Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Artefact Hunters are Not Equal to Artefact Hunters, it Seems (Eh?)

'Artefact Recovery Team'
I am a bit disturbed by the underlying attitudes of the PAS-supporter archaeologists who seem to be arguing that that there is no need to change national antiquities legislation to curb collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record (on the grounds that they think they can show that it has little effect on whether sites are damaged by artefact hunters or not). 

I wonder whether they hold these views in a truly transnational spirit. Take UK metal detectorist 'partners' Baz, Steve and Busdriver Bubba to the left. Archaeologists such as Raimund Karl and the Helsinki Gang (Suzie Thomas,  Pieterjan Deckers, Andres Dobat, Stijn Heeren Natasha Ferguson, and Michael Lewis) have all argued in this way in recent weeks.

Dealer Reg,  can be seen at
many rallies all over the country
buying erdefrisch artefacts
 from metal detectorists but
has 'other  (secret) suppliers' too
So, as far as they are concerned, one may presume their good mate antiquities dealer Reg can enjoy the fruits of their 'responsible detecting', and collectors can buy lots of nice collectables, some of which have been vetted and made extra-respectable by being reported to (and recorded by) the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Just as long as it is all 'responsible' and 'law abiding', which of course most of it is as long as the definition of 'responsibility;' is an ultra-minimalist one (just ask first, shut the gates and fill yer 'oles in) and the laws are skimpily laissez faire. All well and good.

But then there are problems with that antiquities market. There are some of us that say that parts of it (not Reg's part 'of course')  are intertwined with money laundering, organized crime and (shock-horror) even terrorism and the arms trade. Well, obviously we'd need to do something about that if that is the case - and who has shown so far conclusively that it is NOT? It is not fully clear where Raimund Karl, Suzie Thomas,  Pieterjan Deckers, Andres Dobat, Stijn Heeren Natasha Ferguson, Michael Lewis and all the rest actually stand on this question (maybe they could declare themselves). Obviously - I would imagine them saying - their 'partners', law abiding Reg, Baz, Steve and Busdriver Bubba cannot be implicated, it is the Others and their antiquities market and artefact hunting that are to blame.

Eastern Artefact Search
 and Recovery Team
So that means foreign artefact hunters Baram, Sidi and Cameldriver Hamid who go out and scour the desert for flint arrowheads and desert-patinated Roman coins to sell to put food on the tables of their families. 'Obviously. there needs to be a law against these artefact hunters, to protect the Global cultural heritage from greedy little brown hands grabbing at it to turn a profit. I would hope that Karl and all the rest would not be advocating scrapping these laws in countries such as Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, even where they may not be working too well (as the current flow of finds onto international markets shows).

Rashid - a professional contact
 of many dealers like Reg
Oh and there is the graspy profiteering of the middleman handler Rashid who turns foreign artefact hunting peasants' found potsherds and partifacts into cash - and then makes a tidy profit himself by smuggling the stuff out [after paying the required bribes and protection money]. I imagine Raimund Karl, Suzie Thomas,  Pieterjan Deckers, Andres Dobat, Stijn Heeren Natasha Ferguson, Michael Lewis and all the rest would not see Rashid as one of their 'partners' like artefact hunters and collectors Baz, Steve and Busdriver Bubba. No. I would not impute them of this, but what I would like to ask them is what is the difference? Where in the transnational context of modern portable antiquities collecting and the commerce in such objects is in fact the line to be drawn and why? Is it merely a matter of skin colour? That is, in fact, a very serious question. One which I would like all those who support the PAS on the grounds that artefact hunting in the UK in some mysterious way 'differs' from artefact hunting and the commerce in portable antiquities in almost the whole of the rest of the world. Why is artefact hunting in Islip in any substantive way different from artefasct hunting in Isin? 

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