Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Narrow Notions in the Trade on Illicit Antiquities and the "Standards" of No-Questions-Asked Collecting

The US dealer who wrote about "what illicit means to the antiquities market" is still trying to justify his view that to use the word to mean illicit is "unethical" ('Illicit: A Word Whose Meaning Can Be Very Misleading'). I really find his lack of logic annoying. His prolix text  basically boils down to  taking two words out of context in a single document:
In his attempt to legitimize deceptive and misleading use of the word "illicit" by anticollecting archaeologists in their writings, Mr. Barford ignored the following very clear and precise definition of its meaning with respect to the Convention he referred to: Article 3 The import, export or transfer of ownership of cultural property effected contrary to the provisions adopted under this Convention by the States Parties thereto, shall be illicit. The Convention subsequently refers (in Articles 7 and 10) to illegal export of cultural property as being illicit, in a manner which makes it very clear that illicit, when used in that document, always and only means illegal. [...] it is absolutely clear that in reference to cultural property such as ancient artifacts, illicit always and only means illegal.
Mr Welsh then has a go at Professor Simon Mackenzie, and then Professor Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn both of whom,  I would personally say are a far more reliable source of information than a coin shopkeeper.

As for Mr Welsh's dodgy logic, it said on the packet of the cheese I made my sandwich from that it contains 100% cow's milk, it follows then by the same logic that nothing made of goat's milk can be called cheese. That's bonkers. By Mr Welsh's logic, Article 9 of the same convention indicates that "illicit" is causing "irremediable injury to the cultural heritage of the requesting State" so from illegal digging regardless of whether for export or not, and article 10(a) anything not listed in the register kept by antique dealers "recording the origin of each item of cultural property, names and addresses of the supplier, description and price of each item sold". If Mr Welsh wants to play that game, let him show us his registers to prove he trades in licit (according to the definitions he's just cited) antiquities. By the way, the 1970 UNESCO Convention is not the only international document to deal with antiquities, the UNIDROIT one is more recent and defines other classes of illicit antiquities, as do those dealing with artefacts in times of conflict.

It certainly is NOT "misleading and 'unethical' to use the term 'illicit artifact' in a public discussion, on a public venue, in a way which does not mean 'illegally exported artifact.'...". What about the artefacts removed by nighthawks in the UK and clandestine pot diggers in the US which never leave the country? They cannot be illegally exported until somebody tries to take them across the border, yet there is nothing licit in their possession and buying and selling. What about artefacts dug up in an illegal dig in northern Syria, passed across the border strapped to a refugee and then sent to Munich with a Turkish export licence? Would Mr Welsh sell such an item as "licit" (because it has a Turkish export licence)? Just what does Mr Welsh mean when he insists he sells licit - or would that merely be legal - artefacts? And is that legal "demonstrably legal" or "they can't touch you for it legal"? Dealer Dave concludes:

By deliberately and intentionally engaging in such "doublespeak" to pursue their vendetta against collectors, archaeologists who use such terminology do indeed violate the standards of ethics which prevail among antiquities collectors, which I believe are also those which prevail among the general population. I don't believe they should be allowed to continue doing this, without being called to account by those whom they are so freely criticizing.
And how about we call idiots like this to account for their own loaded language? These "archaeologists pursuing a vendetta against collectors" are instead concerned about having a clean trade. I would assume many collectors could side with them on that, the only vendetta is against this sort of weasel wording by dealers and their lobbyists who are opposing at every stem the cleaning up of the market in dugup antiquities. In any case how can one talk of "standards of ethics which prevail among antiquities collectors" which involves handling apparently freshly-surfaces antiquities with no background? What kind of  "standards" are they for the second decade of the 21st century?

UPDATE 7th August 2016
In a pretty notable example of the sheer idiocy of the way artefact dealers go about arguing their case, Dealer Dave now offers yet another definition of the word illicit "'Illicit:" A Term Extensible Beyond Artifacts?". He now concedes (despite my own rendering of the reasons why this is still a false definition in the context of portable antiquities) that it might mean:

Cutting through all the complicated "nuances" of application of this term, it does seem to mean, in a very general sense, "having unclear, and reasonably suspect origins"
In other words, quite the opposite of what he was adamant he could "prove" was the "real" definttion a few days earlier. This is why nobody is going to try and engage the antiquities trade in any form of discussion, jerks like these with their weasel-worded and false arguments (coupled with their personal attacks and insults) are simply alienating themselves from the heritage debate which, if it is to get anywhere must perforce continue without them - and they have only themselves to blame.

Vignette: Playtown owl of wisdom

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