Saturday 30 June 2018

Salerno Seizure, objects sent back

Caught red-handed, sackloads of
coins destined for the market.
Such coins surfacing on any
market should be considered
guilty until proven innocent
Italy returns 23,000 coins and 195 archaeological finds to Egypt seized in May 2017, by customs authorities as part of a Carabinieri_ investigation in Salerno, Italy. Italy Returns Trafficked Artifacts to the Archaeological Departments of the Ministry of Antiquities of the Republic of Egypt ARCA Blog Friday, June 29, 2018.
The pieces were discovered during a seizure which took place in May 2017, at the customs area of ​​the port of Salerno, by the Carabinieri of the Cultural Heritage Protection Center of Naples, in collaboration with the officials of the Customs Agency and the local Superintendency.  The stop, was part of a customs inspection of a container which was marked as being for the transport of only household goods.
Readers might remember the fuss the coineys made when the US was about to sign a cultural property agreement with Egypt, they suggested that so many ptolemainc coins were struck and circulated outside modern Egypt that there was no need for the US markety to be supplied in them from Egypt itself (so the agreement should exempt coins). Well, here are several sackloads of coins found going from Egypt to the international markets with the involvements of some criminals on the way. When are the coineys going to stop their destructive obstructions and settle down to cleaning up their grubby market? 

Collectors' Corner: Bonhams Antiquities 'Doris' Head Flask

Photo: Bonhams
I really cannot imagine who would want to acquire this unlovely portable antiquity (reminiscent of 'Doris' from Shrek II and III). It is being flogged off by Bonhams who offer only one photo (I'd like to see the underside):
They date it to  'circa 3rd-4th Century A.D.', and this is their description...
In the form of a bust of an African, depicted with tiers of short ringlets, the face with lidded eyes with recessed pupils set beneath arched eyebrows, small nose and mouth, and pronounced chin dimple, wearing a collar with crescentic pendant, with short spout and ring handle at the back, remains of black slip overall, 16.2cm high FOOTNOTES Provenance: Jan Willem Salomonson (1925-2017) collection, the Netherlands, acquired prior to 2000; and thence by descent to the present owner.
Lot-Art sale
Which is rather odd, because this here seems to be the same object on sale recently elsewhere... where it seems to have been dated to the 1st century AD.

What is even odder is that fabric, some kind of slipped ware, but which production centre? Rhenish? Nene Valley Ware? Central Gaulish Black Slipped ware? Colchester colour coat? Why do not Bonhams say? Surely they could easily find a Roman pottery specialist to give it  look-over. There are lots of them in England, and even in London. In particular, parallels (if they exist) would be easy to find, as this vessel is mould-made (which Roman colour-coat vessels tended not to be). So why is Bonhams not more precise about what it actually is? Another interesting feature  is the rim. This vessel is a skeumorph of the much more common glass head-flasks (which sometimes also depict African features, though never as caricaturish as here)  but then why does it not have their flaring rim (like this pot)? Why did it need a 'ring handle' (sic) at the back when a flask this size can be handled without and the glass ones do not have them? What was the function of such a vessel, apart from just being ugly? How would you pour from it? Any Roman pot people out there want to give Bonhams a hand and share a few parallels?

Lots of questions left unanswered by the skimpy description. As usual. Caveat emptor, I'd say.

PS Bonhams, the word is 'lunula/lunular'.

Can a FLO tell the Difference? [UPDATED] Museum Coiney Joins Discussion

More silly 'on this day' artefact showcasing, this one from Garstang Museum up in the North of England
Byzantine Empress Theodora died #onthisday in AD548. Originally a dancer/courtesan she rose to become (arguably) the most influential woman in Byzantine history. #girlpower #thisgirlcan CC.918 Copper coin depicting bust of Theodora.
Except the coin shown (top) is what seems to be a badly chemically-patinated cast fake bearing little resemblance to real coins (bottom) of any empress Theodora - and they've got the wrong one anyway. This one (Flavia Maximiana Theodora) was the second wife of Constantius I and dates to the fourth century, not the sixth. You would think the FLO would know the difference, but he retweeted it too.

Garstang Museum coin at the top, a Wildwinds
one at the bottom, both from the 'antiquities' market
Heritage professionals misleading the public.

UPDATE 10.07.18
Oh dear, the Durham FLO has lost it:

I suppose if you've got nothing better to write about, this will have to substitute for it. What this is is using archaeological artefacts as illustrations of historiography and not as archaeological evidence (this is precisely what is behind that PAS 'artefact collecting is citizen archaeology because archaeology is digging up old things' model that I find so dodgy). If Mr Westwood would look at the PAS aims, and see whether the Scheme is for talking about archaeological context or illustrating history books, perhaps he'd not lose sight of the fact that the liaison he's paid to do is of a different character.

Now coming back to that unhappy bronze coin of Flavia Maxima Theodora.... Here's what he had to say in response to my question whether he as an FLO could tell the difference between a cast fake brought to him by a metal detectorist and an authentic coin. He snorts:
err...Yes.i'm not a 'misleading the public' as you libellously claim. Are happy with your disingenuous blog post & fanciful claims? I'd strongly urge you to retract/delete. So it's the wrong Theodora: Mea Culpa. I RT'd a nice image with a nice sentiment. But [emoticon] 
Well, I am not retracting anything, the FLO in his 'heritage engagement' with the public was misleading them by disseminating a post presenting a fourth century coin as one minted in the name of a sixth century empress (the one who died 'on that day'). That is not libel, it is however a fact that undermines the PAS's credibility. I personally think archaeology consists of a little bit more than disseminating  'nice pictures and nice sentiments'. I have no idea what Garstang Museum think, they have not responded to my request for information where that coin came from.

Just to show he can tell the cast fakes from struck originals apart, Mr Westwood then adds
You've compared a Constantinople mint coin to one clearly from Trier (TRS+dot)
well, I could have taken the picture from Wikipedia I suppose. That's TRS+dot. I do not see however the relevance to the question of his ability to detect if a 'finder' tries to pull a fast one.  In addition Mr Westwood writes:
'badly chemically patinated cast fake'......please [...] I'm no coin expert (& never claimed to be, clearly you're not either...) so maybe will confirm: badly struck or poss a contemporary copy?
Since coins make up a considerable portion of the 'metal detected' finds selected by artefact hunters for recording by the PAS (and in other databases), it seems to me that employing somebody as an FLO that is not knowledgeable about this kind of object is a mistake one that could compromise the database now finds records are being verified much less than they were in the Scheme's early years. Mr Westwood may assume that I am 'not a coin expert either' but I guess the fact is that of the two of us, when I saw the coin that he had perceived as a 'nice image', I realised at once that it was not what it was being marketed as. But the FLO retweeted the 'nice sentiments' (wishful thinking) without checking. Again, what is going into that PAS 'database' in Durham?

But as asked, along comes Matthew Ball from the Department of Coins and Medals of the Fitzwilliam Museum. He says the coin highlighted by the FLO is "real" but then adds some more comments about my 'agenda'.

Leaving aside the fact that the blog I run has indeed several agendas, which is why it is here, let's have a look at why I am less than convinced still - despite what the coiney (who of course will have no agenda) asserts - that it is 'real'.

Now here's a nice thing for all you coin collectors out there. A bit of education. Dealers and collectors, if you have a coin that looks like this with blurry details, the relief portions merging with the field, a poorly-formed and uneven inscription apparently understruck all round and 'worn', but the details elsewhere more intact, the design curling round the flan edge and with patches deliberately left of that very dodgy even, clean, waxy green deposit right on the oxidised surface.... and you thought it was a distressed fake, good news. Matthew Ball from the Fitz will apparently write you an opinion on the basis of the photo that its a pukka real coin and you can flog it as such on eBay.

But I feel a dearth of education from this Museum professional. I'd like him now to give us the reaction equations how he thinks that a corrosion product sequence like the one we see here formed if he is telling us that his 'real' object got like that from being in the ground. I've seen this 'patina' before, but not on ground-dug objects. Dr Ball might see it in collection trays - but are any of the objects that exhibit it actually 'grounded' with real paperwork?

Garstang Museum Tweet

And the picture below: looking like this is not due to this object being cast according to Mr Ball, its due to it being "real". Those wouldn't be air bubbles in the exergue would they? Mr Ball would have us believe, I guess, that this is localised corrosion pitting, but again, I am interested in learning from him how such a thing could happen to a coin in this general condition - and a very interesting condition if is is a properly grounded object recovered from an archaeological deposit. Is it? Mr Ball says it is.

Garstang Museum
FLO seems to have implicit confidence in authenticity of 'cheap Roman coins' brought in:
  13 godz.13 godzin temu
[...] why on earth would anyone go to the trouble of forging a Cu coin worth at best about 15 quid? Take it on the chin, listen to the expert, admit you're wrong.
I am waiting to be educated why I am wrong. Mr Ball has still not substantiated his verdict in light of my questions.

I think this adequately addresses the first point. I do think PAS FLOs are missing out on information if they refuse to read certain blogs.  My questions to Mr Ball, RIC number or no RIC number:
I am still waiting for a more substantive answer from Mr Ball. Tell me, the Garstang coin, cast or struck? Why 'real' and not modern meant to deceive? Here characterising the corrosion seems pretty vital. Heritage engagement please, answers for a 'layman'.
Still unanswered. Without that, I cannot judge if he is right or wrong when he issues from above the one-word verdict "real". To me the coin looks like a cast copy, and that corrosion looks like a modern chemical 'patina' made to look like this is a badly cleaned earth-dug find.

Tuesday 26 June 2018

How to Buy Pukka Antiquities

Philip Hewat-Jaboor
As Masterpiece London prepares to open its doors, its chairman reveals the secrets of collecting ancient antiquities ( Andrew Baker, 'As Masterpiece London prepares to open its doors, its chairman reveals the secrets of collecting ancient antiquities', Telegraph 25 June 2018) Philip Hewat-Jaboor, the chairman of Masterpiece London, talks to Andrew Baker about how one can begin collecting antiquities... he says there is a very wide range of portable antiquities items legally available to amateur collectors in this area of interest. These include 'seals, intaglios, pottery, glass and bronzes'. Prices are 'often very modest ranging from as little as a few hundred pounds for an intaglio or a piece of Roman glass'. Now, if that really were the case and there was a lot of legal items, why on earth would hardened criminals think they can make money by trying to penetrate such a market with illicit items? Something here does not make sense, either the mafiamen are crazy in the head, or that market does not actually look like it is being painted here. Apparently the way to 'be sure that they are buying items that have been properly obtained' is (of course):
Go to a reputable dealer, ideally a member of The International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art or The Antiquities Dealers Association and to visit their websites to look at the codes of conduct. 
Here is the first discussed by me and here they are on due diligence. Would you buy a used car from them? What precisely is this reputation and on what is it based? Hewat-Jaboor goes on:
My advice is to ask the dealer about the provenance of the piece with supporting evidence. For objects in excess of €5000, dealers will check against a stolen art register such as the Art Loss Register. 
Fat lot of good that will do... it's not so much the provenance (where it came from) that is as important as the collection history, how it was collected/left teh ground-monument, how it came on the market, how it left the source country and through whose hands it passed (in other words, what kinds of activity the profit from its sale was financing)...

And of course the would-be collector is told that 'buying through a reputable dealer' will help you steer clear of replicas and fakes. Yes, except where the dealer has bought a fake artefact and cannot tell the difference because the objects he'd compare them with are also ungrounded fakes of unclear origins. The annals of collecting are full of this kind of thing, like those indicated by Muscarella, a whole series of small items coming out of Bulgaria and so on.

Masterpiece London 2018 sponsored by Royal Bank of Canada* will take place from 28 June – 4 July (preview 27 June) at Royal Hospital Chelsea, London;

* which is odd to mention in the context of the antiquities trade, RBC is committed to supporting strategic initiatives that make a measurable impact on society, the environment and the economy.What, like collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record?

Ixelles scores an own goal?

The Ixelles Six apparently wanted to quash discussion of Sam Hardy's paper by pointing out how 'wrong' everything is about it. They may have had the opposite effect, I wanted to check something a minute ago and got this:
Server Busy
The server is experiencing an unusually high volume of requests and is temporarily unable to process your request.
Please try again in a moment or two.

PAS 'Fights Crime on Hadrian's Wall'

Brunton Turret, collectable-extraction
 hole, what have PAS done to eliminate
the object from it from their database? 
I remarked to the editor-authors of the long article defending liberal laws on Collection Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record that it was unfortunate that their dismissive attack on Sam Hardy's conclusions that such liberal approach and the archaeological response it engenders in England and Wales came out on the very day that HE began a campaign using metal detector holes appearing near a section of Hadrian's Wall at Brunton. Oh, that does not matter one of them says, and claims I am so 'ignorant' to not know that the PAS 'works very closely with HE on this issue'  but 'I don’t feel I need to say more to you on this, especially as you don’t really understand or appreciate the role of the PAS in the fight against heritage crime'.

Well! I'll just put this map up then. It is generated automatically from the PAS database for Roman finds from Northumberland (the county where that bit of the Wall is). It shows a linear cluster of artefact finds going west from Newscastle (lot of metal detectorists there) towards Haltwhistle. Now, I am not 'so' ignorant not to realise what else goes west from Newcastle to Haltwhistle and which obviously is attracting these artefact hunters preferentially to the areas more distant. My question to the PAS is this:
to what extent can they show us that before handling these objects, they obtained documentation (finds release protocols) for each of them verifying the finder's claims to have title, and confirming that each of these objects actually came from the property of the landowner they say they did?  Do they archive copies of this documentation so future researchers can recheck their validity should they so wish?
It would be easy for a piece of (say) showy cavalry equipment dug up from one of the Roman forts in northern Britain to be presented to the PAS as from a farm (say) 52.91 kilometres  to the west, well away from the site of discovery and in a landscape context where such a find is very much out of place. Without any documentation confirming that declared findspot, nobody would be any the wiser, the detectorists could display the objects to their admiring mates and dispose of them by sale safely, but a fraud would have been committed (with the PAS complicit) and any researcher using the false data would be using fake data.

This after all was one of the recommendations of the Nighthawking report. So are the PAS actually implementing it in their 'fight against crime'? Or are the objects and unverified data being entered willy-nilly onto a database in which one can therefore place very little trust? Just saying. And what about those odd out-of-place finds? Is there a secret archive of "I recorded this but suspect the finder is lying" (or maybe "A finder brought this to me but I refused to record it because I suspect he is lying, watch out for this one")? How big is it?

Monday 25 June 2018

Looting in Pakistan

"Harappan pottery dish c.2500-2000 BC"
Saadia Gardezi has an article introducing the issue of Collection Driven Exploitation of  sites and monuments in Pakistan, a country under-discussed for cultural racketeering (Sadioa Gardezio, 'Looted Treasure' in The Nation, June 25, 2018)
And the stealing continues today. While it is true locals are complicit in illicit trade in art from Pakistan and India, it is encouraged by art dealers based in Europe and the USA. The plunderer in Swat gets a pittance, the final buyer pays millions for a rare millennium old art piece, and the dealer makes all the money. It is estimated that 90 percent of the South Asian antiquities on sale in the London auction market are illegally smuggled.[...] Islam is obviously not against local cultures, even when those cultures are not Islamic. But the lack of economic development, coupled with corrupt officials and murderous extremists, have stolen from our societies our past relics of social harmony and cultural exchange.
Collectors will argue that 'we" (that means archaeologists) should be doing more to create economic development, remove the corrupt officials and murderous extremists. Obviously the dealer who makes all that money on the antiquities market is not fuelling that economic growth and the collectors' money that goes into the pockets of corrupt officials in the form or bribes to turn a blind eye and murderous extremists to stop them murdering the smugglers, is not going to undermine either of those two groups.

Type "Indus Valley" into eBay now and see what you come up with, and that is just one of the cultures that this land supported down through the millennia. Then look how many of them are being sold in the UK (more of which later)...  the illustrated one is from a US seller. No collection history or export licence details given.

Ixelles Six: "Discouraging 'the Ignorant' from Forming an Opinion Opposite to Ours"

The VUB-by pro-collecting gang
assure "the ignorant" that only they
know what they are talking about,
and the rest of us should shut up
and only heed their soothing chant
The 'Ixelles six' (Pieterjan Deckers, Andres Dobat,  Natasha Ferguson, / Stijn Heeren, Michael Lewis, Suzie Thomas) got together to write an  article-with-an-overlong-title ('The Complexities of Metal Detecting Policy and Practice: A Response to Samuel Hardy, ‘Quantitative Analysis of Open-Source Data on Metal Detecting for Cultural Property’ Cogent Social Sciences 3, 2017). This is why one of them (M. Lewis in litt to PMB 25.06.2018) says they did it:
there will be people (ignorant in these issues), which we know to be complex, taking what is presented at face value. We thought we should highlight what we see to be incorrect.
But without actually addressing the fundamental issue Hardy highlights, but attempting  to dismiss it as unimportant (they hold p. 323 that it is 'fundamentally wrong' to say collection-driven exploitation in any way damages the archaeological record). The pro-collecting gang gathered around the corresponding editor at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) merely dismiss those who consider that there is an issue  to be discussed (first brought into the public domain by the grassroots organization Heritage Action's Artefact Eroson Counter) as 'people ignorant in these issues'. That is the height of academic ivory tower arrogance.

It remains to hope that when Britain is ignominiously thrown out of the EU in a few months, the legacy of PAS in Europe will fade and it then will be easier to vincere tenebras  by real academic discussion, and be able to put behind us the posing and sniping of those who have dominated the discussion so long, shouting down the 'detractors' (sic) who apparently are dead set on defending their 'Treasured' status quo from being questioned and being held actually accountable for the damaging effects it has caused for so long.

Apologists for collection-driven exploitation of the
archaeological record abandoning stale old Brexiting Bloomsbury
 for VUB now? (Rectoraat van de Vrije Universiteit Brussel)

To One of the Authors of the Text-With-an-Overlong-Title

'Transnational' Babel
I'll do a proper response to the text Deckers, PS, Dobat, A, Ferguson, N, Heeren, S, Lewis, M and; Thomas, S 2018, 'The Complexities of Metal Detecting Policy and Practice: A Response to Samuel Hardy, ‘Quantitative Analysis of Open-Source Data on Metal Detecting for Cultural Property’ (Cogent Social Sciences 3, 2017)' [Open Archaeology, bind 2018, nr. 4] when I get my head above water with an ongoing project, but here are my first thoughts, addressed to the three of the authors that are also editors of the series of pro-collecting texts that it appears in ('Aspects of Non-professional Metal Detecting in Europe'):

To Mike Lew
Thanks for your reply, at least one of you did. But I am not sure I appreciate the tone of this:"I don’t feel I need to say more to you on this, especially as you don’t really understand or appreciate the role of the PAS in the fight against heritage crime". an excellent example of the typical form of PAS 'outreach' there. Written in the usual dismissive style typical of a true metal detectorist!

I am sure we’ll come back to that another time.

"Our issue with the Hardy paper is in relation to poor methodology and some basic factual errors".

No it's not, it's because it raised the question of the figures that the PAS and its supporters in twenty years of trumpeting its Propaganda of Success have not been able to contemplate producing, the number of items that are removed from archaeological sites and assemblages by artefact hunters in the first place – quite obviously the only yardstick by which we can measure ‘PAS success’ in mitigating the damage caused. Hardy produced some numbers and you did not like them. That's why you (plural) wrote what you did and in the way you did.

And no, you (plural) do not so much show that there is a better methodology, but merely snipe at what he did, and throw up side issues as padding and a smokescreen dragging discussion off in different directions to avoid focusing on the one, uncomfortable point, which you try to dismiss, but do not quite manage it (and it’s not the one that you misidentify as Hardy’s ‘purpose’). Again - as I can say after a decade and a half engaging with them – this is a typical metal detectorist strategy.

A number of the issues you raise show that the six of you did not check back after you drafted it with Hardy’s text, to see if he did write what you impute. I did, and in several places you in fact totally misrepresent what he actually wrote. Yours thus become ‘emotive arguments’ (p. 322) rather than what one would expect as the joint product of several university academics and museum professionals.

You claim on p. 323 that your (plural) text is "not a defence of 'liberal' approaches to Collection-Driven exploitation of the archaeological record", yet on pp 328-30 of your response, that is precisely what you do. Section 5 has NOTHING to do with what Hardy wrote, but everything to do with justifying maintaining the status quo.

It is you [plural] that 'mix cause and effect' (p. 327-8) when it comes to the UK and US legislation. What you call 'metal detecting' developed within pre-existing legislative formats, and those forms did not 'arise' ... 'in contexts where metal detecting (sic) is openly and widely practiced' (p. 327). And – in a transnational context - legality is not just about ‘reporting’ (p. 325). Again, your approach is object-focused, while the core of most of the legislation you discuss is concerned with protecting ‘places’.

This text that has been belatedly added to the pro-collecting stance of the majority of the other ones in that ‘Topical issue’ collection two years after the deadline simply reinforce the impression that, as the sand washes from beneath your feet, you are more keen than ever to prevent any serious discussion on this topic, rather than properly engaging with it in any broader context. You call Hardy 'biased' on p 322 and 331, but nowhere justify that statement, neither do you show that the six of you are in some way 'unbiased'. I would say the tone and content of this 'response' illustrates very well indeed the specific position from which it is written - and that has nothing to do with Hardy's text and conclusions, but is primarily concerned with buoying up your own preferred model, the one your volume of collected papers promotes, and trashing any evidence that this is not working the way in which it is claimed to be.

Prove me wrong, Mike, and commit yourself to working with fellow author Dr Ferguson's TTU (part of the 'organisations and national and local authorities responsible for engaging with metal detectorists') [CCd here too] to do what you and your five colleagues agreed is 'the way forward' (p 331), through ‘ground truthing’ (after already twenty years of PAS liaison and partnership with artefact hunters and collectors), and proper research by your own 'flawless methodology' to provide more reliable 'quantitative analysis of metal detecting for cultural property' (ie Collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record). Can you do that? Commit to stop sniping at those of us trying to raise serious issues and concerns ('detractors', the 'old perspectives', 'biased assumptions') and actually get stuck into providing proper useable information about the scale of the problem that has yet to be addressed (PAS 2003 aim five was about this, and you said a decade ago that you’d 'achieved' this - let us see). Replace the traditional PAS puff-statistics (wotta-lotta-stuff-we-got) that you’ve been boring us with for twenty years with something more holistic, incisive and substantive. Can you?

I do hope also that when you do, this time you will not make pronouncements like that it is "fundamentally wrong" (p. 323) to say that collection driven exploitation of a site (for that, not 'objects' is what Hardy was writing about), ripping random diagnostic items of (just) metal out of the complex patterning of archaeological assemblages (I'm talking here about surface sites too) with inadequate record is damaging. Because you say you ‘argue’ it in the paper (p. 323), but in fact neglect to present those arguments. There are many of us who however are sure that to express concerns about this is not it is not a disproven 'old approach' or a 'biased assumption' that it is damaging sites the world over (that transnational approach). Just pop along the corridor and talk to your Museum colleagues worried about the damage being done by artefact hunters in post-'Revolution' Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Yemen for a better perspective on this (sic) 'old approach'.

Thanks Paul Barford
He won't of course. The contribution of these six authors quite clearly aims at blocking discussion of what Hardy said, rather than enabling it. 

Wednesday 20 June 2018

Artefact Hunters Damage Hadrian's Wall Again

Brunton Turret (Copyright Historic England)
Illegal treasure hunters have damaged part of Hadrian's Wall, experts claim. BBC 20th Jumne 2018
[..] metal detectorists are blamed for more than 50 holes found around the 1,900-year-old Brunton Turret section, near Hexham, Northumberland. Historic England said those responsible were searching for loot such as Roman coins and military regalia. Other areas of the ancient wall, a World Heritage site, have been targeted. Historic England said it was working with police to try and find those responsible. But it added it was not practical to install security measures like CCTV along the stretch of the wall. The 73-mile (117km) wall stretches between Wallsend in North Tyneside and Bowness on Solway in Cumbria and has about 160 scheduled monuments, which include Roman camps, forts and signal stations. Anyone using a metal detector without authorisation on these sites is committing a criminal offence.
Mike Collins, Inspector of Ancient Monuments, is the one roped in to do the usual bit of fluff-talk "We know that the majority of the metal detecting community complies with the laws and regulations regarding discovery and recovery of objects from the land. "But the small number of people who steal artefacts and damage ancient sites [...]" Mr Collins might like to tell us how we know that. Can he? Or is this just waffle? How does he 'know' how many people do things they are hardly going to be bragging about?
He said the majority of items taken were sold on, some via online auction sites, with others being bought by individual collectors.
Again, how do we know that? No artefact hunter acting illegally in the UK has a collection of their own? That would be going against what we know of illegal artefact hunting in other countries. The upshot of what Mr Collins is saying is if we block those sales, we'll stop the majority of what he calls 'nighthawking'. Is that true? Dealers, what do you say about this?

PAS, You got an Answer for This?

From the BBC's 'metal detectorists damage Hadrian's Wall' article of 20 June 2018 a quote from Mark Harrison, head of heritage crime and policing advice for Historic England:
"We may never see or fully understand the objects taken or damaged because they have been removed from their original sites with no care or record as to their history or context."
If we see them, can we 'fully understand' them? How can PAS recording 'magically restore' the information missing because it was not observed and recorded during the extraction of a collectable archaeological artefact (part of the evidence) from the context of deposition? Surely the answer is, it cannot. So, it makes no difference whether the object is removed by a trespassing artefact hunter or an artefact hunter given the nod by the owner of land on which archaeological sites lie, and whether the object ever surfaces in the PAS database, the information is still lost. No? No, PAS? Tell us more the public about it. Do some outreaching about this. It was one of your 2003 'aims' wasn't it? What you were funded to do. Yes.

UK Artefact Hunter Explains Away Artefact Hunting on Hadrian's Wall Protected Site

Holey Moley.. tekkies
won't accept the blame
In response to the BBC report 'Metal Detectorists Damage Hadrian's Wall', a troll with a metal detector who hangs around the RESCUE Facebook page to cause disruption every time artefact hunting comes up suggests it is a conspiracy:
John Maloney Somewhat amazing that "hole + nothing else = detectorist". Especially in a time where everyone carries a camera.....[...] What's to stop an irate archaeologist with a spade setting something up? Like I said... everyone carries a camera these days. Equally amazing the headlines this grabs almost as though it was pre arranged....
But when he is answered, immediately Mr Malony drags things down to the usual personal level and football-hooligan taunting that tekkies apparently love.

Surge in illegal metal detecting at Hadrian's Wall

'There has been a spate of ‘nighthawking’ incidents at Roman Wall sites at Corbridge, Housesteads and Steel Rigg over the past three years'. (Historic England)
This is quite interesting as a drop in numbers of incidents at precisely Corbridge was not so long ago used as 'evidence' that the PAS was (somehow, it was not explained how)  responsible for an alleged 'drop' in illegal artefact hunting.

The N-word: British Archaeology's Sheep Chorus

"metal detectorists good, nighthawks bad"
I think British archaeology has rather serious terminological difficulties when discussing artefact hunting and collecting. For example, RESCUE is, I think, in general opposed to at least some aspects of the commerce in archaeological objects and the looting of sites as a source of collectables. Yet even they when tweeting about a news item of damage done to a scheduled site by Collection-Driven exploitation of the archaeological record use the N-word:
'Nighthawk' metal detectorists damage Hadrian's Wall - BBC News
To be fair, they are (I assume) unthinkingly parroting the BBC headline to which they link, but it should be archaeologists informing the media about how to talk about archaeological matters, not taking the line from uninformed journalism. So for both RESCUE and the BBC, it is not some people who use metal detectors to exploit the archaeological record merely as a source of collectables doing something wrong and illegal, but a specific group of people who use metal detectors to exploit the archaeological record merely as a source of collectables. I do not follow the logic of this form of labelling for two reasons.

The first is that if an archaeologist was convicted, for example, of sexual abuse of an employee on an excavation, would it be reported only after adding an adjective ('law breaking archaeologist') to stress that not all archaeologists are sexual predators? Because this is what is happening here.

Secondly, the assumption behind such people-labelling is that 'metal detectorists' never 'nighthawk' and all 'nighthawks' only 'nighthawk' and never 'metal detect'. But a 'nighthawk' could equally well have 'permissions' for several productive sites. Not only does this give them more opportunity to actually practice their hobby of 'metal detecting', but also to find collectable (or saleable) stuff. It also acts as a 'cover'. He can produce papers to show that he has permission to be on several sites, any one of which he could claim is the 'source' of an item the ownership of which has been challenged. Until nobody asks to see a finds release protocol from that specific landowner for that specific item, nobody would be any the wiser. Surely, is that not in fact the safest way to get away with nighthawking? In reality, the guys who dug holes in Hadrian's Wall, may well have also reported items to the PAS in several counties, they may have taken part in legal rallies and queued up at the PAS finds desk, or gone to one of the dealers' tables while there.

The term, used as a differentiator (ie as used by Rescue News) is meaningless as a category, but its function is clear, to separate the 'bad guys' from the mass of 'metal detectorists'. But as I have pointed out, such an attempt may be producing a false and over-simplified picture from a much more nuanced reality. Can RESCUE contemplate that and changing the way they talk about collection-driven artefact hunting which erode the evidential value of archaeological sites and assemblages whether it is done legally or not?

Tuesday 19 June 2018

"But they fill in there 'oles, so wassthe problem M8?"

For so many artefact hunters 'filling in your holes' is the hallmark of responsible detecting. So for them perhaps detecting on a site on Hardian's Wall is OK, the holes were filled in more-or-less tidily (and in the dark!)

Damage done by greedy artefact hunters at
Brunton Turret, passionately interested
in history (Photo copyright English Heritage)

In the case of Unpapered Artefacts Without Documented Collecting History, 'Who Knows?' Caveat Emptor.

 Last month I discussed a seizure by the Italian Carabinieri of antiquities from a Roman property developer who now faces prosecution for possessing illegally excavated works. But the Art Museum is, interestingly, taking this further perhaps on behalf of the beleaguered collector (?) (Cristina Ruiz, 'Top experts dispute Italian police claims about seized ‘antiquities’...' Art Newspaper 19th June 2018):
When we sent this picture to five independent experts, all of them questioned the objects’ authenticity. Although the specialists said they could not offer a definitive opinion based on a photograph, all of them expressed grave doubts. 
Four of these six (not five) specialists are unnamed, so it is not clear in what their specialism lies, one says he 'cannot imagine where a terracotta life-size horse head could come from in antiquity', a second decided the horse and a bull head were 'crude copies' and a third questions the value assigned to the seized artefacts, and in the case of the vase on the far right, 'The background colour is suspicious as well as the shape of the vessel. There are subtleties in where the handles are placed, the shape of the vessel as well as the foot, which are giving me pause for thought'. A fourth also  had suspicions about the two vases shown as well as the larger terracottas ('but they are good quality. As I understand it, the Italian forgers [are] some of the best'). 
The London-based dealer Rupert Wace concurred. “The bull and horse heads do look dubious,” he said, adding that “the value suggested for the pieces in the photograph is preposterous, even if the objects are genuine”. [...] John Boardman, emeritus professor of classical archaeology at the University of Oxford, said: “The vases look more plausible than the rest, but who knows?”
One thing they do not mention, to judge by the way they are propped up with grey boxes, neither the bull head nor the horsey one seem to have been mounted in the collector's original display. Why not?

I think the newspaper is trying to limit the damage done to public opinion about the antiquities market by this sort of seizure, but instead with that 'who knows?', they've done another kind of damage. How can you trust a dealer's opinion if six specialists differ so much in their opinion based on the same evidence? How much of what a dealer claims about an artefact they are trying to sell is substantive information, and how much just guesswork and humbug?


Turkish security forces seize two 'ancient gold-plated Torahs'

Apparently, one of the seized manuscripts

'According to reports, security forces stopped a vehicle arriving from Istanbul with five passengers upon receiving intelligence. After conducting a search, the gendarmerie found the Torahs hidden inside a loudspeaker in the trunk. The Torahs were reportedly written on gazelle skin and were embellished with emerald and ruby decorations. The suspects were planning to sell the ancient books and were headed to meet the buyers. Bilecik Museum Directorate officials noted that the exact date of the Torahs will be announced after examination'.
(source: Daily Sabah, 'Turkish security forces seize 2 ancient gold-plated Torahs', May 8, 2018)

One feels they'd be better advised checking whether the seized items are authentic and not tourist bazaar fakes before they report their 'success'.

Another One

'Any input to any of the vellum pages of our Codex by a reader would be most grateful (sic), please any useful comments or corrections can be send directly to me at We here at would appreciate all the help we can get, to decipher this unique Codex'.

 Well, Mr Owen Felix, where did you get this and did you get it with the valid export papers for it? Similar things have been appearing on the market in some numbers in the past five years (only), the same texture and colour of the pages, the same raggedy edges, random damage, the same manner of binding, they have similar faded uneven (unpracticed) script, the nonsensical insertion of random images. In yours one (43 seconds) looks 'Classical Greek' (or Minoanish) doesn't it, just before a Hodegetria Theotokas modelled on the Iwerska image maybe (look at the Christchild's halo) ...

The problem is all the other ones quite clearly are fakes, they seem to originate in the Turkish/Syrian border area (that's where most of them turn up), is that where you got this? In which case who did you buy it from, and what was it represented as?  If you agree you've been duped, take it back and ask for your money to be returned because you 'made a mistake buying it' and see what the seller says. I'd suggest care in how you phrase that, we suspect the some involved in the trade in such items have guns...

Good luck getting your money back!

UPDATED 20th June 2018
Mr Felix disappeared his video. And what did he do with the 'rare book' and where did it come from? We can only guess. Also having asked people who know more about these things than he seems to know to give up their time and give an opinion, a 'thank you' might be appropriate. It seems rare book dealers can exhibit the same level of behaviour as some antiquities dealers.

Sunday 17 June 2018

Controversy over Thai Buddha in London's SOAS

There is a 13th-century broken off Buddha torso of Thai origin standing in front of the Brunei Gallery in London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).  On its website, the SOAS describes the statue as “a delightful 13th-century Lopburi Buddha torso of Thai origin”. The manner in which it got there is under discussion (Phatarawadee Phataranawik, Thai Buddha statue not smuggled: SOAS', The Nation June 16, 2018)
The SOAS has denied claims the prestigious institution possesses a 13th-century sculpture likely smuggled from Thailand “We strongly reject any suggestion that SOAS University of London has handled this donation improperly. The allegations made in the blog post by this student are without foundation,” SOAS spokesperson Vesna Siljanovska told The Nation by email. Siljanovska was referring to allegations made by SOAS scholar Angela Chiu, who had accused her school of accepting the one-metre-tall Buddha statue that stands at the entrance to its Brunei Gallery. It was gifted to the SOAS by American alumni Mary and Paul Slawson who reportedly bought it minus documents attesting to its provenance some 30 years ago.
Paul Slawson
(thus around 1988, Paul Slawson here, on the list of benefactors here). SOAS has denied any wrongdoing in accepting the sculpture. In doing so they bring out the art trade's hoary old ALR excuse:
Siljanovska added due diligence was carried out by SOAS in accordance with SOAS’s Collections Management Policy and Due Diligence Procedure for the acceptance of Philanthropic Gifts [...] Siljanovska said: “[...] before accepting the gift, checks were carried out by our experienced Galleries and Exhibitions Manager and included placing the details of the object on the Art Loss Register” [...] John Hollingworth, head of Galleries and Exhibitions at the SOAS [says]. “[...] his team had checked with the International Council of Museums and found that the artefact is not on the ICOM [International Council of Museums] Red Lists of lost or vulnerable artworks.”
That rather misinterprets the nature and function of ICOMOS Red Lists (as I am sure the academics at SOAS know - or jolly well should know). Their student does:
However, Chiu commented that checking the ICOM Red List was not sufficient to identify provenance. There are no Thai objects on the Red List. “ICOM does not say that checking its Red List is a substitute for documented provenance.”
But in any case, there is no ICOMOS Red List for Thailand (!).

See also:  SOAS Watch 'SOAS Accepts Gift of Potentially-Looted Southeast Asian Sculpture, Begins Offering Antiquities Laundering Service' 08/06/2018
On 12 March, Mr. Slawson sent Mr. Hollingworth a letter which states that the sculpture was purchased in 1985 at the “Ormond Gallery on Portobello Road,” the staff of which was “not aware of the exact origin” of the sculpture. (p. 1) [...] On 12 March, one working day after his meeting with the Slawsons, Mr. Hollingworth informed SOAS Development staff about the donation so that they could begin the process of due diligence and documentation. (p. 23) Thirteen minutes later, Mr. Hollingworth emailed the Slawsons that he was in touch with art moving companies about the transport of the sculpture; by the end of the day, he had scheduled it for 3 days’ hence. (pp. 8, 9, 36) Thus, even as the due diligence process had hardly begun, Mr. Hollingworth was already proceeding to take possession of the sculpture.
UPDATE 17th June 2018
More startling details here: SOAS Watch 'SOAS Administration’s Misunderstanding of Museum Standards ' 16/06/2018
Thailand is a notoriously looted country. This heightens concerns about the antiquity in question having no documented provenance. Also, stone Buddhist sculpture of the Lopburi era (13thcentury) of this size is rare. This is an artefact that should have been treated with great cautiousness and sensitivity.

Thai Artefacts Gone Missing

Saturday 16 June 2018

Its good that Eggs are not Sold like Antiquities

Just think what would happen if something as common and cheap as eggs were sold in the no-questions-asked way antiquities dealers handle their goods: 'More than four million eggs recalled in Poland'. There would be no way of telling where any of the eggs in any of the shops had come from.  But of course, in the case of antiquities, that is the very idea...

Illegal trade in antiquities: a scourge that has gone on for too long

Greek vases are popular with collectors so are looted
Owning a piece of antiquity [i]s seen as demonstrating wealth, a love of ancient culture and, ultimately, one’s own distinction: having things that nobody else could have. At least this is what the looters th[ink]. We should now all know the most apt way to describe this dubious form of collection – and it’s a word that has historical resonance: vandalism. [...] the antiquities trade is still going strong – not only depriving countries of their heritage, but, which is worse, depriving the world of the information that could be extracted with appropriate systematic excavation and reducing the artefacts into mere art pieces [...] Meanwhile, there is evidence that revenue from the sale of stolen antiquities looted in Syria and Iraq has been used to fund Islamic State and other terrorist groups – so one illegal activity has been connected to many others. Fighting the trade How are we to stop this trade, which is a scourge of historical knowledge, local pride and international sovereignty[?] The illicit trade in antiquities – and almost all trade of antiquities is illegal in some sense, as it almost always breaks the law of the source countries – is considered to be a common crime.
(source: Evangelos Kyriakidis, 'The Illegal trade in antiquities: a scourge that has gone on for millennia too long', The Conversation June 15, 2018)

Collectors' Corner: Alien Bronze Age Mongolian/Babylonian Jade on EBay

EBay seller ancart (location: 'ANCIENT and AUTHENTIC**GUARANTEED!, United States ) has a lot of 'antiquities' for sale, and has 5576 positive feedback points from satisfied collectors. That is a bit odd, looking at what they sell. As they say:
Artifacts and Treasures from around the World. We offer ancient artifacts from a number of cultures such as Assyrian, Egyptian, Greek, Judean, Persian, Phoenician,and Roman along with African and Tribal artifacts and weapons. We wholesale to the public. All pieces guaranteed authentic and come with a Certificate of Authenticity (unless otherwise stated) which is our guarantee of your satisfaction
There is the usual stock assurance of legitimacy (but note how here they probably intended to delete one version before publishing). Also the old 'archaeological institute' claim:
We have just had the great pleasure of acquiring a large collection of artifacts and we off[er] this unique treasure to you! We have bought from various auctions and collections from around the world and now we offer these rare items to you. NOTE TO EBAY: This item is NOT NATIVE AMERICAN and has been in a collection for over 75 years We are members of an Archaeological Institute We are members of an Archaeological Institute and studied in Israel and the US. So CHECK OUT OUR OTHER ITEMS. [...] Buy ancient artifacts from Egypt, Rome, Judea, Greece and other Tribal artifacts and weapons from around the world. All our items were collected prior to 1970 and come from private collections. All are acquired legally. Buyer pays shipping AND handling as noted in the ad unless otherwise stated, and international rates will vary and be determined at the close of the auction. We cannot insure outside of the US. Any insurance claim will be initiated and completed by the buyer. [...] COA: This fantastic artifact comes with a Certificate of Authenticity (unless otherwise stated) which is our guarantee GUARANTEE: Our items are guaranteed, and with us, you can buy with confidence. Collecting is a great hobby, and we want your experience to be a joyful one. Our buyers can count on a 100% money back guarantee. We pride ourselves in selling the best product available.
An example of their wares is this object sold together with a surfeit of exclamation marks: WOW! STONE AMULET! ALIEN? ANGEL? GOD? DEMON? 5000 YEARS OLD! (401547691752) sold for US $36.00 [ 11 bids ].
A GREAT ONE! [...]  WE OFFER THIS EXQUISITE TREASURE TO YOU! [...] Looks to be Asian.... I have also heard Babylonian. It appears to be made of jade or some other hard stone. I have seen similar on TV Ancient Aliens show! I have done some research and similar to those found in Inner Mongolia...mysterious ancient culture with a history connected to ancient alien theories DATING: Early Bronze Age, 3000-2000 BC! This one measures about 2 1/2" tall and 1" wide BEAUTIFUL WOW! This artifact would be a wonderful center piece to any collection. DON'T MISS IT!! 
The Mongolian Bronze Age in fact extends from  ca. 2500–1500 BCE.  All the 'Holy Land' objects (3) on sale at the moment are dated to the 'time of Moses' , the 'Indus valley' (3)  bowls from Pakistan are not ascribed to any culture, there are a few generic 'Egyptian beads' and a 'Coptic cross', a US side-notched spear point (not assigned any country or culture of origin), and this 'alien' thing. What kind of collectors are buying these objects and what do they do with them? Where will they end up and in what form? 

PAS Database: how many lies?

"there’s an unknown but probably
 very large degree of error in PAS based PhDs"

This week, Heritage Action ask about the reliability of the second-hand 'data' supplied to FLOs which make up the PAS database. Despite this question being raised many times before, no attempt is still being made by the PAS for verifying the reported findspot of the finds they record (such as by demanding to see a finds release protocol signed by the landowner for any reported item to show the legitimacy of the finder handling the find in the first place  - and thus the legality of their own use of these data). Why not? Is the farmer aware of what he has let leave his property?

Wednesday 13 June 2018

PAS a copout replacing real public engagement?

Token brown skinned people in imaginary
group of British detectorists
Is reconciling society and museums really just a matter of encouraging members of the public to buy a metal detector and create their own collections as the British Museum seems to think? Or is there a lot more to this question to debate (British Museum too) asks Erin L. Thompson ('Museums Should Consider Why They’ve Become Targets of Attack and Protest', Hyperallergic 11th June 2018). Most UK metal detectorists are white, aren't they?

MOB So what does the inscription say?

And this has 'what' connection with 'the Bible'?
"bricks stamped with an inscription so it would always be".... possible to see where it had been illegally taken from.

That mount is appalling.

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