Tuesday 31 January 2017

New report outlines extent of metal detecting in Scotland for the first time

Historic Environment Scotland (HES) ' Landmark project aims to build relations between metal detectorists and heritage sector' 31 January 2017
The report is the first of its kind to be attempted in Scotland. It was conducted by GUARD Archaeology Ltd, using online questionnaires and one-to-one interviews with detectorists and heritage professionals to find out the extent of metal detecting in Scotland, the different ways it takes place across the country, as well as to ask those involved for their views on how the process of find reporting works. The report found that there are approximately 521 ‘hobbyist’ metal detectorists in Scotland, 87% of whom are male, with a predominant age range between 45 and 55 years old. The areas with the highest recorded activity of metal detecting in Scotland were Perth and Kinross, Fife, Dumfries and Galloway, and the Scottish Borders. Kevin Munro, Senior Designations Officer for Historic Environment Scotland, said: “Anecdotally, we seem to be seeing an increase in the numbers of people participating in metal detecting in Scotland – perhaps due to a number of high profile finds by detectorists in Britain in the past decade. We know that detectorists have a great interest in history, and we hope that the project will help us to ensure that they are aware of the appropriate processes for reporting finds when they are discovered.
The usual old crap, 'detectorists' have less an interest in 'history' than collecting historical items, it is not the same. This is why those 521 hoikers can usually come up with barely 300 items a year for the TTU to put in their reports. In fact, my feeling is this number is too low, IMO there may be another 400 they've not spotted.

The report: ‘Assessment of the Extent and Character of Hobbyist Metal Detecting in Scotland’ is available for download on the Historic Environment Scotland publications page

Monday 30 January 2017

Clearing the Vaults and Whitewashing the Taint: Vikan on US Museums and Trade 'Partnership'

Gary Vikan
Gary Vikan attempts to explain 'why US museums and the antiquities trade should work together' Apollo Magazine 30th January 2017. He considers antiquities collectors to be part (with what?) of an 'ecosystem' that created encyclopaedic museums. His article is overly America-centred, he seems not to see an outside world, and when he does it is as a source of trophy artefacts for Americans to gawp at or making annoying claims on the artefacts that American collectors have somehow amassed. Thus he comes to formulate the view that the cumulative effect of:
steps to impede the trade in looted antiquities – and thus to preserve the integrity of archaeological sites and to maintain the authority of state ownership over national cultural assets [...] has been to destroy the system that created America’s great museums: from dealers to collectors to museums and for the benefit of the American public.
If looted artefacts are what makes 'American museums great', then perhaps we need to ask ourselves about the America-First values they represent. Vikan of course employs the usual Two Wrongs Argument ('There are many other buyers in other countries, who are guided by different sets of rules and different values – and each of the antiquities-rich countries has its own internal market. So looting will go on without us') and wants to see US museums prosper
especially in parts of the US that did not benefit from the cultural philanthropy of the last century.

By this he means rich collectors who bought trophy items from goodness-knows-where and then left them to museums, ostensibly altruistically but in reality in self-glorification. He suggests that in the USA:
Our challenge is to create a new culture of collecting, which will be sustained by the vast number of antiquities already within borders of the United States.
The problem for him is that those objects consist (only?) of two categories of such works, 'which both require basic policy changes in order for their value to be realised in the public interest'.
The first is comprised of the hundreds of thousands of ‘orphan’ antiquities, which have been privately assembled by American dealers and collectors over the last 40 years or so. I call them orphans because, even if they arrived in the US before 1970, they likely lack full documentation [...] Unless we find a solution, these collections are likely soon to be sold and dispersed, in many cases to foreign buyers. The American public, of course, will be the loser.
Heaven forbid, eh, that some of them should find their way back, perhaps, to the Old World countries they were taken from... Note that it is the part of the trade dealing with private collectors that in this passage is the producer of those 'orphan' (sic) items. The second  category 'of antiquities inside US borders that is effectively frozen out of the trade is that unseen by the public, in museum storage'. So, what Vikan is saying is that collectors collected, and collected and donated too much stuff to museums which really see no need to put all those thousands of (apparently) excess items on display. One wonders then why the collectors collected so many excess random undisplayable items anyway. Greed maybe. Or maybe some inferiority complexes came into play here. Anyway, museums are lumbered with them Vikan says:
what they represent to the museum, and thus to the public, is an ongoing expense [...] AAMD guidelines should be revised, and incentives found for getting these works swiftly to public auctions, so that they can re-enter the marketplace of dealers and collectors, and eventually find their home in other museums, where they will be prized and exhibited. Our encyclopaedic museums must shake off their culture of hoarding, so that when they sell from storage they will be seen to be offering value to the public.
I guess the mistaken ambition that a museum can truly be 'encyclopaedic' (a notion that also results from some sick ambitions and rivalry) led them to accession stuff they cannot possibly use. That is of course (Museum Studies 101) not how a responsible museum accession policy should work. But why on earth Mr Vikan sees the answer as flogging everything off is unclear. First of all, what about the wishes of the original donors (and their heirs)? Are not the museums legally obliged to respect those - and the things that they do not want perhaps should be offered back to the heirs (vide the case of  Sekhemka in the UK, where museums in general are prevented from disposing of material because of clauses in the contracts drawn up at the time of their deposition). Indeed, many donors would have stipulated that their collections were not split up. The British MA guidelines stipulate that objects that one museum wants to clear out of their storerooms should not be sold on the open market, but relocated to a museum that wants them and can properly house them. US museums bellyache about foreign nations who do not want to loan them stuff when they have a MOU, but then (to judge from this) seem not to be all that willing to even loan each other stuff.

As for all those paperless 'orphans' bought no-questions-asked by assorted private collectors, Vikan's suggestion how to legitimise them is telling:
The solution, I believe, lies in a comprehensive internet database with images of all orphan works along with all information known about their history. Aggressively marketed to their countries of likely origin, with adequate protection of privacy, this would be where potential claimants could find large numbers of searchable antiquities in the hands of American collectors and dealers, and make whatever legitimate claims they might have for restitution. But inevitably, as time goes by and when no claims are made on the vast majority of posted works, there will be a marked thawing of that channel connecting collectors to museums to the public – a de facto ‘repose’ of title borne of transparency. The orphans will, in effect, be granted an amnesty. 
Bollocks. An illicit antiquity is an illicit antiquity whether somebody catches you with it or not. This is a typical example of the 'they-can't-touch-you-for-it-legitimacy' so favoured by American collectors - in other words, no legitimacy at all. The fact that a given Polaroid from the Medici archive has not yet been found by Christos Tsirogiannis does not make an artefact licit until he does come across it. That is not what legitimacy is about.  Vikan obviously knows that - Internet database or no Internet database -  there is little chance that objects which are clandestinely dug up and sneaked onto the market where they 'surface' (from underground) with no papers will ever be claimable by a 'claimant', let alone be in a position to 'make whatever legitimate claims they might have for restitution'. Shame on him. This is a topic that has been widely enough discussed for him to be aware of that issue - he is simply ignoring it in order to make a trite point. So, for example, which country is going to 'claim' this anonymous pot 'from an old Swiss collection', and on what grounds? The fact that middlemen and dealers deliberately (prove it is not so) discarded the documentation to make its origins impossible to determine makes it very unlikely that more than a small fraction of stuff on the postulated Vikan Orphan Artefacts Legitimation Database (VOALD) will ever be repatriated. But then, we are seeing here anyway the pathetic US cardboard cutout fixation on repatriation. Any items not claimed by a foreign nation is an item not claimed by a foreign nation, that does not equate with being an item which left the ground and source country licitly. Vikan's suggestion is therefore just a fudge, in order to produce apparent legitimation of objects that should never join any self-respecting museum collection, not in the States, not anywhere. These objects are tainted by the treatment they have received at the hands of the no-questions-asked market (and I'll bet, many of them well after 1970). You cannot just launder them by putting a picture on the internet hoping nobody's waiting with a 'gottcha'.

Sunday 29 January 2017

Stolen Twelfth Dynasty Ushabti Surfaces

A Middle Kingdom Egyptian ushabti was handed in at the Egyptian embassy after its owner learnt from the British Museum that it had been stolen from the storage room of a museum in Aswan in 2013. The ancient artifact was reportedly handed over voluntarily after the individual learned that it had been stolen
this 16.5 centimeter tall Ushabti statue, an ancient Egyptian funerary figurine, is carved from wood and gilded in golden inscriptions. It was unearthed by Spanish archaeologists at the Qubbet al-Hawa Necropolis in Aswan, 
A 3,800-year-old funerary statue has been recovered in London after disappearing from an Aswan museum in 2013 Mada Maser Jan 29th 2017.

And now we are waiting for the news that the dealer who sold it to the collector has been arrested for handling stolen artefacts. Will it be a long wait before he's caving in and giving the names of the scoundrel who sold it to him?

Don't hold your breath. 

Friday 27 January 2017

Archaeological Halfwits Pretending to be Clever

Saving Treasures ‏@saving_treasure 3 godziny temu
Monday 30 January = 368th anniversary of the execution of Charles I. Tweet a royal #coin if you're a #Cavalier, Commonwealth if #Roundhead!
And Cromwell began his conquest of Ireland. As I say, geologists, astrophysicists, cell biologists and organic chemists don't dumbdown like empty headed archaeologists in the UK think they have to do to make their subject 'seem relevant' to a public they obviously see as mainly thickoes who cannot understand history unless the 'experts', acting as self-appointed gatekeepers, show them 'something old'. No wonder the term 'experts' has lost its cachet in the UK. When you see experts doing public outreach with all the subtlety of a thirteen year old boy, I'm not surprised people so easily dismiss them.

While the English mobs were giving vent to their national hatreds, in Spain Diego Velazquez painted the Rokeby Venus.


Dishonest Metal Detectorist's Other finds?

Cockle, a weed
A reader has passed on to me the two following references to finds made with a metal detector by a David Cockle, who has the same name as the man from West Norfolk who pleaded guilty to stealing and then selling coins from a Treasure find:. The first is from a numismatic publication:
British Numismatic Journal, Martin Allen, John Naylor and Philippa Walton, 'Coin Register 2012', BNJ 82 (2012), 246–77. Page 17
101. William I (1066–87), Profile/Cross and Trefoils type, BMC vii, North 847, Thetford, Esbern Obv. +PILLELM REX Rev. +ESBRNN ON 5TFR Weight: 1.05 g. Die axis 270º. Hunstanton, Norfolk. M/d find, 11 July 2011. Found by David Cockle. A new type for a moneyer previously recorded in William I types ii–v. (EMC 2011.0159) M.A
Is this the same guy? If so, since Mr Cockle was less than honest about where he got the coins from in the Ipswich court case, then how can one be sure about the stated provenance of this record? How can one be sure about ANY find shown by a metal detectorist, if not accompanied by a document from the landowner that he has seen the item Mr X is taking from his land and assigns ownership to him? How many archaeologists or dealers ask to see such a document (even though this was one of the recommendations of the Oxford Archaeology Nighthawking Report)?

And then there is this one: Bird pin declared treasure trove
A SILVER-gilt bird pin thought to be around 500-years-old has been declared treasure at a Lynn inquest. The small dress fitting, most likely a cap pin, was found by metal dectector enthusiast David Cockle in Stoke Ferry on October 1 last year, the inquest heard. [...] The inquest, held at Lynn County Court on Wednesday, heard the item was similar to one found in Bosworth, in Leicestershire, in around 2005.
And just what proof does anyone have that this one was found where the metal detectorist says it did? What value do unverified data have in a database?
hat tip to Sam Hardy

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? [UPDATED}

PC David Cockle (Photo:
East Anglia News Service)
Ipswich Crown Court heard how a metal detectorist sold off 10 gold coins he'd stolen from a West Norfolk farmer in small batches so as not to arouse suspicion (Staff reporter. 'Norfolk policeman who sold gold coins he found could face suspended sentence' East Daily Press 25 January 2017).
David Cockle, who was a serving police officer in Norfolk at the time of the theft, sold the Merovingian Tremissis coins for £15,000 to a dealer, despite having a contract with the landowner the split the proceeds of any find, Ipswich Crown Court heard yesterday. Cockle, 49, of Stoke Road in Wereham, near Downham Market, pleaded guilty to stealing the coins - which he found with a metal detector - between April 2012 and November 2015 [...] The court heard that after discovering the coins, Cockle failed to tell the landowner or coroner to see if it was a treasure trove [sic, sic]. Judge Overbury said there was a rigid process to be followed, but that Cockle had sold them in batches to a dealer on the basis that he legitimately owned the coins.
As we know, anybody can say they are the rightful owner of something, but a responsible buyer will want to check that story. No matter whether you are buying from a soon-to-be ex-policeman or a dealer or whoever. This is why anybody handling antiquities needs to obtain documented proof of title to sell.

The Mirror has other details: Metal detector cop cheats farmer after finding £15,000 gold coins in field Mirror.co.uk , 26 JAN 2017
 The coins which he sold in three batches over 14 months are believed to have been part of a larger hoard [...] Another 34 similar gold coins were found in the same field in west Norfolk by another metal detecting fan who also had permission to be on the land. But unlike Cockle, the other man did the right thing and reported his find to the authorities, leading it to be declared as treasure trove. Sources said that the two finds taken together potentially made it the largest ever hoard of the type of coins ever found in the UK. [...] Cockle had initially denied stealing ten coins belonging to another person between April 2012 and November 2015. But he changed his plea to guilty on the day that his trial was due to start on Wednesday. [...] A Norfolk Police spokeswoman said Cockle who is based at Downham Market police station was suspended from duty and faced misconduct proceedings. [...]  She added: “The investigation was launched after the Norfolk and Suffolk Anti-Corruption Unit received information from a member of the public and Cockle was arrested in November 2015. 
Interestingly, the hoard itself does not seem to figure in the PAS database...

Heritage Action, with their notional but wise farmer Silas Brown see the fault here partly in the naivety of the landowner which was exploited by the metal detectorist - as are they all: 'Damn fool farmer ripped off by metal detecting policeman!' 28/01/2017).
"Finds agreements” are no protection for landlords. Indeed, they’re a crook’s best friend for most of them authorise the detectorist to take home items of “low” value (commonly £300 but £2,000 at Central Searchers rallies) as his own without showing the farmer – and that’s as good as carte blanche since it is the detectorist alone who determines “low value”.
Silas Brown has said to farmers:
Sign nothing, especially if it contains the word “share” [...] By all that’s logical, legal, practical, safe and just it should be YOU alone who decides what (if anything) you give away, and then only when you’ve seen everything the detectorist has found, not before. And only when you’ve been given the finds and had them independently examined and valued. By not signing a finds agreement you’ll still get ripped off sometimes. [...]  but it will happen less often if it is made clear: nothing leaves my farm without me seeing it.
We have yet to hear if Mr Cockle is a member of any metal detecting clubs, and which ones he has been thrown out of after entering his guilty plea.

Thursday 26 January 2017

Scary Foreign Academics Asked to Leave Britain

The nasty face of British xenophobia under Theresa May: Colin Talbot, 'No longer welcome: the EU academics in Britain told to ‘make arrangements to leave’
Some EU citizens living in Britain who decided to seek permanent residency after the Brexit vote are being told to make arrangements to leave. A number of these people are among the 31,000 EU academics currently working in UK universities.
Some of them work in archaeology departments. These people however were not employed because of a need to fill some 'foreigner quota', they were mostly employed because the recruiting process identified them (in theory at least) as the best for that post - their leaving means the universities will now be forced to fill the position with second-best. and so the decline of Britain into a xenophobic isolated intellectual backwater begins. Pathetic.

Vignette: May

More on Nineveh Antiquities Stash

More information is emerging about the antiquities stash found in an Islamic State leader’s house during the operation to drive ISIL out of Mosul (Josie Ensor, 'Priceless' ancient artefacts found hidden in Isil commander's house in Mosul Telegraph 26th January 2017).
The discovery was made in the Az-Zirai neighbourhood in eastern Mosul, which the special forces troops recently recaptured from Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil). Photographs released by the National Security Service on Thursday show more than a dozen clay pots, a handful of large vases, “Palace Ware” pottery and a hand mill, among other smaller pieces.[...] they were almost certainly dug up from the nearby Nineveh Ruins site as well as Nimrud - the Assyrian Empire’s ancient capital - which was under the control of Isil militants for two years until the site was liberated in November.[...] “During a tour of homes in the former Christian area of Mosul, the army received a tip off from a local resident,” Talib al-Maa’mari, an Iraqi parliment member, told reporters. “When the special forces searched this one house, which was being used by an ISIS emir, we were surprised to find many priceless artefacts. [...] Isil documents found in the abandoned house show the Islamist group kept a record of each of the items, along with an estimated price each relic could reach. The presumption is the jihadists intended to sell the pieces but were interrupted before they could do so.
While I remain highly sceptical of the material produced by the Americans after their botched raid to capture Abu Sayyaf in May last year, this find does look more likely to be evidence for some ISIL -controlled antiquities trading.

Vignette" Az Ziraj is just to the SW of the ancient site of Nineveh in eastern Mosul (Google Earth)
Hat tip Dorothy King 

DoS Officials Refuse to Work with Someone Like Trump

The State Department's entire senior management, all career officers, have resigned as America enters hysteria-fed meltdown under the narcissistic orange-skinned ranter who many of their countrymen voted in. Going too is Victoria Nuland, caught trying to 'fix' Ukrainian leadership post-Majdan. She should have gone a long while ago.

Anyway, a State Department in flux will no doubt be getting dealers and their slimeball lobby faction all riled up, because it is here that US 'cultural property policy' is formed (they do not have a Ministry of Culture).

Fortunately there are still Americans who object to
what Бульдозер Трамп is doing to the country

UPDATE January 27
The Washington Post is putting a different emphasis on this story, it seems they were fired.

Hoiking in England With Chicago Ron…

My comment to 'Chicago Ron's' blog post: Metal Detecting in England: Bucket list item or Addiction? by Ron Guinazzo, which is about US heritage pilferers bribing farmers to pocket British heritage from their land: 
Tell me, your current administration is busy building a wall and passing executive orders to keep immigrants out of your country. What makes you think you have the right to walk into another country like that and just walk off with bits of its history?

Are ALL of the finds which Chicago Ron's pals have taken throughout the years responsibly recorded on Britain's Portable Antiquities Scheme database? Can we have the number of Stan Fleck's brooch please? Who pays for the records of the finds now in Florida to be made? These finds all jumbled up in a single 'zip top bag', I guess - since you do not say - they do not have individual findspot details accompanying each of them for the PAS records?
There is a very good reason, I hear, why the PAS has stopped recording finds from this particular set up, I wonder if 'Chicago Ron' will come clean about why that is. Meanwhile bagloads of unlabelled artefacts found in British fields end up in ephemeral personal collections scattered across the USA. Where will they surface next?

Vignette: heritage pocketer trying not to be conspicuous.

Artefact Hunting Turned into 'Art' happening

I guess waiting for the local artefact hunters to hoik some 'luvverly Trezure' for the public to gawp at was just too long for some impatient councillor ('Gold hidden in Scunthorpe art treasure hunt' BBC 12 October 2016). A Scunthorpe Arts Centre is staging a happening called 'Treasured City'.
Five small objects from North Lincolnshire Museum were selected for wax replicas which will be cast in £1,000 worth of 18-carat gold. From February the gold replicas will be hidden for the public to find and keep. Clues for the treasure hunt will be disguised in five paintings which will be on display at the Arts Centre. [...] Bristol-based artist Luke Jerram said: "I like the idea that ancient objects that were once hidden beneath the earth and were discovered and displayed at the museum are now being re-hidden." The exhibition, funded by the Lottery and Arts Council England, will run from 18 February until 29 April.
The artistic message behind 'ancient objects that were once hidden beneath the earth and were discovered and displayed at the museum are now being re-hidden' is not stated. It's probably something like - 'we'll get lots of people in looking at the paintings trying to figure out the clues; some might come in more than once'. All a bit pathetic and dumbdown. Stunts like this have been going on since at least Kit Williams 'Masquerade'.

Wednesday 25 January 2017

Artefacts Stash Found in Liberated East Mosul

Iraq's MoD: More than 100 artefacts dated back to Assyrian and Islamic periods were found in an ISIL leader's house in eastern Mosul (hat tip Sinan Salaheddin)

Photos from here.

The second one down can clearly be seen that the pot is still covered in earth, making this unlikely to be a theft from a museum storeroom but more likely to be from recent diggings, the plastic crates and cardboard box suggest that this was a collecting point for objects brought in bulk by diggers and/or middlemen, rather than the private collection of an ISIL officer. At first sight, if confirmed, a pretty convincing smoking gun.

Antiquities trade lobbyists will now come up with some explanation where these pots and other objects were destined for. Ms Fitz Gibbon will no doubt be pricing them up and saying that 'they are not worth anything much on the market', so not worth bothering about... That' I feel, is the wrong approach for US collectors to be seen to to be taking.

Blimey, now I see Ms Yates is totting up the 'market value'.  Don't we think that maybe this stuff left boxed in a courtyard is what might be left over after other commercial exchanges, like what's left on the vegetable market stall at the end of the day? Eastern Mosul was about to fall, and I would imagine the bloke who had this was pretty desperate to monetise the best bits, in case he had to (had the opportunity to flee), but I would imagine that in a city about to collapse nobody would be that much interested in buying bulky boxloads or complete or restorable pots. I really do not think that the criminologist should be so dismissive of this find until we have more information.

UPDATE, UPDATE 26th Jan 2017

Ancient Assyrian Artifacts Discovered in Raid on Islamic State Safe House in Mosul  25 January 2017
Amid ongoing security operations to clear the recently captured Left Bank of Mosul on January 25, over 100 ancient Assyrian and early Islamic artifacts were discovered in the home of an Islamic State official in the city’s Az-Zirai neighborhood. Information regarding many of the items found was found in a series of extensive official Islamic State documents inside the home.[...]   Credit: YouTube/Al-Mawsleya via Storyful via Storyful
Video here.

American Collectors 'Disappointed' by Pandora Haul

The American 'Committee for Cultural Policy' go on about what they call 'Pandora's great disappointment' (anonymous article, January 23, 2016). This attempts to show that the joint police 'Operation Pandora' was some kind of a failure...because it 'has had very small results', they only arrested 75 people.  And the artefacts? The artefacts these collectors describe dismissively:
many heavily encrusted coins, a variety of ceramic shards, a common Islamic period ring, and 500 items stolen earlier from a Spanish museum in Murcia, mostly medieval Spanish coins. Greek police have found a fragment of a marble Ottoman tombstone and an eighteenth century painting of St. George and two other saints and “two objects from the Byzantine era,” hardly noteworthy objects, since similar items are found in many EU antique stores.
oh. Oh yes, 'many such objects are found on the market'. So that means that the [A]CCP does not feel they are worth dealing with. By the way, the coins in the photo are not that 'heavily' encrusted, many of them will clean up to look nice in a dealer's tray. Yes, there are many such coins with no legitimising papers in those dealers' trays.  So far there have been 75 arrests, let us hope the [A]CCP get their wish to see more arrests as the result of 'such a massive operation'.

As for the claim that the police should not be announcing as a success their capture of the sellers of such small artefacts, hardly worth bothering about, a parallel argument might be a certain interest group urging the police not to arrest people who molest very small children, but only those who  (with their small orange hands) grope adult women.

 They perhaps think it's enough to 'build a wall' around all the 18 countries involved and post armed guards on every single archaeological site across the whole of Europe and the MENA region, which they imagine would somehow be a 'better way to spend' the money spent on the police operation to investigate the dodgy antiquities market cost. I cannot see 'the Mexicans' paying for that... This so-called 'committee' should be ashamed of their embarrassingly naive so-called 'cultural policy' suggestions.

The way to deal with a dodgy market is either to police it or shut it down.The [A]CCP seems to think the cost of policing it is too high.

Anyway, I guess if Europeans want some 'advice' about how we should police our borders, I guess we'll ask the [A]CCP,  but until then, perhaps the collectors and lawyers of Tumbleweed Town could just worry about their own.

All Mouth, no Evidence

I think instead of the ever-tedious 'born-on-this-day-and-here's-a-coin-peeps' dumbdown claptrap of the ever-expensive pseudo-outreach of the Portable Antiquities Scheme, letting the side down, why do we not have some substantive discussion of the heritage management issues, like whether the (old) plough scratch running across the face of this coin reduces its value as archaeological evidence. It messes it up as a collectable, but as archaeological evidence the plough scratch does less to reduce the evidential value than it being hoiked out of context in collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record by an artefact hunter and collector.

FLOs, in every annual report since the sixth (I think) year of your Scheme you've been putting out the fallacy that artefact hunting is 'saving' information which is lost through plough damage and (you're not really sure, are you, which kind of) corrosion. Come on then, show us lots and lots of artefacts so damaged as to back up that mantric claptrap.  Come on, evidence to back up your 'alternative facts'.

Sunday 22 January 2017

More on Operation Pandora: 75 Arrested in European Crackdown on Art Trafficking

European police have arrested 75 people and recovered about 3,500 stolen archaeological artifacts and other artworks as part of the dismantling of an international network of art traffickers [...] following a Pan-European police operation begun in October and led by investigators in Spain and Cyprus. The criminal network handled artworks looted from war-stricken countries, as well as works stolen from museums and other sites, the statement said.
(Raphael Minder '75 Arrested in European Crackdown on Art Trafficking' New York Times Jan 22, 2017).

The code name for this operation probably refers to the opening of Pandora's box, apparenly 48 000 other people were investigated - probably buyers rather than sellers.

Operation Pandora: Multinational Investigation Leads to Arrests

Do you know where your local antiquities dealer has been getting his stock from? This article by Associated Press ('Spanish Police Announce Arrests in Cultural Artifacts Ring Jan 22, 2017) ought to get collectors wondering...
Spanish police say 75 people have been arrested and more than 3,500 stolen artifacts and pieces of art seized in a joint operation with 17 other European countries that dismantled an international cultural goods trafficking ring.
As part of this operation, Spanish police  have seized up to 500 archaeological objects alone in the southern Spanish town of Murcia, including 19 that were taken from the local archaeological museum in 2014 (see here for what looks like a related matter: Stolen Artefacts Seized in Spain ). But that was just part of this gang's field of operation:
The multi-national investigation started in October and the arrests were made the next month. It was led by investigators from Spain and Cyprus with support from 16 other countries, UNESCO and Interpol. Authorities allege the ring mostly dealt with objects looted from countries affected by wars. Spanish police did not say why they were announcing the operation two months after the arrests.
Guess. I suspect we'll be hearing more about this one. We learn from another article that this time, 49000 dealers and collectors were scrutinised ('Una macrooperación de la Europol permite recuperar más de 3.500 obras de arte'). These actions included the verification of suspicious advertisements on the Internet that allowed the seizure of more than 400 coins of illegal origin of different origins and periods and identification of sellers and buyers.

In fact Operation Pandora has been reported on this blog at least once before ('Arrests on Cyprus: Operation Pandora' PACHI Friday, 11 November 2016) dealing with arrests of collectors and dealers on Cyprus.  

Saturday 21 January 2017

Market Strikes back

The Tell Sheikh Hamad Stele in the news again (Patrick Sawer, 'The strange case of the ancient Assyrian curse and the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police' Telegraph 21 January 2017) This lower part of a stela of King Adad-Hirari is a fragment of an object from which comes the upper half in the British Museum, where it has been since it was acquired in 1881 from the private collector Joseph M Shemtob, two years after its discovery at the Tell Sheikh Hamad site in Syria. The lower part was offered for sale to the British Museum in 2011, but they declined it on the grounds that they were not satisfied that it had left the site and Syria legally. The object reappeared on the market three years later and was being offereed by Bonhams, but on the eve of the auction, officers from Scotland Yard’s art and antiques unit raided the Bonham's warehouse where it was being stored and seized the stele as evidence in any future trial. Now:
Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police [...] is being sued by a Lebanese antiques dealer after his officers seized the slab, known as a 'stele', following claims it had been stolen. The controversy began when it became known in art circles that Halim Korban was planning to auction the stele at Bonham’s, in Geneva, in April 2014. The Beirut-based Saadeh Cultural Foundation informed UNESCO that the stele had been obtained illegally, probably after being looted from a site in modern Syria, and should be returned to that country “as soon as circumstances permit”. [...]  Mr Korban has gone to court to have the artefact returned and is demanding £200,000 compensation for loss and damage as part of his claim. A spokesman for the art dealer told the Sunday Telegraph: “The stele is a valuable object which Mr Korban considers his and he wants it back. He can show proper provenance and utterly rejects the notion that it was obtained illegally.” [...]  Before the planned auction Bonham’s had said that the stele was "given as a gift from father to son in the 1960s" and that although no details about how it left Syria were available, it was confident of its provenance (sic). Mr Korban holds Mr Hogan-Howe personally responsible for the actions of his men in seizing the stone and preventing its planned sale. In his writ against the Commissioner he said: “At all times since their seizure of the stele the police have been aware of the claimant’s [Mr Korban] claim in respect of it, namely that he is its owner, and that he is who is entitled to its possession.” But Scotland Yard intends to mount a robust defence against his claims, [...] 
The stele had been offered in Bonhams with an estimate of £600,000 to £800,000,an interesting discrepancy.It will be interesting to see how this story comes out. Lobbyists for the antiquities trade insist that the reasons why cases like this are so rare is that dealers thing it is 'more economical' to surrender a questioned and seized piece than defend their legal title to it with the aid of their business documentation. Let us see how dealer Korban (who handled the Sevso Treasure in the past) fares with his.

Friday 20 January 2017

The Antiquities Trade in Egypt 1880-1930

Fredrik Hagen and Kim Ryholt: The Antiquities Trade in Egypt 1880-1930. The H.O. Lange Papers. The Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters. Scientia Danica. Series H. Humanistica. 4 vol. 8. 2016. 335 pp. Lavishly illustrated. Price DKK 300  (preview here)
The book presents the first in-depth analysis of this market during its “golden age” in Egypt in the late 19th and early 20th Century. It is primarily based on the archival material of the Danish Egyptologist H. O. Lange (1863-1943) who, during two prolonged stays in Egypt (1899/1900 and 1929/1930), bought objects on behalf of Danish museums. The travel diaries, and the accompanying photographs, are complemented by a wide range of other sources, including contemporary travel guides and various travel memoirs, which together paint an extraordinarily detailed picture of the extensive antiquities trade.
The book looks at the laws governing trade and export, both in theory and practice, and the changes over time. The practicalities of the trade are described: its seasons, the networks of supply, the various methods available for acquiring antiquities, and the subsequent routes of transmission of objects, as well as the different types of dealers operating in Egypt. The geographical distribution of dealers is mapped, and the role of the Egyptian state as a dealer is investigated, both through official sale rooms, and as a seller and exporter of more or less complete tomb-chapels.
The final part of the book contains a list, with short biographies, of over 250 dealers active in Egypt from the 1880s until the abolishment of the trade in 1983. Most of them are described here in detail for the first time.
It also provides not just an excuse for all those collectors with private collections (the usual old crap about "how many objects were sold in teh past") but a challenge, if they want to claim one of those 250 dealers "might have been" the origin of the items in their collections, how many of them can give us proof that an object they now own came from one one of those dealers? How many objects in personal collections today can be assigned a legitimate collecting history back to any one of those dealers?

Vignette: Lecture flyer

Thursday 19 January 2017

Great Mosque in central Mosul, recaptured by Iraq's special forces.

Inside the Great Mosque in central Mosul, recaptured by Iraq's special forces. Seems to be full of looted items.

UNESCO reports on extensive damage in first emergency assessment mission to Aleppo

The destruction of Prophet Jonah Tomb, Mosul, Iraq

Auctioneer Urges return of Pot to Turkey

A  Bronze Age  jug  has been returned to Turkey  ('British woman returns 4,500 year-old Yortan jug to Turkey', Daily Sabah 19th Jan 2017):
The jug was reportedly bought as a souvenir by British citizen Thelma Bishop, who visited the Ancient City of Ephesus in the 1960s and brought it back to Britain. Bishop decided to return the jug to Turkey when she found out that it is a cultural property, through Adam Partridge Auctioneers and Valuers in Macclesfield. A consultant at the auction house by the name of Jason Wood, who confirmed the jug's authenticity advised Bishop to return it to Turkey, and contacted the Turkish embassy, reports said. The Turkish embassy presented a Museum Card, which can be used in various museums throughout Turkey, to Bishop and Wood for returning a cultural asset. "The return of the Yortan jug is significant in terms of raising awareness about Turkey's and other countries' international legal struggle regarding unlawful export of cultural property amongst auction firms and other countries" the embassy said in a statement. Furthermore, the owner of Adam Partridge Auctioneers said that he was happy that the rare artifact returned home to Turkey, and wished that their action sets precedent to other auctioneers in Britain. 
Nah. Most of them would just flog it off, without batting an eyelid.

More ISIL Atrocities in Palmyra

Palmyra was favoured by ISIL as the scene of showcase brutality, with executions and blowing up ancient structures during its ten-month occupatuion of the strategic city after first gaining control of the city in May 2015. The Islamists were driven out of the city by Syrian government forces and militias backed by Russian air strikes in March 2016, but returned last month after troops were pulled out for Bashar al-Assad’s offensive on Aleppo Now the atrocities are beginning again (Lizzie Dearden, 'Isis carries out mass executions in Palmyra's ancient ruins after retaking Syrian city' The Independent 19th jan 2017):
Isis has carried out a new wave of executions in the ancient ruins of Palmyra after re-taking the symbolic Syrian city. Monitors said teachers were among 12 people murdered in front of crowds of men and children, either having their throats slit or being shot by jihadis. The Palmyra Monitor group said captives were killed in three separate locations – Free Syrian Army and regime soldiers in two groups at the Roman theatre and in an abandoned Russian military base, and civilians outside Palmyra Museum. “There are now fears that Isis may carry out more executions against civilians who were arrested after it took control of the city,” the group said.
Russian intelligence suggests that ISIL is planning further destruction of the site's ancient remains:
Lt-Gen Sergei Rudskoi, a senior Russian defence ministry official, said intelligence indicated that Isis may be planning a new wave of destruction in Palmyra. “We have received information, confirmed by several sources, that a large amount of explosives has been brought into the Palmyra area and that the terrorists plan on destroying the city's world-class historical legacy,” he said.
Indeed, it seems this has already begun. The Facebook page of the ASOR Cultural Heritage Initiatives notes that ISIL have destroyed the Tetrapylon and part of the Roman Theatre.
ASOR CHI has obtained DigitalGlobe satellite imagery that reveals new damage to the ISIL-occupied UNESCO World Heritage site of Palmyra. The imagery shows significant damage to the Tetrapylon and the Roman Theater, likely the result of intentional destructions by ISIL, although we are currently unable to verify the exact cause. This damage occurred between December 26, 2016 and January 10, 2017. The Tetrapylon appears to have been intentionally destroyed using explosives. Two columns remain standing, but the majority of the structure has been severely damaged and column drums and debris are visible on the ground around the structure. The Roman Theater has sustained damage to the stage backdrop (scaenae frons), primarily in the area of the Porticus. New stone debris is scattered across the center of the stage. [...]  ASOR CHI will continue to monitor the rapidly changing situation in Palmyra and remains concerned about the plight of civilians in Tadmor.

Coin Elf Spotted

A coin elf has been photographed in Turkey emerging from his cave

So it's not a dealers' fairy tale after all....

"So-called "citizen archaeologists" do no damage, they only remove material from the top few inches of ploughsoil, innit"?

Telling UK artefact hunters that they are 'citizen archaeologists' has gone to their heads, like this message from a 'probono, Superhero' (Re: Lead Face Field « Reply #3 on: January 16, 2017, 03:42:57 PM »):
" I've asked the farmer on the land I detect if I can run a trench across what I suspect is a roman building (roof tiles / bricks / artefacts / pottery / squared off building blocks, that type of thing) and he said yes - although I've got until May to do it as he is putting Maize in it this year."
Note the way this thread describes glibly the targeting of known sites.

Tuesday 17 January 2017

Anti-Archaeology Outreach: FLO Explains Lego-Looting

Farmer Jack catches Bob red-handed artefact
hunting on his land without first asking
permission to enter, search and take. Naughty
Bob, not a 'bona fide detectorist', obviously.
But the PAS will handle his finds anyway, they
wont check the permits.
Archaeological outreach in Bonkers Britain hits a new low: Vanessa Oakden, 'New Year, New Detector' PAS (!) blog, 17th January 2017
Happy New Year! Metal detecting is a popular hobby and metal detectors a popular Christmas present so I thought it would be a good time to blog about what’s what for new and young people taking up the hobby with the help of some Lego friends. Bob is off to do some detecting with his new machine. 
No discussion of why artefact hunting, collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record is not a good hobby, one condemned in most civilised countries of the world with archaeological communities with any guts. The only reason many people hear about metal detecting is because the PAS keep banging on about it. "Get permission", is all she says ("Bob makes sure to ask Farmer Jack for permission to search his land" and get the artefacts he takes away for collection and sale legally assigned to him). Documentation of archaeological context sidestepped with:
When an object is discovered note down where you found it, you can do this there and then with GPS (many free apps are available for smartphones if you don’t want to invest in a handheld GPS) or the old fashioned way by marking a map. Or you can do it when you return home with a map or online with handy to use websites such as Grid Reference Finder or Where’s the Path. By recording your grid reference your object can help us to understand more about the past, where people lived, traded, worked, changes in the economy and fashion and more.
No. A findspot alone cannot do that. Obviously. Best practice with archaeological recording (you know, what the PAS is paid to promote) involves far more than that. Then the Trumpish hyperbole
We have some fantastic researchers using your finds in their work so once the objects are recorded that is not the end of their story. They continue to work to tell us more about the past and can be used time and time again for different types of research. [...] hese can then be used in research to learn more about our shared past.
Yeah? Being dots on distribution maps is about what most of them are capable of, or used in object-centred typological studies. In other words Naked Retro Brit-Kossinnism. 

Monday 16 January 2017

To an Antiquities Seller who thinks I "have to" change my Style

A Danish collector objects to my tone when I provided him with copies of my correspondence with about a former 'owner' of an artefact he'd carelessly bought. Readers will remmember that it was the fact that this previous owner was an Egyptologist that convinced him that the objct "must be" licit despite the lack of any paperwork. here's my reply:

> I do not appreciate your sarcastic way of communicating to me. If we shall have some kind of communication you have to change your style. <
Since the 1970 Convention, it has been very clear to everyone [Denmark since March 2003] what is and what is not a licit artefact both to sell and to buy, and that relies on documentation. Any collector who chooses to ignore that and replace that with other arguments really should not be surprised to receive criticism.  I provided you with information you clearly had not bothered to obtain yourself. I do not feel that it is I who should be criticised here. I haqve not allowed myself to become the current owner of this controversial item.

You indicate that your “due diligence” in buying it (and the others) went no further than your “feelings” (http://paul-barford.blogspot.com/2016/09/you-got-to-get-that-feeling-allegedly.html). You wrote:
“I can hardly believe that an intelligent person like Geoffrey Metz has obtained anything illegally in his collection bearing in mind he is an egyptologist, and that he sells his collection it in a public auction”. 

You can “believe” what you like, but that is a subjective judgement, not objective documentation. I know nothing about the man’s “intelligence”, we know he bought that shabti from Portabello Road (a London street market - http://general-southerner.blogspot.com/2013/06/notting-hill-and-portobello-road.html ) and the Museum he worked briefly for now refuses to vouch for him, and since they have been made aware of his involvement in this sale has now removed his name from their website.

Nobody MADE you buy this object, you yourself took the risk of buying an artefact taken from the Valley of Kings which can only be traced (and that, by hearsay) to a London street market in 1992 (well after Egypt’s antiquities laws of 1983). The best you can do to support your belief that you did not buy a looted and smuggled artefact is to say it was “bought from an Egyptologist”. It could have been bought from the chief of Egyptian tourist police and still be an illicit artefact. 

And you propose selling it on to somebody else and can offer them no other assurance or documentation other than that – passing the problem onto them. But as collectors become more responsible and the standards they set more rigorous, at some stage somebody is going to be left with an unsaleable paperless artefact on their hands. Pray that it is not you.

Paul Barford
Vignette: Set animal.

Sunday 15 January 2017

Quote of the Week?

Per Article 7 (b) (ii) of the Convention, States Parties undertake,
at the request of the State Party "of origin", to take appropriate steps
to recover and return any such cultural property imported after the entry
into force of this Convention in both States concerned [...] Article 13 of the
Convention also provides provisions on restitution and cooperation.

We are asked to believe that there is a link between cultural heritage preservation and human rights abuse:
Peter Tompa ‏@Aurelius161180 2 temuPeter Tompa podał/a dalej Turkish Minute
There is a correlation between nationalistic govt's that demand repatriation of cultural artifacts abroad with human rights abuses at home.
Are the dealers getting good value for their money employing such an 'observer' to do their dirty work? There are 131 Member States of UNESCO that are states party to the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. I refuse to believe that all of them have a human rights record that is inferior to that of the lobbyist's own country. There is instead at least a partial link between human rights abuse and the trade in illicit and undocumented antiquities.

Collector Surprised: One Born every Minute

A collector was tempted by the offer recently made by ZZCoins to sell some bulk lots of 'unsorted coins from Israel'. Yeah, right, one born every minute. This, from a coiney forum, is what he found: (Re: ZZ Antiquities, ZZ Imports, ZZ Metals, ZZ Expensive... Sat Jan 14, 2017 3:50 pm (PST) . Posted by: swfeingoldsays):
I recently bought 1 kilo of uncleared coins from the dealer. There were very disappointing. About [one third] were small 8 mm coins with nothing to identify them whatsoever. Even though they were from Israel and advertised as including Judaeans, city coins and Seleucid most were late Roman or Byzantine and of the I only found 10 Nabatean 20 Judaeans no city coins and only 3 of any real interest
So, five hundred dollars down the drain. And how much archaeological destruction does the accumulation of that kilogramme of artefact dug-up-and-sold-like-potatoes represent? Because we do not believe the spiel that what is being sold in bulk lots is 'unsorted'. These are the bits of a much larger assemblage which are 'more difficult to sort' and are left behind when somebody else further up the supply chain cherry-picked what was saleable individually before amalgamating individual lots in a bulk mass to be sold by weight. The text 'the saga of the uncleaned coin' was disappeared by the dealers from the Internet about five years ago, but you can still read it on this blog, it is quite revealing. I used to do a lot about uncleraned coins, but thought I'd covered it, but it seems that some people are slow learners. Coineys, eh?

Saturday 14 January 2017

What is there for US Collectors not to Understand?

As a reaction to the Associated Press story: 'Europe Wants More Protection Against Antiquities Trafficking' (Jan 13th 2017) a blinkered lobbyist for the antiquities trade smugly snipes:
Peter Tompa ‏@Aurelius161180 10 godzin temu@DrDonnaYates @nytimes
"Human rights" organization wants to "repatriate" to repressive Assad regime that has killed, looted and destroyed? 
First of all, the Council of Europe in Strasbourg is concerned with what is happening to the portable heritage of foreign citizens from a wider area than just Syria....

Secondly, it really is frustrating that US dealers, collectors and lobbyists predominantly represent the issue of illicit antiquities trafficking as merely the issue of 'repatriation'. The CoE is urging measure to curb illicit trafficking to and within the EU, not for filling foreign museums with grey and black market decontextualised artefacts. That seems pretty simple to grasp, doesn't it?
Paul Barford ‏@PortantIssues 7 godzin temu @Aurelius161180 @DrDonnaYates @nytimes
Stopping the trade means stopping the trade (not 'allowing the trade and then sending stuff back').
and also:
Paul Barford ‏@PortantIssues @Aurelius161180 @DrDonnaYates @nytimes
What is there not to understand? Why many Americans see antiquities matters ONLY as "repatriation"?
I believe my cat understands that, but those of more limited intellectual horizons may be struggling with the concepts behind the words. Mr Tompa for example completely misses the point and responds:
Peter Tompa ‏@Aurelius161180 4 godziny temu@PortantIssues @DrDonnaYates @nytimes
Concern items repatriated to Assad just because they look Syrian. US Sen. Understood. You don't.
Well if unconcerned dealers and their 'business partners' are throwing away the documentation indicating origins, other forms of evidence have to be employed if authorities don't want to hang on to illegal items in store for ever. Perhaps Mr Tompa thinks the US government should employ waterboarding and kidnapping of family members to deal with silent dealers? As I say, my cat understands, Peter Tompa suggests that it is I who do not grasp what the CoE has in mind when it talks of curbing the trade in illicit antiquities. Perhaps a clearer analogy will help:
Paul Barford ‏@PortantIssues 1 godzinę temu@Aurelius161180 @DrDonnaYates @nytimes
Really? There is more to 'stopping child rape' than 'making sure victims get home safely afterwards'.
and again:
Paul Barford ‏@PortantIssues 1 godzinę temu@Aurelius161180 @DrDonnaYates @nytimes
Why do so many Americans represent illicit antiquities matters ONLY as "repatriation"?

beats me.  My cat is also puzzled.

Vignette: Fortunately, unlike dullard antiquitists, not everybody has a problem understanding what the words 'putting a brake on trafficking' mean. But action not words is what is needed.


UK Treasure Hunters go Against the Trend

According to Hyperallergic , in the museum world in general, the acquisition of artefacts is now mainly through donations. Only a minority of items are purchased.

In the United Kingdom, the trend is quite the opposite in the case of obtaining the items found by greedy metal detector wielding Treasure hunters. When we take away the number donated by the landowners (the actual owners of items coming from their land), 92% of them have to be bought through the payment of a Treasure Ransom from the public purse. The British public is being forced by heritage hoikers and heritage pocketers to buy back their own heritage. Something is very wrong with this. 

Friday 13 January 2017

Where the "Roman Large" Came from

Grammar was never the strong point of collectors and dealers, so we are not surprised by the lapse in the order of adjectives in the title of one sale by a prominent antiquities dealer:

Screen Shot 2017-01-14 at 01.16.17
This is the sale of an object via Royal-Athena Galleries, a New York City-based gallery (run by Jerome Eisenberg). Look at what is offered as a collecting history. That's no collecting history at all: 'Ex Swiss art market April 1991' then a gap, then somehow Royal Athena got it and sold it to a 'Dr H.' somewhere in Germany in 'April 2000', and then a gap and now it is being sold again (was bought back?) by Royal Athena and in 1992 and 2000 it featured in the antiquities world vanity press (Jerome Eisenberg's 'Art of the Ancient World' magazines). Thanks to Christos Tsirogiannis we now know that 'Swiss art market' could be a euphemism for Gianfranco Becchina's cubby hole in the Free Port of Basel, and documentary evidence (Auction Alert and Antiquities Seizure: Royal-Athena Galleries, New York ARCA blog, Saturday, January 14, 2017 ) seems to indicate that the object was received from a Greek trafficker Giorgos Zene[...] (a 'trafficker, now deceased, well-known to the Greek police art squad') and that Becchina had paid 60.000 Swiss Francs on 25 May 1988 for it. Becchina had bought a number of lots (over thirty) from 'Zene' between November 1986 and October 1988. After purchase, Becchina had the piece cleaned by the Basle restorer  André Lorenceau (see the Cahn Gallery newsletter here and here for a short bio). While the Becchina documentation is undated, Lorencau's conservation report will provide the details of what was done to the object and when. Lorencau seems to have been responsible for the mounting of the piece that seems (from the polaroids) to have come to him dirty and unmounted. This would presumably have been some time between May 1988 and April 1991 (when reportedly it was 'on the Swiss art market') and 1992 when Mr Eisenberg reportedly featured it in one of his 'Art of the Ancient World' magazines (I've not seen this). Seeing as the object had only arrived in Switzerland less than three years before, and would have been obviously on a fresh mount after recent cleaning (the object description makes no mention of traces of any earlier mounting), any lack of documentation would have been immediately suspicious. The same goes for its resale just (and interestingly, exactly) nine years after that. So who was handling such freshly-surfaced material in the early stages of its collecting history? Becchina (Palladion Antique Kunst)? At what stage did 'Royal Athena' become involved?

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