Friday 31 May 2019

A New Museum in Lebanon Raises Questions About Archaeological Looting

The collector Jawad Adra 
The Nabu Museum in northern Lebanon, opened in September 2018, has been open for less than a year but already it has become a subject of controversy over suspicions that some of the objects in its collection may have been illegally removed from Iraq ( Abdul-Salam Subhi Taha, 'A New Museum in Lebanon Raises Questions About Archaeological Looting' al-Fanar,  31 May 2019) .
Named after the patron god of writing and wisdom in ancient Mesopotamia [...] the privately owned museum states on its website that it aims to preserve the heritage of the Levant from loss and is interested in documenting it and making it available to the public to get acquainted with the origins of their civilization. The museum’s collection includes about 2,000 artifacts that its owners have acquired since 1990 by direct purchase from auction houses, international halls (sic) and other sources.
These objects include a number of Mesopotamian clay tablets 'covering a long time span extending from the Sumerian city-states era to the Middle Babylonian period (ca. 2600 to 1100 B.C)'.
 Some 331 clay tablets have been officially documented so far, the texts of which has been deciphered and published in two stages by David Owen, a cuneiform expert at Cornell University in New York. Owen published his study in two parts, the first in 2013 in Nisaba, Studi Assiriologici Messinesi, Volume 15, in which he documented his readings and deciphering of a total of 144 tablets. The second phase, with a total of 187 tablets, was published in a separate study with Bertrand Lafont titled “From Mesopotamia to Lebanon: The Jawad Adra Cuneiform Collection in the Nabu Museum, El-Heri, Lebanon,” available from the Penn State University Press.
The problem is that Owen and Lafont’s study have shown that the museum’s collection includes about 100 clay tablets that came from the archaeological site called Iri-Sagrig, in the central part of Iraq, which has not been officially excavated so far and which has been discussed on this blog already a number of times. As the article says:
This raises many questions about how the museum obtained these pieces, including whether they are linked to a much bigger collection that was seized in the United States in 2017 and later returned to Iraq. That case involved thousands of ancient artifacts that the Hobby Lobby craft store chain purchased for its Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., and which the U.S. Department of Justice determined had been smuggled out of Iraq. [...] Some of the items have suffered damage caused by poor storage and handling, which reflects the ignorance of thieves and smugglers. 
It is fairly clear from what we know of the way that these tablets entered the market, that the clay tablets from Iri-Sagrig have been illegally excavated and smuggled out of Iraq, and thus acquired illegally in the wake of the looting that broke out after international sanctions were imposed on Iraq in the 1990s. This may well apply to other  tablets in the Nabu Museum too.
So far, the Nabu Museum’s owners have declined to respond to any queries for clarification about the source of some of their artifacts. It was later learned that some pieces had been removed the public display in an apparent attempt to circumvent any questions about their provenance.
There are also other questions about the collecting history and origins of some other objects in this collection.

Thursday 30 May 2019

Detectorist Reportedly Defrauds Archaeological Organization of £11k

"you are an ambassador for our hobby.
Do nothing that might give it a bad name". NCMD Code of Conduct

NCMD representative in a field
According to Tom Mack of the Leicestershire Mercury, John Maloney the treasurer of an archaeology group stole more than £11,000 from his fellow members to help his family. He admitted in court that between 2012 and 2016 he 'systematically milked' the bank account of Leicestershire Fieldworkers by writing a string of six cheques to himself about once a year ('Man stole £11k from Leicestershire archaeology group to help ill family' Leicestershire Mercury, 30 May 2019). The crime was spotted in December 2016, and the thief was given the chance to repay the money, but was unable to.
When the group went to the police, Maloney was let off with a caution on the understanding he would pay the money back. But again he failed to do so. On Tuesday, the 54-year-old appeared at Leicester Crown Court for sentencing, having pleaded guilty to fraud, where a judge gave him a suspended jail sentence on the understanding he would pay back the outstanding money. The court heard that since he was charged, Maloney had successfully paid back more than £6,000 but about £4,000 was still outstanding [...] Andrew Howarth, representing Maloney, said his client worked as an administrator for the NHS and was not well paid. [...] He said his client was selling his coin collection to pay money back to the group and could also promise to pay £200 a month until the outstanding cash was repaid. Judge Timothy Spencer said he would accept the repayment plan but warned Maloney, of Hilders Road, Western Park, Leicester, he had to stick to it. He said: “You had an interest in archaeology, metal detecting and that sort of thing and then you turned to crime. “It was systematic milking of an account you were trusted to look after [...] the way to provide for family members is not to steal from others.” He gave Maloney an eight-month jail sentence, suspended for 12 months.
Maloney has promised to pay £200 a month to make good the outstanding debt - so the Leicestershire Fieldworkers will have their stolen money back only in January 2021.

This is a cautionary tale concerning the so-called 'partnership' between archaeologists and artefact hunters (unreflexively called 'citizen archaeologists' by some). Here we see an example of that partnership in action. Despite being known to be a metal detectorist [an individual whose hobby includes enriching himself through the acquisition of collectables through Collection-Driven Exploitation of  the archaeological record], this archaeological group naively entrusted oversight of their funds to Mr Maloney. Personally, my own experience inclines me to not trust any 'metal detectorist' with anything - but the Leicestershire Fieldworkers gave him the benefit of the doubt and he abused their trust for six years.

All this time Mr Maloney was one of the self-appointed leading lights of the UK detecting community, being a NCMD Representative, he was a frequent contributor to forums and discussion groups, often telling other detectorists what they "should" be doing, and being invited to speak at PAS conferences (scroll down to below the screen shot 'can detectorists (sic) be archaeologist (sic)?'). He also describes himself as an event organiser, charity fundraiser and fulltime NHS Slave, LCSS General Secretary. This raises the question of the funds passing through Maloney's hands in general, why did he choose to steal only (?) from the archaeology group? Because they trusted him?

By the way, all those detectorists that say the items they are removing from a landowner's property are not worth the farmer bothering to look at and formally assigning title might look at the mention of selling part of the private collection of those artefacts to raise several thousand quid at the drop of a hat. Archaeological collectables of course do have a substantial financial value. It is a shame that Maloney did not sell off those artefacts (after full PAS recording) to raise the money he needed instead of stealing it from the archaeological group. That way the detectorist was stealing twice from archaeology, stealing the knowledge by hoiking artefacts from their context and taking money from the amateur archaeologists of the Leicestershire group.

We look forward in the near future to the public discussions that have not yet been taking place in the social media, the detecting community as a whole and in the NCMD what action they intend to take concerning Mr Maloney's activities. Or will the whole thing be once again swept under the carpet - like they did in the case of their fellow caught selling Irish artefacts from Tipperary, a case that tends not to be discussed much, outside of my blog,  'Focus on UK Metal Detecting, With "Friends" like these, 'the Detectorist that Never Was' PACHI Wednesday, 22 May 2013  (here too) - but the PAS knows more that it is saying too.

UK Knowledge Thieves Lose their Coin Haul

Haul seekers
A haul of coins of Alfred the Great of Wessex and Ceolwulf II of Mercia roughly contemporary with thWatlington Hoard has been recovered by police action ('Viking coin haul 'of historical significance'... BBC 30th May 2019):
Viking coins estimated to be worth at least £500,000 and "of major historical significance" have been recovered by police. The large number of coins and silver ingot were seized from properties in County Durham and Lancashire. Durham Police said "a number of people have been arrested" on suspicion of dealing in culturally tainted objects. It declined to confirm how many people were arrested or how they allegedly came to be in possession of the items. [...] The coins and ingot were handed over to the museum after being seized earlier this month.
Hmm. Basically, there are two ways you could find Viking coins, either they could drop out of the sky into your lap from a passing time-warping UFO, or you go metal detecting. I'm going to presume that this time the latter was the context of discovery. Crooked metal detectorists are in the news again (see next Sunday's posts here). The BBC narrativises the Durham Heist in a Kings and Battles framework:
King Alfred inflicted a defeat on the Vikings in AD 878, and experts believe the coins belong to an undeclared hoard consistent with the location of the Viking army at that time. [...] "This is the period in which Alfred the Great was fighting the Vikings, but which also led to the creation of a unified kingdom of England under Alfred and his successors." Det Insp Lee Gosling, of Durham Police, said: "It is not every day we get the chance to shape British history.
But it is gratifying to see how frequently metal detector finds are now being described in the British media with the pejorative term 'haul'. Good.

Sunday 26 May 2019

UK Antiquities market Watch: What Value has a MOU with the British Museum Twelve years on?

More that twelve years ago, British archaeologists reckoned they had the problem with illegal online sales of British artefacts sorted out with an MOU with one of the major outlets (Maev Kennedy, 'Netted: agreement to control sale of antiquities on eBay' The Guardian  Tue 3 Oct 2006):
After months of negotiation, agreement was reached yesterday between the online auction site eBay, the British Museum, and the government's Museums, Libraries and Archives council, to control the booming trade in British antiquities on the site. Shoals of archaeological objects, an average of 600 a day when volunteers monitored the site, appear on the site [...]. Most are small base-metal objects of low monetary value, found by hobbyists wielding metal detectors - but priceless archaeological information is being lost with them, including previously unrecorded Roman and prehistoric sites. All finders are encouraged, but not legally obliged, to report such objects. However, hundreds of gold and silver objects, which must be reported under the new Treasure Act or the old law of Treasure Trove, also turn up on the site. Roger Bland, head of the Portable Antiquities finds-reporting scheme at the British Museum, said yesterday he believes at least as much unreported treasure is being sold on eBay and other outlets, as is being reported. "The tragedy is that the exact find sites are never given, so no archaeologist is ever going to be able to go and investigate them, and the wealth of knowledge which such finds could unlock is lost forever," [...] The site has now formally agreed to allow a Portable Antiquities scheme to monitor such sales, and also to direct buyers and sellers to a code of conduct, reminding both of their responsibilities. Culture minister David Lammy yesterday called eBay a phenomenon, one of the century's greatest successes. "Like us they recognise that the expanding internet trade in art, antiquities and antiques has potential for abuse, and it is important that steps are taken to ensure that it does not unwittingly become a cover for criminality." 
The tone was optimistic, the PAS has this in hand - and that is what the PAS website still proclaims today to an uncritical readership (Scheme and eBay ):
The British Museum has partnered (sic) with to ensure that antiquities found in the UK are being sold legally on its site. In order to prevent illegal sales of treasure, the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS, which is managed by the British Museum) has set up a team to monitor antiquities sold on and to ensure that sellers have the right to trade them. Where the listing is illegal, PAS will report it to the Art and Antiques Unit of the Metropolitan Police and, which has committed to end illegal listings. Dr Roger Bland, head of Portable Antiquities and Treasure at the British Museum said: "We welcome eBay's assistance in helping stop the illegal sale of antiquities on the internet with this partnership.[...]. We will also be contacting sellers to ensure that they have reported items and have appropriate documentation." 
The Scheme then goes on to defend dealers handling dodgy stuff (like it does collectors) solemnly intoning: 'In many cases, sellers innocently trade items on the web, unaware that finds need to be reported under the provisions of the Treasure Act', poor innocent naive British dealers confused by really, really complicated British legislation, eh? Who is kidding who here?

The website in its current form goes on to assert that "this partnership means we have in place a process to stop listings and take action against the individuals concerned". Who is kidding who here? There may be a process, thirteen years on, there are no effects.

There is more optimism in other articles of the time (Christopher Williams, 'British Museum to police eBay' The Register 3 Oct 2006) 
British Museum experts will monitor eBay antiquities sales and report illegal activity to the Met's Art and Antiques Unit in an arrangement announced today [...]. A team set up by the museum's Portable Antiquities Scheme will now keep an eye on eBay in the UK for dodgy-looking auctions. [...] eBay isn't handing over any cash to the taxpayer-funded museum to monitor its auctions. There's a memorandum of understanding though, so that's good. 
Only however while both sides honour the obligations implied in such a partnership. Is the British Museum doing all it can to achieve this?

There is similar enthusiasm at the Culture24 webpage.

Tragifarce in Bonkers Britain. Go to, search the 'British antiquities' section for 'gold' to see how "well" the UK is coping with this issue (no matter how many items have been mislabelled 'antiquities' there). Try too with 'silver'. Then tell me that Britain has the issue of Collection-Driven Exploitation under control. Whatever the PAS and supporters of collectors may say, it most certainly has not. This is Ministry of Silly Walks land.

Vignette: trade card, Contents of British Museum were uninsured

UK Antiquities Market Watch: "Fifteen Million Pairs of Eyes Police the EBay Antiquities Trade in UK", really?

In Bonkers Britain, they think that if you tell people (antiquities dealers, wife beaters and small children) the difference between right and wrong automatically the problems disappear. Garreth Griffith, head of Trust and Safety at, comments on the PAS website on the existing MOU between the British Museum and EBay:
"Educating our customers on what to look out for when buying antiquities on eBay and informing sellers of their obligations is of paramount importance. Giving our customers the knowledge and engaging that knowledge to help with our investigations work means we have 15 million pairs of eyes and ears out there working with us on a day-to-day basis.Working with British Museum and PAS and harnessing the strength of our community of buyers and sellers means we have an extensive network to ensure that antiquities are sold legitimately. It is also an excellent example of the way that eBay can work with law enforcement to track people seeking the break the law and bring them to account." 
Except when the BM only says that it is doing the monitoring, and EBay are relying on them to ensure that those allegedly 15 million actually know what is what (when the dealers keep all the cards close to their chest and do not reveal where what they have comes from and how it reached the market) - then in fact there is no monitoring at all of eBay by anyone. When an informed person does take the time to alert ebay through its convoluted reporting system, they get fobbed off by an impertinent AI robot impersonating a foreign outsource 
[11:15:09 UTC Vini]: Rest assured, we have a dedicated team who is already in the process of reviewing all such listings and take appropriate action on them in accordance with the policy.
The text that is displayed on eBay's English site and the guidelines they have published: are simply desiderata, and do not formulate a specific policy for individual cases - or lay down a procedure for dealing with them. As a result, it cannot be overstressed: EBay as it currently exists is NOT a safe place in any way to buy antiquities and other cultural property. 

Vignette: eyes on EBay

UK Antiquities Market Watch, Are Laws Being Broken? 'Ancient Roman Wall Plaster Fragment From Somewhere With Original Paint'

Spotted by ARCA‏ @ARCA_artcrime being sold by ancientworld95 (1006  ("Why is Antiquities Dealer Association Dealer, Brigantia, selling pieces of Pompeii on eBay? Hey, Jie Yin do you have an export license?"): RARE! Ancient Roman Wall Plaster Fragment from Pompeii With Original Paint  ( A few hours after this was pointed out, mention of the origins of the piece were deleted from the sales offer: RARE! Ancient Roman Wall Plaster Fragment With Original Paint.  So legitimation by reticence. As the market works today, it's a case of "ask no questions, get told no lies".

Note that 'ancient worlds' has a whole bunch of unprovenanced GOLD items represented as antiquities - one can see that with dealers less than forthcoming about origins, how the law concerning the reporting of Treasure items can easily be circumvented in the UK by simply not saying where the items was found, when and how. And NOBODY is monitoring this.

Empty words:
“ADA members shall promote the lawful trade in antiquities and oppose any illegal and unethical trading and the illegal removal of antiquities from their countries of origin. This is a key principle of our Association”
Like: "the PAS is monitoring EBay"...

The Archaeological Values of the PAS Database (X): Iron Age Coins "Found" in Shropshire, Yes?

Here's an interesting case accepted by the British archaeological establishment and media at face value (BBC 'Mystery of Shropshire Iron Age coin hoard detectorists' 22 May 2019) . You see, the archaeological issues here are sidestepped in order to present a 'mystery' that surrounds the finding of a 'hoard' of gold and silver Iron Age coins in Shropshire (Record ID: HESH-44097D
Object type: COIN HOARD). The story goes:
The coins were found in the Teme Valley in 2017, and reported by the landowner the following March [...], who said he was given 19 coins by two metal dectorists he had allowed to search his land. Fifteen have been declared treasure. Four were not because of uncertainty about their origins. An inquest heard the men - known as Andrew and Charlie - have not been traced and may have kept more coins. [...]  The hearing at Shrewsbury's Shirehall was told the pair, who were possibly from Kent, visited the land  numerous times in 2017. It was told they had left a mobile number, but have been unreachable, and police found the number was unregistered. [...] While the 15 coins declared treasure are from a tribe native to the West Midlands, one gold and three silver coins are from another tribe which resided in East Anglia, he said. A report by the British Museum said they could have been "acquired elsewhere" and were not found to be treasure as it was "unlikely" they were from the same find.
So, some Iceni coins were included in the haul? If there is doubt about their findspot, why are the findspots of the others in the same batch given any credence in this report? What value are PAS 'data' collected on hearsay basis?
Shrewsbury Museums are keen to acquire the coins for its collection [...] Peter Reavill, Shropshire's finds liaison officer, said it was possible [the finders] had split finds between themselves and the landowner, meaning there may be more unreported coins. 
Alternatively, the worn, cruddy and chipped coins with their disparate patination may have been bought on eBay from various sellers at different times and somebody ('Andy'? 'Charlie'? or somebody else) is making an effort to 'launder them' as a Treasure find.

Saturday 18 May 2019

Detecting holidays: 40 years of Holiday Evidence Destruction

More hunters destroying for the fun of it
Pay to loot Britain's heritage metal detecting hobbies in the UK , who benefits?
the group of people who have benefited most from selling about 100,000 heritage prospecting days over 4 decades are the salesmen. We calculate they’ve taken about £20 million. It’s to be hoped the pending metal detecting reforms will involve the discouragement of this unique-to-Britain trade.

Friday 17 May 2019

Greek Pot of Questionable Origin Found in Another US Museum

The Toledo Museum of Art has reached an agreement with the Italian government on an ancient Greek pottery piece whose origins came into question a few years ago. The skyphos, (ceramic drinking vessel) decorated with the story of the return of Hephaistos to Olympus, is attributed to the Kleophon Painter of Athens, dating to about 420 B.C. (Roberta Gedert, 'Toledo Museum of Art to keep for now Greek vessel of questionable origin', The Blade MAY 17, 2019)
The Toledo museum purchased the piece for $90,000 in 1982 from an antiquities dealer in Geneva [...] Its record of ownership was challenged in 2017 by Christos Tsirogiannis, a forensic archaeologist who listed it among objects in collections without a clear record of origin [...] “In the absence of no knowledge of where the work had come from, he wrote to us and questioned us on its background,” he said. “It was shipped to the United States from Zurich, but it did not have an export license, so therefore it could not be shown exactly where it had come from, so this then raised the question of a lack of provenance, which caused us to raise the matter with the government of Italy.” Per the agreement TMA came to in the past couple of weeks with the Italian Ministry of Heritage and Cultural Activities, the piece will be repatriated to the Italian government, but remain on view at the museum for the next four years. At that time, TMA can ask to renew the loan or request another significant piece from the Italian government as part of a rotating exchange [...] In his 2017 paper, Mr. Tsirogiannis accuses the Toledo museum of not acting on the questionable history of the piece more quickly after returning a rare 2,500-year-old water jug in 2012 to Italy that had been linked to the same questionable antiquities dealers. “The Toledo Museum of Art … seems to follow the pattern that all American museums that return illicit antiquities have established; they silently are holding onto their tainted antiquities until (and if) someone identifies them …” he wrote.

US Authorities and Greek Policeman-Archaeologist Stop Illegal Coin Shipment from Munich

Archaeological evidence or
US Homeland Security Investigations repatriated 10 Greek coins to the Government of Greece, Tuesday, during a reception at the San Francisco Greek Consulate. HSI Special Agent David Keller of San Francisco and Hellenic Police Sgt. Orfeas Sotiriou of Athens, Greece, had collaborated to intercept these artefacts:
The 10 coins were allegedly smuggled out of various Aegean islands such as the Island of Samos. The island of Samos is not covered by modern structures and has a lot of open, unprotected fields. These unexcavated archaeological sites are subject to the illegal use of metal detectors by collectors who remove artifacts, such as coins, for unlawful sale and profit.[...] In late August 2016, HSI detained a FedEx package with the assistance of U.S. Customs and Border Protection at the FedEx facility in Memphis, TN. The shipment originated from a Munich-based, online coin dealer with previous violations for selling suspicious antiquities. This shipment contained five coins.[...] In September 2016, Keller interviewed the buyer of the intercepted package. During this interview, the buyer informed Keller that he made a purchase from the same seller a few months earlier for five other coins. Subsequently, the previously purchased coins were also evaluated and found to be Greek artifacts. “The seller never provided any documentation showing the coins were acquired and sold legally,” Keller said. “The buyer cooperated with our investigation and ultimately surrendered all 10 coins to HSI to be forfeited and repatriated to the Government of Greece.” Also an archeologist in Athens, Sotiriou reported that all 10 coins are estimated to be dated as early as 600 BCE and were minted in various locations throughout the Aegean Islands.
News Release: ICE Homeland Security Investigations returned looted Greek artifacts to rightful owner 16/05/2019

Thursday 16 May 2019

Indie Says

"Ime just feet away frum Konservashun Area M8s"

On social media near you, you could not make this stuff up if you tried:
Mark Turner  47 mins
My field markd red is rolld ready. yellow dot is roman hill fort. on it today with dad [...] Only thing is nobody allowd on hillfort field. diffrent land owner to mine so ime just feet away from it. theres sumsort land management aggreements on it no detecting. but all my perm is otherside of road
So, it's "responsible" as long as he's feet outside the conservation area?

Monday 13 May 2019

Crowdfunding for Gandhari manuscripts

This is pretty blatant, on the H-Buddhism discussion list from Dr Mark Allon (Chair, Dept. of Indian Subcontinental Studies, The University of Sydney NSW Australia) 'Crowdfunding for Gandhari manuscripts Friday, May 3, 2019
Dear H-Buddhism list members,
We have just launched a crowdfunding campaign for the study and digital publishing of two newly available 1st to 2nd century CE Gāndhārī scrolls. The first contains a portion of the first chapter of a Gāndhārī version of the Samādhirāja-sūtra, the Discourse on the King of Concentrations. The second contains a portion of a Gāndhārī version of the ninth chapter of the Pratyutpanna-buddha-saṃmukhāvasthita-samādhi-sūtra, the Discourse on the Concentration of Direct Encounter with the Buddhas of the Present Time. Both are, by centuries, our earliest witnesses of these important Mahāyāna texts and shed new light on the rise of the Mahāyāna and its literary traditions.
[...] If enough people donated even a modest amount, our crowdfunding initiative will easily reach its goal. The University of Sydney handles all transactions and receipts for your donation. For Australian donors, gifts before the 30th of June are tax deductible for this financial year.

Kindest regards, Dr. Mark Allon, Prof Paul Harrison, Prof Richard Salomon, Dr Andrew Skilton, Ian McCrabb, Stephanie Majcher
A bit vague there about what that money is needed for and where these manuscripts are now. Stefan Baums (Sunday, May 5, 2019) picks the petants up on that:
Dear Mark,

please allow me to request some additional information about these manuscripts and your plans for them (as I also did over on the Indology list):

1. How extensive are the preserved texts? Some other fragments of the Pratyutpannabuddhasaṃmukhāvasthitasamādhisūtra scroll were just published in JIABS
Harrison, Paul, Timothy Lenz and Richard Salomon. 2018. “Fragments of a Gāndhārī Manuscript of the Pratyutpannabuddhasaṃmukhāvasthitasamādhisūtra (Studies in Gāndhārī Manuscripts 1).” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 41: 117–143.
but those amount to a total of only eleven partial lines:
Are the new fragments more substantial? Concerning the Samādhirājasūtra, only the left half of the scroll appears to be preserved, i.e., half of each line will be missing. How many lines are in that fragment?

2. Which concrete expenses do you plan to use the funding you raise for – research assistants, travel, equipment? The crowdfunding description only has a very general reference to “research, consulting and resources.”

3. Images of these two scrolls in their rolled‐up state (like the one you show on your page) were circulated fifteen years ago by a London‐based art dealer looking for a buyer. Are the scrolls with you in Sydney now? Did you buy them?

4. Do you intend your publications to be open‐access? The Gandhāran Buddhist Texts series
has recently switched to an open‐access model, and even though you do not mention it in your project description, I hope you do consider eventual publication (after the preliminary articles) in this series.

All best wishes,
The Sydney team responsd that they have "updated the crowdfunding page with further details on the state and status of the scrolls and how the funds will be spent", but this is an insecure link and I suggest caution in opening it. All looks a bit fishy to me, as is any attempt of scholars to handle artefacts frrom the illicit antiquities market, which in my opinion, we should all unreservedly oppose.

UK Antiquities Market Watch: PAS Monitoring EBay? Nah, not really. [UPDATED]

Bloomsbury Pete, the heritage pigeon
  comments on the BM approach to
monitoring UK antiquities sales
I followed up my comments on EBay seller Durham Digger and some revealing email correspondence emerged:
From: Paul Barford
Sent: Monday, May 13, 2019 10:38 AM
To: ''; 'Michael Lewis'
Cc: ''; 'Nigel Swift'
Subject: Durham Digger

Dear PAS, Treasure police,
I was alerted to seller ‘Durhamdigger22’ by one of my readers, it looks like he’s emptying whole archaeological sites onto eBay and the descriptions give no information about possession of legitimating documentation for any of it, let alone PAS records. THis raises questions about where this material is all coming from and how – in such quantity.
What is odd however is that the copper and lead alloy finds are all blithely claimed as “finds” (some specifically mention a metal detector being used) while the several precious metal ones are all equally blithely stated to be from an [unspecified] “old collection”. Does that not look suspicious to you? Just in case, and to send a signal, can these finds be verified as not falling under the Treasure Act by the PAS? The links to all of the questionable items can be found in my blog post.

Is eBay no longer being monitored by the PAS for items like this? If not, who has now taken over this vital task?
Sincerely Paul Barford

UPDATE 13th May 2019
From: Treasure [] Sent: Monday, May 13, 2019 10:38 AM
To: Paul Barford Subject: Automatic reply from the Treasure Team
Many thanks for your email. The Treasure team will respond to your email shortly. If the matter is urgent, please call us on 0207 323 8243.
Since I am not a metal detectorist whose collecting activities did not generate more Treasures for them to fondle, that's the last I heard from the BM Treasure police. Here however is the FLO response to mail and blog post:
Dear Paul, Many thanks for your email. I have had a chat with the Treasure Registrar this morning about this ebay seller, and they are making inquiries (sic).
I agree that it is very disconcerting to see material such as this for open sale, especially as none of the objects would appear to have been recorded either by me or one of my colleagues. Unfortunately, none of the objects, or indeed the seller’s name (which is very generic) are familiar to me. Just to let you know, the seller has listed coins too (e.g. Best wishes, Ben
And Bloomsbury joins in:
From: Michael Lewis [] Sent: Monday, May 13, 2019 12:34 PM To: Paul Barford; Treasure Cc:; 'Nigel Swift'; Ian Richardson Subject: Re: Durham Digger
Dear Paul,

Collectors' Corner: The Strange World of an Essex Dealer in Old Stones

In Darkest Essex, the Clacton seller: dvdad123_7 about whom I wrote earlier has been for another walk on the beach. He found lots more items that he's now trying to get people to believe are artefacts. Clacton-on-Sea seems to specialise in these people (see here). The FLO's outreach here seems to be having rather a poor reach.

'DVD Dad'  has a 'Paleolithic zoomorphic shaped flint scraper ( UK )' $32.58 Buy It Now Free international shipping , a 'Palaeolithic Venus figure in the gonnersdorth style $58.65 or Best Offer Free international shipping', a 'Paleolithic humanoid shaped flint scraper ( UK ) $45.62 Buy It Now Free international shipping'. Golly. Then there is the 'PALEOLITHIC MAN / ANIMAL STONE SCULPTURE / HAND AXE TOOL $13.03 Buy It Now' and a 'EX PALEOLITHIC DUCK / BIRD SHAPED HAND AXE $45.62 Buy It Now', and what about  'A SMALL STONE BADGER FROM THE STONE AGE PERIOD ((UK ) $39.09 Buy It Now'. Just what every "citizen archaeologist needs in their home museum.Who could pass us a 'TOFFEE COLOURED FLINT HAND AXE FROM THE PALEOLITHIC PERIOD WITH IMAGERY (UK ) $51.48 Buy It Now'? You could display it alongside the 'EXCELLENT SLIM CUT FLINT PALAEOLITHIC VENUS FIGURE $58.65 or Best Offer Free international shipping' seen in a piece of tabular flint - probably would appeal to the collector more into little girls than the more rubenesque form of most Palaeolithic sex dolls. It is rather disturbing however that she has all the skin (cortex) stripped off down her back... What dark fantasies lie hidden here? But the pride of any collection must be the object that the FLO to whom the finder no doubt showed these objects apparently identified as a 'EARLY PALAEOLITHIC TYRANNOSAURUS DOUBLE HEADED FLINT SCULPTURE $254.14 or Best Offer Free international shipping', which would look good alongside the 'EARLY PALEOLITHIC COLOURFULL DRAGON /BEAST HEAD / TOOL $110.78 or Best Offer Free international shipping'.

The Neolithic period supplied 'stunning free-standing rock sculpture' that looks remarkably like a big pebble, and some broken stones that are said to be an 'Excellent small Paleo / Neolithic Zoomorphic flint scraper' and another excellent find, a 'Lower palaeolithic horse shaped flint hand axe' and a Palaeolithic 'bird god figure' .

All of his transactions are 'private' so we cannot see what he's sold. A lot of the sold items appear to have been 'snapped up' by  regular 'buyers'.

'Interested in the Layout of Foreign Landscapes'

On social media near you
Ron Short 8 hrs
Here is a quick question for those who are much more experienced than I. Is there any comparable online software app to LIDAR that can be used in Spain? Cheers for any answers or advice in advance
He thinks LIDAR is the name of an app. Now, I am sure Mr Strong really only wants to get a three dimensional picture of the landscape in the area of Spain that interests him so that he can work out where to park his caravan to have a good view of the sea, because I would hate to think that he is making an announcement to all the world that he intends going 'metal detecting' in Spain, where it is illegal without the proper permits.

UK Antiquities Trade Watch: Durham Digger

Dug out diagnostic
 evidence on open sale
 in Durham (eBay)
The eBay seller durhamdigger22 (a name suggesting that he 'digs' and sells his own finds) has today 74 lots and single archaeological artefacts on sale and since he joined eBay in April 2017, has already accrued 614  feedback points (and if you go back right to the beginning, 29 pages back, you will see that this is almost entirely for selling archaeological artefacts. Hundreds (because some of the past sales were job lots as are some of those he's offering now) of objects have been disappearing into unknown numbers of scattered ephemeral personal collections of portableised archaeological evidence - potentially everywhere the Royal Mail will reach.

Looking through the finds he's offering, we find the following: this guy has 19 Bronze Age and 'Celtic' objects, 70 Roman items (several job lots of fibulae), 14 Anglo-Saxon, 16 'Viking', 10 medieval and three Post medieval items hoiked out of the archaeological record (total, 132 objects online today). Most of them  (though not exclusively) are small items of decorative metalwork, strapends, brooches etc. It seems at least one prolific Roman site and an Anglo-saxon (cemetery?) site have simply had the diagnostic artefacts hoiked from the ground and onto eBay.

One is struck how few of them have even a proper description, let alone a findspot more specific than a county (and in the case of one of those, a now-non-existent county) - so in other words, next to no provenance. Also none of the descriptions I read stated that the object has been reported by the PAS before being placed on sale (and checking for a few of the more characteristic items on the database failed to find them).

Neither is there any upfront mention of the buyer obtaining a copy of any documentation in existence showing the landowner has been made aware of what specific items the artefact hunter is removing from their property and assigning title to them. Obviously such documentary proof of title is what would distinguish a responsible dealer from a cowboy dealer, and differentiate responsible artefact hunters from nighthawks. In effect, this seller, by failing to offer such documentation for each object, is offering no proof of the fact that the artefacts he is selling do not include the product of so-called nighthawking. They are offered to the indiscriminate buyer on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. That is not how this precious resource should be being treated in the first half of the 21st century, is it?

Saturday 11 May 2019

Egypt 2011: Abydos Fake Tank Anecdote

In the first days of the Arab Spring in 2011, police protection vanished, leaving archeological sites vulnerable to looters. Only one man had a plan (Peter Hessler, 'How Egypt Used a Fake Tank to Save Its History From Thieves', Daily Beast 5th May 2010)
Within hours of the foreigners’ departure, looters appeared in the Buried. The dig house employed private guards, who typically called the authorities if there was a serious problem. But now the police didn’t respond. The guards chased off the first thieves, and a few hours later, at two o’clock in the morning, a larger band of men arrived. Their faces were covered by masks and they carried tools for excavation. They confronted the guards, warning them that they would be killed if they didn’t abandon the site.
From:  Peter Hessler, ' The Buried: An Archaeology of the Egyptian Revolution', Penguin Press 2019

Destroying the World Around us, "Found Sussex" and the Tiger

According to the Washington Post, more tigers now live in cages than in the wild. How much longer will it be that more Anglo-Saxon fibulae are in scattered ephemeral personal collections than left in the ground? Already, if we believe what all those dealers say, there are enormous numbers of artefacts in circulation on today's portable antiquities market that come from those fabled 'old collections', and with (perhaps as many as) 27000 new artefact hunters out there seeking their own personal treasures on those sites that are still 'productive' getting more and more of them out of the archaeological context and into their pockets, it is quite obvious that if nothing changes, and its already too late for the tigers, that time will come.  And precious little the archaeologists of the UK are doing about it.

Vignette: a diagnostic and datable item of early Medieval metalwork removed [reportedly] from an archaeological assemblage ["somewhere" in ] Sussex [though it is unknown whether legally or illegally] - totally destroying its information value, obviously at some time part of an unknown personal collection, passed on through an unknown dealer to the next buyer - no questions asked. This is the essence of the damage done to the archaeological record by Collection-Driven Exploitation of the archaeological record that British archaeologists pretend not to see.

Collectors' Corner: British-based seller flogs off Detectorist-found Hoard

British heritage professionals, Ebay seller 'rancient' (ancientreasure (4605 ) from Barking, Essex (Roumen Todorov IG119TH Barking) is flogging off a bit of somebody's archaeological heritage right under your noses: 'Very Rare Viking Lot Hack-Silver Currency and Bracelets circa 800 AD' Price:GBP 4,899.00 Approximately US $6,378.50 (shipping: GBP 5.99 Royal Mail International Signed Ships to: Worldwide) The item specifics are:
“Original pictures, good ancient condition.” Colour: Silver, Type: Ancient Bracelets and Hacksilver - Money, Material: Silver Culture: Anglo - Saxon - Viking - Scandinavia  
Provenance? Not stated. The description:
FOR SALE Viking - Scandinavian Bracelets and Hacksilver 8th-10th Century AD Hack-silver, is fragments of cut and bent silver items treated as bullion, either for ease of carrying before melting down for re-use, or simply used as currency by weight. It was common among the Norsemen or Vikings, as a result of both their raiding and trade. Beautiful relics in great condition Metal detector found, all together Silver 127.3 g Authenticity All items are unconditionally guaranteed to be Authentic as described. For added security we offer a full money-back guarantee, All my Items been purchased from collectors and auctions. If you not happy from purchased Item, contact me immediately and your money will be refunded in full.
Found as a single deposit 'with a metal detector (somewhere)' is not a provenance. It is not a provenance for the purposes of advancing our knowledge of the past, for advancing our knowledge of the past of the place (region) where it was found, neither is it one that assuages any doubts a potential buyer might have that the item entered the market legitimately (or legally). On the contrary, if it did, this would be an additional selling point. The fact that nothing - whatsoever, note - is written on this is highly suspicious. The seller should say upfront any details about the 'collector' (or auction) where this was acquired. Yet there is nothing.

Whose hands have these objects passed through? Dug up in unclear circumstances, passing onto the market by unclear mechanisms, now being sold by a bloke with a foreign  name living in suburban Essex. Where did he get it from?

In the country where this is sold, this group of objects falls, entirely clearly, under the Treasure Act. It is therefore odd that a seller a short train journey away from the British Museum does not feel the need to unequivocally state that the object was not found in the UK when selling it right under their noses. In the description the word 'Scandinavia' is used, if this item had been  found in any Scandinavian country with a metal detector, the finder is legally obliged to report it and surrender it, as is the case in most countries of Europe - so perhaps the dealer can tell us HOW this group of items arrived on the UK antiquities market. Can he show it was legally exported (art. 3 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention)?  Has the PAS or local FLO been in contact with him about the documentation? Whose responsibility is it, anyway, to report any such question-raising sales to an investigating authority? It seems to me that there are several thousand apparently unconcerned 'professional' archaeologists on a little green island off the shores of Europe that all say to themselves, "well, it's not my responsibility".

And why would anyone buy such a thing? What would you do with such items in your portable antiquities 'collection'? Is it just a trophy ("I've got something nobody else has [because I've 'captured' it]"? Is it something a collector imagines he can 'seriously study' and the intrinsic 'information' will give him some personal 'message from the past' or special personal insight into the past? What is the intended function of this pile of ancient scrap silver on the UK market?

Are British heritage 'professionals' actually able to do anything about the UK portable antiquities market? For two decades they've been saying they'll 'clean it up ' (Palmer Report onwards), yet time after time, we see that nothing has changed since the days of Lord Elgin the marble-purveyor. 
And what happened to this other hacksilber hoard in the British market last year ('Viking Hacksilber Sold by Anonymous Dead Dad Heirs in Mayfair Raises Many Questions')? 

By the way: Mr Todorov started selling this apparent hoard right under everybody's noses several weeks ago, but I was busy with several archaeological editing projects and had no time to spare to write about it then - though I did alert the local organ of the PAS to it - my mail did not even get an acknowledgement of receipt.

Collectors' Corner: Ironwork hoard/deposit

On ebay right now, UK seller: 'Hoard, Ritually Killed / Sacrificed Viking swords Battle Relics c. 800 AD (1124+)'
FOR SALE Viking Battle Relics 8th Century AD Great condition Came from Warriors Grave Iron Various 305 mm Authenticity All items are unconditionally guaranteed to be Authentic as described. For added security, we offer a full money-back guarantee, All my Items have been purchased from collectors and auctions. If you not happy with purchased Item, contact me immediately and your money will be refunded in full.
I am not terribly happy to see that these 'Norsk - Nordic Religion Blades' ("Material: Iron Colour: Dark Brown Type: Votive Warriors Artifact Provenance: Private Collection Culture: Scandinavian / Viking 8th Century AD) 'came from a Warrior's Grave', where, when, how? Metal detecting in and around Barking, Essex? (seller: Roumen Todorov ancientreasure (4605) IG119TH Barking, Essex Großbritannien) Price: GBP 4,600.00 Approximately US $5,989.20 Shipping: GBP 5.99 (approx. US $7.80) Royal Mail International). The rhomboidal cross guard shown added to one sword is not like any Viking sword anyone has ever found in a proper excavation - it is more like those of late fourteenth century swords... so what is the context of this find? In post-PAS Britain, 'Private Collection' is not a provenance. There are 79 people watching this auction.

'Ancientreasure' is selling a mixed bag of items and this seems to be very much 'CaveatEmptorLand'...  first of all there are more so-called 'viking' blades (here and here) , but then, 'Viking' is an adjective he is fond of using, not always with any visible justification (here these annular beads). Then there is this hacksilber hoard I wrote about in another post here.  Another alleged 'hoard find' is a fantasy 'Viking' cross that in addition to not being like any Viking cross I've seen, is a really poor piece of casting. As for the two 'Viking' battle axe pendants (not of viking form), we note he is careful to note that they are 'gold plated'. And the casting of one is crap too.

None of his 29 'Roman artefacts' would look out of place among the offerings of any number of Bulgarian sellers, if you get my meaning. Replete with adjectives of opinion (stunning, RARE, oustanding, EXCELLENT), personally I see little to get enthusiastic about. I am however fascinated by his attribution of an alleged 'Beautiful Ancient Egyptian Pottery Statuette circa 900 BC'. Looks for all the world like an Indus valley fertility figure as sold by very many other British dealers as such (though I think all are modern fakes)... Cute, but do not take the dealer's word for what it is or where it comes from.

And here's a word of advice for the person who forks out GBP 4,600 for the twisted ironwork at the head of this post, get it straight away to a proper conservator. These objects have been out of the ground a number of years and in that time (on or off the market), have been kept in unstable and unsuitable conditions too long without any treatment. They are falling apart, very soon there will be nothing left. But run a mile from the cowboy who wants to put it them in an electrolytic bath, again you'll have nothing left. To keep and display these objects in a collection after conservation, assessment of the state of them visible in the photos (taken on damp grass, that does not help much) indicates that you need to have them in a controlled environment, so a lot of space and monitoring required if you are going to take on yourself the task of curating them.  Or as Indy says:

Automatic Anti-Detecting Sentinels

Association of Detectorists  "We have been working to develop equipment to prevent illegal metal detecting. We have laboratory tested with a specialist company who design large scale transmitter equipment for the BBC, a metal detectors ability for the signal to be scrambled (under the appropriate bylaws), leaving the instrument inoperative around a protected site. We have also looked into developing, a low cost portable solution the could be used for when archaeologists leave site. Firstly, the site would have signs to say that any access is prohibited. The solar powered system first looks for movement on site and in waking-up with movement detected, it then looks for metal detecting and mobile phone signals. In determining signals and movement, it sounds an alarm and a flashing light and starts to film, recording to iCloud and sends text and email messages to designated contacts. Signage confirming that the site is monitored and alarmed with this equipment, should alone deter most, however, those who do look to go-ahead and start detecting, even if they looked to damage the equipment, the filming will have been recording to 'off site' and the contacts made aware".
Several versions of this type of Robocop have been mooted to thwart artefact hunters, none yet installed in use to protect any field.

In the case of the first, I'd be wary of flooding any area bigger than a dinner plate with electromagnetic radiation to scramble any electronic system and wonder what effect it would have on local wildlife and adjacent crops. Also, who is going to pay for it and why? Who will decide where they will be placed?

The sleeping candid cameras are not really very viable.. So what that you've got night-vision piccies of the men in action, if that gets you nowhere? How do you press charges on the basis of some blurry images of unidentified men doing 'something' in the hollow in the middle of the field 576m away? A portable unit flashing a beacon in the middle of a remote field when crooks are around is asking to get nicked. My bet is the night vision optics in it alone are worth quite a bit. Nice try, but what we need to do is to STOP collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record in any form. Or say goodbye to Britain's archaeological record.

Vandalism at Roman Site in UK

Gwent Police UK are investigating a number of incidents of Heritage Crime at Caerleon's Roman remains ('Heritage Crime, Caerleon', 9th May 2019), following reports of vandalism at and damage to these ancient monuments. "Along with causing damage, on a number of occasions suspects have been abusive and threatening to the custodians of these sites when challenged regarding their presence and behaviour". The country is going to the dogs.

The Attraction of Superficial Models: Looting of Apamea again

The situation in April 2019
 (Wikipedia key here)
Qalaat Al Madiq was in the buffer zone on the southwestern edge of the current extent of the Aleppo-Idlib rebel enclave in northwest Syria. A news report prompted the following comment from the CulturalProperty twittersphere:"
Cultura Consulting ‏ @Cultura_CP notes 'The Syrian army has reportedly captured the town of Qalaat Al Madiq and the adjacent heavily looted ancient city of Apamea. Perhaps new info will emerge relating to this looting, likely carried out by rebel groups Ahrar Al Sham and local units fighting under the banner of the FSA'.
It really is so irritating to find glib myths persisting long after a whole bunch of you have been spending some time checking out what the US media and others are telling us about this 'looting', and publishing online (just a miniscule mouseclick away from wherever you are sitting) what you've found out. Anyway, the bulk of the looting that we know about at Apamea and the very similar pattern we see at Tel Jiffar had taken place before the area was taken over by the rebels (Saturday, 4 May 2013 Looting and Conflict in Syria - do you KNOW where those antiquities have come from?Thursday, 16 October 2014  Syria, Who is Digging Up What Where?). I am not the only one doing this, Dr Sam Hardy has been even more active in this area. 

Archaeologist sells Find?

On Ebay we have another example that appears to be a case of a British archaeologist trading in artefacts: 'Early Neolithic flint tool fabricator from West Kennet, Avebury' (Item specifics Provenance: Ownership History Available Type: Fabricator Colour: White Material: flint). Description by drdaz (1072):
Unique opportunity to purchase an Early Neolithic Flint Fabricator tool from West Kennett, Avebury. At the time I was a postgraduate archaeology student attached to The Windmill study in 1992. I was asked to do a transect study of the the area adjacent to the long barrow tomb. The flint tool is from my own collection from that time. As the Avebury has now World Heritage status these flint are increasingly rare. The implement is approx 6cm by 3cm, showing multiple blind percussion fractures on one end, and bifaceted opposite pole. There is evidence of reworking of the lateral edge. The flint has the usual white patina of an object of this age and of this area. It is coded WKA14.
Anything goes in British archaeology these days and it seems this goes back even beyond the beginning of the PAS. Drdaz sells mainly general tat and collectables, but among them in the feedback one can see something called a "British Neolithic / Mesolithic Flint Hand Axe West Kennet, Wiltshire. UK (#121924423467)". We cannot know what that really was, but in this case one archaeologist's 'fabricator' is another archaeologist's broken pebble. Even so, this raises a number of ethical issues - including how Drdaz was collecting material while part of a project. I am going to charitably assume that the guy was surveying, picking up flints and stuff and that at the end of the day the finds supervisor rejected this lump of crud as an artefact and "Dr Daz" refused to accept that verdict and asked if he could take it, and for 27 years has cherished the notion that the 'ignorant chumps' back at the project did not recognize their genius and this stone was for them part of the proof of that. So why are they selling it?

Thursday 9 May 2019

Southend burial site 'UK's Answer to Tutankhamun'?

A sixth century AD burial site found between a pub and Aldi supermarket has been hailed by an archaeologist as the UK's answer to Tutankhamun's tomb ( Southend burial site 'UK's answer to Tutankhamun' BBC 9 May 2019)
Workers unearthed the grave, which contained dozens of rare artefacts, during roadworks in Prittlewell, near Southend, Essex, in 2003. Tooth enamel fragments were the only human remains, but experts say their "best guess" is that they belonged to a 6th Century Anglo-Saxon prince. It is said to be the oldest example of a Christian Anglo-Saxon royal burial. [...] Locals nicknamed the grave's unknown occupant the Prince of Prittlewell and the King of Bling because of the riches buried alongside him [...] Sophie Jackson, Mola's director of research and engagement, said no-one had expected the "unpromising looking site" found in 2003 to contain "our equivalent of Tutankhamun's tomb".
Perhaps she'd have done better suggesting that it was an Essex equivalent of Sutton Hoo. In the figure on the right is Tutankhamun's territory (darker brwn)  and on the left (in red), the kingdom of the East Saxons at the time of the Prittlewell burial, give or take a shire or two.  British megalomania it seems knows no bounds.

Could this be the result of some kind of inferiority complex? Perhaps Britain, isolating itself by leaving Europe still has the need to show the British Isles were somehow relevant and important in the wide world story and not a periphery. Certainly if one compares the archaeological correlates of the culture of the times, that is a debatable point. The reign of the late 18th dynasty pharaoh (on the conventional timescale) probably fell some time in the 1320s/30s - in other words, equivalent in Britain to a period when lowland Britain was one of small scale agrarian societies that built palisaded cattle enclosures and buried their dead in cremation burials (urnfield cemeteries or under low, round barrows) and used generally rather crappy pottery. Far from being some form of hub, Britain in this period was very much under the influence of mainland Europe.

This sort of dumbdown-say nothing archaeo-talkdown to the plebs, unchallengingly treating them all as utterly unable to process anything but the simplest of superficialities, can be placed firmly in the context of a national curriculum that teaches prehistory as “Lascaux, Stonehenge, the Lake Villages and Knossos (followed by "Pyramids-and-Tutankhamun, a bit of Greece then come the Romans”). That’s going to be the only frames of reference the general British population has for anything. I suppose though that’s a bit better than a nationalist post-Brexit “Die Vorgeschichte Großbritanniens- eine hervorragend nationale Wissenschaft” that we may well see emerge - particularly given the Neo-Kossinnist predilection for typological, chorological (dot-distributions) and ethno-emblemic interpretations offered by current object-centred PAS style 'outreach'. This is not without repercussions.

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