Tuesday 27 September 2016

Dodgy Dealers Faking Provenance Could be out of Pocket, Hugely

The Dancing Shiva was returned
to India in September 2014,
after it was found to have been
stolen from a temple in Tamil Nadu.
This will be a lesson for any antiquities dealer tempted to supply objects with a false provenance (Anne Barker, 'Dancing Shiva: National Gallery of Australia should get $11m compensation for stolen statue, court rules' ABC News 26th Sept 2016)  
The Supreme Court of New York has granted a motion in favour of a $11 million payment to the National Gallery of Australia (NGA), as compensation for its purchase of a stolen Indian antiquity from disgraced New York art dealer Subhash Kapoor that was later returned to India. The court has entered a 'default' judgement, meaning it was made without hearing evidence from Kapoor, who is in custody awaiting trial in India. 
The NGA in Canberra had bought the statue for $US5 million from Kapoor's New York gallery Art of the Past (AOP) in 2008.
It did so after Kapoor and an AOP gallery employee Aaron Freedman supplied the NGA with documents that purported to vouch for the statue's lawful and legitimate provenance. These included a document certifying that an Indian diplomat Abdulla Mehgoub had lawfully bought the Shiva in Delhi in 1970. Another document — a Letter of Provenance — asserted that his widow Raj Mehgoub later sold the statue to AOP in 2003. The letter purportedly certified that the statue had been out of India since 1971.
The statue had instead been stolen in 2006 from the Brihadeeswarar temple at Sripuranthan and smuggled to the US. The NGA claimed its money back from Kapoor and then sought compensation because "due to wrongful and criminal actions, NGA paid $US5 million for an artefact with a clouded title, and that the NGA had been damaged. " The NGA is considering whether to bring other cases against Kapoor because of other items they bought from him which are now having to be handed back. There are ten of them, and the price paid was in the millions also.
"The NGA is considering all legal options available," the NGA's assistant director Alison Wright told the ABC. [...] "We do believe we are the victims of fraud in relation to provenance supplied by the dealership [...]" Ms Wright said. She said the NGA is committed to investigate the provenance of all 5,000 works in its Asian collection.

Sunday 25 September 2016

Peter Tompa's Sausages

In a sniping post on his Cultural Property Obfuscator blog, antiquities trade lobbyist Peter Tompa has a post about Cyprus "turning its back further away from its past Common Law traditions as part of the British Commonwealth of Nations..." because it proposes making dealers and collectors demonstrate the legitimacy of the items they hold  (see here). Mr Tompa and his dealer mates (brought up to rely on a 'they-can't-touch-yer-for-it-legality')  insist everyone should give them the benefit of the doubt (antiquities dealers - get it?) and presume an innocence until (somebody else) can prove their guilt. By virtue of the fact that all paperwork was thrown away by the trade for all-but everything they handle, that's what they feel safe (indeed, untouchable) with. I am among those who feel very strongly that this is not how it should be a legitimate trade does not exist by virtue of naming the name alone, it has to demonstrate its legitimacy - especially when it concerns a class of commodity where we know items of illicit and false origins are rife.

Although he published a snide comment by his BFF metal detectorist John Howland, he rejected mine on this matter, apparently unwilling to answer it honestly, so here it is:
If antiquities dealers turn their back on business practices which would allow documentation of licit provenance of the goods they handle, then they have only themselves to blame. I don't know how it is with sausages you buy in Washington, but here in eastern Europe butchers don't have this problem, they'll have the documentation of where those sausages have come from available for the health inspector. Woe betide a butcher that buys products with no documentation and thinks they'll get away with it. Are you a consumer of unprovenanced sausages of unknown contents and origins Mr Tompa?
Sausages of course were chosen in my analogy, as they are one of the cheapest form of meat (apart from giblets, but I'd not recommend Mr Tompa feeding his kids with unprovenanced giblets of unknown origins either).

So how is it with sausages in Washington, Mr Tompa?

Vignette: What's in your kiełbasa Peter? 

One Born Every Minute

The ebay seller  ancientgas aka Dr Geoffrey A Smith (1061) is offering this unlovely item for a mere US $1,200
Part of my personal collection  it was adherent to a larger item ..? Shield face  I really think this was Mycenae Or a bit later Greek which was looted by the Celts thus in a Celtic dig site as an item of status. Ex Smith, Guaranteed
Maybe Mr Hooker (FSA) will be putting in a bid? Or offering an expert opinion? Or witholding it in collectors' solidarity? 

Stated provenance: "in a celtic dig site". In which country and under what circumstances it left that country and entered the (seemingly limitless) "Smith collection" are simply not stated, or why the previous owner cleaned only one face of it  - neither is the basis of the dating (analogies?) and trite narrativisation. The Celtic invasions of the Mycenaean realms are an as yet unknown episode of ancient historiography enlightened for us by the collector's ... um, .... 

Saturday 24 September 2016


Poles demonstrated today against their current government which divides the nation and leads it away from EU values. A great time was had by all KODers.

Cyprus promotes new convention to combat illicit trafficking in cultural property

In a move that hopefully will gather momentum, during its Presidency of the Council of Europe, between November 2016 to May 2017 Cyprus plans to organise a series of activities that would kick-start a new criminal law convention to combat illicit trafficking in cultural property (CNA News Service Cyprus promotes new convention to combat illicit trafficking in cultural property / Sept 23rd 2016)
Cyprus led a cross-regional Statement on the protection of cultural heritage in armed conflicts in the framework of the Human Rights Council. The statement was co-sponsored by a staggering number of 146 members and observer states of the HRC, thus [...] putting the issue of cultural heritage firmly in the Human Rights agenda.
The point is that the no-questions-asked buying of antiquities is simply a lack of respect by the buyers of the richer ('market') nations of the rights of the citizens of the countries whose past they so shamelessly and selfishly exploit. Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulidesannounced that: 
in a few days, in collaboration with a core group of partners, Cyprus will present at the 33rd Session of the HRC in Geneva, a comprehensive Resolution on “Cultural rights and the protection of cultural heritage”. “Yet, what we see as imperative is the active role of the UN Security Council on this issue, and particularly on the crucial issue of the provenance of cultural artefacts. As you are well-aware, the main obstacle encountered in securing the restitution of looted cultural property is the proof of identification by the claimant country, especially for objects that have not been inventoried or adequately documented” [that is why dealers and collectors apparently routinely discard any documentation that they have for any antiquity PMB] the burden of proof must not fall to the claimant state for the blocking of auctioning suspicious objects and, eventually, for the restitution of artefacts. He pointed out that was is of most importance, is a robust UNSC Resolution through which purchases of artefacts originating from conflict zones are not considered “bona fide” purchases and which will apply universal limitations on the trade and transfer of artefacts originating from all conflict zones, with the obligation of proof of legitimate trade resting upon the traders, auction houses and buyers and not on the originating state.
and, in the circumstances, with trade-wide responsibility-laundering discarding of documentation of collecting history of the artefacts passing through it to avoid detection, this is how it now has to be. Dealers and collectors only have themselves to blame.

Vignette: Cyprus 

Friday 23 September 2016

Egypt’s Malawi Museum Reopened Three Years After Being Trashed

Egypt’s Malawi National Museum, located in El Minya, reopened on Thursday three years after it was ransacked and partially torched.
The restoration, which cost around EGP 10 million and was partly financed by the Italian government, provides a more educational experience for visitors. Malawi National Museum was ransacked, looted, and parts of it torched in August 2013 during violence that followed the ouster of former President Mohammed Morsi. More than 1,000 antiquities spanning 3,500 years of history were reported to have been stolen, with the few remaining pieces left damaged. However, according to state media Al-Ahram, the majority of the pieces were eventually recovered by the Egyptian government after police promised not to prosecute anyone returning looted antiquities.
Vignette: Thoth ibis

One Born Every Minute

'Find' from Inverurie:
Antiques - Antiquities - British- 
"Metel detecting bronze find. Was found a lot of years ago and I have a pritty good idea this is very old."
Arrr obviously "write like a pirate week". Which goes to show you really should not trust anything a metal detectorist says. Somebody paid 225 quid for this on stubby-fingered seller's say-so.

hat-tip to David Gill

Thursday 22 September 2016

Skittle Bigotry

Question for Tony Robinson

"My son Spike loves nature, and wants to become an ornithologist. Any advice? Is a pair of bird-nesting climbing boots a good present?"
Tony's answer,
tell him to join an ornithology club and, yes, the boots are a good idea but only if he does not use them "wantonly". Any eggs he pockets should be taken along to the local ornithologists who will make a record of them. Then it's OK.


What I want to know is why after millions and millions of pounds thrown at "archaeological outreach to the British public" which has lasted twenty years - you get a dumbass question like that. IS artefact hunting and collecting archaeology? No. No more than nesting and bird egg collecting is ornithology. We'll never get those twenty years back, PAS.

Wednesday 21 September 2016

Scandal at Roissy

« Pour expédier de simples éléments 
de jardin, on emploie rarement
de telles précautions. Il y avait de fortes suspicions
qu'il s'agisse de biens culturels», explique Christophe Verbois,
chef de la cellule de ciblage du fret aux douanes

Two reliefs from the choir of a church in the Euphrates valley have been seized at Roissy (Charles de Gaulle) airport by French Customs, they probably come from looting by ISIL (Nathalie Revenu, 'Un trésor archéologique saisi à Roissy' Le Parisien, 21 septembre 2016). The strong wooden box they were in was being sent in March from Lebanon to Thailand, and was declared as "decorative panels for the garden". Suspicions were raised however by the 180 kg weight and the way the items had been packed which suggested the contents were not modern pieces meant merely for decoration. When inspected, the crate was found to contain two beautiful reliefs carved in marble carefully protected by foam thicknesses.
ces pièces sont authentiques et proviennent « probablement de la moyenne vallée de l'Euphrate, dans la région du Levant Nord ». Une région qui englobe l'Irak et la Syrie. C'est cette dernière qui semble être le pays d'origine. « Cette paire de plaques a été datée entre le XIV e et le XVI e siècle. Elles constituaient une clôture de base du chœur d'une église, appelée chancel levantin. Ce mobilier liturgique apparaît dans les églises paléochrétiennes », précisent les spécialistes.  [...] Il a pour l'instant été impossible de localiser la ville et l'édifice qui ont abrité ces joyaux architecturaux ornés de grappes de raisins et d'une jarre surmontée d'une croix chrétienne. Les investigations s'annoncent difficiles sinon impossible en raison des combats permanents sur le territoire syrien.
A French official is quoted as saying that there is evidence that ISIL is currently speeding up its sales of stolen cultural property to collectors as its other sources of  finance dry up. And just to calm Peter Tompa's (somewhat exaggerated, one feels) worries:
Soustraits aux réseaux mafieux, les bas-reliefs seront conservés en lieu sûr et seront restitués à leur pays d'origine quand les armes se seront tues.
What is worth thinking about is how and when these items ended up in Lebanon, and to whom they were being sent (collector or dealer?) in Thailand. The article does not say.

Digital Imaging of Rolled Scroll

Burnt scroll digitally unwrapped

So, all that mummy mask soaking by US wannabe Bible scholars was unnecessary, who'd 'a believed it, eh?
Ian Sample, ' Jubilation as scientists use 'virtual unwrapping' to read burnt ancient scroll' Guardian Wednesday 21 September 2016
But of course those primitives were not really after knowledge at all, but trophies.

For Nigel: For the Rest of You a Free Bit of the Book and Explanation of why Blogging is Light at the Moment

Nigel, a new draft of the first bit of:
Black is our old text, blue the new bits. After it is the bit with all the risible quotes about the PAS from the dealers. 
The pas in a wider context

Soon after its inception, the PAS became of great significance for collectors of portable antiquities both in the UK and beyond. Anyone engaging with the global portable antiquity collecting milieu will be struck by the frequency with which the opinion is voiced in such circles that allegedly the only possible way forward for the archaeological world is firstly to accept that the worldwide exploitation of the archaeological record for collectables on a massive scale is inevitable and unstoppable and secondly that the world archaeological community should therefore react by creating a ‘fair and voluntary scheme’ whereby what is taken by collectors can be documented to the same degree as the (always) admirable British Portable Antiquities Scheme. This will, it is alleged, be the panacea to all the problems. In this way, Britain’s PAS has been taken to hold out the hope of a satisfactory solution to the ethical and legal disconnect between antiquity preservation laws and what hunters, dealers and collectors wish to do (in other words it is taken as showing that laws restricting the activities of the antiquities trade are unnecessary). 

The Portable Antiquities Scheme has directly played a part in the development of this trend. In September 2009, a one-day PAS-sponsored conference was held in the British Museum program entitled: ‘Recording the Past: How Different European Countries Deal With Portable Antiquities’. It was attended by speakers from ten European countries who addressed the issue of their government's legal and administrative approach to recently discovered portable antiquities. At the meeting,  Roger Bland, the head of PAS, gave the keynote speech presenting the successes of the PAS in England and Wales and the 1996 Treasure Act and Treasure award system. Participants from the national museums of Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic discussed the situation in their countries, and all suggest that artefact hunters were active in all three areas, but reporting levels were very low there.  There were  speakers from the Netherlands, Denmark who talked about the manner in which artefact hunting was accommodated in those countries and the archaeological benefits they saw in this. Representatives of Schleswig Holstein, Slovenia, Hungary and Poland discussed the situation in countries where artefact hunting was regulated, or punishable. The conference apparently came to the conclusion that ‘if the proper recording of finds is the objective, those systems which most closely follow the [British] approach of credible market-value rewards and outreach are the most successful’. [1] One cannot avoid suspecting that this is precisely what the British organizers were hoping to hear. It is a shame that the conference proceedings and discussion sessions were never published.

More recently, members of staff of the PAS have been involved in attempts by European portable antiquities collectors to weaken foreign legislation and legalise unrestricted artefact hunting. In once case, in April 2015 PAS employees were involved in the creation of promotional material for a campaign (‘Green Light for Change’ attached to the Irish metal detecting forum)[2] 'to legalise metal detecting for antiquities in the Republic of Ireland'. This campaign, led by Norfolk-based detector user Liam Nolan, basically consisted of pointing out what a success the PAS had been getting finds recorded in Norfolk, and that if the laws in Ireland were relaxed, more loose artefacts would be taken out of the ground and recorded there too. A senior figure in the PAS is reported by Mr Nolan to be in ‘regular contact’ with the Campaign and allegedly ‘offered to fly over to address any meetings and explain to archaeologists how such a system could be modified to suit the specific Irish needs but we want there to be a more positive climate before that happens’.[3]

It is not per se against the law in Ireland to use a metal detector, but to use it without a permit to dig up artefacts to collect and sell is. The whole of section two of the National Monuments (Amendment) Act, 1987[4] sets this out quite clearly, and below that, the procedure for obtaining a permit and reporting finds thus made. Section 20 and 23 set out the measures for dealing with those not reporting. Since a measure to get chance finds and (both legal and illegal) finds made with the use of a metal detector reported is already in place in the legislation, instituting a PAS is clearly superfluous. 

The same Mr Nolan was also involved in setting up the European Council for Metal Detecting (ECMD). This developed from meetings of several groups of artefact hunters from the continent in 2011 and 2012 in which Trevor Austin of the NCMD became involved. The ECMD’s inaugural conference in April 2015 at The Holiday Inn, Birmingham Airport was sponsored by metal detector manufacturer Minelab and the ‘Searcher’ metal detecting magazine. This was intended to bring together artefact hunters not only from England, Ireland and Spain, but also France (Groupe Militante Pour un Treasure Act Francais), Poland, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Germany. The keynote speaker was the new PAS head, Dr Michael Lewis. The stated aim of this meeting was to create conditions in which artefact hunters could ‘work together for the common cause to allow responsible metal detecting to be allowed in all European countries’. The ECMD (closely modelled on Britain’s NCMD) is to create a framework through which foreign artefact hunting and collecting organizations

can help establish a working relationship with their respective governments, the eventual aim being to encourage the type of co-operation and recording of finds that has been so successful here in the UK and with the power to advocate reform and influence existing National [sic] legislation. [...] The promotion of the benefits of the "English Model" will be a key factor in achieving these goals [...].[5]

It is disturbing to see the PAS involved in this plan to undermine European preservation legislation. Of course the function of European antiquities preservation legislation is not merely to ensure things are recorded so that collectors can pocket them, article 2 and 3 of the Valetta Convention - the very ones the UK rejected (Chapter 4) - exist to attain that. 

These efforts all ignore one basic fact, the Portable Antiquities Scheme was not set up in order that national laws could allow artefact hunting and collecting, it is instead a symptom of lax laws which allow pilfering of sites for collectables - something the laws of all those other countries without a PAS strive to protect sites from. Instead of prompting foreign countries to abandon any attempts to prevent looting, to bring them down to the same parlous level as the UK, rather one would expect an organization like the PAS to be more deeply involved in efforts to tighten up the British legislation.

The pas and the global antiquities market
Of course anyone else who is not my co-author can comment on this fragment too (Nigel, comments offline please). That applies especially if you work for the PAS, for this book is mostly about you, now we've chucked out the chapters about metal detectorists (you'll see those in 2017/8). But if you work for the PAS you'll not be reading this blog anyway, will you?

Tuesday 20 September 2016

From a Recent PAS Report

The main achievements of the PAS in 2014: • 113,794 finds were recorded; a total of 1,127,586 recorded on its database (finds.org.uk/database) to date. • 96% of finds were found by metal-detectorists. • 91% of finds were found on cultivated land, where they are susceptible to plough damage and artificial and natural corrosion processes.
On all of it? So why are there any artefacts left at all?  What actually is the "achievement" here? This is not responsible public outreach, it is uncritical repetition of artefact hunters' own self-justifications. Where is the BM Research Report to back up this glib statement?

Vignette: Name plate corroding just as is BM's reputation for spouting pseudo-science

Monday 19 September 2016

CifA Hates Artefact Hunting and Collecting?

The Chartered Institute for Archaeologists Code of Conduct published December 2014

1.6 A member shall know and comply with all laws applicable to his or her archaeological activities whether as employer or employee, and where appropriate with national and international treaties, conventions and charters including annexes and schedules.

1.7 A member shall not knowingly be employed by, or otherwise contract with, an individual or entity where the purpose of the contract is directly to facilitate the excavation and/or recovery of items from archaeological contexts for sale, and where such sale may lead to the irretrievable dispersal of the physical and/or intellectual archive, or where such sale may result in an undispersed archive to which public access is routinely denied.

Sunday 18 September 2016

Don't Believe Lying Dealers

Candid comment:
“Generally, you have to be very careful of what a Middle Eastern antiquities dealer tells you,” said Lenny Wolfe, himself a Middle Eastern antiquities dealer based in Jerusalem. “You’re probably safer not believing it.”
Ben Harris, 'Medieval texts found in Afghan cave' Times of Israel January 25, 2012.

Saturday 17 September 2016

European Heritage Days

It is interesting to see where the European Heritage Days events - a joint action of the Council of Europe and the European Commission - are taking place this month and where the heritage is being promoted:

Map of heritage sites participating
Apparently most of England does not see itself very much as part of the European heritage zone, but look at Ireland (and then recall the differences in attitudes to the Collection Driven Exploitation of the archaeological record in both countries).  Poland, in the centre of Europe, is well-represented. France is a bit of an odd blank  on this map.

The aim of European Heritage Days is to:
raise the awareness of European citizens to the richness and cultural diversity of Europe;
create a climate in which the appreciation of the rich mosaic of European cultures is stimulated;
counter racism and xenophobia and encourage greater tolerance in Europe and beyond the national borders;
inform the public and the political authorities about the need to protect cultural heritage against new threats;
invite Europe to respond to the social, political and economic challenges it faces.
Find out more at www.europeanheritagedays.com

Law abiding Detectorists Will Break Law

Heritage Action has drawn attention to a change in law in France ('French make fools of the Brexiting British') and the "responsible" reaction of the European Council for Metal Detecting (September 4, 2016):
 Overall, this is quite clearly bad news for the metal detectorists in France, as this new law will severely restrict their ability to participate in the cultural life of the [sic] French society and prevent them from contributing to the discovery and protection of archaeological heritage. We suspect that this will have a detrimental effect on the number of reported finds, as many people will lose their will to search for artefacts, while some may even try to sell them to private buyers, which is exactly what the new law is trying to avoid.
Well, of course the new law is not there to encourage a "will to search for artefacts". The aim of heritage preservation is to reduce the (merely) Collection Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Resource for privatye benefit and direct it to public benefit. It is the detectorists who the ECMD are portraying as unwilling to participate in such a process to the detriment of their own selfish heritage-pocketing interests.   This is not in any way "participating in the cultural life of French society", private heritage pocketing is detrimental to the interests of French (and European) society. Note that the antithesis of private collecting by artefact hunters is shown only as illegally "selling finds to private buyers". Law-abiding detectorists will become law-breakers the moment you remove their ability to profit personally from going along with the law.

Well done ECMD for pointing this out.

Friday 16 September 2016

Hansons Auctioneers Launches new Dugup Coins and Antiquities Department

Dressed for a summer's day's digging
Derbyshire based Hansons Auctioneers are expanding into coins and antiquities with a new department called Historica (Hansons Auctioneers launches new coins and antiquities department (Antiques Trade Gazette)).
Charles Hanson, founder of Hansons, has hired specialists Adam Staples and Lisa Grace as consultants and will hold three auctions a year under the new Historica banner. The first auction will be held on November 29 with 600 lots [...]. The bolt-on department will focus on UK antiquities from the iron age to the 17th century. Hanson said: “I have been looking at this area for some time but it has taken me two years to find the right people.” Staples and Grace have worked in the field of antiquities and coins for almost 36 years between them with experience of working with museums and the UK Detector Finds Database [...]. Hanson, 38, set up his business 10 years ago and employs 22 full time staff and a group of expert consultants.
Hanson referred to the firm TimeLine Auctions who have been “leading the way” in antiquities but reckons there is "room for a provincial auctioneer in the market". There are a lot of ethical issues involved in this, let us see how Hanson deals with them... 

Monday 12 September 2016

On the new SBL ancient artifacts policy

Not just the AIA, there's a new policy for publication of even addressed sources (Palaeojudaica):
The Society of Biblical Literature sent out an email yesterday to its members announcing a new SBL Policy on Scholarly Presentation and Publication of Ancient Artifacts. Essentially, the SBL Council has voted to endorse and enforce the The American Schools of Oriental Research Policy on Professional Conduct. SBL will no longer allow the initial publication or announcement--in any of its venues--of textual artifacts of unknown or illicit provenance, unless they can be documented to have been discovered and removed from the countries of their origin prior to 24 April 1972, when the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property came into effect.
Vignette: keilschrift

Wednesday 7 September 2016

Ushabti Figurine Found in Mexico Returned to Egypt

 "Ra-Nes [..] he was honest”
but the dealer...?
Ushabti Figurine Found in Mexico Returned to Egypt  Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities has authenticated an ancient ushabti figurine recovered in Mexico. Ahram Online reports that the wooden statuette was handed over by a Mexican citizen who found it in his newly purchased house. Shabab Abdel-Gawad, head of Egypt's Antiquities Repatriation Department, said that the carving dates to the nineteenth dynasty, from around 1292 to 1190 B.C. Hieroglyphic text on the figurine includes the name “Ra-Nes,” and says that “he was honest.” Abdel-Gawad also suggested that the artifact had been excavated illegally and smuggled out of the country.,” .
To eventually hand up in the hands of a collector who did not ensure it passed to responsible hands - simply left it behind. How many artefacts are lost each year at the hands of such irresponsible collectors who consider "it's my property, I can do with it what I like"?

Tuesday 6 September 2016

You've Got to Get That Feeling: Allegedly, the "Right Way" to Collect "Artefacts with Limited Provenance"

Feeling up the Goods
According to some material sent by an amused reader, a spokesman for the ACCG dealers has recently published a statement on "the right way" to collect "Artefacts with Limited Provenance".  It's a hoot. Dealer Dave sets out "what, in my experience as a coin dealer, is appropriate and practical discrimination that every dealer and collector can and should practice" - discrimination in order not to be buying illicit material.

Firstly he lamely suggests that: "Every artifact does come with provenance, at least to the source from which it is acquired. That should be recorded, and when appropriate, disclosed to the next owner". Yes it should, but on its own, that is not enough. "The Philip Boggins collection, acquired in 2012 from Messrs Grebkesh and Runn" is not a collecting history which is capable of legitimizing an artefact that, for example, was probably dug up somewhere in the Middle East. To be unequivocally legitimate (licit), that collecting history has to go back beyond the date when legislation was introduced regulating the handling of such material. That everybody agrees to. If the collecting history goes back only to (say) 2012, then the collecting history of that object does not, and cannot fulfil that function. If any other part of that collecting history is lost or has been discarded, then that object cannot be legitimated and should not be found in any truly legitimate trade. It is as simple as that. As we see from a number of dealers' sales offers, there are artefacts which have collecting histories which show they were in the market before regulatory legislation was introduced in its source country, and for most people there is no generally problem with museums and private collectors having them (see my 'Repatriation' blog for the cases when there is disagreement over that latter - and quite separate - issue).

Dealer Dave however wants civilized society to make an exception for him and his commercial partners. He postulates (though his reasoning seems to be no better than "I want")  that "partial provenance" should be "enough" to legitimate artefacts on the market. It is less than clear what he understands by "legitimate". I get the feeling that what he means is can't-touch-yer-for-it-legitimacy, which of course is no legitimacy at all. Anyway, here are his ideas about why the collector should believe their dealer really, really, really has only licit material in his stockroom.
1) First by a long chalk, is to know your sources. Buy from reputable sources in whom you have good reason to confide [sic] in their honesty, judgement and willingness to stand behind their goods in the rare event of a problem.
If the problems  (what kind of problems?) are "rare", on what (and how extensive experience) does one base the conviction that a certain supplier will "stand by their goods" (how?) when one is encountered? What is meant here by "honesty"? Is this just that they honestly "believe" that there are no conceivable issues with the goods they have - even though they in fact have no more idea than, and selected the material they handle by the same methods as, Dealer Dave (see below)?I think that behind such a glib suggestion, a whole range of unasked questions lie - and Dealer Dave probably is hoping that none of his collector-readers have the gumption opr nous to ask those questions of him. He continues:
2) Avoid "anonymous venues" such as eBay, unless you are a real expert who can navigate such dangerous waters with relative safety - and even experts will be deceived from time to time, and must be prepared to accept that, take the loss and not pass on fakes and tainted material to others.
Aha, so a "real expert" can frequent the "anonymous" eBay dealers? Is Dealer Dave claiming to be such an "expert"? So a British nighthawk selling coins in collectable condition from his girlfriend's house in Solihul can be detected by Dealer Dave by what, precisely, if the fundamental question not being asked is "show me the documentation that proves you have title"? If Dealer Dave buys tainted material from Johnny Putrid the nighthawk, how will Dealer Dave or Dealer Dave's clients  actually know that? This is can't-touch-yer-for-it legality, once they've left Mr Putrid's hands and in Dealer Dave's, nobody can show they were 'tainted'. Of course, in the discussion of the issue of using documented collecting history to exclude looted and/or smuggled material from the market, nobody is concerned about fakes. That's the collector's problem. But how does Dealer Dave know that Mr Putrid has sold him kosher (untainted) objects? This one is a killer:
3) Learn the "look and feel" of old collection artifacts. In the numismatic trade, that "look and feel" is rather distinctive, and not easy to deceptively simulate
How is the collector to judge for themself that their preferred dealer has in fact 'learnt' this 'feel' if the characteristic are nowhere defined so we can assess for ourselves how well the objects he shows fit those criteria?. I guess we are to understand that all of the coins shown on Dealer Dave's clunky 1990s-style website have this 'feel'. But then, what is it?  This one for example, is it "old collection' because it looks as it it was cleaned in Harpick toilet cleaner? Or this pitted one?

What is really, really interesting is that Dealer Dave gives one example of a coin which has this 'feel' (and what appears to be an early modern modification suggesting it was out of the ground in a specific collection a long time ago) and the 'cabinet toning' - but this one is NOT from his own stock, but somebody else's. Is it the case that he has not a single coin in his own stock that he could use to demonstrate the characteristics he allegedly used to select all of them? Odd that.
Collectors also often wiped down the surfaces of their coins with a soft cloth to remove dust. The above coin has surface characteristics suggesting such periodic wiping on the obverse, and its reverse shows distinctive wear on the high points which appears to be noticeable cabinet friction.
But there seems to be a misunderstanding, wear does not indicate legal sourcing or export. It indicates wear. Like if it travelled from Turkey to Munich in the dusty space between the floor of Mustafa's car and the grimy carpet which hid it from view. Or shipped, sandwiched between planks of wood in a container tossed around in the Bay of Biscay. Cabinet toning can be and is faked. Dealer Dave will tell you 'he' can tell the difference, what empirical tests have been done to show he can? (And again, how do you 'date' the beginning of the process?)

Sunday 4 September 2016

Could This be the Tide-Turner?

It has been a hard day. I've spent all day editing a report on Early Medieval settlement networks written by a Polish author who's apparently not read much written after the 1970s, then Big Cat jumping up to console me in my distress ripped yet another of my decent shirts, I discovered that the registration on my car ran out two months ago and I did not notice, the beer in the fridge is not cold enough. The usual trials and tribulations. Then it came.

I have just received from the author the final draft of an article on metal detecting in Europe which quite simply is the best thing I have read on the topic, ever. I will not divulge the author's name, suffice to say that it is not the usual PAS-inspired pap we tend to get fobbed-off with passing as 'discussion of artefact hunting'. A long time ago the PAS was told in one of their reviews that they really needed to pay more attention to the archaeological critics of the PAS. They totally ignored that injunction. Now the chickens are coming in to roost. Ignoring that tiresome blogger in Warsaw, there recently has been David Gill's groundbreaking piece (of which the PAS chickened out of participating in the discussion), now there is this. It is a devastating indictment not only of artefact hunting but also archaeological approaches to it. It does not ask dumbass questions like those which supporters of artefact collecting seem fixated with in order to avoid the real discussion, such as whether artefact hunters "can be archaeologists", it cuts right to the core of the issue in a way which, to be frank, I never thought we would see from a British archaeologist. This is the kind of stocktaking the PAS should have done fifteen years ago, and have instead spent a decade and a half conspicuously avoiding doing.  Except this one is on a European scale, the amount of work that has gone into it is staggering.

So far, British archaeology has disgracefully dodged dealing with a whole range of issues surrounding artefact hunting and the antiquities trade. Probably they feel that they can continue to do so and those they label "dinosaurs" will quieten down one day. I think that is not the case. The PAS's HLF funded PAStexplorers project of Karaoke Recording will soon be coming to an end, how many times can they extend it? And when they cannot, what next? Who will pay for what and why? Obviously we are going to have to have a proper discussion, and in the wider, European, context of just where all this is going. The pat-on-the-head, cuddly-wuddly, fluffy-bunny stuff of Suzie, Pieterjan and Mike seems (from the first two chapters released) not to be what is needed. This one, which has the words "English Disease" in the title, in my opinion, most certainly has laid the foundations for a proper informed discussion. Oh, and Ms Ferguson, it discusses legal and illegal detecting in the same article in a most useful manner. 

I believe that it will be published as open access, so even library-shy coin fondlers can see it, though I suspect at over 130 pages, they and metal detectorists will not read it: "too many words". But the rest of us however really should read it carefully, I'd like to see it on university reading lists when the subject of "public archaeology" is discussed. I'll discuss it more here when it is out. I just could not contain my excitement - and that is not a word I often use about texts on 'metal detecting'.

Vignette: Previous attempts to turn the tide of dirt on the antiquities market have failed 

Lebanon: Alleged Artefact Smugglers Arrested

Lebanon News, 'Ancient artifact smugglers arrested in south Lebanon' Sep. 03, 2016
Internal Security Forces arrested four people Saturday in the southern city of Tyre, who had what is believed to be ancient artifacts in their possession
I think one might be able to understand that government officials may not be as adept as archaeologists, who handle grounded stuff from proper sources daily, in identifying the fake artefacts, but - to judge from the look of the object in the photo - they really ought to be able to tell ivory from plastic. That might save a bit of public money.

German Victoria and Albert Museum Director Quits

Richard Brooks,'German VandA chief quits in sorrow at Brexit defeat', The Sunday Times September 4th 2016. 
Probably the narrow-minded xenophobes who voted to take Britain out of Europe are perfectly happy that another immigrant is going home. Will the BM's Hartwig Fischer stick it out? Or will he abandon the marbles and the PAS to their fate?

Pottery Found Next to Pyramids on EBay - Why?

Now who'd be selling something like this? What kind of piracy is suggested by the fact that the seller does not include even a smidgen of information allowing it to be determined that this pocket-sized artefact fragment was removed from the site legally and left the source country in the proper manner? It is pirate dealers like this that get the (truly) legitimate trade a bad name. Both we and responsible collectors (I'm guessing there are some) need to get cowboys like this off the market leaving it free for those who can actually source material which they can properly document as licit and, in order to maintain a deserved reputation, refuse to stock that which they cannot.

Massive Old Kingdom Amphora Pottery Shard - from Giza.As old as the pyramids, and found next to them. A massive fragment from an Old Kingdom (2649 - 2150 BC) pottery amphora, found at Giza.. 14cm x 9cm x 4cm, 379 grams (13½ ounces)

This dealer (pennylilac (365 ) eschewing any notions of accountability has been on ebay since 2001 and also deals in faded Victorian postage stamps and other bric a brac.  I wonder what qualifications this guy even has for knowing what it is he has in his puffy hand - he guarantees the 'authenticity' of his other Egyptian artefacts, I'd like to know what experience he has of handling genuinely grounded artefacts from proper (not looters') excavations only. 

What is the Point?

There is another up for auction - Numismatica Ars Classica, Zurich Auction 94 (The Gasvoda Collection Part II - Imperatorial and Twelve Caesars Coinage), 6 October 2016 Lot 20 Starting price: 220000 CHF

 "Privately purchased through Antiqva from CNG and Jonathan Kern" and added to a collection "started in the early 1990’s".
At that time I always knew I wanted an EID MAR in the collection. I had begun working with Steve Rubinger and asked him to keep an eye out for me and let me know if he ever saw one he thought would be a good fit for my collection. I had asked him about several that came up for auction and he always advised against them for one reason or another. Then one day out of the blue he called and told me he had found the EID MAR that I needed to buy. This was that coin.
There is no mention of anyone knowing where such an obviously exceptional coin was before that "one day" some time after the early 1990s. I think these coins are really ugly, they celebrate bloody political assassination, and nobody needs to hold a coin in their hand to know that Caesar got stabbed.  Coin fondlers like to say they are 'studying history' (or even 'adding to our knowledge of the past') by buying these things without asking the obvious question, '....but yes, where exactly did this come from?'  They are not. Not in cases like this, this is transparently just about self-centred acquisitiveness, trophy hunting and bragging rights.

This collection (part I was auctioned earlier) contains at least 37 coins of the Roman Republic and 153 of the Roman Empire. The Ernst Ploil Collection of Roman Coins - Part II 163 of the Roman Empire, while something coyly but patriotically called the "America collection" of Greek coins consists of 152 items (two Celtic - Central Europe Celts, the Vindelici. (Documented Collecting History only post 2011 and Middle and Lower Danube Celts. Tetradrachm, [DCH only post 2015 but has 'old [how old? PMB] cabinet toning ' (sic)). What I really do not understand is why the seller makes no mention of the surface being covered in ring-punch marks. That seems something worth discussing if one wishes to 'investigate the past'.

So on the same day the same firm is auctioning some 500 coins, (highlights from?) from two named part-collections and one anonymous whole one. Between them these three gentleman collectors had probably collected 1000 choice specimens - and who knows what else. But 'choice' is the operative word here. Any surfing of a group of dealers' catalogues from all segments of the market will show that in the case of the Greek and Roman ones in particular, coins like the ones these guys had a whole cabinet full are one-in-over-a-thousand. So in fact what we see of what these three men had acquired represents an absolutely vast removal of archaeological material from the archaeological record. Let's ignore the self-serving crap from the dealers that "coins like this only come from hoards", even if they do, what we see (actually see with our own eyes) actually on the market is loads and loads of coins that do not look like these. Whatever slimy dealers and self-serving collectors say, archaeological sites are being exploited commercially and as a 'hobby' to supply collectors with geegaws to collect, gloat over and boast about - and eventually flog off at a profit when they are bored with 'studying the past', or gloating. Or die, with the book of what they 'learnt', unwritten.

Saturday 3 September 2016

Turkish Tanks Seal Border with ISIL-Held Syria

Extract from map by Thomas van Linge ‏@arabthomness

Dealers and collectors are sighing with relief today as the Associated Press announces: 'Turkish Tanks Cross Into Syria in 'New Phase' Against IS' Sept 3rd 2016). This means not only will transport of foreign fighters, weapons and oil  across the remaining stretch of the frontier zone in ISIL hands, but also stories of antiquities getting through have to alter.
IS, which once controlled hundreds of miles of territory along the Turkish border and used it to bring in foreign fighters and supplies, now only rules a 21-kilometer (13-mile) stretch of the frontier. The group has suffered a string of defeats in recent months in both Syria and Iraq. Some 5,000 U.S. and Turkish-backed Syrian rebels have crossed into northern Syria from Turkey to participate in the so-called Euphrates Shield operation [...] The Syria Democratic Forces, which also includes Arab fighters, has taking a large swath of territory from the extremists along the border with Turkey and closed in on Raqqa, the de facto capital of the extremist group's self-styled caliphate.
In the map above we can see some of the sites that figured large in the US State Department's "ISIL fund raising through antiquities" story. Interestingly, their capture has not resulted in the announcement of the recovery of a single cache of antiquities or documentation proving this culture-crime really was going on. In whose interests would it be to hide such information if it existed?

Update 4th September 2016
As of today, ISIS (black) doesn't share any border with Turkey. First time since mid 2013.

Map by Anadolu agency

UPDATE 18th September 2017

Selcan Hacaoglu, 'Turkey’s Army Is Driving Deeper Into Syria as Latest Truce Frays' Bloomberg 18th September
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan [...] outlined plans for a “safe zone” in Syria [...] where rebels can be sheltered and trained, and refugees resettled. It could be the biggest military intervention in Turkey’s recent history[...]  Erdogan said the campaign, named Operation Euphrates Shield, will extend to the Islamic State stronghold of Al-Bab, about 30 kilometers from the border. [...] Erdogan has signaled that he’s ready to send his army as far as Raqqa to help a U.S.-led effort to finish off the self-proclaimed caliphate.

Archaeology and an Inability to Define the Subject of Discussion (Updated)

Go on, read Heritage Action's
text on what archaeology
is and is not, you know
you want to...
This morning Heritage Action made some comments about the way the British Museum defines archaeology. It seems the heritage community is having a lot of problems with definition at the moment. It seems now that there is some discussion of artefact hunting and collecting in EAA Vilnius (oh by the way the EAA code of ethics has something about this):
Natasha Ferguson ‏@DrTashaFerguson 4 godziny temu
Come on! Let's not conflate hobbyist and illicit metal detecting #EAAVilnius2016 Academic debate is happening let's engage with it people!
I would say engaging in an academic debate would consist of starting off with defining just what, precisely, we are talking about before being urged to privilege one form of it . Here we see that pernicious and superficial "we aint night'awks' argumint" trotted out by an arkie from the Scottish equivalent of the Treasure Unit.
6 min. @DrTashaFerguson @SuzieThomasHY
In what, precise, way do they affect archaeological record differently? Always, Natasha? What is difference?
Whether or not it is done in accord with a "they can't touch you for it" law (made by non-archaeologists), surely as archaeologists what we need to be debating is what the overall effect is (a) on the archaeological record and (b) public perceptions and expectations of archaeology (real archaeology). Artefact hunting is NOT archaeology, archaeology (real archaeology) is - or jolly well should be by now - something else. I do not see the archaeological rationale for dividing so-called "hobbyist artefact hunting|" (what exactly does Dr Ferguson mean by that?) from any other kind of collection-driven-exploitation (CDE) of the archaeological record. This blog's comments box is free for any archaeologist to come here and explain to us all just where they draw the line and why. Please, be my guests.

UPDATE 3rd September 2016 Evening

Dr Ferguson continues her support of artefact hunting. She now ventures:
Natasha Ferguson ‏@DrTashaFerguson 12 minut temu
@MayaHoole @PortantIssues @SuzieThomasHY Illicit is illegal with intention to profit.
I pointed out that this is by no means always the case, artefact hunting and collecting with metal detectors is illegal over much of continental Europe, which does not mean that artefact hunters do not keep records and are not collecting (illegally) out of an interest in history and always is done to sell rather than collect the objects found. This is well- documented from Austria and Poland and a number of other places which seem to be out of NF's immediate line of sight). Whether that is or is not the case, they are damaging the sites which the artefacts they pocket come from - and that is the point I think underlies this whole debate. On being asked whether she'd like to expand on that in more than 140 characters, the reply is:
Oh don't worry, I am. Haven't you read my published work? You might find in interesting.
I guess this is it. I've read the "Biting the bullet" one, the rest do not turn me on all that much, it seems we are talking at cross purposes (as one often is when the basic terms are not defined properly) Dr F. is talking about the use of the metal detectopr as a survey tool, I am (and this blog is) talking about it as a tool used for the collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record, as a collector's tool. But yes, feel free Dr Ferguson to come here and tell me I am in some way 'wrong' to see it as such.

Meanwhile one Maya Hoole decided to archiexplain it all to me.We have a BM-dumbdown-compliant definition of "illicit" artefact hunting:
Maya Hoole ‏@MayaHoole 50 minut temu
@PortantIssues @DrTashaFerguson @SuzieThomasHY  Illict = no records or interest in learning: hobbie = keen to share, learn  join community.
One wonders what planet Ms Hoole has fallen from. My reply:
Rubbish; I asked "always". Check the figures on reporting. Knowledge theft occurs in both cases.
UPDATE UPDATE 3rd September 2016 Evening
I assume that this is arkiesarcasm:
Natasha Ferguson ‏@DrTashaFerguson 31 minut temu
@PortantIssues @MayaHoole @SuzieThomasHY Fair play to you for being able to tackle the issue in 150 characters. Takes talent...
Which is why I invited you to come and debate it properly. Why should we not, taking the wider view, treat "hobbyist artefact hunting" and "illicit metal detecting" as part of the same phenomenon which is the collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record? Yes, there is a socking big "elephant in the senior common room" requiring academic debate, can you see it? Would it hurt to use social (and other) media to whisper a few truths about it?

Heritage Action on Trepanation and Modern Archaeology

Bosch manages to depict what is going on in British archaeology
Heritage Action have an invisible blog, the words go up, but it seems only the coin elves (and a few mouthy metal detectorists) can see them. Today's post however hits the nail right on the head ('5 years on, and PAS is still cheerleading for “cranial trepanation” !' 03/09/2016). How is it possible for the archaeological world not to see this for themselves, with no need for Mr Heritage to point it out to them on a blog obviously none of them see any need whatsoever to read? 
PAS is staging yet another conference praising metal detecting. (Why, when they were set up to cope with it not promote it? A biscuit to anyone who knows!) It’s titled “Can Detectorists be Archaeologists?” The answer is simple: NO, for the nature of the activity precludes its participants from adhering to the archaeological practices, aims and ethics developed to maximise knowledge and minimise cultural loss which real archaeologists have to! Why would you need to stage a whole expensive conference to explain that, unless you were trying to pretend short changing the community is acceptable? 
The conservation group is perplexed that the British Museum had assured everyone recently that they’d endeavour to ensure “misinterpretation cannot be inferred from our use of language in the future”
Metal detecting can never be archaeology for a multitude of reasons [...] if archaeology [...] isn’t done right, it’s one of many inferior ways of interacting with the past of which metal detecting is merely one. By what right does our national museum, uniquely in the world, imply otherwise? The whole bloody farce reminds us of 2011 when Diana Friendship-Taylor, chair of Rescue, wrote witheringly of a previous similar attempt:“We are, frankly, astonished, that the British Museum is prepared to lend its considerable weight to the furtherance of a method of historical inquiry which belongs in the distant past, and which has as much relevance to the practice of modern archaeology as the use of the cranial trepanation has to modern medicine.
I would put the Heritage Action text alongside another blog post from today, The Pipeline's 'Winter Is Coming: Communicating Archaeology in a Post Truth World' (2nd September 2016) with the teaser in the comments:
private artifact hunting, and artifact theft, is one of the biggest elephants in the senior common room of mainstream UK archaeology, and it is a subject thePipeLine will be returning to later in the Autumn.
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