration and maintenance.
There are two things to note. Firstly, the news items do not state whether the dealer was offering the statue for sale alongside his other goods. It may have been in his possession as a trophy/status piece as one of the trappings of wealth and position, or may have been collateral on some loan or other financial transaction. Look at the surroundings in which the photos were taken.

Inscription on posterior pillar (Al Ahram)
Secondly, it seems to me from the awful photo that accompanies the article that the object is a modern replica or fake. Look at the face and eyes. The knees, calves and feet are rather awkward, the upper arms out of proportion for a royal statue, and what is the 'GP buckle' on the [surely anomalous] girdle of the shendyt kilt? (The article says this garment has an animal head, but none is visible in the photo of this object.). Or is the way this object was photographed misrepresenting its appearance? 

One wonders whether the phrase "an antiquities committee which was formed shortly afterwards to look into the status of the pharaonic piece, confirmed the statue’s antiquity " is not just a journalist's stock phrase to indicate the find is in some way important, or have Egyptian archaeologists really properly analysed this find, and only after due investigation and reflection, pronounced it authentic?
What is "black granite"? Should that not be gabbro or diorite? 

Black Market Antiquities are Fake

In Kompong Thom province, Cambodia, after nearly two weeks of undercover work, three men were arrested in a sting targeting sellers of looted, ancient statues. The three men were reportedly "all known traffickers of ancient artifacts in the area". In the sting seven statues about 30 cm high were seized, they had been offered for sale for $10,000. On examining them, it was later found that they were all worthless copies of Buddhist artefacts made of lead and copper. The three dealers will nevertheless be appearing in court.

Saing Soenthrithm, 'Sting Targeting Ancient Statue Dealers Winds Up With Fakes' Cambodia Daily News December 30, 2015.

Lenborough Farmer wants More Dosh

The landowner of the earthwork site at manor farm Lenborough, not content with the Treasure ransom from one hoiked hoard seems dead set on getting more money by selling off access to the archaeological material in the land in his care. On a metal detecting forum near you the semi-literate are advertising a "Rallie 3rd Jan 16".
Sunday 03 January, 'The Weekend Wanderes New Year Special Dig' Manor Farm Lenborough, Bucks, From Pete and Sarah
Our first dig of the year! Following the disappointment of our cancelled Xmas dig, we are pleased to say that the landowner and I have arranged for you all to return to his farm at Lenborough for a second shot at seeing if there may be subsequent hoards buried here! [...] now you know what to look out for then as you explore this 150-acre farm. [...] You have the run of the whole farm on the day but no doubt you will want to get on the hoard field! Remember that other fields have had pretty much very little exploration and are worthy of your attention. On the Xmas dig last year, Chris Wilkinson discovered a lovely Edward the Confessor penny [...] Another exciting find was made two fields away from the hoard field in June of the same year in the form of a Bronze Age gold bead [...]  but a few denarii and voided long cross pennies came up on that very wet day. Talking of the 2014 Xmas dig at Lenborough, most finds were in fact pretty deep but we saw some lovely intact very large 14th - 16th century buckles turn up. Targets were quite deep and sparse but at least you aren’t impeded by surface detritus to slow you down. A slow patient approach may well reward you! [...] the only field that is out of bounds is the deserted medieval village field. The DMV is not scheduled but I promised the FLO that we would forego searching there in consideration of the underlying archaeology.
There of course being absolutely zero, completely and utterly no archaeological evidence whatsoever about the use of the surrounding area of land (into which the ancient inhabitants never ventured for a second) in the immediately adjacent acres. Obviously therefore hoiking stuff from the area around will in no way be distorting the overall picture or preventing the understanding of the surface scatter of evidence around the settlement, will it? The FLO should be saying "keep off the area completely you greedy oiks", but she's not likely to, is she? Will she be going along to help them hoik this year too? You can bet if she does, this year there'll be no videos allowed. And the cost to these collectors of "saving the past"?
For Weekend Wanderers paid up members, the cost is £15. Non-members may come along for the day but it will be £18 for the day's dig. 
Let us see how many turn up. Hoiking starts at 9.30am and ends at dusk. There will not be a portaloo on site.

For those who missed it, the fact that these finds are "deep" meant these heritage-trashing ruffians are pilfering artefacts (potential archaeological evidence)  from an unploughed pasture site, the kind the Code of Practice (the real one, not the "just shut the gates and fill in yer oles" one) says the responsible detectorist would keep off.  By digging "deep signals" these trashers are potentially digging into those archaeological assemblages below the topsoil without any chance of observing (let alone recording) context. This is what the hoiker sees:

"Metal detecting" removes archaeological evidence selectively
 and the methods used prevent observation of any context.

and this is what often lies just below the surface on such sites. There is a clear difference in context of the two metal objects (coloured squares added by me to the original photo [excavations at Lyminge]) just centimetres apart which cannot be seen when digging narrow hoikyholes "blind" from the surface.  

Edited photo depicting two metal objects which if dug blind by
collectors from above in narrow hoikey-holes will divorce them
not only from their context of deposition but other non-metallic
elements of the archaeological assemblages of which they
form a part (original from: Lyminge Archaeology).

Obviously, no matter how you approach it, digging artefacts like this from an undisturbed grassland site with "deep signals" as part of a commercial artefact collecting rally is archaeological destruction.  Is the FLO going to tell them so? That, actually, is part of her job. Taking part in the destruction herself is not.

The FLO getting involved with some PAS-"partners"
(public outreach via Buckingham today)

Wednesday 30 December 2015

Artefact Hunting Best Practice Thought for 2016

tweeted "I don't like the term Nighthawk. There are many shades of reporting/non-reporting and law-abiding does not... [the end is lost]"
My reply: 1 min.1 minutę temu
so, why do we not all (incl. PAS) consistently use the CBA's term "knowledge theft" in our dealings with the media?
The question "why don't we" requires the answer "yes, there is no reason why we cannot, we'll do it" or "No, we cannot because ... and... and ...". Generally, however, we all know that the British Museum's PAS just avoids seeing questions like that, apparently because they have not the nouse to come up with a proper answer. I am quite happy to be proven wrong there.

Tuesday 29 December 2015

A New Definition for "Nighthawking" in Britain?

Landowner: “I’m not so worried  
about the value of what they’re stealing. 
I’m more concerned that they are raping this ground.
This is Roman history – once they have dug it up it’s gone.”

Metal detectorists are raiding ancient sites to dig up artefacts declares Cahal Milmo as if he'd discovered the wheel ('Nighthawks': Tracking the criminals plundering ancient sites with the latest equipment', Independent 30th December 2015). Here is another article that states that the term is "nighthawkers" (to shift the emphasis from collecting to selling). He also contrasts the people he is writing about with "law-abiding metal detectorists" (who he alleges "often spot nighthawkers and their wares when they are put up for sale"). Law abiding ones however also pocket stuff from sites and where there is no legal compulsion to report them, they often do not - committing knowledge theft, perfectly legally.

The article is focussed on a regurgitation of the Kingscote stakeout reported here earlier. I suppose if the journalist had been thinking about the material thrust under his nose by somebody, he'd have asked himself whether "often" is the right adverbial to use above since the three that were filmed in action were never shopped by a single "law-abiding detectorist" who recognised them. But actually thinking about issues related to artefact hunting is not something the British are very good at. They apparently prefer to cut-and-paste comforting ideas and glib phrases from others to attempting any deeper analysis. 

Mr Milmo however offers a very interesting new definition of the term “nighthawks” (which he gets right here), counteracting the standard PAS fluff-bunnyism. Oh, please let other journalists cut-and-paste this one from him:
metal detectorists who raid ancient sites to dig up artefacts, which rather than being offered for public scrutiny then disappear forever into auctions or private collections. 
So, all non-reporting artefact hunters (knowledge thieves), irrespective of where they are and whose permission they have to search-and-take. I'd like to see that definition come into wider use:

Nighthawking has been a significant problem for at least a decade, ruining important archaeological sites by extracting treasures and disturbing ground without going through the steps performed by thousands of law-abiding detectorists who record locations and submit finds for professional classification.
I guess that then leads on to the question of how effective is the record made by the PAS actually mitigating the damage caused to sites by their extraction. That is not something the Scheme's supporters are very keen to discuss.

A site very close to my heart where  I spent months trying to tease information from the scant finds assemblage from chance finds responsibly reported and an old (1864) excavation is wide open to this kind of theft. This angers me, as it will refer to the shore fort and monastic site: 
Another Roman site at Bradwell in Essex was attacked earlier this month, leaving the landscape pockmarked with tell-tale holes.
Again, another tekkie mantra rolled out. Something is going badly wrong with the British heritage debate.  It is not the unfilled holes that is the problem here. It is the pocketing of precious evidence from an important and very sensitive site.

The article then talks of a "tightening of the law" (sic) "and a nationwide operation to crackdown on illegal metal detecting". I doubt however that by this the journalist actually means the phenomenon he described in his definition above. This is just so much feel-good verbal fluff as is the usual fare rolled out for the British reading public on portable antiquities issues.

There is an interesting statistic - but unsourced. The Oxford Archaeology "Nighthawking Report" infamously (and, I would say, erroneously) came to the conclusion that "because of the PAS", illegal artefact hunting was on the decline in England. The journalist disagrees:
The Independent understands that some 140 cases of nighthawking have been reported over the last five years as illegal detectorists invest up to £5,000 a time in night vision goggles and sophisticated detecting equipment, much of which comes with a GPS monitor to enable thieves to pinpoint locations. Finds are sold on auction sites or by word of mouth between nighthawkers. Some more valuable finds are even illegally exported abroad. [...] Mark Horton, professor of archaeology at Bristol University [...] said: “My feeling is that the scale of the problem is vast. Sites like the one we investigated have clearly been systematically looted for the last 10 to 15 years and that is just one of hundreds of sites
So, is illegal artefact hunting 'on the decline', or is there in fact continuous looting going on in precisely the period of an increase in joyful Treasure-filled press releases from the PAS highlighting the buried riches in Britain's fields? What do you think is the more likely?

FLOs on Heritage Crime

There seems to be some muddled thinking about heritage crime in Portable Antiquities circles. An article in the Independent about lead roofing theft from Medieval churches prompted this tweet from J.D. Jobswerth the FLO for Barssetshire:
J.D. Jobswerth ‏@jdjobswo 6 godz.6 godzin temu
Good article, but falls short of making the distinction between those lead thieves who report so the parishoners know its gone, and those who don't. …
Well, that example is fictional, but at least two Portable Antiquities Scheme Finds Liaison Officers  think and say something perfectly analogous:
Julie Cassidy podał/a dalej
6 godzin temu Good article, but falls short of making the distinction between legal detectorists who report, and those who don't. …
These people are paid from the public purse to "outreach" to the public on portable antiquities matters. This sort of fluff-bunny claptrap is NOT giving the public who pay for it any substantive information about the full range of issues surrounding portable antiquities, their extraction from the archaeological record for personal entertainment and profit. It is merely a glib and unreflexive repetition of the "we are not nighthawks" pseudo-justification of the artefact hunters themselves.

Perhaps, as we enter 2016, the nineteenth year of PAS operation, we might see the PAS start to fulfil the function they are paid to do with a little more dedication to giving a more balanced and less dumbdown view.

Don't hold you breath. Neither Mr Daubney, not Ms Cassidy will even notice comments are being made on their social media "outreach", here or anywhere else, my FOI earlier this year showed that FLOs do not follow any kind of heritage debate. Neither of course need anyone anticipate that they will be capable of providing any kind of response. 2016: Plus ça change.

UPDATE 8th August 2016
Well, some time between then and now, Mr Daubney decided to block me from his twitter account so I cannot see what further things he is writing - or not writing. There is PAS transparency and confidence in the possibilities of social media for public debate for you. Oh, and of course Julie Cassidy too. Not that she ever had very much to say.


Monday 28 December 2015

British tabloid and US dealer reveal the Truth about Artefact Hunting?

Apparently a US coin dealer is telling an artefact collectors' forum that "the world of metal detecting is "not what Barfy [sic] would have us think it is"...". That is rich coming from an individual who has amply demonstrated that his knowledge of anything connected with archaeology and British artefact hunting and collecting can be written on one side of a very small coin envelope with a lot of space round the edges. Anyway read what David Knell has to say on the matter, and decide whose thought-processes are lacking (the author of the PACHI blog or the dullard dealers who always try to dismiss without understanding the points made here).

Sunday 27 December 2015

Telling it Like it is - Rarely

A few speak out, while timid jobsworths stay silent
Breaking the embarrassed silence from most of the country's archaeological community (Rescue being a rare exception, there is a critical Reddit comment too), Craig Spence ‏@cgspence (Early modern historian, archaeologist, academic, from Lincoln) referring to a tweet by Duncan Wright about the Merthyr Tydfil artefact hoiker is not afraid to call a spade a spade:
Found by and trashed by a - just look at the 3ft deep holes he admits digging
David R. Howell @Kasuutta (lLecturer on heritage at Cardiff University) also says he spots a difference between artefact hoiking and research:
David R. Howell ‏@Kasuutta 13 godzin temu Should be a good story, but look at the last picture. #notarchaeology - Bouncer 'puts holes in' possible Roman town …
He adds two hours later:
WalesOnline is also calls this metal detectorist a 'historian', others cite him as an 'amateur historian'; I fancy being an amateur surgeon.  [...] [enlarging:]  To clarify, esp for undergrad students who might be confused - picking up a metal detector does not convey the status of 'historian' on you. 
Are there undergraduates who are confused about this? And the PAS is where, precisely? Today's undergraduates come from the same public that they've been taking money for outreaching to for coming up to two decades now. What progress can they claim if such a basic issue remains unresolved?

[Lorna Richardson has for some reason I cannot fathom blocked me, so I can't tell you what she said.]

British heritage professionals (sic) seem in this regard to be operating on the basis of a "public information by osmosis" model. 

"History" (artefacts) Found in Merthyr Tydfil

Mr Thomas appears to have been
painting the site in this photo from
Merthyr Tydfil Leisure Trust
Now there is going to be a "community archaeology project" on a site dug by a Mertyr Tydfil man (Sophie Gidley, 'Bouncer unearths possible Roman town in Merthyr Tydfil', BBC News 27 December 2015):
Bouncer and local historian Anthony Thomas, 45, has found a series of crop marks believed to date back to Roman times. [...]  Mr Thomas [has found] coins, pottery, broaches [sic], tiles, beads, cut wood and lead weights [...] I've found more than 100 pieces of Roman artefacts from the field," he said. "I always thought, there's got to be a Roman building, so I kept on going. "I started digging holes up there to see what more I could find, and about 3ft (0.9m) down I found the tops of walls which I believe are part of a Roman town. "I'm really excited by it all."
Note that "local historian" bit. Is there any embarrassment in the finder revealing what his hobby is? Here he is on the 'Detecting Wales' forum ('Hi from Merthyr Tydfil', January 23, 2011 original orthography):
Hi all Just come across this wicked forum and website. My name is Anthony Thomas and i live in Merthyr Tydfil and have been a fan of metal detecting since i was a kid and have been doing it now in all about 2-3 year's. Iv even just started my own website to hopefully meet and see what others have found in the merthyr area. [...]  look forward to meeting u all.
These are some of Mr Thomas' three-feet deep "excavations".

"Local historian"? Gopher more like.
Isn't this type of destruction the PAS is there to prevent? How come, after eighteen years of expensive public 'outreach', the BBC is presenting this type of thing as a legitimate piece of research?

Sad News from Texas Tragedy

The photos of the tornado damage to property to the northwest of Dallas are truly shocking. Among the many affected and in our prayers, metal detectorist hate-blogger Dick Stout reports he has lost his home overnight. Heartfelt sympathy for all the victims of this tragedy, whoever they are.
UPDATE 28th Dec 2015
In the cold light of dawn, the extent of the damage becomes more visible, this photo is from Rowlett, where the artefact hunter lives. Obviously (and without downplaying the horrible human tragedy visible here), with reference to the 'Good Home' argument offered by complacent US collectors), any collected antiquities and historical objects in these homes , even in one of the rich states of the USA, could potentially be under as much threat of loss and damage as they were in many a source country:

Damage to residential area at Rowlett, TX
John Winter covers the subject in his post "My Friend Dick Stout" apparently there is a  "Gofundme" page where donations to Mr Stout and his family can be made to help them out before the insurance money comes through. 

Friday 25 December 2015

Stolen Paintings: Dutch Silent Embarrassed Foot Shuffling

Veronika Melkozerova
The Dutch story about who has the paintings which mysteriously disappeared from a provincial museum a decade ago [Westfries Museum Theft] is falling apart.  I was drawing attention to the gaping holes in the story from the beginning - for which I was blocked from reading and discussion of Mr Brand's updates where the "investigator" tried to fudge over the discrepancies. Now the whole edifice is being called into question (Veronika Melkozerova, 'Revisiting case of stolen Dutch art work'  Kyiv Post  Dec. 24, 2015):
The picture of what’s going on with stolen Dutch artwork allegedly found in Ukraine just gets cloudier and cloudier. On Dec. 7, the Westfries Museum in Hoorn, the Netherlands accused a Defense Ministry battalion that formerly was the OUN volunteer unit, top officials of the nationalist Svoboda Party and former Security Service chief Ukraine Valentyn Nalyvaychenko of blackmail. [...] The Dutch said all their accusations were based on the results of a private investigation by Dutch art detective Arthur Brand, who was hired by the museum to track down the works. But after 20 days of investigation led by Ukrainian and Dutch law enforcement agencies, the museum changed its position and stopped commenting publicly. Geerdink is no longer linking Tyahnybok and Nalyvaychenko to the case [...]  now Brand doesn’t even talk to the press anymore [...] The SBU [Sluzhba Bezpeky Ukrayiny PMB] has denied Brand’s latest claims, and the investigation continues.
"At least", Melkozerova observes, "the Dutch prevented their sale so far on the black market, their stated goal for holding the attention-grabbing Dec. 7 news release". I have very grave reservations about the ethicality of such a mud-slinging stunt in desperation, it remains to be seen if any sale has been prevented, the the mud-slingers were out to damage the reputation of Ukraine, quite clearly with no intention of issuing any kind of retraction. These "investigators" should take into account that this sort of thing potentially has wide repercussions well beyond their narrow parochial interests. The publication of these accusations in such a way is simply crude political blackmail and something museums should not be involved in. Scandalous behaviour.

Previous texts on this blog:

Tinfoil Hats ON (Dutch Painting Affair)
Ukraine "Stolen Dutch Paintings" Story Changed Again

UPDATE 26th December 2015
The tabloid newspaper Telegraaf  Oleh Tyhanybok has already been questioned by the Kiev police about the accusations that he was involved in the fencing of 24 stolen Dutch paintings. It reports that his phone had been tapped. It seems the Dutch authorities love phone-tapping, it is pretty endemic over there (here, here, here and here), and it seems they're happy to see such intrusive behaviour spread to east-central Europe too.

Thursday 24 December 2015

Christmas, a Family Occasion

 'Allegro', Polish auction portal advertising film: "and you, what are you looking for this Christmas?"

Their advertising is pretty slick (this one is, I think, pretty good too).

Linguist Jakub Marian has translated different European names for Father Christmas into English (Helena Horton, 'John Chimney' and the Christmas goat - brilliant map shows who delivers the presents to different countries in Europe' Telegraph 21 Dec 2015)

I was interested in the distribution of 'Grandfather Frost' folklore, what is that about? Merry Christmas to all my readers.

Wednesday 23 December 2015

"Detectorists" Christmas Special

"Detectorists" Christmas Special Wednesday 23rd Dec BBC4, 10pm UK time.

UPDATE 23rd Dec 2015
We learnt that the filming of part of it had involved Treasure Unit staff and I speculated that they'd been refused a Treasure award because they'd hoiked from a known site. Obviously I was expecting too much there.... In the plot the finder is not finding anything, thinks there is a curse and tries to deal with it. He first thinks the problem is that "Earth has one less secret" and thinks of taking the jewel back, but meets a seriously nerdy BM Treasure registrar who informs him he can always "donate" the object, but Lance takes the Treasure ransom money and goes to a well-known London coin store, buys a bag full of sovereign coins and buries them in the field which apparently lifts the curse. He can find "hammies" again. Phew.

Despite what the real Treasure Registrar is attempting to suggest (for reasons best known to himself), most detectorists take the money. How many then squander it like Lance is beyond our knowledge.

The scene with the local newspaper journalist is a classic, and sharply illustrates how the media reports which the public read are focussed on particular issues to the detriment of any real information about the issues involved.

Vignette: Christmas elf detecting.

Ukraine "Stolen Dutch Paintings" Story Changed Again

Arthur Brand has blocked me from seeing his tweets keeping other folk up to date on developments in the "Stolen Dutch paintings in Ukraine" story (or rather how many newspapers mention his name). He has however published a blog post on the topic, and shows how unstable the story (and basis for his allegations) is.

The text is called "Security service and politicians of Ukraine are in possession of stolen paintings" and was published on 8th Dec 2015

There are several telling differences in emphasis between this text and what Brand and others have said elsewhere, such as here:
"Early 2014 a colour photograph of Rebecca and Eliezer by Jan Linsen, suddenly appeared on a Russian website".
[compare the victim museum's "last year, one of the stolen paintings first appeared on a Ukrainian website"]. This is yet another example of the Dutch trying to confuse Russian and Ukrainian. The version of Humaniuk's "my men" has now been changed completely:
It then turned out that Humeniuk had been sent by his superiors with the task of getting a 10% reward of 5 million Euros. [...] Humeniuk wanted to consult his superiors and although he had been friendly, Brand and the Westfries Museum did not trust him nor the people he worked for, whoever they might be.

So, "my superiors" or "my men"? Where is this "film" you claim to have made Mr Brand? Let's hear it. Having now invented a new thread in the story, these "superiors" (and not "my men") there comes the issue of identifying them:
Meanwhile an extensive network was consulted about who the superiors of Humeniuk could possibly be. Soon, a right wing politician whose party maintains close ties to the OUN battalion, came up with some interesting information. [...] “Humeniuk is only a middleman. This goes up to the highest echelons; one of the two men who sent him is Oleh Tyahnybok, leader of the far-right nationalist party Svoboda…” [...]  Soon the information provided by the contact proved to be true. [....] According to the [same] politician [...] the group that was in possession of the paintings, was not only managed by Tyahnybok but also by Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, who had also sent Humeniuk to meet with Brand.
Well, I can think of no end of "right wing politicians' that would say anything they can to discredit those who they see as their opponents. There is nothing offered to give this story credibility except this unnamed informant is in a party which "maintains close ties to the OUN battalion", so one of Tyahnybok's rivals - not exactly, one would have thought (unless you are a Dutch "investigator" trying to prove a point), the most reliable source of objective facts.

For the Dutch of course, Nalyvaichenko (for example here and here ) with the events surrounding the aftermath of the shooting down of MH17 (many of the passengers of which were Dutch), which may explain why the mud-slingers want to give him bad press.

 Then there is the bit about the (in)famous photo with the newspaper:
To make sure that the paintings actually existed and that they were in possession of the OUN battalion, the two negotiators asked for a photograph. A photograph of the painting A Peasant Wedding by Hendrick Bogaert together with a recent newspaper, was made available.
The words "was made available" hide the fact that the post to which the photo was appended clearly originated in a Russian, not Ukrainian, email account. Does the Museum's "investigator" consider it likely that the OUP unit (fighting the Russian-speaking rebels) send each other emails in Russian? Why? Why is this discrepancy not explained by Brand? Does it not rather conflict with the story the "investigator" is trying to promote?

Why is Brand, "the man who" (allegedly) "found Hitler's horses" so anxious to pin this on Ukrainian "fascists" when several pieces of evidence point to a different group entirely? Does it provide better publicity to be able to illustrate the article with a seated man giving the Roman salute (Hitlergruß)? Does he imagine he can force the Ukrainians to react by making such accusations on such flimsy hearsay evidence (when he does not even speak the language)?

[Westfries Museum Theft]

Incoherent FLO Interview

Metal detectorist "gardansolyn" has posted a video called "FLO Interview" on You Tube. If I was to set about creating a caricature of a tekkie and his "views" and mannerisms, this is what it'd look like. At the beginning he is seen firming down a clod of turf after he's hoiked and pocketed something, and stating that he thinks that "it's a part' ov being a responsible detectrist". No, being a responsible artefact hunter is not only connected with shutting farm gates but reducing and mitigating the damage done to the archaeological record (innit?).

Also, he says "annuver fing, always make sure you record your finds, a lo'a people arn't sure what is Treasure and what is not Treasure, what should be recorded and what shouldn't (sic)". It seems to me whether something is Treasure or not is by no means the only criterion determining whether it needs recording to qualify as a "responsible detectorist".

Anyway, just to make sure that fellow detedctorists know about responsibly reporting Treasure finds, he goes along to Annie Byard ("from the Oxfordshire FLO [sic]"), when she is very very busy at a commercial rally, no less, and asks her... all about the Treasure Act (!).  There were 75 people there, 68 finds recorded, the rest being pocketed without record.

After she's reiterated what the Treasure Act is and how it works, he then stumbles through a question about how the "contribution" of Treasure Hunting contributes to "preserving British history". This provided the FLO with a key opportunity for some pukka online archaeological outreach, hoiking artefacts does not preserve anything much. That's not what the lady in the yellow anorak said though. She fluffed it. "You're doing well".

He then gets her to say that in countries with different laws a PAS would be a better way of dealing with preserving the archaeological record than leaving in situ and preventing its commercial exploitation. This whole bit of hers from here to here are an egregious example of PAS-based  ignorance and arrogance. No Ms Byard a PAS would not be "very successful" [to record finds]" in countries where pilfering the archaeological record for collectables is illegal.  Making it legal so you can then set up a PAS to record what is hoiked is not any kind of solution to anything. What nonsense.

"Have we got it right?" asks Gary the tekkie. The answer is surprising: "good question, I've not really thought about that one" (prompting the question, what do FLOs think about?) I suggest that FLOs might do well to think about things like how what they do fits into the wider scheme of things. I would say that is fundamental to giving answers to questions from the public (who pay for what they do) precisely like that one. But then engaging in any form of heritage debate seems to be the last thing most FLOs are in any way equipped for.

It goes from bad to worse, the FLO is induced into saying that "organized digs" (ie commercial rallies) is the key ("yes" she blurts out). Did she really mean to say that? We get almost to the end of the video (451s.) before the FLO imparts the information that she is there not for Treasure but non-Treasure items. And then propaganda, stopping at the base of the topsoil. Listening, Ms Tyrell?

UPDATE 23.12.15
I wonder whether that interview would have looked different if, instead of a dozy artefact collector, Ms Byard had me in front of her looking her right in the eye and asking the same questions.
1) Would she say that responsible detecting is just following the Treasure Act and knowing what to report, or is there more to it than that?
2) To what extent would she say artefact hunting and collecting "preserves history"?
3) Is the Portable Antiquities Scheme the "answer" to the problem of the exploitation of the archaeological record as a source of collectables? (Careful with the answer to that one Ms B.)
4) Don't commercial metal detecting rallies lead to damage to the archaeological record?
5) Are the PAS only interested in artefacts made of metal? Why do metal objects and coins in particular far outnumber any other type of archaeological material on the PAS database when 'in the ground' they are far rarer? What does this tell us about the way these "data" (I use the term loosely) are gathered?
6) Would she consider that a metal detectorist that has dug any item, regardless of whether it is Treasure or not, from undisturbed layers under ploughsoil has done "well", or something reprehensible? 
I bet she'd have given me different answers to the tekkie-favouring fluff we hear in the video. The question is why. Why can the public not expect to hear it how it is from an archaeologist employed by the PAS? Why should they hear a different message from the same official of a public body depending on who she's addressing? The job of the FLO is to do outreach, and that outreach has to be consistent and coherent. Ms Byard, you are perfectly welcome, indeed invited, to answer those questions in the comments section below. I bet you won't though - but I suggest you save the fluffy bunny crap for the section of the public you are more comfortable addressing, slow-thinking people in baseball caps.

Loopy Bonkers Treasure Boogaloo

 Julie quotes Dot who quotes Ian:
podał/a dalej
Dot Boughton podał/a dalej Treasure Registrar
Love this! What a fabulous find and donation- how generous!!
Dot Boughton dodał/a,
Early Xmas gift for ; finder & landowner donate BA gold basket ornaments
What's with the "how generous"? The Heritage BELONGS to All, even in England. What these people are saying is that in Bonkers Britain this is the exception and not the rule. Mr Richardson, please show I am wrong and publish the real breakdown of the spun figures. Why do we get this obfuscatory wool-over-the-eyes crap from a public body?

New Year's resolution proposal for the entire PAS: tell it like it is in 2016. Scared?

Tuesday 22 December 2015

More Muddled Museums

This is getting to be pretty routine, four years after the public phase of the investigations began, yet another museum is "surprised" to find it had acquired artefacts from a dealer accused of dodgy activities, this one in Canada (Murray Whyte, 'ROM artifacts part of investigation into looted antiquities' Toronto Star, Tue Dec 22 2015):
Two objects in the Royal Ontario Museum collection were acquired from an antiquities dealer suspected by U.S. authorities of smuggling.
Such is the muddle in their paperwork that they cannot find out how much they paid for an object bought in 2006. Time for museums to clean up their act. Scandalous.

Vignette: Moi aussi

Is Antiquities Collecting a Fad?

Citing a 'Lifestyles' article in the Telegraph, AntiquitiesCoalition ‏(@CombatLooting 8 godzin temu) remark:
Antique prices fall, buyers find new era of interest - could a time come when ancient heritage isn’t a trend? 
Vignette: hula hoop

OMEX Morphs into MOS

A good piece by Andy Brockman on the recent transformations (or not) of Odyssey Marine Explorations into "Magellan Offshore Services"('OMEX Offloads Shipwreck Risk to Coin Dealer' thePipeLine December 23, 2015).
This latest regeneration sees Odyssey Marine Exploration’s shipwreck business transformed from the NASDAQ listed reality TV action heroes of Discovery’s much missed infomercial series “Treasure Quest,” to becomes a mere jobbing service provider, paid on a costs plus percentage basis, just like the rest of the marine salvage industry. [...] [as] an “affiliate” of California based rare coin dealer and wholesaler Monaco Financial LLC called “Magellan Offshore Services”. 

Monday 21 December 2015

England December 2015

Lives in Land (Amazon)
Throughout my working life the excavations of Mucking Essex have run through it like a thread. The project started exactly fifty years ago on September 5th 1965. I worked on the excavations (where I first met my Polish wife), and in three phases of the post-excavation process and have been involved in the writing of this final report (Lives in Land) which has just come out. It was a massive effort by a group of highly competent professionals. A number of its co-authors and others gathered in the Society of Antiquaries on Wednesday to celebrate the launch. It was amazing seeing again people many of whom I'd not seen thirty years or so. It was nice to catch up, but so little time. There were three excellent speeches and a toast to the memory of the late Director of the original project. Wonderful, I am glad I could attend.

Archaeologists at the Antiqs

It was a trip filled with nostalgia for me, even when I've been back to England, I tended to stay away from central London (where I studied). Staying with my sister in the posh parts of Watford I took the opportunity to go in and explore my old haunts by foot. I've had a hankering for the same vegetable samosas which used to be a staple diet for student Barford working late in the library or lab, and went on a hunt for them. The grubby little pavement-side bars which sold them in Tottenham Court Road are now banks, boutiques or glass and steel sushi bars. I obviously would have to go further afield, to Edgeware road. In my day the street was fronted on both sides with grubby little shops that sold electronic components and equipment, car radios, audio equipment and here and there were food bars. Now it is filled with cleaner shops and restaurants run by Moslems, Edgeware Road (built by the Romans) has become a major centre for London's immigrant Moslem community, the richer ones at the south end near Marble Arch and the poorer ones in the cheaper properties out beyond  Marylebone Road. Fascinating.

Talking of food,  this is one of the saddest things I saw in a department store in Watford.
Christmas a la Brit
This sums it all up, ready to heat Christmas meal. WTF? This is why instant-gratification artefact hunting is so popular over there. In a big WH Smiths in the shopping centre, the gum-chewing blondie shop assistant gave me a blank look when asked where they had the metal-detecting magazines. Look where in the end I found "Treasure Hunter" (with the PAS report no less) and "Searcher", not in "hobbies" but:

Cultural 'eritidge in Smiffs

Cultcha wiv a capitil 'c', English style. You'll be getting a review of these two magazine when I've fully unpacked. Meanwhile downstairs in the "books",  this is the "history" section of the same shop.

Passinitly intrestid in istry, are ya?

In my local shopping centre in Poland in a small outlet of the equivalent seller (the "Empik" chain) the section "Historia" is three times that size.

Back to food and Muslims, this also saddened me, a pretty girl in a hijab selling Cornish pasties (another thing on my London bucket list, pasty, not hijab). many of the food stores are staffed by girls in hijabs. But I was disturbed to see that on this stall she was also required by the franchise to serve passengers 'hot bacon baps'.
Bacon butties served with a smile (Liverpool Street station)
I decided not to ask her about it, but I hope sincerely that (as this is England where food has lost contact with the reality of nature) the 'bacon' served by this franchise is as fake as the antiquities many English sellers flog. I hope it is reconstituted pink slime. Serves the brits right for metal detecting.

Actor's Skull to return to Mongolian Government

What does an actor do with a Tarbosaur skull
when he's got it home? (Nicholas Cage)
Actor Nicolas Cage agrees to return rare stolen skull of dinosaur Tyrannosaurus bataar to Mongolian Government ABC 22.12.15
[a man reported to be Hollywood actor Nicolas Cage] has agreed to turn over a rare stolen dinosaur skull he bought for $US276,000 ($382,000) to US authorities so it can be returned to Mongolia. [...]  the skull [w]as [...] bought at auction from Beverly Hills gallery I.M. Chait in March 2007 for $US276,000. [...]  The actor is not accused of wrongdoing, and authorities said the owner voluntarily agreed to turn over the skull after learning of the circumstances.  [...]  The I.M. Chait gallery had previously purchased and sold an illegally smuggled duck-billed dinosaur skeleton from convicted palaeontologist Eric Prokopi, whom US Attorney Preet Bharara called a "one-man black market in prehistoric fossils". The gallery has not been accused of wrong-doing. A representative did not return a request for comment. [...]  Prokopi [...] pleaded guilty in December 2012 to smuggling a nearly complete Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton out of Mongolia's Gobi desert and was later sentenced to three months in prison. As part of his guilty plea, Prokopi helped prosecutors recover at least 17 other dinosaur fossils.
Reportedly, Cage outbid fellow movie star Leonardo DiCaprio for the skull. How can a dealer not be accused of wrong-doing when caught handling stolen goods? No wonder "They can't touch you for it legality" is such a common approach in the collecting world. The skull is not Tyranosaurus but Tarbosaurus, that's the point.

Is the German Cultural Property Protection Act to be welcomed?

'Is the German Cultural Property Protection Act to be welcomed?', two opinions from Apollo Magazine: 'NO' (Galerie Günter Puhze Freiburg), 'YES' Michael Henker (President of ICOM Germany) which shows the divide between commerce and the rest of us.

Lenborough Anglo Saxon coin hoard pledges reach £12,000

Each coin pseudo-methodologically individually numbered
on the table-top, no position-related numbers were assigned
at all to them while they were in the ground. To the universal
praise of PAS colleagues they were tipped out loose from
a carrier bag onto the farmer's table (photo British Museum)

BBC, 'Lenborough Anglo Saxon coin hoard pledges reach £12,000', 19 December 2015
A museum fighting to keep a hoard of Anglo Saxon coins in the county where it was found has attracted £12,000 in donation pledges [...] The hoard was declared treasure by an inquest in November and is now at the British Museum awaiting valuation. Once this is known, trustees will decide whether the Bucks County Museum has enough money to buy the collection.[...] It is the largest Anglo Saxon coin hoard discovered since the Treasure Act was introduced in 1996 and is thought to be worth up to £1.3m.
In a non-bonkers country, a museum would not be "fighting" to secure the country's heritage and the public would not be being asked to dig into their pockets to buy "back" their own heritage from Treasure hunters.   I think the museum should display a few selected originals alongside a heap of shiny replicas for display value and the Treasure hunters and ticket-selling farmer can shove the rest on the market which would depress prices and make coins already in collections lose value. That is what Britain's damaging bonkers "heritage policy" should do - actually be a policy.

Soil Analysis and Artefacts

Breakfast with Dorothy, Dealers, then the Dodgies

A while ago the newspapers carried a few stories written by journalists who'd been taken by colleagues to London dealers and been shown material which they said was (potentially) "ISIL loot artefacts" which was on openly on display. I was curious to see for myself how this looks on the ground and taking the opportunity of being in London for a book launch, I asked one of those colleagues where they'd been, and he did not give me names but indicated they'd been to "New Bond Street". On Wednesday I met Dorothy Lobel King (PhDiva) and persuaded her to take me to some leading West End dealers and have a look with me.

Readers of past posts in my (and her), blog will know that I have not always been on what one might term "good terms" with Dorothy. That is behind us now, but I was very curious to meet her in person and at the same time was a little apprehensive about it. She is however a lovely, warm generous person, with a most unexpected laugh. It was great fun. I am not going to embarrass her by saying which dealers we visited, let us say that several of them have one time or another been mentioned  in this blog- some as trying to be good guys and some in rather less warm terms. They were all within a stone's throw of New Bond Street. The dealers we visited on 16th December were chosen by Dorothy. I had never been in any of them before, and it was quite an eye-opener.

I am proud to say I behaved myself, no ranting, no arm waving, no expletives. I suspect the nice well-spoken young ladies who let us in had no idea that they'd just let one of their biggest "enemies" in among the shiny cases. They would have seen, I think, that while ms Lobel King looked like a million dollars, I was not really dressed  like someone that has 30000 quid in my pocket for what they sold, but all were very polite,  and answered all my questions very patiently. Thanks. This was even when I failed the "Sassanian helmet test" (misremembering details of a Gorny and Mosch sale - I suggested it was from western Europe - a sharp little giggle from Ms King and the gallery owner glowered). Oh well.

I saw nothing there that was Syrian - nothing that would lead me to write that there were ISIL antiquities on open sale in central London. That is not to say that some of the more nondescript items were not (Dorothy was not impressed by my confessed lack of knowledge about Islamic ceramics) but on the whole it seems from what I saw this week that such claims would be exaggerated (see below). There were two 'South Arabian' pieces in two different galleries but one was (I think) a fake and for the other, the dealer insisted he had documents of a collecting history going back to the 1950s.

What else did I see? Two things surprised me when you got up close and familiar with these things being sold by top-end dealers. The first is how incredibly badly these objects are cleaned and conserved. By that I do not mean they are dirty, but the conservation methods applied were totally inappropriate and unskilled. The above-mentioned helmet had bronze and silver plates riveted onto an iron rimband, the latter had corroded  and the rust had just been taken down very roughly with a rotary grinder. Iron corrosion products inside suggest that it had been buried with a chainmail neckguard folded inside, all of that had been stripped out. Brrrrrr. A marble statue had been wire-brushed and was scratched all over. The cartonnage from the back interior surface of a 'Late period' anthropoid sarcophagus (a horrible piece of painting anyway) had clearly at one stage been separated into three smaller (suitcase size) pieces for transport and then mounted together [this one had old animal glue as a consolidant suggesting that this mistreatment is old]. A bronze vessel had extensive areas of restoration which were then painted, and the paint carried up over the original patina of the surviving elements, giving them a richer colour. A large piece of a larger hieroglyphic inscription had been separated from what clearly had been a massive block and reduced to a slab 3-4 cm thick by chiselling rather than sawing (this also I think was old work). Some of the Islamic pottery (especially in one gallery) had some appallingly amateurish restoration. I would suggest that this does not really suggest that these items have been above ground for any time. It seems to me that the amateurish conservation may have been done by people working for middlemen in the source country. Had they passed through several collections of wealthy collectors in that state, I would expect the 'rawness' to have been taken off some of the pieces, and that ceramic and metal vessel would be taken down and redone by proper conservators. The fact that they have not suggests that this object is only relatively recently sourced.

The other thing which surprised me was to find objects in even these galleries which to my eye did not look particularly convincing as authentic artefacts (I thought it a bit crass to ask whether they do COAs). There was one statue which stylistically and formally was wrong, wrong, wrong (though was a nice piece of stone). Another, although it was very convincing and nicely aged/distressed, was in a stone which simply was not used in the region. It struck me that this might be the reason why the majority of the dealers displayed their goods without labels. This may flatter the buyer that his or her judgement is so good that they are expected to 'know' but the thing is that identifications are given word of mouth, and not a written statement. My guess is that if an object is inauthentic it makes a difference legally if the object is bought "as seen" rather than "as described (in a text) [look, I snapped this on my i-phone]".  

When I was deprived of the delightful company of Dorothy, I decided to continue the quest. Following a suggestion from her, I came across some "interesting" material in an indoor market near the place we'd eaten breakfast served by an attentive young girl whose accent suggested she may well speak better Polish than me. In the front of the building were antiques (I should say "antiques" in the case of some of the 'oriental' stuff) but as you penetrated further towards the back.... Oh dear. Asking at the front desk for "Roman coins" led me to a talkative Moroccan right on the edge of the market with a pile of little antiquities of metal pottery and glass. I would say about 40% of it was authentic. A lot of small coloured glass fragments. The bulk was fakes of varying degrees of competence of Egyptian and Byzantine stuff. The whole lot could have been from an Egyptian source. The guy was not at all averse to me photographing them. Going round the corner I found more of them. One memorable boutique was selling mostly Arabic, Persian and similar calligraphy and manuscript pages. Decorative stuff. If that is original, it would be interesting to know how it got on the market - I have no idea what they were but looked pretty convincing to me. That's more than one can say about the antiquities. Load of crap. There were some lamps going cheap in polythene packets with bows sold as Christmas presents - yuk. Over to the right were more expensive ones (75 quid each). When for the name of the country of origin, I was told "Byzantium". I did not press the point, although a type that is found in Syria these were all fake. As, I would say, were most of the 'glyphic' items this seller had. On and on it went, shop after shop with rows and rows of little objects, with a high proportion of fakes. One dealer objected to me photographing his storefront and came rushing out waving his hands.  So I went in to see what he had to hide. The rather crude 'ancient' Egyptian figure in the window clearly painted with poster paints (yes, really) was on sale the told me for ten thousand quid, and the spouted medieval lamps with the modern glaze on them were a 'steal' at 750 quid, caveat emptor sine documenta as they say.

Obviously I could go on, but although there were small authentic items here (I am sure I'd have been told "from an old collection, but I've lost the paperwork, and not-at-all-slipped-out-in-pockets") it seems to me that this end of the London antiquities market is full of fakes. That is moderately good news for the heritage, more bothersome for buyers given the total and scandalous lack of regulation of this market. Anyway, most of the (authentic) material I saw seemed to me to be likely to mostly be from Egypt rather than Syria/Iraq.

Damaging the Archaeological Record: The Lenborough Hoard

Horde digs hoard

Archaeological disaster: One year ago today.
David Gill, 'Damaging the Archaeological Record: The Lenborough Hoard'

Sunday 20 December 2015

False Collecting History Supplied by MD

Jason Felch's research has turned up another false collecting history for an object sold by a New York dealer ('Ball State’s Kapoor Return Reveals New False Provenance', November 17, 2015). An Indiana museum bought a Chola-period sculpture of Shiva and Parvati from Subhash Kapoor in April 2005 for $100,000.
Kapoor presented paperwork showing it had been in a private collection since 1969. But images seized from Kapoor show he only acquired the bronze in 2004. At the time, it was covered in dirt and missing several pieces
It turns out that the object was sold with a letter which falsely declared that the object had been above ground before 2004. This had been written for Kapoor by Leo Figiel,
a collector of Indian art who died in 2013. The Peabody Essex Museum [...]  acquired Figiel’s collection of antique Indian bronzes in 2006. Figiel provided Kapoor with this false letter claiming he acquired the bronze from “a European collection in 1969”.
One wonders what it is that drives collectors to write and sign letters like these for a dealer. Is this something every collector will do to win a dealer's favour? What to do about the objects collected by people who have no compunction about telling an outright lie for a stranger, how many of them too have a diodgy provenance, possibly fudged by similarly dodgy paperwork? In what other areas of their life might they have been deceitful (this guy appears to have been a doctor)? Do they ever think of the consequences of being caught out lying? Mr Figiel is dead, his family however have to live with this.

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