Friday 16 November 2018

Syrian Artefact Laundered by PAS Database?

For a long time I have been arguing that before PAS handles any artefacts brought to them by anyone other than the landowner (as was in effect recommended by the Oxford Archaeology 2009 Nighthawking Report), they need to be shown a signed protocol of transfer of title for that specific item. Despite that, they have consistemntly ignored the duty to verify that a finder coming to them with objects has the landowner's confirmation that the object was found on their land and the bearer has the right to possess it. Without it, the PAS have no way of ascertaining whether or not they are handling stolen goods and storing them in their offices.

David Knell knows more about Roman lamps than me, and it seems more than PAS staff Andrew Rogerson and Ms Ellen Bales [001425255EB0184B] who used a 1930 (!) typology of Mortimer Wheeler to identify a lamp supposedly found in Norfolk in 1986 as a 'Gaulish or German' firmalampe. Here's what Knell says ('How reliable is the PAS database? (Part 2)' Ancient Heritage Friday, 16 November 2018) about the record NMS-7EF821 (made by Ms Bales  11 years ago Updated: 2 years ago):
It has nothing to do with Romano-British culture.

"known as a 'factory lamp' or firmalampe"
It does not even remotely resemble that type of lamp.

"Probably made in Gaul or Germany."
It was made in northern Syria, at the opposite end of the Roman Empire.

"2nd or 3rd century."
It is not earlier than the 5th to 6th centuries AD.
Knell adds that 'artefacts of this type are very well known (Kennedy Type 20), extensively recorded in the literature' and are common on the modern antiquities market but that 'it is extremely unlikely that they ever formed part of Britain's ancient archaeology'. So how secure is this findspot? What do we know about the finder? What else have they brought to the PAS before and since? Unfortunately the database cannot be used to determine this unless one has special access. But, more importantly, this record has been up on the public face of the database undetected (no pun intended) for eleven long years. Once upon a time the records were supposed to be verified by specialists who do not get their knowledge from outdated books of 1930. This is no longer a priority and junk identifications like this are getting into and remaining undetected in the PAS database (currently one million three hundred thousand items to be checked). Is this Syrian lamp an old loss by an antiquarian collector, or is a dealer trying to launder smuggled artefacts by passing them to somebody to get them registered by PAS as 'British found'? (see here)

 Now the PAS FLOs make a point of not reading blogs like mine and David Knell's about portable antiquities issues (no time they say, busy recording, too busy to read). let us see how long that entry stays up on the PAS database.

Hat tip: Thanks to David Knell for spotting this out-of-place-artefact

1 comment:

David Knell said...

Thanks for highlighting this problem, Paul. I think you'll also agree with the penultimate paragraph I've just added to my post.

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