Sunday, 15 September 2019

"Cornovii Discoverers" Pay-to-Take Artefact Hunters' Club: Call for landowners to "help uncover Shropshire's history" (aka "fill our pockets")

Rally organiser  Parry
"Landowners across Shropshire and Mid Wales are being urged to work with responsible metal detectorists to help unearth the region's past" (Sue Austin, 'After the Wem hoard: Call for landowners to help uncover Shropshire's history', Shropshire Star Sep 6, 2019).
The organiser of a charity metal detecting rally [...]  said that enthusiasts were helping archaeologists and historians to preserve ancient history. Mr John Parry, from Whitchurch, organises regular rallies on farmland to help raise money for the town's Lions Club [...] Mr Parry is a founder member of the Cornovii Discoverers Metal Detecting Club [...] "We would like to encourage other metal detector users to act responsibly and report their finds to the relevant organisations involved in preserving our ancient history," he said.
So the local "Lion's Club" takes money from an informal group that loots the archaeological heritage for money? If that was Syria... but it's not is it? White-skinned people you see.

Now, when, oh when, will British archaeologists get up off their backsides and explain that artefact hunters cherry-picking the archaeological record for collectables to have or sell, is not (in ANY way) "helping archaeologists and historians" (sic) and hoiking collectable bits out of the archaeological record is damaging it, not "preserving" it. When will we see archaeologists explaining that to folk instead of the usual dumbdown? In the case of the hoard these people found then it's not "responsible' to report it, it's obligatory.

Mr Parry explains all his members are "very passionate" about their collecting activities and "are all thrilled to know that our find near Wem will help local academics and others appreciate the value of reporting"... umm. I think they do not really need this guy to tell them that. It's what academics and others expect of the takers. Sadly, it's the heritage grabbers that need to be made to appreciate the need for reporting. So few do.
Mr Parry said he wanted to encourage other landowners to offer land to search as part of responsible digs and charity rallies.
Well, of course he does, doesn't he? A responsible dig however is not one that you do just to hoik collectables. He also says that if his pay-to-take group can get more hoiking-land: "It will help us to recovering (sic) more of our lost ancient history and thereby fill more of the dark gaps in our country's long and colourful past.[...] "It will also encourage newcomers to the hobby of metal detecting to join an ethical club who adhere to the laws that govern our hobby." it's either dark or it's colourful, Ms Austin, eh? Equally, it is either ethical or it's just legal. When it comes to artefact hunting, ethical means you don't jolly well do it. So please STOP using words you do not understand, Mr Parry.

Come on you Guys, WTF?

As much as I support activists such as  the ATHAR Project ("The Antiquities Trafficking & Heritage Anthropology Research (ATHAR) Project investigates the digital underworld of antiquities trafficking on Facebook."), there are limits. WTF is this?
@ATHARProject · 1 godz.  By cross-referencing information in posts we collect we’re understanding more about how objects move and when The Roman mosaic below was offered in an antiquities trafficking group on #Facebook in June 2017. The profile and group context suggest it was in Syria... 1/
In June 2017 some creep showed the world a pornographic mosaic totally unlike any ancient representation - yeah really, but entirely the sort of thing that a Muslim might think would appeal to corrupt western tastes.  It's probably a rape scene. The guy looks like the sort of hirsute hunk you'd find in an eighties porn or 'nudist interest' mag, his rather large (depilated) member is depicted in detail thrust into the protesting mermaid who is struggling to escape his grasp but he uses his free hand to grope her breast. As mermaids are not really a Classical thing (sirens were half avian), I am wondering, if this is really a Syrian product, whether there is some connection with what Lucian of Samosata wrote about the Phoenician and Syrian temples he had visited in his treatise Περὶ τῆς Συρίης Θεοῦ/ De Dea Syria and in one of them the image of a female deity with a fish tail. Anyway, this mosaic is not really to my taste, so I've blurred out the bit in the middle of the picture, but I think you can use your imaginations.

So then ATHAR join the dots (the central red modesty square is mine too):
ATHAR Project @ATHARProject · 2 godz.
W odpowiedzi do @ATHARProject 
The video here was captured by activists on the ground. It was taken in Istanbul in January 2019. 2/2 Reminder: illicit antiquities are not banned goods on #Facebook even though pillage and trafficking in conflict is a war crime 2/2
The crime here though is fraud if that is being sold as authentically ancient. I have no doubt that its on a phone in Istanbul, though am less sure that what seems to be the same object really was in Syria two years earlier and not 'made in Istanbul'.

It does not matter. It's  accepting fakes like this as authentic artefacts and promoting images like this as 'evidence' of claims about the trade do us all a disfavour.  Like this one which is a bizarre piece of 'bazaar archeology' to use Muscarella's term (and I've discussed this before14 August 2018 and yet its still being used).  

Not in it For the Money, Or Perhaps We Are Really...

Reportedly, a treasure hunter is being sued by the Church of Scotland over a record £2million haul of Viking relics he found on their land (Kevin Duguid, 'Treasure hunter sued by Church of Scotland over record £2million haul of Viking relics he found on their land' The Scottish Sun, 14th September 2019) Kirk chiefs are said to be demanding Derek McLennan, 52, hands over £1million after he allegedly snubbed a written agreement to give them half the value of his bounty. This refers to a much trumpeted find from Dumfries and Galloway in 2014
The metal detector buff now faces a legal challenge at the Court of Session in Edinburgh [...] One source said last night [...] “The church could do a lot of good with that money. It was church land they were on [...] “You don’t want to get in a legal wrangle over it. Why would anyone let him on to their land again — or any other detectorist?” [...] the retired businessmen, from Ayr, was promised the bumper reward three years later under Scots treasure trove laws. His payment was raised through more than £430,000 in public donations, £1million from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, £150,000 from the Scottish Government and £400,000 from the Art Fund. [...] In this case there was a written agreement between the general trustees of the Church of Scotland and Derek.” [...] The Church of Scotland confirmed their court action.
His former detecting pal talked about the fracas:
The minister said charity champion Derek felt let down by experts drafted in after his discovery. He added: “He felt very badly treated by the treasure trove system in Scotland who decide on rewards. Experts took control and he was pushed to the edge a bit. He did everything by the book in terms of working with the system. “But he felt because of the way he was treated by the system he wanted to put the whole thing behind him.” 
Here's a text about his complaint about his 'treatment'  and here's about those public funds he gets.

It seems it could be even worse if you look at the comments. A "Susannah McSweeney" alleged on 15th September:
Derek also broke gentelman" agreements with his team mates, including my husband. There was 4 of them including Derek's wife sharon, not just the church of Scotland. [...] The other 2 men including my husband were also snubbed by Derek after the viking hoard was claimed and since broken off all contact and never had any recognition for being there to unearth the treasure. What was done was shady and despicable.
What is worth noting however is that the Church claims there was a written agreement, not just a "gentleman's agreement". If what Mrs McSweeney alleges is true, one detectorist first pushes aside three other blokes, and then attempts to lay claim to the entire reward for himself alleging that he was "sidelined by the experts". If that is true, all very odd and immature.

The BBC also has picked up the story: BBC, 'Church of Scotland sues for share of £2m Viking treasure', 15th September 2019.

There is an added detail in another source (Russell Blackstock, 'Kirk to sue treasure hunter claiming he reneged on promise to share proceeds of £2 million Viking hoard found buried on church land' The Sunday Post September 15, 2019):
Following the find, Mr McLennan and his detectorist wife Sharon launched a firm called Beyond The Beep, to work with the Coming Home Centre for ex-forces personnel in Glasgow and veterans’ mental health charity Combat Stress. [...] Derek McLennan found the Viking treasure just months after discovering hundreds of medieval coins in Twynholm, Kirkcudbrightshire, in another landmark find. He only started using a metal detector a few years before two stunning discoveries.
Beyond the Beep does not seem to be all that active these days. Here's John Winter enthusing about it. But here's the Minelab spiel on it:
We'd like to introduce Sharon McKee and Derek McLennan of Beyond The Beep, Scotland, to our Treasure Talk audience. Sharon and Derek have 12 years of combined detecting experience and for the last few years have used a wide range of Minelab machines, from the GO-FIND Series through to the GPX 5000 for personal detecting and to promote responsible detecting through their not-for-profit company, Beyond The Beep. Since February 2015, the couple have been regularly providing outdoor learning experiences in schools, and they have also created and implemented a detecting programme for veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). [...] Derek mostly uses the CTX 3030, but when on a hoard site, the GPX 5000 comes out, as he loves the depth these machines can reach. [...] After the discovery of The Galloway Viking Hoard, the enterprising pair created their company Beyond The Beep to teach about responsible detecting and to promote the health and educational benefits that detecting brings [...] The programme is also supported by the National Council of Metal Detecting in the UK, to which Beyond The Beep is affiliated.
All in this together, eh? Derek McLennan is also a ML detexpert Now that GPX is one of those "depth advantage" machines that Heritage Action and I have been going on about for a good few years now, but the implications of which are being systematically ignored by the archaeological community, but look at this remark:
Last week, Mr McLennan’s friend and fellow metal detector enthusiast, the Rev David Bartholomew, who was with him when he made his discovery, told how [...] Mr McLennan had searched the unidentified area of Church of Scotland land for more than a year in the hunt for treasure. [...] Mr McLennan, 50, unearthed the valuables two feet beneath the ground – well below the depth his machine should pick up a signal. [...] Mr Bartholomew said: “I would never have found the hoard. Derek did because he is a gifted detectorist. “I was just pleased to be part of an amazing day.”
and would like that money from a pagan hoard to go to the Church and used for the benefit of the parishoners.

Saturday, 14 September 2019

Treasure Catalog

A portable antiquities advert someone spotted

"Shhh, Dont Rock the Comfy Boat": No "Finger Pointing Tolerated" in UK Archie-land?

Don't walk on the grass
Spencer Carter, FSA Scot, Rescue Council, Research Fellow at Durham University (the one who "apologise[d] for [the existence of?] Paul Barford" on Facebook when the Durham FLO had a go at me there), apparently in response to my comments on the Countryside treasure hunting advice article says "I do prefer the debates more than polemic finger-pointing". I must say Dr Carter FSA has not been so blatantly noticeable as a participant in public debates on collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record of Durham or anywhere else, maybe I've missed some. But I'd say that in general it seems many archaeologists are happier keeping out of anything like debate about these issues, thus letting the treasure hunters dominate the discussion unchallenged as happened here (and then they moan about that and play the misunderstood victim). It seems to me that Dr Carter FSA would prefer the "finger pointing" not to refer to those who surely should be taking part in such a public debate and are not, and would prefer that we all just let UK archaeology's collective passivity in this area go unremarked?
No prodding sleeping dogs then? Just ignore the lack of activity and keep quiet, not rock the boat? I get it.
Dismissive FSA (Scot) response:
Spencer Carter 🌈Pro EU | #Archaeologist FSA Scot@microburin·1 godz.
Have a great weekend.
As I am sure a couple of thousand members of the public with their metal detectors will be too, taking advantage of the mild weather, while arkies skive off from talking about the effects. Well let's see the effects here and talk about it next week:

Or would that - actually addressing what is going on - be "finger pointing" and a bit too polemic for a Durham Research fellow? And if he disagrees with me and does not think the PAS should be making (should already firmly have made) its mark as the go-to body for information on portable antiquities issues, then who should be, in his opinion?

Calling a spade a spade

Phacha Phanomvan @phacharaphornp·19 min
#Looting has transformed into community recreation. As long as we don't regulate small #antiquities trade, early historical and Iron age grave sites is constantly under threat. This is happening in the borders between Myanmar and Thailand. #artcrime

"community recreation", so a bit like "metal detecting" in the UK, then? But of course there it is done by white folk, so we don't call it "looting", do we? But it it unquestionably the same thing.

"Our expert guide on how to hunt for treasure in the UK and best places to find it, plus an overview of famous treasure finds".

Interviewed tekkie
 Paul Coleman (Getty)
Twenty years the UK's Portable Antiquities Scheme has been telling the British public website all about archaeological value. Twenty years of outreach, contact, persuasion, dissemination. And the results? Pretty pathetic, it seems. Obviously they'll need another twenty, forty, sixty years to make an impact. Meanwhile the exploitation of Britain's heritage landscape goes on, encouraged by the clueless media, like this website, published by Immediate Media Company Limited (under licence from BBC Studios Distribution): UK treasure guide: best places to find and how to hunt for treasure :
From Roman coins to fossils and priceless gems, stones and metals, there is a wealth of hidden treasure in the British countryside, which is just waiting to be discovered. Our expert guide on how to hunt for treasure and where to find it in Britain [...] According to recent treasure reports, Britain is enjoying a boom in treasure hunting [...] According to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport treasure report, in 2016, there were 1,116 cases of reported treasure finds. The provisional figure for 2017 was 1,267 making this the fourth year in a row when the number exceeded 1,000.
The text mentions " What type of treasure can you to hunt for in Britain, plus best places to look, 1 Semi-precious stones..." alongside "history hunting" metal detectorists. So are they looking for history or Treasures? Each historical find however has its value expressed in pounds as well as the usual superlatives. The text is anonymous, which is just as well, because it is horrendously muddled (the Staffordshire Hoard is not seen to be the same as a "Hammerswich hoard", shipwrecks are mentioned twice in te lisrts of categories of Treasure you can go a'hunting for [no mention of permits]). The unnamed author convinces you that if you go Treasure hunting, you need to " Visit the National Council for Metal Detecting (NCMD) for metal detecting code of conduct". Could there perhaps be another one you'd need to visit, where's that then? Hidden away... This damaging text has every appearance of a space-filling hasty pastiche knocked up in a photo library with a pile of books by the Greenlight Press by somebody who has access to an interview with detectorist Paul Coleman - the dug-up-in-one-day-into-a-Sainsbury's-bag Lenborough Hoard, and with some press clippings featuring the by now stock characters, wholesome Dave Crisp, the commercial Peter Welch (runs the 1,000-strong Weekend Wanderers Detecting "Club" commercial company, Steve Critchley former NCMD chair, and Lance and Andy, the main fictional characters in the fictional series Detectorists, who now creep in everywhere. Total disaster, as Andy Brockman (@pipelinenews·14th sept 2019) notes:
Country Fail: an "expert" article about treasure hunting in the UK which fails to mention the legal protection for scheduled monuments, shipwrecks, the Receiver of Wreck, or even the Portable Antiquities Scheme.
What use is a PAS that cannot get the message across any way? How much effort is being expended in Bloomsbury to brief journalists and editors so this sort of mindless fluff is not produced and published? They have finds days, why not press days? 

Friday, 13 September 2019

Friday Retrospect: The Day the PAS Said Hoiking Hollingbourne Grave was Doing the Right Thing

PACHI Friday, 28 February 2014, Focus on UK Metal Detecting: Bonker's Britain's Top Museum Said "we Done Right"?
The trashing of what looks like the remains of an Anglo-Saxon grave [at Hollingbourne] in east Kent was apparently "praised" by the understanding folk of the BM's PAS. Amazing. Here's what they are saying, first in the press, where everyone can see it. First a quote from metal detecting's long serving (25 years practice) ambassador, on the Kent Mercury website, "Holedigger pete" wrote (23-02-2014 19:42:57):
Christine,  [...]  everything was done by the book [...] the arch's said we done (sic) the right thing, [...] we [...] have been praised by the way we delt (sic) with the find on the day
More explicitly, "Holedigger pete" wrote in the same place (22-02-2014 17:19:40):
[...]  everything was done by the book [...] The BM and our FLO said we done (sic) the best thing by taking out what we could
Really? The BM actually said that? If they did they've lost all ambition to ever see any best practice among their partners. Time to call a halt to this, methinks. Other forum members are looking on and drawing conclusions for themselves, Peter Pearce (Re: Saxon Hoard found Tue Feb 18, 2014 11:53 pm) wrote: 
Staggering, what a find and what a stroke of luck that you were advised to keep searching that area. The god's were smiling on you for certain.
The gods, or the BM? There is a difference. A stroke of luck that they actually advised the  club to "keep on hoiking", great fun was had by all trampling around in a dirty big hole in the most sensitive part of the feature, trashing it totally, but what a lot of luvvery stuff ("roobies, look at the culah!"). The finder "Whatunearth" (Re: Saxon Hoard found Wed Feb 19, 2014 9:40 am) after describing what he did Sunday afternoon added:
I finally managed to get in contact with the FLO the next day and having explained the situation to her, she agreed that it was for the best.
Hmmm? Best practice epitomised Ms Jackson? I do hope that as part of the outreach paid for out of the public purse you sent him a link to the Codes of Practice where it says that. Could I have it too, this new revised code? The most telling statement about the involvement and reported approval of the PAS comes from a slightly later text on a public detecting forum ("Holedigger Pete", the club chairman Re: Saxon Hoard found Wed Feb 19, 2014 4:10 pm): 
when the hoard was found, we rang our FLO Jennifer Jackson on the day and could not get hold of her. The next day Jennifer rang Greg and said she could not do nothing till Friday or the following week Greg informed about this and i was not happy. I tried to contact Jennifer but her phone was turned off[.] due to the find being close to a main road i contacted the 3 top people at the BM and sent them pictures these are the people who got things moving. They told me the site could not be left till Friday and they would get a team together for the next day and that the police would be informed about the area to keep an eye on it. Yes i had thought about this happening one day and what to do, on the day i done what i thought was right to take out as much as we could without any damage to the area i could not sleep at night knowing nighthawkers could rob the site. The BM told me i did the right thing and i stand by what i did. [Last edited by Holedigger Pete on Wed Feb 19, 2014 4:20 pm, edited 1 time in total].
Did they indeed? Has he got that in writing? The BM (apparently on Sunday - but there are some doubts about the timing of all this stemming from the above account compared with others) had pulled out all the stops to organise an immediate response team the next day, but the tekkies (instead of taking turns to sit up there a few hours each to guard the site until the next day so it can be examined intact by the archaeologists) deep-hoik the rest of it out and the next day (?") phone the FLO to say what they've done and both the FLO (and according to this account) the BM "told me I did the right thing"? By what right would the BM do that? 

If the British Museum's Portable Antiquities Scheme actually said that, I think there are 62 million taxpayers (not to mention archaeologists and lawmakers) who have a right to hear why. If the detectorists quoted above are not telling it like it was, then equally there are 62 million taxpayers (not to mention archaeologists and lawmakers) who have a right to hear what the PAS actually did say to these people and how they actually do envisage best practice in cases like this.

Now, just to refresh your memories, this is what we are talking about (follow links): Monday, 3 March 2014 Roundup of Concerns over "Near Maidstone A20" Anglo-Saxon Grave Disaster Then there is this: Thursday, 27 February 2014 PAS- Curt, Unhelpful and Covering-up? which is entirely out of place - and now five years later, I do not expect we will get any kind of a comment out of them.

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

PAS Where is the Truth? Twenty two thousand what?

Mumble-mumble, grab the podium
In the video of the talk "making metal detecting great again" (sic) Mike Lewis mumbles his way through a read text, much of it is the usual PAS gumble-fluff, some interesting signs that the
confidence is seeping away though. Here's something I want to put on record before the video is pulled like so much PAS stuff, at 236 seconds he says:
"now, to date more than 22000 individuals have recorded, um, the 1.4 million finds with the Portable Antiquities Scheme, which is a significant number, especially giving (sic) that it is generally estimated that there are ten to fifteen thousand detectorists in the UK, this is even more significant if it is reckoned that only a small proportion of individuals are likely to detect frequently".

Odd that he does not mention that the latest published estimate of the number of detectorists in England and Wales (so just part of the UK) is 27000, and that the NCMD have for a number of years saying their estimate is 20000. So the PAS is already compromised by not being a bit honest about the true nature and range of those estimates (the "10000" figure is the one I was proposing back in 2005/6 based on what dealers were asserting at the time).

The fluff statistic given in a presentation of this official body specifically is about "22000 individuals". Are they not able to sort out their data to give the number of "metal detectorists"? Because those "individuals" are all finders, and that will include little old ladies finding things weeding their rose gardens, dog walkers, and the people doing the fieldwalking that produced all those Welsh flints a decade back (and one or two archaeologists who got into that database too). What an odd way to put it, "22000 individuals have recorded [sic - reported really]". And its conveniently twice his estimate-drawn-from-thin-air of the number of detectorists... He implies this is over the entire twenty year period resulting in those 1.4 million objects. 

I do not know how carefully the PAS head prepared that text, but what I do know (because I've checked) is that the PAS annual reports VI-X (so, 2003-7) give some very clear figures for the number of non-metal detectorists in that total. Check them out yourselves, the total is 8349 individuals.  After 2007, they stopped reporting those figures, and at some time after that, the "finds days/surgeries" were drastically (?) reduced in frequency in many areas.

But if in five years, there were 8340 non-detecting "individuals" bringing forward artefacts, that is an average of 1670 members of the public came forward with finds each year. If this went on at the same rate for the twelve (publicly) undocumented years, that would be another 20040 individuals. So in theory, the number of public reporters (non-metal-detectorists) alone would be 28390. What are there "figures" the head of the PAS is trying to foist off on his CIfA audience?

When, actually, will be get an evidence based presentation of the numbers of individual detectorists presenting finds from recording? One that does not count multiple times the same individual coming forward for several consecutive years? Is that personal input of those responsible individual detectorists really so difficult to extract from the "records", that the only way they can have their work shown is amalgamated with the rose-garden weeders and dog walkers to produce 'official' figures that are easy to show are probably totally false? 

It is odd that in Dr Lewis's presenting a text called "Advocating a more archaeologically minded approach to hobby metal-detecting", we once again get more pro-collecting propaganda from one of the hobby's most persistent claqueurs. An archaeological approach would be to look at the effects of this erosive activity on the fragile and finite  archaeological record and decide what in the best interests of that resource would be the way to deal with then problem. Twenty years have shown that the PAS is not that way. Avoiding telling the bald truth about the scale of the problem and the scale of the effects and the degree to which the current method of attempting to deal with it is keeping up with the damage  is not an archaeological approach. It's the jobsworth approach. Archaeology deserves the truth, not corporate fluff. 

Monday, 9 September 2019

Ooo, those Tekkies

Over on Twitter when I questioned a (former) FLO's praise of a recent fluff newspaper article as a 'balanced' account of the issues surrounding collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record, I got into a discussion with a tekkie (Warren Astley, Detectorist, History, Archaeology (sic), Kitchen Fitter, Ex, Royal Artillary (sic); Coalville, Leicester, England) who said too that the article was 'fantastic' [emoticon]
Warren Astley@warren_astley·7 wrz
More finds are made each year through Metal Detectorist than conventional Archeology and its recorded be it from Clubs to individuals we all have a duty to protect our heritage and nurture new generation that are passionate about our past, there are certain individuals that dont.
My response to that (the FLO ducked out and the PAS copied in declined to engage) was to point out that this
"new generation that are passionate about our past" will not thank the present "me-me-me" generation with its tens of thousands of scattered ephemeral personal artefact collections by then dispersed) and hundreds of thousands trashed sites in the UK alone. They simply will not.
and then in response to the 'mine's bigger than yours' penis-comparing contest Mr Astley wanted to use as his argument, I happened to have written a blog post that related to what he had said:
Many thousand MORE artefacts are dug up during collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record in Britain than are currently being, or ever will be, recorded, this is a net loss of knowledge and utter scandal/ Quite a lot that do not, in fact it seems its the huge majority Worrying Statistics the PAS-supporters Will Not Share With You about EBay, 99.8% of artefacts sold by British artefact hunters and dealers are not reported to the PAS /So, Where is this"balance", when the PAS itself cannot bring itself to publicly and loudly air the massive shortfall between the fine words they themselves use of the artefact hunting community as a whole (a"responsible majority") and actual practice? It's public-funded nonsense. 
I also added that the mere digging of "finds"/objects out of an archaeological site by artefact hunting does not generate information. I asked "which produces a greater understanding of the past in all its aspects, please tell us. How would one understand the"finds" without archaeology? What is the PAS if not archaeology?". There was no answer to that relevant question. Instead we got this:
Warren Astley@warren_astley do @PortantIssues @exleicflo i@findsorguk 7 wrz
Most detectorist who have a passion for the hobby are also pretty clued up with regards to artifacts and there use time lines and also conservation , they also record there location and work closely with most FLO,s to protect our history.
Clued up? This one cannot distinguish "their" from "there" or make a plural of FLO. Anyway in the context of what I had said, I asked for clarification of  "there used time lines" and how "history" is  "protected"
when archaeological sites are dismantled to get (only) the collectables out and into your pockets? That's like the Buddha heads at Angkor?
Because of course that is excactly what it is. I then added the point just to expand on the 'greater understanding of the past in all its aspects' through achaeology and its methodology (the PAS and FLO still being absent):

Paul Barford@PortantIssues·7 wrz  do @warren_astley @exleicflo i @findsorguk
An actual archaeologist would in the same circumstances not only already be as 'clued up' on all these aspects but in particular record a good deal more than the bare 'location' of selected removed objects to protect ALL the information of which its location is just one small part.
That seems pretty clear to me (except I am still unclear what he meant by "there used time lines" and how you can protect something by trashing it with a spade). But before Mr Astley could respond, another tekkie (new to Twitter - he's a "will of the people, I'll never vote again" bloke apparently from N. Wales) joins in:
richard wills@rickwills40·18 min
Like to know how you do that on a field that's been ploughed . Most modern fields are ploughed , even pasture ,if you know your farming . Most finds are in danger of destruction and most definitely not in their original position .
Now, actually I do 'know my farming', and pedology/soil profiles. Many areas of land in western Europe fenced into fields or not, and certainly in North Wales in fact have not been ploughed in modern times, much of North Wales because the soil is crap and the slopes too steep - but they are detected anyway.

As for recording a good deal more about a pattern of archaeological evidence across the surface of a ploughed field that goes beyond just an x-marks-the-spot note of where the most collectable objects came from (which is, as I said, just a part of the whole pattern), I really do not know where the FLO is now. This is FLO work. That's what they are paid to do, explain to members of the public 'to raise awareness among the public of the educational value of archaeological finds in their context', no matter if that's a well, or a ploughed field. Or is that just words?

How do we do it in a ploughed field? Well, there's a lot of literature out there about fieldwalking techniques, gridding, sampling procedures nd so on. Lots of it. The PAS website of course does not link to any of it (even though I did spend a long time a number of years ago creating a bibliography of them for their forum - now gone). But there is a handy guide (as far as I can see not linked either on the PAS website - see a pattern here?) Our Portable Past, Guidance for Good Practice (revised version, published 20 February 2018).

Sunday, 8 September 2019

Creating a Good Impression: PAS Statistics are not what they seem (1)

What was the PAS database set up to do?  Wikipedia has this to say:
In March 1996, during the run-up to the passing of the new Treasure Act, what was then the Department of National Heritage (DNH) (now the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS)) published Portable Antiquities. A discussion document. The aim of this document was to complement the impending Treasure Act, address the issue of non-treasure archaeological finds and to propose solutions for dealing with these. The general response to the DNH’s proposals was that the recording of all archaeological finds was important and that a consistent voluntary scheme to record finds should be established. As a result, in December 1996, the DNH announced that funding would be provided for two years for a programme of six pilot schemes, starting in September 1997.
The rest is history, even though '1984'-like, that history is altered by selective removal of information from the Internet. Paper however remains. Here's Roger Bland in 2008:
The document set out proposals for a voluntary scheme for the reporting of finds that fall outside the scope of the 1996 Treasure Act and sought views. All those who responded agreed that the recording of all archaeological finds was important and that there was a need to improve the current arrangements, and they stressed that this could not be done without additional resources. For the first time there was a consensus among both archaeologists and detector users that a voluntary scheme offered the best way forward [...] The principal aim of the Scheme is to arrest the large level of archaeological information lost every year by actively recording this material on a systematic basis for public benefit [...]  we will all be the losers if we fail to record their finds
But of course the record of Treasure finds is assured by law. Then there is this from Margaret Hodge Minister of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Culture, Creative Industries and Tourism) 22 January 2008,
I cannot conclude a speech on the treasure system without also paying tribute to the excellent role that is played by the PAS. This scheme runs parallel to the treasure system and provides a network, as hon. Members have suggested, through which non-treasure material discovered by amateur archaeologists and other enthusiasts can be identified and recorded. The finder gets to find out more about her or his discovery; a bank of information is built up for the benefit of everyone through the publicly accessible database, and the finds can be displayed and interpreted for the benefit of the public [...] That is a really wonderful thing and represents a marvellous step forward in the democratisation of the study of our past.
and not just grabby artefact hunters and collectors. Cambridge seems not to have heard by 2014 that you are no expected to bowdlerise the account and pretend the Scheme was always there not to be a specific kind of record, but just to be a public showcase of everything they can get their hands on:
The Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) is a national initiative funded by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and host organisations. The scheme is based at the British Museum and was set up to work with - and extended - the 1996 Treasure Act by recording non-treasure finds made by members of the public.
So, despite what is happening now, the PAS was set up to deal only with non-Treasure finds made by members of the public, as the Treasure items by law are dealt with (and reported) under a different system. But the problem was that the 'success rate' was not big enough to impress. So, quietly, and without any public debate the PAS decided to quietly include Treasure items on the PAS database, which duplicates their report elsewhere under the Treasure Act (and apart from anything else uses up resources set aside for the PAS). This is just a cynical manner of adjusting' the statistics to make it look as if the PAS is having more success getting 'voluntary' reporting from artefact hunters.

Ask them how much and you'll find out that they have been contacted by "14000 metal detector users and others" (Bland, Lewis et al 2017, p. 112). Note that "and others" and then take into account that this was over a 20-year period (and in those statistics, compiled perhaps from annual reports, is the same detectorist coming to the Scheme once a year for three years and met once at a rally counted once, or four times?)

To be continued: Creating a Good Impression: PAS Statistics are not what they seem (2)

Roger Bland, Michael Lewis, Daniel Pett, Ian Richardson, Katherine Robbins and Rob Webley 2017, ‘The Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme in England and Wales’, pp. 107-121 [in:] Gabriel Moshenska (ed.) Key Concepts in Public Archaeology, London (UCL) DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt1vxm8r7.12

Creating a Good Impression: PAS Statistics are not what they seem (2)

Continued from  Creating a Good Impression: PAS Statistics are not what they seem (1)

What happens to PAS statistics concerning the success of voluntary recording if we remove the records not made as a result of voluntary recording by artefact hunters? There are at least three groups of these extraneous data which are included alongside the figures (V) for voluntary reporting by artefact hunters:

A) chance finds made by members of the public who are not engaged in collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record (my mum with a samian sherd from her rose garden, Bob the Builder who finds a Roman coin in upcast of a storm water drain trench on a building site). There is in fact no easy way to separate  these finds out from the rest except manually, as the current form of the advanced search of the database does not filter 'discovery method'.

B) Material coming from two archaeologist-compiled existing databases that contain information that does not all come from public finds. In late March 2010, the  Celtic Coin Index was amalgamated with the PAS database (and there is no filter in 'advanced search' to exclude them from the general records). The CCI database added some 37925 records to the PAS database, boosting overnight the number of Celtic coins recorded there from a few thousand to nearly 40000.

The Iron Age and Roman Coins of Wales Database was a one-year research project (2003-04) of the Cardiff School of History and Archaeology run by Dr Peter Guest (and Research Assistant Nick Wells). It gathered onto a database information on published and unpublished Welsh finds of Iron Age and Roman coins (excavated assemblages, hoards, casual single finds and indeterminate groups of coins, among them those recovered by metal detector or field walking and reported through the PAS). In the end, details of 52,838 coins (the vast majority dating to the Roman period) from 1,172 find spots were collected. The information was published as a detailed corpus. In March 2010, the dataset of this project was amalgamated with the Portable Antiquities Scheme database ‘significantly increasing the number of coins available for study’ and again boosting PAS record numbers. It is unknown here too whether there had been significant overlap between these two databases. Again there is no filter to remove these results from the general statistics.

To summarise, in 2010 the PAS database was stealthily increased by 39097 records of 90763 objects by adding these two databases - duplicating information available at the time elsewhere.

C) Treasure finds, reported by law.  Fortunately the 'advanced search' does contain the possibility of filtering out Treasure finds included in the PAS database. There is a button near the top of the search terms form. Pressing it gives some pretty surprising results. It turns out that there are nearly a quarter of a million additional finds on the database from this source (234,487 objects in 13599 records). There are 980 multiple-object hoards represented (one with 52504 coins in it) You can sort the results by the time they were added to the record. While a few Treasure items had been incidentally added to the database from June 1998, it seems there was a change in policy and a concerted effort to add them from August/September 2007. (Statistical analysis of the database for Saturday 1st August 1998 until Wednesday 1st August 2007 Total objects recorded: 285810 Total records: 187454).

To summarise, from August 2007 to now the PAS database has been openly increased by 13599 records of 234487 objects by adding treasure finds - duplicating information available at the time elsewhere in the Treasure reports prepared according to the Treasure Act art. 12.

So let's fix it for the PAS. Their blurb today proudly reads "1,438,864 objects within 923,127 records". But that result is A+B+C+V. if we want to know V, we have to extract B and C (but can't do much about A). The result is:
"([1,438,864 - 325,250] objects within [923,127 - 52,696] records") =
1,113,614 objects within 670,431 records.
How does that 'V' look in the twenty-year perspective and knowing that there are probably 27000 tekkies out there? Not very impressive. Those revised figures presented on a twenty-year scale come out at 43522 records annually, or 55681 objects. Far from the massive success claimed. It's actually less than two objects each (and remember, these figures are A+B).

British Archaeological Jobsworthism Needs Outing

UK archaeological-
collecting partnership
More marginalising concerns by the establishment about the archaeological consequences of the current UK status quo on Collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record (aka looting), heritage Action:
So we remain convinced that a 2009 excavation measuring 10 x 14 yards, a 2010 follow up excavation comprising 110 yards of trenches and pits and a 2012 survey using patently inadequate metal detectors will NOT have revealed all that is there. It’s not good enough, as better equipped nighthawks have known very well ever since. We shall resist suggestions we’re hysterical or ill-informed.
HA: "The Staffordshire Hoard: no, we won’t desist or be dismissed as ill-informed…." 08/09/2019
British archaeological jobsworthism  needs outing... why aren't British archaeologists doing that in the case of artefact-hunting related issues? (Rhetorical question).

Saturday, 7 September 2019

Some Awkward Statistics the PAS-supporters Will Not Share With You

As we all know, PAS pretends to be monitoring eBay for Treasure items (here too as 'public archaeology'), but they're not really making public comments about anything they have found there, have you noticed? This is part of something that I am (still) working on that has to be at the foreign publishers early next week. Still a draft:
"For the purpose of this paper, the UK portal of eBay ( was examined by the present writer 18th August 2019. It was found that on that day in the section labelled ‘British antiquities’ on sale by dealers based in the UK only, there were 13825 antiquities (4563 small objects and 9262 coins - 20 Celtic, 5414 Roman and 3828 ‘hammered’ coins -Anglo-Saxon to Tudor). Some were being sold in short-term ‘snap’ auctions, while others would be displayed for 30 days or until they were sold. The number of sellers involved cannot easily be precisely established, but may be estimated as upward of 1200 at the time of the investigation, but was probably more. Fay (2013, 201-2) found that 52% of the artefacts and 74% of the coins on the portal when she monitored it were actually sold during the period they were on offer. The ones that were not sold are often relisted and many eventually find a buyer.
The material offered for sale in 2008 and 2019 consisted mainly of coins and small objects but in terms of their typology(Fay 2013 pp 202-3, 204-5, table 9) the selection on sale was not representative of typical excavated archaeological assemblages. In 2008, over 38% of the assemblage was made up of ancient jewellery, mainly brooches and rings, a further 23% can be described as domestic and personal objects (buckles and clothes fasteners are common), 22% as weapons or tools (mainly axes and arrowheads). The largest percentage was made up of small bronze items 32%, with flint and stone objects comprising 16% and pottery only 12% (and iron 4%).
Leaving aside the coins, the small objects on offer on eBay in August 2019 ranged in sale price (‘buy now’ prices only were analysed) between GBP5 and several over GBP1000. Of these, 70% of the objects were on sale for 5-40 GBP a further 18% were valued in the middle range of 40-110, while the remaining 12% were offered for higher prices. [aside: I regret now that I did not do the same for hammered coins as well]
Most of these artefacts were most probably authentic archaeological finds. It seems that where one can tell, in the low price range at least 3-4% have the appearance of foreign artefacts (with odd typology or patina) being offered as British finds, and a small percentage (about 1%?) being fakes. In the middle price range,  the number of object that may be strongly suspected as being foreign finds ‘laundered’ as British rises to at least 20% (though the real figure may be higher) – these figures mainly refer to the offerings of the larger dealers. There may be some fakes here too. Most of the more obvious fake antiquities were in the higher value end of the range (particularly above 100 GBP, with some on offer for considerably more).
Very few of the descriptions of the objects being sold contain even sketchy provenances and collecting histories – and few sellers indicate that any such information is available at all. None contain the information that there is a document from the owner of the property where the object was found assigning title. Particularly shocking is that only a few sellers (in fact eleven) give the information that the objects they are selling have been recorded by archaeologists (the PAS see below), this means that only 22 items out of the total of 4563 small objects have been recorded (0.48%). Among the coins and tokens, it is even worse, only five (0.05%) have been recorded (none Roman, one Celtic, the rest medieval and later).
The considerable number of artefacts being offered through venues like eBay are of course are those that were collected in the field during artefact hunting but superfluous to the collecting needs of those that found them. The numbers on open sale hint at the size of the accumulations of decontextualised archaeological material making up unknown numbers of scattered and ephemeral personal collections of archaeological artefacts in the UK. Even if not every one of these items is sold immediately, or is not in fact an authentic artefact (and perhaps not all items marketed as British finds in reality come from British soil), this shows the scale of the market involved, and the damage being done to archaeological sites all over the country by collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record".
Look at that, for all the fluffy talk about a "majority" of "responsible" artefact hunters out there and a "minority' of irresponsible ones....  only eleven sellers in a thousand give the information that the objects they are selling have been recorded by the PAS - 0.48% of the artefacts and 0.05% of the coins. The overall statistic is that of these groups of British-found artefacts being sold to collectors, is that 0.195% are recorded, that means 99.80% are going onto the market totally unreported. That's 99.80%, don't anyone try to tell me that artefact hunting with metal detectors is producing archaeological knowledge.

And why are those figures "awkward"? PAS?

Friday, 6 September 2019

Looking Dodgy: Aberrant Dead Sea Scroll Now Known to Have Another Singularity

The Dead Sea scrolls 'have given up fresh secrets, with researchers saying they have identified a previously unknown technique used to prepare one of the most remarkable scrolls of the collection' (Nicola Davis, 'Dead Sea scrolls study raises new questions over texts' origins' Guardian Fri 6 Sep 2019) Analysis shows that an alum sizing layer under the writing on the Temple Scroll differ from the methods used to prepare the other Qumran scrolls
The results suggest the writing surface is largely composed of sulfate salts, including glauberite, gypsum and thenardite – minerals that dissolve in water and are left behind when the water evaporates. However, the researchers say these salts are not typical for the Dead Sea region, raising questions of where exactly they came from.
It also raises the question of whether that scroll really was found (as the Bedouin artefact hunters who sold them to a local dealer in or about 1956 said) in the Qumran caves at all. It is not a properly grounded artefact.

‘Forging Antiquity: Authenticity, Forgery & Fake Papyri’

Part of the 'Forging Antiquity' Project

‘Forging Antiquity: Authenticity, Forgery and Fake Papyri’ 19 September 2019, Macquarie University Sydney, Australia
Every interpretation of the past involves some creative imposition and, yet, folk understandings of the historian’s task admit no room for this rich dynamic between known and unknown, us and them. The idea that the past is made and made through our engagement with it seems to threaten the integrity of our sense of where we come from and who we are. The stakes are even higher when it comes to antiquity understood as material remains, as object of art or inquiry. Particular ire is reserved for those who compromise the guarantee of truth and immediacy offered by the physical reality of the material by adjustment, appropriation, or downright fabrication. Looted or forged artefacts packaged up with false declarations of authenticity and fictional accounts of provenance speak to the criminal underbelly of our engagement with the ancient world. These objects exploit the vanity of our confidence in scientific technique and expertise. Deviant artefacts upset traditional assumptions about the protection afforded the past by the academy. They open up the past to contributions made by marginalised groups and to creative interventions which demonstrate how porous, how live, and how important the past is today. From Thucydides to the New Testament, Zoroaster to hieroglyphs, from Egypt to e-Bay, this showcase will highlight research undertaken as part of the Australian Research Council-funded Project ‘Forging Antiquity: Authenticity, forgery, and fake papyri’, featuring presentations from Macquarie staff and students, and our overseas partners.

Speakers and paper titles

(all speakers from Macquarie University except where noted)
Richard Bott, ‘Assumed Authenticity: Expertise, Authentication, and the Sheikh Ibada Fakes’
Malcolm Choat, ‘Constantine Simonides and his New Testament Papyri’
Lauren Dundler, ‘#antiquitiesdealers – The Construction of Dealer Persona in the Internet Antiquities Market’
Isabelle Marthot-Santaniello (University of Basel), ‘The challenges of Writer Identification on papyrus’
Vanessa Mawby, George Topalidis, and Penny Blake, ‘Theopompus (of Chios?) and his Hieroglyphs: Constantine Simonides and 19th century Egyptology’
Rachel Yuen-Collingridge, ‘Forgery as an act of creative decolonisation: Constantine Simonides between Thucydides and Zoroaster’
'Forging Antiquity: Authenticity, forgery and fake papyri' is an Australian Research Council Discovery Project. Here's their blurb:
To forge is creative, but forgery now means creating a fake. ‘Forging Antiquity’ explores this ambiguous dichotomy by situating an examination of forged papyri within an historical analysis of the development of forgery, authentication techniques, and public debates over forgeries from the 19th century to the present day. By contextualising technical study of fakes within analysis of strategies of authenticating ancient papyri, traditional and emerging de-authentication practices, and the cultural context of forgery, its outcomes will provide a tool for future assessments of authenticity, illuminate the parallel development of the professional personae and skills of forgers and authenticators, and contribute to debate on who has the authority to pronounce on the past. The project is supported by an Australian Research Council Discovery project grant from 2017–2019, and is a collaboration between Macquarie University and the University of Heidelberg.
There is a small gallery of fake papyri, illustrating the sort of material there is today on the market eagerly bought by collectors.

Canadian Court’s Decision on Provenance a “Big Warning to Art Dealers”

“If the [art] buyer receives a provenance that is not accurate, they will be able to obtain legal remedy,” Leah Sandals, 'Court’s New Morrisseau Forgery Decision a “Big Warning to Art Dealers”...' Canadian Art 5th September 2019
An Ontario Court of Appeal decision, released September 3, ruled that Maslak-McLeod Gallery of Toronto had breached a contract with art collector Kevin Hearn when it sold him a Norval Morrisseau painting with unreliable—and likely false—provenance documents. Though the decision did not say the painting Hearn purchased was an outright forgery or fake, the appeal judges did say it mattered that the provenance was false. [...] the Gallery’s provision of a valid provenance statement was a term of the purchase and a warranty, not mere puffery,” the new appeal decision states. [...]
“I would describe this decision as a big warning to art dealers,” says Jonathan Sommer, the lawyer who represented Hearn in court at the initial trial. (Matt Fleming and Chloe Snider of Dentons LLP represented Hearn during the appeal.) “What the court of appeal has said is that accurate provenance is one of those things that for the art world is extremely important.” To be clear, Sommer adds, “If the potential purchaser of a painting comes in and asks for provenance,” Sommer adds, “you better make sure it’s right or you could end up like McLeod did here, being liable for civil fraud—which will not only cost you your money but cost you your reputation too.” Alternatively, if complete provenance or guarantees of authenticity are not available, art dealers must be clear about that, using language such as “attributed to” and also being willing to reduce prices significantly. At the same time, Sommer is clear about art buyers’ need to be vigilant about what’s on offer: “I will always advise people to get dealers to put their money where their mouth is, with full provenance statements and guarantees of authenticity—or no sale.”

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

Republic of Yemen becomes a State Party to 1970 UNESCO Convention

Republic of Yemen became a State Party to the main international treaty to combat cultural racketeering, the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transport of Ownership of Cultural Property. Deborah Lehr:
"Now that #Yemen has taken the important step of [becoming a state party] of the UNESCO Convention, we call on the international community to do its part to help protect the country’s heritage for future generations”.
Especially Israel. Look at the number of Yemeni artefacts on eBay being sold from Israel.

UK Chancellor 'Declares End of Austerity'

HMG Complacency
Dearbail Jordan, 'Chancellor Sajid Javid declares end of austerity' BBC 4th September 2019   
The government has declared it has "turned the page on austerity" as it set out plans to raise spending across all departments. Chancellor Sajid Javid outlined £13.8bn of investment in areas including health, education and the police in what he said was the fastest increase in spending for 15 years.
So, the PAS will be getting the funding it needs to keep up with the increasiong rate at which the British public are finding finds then, and saving that information for posterity. Yes?
But the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, accused Mr Javid of "meaningless platitudes". "Do not insult the intelligence of the British people," he added. He accused the government of "pretending to end austerity when they do nothing of the sort".
Still, they are putting 20000 new riot police on the streets, so everybody can feel safe when the Government reaps the rewards of their treatment of the country.

Monday, 2 September 2019

The Bosnian Metal Detectorists and an 'Ice Age Advanced Civilization'

Photo Nicola Scheyhing
Nicola Scheyhing @PrehiStorytellr visited Bosnia and Herzigowina and found herself visiting the so-called 'Bosnian Pyramids' at Visoko... (for those that don't know, natural hills misidentified as 34000 year old man-made monuments created by an advanced civilisation and now promoted in the name of boosting tourism). These 'sites' are visited by 60 000 people annually. She tweets on the experience (and I learn what "orgonite" is - wow).

Visiting the site, she says: 'there was a possibility to visit „the excavations“, but just with a guided tour, which was [... ] possible with a „voluntary donation“ of five Euros. This was also „voluntarily asked for“ at the other two spots and is used to fund the „investigations“....', but then:
Nicola Scheyhing @PrehiStorytellr · 16 godz.
Even a group appeared from the „investigation area“, carrying metal dectectors. They spoke with a group of Italian women, so I understood that they were there for looking for traces of a settlement structure. 34 000 years old. Via metal detector.
What are archaeologists doing wrong that anybody using a metal detector as a primary tool can claim to be an "archaeologist" and get away with it?

Secondly, a claim for an advanced civilisation in the mountain areas of southeastern Europe 34k years ago, I do not think we can expect the average member of the public going to this site to work out that this is somewhere in the middle of Marine Oxygen Isotope Stage 3 (cf 'Ålesund interstadial' times), but perhaps the term Last Ice Age (Würm glaciation) might somehow impinge on their consciousness and pique their curiosity? Or is that expecting too much of a modern school history curriculum?

Sunday, 1 September 2019

Detectorists: A peculiarly British Band of Knowledge Thieves

I do not see how any archaeologist can say this:
Wendy Scott @exleicflo · 5 min
Very good, balanced piece on detecting by Ben Macintye in yesterdays Times. @findsorguk #recordyourfinds
Ben Macintyre, 'Detectorists: A peculiarly British band of time-travellers' Sunday Times 31.08.2019
Here's her photo of it, as the Times want you to pay for their "quality journalism" online, all well and good if that is what you are getting for that money. In this case this text is far from "balanced", or even factual:

I think Mr Macintyre is trying to be funny (and when will we see again factual articles on heritage theft with photos of real heritage-takers and not the fictional pair in this article?) The text gives a fluffy-bunny account of the Chew Valley Hoard find and then the Coil to the Soil Rally where the topic is not the destruction of part of the archaeological record but a drug-laced cake. The leitmotif? "Here are two sides of the metal detecting coin, important history and a gentle sort of British madness". Believing firmly that the situation is considerably more multi-aspectual than this  dichotomous dumbdown pap, I really think we could have deserved better from the Sunday Times - as I said in two tweets replying to the ex-Leicestershire FLO:
Paul Barford @PortantIssues · 3 min   In what way would you say this is "balanced"? It is also not true that you need a detecting permit in Scotland, is it? It is not only nighthawks that sell artefacts on ebay without them being PAS-recorded is it? We have again a black and white, a "balanced" text would pay an equal amount of attention to the "grey" area, the many tens (?) of thousands that do not report much of what they find (he says there are 50k tekkies - if so MASSIVE underreporting - is that not worth being the main topic of a 'balanced' text?)
I doubt it will get much of a reply, FLOs are trained to say fluffy things about 'metal detecting', few of them like being asked to actually think through what they say. Until they do start telling the public like it is, until journalists STOP writing fluffy crap, the problem of the massive destruction of the archaeological record under British archaeologists - apparently wholly unconcerned - noses will continue. That's the real British madness.

Saturday, 31 August 2019

It's Not Working, Dr Fischer

Paul Harper, 'British museum returns Babylon treasure looted from Iraq after US invasion', Metro Friday 30 Aug 2019
The British Museum will hand the tablets back to the Iraq National Museum. Hartwig Fischer, Director of the British Museum, said: ‘We are absolutely committed to the fight against illicit trade and damage to cultural heritage. ‘This is an issue which concerns us all. I am delighted that we are able to assist in the return of these important objects to Iraq.’ [...] The British Museum displays extremely valuable looted treasures.  
It is not the British Museum that is handing these objects back, but HM government, the BM is just a box where they are stored. The BM has done nothing much about illicit trade of objects on the British antiquities market, they once made a pretence at monitoring EBay for illegally-handled treasure items from the UK, but that today is nothing more than an old news item, hundreds of dodgy objects go through eBay with no reaction from them (I reported some items a few months ago, the PAS/BM staff told me in effect to buzz off and chase it up myself with the local police station of the home of the seller in the UK - letters on file if you doubt that). Likewise the PAS actively promotes artefact hunting as some form of  white-guys' "citizen archaeology". It's just the brown skinned folk in places like Iraq they will criticise.  Likewise their cunies and sculptures in that big long gallery in the BM were dug up by white guys and taken away from the brown guys when they could damage the cultural heritage of archaeological sites all over the Middle East, and now their own self-proclaimed 'empowerment' has been taken away, they are jealously making sure nobody else can try to reap the same benefits.

Friday, 30 August 2019

Friday Retrospect: The Ethical Collector


'The Ethical collector' (First published Monday, 11 August 2008)

Avoiding 'dodgy antiquities', human
remains sold as 'ancient art'
The hobby of collecting portable antiquities is attracting more and more negative attention in the world's media, as well it might, certain elements within the antiquity trade and those who financially support them by buying matrial no-questions-asked are causing immense erosion of the archaeological record. Those who have the most to lose, including dealers who do not wish their source of supply questioned too deeply, fight vehemently to maintain the status quo. They try by all means to make this a struggle about "ownership rights" rather than conservation. Any attempt to criticise the current situation usually results in the questioner being labelled an "extremist", or "radical" who can only be out (really) "to ban collecting". Hence the aggressive posturing of the collecting lobby that characterises this debate in archaeology to an extent seen in no other.

Are all collectors however oblivious to such criticism as the battle-hardened combatants of what is being increasing portrayed by the diehard nay-sayers as a “war” over personal rights? Are there no collectors who are able to see that there is some, maybe a lot, of justification for the concerns that are expressed by conservationists and others about the current status quo in the portable antiquities trade and the milieu of collecting?

Presumably those ethical and responsible collectors who do their utmost to acquire only legitimately-sourced material and exclude any of unknown or dubious origin from their collections, must feel disgruntled that they are being tarred with the same brush as their less scrupulous fellows all over the world who – nobody can doubt, and whether they admit it or not - are the consumers of increasing quantities of looted and smuggled portable antiquities.

A while ago it became fashionable in collecting circles to persuade the world that the Good Collector has a beneficial influence, an effort still going on in collecting advocacy circles today. There is not a collector of portable antiquities in the world who cannot trot out half a dozen 'reasons' why portable antiquity collecting is a good thing for history, culture, international well-being, clothing the poor, feeding the hungry, bringing relief to the downtrodden. The definition of the type of good collector being referred to by R.J. McIntosh; T. Togola and S.K. McIntosh 1995 seems to have been forgotten. Troubled by the loss of context in the case of many of the items coming onto the market these authors insisted among other things that

the Good Collector casts a jaded eye upon those dealers who insist that their reputation take the place of details of provenance.
This is because dealers are habitually secretive about where the objects they sell actually came from and how they got into their hands. they have, it is true, their codes of practice (sometimes even called codes of ethics), but many of them avoid using wording which actually would restrain the dealer from very much at all. See David Gill's discussion of that of the Ancient Coin Collectors' Guild for an example of the type of problem. The reputation of a dealer in any case in the antiquity buying world is usually built on a dealer's reputation not to sell fakes, rather than ability to obtain legally provenanced artefacts and provide watertight documentation of that fact.

It is therefore the dealers who are most concerned for there to be no move towards an establishment of more a definition of what would constitute ethical collecting (where obviously the provenance and proveninience of the traded items is of paramount concern). As we have seen time and time again, it is often the dealers who set the agenda, define what the collector can and cannot buy, what they can and cannot expect and what they can and cannot believe about their relationship with the archaeological record. To a large extent it is the pressure of the dealers' lobbies which is responsible for the impasse in which we find ourselves today over collecting and its erosive effects on the archaeological record. McIntosh, Togola and McIntosh 1995 therefore add:

the Good Collector will actively demonstrate a willingness to join with like-minded collectors to self police the art market. As a necessary part of this action, they will wrest the dialogue about the ethics of collecting and about relations of source and market nations from the trafficking syndicates and their apologists, where that dialogue about essential ethics is presently lodged
That was thirteen years ago. Where are those Good Collectors now? Why is the non-dialogue still in the hands of the dealers and their supporters? It is interesting to note that ethically-conscious hobbyists have not (38 years after the UNESCO convention) yet created their own code of honour, a code of ethics which sets their part of the collecting milieu apart from the hoi polloi who unquestioningly buy material of unknown origin. Why not?

In May 2008 there was some discussion of these issues on portable artefact collecting forums, and as part of this I put forward as material for discussion some suggestions what an archaeologist might consider such a code would need. The discussion went on for a few weeks, but nothing was formalised. (It is of course symptomatic who on these lists were for and who opposed to the idea of portable antiquity collectors creating such a code of ethics for themselves.) It seems worth setting down here for further reference what I thought at the time such a code should address.

1) Obviously for the archaeologist the important one would be that the responsible collector thinks at all times of the effects of their activity on the finite and fragile archaeological resource. If in any doubt about this, they'd not buy the offered item, no matter how nice it would look in a glass case.

2) From this follows that the responsible collector would not buy objects which have clearly or potentially come from recent/current illegal digging,or illegal export. The responsible collector would not regard the 'good collector' ('offering it a safe home') argument as a sufficient reason to support illegal activity, or to enter such items in their collection. If the dealer cannot provide independently verifiable proof that the object was legitimately obtained, it does not belong in a responsible collector's collection.

3) The responsible collector would recognize their role as a custodian and do their utmost to ensure the well-being of the items in their care.

4) The responsible collector would not split up assemblages of objects belonging together (grave group for example) by buying or selling just one or a few items from a larger associated group. Neither would they dismember and sell separately parts of one complete object.

5) The responsible collector will keep (and add to) in a permanent and ordered form the documentation of individual items, former owners, export papers, conservation reports etc. and pass them on to the next owner. [Obviously it would be ideal to suggest that the responsible collectorwould only dispose of finds to another responsible collector so they know that the carefully curated chain of documentation will be preserved].

6) Each object (or coherent associated group of objects) will be kept separate from others and be identified and catalogued in such a way that itcan be linked with the associated documentation.

7) If the object needs conservation, the responsible collector will have all but the simplest operations carried out by qualified persons and get a full report from them. If they cannot afford this they would avoid buying objects in poor state that need this kind of conservation. The responsible collector would keep photographic records of objects prior to repair and restoration, and be honest and open by describing in writing in their records the amount of repair and restoration undertaken.

8) The responsible collector will liase with the archaeological community where possible about the objects they own. They will endeavour to find out more about the objects they possess (curate) and what they mean. Significant objects (within reason) not be withheld from study. [The codes of ethics ofUS and some European archaeologists hinder this, but only if the objectsare "illicit"]. The responsible collector will endeavour to research their finds and their context and not just pile up some interesting curios.

9) Human remains. For reasons beyond the interest of archaeology and protection of world cultural heritage, collecting these items is clearly un-ethical. The trade in human body parts is subject to different laws indifferent parts of the world and obviously the collector has to respect this.

10) A related point, the responsible collector would respect and display sensitivity towards the nature of certain types of object and religious sanctions of some types belonging to societies still in existence.

11) Fakes, a responsible collector finds out one of the objects they bought is fake. What does he do? Destroy it? Sell it clearly described as a fake? Certainly once this has been ascertained, the object should not be allowed to function as potential historical evidence (The Lie BecameGreat/Muscarella type problems)

12) Disposing of unwanted items. Perhaps things nobody would buy even on eBay. Overcleaned Roman coins for example. Flint knapping waste they acquired once but no longer want in their growing collection. What would a responsible collector do with it? (including preventing it getting into a situation where it contaminates the archaeological record).

R.J. McIntosh; T. Togola and S.K. McIntosh 1995 ‘The Good Collector and the premise of Mutual respect Among Nations’, African Arts 28, 60-69.
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