Monday, 29 October 2018

Charney on 'How Not to Handle Dodgy Antiquities'

Much easier to stick
to good replicas
, surely
Collectors should follow (at least) these five best practice guidelines can to ensure their purchases are legit (Noah Charney Lessons from the Museum of the Bible’s fake Dead Sea Scrolls: How not to buy looted antiquities Salon Oct 29, 2018). They so rarely do. That's why some of them end up with fakes and so many items are on the market that have noim paperwork because previous owners were careless about having it. Charney writes, among other things:
1. Check the exportation date [...]
2. Find the paper trail [...] be very suspicious of antiquities that have no accompanying documentation, or very little, and especially be ready to walk away if any dealer refuses to talk about the origin of objects or to provide you with any paper work. That is an immediate red flag.
3. Then read the documentation carefully Then comes the second step. There is such a focus on provenance that sometimes people look for quantity without looking at the content. Whenever presented with documentation reported to be associated with a certain object, you must be very careful to make sure that a) the provenance documents are not forgeries, and b) that even if the paperwork is authentic, that it does truly refer to the object in question. [...] look very hard at the documentation itself.
4. Due diligence and the limits of "good faith" In order not to get into trouble for having accidentally purchased a looted antiquity, a buyer must be able to prove two things in court. [...] you have to be a “good faith” purchaser. That means that you have to be able to demonstrate that you genuinely thought the object was legit when you purchased it. [...] It is a bit too easy to pretend that you didn’t know, and even to have documents supporting this argument, when you probably did. The laws currently in place are beneficial to troublemakers.
 5. Beware of wishful thinking  The vast majority of the art trade is 100 percent well-meaning and acts legally. There is a very tiny handful of bad guys who work within it and take advantage of the odd and murky organism that is the art trade. But there is a good deal of what I tend to call “non-malevolent wishful thinking.” That is to say that almost no one is doing anything that they would identify as illegal, but there he is a large measure of subconscious wishing that any new antiquity that comes onto the market would be authentic and legitimate. If it is, many people benefit. The seller makes money, the middlemen make their commission, scholars have a new object to study, and the buyer has a new trophy. So, there's a marginal propensity to hope that every object is legit, and then to perhaps overlook questionable aspects of it because of that enthusiasm. This is really what buyers have to be wary of, from private individuals looking for souvenirs to giant, multi-million-dollar museums.
Points 3 and 5 are particularly interesting. It is not enough to have "some" documentation and/or anecdotal information (casus Ka Nefer Nefer, the Sevso Treasure, the so-called Crosby Garrett Helmet, and Leutwitz Apollo when worrying contradictions and even holes can easily be found in the story). The documentation needs to be watertight and double-checked. The 'enthusiastic wishful thinking' and 'feigned due diligence'  mentioned are also very important factors that need to be taken into account.

The point Charney makes about 'scholars have a new object to study' raises an issue that he did not discuss in any detail. Scholars are also 'consumers' of loose portable antiquities. These same principles should apply to any archaeologist getting in any way involved with handling portable antiquities from private collections and objects participating in the antiquities trade. There, in countries that have few restrictions on artefact hunting, the paper trail will need to include documentation that the finder had the landowner's permission not only to be on the land, but take away the particular object that the scholar is holding in their hand. Without that protocol of transfer of title, the archaeologist could be getting involved in handling stolen goods. Again, though that documentation has to be examined and verified, illicit artefact hunting may be hidden by 'laundering' the products by saying they were found in one place, when in fact they were found somewhere else entirely. Archaeologists should be suspicious of claimed findspots until they are proven (by production of a title transfer protocol in which the landowner functions as a witness), especially if an item is said to come from a spot that is archaeologically less likely to have been the place it was really found than another, more productive site (but maybe out of bounds for an artefact hunter because it is protected by law).  The recommendations of the 2009 Oxford Archaeology Nighthawking Report (preface and p. 110, 116) dealt with this issue.
Implement changes recently introduced in Europe which increase the obligation on sellers of antiquities to provide provenances and establish legal title, and urge eBay to introduce more stringent monitoring of antiquities with a UK origin offered for sale on their website, as they have done with Germany, Switzerland and Austria.
One of my first experiences with working with metal detectorists in the UK back in the 1970s involved me spending two cold days fieldwalking a reported findspot of some medieval material only to find out I had been deceived by the detectorist, the objects had come from somewhere else. I learnt early on that not all metal detectorists can be trusted when there is no independent check on what they claim.

No comments:

Creative Commons License
Ten utwór jest dostępny na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa-Bez utworów zależnych 3.0 Unported.