Tuesday, 29 September 2020

Ivan Macquisten Soothes Dealers in Artnet News

Argument invalid...

"Let's capitalise every word in this" says Ivan Macquisten (in Artnet news, September 28, 2020): A New Report on Transnational Crime Shows That the Business of Smuggling Cultural Property Is Not as Big as People Think - yay!
Despite reports from some officials that have characterized the illicit trade in antiquities as a multi-billion-dollar industry and the third largest black market after the drugs and arms trades, the new report reveals that the scale is much more modest.
Never mind that those of us that actually study this market dismiss such puff as just that...

Mr Macquisten stumbles on with his interpretation of the 2019 World Customs Organization's annual report on transnational crime. He's great pals with the likes of Peter Tompa and the ACCP and picks for highlighting the elements of the narrative that suits the story they want him to tell, so I cant be bothered to go through this, Donna Yates has announced on Twitter she'll be doing a blog post on it which will no doubt pull his crap apart (Link here when it's ready). In fact for the last couple of years, Macquisten has been repeating this activity each time one of these reports comes out, same arguments applied, same kind of data used to support them. So it will be good to see an academic like Yates set the record straight in a place where the general public can (if they look) learn of it. 

Macquisten soothes "In fact, cultural heritage crime is so minor compared with other risk categories globally that it barely registers on Customs’ radar" - which is not the same as saying this is not a problem to be dealt with by the legitimate market (for the sake of argument lets's say such exists) and the rest of the civilised world (except the no-questions-asked collectors and dealers, for they belong to another world).

Here's his subheadings:
"A Global Picture of Relative Inactivity"
"Antiquities Are a Small Share of Crime"
"Western Europe Is Not a Hub for Smugglers"
" Not the Full Picture"

Actually hate rape with a racist motivation is also a small share of crime, about which one could say there is a global picture of relative inactivity, and perhaps western Europe is not a hub for that, and I doubt we are getting a full picture of its scale and consequences in the media. I do not see that as any kind of an "argument" for not taking the problem seriously and trying to stamp out the root causes. Do you, Mr Macquisten? 

Monday, 28 September 2020

Artefact Hunting and Gender in US


Allyson Cohen, self-styled Detecting Diva, from Berlin, CT​ (USA), has a bit about succumbing to couch-potato-dom as the years creep by (The Aging DetectoristApril 12, 2020). This caught my eye:

I started out in this hobby when women were scarce, and the men’s discrimination toward us was epic—dismissing any woman’s decent finds as being found by luck, not by skill. So I’ve paid my dues, kicked a ton of guys butts in the field, and was instrumental in opening up the hobby to women. Mission accomplished.

This is worth putting alongside my comments on the alleged 'inclusivity' of UK artefact hnting with metal detectors (' How Inclusive is Metal Detecting?', PACHI Wednesday, 24 June 2020).

Sunday, 27 September 2020

Sawn off Stupa Bit for sale in Chicago

Unprovenanced piece of Gandharan sculpture for sale, described as having "earthen encrustation". It's being offered by the same Chicago dealer Harlan J. Berk who announced a while ago that he wants to "beat archaeologists" … and not surprising, seeing as he (ostensibly just a "coin dealer") has a LOT of stuff any archaeologist and officials would like to ask a number of questions about. Mostly about the documentation of this assemblage of commodities from all over the world. 

This schisty thing is here. Here's the desccription: 

ca. 2nd-3rd Century AD. A nice example of a Gandharan panel fragment modeled in grey micaceous schist. The piece has two main registers, the lower register depicting scenes from the life of the Buddha, with the upper register depicting an architectural panel from a stupa. The piece is a wonderful combination of Asian and Classical influences, mainly in the modeling of the figures and the Corinthian columns in the top register. Earthen encrustation. Mounted. H. 8 3/4" W. 5 7/8" (22.2 cm x 15 cm) H. 10 1/4" with mount.

So it's actually quite titchy. That's probably why the people that portableised it did not just cut the figures off. Above all we can see that this "earthen encrustation" is nothing of the sort. It's a wash (calcite? Gypsum?) and more importantly evenly covers the piece from all sides, no variation where it'd have been exposed/sheltered. Now another gallery that has a lot of Gandhara is Bob Dodge's "Artemis" Galleries in suburban Boulder, Colorado, and we can see that many of those that he's sold recently have similar surfaces. Are these two dealers using the same source? At what stage is the wash applied and why? Note sawmarks on right side.

Now I think that before Mr Berk tries to beat me, I'd like to ask him to show me this "model[l]ing" he is trying to convince his buyers is worth the 2467.50 US$ that he wants for this small piece of architectural salvage.

Saturday, 26 September 2020

More Asinine Bloomsbury Guessing Games

 British Museum 


Can you imagine CERN giving the public information about its equipment like this?

So why do archaeologists feel they have to do the dumbdown? 

Now, the BM catalogue entry says this:

"[ErnstHerzfeld purchased this object in Baghdad for the sum of 10 rupees from Daud Salman in 1923 according to his Notebook 89, where it is entered as item 150 (Freer Gallery of Art & Arthur M. Sackler Gallery archives, Smithsonian Institution)".
So, this is an ungrounded artefact removed to Prussia from Iraq during the British mandate, and the identification by the non-generic term "finial" is not based on any facts deriving from its archaeological context. It's here not because it can tell Brits about Iraq's past, but because it "looks cute".  Pathetic. Can't Bloomsbury's educators do any better than this fob-off-the-hoi-polloi upperclass twittery

Also, given the predominantly sedimentary geology of Iraq (ergo oil) and adjacent SE Syria, would it not have been a useful topic of public outreach to discuss the significance of it being (they say) of pyrophyllite [ a member of the same group as talc and serpentine] which is a metamorhic rock. There are some deposits in the Zagros region but quite sizeable ones in what is now Saudi Arabia. As well as elsewhere - on what grounds is this thing assigned a date and culture if they came from the market?


Wednesday, 23 September 2020

Fortuna has Ceased to Smile for one US Dealer?

"We are asking anyone who may have dealt 
with Mr. Dere or Mr. Khan to contact us at 
NYArtCrime@fbi.gov. You may have been 
a victim of their alleged scheme.”

FBI agents carted off boxes and bags of apparent evidence during a raid Tuesday on the home of a former Manhattan art gallery owner, Selim Dere (Jerry DeMarco 'FBI Raids Ridgewood Home Of Former Upper East Side Art Gallery Owner', Ridgewood Daily Voice 22nd Sept 2020). The former dealer's son Erdal Dere, 50, of New York City was also arrested by federal agents on Tuesday as was his longtime business associate Faisal Khan.

An indictment returned by a grand jury in Manhattan charged both men with "engaging in a years-long scheme to defraud buyers and brokers in the antiquities market" by using the names of dead dealers and brokers to "offer and sell antiquities." The men conducted the scheme from the now-defunct Fortuna Fine Arts Ltd gallery on East 69th Street off Madison Avenue that Selim Dere and his son owned and operated, authorities said. The younger Dere falsified sales records and then posed as dealers when meeting with clients, the Southern District of New York indictment alleges. “The integrity of the legitimate market in antiquities rests on the accuracy of the provenance provided by antiquities dealers, which prevents the sale of stolen and looted antiquities that lack any legitimate provenance," acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said. Dere and Khan, she said, “compromised that integrity, and defrauded buyers and brokers of the antiquities they sold."
Audrey Strauss seems to believe one can seek integrity in such a market. The dealer had been previously involved with law enforcement when Turkish police took him and two other men into custody more than 25 years ago in connection with the alleged smuggling of a marble sarcophagus depicting the 12 labours of Hercules. The dealer is also mentioned in connection with artefacts from Turkey, a marble statue of a young man and fragment of garland smuggled from a Greco-Roman city of Aphrodisias in Turkey, and a fragment of a mosaic from Zeugma (Ozgen Acar, Zeugma's Plundered Mosaics ArtNet 29th August 2000) and also an ancient “Hare Aryballos” from Etruria circa 580-560 BCE (See ARCA Lynda Albertson, 'Seizure: An Etruscan Hare Aryballos circa 580-560 B.C.E.' ARCA). Lynda has done a very useful and full breakdown of what can be put together about the defendants:' Some background on Erdal Dere and Faisal Khan and Fortuna Fine Arts Ltd., charged in the SD/New York' (ARCA Blog September 23, 2020) including possible connections with the Garsana tablets, and I think the question that raises is 'what took them so long?'. Interestingly, the December 2015 case that is specifically mentioned in the indictment is not on her list. 

According to the indictment issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office Southern District of New York, September 22, 2020, "Antiquities Dealers Arrested For Fraud Scheme", they are:
charging ERDAL DERE, the owner and operator of the Manhattan-based antiquities gallery Fortuna Fine Arts Ltd. (“Fortuna”), and his longtime business associate and co-conspirator, FAISAL KHAN, with engaging in a years-long scheme to defraud buyers and brokers in the antiquities market by using false provenances to offer and sell antiquities. DERE is also charged with aggravated identity theft for his misappropriation of the identities of deceased collectors who were falsely represented to be the prior owners of the antiquities.
That is an interesting take on top of the alleged fraudulence. This is quite an important development, because one might suspect that the practices described could be relatively frequently used in this market:
From approximately 2015 through September 2020, DERE and KHAN engaged in a scheme to defraud buyers and brokers in the antiquities market by providing false information regarding the provenance of antiquities they offered for sale. Specifically, DERE and KHAN falsely claimed that various deceased collectors of antiquities were the prior owners of items being sold and offered for sale, in order to conceal the true provenance of the antiquities and the sources from which Fortuna had acquired them. DERE communicated the false provenances featuring the names of deceased collectors to buyers and brokers. DERE also fabricated documents purporting to evidence the prior ownership of antiquities by the deceased collectors, and provided them to buyers and brokers, including to an auction house in New York, New York in connection with a December 2015 antiquities auction. KHAN assisted Fortuna in finding buyers for items from its pre-existing inventory and acquired new items, primarily in Asia, that KHAN worked with Fortuna to sell to collectors in the United States and internationally. With KHAN’s knowledge, DERE provided false provenance information to potential buyers of items that KHAN had personally located and acquired, listing deceased collectors as the long-time owners of items which KHAN and DERE well knew had not been owned by those collectors.
The question is, can assertions of former ownership by a "Swiss Collector" be treated in the same way? Glad to see law-enforcement getting tough with pseudo-provenances and faked collection histories.


Tuesday, 22 September 2020

US Dealers named in Money Laundering Report

Kapoor accused

Data from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), the US regulatory agency for enforcing money laundering laws, provide a glimpse into the network of companies and individuals trading with antiques dealer Subhash Kapoor. The data show that dealings of stolen artefacts and transactions continued years after the arrest of the alleged kingpin (Shyamlal Yadav, 'FinCEN Files — Antiques smuggler in Tamil Nadu jail, and a trade that flourished even after his arrest' Indian Express September 23, 2020). US Antiquities dealer Nancy Wiener was named in FinCENFiles for suspect Nepal transactions worth $27 million between 2010-2017. This is the same gallery that sold a stolen 16th-century bronze from Nepal in 2010 and transferred the payment to Pantheon Worldwide in Hong Kong. Some of the transactions were linked to Subhash Kapoor [Indian national and the 'Art of the Past' Gallery owner in New York, who imported artefacts from India to the United States and was arrested by Interpol in 2011 at Frankfurt airport, was extradited to India in July 2012 and is now in a Tamil Nadu jail still awaiting trial].

According to the Suspicious Activity Report, a firm called Pantheon Worldwide Limited, with two listed addresses, one each in the UK and Hong Kong, had extensive financial links with Kapoor and his alleged business partners. Pantheon had several transactions with the Nancy Wiener Gallery, and also received a payment from Nancy Weiner. The Suspicious Activity Report stated: “It is unclear why Weiner conducted a personal remittance to Pantheon for USD 150,000, nor the purpose of the funds.” The Suspicious Activity Report stated that Pantheon utilised its three accounts at Standard Chartered Bank, Hong Kong for the transactions. The UK company registry data show that a company of a similar name was incorporated on July 18, 2016 and dissolved on September 4, 2018. The accounting firm that established the company said that the UK-based Pantheon had never dealt in antiquities — or anything else for that matter. “To the best of my knowledge, the company never traded at all,” a spokesperson for PRB Accountants told ICIJ.


Saturday, 12 September 2020

"Twinkly Ritual Star Figurines" and Incantation Bowl Seized

In southern Iraq, in Al Fajr District, in the north of the Dhi Qar governate the National Security authorities h ave seized artefacts that they claim were intended for smuggling
"They are (50) antique masterpieces, (162) antique coins, and (180) antique pottery pieces".
There is an incantation bowl probably from the al-Jazira (Upper Mesopotamia) region of the sixth to eighth centuries, some copper alloy items (the "masterpieces"?) but also ceramic spindlewhorls, two weights (loomweights?) and a lot of triple-pointed things. These are kiln furniture (kiln props - spurs). It is quite unusual to have indusrial material being traded as collectables, possibly artefact hunters found a cache of them on a kiln site and decided to take them not knowing what they were. One almost regrets them not reaching the market, I'd love to know what a creative dealer would market them as.

Friday, 11 September 2020

Investors Push Rio Tinto Bosses Out After Cave Site Trashed

Rio Tinto CEO Jean-Sébastien Jacques has, though not after hanging stubbornly on since May, resigned under pressure from investors over the company's destruction of a 46,000-year-old sacred indigenous site in Australia to expand an iron ore mine. The rock shelters at Juukan Gorge in Western Australia’s Pilbara region, showed evidence of toolmaking and almost 50,000 years of ongoing human use, the only inland site in Australia known so far to do so. It may be suggested that the cold-blooded destruction of these sites by Rio Tinto was a heritage crime on the level of the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddha statues.

Wednesday, 9 September 2020

There are Bottle and There are Bottles


Another piece of unimaginative and uninformative gatekeeper/dumbdown "public outreach" from the PAS. "Finds Friday: Do you know what these are?". When in a short time a member of the public (John Bunyan.descended from immigrants) identified it as a "pilgrim's Ampulla", he got a "yay" from the FLO.... and nothing else.

I am at a loss to know what the educational value of that exchange was, and what Mrs Simmons who lives next door to my Mum would make of that (if she ever bothered to find out what the PAS says about anything). So the FLO is preaching to the choir, which is not the same as public outreach.

There have been recent research projects on these ampullae based on PAS records. There is material about them in books, articles, though there is not yet a BM recording guide for them.  But you would think for all those millions of public quid spent on the PAS something a bit more educational and multiculturally enlightening than "yay, a pilgrim's ampulla". What Mrs Rashid who lives down the road from my sister wants to know is what was a "pilgrim" in this context? What do they need "ampullas" for? Mrs Simmons also does not know; she was last in Church in the primary school carol service nearly half a century ago.  

Here's another bottle, a brown glass beer bottle. Any paper label has gone but it has the embossed legend: '
No deposit - No return - Not to be refilled'. Just a modern bottle. But its findspot is known, in a forest outside a small town in northern Italy where it was dug up by artefact hunters. More than that, it was found with a large number of similar bottles in a rubbish dump left behind by a Wehrmacht unit fighting on the Gothic Line in the spring of 1945. But there is more to that, these bottles were produced in the US and originally carried beer to US, not axis, troops. It is unlikely that they got into the Nazis' hands from the US Fifth Army coming up from the south, it is probable that, like much else they were captured from overrun US units in the battle of Ardennes (Battle of the Bulge). This narrativisation (the details are published in the Polish metal detectorists' magazine Eksplorator of Jan 2016) however is based on research, not the kind UK detectorists do (to find potential productive sites to plunder), but the kind their central and eastern European fellows do, where they use the documentary evidence and context in the ground in a way unthinkable to the average British Baz Thugwit. 

One would have hoped this is the kind of approach to artefacts from artefact hunting we'd see from the PAS FLOs. Not "I know what this mysterious looking thing is, can you guess what it is, and I'll tell you if you're right". 

Sunday, 6 September 2020

Moral: You Can Never, Really Trust a Metal Detectorist for the Details

Tertiary rocks purple
A row has broken out in Germany over an artefact found by two metal detectorists in 1999 by Henry Westphal and Mario Renner while they were illegally treasure-hunting with a metal detector but no licence. They claim they found it in the Mittelberg hillfort near Nebra in the Ziegelroda Forest, some 60 km west of Leipzig. The find was reported as a hoard in a pit with two bronze swords, two axes, a chisel, and fragments of spiral bracelets. The next (!) day, Westphal and Renner sold the entire hoard for 31,000 DM to a dealer in Cologne. and it was only recovered in February 2002, the original finders were eventually traced and led police and archaeologists to the discovery site. An excavation, as yet unpublished, took place and seemed to confirm the finders' story. Apparently the soil at the site matched soil samples found clinging to the artefacts. The two looters received jail sentences of six and twelve months. There is a tourist-attracting archaeological park on the hilltop now.

The disc was thought to have been part of the hoard and thus dated to the Early Bronze Age. Recently doubt was thrown on this interpretation. Rupert Gebhard and Rüdiger Krause, two archaeologists from Goethe University Frankfurt and Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich have taken a fresh look at where and how the disk was discovered and critically examine the "vague information given by the looters" (Critical comments on the find complex of the so-called Nebra Sky Disk, in the journal Archäologische Informationen).

A critical examination of the published results by the authors does not allow the conclusion that the site investigated in a re-excavation is correct, nor that the ensemble itself fulfils the criteria of a closed find (hoard). On the contrary, according to the excavation findings the ensemble could not have been in situ at the site named. The scientific examination of the objects contradicts rather than confirm their belonging together. If the disk is considered – as required by these facts – as a single object, it cannot be integrated into the Early Bronze Age motif world. Instead, a chronological embedment in the first millennium BC seems most likely. On the basis of this overall assessment, all further conclusions and interpretations of the cultural context and the meaning of the Nebra disk that have been made so far will have to be subjected to a critical discussion.

At the end of the (preprint) text, the authors describe a number of problems they had with the German archaeological establishment getting their critical study published...  

Rather weirdly, just after that went online on 3rd September was a response (published anonymously!) from the Landesamt für Denkmalpflege und Archäologie Sachsen-Anhalt: "Himmelsscheibe von Nebra eisenzeitlich? Eine Richtigstellung/ Sky disc of Nebra dated into the Iron Age? A corrective statement". This is really dotty, and one wonders what lies behind this.

The colleagues not only ignore the abundance of published research results in recent years, their various arguments also are easily refuted.

Well, Landesamt, get the results of the confirmatory excavations published for a start.  And I think if you are going to "easily refute" the reasoning, it is best properly to acquaint yourself with it first. Landesamt goes on: 

Claims are that the soil attachments on the Sky Disc do not correspond with those of the other findings and that the geochemical analyses of the metals do not support their coherence. Both of these statements are demonstrably incorrect. According to an essay by Dr. Jörg Adam (then State Office of Criminal Investigation of Brandenburg), who conducted the investigations of the soil attachments for the Regional Court of Halle as an expert, and who was not quoted by the two authors...

Wass? Landesamt has not read the text above, which actually refers to that report prepared for a court. They give a link to it, and you decide if those soils are the same and can only locate the findspot to a single small hole on a huge hilltop at the southern end of a hill complex 15x7km in a particular region of Germany (bear in mind how much of Germany overlies Tertiary rocks). Note, only six control samples were taken from just three localities (Suhl, Hainspitz and three samples from Hettstedt). As for the metal analysis, the significance of the analysis of copper production in Mitterberg in the Salzburg region that shows it "ended at the beginning of the 1st millennium BC" (so allegedly the Sky Disc could not have been made later) depends on what the Sky Disc was made from.  Landesamt (using the royal 'we') says: 

Due to lack of space, we refrain from discussing the many other inconsistencies in the content of the article here. 

Well, as  Rupert Gebhard and Rüdiger Krause said, all further conclusions and interpretations of the cultural context and the meaning of the Nebra disk that have been made so far will have to be subjected to a critical discussion. Let's now see it. Let us see it start with a discussion of whether metal detectorists are cognitively equipped to make the kind of observations and record of the details of archaeological context that is the basis of this dispute. It is their word here against some evidence that throws their account into doubt. Because at the moment, this dispute suggests that the only record available are several court depositions of a criminal case that took place more than three years after the discovery. Let us find out where the metal detectorists and their associates had been digging earlier and see soil samples from those sites given the same analysis to help falsify the theory that the objects were not originally found together at x-marks-the-spot on Mittleberg bei Nebra.

Attempt to Sue Ariadne Galleries over ‘forged’ mosaics

Mr Demirjian in 2015

There are a lot of faked antiquities around on the market, and it seems even the 'high end' are not above suspicion of handling them, as an unfolding case suggests (Tristan Kirk, 'Sheikh who entertained Queen sues gallery over ‘forged’ mosaics' The Evening Standard 4th September 2020)
A member of the Qatari royal family has accused an art gallery of selling two mosaics worth almost £300,000 which later allegedly turned out to be fakes. His Highness Sheikh Hamad Bin Abdullah Al Thani is locked in a High Court dispute with Ariadne Galleries over the two sales which date back to December 2013 and July 2014. Legal papers lodged reveal the art firm — which has galleries in Mayfair and New York — is being sued for alleged breach of contract and misrepresentation over the sales. The claim concerns the sale of mosaics named "Cupids At The Grape Harvest" and "Eros Hunting With A Stag". The writ states: “Both mosaics are inauthentic and/or forgeries. They were purchased for $200,000 and $150,000 respectively, equating to a total purchase price of $350,000.”
It is not stated on what grounds the inauthenticity of the items in question is claimed, and it remains to be seen whether that accusation will stand up in court. I could not find online pictures of these mosaics, possibly the Gallery used them in a 2013/14 catalogue.The legal challenge to Ariadne Galleries is being brought primarily by the Qatar Investment and Projects Development Holding Company (Qipco) of which the Sheikh, a cousin of the Emir of Qatar, is chief executive. The Sheikh is listed as the second claimant. The Al Thani family is very active in the art-buying world.  Ariadne Gallery is a family-run business with locations in New York and London and specializing in the art of the ancient civilizations of Egypt, the Near East, Greece, Rome, Asia, and early medieval Europe. Its founder and current chairman is Torkom Demirjian.

Thursday, 3 September 2020

British Museum's Stuff was Bought and Paid for, Says Director

Hartwig Fischer said it was a 'simplification' to treat the British Museum's collection of 13 million historical objects from all over the globe as a hoard of stolen goods that can be returned because many of its artefacts were bought and paid for (Craig Simpson, 'The British Museum's 'loot' was bought and paid for, says director', Telegraph 27 August 2020).
Mr Fischer has argued that many significant pieces in the museum were acquired by less controversial means, including purchases, donations and treasure finds. These items cannot simply be sent back to their country of origin, the director said, and the legitimate acquisition of objects had to be taken into account. [...] the museum has worked to address its colonial legacy, and the issue of possessing cultural artefacts taken during the pomp [sic] of empire. [...] When asked why treasures cannot simply be handed back, Mr Fischer referenced the complex histories of many of the displays. Items from the Sutton Hoo hoard were gifted by Edith Pretty, the landowner of the site where the famous ship burial was found, and pieces like the Bronze Age Ringlemere cup were given to the museum after being legally declared as treasure finds.
See the text by Kwame Opoku: "Did British Museum Buy Most Of Its Thirteen Million Artefacts?" in Modern Ghana who analyses Mr Fischer's apologism.
It is depressing to realize that those who often preach the rule of law and human rights seem not to care much for the human rights of others to an independent cultural development and the right to determine freely the location and use of their artefacts. If the British Museum wants to discard its reputation as a citadel of looted and stolen artefacts of others, it should stop trying to advance baseless arguments and justifications for its illegitimate and unjustifiable detention of artefacts of others. [...] A large portion of the 13 million artefacts in the British Museum were clearly acquired under colonial rule with all the force at the disposal of the defunct violent British Empire.
Also, in the relationship to the debate on "who owns?", note the issues that it runs the Portable Antiquities Scheme handling finds for the most part dug and brought in by artefact hunters. Has legal title of the many individual objects the PAS handles been cleared with the owners of the property they were taken from? Or do PAS not really bother about title assignment and provenance documentation? 


Thursday, 27 August 2020



Accidentally and independently put on eBay at the same time so they appear on the page next to each other:

Top one eBay seller from Oxford UK (antiquiti 11771)
Bottom one, eBay seller from Thailand (persian.era 189

There is a third one, being sold by ancientantique92 from Aylesbury UK for $184.67 

The "Looting Question" Bibliography

Last time I looked, this very important resource was not available, but just now have discovered that it has moved and is available in all its glory. Make use of it while it is still there...

The "Looting Question" Bibliography: Web and Literary Resources on the Archaeological Politics of Private Collecting, Commercial Treasure Hunting, Looting, and "Professional" Archaeology Compiled by Hugh Jarvis (PhD, MLS) University at Buffalo

Tuesday, 25 August 2020

Looters destroy 2000-year-old archaeological site in Sudan in search for gold

The trench and spoil heaps [Getty]
Gold seekers with giant diggers have destroyed the 2,000-year-old historical site of Jabal Maragha deep in the desert of Bayouda, some 270 kilometres north of the capital Khartoum (The New Arab, ' Looters destroy 2000-year-old Sudan archaeological site in search for gold'    25 August, 2020 ). The damage was discovered when a team of archaeologists arrived at the ancient site last month and saw that the site had vanished. They found two mechanical diggers and five men at work in a vast trench 17 metres deep, and 20 metres long. The site, dating from the Meroitic period between 350 BC and 350 AD, is on sandstone in which there are layers of pyrite, which presumably they mistook for gold.
The archaeologists were accompanied by a police escort, who took the treasure-hunters to a police station but were freed within hours. "They should have been put in jail and their machines confiscated. There are laws," said Mahmoud Al-Tayeb, a former expert from Sudan's antiquities department. Instead, the men left without charge and their diggers were released too. "It is the saddest thing," said Tayeb, who is also a professor of archaeology at the University of Warsaw. Tayeb believes that the real culprit is the workers' employer, someone who can pull strings and circumvent justice.
Sudan's archaeologists warn that this was not a unique case, but part of a systematic looting of ancient sites. Now, in hundreds of remote places ranging from cemeteries to temples, diggers are hunting for anything to sell on the antiquities market. At Sai, a 12-kilometre-long river island in the Nile, hundreds of graves have been ransacked and destroyed by looters. Some of them date back to the times of the pharaohs. "Out of a thousand more or less well-known sites in Sudan, at least a hundred have been destroyed or damaged," said Hatem al-Nour, Sudan's director of antiquities and museums. He added that the lack of security at the sites made them easy targets for looters.

Monday, 24 August 2020

PAS Dealing with Issues of Trust: A Little Birdy Told Me


Two FLOs are having a go at a commentator that questioned the number of artefacts recorded on the PAS database that might not be from the place the finder claims he found them. That seems to have touched a raw nerve and the two of them have been thrashing around trying to avoid the question of whether they do in fact demand documentation (such as a protocol assigning title from the landowner as recommended by the 2009 Nighthawking Report). I suspect that we all know the answer to that... this would mean that PAS handles antiquities with no proof that they are not stolen.  If they can't do it, why should we expect dealers to? 

Anyway, something emerged from this. Baz Thugwit comes to the FLO, "...'ere mate, found this anchint broach in this field, 'ere" [stabs map with flabby finger]. FLO looks at him, "We trust you to always supply honest information, based on us building relationships of trust, and obviously Baz, old pal, if there was anything dodgy in what you say, I'd immediately see it as clear as day. but I trust you, good fellow, come again soon, bring me more stuff". More stuff I say! Happy Hunting!" And Baz turns on his heel, and off he goes, smiling to himself, "fooled the stuck-up arkie again", he thought. But no. Felix the wily FLO has a little secret... "It's a good job Baz does not know about my secret naughty-box. Now I'll just put this on the database, 42 this week!... There! and now, Baz..THIS is for lying to me!". Baz does not know there's a special box for Baz-finds: "there's a little info box we can fill in on the Db if we've any spatial doubts, and there's plenty of examples where this is used. And even in these few cases, at least there's a record of an object where previously it would be unknown, advancing archaeological knowledge". Make your mind up Felix old boy.. either there's "plenty of examples where this is used" or they are few. Few-plenty, plenty-few? (Oh, I feel a FOI coming on).

Now, forgive me for asking what kind of "data" are decontextualised artefacts that nobody is sure where they are from? What kind of "database" is it that has "grounded" artefacts alongside artefacts of doubtful provenance? I'd like to see the official PAS-exegesis on why an artefact of doubtful provenance (like the Piltdown skull, or Sevso hoard) "advances archaeological knowledge".

FLO Struggles With Decontextualised Thingy [updated]

Photo PAS
Object type certainty: Possibly
Workflow status: Find awaiting validation
A possible fragment of a Roman (Bronze Age?) copper-alloy saw, similar to BM-AF446A.SF 688.The Piercebridge Divers [sic]
The fragment is slightly concave and has a square piercing at one end. The object is 38.47mm long; 18.55mm wide; 1.04mm thick and weighs 3.05g
Subsequent action after recording: Returned to finder
Broad period: ROMAN
Period from: ROMAN
Period to: ROMAN 

Submit your error report:
It is not a saw (or a "possible fragment of saw", what does that actually mean?). The object is too small and the teeth too coarse (it would jam) - it could not be used as such with no hafting, and yet there is no way to secure a haft, is there? Depending on "what" copper alloy it is, it could also be too soft and the teeth would bend. Neither does it appear from your photos to be a fragment. One possible use is as a potter's or modeller's tool, for removing excess clay, for example in forming a base ring, or applying grooved or stamped decoration. The hole would allow a cord to be attached to avoid losing it during work. But the fact that the site context of this decontextualised item found by a metal detectorist does not allow you to say whether it is Bronze Age or Roman is a bit of a hindrance in offering any kind of an interpretation. What would it have been found with?   

Now tell us please, if the find has already gone back to the finder, how is that description going to be 'validated'? And the findspot information, how was/will that be validated? 

the name has come back to me, it looks like a potter's rib (images). Of course if it as not now in some private collection, you could perhaps look and see if the original surface is well-enough preserved to exhibit diagnostic use-wear marks.

Sunday, 23 August 2020

Americans Shamelessly Loot Europe's Past


Charles Garrett (2009) 'Introduction To EuropeanMetal Detecting', Garland Texas. Quite an eye-opener to see how a US metal detector manufacturer sees Europe as being a free-for-all:  

p. 10:'During my years of testing metal detectors, I have had the pleasure of recovering treasures in England, Scotland, France, Spain, Germany and Italy. Finding my first Roman coin is an experience I shall never forget'.
How were the search permits organised for these trips, if - as the forums attest - locals find getting landowners' permissions so difficult? In particular specific permits are needed for Italy, Spain, some lands of Germany, and the fate of the artefacts is different in each country - how was this dealt with, an agent? 
p.15: I found a coin cache in a plowed field in during one of my European trips. I was scanning near an old embankment [where?] when I dug the first coin. In an area of about an arm’s width, I had soon unearthed another 20 ancient coins. The coins are from the 400 BC period and I figure they had once been in some sort of bag when they were buried.[...] Some of these coins from the cache are on display in the Garrett Museum in Garland, Texas'.
Alongside the export licence I trust. Because without it, this is what we call "looting", whichever 'European country' it was found in.
pp 15-16: 'My son Vaughan accompanied me on a two-week detecting expedition through Spain, France, Italy, Germany, England and Scotland. Among other places, we visited the stone and turf fortification in northern England known as Hadrian’s wall. [...] its remnants are now a popular tourist site [...] Searching along this ancient frontier border [where?] was certainly a highlight of my European hunting experiences.
Apart from being tautology, it is also illegal. How were the permits arranged for Spain, France, Italy and Germany? What happened to the finds from these countries? Were the English finds recorded by the PAS and was an export licence applied for? Why is there no mention of this in the book (though there is a reference to (only) the English/Welsh Code of Best Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting (pp 58-62). Then he goes on to talk about targeting known sites:  
pp 48-9: 'where a structure is well known to have existed you can search the areas surrounding it. I spent a week one time just to search the area around an early English fort site used in the late 1700s to defend against French troops [where?]. I was by myself and I literally worked from dusk to dawn to make the most of my limited time. By the end of the week I had accumulated some 500 relics. [...] My preferred metal detecting method was in the All-Metal mode with my sensitivity set to detect as deep as possible. Nothing was overlooked. Fortunately, I did not have to fight heavily mineralized ground conditions in this area. Because of this fort’s somewhat remote location, I had little tourist trash (cans, pop tops) to contend with'.
This site was not, actually, 'protected' in some way was it that there was still so much material to be found? Where are these artefacts now stored, and how are they labelled? How did Mr Garrett determine who the landowner was? In the entire book, there is no mention of this (see p. 53 about what he considers to be a "treasure hunting opportunity")
Again, pp. 53-4: 'The caretaker of an old castle in Spain we visited [where?] offered to let me come back sometime and do some thorough searching. Knowing how things often worked out, I decided to at least scan a few minutes before we had to leave. In the end, we did not make it back there but I did make a great recovery during that short time of searching: an ancient crossbow point. For once, I was proud of myself for seizing the moment! Never pass up a chance to scan.
Of course, though it seems the brash Texan is oblivious to that, the 'caretaker' has no legal authority either to allow access to a property, nor allow the removal of artefacts from it. There is no cure for stupidity either:
I made a hunting trip to an area near Koblenz, Germany. Some of our German friends were proud to show us various World War II German Army relics they had discovered with their metal detectors. We returned to one of these areas and I was thrilled with the number of items we were able to detect. In all, our detecting team recovered an estimated 2,000 pounds of relics. We dug up countless bullets and ammunition clips as well as some helmets and even hand grenades. Such military artifacts should be treated with great caution. When in doubt about discovered ordnance, notify your local authorities versus attempting to dig it up. European antiquity laws[sic] have become more stringent regarding exactly how such discoveries must be reported
He shows a photo of an intact clip of Mauser bullets that he'd found. We trust he did not take them on the aeroplane home in that state. And, from a metal detector manufacturer (p. 63):
Take advantage of new metal detector technology. There’s more treasure to be found today than you could find 40 years ago. I know this to be true because the technology of today’s metal detectors is superior to those I used decades ago. Deeper ground penetration and better target discrimination allow European detectorists to find items they simply could not detect years ago.
So more archaeological evidence than ever before is threatened by these carefree people.

For Some, Metal Detectors are "New technology"


Grow Your Own Life ♿ @Shrop_Allotment·51 min

W odpowiedzi do @PortantIssues i @Bexx_FLO
It's sad really that a man in your profession has such a closed mind to new techniques and is happy to tar all with the same brush. You are the archaeologist equalivant of a Gammon.

Metal detectors have been around now for coming up to sixty years, so using them to find bits of metal can hardly be considered a "new technique" by anyone aware of teh world around him! As for finding gradation in collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record (think about that a moment), maybe Mr Minton would like to tell us all how he'd see me doing that. 

For non-native speakers: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gammon_(insult)

Studying Broken Bits of Metal


One 'Flipper' (@flipper865: 'Metal detecting, History, Gardening, Photography, being outdoors... finding and studying broken bits of metal since 2010') from the South Wales Valleys does not seem to like the way this archaeologist discusses the trashing of the archaeological record by its collection-driven exploitation:

flipper@flipper865·7 g.
W odpowiedzi do @FLODurhamFLO @PortantIssues i @Bexx_FLO
[...] he's had a run in with almost every detectorist out there. Never a kind word to say! Tars us all with the same brush 
Hmm, basically collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record is collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record. A blue spade is still a spade. I don't think we can paint it any other way without bending the truth. Ask an FLO. And then, the Welsh guy gets more abusive:  

flipper@flipper865·27 min
W odpowiedzi do @PortantIssues @FLODurhamFLO i @Bexx_FLO
I "reckon" you need to chill the feck out and stop antagonising people that are clearly passionate about what they have studied and are sharing with the rest of the world. Positivity springs to mind, you gotta get some ffs
Actually Mr Flipper, this archaeologist has studied a bit more than "bits of broken metal since 2010", and is in his own little corner of the Internet sharing with those in the world that visit it the reflections that engenders on what a minority of self-centred people with an overdose of entitlement are doing to the archaeological resource. OK?

And here's a thing, Flipper shows us all his idea of a systematic search of a productive site (Painting a picture with the @Minelab #ctx3030 gps over 2 years):

So, the finds distribution in that field will look like... (a line going towards the modern gate)?

Grab a Coin, Sit Down, and Tell us About it


Dr Matthew Ball, Oxford academic:

Matthew Ball@Matt0791·1 g. 
W odpowiedzi do @FLODurhamFLO @PortantIssues i jeszcze 3 osób
Its beyond his ability to be civil. Treat a mention in his vile blog as a badge of honour. The pr*ck called me “coin fondler” — was tempted to stick it in my bio.

are you addressing me, Sir? I do wonder just how it is that the Leverhulme DPhil 'Studying the dissemination of imperial messages through coin circulation in the Roman Empire') considers fondling an unpleasant activity. But anyway, if instead of harbouring a grudge because I pointed out that a FLO's coin of Theodora was not 'that' Theodora, he'd look it is not addressed to him personally, but is an engagement with the dealers (incl numismatic ones) spiel about having a "piece of the past in your hand". As for "Vile" and "pr*ck", that must be Oxford/Cummings' Brexity academic talk I guess.

And for the record:

1) The term I used on the blog was in fact "coiney".

2) At the end of that nonsense the Durham FLO snorted and said that nobody would be faking cheap bronze coins like that, which shows how little said "specialist" actually knows about what goes on in the numismatic market today. They do. And to show him that was not idle talk, a few days after that, I bought him several very nice fakes of Late Roman Bronzes that a Polish seller had at the time (they are made either in Bulgaria or the Balkans), I put them in a padded envelope and sent them to his office address with a perfectly civil and, I thought, conciliatory letter... and the lack-culture bounder did not even acknowledge receipt. That shows what kind of people the PAS are employing now. 

Monday, 17 August 2020

How "Hot" Should the PAS Database be?

A PAS FLO has a go at David Knell for "describing a colleagues work as vacuous because you disagree with the way he has chosen to engage with current debate". It seems to me that the adjective vacuous is perfectly apposite to the described case, which is that article about the Shropshire seal matrix that the British Museum really, really wanted to link with the slave trade.

The problem is that the PAS database is supposed above all to be a repository of permanent record about all the artefacts that have been hoiked by metal detectorists and landed in scattered ephemeral personal collections. That is its primary function. That's a long-term process. To use it in the short term for "engaging in current debates" conflicts with that. If we look back at the early posts of this long-running blog, we can see texts about such engagement. What is very clear is that ten years on, the main reaction is "who cares?". The burning matters of 2008/9 are no longer topical subjects of discussion. The same will be the case with the hot topics of 2020. 

Sunday, 16 August 2020

Some Numbers About Metal Detecting


A few months ago supporters of collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record were ridiculing Sam Hardy's estimate of '27000 detectorists'. Perhaps they'd like to take a look at Facebook today. Mr Fudge's 'Metal Detecting' page, 26,102 members. That 27000 does not look at all unlikely does it?  And how many metal detectorists did the PAS say they'd recorded finds from in 2019? Half that, even? 

And what about the doddery old NCMD that has resigned from the forums and wants its members to use its Facebook page? 4,313 total likes,  5,536 total followers. So less than one third of them goes out with third party insurance? (FID has far fewer members than that, it has 154 members). That's not very "responsible is it?

Saturday, 15 August 2020

Critical Issues Concerning Using Danish Metal-Detector Finds as Archaeological Evidence


Most accounts of the "use" of "metal detected finds" as archaeological evidence in countries with liberal heritage legislation are gushingly enthusiastic. It is refreshing to see that not everywhere have archaeologists swallowed the blue pill. 

Torben Trier Christiansen 2016, Recreational Metal Detecting and Archaeological Research: Critical Issues Concerning Danish Metal-Detector Finds pp 23-36 in J. Martens, and M. Ravn (Eds.) 2016, Pløyejord som Kontekst: Nye perspektiver for forskning, forvaltning og formidling Oslo


Thirty-five years of private metal detecting have had a profound impact on the field of archaeology in Denmark. In particular, the areas of Iron Age and Early Medieval research have benefited from the extensive new find material. Although the detector finds constitute a genuine revelation in archaeology, the handling and use of Danish detector finds for research purposes is not without obstacles. This article discusses several of the critical issues that limit the research value of the detector finds on the basis of find material recovered in the eastern Limfjord region, northern Jutland.


Screwed Minoan Sherd from Palace of Minos on eBay


EBay seller lantz_industries (81) from Reno, Nevada, United States has a Minoan Archeological Shard from Palace of Minos for sale, yours for US $9,850.00. That is all the description says. On the back of the naff homemade wooden plaque to which it is screwed is a label: "found under mud on actual site of palace in spring, 1954". The 'traditional' date for Thera explosion of c 1500 is referred to here. Somehow the mention of the export licence disappeared from the sales offer... The sherd is nice, should not have left the palace site, but the price - apparently for smuggling it off the island and handling stolen goods, hmm. 

Reader's Contribution


Friday, 14 August 2020

British Dumbdown of Egyptian Archaeological Heritage


More colonialism from Britain, an interactive resource to 'learn' about ancient Egypt (creator: Joyce Tyldesley: "Professor, author and archaeologist, teaching Egyptology on-line to students worldwide from the University of Manchester"). Some really inane questions here, they seem less designed to actually teach anything by setting any kind of a challenge, but to give the dullest dullard English kid the chance to "succeed" by answering them all.

I doubt whether we'd see the Egyptians for some reason doing the same ridiculous thing with the British archaeological heritage. 

Different Views of the Same Thing


There are several different versions of this on the internet, all on the same lines, this one is from (by?) Paul Tubb:

Now, readers, where would I put the PAS and its supporters and their attempts to use loose decontextualised objects as 'data'? Where would I put the critics of the PAS? And where would YOU put them (and where would they)? 

Clue, the FLO's recent blog post on 'PAS and the slave trade' and their attempts to explain away the criticism is in pink. 


Thursday, 13 August 2020

Penn Cultural Heritage Centre to Help Investigate US-bound Antiquities Trafficking

Press release:
Today, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Marie Royce and Williams Director of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology Dr. Julian Siggers signed a Memorandum of Understanding to establish a new public-private partnership. Under this partnership, the Department of State and the Penn Cultural Heritage Center will cooperate to combat international cultural property trafficking. The United States is unwavering in its commitment to protect and preserve cultural heritage around the world and to combat the trafficking in cultural property that funds criminal and terrorist networks. This new partnership will facilitate consultations between U.S. law enforcement officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security Investigations, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection and experts in archaeology and art history when expertise is needed during the course of investigations. Experts from the faculty and staff of the University of Pennsylvania and other relevant universities, museums, libraries, archives, and nonprofit organizations will also participate.
Note the maintenance of the "trafficking in cultural property that funds criminal and terrorist networks" story and its presentation as a hard fact. One wonders however why a formal agreement is necessary, and whether it means that from now on, expertise in art history and archaeology will (have to) be exclusively drawn from the University of Pennsylvania?


David Knell on PAS Story-telling [UPDATED]

The discussion of the politicised story-telling of the PAS on a ring from Shropshire goes on. FLO Peter Reavill published a moral tale about a seal matrix with a man's head on it and said it related to slave-owning, PACHI criticised it, David Knell added his comments to my post. That prompted another FLO to come rushing over to attack my adjectives, those of David Knell and generally claim in effect that the FLOs are experts and have British Museum expert advice, and how dare anyone question their interpretation. Wow. I updated my original post, but David Knell has continued the discussion in a way that raises the question of the reliability of the PAS recording (David Knell, 'PAS: Truth be damned, let's just be topical!' Thursday, 13 August 2020)

Apparently in a misguided attempt to be topical, the author gave his article the subtitle "How a single artefact can shed light on the transatlantic slave trade" and tagged it as 'Atlantic Slave Trade, Black Lives Matter, Enslaved Person'. Excited by that theme, the author then went on to make wild assumptions in the text - "... design depicting a Black man – most probably an enslaved person", "the depiction of an enslaved person on this seal" - while desperately trying to link the seal to "the enslavement of African people". [...] I now see Ben Westwood, another FLO, is apparently outraged that anyone dared to challenge the nonsense in the PAS article.
There are some (justifiable) sharp comments in this response ("Perhaps my standard for drawing a line between fact and wild flights of uninformed imagination is somewhat stricter than that of the PAS". "a PAS article that favours sensationalist speculation over sound scholarly objectivity"). Basically it boils down to Knell asserting (and I think correctly) "that any chance of an intelligent "debate" requires the immediate ditching of that "Slave Trade" narrative; it's a false accretion founded on an ignorance of armorial art [...] forcefully foisting topicality onto the artefact". In my original post I suggested that the bust on this seal might have been a classical reference, and while it's still possible, having read Knell's comment to that post and now his enlargement on his blog, I am persuaded that his is the more likely interpretation. 

In a previous generation of archaeologists, there was a much wider knowledge of heraldry than seems to be the case today. So in his blog post, Knell gives a brief account of armorial art - pointing slyly to some examples on the PAS database, including one seal matrix (NLM-0D2C6D) remarkably like the Shropshire one, though better finished. That one is dated by another FLO to  1750-1825 (not "1713") - the significance of that is that slavery was abolished in the UK in 1807. Knell goes on to explain to the FLO ("expert") the significance of the "Moor's Head" emblem, elements the FLO evidently had not considered, and all those experts he consulted (names, please) did not remind him of: 
Although the device is by no means as common as a lion rampant, it is not exactly rare either [...] and it's rather surprising that it threw the PAS team into a shocked wobbly [...] despite Mr Reavill's strenuous effort to make it topical, the device is most unlikely to have even the remotest connection with the "transatlantic slave trade". [...] Despite the misleading subtitle of the Reavill article, the artefact has not shed an iota of light on the transatlantic slave trade (hardly surprising since the artefact has nothing to do with it); the article merely illustrates the validity of Paul Barford's warning about narrativisation. It is a reckless reversal of archaeological practice: instead of dispassionately allowing an artefact to speak for itself and learning from it, a largely irrelevant sermon based on misinformed guesswork and irrational assumption has been clumsily piggybacked onto it. There is already more than enough pseudo-archaeology in the world, please don't add to it.

Update 17th August 2020

The sorry saga goes on and on and the PAS FLOs (particularly the Durham one) are digging themselves deeper and deeper into a hole (David Knell, 'Reply to Twitter feedback' Ancient Heritage blog, Monday, 17 August 2020).    

'Context matters: Collating the past’

Declaration of interest, a couple of days ago, I received from the author a complimentary copy of a volume I know he'd been working on for some time and came out recently. I thought I'd write a few words about it here. 
The book is David W.J. Gill, 2020 'Context matters: Collating the past’ ARCA Publications (place of publication: probably Columbia SC, USA) 291 pp index ISBN-13: 978-1734302615.

This handsome volume is a collation of some 30 essays, reviews and articles by Professor David Gill that had been published in ARCA's Journal of Art Crime (JAC) in the past decade, but here set out in thematic blocks with a linking commentary. 

These essays (in a JAC feature called 'context matters') revolve around museum objects and ancient art, mainly from the classical world with a strong focus on issues concerning the relationships between museums (US ones in particular) and source countries. The author points out that the texts that were published in JAC did not cover in much detail the broader aspects of ‘repatriation’ of objects and indeed whole architectural elements taken to foreign museums as Grand Tour trophies in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, nor of the degree to which products of modern fakery ‘can be inserted into and corrupt the corpus of knowledge’ (p. 13). 

I have long followed David’s work, and have probably read a fair number of these texts before in one form or another over the last decade or so, and of course consider that each of them is an important contribution to the field. His readers will know that David’s approach is an unassuming one of quiet, logical objectivity, and in his texts many of the touchier issues tend to be formulated as questions, inviting the reader to use the information presented to form their own opinions and ask their own questions. This perhaps can seduce the reader into not seeing their immediate impact. Having these texts collated (see title) in a single volume grouped thematically gives them a new resonance. The intertextualities and pattern of the author’s thought become more visible. Indeed one might say that there could be no better illustration of the concept „context matters” than what these individually meaningful texts say when they are all presented in the context of each other. 

The introduction, pp 9-16, sets out the story of how the author became involved in research on these topics, going back a quarter of a century, but also relating the essays here to wider issues. There are eight sections: I, International agreements; II, The AAMD and its members; III, Returning antiquities; IV, Compliance and due diligence (introducing the concept “collecting histories”); V, Curators; VI, Looting and the market; VII, Perspectives from England; VIII, Debating cultural property (reviews of books by Cuno, Waxman and Jenkins). Some of the sections and essays have separate bibliographies, with the main one at the end of the volume, but it makes sense once you see how the volume is put together. 

Much of the emphasis in the first part of the volume is on the trade in objects from Italy and Greece and the USA as a voracious consumer, and the Sotheby’s and Medici scandal (with its cache of polaroids) as the link between the two. Along the way we are treated to cameos on the Ny Carlesberg Glyptotek, and my two favourite as-yet unresolved cases of the Ka Nefer Nefer mummy fragment and the Leutwitz (“Cleveland”) Apollo, both of which the art market somehow believes to have physically existed in two different places at the same time (like the herm in Chapter 17). This is often a problem when the antiquities trade attempts to produce documents for collecting histories, they so often give the impression of (ahem) having been simply made up. 

Section V introduces the issue of the role and importance of academics in the antiquities trade, a topic raised by Renfrew two decades ago, but a lesson we are still learning (in particular now in the fields of cunies and papyri – the ‘Gospel of Jesus’ Wife’ is a case in point). But it seems that we are slow learners, this is still an area that needs much more discussion and, especially, a much closer formulation of codes of practice /ethics for archaeologists (and not only).

Section VI introduces the issues of conflict antiquities. The first essay goes into looting in the Balkans, the role of Bulgaria (and its mafia) in the supply of the antiquities market in the early 1990s, the second touches on the acquisition of objects from war-torn Syria and Iraq, the third on looting of museums and storerooms in Libya and Egypt as well as Italy and Greece. 

There are not many other authors from whom in the context of portable antiquities I’d be glad to see a section labelled ‘perspectives from England’ (normally, on seeing such a title in English, as we say in Poland “the knife already opens in my pocket”). This is because most British colleagues would just parrot some vacant stuff about the ‘benefits’ of collaboration and partnership and ‘public engagement with the past’, without putting that in any context. Gill is far more astute and takes two cases of recent discoveries where the Portable Antiquities Scheme was involved in notable finds, the so-called Crosby Garrett Helmet and the Lenborough Hoard, both of them tragic fiascos in archaeological terms. Few other archaeologists have had the gumption to have called-out these two finds in this way. My main regret is that David’s pieces on the PAS (2010a and 2010b) were not in JAC but elsewhere so they do not appear here. 

The final section rehearses some of David’s responses to the very curious reasoning of other supporters of portable antiquities collecting (though in the museum context). 

I like very much the way some of the information is presented in the form of tabulation. What is revealing is that in most cases these are not tabulations of known collecting histories, but rather the steps by which we reconstruct what really happened (or what we do not know). We need to come up with a term for this process (because we can't call it "provenance research" really).* 

What I find missing is a comprehensive presentation here of David's thoughts on one puzzling aspect. Since even before we read this book, we'd most of us say yes, "context matters" (and "looting matters"). So why, actually are there all these illustrious people and institutions described here behaving as though it's utterly unimportant, that what is important is some trophy "artwork" to display and brag about. Yet as Elizabeth Marlowe (2013) shows (and should have been well-known before that publication too), context and 'grounding' are by no means a problem relating to legitimacy of ownership, but the very interpretation of the object (even one that is treated as 'art'). It affects the interpretation in research, the manner of representation in display and museum practice - so why was it so gaily ignored in all the cases Gill discusses? 

This book deserves to be on the reading lists of students in a number of fields (archaeology, cultural heritage studies, museology, and criminology come to mind). It provides a useful summary of a series of matters that are difficult to follow from the scattered sources (just look at the size of his bibliography) and is useful in that it focuses attention on a specific set of material that highlight the core issues and can provide the foundations for further discussions. 

 As a booklover, I cannot fail to mention the book’s appealing design (by Urška Charney). This volume entrances, from the subtle restraint of the very tactile cover and the page setup that unites the separate sections, gives them a robust but open character that makes the volume a delightful object in its own right. 


David Gill 2010a The Portable Antiquities Scheme and the Treasure Act: Protecting the Archaeology of England and Wales? Papers from the Institute of Archaeology (PIA) vol 20, 1-11 

Elizabeth Marlowe 2013, Shaky Ground: Context, Connoisseurship and the History of Roman Art. Debates in archaeology. London; New York: Bloomsbury Academic

Colin Renfrew, 2000. Loot, legitimacy and ownership: The ethical crisis in archaeology.London. London: Duckworth. 

* [Having said that, in my opinion, the collecting history of the Leutwitz Apollo as presented by Professor Gill p.44 is missing one important sighting, which in fact changes everything, but I may have written about this after his original article went to press].  

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