Tuesday 28 February 2017

More Institutional Dumbdown Finds Gatekeeping

and that's fine by us because we can do dumbdown with it....

of course there IS a link to a fuller discussion of the function of Roman period bronze vessels so the public can learn what archaeologists have found out about them from the ones found in context. Isn't there? It'd be a bit pointless as a museum's public outreach without one.  Without it, it would be merely bragging about trophy items like any collector.

Sunday 26 February 2017

Archaeologists freed in Nigeria

The two Germans, professor Peter Breunig and student Johannes Behringer, had been abducted on Wednesday during excavation work at Jajela village in Kaduna state. Two excavation workers, Anas Ibrahim and  Adamu Abdulrahim, were shot and killed during the abduction. No ransom was paid.

Iraq works to Reclaim Heritage from ISIL

Fragment of an Assyrian-era relief shows the image of a
genie holding a pine cone at the ancient site of Nimrud that
was destroyed by Islamic State group militants near
Mosul, Iraq. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

At a two-day UNESCO conference, Iraqi officials are asking for money and expertise to reclaim the cultural heritage that is on the verge of complete destruction by ISIL (Iraq hopes to reclaim heritage lost to Islamic State group).
Iraqi Vice Minister of Culture Qais Hussein Rasheed says he hopes the liberation of Mosul's airport will soon reveal what has become of the vast areas across the river that IS has held for over two years. Rasheed says Iraqi forces have found in areas already liberated tunnels where extremists stashed looted artifacts with plans to sell them.


Scottish Treasure Discovery: Local Versus 'National' Heritage?

Here is an interesting heritage debate brewing: New campaign backs Galloway Viking treasure bid BBC 22 February 2017. This is about that mid-ninth or tenth century hoard of more than 100 gold and silver objects found by Ayreshire artefact hunter Derek McLennan at an undisclosed location on pastureland owned by the Church of Scotland.
A new campaign is backing a bid to see a Viking treasure hoard discovered in Dumfries and Galloway go on display in the region. The Galloway Viking Hoard Campaign (GVHC) wants to see the items put in a new Kirkcudbright art gallery. Dumfries and Galloway Council is attempting to secure the treasure for the region. The GVHC said it was concerned a bid by National Museums Scotland could see the items end up in Edinburgh. The final decision on where the artefacts are diplayed lies with the Treasure Trove Panel. Cathy Agnew, who chairs the campaign which launched this week, said:
"This is a time for Scotland to take the lead. The Galloway Viking hoard is quite extraordinary and should have pride of place in a specially created exhibition space in the new Kirkcudbright art gallery. Remarkable finds have so often been whisked away from the communities where they were discovered only to become a small feature in a large national museum. This is a very old-fashioned approach and in 2017 we should be making sure that regions fully benefit from their cultural riches."
She said the collection could be a "powerful magnet" to bring in visitors. David Devereux, GVHC vice chair, said: "Some of the items in the hoard are of breathtaking beauty and could become icons for the region, spurring people across the world to discover more about its distinctive past - and the people, lives, cultures and kingdoms that existed before Scotland was born." [...] National Museums Scotland has described the find as of "considerable national and international significance". It said that if it acquired the hoard it would save it for the nation and ensure it was seen by "people from Scotland, the rest of the UK and internationally".

Ai Weiwei - Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn, 1995.

Ai Weiwei - Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn, 1995.
Posted on You Tube by vabethany

Raises the question about how we could protest British policies on and lack of public debate on the collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record. Ideas?

Saturday 25 February 2017

Kevin Leahy on the PAS

Kevin Leahy spoke at the Current Archaeology event yesterday, he was supposed to present an assessment of 'Twenty years of the Portable Antiquities Scheme' which seems a great opportunity to make some substantive points. Here is my reply to somebody who wrote to me about it afterwards (work out the context yourselves):

Hi, I am not sure where you think he ‘diverged from the party line’, it was surely the same old, same old crap. That talk would basically have looked the same in 2003 in its basic aspects. 
The ‘achievements’ presented are object-centred kossinnist retro-culture-historical archaeology.  I note with amusement how he dropped the tone of his voice reverentially whenever he quoted a big number. Its all about numbers innit? The ethics of collecting is nowhere touched upon.  I note that he says that commercial artefact hunting rallies are a ‘nightmare’,  not because of the issues related to commercial collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record but because of the work involved in FLOs getting to all the finders in time. 
What a cheek mentioning the Lenborough hoard in such a context without commenting on how it was dug by the FLO (and tipped out on a tabletop) and then a bit later discussing the Frome one and the prehistoric hoards and gaily mentioning that they are ‘structured’ and should be recorded accordingly.  I noted that there was a total lack of a critical approach to themselves – totally in character for the Bloomsbury boyz, sadly.
This was all very revealing about the intellectual fruits of twenty years liaison with collectors – I would say small berries rather than water melons. He says we should be ‘grown up’ and wait longer for us to ‘get there’ – hmm. Twenty years of a failed social experiment is not enough to see where it is going? As an archaeological presentation, pretty annoying fluffy spin – as usual from the dumbdown PAS.


Collectors Destroying Artefacts

Collectors say they collect artefacts to 'preserve' them. Here are some of the things they do:

Original surface zapped to death

No, it is not the 'corrosion' that has damaged this coin, it is the
way that corrosion was simply stripped off by some ignorant
selfish brute that has totally knackered this object

Another artefact destroyer at work

 Some dealers are not at all embarrassed to sell such trashed material:

But there is no convincing some that conservation methods have advanced a little further than Plenderleith and Werner...
electrolysis strips nothing away from a coin or artifact it simply stabilizes the metal which is in a volatile state ... If you spent 1 minute on your research you would have easily figured that out .. [...] 30 years of research and study with a IVY LEAGE University 12 museums and 100 archaeo and salvage vessels using this technology say youre wrong ... [...]  some of the most well preserved artifacts in the world are in that state because of electrolysis ...a 5000 year old process developed by primitives who apparently have more of a grasp of the scientific method than you sir
Hmm. The comment of course was unsigned, but originates from Trump's America.

Oiks Happy to Travel Miles to Hoik, Less Keen to Take a Trip to the FLO

It has been said that the PAS works best in Norfolk, where the idea started. It is not even working properly there either as this comment on a metal detecting forum near you makes clear:
"FLO -we currently do not have one visiting and instead have to offer a courier service for the top 20 recordable finds, to Gressenhall Museum. They then return as one lot two months later."
This begs the question how many other artefacts are found and simply kept by the artefact hunter with no record being made because he cannot be bothered himself to meet the liaison officer face to face (surely a contradiction of what the PAS was set up to do in the first place). In this situation, who decides which 20 would be 'top' for the FLO and what happens to the rest? It should be the PAS who decide on archaeological (not a collector's) criteria what what to record  and not delegate the decision to anonymous unqualified hoikers. How much cultural loss does this amount to? Are the resulting 'data' archaeological data about the sites exploited by these collectors? (In case anyone is in doubt: No, obviously not).

So finds are recorded by collectors only when the mountain comes to Mehmet, the latter being unable to get up off his fat metal detecting backside and visit the FLO?

Heritage Crime covered up

Why does almost every finds agreement (including the “model” ones offered by the detecting bodies) fail to contain this simple, respectable clause: “I the detectorist will take nothing home without first showing it to the landowner.?" ask Heritage Action.

It's a rhetorical question, the answer is too revealing...


Friday 24 February 2017

Thursday 23 February 2017

Treasure Find no 'Accident'

Beeston Castle
Staff reporter, 'Treasure hunter stumbles on medieval coins while using metal detector near Chester', Chester Standard, 22 February 2017 well, unless he went out with a metal detector to find sunbathing teenagers (unlikely this time of the year) or abandoned tent pegs on a campsite before the grass is cut, it's a fair bet that this bloke was out with his metal detector actively searching for precisely the type of thing he found. It was no 'accident' that treasure hunter Malcolm Shepherd, of Abergele, discovered 26 coins while using his metal detector in the Beeston area on January 28 this year. He'd driven 63 kilometres along the A55 and A51 and then some narrow country roads to target this precise search area. He'd not come there by chance.

Wednesday 22 February 2017

Petition: Save Canterbury Heritage Museum

With many fond memories of my time spent with the Archaeological Trust in this amazing city
Petition: Save Canterbury Heritage Museum
[there is a sneaky bit at the end where ipetitions tries to cadge a donation from you, if you feel disinclined to play along with them, just close the window, your signature is already recorded].

Tuesday 21 February 2017

Art trade amendments to looted art bill rejected in parliament

Those poor antiquities dealers are claiming they are hard-done by and being victimised again (Laura Chesters, ' Art trade amendments to looted art bill rejected in parliament Antiques Trade Gazette   21 Feb 2017).   

The UK government has passed the third reading of the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill,   designed to tackle the looting and destruction of cultural heritage in conflict zones. In the debates leading up to this, Kensington MP and the British Antique Dealers Association  president Victoria Borwick had implored ministers to “consider the views of the art and antiques industry”. Parliament however it roundly opposed amendments to the draft bill called for by the art and antiques trade.
Among those calling for amendments to the bill, were members of the art trade who had called for changes including clarification of the definition of “cultural property” and the meaning of the phrase “having reason to suspect” in the wording of the clause relating to “dealing in unlawfully exported cultural property” [clause 17.1 of the bill]. [...] However Tracey Crouch MP, the under-secretary of state for Culture, Media and Sport, who steered the bill through parliament, said: “Dealers should always be concerned to ensure that any objects they deal in have good and lawful provenance.” She said issues in the art market around provenance “will not be solved by watering down this bill”. She added that after consulting with the art trade there was "no clear evidence... this bill would create an insurmountable problem for the art market or increase the amount of due diligence that the dealers need to take. It will however provide a deterrent for those unscrupulous dealers who might be tempted to deal in unlawfully exported cultural property". 
So once again, antiquities dealers were trying to stall a cleaning up of the market by raising (US lobbyist style) pretended difficulties which in fact do not exist in any licit business. In fact the Bill cites the seminal definition of ‘cultural property’, as defined in The Hague Convention 1954 (so antiquities dealers have had ample time to consider, and challenge if they see fit, this notion - but then these atavistic milieu tends not to prioritise any form of forward looking considerations).

Rebecca Davies, chief executive of LAPADA, said [...] As things stand, and without clear guidance on this, art market professionals will face the choice of ignoring the unsubstantiated claim [on an object they were handling] and risk prosecution or accept that any claim, regardless of merit, would create grounds for suspicion under the terms of the act and effectively taint the object while exposing them to the risk of prosecution if they ignored the claim.” 
Absolutely, that is how it should be. When will dealers realise that the outside world expects would-be respectable dealers to handle only material which can be shown on the basis of proper business documentation not to be potentially tainted  - and in the British situation that means complying in full with the terms of the 2003 'Dealing in cultural property ((offences) Act'  - also in force long enough now for the dealers concerned to know its wording and act accordingly in filling their stock rooms.

Monday 20 February 2017

Assumptions in Question in New Times

When voters feel democracy is not serving their interests, freedom starts to falter (Gideon Rachman, 'The authoritarian wave reaches the west' Financial Times, 20th Feb 2017): 
[...] This authoritarian wave threatens to undermine comfortable assumptions about how politics works. The belief that the politics of the rich, established democracies of the west are fundamentally different from those of Latin America or Asia may need to be rethought. The idea that the middle-class and the young will always be the most stalwart supporters of democracy is also looking increasingly rocky.
It seems not to be being noticed that the assumptions concerning 'western' attitudes to cultural heritage may be yet another casualty of the new times we seem to be entering.

Vignette: Financial Times

The UK 'Cultural Property Bill' has been Passed

In the UK, the the Cultural Property Bill has been passed
A Bill to enable the United Kingdom to implement the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict of 1954 and the Protocols to that Convention of 1954 and 1999
definitely not before time...

Vitaly Churkin has died

The Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin, has passed away, he was 65. The ambassador has figured on this blog in connection with certain pronouncements on the trade in antiquities from the Middle East.

Thieving metal detectorist Cop Sacked

A policeman who found £15,000 of gold coins with his metal detector has been sacked for cheating the landowner out of a share of the treasure. PC David Cockle last month admitted theft and keeping the proceeds of the sale of coins found in a Norfolk field. A misconduct hearing was told Cockle had agreed to a 50:50 split with the famer of anything valuable he found. Norfolk Chief Constable Simon Bailey, who dismissed Cockle, said it "was one of the grossest breaches of trust" [...]  Cockle, 51, who now lives in Leigh, Lancashire, will be sentenced at Ipswich Crown Court next month after criminal proceedings were brought against him by the Norfolk force. As well as pleading guilty to theft, Cockle faced three counts of handling criminal property. 
BBC 'Policeman sacked for keeping metal detecting gold coin proceeds' 20th Feb 2017.

Beats me why anyone would 'trust' a metal detectorist in the first place, the farmer was not cheated out of a 'share' in the value of the property taken from his land, he owns all of it.

Train Spotting as Archaeology?

We've got a packed programme of archaeological activities coming up on Sat - from flint-knapping to metal detecting ow.ly/Jg15308L4xI
IUn what way is flint knapping, a manual dexterity and hand-eye-coordination activity an 'archaeological' one? Rubbish. and 'metal detecting'? That's what they do in airport checkins, isn't it? Wjhy is that 'archaeological'? How about enrolling for a course advertised by clueless morons?

Sunday 19 February 2017

That Recurrent 'Smolensk Lie'

General Piotr Pytel informs public opinion about the true views expressed on the Smolensk aircraft crash behind closed doors by one of the main PL government mystical conspiracy theorists

He was dismissed. The plane hit trees in fog as it was trying to land 10th April 2010 killing nearly a hundred VIPs on board. But claims to an alternative truth which the present government says it aims to 'uncover' are one of the main props to the populists' claim to power.

Exploitive artefact hunters Mislead Landowners

In England, artefact hunting heritage pocketers consider themselves 'generous' if they return to a landowner what they've taken from them... 

 Let us take a look at a random page of the 'identification and valuation' page of The Searcher, to get an idea of the average value placed by the market on run-of-the-mill artefacts: £50, £180-200, £80, £40-60, £30, £120, £120-150, £220, 300+, £15-18, £60, £120-150, £80-90, £40, £120, £20, £30, £80.... I think we get the idea. Metal detectorists claim they are 'not interested in the money', but every single one of them is aware that the artefacts they rmove from a landowner's property are not without (monetary) value, and cumulatively the resale value of even a small collection of historical metal artefacts can be quite substantial. How much of the money raised by the sale of such a collection (for exaple by heirs) ever gets back to the landowner? How many artefact hunters create the sort of documentation that would allow this?

No. it is not the artefact hunter who is generous, these people are exploiting the lack of awareness of the landowners and it should be the job of the PAS to inform the landowner of this as a public service to STOP the rip-off merchant collectors  profiting from keeping landowners in the dark.


Saturday 18 February 2017

"Our hot sites which are now picked clean as a buzzerds bones"

"Why is mudlarking becoming more popular in London?" ask the BBC
The treasure hunters of the River Thames  (16 February 2017). Probably because the selfish want to get 'their share' before its all gone:
The beeb world service reporters were on the foreshore back in the 80s trying to get voice recordings ..But I told em to P**s off as did other diggers at the time ..Why would we want to advertise our hot sites which are now picked clean as a buzzerds (sic) bones ..(post by 'Targets' Sat Feb 18, 2017 12:02 pm my emphasis)
The archaeological record, of London too, is a finite resource. Once it is gone it is gone.
Hat tip Nigel Swift
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