Tuesday 30 April 2019

Turkish Ancient Coin Seller Arrested, Collectors who Buy These Things go free Yet Again

Would (did) You buy ancient coins from this man?
Turkish security forces confiscated more than 2,500 Roman and Hellenistic-era coins along with several other historical artefacts in an anti-smuggling operation in central Turkey's Kayseri province on Tuesday. The coins were from the East Roman Empire and Hellenistic period. A horse statuette, ring and other metal objects were also seized. (Daily Sabah, 'Over 2,500 Roman, Hellenistic era coins seized in central Turkey’s Kayseri' 30.04.2019).  The suspect, identified as S.Y., was caught red-handed by police after authorities discovered his plan to sell the artefacts.

Facebook Becomes Even More Culture Crime-Friendly

The darkness within
Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg has revealed a series of changes to the firm's portfolio of social platforms, including Instagram and Whatsapp (Zoe Kleinman, 'Facebook boss reveals changes in response to criticism', BBC News 30 April 2019)
The new designs and features for its apps are a direct response to widespread criticism of how the firm protects user data. Mr Zuckerberg said the company plans to put privacy first. [...] "The future is private," Mr Zuckerberg said - adding, in a nod to the tech giant's stream of privacy scandals [...] The design changes are the biggest refresh in around five years. It puts greater emphasis on groups and private interactions, encrypted messages that Facebook itself won't be able to access.
Which will make policing illicit antiquities sales there even more challenging. As Gretchen Peters (@GretchenSPeters) points out: "Zuckerberg  says “the future is private” groups. But that’s where all the organized crime on FB occurs. Child sex trafficking, opioids, ivory, rhino horn, human remains, antiquities. Read more at @CounteringCrime @riptari @karaswisher @aarti411 @HannahBloch @JoshMeyerDC @savetherhino"
There will be more "ephemeral" ways to share content in messages - meaning there will not be a permanent record of them A WhatsApp secure payment service trialled in India is to be rolled out to other countries later this year.  
ACCO ‏ @CounteringCrime comments:
Let’s get this straight, when #zuck says “the future is private” he is pivoting. He is taking responsibility away from #facebook. He is still collecting information on you to sell you ads. He didn’t announce a changed revenue model, just a new disguise. The sad thing is this #pivot will hurt the most vulnerable of us. Private and secret groups all over #facebook perpetuate some of the worse crimes, from selling ivory to antiquities and humans. Facebook isn’t changing for the better, they are making the problem worse.

Question 30 What are your views on these preliminary suggestions on the future form of the Treasure process?

Here's what I wrote on the Treasure Act Consultation (due in today)
Question 30 What are your views on these preliminary suggestions on the future form of the treasure process? What is more important to the broadly-understood archaeological heritage is not the “long-term sustainability of the treasure process” but – of course - the long-term sustainability of the accessible parts of the archaeological record in the face of increasing and continuous Collection Driven Exploitation of a large part of it, continued tolerance of which goes right against the principles of the Valletta Convention. If it is unsustainably exploited away, the problem with the Treasure process” will disappear, along with a substantial part of the archaeological knowledge lost every time a metal detectorist removes something from an archaeological assemblage or pattern.
As for the three suggestions:
“The introduction of a process similar to that in Scotland, whereby all archaeological objects become the property of the Crown” Such a provision will no doubt be opposed by all so-called “responsible” artefact hunters and collectors.

My Comments on 'Revising the definition of treasure in the Treasure Act 1996 and revising the related codes of practice'

Here are the responses I sent in reply to the 2019 Treasure Act Review consultation document (Revising the definition of treasure in the Treasure Act 1996 and revising the related codes of practice):

Question 1 Do you agree that introducing a time limit for an expression of interest would help to speed up the treasure process?
Is that the most important thing? In the interests of a systematic and balanced approach to protecting the broader archaeological heritage, taking reasoned decisions within national and regional frameworks seems to me more important. It seems to me that 28 days might be too short a time as for example in the case of a museum that gets several ‘offers’ from the FLO at intervals of a few weeks in some seasons (really? Why not at least in association with the Coroner?). Decisions on such purchases may involve convening a board of trustees or governors and it would be more convenient for them to discuss several matters concurrently and not meet every time a detectorist finds something.

Question 2 What do you think would be the impact of asking the coroner to delay an inquest until an expression of interest is made or the 28 day time limit has expired?
Probably none if it is just a rapid rubberstamp process. If, however, the aim of the Inquest is to establish facts about the circumstances of the discovery – for example, when there is a dispute, the delay may make the facts more difficult to discover (especially if the situation then involves a court case Code E/W 50).

UK Countryside in a Mess

With 40 million fewer birds today than in 1966 (Report, 29 April), the UK is one of the most nature-deprived countries in the world. Nature is falling silent, and the impact on our environment, culture, health and happiness should not be underestimated [...] nature is in crisis. It hasn’t been prioritised in political decision-making, and now we are paying the price.
So, the historical environment is being metal detected (collected) away, and the natural environment reflects the same trend (though not through collectors, bird-egging is now illegal). But they are both the result of the same trend, government neglect and social complicity. 

Monday 29 April 2019

Consultation ends today: Revising the definition of treasure in the Treasure Act 1996 and revising the related codes of practice

A consultation on proposals which would update the Treasure Act 1996 Codes of Practice, revise the Act’s definition of treasure and commence relevant provisions in the Coroners and Justice Act 2009.
This consultation closes at 11:45pm on 30 April 2019
"We thank you for your time spent taking this survey. Your response has been recorded."
Hint for those who've not done it yet (please do), the online response form is the kind of crap you'd expect from the UK's DCMS. The text windows are too small, I could not see how to expand them to seethe text you are writing, in several cases they ask your opinion on a complex issue, and then make only a very limited number of characters available to answer it properly - the same as other questions that can be answered yes/no (do I get the feeling they just want "yes", "no" and "I don't know" as answers anyway?). I got fed up and just continued the answers to three questions in the next boxes, and in two cases just linked to this blog, probably not allowed. They probably don't read these things anyway. Write what you want to say in a word document and then cut and paste. Just a pretty unpleasant experience all in all. 

The Usual Pro-Collecting Fluffy Bunnyism in UK Governments's 2019 Treasure Act Review [UPDATED]

Nothing to see here, move on please
I was disappointed to see a DCMS-produced consultation document on the handling of portable antiquities in the UK use tendentious phrasing. On page four at the top and bottom of the Treasure Act public consultation document, the government is telling readers (unneccessarily repetetively) of the document about the 'background to the proposals in this consultation'. These are truisms well known to anyone looking at the form of the global market in portable antiquities today:
The growth of online markets means that there is more scope for unscrupulous finders to sell unreported finds  [...] The growth of online markets has given the unscrupulous finder an outlet to sell an unreported find and currently there is no sanction on someone (sic) who knowingly buys such a find.
I don't know about you, dear reader, but I see nothing controversial in those statements. Absolutely nothing at all, that is what is happening, it is why the market in illicit and otherwise dodgy artefacts is thriviong, in the UK, USA, Germany and just about everywhere where greedy people have a disposable income. The growth of these markets increases the scope for such activity (nobody would deny that) and (also undeniably) provides an outlet for it. So, what the UK needs to do is to find a way to curb it. That's easier said than done, but that does not means we should shrug shoulders and dismiss the importance of trying. But that's just what Her Majesty's increasingly rather pathetic Government does here. Look at what they actually wrote:
The growth of online markets means that there is more scope for a small minority of unscrupulous finders to sell unreported finds.[...] The growth of online markets has given the rare unscrupulous finder an outlet to sell an unreported find and currently there is no sanction on someone (sic) who knowingly buys such a find.
On page 37 we find more of the same:
Since coming into force, the internet and online markets have changed the environment in which the Act operates. Now it is possible for the rare unscrupulous finder to sell undeclared objects (in other words, objects which have not been reported as possible treasure) without being asked to prove a legal provenance to the buyer.
Four things here. First, the Internet trading of antiquities began around 1995, so was already in progress when the Treasure Act was written and came into force. The fact that dealers and buyers do not ask for provenance has nothing whatsoever to do with the Internet. Thirdly, not provenance is meant, but collecting history. Fourthly, this text seems to think only finders sell finds, with a little bit of experience researching the market, one feels that dealers do also tend to be involved a little bit...

Who writes this nonsense? Whatever, Michael Ellis MP (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Arts, Heritage and Tourism and MP in Sekhemet-sale land) puts his name under this. Whence the assurance that unscrupulous dealings in cultural property are such a rarity in the UK. Has Minister Ellis actually been in any London antiquities dealerships? Has he seen what happens in the 'Antiquities' section of eBay.uk and on Facebook? If he has, why on earth is this problem being so facily dismissed? Bonkers.

UPDATE 29th April 2019
Heritage Action get the point
 Small? Rare? The DCMS knows nothing about it, they rely on advice. Who advised them to put “small” and “rare”? It has to be PAS, surely? Why are we paying that quango to constantly paper over the truth?


Mega-Bonkers from Bloomsbury

In the 2019 Treasure act review:

Section J Rewards (Following Paragraph 81 E/W Code, Paragraph 70 NI Code)
74. Paragraph 81 of the E/W Code and Paragraph 70 of the NI Code states that archaeologists and those engaged on an archaeological excavationon or investigation are not eligible for a reward when a find is declared treasure and acquired by a museum. The Codes state that where there is any doubt the TVC decide when a finder is an archaeologist or a person engaged on an archaeological excavation or investigaon.
Why? The UK has a Chartered Institute for Archaeologists, let them be the arbiter in cases where there are any doubts, on the basis of the project documentation (this would also provide a check on the professional standards of Treasure-mitigation investigations).
75. That doubt can arise where a finder takes part in archaeological activity following their find, as encouraged in the E/W Code. A finder would not be eligible for a reward on any further finds that they made during that activity. We foresee that this could lead to misunderstandings and undermine good relations between finders and archaeologists. 
Really? Surely that's what 'embedding metal detecting in professional practice' is all about.

76. In order to avoid misunderstanding we consider that it would be helpful to have definions of an archaeologist and of those engaged in archaeological excavaon or invesgaon in the Codes. This would mean that there would be clear guidance available to finders, archaeologists, museums and the TVC. 
Or whoever is doing that assessment, I would argue that it should not be the TVC, whose expertise should be focussed on one area only.

77. We propose to add the following definitions, provided by the British Museum, to the Code at the present paragraph 81 and 70. We believe that they would provide clarity and help to avoid any misunderstanding about the eligibility for a reward of those involved in archaeological activity.
● Archaeologist: A professional, student, volunteer or amateur engaged on a planned study of the landscape where the primary goal is to understand past activity through an assessment of all traces of human activity
● Archaeological excavation or investigation: A planned study of the landscape that aims to record all traces of human activity thereon. It can be conducted by professional units, educational institutions or socities
Question 13 Do you consider that the proposed definitions of archaeologist and archaeological excavation or investigation are accurate?
Question 14 Do you see any disadvantages in having these definitions in the Code? 
Oh wow...  No, these are neither accurate definitions of 'an archaeologist', and are next to no use in the particular situation described here. So, yeah, pretty disadvantageous adding junk definitions to the Code. Who writes this nonsense?

Why this is important is not so long ago, the British Museum was referring to all 'finders' as 'citizen archaeologists' - why? because they dig up old stuff, trying to understand past activity in a landscape  through digging up old things. What is meant here by "assessment"? What is meant here, in terms of a small trial trench dug around a hoard findspot of "all traces of human activity" (again, a FINDS-based definition. A metal detectorist sweeping a test pit an spoil heaps is not doing any "assessment", that's the task of the trench supervisor and director. Neither is a trial pit around a hoard any kind of 'study of the landscape that aims to record all traces of human activity thereon'. The Staffordshie hoard excavation for example, was a pretty feeble attempt to understand that landscape.  And what about situations like Lenborough where an archaeologist 'directed' what happened to that hoard site, but the hole dug (with a paint stripper and carrier bag) cannot be called archaeiology. Did the arkie share the Treasure reward with the tekkies?

Sunday 28 April 2019

Weapons of Mass Cultural Destruction: Facebook and Metal Detectors

The amenability of Facebook or the anonymising and handling of illicit antiquities sales has been widely discussed recently, especially concerning antiquities from foreign conflict zones (see mention of recent conference here). This nasty process also takes place in Britain, where local pilferers of the past, knowledge thieves and other culture criminals make use of it too. Farmer Silas Brown writing on Heritage Action's Heritage Journal  has recently spotted something disturbing: 
see this group of greedy, archaeo-posing clowns with 3,887 members … Metal Detecting Finds Auction Club”  “This is a group for people to auction metal detecting finds responsibly.” “Respect everyone’s privacy. What’s shared in the group should stay in the group”. Every single one of their many thousands of finds is YOURS, dear colleagues – or the country’s! What did they tell YOU when they asked for permission?
In what way is selling metal detecting finds made 'responsible' anyway? This ios one whole asopect of the hobby omitted from the Code of Practice for Responsible Artefact Hunting in England and Wales, even after 'revision'. 

Certainly, no confidence at all in that innate sense of responsibility is roused by What’s shared in the group should stay in the group because unethical activity cannot be simply dismissed as a 'privacy' issue. 

See:  Siva Vaidhyanathan, 'Regulating Facebook will be one of the greatest challenges in human history' The Guardian Sun 28 Apr 2019
Regulators are trying to address Facebook as if it’s like companies they have encountered before. But Facebook presents radically new challenges. [...] Each of these regulatory measures hope to address one negative consequence of Facebook at a time. No one, it seems, is prepared to consider Facebook (and its other global services, WhatsApp and Instagram) in its totality. It’s as if governments around the world are addressing individual weather systems as they hit and do harm. But no one is considering the dangers of climate change. [...] Facebook is such a powerful and pervasive global system that confronting it demands radical new thought. It reaches more than 2.3 billion people, and that means more than 2.3 billion people regularly post videos, photos, and text to Facebook. They do so in more than 110 languages. The very idea that Facebook can police itself is absurd. Beyond scale, Facebook operates across most of the world without serious competition for advertisements or attention. Among the five social media platforms with more than one billion users, four of them (Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram) are owned by Facebook. The fifth, WeChat, operates primarily in China, where Facebook does not. The only platform that competes for attention with Facebook at that scale is YouTube (owned by Google), with about 2 billion viewers. But it performs different functions in our lives.
And metal detectorists use both to promote their hobby and to inflict damage on the cultural heritage.

Eleven Years of of Inaction on UK No-Questions-Asked Trade in Portable Antiquities

Oxford Archaeology 2008 Nighthawks and nighthawking report recommendation (p. 110, points 11.1.10-12):
'Implement changes recently introduced in Europe which increase the obligation on sellers of antiquities to provide provenances and establish legal title',  Nighthawking is carried out primarily for monetary gain and eliminating the market for illegal antiquities is essential in tackling the problem. At present there is no obligation to report potential Treasure items unless you are the finder, this needs to be addressed in the Coroners Bill. Stronger arrangements are in place for other European countries, eg on providing provenance for finds when selling them which could usefully be adopted here (Appendix 14). These actions would make it more difficult to sell illegally acquired objects. The PAS will promote these issues
what has been done eleven years on? What has changed in real terms? People involved with freshly-dug and other portable antiquities (dealers, buyers, collectors, FLOs etc.) are happy handling and storing on their premises artefacts (portable antiquities)  when the person that has handed them on to them have not in any way documented legal title. The PAS and museum world at least should be setting an explicit example. Far from 'promoting these issues', FLOs routinely accept finds for recording with only word-of-mouth assurances from the finder that they have title to it, there are generally no documents on file confirming that an object included on the database has indeed established title.

Saturday 27 April 2019

Collectors' Corner: Why No Paperwork?

This is quite a shocking piece - given its description. This is being sold by dealer 'theancienttimes ' (148 who is based in Lowestoft, UK:
Seller assumes all responsibility for this listing. ANCIENT GREEK TILE FRAGMENT DEPICTING THE PHILOSOPHER ARISTOTLE CIRCA 300-200BCE Aristotle was a philosopher during the Classical period in Ancient Greece, the founder of the Lyceum and the Peripatetic school of philosophy and Aristotelian tradition. Along with his teacher Plato, he is considered the "Father of Western Philosophy" APPROXIMATE SIZE AND WEIGHT: 110 X 71 X 8 MM 94 Grams [...] RETURN POLICY: We offer a 30 day return policy. A FULL refund is offered if you are not satisfied with your purchase, so please don't hesitate to bid. Items MUST be returned within 30 days and MUST be returned in the same condition they were sent. We use a lot of protective packaging so please use this if you are returning an item. damaged/cleaned/items altered in any way will not be accepted for return. PROVENANCE: All items are acquired from legitimate sources such as established galleries, International coin fairs and old British and European collections. The Authenticity of our items is guaranteed! If you have any further questions, please feel free to send a message!
Note, there is no mention upfront of any documentation concerning its collection history. Probably it says "Aristotle, souvenir of Persepolis" on the back and the seller forgot to mention that. Caveat emptor, they are out to get your money and then don't care how in the antiquities market.

UPDATE it sold for GBP 46.50 (approx $61.00) with as many as 18 bids  - which shows that in the world of 'portable antiquities collecting, there is one born every minute.

Friday 26 April 2019

"How to Metal Detect Properly"

Digger Dawn, 'Beginners Guide to Metal Detecting - Correct Swing Technique will improve your finds'

Posted on You Tube by Digger Dawn on 18 Feb 2018

So, not like this then:


Dealers in the UK See Conservationists as an "Other"

Tweet from the The Antiquities Trafficking and Heritage Anthropology Research (ATHAR) Project [which investigates the digital underworld of antiquities trafficking on Facebook]:
Dealers in the U.K. employ “us vs them” mentality regarding archaeological “extremists” (that would be us) who condemn illicit collecting and say that claims of looted material on market are “exaggerated”... despite ample evidence from scholars across the globe. #KulturKrim

"The Expertise of Experienced Artefact Hunters on Archaeological Projects"?

According to the Facebook page of the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists (CIfA) - 'the leading professional body for archaeologists in the UK and abroad' - the non-existent Institute of Detectorists has won an award:
The Institute for Decectorists (sic) has been awarded the ATF Award 2019. The new Institute is working to change minsets (sic) among detectorists, away from personal gain and towards standards and care for the past! #CIfA2019
That's rather interesting phrasing, given that detector using artefact hunters and our archaeological colleagues at the Portable Antiquities Scheme have been denying for two decades that the aim of Collection-Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record is anything else. They say they're 'not in it fer the munny', they all responsibly apply 'best practice' and they all 'care for the past'.  So why give a one-man-show "institute"  an award for 'working' to achieve what everybody assures us has already been achieved in the artefact hunting community? And if the CIfA does not believe that twenty years of PAS outreach was enough to achieve these three aims, then let it say so, loud and clear - on behalf of 'archaeologists in the UK and abroad' as their wannabe representative body.

The award announced
Let's have a look at that award, it was issued by the Archaeology Training Forum for (it says here) a Continuing Professional Development course on 'metal detecting for archaeological projects - an introduction'.  I suspect this refers to the November 2018 Oxford University Department of Continuing Education meeting 'The use of Metal Detectors in Archaeological Projects'. See also here.

The ATF is, it says: 'a delegate body which represents all those organisations which have an interest in the issues of training and career development in archaeology. It was constituted in 1998 to review the provision of training in archaeology and to co-ordinate future strategies to meet the profession’s training needs'. Is the use of a metal-detecting machine in fact one of the strategic aims of the development of professional archaeology in Britain? There are no bodies connected with artefact hunting or the collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record listed as Members of the Forum and I do not see why machine-aided artefact hunting is seen as any kind of 'archaeological training'. Maybe the CIfA and ATF can explain that. Was anybody representing the ATF or CIfA observing at the Rowley House session in November 2018? On what basis was this award given?

Of course the FLOs are excited, one of their own got an award. Here's one, ecstatically fawning:
A hearty congratulations to the Institute of Detectorists on winning the prestigious Archaeology Training Forum Award at the CiFA conference. Keith Wescott is doing great work there, improving standards, educating, and aiming to bring detectorists into professional practice.
'Doing great work' at the CIfA Conference, improving standards, educating, and aiming to bring detectorists into professional practice. Presumably he's referring to a CIfA session on this issue ('learn how to about how to integrate detectorists into your professional archaeological practice in this #CIfA2019 session!'). As Mike Parker however notes:
Mike Parker "utilising the expertise of experienced detectorists on archaeological projects"!!! You mean swing low, swing slow, walk in a straight line as directed and put a marker in when there's a beep? An archaeo student, an amateur archaeologist, and indeed an interested passing dog walker (or well-programmed drone) could do that after 10 seconds training. The idea that detectorists have an expertise to bring to the table is a fallacy. Recognising what to dig and what not to dig because it's "trash" is not an expertise that should be utilised in archaeology. That's for selective exploitation for personal gain, not science. That's the big difference between the two activities. The term "bringing expertise" is silly unless applied to an archaeological project on an entirely different planet.

The course participants
This is what the course did that is thought by the ATF to be so valuable as Continuing Professional Development for archaeologists:
We will evaluate how ‘stratigraphy’ and ‘context’ relates the ‘Code of Practice’ through to an understanding of archaeological investigation and recording in the planning process. We look at typical documents such as method statements and the Written Scheme of Investigation, to what will be required and expected of the detectorist when on site and further preparation and reporting for pre and post site attendance. This introductory course will cover specific survey methodologies such as PDAS: Partial and Detailed Artefact Surveys  [...] Programme details: Held in association with 'The Association of Detectorists'
9.30am Registration
9.45am Welcome and Introduction
Raising the profile of the ‘Consultant Practitioner’
Building the archaeologist/detectorist relationship

The ‘Code of Practice’ and ‘Treasure Act’

What do detectorists want in return?

11.00am Coffee / tea
11.30am Archaeological methods: the detectorists prospective.
Stratigraphy and the matrix
Recording and context

Trial trenching and evaluation

Working with the Project Manager  
12.45pm Lunch
2.00pm The role of the detectorist practitioner
Responsibilities and what is expected?Typical documents and the detectorists submittal
Health and safety and certification schemes

Discussions on forward development

3.15pm Tea / coffee
3.45pm Methodology and the detectorist.
Site evaluation and custom settings
The need for standardised methodologies

PDAS: Partial and Detailed Artefact Survey

The detectorists check-list

5.00pm Course disperses

Thursday 25 April 2019

Stockholm Antiquities Trafficking and Forgery Workshops 2019

Workshop today and tomorrow: 'Investigating and Policing Antiquities Trafficking and Forgery in a Digital Age (Stockholm, Sweden, 25th-26th April 2019)'
Preliminary program of the first workshop

Day 1 – April 25th 2019
8:00: Registration and welcome coffee
8:30: Panel 1: Digital Perspectives
Duncan Chappell: Pursuing traffickers and forgers in a digital environment: Some contemporary portraits from the Asia Pacific region.
Shawn Graham: Teaching machines to see like archaeologists: Neural networks to investigate the antiquities trade.
10:00: Coffee break.
Katie Paul: Sleuthing social media: Uncovering antiquities trafficking networks on Facebook.
Samuel Hardy: Metal-detectorists, ‘even from Sweden’, in Turkey, Greece and Cyprus: Online social organisation of treasure-hunting in the Eastern Mediterranean.
11:50: Discussion and audience questions
12:30: Lunch
14:00: Panel 2: Field Perspectives
David Keller: Online market surveillance, interception, and repatriation of cultural property imported into the United States.
Cameron Walter: The gatekeepers: Global customs and law enforcement cooperation in the fight against cultural heritage trafficking.
15:30: Coffee break.
Kenneth Jonsson: The Gandarve hoard: How plundering night hawks were caught on Gotland.
Damien Huffer: Taphonomy, trafficking, and the forgery of ethnographic human remains.
17:30: Discussion and audience questions
18:00: Conference dinner
Day 2 – April 26th, 2019
9:00: Panel 3: Legal Perspectives
Lauren Dundler: “Still covered in sand.looked very old.” – Legal obligations in the internet market for antiquities.
Frida Larsdotter Lundgren: Risk object database: What can be gained from international data?
10:30: Coffee break.
Jostein Gundersen: Illicit trade in archaeological objects in Norway from a management point of view.
Lars Korsell: Cultural heritage crime from a Swedish perspective.
12:30: Discussion and audience questions
13:00: Lunch
Funding generously provided by the Joint Committee for Nordic Research Councils in the Humanities and Social Sciences and the Fritz Thyssen Stiftung.
14:00: Panel 4 – Public Perspectives
VJ Kumar Sundaresan: The idol thief: How we caught the largest art smuggler in Asia.
Michaela Boland: Maintain the pressure: What happens when the spotlight moves on?
15:30: Coffee break.
16:00: Panel 5 – Open delegate discussion and data sharing
17:00: Closing remarks (Damien Huffer and co-hosts).

Wednesday 24 April 2019

PAS Conference: "The Future has Passed"

"Disc-on-pin buckles..."

Blind to the Problems
The PAS seem each year more and more rudderless after the departure of Roger Bland. Their latest offering is a public 'conference' (another fluffy pep talk, in fact) on The Future is PASt: Celebrating finds recording in the local community
Join us to celebrate the work of the PASt Explorers project with a series of talks looking at what the project has achieved, how this work is being used to inform our knowledge of the past, and the vast potential for future projects. The conference will be followed by a drinks reception with stand-up comedy from Paul Duncan McGarrity, the man behind the brilliant Ask An Archaeologist podcast series. The event is fully catered so please inform us of any special dietary requirements.
So, food and entertainment guaranteed, and archaeological content? This is a 'celebration' of a form of funding of the PAS that is now coming to an end (The PASt Explorers project ends in December 2019), and instead of a series of talks looking at what the project has 'achieved' (for the sort of thing they will present see the programme for the 2018 one, 'the Bigger Picture'), the only bigger picture that matters would be presenting in detail at a national and public forum what happens to the Scheme after that. What will it limp on to next?

Through its consistent failure to actively promote a firm conservation-based message on the spread of Collection-Driven Exploitation of the archaeological record, the PAS has allowed itself to be forced into the position of a pennant-in-the-wind organization with no clear objectives (except to hang on). Instead of seizing a position from which to determine its future, we see it become a sad shadow of what it once could have been. The question now is, what comes after it? What are its longterm 'achievements'? If the Scheme were to collapse in (say) 2022, what will be seen as its legacy? That is a serious question.

Brandolini's law and Collection-Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record

Crap that people believe
The 'Bullshit asymmetry principle' (otherwise Brandolini's Law) was first publicly formulated in January 2013 by Alberto Brandolini, an Italian programmer. This states that The amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it. This has been subsequently referred to as the thermodynamics of bullshit, this means that it takes much more effort to refute a claim than to make it, hence the entropy of guff, bullshit or lies increases. It takes no effort to say metal detecting is helping archaeology. But the amount of energy required to refute superficial, glib statements like that is an order of magnitude larger than required to create it.  A similar concept, the "mountain of shit theory" (Teoria della montagna di merda), was formulated by the Italian blogger Uriel Fanelli in 2010, roughly stating the same concept. The point is that we can save ourselves the effort of putting opinions like that into their proper context, and just ignore the issues. Most British archaeologists do when it comes to 'metal detecting' (which in itself is a lazy euphemism for collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record). But as Phil Williamson argues in contrast to the defeatism that colleagues exhibit, we need to 'Take the time and effort to correct misinformation' (6 December 2016) academics should challenge online falsehoods and inaccuracies — and harness the collective power of the Internet to fight back. Of course that actually involves first thinking about them. Apparently a painful experience for some when the mere prospect of trying to reason with an artefact hunter appears.

2019 Treasure Act Public Consultation: Northern Ireland

Readers of this blog will know that, when it comes to artefact hunting and collecting in the UK, I am mainly concerned about the situation in England and Wales and the workings of the Portable Antiquities Scheme as a means of mitigating (or not) loss of archaeological information through artefact hunting and collecting. The situation in Northern Ireland is even less easy to get hold of information on, I get the feeling that it does not really 'work' all that well either.  So I am not going to discuss this in any detail here today. But if I was an archaeologist working in or personally concerned about these issues (I must admit, I've not come across any NI archaeobloggers) I'd be pretty miffed about the marginal way the region has been treated in this consultation. Surely the way forward here would have been not to attempt to wedge it into a document that seems to be PAS-focussed, but give the region its own consultation document. Perhaps Brexit sensitivities are a reason why this was not attempted?  As the introduction states:
In Northern Ireland, the Historic Monuments and Archaeological Objects (NI) Order 1995 prohibits searching for archaeological objects without the permission of the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland and there is also a different administrative process.
But then the text skips on to two pages on 'The Portable Antiquities Scheme in England and Wales', 'The Treasure Secretariat at the British Museum', 'The treasure process [in England and Wales]', and then the next two pages are England an Wales focussed, before we learn (p. 5)' Culture is a devolved responsibility, however the Secretary of State is responsible for the Act in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. There are differences between the nations, based on the different legal frameworks for treasure and on the volume of finds found. We hope to have responses from interested parties that will reflect the variety of experiences'. Again, we learn that ' Northern Ireland has its own Code to reflect its different regulations on archaeological digging' (p.6 and p. 12) but then on p 15, the reference to where it can be accessed is omitted from the published text (!).

Tuesday 23 April 2019

British Treasure Act Public Consultation ends in a Week

Reminder: The consultation period for the proposals for Revising the definition of treasure in the Treasure Act 1996 and revising the related codes of practice ends  at 11.45pm on 30 April 2019. make your voice heard, as the 'metal detectorists' and coin collectors certainly are.

Vignette: Larry says, do it for the sake of your heritage

Fake Artefacts Stop US Museum Show [updated]

      Behind a retro-neo-classical façade,   
echoes of an imaginary past.    
It seems that an exhibition was going to be held at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, Iowa USA, that was going to contain a replica of the Rosetta Stone and some genuine Egyptian and Mesopotamian artefacts (I presume proudly loaned by some unnamed private collector[s]). Unfortunately, just three days before it opened, it was cancelled (Aaron Scheinblum, 'Experts: Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum was 'scammed', ABC News Apr. 20, 2019). The reason for that was that many of the artefacts turned out to be fake:
When local experts from the University of Iowa reviewed those items, they were concerned by what they found. "It was clear to me that what we were dealing with were forgeries rather than authentic items," said Dr. Björn Anderson, an Associate Professor and the Director of Graduate Studies for the University of Iowa's School of Art and Art History.[...] The sudden cancellation came after experts from the University of Iowa came to prepare a presentation of the items on display. Dr. Anderson and a graduate student, Erin Daly, were preparing a series of papers to present on their research of the artifacts. What they found, was "concerning," in their words. "In the course of looking at them, Erin especially, confided in me as we were leaving, that the seals in particular just didn't quite mesh with what she knew and expected from her experience," Dr. Anderson said. "They seemed too big and carved in a very strange manner with sort of odd references to some of the iconography that I'm very familiar with," Daly said, who has experience with Ancient Near Eastern seals. In a report to the museum obtained by TV9, Dr. Anderson found that 90 of the 125 objects in the collection are "either definite or very likely fakes."
Prof Andersen suggested that the Museum was either misled by the unnamed exhibitor (if they knew the objects were fake) or the exhibitor had been misled (defrauded) by "the gallery that was selling him fraudulent material". Or galleries I suppose. There are huge numbers of fake artefacts on the global antiquities market.
Interestingly, the announcements of the upcoming exhibition seem to have been scrubbed from the Internet - presumably to avoid embarrassing the collector. There is however another dimension to this, when that collector attempts to sell off these artefacts, the buyers are prevented from finding out by researching the internet that some experts have claimed that among 125 artefacts examined, 90 were deemed fakes or probable fakes. Therefore the collector if so-minded only needs to offer the material for sale somewhere and wait for some gullible buyers to splash out and buy them as "cool genuine ancient artifacts". And so it goes on.

UPDATE 25th April 2019 
New details are now emerging about this case, it turns out that it was not a collector (Gregory R. Norfleet, 'Hoover exhibit canceled over questionable artifacts'. West Branch Times April 25, 2019)
The company that owns the exhibit is the Origins Museum Institute. The institute’s Marty Martin said he purchased the items about 20 years ago and did not know the items were forgeries. “It’s a horrible situation,” Martin said. “We had been assured they were authentic pieces and paid handsomely for them.” Anderson’s letter states that many, if not all, of the items appear to be from Sadigh Gallery of New York. Martin stated that he purchased the items from Sadigh Gallery. Michael Sadigh said he has run the Sadigh Gallery for more than 15 years but it would be difficult for him to speak to an antiquities sale that long ago. “I don’t know anything about this,” Sadigh said. “I wasn’t here 20 years ago. They purchased it 20 years ago and somebody now says they’re not real? I don’t know what to say.” [...] Martin said he does not have the “authority or expertise” to authenticate the items in the Rosetta Stone exhibit, and that he made that clear to the Hoover Museum, and trusted that they were authentic because the seller stated so. “I didn’t mislead them about giving guarantees,” Martin said. “We trusted the source we got them from. They assured us they were authentic. I do not want (the Hoover Museum) to think we tried to fool them. I was proud of owning those pieces.”
Yes you'd think an antiquities dealer would be somebody you could trust...
The Hoover Museum arranged the exhibit, but the Hoover Presidential Foundation provided the funding. Foundation President Jerry Fleagle said he supports Schwartz’s decision to cancel and the Foundation wants a refund from Origins Museum.[...] Fleagle said the Foundation put up half of the cost for the exhibit a year and a half ago when it booked the date and paid the second half when the items arrived at the museum. He declined to share the amount paid, but said it was “not as expensive as others, but not a small amount, either.” “It will take some time to get our money back,” he said. “I’d rather do it friendly and not use legal action.”
Martin agreed that the Hoover Museum should cancel his company’s exhibit based on their findings. “This is a terrible calamity for us,” Martin said. “My sympathies go with the people who took them in good faith. I’ve been in communication with the gallery, and they deny the questioning of the authenticity.”
Sadigh said he did not remember receiving a call from Martin regarding the Rosetta Stone exhibit. “I talk to hundreds of people a day here,” he said. “I will have to do some research.” Martin said he will seek reparations from Sadigh, which he hopes to use to reimburse the Foundation. Sadigh said he does not want any bad publicity for his gallery and considered a news article based on someone’s verbal statement regarding his company “not proper.” “I’m trying to help you as much as I can,” he told the Times. “I don’t like to get wrong or bad publicity. … I do not want to be accused.” Fleagle noted that legal action is not out of the question and that many of the Foundation board of trustees are themselves lawyers.
According to his Linkedin page, Marty Martin is "CEO at Origins Museum Institute, Collections Curator, Playwright, and Instructor at University of Texas at El Paso":
CEO Origins Museum Institute 1988 – Present The Origins Museum Institute creates and maintains several popular science exhibitions on the subjects of Paleontology, Archaeology, Cosmology, Anthropology, Egyptology, and Cultural Lore which tour museums and discovery centers throughout the world. As CEO and Curator of Collections, I engage with museums and install the various collections for temporary exhibition.
Here's the website: the Origins Museum Institute. And here's where I do not understand:
For over 3 decades the Origins Museum Institute has been providing museums throughout the world and the communities they serve with the wonders of the past, magnificently recreated by the most skilled hands from the foremost preparation labs of the great museums to the studios of Egypt’s Pharaonic Village and the jewelry workshops of St Petersburg. Seen by millions of delighted visitors, these revered exhibitions bring the treasures of the world’s finest institutions to those who might not have a chance to experience them otherwise.
The king Tutanhkhamun exhibit for example, visible here on a You Tube video... (catalogue here). In the video, you can't see these replicas close-to, but from a distance many look perfectly presentable as copies - as it seems clear is precisely what they are being displayed as. Some of them are a little (and a minority very) off, but again, if they are being presented as simulacra, then OK, the viewer might be inspired to look up the real ones in a book. I think the exhibit as shown is a little cramped and text-heavy.

If the Institute does not get rid of the fakes, I propose a really interesting exhibit could be put together under a fresh title: "American Artefact Collecting and Visions of the Past" and could even be quite  informative by looking at how the US interacts with the past(s) of the Old World, the significance of that past (those pasts) and how that significance is manifest (including in artefact collection).

Sunday 21 April 2019

More than 30 000 ancient artefacts seized in crime bust to be returned to Bulgaria from Spain

More than 30 000 illegally exported ancient artefacts seized in a bust of an organised crime group in Spain and Bulgaria are to be returned to Bulgaria, the Prosecutor’s Office said on April 18 (Sofia Globe 'More than 30 000 ancient artefacts seized in crime bust to be returned to Bulgaria from Spain', April 18, 2019).
The items were seized in a joint Operation Serdika by Bulgaria’s Special Prosecutor’s Office, the anti-organised crime squad, national police and the Spanish police and judicial authorities, the statement said. The operation was carried out in October 2018, with the support of Europol and Eurojust, against a cross- border trafficking network trading goods on the illegal market. The joint investigation was into 16 Bulgarian citizens, eight of whom were currently in custody in the city of Torrent in Valencia. The evidence gathered showed that the group had been in operation since January 2016, initially buying artefacts from treasure hunters and antique dealers in Bulgaria. The group subsequently organised transporting the goods to Spain. The antique items were offered for sale via Ebay using fake profiles. During the joint operation, a total of 30 600 artefacts, about 600 of them in Bulgaria, were found and seized , including Greek and Roman pottery, helmets, funeral urns, arrows, coins, and 180 000 euro in cash. The results of the expert assessments to date indicate that these are authentic cultural and historical valuables originating in Bulgaria, which according to international agreements must be returned to the country after the trial of the group members. If the artifacts include counterfeits offered to customers as originals, they will also be charged with fraud. At a co-ordination meeting of investigators held on April 11 2019 at Eurojust headquarters in The Hague, it was agreed that the trial would be in Spain, where most of the suspects were held. Evidence gathered in Bulgaria will be provided to the Spanish judicial authorities and included in the pre-trial proceedings.

Saturday 20 April 2019

Suffolk Artefact Hunter Imagines a Variant Prehistory

Another UK 'citizen archaeologist' has some of his collection on sale on eBay. The biggest item offered by trea-9787 (1 ) from Woodbridge, United Kingdom is a HUGE! Palaeolithic flint hand axe/tool. (UK) bifaced, sharpened hand axe/chopper for only GBP 79.99 Approximately US $104.06. The description reads:
Hefty, flint-struck Palaeolithic hand axe/chopper (East Anglia, UK). Worked flint, sharp edged, just lovely. Beautifully balanced ancient hand axe/chopper. length: 160mm, width: 100mm, weight: 600g approx.
The photo gives a pretty good idea of this individual's personal hygiene and also reveals that what he sees as a tool is a frost-cracked flint nodule. Just a stone. He's got another cracked natural flint nodule for sale too:
HIGHLY UNUSUAL left-handed Early paleolithic flint hand axe (UK). Worked flint, sharp edged, just lovely. This ancient tool has surely been made for use by a left-handed person. I discovered this when I first picked it up; being left-handed, my fingers sit in the grooves perfectly. Beautifully balanced Palaeolithic cordate hand axe. length: 180mm, width (widest point): 130mm, tapering to 70mm. weight: 650g approx.
And its just a stone and any 'grooves' are natural. Whether or not it sits comfortably in his grubby hand, it is not a palaeolithic tool.

The same seller is offering NEOLITHIC TOOLS! Beautiful collection of scrapers/cutters for GBP 15.00 Approximately US $19.51
Item specifics Colour: Various, Material: Stone/Flint, Type: Tools, AMAZING NEOLITHIC HAND TOOLS STONE AGE/PREHISTORIC TOOLS. Beautiful hand-worked scrapers and cutters from Paleolithic/Neolithic Period. Found within 10 miles of Sutton Hoo burial grounds.

UK Heritage Pocketer Strips Grassland site

Four years after finding a new hobby, Gareth Millward was about to experience the same rush felt by many explorers and metal detectorists before him - the discovery of "treasure". As a result, the British public get subjected to yet another unreflective puff-piece totally ignoring whole aspects of Collection-Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record, including the fact that the artefact hunter was searching undisturbed pasture ('What is it like to strike rich while metal detecting?' - BBC News 20th April 2019). Indeed, the photo showing him triumphantly displaying his trophy shows not only pasture, but what look like earthworks. What a shame an opportunity was missed to highlight this aspect of irresponsible use of a metal detector and private finders just pocketing the archaeological evidence from the trashing of yet another site in the Collection-Driven Exploitation of the archaeological record.
Mr Millward hopes to carry on pl[under]ing the same secret plot for treasure - and it isn't the prospect of financial failure he fears. He said: "What I dread is going back and seeing every man and his dog with a metal detector in my field."
Oh, so he bought the field then?

FLO Encourages Ripping Apart Surface Sites

Some bloke found a gold coin so there's a puff-article for him from the BBC:
Alastair Willis, finds officer for Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire [...] encouraged amateur detectorists to avoid digging into unploughed fields. "If you're on ploughed land, you're not disturbing the evidence that archaeologists need to date the material," he said.
I sincerely hope he did not and was misquoted. The 'material' IS the evidence, especially in the case of a surface site. Taking it away randomly to add to a private collection destroys sites, such the Willis quote is object-centric and totally ignores the aspect of site conservation.

But what this FLO-quote fails to reveal is that the record he himself wrote (DENO C5A99E) states quite clearly: Method of discovery: Metal detector General landuse: Grassland, Heathland Specific landuse: Undisturbed grassland - so 37-year old Gareth Millward was not doing it by the book, and was flouting the Code of Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales - it is a shame the FLO is not quoted as saying so in the article. 

Vignette: Meet the FLO

When Will UK archaeologists Start telling it Like it Is?

When will UK archaeologists start telling it like it is instead of their wishful-thinking dumbdown lies?

Asking for a friend.

Friday 19 April 2019

HAL's (Indian?) Sister works for EBay, Says they Have "Dedicated Team" Scanning Antiquities Sales

A reader has sent me a copy of an exchange he had a few days back with eBay. Hougenai was annoyed by finding a lot of supposedly ancient lithics being sold on EBay by people posing as knowledgeable sellers, who in fact are either woefully ignorant, or simply charlatans. He decided to try and do something about it. He wrote to EBay Live Help:
2019 - 04 - 15 I am concerned over the number of Lithics (stone tools and implements) offered for sale via ebay that are not as they are being claimed by the vendors.
he did not have long to wait for a reply (one suspects outsourced to a SE Asian helpline):
11:04:57 UTC Pradnya   Welcome to eBay Live Help, my name is Pradnya. I would be happy to help you today.
11:05:11 UTC Pradnya   Hello Hougenai
11:05:30 UTC hougenai2011   hi Pradnya
11:06:44 UTC hougenai2011     I should be more specific. this relates to uk sales and adverts
11:07:07 UTC Pradnya  In this case I would need to connect you to our dedicated team who looks into such cases. May I go ahead and connect you to them right away?
11:07:26 UTC hougenai2011   by all means, thanks
11:07:32 UTC Pradnya    Please be connected, while I am transferring this chat to our relevant team.
11:07:42 UTC hougenai2011    ok
That took just two minutes:
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