Thursday 31 January 2019

"Conservation does not Matter"

Knedlikova blog
Over on Heritage Action's blog, one Ian Horn (who I am going to guess is a 'metal detectorist') writes about the place of conservation in Brutish philistinism (31/01/2019 at 03:36):
The public generally could not give a toss about archeology, so called knowledge theft or even metal detecting, let alone feeling resentful about any of them. They are far too busy talking about Strictly, Ant n’ Dec or why we should be allowed to crash out of Europe. One in a thousand may have heard of the PAS but far fewer would know what it does… or doesnt do. They dont care if thousands of coins are sold on Ebay, or whether a motorway is ran (sic) through the middle of Stonehenge or if Archies and detectorists fight it out on social media of a Saturday evening. They dont care if we are right or whether you are right, it simply doesnt register on their list of important subjects. The phrase that matters to them most is not (nor ever will be) “mass knowledge theft”, it is “do you want fries with that?” That is why you have 10,000 followers of this blog, not 10,000,000. You dont matter to the vast majority of the public, i dont matter to them either and the PAS keeping facts from them doesnt even register on their top 10,000,000 reasons for feeling resentful. Britain is probably a worse place because of this, but sadly they wouldnt even notice.
Conservation is not a matter for the present generation of mass Ant n' Dec gawpers and Brexitly-blind Brits. Many of these folk would perhaps even be quite happy to see every inch of brownfield archaeology bulldozed and built over. Conservation is however what people with a conscience think is what we owe to future generations, trusting that not all of them will turn out to be culture-blind Yahoos. Probably very few in seventeenth century Europe, even among the educated classes, were all that bothered about the fate of Raphus cucullatus an extinct flightless bird that was once endemic to the island of Mauritius. The world however is all the poorer because they could not see beyond the ex tempore here and now. taking the right steps at the right time might have saved the dodo - but there was nobody there to do that, so all we have is a few bits of dead birds that collectors collected, did they "save the dodo"?

One reason why Collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record is not seen as an environmental issue is that this is not the way it is being presented by the mainstream archaeological community - with their own fixation on 'discovery' (of lots of nice goodies to be looked at and written about) rather than the conservation of the resource that is destroyed by collectors hoiking them out.

But look at what Mr Horn is doing, he's establishing himself as among the 'caring' elite, those that care about the past that is abandoned by the generally-plebian Brits. He presents himself as superior to the gawpers and hoi polloi. This is the 'Good Collector' Model - "they don't care, so what 'metal detectorists' are dong is saving the past".

The British Museum Says It Will Never Return the Elgin Marbles

The British Museum Says It Will Never Return the Elgin Marbles

'The Creative Crowbar'
This week, we heard that Hartwig Fischer's museum is going to set up a body to police other people's handling of antiquities, maybe the people of Bloomsbury need reminding of some of the ideas embodied in the 1970 UNESCO Convention* and what the document is actually for:
 ...Principles of International Cultural Co-operation... mutual respect and appreciation among nations... it is essential for every State to become increasingly alive to the moral obligations to respect its own cultural heritage and that of all nations ... as cultural institutions, museums, libraries and archives should ensure that their collections are built up in accordance with universally recognized moral principles... illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of cultural property is an obstacle to that understanding between nations which it is part of UNESCO’s mission to promote by recommending to interested States, international conventions to this end... among States working in close co-operation
Apparently that is something the BM's director understands only when it suits him.

* Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property 1970

Tuesday 29 January 2019

'The Law of Treasure'

Archaeopress: NEW 'The Law of Treasure' Author: A.G. Guest (emeritus Professor of Law at King’s College, London.) with the assistance of Judge Paul Matthews - formerly HM Senior Coroner for the City of London. 152 pages. Available both in printed and e-versions. £22.00 paper EPublication £16.00. The blurb is not very encouraging:
The importance of the Law of Treasure is largely the result of the spectacular growth in the activity of metal detecting which, starting in the 1960’s (sic), has grown so much in popularity that it now brings to our knowledge each year more than a thousand objects of historical, cultural or archaeological interest. The nature and volume of these finds has in turn led to a greater public concern to ensure that measures exist which will be conducive to the retention and effective preservation of the more important of those objects.
Just stopping there to point out that it was not so much 'public' concern, but archaeological concern. Secondly, when the TA was passed there were not '1000' Treasures being found annually. The law was set up to deal with much smaller numbers of finds, and it can be argued cannot cope as well with the current situation. The sales spiel continues:
It is, of course, essential that facilities exist for the physical examination and conservation of finds and that those facilities should be accessible and adequate. But the law has an important part to play in this process by ensuring that finds of substantial value or importance should be preserved for the nation and made available to the public in museums.
But of course the law does not do that, it makes sure the glittery bits (finds of substantial value) are made available for the public to buy back its own heritage to stop them going into private collections. We do not have 'adequate' facilities for the processing and publication of the material. Many glittery hoards are displayed in museums only barely published or actually unpublished (how many? Let the BM tell us). The law does not stipulate what happens to the objects and information associated with them beyond getting them to a museum and entry in the Treasure Report (NOT the PAS database).
For many hundreds of years, the Law of Treasure was the common law of treasure trove. Today it is essentially based on the Treasure Act 1996. Although the Act is a great improvement on the common law it is nevertheless not always rational and the meaning of some of its provisions is sometimes obscure. This book aims to provide a reliable guide to the Law of Treasure in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and also to explain the role played by legal institutions, such as the Coroner, in that process. This book will be of interest to archaeologists, museums, coroner’s offices, finds liaison officers, farmers and landlords’ associations. It will also be of interest and utility to metal detectorists since, in addition to explaining what objects are considered to be treasure by the law, it explains the legal restrictions on searching for artefacts, the duty to report finds of treasure and the structure of the valuation process and rewards.
Most of the people listed will, already, know (or jolly well should know) these things, there have been 'guides' produced as long as the Act has been in force. The PAS is there to explain it to us all. So, this is being produced by an archaeological publisher. Why then is it co-authored by two legal professionals? Why were archaeologists (the PAS) not involved by the publishers in its authoring - particularly with regard the bits that are 'not always rational' and where 'the meaning of some of its provisions is sometimes obscure' (piedforts anybody?). And actually, though it pains me to say it, in today's spirit of partnership, how much more rounded a text this would have been if in addition to the contribution of archaeologists discussing the law from the arkie point of view, they'd invite a detectorist along to form part of the team.

And last time I looked, The British Isles still contain a United Kingdom, and the Her Majesty that Judge Matthews served still rules all of it, so where on earth is Scotland? Does Scotland not have 'a' Treasure law too (the book is called THE Law of Treasure)? Why just cut off a huge chunk of the UK in such a book ? So Scotland cut out, arkies not included, tekkies too. Despite all my interest in all this, I'm not really over-keen to dig into my pockets on the basis of what that blurb seems to be suggesting the purchaser is getting.

The book has just 152 pages, the second edition of the HMG guidelines that cover much the same ground it seems, the Treasure Act 1996: Code of Practice (2nd Revision) has 143, and its free (though does not cover N. Ireland).

Monday 28 January 2019

Circulating Artefacts: A cross-platform alliance against the looting of pharaonic antiquities

Another Bloomsbury database: 
We anticipate that the trade, collectors, museums, colleagues, police, and members of the general public will increasingly contribute to the database, and consult it as well. Everyone can help by supplying images and information on artefacts. 
on the other hand:
The database, which includes both images and provenance research, is not open to the public because the information it contains is legally sensitive...
It would probably help international collaboration and exchange of information, as well as contact between law-enforcement agencies, if this was not sited in a back room in a museum in a country outside the peripheries of Europe, but a major centre of European significance.

"Countering Looting of Antiquities from Syria and Iraq (CLASI)" Project

Countering Looting of Antiquities from Syria and Iraq (CLASI)
The Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center (TracCCC) at George Mason University in Washington DC (US) received the State Department Bureau of Counterterrorism Grant for 'Research and Training on Illicit Markets for Iraqi and Syrian Art and Antiquities'. To create this 'Countering Looting of Antiquities from Syria and Iraq (CLASI)' project, TraCCC assembled a diverse team of experts that attempted to understand the illicit trade of antiquities from this region and offer practical solutions to law enforcement.
TraCCC conducted research to understand the illicit trade of antiquities out of Syria and Iraq with particular focus on links to terrorism and threat finance. This understanding was used to develop instructional materials and deliver training to international partners on the nature of the trade, investigating and dismantling it and combatting sources of terrorism funding. This work was done by a large and diverse group of experts in crime, antiquities, trade and terrorism; and across several language specialties.

The project took place from September 2017 to January 2019 and focused on the following activities:
1. Conduct 3 month survey of the online antiquities market, including the dark web to determine what can be known of the size of the market and who the players in the market are, as well as, values and locations as much as these variables can be established. Research will be conducted in English, Turkish, Kurdish, and Arabic.

2. Produce a report on the state of the global trade of illicit antiquities for the U.S. Department of State.

3. Create training materials that can be used in training exercises on understanding the trade, how to combat it, links to terrorism, and case and financial investigations.

4. Deliver first round of training to international partners, as determined by the State Department.
The report is now available (dated Jan 7th 2019): 
Countering Looting of Antiquities in Syria and Iraq

It's all very interesting and informative, but the underlying premise is not examined. The whole escapade is financed by a grant from the State Department Bureau of Counterterrorism to look at "terrorism funding" through antiquities. In the US, as has been pointed out by other writers, most notable Michael Press in recent months, it seems the definition of "terrorism" is very broad and unnuanced, has been politicised, and frequently misapplied. Conflict antiquities are funding violence in general, and not just actual terrorist activities. The problem here is that antiquities looting and commerce do not exist in a vacuum but are part of a wider reality. If someone sets out to study the antiquities by (instead of first examining the context properly), a priori imposing a single fits-all explanation of that reality, they are not only going to produced distorted research results, but also be powerless to provide real solutions to the problem they declare they are interested in solving. Basically what results is poor policy, the main result of which is not in fact to stop antiquities looting but simply further US foreign policy (see Michael Press How Antiquities Have Been Weaponized in the Struggle to Preserve Culture Hyperallergic  December 7, 2017)

Destruction Claimed to Be 'Creative'

Displacement of Artefacts 'is also a creative act,” British Museum director Hartwig Fischer said. The British Museum would know, they've been (ahem) 'creatively. nicking stuff for two centuries now.

British brutalism on a hill, the Erechtheion with a concrete post where a cartyatid once stood.

Trashing the PASt as a 'Creative Act'? Eh?

Narrow (a
creative act)
Here's another one that sees looting as not damaging the archaeological heritage. British Museum director Hartwig Fischer has just said.
 “When you move cultural heritage into a [collection], you move it out of context. Yet that displacement is also a creative act,”
 As George Varas noted: "The current BritishMuseum director invokes revisionist history and discredited museological principles" so, a bit like their promoting Collection-Driven Exploitation of the archaeological record through the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

There's an idea for next year's PAS conference (if there still is a PAS then):
Archaeological Site Trashing as a Creative Act.

Artefacts moved out of context, added to a collection, 'creative', no?

PAS Double Standards

Britain destroys its own history
Heritage Action highlight a point about the PAS and its interaction with the British public that pays for their nice warm offices (Metal detecting: silence about knowledge theft is complicity. 26/01/2019). In reply I pointed out that the fact that they will not criticise named metal detectorists is an odd contrast to the way some of their staff treat critics from the conservation lobby, verging sometimes on hysteria. These institutional double standards seem to me an issue that needs to be addressed.

Heritage Action responded (heritageaction 27/01/2019 at 07:23):
As you know, PAS employees, particularly management, have attacked the Journal over many years, always on the basis we are ignorant of the facts. However, the statistics are the facts and they show that detectorists mostly don’t report some or all of their finds and our two complaints are that fact and the fact PAS keeps that fact from the public and a succession of Culture Secretaries. We feel PAS has no business attacking concerned members of the public who have every right to be resentful of the vast quantity of knowledge theft which hides behind their database. Not only do they never admit it but they never, ever use the phrase that matters most to the public and should be common parlance amongst archaeologists: mass knowledge theft.

Baz, the British Knowledge Thief

CDE in progress
Over on Heritage Action's blog, one Ian Horn, in reply to one of their posts, tries to argue that taking things from under a landowner's nose is not "technically" theft. I disagree:
Mr Horn, how about a situation that can occur possibly commonly? Baz gets permission from Farmer Brown to search his fields. Baz starts off at the beginning of the season and in the first few weeks in the first fields by the woods finds a lot of 'shotties' and a few Georgian coppers and harness buckles. Shows them to Farmer Brown - who is not overly impressed and gets the idea that that "sad crazy bloke" is "not finding much" and is quite happy with the general "search and take agreement" they had signed a few weeks earlier. He stops coming over to the searcher to ask "what you got?" because he's bored with the buckles and hearing the same old stories, cant see what the excitement is.

A few weeks later, by a process of trial-and-error, Baz locates the more 'productive' areas of the farm, a previously unknown prosperous Roman settlement and copious dense spread of material. Including lots of coins and fibulae. Over beyond the copse is a site that produces lots of sceattas. Baz starts coming home with loads of the stuff, more than he needs for his own collection and showing off at the club. He starts selling the duplicates off on eBay, ten, twenty quid an object sometimes. Next detecting season the same thing happens. Baz decides not to report anything to PAS (because none of it is 'Treasure') as he's afraid he'll lose his site.

Farmer Brown is in the dark about the site Baz has found and about Baz's eBay sales. He has an agreement with Baz that any *individual* find worth more than xxxpounds will be sold and the proceeds split, but so far Baz has not come forward with any such find. On the odd occasion they meet, Baz just shows him a buckle or two and some corroded green discs of metal which he dismissively calls "grots" -("not worth much"). Farmer Brown's eyes glaze over. He has not got time to hear the story about the emperor that liked little boys and that other one. So he is happy to let Baz get on with it, Baz is happy, the collectors in Oregon, Gainsville and Little Rock buying the coins are happy. EBay gets its cut too. baz's heirs aere happy they get the artefacts he kept to sell off in due course as a nice little earner left them by the dead man.

But, whatever the document they've signed says, by not showing exactly what he is taking and in what quantities, and keeping quiet about its true value (if not just potential) Baz is stealing from Farmer Brown, and Baz by not reporting all those ripped-out objects he's pocketing and selling off is stealing knowledge from all of us. Selfish, thieving Baz. Illegal? Not yet. Immoral? 100%. Responsible? 0%.

Arguing that it is "technically" not theft as you do cannot hide the fact that actually, it jolly well is.

Sunday 27 January 2019

Nothing to See Here, No Problems at All

FLO, 'no problems here, just doing my job'
With reference to my comments here:
Friday, January 18, 2019 2:16 PM
To: 'Ben.Jones@ [work email address]'
Subject: peek a boo
Hi Mr Jones,
PACHI saw you were looking in at lunchtime. Although you for some reason blocked me, I am perfectly happy to let you post a response in the comments below the post (any of them really), I do think these are things that do need discussing – don’t you?
All the best from Warsaw
Paul Barford
Obviously not.

International Holocaust Remembrance Day 27th January

#WeRemember 74 years ago today, Auschwitz was liberated.

27 stycznia obchodzimy Dzień Pamięci o Ofiarach Holokaustu. Dzień przypadający w rocznicę wyzwolenia Auschwitz-Birkenau – obozu, w którym w trakcie II wojny światowej życie straciło ponad milion ludzi.

[After the events at Auschwitz yesterday,  and reactions of certain factions to comments on it, I am not accepting any comments on this post]

How Safe are Britain's Museums and Art Collections Now?

"Taking back control?" The Sunday Times front page says Tories are now preparing to declare martial law in the event of disorder following a no deal Brexit.
powers available under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 would allow ministers to impose curfews, travels bans, confiscate property and deploy the armed forces to quell rioting. An anonymous Whitehall source told the newspaper: The over-riding theme in all the no-deal planning is civil disobedience and the fear that it will lead to death in the event of food and medical shortages. The newspaper quoted another source as saying that [...] The only other thing that would be comparable would be something like a major Europe-wide war.  

Given the total unpredictability of events over the next few weeks, and that feelings (and rhetoric) are running high, perhaps we should be asking, what contingency plans do British museums have in place in the event that things take a turn in the same direction as the Egyptian January 25 2011 'revolution' just seven years ago that brought the army into power there?

In the shambles, will the youth of Britain form a human chain around the British Museum? And Wroxeter, St Albans  and Colchester? The moment any serious civil unrest breaks out in the UK, and the army is deployed in the streets, the self-centred and complacent antiquitist argument about countries like the UK providing a safe haven for antiquities taken from foreign lands where the unstable natives 'can't be trusted to look after them' falls flat on its face.  

More Austerity Bites British Archaeology

There are plans to cut 60 per cent from the budget of Worcestershire’s Archive and Archaeology Service (Ross Crawford, 'County Councillor hits out at plans to cut Archive and Archaeology Service budget' Reddich Standard 13th Jan, 2019).
The service, which cares for all the county’s historic documents and keeps the past alive through archaeological digs, is facing losing £405,000 from its £751,000 budget as part of swingeing County Hall cuts. [...] The service currently employs 25 people but their future would be in doubt if the cuts went ahead [...] Councillor Lucy Hodgson (Con, Malvern Chase) cabinet member for communities, said: “We are proposing to make savings of £400,000 from the Archive and Archaeology Service as part of the wider savings that the council needs to make in the coming years.  

More signs that Treasure Rewards will soon be slashed?

A steady rise as 'metal detecting'
 becomes more and more popular
The ransoms being paid to UK Treasure Hunters to make sure they obey the law and report potential Treasure finds are discretionary. But as the numbers of people taking up hoovering the archaeological record for collectables increases, and as existing museums have more than enough 'treasures' to conserve, publish and display each year, and few new museums are being established, we must at some stage reach a tipping point. It seems that economic decline that is inevitable in the decade or so after the looming Brexit will further place Britain's system (I use the term loosely) for dealing with artefact hunting in an untenable position and will be soon breaking down leaving a vacuum (see: Heritage Action, 'More signs that treasure rewards will soon be slashed? 27/01/2019). Then what will happen? Will the black market become flooded with Anglo-Saxon brooches and hammered coins of medieval English kings from unreported hoards? 

Saturday 26 January 2019

Artefact Grabbing Tourism

Whose past? US detectorist grubbing
around in the archaeology
Tourists from the US, Australia and Canada are paying thousands of pounds to hunt for treasure on historical sites across the UK using metal detectors. (HeritageDaily, 'The tourism of detectorists' January 3, 2019)
Specialist tour operators have since carved out a niche industry by arranging tour package holidays with access adjacent to historical monuments for treasure hunters [...] treasure hunters will be detecting in areas of Bronze age settlements and enclosures, Roman camps and a landscape where battles between the English and Welsh were fought on the borders. Lax local laws mean that tourism detectorists can remove their trophy finds from the UK, provided that an export license has been submitted for items over 50 years old. In contrast, many EU countries have strict rules on metal detecting, either banning or heavily regulating the hobby to prevent abuse and damage by digging into the archaeological context. The rules in England and Wales are reliant on detectorists to voluntarily report finds to the Portable Antiquities Scheme and adhere to suggested volunteer guidelines.
The article specifically mentions the company Metal Detecting Holidays run by Chris Langston (see here for how this began)
The impact of detectorist tourism opens a moral debate about the removal of localised culture for personal gain, essentially selling off a piece of history to those with the largest wallets. Arguably a UK detectorists from a local club that abides by guidelines is more likely to be concer [...]  Whilst there’s nothing illegal in detectorist tourism, comparisons of the practice can be made to the sport of trophy hunting in places like Africa. If you’ve got the money to spend, you can bag yourself that trophy lion to stuff and place its head above your fireplace. 

More details emerge here about the reporting process I questioned in an earlier post here about Metal Detecting Holidays
The Metal Detecting Holidays website states “After the holiday has ended you are required to put all your finds over 50 years old in a protective container with your details on it. We will then examine your finds and then apply on your behalf for the export license. If any of the artefacts are of greater importance then they can be taken into the local Finds Liason Officer where experts will ID and record the item giving you a greater depth of information.” This opens questions above self-regulation, essentially the tour operators are accountable only to themselves to ensure finds discovered by their tourist detectorists are reported. Any legal statement to ensure tourist detectorists abide by the UK guidelines, or accountability by Metal Detecting Holidays and other operators to police treasure hunters using their services is vague and arguably open to abuse as the fledgeling detector tourism industry grows in the UK.

Scholars Find Loose Manuscript Among the Carpets, Give it a Good Writeup [UPDATED]

Scholarly race to find the oldest...
Christie's sale 15984: 'Art of the Islamic and Indian Worlds Including Oriental Rugs and Carpets' London 26 April 2018
Provenance [blank] Estimate GBP 80,000 - GBP 120,000 Price realised GBP 596,750

Ahmed Shaker The Discovery of an 8th-Century Qur’an Written Over a Coptic Biblical Text: An Interview with Eléonore Cellard and Catherine Louis, Quranmss 22nd Jan 2019
These indices allow to suppose that these fragments were copied around the seventh century—maybe even in the sixth century—but at the moment, we can not provide a precise dating due to lack of specific indications as to where these fragments were made and the circumstances surrounding its appearance in the antique markets.
and that is the only problem the author sees in her handling this material?

UPDATE 29.03.2019
Don't know when this happened, but obviously the lady's not terribly interested in discussing these issues with my readers.

That's apparently how it is in Collège de France, Île-de-France, Paris. But hiding what you are doing does not make it right.

RESCUE Censors Members' Words

Interesting, RESCUE has just censored its Facebook page, removing dozens of contributions made by its 3120 members  from under a series of an unknown number of recent posts - some of which are linked to in texts on this blog. That is rather an interesting comment on the discussion of how Britain goes about debating the preserving its historical heritage. It is also a comment on the value of people spending their time giving an issue raised on their pages some thought and attempting to discuss them like adults. Could it be that in fact the main reason these pages have disappeared from the public domain is that the recent bullying behaviour of some group members towards those raising conservation concerns such as Heritage Action and myself does not reflect particularly well on the membership of the organisation?

By removing these threads of members' comments wholesale, RESCUE is acting in exactly the same manner as the façadists  of metal detecting forums that that will not allow members to speak for themselves but remove posts that do not fit the preferred public image of the hobby. But then, what is the point of spending time contributing in any substantive manner to a public discussion if others are going to decide for you what you are allowed to say and how? That, surely, is the essence of totalitarianism and is the path to dumbdown.

I think this also raises an important question about whether RESCUE exists today for its members, or whether the members are there merely to endorse (and finance) RESCUE and the range of views they represent don't count.

Friday 25 January 2019

Before the UK had the PAS - and Before Metal Detecting

In the 1950s the Council for British Archaeology launched a public finds recording campaign:

The top picture is Piltdown Man. If ever there was a warning about basing archaeological research on reports of finds made by amateurs, that's one....

Thursday 24 January 2019

What’s so bad about collecting artefacts?

Artefacts for collection
Clear, concise, authoritative and informative: [Jolene Smith], ' What’s so bad about collecting artifacts?'  DHR - Virginia Department of Historic Resources > Division of State ArchaeologyJanuary 24, 2019. What would be wrong with a text on exactly the same lines being published by the UK's PAS as part of their informing the public on Portable Antiquities matters?  

Monday 21 January 2019

Surface Sites are Archaeology too

These two citizen archaeologists look like a couple of right charlies, no camo and did they forget their metal detectors?

Investigating surface sites, because archaeologists do

Saturday 19 January 2019

Man arrested in northern Greece over ancient coins

A 30-year-old citizen of Northern Greece was arrested and will appear before a local prosecutor this week. The man, from the northern Greek region of Pieria is charged with attempting to illegally sell ancient coins over the internet. His home was raided and police found and seized two bronze artefacts and 19 coins, 16 of the coins are dated between the 4th century BC and Roman times (Man arrested in northern Greece over ancient coins Ekathimerini 19th Jan 2019), so next time you buy coins from somebody, first find out who they bought them from.

Artefact Hunting not About 'History', Portable Antiquity Prostitution is a Growing Business. Artefacts Going Abroad (II)

American metal detectorists during a 12 day tour in
Norfolk in 2017. Picture: Norfolk Metal Detecting Tours
Two weeks ago the Mail was telling us about 45-year old Chris Langston's Metal Detecting Holidays in Shropshire dismembering the archaeological record so the organizers can pocket the money - and the searchers bits of the British archaeological heritage. Now we learn of another one who can hardly claim that artefact hunting is not about making money and has little to do with an altruistic interest in 'history'. This next example of disgraceful heritage prostitution is is from Norfolk, apparently the 'number one destination for US detectorists coming to the UK to join organised group trips led by specialist local guides'    (Simon Parkin, 'Norfolk’s hidden treasures luring American metal detector tourists', Evening News 18th January 2019). the artefacts are scattered between many ephemeral personal collections: 

Friday 18 January 2019

New Board Game Pits Archaeologists against Treasure Hunters

Raising public awareness (Ivan Dikov, 'New Board Game Pits Archaeologists against Treasure Hunters in Archaeological Sites All across Bulgaria' Archaeology in Bulgaria December 14, 2018): 
A new board entitled “Archaeologists vs. Treasure Hunters", which pits the two groups against one another on a map featuring some of Bulgaria’s most remarkable archaeological sites, has been developed and released by a group of archaeologists. Treasure hunting targetting archaeological sites [...] takes its horrendous toll on the country’s enormous cultural and historical heritage on a daily basis. [...] Bulgarian archaeologists are often pitted against treasure hunters in real life, trying to save whatever can be saved before or after the latter’s destructive raids against Bulgaria’s tens of thousands of archaeological, historical, and cultural sites. Unfortunately, the public tolerance for the treasure hunting crimes in Bulgaria remains rather high, law enforcement fails to crack down on them sufficiently and is often suspected of collaborating with the respective organized crime groups, and many people in the countryside see treasure hunting as a form of decent full or part time employment.
So, a bit like Britain really, where its the archaeologists who are promoting high public acceptance of artefact hunting, there is very little effort to stop those obtaining of selling antiquities (both from local and foreign sources) and the authorities turn a blind eye to the majority of the activity, and the potential for business connections between some of the dealers operating in the UK with foreign organized crime. The game has been developed and released by Archaeologia Bulgarica, an NGO promoting Bulgaria’s archaeology and cultural heritage chaired by Assoc. Prof. Lyudmil Vagalinski - former Director of the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia.

Dr Lamia al-Gailan

From Charles Jones on the Iraqcrisis list:
I'm saddened to report that Dr Lamia al-Gailani has died. She was a participant in this list from the very beginning. She was an occasional contributor but a frequent source of information which she passed along at considerable risk to herself and her contacts in Iraq and therefor asked for anonymity. She was a tireless worker for the people and culture of Iraq. She will be greatly missed.

Twenty years of PAS Liaison Has Got Us Here....

Keeping it to themselves
Over among the 'responsible detectorists' (go and have a look at them) we can see they have a conundrum. one guy does not know what to do:
Dave Reynolds from Llanelli, Wales 15 January at 19:36
I have received an Email from my FLO who would like me to take some of finds into her office. They would like to know find spots which I do have, with a view to explore the area. They are doing a dig not that far from where they were found which is fine. I know that a Roman hoard was found in the area. My question is would you show them or not? Their director is very interested in what I have. I am really unsure what to do. Could I lose the site to them if I show what I have (it's all Roman Coinage and a couple of fibula) [...] Now what would you do? We are taking about 100+ roman bronze a couple of silver and 3 broaches
In general, fellow metal detector users were not at all keen that he should do the responsible thing and show the objects.
Andrew Fudge If it's not treasure then it's your call. You don't need to show them anything. I would ask why    
Paul Wolds Nope. Happened to a Freind [sic] of mine. He showed flo finds, got chatting, told her where the find spot was. She had gone and hassled the farmer to allow archies and herself to go dig it all up. My Freind [sic]  lost the permission and put the farmer on edge about others now wandering his Land on a night.     
Paul Smith Be very wary. I had an almost identical situation to yours and decided to divulge my area to the FLO. Worst mistake ever! Totally hassled the farmer, who in turn blamed me for causing all the unwanted interest on his land. List the permission not long after that. Never again though.

Watching You Watching Me

Hi, guest -  our tracking software shows that its not really going too well for you, is it? You really should not tell lies about other people that you cannot back up.

Let me give you a statistic that I am not sure you can see on our search engine. The number of published posts here 10556. That's ten and a half thousand posts on various portable antiquities collecting and heritage issues. Think about it, young man.

Am I, really, the one who needs to be ashamed for making this material and my views on it available to a wider public? Or is it you who consider that bullying a fellow archaeologist to the point that he resigns to prevent discussion who should be ashamed? The very idea! Shame on you. Who do you think you are and where do you think mobbing will get portable antiquities collecting?

Shared Heritage, Aero Mexico -"DNA Discount"

There's politics and then there's shared heritage...

Not wanting to spoil a good story of rednecks making a spectacle of themselves, the notion of 'Mexican DNA' seems a bit dodgy to me... maybe someone can explain the science to us.


Lifting the Veil

An interesting Facebook profile photo of a metal detectorist:

Dave Reynolds zaktualizował swoje zdjęcie profilowe.
The problem is however that artefact hunting with a metal detector will not find the buildings, their layout and form. The nails might be collected (if they are not discriminated out or discarded). There is therefore a confusion between artefact hunting and archaeology.

Damage to Archaeological Stratification in Austria Caused by Artefact Hunting (1)

Wiener schnitzel
Last week, Raimund Karl inserted into a Facebook discussion on the increasing scale of Collection-Driven Exploitation of the archaeological record in England and Wales a link to a survey he had done of Austrian archaeological reports that proved something-or-other. He stated there:
[...] if you are truly interested in some more data, based on the examination of c. 1.400 excavation reports, created based on a standardised methodology, on damage being caused to archaeology by 'collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record', here is one:  An empirical examination of archaeological damage caused by unprofessional extraction of archaeology ex situ ('looting'). A case study from Austria. Archäologische Denkmalpflege 2, 2019, 1-34.  It includes lots of examples of collection-driven archaeological exploitation of the archaeological record. five of those are definitely, another seven possibly, attributable to the activities of metal detectorists.

Damage to Archaeological Stratification in Austria Caused by Artefact Hunting (2): Prof. Karl's Stated Aims

"better, much better. Tremendous.
In fact... I think we 
can say...  nobody has ever had
such  good results.... 
better than me"

Donald Trump

Explaining in Austria
This text follows on from the first part of my discussion of a recent article: Damage to Archaeological Stratification in Austria Caused by Artefact Hunting (1) and reviewing a recent text by Bangor Professor Raimund Karl. In this one, I want to discuss the way the author sees collecting. But first: 

What is an Archaeological Site?
The way the text is constructed impels us to turn to a fundamental issue (or rather the same one as 'what is archaeology' in part one, but in a different form). Karl's text presents archaeological research as excavation, and excavated evidence as the only type that matters (indeed almost as if its the only type that exists). It seems the underlying premise is that if he can prove little damage is caused by collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record to stratification in situ, Karl can show that the practice is, in his opinion shown to not be as damaging as other archaeologists make out. As far down as p 28 we get this potted research aim:
The main aim of this study was to conduct an empirical examination of archaeological evidence for damage caused to previously ‘undisturbed’ archaeological contexts by the unprofessional extraction of archaeological finds ex situ, also commonly referred to as ‘looting’; particularly in recent times. 
So, according to this......,

Damage to Archaeological Stratification in Austria Caused by Artefact Hunting (3) Results of a 'Study' and their Interpretation

Relic of past greatness
This text is the third in a series looking at a recent paper by Raimund Karl  ('An empirical examination of archaeological damage caused by unprofessional extraction of archaeology ex situ ('looting'). A case study from Austria'. Archäologische Denkmalpflege 2, 2019, 1-34) and is the third and final part of my discussion of it. (see parts 1 and 2 here and here, also see the points made about 'a hole is not a hole, is not a hole' when it comes to artefact hunting, and also 'Archaeologists, Attitudes to Conservation and the Elephant Hunter Argument'

The Research Method and its Results
The 34 pages of this text are bulked out by various stuff, some of it not really needed. Karl's methods are set out on pp 5-9 and seem relatively self-explanatory, though raise serious questions not discussed (below). There are bar charts and histograms and it all makes an impression of Teutonic thoroughness and attention to detail. Except, there are a number of things missing here for this study to actually make sense - even, in fact, in the narrow framework the author had spent the previous four pages (hastily?) constructing......

Thursday 17 January 2019

The Archaeological Values of the PAS Database (IX): Go on, Guess [UPDATED]

More PAS public dumbdown instead of informing public about portable antiquities issues, but also taunting them, by putting the picture on its side and then trying to appear clever (like: 'I know what this is bet you plebs dont!'):

The fact it is obviously a modern token (slot on the reverse) and the dialphone numbers and Hebrew script really did not fool anyone, and you wonder what is the point of fooling around like this? What kind of archaeological outreach is that? Zero, actually since the thing is c. 1965.

 But OK, viewers were asked to reflect on 'the main conundrum with this little piece being how it came to be deposited in a field in rural Northern England. Any guesses?'. I'd say the most probable reason why this is in a field is that in the fifty years or so since its striking, it was in somebody's exonumismatic collection, which

Wednesday 16 January 2019

'Citizen Archaeology' and Human History

Christopher Jones published one of his powerpoint slides on Twitter

Christopher Jones
It is worth considering how much of that human history so-called 'citizen archaeologists' document with their metal detectors.

Fake Antiquities Flood Market, so What?

There are a large number of fake antiquities out there, some easy to spot, others less so, and probably a whole lot that without extremely sophisticated technical analysis nobody will ever know. But if a fake vase, coin, cunie, lamp, 'Dead Sea' scroll or whatever has been sold as authentic, and its new owner sees no reason to question it and cherishes it as such, sells it to the next guy that also cannot see anything wrong with it... what rim has been committed? The buyers bought what they saw and liked, paid the price they felt like paying to experience having it. What's the big deal?  Is not 'art' about experiences, sensual reception?

Decolonising Papyri Collections

John Rylands Library - Deansgate
Dr Roberta Mazza outlines the ethical issues associated with handling ancient papyri in modern collections (Decolonising Manchester's papyri collection ) she says that the study of collections of this material involves unsettling stories of modern colonialism and cultural heritage misappropriation. In particular this concerns the movement of material from the Middle East to European collections at the beginning of the last century with little if any awareness of the damage inflicted on the archaeological and cultural heritages of the nations of origin.
For this reason, it is nowadays of great importance to view papyrology from a wider historical perspective of modern colonialism and to practice it with much more attention to what I call the ethics of manuscripts. It is of vital importance not only to study but also to make the public aware of the biographies of manuscripts, the way they were legally and illegally excavated and eventually exchanged on the antiquities market. As its custodian, the University has a great responsibility towards the papyrus collection, which belongs to different communities and should be preserved for the future. The contemporary illegal circulation of papyri and other Egyptian antiquities on the market has roots in a longer history that we are part of and is a theme of contentious debate and crucial importance, especially after the Arab Spring led to an increasing number of objects appearing on offer at auctions and online. There are many challenges, and Manchester is making a key contribution to the establishment of good practices not only in terms of conservation and the deciphering of manuscripts, but also in finding more ethical ways of bringing this important cultural heritage to the widest possible audience, in the city and beyond.

Crisis in Wales, Archaeological 'Debate': Mobbing and Crazy Claims on Facebook. Just a Typical Day in 'Professional Archaeology' in Britain [UPDATED]

That there are a number of people out there in the World Wide Web that are not very comfortable with blogs like my own and Heritage Action's, is not surprising. They are mainly those engaged in Collection-Driven exploitation of the archaeological record for personal entertainment and profit (artefact hunters, dealers, collectors, that kind of folk). These people habitually engage in all sorts of behaviour to discredit the authors of texts that present artefact collecting in a wider context and challenge the glib back-slapping of the pro-collecting lobby. They will apply various tactics to try to dissuade people from paying attention to what is written here, or to try and block them from being expressed. In fact the disruptive behaviour of metal detectorists from the UK in particular is a major reason why I decided to take my discussion of the issues to my own corner of the Internet where it would not disturb people that do not want to read about these issues. What is disturbing, and indeed shocking, is to see archaeologists siding with the collectors and engaging in the same sort of disruptive behaviour. This has happened before, over on the old BAJR forum (run by David Connolly) for example.

Over the past few months, the moderator of the Facebook page of RESCUE, the Trust for British archaeology (with some 3120 members) has from time to time posted the odd link to a post on this blog that in his judgement conservation-conscious members might be interested in knowing about. The ethos of RESCUE, as the name suggests, is based in a concern for the conservation of the archaeological record. That too is one of the concerns of this blog, so posting - among a plethora of others - a link or two to a post raising an issue of concern should not be all that controversial in such a milieu. At least that is what one might have thought.

But this is Bonkers Britain on the eve of a damaging but popular Brexit. There 'anything goes', and it was not the case that the sort of topics this blog raises can be discussed there. First of all - since its an open group - the metal detectorists lurking there were often the first to react to the posting of a link to PACHI - react that is with the typical metal-detectorist-insults that was the whole reason I resigned from trying to discuss these issues on archaeological forums in the first place. But Rescue members were perfectly tolerant of their usual ad hominem/ad personam nastiness. But there was seldom any meaty discussion from the archaeologists. For most of this time, one of the FLOs , in the spirit of true exchange of views, no doubt, was insistent in trying to use that Facebook group to shout down the views expressed - nota bene - on an external blog. If you follow those threads through, it can clearly be seen that - as in his Twitter vendetta - he was however less keen to actually discuss the issues raised. In a post here I describe the reaction that was the result of the group's administrator posting a link to a text here about a misidentified artefact and how the PAS database is maintained. It was not well received: "go away Barford" was one (university) archaeologist's reaction. Or there was deliberate obfuscation (loud accusations that a map of England used on my blog somehow 'alienates' the Welsh) that hogged the attention that prevented the actual issue raised being discussed. There was little reaction from other members (or the administrators) to any of this - these examples of as one member put it n

Early in the morning of the 13th January 2019, the group administrator posted on the RESCUE Facebook page a link to a text of mine that had been written three days earlier PACHI Thursday, 10 January 2019, 'The Scale of the Artefact Hunting Recording Crisis in Wales'. A rather vanilla topic one would have thought, and in keeping with my long-standing interest in the fate of the PAS in Wales (Na i PAS ar gyfer Cymru: No to a Welsh PAS).
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