Thursday 31 March 2016

Senior Bulgarian Civil Servant Caught with Diverse Collection of Archaeological Artifacts

News conference showing archaeological
artefacts and coins seized from two alleged
treasure hunters. Photo:
Lobbyist for the dugup antiquities trade Peter Tompa thinks metal detecting is legal in Bulgaria and it should be 'regulated'. It seems Bulgarian authorities have been doing what the American suggested (Ivan Dikov ' Senior Bulgarian Civil Servant Caught with Diverse Collection of Archaeological Artifacts, Coins in Anti-Treasure Hunting Raid' Archaeology in Bulgaria March 31, 2016)  In Haskovo, Haskovo Province in southern Bulgaria, not far from the borders with Greece and Turkey:
A senior Bulgarian civil servant has been arrested together with an accomplice for alleged treasure hunting and illegal possession of valuable archaeological artifacts and coins, some of which said to be dating back to 2,500 BC. Stanislav Stanilov, 46, who is the Director of Bulgaria’s State Archive Agency in the southern city of Haskovo, has been detained together with another man, Ara Humanyan, 57, during a police raid. The police have discovered a total of 590 archaeological artifacts in their properties, including over 200 coins, hundreds of metal and clay items, pithoi, bowls, and appliques.
The men's home in Haskovo were searched and computer equipment was seized. Artefacts seized include Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine coins as well as coins of medieval Bulgarian emperor, Tsar Ivan Asen II (r. 1218-1241 AD), ruler of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396). It seems they had been collecting archaeological artefacts over a period of time, and it is suspected that they might have sold some of them in Bulgaria or abroad. Will any foreign sales discovered be followed up by the authorities in the buyer's countries?

With reference to Tompa's lobbyist nonsense intended to sway an internal US Committee into refusing to help protect Bulgarian cultural property from illegal export to the US:
In addition to the artifacts and coins, the police have also seized from Stanilov and Humanyan two illegally owned metal detectors (which have not been registered with the Ministry of Culture, as required by law). If sentenced, the alleged treasure hunters might get up to 6 years in prison and fines of up to BGN 15,000 (app. EUR 7,500) for the illegal possession of cultural and historical artifacts as per the Cultural Heritage Act. The illegal possession of metal detectors is also punishable by up to 6 years in prison.
If that is not "regulation", I don't know what is. It looks like at least one of the men will be entering a not-guilty plea, and questioned why he has been the subject of an investigation just now:
Stanilov’s lawyer Dimo Stoyanov has stated that his client has been known for his hobby of collecting archaeological artifacts and coins, and that he has been a member of the numismatic society in Haskovo for more than 20 years. Stanilov himself has told the court that the police have been well aware of his numismatic and archaeological collection because they photographed the artifacts he had at his home during the investigation of a home robbery 6 years ago. He claims that most of the artifacts and coins are replicas that can be bought in the local flea market, while others such as the pottery vessels have been restored by him personally, for which he has sacrificed a lot of time, efforts, and money. He also adds he has been aware of the legal requirement introduced 5 years ago with amendments to the Cultural Heritage Act that all collectors register their collections with the Ministry of Culture but thought his collection was not “of such class" so as to warrant registration. He further claims that he has never used the metal detector which he has owned for 5-6 years.
It has to be said that of the coins shown in a PVC folder as typical of those seized in the raid, the ones in the foreground (especially those on the right) do indeed have in this photo to have the appearance of the widespread fake artefacts produced in white metal by Bulgarian artefact fakers. Interestingly
It certainly is not illegal anywhere to collect such items (a different matter if one tries to sell them as authentic). The Byzantine coins seen through the plastic at the rear of the picture seem real enough and look like dugups to me.
This is the [...] second treasure hunting group busted in the region in a week, after the arrest of a gang of three Greek and two Bulgarian treasure hunters near the town of Huhla, Ivaylovgrad Municipality, Haskovo District. There have been speculations that the two police raids might be connected but that has not been confirmed.

Sekhemka buyer may be private US Collector

Reports from Art World buyer of . Let's hope he has good fire insurance (see here).

Wednesday 30 March 2016

Was Palmyra a "Pawn in Assad's Game with the West"?

Annie Sartre-Fauriat
French historian and archaeologist Annie Sartre-Fauriat is "part of the UNESCO team of experts tasked with preserving the World Heritage Site in Syria". She tells Deutsche Welle 'Why Palmyra is a pawn in Assad's game with the West' (30.03.2016) :
Assad more or less handed Palmyra over to the "Islamic State" in May 2015, it was an intentional political move. His strategy was that the West would come help him fight the "IS." But it didn't happen because of course the West didn't want to help a dictator like Assad. That's why it was very important to him for Palmyra to fall into the hands of the "IS". Assad's troops defended the city against the "IS" for 48 hours and then just withdrew - after grabbing important documents from the archives and releasing the prisoners from the castle fortress. The situation now is similar: Assad did manage to get Russia and Hezbollah on his side to free Palmyra and celebrate himself. He's hoping to rehabilitate himself with the UN and be accepted again as a negotiation partner. It's a political maneuver.
It was not really just "two days", the Palmyra offensive of May 13-26, 2015 was one of the largest offensives launched by ISIL, with the result of increasing the group's control of Syria to at least 50%. ISIL took key points outside the town on 14th May, the Syrian Army was reinforced 15th including by the special forces unit, "Suqur al-Sahara", and on 16th May pushed ISIL back. It was still advancing on 20th May when  ISIL renewed its push after 600–800 militant reinforcements arrived. It was on 21st May 2015 that some artefacts were removed from the Palmyra museum by the Syrian curators and transported in two trucks to Damascus at the same time as ISIL began to take part of the town in street-to-street fighting. ISIL overran the whole town by the evening of 21st May. Reportedly the Syrian officers abandoned their posts, leaving conscripts to continue fighting and eventually be captured by ISIL together with the civilians. In early July 2015, the Syrian military launched an offensive in an attempt to retake Palmyra and attacks lasted until at least early August. It was only after this that ISIL began the publicised destruction of the Belshamin and Bel Temples which date to just after this, the tower tombs, a funerary temple and the Colonnade's Triumphal Arch were blown up later.

I really do not see that there is any evidence that Ms Sartre-Fauriat is correct in her Eurocentric interpretation of this part of the conflict, at what stage does she allege the decision was taken to "let" the city fall to ISIL? The truth is that the oasis-town was and is an important communication node and both sides wanted it. In May 2015 morale was low in the Syrian army, losses were being experienced on several fronts and forces were spread thinly. Yet this was a period when ISIL was advancing on several fronts. I do not see why Ms Satre-Fauriat thinks they could have been stopped here at this time.

She sees her organization as somehow central to everything, asked whether Palmyra can be rebuilt, she suggests:
Without help from abroad - that is, from UNESCO - it won't be possible.
Ha! There being no potential sponsors anywhere in the world who'd be interested in doing some philanthropic financing resulting in replacing something as specacular as these monumensts? What about the simulacrum of a bit of the Temple of Bel they are erecting in London right now, did UNESCO finance that and for how much?

Some Recent Looting at Palmyra?

I remarked that there were few visible signs of looters' pits among the ruins of the part of the ancient town of Palmyra photographed from the air straight after the liberation. This was picked up immediately by the dealers' lobbyists and metal detectorists. For the sake of accuracy therefore it should be pointed out that there is evidence of this looting elsewhere on the site From the ASOR CHI Facebook page:
DigitalGlobe Satellite Imagery released on March 30, 2016 has shown additional damage to the Valley of the Tombs, the Western Necropolis, and the Southeast Necropolis of Palmyra. This is the first new satellite imagery of Palmyra since September 2015, which was analyzed in ASOR CHI's special report "Update on the Situation in Palmyra."

A little remiss of them one would have thought (readers might remember the rude reply I received from these folk when I submitted a query about their access to satellite photos). They found some damage had occurred since they last looked. Some tower tombs and a temple had been damaged.
The Southeast Necropolis was known to have been previously damaged by illegal excavations. The DigitalGlobe satellite images show additional looting pits on the site as well as the intentional destruction of the funerary temple S103. [...]  ASOR Cultural Heritage Initiatives will provide further information in our forthcoming special report on Palmyra, to be published in the next few days, as well as in Weekly Report 87–88, which covers March 30 - April 12, 2016.
Here are the holes:
 September 2, 2015 - Southeast Necropolis before. Note the berms and embankments in place around the necropolis.

March 30, 2016 - Here, only a few portions of the exterior walls of S103 are still visible. The potential illegal excavation areas are outlined with dotted lines.

Having said that, it is less than clear that this is 'official' ISIL-sponsored activity. These holes are in the area most distant from the town itself, but there are hamlets just a bit down the road from here.

Meanwhile a three-day conference starts in Warsaw today initiating the Polish collaboration with Syrian and Iraqi forces in dealing with the aftermath. 

US Duplicity on Looter Rewards

5 godz.5 godzin temu
Why does US offer cash for info related to IS+antiquities but not for other looted antiquities? Good Q for HSI frm at
5 godz.5 godzin temu
The moderator didn't understand 's interesting question so we wont get an answer. Now for unimportant Qs. Lame. Boo.

The movement of cultural property in 2016

How to tell a Looted Object?

Today's UNESCO roundtable 1 has a (deliberately? and deliciously) ambiguous title: "The Difficulty of Establishing Provenance for Cultural Objects Issued [sic] from Plundered Archaeological Sites". One inference is that there would be no reason to hide the collecting history of licitly-acquired items when that licitness derives precisely from that unimpeachable collecting history, but it is above all in the case of illicit (looted, stolen or smuggled) items that the object's origins need to be obscured.


Tuesday 29 March 2016

The idea of Looted Antiquities Abhorrent in Theory only?

Tom Swope Gallery, Hudson, NY 12534, an ADCAEA dealer member deals in:
Antiquities from around the world: Greek and Roman, Egyptian, pre-Columbian, Early Chinese Buddhist Sculptures and Archaic Chinese jades [he carefully omits to mention 'Ancient Near East' and 'Indian/SE Asian art' - wonder why?]. While the range is broad, all the objects are chosen carefully for their beauty, authenticity, and what they tell us about our common past. A dealer in New York for many years Swope sold to private collectors, Museums and dealers and has a reputation for his eye, knowledge and integrity. The gallery also has jewelry inspired by antiquity, much of which is handmade by Tom Swope. Some pieces incorporate ancient gems and other elements, such as necklaces of ancient beads. Swope is very interested in ancient gems and neo-Classical gems, some of which are set in rings of his own making, or in 19th Century rings or loose, ready for putting into a custom setting.
The attentive reader will know what I feel about making wearable trophy jewellery from dugup antiquities. They will also know what I think of dealers (even those who claim "integrity") selling artefacts without any verifiable collecting history up front - as here.

Mr Swope gets a mention here because he also has an "art" blog in which he has now twice ('Civilization Under Attack, what can we do?' 28th sept 2015 and 'Asia Week 2016' 20th march 2016) made the suggestion that dealers are "saviours" of the objects, buying them "in good faith" from war-torn countries. I'd like to ask how one can buy with (sincere) good faith from sellers from war-torn countries. That'd be like buying works by Polish Jewish painters from a Munich dealer in 1942.
While in theory the idea of looted antiquities is abhorrent, in the age of Islamic extremism and civil wars, in which cultural destruction has become a regular event, we need to rethink our approach to the antiquities trade [...] we should view objects from the conflict torn regions of the world as rescues [sic] facing probably destruction. Ideally, we should not encourage looting, but we do not live in an ideal world, and Islamic fundamentalists are intent in erasing the culture and artifacts of the regions in their control. We should have learned something from the blowing up of the Bamiyan Buddhas, and now we have ISIS blowing up Nimrud, and Palmyra. But we have learned nothing. Rather the US government has taken an extreme position against the antiquities trade.
Here's a map of the points of origin of the eight items seized at Asia Week (those stated merely to be from "India" I have placed near Delhi, but many Kapoor items came from Southern India).  I would say its a pretty pathetic claim for any US dealer with "integrity" to make that any of them have been "saved" from any war-torn anything or taken from areas where "Islamist extremists have control". I'd say this is instead torn-logic reasoning of neo-colonialist greed.

Let us be clear, these eight objects were all seized because there were deemed to be sufficient doubts about whether they were obtained and imported legally. I thuink one cannot talk of "the responsible and legal trading of ancient and ethnographic objects" if one cannot show that those basic criteria are being met.Let the dealers concerned show the Feds their business records and get the objects back then we can talk about what it is they are doing.

Also, it seems to have escaped Mr Swope's notice that what was destroyed at Bamiyan, Nimrud and Palmyra  were buildings/monuments, not portable objects. Rather like the Nuremburg stadium which  the Americans blew up, or the Tannenburg Denkmal which was demolished when it came into Poland in 1945. Or these:

Mr Swope's blog post was featured with apparent favour on the ADCAEA Facebook page. Underneath there was no critical comment from other members. Apparently ADCAEA sees nothing wrong with the logic of "trading in looted objects to save them". That probably says about as much about the true nature of the ADCAEA as we need to know.

Britain's Archaeologicalrecord to Knowledge Mill is not Clogged

According to colleagues in the British Museum
About 1 Roman hoard a week is processed by staff, conservators and curators
Coin Hoards from Roman Britain', will be hitting the bookshops soon, no doubt, with all those valuable data for numismatic die-link studies produced by proper processing of all these metal detector finds. Straight from the carrier-bag to publication!

What a tremendous feat, despite all the financial cuts and other problems, British archaeology is managing to keep up with the rate these artefacts are being hoiked out of the ground and flogged off to the nation's museums by finders and landowners. Bravo. Who needs "preservation in situ" when the Archaeological Knowledge Machine grinds on and on so very effectively, churning out all those detailed publications like so many sausages? 

Vignette: Who's going to eat all those sausages being produced from the archaeological resource at such a vast rate?

Sam Hardy Speaks at UNESCO HQ

"Effective legislation and effective law enforcement
are necessary, but supply chain due diligence and market
transparency are critical".

On 30th March 2016, Sam Hardy will participate at a round table on the art market and the fight against the illicit trafficking of cultural property held at UNESCO Headquarters.  In connection with this, see the accompanying text: 'Samuel Andrew Hardy: archaeomafias traffic antiquities as well as drugs' UNESCO 28th March 2016 which is a brilliant succinct exposition of the main problems with the current form of the international antiquities market citing many relevant cases, some well-known others less widely-discussed, as examples.

Hardy starts by describing the scale of the problem, then discusses what types of sites are targeted and what kind of pieces buyers are interested in. He describes the methods those engaged in collection-driven exploitation (unusually for a British-based academic, rightly linking the deeds of 'metal detectorists' with the rest). He discusses the main routes and destinations of the looted artefacts, online trafficking, the involvement of organized crime in the 'grey' trade in antiquities. He then passes to the question of how artefacts 'surface' on the market without any real paperwork:
There are forms of false provenance, which are a joke amongst looters and collectors as well as cultural heritage professionals, but which are still used, such as the “grandfather clause” that an object was inherited from a dead relative or bought from the collection of an “anonymous gentleman” before unscientific excavation or unlicensed export was criminalised in the country of origin. Dealers and collectors can simply ‘obscure’ suspect collecting histories by withholding evidence. However, criminals can also physically produce all sorts of fake provenance documentation, from falsely reassuring labels, which attribute objects to certain cultures or guarantee authenticity but do not guarantee legality, to false declarations on customs documents.
Hardy concludes that ultimately, “autoregulation” and self-regulation of the antiquities market do not work.
Effective legislation and effective law enforcement are necessary, but supply chain due diligence and market transparency are critical.

Monday 28 March 2016

Boris Johnson loses sight of the ball

Yet Another Kapoor Piece in Australian Museum?

Two 1000-year-old granite statues in Australian museums and both bought within a year of each other from Subhash Kapoor now seem to have been taken from the same ancient temple. The complex in question is the Virddhagireesvarar temple southwest of Chennai in Tamil Nadu southern India. This was identified in 2013 identified as the source of a granite sculpture of Ardhanarishvara, or Shiva with the bull Nandi, at the Art Gallery of NSW which had been bought for $300,000 in 2004.

Now a statue in the National Gallery of Australia is under scrutiny. This is a representation of the  goddess Pratyangira, or Lion Lady, Kapoor sold the 1.25m-tall carving to the NGA for $US247,500 in 2005. Representatives of the Archaeological Survey of India have inspected the statue after having obtained a picture of it in the temple and then been furnished with so-called robber pictures of it after it was stolen. The two appear to be the same, a formal request for its return has yet to be made.

Michaela Boland, 'NGA keeping mum on 1000-year-old Indian goddess statue', The Australian March 29, 2016

Sunday 27 March 2016

Actually, I think these Detectorists are Serious....

The Archaeology and Metal Detecting Magazine are proud to announce our partnership and sponsorship of the years biggest event of its type. On October 15, 2016, Renowned Author, researcher and international lecturer - Erich von Däniken .... Then there is the text on their website... "Something is Wrong with Our Past" and "Curiosities" by Erich von Däniken March 23, 2016 and some other similar stuff. Can we persuade these clowns to drop the word "Archaeology" from the title? The PAS is apparently doing "archaeological outreach' to these people, they are encouraging these people to make and document archaeological "discoveries". What evidence is there that they have any idea at all how to do that?

Palmyra Back in Government Hands

Syrian government forces have retaken all of Palmyra from ISIL: military source

Syrian Government Troops Now in Palmyra

Over the past few days there has been some uncertainty about the capture of Palmyra from ISIL militants. Here is a map showing what the situation was thought to be Saturday evening:

As can be seen, most of the city is still in the hands of ISIL. The fact that it is Russian airstrikes which is facilitating this advance leaves the official US position on this totally unclear. In a war which many regard as one which Washington is are co-responsible for starting and fuelling, the US  position is now getting increasingly ambiguous as larger areas of territory come back under control of the regime they tried to topple by a proxy war.

Also, how embarrassing for the Department-of-State-supported stories of ISIL looting supporting US bombing raids that the initial aerial shots of this prime site show it has not been riddled with looters' holes, and many of the lapidaria in the ruins seem to be in the same state as satellite photos show from before the city was taken by ISIL. The ruins were too far from the original position of the front line for this to be explicable as the result of fear of sniper fire from Syrian forces on high ground to the west and the lack of looters holes on a site like this is interesting.

Saturday 26 March 2016

'Saving Trees from Dying and Rotting' Use it up Now

On top of all the other damage that some perceive that the Law-and-Justice party are currently doing to the country, the recently-elected right-wing nationalist Polish government has controversially approved logging bits of Europe's last primeval forest. Białowieża was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979. The new plans (announced precisely at the beginning of the Easter holiday in the hope the news will not attract attention) now concern felling three times the area of this important ecosystem than was being protested against here a few weeks ago. No details, such as detailed maps showing where this logging will take place have been produced for public discussion yet - the administrative decision seems to have taken place without one. This is appalling and this must be stopped.
Sprawling across 150,000 hectares, the Bialowieza forest reaches across the Polish border with Belarus, where it is entirely protected as a nature park. It is home to 20,000 animal species, including 250 types of bird and 62 species of mammals—among them Europe's largest, the bison. Europe's tallest trees, firs towering 50 metres high (164 feet), and oaks and ashes of 40 metres, also flourish here, in an ecosystem unspoiled for more than 10 millennia.
I have done archaeological fieldwork in the area and this forest really is a unique and very precious survival of the Urwald of the North European Plain. It is a very fragile and finite resource, and the area actually under protection in Poland is already painfully small.  For a compact text about the bit in Belarus, see here 

The arguments presented to the Polish public by the present government's Ministry of the Environment is that if trees are left standing (growing) in the forest, then they die, fall and the valuable wood rots.  So if they cut them down while they are growing, then they "save" the wood. This is exactly the same argument that artefact hunters use, they are "saving" the dug up artefacts they get from their robber exploitation of the (historical) environment from "damage" or "loss". In both cases it is equally specious. The artefacts form part of archaeological assemblages, the trees part of an ecosystem - and in both cases the status quo of centuries and millennia is being disrupted.

Vignette: Map of forest complexes stretching across state border most of it is out of the reach of Polish loggers. 

Friday 25 March 2016

Don't ask no Questions...

First (?) Photos of 'Post-ISIL' Palmyra ruins

This film (Что осталось от Пальмиры: эксклюзивные съемки с коптера) taken by a helicopter pilot shows just a small restricted area of the ancient ruins. In fact it does not really show the Temple of  Baalshamin or the Triumphal Arch let alone the tower tombs, but the remains of the temple of Bel are visible at 1:04. No doubt we will see better photos of these later.

posted on You Tube by Россия 24
At first sight, the damage to the ancient site could have been worse. But of course this war is far from over. ISIL militants are reported to be polling away from Palmyra in face of offensive. The compilation of images concentrates mainly on the more spectacular parts of the ruins, but about a minute in we see some general shots of the modern town of Tadmor but not in enough detail to see how badly it was damaged by the intensive bombing and shelling which led to the ISIL withdrawal, it may be assumed that this was extensive (but the Russian TV channel might have been a bit coy about showing damage to civilian buildings to its audience).


The Guardian uses some of these  (better definition?) and additional images from the same source. This starts off with a shot of the modern town, explaining why this was not deemed suitable viewing for the Russian public.
Tadmor seen from above March 27th (?) 2016 This
seems to be a view of the western outskirts looking ENE
with a telephoto lens from the Fakhr-al-Din al-Ma'ani citadel

Palmyra in Front Line Again

Situation 23rd March 2016
The Syrian army has reportedly entered Palmyra trying to retake the city from ISIL (Syrian state TV says troops enter ISIL-held Palmyra Al Jazeera 25 Mar 2016 ). The desert oasis town is an important road junction but right on the edge of ISIL territory, but nevertheless has been able to hold off regime troops since it fell to ISIL in May 2015. The current offensive has been supported by Russian airstrikes. If successful, the ongoing Syrian army offensive will "cut the Islamic State group of forces in two and open the road to Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor, and create conditions for reaching the border with Iraq and establishing control over it", said a Russian general. (see also 'Syrian Troops Poised to Recapture Palmyra from Islamic State' ARCA 24th March 2016). One Russian officer has been killed in the Palmyra offensive (the sixth known Russian military death reported since the start of Russia's Syria operation).

Unfortunately, the main group of ancient ruins are between the current positions of the Syrian army and the modern town which is the objective and once again are in the front line, subject to shelling as well as the construction of defensive structures (such as foxholes and gun emplacements). We also recall that ISIL is reported to have planted explosives around the ruins, possibly as booby traps for those that may attempt to use them as shelter.
This appears in the media stories - but shows the tower-tombs standing
Here is a a photo from CNN which may show Syrian troops within the ancient city.

CNN 25th March 2016

What is unclear is how many civilians are still left in the beleaguered town, there were reports that ISIL is evacuating them, but it is unclear what that means for the people moved out.  Let us wait and see how this tragic story unfolds....


Man Jailed for Smuggling Torah Scroll out of Yemen

Culture Change

In all the discussions of the so-called "Islamisation of European culture" one hears from the loony  and moderate right, one fact tends to be forgotten; we do not change culture because somebody makes us (look at the failed attempt to turn Poland into a Soviet satellite 1949-1989)  but because we want to. I was amused to see a recent anti-immigrant demonstration in Warsaw heading off down the road and when the small gathering of bigots had finished shouting and posturing, some of them returned to a kebab kiosk run by a Syrian refugee which they'd just marched past. Here's another example.

Thursday 24 March 2016

Another "Finds Friday" coming up...

Well, it's Friday coming around again and that means ... another "Finds Friday" show-and-tell by gatekeeping PAS FLOs full of enthusiastically-delivered glib statements and imaginative story-telling. Ok, what to do this week? Well it is Good Friday, but no relics of Christ seem to be in the PAS database, so how about the holy day in the Church calendar associated  with "Dismas, the Good Thief" crucified with him and somehow link that to "responsible metal detecting"? Or perhaps "Cultural Workers Day" or maybe a bit of post-colonialist guilt:  "International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade"? The possibilities are endless I am sure the PAS stalwarts will not disappoint us. Meanwhile the Pathetic Geologists Scheme disseminate through the internet a picture of a stone that looks like disappointment.

 Vignette: geological show-and-tell

UPDATE Friday 
Nope, nothing but good old-fashioned Christian values for "Finds Friday" this week:
10 min.10 minut temu
3 godz.3 godziny temu

before you speak to the media

Antiquities Trade: Tackle Demand

At the US-Italy MOU celebration: Investigations need to focus on those purchasing antiquities and not just those looting them - must tackle demand...

and dealers, collectors and their lobbyists wonder "why they were not invited". They really should have been paying more attention to the public debate, not continually attempting to disrupt it or delay it. As you sow, so shall you reap.

Wednesday 23 March 2016

Narrativisation of Dugups

Well, well, after classic coiney contributions to the public debate on heritage which consist of a long series of posts going back several years which are monothematically cheap snipes at a single social media contributor*, Californian coiney Dealer Dave has decided instead to write about ancient coins on his blog. Actually it's about toilets and urine, but I am sure his therapist will tell him it is a start. It's a topic that will appeal to the metal detectorists who are avid readers of his "Ancient Coins" blog.  But is such derivative narrativisation of loose artefacts what "professional numismatists" do with the coins that come into their hands? Let us see how coin fondling contributes to research in an independent way, not uses outside material to place an object in an imagined context ("Here's what he may have had in his hand when he said that").

* ('Barford the Detectorist', ' Decontextualization: The Warsaw Connection', 'Decontextualization', 'Archaeosacrilege', 'Illiterate Detectorists among the Great Unwashed', 'Archaeologists, Marxism and History for the Few', 'XVI Numismatic Congress Warsaw', 'Doxxing and the True Believers', 'Confidential Information', 'The Common Sense Interpretation Of IQ', and so on)

UK Metal Detectorist Literacy Skills

Paul Blagden and
someone (Google
profile picture
Since if does not follow my notes for commenters, I am not approving this comment, but decided to put it up here to show the sort of contribution supporters of metal detectorists make to the public debate on artefact hunting: Paul Blagden has left a new comment on your post "Deep Digger Dan Goes Nazi":
Boring boring boring, sad people with no lives so sad. It sounds like we have a faceles [sic] keyboard BULLY, HATER, low life. DDD does nothing wrong nothing elegal [sic] so keep your hatred and boring comments to yourself.
That barely literate contribution's not from Paul Blagden the actor I hope. I am constantly amazed at the mentality of someone who sends a comment like that which concludes by urging me to keep my "hatred and boring comments" to myself.

This is my blog, and I think Deep Digger Dan's publicity stunt is a bad idea on a number of counts, and cannot comprehend why it should be considered "bullying" for me to say so.

Egypt: Antiquities Minister Replaced

Egypt's Sisi reshuffles cabinet, appoints 10 new ministers
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi reshuffled his cabinet on Wednesday, appointing 10 new ministers including ones for finance, investment, justice, antiquities, the public sector, labor, irrigation, civil aviation, transport, and tourism. According to Al-Ahram:
Mohamed Yehia Rashed took the place of tourism minister Hisham Zaazou, and Khaled El-Anany is the now antiquities minister, replacing Mamdouh El-Damaty.
Dr. Khaled El-Anany is, or was until recently, the director of the Egyptian Museum.

UPDATE 23th March 2016

Washington Bible Museum After-the-Fact Propriety?

"How an American museum is reviving trade in antiquities, and why, in just the past six years, have the evangelical owners of Hobby Lobby amassed one of the world’s largest private collections" (Joel Baden and Candida Moss, 'Can Hobby Lobby buy the Bible?' Financial Review Mar 18 2016):
It isn't that the Greens are looking to make illicit or unauthentic acquisitions. "That's a headache we don't want," Steve Green told us before news of the investigation broke last year. But unprovenanced artifacts beget unprovenanced artifacts. Once it is known that buyers are willing to purchase items with dubious or nonexistent provenance, the market for those items expands, which in turn encourages the kind of looting that we're witnessing today in the Middle East. The connection between a scrap of papyrus and on-the-ground violence may be difficult to see. But it exists. And that is where the real danger of hiding provenance lies. The pace of their acquisition alone suggests that the Greens may not have taken every possible step to investigate the provenance of what they have bought, a risk that they acknowledge. "We do what we can," Steve Green told us, responding to the question of whether his family has knowingly acquired problematic artifacts. "But there is the risk that after the fact, you find out it wasn't appropriate for us to buy it."
But then the true measure of propriety is what then happens to those carelessly-acquired items of illicit cultural property, isn't it? What is the "Bible Museum"s policy on these past "inappropriate acquisitions"? Should they be in the collection? Should they be on display? Obviously not.

Tuesday 22 March 2016

The Symes Hoard is back in Italy

The contents of 45 crates containing thousands of loose unprovenanced archaeological relics ("worth €9m") which were seized two years ago in the Geneva freeport have been returned to Italy (Elisabetta Povoledo, 'Hundreds of Looted Ancient Artifacts Are Returned to Italy' New York Times March 22, 2016).  They were being stored there by the London dealer Robin Symes before they would have been slipped onto the antiquities markets "in the United States, Japan and Britain".
The artifacts dating from the seventh century B.C. to the second century A.D. [...]  include Roman and Etruscan sarcophagi, bronze objects, stone sculptures of animals and hundreds of painted terracotta fragments from a sixth-century B.C. temple in Cerveteri – were presented at a news conference Tuesday. Apulian vases – broken into dozens of pieces so that they could be spirited out of Italy more easily – were exhibited alongside the Polaroid photographs snapped when the artifacts were illegally excavated in various southern Italian regions. The pieces were looted decades ago, as indicated by the dates on the Italian and British newspapers in which they were wrapped, an investigator said. The Italian culture minister, Dario Franceschini, said the artifacts would be given to museums in the Italian regions where they had been looted. 
Lynda Albertson has some photos of the artefacts on her Twitter timeline, such as this, a corridor full of fragments, and these  freshly (?) smashed vessel sherds, (more here - joins), here's the terracotta, some more. It seems more are on the way.

One cannot help wondering what information about the past the sites this material came from could have yielded if it had been excavated in an undisturbed form. As it is the artefact hunters who created this haul trashed the sites, and threw away much of the artefactual material which they removed from the sites' stratigraphy did not come up to scratch as a potential collectable. 

The search is still on for other Symes artefacts in museum and private collections all over the world.

Pocklington and the logic of Metal Detecting

Stig the metal detectorist
The Pocklington site was discovered, not by metal detecting, but by builders. It looks to be potentially informative, especially on the so-called Arras tradition burials. There have recently been a number of media reports on the site: Guardian, Independent, Yorkshire Post etc. From these it is clear what a variety of information can be obtained by the methodological study of associated objects in specific contexts. A foreign collector on reading this is unmoved by any of this, ignoring the rest he's entranced by a single object from the site, a particular brooch which he reckons is a new type. His metal detectorist pals in England have found three more. He is sure that the way to "study" these is "through a properly done art-historical analysis to construct an evolutionary model of the object type", he is very dismissive of the notion of paying attention to findspot and context:
metal detector finds from agricultural land can be alongside objects from various periods brought up and scattered by by the plough. Only if there are enough MD finds and nearby objects are shared among these by only a single period is identification certain as these are not archaeological sites per se as no stratification exists. A Celtic object, on its own might have been in the vicinity since it was lost; brought there in a load of top-soil or fertilizer from elsewhere; or dropped by someone who found or bought it elsewhere in any time in the last two millennia. Any claim to its origin would be nothing more than wild speculation, and worse still, could lead to false datasets for types. [...] Dean Crawford described the actions of most detectorists as being like "seagulls at the tip". Looking for archaeological context in a ploughed field would be about the same as looking for it at your local city dump.
Yet it is precisely paying attention to findspot and context which is central to the PAS recording. If it is the load of rubbish which the antiquarian fellow claims, that's millions of quid thrown on the dump. Yet many surface archaeological surface surveys take a wholly different attitude to the multivariate spatial relationships of artefacts within the landscape, Of course such pattermns are not visible to those hoiking out random 'best bits' to pocket - thus destroying that pattern of which they form a part.

Archaeology is not primarily about typology, the latter, like pollen analysis or 14C dating are just tools which are incorporated into wider analyses in the interpretation of the archaeological record. I would ask the antiquarian fellows, so what that there is a "new type" of brooch, how does that "advance knowledge" on a scale that is any way comparable to what the analysis of the material from the excavation at Pocklington will tell us? I really do not see that a different shape of a clothes fastener is exactly an earth-shattering discovery. Certainly not one that justifies Mr Hooker's friend friend trashing an archaeological assemblage so he can add it to a personal collection. A search of the PAS database for Tisbury reveals that they are aware that one or more sites here have been stripped of at least 373 artefacts by someone, but this brooch does not appear to be among the ones reported.

Russia Steps up Airstrikes as Syrian Army Prepares for Final Assault on Palmyra

Trending story found a day ago on
The limited withdrawal from Syria has not affected Russia's participation in the assault on Palmyra. According to Russia's Defense Ministry, Russian warplanes are now carrying out up to 25 airstrikes a day around Palmyra in support of the Syrian army's offensive. The Syrian army has made steady progress over the last week, and is now within striking range.

Monday 21 March 2016

Italy MOU with US

Working Together...

Raphael Kutscher, 'Ur-Lisi and Other Officials on Three Umma Tablets from Tokyo Tel Aviv: Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University Volume 7, Issue 3-4, 1980, pages 173-178.
The three tablets are now in the possession of Mr. Tatsuzo Kaku of Tokyo. I am thankful to him for his kind permission to study and publish them
Gérard Fussman, 'Documents épigraphiques kouchans (IV). Ajitasena, père de de Senavarma' Bulletin de l'Ecole française d'Extrême-Orient Année 1986 Volume 75 Numéro 1 pp. 1-14
Les photographies ici publiées m'ont été communiquées par Monsieur Tatsuzo Kaku, antiquaire à Tokyo, qu'il m'est agréable de remercier.
  The dealer was later arrested... Asia Week Arrest: Japanese Dealer Convicted Of Selling Stolen Art. I wonder, how do those scholars feel now?


National Museum in Kinshasa Collection Deaccession?

A guy in France has an odd iron crucifix for sale on eBay, even odder is the description:
'A Kongo Nkangi kiditu crucifix. Christ figure with arms splayed, oval head, grinning in a slightly undershot pout, tilted to the side. Three praying with folded hands, are at the center of the side branches and the lower. H: 10in Collection of the Institute of National Museums (IMNZ) in Kinshasa Published in "Zaïre, peuples, arts, cultures" Joseph Aurélien Cornet 1989 p. 331 '
He can send you the book too if you don't believe it. Note this is listed as original object not a museum reproduction. This dealer's comments shows a whole string of private sales.

hat tip Dorothy Lobel King

You'll not hear this from the PAS...

Heritage Action are pretty good at awareness raising in areas the PAS fear to tread. This week they are discussing the destructiveness of certain types of dealing with the archaeological record in terms that even the most intellectually obstinate can come to terms with. In the course of this they come on to:
‘Excavation’ undertaken by metal detectorists can be without doubt one of the most damaging activities. Although there may have been some desk-based research prior to hitting the site, there will rarely be a formal methodology to the excavation other than ‘ping’/dig! Some detectorists may advise the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) of any significant (read metallic) finds but often the valuable context of the finds will have been trashed together with associated items (pottery, flints, fibres, animal bone etc) which are often discarded as irrelevant by the detectorist. Recording may comprise at best of a photo (or video) or two of the finds, and a GPS reference which may point to no more than a particular field, or parish. The loss of knowledge in these situations will be immense and of course in the long run means that many of the questions of future generations will go unanswered as a result.
The PAS have nothing to add to that, it's no use even asking them. They might raise their noses from their desks enough to say :"but some recorders give us 10-figure NGRs", and leave it at that, without addressing the two main issues here, that hoiking a few displayable goodies and decontextualising them from the rest is not providing information about the site and oh, "it's voluntry innit?" most finds do not get shown, and for the accuracy (or even truthfulness) of reporting of the findspot, the recorder is entirely dependent on the goodwill of the 'finder'.

Inside Palmyra Museum

Sunday 20 March 2016

More Morons with Detectors

Two more Polish "Nazi War" battlefield diggers collecting munitions 'Zaciągnęli niewybuch do garażu. Dwaj mężczyźni ranni' Polish Radio 20.03.2016. Sappers are now going through the artefact collection in their garage at public expense to see which other items comprise a risk to public safety.

Saturday 19 March 2016

"The Biggest Metal Detecting Challenge of All Time"

Metal detecting motormouth Deep Digger Dan announces his plans for 2016 (for full effect, turn on the speech-to-voice text gadget...). He announces he's going to stage the biggest metal detecting challenge of all time (in an insular context). He is going to "walk all the way around the coastline of Great Britain metal detecting all the way". The stated length of the proposed journey he gives is actually slightly less than the coastline just of England, minus the larger islands, but even then, that will be a challenge, there are probably at least 80 000 individual landowners whose property the detectorist will be on, whether on the beach itself or coast path - not least the National Trust (who do not normally allow artefact hunting). Also some areas are not accessible, private property or Ministry of Defence etc. Imagine how much a backpack of all the artefacts recovered from a line 8800 km long will weigh at the end of the walk.

There is a video explaining this exploit here and there is a diagram showing him walking all around Scotland, so the total is well over the "6000 miles" he says - and also the legislation on metal detecting finds ownership is different there.

Asia Week Arrest

As reported by Chasing Aphrodite ('Asia Week Arrest: Japanese Dealer Charged With Selling', March 19th):
Japanese antiquities dealer Tatsuzo Kaku was arrested at Asia Week and charged on March 14th with criminal possession of a looted 2nd Century Buddhapada sculpture valued at more than $1 million, court records show. [...] The sculpture was seized by authorities on March 14 and will be returned to Pakistan. Kaku was arraigned on March 14 and will next appear in a Manhattan court on March 25th.
But arresting the foreigner is fine, but what about the other four dealers whose stuff was seized? These Americans also possessed what the authorities say were looted objects...

James Cuno's usual argument

James Cuno's (yawn) usual argument Who owns our heritage? ("James Cuno of the Getty Foundation says that antiquities belong to us all, not to the states where they happen to be, and that they should be universally accessible"). Just antiquities, or cultural property in general? What about Native American antiquities, do they belong to "us all"? What does NAGPRA say about that? Maybe instead of shouting his mouth off about what the US "art market" expect foreign "source countries" to expect, Cuno could apply the same arguments closer to home first. Let's have another sacred mask and katchina auction shall we? After all, does not this stuff already belong to ALL of us, Mr Cuno?

Or does it?

Paul Barford Buys a Metal Detector

Yes, I've done it, bought a metal detector. Oh yes. Bright yellow and its got lots of technical specifications. It seems to be in some way a rip-off (of unknown, but presumably eastern origins) of a better-known yellow detector with specifications. There's some knobs to twiddle, a little meter to look technical, and I expect it makes an annoying noise. I'll probably have a go at turning it on and see what the instructions say you should do to find all that Treasure that those folk who "ain't in it fer the munny" keep dreaming of finding. I'll not be doing any of that, the test bed will be the rock garden on a balcony.

Now, the difficult part, using it responsibly (and legally, not so easy in Poland). Well, actually it is going to be used very responsibly, that means not at all. It's going to stand festering in my cellar next to the Christmas tree stand and my skis. I bought it in case I ever make a video needing one as a prop. Or maybe when Peter Tompa takes up my invitation to go 'unregulated' metal detecting in Cyprus while I film.

If we Cannot STOP Irresponsible portable antiquities collecting...

... at least we can try to do our bit towards reducing climate change. Earth Hour today.

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